Early this morning I went out and took the following photos of more flowers around our house.
Two weekends ago, the song sparrow below was singing lustily at the Edwin B. Forsythe Wildlife Refuge, perched on a sign that said Endangered Species Area. Itself not endangered, it was just singing happily, celebrating spring perhaps and its free life amid the wide open marshes.
Village Teacher was a surprisingly pleasant break from the books which generally fall into our hands these days. In fact, I could say it’s reminiscent of literature from another time and not only because the action takes place at the end of the 19th century in a politically torn, myth laden Vietnam, but due to the fact it creates an atmosphere often similar to that of an epic poem.
“The footprints never overlapped or touched one another, but there was no doubt that they were walking close together and going forward in the same general direction. They turned around once more and resumed their walk.”
The reader can guess early on how the story is going to end, but that doesn’t detract from the desire to follow the journey of those extraordinary main characters, who never betray their moral values, belief systems and feelings. Teacher Tam and Giang are…
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Yesterday I noticed a strange animal behavior as I scanned Reeds Beach through my camera viewfinder. A group of laughing gulls was bobbing up and down from time to time. I thought it was due to camera shake, but I had the camera on a tripod, so that had to be ruled out.
Finally I remembered reading about that particular behavior. As you know, the gulls and other birds eat the eggs freshly spawned and buried in sand by female horseshoe crabs. The gulls have learned that they can get at the deeply buried eggs by stamping on the sand as the waves come in. Then as the waves recede, the disturbed sand is carried out to sea, revealing and leaving the eggs behind. Those smart gulls are laughing all the way to the bank.
The following photo shows the gulls stamping. Note that the water was coming in and the gulls had their heads up in the air. That long pointed thing sticking out in the middle of the picture was the tail of one overturned crab.
Six seconds later, the water had receded and all the gulls had their heads back down, eating crab eggs. Note the overturned crab tail was still there among the gulls.
A corner of our garden is often neglected because the soil there is often wet or even muddy. However, that is an ideal environment for irises, and today I went out and took the following pictures which are long overdue for these beautiful flowers. I used an old Canon 100 mm f/2.8 macro lens which predates the digital era, but is functioning quite well.
If you have the time, please let me know which image you like the most.
It was a month ago that I first heard about red knots from a young, starry-eyed couple who had traveled from California to New Jersey to watch the birds as they stop along the beaches of Delaware Bay during their annual migration.
The red knots have one of the longest migration path of all animals. In the spring, they fly more than 9,000 miles from Tierra del Fuego to the Canadian Artic, their breeding grounds. They time their migration to arrive in New Jersey when horseshoe crabs come ashore to lay their eggs from early May to early June. The birds eat the eggs to regain the weight they lost during their flight and build up their stamina to be able to reach their Artic destination. Unfortunately, the use of horseshoe crabs as fishing bait and in medical tests has led to a decline in horseshoe crabs. The red knot population has also declined 80 to 90% as a result.
New Jersey has had a moratorium on fishing for horseshoe crabs for the past eight years. Now some people say that is long enough and that horseshoe crabs and red knots have recovered from their respective nadir. Is that true? I had to go see for myself.
Yesterday, I went to Reeds Beach in Cape May Court House, NJ. There are now guards who prevent people from going on the beach and disturb the birds while they are feeding. There were people from Canada and Australia who were monitoring the red knots, all very serious and dedicated to their cause. One pointed out to me a small plane that flew overhead to take photos for counting the birds. The red knots I saw were more numerous and seemingly fatter than those I saw two weeks earlier (see Horseshoe Crab Season). Here’s how they looked then.
and here’s how they looked yesterday.
Some closer looks from yesterday:
In the following photo, you can see that the red knots are much smaller than the laughing gulls behind them
How many were there? I couldn’t tell, but certainly a lot. For the actual count, we’ll have to wait for the official tally from that small plane.
In the following photo, the red knots are lined up in three orderly lines, in contrast to the other shore birds. Perhaps they know to organize themselves in platoon-sized groups to travel such long distance.
Meanwhile, what were the horseshoe crabs doing? There were hundreds of them lying overturned and dead on the beach, their decomposing bodies emitting an unpleasant smell. But many others were having a good time. In the following photo, six male crabs were crowded around a female that was partially buried in the sand.
I also went to Cook’s Beach and Kimbles Beach. Those places also had many birds, but I could not get a decent shot because the guards were keeping visitors a good distance away from where the birds were.
Horseshoe crabs often get overturned by ocean waves as they try to reach the sandy beaches where they lay their eggs. In the following photo, you can see one that got flipped over in the lower left corner.
When that happens, the crab cannot always turn itself over and lay there helpless to be stabbed by the sharp beaks of sea gulls. Or they may just die of exposure. Here’s a part of another beach where the shells of dead horseshoe crabs are strewn about randomly.
However, their greatest enemies are not the elements or even the birds. It is us, humans. We don’t usually eat horseshoe crabs, but fishermen like to capture and use them as fishing bait, and in some areas they can catch hundreds of thousands of them each season.
Horseshoe crab blood is blue and is used in the pharmaceutical industry to test that products such as vaccines, drugs, or medical devices are free of bacteria. So the crabs are harvested and bled of part of their blood for such uses. A quart of blue crab blood can fetch $15,000. After losing up to 30% of their blood, the crabs are fed and released back to nature in a weakened state. In regions where such medical harvest occurs, the population of horseshoe crabs has been declining.
As I was driving to reach the southern end of New Jersey, a field of red clover came into view, and I had to stop. The red of the clover just stood out vividly against the green country side with an unremarkable pale sky.
Red clover is often used as a crop to increase the fertility of land that has been exhausted by cultivation of other crops. I wanted to confirm that and tried to look for the people who farm this field, but it was Sunday morning and there was no one around to ask.
Horseshoe crabs, those living fossils that have been around 450 million years, have started to come ashore for their annual mating rituals. Yesterday, I went to an almost deserted beach on the Delaware Bay, to see them for the first time.
The tide was rising, but for the first half hour all I saw was many birds, among them the red knot which depends on the eggs of the horseshoe crabs to give them fuel for their 9,000 miles migration from south (Tierra del Fuego) to north (Artic). Red knots numbers have been declining, because their food suppliers have also been declining, but this year there is hope that both populations are on the increase again. In the following picture, the red knot is in the center with orange coloring.
As I kept scanning the beach and the sea, I noticed some rocks that appeared to be moving. They were not rocks, but horseshoe crabs in a tight embrace! The male was the smaller of the two and he held on to the female and followed her until she laid her eggs and he could fertilize them.
Soon the surf was full of horseshoe crabs.
The noise from the various shore birds rose several notches as they swooped down on the crabs for an egg-eating feast.
Meanwhile, a male crab followed a female closely as she dug a hole in the sand to deposit her eggs.
Three horseshoe crabs got overturned, probably by the waves. They were thrashing helplessly, until I flipped them back, and they scurried away to resume their mating.
For this challenge, here are three photos of snow geese that I took in March as they flew to their summer grounds in Canada and Alaska.
Among other things, snow geese are distinguishable by their black lips, a dark line around their bills.
We each have our own concept of spring, what it represents, and what symbolizes it. For me, peonies are the symbol of spring. These flowers have been around for thousands of years, and some plants have lived hundreds of years or more, coming back each season with flowers that comfort and reassure us.
Here are two of the peonies that I have been growing in our back and front yards.
For this challenge, I submit the following photo of macarons on a sign at the entrance of a bakery in Paris:
It is said that macarons have been around since the 8th century, and these days they seem to be everywhere in Paris. They are a light, crunchy type of biscuit filled with a soft and sweet middle of various kinds of jams, chocolates, and decadent things like foie gras! I had an almond crusted big one filled with slices of peach.
Following is my unofficial translation of the sign: “Macarons, the small pastries with a crunchy shell and a melting heart. For the season, the month, the mystery.”