Sunday, December 25, 2005


Originally uploaded by PhoebeJ.
What is it about cats and boxes? I took the last of the bottles of seltzer out of this cardboard container and put it on the floor. It wasn't a whole minute before Nicholas sat himself in it and claimed it as his own. Perhaps it's the texture or just a chance to have some insulation between himself and the kitchen tiles. Or perhaps it is all about feng shui.

Go here to learn all about the art of box placement for cats. An excellent explanation of feng shui for cats.

Nicholas had a good Christmas/Chanukah. Although he himself is an animist, he approves of all celebrations that involve the receipt of gifts. He made out pretty well with four shopping bags of home-grown catnip, some treats, a couple of nifty toys and a lot of scratches behind the ear and under the chin.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005


Wren and Downy II
Originally uploaded by PhoebeJ.
I hadn't been to Kent in two weeks and was glad to go there and refill the feeders. There was a threat of a nor'easter (which turned out to be a flop, at least in the Litchfield Hills) and the birds were stoking up.

I was excited to see the Carolina wren, back again from my last visit. We don't often get Carolina wrens in this part of the world, at least not in winter. The insect suet seemed to be the popular item for this little bird.

The photo was taken through the back door so there is glass between the camera and the birds. And, because it was overcast, the flash went off but didn't glare on the glass much. As a bonus the downy woodpecker is in the shot too on the Woodpecker log suet feeder, one of my two favorite feeders. (The Mobi Mesh Thistle Feeder is the other.)

Other birds seen:

American Crow
American Goldfinch
American Tree Sparrow
White-Throated Sparrow
Dark-Eyed Junco
Hairy Woodpecker
Red-Bellied Woodpecker (not much seen lately)
Mourning Dove
Tufted Titmouse
White-Breasted Nuthatch
Black-Capped Chickadee
Northern Cardinal
Northern Towhee (not a common visitor)
Common Grackle
Blue Jay
House Finch

Saw some Pine Siskins a few weeks ago, but they have been absent since. Looking for those irruptive finches--siskin, common redpoll, etc.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Take a Bow

Take a Bow
Originally uploaded by PhoebeJ.
Taking photos of birds requires patience, a virtue that for me is sometimes in short supply. It also takes some luck and, oh, having your camera adjusted properly. A combination of luck and skill can lead to some interesting results.

I got this photo of a black-capped chickadee that had grabbed a peanut. As luck would have it, I snapped him with his wings up. Looks like he's taking a big theatrical bow.

Then, with the camera set with too small an aperture, I somehow got this photo of a chickadee who looks like he's a ghost. It was daytime (although a gray day), not night, when I got this shot and I was able to lighten it enough so that you can see the detail pretty well.

The night before there was a big, gibbous moon, and I took this shot. The flash went off which illuminated the tree. Very spooky.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Day Off

Chickadee, Central Park
Originally uploaded by PhoebeJ.
I had the day off. It was Veteran's Day so I guess a lot of people were off, but it was just a regular day off for me since the store was open.

It was quite chilly, especially out of the sun which came and went throughout the day. But I went to Central Park with binoculars and camera.

The highlights were a flock of cedar waxwings at Tanner Springs, rusty blackbirds at the Azalea Pond and by Balcony Bridge, shovelers on the Reservoir and the cute chickadee at the top.


And, of course, there were the usual suspects--the squirrels.

Over all, a pleasant way to spend the afternoon.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Birdwalk in the Mist

Walker Ave In the Mist
Originally uploaded by PhoebeJ.
Sunday morning was very foggy. Visibility was under 25 feet when we left the store at 8 AM to head to Walker Avenue in Wayne in search of ducks. The parking lot was completely socked in. But our intrepid band was undeterred!

We arrived at Walker Avenue at aboout 8:20. On October 3rd it was so dry there that we were walking on what is normally the bed of a wetland. A week later following torrential rains, the water was so high that people were canoeing in the streets around the wetland. By Sunday it was just muddy on the paths as it often is. But the wetland was once again filled.

Looking for birds wasn't easy. The fog burned off a bit and we did see 24 species the best of which was a marsh wren in, yes, a marsh! We also saw cedar waxwings eating berries in a tree. Cedar waxwings are among my favorite birds.

The place was eerily beautiful.

We saw lots of pretty spider webs that were wet with moisture from the mist which made them much more visible. Here's one.

Fall is the most beautiful season in the Northeast. Even on a foggy day.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Burning Bush

Burning Bush
Originally uploaded by PhoebeJ.
Fall came very late this fall in Connecticut, a combination of a dry summer and a rainy October. This burning bush, usual leafless by November, was at its peak when I took this shot on November 5th.

We plant burning bush for the two weeks when it is in its glory. It also gets little berries that the birds seem to like. Lots of juncos hide out here.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Punkins III

Punkins III
Originally uploaded by PhoebeJ.
Drove up to Kent on Sunday with a friend and visited Averill Farms, an apple orchard. They had lots of pumpkins for sale.

The place was really hopping because of the great weather. The weather has been terrible all month. When at last the sun came out, all the leaf-peepers came roaring in with a vengance. Personally, I was delighted for all the business owners.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Gnarled Tree

Tree--Central Park
Originally uploaded by PhoebeJ.
Central Park on a drizzly day. The colors were very subdued. I found this gnarled tree. I've probably passed it 100 times since it's alongside the azalea pond, but this was the first time I noticed it. It really looks like something out of a fairy tale or Lord of the Rings. Perhaps it is an ent.

Or maybe squirrels live inside. Like this bad boy.

The Gill is a stream with many small waterfalls that runs through the Ramble in Central Park. Every waterway in the Park can be turned on and off by the Parks Department. There are no natural streams left. It's all artifice. Frederic Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux managed to make artifice beautiful.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Sphinx

The Sphinx
Originally uploaded by PhoebeJ.
I ordered a cat tree for Sir Nicholas. I've wanted him to have a high perch for a long time, but my cheapness made me shop around. Found a good company on line and put in the order. They ship from Connecticut so I got the tree the next day.

Nick enjoyed the box the cat tree came in.

I put the thing together--mostly easy except for the hammock which after a struggle I managed to install. I'm bringing the power drill home and redoing it tomorrow because I don't like how it came out. But the verdict from Nicholas is that the cat tree rocks. He posed on the top in his Sphinx posture.

I also discovered a company called Katwallks that has a hysterical video of their product, a series of cat ramps that you hang on your walls, in action. But that's for another day!

Friday, September 23, 2005

Gorgeous Day

White Memorial
Originally uploaded by PhoebeJ.
A photo just can't describe what a beautiful day we had on Thursday, September 22nd, in Litchfield County, CT. The weather was dry, cloudless and in the seventies. Just being outside made you feel good.

I went to the White Memorial Foundation, a 4600 acre wildlife preserve around Bantam Lake. There's a wetland called Little Pond with a boardwalk. It was a slow birdwatching day, at least in the afternoon when I went out, but the walk was glorious. I did see a great blue heron perched in a tree, a northern mockingbird, a black-throated green warbler and a hawk (likely a female red-tail) that flew right across the path at a mere five feet off the ground.

As you can see, very few of the trees had started to turn although noticeably more are turning today than yesterday. But fall is on the way. This wooly bear caterpillar was my first of the season.

Nicholas enjoyed watching some birds at home.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Averill Farms

Averill Farms
Originally uploaded by PhoebeJ.
It's apple season in Connecticut. This means visiting Averill Farms in Washington, CT, each week. Averill has been around since 1746. They have some heirloom trees that produce very rare apples. They have all the usual ones--Macs and Macouns and Romes, etc. But they have some unusual varieties too like Harcross. Each week as the fruit ripens, there are different varieties available.

I buy pie apples--tart and firm (just like me!) and make sauce out of any extras. I've decided that a mix of apples works best--Greenings, Harcross and Gravenstein this last time. I don't pick my own since they have plenty of good choices at the farmstand.

The farm is sometimes a good place for birdwatching. Bluebirds frequent the orchard. They eat insects and, according to one of the Averills, even though they eat a few apples, they save more fruit than they eat so the orchard is dotted with bluebird boxes.

It's tough to make a living growing and selling fruit so I really appreciate what these folks have done for the last 259 years.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Fog in the Valley

Fog in the Valley
Originally uploaded by PhoebeJ.
Took this photo on my way to NJ from Kent. Below this cloud is the valley and a pond. Beyond the fence is a mowed field that is often inhabited by wild turkeys, the bird that Ben Franklin thought should be our national bird. And just down the road are black cows with white stripes down their backs. Since I don't know what type of cows they are, I call them "skunk cows" because that's what they resemble.

Tune in for fall colors which are just beginning to show.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Is He Wily?

Coyote I
Originally uploaded by PhoebeJ.
I was enjoying a lovely day in Kent. Nicholas and I were sitting in the screen porch when he suddenly became alert and moved to the screen in the center. I looked up and saw this coyote up near the pool. Grabbed the camera and went up that way and got this shot of him near the fence.

This is allegedly a young coyote and he apparently had been hit by a car. One of his hind legs was injured, but he has made a pretty good recovery. He can move swiftly and quietly. He hangs around Kent Hollow because there are crab apples, small game, roadkill and the occasional kielbasa courtesy of Walter next door.

Here's the same coyote in my front yard. He (or is it "she") thought he was going to take a nap in my front yard, but when I came out with my camera, he trotted away.

Coyote III

One more good reason for the cat to stay indoors. Here he is watching the feeders and looking out for "our" coyote. BTW since finding out that roadrunners eat hummingbirds, all my sympathy has been with the Coyote.

Nick through the Screen

Friday, September 02, 2005

Praying Mantis

Praying Mantis
Originally uploaded by PhoebeJ.
I arrived at the store early the other day to find that two praying mantises were gracing the front of my store. This one was on the window and another was on the masonry below.

This guys are big! They are also vicious if you're an insect or the mantis's mate. But they do eat a lot of insects which is generally good and they are interesting to look at.

You never know what you're going to see if you keep your eyes open! Twenty minutes after I arrived the mantises left.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

James Fenimore Cooper

James Fenimore Cooper
Originally uploaded by PhoebeJ.
I visited Cooperstown, NY, this weekend. The town was founded by William Cooper, the father of the author James Fenimore Cooper who is shown in this photo.

The town is probably most famous as the home of the Baseball Hall of Fame. It's allegedly the place where baseball was invented, if you believe Abner Doubleday, which I don't. It's a beautiful town at the southern end of Lake Otsego. Since most of the land around the lake is in a trust, it can never be developed leaving the lake pristine and quiet.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

You Say "Tomato"

Originally uploaded by PhoebeJ.
Summer is winding down which means that the tomatoes are beginning to ripen on the vine. Mostly I grow plum tomatoes and spend much of my free time in September making red sauce. But I grow a few cherry tomatoes and usually one heirloom beefsteak for the salad eaters. This shot shows plums and a very yellow small beefsteak. I like the small ones because I usually can't use all of a giant tomato which means wrapping it up and putting in the refrigerator so that I can throw it out later in the week.

The sunflowers haven't opened yet at my house. We got a late start this spring because it was cold and rainy so the warm-weather plants had to wait to go in. The birds will have to wait, I guess. They get enough seed from my feeder to keep them well fed so I'm not worrying. And the sunbuttons are in bloom and will start producing seed in the next week or so. The goldfinches will appreciate that.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Lena (restored) and a Joke

Lena (restored)
Originally uploaded by PhoebeJ.
I posted a tattered photo of my paternal grandmother, Alexandra Langer Epstein (called "Lena" in the US) on flickr and someone with skills at photo touch-up and restoration fixed it up. This reminded me of a joke that Buddy Hackett told years ago on the Tonight Show:

An elderly lady climbs the stairs to a shop where photos are restored. She shows the owner a old sepia photo of her late husband. (Imagine she has a Yiddish accent--it has nothing to do with the story, it's just funnier that way.) "I have this picture of mine late 'usband. It's a bit tattered. You can fix?"

"Surely, madam," the owner replies.

"You'll notice he's wearing a double-breasted suit. No one wears a suit like that anymore. You can change?"

"Yes, madam."

"And you'll notice he's wearing a derby 'at. Can you take that away? No one wears a derby hat anymore."

"Yes, madam. How did your husband wear his hair?"

"You'll take off the hat and see!"

The guy who restored the photo didn't find this joke particularly funny. I guess that's what makes comedy complicated!

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Family Portrait

Epstein Family Portrait
Originally uploaded by PhoebeJ.
This is a photo of my paternal grandparents and my aunt taken around 1905. I've begun fooling around with taking digital photos of the old family photos so that I can save them on the Internet. I had visions of scanning them into the computer, but taking photos of photos is easier. (This one needs to be flattened to improve the lower right corner, but over all I'm pleased with the results.)

My grandmother, Alexandra in the old country and Lena in America, came from Kotel Nich, a town in northern Russia along the Volga River. She was one of five daughters and one son in a town with only a handful of Jewish families. There weren't enough eligible bachelors for all of those girls so the choice was to move to Moscow or emigrate to America. I am eternally grateful to my great-grandfather for making the right decision! They came to America circa 1890.

My grandfather, one of 17 children (16 by the same mother!) came to America from Bialystok, Poland, around 1900. He and my grandmother were fixed up by a Singer sewing machine salesman who my grandfather knew in the old country.

When my grandparents married, one of my grandmother's sisters came to live with them. I don't think they were without some relative in residence for years. As each sister married, another single one came to live with them. Weddings were held in the warehouse where my grandfather, who was a candy wholesaler, stored his stock. My grandparents lived above the warehouse. My aunt told me that they covered the boxes with sheets, did some decorating, brought in tables and chairs and held the wedding. She remembered sitting on a fireplace mantle with her cousin Sylvia watching the wedding of one of her aunts. Great aunt Rachel married my grandfather's brother Sam giving us "double cousins".

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Country Life

Sphinx Moth II
Originally uploaded by PhoebeJ.
I had two days off in Connecticut. At long last the pool was in swimmable condition, and it was hot enough to make a dip enjoyable. The pool skimmer had lots of frogs, both dead and alive, in it. Mostly leopard frogs--small ones with spots.

Nature was making itself obvious. Tree frogs were singing all night. It was loud, a regular nocturnal chorus. And some critter, probably a raccoon tried to get on the birdfeeders. I heard something that sounded like water dripping on the squirrel baffle. I turned on the light, but the critter had disappeared. The feeders and the baffle were swaying slightly. In the morning I found the birdbath on its side on the ground. I'm glad I finally got a metal bath!

This photo is of a sphinx moth. Notice that its tail looks like the tail of a lobster. Gotta conserve those genes and not redesign everything! (Isn't evolution much more fascinating than creation "science"?) When these moths fly by they are often mistaken for hummingbirds even though they are somewhat smaller. As a result they are often called hummingbird moths. They like to sip nectar from flowers just like the hummers. Of course, the spicebush swallowtail butterflies also seemed to be devoted to the phlox too.

Nicholas enjoyed our stay. He spent a lot of time looking out the door or in the screen porch where he enjoyed the birds, the squirrels and the chipmunks.

Nick at the Door

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Bagel, Lox and Cream Cheese

Bagel & Lox
Originally uploaded by PhoebeJ.
This rather 50's-looking photo is a picture of tonight's dinner. I got home late from work and didn't feel like cooking. I had some great smoked salmon in the fridge and thought, "Why not have breakfast for dinner?" The glass contains seltzer, a staple of my diet. I added a few baby carrots and--Voila! Dinner.

For the curious, the bagel was an "everything" bagel. That is, one with salt, poppy seeds, sesame seeds, onions and garlic. It's a sort of end of the kitchen thing. And I like cracked pepper on my salmon, thank you. A square of very fancy dark chocolate and some cherries capped off the meal.

I'll probably repeat the bagel, lox and cream cheese thing tomorrow at breakfast. Life is good.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Flora and Fauna

Bougainvillea II
Originally uploaded by PhoebeJ.
Last week I spent a few days in Orange County, CA. The flora is totally different there than back East. Some of the fauna is as well although mourning doves and house finches, like the poor, are always with us. In fact, when I arrived in Mauritius in April, halfway around the world, the first bird that greeted me was the house sparrow.

Warmer climes favor bougainvillea. It's one of my favorites, and since it is absolutely absent in my part of the world, it's always a pleasure to see it when I travel. Laguna Beach also has the most abundant morning glories I've ever seen. They cover walls, fences and the ground and produce huge blue flowers. I find morning glories hard to start--gotta soak the seeds and only about half the ones that germinate ever take hold. Once started they can take off, but I've never gotten them to Orange County size. Of course, we have monumental trees here and far fewer wildfires. That's what makes traveling so much fun (aside from seeing the loved ones). New things to see, photograph and study.

New life birds on this trip--California quail and hooded oriole.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Sibling Rivalry

Patric in Sink
Originally uploaded by PhoebeJ.
I visited the bro' and his family in Laguna Beach, CA, this week and had a blast. But I kept feeling a little sorry for this fellow, Patric (no "k", please). He used to rule the roost from his post on the upstairs deck. But then this adorable, but rather energetic newcomer arrived.

Patric finds Charlie overbearing. He is. He's still young, a little wild and not as polite as he might be. He eats anything, runs amok and is easily excited. Patric now makes his home downstairs where the deck is off limits to him so he spends much of his time in the bathroom sink. Notice how he color coordinates with the tile.

Alas, Pat doesn't get as much attention as he used to because he's often downstairs when the family is upstairs. Well, he's still handsome and kissable. Perhaps he and Charlie will make their peace someday.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

A la recherche du temps perdu

Caught in the Act
Originally uploaded by PhoebeJ.

Today I saw something scrawled on the condensation on a window in midtown New York. It appeared to say "Dumas". This got me to thinking, not about The Count of Monte Cristo (a topic for another posting), but about things from my past that are sadly lost.

Dumas was the name of a bakery across Lexington Avenue from the house I grew up in. This was a genuine French bakery known especially for its fruit tarts. At Christmas demand was so great that they borrowed a double-decker bus belonging to a downtown French restaurant. Orders for people whose last names started with A to M were picked up inside the store while N to Z picked up theirs in the bus. We didn't buy much from Dumas since it was pricey, and there were plenty of other bakeries in our neighborhood at the time. But later the owners opened up a new branch in the upper 50's near Bloomingdale's, near to where I worked. There I learned the delights of noisettes chocolate. These wonderful cookies were chocolate meringue loaded with hazelnuts. They were wildly expensive ($6 a pound but it was 1974), but since the meringue was light, there were a lot of cookies in a pound. Boy, where these good! Alas, ultimately both branches of Dumas closed and the fruit tarts and the noisettes chocolate have been relegated to memory.

And as long as we are reminiscing about bakery items, I sorely miss the prune danishes from the Royale Bakery on West 72nd Street. It's hard to find a decent prune danish anywhere in New York these days. It's just another sign that the end of civilization is nigh!

And as for the photo, it has nothing to do with the post, but since I didn't have a shot of a hazelnut meringue, I thought I'd post this little ruby-throated hummingbird.

Friday, July 15, 2005


Originally uploaded by PhoebeJ.
It's high summer in Kent, CT, and the hollyhocks are in bloom. The bees are thrilled and so am I. Hollyhocks are considered "old-fashioned." There was a time when every home had hollyhocks by the door in summer as a sign of welcome. I like them because, aside from being beautiful, they are absolutely no work once they get established. They grow very tall, spread out and bloom for weeks. My kind of gardening.

The tomatoes are coming along. Just a few plants this year: plum tomatoes for red sauce and an heirloom for color and flavor. It seems such a long time between when the flowers blossom and the fruit is ripe. I'll just have to be patient. There are so many risks in the intervening weeks: bugs, animals, too much rain, too little rain. Oy. In September I hope to be making a lot of sauce. The freezer is empty in anticipation.

The yard was full of birds this week. Periodically a whole slew of house finches flew in chattering and singing. There are lots of immature birds. Some are old enough to feed themselves, although they still hang out in sort of a family group, but some are still fluttering their wings and chirping and demanding to be feed--mostly by their fathers. Good to know that in the bird world some dads contribute to child-rearing.

Also on the list of immatures: downy woodpeckers, rose-breasted grosbeaks, chipping sparrows and one hairy woodpecker. There are probably more immatures, but sometimes it's hard to know who's immature and who's not. Saw four kinds of woodpeckers out of a possible six: downy, hairy, red-bellied, flicker. I'd love to find that pileated again...but that's another entry.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Downy Woodpecker

I decided to start this blog because 1) I'm jealous of my sister-in-law who has a great blog (click here); and 2) I wanted a venue for my photos other than my flickr page. I think by showing them in this blog I'll be able to tell more about them than on flickr which is more of a list than a blog.

So here goes.

This photo is of a downy woodpecker taken on my "tail-prop" suet feeder. As you can see from the photo, the woodpecker props his tail on the wood using it like a third leg. When you see woodpeckers in a tree, they are often propped against the trunk in just this manner. Tail-prop feeders are very attractive to woodpeckers because they can feed in a more natural position. Of course, other birds can use this feeder, but most other birds perch on the suet cage and lean over to get the food.

I posted this photo on flickr with the heading "Downy Woodpecker" and immediately got people telling me that it is a hairy woodpecker. No way! Hairies look a lot like downies, but they are much larger and their bills are about as long as their heads are wide. This particular downy doesn't show many little feathers around his bill. (It is a "he" since you can see part of the red spot on the back of his head.) Perhaps the feathers are stuck to his face with suet, maybe he's a bit bald. But the lack of "down" on his face makes his bill look longer than normal thus the controvery. I've promised to measure the distance between the suet baskets to show that this guy is is closer to 6.5 inches rather than the 9.5 that is typical of a hairy

I may not be an expert, but I know my downies! I was pleased that a number of people who posted allowed as how I got the last vote since I was the one who saw the bird. But I didn't realize that I could start an internet controversy merely by posting a photo of a little bird! The joys of modern technology!