Thursday, May 31, 2007

Blooming this week

I had wanted to brag a little last night about my peonies; aren't they nice? I prefer single peonies, rather than the doubles that flop all over the place, even though the singles don't last in a vase. All of those white flowers you see are on one plant! Right next to it is another peony that never gets any buds. The foliage is beautiful, but no buds. I've read that's because either there's too much shade or it's planted too deeply. Neither explanation makes any sense to me because the one next to it is doing so beautifully. Any ideas?
I bought this pond plant a few weeks ago and love it! Problem is I don't know what it is, but I do think it may be the same flower that Susan was wondering about yesterday.
This is a flower on the Sourgum Tree we planted this spring. Not much to look at, but the birds and I are hoping for fruit this year. The tree is leafing out nicely, and the new foliage is tinged with purple.
The viburnums are blooming, too. This one gets the most sun so it blooms first and the most heavily. These are Linden viburnums; the Winterthur is struggling to put out leaves and I doubt there will be any blooms. There has got to be some problem with the spot it's planted in because this is like the 3rd or 4th Winterthur I've planted there and every one of them dies. Maybe I'm just not meant to have that particular viburnum as much as I like it. The Cranberrybush Viburnum we planted this spring bloomed very early because it was greenhouse raised, but it was pretty while it lasted.

So what's blooming where you are?

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Blame it on Blogger

Blogger won't let me upload pics tonight. I guess it's feeling cranky, too. I wanted to share my pretty peonies with you.

If you haven't already, stop by Mary's for some fun.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Purple martins

I've only this random photo to share today - a few of the purple martins at the small colony maintained in a local park by a volunteer. I drive by the park on my way to and from work, but never had the time to stop and see if there were any martins occupying the apartments. I was glad to find them instead of starlings. It surprises me because I've always had the idea that martins will only nest close to water - sure there's a reservoir within a few miles - but it's hardly close. I love that all of the apartments and gourds are numbered so that each couple knows its' own address.


I'm off to sulk about the end of my vacation now.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Follow me

The other day I went for a walk in the woods to see birds. Other than being temporarily distracted by a singing scarlet tanager, I didn't actually see very many birds at all. There were a few cuckoos who kept taunting me, the ever present and wonderful ovenbirds, and a gazillion blue gray gnatcatchers whose song became little more than background static once I gave up trying to spot them.
Instead I followed the chipmunk's chatter and he led me to find some special things...
He scampered about under the cinnamon ferns...
and helped me see the Pink Lady's Slippers that I've been searching for everywhere...
When I got over finding those, I noticed that the Mountain Laurel was just about ready to burst into bloom.
Then I met up with a few of these garrish beetles patrolling the sandy paths. None would let me get close enough for a nice pic, despite my dusty knees.
Finally I took a break and sat on a bench beside a swampy pond with the chipmunks still chattering at my back. My binoculars were focused on the yellow bladderworts blooming on the far shore when I noticed these tiny flowers at my feet. I think they may be Canada Mayflowers?

On my way out of the woods, the scarlet tanager was still singing and I watched a few bluebirds hawking insects from the grass. I've not had any luck with photographing birds this spring, and little luck with finding wildflowers when I go out looking for them, but I seem to do better with one when I'm paying attention to the other. Does that make any sense? Maybe this day I can credit my better luck with following the chipmunk's antics.

All photos from Allaire State Park, another local warbler hotspot.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Send in the clowns

We bought one of those gazebo thingies to put out by the pond and I need some convincing that it doesn’t look like a circus tent. It doesn’t, does it?

We have a nice-sized yard and the pond is a beautiful area, but it’s in the blazing sun and surrounded by rock and stone and is really the last place on earth that you want to spend any amount of time on a hot summer’s day. So my thinking is that this way we can have some shade and a few comfortable chairs and even some protection against the famous Jersey mosquitoes if we want to sit out there in the evening. Based on a test run late this afternoon I can also tell you that it’ll be a fabulous spot for a nap, with the sound of the water lulling you off into dreamland.

I think this is our sixth summer with the pond and we’re still not finished. Each year we tweak a little something to get it to where we want it to be. This gazebo is another step in that direction, I think. You might have noticed that we removed most of the fence from around the pond – except for the bit that faces the street. I’m nervous about that, but both my husband and I hated it and it really detracted from our enjoyment of the pond, plus it stuck out like a sore thumb. This way we have an unobstructed view from inside the house and from the screen patio. Anyone who is inclined to wander too close to the pond will have to walk through the middle of our yard in order to do it – hopefully no one will. We live on a quiet street, but have a lot of visitors parking beside our house because of a luncheonette on the opposite corner. The pond is something of a magnet, but I hope people’s better sense will prevail and they’ll stay on the street side of the fence.

The weather here has been much more like the 4th of July than Memorial Day. We went ahead and put up the awnings, which help to keep the house cool, but make it dark like a cave. I miss the sun streaming through the windows, but it’s been uncomfortably hot these past few days. I have just a few days left of vacation and intend to be very lazy and put the new circus tent to good use!

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Swift rescue

I know the photo is awful, but that sooty black blob in the middle of the towel is a chimney swift that was caught in our furnace today. I was down in the basement late this afternoon changing pooty boxes when I heard this odd scratching sound coming from the furnace pipe. Sure enough when my husband took the pipe leading from the chimney off, down under the cover of the furnace lay this very quiet swift. He scooped it out and we went outside and set it free.

We usually have a half-dozen or so chimney swifts chattering away over the neighborhood and just yesterday I was wondering alound to my husband about where they nest and roost for the night. Not many people have chimneys they can use anymore. Chimney swifts aren't able to perch like other birds because of the way their feet are arranged - they cling to vertical surfaces and build their half-saucer shaped nests from twigs and other materials glued together with their own spit. Neat! The DH will get a cap for our chimney so another doesn't find its way in, but I do wonder what it was doing in there in the first place. I may have to have a look and see if I can spot the beginnings of a nest in our chimney.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Some bog plants

I spent yesterday hiking in the Pine Barrens looking for neat plants. I didn't find many that I was hoping for, but thought I'd share those that I did find. I ended up at Webb's Mill Bog and was glad to see that it was safe from the recent wildfire. Quite a few rare plants can be seen here, but the trick seems to be knowing when to go looking for them, which I'm still learning.
The Pitcher plants were blooming; these are carnivorous plants and insects are drawn to the cluster of leaves (the pitcher) that are below the flower. These pitchers hold water and when an insect falls in, they can't crawl or fly out and are then consumed by the plant.
I was happy to find the first of three closely related bog orchids in bloom - this is Arethusa, which is also called Dragon's Mouth. The lip of the flower serves as the landing pad for insects, usually bumblebees, who come to pollinate them. These grow only in bogs, peaty meadows, and damp places where sphagnum moss grows. There were maybe a dozen in bloom from my vantage point, and most were growing in close association with small cedars.
My favorite find of the day were the sundews - this is a Thread-leaved Sundew - nothing much to it, but these are cool little plants that have hairs tipped with sticky glands to attract and trap insects. This is another carnivorous plant that relies on insects for extra nutrients that can't otherwise be obtained because of the nutrient-poor environment in which it grows. If you enlarge the pic, you'll see that there are two flies trapped already in the sticky hairs. They're tiny things, maybe just three inches tall, but they glisten in the sunlight. They'll bloom late in June.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

5/24/07 Mid-week bunny fix

Sunshine and Boomer keeping company together.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

A tall tree

How about some Borland? We haven’t had any for a while now.

“Every garden should have a tree nearby. A tall tree with broad bole and spreading branches, preferably with branches that start well down the trunk or with a low crotch from which a boy might climb. A tree which spreads its roots where it springs from the earth, firm based and strong against the storms.

This is a tree for man as well as boy, the man who has climbed his trees and now can sit beneath them in understanding. For him those branches offer shade and hospitality when the sun has seared his neck and the garden is only half weeded. He can rest his back against that broad bole in Spring, when the spading is half done. Weeding and spading that younger hands once hastened through.

There is reassurance at the foot of such a tree, as well as rest. The years have added to its strength and stature. The wind, the rain, the ice and the blistering sun have all gone into the toughness of its fiber. Its roots strike deep into the soil and find sustenance in the old, old hills.

Youngsters must climb trees, to look out across a world that is misty with adventure. New horizons can be seen from tall trees when one is young. But the time comes when one can sit at the foot of such a tree and see even further than the eye could reach from its highest branch. There are times when one can see all the way to Tarawa and Anzio and Guadalcanal and Cassino.” - Hal Borland, Sundial of the Seasons

Borland adds the footnote for those of us too young to remember that Tarawa, Anzio, Guadalcanal, and Cassino were battlegrounds of WWII.

The tree in this photo is one that I pay particular attention to on the days that I teach, because I pass by it on my way to the college. This photo was taken in late March when I began taking a photo every few weeks to track its progress through the seasons. I missed visiting for a few weeks when the semester first ended and on my most recent visit I found it in full leaf. It grows in a picturesque setting, on a slight rise beside a dirt road – set apart from the farmhouse and outbuildings that share the property.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Early summer vacation

Well, the cat’s out the bag and I can finally share the good news – I got that promotion at work that I’d put in for a while back! There’ll be a nice little raise and some new scenery. I’ll be working in a different title and with greater and more varied responsibilities. But first, I have to go through a 90-day training period and pass a few tests (this is civil service, after all).

One downside to the training period is that I can’t take a minute off from work for the next three months. Instead I’m taking an early summer vacation that starts tomorrow! I’m thrilled, mostly because the weather is supposed to be nice and I never ever take a week off at this time of year. Usually I like to take a day here and there during the summer, and if needed for vet appointments and such, and then take near to my whole number of vacation days at the end of the year when it’s a matter of *use them or lose them*. So this will be a treat!

I’ll go back after Memorial Day for 3 days to finish up with pending cases and pack up my things. I won’t have a desk for a while, so I’m not sure what I’ll do with all the stuff I’ve managed to accumulate in my cubicle over the last few years.

I’m excited with the new position, but a bit nervous because I imagine it will be very different from what I do now. I’ve been working as a caseworker for the NJ Medicaid program for more than 10 years; now I’ll be working as a social worker. To begin with, I’ll be assigned to a unit that is responsible for the placement of homeless families; later there will be the chance to work with the elderly or the disabled or to become involved with any number of social service programs. There’ll be more client contact than I have now and more interaction with the Latino community because of my Spanish-speaking abilities. I’m particularly excited about that because I really enjoy the face-to-face time; my job now is too much about filling out forms and getting paperwork off my desk as fast as possible. There will be challenges, I’m sure, but I look forward to the opportunity to grow some.

Anyway, I have a whole week of unsupervised time ahead of me and I can’t decide what to do first! That’s a wonderful feeling, too.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Watch where you step

Yesterday while in the woods enjoying these...

I looked up and saw this...

My little brookside haunt is just full of surprises! I'm used to fossil-hunters in waders finding me with my face in the foliage trying to photograph some odd flower, but this was the first time I've been surprised by a horse and rider.

The flower is Star of Bethlehem, which is one of my all time favorites. It grows like the weed it is in my mother-in-laws lawn, yet any that I've attempted to transplant here are never seen again.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Bashful bunny

Yes, she's here, but not ready for a photo shoot just yet! Boomer is curious and has taken to lying beside her cage and stealing strands of hay from her pile. We're taking things very slowly so there's no troubles, but it looks promising. She's here as a *foster* until we're sure that the two of them can be friends. She has ear mites, which take about 6 weeks to clear up, so until then she and Boomer will only be meeting through the bars of her cage. Her face is so young-looking - she's just six months old - and she's small compared to what I'm used to in a Flemish Giant, but I never had one so young. She's frightened - who could blame her - but with enough time and gentleness she'll be bossing me around like the rest of the long-eared gang. More pictures when she's feeling less shy!

Friday, May 18, 2007

Just fiddlin' around

Sometimes when I use the *auto curves* function in PhotoShop, I get bizarre and other-wordly results like this. Anyone know what that's about?

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The price of bliss

The idea to adopt another bunny has been kicking around in my head for the last week since Cricket passed away. The self-protective part of me wants to swear off any more bunnies, but I have Boomer to consider. I’ve been concentrating on trying to understand the impact Cricket’s death is having on him. I’m giving him lots of extra attention and even offered a stuffed animal for him to snuggle beside during the day while I’m away at work.

So far, he’s mostly ignored my overtures. He’s doing okay and eating well, but seems lonely. He’s sleeping in odd places and seems out-of-sorts. Cricket was always the more affectionate bunny towards me; Boomer never sought me out for pets, instead he wanted all of his affection to come from Cricket. You might have gotten a sense of the depth of their friendship from the photos I post here, but needless to say the two of them were joined at the hip and were very happy with nothing but each other. I’m feeling like a very poor substitute for the companionship they had as brother and sister.

My other bunnies live alone and are fine with it. Missy and Freckles used to live together, but now just share playtime; anything more than that and they’ll fight. Peeper lives alone and hasn’t ever known the joy of a bunny friend. Ideally, I could put the four of them together to live happily ever after as a group, but that’s just not possible given the realities of health issues and personality quirks. So I’ve decided, in consultation with Boomer, to find him a new friend.

KGMom recently shared her opinion that our past animal companions may return to us in the form of another animal. I’ve not had that experience, but do believe that we are often led along the path to adopting another by the spirit or memory of a deceased pet.

"It may seem like an odd comfort, but I really do take personal comfort in the fact that matter cannot be destroyed--it can be converted into energy, but is never lost. I think of this as a way that animals achieve immortality. They die and are born in new animals. Of this, I am personally convinced--and sometimes I go looking for past loved animals in the new animals coming into my life."

KGMom’s comment rings true to me in that I often feel like I’m trying to correct past mistakes when taking in a new pet. Especially with beings as sensitive and fragile as rabbits, the time spent loving and caring for them is a long learning process. I made a promise to Boomer and Cricket when I brought them here; one that I’ve kept and can continue to honor by adopting another bunny in need.

As coincidence would have it, there is another bunny. She is also a Flemish Giant and was just spayed this week and she's living with the rescue that I adopt from. Like Boomer and Cricket, and Mr. Bean before them, she was rescued from the local slaughterhouse where she was left by the person who bred her. Whether she was meant for show or bred for the few bucks a slaughterhouse pays for *meat rabbits* doesn’t matter – her need and ours is the same. Love and safety. That is my promise to them.

Have a peek at her petfinder page here.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

My barrens are burning

A fire has been raging (link to video) across some 15,000 acres of the Pine Barrens since yesterday. Aside from the worry for people and property, there needn’t be much concern for the health of the habitat as most species that grow there are fire-adapted. Some, like the pitch pine, require fire in order to reproduce. Its bark is thick and resistant to fire. After fires, many pitch pines sprout needles directly out of their trunks. In addition, pitch pine cones only open in extreme heat, so after forest fires, the trees reseed themselves.

One place that I do worry for, and for entirely selfish reasons, is the bog at Webb’s Mill (pictured here in the fall of last year). I’ve been waiting for late May and early June for the chance to see some rare plants blooming there. There are approximately 55 endangered plant species in the NJ Pine Barrens. Reasons for the dwindling numbers include introduction of aggressive non-native plants, the prevention and extinguishing of fires (a natural occurrence of the Pine Barrens), and changing the natural water flow because of farming and development.

I hope the expected thunderstorms and efforts of firefighters can control the blaze. My husband is waiting for the call from his department to go help out.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

More wildflower confusion

It's a good thing the spring wildflower peak is just about done here because I have many more photos of mystery flowers than I have the time or patience to sort out. I found these blooming over the weekend in my brookside haunt; the jack-in-the-pulpit that I found there has since grown very tall and there's still some spring beauties blooming. There could be other things hidden away there, but the understory is so full of garlic mustard that it would seem impossible to find anything else. My best guess for this flower is that it's some type of cress - maybe spring cress? At first I thought bluets, then some type of flax, then maybe a speedwell of some sort - but have settled on cress because of the alternate leaves. Whatever it is there's lots of it, but this is the only one that I found in bloom so far. It's been quite fun to return each week and see what's new and spend a little more time exploring the far ends of the greenway. The last two visits have been especially nice because of the spring migrants that are there in the woods and along the old horse pastures. This weekend I saw the first Indigo Bunting that I've seen in a long while and listened to it sing while I rested in the sunshine.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Pond progress

Mary had asked for some pond pics and we've done a bit of work lately so that I'm not so embarrassed to share photos. The filter's been running for a few weeks after the major cleanout we did and the 20 or so fish are back in the pond. This past weekend we finally bought a few plants and that has made a world of difference in how the pond looks! We bought some parrot's feather and a sensitive fern, some rushes, and a pickerel plant, and some elephant ears. We also bought a few of the *floaters* to offer some shade until we buy any waterlilies. The floating heart that grew last year as a volunteer has started sending out shoots and the mint that grows in the rocks is already out of control! This year I would really like to work on planting the edges of the pond; other than a few hostas, daylilies, and some monarda, nothing much that I've planted in the past has been able to survive. The pond is in full sun for most of the day and those rocks really heat up! I haven't spotted the frog since we did the cleanout, but I'm sure he's lurking there somewhere.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Mother's day

Hope you've all had a lovely Mother's Day. Thought I'd share a pic of a new mother spotted along the drive to work. I pass at least four new foals (that's the right word, isn't it?) on my drive in the morning, but on my way home, when I have time to stop, the horses aren't out to pose for photos. I snapped this during a quick drive by yesterday; not the pic I wanted, but you get the idea of just how adorable they are.


Saturday, May 12, 2007

World Series Day

Today was the World Series of Birding here in NJ when birders try to find the greatest number of species to raise money for conservation. I play every year with the Sandy Hook team, but this year only joined the group for a few hours in the late afternoon. While the poor souls who had been at it since 5:30 this morning had their dinner break, I watched the terns feeding on Sandy Hook Bay. That's a battleship of some sort in the background at the nearby naval weapons station.
The terns weren't the only ones fishing on the bay, but they seemed to be much more successful than the others. I love to watch the terns wheeling and diving over the water - makes me dizzy!
We did the *death march* out to the salt ponds at the very tip of Sandy Hook and saw hundreds of swallows and some shorebirds. Patrick from The Hawk Owl's Nest is somewhere in this group photo; he was a co-leader for the day and is a nice guy and has a wonderful smile!
We visited the locust grove looking for warblers feeding at dusk. The sunset over the dunes was gorgeous tonight - somehow I managed to miss the peak of the beach plum bloom, but they're still very pretty. We ended the day listening for woodcock, barred owls, whipporwills, and nighthawks, but found only a great horned owl perched in the distance. All told, I think the group had about 125 species today which is a respectable number, although they missed some *sure to see* birds.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Cricket's garden

I spent the day with the spade in my hands and dirt on my knees and planted a garden of spring flowers around the place we buried Cricket. I planted another section of my little woodland garden with her in my thoughts.

Just a week ago the mountain laurels were delivered and today there was finally the time to plant them. I added some snowdrop anemones, fringed bleeding hearts, lady’s fern, lilies of the valley, and even some Virginia bluebells that were marked down because they’re past bloom now. All of this in the place where she lies with the dogwoods flowering overhead and the scent of lilacs on the breeze. I think I've made a sweet place for her.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

She's gone.

My heart upside down

I’m afraid even to write it down, for fear that doing so will make it true, but there is nothing else in my head just now. Flowers and birdsong and all of the natural world is fairly shouting about the goodness of life. And again this year I’m turning my back on the Spring that I’ve so waited to enjoy in order to tend to a bunny who is turning away from life.

It all feels very cruel and like some awful joke. That is my luck with these bunnies that I love so dearly. I told my husband the other day that there will be no more – I can’t stand the heartbreak and the helplessness of it. Feeling so powerless to do anything besides wait for what seems inevitable.

That something as innocuous as a hurt ankle should become this just 4 days later is inconceivable to me, but that’s the case. I won’t leave Cricket at the vet because I lost faith in the vet’s power to heal long ago and I won’t take her away from Boomer, not now. I won’t let her die alone or afraid. I’ve made that mistake with too many dear bunnies to do it again. If there's hope, it's here at home where she has known only love.

I expect that I’ll be away for a bit, but hope that she won’t suffer for long. Be hopeful please, when I can’t.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

5/9/07 Mid-week bunny fix

"Life has taught us that love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking outward together in the same direction."

--Antoine de Saint-Exupery in Wind, Sand and Stars

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Find me a warbler!

If you’re looking for gorgeous spring warbler pics, you’ll have to go elsewhere. The best I can manage so far this season is mediocre photos of the trees I often find them feeding in. These are red oaks (I think) and there’s an overgrown arboretum near to my hometown that has lots of them. I like to position myself on this dirt path that’s lined on both sides by these trees and see what I can find feeding way up in the tippy-tops of the trees. The other day there were mostly black-throated greens and northern parulas, but I also saw a great-crested flycatcher and strangest of all a chipping sparrow! Isn’t he supposed to be feeding on the ground like a proper sparrow?

I’m curious if others north or south (or west) of NJ find a similar preference for red oaks when they’re in flower or if there’s some other type of tree you loiter under looking for warblers?

Monday, May 07, 2007

Same view, new season

I took these nearly identical photos of an abandoned cranberry bog in the Pine Barrens of NJ about 4 months apart. I hadn't intended to, but guess that some views hold equal appeal, regardless of the season. I think I prefer the photo from late December below; our trip last week was too early for the plants to be showing very much color or any blooms to help identify them. Bev from Burning Silo had suggested a variety of loosestrife when I first posted the photo at the end of last year, but I'll need a closer look later in the season to convince myself they're not just cranberry vines run amuck. The working bogs have been drained of the water that protects the vines from freezing during the winter months - those plants are now showing the reddish/purple color seen below and will begin to bloom in the next few weeks. I hope to get back and take some photos of cranberry flowers as they're quite unique in form.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

While I was away...

So I’ve not been around very much this past week, but I’ve been busy finishing up with school and out and about enjoying the bounty of spring. Plus, I didn’t have much of interest to say, still don’t in fact, but don’t want to make it a habit to just post a pic and be off.

Since I last had anything much to say here I’ve been to two wakes for coworkers of my husband and a memorial service for an old birding buddy who passed away back in January. I dragged my husband along on a day trip to the Pine Barrens and spent a lunch hour or two at the little park near to where I work watching the tree sparrows fight over the too few nest boxes. I had a successful evening looking at wildflowers in the woods and three unfruitful visits to various spots locally looking for migrants. The only new birds I’ve added this week are Baltimore Oriole, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Eastern Kingbird, Ovenbird, Oystercatcher, Willet, Common Tern, Laughing Gull and whichever Vireo it is that sings incessantly from the treetops. Other people are seeing great birds, but I haven’t managed to be in the right spot at the right time.

The pond is up and running and the fish are happy, my husband has cut the lawn twice and we got our hands on 5 little dwarf mountain laurels for the woodland border. I’m looking for ideas of what to plant as a groundcover in that area beneath the American Holly trees, so if anyone has any bright ideas I’d love to hear about them soon, while my husband is in the habit of digging planting holes. If I don’t come up with any other ideas, I’ll probably plant a few ferns just as soon as I figure out which ones might actually be able to survive in the dry shade.

Hope you all had a happy weekend; I’ll be around to visit with you before too long.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Goldfinch in flowering dogwood

The goldfinches are pleased with how the neighborhhood has dressed itself up for spring.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Blueberry time

Waiting with the bees for the beach plum to bloom; blueberries will do in the meantime...

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The spring runway

All the season's newest fashions are on display.

(I want very badly to have found Spring Ladies' Tresses, but these flowers look too perfect to be anything but a garden escapee.)

Wednesday, May 02, 2007


Encountering sinister creatures sprawled about in the early spring sun...

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Jack in his green pulpit

Walking in the woods to hear the sermon of the Wood Thrush...