Mothing is Spontaneity

I went out into the field last night one last time to see if any new moths had come in to land on the mothing sheet frame that is brightly illuminated like a beacon in the darkness to draw in moths from near and a little far off.

I found a Scalloped Sallow sitting on grass blades just beneath the sheet. It was the first Scalloped Sallow I’ve seen this fall. I like the bold patterns on the forewings of these moths, so I wanted to get a few pictures. I bent down close, and took a shot, but the moth wandered off.

 Eucirroedia pampina - Scalloped Sallow as seen on 10/01/2014

Eucirroedia pampina – Scalloped Sallow as seen on 10/01/2014

You need to carefully stalk them when moths are restless. I kept in step with the moth on the ground. I must have heard a little noise to my right, or felt the scrutiny. Two little sets of reflective eyes regarded me from just outside the bright arc the lights cast.

It wasn’t a cat. I saw glossy black hair and a luxurious thick glossy tail. The little skunk was very interested in my cat-and-mouse game with the moth. Perhaps it wanted to join in. It glanced at me, then down at the moth as it came slowly toward me.

I was thinking lots of things at once, and my thoughts were going in all different directions. I found I wasn’t nervous at all because that really wasn’t the thing to be for the little skunk, and so, not for me.

The little skunk crouched down about 12 feet away from me so I started taking photos again. I wound up picking up the moth and placing it on the sheet.

 Eucirroedia pampina - Scalloped Sallow on the mothing sheet. The light on the white sheet is irresistible to many moths. Details are easy to see.

Eucirroedia pampina – Scalloped Sallow on the mothing sheet. The light on the white sheet is irresistible to many moths. Details are easy to see.

I caught a hint of skunky scent and looked over to see a second set of eyes peering over the back of the first skunk. Another skunk had come up and was rubbing all around and cuddling with the first. They were having so much fun, and I suppose I had grown boring. I took one quick photo of the two as I backed up quietly. In the photo they are frozen in the act of pouncing on each other.

My two Striped skunk companions. Photographed with a flash and 100mm lens. Done impulsively and quite imprudent (probably). The only memento of our encounter (thankfully).

My two Striped skunk companions. Photographed with a flash and 100mm lens.
Done impulsively and quite imprudent (probably). The only memento of our encounter (thankfully).

I stepped quietly past the little frog pond, and a frog jumped into the air off the log we had set up, and splashed into the black water. “Shhh. I said. Noisy.”

The Great Horned Owls were quiet last night. No chain of hoots fading into the distance.
Good for the skunks.

Now I know- When the Great Horned Owls are away, the young skunks do play.

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Gray Days- Work past the bleakness to experience unique light qualities through the seasons

Gray day go away? Is that how you feel on an overcast day when the storm is soon to arrive or has recently departed?


Sure. Cloudy can be bleak- but it can also lend it’s own magic. In Winter, especially during a heavy snow, the uniform sky looks like a backdrop on a stage focusing your interest on the foreground. Shades of white, grays, and black help to convey the stillness and cottony silence of winter scenes. It is also a time that can be mistaken for no other. Colors tell a story and describe specific times and conditions.


The Snow Arch on the Pygmy Pine Plains- two gnarled Pygmy Pine trees on each side of a sandy path grow about 10 feet apart on opposite sides. When it snows and the trees bend under the load and you stand in a certain place, it becomes the Gateway to the Pygmy Pine Plains.


There’s something to be said for the light quality of a cloudy day. Colors stand out and so do details. There is no glare-only soft indirect light that bathes the natural subject evenly.



This Lady Slipper Orchid (Cypripedium acaule), also known as Moccasin Flower, was photographed under these conditions.


And finally, on the dramatic cloudy days, when angry or spent piles of storm clouds move over the relatively flat Pinelands- on a day when rain is still falling while the clouds part and the sunlight blasts through, you may be lucky enough to witness a rainbow on the side opposite the sun, and luckier still to photograph it. A good reason to have a camera on hand.


This photograph is called Promise of the Pygmy Pine Plains. The storm was short and violent, but is receding. The sun is coming out promising cooler weather. In the foreground, to the left, pygmy pine seedlings have been planted in an effort to restore a part of the forest denuded by off road use and erosion. . The land is preserved with the promise of future generations being able to visit this globally rare environment in the Pinelands.


When is the time to take a photograph? Using your discretion, at all times and every day of the year in all types of weather. When is the time to take a photograph? The time is now.



-“We chase the ephemeral. The effects of light on the natural form in the Pinelands of New Jersey”- Ann-Marie Woods, photographer and author of this blog.

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Why Lines on the Pines Kids is such a good idea- a personal take

I wish I had known more when I was a kid. I knew about minnies, flatties, and all mouths.

I knew about tides, good waves, and mackerel back skies.


My father teaching me to sail in Ship Bottom on Barnegat Bay in our Barnegat Bay Sneakbox


Over the bridge, though, was the forest. We called it the Pine Barrens. There were deer, turtles, and many many trees that made for miles of vistas I wanted to explore.


At present there are many more deer like this buck with his antlers robed in velvet. Box turtles are now a species of special concern, primarily due to habitat loss.


Pitch Pine view along the Red Road


I will never forget the first time my grandpop and dad took us past an old railroad bridge and over a fresh water stream. I will never forget the first time I saw a lady’s  slipper orchid nestled in pine needles. I will never forget our camping experiences at Bass River State Forest with my family when we were teens.


The fascinating native Lady’s Slipper Orchid and one of my favorite views in Bass River State Park.


There’s more, so much more. I wish we had had a better learning plan that taught us more of how wonderful both the shore and the Pinelands are.


The great story of New Jersey is that it is the land of a million stories. The Pinelands certainly has it’s share to tell.


Although many of us call this place home- how many of us know how wonderful and incredibly rich in flora and fauna the Pinelands are?


The beautiful bog asphodel. New Jersey is the last stronghold for this flower.


A chance encounter with a Pine Barrens Treefrog.


How many of us look at a map and see place names steeped in history?


A worker’s cottage at Whitesbog Village, home of the world’s first cultivated blueberry.


Batsto at Wharton State Forest, manufacturing bog iron products for the Revolutionary War


If you want your children and grandchildren to have a fun and creative way to tap into nature, history, and the culture of New Jersey and the Pinelands- to have a greater awareness and sense of place- there is a very good way to do that- all in one day!


How about some hands on learning? How about listening to a live musician? How about meeting artists and authors who live the life and spin the tale?


This is all happening  in a fun environment created especially for you and your children to enjoy together in a rehabilitated state of the art building in an historic Pinelands town steeped in the types of stories that will be both familiar and new to you. It’s an amazing creative opportunity free to the public with workshops available for a modest fee.


Give your children the advantage of perspective, perception, and a sense of place. It’s dynamic learning that will open new doors in hearts and minds.



Lines on the Pines for KIDS goes to College!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

11 AM – 4:00 PM

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On the joy of beauty and discovery in good company


There are dark glorious places where there are old white cedars with large hummocks  at their base full of mosses and sphagnum and perhaps some liverworts. There are ferns in the understory, and grasses and sedges, and the dark brown waters almost always flow through, and neverwet grows in the mud where the water had been higher in the spring where now the levels are lower.


When the water is high, you can’t see the submerged lattice work of trunks beneath the water, except for those that can be seen on the surface, and at times they make a series of stepped waterfalls as the water seeks another place to flow and flood beneath the canopy of tall cedars with red maples and some sour gums and the like.


You can’t put your arms around the elder trees, but you can balance atop their fallen brothers as you edge out along the trunks. Saplings and bushes like sweet pepperbush are grasped as handholds. You swing out further and further. Flies and wasps buzz and swarm around your ears, and the water is deep enough, and the undergrowth tangled enough that it’s just easier to inch along the slippery trunks like natural bridges then to try to wade through the water where the moss could suddenly give way as you sink into thick sucking mud.


Now if you’re younger and fit, this is not such a forbidding landscape at all. If you are raised in it it’s second nature to you. My son was much further along as he can fairly run along the trunks and jump across expanses I have to pause spread eagled between, until I decide to go for it, tethered as I am with cameras and a hat and walking stick that I use to probe a safer way.


So when he called out that he had seen a strange thing I felt that bittersweet pang of envy, that I could be “young and immortal” again, but I am young in spirit and am always in the mood to see that strange thing to be found in the woods anyway.


This was mildly strange, such as- how did tomatoes come to be in the middle of a cedar swamp?  My son had seen big fully ripe tomatoes glowing deep orange in the distance, hanging suspended in a beam of light that had pierced the canopy and shown down below on a tangled hummock of bushes. He wanted me to come out there to join him and see this.


“Were they bright orange, do you think?” I already had a suspicion of what else they could be. So out he went again guiding me, to find the gilded spot among other gilded spots that speckled the dark humid swamp on off into the distance.


 There is always only one spot that you are looking to return to where your treasure should lie. Crooked tree limbs, clumps of pitcher plants, and signs like broken branches and grass blades should lead you there.


Well I wish I could tell you that they were tomatoes, because that would have been a juicy treat on a very hot day at least. But a treat of a different sort awaited us. They did look like pendulant orbs shining in the sun, just out of reach in a very difficult spot, but as we swung our way in closer, you could see that each orb was actually a cage of spotted petals, pulled back up and over their pistil and stamens.


There were two tall spindly plants. Turk’s Cap Lily ( Lilium superbum)  a native lily of the New Jersey Pinelands.


Although the stems were stretched and weak with the effort of finding the sun in this shaded place, the flowers borne were spectacular. The four of them were perfect, silky, brightly colored, but subtly shaded.  A feast for the eyes.


We had to twist and turn to find a foothold. I was bent like a pretzel as we juggled lens caps and lenses and cameras- and don’t you know it- the sun went past or ducked behind a cloud. I wound up having to use a flash to record the moment.


Now there are spots where you can just drive up and view these beauties from your car, it’s true. But being out there on that hot day, in that place of green and darkness, of tangles and buzzing insects with my son, and coming upon this hidden and unexpected place where these flowers bloomed, well, to me, that is a treasured memory of living within the joy of the Pinelands.

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On the installation of an oriole feeder in our Pinelands fields

When I first noticed Baltimore Orioles in our fields it was around April 26, 2011. It was such a beautiful striking bird that I made an Easter e card of it and posted it to facebook to share with friends.


My 2011 Baltimore Oriole card

I didn’t see orioles again until the spring of 2012. Their arrival has become an awaited miracle of sorts, to be a part of the great avian migrations that tie us to faraway southern and northern climes.


One of the great things about the internet is the sharing of information and knowledge, available in an instant after a few considered keystrokes.

Here is a website that is so informative everyone should know about it:

Please share this website. It is developed and maintained by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and is very user friendly.


This winter I looked up information on oriole feeders, what to feed Baltimore Orioles, and where Baltimore Orioles prefer to nest. I had seen a Baltimore Oriole nest some years ago in Atlantic County. The owner of the property proudly showed us the nest, extolling on the marvels of engineering and craftsmanship of the basket nest. We agreed!


We resolved that if we saw one this year, we would provide sustenance, as a red carpet invitation to stay or at least to provide sustenance on the journey home. On April 27 we saw the first oriole, and a repurposed seed cylinder feeder became an orange feeder. Instantly the oriole was upon it and began to rip the juicy center out.


 First Baltimore oriole sighting in my fields April 27- enjoying the oranges gladly offered

We drove to our local birding store and purchased an oriole feeder. Following the nectar mix directions, the feeder was up within the hour, but this oriole clearly preferred the orange. He was gone the next day, but each day a new orange went out, and every two days in this cooler weather a new batch of nectar was mixed up.


You may have hummingbird feeders up, and you may also know that the hummingbirds have been here since April. The unattended oriole feeder became a new secret hangout for hummingbirds who didn’t care to joust with the self appointed guardian of each hummingbird feeder. It was pretty cute to see two or three  perched on the bright orange feeder that has feeding holes big enough for a hummingbird to stick their head in.


 My photo from July 07, 2012 taken of one of our nine feeders, showing how fiercely males, and sometimes females will guard the hummingbird feeders from other hummingbirds.

The oranges remained pristine, if a tad withered by the end of the day. Then on May 09 a little section was picked out and sure enough, there was another oriole in the apple tree. He utilized both the orange and the feeder, but our thought was that he too was just passing through.


Yet the next day the orange was picked out and we were encouraged. The following day the orange was savaged but no bright orange bird was seen.


I had time to stake out the feeder the next morning, and saw a Gray Catbird going at the orange.

I took a photo and went back on the site mentioned above and sure enough, Gray Catbirds do eat fruit so that was our “new” oriole. The Gray Catbirds who live in the greenbrier hedge must have thought they hit the lottery!


Now, today, I was lucky enough to get a photo to share with you of the “oriole” feeding station with both species happily engaged.


The “oriole” feeding station in our field- proving that in nature, rarely is anything ever let go to waste.



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On encountering F4C9


2013-02-14 banded goose 001aSteve came home in the afternoon and called out “What kind of a goose has an orange neck?”

“Are you kidding me? Is this some kind of riff on the pink-footed goose sightings that we are getting alerts about?” I called over my shoulder.

No “Hi honey did you have a nice day?” in this house, because grabbing the binoculars, the camera, or a guide book, and racing to follow rainbows is a way of life.

So we talked about what other kind of markings and colors this goose had. I thought my husband was kidding me, as he had every right to do, about my obsession to observe and discover things in my natural surroundings, and the natural extension of observation-putting a name to things.

Steve let me off the hook that I really wasn’t on. He told me it was a sort of collar-bright orange, and that the goose was with the other geese that had already arrived.

We live with geese for a number of months each year, and have for 18 years. The Canadas drop in while there’s still a dusting of snow on the ground. They seem to arrive with a light snow. They hunker down when it’s windy, looking like aerodynamic black and tan wedges out in the desolate field, with their heads tucked under their wings.

They are not resident geese. They are all about business-their own. They fly in and squabble for the scarce food that they scrounge out of small farm fields, or scarf from the base of feeders. They drift off to stake out nesting sites on the hummocks that dot the white cedar swamps.

Geese pairs disappear for a time in the early spring, and one day, emerge from the long path in the waking woods with fuzzy little wobbly yellow balls in tow. Tiny sweet little babies with big wide feet, and strong legs that rarely quit. Successful parents learn to rein in tiny trailblazers and patiently wait for slow goslings to catch up with the rest.

Small Canada goose goslings in our yard with parent

Little ones learn quickly to keep up with their parents. They have to. Here on the edge of the wilds, many geese never make it to the age where they can leave the cyclical stage of the flock as grazers, flightless and bound to the ground. It’s a harsh world, but a fair one, in that these geese are naturally regulated. Populations here rarely increase to overwhelm homesteads like a vast poop brigade. Many goslings fall prey to turtles, raptors, furry feasters, and trucks that don’t choose to stop when they see little families cross the road.

Great dramas play out in the summer for the survivors, as new feathers come in, and geese learn their place in goosey society- the pecking order. Soon the young are smaller and shinier versions of their parents. One day there are running starts and young geese find their wings. They come back to earth, and the elders quickly nip them towards a kind of sub-flock for hopeless rowdies and their wing men.

When all the Canadas leave, they leave. In the fall the geese practice daily by flying in formation in a long loose V. One day, just like the hummingbirds that live with us too, the geese are gone to join the great migrations, until the next winter when the flock will return again to our dormant field.

So- here we were on this February 14 2013 afternoon- rarely had we hosted a banded goose- and now we had a goose with a long orange neck collar, a female goose the human world had deemed F4C9 in big white letters along the side.

We went outside softly, not wishing to trigger the honkers, the geese who sound the alert that humans are on their turf. We had our cameras with long lenses, because F4C9 was a skittish one. Imagine having an orange plastic collar forever attached about your long graceful neck. You could see that plastic sleeve from hundreds of feet away. I’m sure F4C9 had attracted her share of stalkers and gawkers. Her behavior was of one constantly on alert, so we left her alone with the flock after we took some distant pictures. We returned to the house.

A quick computer search yielded the place to report sightings of tagged birds. I carefully typed in our contact info, located our GPS coordinates, and checked off the box to receive a certificate recording our sighting. It promised to contain the information listing the origin of her tagging recorded on it, too.

Why did we take the time to enter the information? I guess it’s the product of growing up on a barrier island on the Jersey shore and walking the beach each day during the scientific age. My family mailed back weather balloon tags, metal bird bands found washed up at the tide line, and tidal study containers. I’ve written letters in answer to pleas, dreams and best wishes on notes found stoppered in floating bottles. It had happened a few times, to reach out and make contact for a purpose. We are curious, always curious.

This certificate would not arrive by snail mail. Still, with all the data compiled on birds across the USA, the site told us to expect an email in about 45 days.

Instead, the answer came in just a few days. We printed out our piece of paper, our glimpse into the life of F4C9 even though she had flown out of our life, and on with her own.

As Steve placed the paper in my hands, I learned that F4C9 was tagged in BOUCHERVILLE, QUEBEC, CANADA (COORDINATES: LAT: 45.58333; LON: -73.41667). The certificate states she was banded and collared when she was too young to fly. F4C9 will be 3 years old in June.

The name of her bander is listed too. Steve’s name is recorded on behalf of our family, brief observers whose lives crossed with F4C9 one beautifully sunny day in the winter season of 2013 during the Canadas yearly return to our field in the Pinelands of New Jersey.

To learn more about the Canada goose, here is a website that you might enjoy:

To report a sighting of a tagged bird go here:
or call 1-800-327-BAND

F4C9 with other geese in her flock
F4C9 with other geese in her flock
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On how assumptions will make an aster out of you and me.

New York Aster with fall foliage photograph by Stephen Woods

Ah fall. Nature’s palette slowly shifts accent colors to the main stage. Bands, points, and splotches. Great sky shows too as colors intensify, and clouds drift with the purpose of the shift. Steady cool mixes with hot.  Breath is seen at night. Water glistens as it always does, but what floats in the water is now passing- yet what a glorious color show of a passing it is for us.

Plaintive calls on the air. Insects’ pulsing chants in the grass. Bird migrations with visitor pauses in trees, fields, and on the water.

The sun’s golden light gilds the whitening tops of grasses and sedges that shine with reflected light, as long beams penetrate the tree line and the afternoon breeze stirs in a little chill. Night comes on too soon. People are busy, so busy, and move with a purpose to get things done even as they are getting other things ready. Harvest time, cranberry time, aster time.

Asters are beautiful flowers, but maddeningly difficult for the amateur naturalist to tell apart. We have many beautiful asters in the Pinelands. You reach a point, as an artist interpreting the natural world, where it doesn’t cut it any more to say, “That’s the bluish purple flower”.

In the earlier days of the internet, fuzzy photographs and sketchy information made for hours of searches to yield at best, a good probability regarding ID. My field guides grew dog eared and leaked pages. I had not upgraded to the complex identification keys yet, because I was doing pretty good at making the call. Pretty good is not good enough.

It wasn’t a quest to become “Astor’s pet horse”. Does anyone say that any more? Does any one still know what that means? Just Google it.

Of course- that’s what it’s become so much easier to do. Type in the right descriptive words in a search engine, and you just may get an ID on a plant on the first try. Search engines are that good now- but not so much with asters.

Take a class. Go on a botany hike. Ask an expert. Strive to learn taxonomy.

New York Aster as seen from the side photograph by Ann-Marie Woods

I will now tell you that I am reasonably certain that today’s flower is a New York Aster or Symphyotrichum novi-belgii, because of the color and number of the ray flowers , leaf shape, involucral bract shape, lack of hair on certain key parts of the plant, and stem appearance. There are a lot of other things I could and should use to aid in identification. I am still learning and try to balance this with the sheer joy I feel and concentration I need to take a photograph that pleases me.

Go out and make your own observations. Look some of these topics up. You are going to go on another tangent, you’ll go out on a limb, and you will embark on a journey to a far country that is just under your nose. Worlds within worlds. Good journeys my friends.

A link to learn more:

Detail of New York Aster photograph by Ann-Marie Woods

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