Highland Park Backyard Birds

It’s the time of year when people post cumulative posts. You know, usually the ones that say Favorites of 2014 or Best Posts of the Last Year or that sort of thing. I decided to post Highland Park backyard birds that I have seen since I started bird watching. Let’s see – I first bought a bird feeder in February 2010; I did find some of my bird photos from 2009. The birds below are listed in alphabetical order – enjoy.

Blue Jay

blue jay on deck
Blue jays visit every now and then. When they do come, they are sure to make noise and hog the bird feeder.


Cardinal: backyard bird in Highland Park, New Jersey
I took this photo about two weeks ago – cardinals love to visit my backyard when I fill my feeder with black oil sunflower seeds. I see the red in my backyard, and it warms my heart.

Cardinal – Female

Female Cardinal Highland Park New Jersey backyard bird
Mrs. Cardinal is usually nearby when I spot Mr. Cardinal (above) first. She indeed was there at the same time as the photo taken above.


catbird on tomato plant holder
I seem to get catbird visitors in summer months. Pleasant birds: I enjoy the “singing.”


black capped chickadee goes into bird feeder
I don’t often see a chickadee – the one above is from February 2012. But they are handsome birds – so I love seeing one!

Downy Woodpecker

downy woodpecker
I am more likely to hear a woodpecker than see one. The one above was sighted in February 2014.


house finch
This rare beauty (rare for my backyard) was sighted in December 2013. Maybe if I am more diligent this winter with my camera and my feeder, I will find more.


bird on echinacea
If you look very carefully, I believe that’s a goldfinch hidden in my echinacea. I saw a few goldfinch this past summer on other echinacea in my neighborhood. I suppose it’s the seeds they are after.


grackle on roof
I only had the chance to photograph grackle once my backyard. Turns out I had also photographed a grackle way back in 2008 while visiting Ein Gedi in Israel.

Mourning Dove

brown dove
Mourning doves are birds I see a few times a year in my backyard.


robin on wire close up
When I looked up “robin” in my photo collection, I had quite a few choices. We do have robins as fairly frequent visitors in our area.


Sparrows three backyard birds in a tree in Highland Park, New Jersey backyard
Sparrows are by far the most common bird in my backyard. I believe most of the ones that I see are house sparrows. I should study the different types of sparrows so I can appreciate them a little more. These three beauties were hanging out together in my backyard tree last week.


starlings in a tree
The few times I’ve seen starlings it’s been in a swarm like the one above. I still remember Michelle calling them “snarling starlings.”

Tufted Titmouse

Tufted Titmouse in Highland Park New Jersey
I saw this tufted titmouse in my backyard last week. Tufted titmice aren’t frequent visitors, but when I do see them, they seem to pose and look at the camera. I find them quite cute.

Turkey Vulture

turkey vulture flying over Highland Park, New Jersey backyard
What fun, a swooping wide-winged bird in one’s own backyard. Here is the turkey vulture that visited this past October.

If you want to see a full list of Highland Park birds, and not just the ones I’ve seen and not just Highland Park backyard birds go to Highland Park, New Jersey: Bird Sightings. We have been putting those online since 2001.

For more Nature Notes:
Nature Notes

Book Review: Growing Up Jewish in Alexandria by Lucienne Carasso

Growing Up Jewish in Alexandria by Lucienne Carasso

Have you ever heard someone speak, and felt you have become part of history? Last week I had the pleasure of hearing Lucienne Carasso, author of Growing Up Jewish in Alexandria: The Story of a Sephardic Family’s Exodus from Egypt tell us about her book at Congregation Etz Ahaim in Highland Park, New Jersey. After the Tahrir Square protests in Egypt (2011), she decided if everyone was talking about Egypt, it was time to tell her story, too. Others have written about growing Jewish in Egypt (see, for example, review of The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit), but Lucienne Carasso had her own story to tell. Indeed, she uses the book to trace her own family’s history, back to Salonika and even further back to Spain; she hypothesizes some of her family may have come from Catalonia.

A little about Alexandria and its history: Alexandria was founded in 331 BCE by Alexander the Great. He chose the spot on the Mediterranean because it had a natural harbor, fresh water and favorable weather. Many people, not only Jews, came to Alexandria in the later 19th century and early 20th century because of new economic opportunities, especially in cotton (rice and onions are two other major agricultural products of Egypt). Alexandria became a cosmopolitan city, with Greeks, Italians, Jews, Armenians and others.

Life was fun for Lucienne as a child growing up in Alexandria. She was loved by extended family, enjoyed gardens, beaches, pastry shops and the movies. Then one day in November 1956 her father is arrested. This is one year after Gamal Abdel Nasser came to power in Egypt. Her whole world changes. Jewish businesses are taken away by the government, and most Jewish families leave, only with a limited amount of possessions. Her family stays a little longer, as her two grandmothers are still alive, and it takes a while for her father to liquidate what remains of his businesses. She goes from having many playmates to being alone with a few of her adult relatives.

One aspect of the book that I quite enjoyed was about Ladino, a Judeo-Spanish language that was spoken by the Jews of Spain before the expulsion in 1492. Spanish Jews continued to speak Ladino when they moved to cities like Salonika and Istanbul. Indeed, some of my adult friends at Congregation Etz Ahaim spoke Ladino as children. Lucienne’s grandmothers both spoke Ladino to her, reciting Ladino proverbs. Her Nona Sol (maternal grandmother) used to call her “morenica y savrosica” – loosely translated as “dark-haired and flavorful little girl.” Lucienne and her family spoke French at home and learned French at school, but for expressing deep feelings, Ladino was used. In reference to the expulsion of Jews from Spain and the invitation from sultan of the Ottoman Empire for Jews to come, she quotes her father’s expression: “Donde una puerta se cierra, otra se abre” – when one door closes, another one opens.

Her writings on food are sprinkled throughout the book. She loved ice cream and describes enjoying it in restaurants and making it at home. Her family is thrilled to discover in New York you can buy ice cream in the store and store it in your freezer. Sephardic pastries make a showing – women in her family specialize in roscas, ghorayebas and menanas (if anyone knows more about these, feel free to leave a comment). Her family does not keep kosher; the religious members of her family were a few generations back. When she is feeling depressed after her father is arrested and school is stopped for her, she writes about indulging a little too much in rich foods as comfort.

What is freedom? When her family spends time in Italy after being forced to leave Egypt, one of the movies they have the opportunity to see is Exodus. In Egypt one cannot say the word Israel or talk at all about Zionism. The teachers in her school after the rise of Nasser said terrible things about Israelis and Jews. Lucienne speaks of her and her parents’ reaction to an Exodus scene:

“When they sang out loud ‘Hatikva,’ which we used to whisper in Alexandria, my parents and I burst into tears. We were so moved. I knew then we were really free.

Another example of freedom is shown when Lucienne becomes a student in high school in New York City. Her English teacher is giving his interpretation of a novel. A student raises her hand and says she disagrees. Lucienne’s reaction:

“I almost fell over. I could not believe my ears. In the French educational system, one never challenges the teacher. The teacher is the “Authority” with a capital “A.” That day, I learned the meaning of democracy and free speech. A student could be entitled to her opinion as much as the teacher. Wow – what an idea!”

Lucienne Carasso reads from her book at Congregation Etz Ahaim, Highland Park, New Jersey

One of the selections she read from the book at her speech at Congregation Etz Ahaim was her response to the question of her teacher – “Who is the hero of the Egyptian Revolution?” She learns quickly that she should respond Gamal Abdel Nasser. She did not have to believe her teachers, but she had to spit out back whatever they were teaching.

Several members of Congregation Etz Ahaim grew up in Alexandria or Cairo, Egypt. We had two women at our table who had spent their childhoods in Alexandria.

Lucienne enjoyed the movies as a teen, but for her notes on the movies I will recommend you read the book. If you enjoy history and biography or want to learn about other cultures or life under totalitarian societies, Growing Up Jewish in Alexandria: The Story of a Sephardic Family’s Exodus from Egypt is a rewarding read.

Textiles Pattern Watercolor Exercise

watercolor exercise with American Arts and Crafts pattern
A continuation of my posts of watercolor exercises from One Watercolor a Day, here is a watercolor inspired by American Arts and Crafts patterns. Quick summary of the textiles pattern watercolor exercise (the book has more details and suggestions): “Choose a few elements of a textile print. Create small thumbnails, mixing up elements to come up with something new. ”

I enjoyed this exercise, though it did take a fair amount of thinking and time. Copying great art works is always a valuable exercise in general: one sees more carefully when one has to draw, paint or design a copy or similar image. I went to the library and took out some books. The first batch had Tiffany glass, but the exercise said textiles, so I went to the library again. This time I actually did find a book called American Arts and Crafts Textiles (other suggestions were Japanese or Peruvian textile inspirations, for example).

Here is the one of the six above that I liked best, mostly because it made best use of the medium of watercolor (note the background):
American Arts and Crafts textile pattern, done in watercolor
The design is part of a 1911 Richardson Silk Company pillow kit.

When you think of textiles and patterns, what comes to mind? Have you ever seen Arts and Crafts designs and found them inspiring?

Chanukah Pattern Watercolor

monochromatic pattern painting
Finally, I have a little more time for watercolor painting. This is exercise 24 in One Watercolor a Day: Playing with Patterns – “Paint an element in one color and its different values…Create a square, then tile it…do a simple repeat.”

I created the initial illustration in Illustrator. Then I flipped the pattern both vertically and horizontally, so you have four versions of the tile. Next I printed the graphic on watercolor paper. I mixed various shades and tints of purple watercolor on my palette. I painted using thin watercolor brushes. Once the painting was dry, I scanned it back into my computer and cropped it with Photoshop.

watercolor painting painterly pattern Chanukah
For fun, using Photoshop, I decided to add a little more color (changed a bit of the purple to pale blue). I also added something that looks like a watercolor effect. It might be fun to reprint my Chanukah Pattern Watercolor in black and white and then paint it in multitude of colors. Or perhaps just a palette of blue, red and yellow. Both look a little messy to me, but they are just exercises.

What do you see in the pattern?

Highland Park Foliage | Blue Jay Visits

red fall foliage 2014
The leaves turn red, yellow and orange only one time per year, in October and November. If one is busy elsewhere, one might completely miss photographing the colors. I see I have photographed Highland Park foliage (Highland Park, New Jersey, that is) for each year that this blog has existed (even in 2012, after my father died and Hurricane Sandy came to visit, I had at least one post with a bit of fall foliage). This post is for those of you in places like Israel or California who don’t get to see the autumn colors.

foliage bald cypress
My bald cypress tree has grown quite big. Here you can see how it (upper left in the photo) turns orange in the fall. It is bigger than we expected when the borough planted the tree about ten years ago.

foliage red yellow
My neighbor has a tall red maple across the street that shows up in all these foliage photos. Will have to remember to study it changing more carefully next autumn.

blue jay in feeder
I looked outside my kitchen window, and I saw a big bird in our feeder. I came out with my camera, and the blue jay flew away quickly. I waited quietly about ten minutes in one spot, and my reward was a blue jay came back to the feeder. Happy to capture this fast bird with my camera.

blue jay flies off
Almost as quickly as the blue jay came, it flew off. Happy to get the blue jay in motion!

Last Friday I filled my bird feeder with some seeds that were exclusively black oil sunflower seeds. No birds seem to pay any attention – indeed, I saw no birds in my yard. But I now think it was just the extra cold weather; by Saturday noon, all the seeds had been munched. We actually had snow on Thursday night, but it only stuck to the ground in other parts of the state, probably in higher elevations.

My nasturtium and marigolds died last Thursday night in the frost. If you are a gardener, you will know there is a little bit of sadness when your annuals die. My snapdragons survived the cold weather – nice to see those bright colors.

For more Nature Notes:
Nature Notes

Flat Design: Armchair

arm chair flat design leoraw.com
What do you see in the above illustration? Does this look like a flat design armchair? (I looked up armchair – it is truly one word). Does it remind you of any particular profession? What does it evoke?

I have been redoing my website, the main part of my site in which I sell my web services such as WordPress training and small business web development. I decided a little illustration would be nice for my new Services page. Of course, the illustration itself is the hard part … I already fussed a lot over the illustration for the home page.

So one idea is to have little balloons or circles with flat design illustrations that represent some of the businesses or organizations for which I do websites. Maybe one might look like this:
arm chair flat design
Or like this:
flat chair in a balloon

I may just toss the circles all together. Meanwhile, I need to come up with a few more flat icons / illustrations to put together in one illustration. Ideas: pen and ink, camera, piles of books, light source from a lamp …

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been fussing over today (in between helping various clients with various issues). The main question for you is: Does the arm chair illustration remind you of any particular profession? Or can you think of any professions I might illustrate with a simple flat design of some sort?