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: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/Page.aspx?pid=1189.

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: www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Canada_Goose/id

To report a sighting of a tagged bird go here: www.reportband.gov
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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Mountain Laurel Time in the Pinelands

The rustling in the leaves of oak and sassafras reaches a crescendo as light plays in the canopy top and splashes down into the carpet of newly green huckleberry and blueberry leaves.

The Sun winks in and out of billowing clouds that move on the breeze towards the vast ocean over the pines and towns and bay and barrier islands beyond.

Faint sweet scents tease me as I catch them on the air. For today is clement and fine, and this is one of the sweetest days of late spring.

Butterflies flit in jerky patterns between  trunks and branches. Newly minted birds sing out with insistent peeping as they learn the ways of the world. Squirrels chatter down as my feet crunch scattered acorn shells, while fence lizards dive into the leaf litter at my approach.

Bees drone on, seeking white and pink candy-striped star blossoms. They plunge into the white mounds of flower heads that reach into the distance and mimic the clouds that drift far above them.

This is mountain laurel time in the Pinelands. Today is clement and fine.


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“A Summer Study”.


It was mid afternoon on a hot breezy late summer day, down the Red Road at the edge of a fallow cranberry bog.  A thin sheen of water over the mud at the bottom of the bog reflected the deep blue of the sky, while a myriad of flowering plants and sedges and grasses swayed back and forth, and a dragonfly came to perch for an instant on a single blade.

I held my first digital camera, and I agonized on how to take my first digital photograph of a dragonfly, so I just did- and it became “A Summer Study”.

I remember going home, waiting for the bulky memory card to load, and then staying up late with my Howard Boyd book, to identify all that I had seen on that beautiful day in 2003.

Posted in Nature, Photography, Pinelands/Pine Barrens of New Jersey, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

“A Summer Study”.

Mid afternoon on a hot breezy late summer day, down the Red Road at the edge of a fallow cranberry bog, a thin sheen of water over the bottom of the bog reflecting the deep blue of the sky, while a myriad of flowering plants and sedges and grasses swayed back and forth, and a dragonfly came to perch for an instant on a single blade.

I held my first digital camera, and I agonized on how to take my first digital photograph of a dragonfly, so I just did- and it became “A Summer Study”.

I remember going home, waiting for the bulky memory card to load, and then staying up late with my Howard Boyd book, to identify all that I had seen on that beautiful day in 2003.

Posted in Nature, Photography, Pinelands/Pine Barrens of New Jersey, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

On what to take pictures of: evoking isinglass

What should you take pictures of? Let your senses take you out in the world and lead you to a place that you may begin to photograph. Let the place draw you in to a certain perspective.

Perhaps it is my discipline from using film, but I rarely fire off a couple hundred photos of each composition and hope for the best. I’m drawn to a subject. Sometimes it is about an aspect of the subject or its spatial relation to the objects around it. Sometimes it’s colors in all their brilliance or subtlety. Exploring textures can lead you on just as the scene invited you in.

One May we rode down Poor Man’s Parkway. We parked along a sandy trail by the left side of the roadway. We walked on thru craggy pitch pines and came to a break with a small shallow pond to the left. The sky above was an opaque even white, and the air was still, suspended. I looked out over the pond and saw nothing remarkable yet the mood of the place held me.

A bee flew past my ear attracted to distant staggerbush flowers hung in a clump at the end of a woody branch. I took up my camera and followed the flight of the bee. I saw the bee working the bell flowers but I was getting a hash of gray lines and dark water in a haze as I focused. Intrigued, I drew the lens down, and found a luminous grainy sheen across the black water. I thought, “It’s happening again.”

A year before that one, we had driven down the Red Road. Heavy rains had flooded the dense shaded bogs just at the time that the trees released their pollen. Millions of pollen grains were floating suspended on the still surface of the water as the water levels receded. I photographed this aspect and was taken back to another time with my dad.

I was little yet. My dad was a carpenter and it was a few years after the ’62 storm that had washed so many structures to bits on Long Beach Island that was my childhood home. My dad had salvaged wood from that storm and bought some new supplies and built a detached garage for us next to the house. It was a special place filled with cigar boxes and jars of collected sea things of generations crammed on shelves next to many tools and machines and fishing poles.

I found a hard cloudy sheet in a pile. I held the material up towards the light streaming through the window and my Dad said, “It’s isinglass Ann-Marie. That’s what they used in cars before glass.” “Isinglass- neat name”, I said, and never forgot the name or visual texture of weathered old isinglass.

I was in college, a freshman at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. We had come to see the curious glass floor in the old library. I was naive. I expected to look down on the floor below and see people walking between shelves laid out like a maze. Instead the floor was ground to an opaque surface. I swiped my foot across the floor and thought of isinglass.

Now I was back with my eye to the lens looking at the texture of the pond as the bees droned by. I was besotted by the swirling textures of the pollen and how the pond had been transformed. A breeze stirred my hair and something drifted into my line of sight in the lens. I refocused to see. It was a downy white feather borne on the breeze like a little shell boat. The surface of the water cupped it as it moved across the textured glassine surface. Another feather followed it.

Photos of drifting feathers with the hint of scuffed isinglass on dark waters were followed by a few photos of the working bee, and a species of wildflower that looked different from a specimen that I’d photographed before.

That is what to take photographs of. Life lived in the moment seen through the mind’s eye while using the camera as a tool to convey a mixture of your will and serendipity. A vision to share.

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