Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Hurricane Sandy: when nature bats last


Yes, climate change is real, spawning monster storms now being called the new norm. 

Above is a photo of the salt marshes I took three years ago in early October just inland from the Jersey shore near Avalon, very close to where Hurricane Sandy came ashore last night.

Today the entire area, indeed the entire Jersey coastal region from Cape May to Sandy Hook, has been devastated. 

I wonder if the snowy egret got away.

 NBC Nightly News: Jersey shore

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

enamored by a rumpus

Forgive me if I speak blithely about a rump. 

(Is it OK to say rump on the Internet?)

Sometimes, it's the little things, the simple things that lift your spirits and bring cheer to your day. Like, for instance, a flash of buttery color. 

Case in point, I saw my first yellow-rumped warbler of the season this afternoon, flitting trough the trees off my second floor deck. Yellow-rumps are the only species of wood warbler that spend their winters in the Tennessee Valley after having nested much farther to the north. 

The woodland passerine was lively, bounding from branch-to-branch, enjoying the pleasant afternoon breeze as much as I enjoyed seeing its saffron-colored keister pirouette by my propitious perch.

Does that make me a voyeur? Then call me such with a nod and a wink and a pink-cheeked blush.

-Photo by Alan D. Wilson

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

the true mystery

"The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible."

- From The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde born on this date 16 October 1854

Indeed, I'm constantly amazed and perplexed by what I see and have scant time to contemplate what I cannot. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012


The American beautyberries at the nature center have been most munificent in their fruiting this fall. They are quite dazzling.

At the bases of the leaves, this fast growing shrub produces clusters of magenta berries with a metallic sheen. The berries turn black and last well into the winter, long after the leaves drop off. They are an important survival food for birds, deer and other animals, although they generally do not eat them until other food sources are depleted. 

Who knows, if times get bad, we may be eating them, although I’ve read they are not particularly agreeable to human stomachs.

The shrub is native to the Southeast: Maryland to Florida and west to Texas.

Monday, October 8, 2012

In Praise of Dreams

I'm quoting here:

"In my dreams
I paint like Vermeer van Delft.

I speak fluent Greek
and not just to the living.

I am gifted
and write mighty epics.

I fly the way we ought to,
i.e., on my own.

I'm a child of my age,
but I don't have to be.

A few years ago
I saw two suns.

And the night before last a penguin,
clear as day."

- Random lines from In Praise of Dreams by Polish poet Wisława Szymborska
who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1996.
 - Photo of Dreaming of Tiger Spring, located in Hangzhou, China

Yes, I too have dreams where I can 
do it all, be it all, see it all, experience it all.
Then I wake up. It's a shame really.

Monday, October 1, 2012

once upon a heron

I get the most interesting emails. 

This one comes from Charlie Morgan. She works part-time at the nature center. And, yes, the Audubon print to the left is a whooping crane not a great blue heron but for the sake of this story, let's pretend it's the latter. 

Charlie begins, "For some time I’d thought of the great blue heron as 'my bird.'  It came to be, during a stressful bundle of life events, that the large but graceful bird became a symbol of strength for me. 

 Seeing one fly over my car on the way to work meant it was going to be a good day, a 'blue heron' day.

So I enjoyed a small swell of peace as I started watching a heron play with an alligator in the Everglades a few years ago.  I’m a lousy judge of distance, but they couldn’t have been more than about 50 feet away, just on the other side of the swale, close enough that I could see the baby alligators and hear their mewls.

Of course, the heron could, too.  And perhaps they sounded delicious, because he started to dance and dodge around mom.  

Now, it might seem unlikely for what we think of as such a vicious creature, but alligators are actually great moms.  They keep an eye on their eggs and are very hands-on, mouths-on actually, watching out for their babies.  When danger lurks or when she needs to move them elsewhere, mom gator gathers all the little ones, gently, into her mouth.  This gets challenging as they get a little bigger and a little wigglier.  They tend to squirm out through the gaps between mom’s big teeth.  

So at this point, mom was warding off the heron by lunging and snapping to move him away from her little ones.

Problem for her, though. The heron could fly.  As she lunged and snapped, he could quickly flap over and away from her and approach now-scattering babies.  I was amazed to be able to watch all this and I really began to feel tension mount as the confrontation escalated.  

The heron trying to distract mom to lure her away.  Mom lunging, snapping, chasing, then rushing back to herd her strays back to the group.  The heron seemed to be able to lure her farther away each time, making it hard for her to beat it back to the brood, until finally she didn’t make it back in time.

The heron had lunch dangling from his long bill in the form of a baby alligator.  Baby alligators are unseemingly adorable, and they mewl, and they cry.  I didn’t know they cried (or mewled for that matter) until that day.  

It was heartrending to watch as mom and baby cried to each other while the heron almost seemed to hesitate for what probably seemed longer than it was before doing the quick toss and swallow. And then it was over.

I had to really, really remind myself that this is all natural, all part of the awesome cycle of life.  And I felt unbelievably graced for seeing this horribly beautiful natural event played out so close before me, rather than on the TV screen.

It all unfolded like a dance and I wondered if the heron actually planned it all that way.  Wondered if mom gator grieved for the loss of the baby.  Wondered if any cognition or emotion was involved.  I know mine certainly was."

Thanks, Charlie!

 This is a baby alligator-eating great blue heron.