Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly


I photographed a Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio troilus) last night in the Nescopeck State Park. My family was doing a formal photographic portrait, photos to come later on the family blog, and in the garden near the ranger station, several swallowtails were feeding on nectar. This spicebush female is identified by the blue color in the tail, while males are a bit more green. The photograph captures their unique characteristic of fluttering while feeding. Most butterflies are still while drinking nectar.


The name Spicebush comes from one of the host plants associated with it. However, the swallowtail does lay eggs and feed on many members of the Lauraceae family. They are found only in eastern North America, from Florida to southern Ontario. The species does not make it to my home in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.


Queen Anne’s Lace 

I also captured this Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota), or Wild Carrot. This is the wild version of the domesticated carrot. Like its cousin, the root can be eaten, but only when young. The leaves can be eaten as well in small quantities. It is native to Europe and is naturalized here in North America. Several states have labeled it a noxious, invasive weed.


Appalachian Nature



An American White Water Lily in the rain. 


During breaks in my studies, I explored the state parks of the Poconos. The Poconos are one of the distinct geographical and cultural regions in the huge Appalachian mountain chain. The Poconos are located just north of the Lehigh Valley, where I am studying. The Appalachians were once as high as the Rockies, but being much older, they have eroded through time. They are still beautiful and formed quite a barrier for early American settlers to cross into the rest of the country. The Poconos are full of resorts and it is a popular tourist destination because of its proximity to the big population centers in New York and New Jersey. I am staying in the highest borough in Pennsylvania, Freeland, and although being close to Bethlehem, it has a very different feel.



An Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe) waits for us to leave Lake Francis parking lot. 


On a rainy Friday morning, I took the kids on a hike in the Nescopeck State Park. The state started buying properties in 1971 and today it is a nice little natural area, which in time will become even wilder. Without the state preserving land, the entire region would be private homes, as people have the desire to live in the country, surrounded by trees in 1-acre plots. In my opinion, I think people should live in towns, near one another so more land can be conserved as forest.


Wild Turkeys have been reintroduced to the park. 

No blog post on the northern Appalachian region would be complete without a photo of the Rosebay Rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum). It is the dominant plant of the central Appalachians. It forms a dense understory, inhibiting other plants from growing. Rosebay maintains its foliage year-round. It is a fascinating subject of study because scientists are unsure if it is retreating or spreading due to human interference. Due to less precipitation, it is dying out in elevated areas, but due to the lack of indigenous burning, it seems to be spreading into areas that it never colonized. When there is a lack of large trees, it forms a thick mass, and early settlers called them “Laurel Hells” or “Laurel Slicks” because it was so hard to go through. They are also known as the mountain laurel, but this is also the name of a similar species.


We also spotted lots of Red-spotted Newts (Notophthalmus viridescens) on the trails. Only adults were found on this trip. A couple of years ago we found the “red eft” juvenile stage specimens as well.


Getting to know the Appalachian region is stimulating in my a desire to hike the famous Appalachian trail someday…

Clouded Monitor


We spotted this clouded monitor lizard (Varanus nebulosus) on our hike yesterday. It was about 70 cm long and foraging for insects through the leaf litter on the side of the trail. I managed to snap a couple of photos with my iPhone before it slipped away through the forest and down the hill. They can grow up to 1.5 meters and are adept tree climbers. Earlier in the day we spotted the darker, Malaysian Water monitor lizard along side the reservoir while Oliver and I were kayaking.

Since my telephoto lens was scratched, I have not been posting much on my nature blog. I hope to get a new lens when I return to Japan in late January and do more nature blogging.


I photographed this beautiful Dwarf Poinciana (Caesalpinia pulcherrima) in the gardens of the Mac Ritchie Reservoir park. I love tropical garden plants and I remember the dwarf poinciana from my many years in Latin America. It goes by many names, like the Pride of Barbados where it is the national flower. It is native to the Caribbean islands and tropical Latin America. This legume looks like a miniature version of the Flamboyant or Royal Poinciana tree, but it is a distant relative.






Momoyama (Mountain Peach)


The latest fruit in season is known in Japanese as the Yamamomo (Myrica rubra) which is also known as the Japanese Bayberry. It is native to east Asia and has been cultivated for thousands of years alongside the Yangtze River in China. They are a common urban tree in Japan and we see the fallen fruit on the sidewalks and bike lanes throughout our neighborhood. We also see it in stores for sale. The fruit is sweet and tangy at the same time and reminds me of the “gooseberries” I used to eat as a child. These have one large seed in the middle. Yamamomo literally means in Japanese, yama – wild, mountain momo – peach. “Momo” is the best word I’ve heard for peach in any language.


Above is the tree hanging over the street in a house near the school. Nadia loves eating them and we are enjoying them while they are in season, during the hot, humid and rainy summer of Japan.


Smoke Trees


I have been seeing lots of these Eurasian smoke trees (Cotinus coggygria) in bloom this week in parks and gardens all over the city. The flower head looks like a cloud of smoke, hence the name. There are only two species in the Cotinus genus, this one and another that is native to the American southwest. The Eurasian species has a huge range, from southern Europe to northern China. It is a member of Anacardiaceae  the family of plants that includes the mango, poison ivy, sumac and cashew. I wonder if the smoke tree can elicit an allergic reaction like some other members of the family. It is a beautiful addition to any park.


An Eurasian smoke tree in bloom on the campus of Kwansei Gakuin




Our hydrangea is in full bloom this week in our patio garden. Hydrangeas are a common ornamental plant grown the world over. But their greatest diversity is in East Asia where many of the 70-75 species are originally from. I am seeing them all over the city. They are similar to the azaleias, another East Asian plant that is grown in gardens all over the world.

You can see the light blue flowers below. They are from another cultivar that we purchased in flower a couple of months ago, but they lost their color quite rapidly. The purple above we purchased last spring and this is their second bloom.



Hiking on Guam


I have not seen many birds in Guam so far so I was pleasantly surprised to photograph the Grey-tailed tattler (Tringa brevipes) upon reaching the beach at Sellas Bay. The tattler has a enormous migration route, breeding in northern siberia and spending the winter throughout south east Asia and the Pacific, including, obviously, Guam. It was on the rocks above tidal pools in the bay. Many of the native birds were wiped out due to the accidental introduction of the brown tree snake.


On the upper reaches of the trail near the highway, there were many Bamboo Orchids (Arundina graminifolia) in bloom. The flower is classic orchid, but it was long, thin, weedy growth habit, which is unusual for orchids.


A pandanus tree in front of a casuarina tree. 

Guam is 13 degrees north of the equator and has a typical tropical climate. The two most common trees on the hike were a Pandanus species and Casuarina trees. My daughter Ocean noticed that the pandanus fruit looks like a pineapple, as she exclaimed, “look at the pineapple tree!” It is a very distinctive tree with its aerial prop roots, large fruit and palm-like leaves, although they are not related to palms.