Tag Archives: New Jersey nature

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

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Winter Remnant

It’s the first full day of spring but winter’s snow remains. Here are a few photos from today’s walk near Duke Island Park and the Raritan River in New Jersey.frozen canal

tree reflection

raritan river

bridge

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: Split Second Story

golden glow split secondThe 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.

Winter at the Beach (Weekly Photo Challenge: Threes)

1. Setting the scene: Snow on the beach

1. Setting the scene: Snow on the beach

2. Interaction: The snow has mostly melted near the rocks and ocean

2. Interaction: The snow has mostly melted near the rocks and ocean

3. Detail: Snow inside a seashell

3. Detail: Snow inside a seashell

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

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.

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.

Summer Sunset

Summer Sunset in New Jersey

Summer Sunset in New Jersey

To see other images of skies, visit Skywatch Friday.

May Beauties, i.e., Backyard Flowers

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.

An azalea bursting forth

An azalea bursting forth

Some blooming lilacs

Some blooming lilacs

A single violet next to the shed

A single violet next to the shed

Pink azaleas facing the morning sun

Pink azaleas facing the morning sun

These azaleas are white with speckles of pink.

These azaleas are white with speckles of pink.

An Out of the Ordinary Jersey Bird

American Kestrel perched in a tree

American Kestrel perched in a tree

kestrel on line flying kestrel kestrel hoveringToday, I had the opportunity to see a bird that’s considered out of the ordinary for my state. Although common elsewhere, the American Kestrel is considered a Species of Special Concern in New Jersey, most likely due to shrinking areas of grassland needed for its habitat.

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.

Welcome Spring

Spring sunset

Spring sunset

stone fence

Stone fence

a field

Not too spring-like yet

down the gravel road

Pretty path

short-eared owl

Short-eared owl

Although it’s officially the start of spring, I’m still feeling a bit sun-deprived. In an effort to speed up the retreat of the winter blues, I’ve been commuting with the sunroof in my car open, despite the air temperature.

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.

Linking to:

Weekly Photo Challenge: Forward

the boardwalk path at the Great SwampMoving forward toward spring? It didn’t seem like it last week at the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. It was quite cold and bleak. See other photo challenge photos at: Weekly Photo Challenge.