Purple martins

I’ve only this random photo to share today – a few of the purple martins at the small colony maintained in a local park by a volunteer. I drive by the park on my way to and from work, but never had the time to stop and see if there were any martins occupying the apartments. I was glad to find them instead of starlings. It surprises me because I’ve always had the idea that martins will only nest close to water – sure there’s a reservoir within a few miles – but it’s hardly close. I love that all of the apartments and gourds are numbered so that each couple knows its’ own address.


I’m off to sulk about the end of my vacation now.

Follow me

The other day I went for a walk in the woods to see birds. Other than being temporarily distracted by a singing scarlet tanager, I didn’t actually see very many birds at all. There were a few cuckoos who kept taunting me, the ever present and wonderful ovenbirds, and a gazillion blue gray gnatcatchers whose song became little more than background static once I gave up trying to spot them.
Instead I followed the chipmunk’s chatter and he led me to find some special things…
He scampered about under the cinnamon ferns…
and helped me see the Pink Lady’s Slippers that I’ve been searching for everywhere…
When I got over finding those, I noticed that the Mountain Laurel was just about ready to burst into bloom.
Then I met up with a few of these garrish beetles patrolling the sandy paths. None would let me get close enough for a nice pic, despite my dusty knees.
Finally I took a break and sat on a bench beside a swampy pond with the chipmunks still chattering at my back. My binoculars were focused on the yellow bladderworts blooming on the far shore when I noticed these tiny flowers at my feet. I think they may be Canada Mayflowers?

On my way out of the woods, the scarlet tanager was still singing and I watched a few bluebirds hawking insects from the grass. I’ve not had any luck with photographing birds this spring, and little luck with finding wildflowers when I go out looking for them, but I seem to do better with one when I’m paying attention to the other. Does that make any sense? Maybe this day I can credit my better luck with following the chipmunk’s antics.

All photos from Allaire State Park, another local warbler hotspot.

Send in the clowns

We bought one of those gazebo thingies to put out by the pond and I need some convincing that it doesn’t look like a circus tent. It doesn’t, does it?

We have a nice-sized yard and the pond is a beautiful area, but it’s in the blazing sun and surrounded by rock and stone and is really the last place on earth that you want to spend any amount of time on a hot summer’s day. So my thinking is that this way we can have some shade and a few comfortable chairs and even some protection against the famous Jersey mosquitoes if we want to sit out there in the evening. Based on a test run late this afternoon I can also tell you that it’ll be a fabulous spot for a nap, with the sound of the water lulling you off into dreamland.

I think this is our sixth summer with the pond and we’re still not finished. Each year we tweak a little something to get it to where we want it to be. This gazebo is another step in that direction, I think. You might have noticed that we removed most of the fence from around the pond – except for the bit that faces the street. I’m nervous about that, but both my husband and I hated it and it really detracted from our enjoyment of the pond, plus it stuck out like a sore thumb. This way we have an unobstructed view from inside the house and from the screen patio. Anyone who is inclined to wander too close to the pond will have to walk through the middle of our yard in order to do it – hopefully no one will. We live on a quiet street, but have a lot of visitors parking beside our house because of a luncheonette on the opposite corner. The pond is something of a magnet, but I hope people’s better sense will prevail and they’ll stay on the street side of the fence.

The weather here has been much more like the 4th of July than Memorial Day. We went ahead and put up the awnings, which help to keep the house cool, but make it dark like a cave. I miss the sun streaming through the windows, but it’s been uncomfortably hot these past few days. I have just a few days left of vacation and intend to be very lazy and put the new circus tent to good use!

Swift rescue

I know the photo is awful, but that sooty black blob in the middle of the towel is a chimney swift that was caught in our furnace today. I was down in the basement late this afternoon changing pooty boxes when I heard this odd scratching sound coming from the furnace pipe. Sure enough when my husband took the pipe leading from the chimney off, down under the cover of the furnace lay this very quiet swift. He scooped it out and we went outside and set it free.

We usually have a half-dozen or so chimney swifts chattering away over the neighborhood and just yesterday I was wondering alound to my husband about where they nest and roost for the night. Not many people have chimneys they can use anymore. Chimney swifts aren’t able to perch like other birds because of the way their feet are arranged – they cling to vertical surfaces and build their half-saucer shaped nests from twigs and other materials glued together with their own spit. Neat! The DH will get a cap for our chimney so another doesn’t find its way in, but I do wonder what it was doing in there in the first place. I may have to have a look and see if I can spot the beginnings of a nest in our chimney.

Some bog plants

I spent yesterday hiking in the Pine Barrens looking for neat plants. I didn’t find many that I was hoping for, but thought I’d share those that I did find. I ended up at Webb’s Mill Bog and was glad to see that it was safe from the recent wildfire. Quite a few rare plants can be seen here, but the trick seems to be knowing when to go looking for them, which I’m still learning.
The Pitcher plants were blooming; these are carnivorous plants and insects are drawn to the cluster of leaves (the pitcher) that are below the flower. These pitchers hold water and when an insect falls in, they can’t crawl or fly out and are then consumed by the plant.
I was happy to find the first of three closely related bog orchids in bloom – this is Arethusa, which is also called Dragon’s Mouth. The lip of the flower serves as the landing pad for insects, usually bumblebees, who come to pollinate them. These grow only in bogs, peaty meadows, and damp places where sphagnum moss grows. There were maybe a dozen in bloom from my vantage point, and most were growing in close association with small cedars.
My favorite find of the day were the sundews – this is a Thread-leaved Sundew – nothing much to it, but these are cool little plants that have hairs tipped with sticky glands to attract and trap insects. This is another carnivorous plant that relies on insects for extra nutrients that can’t otherwise be obtained because of the nutrient-poor environment in which it grows. If you enlarge the pic, you’ll see that there are two flies trapped already in the sticky hairs. They’re tiny things, maybe just three inches tall, but they glisten in the sunlight. They’ll bloom late in June.

A tall tree

How about some Borland? We haven’t had any for a while now.

“Every garden should have a tree nearby. A tall tree with broad bole and spreading branches, preferably with branches that start well down the trunk or with a low crotch from which a boy might climb. A tree which spreads its roots where it springs from the earth, firm based and strong against the storms.

This is a tree for man as well as boy, the man who has climbed his trees and now can sit beneath them in understanding. For him those branches offer shade and hospitality when the sun has seared his neck and the garden is only half weeded. He can rest his back against that broad bole in Spring, when the spading is half done. Weeding and spading that younger hands once hastened through.

There is reassurance at the foot of such a tree, as well as rest. The years have added to its strength and stature. The wind, the rain, the ice and the blistering sun have all gone into the toughness of its fiber. Its roots strike deep into the soil and find sustenance in the old, old hills.

Youngsters must climb trees, to look out across a world that is misty with adventure. New horizons can be seen from tall trees when one is young. But the time comes when one can sit at the foot of such a tree and see even further than the eye could reach from its highest branch. There are times when one can see all the way to Tarawa and Anzio and Guadalcanal and Cassino.” – Hal Borland, Sundial of the Seasons

Borland adds the footnote for those of us too young to remember that Tarawa, Anzio, Guadalcanal, and Cassino were battlegrounds of WWII.

The tree in this photo is one that I pay particular attention to on the days that I teach, because I pass by it on my way to the college. This photo was taken in late March when I began taking a photo every few weeks to track its progress through the seasons. I missed visiting for a few weeks when the semester first ended and on my most recent visit I found it in full leaf. It grows in a picturesque setting, on a slight rise beside a dirt road – set apart from the farmhouse and outbuildings that share the property.

Early summer vacation

Well, the cat’s out the bag and I can finally share the good news – I got that promotion at work that I’d put in for a while back! There’ll be a nice little raise and some new scenery. I’ll be working in a different title and with greater and more varied responsibilities. But first, I have to go through a 90-day training period and pass a few tests (this is civil service, after all).

One downside to the training period is that I can’t take a minute off from work for the next three months. Instead I’m taking an early summer vacation that starts tomorrow! I’m thrilled, mostly because the weather is supposed to be nice and I never ever take a week off at this time of year. Usually I like to take a day here and there during the summer, and if needed for vet appointments and such, and then take near to my whole number of vacation days at the end of the year when it’s a matter of *use them or lose them*. So this will be a treat!

I’ll go back after Memorial Day for 3 days to finish up with pending cases and pack up my things. I won’t have a desk for a while, so I’m not sure what I’ll do with all the stuff I’ve managed to accumulate in my cubicle over the last few years.

I’m excited with the new position, but a bit nervous because I imagine it will be very different from what I do now. I’ve been working as a caseworker for the NJ Medicaid program for more than 10 years; now I’ll be working as a social worker. To begin with, I’ll be assigned to a unit that is responsible for the placement of homeless families; later there will be the chance to work with the elderly or the disabled or to become involved with any number of social service programs. There’ll be more client contact than I have now and more interaction with the Latino community because of my Spanish-speaking abilities. I’m particularly excited about that because I really enjoy the face-to-face time; my job now is too much about filling out forms and getting paperwork off my desk as fast as possible. There will be challenges, I’m sure, but I look forward to the opportunity to grow some.

Anyway, I have a whole week of unsupervised time ahead of me and I can’t decide what to do first! That’s a wonderful feeling, too.

Watch where you step

Yesterday while in the woods enjoying these…

I looked up and saw this…

My little brookside haunt is just full of surprises! I’m used to fossil-hunters in waders finding me with my face in the foliage trying to photograph some odd flower, but this was the first time I’ve been surprised by a horse and rider.

The flower is Star of Bethlehem, which is one of my all time favorites. It grows like the weed it is in my mother-in-laws lawn, yet any that I’ve attempted to transplant here are never seen again.