Birding through a Window – March 2019

The birds seem to be moving faster this month – harder to photograph. There are a lot more robins about. Some seem to be looking around for nesting places and others are just passing through.

Flocks of red-winged blackbirds fly through this time of year too. I took some pictures of a flock of birds high up in the tulip poplar trees behind our house one afternoon and discovered there were two types of birds in the group: red-winged blackbirds (black eyes) and rusty blackbirds with yellow rimmed eyes.

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The titmice were too fast for me this month – but I managed to get a picture of a Carolina chickadee.

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A mourning dove preened on the deck railing.

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The most startling ‘birding through the window’ event of the month was a mourning dove that bashed itself against my office window. It left some small (about 1/4 inch) down feathers behind on the window.

The bird apparently recovered quickly because it managed to fly to a neighbor’s roof – sat for a few minutes (recovering) – and then flew on as if nothing had happened.

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There was a similar incident a few years ago with a cardinal. I’m glad it doesn’t happen very often.

Tree Bud Project – Week 2

It’s Friday – so I am doing an update on the tree branches I brought inside a week ago. See the previous post here. All of them seem to be surviving in the vase of water. I’ve freshened the water every few days. All the pictures are with the 15x macro clip-on lens and my smartphone.

The cherry buds have opened into small white flowers! At first the buds just looked bigger.

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Two days later, the white tips showed beyond the green of the outer covering.

And the next morning the flowers were open! I took a picture of the back and front of the flowers.

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The plum is slower. Some of the buds have not changed at all and I am wondering if they were damaged by cold temperatures. Some look like they are larger. I hope they eventually will open.

The red maple has bloomed and is now drooping. They are wind fertilized…so won’t make seeds in the ‘windless’ house. At first, they looked very red – like little streamers from the bud.

Then the bigger structure grew.

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And now they seem to be drying out.

The tulip poplar has been changing a lot too. At first more buds opened.

Two days later all the buds were larger, and a tiny leaf had emerged from one of them.

Over the next few days other tiny leaves emerged and began to get larger. I noticed the tiny leaves while they were still folded inside the bud too. The bark of the twig seems to be a deeper color too.

I haven’t noticed any changes in the black walnut branch. If the buds do open it should be spectacular with so many buds on the tip of the branch.

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The sycamore buds haven’t changed much either although they seem to be a little larger and their color has shifted to green with some red overtones.

Stay tuned to next Friday for the next tree bud report!

Daffodils and Crocus

Our miniature daffodils are blooming. My mother-in-law bought the bulbs about 30 years ago and planted them in the garden of our previous house. I dug them up and planted them in the front flowerbed of our current house about 25 years ago. I’ve divided them several times. I like them because they are small and hardy – no falling over from the weight of snow or heavy rain for these flowers. They’re also a nice way to remember my mother-in-law every spring.

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Crocus bulbs don’t last as long in our area. Perhaps the squirrels eat them, or they get too wet and rot in the soil. I only have one this spring….growing in a mulch of tulip poplar seeds.

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As I was walking around the yard and making a list of yard work that needs to be done, I noticed a holly that has come up near a bush that has been slowly rotting over the past few years. Maybe I’ll trim the bush down to half its current size in the early part of the summer and provide more light to the young holly so that it can replace the old bush sometime soon.

I am using the weather as an excuse to procrastinate on the yard work….just enjoying the daffodils and crocus for the next week or so.

A few minutes observing Mourning Doves

One morning last week – I looked out my kitchen window on a warm breezy march morning and noticed two mourning doves on the railing of our deck…just beginning the mating dance. I ran upstairs to get my camera and started shooting the sequence below through my office window. The action takes place in just over a minute. The male has iridescent feathers on his head and neck. In the beginning, he is on the left….at the end he is on the right.  Afterward the female flew off first and the male stayed put looking out over the yard.

This is not the first time the deck railing has been a favorite place for doves mating. In May 2018 and April 2016, I managed to photograph a mating pair as well. In our area, the doves are probably the most substantial and numerous prey for the red tailed hawks and other raptors.

It was easier with my new camera and its continuous shooting feature. I also now recognize the early stages of the courtship so have a few more seconds to prepare.

Spring Cleaning – Outdoors

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It’s still a little cold to be out and doing big projects in the yard but we’ve made progress on a few this past week. They were the ‘easy’ projects. We took the lawn mower for pre-season servicing at the local hardware store first.

Then we planned to take my daughter’s old bicycle (not ridden for over 10 years) to donate. It had been on the covered part of deck out of direct weather but still exposed to temperature changes and some moisture during blowing rains. My husband discovered it was coated with green dust/slime when he went out to walk it around to put in the car. We decided to wait until we could clean it off.

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A little water and some rubbing….and it looked much better. It got donated the day after I cleaned it.

Then there are projects that I’ve just identified and am waiting for a good day to get them done – like cleaning up piles of tulip poplar seeds and leaves that the wind had blown into corners of the deck and moving the compost bin to allow a thorough turning of the compost still ‘cooking’ (and distribution of the compost that is at the bottom and is probably ‘done’).

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The hardest projects are where I’ve identified an issue but am not sure what to do yet. The most challenging is an area of our backyard that used to be very grassy but the record rain we gotten over the past year has washed away the grass and it’s now a small muddy stream. Maybe the grass will recover as the weather warms. If not, I’ll probably be looking at rocks and water loving plants for the area.

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Tree Bud Project – Week 1

I started a project to photograph tree buds this week by cutting small branches from trees in our yard: cherry, plum, red maple, tulip poplar, black walnut, and sycamore. Unfortunately, there were no branches low enough for me to reach on our oak.

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The plan is to bring the branches indoors (where it is warm) and monitor the buds – see how many of them would open indoors over the next few weeks. Once they do, I’ll check to see what is happening with the buds on the tree outdoors.

I took pictures of the buds with the 15x macro lens clipped to my smart phone…starting with the cherry. The buds are enlarging but still firmly closed. Our tree lags the blossoms down in DC around the tidal basin.

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The plum buds are still very small. They already show the pink color of the flowers. The tree usually blooms after the cherry.

The red maple twig is easy to identify - opposite twigs, red buds. I was surprised that there were so few branches with buds on the lower branches; the deer must be the culprits. It took a lot of looking to find a branch I could reach with buds.

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The tulip poplar already had a popped bud! The others on the branch were still closed. The leaf scars are interesting to notice too.

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The black walnut has a lot of buds at the tip of the branch. This tree was also heavily browsed by deer. The branch leaked sap as I was taking pictures. Hope is it OK with the water from the vase.

Finally – the sycamore buds are still tight. In a previous year, a sycamore bud on my indoor branch opened and a tiny leaf unfurled.

I’ll be posting about the leaf buds about once a week if there is action to report.

Ice Bubbles

Last week there were plenty low temperature nights. I started a project to collect frost flowers on a red glass plate to photograph. The conditions were not right for frost a single night! But – it did rain a little and the water that collected froze around the red plate that I had slanted in a container.

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When I pulled out the plate and the ice, I noticed that there were a lot of bubbles in the ice and modified my plan to photograph them.

I started with the lower magnification (15x) macro clip-on lens for my phone. The bubbles that were near the surface of the ice look fractured – not quite round.

My favorite at the 15x magnification was near the edge of the ice – where it met the plate. There were some long narrow bubbles as if the air was climbing the slope of the plate.

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I switched to my 60x macro lens with its own light source. The bubbles look jewel-like and the color of the red glass plate come through the ice.

My favorite was one that did not have the red color. It looks like a grayish pearl.

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I am still hoping for some frost flowers and there is a possibility since it’s only March. There should be a few more frosty days for us here in Maryland.

March Sunrise

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It was a cold morning last week when I noticed the sunrise color was reflected off the clouds and stepped outside on my front porch for a picture. By next month the trees will be leafing out and the sunrise will be obscured almost completely. I hurried to take my pictures – thoroughly cold almost instantly in the 20-degree temperature.

The cat was waiting for me at the door but made no move to come outside. The trash truck was rumbling through the neighborhood; 6:30 AM and the day was brightening.

It was cold enough that the birds seemed to be sleeping in. I’ve been seeing more robins and red-winged blackbirds recently…but the morning was quiet at sunrise.

The clouds thickened during the day and snow fell (melted on impact) in the afternoon. At this time of year, any snow could be the last of the season. I savored the snow in the air through the window of my warm office.

Stink Bug

As part of my early spring cleaning recently, I found a stink bug carcass in a storage closet. It could have been there for a long time. it looked a little squashed with the wings visible on one side). And it was missing some pieces – one antenna, 5 of the 6 legs, and an edge of the under abdomen.

A few years ago, we had many more stink bugs inside our house than we’ve seen in the past year. The brown marmorated stink bug is invasive in the US and initially seemed destined to be a bother for the long term but maybe the other bugs (wheel bugs?) and spiders and parasitic wasps that are native have figured out that stink bugs are fit to eat! Or maybe it is just the vagaries of the weather than have caused the population of stink bugs to drop off.

I experimented with the higher resolution clip on lens with my phone. The bug was not flat enough to get the whole field in focus. I was a little surprised by the extra color and texture that showed up with the magnification.

I took the carcass to the trash (outside). I’ll wait for a better specimen to do a more thorough photographic study.

Capturing a Sunrise Moment

Getting sidetracked from fixing breakfast by a sunrise – what a great way to start the day! I timed it perfectly late last week. I saw the color in the narrow windows on both sides of our front door as I came down the stairs and turned around to get my camera. I stepped out the front door in my stocking feet to capture a sunrise moment. Both are zoomed somewhat – which do you like best? The tree is an oak that is by our mailbox.

As turned to go back inside, a car went by. They probably wondered what I was doing on my front porch without a coat…in below freezing weather.

Snow Day

Years ago, when my daughter was in school, I almost always took off when the schools closed for snow – either with vacation or make up hours or working at home. Now that I’m retired, I am still doing it. Having a snow day is a mini-holiday with traditions. My daughter knew all the best sledding slops in the neighborhood. I enjoyed being outside too although it was usually to shovel the drive or take a walk. The snow day last week did not require shoveling since the forecast for the next day was temperature in the 50s. So - I took a walk. I bundled up in lined boots, snow pants, coat with a hood, scarf with a hood and gloves. I took my cell phone and small camera with me – deciding not to take the larger camera since it was still snowing, and I couldn’t shield it inside my coat easily.

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There were about 3 inches on the ground already when I opened the garage door and headed out.

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The fire hydrants in the neighborhood looked festive with their burden of snow.

My destination was the water retention pond. When I got there the old cattail stalks were catching snow and the still parts of the pond were skimming over with ice. The temperature was in the low 30s.

There were two pairs of ducks at the pond! The surprise (for me) were  Hooded Mergansers.  

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I’ve seen more of them this year in our area and I wonder if their numbers are increasing. Were the pair was looking for a good nesting area? I don’t think our water retention pond would be a good place for ducklings although the pair were occasionally diving and (maybe) finding something to eat in the pond.

The other pair were Mallards. They are dabblers and I noticed they both had snow collecting on their backs since they don’t go completely under water for edibles.

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I headed home. The pan and spatula to collect snow to make snow ice cream was in the garage to cool down. I filled the pan to overflowing then left it to prepare the other ingredients: peppermint candy puffs in a Ziploc broken to bits with a hammer and vanilla soy creamer (it has sugar and vanilla already…so it reduces the ingredient list). I got out the electric mixer and big bowl.

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Then I went out to get the snow. The bowl is so large that it holds the whole pan of snow. I added the peppermint candy and creamer…then beat it all together. The snow was drier than expected so I added more creamer and vanilla coconut almond milk to get the consistency I wanted for the ice cream.

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My husband and I each had two large servings to finish it off in one sitting. It was a yummy lunch.

Ten Little Celebrations – February 2019

February is usually a quiet month for me – not much going on. February 2019 was dominated by the birding after the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival in January, family visits, and celebration of the staff where I volunteer. It seemed like a busier than usual February.

Conversations with my daughter – I celebrated my daughter being more available recently. Seeing her forging ahead in her career and life is something to savor. It feels good to see how wonderfully independent and caring she is these days.

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Icy day – staying indoors – Ice is much worse than snow but has its own beauty. This one was easy for me to celebrate since I didn’t need to get out and none of our trees were damaged.

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Snow day – What’s not to like about a snowy day if I can stay at home. Since I am retired…staying at home when I want to is easy. I celebrate every snow day – taking pictures and making snow ice cream. On our most recent snow day, the weather was warming to 50 degrees the next day, so we didn’t even shovel the drive way.

Spring-like day – And then we had a breezy day in the 50s. I celebrated that this will become the norm in a few short weeks.

Books – On all the cold days, I enjoyed good books on my PC, on my iPad and regular books. Celebrating all the forms that books come in these days.  

Cleaning out progress – We have so many things in our house that we no longer need or use but getting motivated to collect and then donate, recycle, or trash things is challenging. I am celebrating that I am making some progress…building the will-power to continue the trend.

Howard County Conservancy staff – The volunteers held a big celebration for the staff of our favorite non-profit this month. The staff makes volunteering a pleasure and a shared celebration is one way we show it.

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Downy woodpecker – I was home in cold, snowy, or icy weather and enjoyed birding from my office window. I celebrated many of the sightings…the downy woodpecker the most. It’s small, it’s hyper, and it seems to enjoy both our trees and our feeder.

Pink egg salad – I discovered that adding a few slices of beet to hard-boiled eggs and mayonnaise in the small food processor makes beautiful, spreadable egg salad…celebration worthy food.

Headspace app – I subscribed to the Headspace app and am doing a meditation prompt every day. I am celebrating how easy it is to get started and keep going with this app.

Birding through a Window – February 2019

It’s great to see birds from my office window – I take a little break to observe while staying warm…and I get other things done between sightings.

Some kinds of birds I see every day.

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The Blue Jays generally make a lot of noise, so I notice when they are around. They come for the water in the heated bird bath and then for seed if it’s spilled out from the feeder (the feeder itself does not work for jay-sized birds). Somehow, they always seem to be looking in my direction when I take a picture of them.

The Dark-eyed Juncos are also around every day. They come for the seed and, sometimes, the birdbath.

The Northern Cardinal also is a frequent visitor. We have a resident pair that stays around our area. They made their nest in the bushes in front of our house last season. Sometimes more than the pair are around…but not every day.

Mourning Doves are plentiful. One morning we heard one seemingly very close to our breakfast area door but couldn’t see it. My husband opened the door and it flew from it’s hiding place under the deck railing. These birds are also too big for the feeder, but they enjoy any seed on the ground and the bird bath and just sitting around on the deck railing or the roof of the covered deck.

The Tufted Titmouse makes rapid transits between the feeder or birdbath and the red maple. It must feel safer in the maple. We have at least one pair, and maybe more, that frequent our deck.

The Carolina Chickadees are very similar to the titmice in that they don’t linger on the deck. They prefer to get seed and take it back to the maple.

This year we have more American Gold Finches coming to the feeder. In previous years we’ve had more House Finches but I’ve only seen one this year and I didn’t get a picture.

And there are birds I don’t see as frequently.

One American Robin came to the bird bath – and I got a picture. There will be a lot more of them around soon.

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Sometimes we have Northern Flickers visit – usually as a pair. They like the heated bird bath in very cold weather. The area under the pines appears to be a good place for them to find insects.

The Downy Woodpecker returns again and again to some damaged branches not that far from my window. I’ve seen a male and female…only got pictures of the female this month.

European Starlings are not an everyday occurrence in our yard. There must be better food sources for them elsewhere. That’s probably a good thing.

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We have a White-Breasted Nuthatch that comes to our feeder occasionally. It moves very quickly and goes back to the forest.

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There are birds that I remember seeing but didn’t manage to photograph this month: Red-winged blackbirds, Turkey vultures, Black Vultures, Pileated woodpecker, red-bellied woodpecker, and House sparrow. Overall – not a bad month for birding through window.

Junco in the Bird Bath

On very cold days, our heated bird bath is a popular stop for birds of all kinds – usually one at a time – and usually getting a quick drink of water and leaving. Sometimes there are more…and rarely different species at the same time. In the picture below a titmouse is eying a junco that is not on the edge getting a drink. The bird is sitting in the water.

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The titmouse left the junco in the water…and the junco proceeded to take a thorough bath! I hadn’t seen a bird bathing in very cold weather before. None of the other birds followed this bird’s lead and I wondered what prompted it to decide that such a cold day was bath day. It remained at the bird bath longer than I thought it would…not one to hurry in the bath!

A few minutes observing…Deer in the Snow

I see the deer coming and going from the forest behind our house via my office window. These were coming from the forest into the neighborhood looking for edibles. The managed hunts might have made a dent in the population since I haven’t seen as many this winter as in years past. I like not having all the evergreens and trees in the neighborhood eaten to the height the deer can reach, but also enjoy seeing them around.

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They also seem more likely to pause and thoroughly look around and listen these days before continuing the trek into the neighborhood.  Once they feel secure, they move ahead almost in single file like in this sequence…a minute of ‘action’ in our backyard.

It is a good break from my other office activities to observe something outdoors. Photographing birds or deer or squirrels – or just watching them – for a few minutes is like a mini-vacation!

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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January Sunrises

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I used the Sun Alarm app on my phone to remind me a bit before sunrise each day this month. My plan was to photograph sunrises. It worked great on the 1st. There were a few clouds to reflect the color near the beginning of the sunrise then they thickened, and the rest of the sunrise blinked out.

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There were a lot of very cloudy days with no color. On the 3rd, it was cloudy, but the clouds had an interesting texture so a took a picture anyway.

The 7th was probably the best overall sunrise of the month. The clouds and color were good for the whole sunrise

And the sun on the trees to the west of our house was rosy too.

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On the 9th, the clouds appeared to be too thick in the east for any sunrise color but a little after sunrise there was a break in the clouds and the color was very red on trees behind (to the west) of our house. The tulip poplar pods looked surreal!

There were some scattered clouds on the 10th that preceded a sunny morning.

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The sunrise on the 14th and 17th were so cloudy the color could barely be seen.

Overall – I am planning to keep the Sun Alarm going in February…and recording the best sunrises of the month.

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.

Lunar Eclipse 2019

I went to bed early and set an alarm on my phone to wake me up at 11:45 PM to photograph the total lunar eclipse last night. The time for totality in our area was 11:50 PM – 1 AM. My first plan to was photograph it through a window…but my husband told me before I went to bed that it was likely going to be too high in the sky to see from a window. He was right. I bundled up and went out to the driveway with my camera on a monopod. I knew I would not want to stay outside long.

It was very cold and windy too. My eyes started watering almost immediately. I set my camera to ‘handheld night scene’ and let it do its best. In that setting it takes multiple pictures and stitches them together in the camera. It worked reasonably well and within 10 minutes I was back in the house and heading back to bed.

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My husband – who had his camera on a tripod and stayed out a lot longer than I did – got a better shot.

When I got up the next morning the moon was descending into the trees behind our house – back to its normal full-moon color. This time I could take pictures through a window. The temperature outside was in the low teens.

Snow Day

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Last Sunday was a snow day for us. It had snowed all night and was still snowing when I got up. Our neighbor had a spotlight on and it illuminated the back of our house enough that my camera’s ‘hand held night scene’ setting was enough to capture the snow draped over pots and chairs on our deck. In the front of our house there was less light – but the oak near our driveway was visible in the darkness.

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There was no sunrise color – the clouds were too thick – but the day brightened a little. Snow was accumulating on the bushes.

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I went out to measure the depth of the snow about 9 AM; it was about 5 inches and snow was still coming down.

The day was brightening a little more.

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We shoveled the driveway. The snow was heavy enough to stick together but not too heavy to shovel easily. I took a before and after picture.

I took a picture of the kokopelli metal sculptures dancing in a low pot on the deck from my office window

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When we came inside my husband started a fire in the fireplace and I went out to skim the top inch of snow off a portion of our deck and into a big pan. I left it outside to stay frozen while I gathered the other ingredients for snow ice cream. I had purchased some French vanilla coconut creamer (sweetened) that substituted for the usual milk, sugar, and vanilla; I added the last of the peppermint candy chips I had bought before Christmas. The snow went into the biggest bowl I have and then the milk and peppermint candy mixture. My handheld mixer does a great job mixing everything fast enough that the snow doesn’t have time to melt. The color from the candy was my indicator that the ice cream was becoming thoroughly mixed. I had to add a bit more creamer because the snow was so icy; it looked crumbly instead of creamy.

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Yummy! It was the best snow ice cream I’ve ever made! My husband and I had two servings each – ate the whole batch in one sitting.