Wednesday, December 29, 2010


Winter, Day Three (December 23rd): Storm's coming…

Maybe not knowing how to shoot the moon (oh, those annoying ISO's, exposures, apertures and f-stops) was a good thing?

Letting the camera try mostly on its own still made for a couple of neat images, at any rate.

After the storm (December 28th)…

The gray squirrels have only recently taken up permanent residence on/around my property (the mast-producing trees, i.e. nut and other edible-seed bearers, are finally mature enough to provide a reliable food source), so I have yet to tire of them. The only human-provided birdfeed they can get to is the cracked corn and white millet (the sunflower and peanut feeders are on baffled poles) and they are welcome to it; I have a soft spot for cute rodents. They also give the cats something to do. (Mostly work themselves into a frenzy with their inability to get at anything on the other side of the window. And the squirrels know this. Cruel cat lady? Me?)

Squirrels are not the only mammals that come begging. I love (love love love) venison, but I like it alive and on the hoof, too. Weird-looking creatures, really, are deer; must be something about those big brown eyes that makes them so appealing.

Hmmm, I see I'm going to have to buy more corn and millet… (The smallest deer, the one posing in the late afternoon sun below, was eyeing up the feeders at the front window as well, feeders which were even closer to the house than this one. She didn't come in while we were watching, but she got up the nerve sometime overnight, as evidenced by the incriminating hoof prints directly under the window, between a holly tree that hits the house and the house wall itself, this morning.)

Gotta love their eyelashes, but who knew deer had eyebrow whiskers like that?! Egads.

The great photo that wasn't quite. Welcome to the world of photography. Ah, well, they say practice makes perfect and as much as I hate practicing, at least with a digital I can shoot all the frames I want for practically nothing but time spent playing. (Hmm, note to self: also pick up more SD cards…)

Happy Winter!

Monday, December 6, 2010


Why is it that as excellent as Southern New Jersey is for birds, waterfowl (ducks and their cousins, geese and swans) only come down to visit in numbers and variety during the time of the year when it really isn't at all pleasant outside for man nor even, often, beast?

The weather was at least not forecast to rain (or sleet or snow) upon us for a somewhat hastily arranged trip to Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge on Sunday. The sun even kept peeking in and out of the predictions as the scheduled date approached. As for the wind... Eh, well, it's December in the Mid-Atlantic, so they call 20-25mph sustained winds merely "breezy" when anyone other than a meteorologist would call it a gale... Welcome to our world: weather not mild enough to not be winter, but not cold enough (cold would be better than the damp we get) to be an enjoyable outside-activity season. (I happen to like snow. If we have to have Winter, at least make it beautiful!)

When I heard the gusts hit the house before it was light outside, I certainly was thinking "Oh, what have I done?" But the day dawned sunny (if windy), the sky was mostly clear (rather than only "partly sunny") and the early winter light was gorgeous (fair recompense for less-than-ideal temperatures and wind speeds). I swung around to pick up The Wandering Merlin (who really ought to update his blog ::hint hint::) and then proceeded to overshoot our exit to the refuge. (Okay, so you get spoiled living in Cape May which perhaps leads you to not getting out enough!)

Bald Eagle with Atlantic City in the background.
(The big dot upper left is an eagle, honest.)

After purchasing my Duck Stamp ($15 a year June to June gives you access to any and all National Wildlife Refuges--give up a couple of fast food meals or a week of fancy coffee and BUY ONE!!! It's one of the best and easiest ways to ensure habitat protection) we met up with Laura (Somewhere in NJ) and Jay (co-developer of the original birdJam software and other fun and educational apps). We piled into the Great White--she might be a far from environmentally friendly vehicle but she makes a very fine wildlife drive tour bus! (oh, the irony)--and headed out.

I've seen higher numbers and variety of birds at Forsythe (formerly known as "Brig") but what we lacked in quantity was more than made up for in quality. The sun shone out against a winter-blue sky accented by winter-white clouds and remained low enough all day to bathe everything in a wonderful, warm (visually, at any rate) glow all day. I let the others with the big guns (i.e.. large lenses) shoot what they could while I trucked us around. We never once had to step out of the vehicle.

Pintail duck, er, tails.

Highlights were pin-tailed ducks (almost too handsome to be real), and green-winged teal. Lots of pintails and green-winged teal. Snow buntings gave all of us an opportunity to say we really saw them (from the truck--no need to stand atop a wind-pummeled dune along the Atlantic in the depths of winter!) and a very unusual look at that. I'm hoping one of my passengers was able to get a good photo; it was an interesting situation...

A couple of families of tundra swans were nice to see--and hear! They have a lovely chortle. Conveniently and positively id'ed by Jay's birdJam, by the by... *lol*

Laura had put in a request at refuge headquarters for snow geese and by golly, she got snow geese! Larger flocks are common, especially later in the season, but there were enough birds to be impressive. We were even able to pull a few adult (and one lovely sooty gray young) Blue Geese (same species, different color form) out of the crowd.

The Wandering Merlin spotted one of the two bald eagles that by reports seem to be setting up shop at the refuge, but we completely scratched on peregrine falcon! Unheard of at Brig, especially since they've never really been without peregrines since the hacking program from decades ago...

All told, we had a rather nice species list, but as lovely as the birding was, the company was even better.

Thanks for making our Sunday Drive great! Where're we going next?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Nope, can't do it... Must speak. I know the perfect three words for this photo:

I. Am. Insane.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Not really, but it sure looked that way! When I finally bothered to stick my nose out from under the covers and crack open an eye Tuesday morning, I realized that my bedroom was bathed in a rosy glow. It's been a long time since I have leapt out of bed so quickly… Luckily, the camera was in the room with me so I grabbed it and started shooting before I lost the light.

Less than fifteen minutes later, the sun had risen right smack into the heavy cloud bank that had provided the backdrop for the light show.

"Red sky at morning, sailors take warning." We were lucky; it only drizzled lightly on and off this afternoon.


On the evening the November full moon rose stunningly over the fields of Cape May County, my beloved CoolPix camera failed me. Left me stranded on the side of the second busiest highway in the county with no photographic record of the glorious event. It had died, and died dead. As in not just the battery, but "lens error". Eek. Much cursing ensued.

I had just been telling someone how much I loved point-and-shoot cameras, and that anything else would be too twiddly for me. I'd likely spend too much time fiddling and miss the shot. So when my trusty point-and-shoot died, with what did I replace it? Yeah, a twiddly fiddly digital SLR. Sure, I could have spent a little more than $100 and gotten something as good if not better than the CoolPix I had, seeing as how I had hardly used any of its not-inconsiderable extended functions.

On the other hand, the really fancy p-&-s's were still in a higher price range (as was my P4 when I purchased it four or so years ago), but the entry level but plenty-enough-bells-and-whistles SLR's were only a little bit more… And half price for a second lens? No brainer. I'd deal with it and finally learn what I'm actually doing when I point a camera at something.

And thus, cat photos. Well, I have enough subjects in the house to literally trip over, so what else would I test out a new camera on? Turns out the Nikon D3100 can act as a very nice point and shoot. Or I can manually focus it--a great stride forward from a p-&-s that you have to fight to make it focus where you want it to focus. ("No no no, the tick, not the grass behind it! The tick! The tick!" *argh*) Yeah, still need a bit of practice with that even with this camera. (My eyesight isn't what it used to be.) But there are these little red lights that tell me what the camera is focusing on. I just need to figure out how to make those little red lights light up on the places I want them to. And how to get my subjects to sit still long enough for me to do so. (All but one of these pics are from the second, after-dinner/just before bedtime round of photos.)

The light that this camera soaks in without using a flash---sheesh, I thought the CoolPix was good with that. Hah! (Yeah, even so these pics could use a bit of tweaking, but I didn't bother to take the time. Not bad for straight out of the camera and only quickly cropped.) And there's something very cool about putting your hand on the lens to make the camera do what you want it to. And I never realized how satisfying was the clack of a shutter… (Although apparently this camera will dampen that effect; haven't tried that button yet.) I do have to re-adjust to using a viewfinder again, however. I'm not yet sure if I can use the LCD screen instead. (I'd be very surprised if I couldn't.) But that little screen is where the "oh, no, what have I done?!" really comes into play:

Yikes. Some day all of that will make sense... (And maybe I'll figure out why PhotoBooth flipped the photo.)

In the meantime: Smile, pussycat!

Monday, November 15, 2010


The planet, not the naked lady in the seashell...

The early morning view out my bedroom window this week. What an incredibly neat sight to wake up to! (The planet, not the naked lady.)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


In the first week of November I ended up taking a solitary walk around The Meadows ("South Cape May" when it was an actual town, South Cape May Meadows after most of the town washed into the sea and the people gave up and turned the land into cattle pasture, turned "Cape May Migratory Bird Refuge" because the cattle pasture turned out to be incredible habitat for, well, migrating birds. It's now called something even fancier but still owned and maintained by The Nature Conservancy) when I realized I had driven all the way to Cape May for a scheduled bird walk--that was scheduled for last month. (Eh, whatever; at work I'm dealing with dates well into 2011…)

Backside of dunes with freshwater marshes below.

TNC recently reconstructed the property. The wonderful thing is that these obviously-planted rows are only noticeable from certain angles at the top of the dunes.

Once down the dune, the natural vegetation takes over with enthusiasm. (Here, mostly a bayberry tangle.)

The weather was also hinting at the possibility of a spectacular evening, another reason I decided to take the little road-trip. You simply can't go wrong with late afternoon sunlight at this time of the year, and I wanted to take a shot at photographing a different bit of scenery I hadn't before. (An interesting side-effect of throwing words and photos out into the ether that many other bloggers before me have discovered, I'm sure.)

That's the city of Cape May in the distance…

It's embarrassingly hard to find dunes of even this meager height anywhere along the coast these days.

The Atlantic Ocean and the Delaware Bay moderate the temperatures along the entire Cape May Peninsula all year 'round; there was still some goldenrod blooming the first week in November.

How on earth can we call the stuff so many people grow in their lawns "grass"? This is grass!!!

One of the reasons we have some of the dunes we have is because of an aggressive (and expensive) beach replenishment program. It's not the best solution (I'll save you all the beach geology/ecology lesson), and sometimes it backfires. The sand they put in isn't the same kind of sand that was there to begin with, and it has a tendency to disappear quickly. That's actually a two-foot drop-off where the built-up beach has already been washed away. Beaches are supposed to disappear in the winter, by the by; then they come back. Unfortunately, this natural rhythm doesn't march in step with the human desire to live by the sea. (Recall that this area used to be an entire town.)

(Conitinued in the post below, A Rainbow-Lined Horizon.)


I must say that I've seen better displays--and of all the months of the year, November can really put on a show in the way of sunsets--but I don't think things turned out too badly...

One of a pair of relatively well-developed, if somewhat subtle, sundogs--rainbows in the clouds to either side of the sun. These were quite large and at more of a distance than the smaller halos I'm used to seeing. (Check out Wikipedia for some truly incredible photos of sundogs.)

A flock of black-backed gulls head out to find a safer place than the open beach to roost for the night. (Although as large as they are, I imagine little would disturb them. Then again, we now have coyotes...)

(Maybe some day I'll make an effort to erase that contrail. Or maybe not.)

Sunset, end of day
A rainbow-lined horizon.
Serenity wakes.

(The best of one of my few attempts at haiku; high school English class assignment, of course.)


These photos may be somewhat disturbing for some and are certainly not at all what I set out or expected to photograph on this particular evening, but they suited my mood rather well at the time I took them so here they are. Feel free to pass over them and my musings.

One thing Autumn Weekend brought out--aside from some wonderful bird-watcher types and even more incredible birds--was perhaps the illumination of one basic foundation block of why I'm a hermit. Not exactly what I was expecting to take away from the experience. Rather like these photos!

(There must be a story here…)

The folk I caught up with over the event, most of whom I was meeting in person for the first time, were forewarned that a weekend spent in their company would be more socializing than I'd done in at least the last five (and more) years put together. They were then floored to find out how friendly I actually am… Ahem. One can get along perfectly well with people--remarkably well, even--but choose not to.

(They kept asking me where the bars were! *lol* See previous post on grape-picking: I don't drink. The only bars I have ever frequented have had live traditional Irish music to compensate for the rest of the nonsense.)

(At least you died so that another might have a shot at living…)

Turns out, I had a fantastic time socializing. Bars without Irish tenors are even bearable if you're the group having all of the fun. I still maintain, however, that bars are absolutely not the location for one-on-one, beginning-of-a-great-friendship conversation. And that's really the whole point of getting out with other people, for me: the heart of the matter, not the fluff.

I may be a hermit, but when out among people it is useful that my tendency to be a loner is nicely balanced by a relatively large dose of public entertainer. Hey, if I have to deal with you, I might as well be amusing. I excel at small talk. (I can do fluff with the best of them.) On the other hand, when I'm interested enough to bother, I'm frighteningly good at real conversation. (I can get to the heart of a matter even before you realize we're there.)

(One feather. Two feathers. Three… Hmmm. Follow the trail.)

I also happen to be tall (which makes it hard to hide behind anyone), reasonably attractive (I'm told; some days I see it, most days--eh), a flirt (totally in fun), and a bit touchy--as in, humans have this ridiculous notion about personal space and not invading each other's, which I tend to completely ignore. (This lack of touch among human adults may actually explain quite a bit about what is wrong with the world…)

(Not a set-up shot. The wind blew the feather around to meet the pellet. It's quite likely not from the same meal... Same diner, perhaps.)

All of this makes me, apparently, a bit too charming. And being a bit too charming and having to deal with repercussions of being a bit too charming has to be one of the most ridiculous things to worry about when out with other people. What's the point of finally getting out if I can't be myself while I'm there? It's not like I intentionally plan to wreak havoc. And why the hell should I be less than who I am just to make everyone else comfortable? If they can't deal with me, that's their problem, not mine. And if it is going to be an issue I might as well have just not made the effort in the first place. Hence, I'm a hermit!

(Ouch. That had to have hurt coming up; those are bones--big bones--in there...)

It works in reverse, too. I'm a soul-deep loner, so you all really ought not to take me too seriously.

I am happy to report that these revelations struck me after the weekend was over, so I was able to enjoy all of the rest of it. Enough to consider doing something similar again.

Eek, did I just say that---? ::frantically burying head back in sand::

Wednesday, November 3, 2010




Stayed in bed late this morning--preparing for the time change, don't you know?-- and from that perspective I noticed a lovely if very wintery sky out the window. So when I tossed the dog out the front door, I followed with the camera.

Sorry, but some of these shots are a bit more tweaked than usual. Shivering in the frosty air didn't help my natural body shake one bit.

There are never enough days like this to fully appreciate. And when there are, I'm usually stuck in an office… :o(

(I think the forsythia needs to be cut back. Just a bit, perhaps. This tangle was a mild-mannered bush or three when I moved in…)

This weekend I did get out to enjoy great weather (bit breezy--who came up with "breezy" for sustained 20-25mph winds, anyway?!--but hey, this is Cape May), a once-in-a-lifetime bird migration (amazing even for Cape May, which is saying something), and extremely good company (::waving madly at all my new friends!!!::). I did miss the best of the birds on Friday because I had to take an unexpected trip to the veterinarian's office (thankfully, we squeaked by with a couple of shots and the cat was her usually bouncy self again by Monday morning). But Saturday and Sunday were still not to be missed. For reports of THE Autumn Weekend in Cape May (no words or photos will ever truly give a full account of what those days were really like), please follow the Cape May related links to the right. (I can only photograph things that stay still for more than five seconds…)

But the weekend also pointed out in bold relief that even though I very much enjoy what I do for a living, I really dislike working in the business I am in. (And with the economy as it is with no sign of noticeable improvement, I'm not anticipating anything getting better any time soon. Where did I put those lottery numbers I wanted to play…?) There are so many more interesting nature-oriented things I could apply my skills to if I didn't need a reliable means of paying the bills. If nothing else came of my mini-vacation, I have a renewed interest in finding a way to do both.

(Too bad multiflora rose is such an invasive species. It's rather pretty, has a scent that is not too overpowering, and provides fast-growing, protective thickets and a food source for the local wildlife.)