Let There Be Light

This week’s Photo Challenge is “Let There Be Light.”light sky

Especially when it’s cold out, that last bit of color in the sky is an extra welcome sight.


When the natural light is gone, a beam from a lighthouse directs the path.

light sunset

The reflection of sunlight on the water is so peaceful.

See other photo interpretations of “Let There Be Light” at: Weekly Photo Challenge.

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.

Autumn Color


While taking a walk in the park, I found a little section by a fence that seemed to be bursting with autumn color — from the golden, end-of-day sunlight on the trees, to the carpet of fallen leaves. There was even a bench nearby for someone to sit and contemplate the scene. 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!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Horizon

horizonIt 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.)nyc

See other “Horizon” photos at: Weekly Photo Challenge.

Autumn Hues

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.red leavesleaves in the waterleaves

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.

Resourceful Frog

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.frog in a puddle

Life Along The Wire Fence

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

Wire fence and thistle

Eastern phoebe sitting spot

Eastern phoebe landing spot

Monarch nearby

A nearby monarch

Fence post

Fence post

Looking through the fence

Looking through the fence

Pretty bee attraction

Yellow flowers attract a bee

Fences Needing TLC

Two fences in disrepair for “Friday’s Fences” at Life According to Jan and Jer.fence summer barn with fence

Thistles and Goldfinches

Female goldfinch on thistle

Female goldfinch on thistle

Male goldfinch eating thistle seed

Male goldfinch eating thistle seed

Thistle flowers before turning to seed

Thistle flowers before turning to seed

Thistledown everywhere!

Thistledown everywhere!

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.