Tag Archives: New Jersey nature
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.
The sunset was quite pretty at the park last night, but that goldeny-glow on the park bench lasted only a short while, a.k.a. a split second. A few quick clicks on my camera and the glow was gone. See other interpretations of the “Split Second Story” theme at: Weekly Photo Challenge.
See other interpretations of the “Threes” theme at: 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.
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.
I couldn’t help myself…had to go out in the backyard this morning to photograph some of the beautiful new May flowers. The daffodils and tulips are all gone, but some new beauties have sprouted up instead.
The kestrel that I saw flew fairly close to where I was walking. It landed in a tree and then moved to a few different branches before perching on a nearby wire. Moments later, it was in the air. It hovered in place while beating its wings, before suddenly diving down. It’s amazing how it can stay in one spot, despite the wind. The kestrel put on quite a display searching for food before I lost track of it. I couldn’t tell if it succeeded in catching anything or not.
Guide books describe the American Kestrel as a raptor of the falcon family, similar in size to a mourning dove or a jay. They are very attractive-looking; the colored patterns on the underside of the kestrel reminded me of a common flicker.
An American Kestrel in central New Jersey was certainly an out of the ordinary sight for me.
After eating dinner yesterday, I couldn’t help but notice the sun shining through the clouds preparing for its descent. Rather than watching through the window or in my backyard, I grabbed my camera and headed out to a park to enjoy the view. Not only was I rewarded with a beautiful sunset, but I also managed to snap a shot of my first owl! Welcome sunshine, welcome spring.