Drought Ended?

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Last night, loud thunder announced the arrival of rain which gave everything a good soaking and lowered temperatures a bit. The weatherman said we may get some more rain tonight and next week, so maybe this year’s drought is over.

This morning, I went around the yard taking pictures of the only flowers that survived and are thriving this summer: Cleome (spider plant), Crape Myrtle, and Hibiscus.

Cleome.
Cleome.
Cleome.

These Cleome plants require little care and have endured for several years despite my intentional neglect of them.

Crape Myrtle.
Hibiscus.

Sharp-shinned Hawk

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This morning a Sharp-shinned Hawk flew in to our backyard and perched on an oak branch to look at our empty bird feeder. I thought I would take its picture first before filling up the feeder.

Sharp-shinned Hawk.
Sharp-shinned Hawk.
Sharp-shinned Hawk.
Sharp-shinned Hawk.

There was no small bird at the feeder and the hawk flew away quickly.

Remembrance of Lotus Pond

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Since 2014, I have been going to the Lotus Pond in Carnegie Center in Princeton, NJ every summer to photograph its beautiful Lotus flowers and the bees and dragonflies that flew over the pond. Unfortunately, last year all the Lotus plants died or were killed for some unknown reason and the Lotus Pond is no more. It is just a small pond with water but no vegetation growing in or on it.

The photos below show the flowers at their best eight years ago in 2014. I have reprocessed some of them using newer software, while other photos have never been published before.

This is how the Lotus Pond looked at its prime.

Lotus Pond in 2014.
White Lotus with a red one in the background.
Pink Lotus flowers.
Pink Lotus flower.
Red Lotus flower.
White Lotus flower.
White Lotus flower.
Pink Lotus flower.
Bee hovering over white Lotus flower.

Cee’s Photo Challenge – Flower of the Day

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This morning I walked out to our backyard and saw the Southern Magnolia (Magnolia Grandiflora) covered with beautiful blooms. The rising sunrays were showing the flowers at their best, and these are my entries to Cee’s Flower of the Day Challenge.

Southern Magnolia (Magnolia Grandiflora).
Southern Magnolia (Magnolia Grandiflora).

Lens-Artists Challenge #205 – The Eyes Have it

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This post is my response to Tina’s challenge at Lens-Artists Challenge #205 – The Eyes Have it. I almost never photograph humans, so my entries will consist of pictures of birds that I encounter in a rookery, a wildlife refuge, or in our backyard.

Yellow-crowned Night Heron shielding her eggs from the hot sun. You can see part on an eye behind her right wing.
Juvenile Yellow-crowned Night Heron just waking up grumpy.
White Ibis after returning from a fishing trip.
Bluejay drinking from the birdbath in our backyard.
White Ibis preening.
Eastern Bluebird on top of Southern Magnolia tree.
Eastern Bluebird staring at photographer.
Great Egret landing on a branch.
Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird at feeder.
Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird at feeder.

Rookery at Ocean City Welcome Center

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Yesterday the rookery next to the New Jersey Ocean City Welcome Center was teeming with egrets, herons, ibises, and many other smaller birds. The Great Egrets breeding season was at its peak as you can see from the following images.

Great Egret pair and newly hatched chicks.
Great Egret with chick and a still unhatched egg.
Great Egret bringing an eel to the nest.

The parent egret will eat the eel then regurgitate it into the bottom of the nest. Then the young chicks will be able to eat it.

Great Egret with three chicks. Not all of the young chicks may survive due to competition among them, unless the parents can provide plenty of food.

Bluebirds – New Brood?

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Two days ago, in the morning I saw both Bluebird parents catching insects and bringing them to their babies.

Bluebird parents on top of birdhouse.

Bluebird female feeding the young ones.
Bluebird male calling out to female.
Male Bluebird bringing food toward the birdhouse.

I thought it was about time for the young birds to fledge and leave their nest. Then, in the afternoon, our backyard was suddenly very quiet. No more Bluebirds flying around or calling each other. Very cautiously, I opened the door of the birdhouse. No bird was inside. The young ones had all fledged, and I missed seeing them leave their nest.

Then this morning, the male Bluebird was back flying around and attacking his image on our patio door. I went out and saw him perched on the birdhouse. Then the female Bluebird reappeared, and the pair kept taking turns diving toward the grass to catch insects. Life was back to normal.

Bluebirds may have from one to three broods. It looks like this Bluebird couple will start a second brood in the same birdhouse. I’ll keep watching them and try to photograph the second brood as they fledge.

A Day in the Life of Our Bluebirds

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Every day the pair of Eastern Bluebirds living in our backyard have to find food for their babies, which could be fledging in a week or so. Fortunately, our neighborhood has many spots, including lawns, an empty lot and a wooded area, where they can easily find food. The female is the one that works the hardest, with the male relishing his role as her protector against other birds and even a photographer!

Male Bluebird arriving with butterfly (or moth) as food.
Female Bluebird with a worm.
Female Bluebird bringing spider for food.
Female Bluebird flying out of nest.

Sometimes they take a break and watch their nest from the top of our birdfeeder hanging pole.

Eastern Bluebird couple watching their birdhouse.

One essential function of both parents is to keep the nest clean by taking out the fecal sacs they pull out of their young ones several times a day.

Male Bluebird with a spider.
Male Blurbird feeding their babies.
Male Bluebird going inside nest.
Male Bluebird flying out holding a fecal sac. He will drop it somewhere far away from the nest.

The female also does that type of diaper duty. In fact, she carries out more fecal sacs than he does! On the other hand, he spends a lot of time keeping other birds clear of their birdhouse. Yesterday I watched as he repeatedly attacked the Bluebird he saw in the driver side mirror of a car parked on our driveway. At times, the noise that he made pecking at his image in the mirror sounded like a mini machine gun. This morning we put a bag over the mirror to put a stop to that.

Bluebird Invasion

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After I posted my 2022 photos of Eastern Bluebirds, I heard many loud bird cries in our backyard. I went out to see what the hubbub was about.

We now have two couples of Bluebirds, four adult Bluebirds in total, and four baby Bluebirds! The newcomers were flying all over, looking for a birdhouse they could occupy. The original Bluebirds of course felt threatened since they had four newly hatched babies in their nest. They chased away the new pair, and those two birds have been knocking on our bay window which faces the backyard.

I cannot positively distinguish the newcomers from the old-timers, but I think the following shots show the new Bluebirds.

Eastern Bluebirds on TV antenna.
Newly arrived male Eastern Bluebird.
Newly arrived female Eastern Bluebird.

The original Bluebird couple had built a nest inside a birdhouse that used to be occupied by House Wrens. However, the Bluebirds did not use it and took over another nest we can see from our kitchen window. The House Wrens went to settle in another birdhouse in front of our house.

I opened the unused birdhouse in the backyard and threw out the nest that the original Bluebirds had built but did not use. After that I saw the new Bluebird pair visit the empty birdhouse several times. I hope they will settle in it and stop knocking on our windows.

Bluebirds – 2022

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This is the fourth year that Eastern Bluebirds have come back to nest at the birdhouse I put up for them in the back of our house. Today I saw the Bluebird parents fly in and out to bring food to a brood of four baby Bluebirds.

Male Bluebird on top of birdhouse.
Female Bluebird looking for her babies inside birdhouse.

The parents were very efficient, bringing back newly captured insects and worms every five minutes.

Female Bluebird flying toward birdhouse entrance.
Male Bluebird perched on top of birdfeeder for birds that prefer sunflower seeds.
Male Bluebird observing photographer.
Male Bluebird with a spider.

Village Teacher: Review by Elizabeth Gauffreau

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Profile avatar for Elizabeth Gauffreau

Elizabeth Gauffreau
Author @elizabethgauffreau

Recommended and rated this book:

book cover
Village Teacher

Village Teacher is a historical novel by Neihtn (Nguyen Trong Hien) set in Vietnam during French occupation at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th. The novel opens with the protagonist, a teacher/scholar named Tam, leaving the building where he has just taken a national examination that will determine his future. His final essay? A discussion of reforms needed to bring the country’s educational system into the modern age. For me as a reader, opening hooks don’t get much better than this!

I felt immediately drawn to Tam. He is a brilliant scholar, yet genuinely humble and self-effacing. He stands ready to help those in need, including a young woman set upon by thugs as he walks back to the inn where he is staying. This incident sets in motion the love story which will become the heart of the book, as Tam and the young woman, Giang, face obstacle after obstacle to being together, most triggered by their living in a country under foreign occupation. I found this love story particularly well-done, with a subtlety and nuance I greatly appreciated.

The plot is quite complex, with machinations from a variety of antagonists. For me, this complexity is a clear representation of the difficulty of surviving in a traditionally hierarchical society under a system of governance imposed by foreign occupiers while trying to hold onto your own culture and as much of your system of governance as your foreign occupiers will allow–not to mention dealing with heavily-armed rebel factions. Village Teacher brought home the full extent of these complexities in a way I hadn’t previously encountered.

An important question Village Teacher raises in my mind is the balance between history and fiction in a historical novel. Is the author’s primary goal to fictionalize a historical event (or time period) to bring history alive for readers–with the fiction serving the history–or is it the other way around? Is the author’s goal to provide the historical context needed for readers to fully understand the characters’ motivations and experience in the world, with the history serving the fiction? While Village Teacher has a relatively high percentage of history to fiction, I found it entirely necessary to the story (in addition to being intrinsically interesting). The author made a good decision to use an omniscient narrator to relay the exposition and not put it in the mouths of the characters, which can sometimes happen in historical novels.

For a novel coming in at over 400 pages, Village Teacher was a surprising quick read; I finished it much sooner than I expected. I was also surprised by how I felt at the end. While the ending was satisfying, with no loose ends, I was reluctant to leave these characters behind. I had come to care about them that much.

Reasons I enjoyed this book:

Action-packed Haunting Informative Unpredictable Wonderful characters

About Elizabeth Gauffreau

Original review is on BookBub at this link.

Hot Colors

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As I start writing this, outside temperature is 88°F (31°C) and tomorrow promises to be even hotter. Looking out I saw a couple of Northern Cardinals arrive on our deck intent on checking out the birdfeeder.

Male Northern Cardinal.
Male Northern Cardinal: “Nothing on this glass table except empty shells!”
Male Northern Cardinal ready to jump on birdfeeder.
Male Northern Cardinal puffing up, maybe because of the heat?
Male Northern Cardinal looking 50% bigger.
Male Northern Cardinal about to fly up.

Meanwhile, the female was waiting for her turn in the shadow of the magnolia branches.

Female Northern Cardinal.
Female Northern Cardinal, so pretty.

Spring Flowers in Full Bloom

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There are still four weeks left of spring and some flowers are reaching their peak blooms. I took the following photos of their beautiful shapes and colors over the past three mornings.

Siberian Irises.
Alba (White) Bleeding Hearts.
Red Peony bud.
White Peony.
Red Peony with white Peonies in background.
Red Peony.
Red Peony.
White Peony.
Siberian Irises. The pale blue ones are named Miss Saigon.
Clematis.

Vertical and Delivered

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White-breasted Nuthatches are again coming to our birdfeeder, feeding themselves at their preferred angle, i.e. vertically and upside down. Sometimes I wonder how they manage to swallow those sunflower kernels, but they do.

Most birds eat like the female Downy Woodpecker and House Finch shown below.

Female Downy Woodpecker and House Finch at birdfeeder.
White-Breasted Nuthatch going toward the sunflower seeds.
White-Breasted Nuthatch got a sunflower seed.
White-Breasted Nuthatch: “It’s easy, just like this!”
White-Breasted Nuthatch on top of birdfeeder.

Other birds have their breakfast delivered.

Osprey male fly in fish to female Osprey.

Osprey Breakfast

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Following are images of an Osprey couple sharing a fish around 8:24 AM yesterday. I saw the male Osprey fly in with a fish, but by the time I was ready to take pictures, he was already standing on a side of the nest where the female was incubating.

Male Osprey with fish, female incubating in nest.

Usually, he would have eaten the head of the fish, leaving the rest to her.

Male Osprey bringing fish breakfast to female.
Note headless fish in male’s talon.
She started eating. As usual, female Osprey was larger than the male.
She decided to take the fish with her to eat somewhere else.
After a brief flight, she landed not far from nest, scattering nearby birds.
Male Osprey took over incubating duties.

Weekend Variety

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I have been saving photos of birds over the past several weeks, waiting for an opportunity to post them. Here are most of them, in no particular order.

Black-crowned Night Heron in deep sleep.
Yellow-crowned Night Heron slowly waking up.
Bald Eagle shielding Eaglet from a strong wind. Ten days ago there were two Eaglets in the nest, but only one is visible now.
Canada Geese goose-stepping practice.
Great Egret landing.
White Ibis landing with twigs to build its nest.
Forster’s Tern looking for fish.
Purple Martin.
Snowy Egret.

Ucrania 2022 y Guernica 1937

maria bilbao

A lo largo de los días no puedo abstraerme de las imágenes y noticias sobre la invasión de Ucrania. Es imposible no dejar de pensar en la vida tan dolorosa, inhumana, de sus habitantes que malviven en las ciudades destruidas, condenados a bajar al subsuelo de la tierra y vivir en corredores infrahumanos con el sonido de fondo de las alarmas, y las bombas cayendo sin cesar. Tantas personas inocentes que han perdido la vida serán recordadas como víctimas del genocidio perpetrado por Putin y su ejército en los comienzos del siglo XXI.

Leo una entrevista al psiquiatra Luis Rojas Marcos en La Voz de Galicia del 26 de abril. Luis Rojas Marcos vivió en primera línea el atentado del 11-S cuando dirigía el Sistema de Hospitales de la ciudad de New York. Al preguntarle sobre Putin, dice: “Yo no puedo comentar la salud mental de Putin porque no lo…

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Rain and Flowers

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It rained all day yesterday. I thought I heard rainfall also during the night. It continued this morning and did not stop until mid morning. I went out to see what survived or was ruined, and was pleasantly surprised as all the flowers came through and actually seemed to thrive.

Judy Zuk Magnolia.
Judy Zuk Magnolia.
Azalea.
Hino Crimson Azalea.
White Dogwood.
White Dogwood.
Another white flower: Viburnum.

A New Gull, and the Usual Birds

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The Black-headed Gull comes from Europe and, about fifty years ago, has begun appearing in North America in small numbers. I saw a group of about a dozen of them on Wildlife Drive for the first time last week. They did not seem too shy, like most gulls, and I was able to come close to them.

Black-headed Gull.

Other birds that I photographed are well known to most of us.

Male Red-winged Blackbird.
Female Red-winged Blackbird.
Great Blue Heron with a shrimp appetizer.
Lesser Yellow Legs.
Willet contemplating take off.
Glossy Ibis.
Canada Goose hatchling.

Bald Eagle Nest

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Last week, I went to the site of a Bald Eagle nest at the refuge. It was high on a pine tree, but a Bald Eagle mother and Eaglets were visible from the road.

Bald Eagle nest.
There were two Eaglets, but only one was visible in this photo. It was asking when lunch would be ready.
“We have to wait for Daddy to come back from fishing,” said the Bald Eagle mother.

Mid Spring Flowers

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A cold beginning for Spring 2022 has decimated our early magnolias and Asian pear flowers. Today, at the end of April, temperatures climbed above 50°F (10°C) but a strong wind makes it feel much colder. The “Judy Zuk” Magnolia tree that I planted five years ago is bearing vibrant yellow flowers. Judy Zuk was the president of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden from 1990 to 2005, and this magnolia is a hybrid developed there.

“Judy Zug” Magnolia.

“Judy Zug” Magnolia.

Another late bloomer that has escaped frost is the Susan Magnolia, a smaller tree than the Soulangeana Magnolia (Saucer Magnolia). We have two trees of the Soulangeana but both lost all of their flowers this year. Fortunately, we have three Susan Magnolias.

Susan Magnolia.

Last but not least are the dependable Bleeding Hearts which have started to come up.

Bleeding Heart.

Spring Colors

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The Crabapple is a most colorful spring blooming tree. There was one near the entrance of our public library and it easily drew everyone’s attention.

Crabapple spring blooms.
Crabapple spring blooms.

At nearby Colonial Lake ducks and birds were also welcoming the sun and a much needed increase in temperature.

Mallard couple, with she probably the result of a domestic duck and a wild Mallard.

American Robins were everywhere. I followed one as it walked on the shore of Colonial Lake.

American Robin at Colonial Lake.
American Robin looking for worm.
American Robin.

At one point there was a face off with an European Starling.

European Starling.

Although bigger than the Robin, the Starling flew away.

Double-Crested Cormorants

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In my previous post about a Cormorant, I should have mentioned that it was a Double-Crested Cormorant, the most common type found in North America. It sports a double crest of feathers on its head during breeding season. However, when it plunges into the water to look for fish, the double crest is flattened on its head and cannot be seen then.

A few days ago, I saw a couple of Cormorants sunning themselves in the middle of Colonial Lake, one with a visible double crest.

Double-crested Cormorants. The one on the left has a visible double crest on its head.
A closer look at a Double-crested Cormorant.

The crest color is white for Double-crested Cormorants in Alaska, but is black in other regions.