Ten Little Celebrations – April 2019

April has been a busy month – only at home for a week out of the month and not all at the same time. There was plenty to celebrate with spring in full swing and the travel to see it in different places.

Certified Zentangle® Trainer (CZT) class. There were so many perspectives of the CZT class to celebrate: the beauty of the creations everyone was making, the conversations, the food…the challenge of being a student…the Zen.

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Train ride home. I don’t go many places where taking the train is feasible…but the CZT class was one of them. I celebrated the low stress hours going home…a fitting finale to the class.

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4th and 5th grade field trips. The early April field trips happened with great weather and the students enjoying being outdoors to learn about the Patapsco heritage (land, water, and rocks) and BioBlitz. It’s always inspiring to see their curiosity and enthusiasm --- celebrating a spring field trip.


Getting to Dallas. I had to travel to Dallas quickly and it was easier than a thought it would be. And I celebrated that I was less stressed by the rapid change in plans (maybe the Zentangle class providing an added benefit.

Spring days. Noticing the rapidly developing blossoms of spring is fodder for many celebrations – oxalis is probably one of my favorites right now. It blooms when the sun is shining!

Rainy day (spent indoors). After busy days – having a rainy day spent indoors is something to celebrate…with homemade soup for lunch!

Josey Ranch Pocket Prairie. A little bit of prairie – carefully tended by volunteers – in a Dallas suburb! Right now it is a celebration of spring wildflowers.

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Cedar waxwings. Birds are migrating and there are serendipity sightings of birds that don’t stay around the area long. I celebrated seeing a small flock of cedar waxwings last week.

Botanical reminders of my grandmother. Many flowers in my parents’ Carrollton yard were planted by my grandmother…good memories to celebrate.

Home again. Providence, Rhode Island to home to Carrollton, Texas to home to Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge and Smith Island to home. I like to travel…but coming home is celebratory too.

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A Carrollton Garden – Part I

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I am visiting my parents this week in Carrollton TX and their garden is responding to the warmer weather. Mounds of oxalis line the large patio – carpeting the partial shade area under the mulberry trees.

Various kinds of iris are in bloom. The Dutch iris blooms seem to last longer than the other kinds.

The mulberry trees are a fruitless variety. The trunks of the largest trees have a lot of color when they are wet. Most of the trees have small branches emerging along the big branches. The larger branches have been thinned to allow more sunlight to reach the ground so all the little branches that are within reach of the pole clippers are snipped from the trees keep the canopy open.

The pecan tree is finally old enough to bloom and may produce some pecans this year. Hopefully the nuts will be the paper-shell variety.

The red yuccas are not blooming yet but the seed pods from last fall are still on the stalks. Some of them look almost black (like they were burned). I like the shapes of the empty pods.

More pictures from the garden tomorrow.

Up Close Irises

There was a large vase of irises from the garden to welcome us to my parents’ house last week. Over the course of the evening, I took several opportunities to photograph them at close range – with and without the macro lens. I like the curves of all parts of the flower - from bud to full flower to spent flower. Today - savor the color and shapes of irises!

Belmont – April 2019

The Howard County Conservancy spring field trips at Belmont and Mt. Pleasant are into prime time. The two I volunteered for last week had beautiful weather for hiking – almost perfect temperature and dry. I always arrive more than 30 minutes before the students. It’s a short walk from parking to the Carriage House….long enough to get some pictures. Birds that are around: chipping sparrows, robins, and red winging blackbirds. There is at least one resident mockingbird which I heard but didn’t get a picture.

The warmer weather is also causing things to bloom and new spring green leaves to unfurl.

As I wait for the bus, I take pictures toward the manor house, down the entrance road, and down toward the pond. It’s the calm….before the students arrive.

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The students, teachers, and chaperones come on buses and there is a flurry of activity to get the groups sorted into hiking groups and activity groups.

The hikes are about an hour. There are forest and meadows…lot of opportunity for good observations. One of my hiking groups was making BioBlitz observations…documenting a common blue violet blooming in the middle of the mowed path!

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Moving the Compost Bin

Last week we had some warm days and I moved my compost bin. It is so hard to turn the whole bin of material adequately, that it’s better to just move the bin periodically and get a good mix of the materials (and take the ‘finished’ compost out for other distribution). The stakes that I’d used to hold the cylinder of rigid plastic up were leaning toward the center too. I decided to move the bin just a few feet away on a bare patch of dirt – still under the red maple.

I got side tracked looking at the haze of yellow in the forest: spice bush in bloom.

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And the baby ferns in the mossy area under the deck.

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And a shell that had collected some water (probably need to turn it over so it doesn’t become a mosquito nursery).

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And some robin nests (neat enough to be from this year) on the deck support beams.

I pulled the stakes out from inside the bin - then lifted the plastic and repositioned it. I put the stakes back in using some branches from the brush pile to cross brace too. Then the material that still needed to decompose was moved with a pitchfork to the newly placed bin. Lesson learned: pine needles and egg shells take longer to decompose than kitchen scrapes and shredded leaves/paper!

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I found something that had sprouted in the compost as I spread the compost from the bottom of the bin around under the red maple in front of the brush pile. Maybe a beet top from last fall’s harvest?

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Gleanings of the Week Ending April 13, 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.

Coconut Spice Cake Recipe | Magnolia Days – The cake I made for my husband’s birthday. It tasted great even without icing!

Photographer Captures Stunning Images of Ice Shards Along Lake Michigan | Smart News | Smithsonian – Spectacular ice forms – made during the breaking up on Lake Michigan a few weeks ago.

Ancient Caribbean children helped with grocery shopping in AD 400 -- ScienceDaily – Snail and clam shells (small ones) might be from child, rather than adult, foragers!

Thousands of Invasive Cane Toads Overtake Florida Community | Smart News | Smithsonian – Ugh! Not something people want in their yards and pools and driveways. These toads have a toxin strong enough to kill cats and dogs that munch on toads and can cause burning eyes or skin irritation in humans.

Top 25 Wild Bird Photographs of the Week: March – National Geographic Society – Beautiful birds….changing environments and habitats.

Where Have All the House Sparrows Gone? – Cool Green Science – House sparrow numbers have been declining since 1966 – all around the world!

66-million-year-old deathbed linked to dinosaur-killing meteor -- ScienceDaily – Fossils of animals killed and buried within an hour of the meteor impact!

Pairing Geothermal Plus Rooftop Solar For A Truly Renewable Home | CleanTechnica – At what point will the idea of geothermal heating and cooling catch up with rooftop solar for our homes? Will Dandelion – or comparable companies - become nationwide?

Five new frog species from Madagascar -- ScienceDaily – Some tiny new frogs. The smallest is only a little larger than a grain of rice.

These pictures of seed bank samples turn biology into art – The beauty of seeds. The first photograph (of Australian windflower flower heads is my favorite. The x-ray of a red yucca seed head is also interesting….showing the 3D of the pod in the image.

Glimpses of Providence

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My class was on the 17th floor of the hotel. The classroom and break room had windows in all directions from the hotel offering views of the state capital and Brown university…a park with a skating rink and wind turbines. I even took a picture of part of the hotel façade! Most of the pictures I took were in the morning. One morning the bare trees in a little park were highlighted – maybe my favorite cityscape of this group.

My class was on the 17th floor of the hotel. The classroom and break room had windows in all directions from the hotel offering views of the state capital and Brown university…a park with a skating rink and wind turbines. I even took a picture of part of the hotel façade! Most of the pictures I took were in the morning. One morning the bare trees in a little park were highlighted – maybe my favorite cityscape of this group.

On the last day, I walked by the park (near the skating rink) and realized it was more unique than I has realized from the high window. The playground had nets and cables…not the usual playground equipment. What a fun place in the city – but there was no one there as I walked by on a cold morning. It would be busy in the afternoon probably. I’d seen people there from the window earlier in the week.

Overall – Providence has a welcoming city center. It is clean and walkable. I liked it and will have to go back when I have more time to wonder around.

Blooming Trees in Our Yard

About a week after our trek to the National Arboretum – I walked around our yard to take pictures of our trees in bloom. The maple is not quite as bright red as it was earlier…about done with its blooming for the year. The forsythia our neighbor planted at the edge of the woods is blooming behind the maple. The misty yellow of the spice bush is still weeks away.

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The cherry tree in our front yard is blooming profusely. There were several kinds of bees (I presume bees….some of them were too small for me to see for sure).  In previous years our cherry tree lagged the peak bloom at the tidal basin and the arboretum in Washington DC by at least a week…and that seems about right this year as well.

We also have a plum tree and, even though the flowers are smaller, they keep their pink color all the way through the cycle rather than becoming white like the cherries.

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The spring blooming trees are a clear indicator of the season change…warmer days to come. The colors are a welcome break from the browns of winter. Next comes the delicate spring greens as leaves begin to unfurl.

US National Arboretum in Early Spring

Last weekend we went to the US National Arboretum to see cherry blossoms. We entered the New York Avenue Gate and parked in the big lot just inside….with cherry trees in sight. We walked over to the trees. I got side tracked by some golden moss with spore capsules…had to take pictures from overhead and then from ground level. It was growing under the cherry trees.

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The days before we went had been windy and I found some blooms on the ground – little jewels in the dried leaves and moss.

I zoomed to get some close-up pictures of flowers on the trees – all shades of pink to white.

As I took some pictures of the high branches of one tree, I noticed a lot of bees. I was photographing hand held so had to be content with just knowing the dots in the pictures were insects!

We got back in the car and continued further into the arboretum. There were a lot of cars parking along the side of the road and we could see trees that were blooming ahead. We thought maybe it was more cherry trees. But no – it was deciduous magnolias! They were probably at their peak and gorgeous. People where photographing young children under the trees and held up next to the flowers. There were several different kinds of deciduous magnolias in bloom. My favorites were the deepest pink ones that I saw at the very beginning.

I zoomed in on two buds. Note that the outer covering is very fuzzy. Then there is a covering that looks like brown paper….and then the petals.

Evergreen (southern) magnolias are in the grove as well. They will be beautiful this summer. Right now, the empty pods from last summer are dried (on the tree or the ground under it) – and a study of complexity. I didn’t see a single red seed that had survived the winter in a pod!

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Gleanings of the Week Ending April 6, 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.

BBC - Future - What happens when we run out of food? – Even in the US, nearly 12% of households re classed as being food insecure; more than 6.5 million children go without adequate food. And the whole food system can be disrupted very easily by war and very bad government all around the world.

Refugee women have healthier pregnancies than US women -- why? An unhealthy US culture: For African refugee women, acculturation may negatively impact health -- ScienceDaily – I was surprised that the researchers did not explore the idea that maybe the value of early pre-natal care is overrated for people that are generally healthy when they get pregnant since the refugee women tended to not start pre-natal care until their 2nd trimester.

Top 25 Wild Bird Photographs of the Week: Migration – National Geographic Society  - Birds are migrating through our area…we’re seeing more robins…and the juncos will leave soon to go further north. These pictures feature birds from around the world…that are migrating.

Hospital disinfectants should be regulated like antibiotics new study suggests – It’s not just antibiotics that drive antimicrobial resistance…it’s disinfectants (particularly in hospitals) too.

BBC - Future - The unexpected magic of mushrooms – New items made from fungus...replacing some kinds of plastics. It’s good that fungi are so plentiful on the planet – exceeding the biomass of all animals.

An Island Apart – Acadia National Park’s Isle ad Haut. A very different experience from Mount Desert Island

Beautiful cherry blossoms photos – Our cherry tree is in bloom right now. I guess cherry trees are enjoyed around the world very year about this time. There is a picture of the cherry trees around the tidal basin in Washington DC included in the pictures.

Green tea cuts obesity, health risks in mice: Follow-up study in people underway -- ScienceDaily – More research needed…. but I am enjoying green tea already (my favorite is a blend with mint).

Make A Home for Wildlife – Cool Green Science – Some ideas for creating an oasis for wildlife --- it doesn’t take much to help pollinators or birds!

Why did Flamingos flock to Mumbai in record numbers this winter? – 120,000 flamingoes…that’s a lot of birds!

Patuxent Research Refuge

I attended the Patuxent River Conference last week. The conference was informative – lots of up-to-date information about the river. One of the branches of the river (the Middle Patuxent) is through the forest – downhill – from my house. The conference venue was the Patuxent Research Refuge and there was opportunity to look around the visitor center and onto a nearby trail. It has been awhile since I had visited the place and the visitor center was in better condition that I remembered.

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The displays in the visitor center had been updated. The one I found most poignant was the whopping crane display. The Patuxent Research Refuge tried for years to raise whooping cranes to establish a new migratory flock but this year the effort was stopped. The whopping crane we saw down in Florida during the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival (see my post here) began its life at this refuge.

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During the morning break – a mockingbird sat in a nearby tree. It had quite a repertoire of songs.

I remember the timber wolf sculpture in front of the visitor center but the colorful screening on the front windows of the visitor center was new to me.

The refuge biologist let a hike during the last session of the day. A prescribed burn had been done on some of the areas around the visitor center to clear out biomass…keep the area grassland habitat rather than forest.

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We hiked over the causeway and into the forest. The Refuge is doing an inventory of the forest trees and taking core samples to determine the age. One of the corers got stuck in an oak and they are still trying to get it out!

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The trees are not leafed out…but some are easy to identify. Beech trees are easy any time of year.

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A lot of the pines at the refuge were planted about the same time and are dying off together too. There are quite a few that have fallen over. But there are still a lot of trees that fill in the canopy. This will be a very shady area when the trees leaf out.

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It was a good day for a conference and a visit to the refuge!

100 Desert Wildflowers in Natural Color

Dodge, Natt N. 100 Desert Wildflowers in Natural Color. Southwest Monuments Association. 1963. Available from the Project Gutenberg here.

Natt Noyes Dodge (1900-1982) was the regional naturalist for the Southwest Region of the National Park Service from 1935 to 1963. He was also an author and photographer – both of which are shown in this book along with his knowledge of the region. The version available from Project Gutenberg is from the third printing in 1967 which was a revision from the original in 1963.

I’m glad that the copyright holder has allowed this book to be available online....easy to enjoy the photos of desert wildflowers.

I had bought several of Dodge’s books is national parks when traveling to New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado from our home in Dallas in the 1970s, but I didn’t have this one.

Conowingo – March 2019

My husband and I made the trek up to Conowingo Dam last weekend. The water was high and laden with silt (although not quite as high as the last time we were there).

The trip was a success as soon as we got there: a bald eagle was preening in a tree next to the parking lot. I took some traditional portraits.

Then I zoomed in on the talons.

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At one point the eagle did a little dance on the branch (watch the feet)!

One of the other photographers told me about the nest up in the right tower across the river from the wharf where we were. It is on the narrow platform below the top of the tower. I zoomed in and saw sticks that are probably one side of the nest but no birds coming or going.

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There were cormorants fishing in the rapidly moving water although I didn’t see any successful catches.

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I did manage a sequence of a cormorant flying low over the water.

Overall it was a good spring outing – warm enough that we didn’t need out coats!

Gleanings of the Week Ending March 30, 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.

Spring Outlook: Historic, widespread flooding to continue through May | National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – Check out the map about 1/3 of the way through the article. It looks like quite a few areas along the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers are going to have moderate or major flooding through May. Almost the whole eastern part of the US is going to have some flooding during that period.

How Chromosomes X and Y Got Their Names, 1891 | The Scientist Magazine® - A little history. It all begins in the late 1800s.

C. R. PERCIVAL’S MICROSCOPE SLIDE COLLECTION | Ingenium – Browse through some of the images made of slides created in the early/mid 1900s. Click on the larger image to get a magnifier that can be moved over the image.

Food Trends 2019: Fermented Foods, Blueberries, Coconut Products, and More | Berkeley Wellness – How many of these are you already eating?

What oil leaves behind in 2.5 billion gallons of water every day in US -- ScienceDaily – Wouldn’t it be nice to not have oil polluted water injected underground…and sometimes into aquafers? Water is already in short supply in some areas of the country (mostly in the west). We need technologies to never contaminate water in a way that it cannot be consumed by plants and animals…and ourselves.

In Germany, Consumers Embrace a Shift to Home Batteries - Yale E360 – Half of the orders for rooftop solar panels are sold with a battery storage system too in Germany. I wonder when the US will catch up.

Butterfly numbers down by two thirds: High-intensity agriculture reduces number of butterfly species in adjacent areas -- ScienceDaily – It’s not just butterfly numbers that are down either. Agriculture research needs to hone practices that are productive in the short term…and the long term. In other words – all agriculture needs to become sustainable for humanity and the rest of the organisms that inhabit the Earth.

Nitrogen pollution's path to streams weaves through more forests (and faster) than suspected -- ScienceDaily – Nitrate is one of the abiotic tests we do for water quality assessment with high school students. This is a new finding to think about and incorporate in to the analysis of readings after heavy rains. The nitrogen might be moving so fast that the forest can’t absorb it!

Missouri Making Hyperloop Plans - News | Planetizen – A hyperloop between Kansas City and St. Louis! What a boon to the two cities and probably easier to build since there is not the heavy population between the two cities like the route that was originally talked about in California.

China Isn't Recycling Tons of U.S. Plastic Trash Anymore: Goats and Soda: NPR – We’re going to have to show some innovation in dealing with plastics – mostly single use – that we dutifully put in our recycle bins and assumed they would be recycled. Now a lot of them are going to landfills or polluting our waterways.  With a little thought, my family has reduced some….but the next step is tough. Some products we need are only available packaged in plastic.

Tree Bud Project – Week 3

It’s Friday – I’m updating the status of the branches I brought inside 2 weeks ago (previous posts: week 1, week2). This will be the last post. The flowers and leaves are wilting because the small branches can’t get enough water to the new growth.

The cherry blossoms opened but stayed small – then started to show stress – the delicate white petals wilting.

The tulip poplar branch lasted longer with more and more small leaves emerging from the bud.

Four leaves emerged from one bud and one of the leaves unfolded before they all began to wilt.

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The only branch that didn’t seem to develop at all was the black walnut. Maybe it was just way too early for those buds to develop even in the warmer temperature indoors.

Ten Little Celebrations – March 2019

March had increased activity from February – a nice ramp up to the busy months of the spring field trip season of April, May and June. It was easy to find little celebrations all during the month.

A Creative Live course on bird photography – I always celebrate courses that hone what I already know…and show me something new that I want to try.

Getting new glasses – I had skipped getting new glasses last year – thinking that my prescription had not changed enough. It’s worth celebrating to see better again.

Snow on the ground but no on the streets – I celebrated a beautiful snowy day when the streets kept enough warmth to remain clear. It’s one of those instances where you can enjoy the scenery and not worry about hazardous driving conditions.

Cleaning out stuff – We donated two carloads of stuff (a bicycle was a big part of one load. I celebrated making progress on cleaning out accumulated things that we no longer need.

Then there are signs of spring – appearing throughout the month – and celebrated for the breaking of winter’s hold on the landscape:

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Miniature daffodils blooming in the front flower bed that bring back memories of my mother-in-law that bought and planted the bulbs in another garden 30 years ago.

Tulip poplar and cherry buds brought inside and opening a few weeks before the buds outside open.

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Doves mating on the deck railing.

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Frogs eggs in the little pool at Mt. Pleasant.

A spring-like afternoon – full of sunlight and a warmer temperature.

The biggest celebration of the month was the news that both my daughter and son-in-law have faculty positions beginning next fall in the same place! It’s quite an accomplishment for them to both get their PhD and then do a couple years as post docs…then this milestone.  

Mt. Pleasant – March 2019

I was at Howard County Conservancy’s Mt. Pleasant on a sunny cold morning last week – and took a few pictures. There were two things that have always been there and almost always on my walk from parking to the nature center that I don’t think I have photographed before: 1) The old tractor that has been in the same place for so long that it is sinking into the soil under it (or silt is running down the slope to the wagon shed and accumulating around the tires).

2) The hook closure on the blacksmith’s shed….probably made by the blacksmith!

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The flowerpot people were dressed for spring…but looked a little bedraggled. The March winds have probably made some adjustments.

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I took a picture of a pine on the way to a stop in the Honors Garden. The pines are still the main greenery around.

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In the Honors Garden, the sun was highlighting last season’s cone flower seedpods.

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But the reason I was in the Honors Garden was to check out the little pond. As I walked up a frog swam rapidly through the water to a new hiding place. It was too cold for a lot more activity.

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This little pond is a favorite of the local Wood Frogs and they have been busy. There were egg masses in the water….soon to be tadpoles if they are not too far out of the water and freeze before they can develop. I posted about the frogs here back in March 2016….but it was a warmer day and I noticed the frogs more than the eggs.

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I continued to the Nature Center for the training session scheduled for the day.

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.

Gleanings of the Week Ending March 23, 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.

Salt Could Play a Role in Allergies | The Scientist Magazine® - Atopic dermatitis has increased more than 2-fold since the 1970s….and researchers do not attribute the increase to greater awareness or diagnosis. Now comes the observation that people with lesioned skin from atopic dermatitis (but not psoriasis) had a 30-fold higher salt level in their lesions than in their unlesioned skin or skin from healthy controls. The connection to diet is speculative at this point…but we do have higher salt in our diet now that most people had in the 1970s.

In Siberia, Toxic Black Snow Reveals the Toll of Coal Mining | Smart News | Smithsonian – Yuck! Pollutions from open-air coal pits…in the extreme. Another reason, I’m glad we’re moving away from coal powered electricity generation. I wondered if the people living in the area of black snow develop terrible lung problems.  

See the best pictures from Bill Ingalls, NASA's official photographer – 30 years of photography

What makes joints pop and crack and is it a sign of disease? – A little lesson in joint anatomy

Piling Up: How China’s Ban on Importing Waste Has Stalled Global Recycling - Yale E360 – China’s plastic imports have plummeted by 99%, mixed paper has dropped by a 33%. Recycled aluminum and glass are less affected by the ban. So now we are sending plastics to landfills, incinerators or littering the environment. Communities across the US have curtailed or halted their recycling programs. That hasn’t happened (yet) where I live in Maryland. We must learn to produce less recycle (waste) and process it more locally…not ship is someplace else in the world.

Meet the Bizarre American Bittern – Cool Green Science – It’s a type of heron that makes a strange sound (listen to the recording in this post). It is so well camouflaged that you are more likely to hear it than see it!

Photography in The National Parks: Capturing the Grandness of The Grand Tetons – Reminds me that this is a National Park I want to see again. Last time we went, I wasn’t doing any photography yet.

Top 25 Wild Bird Photographs of the Week: Interactions – National Geographic Society – Pictures that are more than just a bird.

Prehistoric Microbes Inhabit an Oasis in the Northern Mexican Desert | The Scientist Magazine® - Fish, diatoms, and bacteria in lagoons in the Chihuahua Desert and cannot be found anywhere else on Earth. More than 5,000 species of bacteria and archaea have been documented.

Owls against owls in a challenge for survival: Researchers forecast interactions between two owl species and the quality of their habitat in the Pacific Northwest -- ScienceDaily – I learned at the Festival of the Cranes (New Mexico) last fall about Barred Owls moving into Northern Spotted Owl (NSO) territory….and winning the competition. That further reduces the NSO populations which is already endangered because of over-logging of the old growth forests.