Dia Nueve -- Adios Mis Amigos

(Well, all trips come to an end, and as I now post the last entry, I say farewell to Costa Rica -- for now....) This was our first "proper" trip to a place south of Texas (a couple cruise vacation stops don't count, now matter how adventurous we may have been).

We had heard that Costa Rica was incredible. That can't even describe the time we've had.

IMG_2267web    IMG_2254web

I write this on el noche de dia ocho feeling a bit blue about our impending departure though we still have until the early afternoon to enjoy the region.

IMG_2304web

On this last evening, I reflect not only on the wildlife, but also the people we've met. Expert naturalists like Raul and Roger, fantastic photographers like Juan, and Hobssee always ready with the field guide -- these were only some of the terrific people we met. All offered warmth and enthusiasm for the environment -- a consistent theme in this country that runs from mountains to rain forest to beach.

Pura vida mis amigos. We will see you again soon.

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Postscript:

This is the last of the several mornings we've been up at dawn (I seem to get more rest at home in the city that never sleeps!), with an alarm clock of birds and insects plus crowing roosters and a barking dog.

The final morning's list netted new species, bringing our total of new birds to over 100.

  • Hoffman's Woodpecker
  • Great Kisskadee
  • Scarlet Macaw
  • Blue-gray Tanager
  • Clay-colored Robin
  • Baltimore Oriole
  • Great-tailed Grackle
  • Montezuma Oropendula
  • Blue-crowned (or turquoise browed?) mot mot
  • White-winged Dove
  • Palm Tanager
  • Rufous-naped Wren
  • Crimson-fronted parakeet
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Great Egret
  • Steely-vented Hummingbird
  • Yellow Warbler
  • Masked Tityra
  • Brown-hooded Parrot
  • Barred Hawk

And just 15 minutes before our car picked us up, a White-throated Magpie Jay.

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Hasta luego!

Dia Siete -- Marathon Birding

In the mountains, birding started at 7am. But here in the tropics, the heat means an earlier start and we have now set a record -- present and accounted for at 6am! Roadside Hawk

Led by our new friend Roger, incredible naturalist (and former professional soccer player), we explored the 11 acres of this sustainably-managed hotel. By the time we were finished 3 1/2 hours later we couldn't believe that we spotted so much wildlife and lasted so long without breakfast!

Bananaquit   Pale-billed Woodpecker

The morning was so divine that we met Roger again for an early evening walk.

Sunset

Wonderful new amigo, mesmerizing birds. I see why Costa Rica is so special.

  • Black-hooded Ant Shrike
  • Palm Tanager
  • Spotted Woodcreeper
  • Pale-billed Woodpecker
  • Inca Dove
  • Groove-billed Ani
  • Boat-billed Flycatcher
  • Gray-necked Woodrail
  • Ferrigunous Pygmy Owl
  • Golden-hooded Tanager
  • Broad-winged Hawk
  • Short-tailed Hawk
  • Double-toothed Kite
  • Roadside Hawk
  • Tropical Kingbird
  • Great Kisskadee
  • Social Flycatcher
  • Brown Booby
  • Northern Oriole
  • Great-crested Flycatcher
  • Cherrie's Tanager
  • Bananaquit
  • Orange-chinned Parakeet
  • Yellow-crowned Euphonia
  • Blue-crowned Motmot
  • Fiery-billed Aracari
  • Western Kingbird
  • Blue-gray Tanager
  • Golden-naped Woodpecker
  • Red-legged Honeycreeper
  • Brown Pelican
  • Magnificent Frigatebird
  • Neotropical Cormorant
  • Tennessee Warbler
  • Worm-eating Wrabler
  • Red-crowned Woodpecker
  • Rufous-tailed Hummingbird
  • Black Vulture
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Costa Rican Swift
  • Streaked Flycatcher
  • Crimson-front Parakeet
  • Great-tailed Grackle
  • Pale-vented Pigeon
  • Yellow-crowned Euphonia
  • Dusky-capped Flycatcher
  • Yellow warbler

Other critters:

  • Jesus Christ Lizard (so named, according to Roger, because that's what you'll exclaim after bumping into this formabile reptile on a dark forest trail)
  • Two-toed Sloth
  • Black Iguana
  • White-faced Capuchin Monkey

Jesus Christ Lizard   Flycatcher species

Dia Seis -- Song of the Gecko

Night in the tropical wet forest (a climate just a few inches shy of being a full-fledged rain forest) differs from the cloud forest not only in temperature and air moisture but also in sound. Mountains feature subtle insect sound, while in the tropics, it's a cacophony. Insects sing through the night and birds call well before the sun rises and temperatures rise. But of all these calling creatures, I found the geckos most intriguing.

House Gecko

The first night I thought I was hearing raccoons chattering. It wasn't until dinner that the songsters became apparent -- House Geckos on the outdoor restaurant walls and ceiling bleated out territory warnings to each other while hunting for insect dinners.

House Gecko

In spite of the hotel's resident naturalist's warnings, we hiked through a portion of Manuel Antonio National Park. The naturalist was dead-right -- the park was quite crowded with weekend tourists and locals enjoying the beach and thus wildlife was at a minimum (looking forward to joining him for a walk tomorrow morning). Nevertheless, we enjoyed the walk and had a few nice animal sightings.  We left the Park in awe of how clean the beach and trails were in spite of the crowds -- until a raccoon family uncovered their lunch from a trash can.

White-faced Capuchin Monkey   Three-toed SlothThree-toed Sloth   Iguana   Lizard   SpiderRaccoons   Raccoons Crab   Crab

Dia Cuatro -- The Robin was Right

Raúl, our naturalist guide from the previous day, pointed out a particularly melodic trill from the Clay-colored Robin. Based on the song, one would understandably expect to see a stunner of a bird especially since it is the national bird of Costa Rica, yet the species is quite true to its common name with dull, brownish coloring, but at least sporting a regal shape. Clay-colored Robin   Clay-colored Robin

As Raúl explained, the robin became the national bird thanks to its talents as a barometer long before our current weather forecasts. The trill we were enjoying signaled rain and farmers of years gone by would use the song as a signal to sow seeds for the season's crops. Thanks to this helpful tendency, the Clay-colored Robin became a national symbol.

Based on the song we were enjoying, Raúl said rain would be arriving that afternoon, or perhaps the next day.

Mountain Flowers

Some afternoon clouds did not bring precipitation and when I awoke the next morning -- again at 5! -- the sky was cloudy but there was no sign of overnight rain. By breakfast, blue skies reigned.

While more than happy on a personal level about the conditions, I was disappointed. Could it be that the robin was wrong?

We spent the early part of the day on another 5 hour hike to a waterfall, improving our Costa Rican birding skills, and finally setting our eyes upon the trophy bird of the region -- the Resplendent Quetzal (in our case, views of both the male and female)!

Flame-colored Tanager   WarblerAmerican Dipper   Hummingbird   Damselfly - Costa Rica   Savegre River    Green Violet-ear   Slaty Flowerpiercer Blue-gray Tanager

This spotting was made possible by a sweet Quebecois couple and their 16 month-old baby enjoying a hike. During our chat, we learned that their hike -- only about a mile from the Lodge -- on the previous afternoon was cut short by rain.

Resplendent Quetzal

Ah, the climate of the mountains. Bottom line: the Robin was right.

Bird list for the day:

  • Black Vulture
  • Rufous-collared Sparrow
  • Respendent Quetzal
  • Chestnut-capped Brush Finch
  • American Dipper
  • Yellow-winged Vireo
  • Spangled-cheek Tanager
  • Black-throated Green Warbler
  • Flame-throated Warbler
  • Gray-breasted Wood Wren
  • Torrent Tyrannulet
  • Silvery-throated Tapaculo
  • Acorn Woodpecker
  • Sulfur-winged Parakeet
  • Striped-tail Hummingbird
  • Yellowish Flycatcher
  • Gray-tailed Mountain Gem
  • Magnificent Hummingbird
  • Flame-colored Tanager
  • Band-tailed Pigeon

Dia Dos - I Eat a Moth

(NOTE: The Costa Rica expedition has ended and though I did not keep timely updates to the little blog, I did at least make notes for each day.  Thus, I now play "catch up.") While I love moths, it's more of a general appreciation and not a consuming passion.  Yet, walking up the mini-mountain to our cabin at the Savegre Lodge, I stopped, sucked in a deep breath of oxygen available at 7,200 feet and choked.

I had no idea what the problem was until lovely husband inquired "Did you just swallow that moth I brushed out of my way?"

Indeed, I did.

Lepidoptera consumption aside, here at Sevegre, in the ominously-named Cerro de la Muerta area of the Talamanca mountain range, we are consumed by a different group of critters -- hummingbirds.

The weather here is cool but comfortable (except a bit chilly in the evenings) and I don't notice quite as many butterflies (and one less moth!) as seen the day before outside Heredia.  But birds are a-plenty and we haven't even ventured off the property yet for a proper walk.

Just a few hours ago we were back in Heredia where I started a new trend -- waking up at dawn (though if I were a truly intrepid soul I'd be up BEFORE dawn).  It was difficult, but once outside, I was more than pleased, if not downright overwhelmed.

Birds galore -- including those butterflies mentioned a moment ago -- whizzing, zipping before my eyes.  And the sound!  This was not bird song but rather a collection of chirrups, squawks, and a cacophony of dog squeaky toys!

Butterfly

Identification became futile as there was just so much to take in of completely foreign birds to my limited expertise and I was completely relieved to enjoy the morning flirtations of two variegated squirrels.  I offer an equal opportunity program of love for all  critters, but rodents have a special spot in my heart.

IMG_9569web   IMG_9580web

Yet, I digress.  That was this morning, and this is now.  At our new mountain abode, hummingbird feeders are positioned for easy viewing and in the few hours here I have seen more individual hummingbirds -- and more individual species -- than I have seen before in my life.  And with over 50 species to choose from, I haven't even bothered with trying to identify them yet.

Hummingbird   Hummingbird

Hummingbird   Hummingbird

Besides this great spotting, we observed the species Homo sapiens, variety Aves-watchers run through the cafeteria from one end to the other.  Curiosity consumed us and we followed to find they were enjoying close up views of Emerald Toucanets.

IMG_9595web   Emerald Toucanet

As I close out the day earlier than the night before (we have a 5 hour guided bird walk at  the ghastly hour of 7am!), here are the bird sightings of the day.  You'll excuse the very scientific descriptions of a couple....

  • Blue-gray Tanager
  • Rufous-collared Sparrow
  • Acorn Woodpecker
  • Baltimore Oriole
  • Mississippi Kite
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Clay-colored Robin
  • Some kind of black flycatching bird
  • Some kind of yellow bird

Costa Rica, dia uno

Hotel Bougainvillea At long last, after years of thinking about it, we've arrived! One night in Santo Domingo just north of San Jose at the Hotel Bougainvillea with 8 acres of gardens featuring native plants.

Hotel Bougainvillea

Only a bit of casual birding and trouble identifying them with all these new species.

Hotel Bougainvillea

In lieu of a paper journal, I'll be modern and post some pictures of the hotel's garden and our very incomplete bird list:

  • possible Social Flycatcher
  • some sort of hummingbird (there are 52 species here!)
  • White-winged Dove
  • possible Rufous-naped Wren
  • Clay-colored Robin
  • Great-tailed Grackle
  • flock of unidentified parrots
  • bright yellowed-bellied bird on phone line - no clue on identification

Hotel Bougainvillea

Hotel Bougainvillea

Salt Flats to Mountain Tops

Light on words, heavy on images for this post.  Some snaps from our recent trip to Utah - 5 days spent within 2 hours of Salt Lake City.  Stunning place with such diverse landscapes, flora and fauna! American Avocet, Antelope Island State Park, Utah   Antelope Island State Park, Utah

Antelope Island State Park, Utah   Long-billed Curlew, California Gulls, Black-necked Stilt - Antelope Island State Park, Utah

American Bison - Antelope Island State Park, Utah   Loggerhead Shrike - Antelope Island State Park, Utah

California Gulls - Antelope Island State Park, Utah    Antelope Island State Park, Utah

American White Pelican - Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Utah   Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Utah

Yellowlegs - Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Utah   White-tailed Deer - Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Utah

3rd Dam, Logan Canyon - Wasatch National Forest   3rd Dam, Logan Canyon - Wasatch National Forest

3rd Dam, Logan Canyon - Wasatch National Forest   Least Chipmunk - Park City area, Utah

   3rd Dam, Logan Canyon - Wasatch National Forest

Park City area, Utah   Wildflower - Park City area, Utah

Wildflowers - Red Butte Botanical Garden, Utah   Fragrance Walk - Red Butte Botanical Garden, Utah

Great Salt Lake - Utah   Bonneville Salt Flats - Utah

Western Utah

The Trophy Wife of the Garden

She’s curvy, a little plump but firm, glossy and warm after a day of sun bathing. High-paid executives may seek out the trophy wife, but for the gardener it is the tomato that fills our dreams.

Tomato

Beets, carrots, and sugar snap peas might be grand but when the shovel hits the mulch, most gardeners are in it for Solanum lycopersicum.

A fruit (yes, a fruit as opposed to a vegetable), tomatoes are utilized in cuisines around the world, but trace their roots to South America.  Introduction to the world isn’t firm, but historians believe that Christopher Columbus may have played a role, and thus changed the flavor of European food forever!

Tomatoes

The perfect tomato is something to behold after a summer of toil and worry.  Some gardeners fawn over their plants with concoctions and old-world traditions, while others go the tough love route, trying not to fuss with watering regimes and pest control (I’ll let you in on a secret – even those tough gardeners secretly worry!). But just like today’s ugly dog competitions, we now have more appreciation for a misshapen, spotted, or generally peculiar tomato.  As long as creatures are not crawling out of it, the fruit is still sweet.

Tomatoes

For many, the growing season is based around that moment when green transitions to orange then brilliant red and the tomato can easily be plucked from the plant.

Green Tomato

A tomato crop is a cherished member of the family.  In fact, a true sign of love and friendship is sharing a tomato – though this isn’t a wholly selfless act as the recipient is expected to buoy the gardener’s ego with praise of her horticultural prowess!

Tomato variety

Perhaps the saddest day of the growing season comes several weeks after that joyous harvest, when plants are finished pushing out flowers to form fruit.  The leaves and stems lose their sublime green coloring, becoming dry and brown.  That’s the day when plants are untangled from wood trellises or wire tomato hoops, and the remains reach the compost pile.

Yet, as those days morph into winter months, the tomato gardener’s mood improves with the arrival of next season’s plant catalogs.  And with this mail, so too improve the summertime hopes and dreams of coworkers, friends and entire neighborhoods.

Large tomato

Farm Livin'

Red-winged Blackbirds trill in the hedgerows, plump tomatoes glow in the sun, bees dive into cucumber flowers. Roma tomatoes

Sometimes people ask if we'd like to live on a farm, but the true farming life -- complete with tractor and 50 acres -- is not something I'm cut out for.  Farms are usually far from cities, which is my preferred habitat.

But I'm able play dress up (or more accurately, dress down) and pretend at my little urban farm in Brooklyn, growing some of my own food, and nurturing my ever-increasing respect for those who actually farm for a living.

 Shovel and raised bed with mint  

The sun and heat forced me to take a moment to sit in the shade, but break time is over -- I have chores.  The last sugar snap peas need harvesting and then the plants must be cleared out and composted to make room for the next sowing of arugula seeds.  Carrots need thinning, and soil around the potato plants must be mounded.  Undersides of leaves -- particularly beans, cucumbers and potatoes -- need a thorough examination  for the usual outbreak of various insects like Colorado Potato Beetle and Mexican Bean Beetle.  And please don't mention weeding...

Egyptian Walking Onion  

I fuss and fret over my plants.  Are the tomatoes staked enough? Should I water less? Or more? Why aren't the eggplants growing? Should I harvest the garlic now? Did I plant the basil too early?

Onions   Cucumbers

Cucumber seedlings  

Thankfully, the plants seem to know what to do and don't appear to mind my mother hen approach.  I'm relieved when I see the tiniest bit of green on the soil, emerging just hours later to reveal a little bean seedling.

Emerging green bean seedling   Green bean seedling

The building, the watering, the mending, the weeding, the sowing, the harvesting.  Sheer heaven.  And I thank heaven for the farmers -- especially the small farmer-- who does it all on a much larger scale.

 Tomato plants

Salt Marsh Safari

While it may not be as exotic as an outback excursion to Kenya or similar far-off land, the salt marsh is an ecosystem just as robust. Smithsonian Education and Research Center trail

Salt marshes abound in the NYC area, but a recent trip to see family led us to those hugging the Chesapeake Bay. And the perfect place to marvel at the marsh ecosystem is the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) in Edgewater, Maryland.

Unbeknownst to us, there was a family public event earlier that day but thankfully we caught the tail end and enjoyed close up views of the Bay's most famous resident -- the Blue Crab (Callinectes sapidus), both the adult form with its colorful but menacing claws, and far less painful-looking "baby" stage measuring about one inch.

 Blue Crab in Chesapeake Bay   Immature Blue Crab in Chesapeake Bay

Hardly an expert on the Chesapeake coastline, I always find it interesting how wooded areas brush up against the waterways or marshes without much transitionary landscapes like beaches or bogs. You have the forest, then BOOM! the water, sometimes with bits of marsh in between.

Smithsonian Education and Research Center trail

The forest part was rich with trees and bird song including our first glimpse of what might have been a Yellow-throated Vireo (Vireo flavifrons) (sorry, no photo). The Six-spotted Tiger Beetle (Cicindela sexgutata) cavorted in dappled sunlight and two  Broad-headed Skinks (Eumeces laticeps) tried to hide on a Tulip Tree trunk (Liriodendron tulipifera).

Six-spotted Tiger Beetle

The section of salt marsh we visited perfectly demonstrated why these vital areas are called nurseries. Tide was out but quickly returning, and little fish bubbled in the waters. Dragonflies found nifty perches on new and old grasses. And we were treated to the aerial dexterity of a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea) looking for...well gnats!

Smithsonian Education and Research Center trails

Fish in the salt marsh   Fish in the salt marsh

 Dragonfly in salt marsh   Blue-gray Gnatcatcher in salt marsh

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher in the salt marsh

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher in the salt marsh 

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) were ever-present along with Turkey Vultures (Cathartes aura). An immature Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) fly-by rounded out the complete salt marsh life cycle experience.

Immature Bald Eagle at the Chesapeake Bay   Turkey Vulture at the Chesapeake Bay

Osprey at the Chesapeake Bay

The Undiscovered Country

Like a planet in a faraway galaxy, my most local wildlife area was essentially light years away. I can see Willow Lake, part of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, from my apartment window.  Yet it is closed to the public due to vandalism and deterioration of footbridges leading to the trails.  By chance, I noticed an Urban Park Ranger-led bird walk in the area, and a new world opened up for me.

 Asters in Willow Lake, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park

Along with nearby Meadow Lake, Willow Lake is one of the largest freshwater bodies in Queens.  The 106-acre landscape has been managed as a natural area since the 1930s (it’s also a NYC Parks Forever Wild site).  Though I’m disappointed that access isn’t easier, perhaps the lack of disturbance (save for a large MTA subway rail yard) might be beneficial to wildlife.

Turtle in Willow Lake, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park

Our first spotting of the morning was scat.  Now, I’m not too interested in dog doo, but this was special – consensus is that a coyote has made a home at Willow Lake!

Possible coyote scat, Willow Lake, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park

Birds were plentiful.  Barn Swallows darted by, Red-winged Blackbirds shouted their trills, and we were reprimanded in no uncertain terms by two Killdeers.  An Osprey was a special sighting along with a little sandpiper which I think was a Spotted Sandpiper.

Red-winged Blackbird, Willow Lake, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park

Sandpiper at Willow Lake, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park

Invasive phragmites reeds are a big problem for Willow Lake but I must say, bushwhacking offered an exotic feeling to this Sunday morning walk.  Though the pesky reeds made access to the actual Lake nearly impossible, an old wooden bridge over a small inlet was the perfect place to coo over Canada Goose goslings.

Willow Lake, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park

Footbridge at Willow Lake, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park

Canada Goose goslings in Willow Lake, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park

Though we did not see the secretive rails (a small reed-dwelling bird) or muskrats our Ranger guide watched just days earlier, we were thrilled to almost trip over a Ring-necked Pheasant tail feather.

Ring-necked Pheasant tail feather at Willow Lake, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park

My journey to Willow Lake was not far, but felt so remote in spite of the distant humming of the Grand Central Parkway and Van Wyck Expressway.  I longed for more time to explore, but maybe that's the special grace of such areas.  Our time is restricted and thus the experience is nearly divine.

Mud flats at Willow Lake, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park

Garden Companions

I was being watched.  Every move I made, he was there.  But I wasn’t worried – my harmless voyeur was an American Robin. American Robin

Such was my experience several years ago as a horticulture intern at Queens Botanical Garden.  Though consumed with weeding the Fragrance Walk, I soon noticed the male Robin consistently underfoot, enjoying the insects exposed by my work.

I never fuss about in dirt all on my own – as I garden in my little urban farm, eyes are all around.  While I add supports for the newly emerged sugar snap peas, a Red-winged Blackbird offers his advice from the fence.

Red-winged Blackbird

Song Sparrows are happy enough to add a tune to the chores, but seem to have no interest in gardening tasks, keeping a healthy distance from the work.

Song Sparrow

Those Robins are never far as they look to scavenge a tasty treat, while the Tree Swallows zip around high in the air.  Like the Song Sparrows, the swallows don’t show an interest in gardening but are quite happy to show off their aerial acrobatic skills.  Northern Mockingbirds notice the weeds I missed.

Northern Mockingbird

Lady bugs are omnipresent audiences to my horticultural practices, and, later in the season, are joined by dragonflies, butterflies, and the Praying Mantis who will no doubt offer a disapproving look at my skills.

Lady bug

Dragonfly

Praying Mantis

If I’m lucky, I’ll also stumble upon one of the two toads who took up residence last year.

Toad

And if I’m unlucky, one of the local rats will zip along the fence line, trying to be stealth as he maneuvers into a weedy area within my neighbor’s garden plot.  Sorry, no photos of this critter -- he moves too fast!

Life on the Farm

I received my first diary for Christmas when I was eight. Writing was never a bother, but  I never took to the practice of recording the happenings of each day despite my good intentions. Now I'm trying to change my ways by keeping a diary for the sake of my garden, to have an annual record of planting dates, vegetable yields, chores, and other such minutiae. Since I can visit my little allotment only once a week and I'm just writing brief notes, the pressure of daily entries and Hemingway-esque prose is removed.

My garden journal

With gardening season now in full swing, I thought I'd share a bit of life on the farm, taking the garden journal's notes and actually writing full sentences, though not sounding much like Hemingway...

Construction can be a big part of gardening. Mitch has been mending part of our fence -- sounds so rural, doesn't it?! -- that began sagging in the autumn. Summertime project will be setting up a little tool shed.

We tilled the red clover cover crop about a month ago, while mixing in some rather fragrant manure. Planted in the fall to reduce erosion and enrich the soil, I was amazed at the clover sprouts' density and how difficult it was to till.  Decided to leave some clover handfuls and have been enjoying their recent blooms.

 Red clover    Red Clover

Our compost bin was full up and emptied this week into one bed that now has fingerling potatoes (my first try at these!). I really like worms but must admit the sheer number of the little wigglies was somewhat overwhelming. Perhaps not a sight for the squeamish.

Ah seeds... Coming in all shapes, sizes and colors, these little powerhouses contain everything a plant needs to get a start in life: food in the cotyledons, plus a diminutive root and leaf (or leaves) forming the embryo.  All this is wrapped up in a protective covering called a seed coat.

Seeds

Once the seed coat is broken by water and/or scarification (when the coat is scratched), the seed can germinate with suitable environmental conditions like light, water, and oxygen, developing into a seedling or "baby" plant .

This year most my seeds are organic and from Abundant Life Seeds and Territorial Seeds.  Planted just last week, I already have a few tiny arugula seedlings -- or did I plant the heirloom lettuce there?

Seedlings

In the spirit of record keeping, in addition to the aforementioned lettuce and arugula, I sowed sugar snap peas, dill, beets, carrots, and wild arugula.

I longed to add beans -- both pole and bush -- to the list of plants this weekend, but the forecasted cool temperatures and the advice of a gardening friend forced me to delay.

No matter, as I was busy planting my veg that arrived in the mail. Besides the potatoes already mentioned, I found a nice home for two tiny rosemary plants, and filled two small containers with young onion plants, no thicker than a pencil.

Rosemary

White onions  

Despite the lack of water (until yesterday), my garlic and leek-like Egyptian walking onions planted in the fall have been looking quite handsome. I've propagated the latter from an original set of four offered by a garden neighbor nearly six years ago.  Sorry no EWO pix, but here's the garlic:

Garlic

Of course, the key to any productive organization, which I aspire to be, is the watchful eye of a good supervisor, ready to intervene with a gentle word when something looks amiss:

American Robin  American Robin, supervising my work

Baby Boom

It happens every year -- the little ones arrive.  I'm not speaking of tots pushed in strollers, but rather youngsters emerging from tree branches. Emerging leaves

Leaves in spring tend to play second fiddle to flower blooms, and often need to wait until fall for everyone to gush about their beauty.

Emerging leaves

Admittedly, I didn't fully appreciate their springtime beauty until I moved to New York nearly 25 years ago.  During my first Manhattan spring, I was enthralled with the tiny leaves, amazed by their brightness. Maybe it was the juxtaposition of new growth in an urban setting -- the city seemed to be covered in an explosion of little puffs of lime green, yellow green and chartreuse, darkening as the weeks progress.

Emerging leaves

And their size!  As with babies, puppies and ducklings, young leaves are irresistible with their diminutive features.

Emerging leaves

Just like flower blossoms, the time to enjoy baby leaves is short.  Their cells begin to expand and the leaves grow.  The larger leaves produce wonderful summer shade, that morph into fall color.  And as they drop in the winter, I will once again be thinking of those green puffs of spring.

Emerging leaves

 

Sighings for Spring

I really have no right to complain considering this mild winter.  But no matter – around this time every year I get desperate for warmer weather and flowers. Conveniently some plants are happy to accommodate my longing.

Quince

Indeed, abnormally warm temperatures can wreak havoc on botanical biological clocks, but surprising as it may be, late winter is a normal time to see some flowers and shoots.

Crocus

Though they may not have brains like animal counterparts, plants are pretty smart and can almost “sense” the passage of time.  It boils down to those temperatures, longer day lengths, and hormones like gibberellin and auxin that help plants break dormancy and grow.

Wintersweet   Snowdrops

I wish I were better versed in plant physiology to properly explain it all, but perhaps the real awe is just simply watching it happen every year.

Edgeworthia   Witchhazel

Birds, Bugs, Buds, and Buddies

As I consider the last 12 months, the places I've visited and the nature I've enjoyed, one consistent theme shines through: great people. So in this last post of 2011, let me just thank my wonderful friends and family.  Wish I had photos of ya' all, but do have snaps of a few of you to share...

Bird walk at Queens Botanical Garden

Annette

Apartment garden

Rebecca and Gennadyi

Susan and our new friend.

Wayne and Mitch

Me and my fluke

Bill on a hike

Mitch and mom

Amanda on a hike

Fritz and friend

But, as always, the biggest thanks goes to Mitch --

Mitch and Flora 

Happy New Year everyone!  Here's to a great 2012!

My Own Walden

I fully admit to bouts of wanderlust.  At the same time, I equally enjoy learning the intimate seasonal details of a particular place. Green roof at Queens Botanical Garden

Thoreau's Walden passed by my eyes many years ago -- high school, perhaps? -- and while I might appreciate the concept behind the man's work, truth be told I found it a bit dull.  Enjoying a recent walk through Queens Botanical Garden has made me reconsider his deep documentation of a single landscape.

I stopped by QBG on a day off when I recalled the previous year's sudden downpour of Kinglets, a sprite of a bird.  That same week a year earlier, both Ruby- and Golden-crowned species (Regulus calendula and satrapa) were thick in the garden.  During my regular lunchtime walk with pal Annette, one nearly landed on her shoulder and a couple days later, another sat on my shoe for a few seconds.  Their quick, flitting motions seemed to be just a sign of their personality rather than an indication of fear -- they were almost tame considering how close we approached.

Golden-crowned Kinglet

This year's journey began when I drove into the service entrance where heaps of manure sat decomposing, awaiting the transformation into excellent compost for the next growing season.  Immediately, I saw quick flashes that, with some later guidance, turned out to be the yellow variation Palm Warbler (Setophaga palmarum).  While enjoying this sighting, I noticed lovely clusters of mushrooms.  Fungi on decaying matter is not unusual, but I've not seen this type before.  Note to self:  watch manure more frequently.

Mushrooms on manure pile

I moved onto the Parking Garden, a space of great pride at QBG.  You heard right -- Parking GARDEN, not Parking Lot.  This fantastic space not only accommodates cars, but with permeable pavers, rainwater-retaining depressions called bioswales, and native plantings, it can manage stormwater onsite.  It's also a great place to enjoy plants, birds, and insects.

Bees were laying low this day given the breeze but a few Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) drifted past on their migration route.  I wanted to visit a large stand of sunflowers (Helianthus spp.) that Annette and I noticed several weeks earlier.  The flowers should be giving way to seeds by about this time, offering food for various birds, and I was not disappointed to see American Goldfinches (Spinus tristis), White-throated Sparrows (Zonotrichia albicollis), plus my first Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus).

American Goldfinch on Sunflowers

Bobolink

There are moments I wonder if I spend too much time in just one spot -- so opposite my wanderlust tendencies -- and question if time should be spent in other landscapes.  But looking at the Parking Garden's adjacent meadow and recalling the nesting Killdeers (Charadrius vociferus) in early summer, I reconsider.  After all, if I had not been so tied to watching this landscape with my alert workmate friends, I would have never seen these birds and their two broods raised over the summer.

Killdeer

I rounded a small stand of Poplar trees (Populus spp.), just taking on golden fall colors, and headed to QBG's main gardens.  Abundant blooms in the Perennial Beds clearly did not receive the memo that fall had arrived, though the bright orange Persimmons (Diospyros spp.) -- the outcome of a season filled with hard work from a tree's perspective -- nearly glowed.

Autumn trees   Perennial Beds at Queens Botanical Garden

Northern Mockingbird on Persimmon

Next stop on my Kinglet quest were the turf areas, a rewarding location last year.  This time the grass near the Floral Border was silent, along with the expanse of the Oak Allee where our stunning trees waited to show off autumn hues along with their Red Maple neighbors (Acer rubrum).  It wasn't until the Woodland Garden path that I noticed quick movements in the leaf litter below a Magnolia (Magnolia spp.).  Perhaps not in the same number as before, but the Kinglets had returned on cue.

Maybe it's time to give Walden another go.

P.S. A week later the Pin Oaks (Quercus palustris) and Red Maples caught up to the season.

Red Maple at Queens Botanical Garden

Vacation, All I Ever Wanted

While I love my home city, I succumb to tendencies of wanderlust.   After a September filled with a whopping three trips, I must admit to enjoying some at-home time ... though I regularly catch myself reminiscing about that last jaunt a couple weeks ago -- a lovely vacation to London and the north Cornwall coast. In a desire to see EVERYTHING, there's never enough time for it all, including nature appreciation.  Still, we did pretty well.  Here are a few of the nature sights.

Hyde Park: our hotel was nearby and the closest entrance along Bayswater Road led to a wild meadow area full of uncut grasses.  Divine, and I could have spent the entire morning parked in the midst of flowing Poaceae (plants in the grass family) yet the wristwatch was calling.  Crows (not positive of the exact species) scoured the overgrown turf for snacks, while wildly playful Magpies hopped under large oaks collecting acorns.  Above, Wood Pigeons-- think of our little pidges on steroids! -- were precariously balanced on branches also collecting their winter acorn stash.

Wood Pigeon

Measuring over 300 acres, Hyde Park boasts a large waterway called The Serpentine but in our limited time with Kew Gardens calling that same day, we could only make a brief stop at the Round Pond next to Kensington Palace.  Hardly a disappointment -- a spotting of bespectaled Egyptian Geese, along with European Starlings in their native habitat!  The Coots were close and cooperative along with the delicately-formed yet raucous Black-headed Gull.

Egyptian Geese  

Coot

Black-headed Gull

Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew: Ah, the mother ship!  The end-all, be-all for gardeners.  Maybe it was the time of year, maybe I didn't have enough time -- while this was a stunning specimen of public horticulture, I was not moved to tears as expected.  Considering its size and the pleasant heat wave during our visit, I expected to see birds and bugs galore, yet both seemed to be a bit shy during our visit.  No matter, as the arboretum was cool and shady and the late-season perennials in perfect form.  Hey, I'm willing to give these few hundred acres another go!  After all, our last visit of the day was to the pond in front of the famous Palm House -- full of waterfowl and the trip's first sighting of a Grey Heron offering high hopes for a later visit.  And even if the growing season was on the wane, the botanical displays were lovely.

Royal Botanic Garden, Kew

Water lily

A Sower   Cattails

Duck

Flowerhead

Grass Garden

London Wetland Centre:  Now this is where it's at --a joyful 42 hectares just south of the Thames, focused on habitat preservation and accessible by public transportation.  Instead of the bus, we opted to load into dear pal Wayne's now deceased Mini Cooper for a visit to this wonderful sanctuary.  Also a nature enthusiast/photographer, Wayne focused in on the native plants while I couldn't divert my eyes from new birds (particularly the very cooperative Grey Herons).  Up in one of the two-story hides we enjoyed the company and expertise of Ziggy, sanctuary manager for a nearby preserve who was involved with a dragonfly count.

Magpie

Eurasian Wigeon

Grey Heron   Grey Heron

Coot

London Wetland Centre

Grey Heron

Grey Heron   Little Grebe

Oxford: Rats!  The one day I leave the big lens behind is the day...the ONE day... that we spotted a most incredible bird.  But let me back up.  Our trip to this academic city was focused on history and its great mystery shows, namely Inspector Morse and Inspector Lewis.  Today, nature would have to take a back burner which we later regretted during a walk through a riverside meadow with the most interesting bird -- the Jay.  You'll excuse these photos taken when I was ill-equipped, but I couldn't resist the temptation to capture this bird.

Jay

Jay

Cornwall: Sigh.  Compared to the London sun and heatwave, Cornwall's northern coast was unfortunately just what the seasonal weather averages expected -- chilly, windy, with intervals of rain, sun, rainbows, sun showers, mist, sun, followed by rain.  While this changing forecast put a bit of a damper on things, during those less gloomy moments we covered a lot of ground, enjoying the most incredible coastline I've ever seen.  The wind was constant and penetrating to the point of madness (I now understand the meaning of a common local saying "Goin' Bodmin" when one loses their marbles), so birds and insects were hunkered down and clearly we missed the good months for plants.  But oh! -- the cliffside walks, the tides, and those birds and plants that could tough out the climate.  Such glory in sturdy species.

Port Isaac, Cornwall

Port Isaac, Cornwall

Robin

I'm long unpacked, but ready to saddle up again for travels.  So many places yet to go even when limited to one place.  Wayne mentioned the deer in Richmond Park, and I would like to see Ziggy's spot in Morden.  And those mud flat moments along the Thames called out to me and my muck boots.  Cornwall's incredible low tides and associated tidal pools were not explored fully, along with the shared walking paths with grazing livestock, along with a few nature preserves. 

Enough already!  My bags will be packed in an hour!

Robin

The Restorative Power of Nature (or, Pennsylvania: Land of Adorable Rodents)

Each September finds us making a solemn trip to the western Pennsylvania mountains for a memorial.  It's not a trip we relish but feel compelled to continue.  There is a hidden treat: after six or so hours on the Turnpike, we are transported to a  lovely countryside that softens the experience.  Expansive fields of goldenrod, farms and covered bridges (well, just one that we know of), hardwood forests, rivers and streams, birds and charming animals -- taking a moment to enjoy this backdrop makes our mood more buoyant. So enough words. Let me just simply share this gentle landscape and let you feel restored as well.

Eastern Cottontail Rabbit   Groundhog

Glessner Covered Bridge   PA State Game Land 93

Eastern Chipmunk   Eastern Chipmunk

Dogwood fruit   Meadow in Laurel Ridge State Park

Eastern Chipmunk   Farm by the Glessner Covered Bridge

Eastern Chipmunk  

Meadow in Laurel Ridge State Park   Flower heads   Blooming grass

Goldenrod   Bank and Cliff Swallows

Locust Borer on Goldenrod   Groundhog

Lake Somerset