Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Mid-week silliness

I know they're not not bunnies, but I couldn't resist the silliness!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Is beauty enough?

"Where nature is concerned, familiarity breeds love and knowledge, not contempt."
--Stewart L. Udall

I don't know that this quote holds true for mute swans, but I do believe it to be true for most other things in the natural world. I think we're more inclined to curiosity once some love and knowledge is gained, don't you?

For all their beauty, mute swans are maligned by many for their aggressiveness. In many places their numbers have increased such that they are edging out native waterfowl and destroying aquatic vegetation. They are known to drive away least terns, skimmers, and native swans like the tundra from roosting and feeding areas.

The more you know about these elegant birds, the harder it is to look upon them as anything but pests. Like many other introduced or invasive species, the mute swan thrives, perhaps because of its great beauty, despite our knowing it so well.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Color(ful) for One Deep Breath

leafless trees
just beyond the brown hilltops
spring waits there

This week's poetry prompt at One Deep Breath is color(ful). You might've noticed lately that I enjoy photographing the landscape when there is snow cover. There's not been very much of it this winter, but I especially like a view like this when there is nothing but a range of browns, made even more noticeable blanketed in white. I love the contrasts, and play them up when I edit a photo like this.

On this particular day I was anxious to walk along the field's edge and to see the wet bottomlands where skunk cabbage should be emerging. Soon, on a warmish and windless night, the woodcock will make its first twittering display flight from the stubble to the right of the path. Later into the season will come the mourning cloaks and the bluebirds and a kestrel to hover above the newly green fields on the welcoming breeze of a spring day.

But not yet. I couldn't take a step towards that hillside or the marsh beyond the scene I captured here. The ice-crusted snow made it all unreachable. Spring is there, over the hilltop, and after the thaw.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Let it snow!

Like a little kid I'm hoping for a snow day tomorrow. I have to say this quietly because if my husband hears me, he'll get angry. He can't enjoy the snow the way I do; it just means working all night for him. Right now it's snowing those huge wet flakes that make me want to run out and play. I tried to take some pictures out the back door, but they didn't turn out so well. Instead I added some *digital* snow to this image from last weekend. Sort of a neat trick that I learned and have been playing with for the last hour or so.

I know you're all sick of the snow, but would you sleep with your pj's inside out for my sake? Maybe put a spoon under your pillow too? Anybody know any other snow superstitions I can try out?

Note: The *unsnowy* image was part of this post if you're curious to see what it looked like before. What do you think?

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Kitchen dancing

When I'm out and about running errands on Saturday afternoons I like to listen to The Saturday Show with Jonathan Schwartz on WNYC. It's an interesting mix of Jazz, classical and American Standards with a little Neil Young mixed in for good measure. Not my normal choice in music, but every so often I hear something that just knocks my socks off and I appreciate being exposed to good music that I might not otherwise listen to. Today I heard a medley of In the Wee Small Hours/Leaving Again by jazz singer Kurt Elling - his first album will be released in April and while I don't know that I'd buy the whole album, I'll be sure to look for that track on iTunes.

My favorite part of The Saturday Show is that he plays nearly a full hour of Frank Sinatra. Hearing Sinatra this way brings me back to when I was a kid and a similar radio show my mother listened to that played nothing but Sinatra standards on Saturday night. She loved his music and always tried to grab one of my big brothers for a dance around the kitchen. I smile thinking of it.

Other music that I learned to like growing up was whatever my older brothers were listening to. I know all the songs by The Eagles, Styx, Kansas, Boston, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. I got way more than my fill of Lynyrd Skynyrd; my brother Brian played the drums and had a band that used to practice in our rec room and they played Freebird and Sweet Home Alabama over and over again. I can't exactly say that I smile remembering that!

What music reminds you of your childhood? What makes you want to grab someone for a twirl across the kitchen linoleum?

Friday, February 23, 2007

Hug a bee (or a moth, or an ant or...)

Pollinators are an essential part of a healthy ecosystem and play a significant role in the production of more than 150 food crops in the US. Wild and domestic bees do the majority of the work to provide us with apples and almonds and cranberries, but other invertebrates like butterflies, beetles, and flies, as well as vertebrates like birds and bats also play a role. In addition to increasing the productivity of food crops, pollinators are also responsible for the survival and reproduction of many native plant species.

It's easy to appreciate the beauty of flowers, but I'm fascinated to consider the myriad ways that flowers and pollinators have evolved together to ensure that plants produce offspring. The challenge to plants being that they're stationary and can't wander off to a singles bar on Friday night to be fertilized. Instead, they entice pollinators to come to them with scent and shape and color.

Populations of native pollinators are declining for the same reasons we know to affect other wildlife: habitat loss, pesticide use, pollution, poor agricultural practices, introduced species, etc - we're all familiar with that list. It's important to make people aware of the problem and the ways that they might help to mitigate the damage we do. I'd imagine that most flower and vegetable gardeners have some experience with pollinators, both positive and negative. It's the people who have never grown a tomato or who are convinced that *nature* is out to get them that could benefit the most, in my opinion, from a basic understanding of plant biology and how it affects the food on our table and the landscape outside our front door.

The image above is the new *Pollination* stamp series from the US Postal Service due out in June of this year. "The intricate design of these beautiful stamps emphasizes the ecological relationship between pollinators and plants and suggests the biodiversity necessary to ensure the viability of that relationship." A sure way to dress up the monthly bills.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Five things

I've avoided doing this meme thing, but am clueless tonight for anything to write about. The most interesting tidbit I've come up with so far is to tell you about the student I had to speak with after class last night because his behavior was so inappropriate. Anyone care to guess what this 18 year old young man's excuse was? Turns out that the 20 year old sitting next to him was tickling him. Since when are young men still tickling one another in college? I left elementary-level teaching because I'm ill-equiped to do deal with this type of silliness. 10 year olds don't understand my sarcasm, but you can bet this young man did.

So I'm supposed to come up with a list of things you don't know about me. The challenge here is to make it entertaining.
  • When I was 15 or 16 years old I decided that I wanted to join the Peace Corps and travel to exotic places and help poor people, so I sent away for the information packet and application, but when it arrived it scared the crap out of my dad and I got a talking to. I also dated a guy from Costa Rica for a few years and my dad was afraid I'd run off and be living on a coffee farm.
  • I love green olives. Now that's entertaining!
  • I'll listen to a song I like over and over and over until I get sick of hearing it. I do the same with food. There was a time when I ate tuna on wheat with american cheese for lunch every day until it didn't taste good anymore.
  • I have hyper-sensitive hearing for oddball sounds. Mostly annoying ones that drive me to distraction. Like the sound the ceiling fan is making all of a sudden, or the rattle-and-hum of my car. My husband, Mr. Fix-It, never hears this stuff.
  • I am useless with diagrams - especially in instruction manuals - I need a verbal list, preferably in number order, to understand how to do things. My husband has this intuitive sense of how things work that baffles me. I routinely have to ask students to help me set up the overhead projector so that they don't have to look at things backwards and upside down. Plus, this semester my classroom is *technologically enhanced* - but I still need a student to help me get my laptop hooked up so that I can use PowerPoint to teach.

So that's five things you didn't need to know about me. Hopefully, I'll be a bit more inspired tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

2/21/07 Mid-week bunny fix

Mr. Bean - ATB 2/21/04

I'm overly sentimental about my rabbits. That's probably true for plenty of us when it comes to our pets, but for lots of people the definition of *pet* doesn't extend far enough to include rabbits. I figure that's only because they haven't had the chance to fall under the spell of a long-eared companion yet. Lots of people don't *get* how or why you'd keep a rabbit in the house, or keep a rabbit as a pet at all. Sure, they get into trouble and you have to mind their teeth on your furniture and electrical cords, but that's easy enough to do. Having a house rabbit is a lot like living with a puppy that never grows up; there's occasional puddles and they'll chew the laces right off your sneakers if you leave them under the coffee table, but what's not to love about the exuberance of a puppy, despite the havoc they cause?

Not all rabbits are so loveable, depending on their breed or temperament. Some have been abused or mishandled or ignored and never really get over it, but we love them despite the huge chip they carry on their shoulders. Often these are the ones who appreciate the chance at a new lifestyle the most, even if they won't show it. They box and lunge and try to bite, but they dance while they think you're not looking. They pretend to be ferocious even as they melt beneath a kind hand that touches them with love.

Mr. Bean, in the photo above, was loveable from the start and remained so for all of his short life. He was the first of my rabbits that I fell totally in love with and I still think of him and the ways he endeared himself to my husband and I. He's still safe in my heart all these years later.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Water lily

How significant that the rich, black mud of our dead stream produces the water lily; out of that fertile slime springs this spotless purity! It is remarkable that those flowers which are the most emblematical of purity should grow in the mud.
- Henry David Thoreau, from a journal entry

I felt like looking at water lilies today, so I'm posting this pic from last summer of one that grows in my little pond. I've forgotten the name, but water lilies tend to be mislabeled when I buy them anyway. It's beautiful, that's enough!

My guilty pleasure for the day was going to a bookstore during my lunch hour. I bought a charming book of nature quotes, poetry, short essays, and watercolors called Meditations on Nature, Meditations on Silence published by Heron Dance Press. Their books are beautiful and I snatch them up whenever I come across one. Heron Dance also has a website that you might like to explore.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Focusing (or not)

There are certain things I like to do each day to make me feel as if it's been worth the effort of dragging myself out of bed. I'm not a morning person and other than that delicious cup of coffee first thing, there isn't much to lure me from the warm covers. The workday is something to be gotten through, unfortunately, and mostly I look forward to my time in the evenings. I stay up too late trying to fit in all the things that make a day worthwhile to me. When the weather and increased daylight allow it, I'm outside for as many hours as possible. Weekends and other days off from work are filled with as many postive and fun things as I can manage. I go to bed early and contented on the weekends.

I've often thought that I'd be happiest in a job that allowed me spend most of the workday outdoors. This realization only really came to me after I finished two degrees, both of which confine my days to a desk or a classroom. Before deciding to start my master's so that I could teach and have the summers off, I used to daydream about a job picking vegetables. Or delivering mail. Anything to avoid sitting at a desk all day surrounded by people and their negativity. And office politics. I taught full-time for a few years and enjoyed summers free of any responsibility but to my own joy. I then decided to teach just part-time and took courses in horticulture and volunteered with a few favorite environmental organizations. I took a second part-time job with the park system as a naturalist. I learned to play the tin whistle, although not well.

Then other stuff came along and I had to go back to full-time work because, while I was having plenty of fun, I wasn't making enough money at any of it. Being a grown-up stinks. So now I have the full-time job and all the drudgery that entails, plus I teach part-time, and still volunteer for a few groups. I've had to let the tin whistle fall by the wayside. I wasn't making very much progress with it anyway, plus it scared the bunnies. My point (I think) is that all of our lives are very full and that's a good thing. At least, for me it is. I'm not really focused in my interests and I'm as likely to pick up something new as I am to let something go when I find that it's not working for me. Must be the Gemini in me.

One constant in my life and something that keeps me focused is nature and a love of the outdoors. Everyday I try to find some little bit of time to spend there. I look to it for optimism and strength. I look to it for the beauty that is so often lacking in other aspects of daily life.

Five beautiful things that I've spotted recently are:

  • 9 deer browsing in the woods where I like to walk the dog. I've never seen deer there, and was happy to see 5 of them with antlers proudly raised to watch me as I passed by.
  • Snowdrops blooming in a neighbor's hillside garden, amid ice-covered branches that fell in the recent icestorm.
  • The endless shades of brown in a field of corn stubble, weeds, and winter trees.
  • Sandy Hook Bay is mostly frozen; if I focus on the near distance instead of the houses and naval base on the far shore, I can imagine that I'm looking at glaciers in the Arctic. Some seals would add to that effect.
  • The crows who have been warily visiting my feeders this week, snatching up peanuts and stale bagels. They never seem as beautiful as they do in the stark days of winter.

A multitude of small delights constitute happiness. -Charles Baudelaire

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Stitch count

I've put aside (given up hope for) that gorgeous tree sampler cross-stitch I showed you a while ago and instead started something else (sound familiar?)

I found another design (something entirely different) online and special ordered the charts and special ordered the fabric and just finally this past week received everything I needed to get started. I'm good at starting - not so good at ever finishing.

So in an effort to stay on track and use the power of peer pressure (maybe it will help) I'm going to post a photo of my progress every month or so. My goal is to spend an hour at it each day. What you see here represents about 5 hours work, most of it done well after any normal person has gone to bed. Stitching when the rest of the house is dark doesn't help my eyes, but it's a handy excuse for my sloppy stitches, plus the quiet helps me concentrate. That and a bunny snuggled along beside me on the floor.

With the idea of keeping these posts marginally interesting to anyone but myself, I won't be sharing the whole design with you or telling you what it's supposed to be. You can watch it develop as I stitch it. For those of you that don't stitch, that's part of what makes it fun, but also what makes it so frustratingly tiresome. You stitch and stitch and spend hours and your work looks like nothing. Then all at once the design comes together and it's at that point that I'm motivated to continue with it. I could use your help in getting to that point.

Hours this update/total to date: 5/5

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Turn and look again

The colors of the fading sun made me take a fresh and attentive look at this scene transformed by ice and shadow and I saw something quite beautiful then. Like many, it's difficult for me to admire the things I see everyday because there is so little novelty, but without admiration for the common there can be no attentiveness to its beauty.

My focus this day were the Hooded Megansers that were concentrated in the bit of open water around the dock and pilings on the river. Cursing the fading light just as the ducks became accustomed to my presence there, I packed up my things and began the walk back up the hill to my car. I turned and looked again and saw the colors of the setting sun and the rest of the scene with a new perspective; rather than an impediment to my view of the birds, the sun and ice had made the everyday into something sort of wondrous. Just a short time earlier in different light it was the same old view and nothing that would cause me to even notice it. I learned that it's wise to turn around and look again, and renew my enjoyment of things with fresh attention and open eyes.

Friday, February 16, 2007

A valentine rose

"Tell me, is the rose naked
or is that her only dress?"
- Pablo Neruda
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Just a little something for you to ponder on a Friday night in February.

Pablo Neruda was a Chilean poet who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971. He wrote spectacular love poems and simple humorous odes, as well as political and historical poetry. He's been one of my favorites since college, and I remember his poetry as being among the first that I could enjoy without the benefit of a bilingual dictionary. The snippet of a poem above comes from one of the last works before his death in 1973 callled, "A Book of Questions".

Thursday, February 15, 2007


The trees are bejeweled with ice; late yesterday afternoon when the storm cleared and the sun was first visible it reflected the blue of the winter sky and glistened like saphires. In the moonlight it was diamonds. The drive home at dusk today reflected the palest of amethyst.

A day without electric, or heat, or coffee (!) makes one appreciate just how much we rely on modern conveniences. The daylight hours were fine, fun even; an enjoyable day spent under a blanket alternating napping with reading. A walk through the neighborhood to see the beauty and destruction wrought by the ice storm was a welcome break from the quiet house.

When my husband took his dinner break (his only break during yesterday's 17 hour workday) and came home with the Valentine's roses, I was more interested in a cup of coffee and a burger from anyplace that might be open and had power to cook me something.

The night was something else. It's very hard to occupy yourself in the pitch dark with no company on Valentine's Day. So I went to bed around 10 pm which must be an all time record for me. My husband stumbled in from work some time later, having spent most of the day cutting up fallen trees and keeping the roads somewhat passable for those foolish enough to venture out. Most people don't appreciate the hours that public works guys put in; they only complain that their street wasn't cleared well enough or soon enough.

There was a small flock of robins who spent a miserable day in the holly tree in the front yard eating ice covered berries. They refused my offers of water-softened raisins, cherries, and blueberries but did appreciate a pan of water, kept from freezing, to drink. This morning they were back, with a few cedar waxwings, but still they looked miserable and ready for Spring.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Not what you think

To help me learn to use my new macro lens, Bev suggested a while back that I practice photographing little plastic frogs or something. It just so happens that I have a few of the real things around so last night decided to take some pics while I had them out of the tank for cleaning.

Technically, these are toads and not frogs and they didn't make very cooperative subjects. They kept climbing on top of one another trying to escape the holder that I had them in. It was fun to practice anyway. I'm sure my husband was convinced of my insanity when he was ambling off to bed and I was taking pictures of the fire-belly toads in the kitchen sink. Such is the life of a frustrated photographer. ;-)

To further damage your impressions of me - the toads were an anniversary gift from my husband a few years ago. No jewelry or chocolates for this gal! Every so often the DH goes out on a limb and strays from the safe gifts; it's always interesting when he does.

They're cute little guys and are very warty. They also have bright reddish-orange bellies. I feed them mostly crickets, but they'll also eat waxworms or mealworms or very small guppies. Right now I have four of them, but it'
s difficult to keep too many together because the larger ones seem inclined to bully the smaller ones and not allow them to eat. When the mood strikes them and they're feeling amorous, they bark like little dogs.

If you're in the mood for pics of truly amorous animals, stop by the
Dharma Bums blog to see photos of a pair of Bald Eagles caught in the act. Love is the air and Spring can't be far off now.

Monday, February 12, 2007

What is it about Cape May?

A few of us (Susan, Lynne, Pam, and Mary) are trying to put together a plan to visit Cape May together this fall for NJ Audubon's Bird Show (link to last year's weekend). I think I've been appointed the official tour guide because I'm local. The pressure of that has me a little nervous; I love Cape May, but do I really know it well enough to show off all that it has to offer? No, not really. I have my favorite spots and favorite times of year to visit, but probably those aren't the best times or places to see birds - which is what people visiting Cape May from afar will want to see. They'll want to experience the spectacle that Cape May is known for.

I don't think that the best of Cape May can be experienced in any one season - each has its own unique experience to offer. While I can jump in the car on a late May day to see shorebirds on the Delaware Bayshore or migrating monarchs in late September - what does it offer in late October/early November that will give a sense of what it is that makes Cape May so special?

Recently there's been a discussion on NJ Birds about the top places to bird in NJ. I've been pleased to see the discussion turn more to the merits of some of the top bird-related experiences one might have in NJ, rather than relating it to any one particular place in the state. Considering the vagaries of weather and migration, I would agree that it's difficult to limit the discussion to a particular time or place.

In an effort to further entice you guys (or maybe some others who might like to join us) I'm including a list from the NJ Birds discussion of some *experiences* that we might witness in Cape May in the late Fall. I'd like to see those of you that know Cape May as well or better to add to the list. Maybe we can come up with a top ten list of sorts?

  • That near-mythic, near-annual "big" day somewhere around Halloween when every scoter, and other littoral migrant in the western north-atlantic decides its a good day to fly past the Jetty in Avalon.
  • A late fall Buteo flight- the kind that produces Ravens and Golden Eagles.
  • Bald Eagles doing just about anything just about anywhere in NJ- remember when there was one nest in an undisclosed location in Salem County, and 5-8 was agood fall?
  • Fall warbler fallout
  • Short-distance migrant flight/fallout (kinglets, robins, hermit thrushes, yellow-rumps, etc)
  • Major nocturnal migration of thrushes and other land birds
  • A marsh at dawn
  • A peregrine hunting
  • Gannet/scoter migration
Can you add to this list?

Photo of the lighthouse at Cape May taken in late September/early October - my favorite time of year for a visit.

Sunday, February 11, 2007


The iceboaters weren't the only ones enjoying the ice on the river this weekend. Lots of people came out to skate and play hockey. They were also plenty of dog walkers. I watched this pair for half an hour or so - laughing the whole time. Each started out with some trepidation when first on the ice.
But nervousness quickly turned to doggy-glee and silliness.

There was lots of racing around and the inevitable sliding when trying to stop.

I'm not sure what you call this, but it looked like fun and less dangerous than the boating. I'd imagine their arms must get tired.

These two wandered at will on the ice and didn't get run over or cause any accidents

I went back today and saw some of the beautiful large iceboats. Many of the older ones are made of wood and are passed down in families. I'm just too lazy this eveining to download those pics from the camera. The ice at shore was getting soft by late this afternoon, but that didn't stop some fools with baby carriages (can you imagine!) from going for a stroll on the ice.

I also went today to a *Seal Walk* out at Sandy Hook, but that was a total bust; there was a huge turnout - must have been at least a hundred people - but no seals. I'll keep my eye out for them and hopefully will spot a few one of these days.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Come sail away

Just be sure to dress warm!

I've been waiting all week for the Navesink River to freeze up enough, in hopes that the iceboaters would come out of the woodwork, and today they did! Aren't they beautiful?

Unlike regular sailing, in iceboating there is minimal friction, so you can sail upward of five times the speed of the wind. Therein lies the thrill. Sitting low, so close to the ice, they say it feels like you're going 100 miles an hour. Sometimes the wind is so strong that only one side of the boat makes contact with the ice. Can you imagine the thrill?

The Navesink only freezes every three or four years, so the people who practice the sport have to travel to wherever the ice is, and we spectators have to wait for the chance to watch them. I'm hoping tomorrow will bring the bigger boats and the races; a regatta of sorts.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Hay day

Big news here. All week we've been waiting for delivery of our quarterly hay order. It arrived today and the bunnies are celebrating the end of their self-imposed hunger strike. They're spoiled and won't eat anything but the stuff that comes straight from the mountains of Nevada. We ran out of it last weekend, after I ordered an extra 25 pounds just before Christmas. I'm embarrassed to admit what I pay for it. The hay itself is expensive, but having to pay 2 times the cost of the hay just for shipping makes me feel like I'm being taken advantage of. I'd imagine hay-making to be a very lucrative business, but really, I know better.

There used to be a wonderful hay company in Canada, just outside of Ottowa, that I ordered from for years. They grew a beautiful mix of timothy and orchard grasses that was loaded with dandelion flowers. It was pesticide free and the bunnies loved it and the price was reasonable. Then they went out of business and I was forced to find another hay that the rabbits would eat. There's plenty of timothy available locally, but even that top-quality horse hay is not appetizing to the bunnies. A 7 dollar bale will last for six months because I use it only to fill their litterboxes. The hay I buy now is way too expensive to be litterbox filler! I dole it out by the handfull and still 75 pounds won't last me three months! Doesn't that sound like an awful lot of hay for five rabbits and two guinea pigs? I mean, I do feed them lots of greens and pellets too.

Lots of people find this blog by searching for "rabbit poops too much" which I think is just hilarious. Of course they poop a lot - that's a good thing! The rabbits are pooping out all that hay that I pay a small fortune for. I'm repaid by having plenty of organic fetilizer for the garden, but still.

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I was forced to migrate to the new Blogger this evening. I knew it was coming, but it might have been nice to have a choice about the timing. I was hoping to make a quick post tonight and then get started on grading papers; instead I had to fangle around with setting up new accounts and worry that I would foul something up. Hopefully it was a successful *migration* - I haven't been brave enough to look yet!

Thursday, February 08, 2007

A motley crew

I dug around in that huge tub of *stuff* from my dad's looking for an idea of what to write about tonight and came up with this pic from my sixth birthday party. I'm the one wearing the tall crown and pigtails. We were a motley bunch of kids! These were all my little friends from the neighborhood. I'm kind of amazed that I can remember all of their names 30 years later, even though I'm not in touch with any of them. Once in a while I run into the tall girl standing behind me on the left; her dad still lives with his new wife across the street from where we grew up. My husband and I visit them at Christmastime and bring cookies.

My birthday is in June, so I always had a party in the backyard. I don't remember doing much of anything besides running around in the bushes and eating ice-cream sandwiches. I laugh remembering that, considering the highly-orchestrated birthday parties people have for their kids nowadays. It must have been enough for my mom to have 8 or 9 of my friends over at the same time and keep us from getting into very much trouble.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

2/7/07 Mid-week bunny fix

A constant friend is a thing rare and hard to find. - Plutarch

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Out in the cold

Despite our sense to the contrary, birds are well guarded against the cold by their dense covering of down and feathers. Finding food enough can be relentlessly hard on them during the leanest months of winter when the remaining seeds and berries have been thoroughly picked over. Hawks and owls become more desperate as their prey remains tucked away in dens and tunnels and they're forced to pick off the weak from our backyard feeders.

A short-term solution is to provide a feeding station to help birds find enough food during the day to keep them warm overnight. Thinking long-term requires that we consider the value of habitat in terms of three things: food, shelter, and water. Planting native shrubs and trees with fleshy fruits (mountain ash, holly, crabapples, cedars, etc) and seeds (maples, pines, hemlocks, etc) will provide food. Many of these trees and evergreen shrubs also benefit the birds in that they provide shelter to roost in at night or to escape from the winds in the daytime. Birdhouses and roosting boxes can also provide shelter from the cold. Water is difficult to keep unfrozen, but a garden pond or heated birdbath will provide much needed fresh water each day.

My own yard is sadly lacking in many respects, but I do see the benefits of what I've been able to provide thus far. The pond is always a draw, but especially so in winter. The robins, starlings, and mourning doves appreciate a drink or bath in even the coldest of weather. American hollies are the only evergreens we have planted, but the robins flock to them in winter. A horse farm that I pass on my way to work has probably a hundred of them planted along the property line; sadly the robins fly back and forth across the road to feed on the holly berries and many are hit by cars in the process. Each day on my way to and from work I count at least 3 dead on the shoulder of the road. The viburnums and dogwoods we have at home have been picked clean by late December and my husband insists on cleaning up the garden in the Fall, rather than the Spring, so the many seeds of my flowering plants aren't available for the birds. We need to plant more evergreens and a more diverse variety of fruiting shrubs, and learn to leave the garden alone so that it can feed the birds in winter.

Of course now is the time to begin planning the garden for the season to come. I have a small pile of flower and seed catalogs that I'm lookiing over, but I'm trying to think in terms of trees and shrubs instead of the more alluring and short-lived flowers.

What have you found that sustains the birds in your garden during the coldest of days? Tonight I'm going to try a short-term solution to the present cold spell and whip up a batch of Julie Z's suet dough, mostly for the oriole from last week who I spotted at the feeders again this morning.

Robin photo courtesy of Associated Press.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Cranky catfish

If I had a tunnel to hide in today I would do it.

Do the people you work with ever make you feel like you were dropped here from some other planet? Like their mindless drivel about shoes and vacations and ex-husbands is some foreign language that hurts your ears to listen to? Like their screwy perspective on the world might be contagious and you should run screaming from your desk before you're infected with their stupidity?

Do I need to think about a new job?


This rant brought to you courtesy of seasonal affective disorder. Cheerful and sweet Laura may return tomorrow after a night under the grow light.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Officer's Row

Volunteer day again at the bird observatory and I didn't see a soul out at Sandy Hook - not even any fishermen - so you know it had to be bad! The wind was really whipping across the bay and it felt like the frozen arctic today.

The bird observatory is housed in that smaller building all the way to the right, partially hidden by the sycamores and hackberry trees that grow around it. There's a long row of 18 buildings like this that front the bay and which are known as Officer's Row from when Fort Hancock was an active army post. There's all sorts of gun batteries and nike missile sites that I may bore you with photos of someday. Anyway, nowadays most of the officer's quarters are empty except for a few local environmental organizations like NJ Audubon, the Littoral Society, and Clean Ocean Action. A pair of Osprey usually nests on the chimney of one of these buildings each summer also.

On summer days when I volunteer I love to sit out on our porch and watch the bay; I even like to do it on reasonably mild winter days. The sunsets on the bay are spectacular! Even though our building is smaller than the officer's housing (I think it used to be the doctor's quarters and the hospital was next door) I imagine it was a very nice place to live. Not so on days like today with that wind! Keeping house must have been nightmarish too, with the constant salt-spray on the windows, not to mention the sand being tracked in all the time. These are the things I think about to pass the time when no one visits.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Eagles on the horizon

No pics, but I did get to see lots of eagles today. The distances are just too great for photos. The pristine, undiked and unditched salt marsh that these gentleman are scanning into stretches for five miles to the west where it meets Delaware Bay. The various wildlife management areas that I was driving the inland edges of today make up one the largest contiguous protected areas in NJ - more than 30,000 acres of prime raptor hunting and nesting area. Not to mention the shorebirds and wading birds and waterfowl that use the area in other seasons. At the horizon in this photo is a nice group of snow geese that were brought up from their feeding by an eagle overhead. In the middle of all that sky and grass often the only clue of an eagle's presence is that the waterfowl suddenly all *get up* and the birder knows to scan above the flock for an eagle.
I spent most of today either freezing cold on the marsh or warm, but lost, in my car. I had maps, but none of them seemed to jive with reality. I asked for directions more times than I can remember and drank too much coffee, but saw some incredible things. About 5 minutes from home I saw my first bald eagle of the day, soaring over the Navesink River. I considered going home and going back to bed at that point, thereby saving myself hours in the car, but decided instead that it must be a good omen. Eagles do nest within 10 or so miles of me, but the site is not viewable from any public property. There's another nest at a county park close to where I work that I visit fairly often.

What draws me to South Jersey at this time of year is the numbers. At one point today I had four eagles in view in my binoculars at the same time. Pretty cool, huh? If you look closely and use your imagination you'll see the eagle's nest in the tree left of center in this pic - see that one that looks a bit darker than the others? There weren't any eagles housekeeping (or having sex) at this nest site, but at another place there was a nest visible on a small wooded island in the marsh - the eagles were doing some housekeeping there, sitting in the nest, and copulating on the ground at the edge of the marsh with a juvenille eagle looking on from above. I couldn't really see that that's what they were doing, but it sure looked like it.
I wish I'd had more daylight and wasn't so worried that I'd never find my way back to civilization - there's so much to see here - so long as you like looking at the horizon and the miles of salt marsh in between. I *just missed* a Golden Eagle (as usual) but watched red-tails harassing bald eagles and harriers hunting over the grass and diving down every so often near a muskrat lodge. I feel really lucky to be able to see these things at all and can't imagine why everyone isn't out there in the cold with me.

Friday, February 02, 2007


those perennial apparitions
of the backwaters - their shadows
the faded sails of anchored boats

- John Kinsella

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Nothing much of interest to say today, other than a reminder to stop by Wanderin Weeta tomorrow and have a look at this week's Good Planets show. I sent along a few photos that I wasn't able to post during the month of January while I was hosting, so don't be surprised if you find a pic there that you sent to me. Recycling is a good thing!

I'm thinking about heading south in the morning to attend the Cumberland County Winter Eagle Festival; getting up early enough to make the trip will be a challenge, as will the predicted cold, but the chance to see nesting Bald Eagles and the beautiful scenery in that part of NJ is hard to pass by.

I took the Cormorant photo above a few weeks ago at the Shark River Marina in Neptune NJ. The marina is a good spot to see Ruddy ducks and there is usually always a Eurasian Wigeon there, but I wasn't able to find it that day. It was a very foggy day; not very good for taking pics, but the Corms made me smile with their wings hung out to dry.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Winter beach

Given a choice, where would you spend a winter's day? Deep in a forest, high on a snowy mountain, beside a quiet lake? Hawaii? In the absence of other options I choose the beach. Fall is my favorite season at the ocean, but a February day at the shore with a biting wind makes a person really appreciate the comforts and warmth of home. I think I need to be reminded of just how blessed I am, especially at this time of year, when the walls are closing in on me.

For a person who's attuned to nature and the cycle of the seasons, February holds the promise of Spring to come. Our winter birds will begin singing this month and the great flocks of Grackles and Red-Wing Blackbirds that mark winter's passage should arrive. Great Horned Owls are nesting. Skunk cabbage will poke its head out in wet places by month's end and red maples should begin to show some color at the branch tips.

It's still winter in February at the shore. There is ice and wind, and solitude. The Oldsquaw and Mergansers court on the glassy surface of the bay. There is little color to distract you from the cold, but for the occasional glint of sea glass brought ashore by the wind. With luck you might find a harbor seal hauled up from the bay to bask in the sun at low tide. An exceptional year for the birder would find a snowy owl in the dunes at North Beach. To repay your wanderings in the wind and cold there might be a small flock of snow buntings instead of a snowy. There are rewards to be found, for sure. Spring peepers and woodcock and plovers are just around the corner.