Tuesday, February 27, 2007
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
just beyond the brown hilltops
spring waits there
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
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
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
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
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
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?
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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?
Friday, February 09, 2007
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.
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
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
Tuesday, February 06, 2007
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
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
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
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
- 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
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.