Category Archives: Insects and Animals

Feeding Time

There are many hungry baby birds around, keeping their parents very busy. Here are a few photos of feeding time.feeding time

swallow2

food

Snapping Turtle Emergence

Today was the day this snapping turtle emerged to welcome spring. It had just climbed up a grassy bank from its overwintering area and was beginning to cross the tow path when we spotted it.
snapper walk
Step by step, it crossed over the path toward the canal.
snapper crossing
Bicyclists and hikers stopped to let it go by.
crossing the path
Then it quickly proceeded down a short bank — splash!
almost in the canalThe snapping turtle made it to the water and was out of human sight.

A Dove’s Springtime Nap

The springtime sun sure feels good after a long, cold winter. Why not enjoy the weather fully by finding a nice comfortable sunny spot to relax in? This mourning dove took that advice and was tucked away in a secluded corner of our backyard.
mourning dove
But after the dove starts enjoying the warmth and comfort…
mourning dove
…naturally it begins to feel sleepy, very sleepy.
mourning dove
There’s no fighting that sleepy feeling. It’s time for a springtime nap!
mourning dove nap

Hawk’s Breakfast

hawk with grackleA few mornings ago, I walked into the backyard to put something away; suddenly a hawk flew from the grass, right in front of me, up into a tree branch. The spot where he had been on the lawn was covered with the feathers of a grackle. The feathers were fresh. I left momentarily to get my camera and returned to take a few photos of the hawk in the tree before it decided to fly away. I didn’t realize until I downloaded the pictures (and could look at them closely) how fresh those grackle feathers really were — the grackle’s body was being firmly held underneath the hawk. I had interrupted the hawk’s breakfast. The grackles had only returned to our backyard in the past week or so after being absent all winter. The hawk must have been thrilled with their recent return!
hawk with kill

Woodpecker Glimpse

So happy to catch a glimpse of a pileated woodpecker the other day. He was busily moving up and down a large tree trunk in the woods, but I wasn’t able to get an unobstructed photo. They truly are the jackhammers of the forest.pileated woodpecker

Weekly Photo Challenge: Inside

rat inside flower pot, backyard wildlife

Our backyard wood rat. He pilfers birdseed from inside an overturned flower pot.

We have a new backyard visitor. Actually, he thinks he’s a long-term resident. A wood rat has been living in the yard for at least 6 months. For the past month or so, he’s been burrowed underneath a thick layer of snow and ice. Now that spring is coming and the snow is melting, the rat is no longer staying inside. We’ve been watching him prancing back and forth along his self-made trail. First, he runs straight from his den to the seeds that have spilled from the bird feeders. Then, he returns back to store the seeds inside. Today, he found a nice cache of seeds that had fallen inside an overturned flower pot.

The video below shows him racing back and forth to collect the seeds. You can see why they are called pack rats.

See other interpretations of the “Inside” theme at: Weekly Photo Challenge.

Identifying the Red Tail

Are they red-tailed hawks?

Are they red-tailed hawks?

The  red feathers are starting to fan out

The red feathers are starting to fan out

Notice the distinctive red tail feathers

Notice the distinctive red tail feathers

I have trouble identifying hawks because they all seem to look so similar. Looking for clues to a raptor’s identity — by zeroing in on features such as size, shape, coloring, stripes on the feathers or behavior — doesn’t always help me figure out what I’ve seen. Factor in distance or poor lighting and it’s even more difficult; if the hawk is a fledgling or a juvenile, “fuh-gedda-boud-dit!” The young ones are almost impossible for me to distinguish. Despite my difficulty ID’ing hawks, there is one type that is not too difficult to determine from the rear.

The red-tailed hawk is aptly named for its distinctively colored reddish tail feathers. Like many other hawks, the body and wings are brown and the breast is lightly speckled, but the color of the tail really stands out. It’s especially noticeable when the feathers are fanned in flight.

About a month ago, I saw two hawks perched high in a tree. I was uncertain about their identity, although I assumed they were red-tailed hawks because they are so common in my area. Once the hawks began to fly though, the red-brown tail was clearly evident. When you are out and about, look for the red tail to identify the red-tailed hawk.

Vulture Hangout

black vulture on fencepost trio of vulturesThis is THE place to hang out if you’re a black vulture. Linking to Friday’s Fences at Life According to Jan and Jer.

Waiting Motionlessly

heron by fenceAt the corner of the reservoir, in a secluded spot, the hunter (a.k.a. great blue heron) waits motionlessly for a morning meal. Linking to “Friday’s Fences” at Life According to Jan and Jer.

Blue Jays Back


bluejay pic
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!

A Circle in the Sky

A circle formation of flying birds

A circle formation of flying birds

A raptor (bottom right) was close by

A raptor (bottom right) was close by

A few fuzzy close ups of the raptor that I couldn't identify

A few fuzzy close ups of the raptor that I couldn’t identify

While near the Raritan River the other day, I noticed a circle in the sky that was moving rapidly. The circle was actually a large group of birds. The shape kept getting formed and reformed, over and over, while the birds moved westward.

I’ve seen flocks of european starlings before, flying in patterns in the air then landing en masse before taking off again, but this was different. The birds were very high up in the sky and they did not land. The pattern the birds made remained circular until they went out of sight.

What I didn’t see right away was the raptor in their proximity. The more I watched, it seemed that the formation of the circle was a way for the flock to protect and defend themselves from the threat. Although it looked like the raptor was after the group of birds, I suppose the birds could have been harassing the raptor too (like an angry mob). I’m guessing that the birds were starlings, although it could have been some other type of bird that flies together during migration. I couldn’t identify the raptor either because it was too far away.

Linking to Skywatch Friday.

Giant Hornets are Bark Strippers

The giant hornet on a lilac bush

A giant hornet on a lilac bush

The bark was stripped away by a giant hornet

This bark was stripped away by a giant hornet

This is not a giant hornet's nest

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.