Macro Petals and Leaf

The last hurrah of some flowers I bought over the holiday was after it was spent – just before the stems and petals and greenery went to the compost bin. I experimented with my macro lens clipped to my cell phone – particularly the 60x one.

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After some trial and error, I discovered that putting the specimen (a petal or a leaf) on a window provided good backlight and I could easily stabilize the lens too. I zoomed a little – just enough to take away the vignetting around the edges.

The petals looked almost white to the eye, but subtle colors of the veins and cell walls came out at the higher magnification. The petals were desiccated and fragile. Some cracked as I held them. Fortunately, there were plenty more to try. 

In general, I like the lower magnification macro (15x) better than this lens…but the 60x was great for this project.

Icy Trees

Last week, we had some icy weather. It caused schools to close or start late. I was glad I could just stay at home and enjoy the scene through my office window. The zoom on my camera allowed me to get some pictures of the ice coating the vegetation. Many times, it looks like water droplets simply froze before they could fall to the ground. The sycamore had one last-season leaf catching the icy bits. The ice on the stems was coating the buds that looked enlarged…maybe getting ready for spring.

The remnants of a seed head from last summer collected flatter panes of ice.

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The evergreen bushes are sometimes damaged by the ice because their leaves hold so much of it. It seems that ours all came through the ordeal without any breakage.

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The Thundercloud Plum tree is showing its color even in the winter. Once the ice is gone, I’ll have to check to see if there are any split branches; the tree has had problems in previous ice storms. This time we were fortunate that it was relatively calm; ice followed by wind is what causes most breakage.

The next day I noticed that the icicles on the sycamore were quite a bit longer.

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 The red maple had very red buds. Hopefully the ice protected them rather than destroying.

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The shelf fungus on a tulip poplar back in the forest supported a mini ice flow

The trees that had the hardest time were the pines. Each needle became encased in ice. It remined me of art glass. The pines in our neighbors’ yards survived without breakage but I noticed as I drove to my errands the next day that there were some pines that did not fare as well. There were some significant branches that were ripped from trees along my route. Fortunately, there were enough people that had been out before me and all the branches were moved off the roadway.

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Loiseleur-Deslongchamps and Pancrace Bessa’s 8 volumes of Botanical Prints

Hathi Trust has the 8 volumes of Herbier général de l'amateur published between 1816 and 1827 at this link. The text is in French but the illustrations (Bessa’s work) are the draw even if you read French. This is a colorful way to spend a few winter hours. I’ve made a slide show of some sample images from each volume.

The main author has a very short entry in Wikipedia; he was evidently a physician and botanist. He lived from 1774 to 1849 when there was a lot of botanical discovery and popularization going on. I was surprised that these volumes were not listed in the ‘selected works’ section of the Wikipedia entry. They were mentioned in the entry for Bessa and an article about a 2008 exhibition at the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation. The artist is better known than the author!

Another oddity – on the title page it references Mordant de Launay as ‘first author.’ I found a web page from a rare book seller that explained: The first 11 parts of volume 1 were by Mordant de Launay and the rest were the work of Loiseleur-Deslongchamps.  The book seller lists the 8 volumes for $16,250. What a value the institutions that are scanning and making the volumes available provide for us to enjoy online – with no worries of damaging a fragile book!

Botanical Prints to ‘Color’

In January one of the botanical print books, turned out to be suitable as a coloring book. It was volume 3 of A Flora of North America by William P.C. Barton published in 1828 and available from the Internet Archive here. Below are my 4 favorites from the book. The title page of the book says that it has ‘coloured pictures drawn from nature’ so I suspect that some editions of the book was not like this one that was scanned. I like that this one lends itself to printing and coloring to create your own version of a botanical print.

According to Wikipedia, the author was born to an influential family in Philadelphia (father a lawyer, uncle a medical botanist). He became a doctor and had a Navy career as a surgeon then as commanding officer for hospitals. In 1815 upon his uncle’s death, he became professor of botany at the University of Pennsylvania…teaching medical botany.

eBotanical Prints – January 2019

Twenty-three more books found last month and added to the collection. The new ones are listed below the sample images and the complete list can be found here. The January books were found on both Internet Archive and Hathi Trust sites…all freely available to peruse online. I’ve picked a couple to highlight in subsequent blog posts.

A flora of North America : illustrated by coloured figures, drawn from nature (volume 2) * Barton, William Paul Crillon * sample image * 1821

A flora of North America : illustrated by coloured figures, drawn from nature (volume 3) * Barton, William Paul Crillon * sample image * 1821

Vegetable materia medica of the United States * Barton, William Paul Crillon; Boyd, John; Waenicke, John G. * sample image * 1818

Herbier général de l'amateur, contenant la description, l'histoire, les propriétés et la culture des végétaux utiles et agréables 1816 (1) * Loiseleur-Deslongchamps, M. * sample image * 1816

Herbier général de l'amateur, contenant la description, l'histoire, les propriétés et la culture des végétaux utiles et agréables 1817 (2) * Loiseleur-Deslongchamps, M. * sample image * 1817

Herbier général de l'amateur, contenant la description, l'histoire, les propriétés et la culture des végétaux utiles et agréables 1819 (3) * Loiseleur-Deslongchamps, M. * sample image * 1819

Herbier général de l'amateur, contenant la description, l'histoire, les propriétés et la culture des végétaux utiles et agréables 1820 (4) * Loiseleur-Deslongchamps, M. * sample image * 1820

Herbier général de l'amateur, contenant la description, l'histoire, les propriétés et la culture des végétaux utiles et agréables 1821 (5) * Loiseleur-Deslongchamps, M. * sample image * 1821

Herbier général de l'amateur, contenant la description, l'histoire, les propriétés et la culture des végétaux utiles et agréables 1822 (6) * Loiseleur-Deslongchamps, M. * sample image * 1822

Herbier général de l'amateur, contenant la description, l'histoire, les propriétés et la culture des végétaux utiles et agréables 1824 (7) * Loiseleur-Deslongchamps, M. * sample image * 1824

Herbier général de l'amateur, contenant la description, l'histoire, les propriétés et la culture des végétaux utiles et agréables 1827 (8) * Loiseleur-Deslongchamps, M. * sample image * 1827

Voyage autour du monde execute pendant les annees 1836 et 1837 sur la corvette la Bonite - Atlas * Alleizette, Charles d' et al * sample image * 1840

Illustrierte Flora von Mittel-Europa V1 * Hegi, Gustav * sample image * 1907

Illustrierte Flora von Mittel-Europa V2 * Hegi, Gustav * sample image * 1907

Illustrierte Flora von Mittel-Europa V3 * Hegi, Gustav * sample image * 1907

Illustrierte Flora von Mittel-Europa V4 pt1 * Hegi, Gustav * sample image * 1907

Illustrierte Flora von Mittel-Europa V4 pt2 * Hegi, Gustav * sample image * 1907

Illustrierte Flora von Mittel-Europa V4 pt3 * Hegi, Gustav * sample image * 1907

Illustrierte Flora von Mittel-Europa V5 pt1 * Hegi, Gustav * sample image * 1907

Illustrierte Flora von Mittel-Europa V5 pt2 * Hegi, Gustav * sample image * 1907

Illustrierte Flora von Mittel-Europa V5 pt3 * Hegi, Gustav * sample image * 1907

Illustrierte Flora von Mittel-Europa V5 pt4 * Hegi, Gustav * sample image * 1907

Illustrierte Flora von Mittel-Europa V6 pt1 * Hegi, Gustav * sample image * 1907

Birding Near Titusville

After the long field trip to Central Florida, the next day we had a shorter one to hot spots around Titusville. It felt a lot easier getting to a 6:30 AM bus than the 5 AM bus the previous day. The first stop was Hatbill Park…just as the sun was coming up.

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The Grackles were the first birds we noticed…because they were noisily welcoming the day.

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As the light got better there were other birds to notice: a Little Blue Heron fishing in the shallows.

A Red-shouldered Hawk almost too far away to photograph but showing its very distinctive tail as it flew away.

There was an Eastern Phoebe and

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Savannah Sparrow to represent smaller birds.

Some Brown Pelicans flew over the lake.

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We headed off to or next stop – a walk back into the woods. There were very large Live Oaks with Spanish moss, resurrection fern, and ghost orchids and

Quite a few American Robins. Some robins stick around in Maryland but some push southward and accumulate in Florida.

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There was a Red-Bellied Woodpecker that showed himself at just about every angle. They do have a little red on their bellies!

Florida has red maples just as we do in Maryland although the ones in Florida had formed their samaras months in advance of our trees.

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Ball Moss – a relative of Spanish moss (both Bromeliads rather than mosses) – was growing in some of the trees. It looks tidy rather than raggedy like the Spanish Moss.

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The Sabal Palmettos had ferns growing in their boots (the stubs of branches along the trunk). One of the other field trip participants identified it as a gold foot fern.

An Eastern Phoebe sat around long enough to be photographed here too.

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One stop was a neighborhood pond that has a population of resident Black-Bellied Whistling Ducks. They were noisy. Hopefully they quiet down at dusk.

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There were White Ibis in the pond as well. They seemed even more acclimated to people.

The next stop was a neighborhood park where there was a resident pair of Sandhill Cranes.

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Then we headed off to Dixie Crossroads (restaurant) for lunch. I took a picture of the mural as I came out of the restaurant – it featured a lot of the birds we had been seeing.

The post tomorrow will be about what we saw after lunch.

Whopping Crane and the rest from a Central Florida Field Trip

Continuing the third day of the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival….this is the last post about our field trip into Central Florida. The high point of the day was seeing a Whooping Crane. This is one that started out life at the Patuxent National Wildlife Refuge (program now ended) and doesn’t migrate. It generally stays on a cattle ranch and enjoys cattle feed! We stopped at the ranch’s entrance, so the pictures are a little blurry with the max zoom required to take the picture.  There were some sandhill cranes around as well and it was obvious this bird was different – bigger and very white. Our guides told us that the dwindling numbers of whooping cranes in Florida will be captured and relocated to join a non-migrating group in Louisiana.

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Even though it was chilly while we were in Florida, it was still much warmer than in Maryland. There were flowers blooming and going to seed.

The deciduous trees had lost their leaves. The guides pointed out bald cypress domes…the tallest and oldest trees being in the center.

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I was pleasantly surprised by the paint job in the rest room of the place we stopped for our picnic lunch. Very artfully done!

A cow escaped the pasture and was in tall grass heaven near one lake. Fortunately, the grass held the cow’s attention and it didn’t wonder up into the picnic area.

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We stopped when we spotted a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher on a fence post. It moved to the fence wire and I got another angle.

We were just getting ready to retreat to the bus when a Crested Caracara flew in with some prey followed by an entourage of Turkey Vultures. The big lenses and binoculars were trained on the caracara trying to figure out what the prey was. Maybe a snake.

They stayed around long enough for me to take a portraits. The crest of the caracara reminds me of a bad toupee.

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The vultures kept a respectful distance but would move in as soon as the caracara left.

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We made a last stop before the end of the day at the Helen and Allan Cruikshank Sanctuary where we had spent a very rainy morning a few days before. This time we saw an Osprey before the scrub jays.

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But the Florida Scrub Jays showed up soon enough. One alighted on the hand of one of our guides – probably thinking there would be a peanut for it…no peanut appeared.

Another bird stomped on the hat of our other guide. The bird obligingly turned around for him to get a selfie. That was the last event of the day. Note that all the jays we saw were banded…sometimes multiple times.

Our day in the field (5AM to 4PM) was probably the best of the festival…so much seen in a relatively short period of time!

Three Kinds of Woodpeckers

The third day of the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival got off to an early start – on a bus at 5 AM heading to the rural area in central Florida for a day of birding (about 50 miles south of Orland). We arrived at our first stop in Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area just before sunrise and hiked into the longleaf pine forest.

Our guides took us off the trail and through the palmettos and other vegetation growing between the pines – and pointed out the woodpecker holes in the pines. We stood and watched the holes.

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Sure enough just as the day brightened a little – a red-cockaded woodpecker appeared in one of the longleaf pines (the only tree they use for nesting).

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The bird flew out to neighboring pines in search of breakfast. I never saw a red-cockade…but read that they are difficult to see in the field.

The long leaf pines are not as numerous as they once were. They don’t grow in dense stands so are not as commercially viable as other pines in the south. But they are a boon to wildlife and are resistant to wildfire.

As we walked back toward the bus we saw a brown-headed nuthatch – another bird of the longleaf pine forest (which I didn’t manage to get a picture of) and our second woodpecker of the day. I saw the typical holes first – the work of a yellow-bellied sapsucker.

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Soon we saw the birds themselves. They too were after breakfast.

Further down the country road we stopped at a stand of trees with some snags…and saw red-headed woodpeckers almost immediately. A lot of woodpeckers have red on their heads – but the name is reserved for this one. The head is red all over!

What a thrill to see three kinds of woodpeckers in one day of birding!

Feathers and Shells at the Beach

It was so rainy during our time in Florida for the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival that we only got to the beach twice and we were time limited because both were with a field trip group. I took pictures of birds but also feathers and shells. Most of the feathers were bedraggled because of the rain even though some were probably relatively fresh.

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White was the most common color. I like the windswept curves.

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Sometimes the shadow caught my eye and the relative difference between the end feather versus the part closest to the bird’s body that is more down-like.

This feather looked to be in good condition. I wondered if the thinner part of the feather was from wear.

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This feather was almost buried in the sand. How long does it take for a feather to decompose?

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What an odd feather! The strands of white were very long.

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The swirls of strands and fluffiness of the down…a dance of filaments.

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In one area that has been roped off for a bit there were a lot of shells…and a bit of sea weed. In other places, the shells were not as numerous because so many people pick up shells.

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Most of the shells are broken or polished by the tumbling in the sea.

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Some are almost buried in the sand. I didn’t pick up any shells on this trip. Maybe I will next time.

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Florida Scrub Jays at Cruickshank Sanctuary

The second morning of the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival, it was raining when we got up. When we headed out at about 8 AM, it was thunderstorming …complete with nearby lightning. By the time we arrived at the Helen and Allan Cruikshank Sanctuary, there were puddles everywhere but was the lightning was gone and the rain was slowing. We headed out walking around the larger mud puddles.

The sanctuary is managed to stay scrub – which requires periodic burning. There are occasional live oaks, but most vegetation is low…and the Florida scrub jays love it.

They were everywhere and acclimated to people being around. Even with the light rain and thick clouds, I managed to take some pictures. The blue color changes in different light but I discovered that once I zoomed in enough, the birds were colorful even in the low light (from afar they looked like dark gray birds!). The birds bury acorns in sand and remember where buried food is better than squirrels. It was obvious that people had left peanuts for the jays because we saw a bird dig up a peanut still in its shell!

The sanctuary is an island surrounded by housing development…and the invasive Brazilian pepper is growing among the native vegetation. I learned that some people have skin sensitivity to the plant – like poison ivy.

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There were mounds of lichen on the ground. It looked like reindeer moss (maybe the same genus: Cladonia). I went back to take a close up picture with my smart phone and macro lens….even though the next line of rain was coming through and the hiking group was dispersing a bit early.

Road Trip to Florida

Last week we drove down to Florida for the annual Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival in Titusville. I’ll be posting about the trip for the next week or so…but today the post is focused on the drive itself. We left the house at 5:30 AM to beat the worst of the commuter traffic around Washington DC. Venus and Jupiter were visible in the darkness to the east. We made a very cold rest stop at 6:30 AM south of DC and on I95…the interstate we would take all the way to Florida. The temperature was in the low teens. Leaving early had achieved its purpose; no stop and go or slow traffic! We listened to Planetary Society podcasts that my husband had on his phone.

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It was getting light by our next rest stop at about 7:30 still in Virginia. It was a newer rest stop with a compass in the entry floor, an area to charge/use laptops (we never spend that much time at a rest stop), and a toddler toilet (I’ve only seen these in the newer Virginia rest stops….what a wonderful feature for young families).

We took I295 around Richmond and stopped at a McDonalds for a second breakfast. The sun was shining in our eyes. Turkey vultures were soaring. By 9:40 AM we were in North Carolina. I remembered the rest stop from a previous trip: red tile strips and glass brick.

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There was a bird’s nest in the tree just outside the building – easy to see in the winter.

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The next stop was a large truck stop in Kenly, North Carolina- with a large tile mosaic in the entry.

We stopped for lunch at Arby’s in Lumberton, North Carolina that did not take long and then were back on the road – crossing into South Carolina and seeing a Honda plant with its own exit from the highway and water tower.

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The next rest stop did not have any structural distinction, but I did notice a large river birch in the picnic area.

I saw a hawk fly low across the road in front of us and began to see black vultures along with turkey vultures. Our last rest stop for the day had green tile and a skylight in the facilities. The picnic area had sabal palmettos – matching the South Carolina license plates.

We stopped for the night in Savannah – just off I95.

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We didn’t start out as early the next morning. It was already beginning to get light. We made a stop, still in Georgia, where the roses were blooming.

As we drove into Florida a line of clouds moved in.

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I took pictures of the Dames Point Bridge going around Jacksonville (some morning commuter traffic).

At the next rest stop there was a pond with a fence around it (with signs warning of snakes)…but I braved the short walk up to the fence (didn’t see any snakes). I took pictures of the birds around the pond…the first for the trip: hooded mergansers,

White Ibis (mature and juvenile), and

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Not bad birding at a rest stop along I95.

We arrived at the registration desk for the festival a little after 11.

Ten Little Celebrations – January 2019

As usual – it is easy for me to find little celebrations every day…and here are the top 10 for January 2019.

Getting rid of ‘stuff’ – My husband and I celebrated taking two loads of ‘stuff’ to the landfill (trash and recycling) and donation. I feel like we are finally making progress in getting rid of things we no longer need. We managed to fix 4 floor lamps that we thought were broken…just before we were set to take them to the landfill.

Wedding anniversary – My husband and I usually have a quiet celebration when our wedding anniversary comes around just after Christmas and the beginning of the year. We’re always pleased with ourselves for becoming long-time marrieds….but realize that it has been easier for us than it is for so many others.

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A morning hike at Mt. Pleasant – It was muddy but otherwise an excellent day for a winter hike. I enjoyed getting outdoors.

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New hiking boots – I celebrated getting new hiking boots. The lining of my 4-year-old boots was tearing. I bought the same brand (Merrell) but waterproof and a little wider to leave more room for bunions and thick socks.

No cavities – I went to the dentist for a checkup and celebrated ‘no cavities’ or anything else that required follow-up! It’s been that way for the past few appointments…and I’m glad my teeth seem to be OK and stable.

Anticipating Zentangle class – I registered for a Zentangle class scheduled for late March and started working through the pre-work….what a joy and worth celebrating both the tiles I am creating now and the anticipation of a great experience in the class.

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Walking in snow at Belmont – I celebrated the beauty of snow on the landscape….and that my boots didn’t leak!

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Witch hazel blooming – What a thrill to find the burst of color in the browns, dark greens, and whites of a winter day! I like that the petals are like little streams as well…. appropriate for a celebration.

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Peppermint snow ice cream – Yum! Yes, I was very cold after I ate it but is was well worth it…celebration-worthy food!

Macro photograph collection – I celebrated the macro photographs I’d made over the past year or so as I prepared charts for a presentation. I have enjoyed the clip on macro lens more than any other photography accessory!

Gleanings of the Week Ending January 26, 2019

The items below were ‘the cream’ of the articles and websites I found this past week. Click on the light green text to look at the article.

Learning Rule: Quantity, then Quality | Scott H Young – Quantity as an initial strategy is probably what I do most of the time….but I throw in a healthy dash of variety of mediums as I go after quantity. And I push myself to actively apply while I am learning all along the way.

Serious loneliness spans the adult lifespan but there is a silver lining: Feeling alone linked to psychological and physical ills, but wisdom may be a protective factor -- ScienceDaily – Most of the time we hear only about the negative impacts of loneliness (the emotion….not necessarily the physical situation). But there are many people physically alone but who don’t feel lonely. This study had a broad age rage of participants and looked at loneliness from multiple perspectives.

Aerial photos of U.S. national parks from space – National treasures…hope that the damage during the government shutdown is not widespread. Joshua Tree has been in the news….very sad.

Nutrients in blood linked to better brain connectivity, cognition in older adults -- ScienceDaily – Reinforcement that we need to eat foods with omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, carotenoids, lycopene, riboflavin, folate, vitamin B12 and vitamin D. The fatty acids and carotenoids are particularly linked to better functional brain network efficiency.

The Biggest Science News of 2018 | The Scientist Magazine®  - Just catching up on some end-of-2018 interesting posts. I had heard about some of these during the year – but missed some too.

The immune system's fountain of youth: Helping the immune system clear away old cells in aging mice helped restore youthful characteristics -- ScienceDaily -Early days…a lot more research needed. But an interesting idea…helping the body clear out old cells.

There’s a huge and hidden migration in North America — of dragonflies - The Washington Post – It appears that dragonflies migrate. The Monarch is the ‘poster insect’ for migration but it seems like there are more and more articles coming out about other insects that migrate too.

Meeting the Challenge of Feeding 10 Billion People Sustainably in 2050 - News | Planetizen – Land and water to grow food for an expanding population. It’s going to be challenging.

I Dug a Green Grave and Learned the Truth About the Dirty Death Industry – There is a Green Death Movement…and an example is in the Adirondacks called Spirit Sanctuary. In this case the goal is to return bodies to the Earth and preserve a landscape. Interesting…and far more sustainable that the more common burial practices (that include preservatives and waterproof vaults, sealed caskets) and cremation.

The Surprising Evolution of 'The Great Wave of Kanagawa' by Hokusai – A little art history.

Twigs and Witch Hazel

I have been looking more closely at twigs of trees recently and trying out simple dichotomous keys. As an example: here is one I looked at during a class on winter tree identification. Looking at the full branch – it was obvious that the leaf scars were opposite. Next, we needed to look at the leaf scars in more detail. There were hand lenses for everyone but I used my 15x lens clipped to my phone so I could share what I was seeing. The leaf scar was D shaped and had three bundles. And the new growth was red. We had to break the twig to smell it…its didn’t smell rank, so it was a RED MAPLE.

It turns out that multiples buds at the twig tip is indicative of maples and oaks…and that maples are opposite, and oaks are alternate. So – it’s possible to take a picture looking up into a tree and make a tentative identification. For example – this was a picture I took in my neighborhood with alternate branching and multiple buds at the end of the twigs – an OAK.  I had been using the relative height of the trees in my neighborhood (oaks are taller) but this identification is better and maybe easier too for the street trees planted by the builder 25-30 years ago – oaks and maples.

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I couldn’t resist taking a picture of the crumpled bark on the red maple twig. I wonder if they smooth out as the twig grows when the weather warms?

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On a more colorful note: be on the look out for witch hazels. Some bloom in the fall but others bloom now. There is one at Howard Country Conservancy’s Mt. Pleasant location that I am watching. Hopefully bitterly cold weather will not damage the flowers that are beginning to unfurl.

Smartphone Nature Photography – part 2

Continuing from yesterday’s post….

Identification. Sometimes I take a lot of photos so I can identify something later. This was the case with these caterpillars. They were devouring dogwood plants at Brookside Gardens last summer. They remind me of lemon bars (yellow custard underneath powdered sugar). I defaulted to thinking they were a moth or butterfly larvae…but they turned out to be a dogwood sawfly larvae!

Stories. Some pictures tell a story. If you are aware at the time…make sure you take the pictures of the whole story. This Achemon Sphinx Moth was discovered by summer campers going out between rain showers during a nature photography activity. Moths are more active at night and usually are hiding in foliage during the day. This one was on the ground and twitching. I knew from experience in the Brookside Gardens Wings of Fancy exhibit that it had probably been bitten by a spider. We took our pictures and left it where it was. I regret that I was too busy helping campers to keep my camera at the ready to shoot the moth being pulled between two rocks – presumably by the spider that never did make itself visible.

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Insects. Insects can be very fast moving and difficult to photograph no matter what camera you have. They often are slow or immobile when it is cooler. Cool mornings are good to find cicadas – silent and still…but maybe not dead. Butterflies can be under leaves roosting if it’s cool…or it is dusk and they are seeking a place to spend the night. Then there are masses of milkweed bugs that are prevalent in the fall. They are moving but there are so many that it’s easy enough to get a good number; I always try to figure out how many instars are shown in the same picture.

And sometimes it is just luck. This blue morpho sat on my wrist while I was at the exit of last summer’s butterfly exhibit at Brookside Gardens. I had my phone on the lanyard so was able to pull it out and one-hand the phone to take the picture.

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Specimens. There are nature photography shots that might be of specimens rather than out in the field. The shot of the blue morpho wing was from a specimen that had died using the 15x macro lens. I’ll try the 60x next summer. I included the label in the picture of the dogwood tree cookie…for documentation; I liked the irregularity of the rings.

Wet day color. Sometimes a rainy-day hike is a good thing. The color of fungus is often more intense on these days – and the phone handles the raindrops better than more traditional cameras.

Light. Sometimes an image is made by something special about the light – spotlighted ferns, the shadowing of a sectioned Nautilus shell, a sunrise.

Clipping. Because the camera only has a digital zoom, I often take the picture without zooming then make a clip after I get home. In the example below – the two butterflies (tiger swallowtail and male monarch) are clearly identifiable even though the clip has a painterly look.

So – go out and take some pictures! The only blooms we have outdoors right now are the witch hazels. There are other winter opportunities too: tracks in the snow (or mud), seed pods, snow landscapes, and ice crystals. And maybe a squirrel will be close enough and still enough….

Smartphone Nature Photography – part 1

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We almost always have our smartphones with us….ready for those natural events that just happen and for planned photoshoots. I pulled together a presentation of a Maryland Master Naturalist retreat on the topic and am using it as a basis for the blog posts for today and tomorrow.

Gear

Learn about the camera in your phone. Two critical aspects: 1) Usually the autofocus is reasonably good but tapping on the screen where you want the focus to be can sometimes improve results. Do some experiments to see how close you can be and maintain the focus on your subject. 2) Realize that the zoom is digital – not optical. You are better off getting close to your subject rather than zooming. This is difficult if your subject is an animal that will move if you get close. Birds are notoriously difficult to photograph with a phone.

Consider a lanyard. I like to carry my phone on a lanyard (one that is structured to not obstruct the camera) so that I can be ‘hands free’ while I am hiking or rolling over logs…just doing regular naturalist things.  I want my phone to be easy to access – easier than getting it out of a pocket or pack.

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I enjoy using macro lenses. I have 3 different kinds (8x, 15x, and 60x) and tend to use the 15x clip the most. Sometimes I just have it on my phone so that I can move it over the camera as needed. The depth of field is very shallow with the magnification and the phone must be close to the subject. Practice the best stance to steady your hands. I find that tucking my elbows into my body helps….and using one had to hold the phone and the other to take the picture.

Examples of Smartphone nature photography

BioBlitz. Almost all the BioBlitz pictures are taken with smartphones or tablets. Sometimes we use hands for scale – and sometimes the macro lens gives a new perspective! These are pictures taken during BiobBlitz: spotted salamander, wooly bear caterpillar, milkweed.

Landscapes.  The joy of being outdoors! Try to get something of high interest in the landscape: the trail as a leading line, clouds over the trees, an early winter scene with bare trees/large rock/pines.

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Macro. The macro lens offers to many opportunities to observe more closely than you can observe with just your eye: clams filter feeding, the center of sunflower.

A chicory flower, a newly hatched Monarch butterfly caterpillar turning to eat its egg covering, and damselfly larvae.

A few minutes observing. I play a game with myself looking closely at one thing and taking photos as fast as I can over a short period of time. In this case it was a sweet bay magnolia. There were seed pods at several stages of development and some eggs under a leaf (maybe a leaf footed bug…if I was patient enough I could see what hatched but that was outside my time box).

(To be continued tomorrow…)

Winter Tree Identification – Part 2

Continuing from yesterday -

Seeds that help with identification include tulip poplar (the pods stay on the trees releasing the seeds during the winter breezes to clog up any nearby gutters!),

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Osage orange (that fall to the ground and are only moved around my people these days…they were planted for fence rows after the dust bowl because they are hardy, and the seed balls are easily broken apart and planted),

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Sweet gum (the spikey seeds are a hazard in suburban yards and drive ways), and

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Black walnuts (there are always nuts under the tree but the squirrels may carry then a little further away so look at the shape of the tree too).

Of course – there are trees that are not as easy to identify. That’s why I carry a small book – Winter Tree Finder – when I am hiking in the winter and looking at trees. I found mine at a used book sale, but they are available new from Amazon as well.

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Winter Tree Identification – Part 1

Leaves are an easy first step to identifying a tree…but not in the winter. Other identifying characteristics come to the fore. I’ve collected up some photos from the past few winters and will show the ones I find easy to identify even in the winter. Do you recognize the white barked trees that grow near rivers and have round seeds that often stay on the tree during the winter?

The sycamores are common in our area and are easier to spot in the winter than in the summer when their big leaves sometimes hide the whiteness of their branches.

They are only one of the trees that have distinctive bark. Others are spicebush (it can be a bush or understory tree) and beech below. They both have relative smooth bark. The spicebush is speckled with light colored lenticels.

Both the sycamore and river birch have peeling bark.

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Sometime thorns can be an identifying characteristic – like with the honey locust.

The bald cypress is the only conifer I’m including in this post since it sheds its needles for the winter. It is easy to recognize by its shape and the presence of knees…and that it likes wet areas.

The dogwoods have distinctive buds. Sometimes they are described as onion-shaped. They look more like slightly flattened Hershey’s kisses to me!

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Belmont in January 2019

Last week, I attended a lecture for Howard County Conservancy volunteers at the Belmont Carriage House – arriving early to walk around a bit before the lecture. There was still quite a lot of snow on the ground.

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I stayed on the cleared roads until I made the trek up to the old cemetery.

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The old tulip poplar looks even more ancient in the winter with all the hollows and bark injuries more clearly visible. It had a lot of seed pods from last season just as the younger trees do.

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One of the people I was hiking with pointed out an ash tree on the Patapsco Valley State Park side of the cemetery that had evidence of emerald ash borer (the lighter color on the bark). This tree will have to be cut down before it falls on the cemetery taking down fences and stones.

On a positive note – the hemlocks in the cemetery seem to be thriving. A few years ago they were infested with wooly adelgid but they were treated and it seems have saved them.

The wind must have ‘pruned’ the holly in the cemetery. A branch was draped from one of the headstones – no footprints in the snow around the headstone.

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There were lots of deer tracks in the snow as we walked up to the cemetery and back. We didn’t see any rabbit tracks. Maybe a coyote?

We circled back along the row of white pines. The snow stands out even on a very cloudy day.

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It was time to head back. I stopped near the mailboxes to take a picture of the pond with the bald cypress standing just to the left of it. It does have a classic cypress shape but if I wasn’t familiar with the tree, I’d have to hike down to the pond and see the cypress knees that surround it for a definitive identification.

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Gleanings of the Week Ending January 19, 2019

The items below were ‘the cream’ of the articles and websites I found this past week. Click on the light green text to look at the article.

After More Than 4,000 Years, Vibrant Egyptian Tomb Sees the Light of Day: NPR – Hopefully they will take steps to keep the colors vibrant now that the tomb is open to people and light.

The Bizarre and Disturbing Life of Sea Cucumbers – Cool Green Science – Way more complicated than they appear at first glance.

Norway's Energy-Positive Movement to Fight Climate Change - The Atlantic – Norway has some buildings that generate more energy than they use.

Life Deep Underground Is Twice the Volume of the Oceans: Study | The Scientist Magazine® - That’s a massive among of carbon in life that we know very little about….so many unexpected and unusual organisms.

Foods that lower blood pressure | Berkeley Wellness – And the list even includes dark chocolate!

Rising Waters Are Drowning Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor – This article includes time phased projections from 2018 to 2100…lots of track is going to need to be moved – or some other flood mitigation will need to be built.

Google Virtual Tour Preserves Collections Destroyed in Brazil Museum Fire | Smart News | Smithsonian – Some heartening recovery from the tragedy of the fire…Google’s virtual tour work, 1,500 pieces recovered from the debris, and a growing collection of photographs and video clips of the museum the way it was.

Soggy 2018 for the Eastern U.S. – An article from mid-December…showing just how wet we were in 2018. We live between Baltimore and Washington DC….soggy indeed.

New houseplant can clean your home's air -- ScienceDaily – Our houses have become so tightly sealed that concentrations of chemicals that are hard to filter out can accumulate. Maybe ‘engineered’ plants can be a solution.

Periodic graphics: How different light bulbs work – The trend is toward less cost/hour….more hours. Hurray for the LEDs that are not as blue as the compact fluorescents!