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

Raritan River Liatris

liatris by Raritan River, Donaldson Park
According to Wikipedia, there are many kinds of liatris. These purple flowers grow by the Raritan River at the edge of Donaldson Park, a large county park situated in Highland Park, New Jersey.

liatris donaldson park raritan river raining
Three weeks ago, when my daughter was in camp and I had a little more time, I went to Donaldson Park and took some photos. I took several of the Raritan River, such as this one with the tall, bare tree at the river bend. I really enjoyed the Raritan River liatris, the purple spikes bursting out of the sandy banks by the river.

liatris rainy day raritan river
It was raining that day, but not enough to get me soaked, despite the fact that I had not brought a raincoat.

liatris new brunswick raritan river donaldson park
In this photo, you can see a little of New Brunswick, New Jersey – that’s where some of Rutgers University resides. New Brunswick is more urban than Highland Park, but it is still small, especially compared to Philadelphia or New York City. Or Newark or Trenton. Actually, all you see is a bit of the bridge of the route 18 highway.

In other nature news, I started filling my bird feeder again (it got neglected as I paid more attention to my garden, but as I explained to my kids, only in the winter am I really concerned that the birds in our area need food to eat). I’ve seen blue jays, a cardinal and mostly lots of sparrows. Maybe soon I’ll have more bird photos.

Flowers of Comfort

It was a very difficult week for the Jewish people – some say Tisha B’Av, the saddest day of the Jewish calendar came early this year. This is not a political blog; I could send you elsewhere to read some important posts, such as this one or this one. And here’s one that is quite thorough on a recent topic.

I will just mention the word nechama – comfort. What do you do or say or post when you need comfort? I’m posting flowers from my garden. Above are the columbines of spring – now gone, except for the seeds. You can sprinkle the seeds from the spring columbines in a different place in your yard, and if conditions are right, you get more columbines!

Mexican poppies
I grow these Mexican poppies instead of grass on my front lawn. Unfortunately, they are only in bloom for a short time in the spring. I have to be careful not to pull them up when the flowers are done – it is easy to mistake them later for weeds. Some of the poppies’ leaves are now turning a brilliant red.

summer rudbeckia
Rudbeckia or black-eyed susan: one of my favorite flowers! These I grow all over my yard, front and back. They seem to be happy here.

summer lilies
Finally, here are some bright summer lilies. My neighbor was admiring these, and I told her I grew them by mistake! I probably pulled a lily in a different spot by accident and threw it by the fence. It took hold right behind a pink rose bush. I think the two look a bit silly together, but whatever.

Do you have favorite flowers? Do flowers bring you comfort?

Sage Leaves Watercolor

sage leaves watercolor
I participate in an online Facebook group called One Watercolor a Day, based on the book by Veronica Lawlor. There are many exercises in the book, and every few weeks I do an exercise and share it in the group. Recently, I’ve been sharing the watercolor exercises on this Sketching Out blog as well. The most recent exercise was Do a Study of Nature, and it was fun to sit outside and paint:
sage watercolor with watercolor paints outside

This particular painting is a sage leaves watercolor: I took a look at my sage plant that has come back year after year and did a little painting study. I once tried to plant more sage in the back of my yard, and those sage plants unfortunately died. This sage plant, however, that is close to my kitchen back door, has managed to re-emerge after many a winter. Happy that today was such a nice day, so I had an excuse to sit outside and paint in between cleaning my house for Passover.

I find sketching from nature a great way to learn – you really need to observe to come up with a little watercolor painting quickly. I did two others before I decided to limit my color palette and limit my subject to the sage leaves.

It has been a while since I’ve participated in a Nature Notes, one of my favorite online memes run by my friend Michelle over at Rambling Woods. Here is a cardinal shot I had in my stash but never got a chance to share until now:
cardinal with cocked head in tree

Do you cook with sage? Do you have it in your yard? Have you ever painted outside?

For more Nature Notes:
Nature Notes

Nature in New Jersey and Maryland

Peace and Friendship Garden
Peace and Friendship Garden

We visited my eldest son this past weekend at University of Maryland. Because most of the events were at the Hillel, we walked back and forth numerous times between the Hillel and the hotel. On the way to the Hillel we saw this garden, and on Friday afternoon I had my camera with me so I took this photo. I was impressed by the “natural” looking sculpture that was part of the garden, and I love seeing well-cared for perennials. You can learn more about this Peace and Friendship garden. The sculpture is by Chinese artist Han Meilin and named The Peace Tree.

pond in Holmdel Park
Here is the pond in Holmdel Park in New Jersey (photographed two weeks ago). Nearby is a lovely arboretum (I was too tired to take my big camera, but there was some great hawthorn trees with berries and some interesting evergreens). I photographed the pond with my Samsung Galaxy 4. There was a London plane tree on the other side of the pond – its “fruit” or nuts look like tennis balls.

Longstreet Farm pig
Here’s a pig at Longstreet Farm (part of Holmdel Park in New Jersey). We also saw pigs at University of Maryland – there is a little farm on the campus for those studying animal science and also horses for the equestrian club. Both sets of pigs seemed to like to eat dirt. Explain that one to me. My daughter named the Longstreet Farm pig “Piggles.”

Rutgers Gardens in October

Rutgers Gardens flowers
Last week I had the pleasure of visiting one of my favorite places in central New Jersey: Rutgers Gardens. Rutgers Gardens is maintained by staff, students and volunteers. You can learn more on the website for Rutgers Gardens.

bench garden area
There are various garden areas within Rutgers Gardens. The one above with the bench is part of the rain garden. Vegetation in a rain garden area needs to be acclimated to prolonged periods of inundation, followed by equally prolonged periods of drought. From the Rutgers Gardens website:

Rain gardens look attractive when newly planted, but can and often deteriorate over time with the invasion of unattractive weeds and a resulting decline in vigor from the ornamental plantings as they become ‘choked-out’. The intent at Rutgers Gardens was to design and develop a garden that had all the positive environmental aspects, yet remained attractive throughout the year with minimal maintenance.

yellow flowers Rutgers Gardens
These attractive yellow flowers are part of the Donald B. Lacy Display garden. Wish I knew the name of the yellow flowers (and those red pom ones as well – maybe a kind of Gomphrena – maybe Gomphrena globosa ‘Fireworks’). I believe the magenta/purple pom ones I showed last week are Gomphrena globosa. Some of the flowers and vegetables are grown inside a fence with a gate, and the public is not allowed to enter, but it is easy to peek in and view.

fall foliage raritan river
One of the great features of Rutgers Gardens are the hikes you can take – we like taking the walk that goes along the Raritan River. There was some colorful foliage but not a lot. I like the pretty colorful reflections in the river.

As I said on the Rutgers Gardens post last week, we saw two chipmunks. Here’s one more photo of the chipmunk in the woods:
chipmunk at Rutgers Gardens in woods

Jewish Holidays and Nature

Gerber daisy in front of our house

It is Jewish holiday season, and ideally, I would be writing a lovely post about how the Jewish holidays are related to the seasons. In reality, I feel I am constantly preparing for the next holiday (in between having more than plenty of web work). The flower above is one of the gerber daisies my daughter gave me for Mother’s Day (with my husband’s help), and I have managed to keep it alive for the whole summer. Yay, me.

The upcoming holiday this week is called Sukkot, and we do indeed interact with nature. Here is the little booth called a sukkah that we eat meals in for seven days. We cover the top of the sukkah with light natural material called schach, and through this natural material we can sometimes see stars at night. Some people actually sleep in their sukkah.

sukkah door
Here are some of the decorations inside our sukkah. This is from last year – on Wednesday, it will be a mad rush to finish cooking and decorate the sukkah. In New Jersey, it often rains, so we don’t want to decorate too early. Hard enough to keep the decorations going.

This was our old sukkah, that we no longer have. It took too long to put up, so my husband gave it away. We now have a pre-fab sukkah, but I can’t paint the walls. I have to decorate with this velcro tape. I don’t enjoy that as much.

As this post is related to nature, here are some not yet shared nature photos from Israel:
rocks on the top of Mount Meiron
Those are rocks on the top of Mount Meiron. Learn about my hike on Mount Meiron.

pink flowers on Meiron
Love these delicate pink flowers from Mount Meiron. No idea what they are. Any guesses? Update: might be a bindweed – convolvolus oleifolius.

bright red trees in front of Tel Aviv Museum
These trees had bright red blooms in front of the Tel Aviv Museum last May. Any guesses? Flame tree (Delonix regia)? Seems quite similar to the red trees in this Tel Aviv image. Tel Aviv in late May probably has a similar climate to southern California (maybe warmer and more humid).

Getting back to Jewish holidays and nature, the holidays follow the lunar calendar. So the moon is important. Tonight my daughter noticed the moon looked quite full, but it’s not quite the 15th of the month. It’s 13 Tishrei, so I suppose that is close. This year Thanksgiving and Chanukah will coincide, but according to this post, it will not happen again until … year 79,811. Will you be around to celebrate?

For more Nature Notes:
Nature Notes

Seagulls at Point Pleasant Beach

seagulls at Point Pleasant beach in New Jersey
What a lot of seagulls we saw at Point Pleasant Beach in New Jersey. My daughter was a bit frightened of how low they swooped while we sat on the beach. It was crowded with humans; I’m pretty sure there were more humans than seagulls, but that fact is debatable.

umbrella two seagulls at beach
What do you notice about the seagulls?

seagull by blanket
I couldn’t figure out when they wanted to hang out and when they preferred to fly about. There was a lot of both going on.

flying seagulls
A whole lot of flapping of wings and flying off in this photo.

jumping seagull
This seagull in the middle looks like he is jumping.

crowd of seagulls some flying
A crowd of seagulls do their thing, flying or flapping or hanging around.

seagulls in sky
And they are off: flying in the sky are the seagulls.

Thank you to this seagull for posing nicely for my camera.

There are more than just seagulls at Point Pleasant Beach. There are amusement rides, mini golf, arcades, a boardwalk, a fun house, lots of junk food being sold (at about 4 pm half the people I saw held an ice cream cone), and many beach umbrellas.

For more Nature Notes:
Nature Notes

Ma’alot Israel Flowers and Birds

blue globe thistle
Not far from the home of my friend in Maalot Israel is a little forest. One can see flowers such as the blue globe thistle, Echinops adenocaulos – קיפודן מצוי.

Maalot View
Ma’alot is a city built on hill. My friend’s home has lovely views from her back deck and from the nearby forest. You can see there are lots of trees in the valleys and neighboring hills and villages on the far hills.

bird in Ma'alot
I have no idea what species is this big bird on a wire (a crow?). But he was bigger than the pigeons, sparrows or doves that I saw. All the birds I saw on my Israel trip were brown, gray or black – none were brightly colorful. I did look up a few birds from the Hula Valley and found some colorful ones shown.

In addition to featuring this buttercup on this Ma’alot Israel Flowers post, I saw buttercups on Mount Meron (Ranunculaceae, נורית).

queen anne's lace
I believe these large white bouquet-like flowers are Queen Anne’s Lace.

From the deck of my friend’s house, I could see sparrows, mourning doves and pigeons. I saw what may have been swallows flying above, but I wasn’t quite sure. Do you see the little sparrow in the large palm tree? I told my friend her back deck would be a lovely spot for birdwatching, and she offered for me to stay a few months to make my observations. Maybe one day I will take her up on her offer.

mourning dove in Ma'alot
Here is a mourning dove hanging out on some sort of gadget. I don’t see these often in New Jersey, but I have seen them a fair amount in Israel. On my trip to Israel five years ago, I believe I incorrectly identified this bird as a pigeon (it’s a mourning dove). I’ve learned a bit about birds since then – I hope to have the opportunity to learn more.

Jacaranda Trees with Purple Blooms

jacaranda tree in bloom in Nahariya, Israel

jacaranda tree in Naharia, Israel
When I was in Beit Shemesh, Israel, I saw some beautiful trees with purple blooms. I saw them again in Naharia, a northern beach town in the Galil. The jacaranda blooms above are in Naharia. Then I visited Ma’alot, and I was pleasantly surprised by yet more jacaranda blooms.

According to this Flowers in Israel post, jacaranda trees are originally from South America. Looks like the Hebrew name is סיגלון.

Derivation of the botanical name:
Jacaranda, a Brazilian vernacular name.
acutifolia, with pointed leaves.
mimosifolia, with leaves like genus Mimosa.

On the Wikipedia page for jacaranda it says: This article’s factual accuracy is disputed. I wonder why. See also: Jacaranda mimosifolia:

The Blue Jacaranda has been cultivated in almost every part of the world where there is no risk of frost; established trees can however tolerate brief spells of temperatures down to around −7°C (20°F). In the USA, 30 miles east of Los Angeles where winter temps can dip to 10 degrees F (-12 C) for short several-hour periods, the mature tree survives with little or no visible damage.

jacaranda tree blooms in Maalot Israel with Israeli flag below
This jacaranda tree (above and below) was photographed in Ma’alot, Israel. Ma’alot is about twenty minutes inland from Nahariya, Israel.

Blue Jacaranda in Maalot

The name may be Blue Jacaranda, but I think those blooms are purple. How about you? Do you think this is some botanist’s desire to see blue in nature?

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