Sunflower Field 2018

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There is a field that I have been going to for the past several years to take pictures of sunflowers. This year, I went early to catch the morning light. The farm planted corn on three sides of the field, shrinking the number of acreage with sunflowers significantly. It does not compare with the miles after miles of sunflower fields that I drove by in South Dakota, but this is perhaps the best we can get in this small state.

Sunflower field.

Sunflowers.

Sunflower.

Sunflower: “Tada…”

Sunflower.

Sunflowers.

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Hibiscus (Rose Mallow)

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This year I planted from seeds several Hibiscus or Rose Mallow varieties. They came up easily and grew fine until one night the deer ate their tops off. I sprayed deer repellent on the remaining parts of the plants, stopping the nasty deer grazing. The plants are now doing well, sending gorgeous saucer size blooms one after the other.

Red Hibiscus.

White Hibiscus.

Pink and white Hibiscus.

Hibiscus pistil.

Red Hibiscus.

Finally, here are some of them together.

Hibiscus.

Hummingbirds, Male and Female

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I have one hummingbird feeder in the backyard. A male Ruby-throated Hummingbird has been almost the sole visitor for several weeks. When he appears, the female hummingbirds keep away. He makes sure of that, first looking right.

Male Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

Then checking out the photographer.

Male Ruby-throated Hummingbird checking out photographer.

Then looking left.

Male Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

When feeding he flies up and down, constantly watching. I would think he could be wasting a lot of energy that way, but he doesn’t mind.

Male Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

Last week I took the feeder apart for cleaning and refill. The male bird showed up as I was doing that, and promptly flew away, angry perhaps. He has not been back since.

Two female Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have now replaced the male. However, one of them will inevitably chase away the other when she sees her. She dives toward the intruder so quickly that I haven’t been able to take a picture of that yet.

Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird landing.

The female bird is very dainty, almost like a fashion model.

Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird: “Waiter, there is a fly in my nectar!”

In flight, she looks just as nice as the male, even without those rubies on her throat.

Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

Update: one more photo of the bird which flew away too fast, leaving only a blurry image looking like a painting.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird flying up and away.

Black-Crowned Night Heron Lunch

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Two weeks ago, while the paparazzi were clustered around a nest with new chicks, I saw a Black-Crowned Night Heron fly to the marshes at low tide. These birds, as their name implies, normally feed in the evening, but this one was going to have lunch by pulling out worms from the sand.

Black-Crowned Night Heron landing on marshes.

Black-Crowned Night Heron catching sand worm.

Black-Crowned Night Heron eating sand worm.

The heron ate at least half a dozen worms.

Black-Crowned Night Heron posing one last time before flying back to the rookery.

Twelve-spotted Skimmer Dragonfly

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Yesterday this female Twelve-spotted Skimmer dragonfly, shown in the following three shots, landed on some stones in our garden. This common dragonfly is found in Canada and all the American 48 states below it. Its male counterpart would have 10 white spots next to the brown ones.

Twelve-spotted Skimmer.

Twelve-spotted Skimmer.

Twelve-spotted Skimmer.

Hummingbirds 2018

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Summer would not be the same without Hummingbirds. The only kind that comes to our backyard feeder is the Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Once the feeder is up, they magically show up, males and females separately. Here are some pictures of a male that monoplized the feeder for a while today.

Male Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

The rascal had no respect for any human, including the photographer.

Male Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

Male Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

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In addition to Monarchs, several other kinds of butterflies have been visiting and partaking from our milkweed. An often seen visitor is the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, one of the most common butterflies of Eastern North America. The one shown below was quite willing to stop once in a while to allow me to take its pictures.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on milkweed.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on milkweed.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on milkweed.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on milkweed.

Green Beach

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This year rain has been plentiful in our area, and plants everywhere have been responding gleefully. Last week I went to Barnegat Lighthouse State Park and was surprised to find more than half of the beach covered with vegetation. Here’s what it looked like.

Beach at Barnegat Lighthouse.

Various plants were thriving in the sand. In normal years they grew further inland, but this year you had to walk through them to get to the ocean.

Plants at Barnegat Lighthouse State Park.

Plants at Barnegat Lighthouse State Park.

Plant at Barnegat Lighthouse State Park.

While taking these photos, I heard wings flapping up in the sky. It was an Osprey carrying a freshly caught fish back to its nest.

Osprey carrying fish past Barnegat Lighthouse.

Oystercatchers 2018

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In May 2017, I posted photos of an Oystercatcher named T2 because he was banded and the band showed T2. He had been a regular of the beaches at Long Beach Island, and last year he and his mate, Lady Hamilton, had their first brood on the beach at Barnegat Lighthouse State Park after many unsuccessful tries. It was major news for birdwatchers. This year T2 has not been seen and some said he may have died, reason unknown.

Yesterday, I went to Barnegat Lighthouse to see if I could photograph the many birds that usually live there. To my surprise, I saw a couple of Oystercatchers, but there was no T2.

Oystercatcher at Barnegat Light State Park.

The very handsome pair walked back and forth across the sand. After a while one of them prepared to lay down.

Oystercatcher preparing to lay down.

It looked like it was sitting down to incubate. There was a rope and a keep off sign, and I did not want to disturb them so this is as close as I could get with a telephoto lens.

Oystercatcher incubating. Note that their nest was very near the water line at high tide.

The other one stood nearby and took a nap.

Oystercatcher napping.

So T2 and his mate may be gone, but another pair of Oystercatchers have taken their place at Barnegat Lighthouse.

Update 31-Jul-2018: I’ve added two more photos of these Oystercatchers.

Oystercatchers.

Oystercatcher.

Little Blue Heron

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At the rookery next to the Welcome Center at Ocean City, NJ, I saw a Little Blue Heron and its juvenile child. Their colors confused me at first. Juveniles are white, while adults are deep blue and purple. The rookery also had white egrets, both Great Egret and Snowy Egret, which added to my confusion.

Juvenile Little Blue Heron.

The one way I could be sure was when parent and juvenile were together, as when the parent brought food home for the hungry juvenile.

Little Blue Heron, parent and child.

No more food. The parent tried to get away.

Juvenile lodged a protest:”You come back here. I’m not done eating yet!”

Parent flying away to get more food.

“I hope that won’t take too long. I’m starving!”

Milkweed and Cosmos

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This year I tried to grow from seeds orange milkweed, also called butterfly weed (Asclepias Tuberosa). So far only two plants grew and they are displaying bright orange flowers.

Butterfly Weed (Asclepias Tuberosa).

These plants are not as tall as the pink or swamp milkweed planted three years ago and, in the summer, visited daily by Monarch butterflies.

Swamp Milkeed (Asclepias Incarnata).

I also planted Cosmos flowers from seeds. They are starting to bloom and here are some pictures of them.

Cosmos.

White Cosmos.

White Cosmos a day later.

Cosmos.

Lavender

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Today I went to Princeton Lavender, a small farm near our house that grows lavender and sells it under various forms, including honey from bees that feed on the lavender flowers. If you want to go there, their address is: 3741 Lawrenceville Road, Princeton, NJ 08540.

Lavender_0F1A1680_DxO

Bee on lavender.

Several other kinds of insects were enjoying the lavender field.

Clouded Yellow butterfly on lavender.

Green Praying Mantis on lavender.

Brown Praying Mantis on lavender.

Lotus Sunday

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We are entering a week when it is going to rain every day. Yesterday morning, however, the sun was out and I arrived at the Lotus pond in time to see the first rays of sun fall on the flowers.

White Lotus.

White Lotus.

White Lotus.

White Lotus.

Water beads on Lotus leaf.

Docked ship.

Rookery at Ocean City 4

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In the first post for this series 11 days ago, I posted pictures of a Yellow-crowned Night Heron tending to her five eggs. Yesterday, I went back there and saw that the eggs have become young chicks covered with down, barely able to stand up. There were about twenty photographers gathered on the sidewalk above the nest, all vying to take pictures of the herons.

As I got there, the male heron had just landed with a twig in his beak. The female will take it and add it to the nest.

Yellow-crowned Night Heron arriving with twig.

Female taking twig from male.

Female adding twig to nest.

There were five eggs, but I only see three chicks. I wonder what happened.

Female and chicks.

Mother heron proceeded to feed the chicks.

Female feeding chicks.

Afterwards, she spread out her wings to shield her children from the hot sun. She kept her eyes closed, perhaps taking a well-deserved nap.

Female shielding chicks from sun.

Following are pictures of the Ocean City Welcome Center and the bird paparazzi.

Ocean City Welcome Center.

Bird paparazzi.

Dragonflies, Hummingbird Moth

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I went to the Lotus pond again this year. It no longer has any pink or red Lotus, and now every flower is white. While taking pictures of the flowers, I noticed many dragonflies fluttering about and switched to photographing them.

As usual, there were many Blue Darters.

Blue Darter dragonfly.

Then a couple of dragonflies with a reddish orange tail flew by. I am going to call it a Red-tailed Darter, but if you know the correct name, be sure to let me know. It is about 30% larger than the Blue Darter, and I did not see them land on any plant or anything else.

Red-tailed Darter.

Then as I was taking a shot of a Lotus flower, a rare Hummingbird Moth flew toward it.

Hummingbird Moth.

Finally, a couple more shots of the dragonflies.

Blue Darter.

Red-tailed Darter.

Bee, Butterfly on Milkweed

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I have been planting milkweed (Asclepias Tuberosa) in our backyard for the past three years. It’s an easy plant, requiring virtually no care (note the weed in its name). A sunny afternoon found a bee and a Monarch butterfly on the milkweed.

Bee on milkweed.

Bee on milkweed.

Monarch laying eggs on milkweed.

Monarch, done laying eggs.

Rookery at Ocean City 3

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Black-crowned Night Herons are a major presence at  the rookery next to the Welcome Center at Ocean City, NJ. These birds hunt for their food starting at dusk, and their eyes are one of their most noticeable features.

Black-crowned Night Heron.

Immature Black-crowned Night Heron.

Despite their size these Herons are easily intimidated by the Red-winged Blackbird, a fierce defender of its territory. I saw a Blackbird chase a Heron into a tree.

Red-winged Blackbird and Black-crowned Night Heron.

Pursued by the Blackbird, the Heron tried to hide among the branches. Unfortunately, too many leaves shielded the small Blackbird from the camera.

Black-crowned Night Heron very wary of Red-winged Blackbird.

Black-crowned Night Heron.

Rookery at Ocean City 2

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Yesterday, in this series first post, I wrote that it was late in the season.This was because I saw many juvenile birds at the rookery, and only one nest with unhatched eggs.

Juvenile Yellow-crowned Night Herons.

There were some juvenile Glossy Ibises, very hungry ones that did not give their parents any respite as they kept demanding for more food. They caused a lot of commotion from one end of the rookery to the other, juveniles chasing their parents to get food from their bills!

Juvenile Glossy Ibis.

Glossy Ibises, adult and juvenile.

I also saw the following juvenile, which I am guessing is a Little Blue Heron. If so, it would be a first sighting for me. If you know it is a different bird, please tell me.

Juvenile Little Blue Heron.

Rookery at Ocean City

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Ocean City, NJ is a resort town in South Jersey on an island which can be reached via a causeway. Driving on the causeway, before arriving in Ocean City, there is a turn-off for a Welcome Center. From a sidewalk right next to the center, every Spring and Summer it is quite easy to take pictures of Herons, Ibises, Egrets, and many other birds that fly in from the South to breed and raise their chicks. The sidewalk is almost as tall as the rookery trees, so one can look down on their nests and watch activities from breeding to incubating and finally fledging just before the birds migrate South. The birds seemed unperturbed by all the human lookers and photographers.

I missed going there last year, and this year I only managed to get to the rookery this past weekend. It is late in the season, but I still saw a Yellow-crowned Night Heron nest with unhatched eggs. The tired-looking mother had just stood up to scratch herself.

Yellow-crowned Night Heron.

After some more preening, she tidied up the nest.

Yellow-crowned Night Heron.

Then she sat down and resumed incubating. The eggs should be hatching in a few more days.

Yellow-crowned Night Heron.

Osprey Mother

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In yesterday’s post, I wrote that I did not see the Osprey mother while the father was feeding the chicks. Today, with more time I saw the final picture I took of the father and the chick, and he was looking up at the sky.

Male Osprey and chick.

He had seen his mate! I did take a picture of her right after that, but she was so far away that I almost discarded the shot. However, as you can see below, she was flying in with an even bigger fish.

Female Osprey with catfish.

Barn Swallows

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I saw the Barn Swallow below under a walkway at the refuge. It did not seem to mind my presence. This type of bird gets along very well with people and has become established in our lore, culture, and even religion.

Barn Swallow.

I went to a part of the walkway right above it, and it was still okay with that, even looking up calmly.

Barn Swallow looking up at photographer.

It also sang and kept singing during the whole time I was there.

Barn Swallow singing.

Barn Swallows are very social birds that live together in large roosts, some containing as many as millions of birds. There were not that many at the refuge, but I saw several of them just twenty feet away from the one above. One bird was building its nest with mud. The others were typical onlookers, just like us humans observing our neighbors fix their houses.

Barn Swallows watching one of them landing near them.

Barn Swallows: note the one on the right carrying apiece of mud in its beak.

Barn Swallows. The one carrying mud had just flown up to the underside of the walkway.

Late Breakfast at Osprey Nest

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Yesterday I arrived at the refuge, near the nest of the Ospreys I have been following this year. The two chicks were not visible, but the two parents were there, with the mother making loud calls.

“Honey, the kids are hungry! Time to go fishing!”

He seemed oblivious to her calls. After about twenty long minutes he finally flew away. She watched him soar toward the marshes.

“He better catch something good!”

Some twelve minutes later, he was back, with no fish!

Male Osprey landing back on nest.

“Honey, I tried, but …”

In no time she sent him back out again. Another half hour passed during which she flew around to look for him, leaving the nest without adults protecting it.

Osprey nest without parents. The two chicks were in it but not visible from my angle.

The two chicks were making noises and eventually stood up in the nest.

Osprey chicks in nest.

Finally, the male Osprey came back with a big catfish.

Male Osprey with catfish.

Young Ospreys looking at their meal delivered by male Osprey.

The father proceeded to tear out pieces of catfish and fed them to one chick while the other waited for its turn without complaining. It would not be fed until the first chick had finished eating.

Male Osprey feeding chick.

I did not see the female Osprey again, but she was probably somewhere nearby either fishing or eating her fish. I had spent roughly an hour and a half watching the nest and it was time for me to go.

New and Old Birds

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Recently I encountered a new bird, for me anyway, the Common Yellowthroat, a small warbler with a Lone Ranger black mask, a white head top, and a very yellow throat.

Male Common Yellowthroat.

Male Common Yellowthroat singing.

This House Sparrow was preening itself one morning, and looked down curiously at a photographer.

House Sparrow.

Meanwhile, a female Mallard took off from Colonial Lake.

Female Mallard.

Snowy Egret stabbing water after a fish.

A Common Grackle laughed at the scene.

Common Grackle: “You missed!”

Have a great weekend!

Turtles

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One day last week I had to stop several times to let turtles cross the road in front of me. Here are a few shots of them at different places in the refuge, and one shot at Colonial Lake closer to home.

Diamondback Terrapin.

Diamondback Terrapin.

Snowy Egret with turtle under water in background.

Snapping Turtle at Colonial Lake.

At the beginning of last century, Terrapins were eaten by humans, almost to extinction. It was only two years ago in 2016 that New Jersey officially banned the hunting of Terrapins for any reason. They are currently classified as a species of Special Concern. Snapping Turtles are classified as Least Concern.

Osprey Feeding Time

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I arrived at the nest just as the male Osprey brought in a fish it had caught that morning, presumably after it had eaten the head. The female Osprey was waiting with two lanky and hungry young chicks.

Female Osprey with two chicks. Male was in the back after flying in the fish it had caught.

Having delivered breakfast, the male Osprey flew up to his perch, but he seemed to be nibbling something at his feet.

“What is he eating up there?”

Feeding time.

Mama feeding chicks while Papa watched out for intruders.

Sky Divers

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Forster’s Terns have impressive sky diving skills when they hunt for fish, and I have been trying to capture them doing aerial acrobatics in photos. Yesterday’s several of them put on a fantastic show at the refuge under a sunny sky.

Forster’s Tern hovering.

Forster’s Tern hovering.

Forster’s Tern starting dive.

Dive, dive!

Forster’s Tern diving straight into water.

Early Birds – 2

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This evening, I tried to shoot more photos near the bird feeder, and surprised two birds, one full of color, the other blander.

A Northern Cardinal flew in and landed on a magnolia branch. It shook itself as if to get rid of some water, and that’s when I took this photo. He was one of the reddest Cardinals I have ever seen.

Northern Cardinal.

A young female House Finch did not see me until I took her picture.

Female House Finch.

Early Birds

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This morning, I went out on the deck and took pictures of the early birds that came for breakfast. Some looked very young, and they may be this year’s fledglings.

Blue Jay.

Northern Cardinal: “Peekaboo!”

Blue Jay: “I see you!”

Young male House Finch.

Young Carolina Chickadee.

Black Skimmers

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A flock of Black Skimmers, those amazing birds that draw perfectly straight lines with their beaks on the water as they look for fish, was parked on a sand bar at the refuge. They were quite far away from me, and those that were fishing were flying fast.

Black Skimmers.

Two Black Skimmers.

Two Black Skimmers. The one in front must have just missed a fish.

Here’s a picture of one that I took last year.

Black Skimmer 2017.

Here’s one from 2015 where the straight line is seen clearly.

Black Skimmer in action