Saturday, May 31, 2014

Blue Eyed Grass

Click to bigify all photos--these wee flowers (~1/2") are worth a closer look.

Just holding the plants up and together; they got a bit leggy and top-heavy.

What’s in a name? Not too much in this case... Blue-eyed Grass does have a flower that is blue, but the “eye” is not (I wouldn't call it "eyed", either) and it isn’t even a grass. It’s actually an itty bitty iris! (Or close enough as makes no difference. And, wonder of wonders, it's a native wildflower in the genus Sisyrinchium; we may have up to four species in NJ.)

While the blossom doesn’t have the typical fleur-de-lis look of what we think of as an Iris, the base of the leaves form a flat fan just like a “normal” iris. It’s how I managed to sort these plants out from the actual grass in my yard before they bloomed so that I could transfer some of the blue-eyed grass to my deck containers…

Tried it last year but didn’t use the best pots (far too small) and most of the plants didn’t survive until fall, never mind make it through that horrible winter we had.

So after finding that the yard still contains a goodly amount, I snatched a few more plants and am trying again (in larger, mixed-plant pots). Most came from a stone-paved sometimes-walkway and a heavily deer-grazed section, so in essence I was rescuing them.

Sitting on my deck leisurely taking photos sure beats tromping around the tick-infested yard. The plants came up early enough so that I noticed them when a yard walkabout was still enjoyable, but they always seem to bloom just when the ticks really get their game on…

These shots were all taken with my Lensbaby collection: Plastic Optic (for the soft fuzzy look), Sweet 35 (for a “sweet spot” of focus amid radial blur) and Edge 80 (for a streak of focus across the shot), paired with macro converter rings for the close-up work. (And yes, in some instances I'm not sure which is which myself. I really have to start writing these things down...)

Thursday, May 22, 2014


You can blend-in in the country and stand out in the fashion world...

(Gotta love Brad Paisley—to be able to have hit songs about camouflage and ticks, for crying out loud. Awesome.)

When camouflage works [find the butterfly]:

Always look near the center of the photo. To be fair, this Henry’s Elfin is tiny—far less than an inch long.

When camouflage doesn’t work:

Found this very large—book notes average size up to 57mm wingspan and this glorious creature was easily over 60mm—moth on my shed door. (That door is becoming a very good place to find stuff!)

Had the Tulip Tree Beauty been on the trunk of the tulip tree, I doubt I would have seen it at all...

[Have been taking lots of photos lately so of course I'm falling way behind. I may be doing a bit of backtracking, like here where these photos are going on a month old. Sorry.]

Monday, May 19, 2014

One Toad. Two Toad. RED Toad...

Lemee out lemee out lemee out!

I don’t normally hold my photography subjects captive but this little one was so hyper it was the only way I could keep it in one spot long enough to document its fabulous color. I see maybe one red Fowler’s Toad for all of the other usual brown ones any given year, and I don’t find a red one every year. (And there can be well over a dozen individuals hopping around in a good year—I once cleaned my patio of accumulated organic debris and had a bucket “full”.)

And of course about five minutes after I freed my highly unwilling rusty-colored subject, what do I look up to see?

Yeah, that’s what you think it is, dead center of the shot. Practically staring right at me. (It wasn’t.) Another little red toad…

This one let me get the camera a foot away from its face without so much as blinking while I took pic after pic and changed shooting settings (and stepped over it to get up the stairs)…  ::pound head on concrete while down there::

Fowler's Toads like these are now listed as a "Species of Special Concern" in New Jersey.

(I missed getting a photo of a lovely dark brown-with-gold-markings toad I also disturbed while cleaning the patio.)

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

What's so weird about it?

Doesn’t everyone put out a water dish for their yard lizards? Well, why not? It works. (Okay, I suppose you do have to have a healthy population of Five-lined Skinks in your yard for it to work as well as this...)

(It would have been wonderful if these first photos were in focus but I was lucky to get them, the skink was moving so quickly. She came across the deck straight to the dish, climbed up, took a drink, and skittered back across the deck. I topped off the water as soon as she disappeared.)

Three days later I was a bit more prepared for skinks to be using this dish and I wasn’t disappointed. At least three stopped by within an hour or so: Adult male (red-orange face), the female (still with hints of juvenile color) and a young one (small with bright colors).

Alas, I didn't get the photo of the juvenile skink sitting on my slipper. Two had a tussle and skittered around without paying much attention to me, and one ended up on my slipper (my foot was not in it): the camera was too close to the slipper and when I moved the skink rethought its position and moved as well.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Play Date.

Taking advantage of the fact we are (much to my surprise) having a Real Spring, I purposefully went on a wander earlier this week with my new Lensbaby system--a set of creative lenses that basically do special effects in-camera (saving hours of time at the computer messing around with an image editing program that I don't really know how to use anyway).

I made a point of stopping at two of my "must photograph here some day" locations: An old, old house still standing (barely) on the side of Route 47 and an even older cemetery in Cold Spring. Here's a sampling including stops at Cape May Point State Park on the same afternoon and Belleplain State Forest the following morning; many of these photos will develop into blog posts of their own.

One unexpected bonus of the Lensbaby lenses is that even though they were made specifically for "creative" work, the resulting photographs don't have to shout Special Effects! Because they are quality optics you can be quite subtle; this shot was taken in Belleplain State Forest with the Edge 80:

Even if a half-inch long butterfly lands a few feet away from you while you are shooting landscapes, you can crop like crazy and still end up with a decent image. (American Copper, one of two that fluttered past me in the cemetery.)

North end of Reeds Beach -
Shorebird Banding starts today!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Lizard Rocks.

Or should that be “Lizards rock!"?

The Five-lined Skinks like my yard as much if not more than the gray treefrogs do. The sleek little reptiles are usually found running back and forth across the decks (much to the joy and interest of the indoor cats), and can occasionally be spotted climbing up and down the tulip tree or the silver maple in the side and front yards.

So far this year their favorite activity is spending the morning chilling—er, rather sunning—on a few landscape rocks (from an old water feature that I pulled up many years ago; that's a new one going in) that are on top of a cinder block foundation (for a garage that was never built) in my front yard.

So far there have been three on the wall (adult male, younger adult/female, and a youngster if not two) and at least one has been hanging out in a pile of rocks on the front walkway—I discovered that when I went to clear the pile off the walkway and nearly mushed the skink I didn’t know was between the layers of rock. *sigh*

I will certainly make sure I don’t clear away all of the rocks; if I do move them I’ll build the lizards a pile exclusively for their use. There’s another bunch of rocks already well-sunk into the “garden” that I might as well just leave as it is for the skinks—I’m sure they’re already in there anyway.

Add “skink” to one of the things that has come in under my ill-fitting front storm door. !@#$% At least that’s how I’m assuming the cats managed to grab one; I found a yearling, tailless, very dead and quite flat, in the cat room this week. *sniff* (Yes, I know--fix the door, Wren!) Up until now we had been even—I rescued one out of a spider web one summer but found another dried up in a potting soil container the following spring…

I watered down the hatchling (tiny-tiny-tiny with a brilliant blue tail—that will fade as the skink ages) while pondering how best to extract it. Funny how you don’t appreciate how incredibly strong spider silk is until you try to untangle a lizard from the sticky stuff.

The skink seemed to have spun a bit and was still quite feisty, too much so for me to attempt to unwrap all of the spider web that had entangled its legs, so I put it in a container with some rough substrate and hoped for the best—that it would know how to rub itself free. Much to my relief, it did! And here it is, ready to be released:

The spiders have a right to hunt the deck same as the skinks but yes, I pulled down that particular web. (Wee tiny little lizards are nevertheless waaaay too big for the weavers anyway; there wasn’t a spider in sight through the entire ordeal.) Would still love to know how the lizard got into it the web the first place—it was strung across a wide open area of the deck and the skink would have had to fall or jump a foot or so to land where it did…