Friday, December 21, 2012

Happy Solstice!

Halfway out of the dark...

(Frosty photos to counter the fact that I had all of the windows in the house open on December 18th...)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Shell Study.

When I was younger, I never understood how the owners of the little shore cottages I saw on the walk from our bayside cottage to the beach could possibly have collected enough shells to line their yards with huge, entire whelks and the biggest clams ever.

It wasn't until I moved down-a-shore full-time and took a walk on a winter beach that the answer was revealed: They don't rake the beaches in the winter, and winter storms toss up all sorts of wonderful stuff... Like whole, huge shells. (The downside is that more often than not, there's a lot of man-made trash out there too. I was discouraged from beach walking for awhile because I hated spending my time picking up and hauling off a bag full of trash, but I felt guilty if I left it where it lay...)

My Thanksgiving walk provided me with quite a bit of good photo opportunities (with very little junk!) if not so much in the way of beach combing. The weather has been violent enough that very few shells were large or even in one piece.*

[Clicking on the photos should take you to a photo-scroll with bigger images!]

(I often shoot wide to give myself composition options,
but sometimes I have a terrible time deciding how to crop a photo...)

*Yes, I did pick up the fabulous black scallop (entire down to its "ears" and pre-drilled with two holes for turning it into jewelry)--black from spending years (decades or centuries, in fact) buried in marsh mud before being brought back to the surface. Barrier islands migrate, and you really don't want a lesson here on how, do you?

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Thanksgiving = Beach Day.

Found myself in Avalon on Thanksgiving Day, so I decided to take one of my once-or-twice yearly walks on the beach. (You would think living here I would go more often, but it isn't often that you have the place more or less to yourself.) Didn't actually go far, unless you count the wandering circles I made as things caught my eye. Avalon has had very good, long-standing dune policies, and a near-miss by a strong hurricane (or Nor'easter. Or both, as Sandy was...) really shows why the little borough goes to so much trouble to maintain a good dune system. (They even have old dune forest in some parts!) Other than a remarkable lack of the usual trash (not that it was gone completely), the beach I was on survived very well. Sure, there's sand missing and there's a new sand bar just offshore, but it wasn't anywhere near as bad as I expected.

[Clicking on the photos should take you to a photo-scroll with bigger images!]

The ghost crab obviously made it out of its now-penthouse hole.
But did s/he make it back up...? It was a rather steep ascent.

Peeps (and gull) taking advantage of the protection from the wind
offered by new six-foot-high beach "cliffs".

Lots of shell fragments, lots of foam, and an incoming tide...

A braver soul than I!
(Dare I say smarter? It wasn't really all that cold,
and sand should be walked without shoes.)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Will Work For Peanuts.

Although they are more insect specialists--just look at those long thin bills, perfect for prying into nooks and crannies in search of nibbles--wrens (Carolinas at least, like these) will eat other stuff if the opportunity arises. For instance, when you've put out high-fat and -protein packs like peanuts... The wrens have to work a bit, using that bill as a hatchet to break the nuts into smaller pieces, but apparently it's well worth the effort: They are at my peanut feeders almost as much as the birds better equipped to deal with such food. (Chickadees, titmice, nuthatches and woodpeckers, with their bills designed for cracking, crushing and grinding.)

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Good Deed Done for the Day...

Back to the water with you, baby...

Loon legs are built for swimming, placed far back on the body for propulsion through a liquid realm. This is a fantastic adaptation if you are chasing your supper under water, not so good if you get grounded by bad weather or bad luck. Loons and other similar diving birds can't stand up, which makes it impossible to take-off from dry land--or in this case, the shoulder of Stone Harbor Boulevard.

This bird was a bit thin but not emaciated. This shouldn't have been unexpected, actually; both Common (probably what this is; bill shape in photo is deceptive) and Red-necked loons, northern breeding species, overwinter here and this one may have just arrived recently. It also might lose the tip of its bottom bill (which was cracked and bent sideways--looks like it may have crash-landed beak-first), but otherwise it was very feisty. Alas, it was too feisty for closeups. Rats rats rats, because it had the most amazingly rich crimson eyes and really neat feet. (Also, the softest head feathers ever. It was like petting a velveteen rabbit, even softer than my softest cats.)

And it yodeled just like in all the movies... Only even more pitiful: "Doooon't eat me! Put me dooowowowowown! OoooOoooOoooo...."

Very fortunately for me, although it wielded that bill like a saber, unlike herons it didn't go straight for the eyes. Pretty good aim at other body parts, though... Crazy strong, too, and bigger than I remember from the last time I was carrying a loon. (Not that I make a habit of that, but it's just another one of the perks of living at the shore.)

Luckily, it can push itself forward with those feet, which it did very effectively when it realized I had finally put it down about ten feet from a nice big creek in the marsh. Alas, it had to play otter to get into the water because nearly everyone's docks have been destroyed, I hadn't put on my boots--which were, incredibly, in the truck--and I know better than to step onto marsh mud; sank to my thigh once about 30 feet from where I put the loon back.

[Note to self: Add large pet carrier to the collection of stuff riding around in the truck; or, at the very least, just empty the large container holding the odds and ends and use it. (Besides, NJ law now requires animals to be restrained in vehicles; I wonder if anyone noticed the large bird flapping around the cab?) And add a pair of safety glasses to said container. (Never fear, I do not handle things like Great Blue Herons without back-up.)]

Monday, November 5, 2012

Weathered the Storm...

Came through the hurricane relatively unscathed; never even lost power at the inland house. (You'd think winds like that would have brought down all of the dead limbs in the tulip tree, but nooooo...)

It was close, though, in Avalon; damn good thing Grandfather wanted the foundation a bit higher so he could store his little Boston Whaler under the house off-season. The one pier is more or less in the neighbor's marsh, the floating docks are in the neighbor's yard (you can see one of them below, behind the boat) and the older pier needed re-decking anyway...

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Migrating Monarchs.

Yesterday afternoon, my mother reported that my uncle had told her that the monarchs were numerous in a little park across the street from our shore houses. A good flight was passing through Cape May Point the same day, so on my way home from there I decided to stop in at Stone Harbor Point as evening approached. SHPt has built up some wonderful natural habitat in the 18 years I've lived here full time, and has become a reliable spot for spotting migrating fall monarchs.

We'd had couple of well-populated roosting sites (~1500-2000 individuals Saturday, ~1000) Sunday in just one location at the very tip of New Jersey over the weekend, so I figured I had a chance at finding a roost at the end of Seven Mile Island as well on Monday. Monarchs migrate during the day and settle together in evergreens to wait out cool fall nights; the island had a bunch still flying south as I drove through, so I knew they were going to have to put down somewhere well north of the jumping point for crossing the Delaware Bay some dozen miles to the south.

As I had noted the evening before farther south, quite a lot of monarchs were still fluttering indecisively about Stone Harbor Point. After a quick walk up to the dune crossover to see what was coming in from the north and where they were heading (and to note that the goldenrod a mere ten miles or so north of Cape May Point was about a day or two behind the full bloom that had just started in Cape May), then down the dirt road to check out the vegetation, I returned to the parking lot only to find a roost literally at the end of the street I'd come in on.

One windswept cedar was collecting the majority of the butterflies--as well as a Red-breasted Nuthatch who politely remained on the windward side of the tree and left the roosting (and toxic) monarchs alone. Interestingly, a few lone monarchs had taken up perches on a couple of other trees… The human theory on communal roosting is that it provides protection-in-numbers from predators that don't know not to eat the bright, don't-eat-me colored butterflies (toxic due to the fact that their caterpillar stage consumes only milkweed, can tolerate the poisonous stuff and then incorporate the toxins into the adult butterfly) and possible insulation from cool night air due to the sheer body mass that can accumulate in a big roost during a large wave of butterfly migration.

A roost of about 85 individuals doesn't pack nearly so much punch as seeing twenty times that amount, but it is still pretty damn impressive.

As you can see, monarchs roost with wings closed. Not only does this reduce surface area (thereby conserving as much heat as a cold "blooded" animal is capable of), the underwing pattern provides a relatively effective camouflage; I certainly had to look twice to tell monarchs from dead cedar twigs when not so far away… But incoming individuals tend to disturb the already-settled ones, rousing the roost into motion. I was certain I could hear wee little voices exclaiming "Eh, don't land on me!" and "Hey, I was here first--go find your own spot!" as new butterflies circled in to land and the dead-still ones fluttered briefly back to life with whisper-light complaints.

And not one of the half dozen or so people that drove into the parking lot while I was there asked me why I was staring into a seemingly empty, scraggly tree…

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Ooh, an inchworm! And it'

Even though it wasn't doing much (beyond groping for the stem above where it sat on the edge of a leaf, but not actually going anywhere once it grabbed hold), this little thing certainly caught my eye as I was enjoying the view of my backyard from just inside my greatroom's glass door.

Been spending a lot of time there instead of on the decks. Far fewer mosquitoes inside than out. Luckily, I have a pretty nifty back yard and a great view from inside the window. But an orange inchworm was definitely worth the risk of going outside...

It's a caterpillar of a moth commonly called a "pug". Drab little things, the moths; their inchworms are much more interesting, especially this gold and chevron-ed beauty.

The book states that these larvae often match the color of their host (food) plant. But it is not known how they do it. Indeed, not a flower petal was nibbled, which you'd think would be the most obvious way to pick up that eye-aching orange of a Mexican sunflower....

Nice to know there is still magic in the world, and so well represented by one wee orange inchworm...

Friday, September 14, 2012

I'm really, really hoping...

...that my meter reader isn't afraid of spiders.

She's still there weeks after this photo and has two big egg cases now, too.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Black and blue and...white?

Added a "new for me" dragonfly to the yard list (that I'm not actually keeping). Took me longer than it mayhap should have to find it in the book. For an obvious reason, I was looking for a dragonfly with a glaringly obvious white body...

But once I found the beastie, a Great Blue Skimmer, the description clinched the ID: "often tame, allowing a close approach as it perches on a shaded twig." *

As you can see, this youngster (the white will become less obvious as it ages, changing over to a pale blue) had no problem posing for his portrait. Sometimes behavior is your best key to pinning a name on a beastie.

* Dragonflies through Binoculars, Dunkle.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Boneless Cat.

Cassandra, you are only missing the ball end of your bone on one leg, not both*.
(It's hard to tell, but her hind legs are straight out behind her, paw pads facing up.)

"Yeah, and your point is?"

Cats are weird.

*Mishap at the vet's a couple of years ago; all better now after complimentary surgery [I should think so!] and unnoticeable that she doesn't have a normal ball-and-socket hip joint in her left leg. Cats with completely normal skeletons do strange things like this all the time... This is new for her, though; she's usually curled up tight in that bed with room to spare.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Insect Collection I.

Is creating an insect collection still standard protocol for elementary school science classes, or is it no longer politically or environmentally correct?

I tried for the most variety as much as the next kid working on that assignment, but I must admit that photography is a much cooler way of doing it. And your specimens actually look alive! (I'm sorry, I have never been able to appreciate Audubon's work. They all look like paintings of dead birds to me. I suppose you could say they were "true to life"; after all, they were paintings of dead birds… "Shoot first, study later" was the motto of the day. Hmm. Guess it still was even into my generation.)

Sure would be nice to think that they send kids out with a camera these days instead of a collection jar with a nail polish remover-soaked cotton ball in it…

Silver Spotted Skipper on Pickerel-weed.

Black Swallowtail on Buddleia.

Nymph with shed skin. They're really cute this small! It's those eyes.

Ladybeetle on star flower (Amsonia).

Painted Lady and Black Swallowtail.

Little Wood Satyr on Tulip Tree.


Eastern Comma.