Tag Archives: New Jersey outdoors

Fiery Sunset

orange skyI couldn’t take my eyes off this beautiful sunset. It looks like an autumn scene, but it’s actually springtime.

Linking to Skywatch Friday.

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Sunset Fence

picket fence sunset
Linking to “Good Fences” at Run-A-Round Ranch.

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.

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.

Sunny Sunflower

sunflower and fenceSunny sunflower near a garden fence. Linking to Friday’s Fences.

Reservation Fences

Here are some Friday’s Fences photos from Watchung Reservation in Union County, New Jersey.

The picnic area fence next to Seeley’s Pond.sunny fence

A chipmunk pausing on a fence post.chipmunk on fencepost

Can we call this one a tree trunk fence?tree lined path

Meadow Fence

meadow fenceLinking to “Friday’s Fences” at Life According to Jan and Jer.

Young Robin

baby robin on railing fridays fences
baby robinThis very young robin was hanging out on the railing at a local park the other day. Linking to Friday’s Fences at Life According to Jan and Jer.

Friday’s Fences Near the River

fence along the path

river and fenceLinking to “Friday’s Fences” at Life According to Jan and Jer.

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:

East Meets West, Bug Style

The Western Conifer Seed Bug has reached eastward to my NJ office.

The Western Conifer Seed Bug has travelled eastward to my NJ office.

The bugs like to cling to the front of my office building.

Bugs like to cling to the facade of my office building.

East met west this afternoon in front of my office building. I had stepped outside for a breath of fresh air, when I saw a strange looking insect sitting in the middle of the sidewalk. I’m definitely not a bug fan, but it caught my attention anyway. Not only was it fairly large, but it was unusual because I hadn’t seen any insects hanging around all winter, except the stink bugs. Today the temperature reached into the mid 40s, so perhaps the bug was attracted by the pre-spring warmth.

The insect had a brownish colored abdomen with a pattern on it and long front antennas. I had never seen an insect like it before. I was intrigued enough to run back inside the office to grab my camera. After taking a photo of the bug, I Googled “large brown bug with antennae” to see what I could find out about it. I figured out that the mystery bug was a Western Conifer Seed Bug. Western . . . immediately I thought I had made a mistake identifying the insect. Since I live on the east coast, I checked to see if perhaps there was an eastern variety of seed bug. After a little reading on the Penn State Entomology web page, I learned that the western conifer seed bug has been expanding its range into the east. At first it was identified in Pennsylvania and now the bug ranges in New Jersey and even into Canada.

Although the western conifer seed bug I saw on the sidewalk was barely moving, apparently they buzz and fly like a bee. The bad news for me is that the bug is considered a pest that likes to come indoors, inside homes and office buildings, in the winter. Perhaps this western conifer seed bug has been hanging around with the stink bugs at my office all winter and I hadn’t noticed it before.