The autumn hues of red, yellow, green and brown are favorites of mine. See other photo interpretations of “The Hue of You” at the Weekly Photo Challenge.
Our lilac bush has pieces of its bark being stripped away by large flying insects called giant hornets (Vespa crabro). In late summer/early autumn giant hornets are regular visitors to our backyard. They are yellowish-brown, about an inch in length and seem to have a special fondness for our lilac bush.
Giant hornets put the bark they strip to good use; they use it for constructing their nests. As evidenced by all the activity on our lilac bush, we must have a hornet nest nearby. Although we haven’t been able to find the nest, we’ve watched the hornets make repeated visits back and forth from our bush to wherever it is located.
A giant hornet’s nest doesn’t look like the large oblong-type you see hanging from tree branches. Those nests are primarily made by bald-faced hornets. Giant hornets tend to build their homes in crevices, making the nest harder for humans to locate.
Recently, there has been a lot of coverage in the news about a different kind of hornet. The Asian giant hornet has been wreaking havoc, swarming and stinging people in China. Fortunately, the hornets in our backyard are considered the European type and are not as volatile. They don’t normally bother humans unless you mess with their nest.
As we were hiking down a bumpy trail along the edge of the Raritan River, we were surprised when this frog popped up from inside a muddy puddle. See more photos of the “Inside” theme at: Weekly Photo Challenge.
This wire fence made a great backdrop for a few photos this week. See other interesting fences at Life According to Jan and Jer.
Think back to the days of your youth (or maybe it was just the other day). Did you ever pick dandelions after they became seeded, blowing on them to make the fluffy seeds fly into the air? Or, did you wave them rapidly back and forth for the same effect? We called the seeds “wishies.” Sometimes we’d randomly see “wishies” floating by and try to catch them, storing up as many wishes as possible. I don’t think we ever thought about the fact that we were helping to disperse dandelion seeds into the manicured lawns of the neighborhood. Some of those “wishies” we caught might not have been from dandelions; they could have been from thistles.
Thistle seeds are similar in appearance to dandelion seeds. Before seeding, the thistle has a beautiful purple flower, as well as spiny leaves to give the plant some protection. When the thistle flower turns to seed, the seedheads are larger than dandelions but with the same whitish, feathery appearance. The thistledown, attached to the seeds, gives them their airy abilities. The thistle also gets a little help in the dispersal process from goldfinches who love its seed. We have a birdfeeder in the backyard just for thistle seed; the goldfinches visit this feeder almost exclusively.
While at the park the other day, I saw goldfinches going crazy over the thistle that was growing in a field of wildflowers. From plant to plant, the birds were picking at the thistle seeds. As they feasted, they were causing the thistledown to fly all over the place. Some of the goldfinches were covered in thistledown. It made me think about how people love to eat Jersey-fresh tomatoes picked right off the vine in the summer. In the winter, those tomatoes on-the-vine from a grocery store are acceptable, but they don’t compare to the taste of a handpicked, in season, straight from the garden treat. Maybe the goldfinches feel that way about eating beak-picked seed directly from the thistle, instead of packaged seed from a birdfeeder. They were certainly behaving like they enjoyed it right from the source. After floating away, the downy part isn’t wasted; some of it may be used for nesting materials.
In the past, when I saw dandelion or thistle seeds floating by, I never thought about how they got into the air. They might have taken flight all on their own, or perhaps, they had the help of a goldfinch.
With a potpourri of different shapes, sizes, textures and colors, the camera only focused on certain parts of this pollinator habitat. The out of focus areas give you an idea of how dense the field was. Although most of the plants were past their peak, the cabbage and sulphur butterflies were abundant.
See other photo interpretations of the “Focus” theme at: Weekly Photo Challenge.
In the movie, “The Big Year,” the character Kenny makes the statement, “Birds wait for no man.” On a recent road trip, we found a place where the birds do wait. In fact, you can take your time as you observe more than 500 birds, including migratory species, ducks and raptors. How is this possible? The birds are hand-carved from wood.
When our summertime travels brought us northward, out of New Jersey, we ended up visiting the Birds of Vermont Museum in Huntington, Vermont. This museum is home to a meticulously designed collection of wooden birds that are displayed according to their natural environment. The craftsmanship is amazing. Each carving is actual size and extremely detailed, posed to capture the personality and behavior of the bird in its habitat. For example, the kingfisher had a freshly caught fish in its beak and the nuthatch was positioned on the trunk of a tree.
As we first entered the museum, we were immediately drawn to a windowed viewing area to watch the live birds visiting the outside feeders. A row of binoculars lined the windowsill for the guest’s viewing pleasure. When the hummingbirds and other species flittered near the window, an outside microphone picked up the sound so you not only saw the birds, but heard them as well. For a chance to see more live birds, you could sneak back outside to hike around a nature trail.
The curator chatted with us for a while, answered questions, and then showed us a quick, informative video about the museum’s history and the artist, Bob Spear. After that, we explored the upstairs and downstairs collections on our own. The collections included replicas of Vermont’s nesting birds, as well as endangered and extinct species. There were sections for birds of the wetlands and raptors. Even a life-sized Tom turkey was on display. Many of the plaques identifying the carvings contained a scannable bar code allowing you to hear the bird’s call. In the artist’s workshop, you could see various wooden shapes being transformed into birds. The collection is continuously being added to. The latest project is to complete the carving of the ducks and shore birds section.
The Birds of Vermont museum gives you an opportunity to study the details of birds in a way that a one-dimensional field guide can’t. Although the birds are hand-carved, they are lifelike. There was a lot to see, but my favorite carvings were the owls, wrens and warblers. If you are taking a road trip this summer, plan a visit to the Birds of Vermont Museum.