As I sit at the laptop and type, I am listening to a cacophony of blue jay calls in the backyard. Lately, I’ve been noticing groups of blue jays banding together in sound and purpose just about everywhere. Blue jays have always been one of the staple backyard birds of my New Jersey upbringing. I have a vague remembrance of my father being dive-bombed by a blue jay as he mowed the lawn – perhaps he ventured too close to a nest. During the last year, blue jays seemed noticeably absent. I would glimpse an occasional lone jay but, for the most part, the usual crowd at our feeders included sparrows and finches, eating their seeds without verbal interference from blue jays.
After experiencing firsthand some of the effects of Hurricane Sandy last year, I wasn’t surprised when I read recently about the impact the storm had on birds, mostly because of storm damage to either the bird’s habitat or food sources. An article from the National Wildlife Federation specifically mentions blue jays as one of the species that flew south in search of food after the storm. Based on my own casual observations, I think they’ve now returned back to the north!
It was so nice last weekend to spend an afternoon exploring the “real” Jersey Shore at Sandy Hook (Gateway National Recreation Area). I especially like going to the beach in autumn when the crowds have thinned out. It was beautiful to look across the sand and the water toward the horizon where the New York City skyline spreads out. (Below is the same photo, zoomed in to show more detail.)
See other “Horizon” photos at: Weekly Photo Challenge.
Posted in Outdoor spots
Tagged beach, Gateway National Recreation Area, horizon, Jersey shore, nature, nature in New Jersey, New York City skyline, photo, postaday, sand, Sandy Hook, Wordpress weekly photo challenge
A giant hornet on a lilac bush
This bark was stripped away by a giant hornet
This is a bald-faced hornet’s nest, not a giant hornet’s nest
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.
Posted in Insects and Animals
Tagged backyard wildlife, giant hornet, hornet behavior, hornet chewing bark, hornet nest, hornets, insect behavior, nature, New Jersey nature, New Jersey suburbs, photo, why do hornets strip bark
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.
Wire fence and thistle
Eastern phoebe landing spot
A nearby monarch
Looking through the fence
Yellow flowers attract a bee
Two fences in disrepair for “Friday’s Fences” at Life According to Jan and Jer.
Female goldfinch on thistle
Male goldfinch eating thistle seed
Thistle flowers before turning to seed
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.
Posted in Insects and Animals, Plants and Flowers
Tagged bird behavior, birds, birds eating seed, birds in New Jersey, flower, goldfinch, goldfinch eating thistle, New Jersey nature, seed, thistle, thistledown
An “in-and-out of focus” pollinator habitat.
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.
Plain and simple beauty
The fence is simple, but the lions make a bold statement
Linking to “Friday’s Fences” at Life According to Jan and Jer.
Posted in Outdoor spots, Plants and Flowers
Tagged fence, flowers, Friday Fences, lion statue, nature, nature in suburbs, photo, simple fence, white fence, wildflowers, wooden fence
Sunset photo from the New York side of Lake Champlain.
Linking to: Friday’s Fences at Life According to Jan and Jer and Skywatch Friday.