Monday, February 26, 2007

Red bellied woodpecker Melanerpes carolinus

We saw a red bellied woodpecker early yesterday morning. It landed on a bamboo support pole for a small pine tree and was pecking in the hole at the top of the bamboo. Before I could get my camera it flew away. I have seen this bird maybe one or two times before. It is rather striking with the brilliant red cap and ladderback of black and white feathers.

Here's a Cornell University website that has photographs and pictures of the bird with some interesting information. By looking at their map of sightings I can see that it is a rare bird for us to see. Interesting that they would give it such a descriptive name whose characteristic is difficult to see at best. A better name would be red capped woodpecker in my opinion.

More Beech Tree photos - Light of the Woods

Early Sunday morning I went out looking for beeches in locations I had previously mentally noted. It was cold out and many of the small beeches were quickly loosing their leaves. I did find two stands that looked promising and took these photos.

One is of a small tree about 12 feet tall amongst taller mixed trees. The other is a detail of the trunk of a larger tree probably about 8-10" in diameter. I love the smooth gray trunk and how it sets off the very light tan colored leaves. There are variations in the color of the leaves, some which are very light as in the detail photo which I prefer and some darker, almost like oak leaves though not a dark.

It seems the more I look, even in small patches of trees, I can usually see a beech or two tucked in amongst the older growth.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Light of the forest

Since we moved to the Northeast almost 20 years ago we noticed small trees in
Winter with dead leaves still attached amongst larger trees in the woods. I learned that leaves that die but remain attached to the plant are known as marcescent. We always thought the pale tan leaves were quite beautiful and striking compared with other leafless trees. The leaves are very light in color and show up much more readily than the brown leaves of oaks which also keep their leaves.

I would halfheartedly think about trying to research the identity of the tree whenever I saw one but never quite remembered to do so. I only recently found out when driving past the same large tree several times a week that this was the same species as the little trees in the forest. I knew the large tree was the same because it had a few leaves still attached on some small lower branches. Apparently the larger trees seem to lose their leaves more easily than the smaller trees and that’s the reason I didn’t make the connection sooner. The large tree is a beech. I knew that because of the light gray bark that looks like elephant hide. In fact the tree trunks look sort of like elephant legs. Looking up beeches I found out it is an American Beech Fagus grandifolia. So the mystery is finally solved.

I love how the leaves stand out in the otherwise drab woods. And the trees have a wonderful shape. Here’s some information from Wikipedia: “The American Beech Fagus grandifolia is a species of beech native to eastern North America, from Nova Scotia west to southern Ontario in southeastern Canada, west to Wisconsin and south to eastern Texas and northern Florida in the United States.

The American Beech is a shade-tolerant species, favoring the shade more than other trees, commonly found in forests in the final stage of succession.”

The photo is not quite what I hoped for but there is another stand of beeches that I will photograph soon which has larger trunks of leafless trees surrounding the beech. Hopefully the lighting will be right as I think that will be critical in trying to show how stunning the tree actually looks.

Please enlarge the photo by clicking on it to get a better idea of how the tree looks.

More Phalaenopis orchids

Instead of posting individual photos of orchids as they bloom here are a couple of photos of everything that's blooming now. These were the past bloom sale orchids we bought for about $5-6 apiece last year. A bargain considering that we can place these around the house instead of buying cut flowers arrangements that last only for a week or less. The orchids last at least a month. Hopefully we'll have them bloom again next year.

I have been busy with home improvements projects the past two weeks, hence the paucity of posts and not posting comments on other's blogs. Should be back on a more regular schedule in a week or so. It's warming up. Trees and shrubs are budding and can't wait for Spring anymore than I...can.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Still in winter's grip - more orchids

Here's a rather common reddish purple phalaenopsis orchid. Still a sight to behold when all the flowers are open on the spray, especially on a cold and dreary day of Winter. I guess these have no names because they are cast offs or not good enough to be named. So the question is why would the propagators, well... propagate these rather common orchids? Why not only the very best if they're going to spend the time and effort to grow these plants? My guess would be that rarity brings a high price, like DeBeers trying to tell us that diamonds are rare when they're not.

I once talked to a guy who was connected to a lab doing meri-stem cloning. They would take the growing part of an orchid and somehow separate it into tiny bits and grew this slurry in a sterile medium with nutrients producing hundreds of little plants. This would kill the mother plant but you would get many plants with the identical traits and colors of the cloned plant. Essentially these plants were one and the same. This was faster and more reliable than growing plants from seed and you would get plants true to the characteristics of the parent. With seed there was too much variability. Of course to develop a new variety you have to do it by cross breeding from seed but maybe they've advanced the science to where they can pick what characteristics they want and just clone them.

Friday, February 09, 2007

First sighting - Carolina Wren

I saw my first Carolina wren, Thryothorus ludovicianus of the year. I heard a bird chirping loudly in an Eastern pine. When I got up closer, it was at eye level and looked like some kind of sparrow but as I got closer still I could see the white eye stripe and characteristic upturned tail. I thought it was a sparrow because the tail wasn't as upright as it should have been - probably because of the cold - 17 degrees this morning. It also gave me a good scolding so that cinched it. It was rather fearless as I got up to about 5 feet from the bird. Too bad I didn't have my camera with me as I could have taken quite a good picture of it at this close range. I'll have to remember to take a camera with me on my dog walks.

Wrens are of the family Troglodytidae. I love that nomenclature. Troglodytes refers to cave dwellers so I wonder why they put wrens in that family of birds. Maybe it's because some nest in natural cavities. I guess it would be cavelike to something that small.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Skeletons dancing

Here's a photo of our Seven Sons tree, Heptacodium miconioides which we previously thought was some kind of yellow twig dogwood. I bought the small tree or shrub because I loved the color and texture of the bark. After two years in ground and my wife's severely pruning back the vigorous growth, the tree has taken on a zigzag shape that I love... a skeleton dancing wildly.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Natures's conflicting agenda - sap rising/10F degrees temperature

I spotted this strange sight in yesterday's 10 degree temperature. Went out this morning, 10 degrees again to shoot these pictures.

The city composting center workers came last Friday to pick up the pile of pruned branches I set out on the curb. For some reason they thought it was a good idea to prune branches off the small maple trees lining the street to add to the pile. As soon as they did so, I noticed that some of the pruned trees were weeping a liquid from the cut branches. The temperature on Friday was in the low to mid 30's so I thought it unusual but not impossible for sap to rise in the trees. But now with high temperatures not rising to more than 20 degrees for a few days I wouldn't have thought the trees would continue to weep.

Despite the 10 degree temperature when the photos were taken, there is a drop of liquid on the tip of the ice dagger. I guess the sugar in the water acts as sort of an antifreeze.

I hate it when the workers trim trees. It's obvious that they don't have any training in tree pruning as they always use a small chain saw on even the smallest branches and leave a long stub or cut mid-branch. I had to re-prune the tree, cutting the stub back to the tree collar after they were done.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Unsatisfactory bird photography

I have found that bird photography is difficult even with a long lens. I had an Olympus C-740 with 10x optical zoom and bought a 1.7x tele-converter giving me a total of 17x optical zoom. Even with this very long lens an equivalent of more than a 600mm lens for a single lens reflex film camera I barely could get close enough before the birds were frightened away. This and the fact that only fairly common birds frequent the feeder makes it a less than rewarding effort. You either have to have the camera in hand and hope that an interesting bird shows up or actively stalk or wait very quietly for a long time. A blind would probably help but again only the most common birds come to the feeder. It's also difficult to store the camera with the long lens attached so if an interesting bird comes along it's usually gone by the time I've assembled the long lens to the camera or the rechargeable batteries have run down.

I will give the camera to my brother-in-law who lives in the Southwest. They have mobs of hummingbirds visiting their feeders. Apparently many different kinds of colorful hummers come to the feeder and they are fearless so he should have better luck than I have had.

These are photos of a female cardinal and house finches in one of my attempts to photograph birds. I believe the house finch in the last photo has a viral conjunctivitis disease of the eye as the eye appears crusty and half closed.

As posted yesterday after I saw the first robin of the season, I spotted several more later in the day so they're definitely back although I don't know why as we are in the coldest weather of the season forecasted to last for several days.

Blogger seems to be slow and reluctant to load for the past several days and now "Voices" hasn't come up in a couple of days although Gardenweb loads ok. Everything's getting crotchety with the winter blahs.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

First Robin Sighting and Nuthatch

I saw my first robin of the year and on the same tree my favorite bird, a white breasted nuthatch. Some years the robins stick around through the winter but this year I've not noticed that so I was surprised that this robin would appear when the weather is supposed to be very cold with highs of only in the twenties forecasted to last for a week. I wonder what the robins eat when the ground is so frozen. I guess whatever berries and seeds are to be found.

It was interesting to see that the nuthatch hammered the bark of the tree like a woodpecker only less vigorously and at a much slower rythym in its characteristic upside down position. That way it gets all the bugs and larvae that the up facing woodpeckers miss.

So I guess with Punxsutawney Phil's not seeing his shadow and the early robin, Spring is a sure bet to appear soon?

Sorry no pictures of robins or nuthatches only of goldfinches at our niger feeder.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Kalmia latifolia 'Minuet', Mountain laurel

Mountain laurels or Kalmia Latifolia are relatives of blueberries, Enkianthus, heathers and several other shrubs of the family Ericaceae. I love the mass of cupped flowers which usually have different colors on the back and front of the bloom so often times the buds and flowers on the plant may make it seem like it has multicolored blooms. The flower usually has little spots of contrasting color giving it more charm to an already wonderful small shrub.

Unfortunately the ones we have are not thriving. They've grown very little and the one I transplanted because it was in too much sun had almost no roots at all. I guess when we bought them several years ago I just planted them in the topsoil underlayed with clay and didn't think to amend the soil. It apparently likes a peaty well drained by moist soil so I may have to dig them all up and replant them when I've properly prepared the soil. Another thing to put on my already growing list for Spring.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Camera Lust again!

Even though I'm not very good at photographing plants, flowers and bugs, I tend to blame it on the camera rather than on my nascent skills. I was in a big box electronic store the other day and I looked at a Canon A630. I was interested in the macro capability of the camera which I read about in several online camera review sites. Apparently it can focus down to 1cm which is less than 1/2 inch, about .4 inch, which is very close to the subject especially if it is very small. I find it satisfying to photograph the minute but my current photos of bugs and flowers are not as close as I would like as my camera focuses down to only about 1.5 inches.

Anyway, I got to try the camera as they actually had power to it and I was amazed that it actually did focus to 1/2 inch. And it did it quite rapidly. Some of the other cameras I tried took a long time to focus down or couldn't manage to focus at all in the muted light.

So now I have camera lust again. The A630 is 8 megapixels and it's sibling the A640, 10 megapixels are current picks. I guess I'll have to sell off some of the old 3mp cameras. It is interesting to note that we think the more megapixels the better as if resolution is the only factor that determines the quality of a camera and the camera companies would have us think so too as they incrementally up the pixel count. 6 mp is pretty much standard now and you start to see point and shoot cameras with 10 mps which will probably the standard in a year or two. However I was looking through a catalog and noticed that it takes more than 16 megapixels to double the size of resolution of a 5 mp camera. More importantly the software the different camera companies use to sharpen the image or suppress noise seems to be more important in choosing a camera. I was always put off by the soft images the Canon cameras seem to produce and preferred the Nikons but apparently this was because they favored noise suppression as opposed to sharpening.

When will it end?
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Location: Zone 6, New Jersey, United States

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