Sunday, May 31, 2009

The tables turned

Consider the cunning necessary for a plant - about the slowest-moving life form on earth - to lure, capture and consume a fast-moving insect.


Sundews set their insect traps well below where their flowers bloom and lure prey by means of a sticky substance secreted by hairs on each of the leaves... it glistens in the sunlight and serves as a beacon to passing insects (and wandering photographers).

I was surprised to find spatulate-leaved sundews, as well as thread-leaved sundews, outside of a bog in the mostly dry sandy soil near the Speedwell entrance to the
Franklin Parker Preserve.

"Here is a bloodthirsty little miscreant that lives by reversing the natural order of higher forms of life preying upon lower ones, an anomoly in that the vegetable eats the animal." --Neltje Blanchan

Saturday, May 30, 2009


Some favorites from a day spent in the Pine Barrens...

A Fowler's Toad who was nice enough to let me get right up in his face.
Hold onto your seats! This is a really, really rare plant... Curly Grass Fern... it's only about an inch tall.
I had company in my wanderings today, and this sweet lady had the patience to puzzle through her wildflower guide with me... we were trying to sort out the difference between Staggerbush and Fetterbush.
Beautiful! Rick Radis found Turkey Beard for us... I'd been looking for this for a couple years... now I know a spot to find it!
A dung ball... sans the accompanying beetles... I scared them off trying to get a better pic of them... very cool, anyway.

31 in my
38 by 39.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Good things and W. Va.

things with feathers, susan and the laugh that breaks free and gets loose, barred owls that talk back, dessert with every meal, curvy busrides, porch swings and the secrets they gently coax out of the dark, breakfast with bats, kathie's meticulous journaling, mountainsides that leak water and are drenched in wildflowers, the happy sound of laughter late at night, round hay bales and curious cows, a dry set of clothes before dinner, fitting in easily, small brindled dogs, ramps, nina's quiet smile, the squishy sound of mud underfoot, buttercups in the side yard, the first sweetcorn of the season, ovenbirds that court under a blanket of stars, a bowl of pistachios shared over the day's photos, ironed-dry jeans, biscuits with everything, cowbell on the fly, people who imitate the drumming of grouse, morrells with scrambled eggs...

Help me to remember more?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Linda's shoes

"There's no place like home... there's no place like home," is my chuckled refrain at her throughout the workday whenever she wears them.

Despite my teasing, she knows I love those shoes and envy her the ability to carry them off.

It's not so much the shoes that I love as much as what I imagine them to say about her.

My personal version of shoe therapy is a pair of black converse sneakers. I'll wear them to work sometimes just to see people look at me sort of cross-eyed. That makes me a little more happy, somehow, like Linda's red shoes.

Are shoes an unconscious signal to a particular mood for you, too? A hint, maybe, that you're feeling sassy or fearless or... ?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

From under a rock she appears...


I've no good excuse for going missing for nearly a week, other than an almost total lack of photographic evidence of what I've been up to.


There's this, though.

A six-spotted tiger beetle that amused me for a couple minutes along a sunny path at Allaire State Park the other day. I only ever see them there... not sure why, exactly. Very pretty, as beetles go.

I'd missed out on any trips to Allaire earlier this Spring because I was in W. Virginia with The Flock. Allaire is a great local spot for warblers in migration and has some nice breeders. Best find was a Prothonotary Warbler. Anyone know if they breed there? Patrick?

I was hoping for Pink Lady Slipper Orchids, but was either too late or too early or too distracted to find any. There were Canada Mayflowers blooming, but those are so tiny and hide out in the underbrush so my pics are especially awful.

I'll be around to catch up with you all in the next couple days and may finally try to sort through all those pics from New River.

I hope everyone had a nice Memorial Day...

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Such singing

It was spring
and finally I heard him
among the first leaves--
then I saw him clutching the limb

in an island of shade
with his red feathers
all trim and neat for the new year.
First, I stood still

and thought of nothing.
Then I began to listen.
Then I was filled with gladness--
and that's when it happened,

when I seemed to float,
to be, myself, a wing or a tree--
and I began to understand
what the bird was saying,

and the sands in the glass
for a pure white moment
while gravity sprinkled upward

like rain, rising,
and in fact
it became difficult to tell just what it was that was singing--
it was the bird for sure, but it seemed

not a single bird, but himself, and all his brothers,
and also the trees around them,
as well as the gliding, long-tailed clouds
in the perfectly blue sky - all, all of them

were singing.
And, of course, yes, so it seemed,
so was I.
Such soft and solemn and perfect music doesn't last

for more than a few moments.
It's one of those magical places wise people
like to talk about.
One of the things they say about it, that is true,

is that, once you've been there,
you're there forever.
Listen, everyone has a chance.
Is it spring, is it morning?

Are there trees near you,
and does your own soul need comforting?
Quick, then--open the door and fly on your heavy feet; the song
may already be drifting away.

"Such Singing in the Wild Branches" by Mary Oliver

Just a gentle reminder that Spring is passing, birds are migrating, wildflowers are blooming... get out and find it before it's done!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Art seen

It seems the Octopus Lady has some new competition in the neighborhood. The Sea Princess is a work in progress... it's especially fun watching her materialize from the blank face of an abandoned building a block or two in from Asbury's boardwalk.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Teacher bird

A funny thing about birds in the hand; they're so much smaller than we realize. Sometimes it's even difficult to recognize them for a moment or two, I guess because we're not used to seeing them in so much detail.

Or at least I'm not.


Says Laura who refuses to wear her glasses when birding.

Ovenbirds are handsome warblers; an olive-green back and a white waistcoat spotted and streaked like a thrush. And they have very big eyes! They like to make their dutch-oven shaped nests on slopes in deciduous woods, on the forest floor.

Theirs was one of the first warbler songs I learned, because it's so easy to recognize and so loud! When I first put bird and song together, I was surprised to imagine all that noise coming from such a tiny, inconspicuous-looking bird. Their only bit of color comes from that black-rimmed orange stripe across the top of the head.

The farmhouse we stayed at in W. Virginia was blessed with many ovenbirds in the surrounding woods. That was quite a treat for me as I'm used to having to *go* somewhere to hear their song. Something neat I learned about them there is that they sing at night... a funny sort of flight song, but I can't find it referenced in any of my bird books. Anyone know any more about that?

Please click on the pics to make them bigger, especially that first one. It's sure to make you smile.

Saturday, May 16, 2009


Juliet's snared you, little one, perhaps startled you into our nets...

interrupted your song or nest-building to carry you away for a moment...

our temporary prisoner, an object of study.

Tom wants only to fit you with a tiny numbered bracelet...

and to blow gentle kisses among the feathers of your breast...

to measure the distance of your wings and the length of longing in your journey...

to hold you up for a portrait; your bright eye looking to the sky for escape...

to release you, your bit of fire no longer contained; his open palm and our thanks for this moment in your life.

Sandy Hook Bird Observatory and CUNY-CSI are partnering in a banding study of spring/fall migrants, as well as breeding birds, at Sandy Hook. They put out a call for volunteers to help with recording data and running birds from the nets to the banders. Between schedules and poor weather, today was the first chance I had to help out and so I spent the dawn hours today with them, mostly trying to stay out of the way and taking pics.

#17 in my 38 by 39. Time is running short...

Friday, May 15, 2009

Skywatch Friday: Devil's Courthouse

Devil's Courthouse from the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina. Elevation 5720.

Even the vocabulary is unfamiliar to me: ridge, gap, valley, pass, switchback, hollow, notch. There's been very little in my upbringing to acquaint me with a love for the mountains or the many words used to characterize them. I grew up in another place, with other treasures.

I've played in the High Peaks of the Adirondacks as an adult, where instead of sweeping views, one gets mostly strained glances at the sky through bare branches. These mountains are not so jumbled and rough; instead they're all curves and circles, bulges and dimples and woods that go on forever uninterrupted.

For all that it felt exotic and alien, my spirits were lifted by the visible rush of spring as it crept up the mountainsides and the sweet light of sunset polishing the days. The throaty croak of ravens flying in tandem in a valley below, dark woods shot through with gleaming white dogwood blossoms, tiny hemlock cones and banks of trillium; all spoke to that part of my heart that gasps at such sights.

here for more Skywatch Friday posts.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Southern oddities

Just a couple things that tickled me from along the way...

And you all tease me about NJ and its toll roads?

The particular pleasure of watching your fat expertly glazed at Krispy Kreme... ack... too sweet! And what's up with *waffle houses* and *biscuit houses*? And sweet tea? But absolutely no decent coffee anywhere within a 50 mile radius?

The mountain version of internet service, evocative of the days when two tin cans and a length of string constituted phone service... and the folly of hosting 17-some bloggers who were then forced to pirate a wi-fi signal wherever possible.

A *new* river that flows north. Backwards.

Right. We don't really do mountains in NJ. WTF?

Rare red trilliums that are um... white? Or is it yellow? I have so many pictures of trilliums I've forgotten who's who. W. Virginia is awash in trilliums. They should better protect their flowered hillsides, I think.

The whole Southern fascination with B-B-Q. I never got a look at the pit, but I'd be surprised if it wasn't made out of half an old oil barrel.

I think this could probably be an on-going list, as we all remember things...


Monday, May 11, 2009

One (more) sweet shot

The mill at Glade Creek, Babcock State Park W. Va.

'Cause, you know, it hasn't been
photographed enough.


Sunday, May 10, 2009

High country miscellany

Whoever was in charge of scheduling flock members for field trips did a good job of separating me from the more raucous members of our group. Maybe they somehow knew that adding me to the Susan, Mary, Lynne and Beth mix would just be too much for anyone to bear. As it was, I did trips with Kathie, KatDoc, Nina, Jane and Tim. One day, for Cranberry Glades, I was all by myself and very quiet and well-behaved.

I missed the chance to be silly with the others, but one benefit of being on different trips was that the others could tell me what to look forward to on each trip. The highlight of the High Country trip for everyone was the bobolink field that we visited late in the day. Bobolinks and Meadowlarks aren't new birds for me, but seeing them this way, surrounded by mountain views, was a new joy.

Another joy, whenever I'm out birding, is meeting dogs along the way. These two local pups barked their way suspiciously into our group, and Jane, a self-proclaimed cat person, interrupted her quest for bobolinks for a little doggy-love.

Nina took this pic of me that I'll use when I win Birder of the Year.


That little dog attached himself to my ankle. Cute!

I carried that ridiculous lens everywhere for a week and took all of three bird pictures. The next time I go to W. Va. in early May I'll bring my macro lens so I can take pics of all the wonderful wildflowers that bloom there. I wish the festival would have advertised that aspect a bit better for the likes of me.

There were lots of little, slow moving things to take pics of that I couldn't really give justice to with my big lens. I had to back up a half-mile to get this soft pic of a funny fungus we found growing in a little vernal pool. We tried making it into Golden Club, but decided instead that it was some fungus that I can't remember the name of. Connie Toops stopped me at breakfast the following morning to tell me the name of it, and well... I hadn't had enough coffee yet, I guess.

The second of my three bird pics... a sweet Chestnut-Sided Warbler. My eyesight is pretty poor and I tend to use my ears first for IDing birds, so I kept confusing these with Hooded Warblers which were everywhere! No matter how many times I listened to the songs of both on my birdJam or asked one of the field trip leaders to help me tell them apart, it didn't help. At least the Chestnut-Sideds aren't nearly so skulky as the Hooded Warblers.

I was hoping to see a bear at some point on the trip, but the closest I came was seeing some bear poop. I didn't take pics of it, instead I was amused by everyone else taking pics of it. Silly birders!

Saturday, May 09, 2009

World Series Day

Sandy Hook Century Run Team 2009

(except for the ones who bailed out before 5 pm.) Note Linda in front in dead bug posture.

We had a fantastic day and ended with 134 species! Wow! What I love about Sandy Hook, and what I guess I missed birding in W. Va. is variety and the chance to witness migration as it happens.

There were Palm Warblers in every beach plum

and Clapper Rails that played hide-and-seek all day long

cooperative Cuckoos

and Yellow Warblers willing to pose

and the most spectacular sunset to end the day.

But there were also flocks of shorebirds, and Blue Jays, and a nice little hawk movement when the fog finally lifted, and Fowler's Toads calling in the dunes, and Nighthawks, and a Mississippi Kite or two, and night herons taking off from North Pond at dusk...

I could go on and on, but I'm tired enough to be delirious. 16 hours of birding will do that, I think.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Skywatch Friday: Somewhere in W. Va.

I'm not sure where exactly I was in West Virginia, but it was a week ago today at a place called Hawk's Nest and my life Yellow-Throated Warbler was singing while I took this pic.


here for more SkyWatch Friday posts.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

A nearly shameless plug

This Saturday is World Series Day here in NJ when teams of birders set out to find as many species as possible in one day. I'll be out there, for the 11th year in a row, with the Sandy Hook Century Run Team. My first year, it rained buckets all day and I'm afraid the weather is shaping up to be the same this Saturday.

Migration is at its peak in NJ during this, the second week in May, and all told World Series teams have raised more than 8 million dollars through the years for conservation causes.

Our team is birding in support of the
Sandy Hook Bird Observatory where I volunteer and I'd love it if you'd toss some money our way! A fun way to pledge is an amount per species... we usually see between 120 - 130 species from dawn to dusk.

So far I have pledges for 37 1/2 cents per species... I'm hoping to get that to $2.00 per species. Leave me a comment if you'd like to pledge.

Thanks! Wish us luck!

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

A place for silence

A visit to Cranberry Glades Botanical Area was the field trip I was most looking forward to in West Virginia. Part of the Monongahela National Forest, these wetlands hold plants more typically found much further north; ones I know from the Pine Barrens here in NJ and from my visits to the bogs of the Adirondacks. The landscape is unexpected and especially beautiful for its peculiarity here.

A half-mile boardwalk through the glades and surrounding bog forest protects the fragile environment while allowing close looks at False Hellebore and Marsh Marigold growing among Red Spruce, Hemlock and Yellow Birch trees, all of which can live shallow-rooted in such a wet area. Late summer will have the glades stippled with Orchids and Cotton Grass under a bluer than blue sky. Sundews and Pitcher Plants will be devouring insects under the hot sun.

The views are dramatic: rimmed by mountain ridges and pines, made even more primordial steeped in fog, garnet-colored Cranberries leftover from last fall lie hidden among the tiny vines covering the peat and Bog Rosemary and Serviceberry were in bloom. You can see winter there, still, up on the ridge. Cranberry Glades is nestled in a bowl among the mountains at 3400 feet.

As is my habit, I fell back from the group at every opportunity, preferring instead the tranquility of Hemlocks and Rhododendrons bathed in sunlight. Louisiana Waterthrushes and Blackburnian Warblers sang insistently with the Spring Peepers as I tried to appreciate the lack of human noise in this otherwordly place. Ravens called to one another above me.

Moments of grace and beauty were plentiful on this trip. My camera captured only a few of them, but being out there to experience them fully is what makes the day for me. I struggled for pics of the Canada Warbler that taunted and sang just out of view, but once I gave up on that, this little guy popped up and posed as pretty as could be.