Rainy Morning at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

The last morning of the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival was rainy. We’d signed up for a field trip about birding by ear and habitat at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. It was one of the few field trips that was not cancelled entirely but it was changed considerably by the weather. We talked through the topic of using other than markings for bird identification – songs, habitat, silhouettes, behavior…and then did the best we could to observe some birds. We didn’t do any hiking…just observed what we could from the visitor center and from within the car along the wildlife loop. Still – it wasn’t a bad morning for seeing birds. The visitor center has feeders that attract Painted Buntings this time of year. What a treat to see these brightly colored small birds!

Then it was out to the wildlife loop to look at water birds. The first one we saw was a smallish white bird at the edge of the water. In was in the right habitat for a heron or egret…about the size of a cattle egret but in the wrong habitat since they are usually in fields. It was a juvenile Little Blue Heron with green legs and a washed out looking face….definitely not a Snowy Egret.

There was a group of Northern Shovelers feeding – living up to the ‘shoveler’ name.

Glossy Ibis were feeding in the shallows and mud.

There were some Roseate Spoonbills feeding almost out of range of my camera. Watch the one in the center in this sequence.

There were was a mixed group of birds: Roseate SpoonBills, American Avocets, and a Great Egret. That area near that shore must have been rich pickings.

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A little further along the shower there was a group of American White Pelicans in the water. The group might have been working together to herd fish into the shallows – easy feeding.

Last but not least - a Tricolored Heron made an appearance. It too was looking for breakfast in the shallows.

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Overall – it was not a bad ending for the festival. It would have been better had it not be raining…and even better if the sun had come out. We picked up some snacks intended for some trips that were cancelled and headed back to the hotel to pack for the trek home the next day. Both my husband and I enjoyed the festival and I’m sure we’ll do it again – leaving more time between field trips (and before/after the festival) to do some photography at our own pace. It’s a rich area for birding and more comfortable in the winter than it is in the summer.

Another Florida Beach

After lunch at Dixie Crossroads, we headed over to a beach close to Titusville: Cherie Down Park in Cape Canaveral. It was a breezy cloudy day….a little cold. There were people fishing from the beach. At first it didn’t seem like there were very many birds. In some ways that made it easier to photograph the ones that were there.

The Sanderling at the water’s edge was the first bird I noticed.

The Ruddy Turnstone kept moving about. I’m not sure whether I photographed the same bird twice or it was two birds.

A Ring-billed Gull surveyed the beach from a pile of sand in the beach replenishment project area.

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Further away a Lesser Black-Backed Gull and Herring Gull were doing the same.

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A Pigeon posed with fluffed feathers…protection against the cold wind.

Lots of Brown Pelicans flew by.

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I managed to catch a sequence of a group as it went by. The ones with white heads are the mature birds…the brown heads are juveniles.

A Willet walked along the water’s edge.

Just before we left a group of Black Skimmer’s flew by…a good high point for the last of the field trip.

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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!

Water Birds of Central Florida

Continuing the third day of the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival…today’s post is still based in the Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area…observing birds around the lakes rather than woodpeckers.

On bird that was new-to-me was the Limpkin. It’s a crane relative and lives in the Americas. Their diet is mollusks – dominated by apple snails.

Here’s a sequence of one walking.

Another bird that I had not seen before and that also eats apple snails is the Snail Kite. I was hunting on the same lake as the limpkin and it found a snail – took the snail to a post in the water to eat.

There were empty snail shells in the water so both birds were probably getting enough to eat. Most of the shells were the larger apple snail which is invasive to Florida but both birds can apparently eat them as easily as they do the native species.

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There were three kinds of white birds around: the juvenile Little Blue Herons,

(which grow up to have gray-blue adult plumage with some red on their neck and heads),

The Snowy Egret with its black legs and yellow feet,

And a Great Egret which was the largest of the three.

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There was a Great Egret in a tree near where we had a picnic lunch. Evidently he gets fed nearby and is named Pete.

There were two other herons beside the Little Blue: Tricolored Heron and

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A Great Blue Heron in the tall grass.

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Nearby there was a Sandhill Crane barely visible in the grass and its mate standing nearby. I took a picture of the one that was standing. Evidently sandhill cranes seen as pairs in Florida are resident;  they don’t migrate. There are cranes that come for the winter but don’t breed in Florida and they generally stay in larger groups.

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There were Anhinga around sunning themselves or preening. They are easier to photograph out of the water.

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The Common Gallinule has very large feet. To make it easier for them to walk on vegetation in the water.

There were a lot of insects that the bird was finding on the grasses near the water.

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A near relative – the Purple Gallinule – was doing the same thing.

There was a juvenile nearby. I liked the way the light changes the colors of the bird. It was like the color of peacocks and morpho butterflies…changing color with every slight variation in light. They too have big feet.

I saw a Pied-billed Grebe just as it turned away…got one picture.

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A Glossy Ibis was also enjoying the lakeshore…finding food.

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It was a good day for water birds. There were even more (white pelicans, some ducks) but they were too far out on the lakes to get reasonable pictures. I was pleased to see three new-to-me birds: snail kite, limpkin, and purple gallinule.

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!

Cannonball Jellyfish

One of the surprises of the gull fly-in (previously posted about) was cannonball jellyfish on the beach. They must have washed up during the morning storms since they didn’t look decayed yet. I had never seen them before.

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They are more substantial looking than most jellyfish and evidently have become a commercially important in Georgia as an export to Japan, China and Thailand as food. They are not as harmful to humans as other jellyfish.

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One of our guides picked one up….providing a good scale for the organism.

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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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Gull Fly-in

The rain was over by mid-day and by midafternoon we headed out to our second activity of our day at the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival: a gull fly-in at Daytona Beach Shores. We met at the Frank Reardon Park and headed down the wooden steps to the beach. There were already a lot of gulls collecting on the wetter part of the beach.

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There were primarily three kinds: Ring-Billed gulls (white head with the black band on their short/slim yellow bills, yellow legs, juveniles are motley brown and gray with a pink bill and legs),

Laughing gulls (head in winter is a blurry gray rather than black as it is in summer, legs are reddish black or black). In the picture below there is a juvenile ring-billed gull behind the laughing gulls. Note that the ring billed gull is larger.

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Herring gulls (white head, yellow eyes, dull pink legs, juveniles are mottled brown). The herring gull is toward the back in the picture below with laughing gulls in the foreground. Note that the Herring Gull is larger than then laughing gulls (and the ring-billed gulls).

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All the birds were preening after spending the day feeding at the landfill. They gather at the beach in large numbers late in the day to rest and clean up before heading out to sea for the night.  There was a peregrine falcon that swooped down from one of the high-rise resorts on the beach periodically – causing the gulls to fly up in a cloud. I got a sequence of shots of one such event.

In the distance – close to the horizon – a parasitic jaeger was making dives and swoops going after gulls in the water. There were also pelicans that flew by. I stayed focused on the gulls as the light began to fade. I got a portrait of a laughing gull in the water.

The sky began to reflect the sunset colors and it was time to call it a day.

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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.

Port Canaveral Boat Tour

After we picked up our registration material for the Space Coast Birding Festival, we went out for lunch then headed to the Kelly Park dock for a boat tour of Port Canaveral. It was a pontoon boat with bench seats. Shortly after we sat down – it started sprinkling then raining harder. We got off the boat to stand in the drier picnic pavilion in the park. The wind was blowing enough that we had to stand well under the pavilion roof.

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I took a picture of a little blue heron that did not seem bothered by the rain and wind at all.

Then the rain stopped, the seats were dried off and we headed out only about 15 minutes late. I took some pictures of barnacles around the dock area.

We saw evidence of manatee in the water….the flat circles of water as they swim along…and then the tips of their noses when they come up for air. The ‘slow speed’ signs did indeed mark areas where there were manatee in the water.

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We saw birds along the canal before we got to the locks: anhinga,

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Great blue heron (looking scruffy from the recent rain),

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Osprey,

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And double crested cormorants.

We entered the lock and tied up.  I took some brown pelican portraits while we waited.

Then the gates started to open.

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The pelicans road the little water wave as the water leveled…and one took flight.

There was an immature brown pelican outside the lock area. The light on the water was perfect.

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The high point of the trip was a frigate bird soaring overhead. I just watched it. My husband got the picture.

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There was a cruise ship and the SpaceX barge (used for rocket recovery) in Port Canaveral itself. I was more interested in bird pictures…so didn’t document those sights.

We headed back through the lock. I turned back to take a picture of the white pelicans grouped on the bank and

The horseshoe crab shells that accumulated to the side of the lock.

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I managed to take a picture of a bald eagle just before it flew way…a good ‘last picture’ before we docked back at Kelly Park.

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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.

3 Free eBooks – January 2019

The eBooks I am featuring in January are about topics that are well known today….but books from quite a few years ago.

Capart, Jean. Tout-Ankh-Amon. Bruxelles. 1943. Available from Internet Archive here. King Tut artifacts in a lavishly illustrated (photos) book from 1943 by a Belgian Egyptologist. I wondered how well the book sold or was it just like his other books. Internet Archive has some of his other books as well.

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Heyerdahl, Thor. The Art of Easter Island. New York: Doubleday & Company. 1975. Available from Internet Archive here. I remember when Heyerdahl was in the news about Easter Island…his investigation of how the stone heads were made and moved. I had never seen the book before, so it was a kind of closure. And about the same time, I was looking at this book, there was an item in my news feeds about Easter Island statues may have marked sources of fresh water.

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Lofting, Hugh. Doctor Dolittle’s Return. London: Jonathan Cape. 1933. Available from Project Gutenberg Canada here.

Most people are familiar with the movies but maybe not the books. Lofting illustrated his books himself too. The books started as letters to his children during World War I – the war being too horrible or boring to write about. There is a better biography for Hugh Lofting than Wikipedia’s here. If you are interested in more of his books, here’s the complete list of his books available from Project Gutenberg Canada:

The Story of Doctor Dolittle (1920) [Novel; with an introduction (1922) by novelist Hugh Walpole (1884-1941) Wikipedia] HTML HTML zipped Text Text zipped Wikipedia
The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle (1922) [Novel] HTML HTML zipped Text Text zipped Wikipedia
Doctor Dolittle's Post Office (1923) [Novel] HTML HTML zipped Text Text zipped Wikipedia
Dr. Dolittle's Circus (1924) [Novel] HTML HTML zipped Text Text zipped
Dr. Dolittle's Garden (1927) [Novel] HTML HTML zipped Text Text zipped
Dr. Dolittle in the Moon (1928) [Novel] HTML HTML zipped Text Text zipped
Dr. Dolittle's Return (1933) [Novel] HTML HTML zipped Text Text zipped

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.

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!

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.

Mt Pleasant in January 2019 – Part 2

Continuing the images from last week’s hike at Howard County Conservancy’s Mt. Pleasant….

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I noticed a bluebird box with lichen growing on its roof. I wondered how long the houses lasted. This one had a plaque below it saying it had been installed in 2009 so it’s held up for 10 years!

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There was some farm equipment near the edge of a field – covered in vines. It must not have been used for at least one season…and maybe longer. Nature is taking over! I didn’t get close enough to determine what kind of vines they might be – mile-a-minute or oriental bittersweet (both invasive) would be a good beginning guess.

With the record amount of rainfall we got in 2018, there was a root ball of a tree that fell – probably last spring.  What a dramatic change it must have been for the organisms around the roots before it fell…there would be a complex story to document different organisms came along after the tree feel and the elements alternatively dried out and filled in the hole (with water or soil washed into the hole). Nature is always in motion!

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A beech tree had been cut down and the big logs left in place.  Maybe the tree had fallen and was cut up to clear the trail or maybe it was a standing dead tree that was cut before it could fall. The center was rotting. The beech bark looks so smooth from a distance but often looks wrinkled upon closer inspection.

Ranger, the barred owl, is back in his quarters near the nature center. He seemed very calm as we hiked by. There aren’t school fieldtrips with lots of students to crowd around his space during the winter; it’s easier for him to be Zen.

It was good to be back at Mt. Pleasant for a hike…maybe I’ll go again sometime with my husband…wear boots that can get muddy and hunt for skunk cabbage peeking through the muck.