Sunday, April 30, 2006

End of April

Beach Plum (Prunus maritima) at North Pond, Sandy Hook

"By the end of April the commitment is complete. Late Spring or early, we are on our way into the fullness of mid-May, and June will come billowing across the meadows before we know it. Meanwhile there are a lot of things to be done. All the buds have to open, all the acres of chlorophyll have to be spread in the sunlight, all the early blossoms have to unfurl. The earth has to get on with its vernal business.

It is perhaps significant that April, back at the root of the word, meant "the open air," the air out-of-doors. So it is only reasonable that we should expect much of April after Winter and March, when the open air was somewhat less than hospitable. April is an opening up, not only of the bud but of the heart, for of all the seasons this is the one in which we have the most urgent need to participate. We must have a part in the new awareness, the partnership with time and sunshine. Man is more than a shrub or a vegetabe, but he, too, needs Spring.

So, we come to the end of April, even a chilly April, with birdsong around us and some of Spring's color; and we feel the strengthening sun, we sense the opening buds, we know again that no Winter lasts forever, no Spring skips its turn. April is a promise that May is bound to keep, and we know it." - Hal Borland, Sundial of the Seasons, 1964.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Ag Field Day

Cook College at Rutgers University has an Agriculture Field Day each year "to celebrate the unique connection between the land grant system of colleges and the communities they serve". For me it was an excuse to take photos of cute farm animals and buy plants. I really liked the cows until one decided he wanted a taste of me and licked my arm. That was a surprise! My husband is a bit bored by my fascination with animals (honestly, I'm like a little kid and have to pet each one) - I guess because he grew up caring for horses, goats, and ducks with his parents. He was a good guy today and put up with my silliness.

It was a beautiful day and we both really should have been at home working in the garden. There's tilling to be done and fencing to fix, but I've wanted to see what Ag Field Day is all about for a while. All of the animals are raised and cared for by students and today was a chance for them to show off the work they do.

The Cooperative Extension and Master Gardeners also had a display and plant sale. We got there late so most of the heirloom tomatoes were already sold out, but I did find a few Brandywine plants and some of the Rutger's variety that are so popular. My husband was happy to buy a few of the Angel's Trumpets that he loves so much, but are difficult to find. We grow these in large tubs most years and try to over-winter them in the basement, but have very little luck with it. Someday we'll find a friend with a greenhouse and some spare room for my husband's tropical plants!

Friday, April 28, 2006

Missy is a lil' Hot Bun!

This post back in February announced the Hot Buns 2007 Calendar Contest which benefits The Rabbit Habit . The winners were announced today and my photo of Missy won! There were a total of 36 winners (out of near to 300 entries) and the 2007 calendar will include a large feature photo and 2 smaller photos for each month. Missy will be one of the small photos for the month of January. I took this photo of her atop her cardboard castle a few years ago. I really liked the warm glow of the setting sun on her face.

I love this contest and calendar because it features many of my friends from the PetBunny List. Quite a few of us from PB are winners.

Below are pics of other PB bunnies who won this year. Congrats everybunny!

Wally (Mr. June) from Ca.

Rudy from NY

Oscar from Ca.

Mara Strawberry from Ca.

Cassidy from Tx.

Bee from Ca.

Ashy from Ca.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Dust off your cameras!

Photo by Nick J. Dunlop

The National Wildlife Federation recently announced the winners of its 2005 photography contest and is now accepting entries for the 2006 competition. This photo of a belted kingfisher is my personal favorite, but the grand-prize winning photo, of a great gray owl, is breathtaking. Click on the photo above to see the other winning photographs. Pros, amateurs, and beginners (like me) are encouraged to enter in 8 categories ranging from birds to plants to underwater life. The talent for photography that I see daily on the blogs I frequent makes me believe that many of you should enter this contest. Go for it!

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Most Beautiful Birds Meme

from John at A DC Birding Blog:

Rules: Post a list of the 10 birds you consider most beautiful on your blog; you may limit the list to the ABA area (continental United States and Canada) or use a geographic area of your choice. Mark birds you have seen with an asterisk. Tag 3 bloggers to keep it going.

My list:

Northern Parula*
Blackburnian Warbler*
American Avocet
American Kestral*
Harlequin Duck*
Red-headed Woodpecker*
Blue Jay*
Peregrine Falcon*
Eurasion Wigeon*

I'll tag Susan, Endment, and Pam
. Have fun making your list!

Just a note to add that another NJ birding blog, The Hawk Owl's Nest, picked up this meme. Patrick is a fellow NJ Audubon volunteer and has a great blog. Stop by and say hello.

4/26/06 Mid-week bunny fix

Boomer's favorite pillow 4/25/06

Cricket (on the bottom) is not nearly as uncomfortable as her squished-up face makes her look in this photo. I had to sneak up on them with my camera early yesterday morning, in between getting myself ready for work, to take this photo. It seems to be their favorite way to snuggle at night, lately. During the day, they curl up together side-by-side in their hidey-box, but at night Boomer and Cricket will come out of their pen and lay this way on their poppy-covered rug, watching us watch them in the living room.

I've seen photos of other bunnies snuggling this way and have to say how adorable I find it. It is a little alarming to consider that Boomer weighs about 20 lbs., but Cricket is content to have Boomer nap atop of her, so long as he wakes occasionaly to wash her ears. Once she's had enough, or can't hold her breath any longer, she'll back out from under him. These two are so affectionate with one another - it is a joy to witness the contentment in all their bunny *doings*.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Confusion in the early-spring garden

When I first started growing things I was organized. I drew plans on graph paper and kept those annoying little plastic labels next to the plants when they went into the ground. Not anymore. So many plants have died and been replaced or have simply vanished without my noticing that I'm never really sure what anything is until it blooms.

I used to be on the mailing list for a catalog that specialized in native prairie wildflowers. A useful feature of that catalog was a little picture of what each seedling would look like after it had been growing for a while, so that the gardener wouldn't mistakenly pull out a good plant thinking it was a weed.

For the most part, I can recognize the obvious weeds, like onion grass and pigweed, but sometimes I'm not so sure. These are growing in the vegetable garden and I would like for them to be arugula (does anyone know if that is perennial?) because they almost seem to be growing in rows, but I'm afraid it's actually pokeberry. We have a lot of that, but I don't recognize it until it's big and really hard to pull out.

Some plants are easy to recognize by the shape of their leaves or stems. This is an expanding patch of bee balm which is easy to know by its square stems. Every year it grows a bit larger and I'm careful not to pull any of it out. Any early-summer hummingbirds I get just love this plant. This one is a red variety, but I would really like to find the pale purple type that grows wild. Local nurseries sell a purple one, but it is very prone to mildew in my garden.

Someday I'd like to get back in the habit of labeling things. Really though, I enjoy the surpise of not knowing. I just wish weeding weren't so difficult this way. Not knowing whether a plant is *good* or a weed is a handy way to procrastinate, isn't it? I think this is Swamp Milkweed in the photo at right, but I see some little weed seedlings in the middle there trying to hide. If anyone knows if the plant on the right above is pokeberry, please do let me know!

Monday, April 24, 2006

Jenny Wren

Of all the birds that rove and sing,
Near dwellings made for men,
None is so nimble, feat, and trim,
As Jenny Wren.
With pin-point bill, and tail-a-cock,
So wildly shrill she cries,
The echoes on his roof-tree knock
And fill the skies.
Never was sweeter seraph hid
Within so small a house -
A tiny, inch-long, eager, ardent,
Feathered mouse.
The house wrens have returned in the last few days and one is already filling a nesting box with sticks. I've put out plenty of boxes hoping to divert him from the box that I think a pair of chickadees may be using. This one was not happy with me as I took his photo - his scolding attracted a few chickadees to come and see what I was up to, and then a nearby squirrel also scolded me with its raspy voice. I love to hear their bubbling song when I'm working out in the garden. They sing incessantly; their song by midsummer becomes little more than background noise. Then suddenly they are gone in late August and the garden is quiet without them.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Dogwood flowers

They are beautiful in their peace, they are wise in their silence. They will stand after we are dust. They teach us, and we tend them. - Galeain ip Altiem MacDunelmor

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Ponding miscellany

Susan is thinking about a pond so I thought I would post some pics and links from when we did ours. Our yard used to have lush, well-manicured grass shaded by many black locust trees. Over the years, most of the locusts fell in late-summer storms and the beautiful lawn turned weedy when my husband didn't have time to care for it. The circle garden went through many re-dos and we finally decided to put a pond in this area.

We did a lot of reading and planning. I wanted a pond for wildlife and plants, rather than a sterile koi pond. One of the first websites I found that had good information about how to build a wildlife pond was this one. I got the idea to build a shallow beach area from that site. The beach, and the easy access it provides for wildlife, continues to be my favorite feature of our pond. I was mostly concerned with the pond's design, while my husband was in charge of the mechanics (and the heavy labor). We decided on a kidney-shaped pond with a liner, rather than a pre-formed pond that could be purchased because we had more choice in size and depth that way. In this photo you can see my husband digging out the deep end which is about 4 feet deep. You can also see that he has left a "shelf" around the far edges of the pond where we place plants in baskets - this is handy for marginal aquatic plants that like the shallow depth.

My husband laid down the liner and we covered it with river rock. I had read many bad things about using rocks on the bottom, but stubbornly decided to ignore it all because I liked the look so much. Over the years, we've removed the rocks leaving them only in the shallow half of the pond. What we should have done was install a bottom drain. Without it, the rocks accumulate a huge amount of mulm that is impossible to remove. As it is, the rocks in the shallow end require constant attention and removal of string algae and accumulated fish poop. The bare liner is ugly, but in mid-summer you can't even see it once the water lillies and other plants have covered the surface of the water.

We use a biological filter from PondSweep that is the base of our waterfall and a skimmer - much like a backyard pool. The pump and filter runs only during the warm months because it costs so much to run the pump. We probably will need to replace the pump this year and I'd like to buy a more energy efficient one. The good ones are expensive, but hopefully we'll save money on the electric bill. One of the most important items we purchased was a UV light to keep the algae at bay and the water clear. We've yet to have an algae bloom that turns many ponds to pea soup. I use plenty of oxygenating plants and don't add any chemicals, and test the water frequently. We also have very few fish for the size of our pond; that's important! Our pond is just under 1,000 gallons, yet we keep at most only 30 small goldfish. I don't feed my fish 3 times a day; in mid-summer they're lucky to be fed at all, in fact. Too much food just increases the load on the filter. The fish are growing very slowly as a result, but the whole system is healthier that way.

This summer will be our pond's fifth year and it still isn't finished, really. I'd like to re-do the waterfall one day to make it look natural. I don't know why we didn't do that to begin with. The landscaping around the pond still needs work. I'd like a very lush look like you can see in some of the links below, but the pond is in full sun all day and the rock makes it very hot out there and hard to grow the mosses and ferns I'd like to use. I'm trying out plants each year to see if they can survive the desert-like conditions that surround the pond. We added a small bog garden adjacent to the pond where I plant moisture-lovers like Joe Pye Weed, Turtlehead, Swamp Milkweed, Meadowsweet, and Swamp Hibiscus. The pond overflows to that area when we get heavy rain and we used to leftover liner there to hold the moisture. No pretty pictures of it in my collection for some reason.

Helen Nash publishes some good books about ponding that I've found helpful. A friendly community of ponders (and other gardeners) is online at GardenWeb; the Pond and Aquatic Plant Forum can be found here. There are as many types of ponds as there are ponders to build them, but one of the most beautiful (and with the largest and most photogenic koi) belongs to a couple on Long Island NY who are very generous with their knowledge and often post awe-inspiring photos of their ponds at the forum. There is a lot of information and inspiration on their website. I love to sit out by the pond in the evenings after work. I love seeing what will grow well each year and what surprises there will be. I love the critters that turn up and take advantage of the little haven we've provided for them here. Happy ponding, Susan!

Friday, April 21, 2006

At pondside today

So. I got this fancy new camera for myself. My plan was to take a few photography courses at the community college where I teach and then treat myself to a digital SLR. My husband got wind of this plan and decided he wanted to get me the camera as an Easter gift. I've no room for any more bunnies (the perfect gift for a rabbit lover on Easter) and when he buys me chocolate it goes uneaten and is thrown away. I argued (but not too much, really) and told him I could wait and wanted to take a class first. Then, for the first time ever, I let him win the argument. *grin* Then I went out and bought it for myself as a gift from him - that way I don't have to feel like I'm spoiling myself - he's spoiling me - with my money - makes perfect sense!

I've been having fun wandering around the yard this past week taking pictures of the flowers and trees. I've taken a few pictures of the bunnies with little success. The fancy new camera hasn't fixed the problem I have with using the flash indoors. I'm hoping to get the time this weekend to take some pics of the bunnies when the light is good in the house so I won't need the flash.

It was too windy this evening for any flower photos, so I sat by the pond waiting to see if anyone would stop by for a drink or a bath. Half of our pond is very, very shallow and covered in river rock. The birds love the shallow end and the goldfish like to search among the pebbles for food. Usually when they see me coming they all wiggle their way back to the deep end to the usual feeding spot. I took these photos using my favorite 28-200 lens. I was less than 10 feet away from this bird with the lens zoomed all the way out, yet I still had to crop them to get the dove this size. Anyway, I liked these pics well enough and thought the dove looked pretty with the mixed blues and grays of the river rock behind it.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Serviceberry, Shadbush, Juneberry

Everything is blooming most recklessly; if it were voices instead of colors, there would be an unbelievable shrieking into the heart of the night. - Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters of Rainer Maria Rilke

The Serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.) is a beautiful native ornamental tree that is well-loved by birds for its sweet fruit. It blooms in my yard in mid-April usually; at the same time as the apple trees, after the ornamental pears, but before the dogwoods come to bloom. Early settlers knew it as Shadbush because it blooms when the shad run. My husband gave me this tree a few years ago - its fruit ripens in my birth month, hence its other common name, Juneberry. He wants badly to prune and shape it, but so far I've convinced him to leave it growing as a multi-stemmed shrub, rather than a tree. Its natural shape is gracefully arched and its blossoms look like shimmering lace against the woodland border.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

4/19/06 Mid-week bunny fix

Dora nibbles on a really big egg left behind by the Easter Bunny.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Hay Diaries are back!

One of our favorite Noo-Joisey bunnies, George from Our Warren, is blogging again at The Hay Diaries. Check it out!

Bleeding Hearts

The Bleeding Heart (Dicentra spectabilis) is my favorite old-fashioned garden flower. This plant is near 3 feet across and has been blooming in a shady corner beside my screen porch for at least 20 years. Each year it seems to grow wider and bloom more heavily. Bleeding Hearts like shade and moisture - mine gets morning sun and plenty of rain water from the downspout beside the porch. In cooler climates, the foliage will stay nice through the summer, but here in NJ the heat and humidity yellows it by the beginning of July when I'll cut it back. I've read that the flowers are favored by hummingbirds, but I don't see them here reliably until July when my plant is past its prime. The plant's wild relatives, also Dicentras, are called Dutchman's Breeches and have a less showy, but similarly heart-shaped flower.

Monday, April 17, 2006

The Martha Show

I went into NYC today to see the Martha Stewart Show. I've never been in the audience of a TV show, so when my friend Anna had a spare ticket I jumped at the chance. I'm not a big Martha fan, but it was fun to get a behind-the-scenes look at how a live TV show is produced.

I got up before dawn and caught a 6:30 train with all the groggy commuters - boy am I glad that I don't have to do that every day. It really made me appreciate my scenic drive to work. There is entirely too much hustle-bustle and general crankiness happening in the city for me. Never mind that I felt like a lost little duckling following Anna and her mom around - Penn Station and the city streets are like a maze to me.

The show taped lived today and as an audience member my job was to clap a lot and be energetic - not easy on 4 hours sleep. The show set had a kitchen and a craft area and a small greenhouse. There is a small army of staff people that attends to Martha during the commercial breaks and cleans up any spills or crumbs and has everything ready and *just so* for when the show goes on the air. On today's show, there was some soap opera actor who I never heard of (Ricky Paull Goldin)and Wolfgang Puck, the chef.

Martha made coconut macaroons and a veggie pizza with the chef. We were looking forward to the audience giveaways - we'd heard that Martha gives really good gifts - but there were only gifts for a few people. Everyone in the audience got a macaroon (sans the chocolate coating she recommended in the recipe) - so I guess that made it worth the trip. ;-) We roamed the city for a bit afterwards and had chinese dumplings for lunch before catching the train back home. Here's Anna and her mom, Flor, looking dazzled in the audience. The taped show re-runs at 6 pm here in the East on TLC - I'm off to go see if I can find myself clapping my fool head off in the audience.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

An Easter barbeque with Christmas presents and a campfire

Only in my family! My husband and I had the traditional Easter dinner with his family, then we went to my brother's for hamburgers, hot dogs, and ribs. I'm not sure where he got this bright idea, but it was fun on such a nice day. The photo at left is my brothers dicussing the merits of vinegar as a marinade for ribs while they enjoy Bloody Mary's by the grill. My brother makes a mean Bloody Mary with lots of horseradish - I had the virgin version and boy was it hot! Wow!

We sat out on the deck by my brother's chiminea and spent the afternoon laughing (usually at my brother's expense). At one point he plopped a wrapped Xmas gift in my lap and said that he had forgotten about it at Christmas time. It was a great old book about birds with color plates that he had pulled out of a neighbor's trash - great Xmas gift for Easter, no? We're thinking about doing Halloween at Christmas next year just to mix things up a bit more. We were making jokes about today being like that TV credit card commercial where the family visits their in-laws and celebrates all the holidays of the year in one visit. The photo at right is the gang of us (minus the photographer) - my DH, my brothers and their wives, my two nieces (aren't they cute?) and family friends of ours.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

The bunny next door

My neighbors are nice people; they mean well. Their kids *love* this bunny. But this is his life, day in and day out. He's out there in the freezing cold of winter and the steamy heat of summer. He has shelter and shade, and food, but none of the comforts of a house rabbit. He is missing out on a lot, as are his owners.

Some info about the realities of life as an outdoor rabbit is available here.

Someone from PetBunny sent along this little poem:

All I Need to Know about Life I Learned From the Easter Bunny!

Don't put all your eggs in one basket.
Walk softly and carry a big carrot.
Everyone needs a friend who is all ears.
There's no such thing as too much candy.
All work and no play can make you a basket case.
A cute little tail attracts a lot of attention.
Everyone is entitled to a bad hare day.
Let happy thoughts multiply like rabbits.
Some body parts should be floppy.
Keep your paws off other people's jellybeans.
Good things come in small sugar-coated packages.
The grass is greener in someone else's basket.
An Easter bonnet can cover the wildest hare.
To show your true colors you have to come out of the shell.
The best things in life are still sweet and gooey.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Black fly fever in the Adirondacks

Lake Flower, Saranac NY

I'll admit to hating just one thing about the Adirondacks in early summer - the bugs. Biting, buzzing, blood-sucking, rash and hive-inducing bugs.

I keep thinking that I'll get used to them, maybe build up some type of resistance. In fact, one reason I haven't made the annual trip the last few years is that on each visit my reaction gets worse. On my last visit my ankles, feet, and neck were actually swollen from all the bites and the welts on my scalp hadn't gone away until the fall. It was bad.

The culprit is the gnat-like black fly. Billions of them hatch in May and June. They fly in your eyes, up your nose, in your mouth, they find their way inside your clothing through the seams, they get caught in your hair. They bite and then you itch miserably for weeks.

Short of covering myself with bug netting and Deet I've found no relief, but to stay out of the North Woods that I love so much. The kind people that I bird with like to kid me about the black flies. They think my suffering is funny. Someone took my picture while I was hiding out in the back of our van and suffering from "black fly fever" induced craziness. I think I was trying to swat them away from my head with the water bottle. I was already bright red from the itching.

I don't think black flies carry any diseases, but they due threaten the sanity of this birder.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

4/12/06 Mid-week bunny fix

Sharon's Ben and his little rider. Don't you just want to kiss him?!?

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

My brothers and me, again

Among the many photos that my mother kept secreted away in the china cabinet drawers was this, one of a set that was taken by a professional photographer when we were kids. My mother never had them printed, so all we have are the numbered proofs with this funny purplish cast. Considering that the photos were taken in the early seventies, my brothers may just have been wearing purple shirts, who knows!

I've always liked this photo and would love to someday have it retaken, with us in the same pose, as grown-ups. We wouldn't be as handsome or as sweet-looking, but the sentiment would be the same.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Phalaenopsis "Brother Digger"

If you are not killing plants, you are not really stretching yourself as a gardener. - J.C. Raulston

The orchid I bought a few weeks ago is still alive and blooming beautifully. I haven't killed it yet. I took this photo today so that I have something to remember it by when it dies. I'm stretching myself, but fear orchids are out of my league.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Osprey ingenuity

Aside from Red-tailed hawks, I think Osprey must be the most cosmopolitan of nesting raptors in these parts. So long as there is water within a reasonable distance and a suitable structure on which to build a nest; they will do so.

This photo was taken last week at Sandy Hook, where there are multiple pairs of nesting Osprey. Most pairs there nest on man-made platforms on the salt marsh, but a few, like this one, nest in the chimneys of the building on officer's row overlooking the bay. They are quite used to pedestrians below their nest, but were agitated when I stopped to take photos.

In the town where I live, Osprey have nested for the past few years on a cell tower overlooking the railroad tracks and a lumber yard. The nest is huge and I'm delighted to see the pair when I stop for gas on my way to work in the morning. Often, at home, I will see them coming and going high above my yard.

In South Jersey, Osprey build their nests on channel markers, close to the water's surface. There is a pair with a "natural" nest in the photo at right, very close to the water level at the reservoir where this photo was taken today. The park naturalist told me that the reservoir is at 97% capacity now and if that were to increase, their nest would be flooded. My husband and I visited the Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center today while out looking for ponding supplies. The center has lots of great displays, but the biggest draw for my husband are the Bald Eagles. They've nested here for a few years and are easy to see. My husband commandeered the binoculars today while I was taking photos and had a nice look at an Eagle being harassed by two Osprey. Sadly, the nest has failed again this year as the eggs didn't hatch. Last year, the female of the pair died during egg-laying, so I guess it's not a surprise that this pair with a new female would not be successful at their first attempt. This is one of maybe 3 or 4 nesting pairs in my county so I'm very concerned (and thrilled!) with them. I hope they will get it right next season.

The environmental center has an *Osprey Cam* so that visitors can have a close-up view of the pair. I wonder if there are eggs yet based on this birds posture on the nest. They've only been back for a 2 or 3 weeks now, but considering all the activity *ahem* I saw out at Sandy Hook last week, Osprey don't waste any time before they start breeding.