Saturday, March 31, 2007

Come walk with me

I spent a few hours wandering around some nearby farmland that was purchased in the last few years to become part of the county park system. I've only been there once before and today it was just as deserted as on my prior visit. There's no soccer fields or playground here, so it tends to be very quiet but for a few runners or dog walkers.
There is a small wooded hillside on the property that was bursting with trilling juncos today. The remainder of the area is farm fields, some of which are leased out to grow corn mostly. It's a good spot to visit in summer for butterflies. Today when I stepped out from the woods to the edge of the field above I immediately heard insects humming and saw thousands of these flying about low over the field.

I have no idea what they are, but they look like some sort of bee. The fields edges were covered with holes that looked like anthills, and when I got close enough for photos I saw the bees going in and out of the holes.

They weren't at all concerned with me. Thank goodness because there were lots of them. Anyone have any ideas? I haven't looked in any of my insect guides yet, but doubt I'll have much luck sorting these out.

At the edge of the property is a small brook that one can walk along for a few miles. Most of the land that this brook runs through is protected as a *greenway* and it connects a few different county parks that I visit. I thought I might be able to find some wildflowers blooming so I walked in the wet woods along the brook for a ways and found these blooming - I think they're spring beauties?

I found great patches of periwinkle in the shady woods. At least, that's what I think it is. It reminds me of the vinca that people plant beneath large trees in their yards, so these pretty purple flowers must be escapees invading the woodlands.

I also found many patches of these beautiful purple flowers, but haven't been able to sort out what they are. I took lots of *artsy* photos, but none to help with ID. Maybe someone will recognize it anyway.

I could have walked for hours today, but worried about running out of light on the walk back to my car. I didn't see another person until the very end of my walk, when I came across a group of very muddy kids with their mom, sifting for shark's teeth and other fossils in the brook. Looked like fun, but a bit too chilly for me! It was just nice to see kids out doing such a thing, and it reminded me of something we might have dreamed up to do as kids on an early spring day.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Color to delight the eye

Yes, I'm playing with that macro lens again! And finding that my mistakes are often more interesting than the few photos that are perfectly in focus. I'm learning that using this lens requires a very deliberate way of seeing things and enjoying how easy it is to make an image that is about only color or shape. Anyway, sort of fun!

Anyone care to guess the flower?

Thursday, March 29, 2007

If, Then, Why?

IF this is what I think it is

THEN what is it doing in NJ?

and WHY is this dope hitting his golf balls towards it?

No Cranes were hurt during the taking of these photos, but one birder (yours truly) was heard shouting multiple obscenities at said golfer who was utterly oblivious.

So what do you think? Patrick? Anyone? I've never seen a Crane before, but this sure looks like a Sandhill to me, although the light was awful and the photos are barely showing any color on this bird at all. There are occasional reports from South Jersey of Sandhills or Common Cranes or hybrids or something, I'm not sure. Help!

Photographed today at Wolf Hill Park in Oceanport NJ.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

3/28/07 Mid-week bunny fix

Peeper was found as a stray in the neighborhood last July and a neighbor brought her to me to see if I knew of someone who could keep her. As if!

She was probably an Easter dump, let loose after she got over being cute and started acting like a real rabbit. She is still something of a terror, but thankfully having her spayed stopped her from trying to hump my feet all the time. She is not very accepting of affection, but likes to eat and loves to run and play, and is perfect with her litterbox. A good bunny despite her personality issues.

Most bunnies will learn to accept being petted and stroked once they learn to trust you. Some come to love affection and will seek it out. Others don't. Peeper seems to be that type. She lunges at me sometimes and will bite if I'm not careful. She boxes at me with her front paws if I'm not careful about how I approach her with my hands. None of this is to say that she is a mean rabbit, but instead that she seems to anticipate the need to protect herself.

The rescue that I work with recently sent an email looking for a foster home for a bunny with similar issues. This bunny has been adopted out a few times, but is always returned because the owners don't want to or don't know how to deal with the problem behaviors, mostly boxing and cage protectiveness. I can understand that from someone adopting a dog say, when fear aggression can be really dangerous and that requires an owner with special savvy and commitment, but we're talking about a little bunny here. How bad could it be?

So, I'm wondering about those of you with bunnies. Have you ever had that kind of experience with a bunny and was it bad enough that you would have given the rabbit away for it? Any good ways of dealing with it that you might suggest?

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Short and sweet

winter's forgotten velvet reveals a negligee edged in pink

This week's prompt at One Deep Breath was to write a one-line haiku. For more one-liners go here.

Today's temps in the mid 70's were enough to start the Star Magnolia in the front garden to bloom. Hopefully it won't rain or frost before the show really gets underway. Star Magnolias bloom early, well before the more common Tulip Magnolias. I foolishly planted ours on the south side of the house and every year March's unpredicatable weather mars the delicate blossoms coaxed from dormancy by a few sunny days.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Just in case

"What did you find in the fields today,
you who have wandered so far away?
I found a wind-flower, small and frail,
and a crocus cup like a holy grail;
I found a hill that was clad in gorse,
a new-built nest, and a streamlet's source;
I saw a star and a moonlit tree;
I listened... I think God spoke to me."
-- Hilda Rostron
Just in case Spring hasn't yet found its way to you in the form of a Phoebe or a Crocus, I'll allow you this less than wonderful view of both in the meantime. This wasn't the Phoebe's favored perch, of course, but he had to find another when I took a bench seat beneath his chosen hawking perch overlooking a sunlit corner of a farm field.

I found other things too, but they'll have to wait for another day.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Beach birds

My little blue Honda was sort of waving at me from the office parking lot on Friday. Does that ever happen to you? It was waving and winking and whispering about how nice a few hours at the beach would be. So we took off together and went to Sandy Hook to see the Osprey and the Piping Plovers, both just back in the last week or so from parts south.

Late winter/early spring birdwatching is as good an excuse as any to get out of a stuffy and overheated office. Most places hold at least a few newly arrived birds. The beach was deserted and I felt the pleasure of finding this little Piping Plover and having it all to myself. The dreary weather may have kept other less desperate birders inside, but the fog and the crash of the waves only seemed to amplify the pleasant effect of hearing the plover's repeated "Peep-lo" calls to one another across the beach. I was almost giddy with hearing it.

Piping Plovers are as special as they are hard to spot. NJ has on average just 120 nesting pairs. I can just imagine how confused and alarmed they must be when the deserted beaches they arrive on in March are increasingly populated with people as the weather warms and the nesting season progresses. They face predation from beachgoers and their pets, and from red foxes, racoons, and laughing gulls.

Symbolic string fences go up in early March to protect the high dunes where they nest from foot traffic by beachgoers. Volunteers monitor and protect the sites and educate the public about why the areas are closed. Cages or exclosures are placed around the nests once they're dug to keep out foxes and large birds. These things help, I'm sure, but still the population continues to dwindle. There doesn't seem to be enough being done, and the national park service doesn't seem to have a realistic plan in place to protect these birds. Imagine these little ones having to find their way to the water past your beach blanket.

I've read recently of a new management plan in the works for Sandy Hook, the goal of which would be to achieve an average population of 51 to 61 pairs of Piping Plovers with a reproduction rate of at least 1.5 chicks per pair for five years. I'm anxious to see what is done to achieve that goal.

I seem to have gone off on a bit of a tangent here, but these little birds are close to my heart. I think they deserve much better than the *symbolic* protection we're affording them: a bit of string, a few educational signs that most ignore, and a heap of garbage just beyond their property line. Maybe if more people had a rainy March day brightened by the plaintive calls of this bird, that, as Peterson says is, "as pallid as a beach flea or sand crab, the color of dry sand." Maybe that's their problem; they're just not showy enough to merit our attention or our protection.

Saturday, March 24, 2007


Springtime and its frantic longing for anything new and fresh and green brought me to the horticultural park today, desperate for a change in scenery from the browns and grays, as much as I've been enjoying them. I'm in a Spring state of mind and arrived fully anticipating a display of flowering trees and tulips more to be expected in late April than late March.

What was I thinking?

Early Spring is subtle and its quiet splendors ask only that you look past the melting snow and dead grass and mud puddles to find beauty in the delicate green of a hellebore at your feet or the blushing red maples on the hillside. Every year, every Spring, I need to remind myself that Spring isn't really a season unto itself, but rather a collection of moments and, above all, a time of transition. A period of waiting and watching. The signs now are mostly small and easy to miss, but they're there.

"Once a day and sometimes more
I look out my day-dream door
To see if spring is out there yet
I'm really anxious, but mustn't fret.
I see the snow a melting down
and lots of mud and slush around
I know the grass will surely sprout
and birds and flowers will come about.
But why oh why does it take so long?
I'm sure the calendar can't be wrong.
Sunshine fills my heart with cheer
I wish that spring were really here."
- Edna T. Helberg, Longing for Spring

Friday, March 23, 2007

Waiting in the rain

At least one Osprey is back, and looking lonely, at Sandy Hook.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Confession time

I have phone issues. More specifically, phone company issues. I've just finished writing out the monthly bills, and among them was a $16.52 check to AT&T, who is our long-distance provider. I don't need long-distance service; in fact I haven't placed a long-distance call in the last three months, at least. So why am I getting a bill from AT&T for $16.52?


AT&T makes me pay them $5.00 a month plus taxes and surcharges because I don't use their service. Isn't that un-American? Unpatriotic even? Sneaky and underhanded? Like bad business?

The last time AT&T decided to charge a monthly non-usage fee I called them and signed myself up for a plan that avoided the non-usage fee by paying 25 cents a minute on any long-distance calls. 25 cents a minute is a lot to pay to call my brother who lives in the next county (somehow considered long-distance), but I went along with the plan to avoid paying for something specifically because I was not making use of it.

Now AT&T has decided to charge me 25 cents a minute on any calls I do make, or the monthly $5.00 non-usage fee - whichever will put more money in their bloated pockets. Is At&T that desperate for money?

Dissing AT&T feels sort of like sacrilege to me. My father worked for them for his whole career. My brother worked for them for his whole career until they layed him off as my father lay dying (nice - thanks AT&T!)

Part of me feels silly for fussing over it at all. I pay three times that amount for a cell phone I hardly use - mostly for calling my brother (to avoid that 25 cents a minute charge) and for emergencies - but it's the point of the thing, you know?

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

My other brother, Brian, the real writer (and poet) in the family has finally decided to stop lurking and left a comment (and a poem) on this post the other day. Have a look!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

3/21/07 Mid-week bunny fix

I've been trying to get a photo of the bunnies that shows their size relative to one another, but I'm afraid this isn't it.


If nothing else you get an idea of the kooky things I try to let everybunny have a little freedom without hurting one another in the process. Cricket is the big, big-eared bunny closest to the exercise pen that serves as a temporary fence. Little loppy-eared Peeper is on our side of the fence waiting for Cricket to get close enough so that she can attempt a bite at Cricket's nose through the fence. Boomer is reclining in a sunbeam in the background, unconcerned with the feminine territorial battle being played out before him. As long as he has a comfortable spot to nap in, he's happy.

Peeper weighs less than half what the Flemmies weigh, yet she is the more aggressive one and spent all her *out* time at the fence, rather than exploring the rest of the house. Once I got tired of keeping her from biting off Cricket's nose and put her back in *her* room, she promptly fell asleep for the remainder of the afternoon.

Exercise pens make a great safe place, indoors or out, to exercise a bunny that lives in a cage. They're also an excellent alternative to cages, so long as your bunny isn't a jumper. Peeper could never live in one because she can jump higher than the pen when she means to.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Word cloud 2

I posted one of these last year around this time and thought I would try it again to see how it had changed. The idea is that it analizes your blog and lists the most common words in the *word cloud*. The nicest change since last year is that I see many of your names there. Thanks for your continuing friendship.

In case you're feeling mindless also and would like to give it a try - click here.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Another Pine Barrens mystery

I took this pic back in late December during a visit to the cranberry bogs in South Jersey when I was looking for those elusive Tundra Swans. I'm pretty sure I've figured out what it is and understand now why I didn't find any birds that day. Guesses anyone? Have you come across any similar devices when out birding?

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Winter bloom

Maybe yesterday's greenhouse beauties were too gaudy for your taste - it's easy to be bold and beautiful when you're lovingly tended by paid staff and live in a temperature and humidity-controlled environment.

Is your preference instead for the frilly fragrant blooms of this witch hazel in the snowbound garden? Do you find their ruffled paper-confetti flowers more beautiful, or admirable, for their brash defiance of the snow and ice?

Just asking!

Maybe I'm looking for meaning where it doesn't exist, or playing with metaphors just to amuse myself, but not a single person paid any mind to this plant as they passed it by on their way into the greenhouses yesterday during my visit to the garden center. Primroses and pansies and coddled orchids were worthy of attention, but not this common plant putting on its vernal show for all to witness for free.

Spring is where you find it and, of course, where you choose to look. I'm at the point that any flower, or other sign of spring, however humble, causes me to stop and take notice. All the little steps away from winter bring us closer to warmth and the greening of the landscape.

When the retailers decide to flood the market with colorful flowers really has nothing to do with spring. If we followed them, we'd be celebrating Halloween in late August. We laugh at that idea, but are willing to buy into it in late March when we're desperate for an end to winter and cold. But if you have a garden or are attentive to the signs, even the green shoots of snowdrops and crocuses, without any blooms yet, can work their magic and convince you that spring is on its way, however reluctantly it comes sometimes.

The miracle of March is working, mostly unseen. By May, when all the world is green and humming with life, we'll have lost all sense of proportion. For now the first crocus or the simple witch hazel are a gentle reminder that spring isn't just a dream.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Spring tonic

What better antidote to snow and rain than a visit to a greenhouse! I was smart and left my money at home and just wandered around enjoying the moist warm air and the colorful flowers. I was very tempted by these *designer* baskets (with price tags to match), but think I could put together something just as nice with things I already have once I find some little pansies that need a home. I feel a little silly taking photos in a public place, but find them useful later when I'm looking for ideas and inspiration for container plantings.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Don't like the weather?

Not much to say today, but I do have an addition to the list of things I love about my job. The weather for the last week has been unseasonably warm; near to 70 degrees on Wednesday. But late yesterday a cold front came through and it's been raining ice and snowing all day today. The view outside the copy room window at the office was very wintery: I often stand at this window and watch for a Great Blue Heron that visits our *pond* - usually there's a few Canada Geese and some Mallards. Last summer we had a bunch of baby snapping turtles dig their way out of the banks of the pond and under the chain link fence that surrounds it. I was talking about the weather, wasn't I? See how easily I get sidetracked by birds! Anyway... so it was very cold out today. Winter on the outside.

But inside it was a balmy 81.5 degrees! Yesterday it got up to 84. A summer's day to go with my coworker's tropical postcards there in the background. It's so nice to be dressed for the winter weather and have to sit at your desk and sweat day after day! I love it!

The summertime is even better because I can go to the office and freeze my ass off! I have this pretty blue serape from Mexico that I wrap myself in for the summer months because it's usally about 50 degrees.

I'm trying to be funny, but I sense that I'm not fooling anyone here. So I'll end this with an invitation to any of you that are suffering through the last few months of winter in the frozen north to come and visit me at work someday. Whatever the weather, you can count on the opposite once you step inside. I'll be the one alternately fuming or freezing in the back corner.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Where is your Walden?

Thoreau believed that we all have our solitary places; places we go to in order to escape a world that closes in on us; a place neither physical nor geographical, but instead mental - a state of mind that exists within all of us and which offers the chance to think and to listen.

Thoreau called his place "Walden" and I'm wondering about what name I might give to my solitary place. Where is it that I take myself to be away from the here and now? Would it be a place like this sand trail through the Pine Barrens? Is that solitary place more about being very present in the moment and separate from memory and its weight? What view in my mind's eye quiets the thoughts and endless questions from an overactive mind?

There is a place that I feel peace and safety apart from the world, but I don't know that it's one that I can photograph. It's part blue sky and loneliness, the music of water and birdsong, the dazzle of sun and the whisper of wind, and the question of what lies ahead, just around the bend and out of view.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

3/14/07 Mid-week bunny fix

Cricket, my stitching buddy

No, I'm not ready to give an update on my progress with the cross-stitch project! You can see that there hadn't been much when this photo was taken. There still isn't much.

Notice the nicely deconstructed wicker chair leg. One of these days I'll sit down there and the whole bottom will fall out to the sound of the bunnies laughing at me.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Confusion reigns

My remedial reading students at the community college had their mid-term exam last week. I've been moaning and groaning since last Wednesday trying to get the exams graded. I've mentioned that the department changed the course; not so much the curriculum, but the method we are using to bring these students up to college-level reading skills. We've tweaked things some since the fall semester and made the mid-term more difficult. So far I've seen mostly low C's, a few F's, and one B. Not promising.

The course I'm teaching is the second in the series, yet these students are not reliably able to find the main idea of a paragraph or to make inferences about what they've read. Those very basic skills used to be covered in the first course and in the past I spent most of my time working on higher-level college reading skills and study strategies. It seems now that students are coming to me without those basic abilities which makes me wonder what in the world they're doing for the first semester of the course.

Anyway, Lynne recently shared some funny student responses to math test questions. Most of them were very creative and showed that the student had a bright mind, but maybe just forgot to study for the test. It occurred to me that you might like a look at the work my students are doing. I'd like to think their answers are funny and show creative thinking, but I'm afraid not.

The mid-term was based on a short article about nutrition and students were expected to read the article and use particular strategies that they'd been taught to help them understand what they'd read. There were also questions to guide their reading that required them to find the main idea of certain paragraphs and to make inferences about the meaning of particular passages. Every single student got this question wrong:

The text reads: "Recent research shows that our food choices rival transportation as a human activity with the greatest impact on the environment. By 2020, people in developing countries will consume more than 39 kg of meat per person each year - twice as much as they did in the 1980's. The people in industrial countries such as the United States will still consume the most meat - 100 kg a year - the equivalent of a side of beef, 50 chickens, and one pig each."

Students were asked to explain in their own words what the italized sentence means. Some responses:
  • "Our food choices make us how we act and how much energy we have."

  • "People who are competing for the same thing can have an impact on the environment."

  • "It means that we ask for so much food that we will need more deliveries of it in bigger quantities."

  • "We eat food that we can get to that is close to us."

  • "It means that consuming more food in the future is going to be a result of people being more active than before."

  • "People eat while on the go and don't take time to eat a good nutrient meal. It is also easy to transport food."

  • "Since foods are easier to transport people are eating more meats than ever before."

  • "Food is competing with us, it lowers us in."

  • "We can't walk long enough because we are to fat. So now in stores they have electronic carts to help these people get around. Not a good thing."

Can you hear me moaning and groaning? And screaming?!? I shouldn't make fun, but they are clueless.

I don't think this question, or the article as a whole, was very difficult. What do you think? Can you find any correct responses? Am I just being too tough?

Monday, March 12, 2007

Pine Barrens birds

I mentioned that I had gone on a bird walk in the Pine Barrens yesterday. While I've spent a fair amount of time wandering around there on my own or with a friend who knows the place well, this was the first time I went with a group of birders led by a naturalist from NJ Audubon. The weather was perfect and there were only 8 of us in the group - a plus as far as I'm concerned. I hate birding in big groups of chatty women and hardly ever bird that way anymore. I'm glad I went along though, as I learned a few new spots to visit again on my own.

I don't ordinarily share trip lists here, but we had a few special sightings that make this list worth reading. Going to the Pine Barrens isn't really about seeing huge numbers of birds; the habitat doesn't lend itself to great variety, but I think that makes each new species worth the effort of walking through all that sugar sand!

Pied-billed Grebe
Tundra Swan*
Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Ring-necked Duck
Hooded Merganser
Turkey Vulture
Bald Eagle
Red-tailed Hawk
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Downy Woodpecker
Eastern Phoebe
Blue Jay
American Crow
Carolina Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper (singing!)
Carolina Wren
Eastern Bluebird
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow

Not bad for a late winter day in the Pinelands! The singing Brown Creeper was a treat, as were the Bluebirds, and the Bald Eagle. I was most thrilled to find the Tundra Swans that I've been looking for since late November - there was a nice group of about 40 birds feeding in one of the cranberry bogs at the Franklin Parker Preserve. We also found a pair of Wood Ducks way back in the preserve in one of the dikes, but they flushed before I was able to really take in their beautiful colors. I don't see Wood Ducks often at all, even though they're a very common nester here in NJ. Anyway, it was a good day.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

It's official

Spring officially arrived for me today because I had two firsts - the first eastern phoebe and the first woodcock.

I haven't managed to see any woodcock in the last few years because I never got around to looking for them. There's certain places locally that I know to find them, but I've been too lazy to get in the car and drive to then stand out in the near dark and cold on the chance that the night was warm enough and windless enough to suit them and their dizzying courtship display.

Well, guess what? I had woodcock almost in my backyard this morning! Our property backs up to a small park with athletic fields and a small market and farm bordered by wet woods. I was up before the sun today because of the time change and a bird trip to the Pine Barrens. After a shower I was here in the office with the window open a little so I could hear the cardinals and robins greeting the day when I heard the first "Peeent!" from the field behind the house. I thought for sure that I had imagined it, but putting my ear to the window confirmed what I'd heard. I stepped out the back door in my robe and saw a woodcock twittering over the house. It amazes me to find these birds so close to home when for years I've been driving out to Sandy Hook or the fields around the college to see them.

I took a walk back to the farm this evening just at dusk and was treated to a show by half a dozen or so woodcock. What a treat! They're fun to watch because no two birds fly alike. Some go straight up and hover at tree-top level, some corkscrew off low to the ground, and many zig and zag through the brush making it very hard to follow them with binoculars in the dying light. Sometimes one will take off or land almost at your feet.

I have to wonder how long I've been missing out on this! Now that I know they're back there, I'll be sure to listen for them at dusk.

Image from Google Images

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Saturday's rewards

There's this sort of game I play with myself so that I can get things done that I don't really want to do. Most weekends it's cleaning the house and doing the grocery shopping. Today it was a visit to the dentist and grading mid-term exams that were on the *don't really want to do* list. So in an attempt to balance out the negative emotions involved in those two activities, I spent a few hours after the dentist wandering around a state park that I don't often visit.

It's a very urban park, but with a nice mix of habitats - a sample of the more southern pine barrens forest with lots of pitch pine and a dense stand of Atlantic white cedar, plus the upland hardwood forest with beech, black birch, red and white oak and old growth white pine. There's also a fairly large bit of salt marsh and a freshwater marsh that I can admire from the Garden State Parkway at 70 mph as it passes through the park.

The trails were very wet; that was the only tangible sign of spring that I found today. No spring azures, no fiddleheads, no skunk cabbage or hint of buds on the mountain laurel or swamp azalea. It's supposed to be very easy to find pink lady's slippers here and trailing arbutus, but I'll have to go back later to find those beauties when spring isn't just in my imagination.

I came home to the stack of mid-terms happy to have had a few hours out, but disappointed that I hadn't found more to put me in mind of the coming season. Maybe it's just as well that I don't catch spring fever quite so soon. There's still six more weeks of students and papers for me to contend with.

Friday, March 09, 2007

A found poem

"Have you forgotten
that you can never
be caught
if you still
trees crackling
and growling
if you can hear
the one
dit of gravel
fall over
the other
dit of gravel
in the wind,
if you can still count
the red berries
on the bushes
and divide
by the number
of birds
in the yard,
if you can recollect
that you
are descended
from some
that no longer
a ground
you came from
run through
by El rio -
abaio rio,
the river
beneath the river
that surfaces
in the most
who were washed
in a magic
with a bowl
your belly,
gathering lightning,
gathering rain,
forever filling,
and forever
emptying out.
Where does
the breath go
when it is not
being drawn?"

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

I've put off posting this *found* poem for a few months, hoping that I might be able to first come up with the author's name, but I haven't been able to find any source for it. Maybe someone out there might recognize it.

I found it hanging in a coworker's cubicle - a photocopy of the typewritten poem that was given to her on a retreat years ago. She doesn't recall or never knew who the author was, but "The Cairn of Recollection" was handwritten across her photocopy. Searching for that as a title didn't produce any results.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Upcoming bird-related stuff

A late reminder that the now biweekly *Good Planets* will be hosted this Saturday by Bev at Burning Silo. Hopefully it isn't too late to submit a photo for this weekend's edition. The theme this month is *home* - whatever that may mean to you. More specific info is available in Bev's post on the subject. I would love to find a bird's nest to photograph for inclusion, but this lonely bluebird box was all I found when I went out looking for nests and woodcock late last Saturday afternoon.

Our friend Jayne at Journey Through Grace is hosting the upcoming edition of I and the Bird on 3/22 so send a link to your best bird-related post to her at blessingsabound AT mac DOT com by 3/20. Lots of us have been blogging about birds lately, so it would be wonderful to see your serious or comical (Mary!) bird blogs read by a wider audience.

The weather here in NJ has been temperamental (like most of us come March), but I've been pleased to note the arrival of a small flock of bluebirds at Allaire State Park and Red-wing blackbirds in the wet fields by my office. I've also spotted a killdeer or two, so Spring is marching northward. The Osprey should appear at Sandy Hook within the next two weeks and I'm trying to decide on a day to take off from work to greet them on their return. The Sandy Hook Migration Watch starts a week from today - if you're in the area why not stop by and check it out!

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

3/7/07 Mid-week bunny fix

Peeper lives in the spare bedroom behind a gate. She chews and tugs at the gate incessantly so once in a while I let her roam around the house. I'd be happier without a gate to climb over, but I worry about a fight between her and the Flemmies who live on the porch.

Dora, who passed away, used to live here in the spare bedroom, but we never needed a gate because she wouldn't set foot outside of *her* room. The Flemmies don't need a gate either because they hardly ever venture off the sunporch. But Peeper is a roamer. It's strange to me how rabbits can be so much the same in some ways, yet so different in others.

On this particular day, Buddy had been sound asleep on his bed in the middle of the living room when Peeper came bounding across it and stopped to check him out. He woke up and ambled off to the kitchen window. Buddy gets nervous around the bunnies, probably because he's afraid of doing the wrong thing and getting yelled at. Really, I don't know why they make him nervous; he's always been gentle and only gets yelled at for running full-steam onto the porch to bark at the mailman. That sends the bunnies to scattering in all directions and somebunny usually knocks something over in the process which just startles them worse and then Buddy gets yelled at for setting all the chaos in motion.

I snapped the photo just as Buddy had finished yawning and turned to look balefully back at Peeper and I pursuing him.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Voices in the dark

The great horned owls in the neighborhood have been hooting a lot in the past few weeks. It seems sort of late in the season for them to be so noisy, but I don't guess they have to worry about attracting unwanted attention if they're nesting.

Most years the majority of their hooting is done in December and January, but this year they've been pretty silent, other than the occasional volley from our black locust to one of the evergreens across the street in the cemetery. I've always thought this to be territorial hooting between rival males working out the boundaries of their home turfs, but really, it's all a mystery to me. That's the thing about owls; who knows what they're up to in the dark?

I would love to be able to find their nest or a nest of the screech owls I hear once in a while. I don't go out looking for nests exactly, but like to keep my eyes open to the possibility of one nearby. I'm sure it's there, hidden in the sheltering branches of a pine or in the crotch of an old oak somewhere in the neighborhood. It's enough, really, to hear them in the middle of my suburban neighborhood. I like just knowing they're out there keeping watch over the night as I sleep.

"All night each reedy whinny
from a bird no bigger than a heart
flies out of a tall black pine
and, in a breath, is taken away
by the stars. Yet, with small hope
from the center of darkness
it calls out again and again."
--Screech Owl by Ted Kooser

Monday, March 05, 2007

Late winter

If we're lucky enough(?) to live in a place that has four seasons to the year, then I think it must be inevitable to be anxious for each seasonal change. I'd guess the anticipation of spring is most common; however I find myself anticipating the end of summer and heat more than I do the return to that type of weather. Yet, as much as I love the cold of fall and winter, I do get to missing the garden. March is a funny month; with the equinox we think of it as the first month of spring, but here in NJ at least, the weather is anything but spring-like most days, and the garden has to wait.

Whatever else it may be, I think of March as a month of anticipation. There are good things to come, but also much to appreciate at this in-between time of year. Maybe just to convince myself to be happy at this week's return to below freezing temps, I made a list of some of the things that, as a gardener, I enjoy about late winter. Maybe you'd like to add to it?
  • Catalogs, of course! I love to spend a weekend afternoon dreaming about what my garden might be this year and marking up the pages of my favorite catalogs with yellow sticky notes on the photos of the most colorful and unusual plants. At some point reality sets in and I order only a third of what I would really like and still don't have a permanent place for most of it.

  • Anticipating the first weekend of spring cleanup and that first sweet smell of the earth warming up. The restlessness of spring-fever and the urge to be out of the house.

  • Winter bouquets: acorns and pinecones, red osier dogwood twigs, witch hazel, pussy willows, forsythia...

  • Freedom from weeding and mowing and plant pests.

  • Anything is possible now; everything a promise.
"Every gardener knows that under the cloak of winter lies a miracle... a seed waiting to sprout, a bulb opening to the light, a bud straining to unfurl. And the anticipation nurtures our dreams." --Barbara Winkler

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Pale Male reminder

I've posted about this before, but it's worth repeating for those of you who might not be familiar with the site. Lincoln Karim maintains a website that chronicles the life of NYC's most famous red-tailed hawk - Pale Male. His photography is stunning and he really, really loves these birds. Pale Male is a movie star (a documentary was made about him) and he was the subject of a book (Redtails in Love). In late 2004 his nest on a swanky building in NYC was removed and destroyed by the company managing the building. After protests by NYC Audubon and many others a solution was realized to allow Pale Male to nest their again. If I remember correctly, they attempted to nest at that site in 2005, but failed. They found a new nest site on a different building in the city for 2006, but sadly failed again last year. So there is much hope for them in 2007. Things are picking up for them now, as they are busy with nest building and mating. I try to check in each day for the newest pics. Enjoy!

Marie Winn, the author of Redtails in Love, also has a blog that might be worth a look: Central Park Nature News.

Note: Image is of a woodcut designed by Marie Aey in response to Pale Male's eviction in 2004. It's called "St. Francis Weeps for Pale Male".

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Winter cliques

You don't often see a flock of chickadees and titmice without also seeing the other members of their winter clique - the white-breasted nuthatch and the downy woodpecker. The downy, being more deliberate and cautious, was much easier to photograph than the other members of the merry troupe moving through the woods this afternoon. I heard them coming, mostly the chatter of the chickadees, long before they were in sight. The only bird missing was a brown creeper, but those are hard to find locally. The downy paused briefly to inspect the bark of this birch before drifting leisurely away with the rest of his associates.

It's thought that a mixed flock like this benefits the members in a few ways. The many eyes and ears may be better able to find predators or food. Each species is able to take advantage of its own niche within the habitat while helping other members of the flock to locate food. We see this at our backyard feeders; curious chickadees are often the first species to check out a new feeder, followed closely by titmice, and finally the more wary woodpeckers. I've read that downy woodpeckers use chickadees and titmice as sentinels in a mixed-species flock. I also listen for their high pitched *seeee* notes to know that there's a hawk overhead.

The winter cliques will be breaking up before long as spring draws near and competition for territory and a mate becomes more important than the companionship of hungry friends. The demands of nesting and feeding a family must not leave time for much else. Until then, our familiar winter birds travel together and liven up the winter landscape with their whispered rumors of spring.

Friday, March 02, 2007

A stinker

I can't tear myself away from the coverage of Anna Nicole's funeral long enough to put together a proper post tonight. Instead I'll just pass along this link to Laura at Vitamin Sea. She's in Florida and shares Mary's affinity for GB Herons. I think she may even call them stinkers too. Someone turned one of her very nice photos of a GB Heron into a painting and she's sharing the finished artwork on her blog today. She also has a link to the artist's site and there's more nice things to peruse there. Have a look.

I took this awful photo towards the end of January; pulled off to the side of the road *a la Mary* and tried to keep the big lens from shaking too much while I hoped that someone wouldn't crash into me. It could have been a really nice pic if I'd had a tripod, but setting that up surely would have scared him away. I love the way the telephoto lens distorted the background - too bad all my shaking also totally distorted the bird too. It hurts my eyes to look at it for too long, sort of the way looking at Anna Nicole's pink-draped coffin all day hurts my eyes. Anyway, I'm just noticing that this guy had his pretty breeding plumes on in late January - what's up with that?

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Finding spring in the stars

Anyone else in the mood for a little Borland? Here's something a bit different about the late winter sky from Sundial of the Seasons:

"Days lengthen, but the nights are still bright with the Winter stars, frosty and sharp in the darkness. The Big Bear, the Dipper, swings to the east in early evening, and the Little Bear walks across the sky, his upright tail tipped with the polestar. The Twins and the Charioteer are almost overhead, and the Pleiades ride high, toward the southwest. The Lion is in the east and the Whale in the west, both within reach of the horizon, reminders of Daniel and Jonah.

February thins away. Before another new moon hangs on the western horizon at dusk, March will be nearing its end and the Big Dipper will be overhead, or at least above the polestar, by midevening. The fang of the night chill will be dulled. Hylas will be shrilling in the lowlands, April at hand.

The seasons turn, as do the stars, and those who live with the wind and the sun understand the inevitability of their changes. The full moon fades the constellations and dims the Milky Way, but it does not halt their progression or change their place in the sky. Come April, and the Dipper stands above the polestar at evening, and buds begin to open. Come October, and the Dipper sweeps the evening horizon, and maple leaves turn to gold and Fall is upon us.

February has its pattern, but it is a shifting pattern, with movement and change, and progression. The sun lingers, the new moon sits on the hills, the early Dipper hangs to the east, and the bud waits on the branch."

Most all of this is Greek to me. I can find the Big Dipper, and that helps me to locate the North Star, but beyond that I'm a foreigner in the land of the stars. The signs of spring found in the night sky are as lost to me as they are to a person who doesn't know birds or the late winter woods. I've never had anyone to teach me the stars, and somehow I think learning about the night sky should happen in a romantic sort of way and on long quiet walks with the sound of the ocean in the distance, maybe; certainly not alone with the Peterson's as my only teacher.

Do you know the stars? Who was your teacher? PG stories only, please!


Note: Clicking on the photo links to a page which names some of the stars that make up the Big Dipper, I think. I grabbed the photo from their site, anyway. If you can recommend a good site, or book, please do!