Training at Belmont

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There was a volunteer training session for the 5th grade BioBlitz field trip at Belmont led by Howard County Conservancy a week or so ago. The short hike back to the woods…to an area along the trail where water seeps out of the ground to create a small stream…gave us an opportunity to see how easy it is to find interesting organisms to document. The trees are obvious.

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Looking more closely there are things like mushrooms growing on a moss-covered log, macroinvertebrates in the water,

Crawly things (millipedes, worms, termites, insect larvae, etc.) under logs that can be rolled and sometimes frogs/toads that jump and show themselves. In our case it was a small American toad.

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Sometimes even the texture of tree bark can be interesting. This beech tree has wrinkles!

It was a ‘in a few minutes’ type of event…so much found, quickly. We could spend the whole time documenting what we found in that small area. It helps that there is water…since we haven’t had much rain recently and some longs that were mossy and full of fungi last spring are brown right now.

Belmont Field Trips

BioBlitz for middle schoolers and Nature Tales for pre-K – the Howard County Conservancy field trips at Belmont had quite an age range.

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Early in the month before a middle school BioBlitz, a red-tailed hawk sat on the Carriage House roof watching the flurry of preparation below. It stayed until the first groups of students arrived to fly away.

The last field trip of the season was a pre-K group. My station was all about trees. I took a picture of it before they arrived. I’d had pulled some tulip poplar seedlings to show since the nearby sycamore trees that I used to talk a lot about had been cut down (before they fell on a nearby building).  The was the calm before the 56 4-year-olds with their chaperones arrived on 4 buses. I was glad that they came to my station in 4 separate groups rather than all at once! The weather was near perfect…the children thrilled to be outdoors…and a good time was had by all…and maybe they learned a little about trees too. It was a good finale to the spring field trip season.

Belmont – March 2019

Howard County Conservancy hosted a training session at Belmont for upcoming elementary school BioBlitzes last week. I hadn’t been to the location since January, so I looked around before going into the Carriage House for class. The plane trees (they are like sycamores but are a little different – have some seed balls in pairs rather than single) seemed full of seed balls. We’ve had quite a lot of wind and the fibers holding the balls to the tree look worn at this point. I wondered how long they would stay attached after I saw the zoomed image through my camera.

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It was sad to see the stump of the red maple they had to cut down recently. Evidently it lost a lot of big branches during some of the recent winds. The colors in the stump drew my attention. The tree was not extensively rotten but there were some insect holes. The stump would have to be sanded to count the rings. The tree had been struggling in recent years, but I always pointed it out because it had small branches low enough on its trunk for children to see the flowers and leaves.

It also had a root that was above the surface and been injured by mowers…but still survived.

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I almost always pointed out the red maple to contrast with the nearby sugar maple – which is still standing with some ivy growing on it. It was a good concept for student to think through – how the trees were alike and how they were different…both maples.

The class had an outdoor portion to try out the app and tablets the students would be using. I used the time to take a few more pictures. There were crocuses blooming in the grassy area near the mailboxes.

The wind had blown pine cones and sweet gum balls into the same area.

The pond still looked like it has all winter. The clouds had rolled in while we had been indoors. And this landscape shows the dimness of the day.

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I turned back to the view the manor house and notice a maple that no longer had its upper branches. One of the them was very rotten. But the tree is still blooming!

We headed up to the cemetery and I checked the hemlock. The tree looks like the treatment for wooly adelgid has worked. I tried an experimental shot with a cone highlighted…and blurry branches above and below.

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By the time I am at Belmont again – there will be even more signs of spring.

BioBlitz with 7th Graders

I spent two mornings at Howard County Conservancy’s Mt. Pleasant with 7th graders for a BioBlitz.

Both days were cool and a little breezy. I arrived early enough the first day to take a few pictures of the fall gardens (in the calm before almost chaos)

And to look at the Green Infrastructure Network map again….enough to locate the approximate location of their school and think through how to talk about hubs/corridors in the county.

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I had 11 students and a chaperone for about 2 hours and we found quite a lot. The most exciting – for me and the students on the first day – was a spotted salamander when we rolled over a log.

The brightly colored shelf-fungus and a wolf spider were good finds too.

On both days – one of the students borrowed my macro lens and became a specialist at getting macro pictures. Overall – the students handled being a little cold very well and stayed focused the BioBlitz for most of the two hours.

Belmont BioBlitz Field Trip

I went early to help set up for the first Belmont BioBlitz for 5th graders this fall at Howard County Conservancy’s Belmont location. I arranged the discovery tables with pelts, skulls, insects in jars/acrylic, and leaves/seeds of common trees neatly framed in cases backed with cotton. Another table held reference books. The volunteers arrived and we all went out to wait for the buses. The new item for this year is a rugged tablet! Otherwise we had the usual BioBlitz backpack: ruler, tape measure, magnifiers, clip boards, some id books…things we would need in the field.


It’s good to feel that we are ready – and enjoy the morning calm as we wait for the buses.


And then the buses arrive and it all begins.

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With my first group we stayed on pavement since we had one student with a cast and were using a wheel chair for her to help with the distance. We documented some trees along the entrance road and some insects on the trunks. Some geese flew to the pond as we watched, and I used the zoom on my camera to take some pictures to include with their documentation. It was the only time I got my camera out during the field trip. Otherwise the students did all the picture taking and documenting of what they found. The big find for the first group was a wolf spider.

The second group went in a different direction and said – at the beginning – that they wanted to look at plants and fungi. They documented an oak and the ivy growing on it. Then they found several kinds of mushroom type fungi. And there were some insects along the way…they were more interested than they thought they would be in insects. They were looking around for acorns and discovered a different kind of nut….and then the tree. A hickory. They got some good pictures of the nuts and leaves, and the way the leaves are on the branch…so they should be able to determine the type of hickory it is!

It was a good field trip. All the students had already done a BioBlitz on their schoolyard so were well versed with the mechanics of what to do. Belmont is a very different place than a schoolyard!

2018 Belmong BioBlitz – part 2

Continuing from yesterday….there was a web of very small spiders just off the path. They were all moving rapidly although it wasn’t clear where they going!

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Another benefit of the rain was the increased visibility of spider webs in the grass. Sometimes we could even see the spider hiding in the ‘funnel’ of the web.

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These small white flowers were found down by the pond. They aren’t native – probably planted sometime during Belmont’s long history - but they are propagating themselves at this point.

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The lichen and moss seemed to have richer colors because of the dampness all three days of this year’s BioBlitz.

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During one of the few times the sun came out (on the second day) – the group found a snail on blade of grass. Shortly after this picture was taken the snail’s weight bent the grass…a little drama in the meadow.

The group also documented a stand of locust trees – native but invasive; the stand was probably started by fill dirt that included the seeds.

When we started the last day, we thought it might start to rain at any time --- and were thrilled when we go about 1.5 hours of good observations – tadpoles, small insects, trees…and ropey roots under one of the big trees along the road. We headed back to the Carriage House at lunch time; it started to sprinkle as we got there.


The 2018 Belmont BioBlitz in a wrap!

2018 Belmont BioBlitz – part 1


I’ve been volunteering for the Howard County Conservancy’s Belmont BioBlitz field trips since they started in the fall of 2014. We had a 3-day BioBlitz this week with students coming from 2 schools. On the first morning the day started out foggy and stayed cloudy. While we were waiting for the buses to arrive with the students, I took some pictures.


The horse chestnut tree was blooming although the blooms were past their prime and some had fallen to the ground already. I took a picture of one with the macro lens on the cell phone.


All the vegetation was covered in water droplets. Even grass seeds look like little works of art with the droplets.


The buses came up the tree lined drive. There are more gaps in the tree line now that the ashes have been cut down.


We headed back to our assigned ‘zone’ in the woods – finding white pines along the way to document and then a box turtle and violets gone to seed on the forest floor.

Stay tuned for more BioBlitz finds in tomorrow’s post.

Hurray for Spring Field Trips!

This week I volunteered for school field trips with the Howard County Conservancy – three mornings in a row. The first two were 5th graders at Belmont. I did two hikes with groups of about 10 students and their chaperone on both days. The school buses arrived on time and both groups wanted to head to the forest.

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Along the way to stopped to see a pecan tree and a southern magnolia with lots of seed pods around its base. The students measured and described nuts, husks, pods and leaves…and then it we moved to the forest where we found millipedes and a tiny red mite. The spicebush was in bloom. It’s an understory tree so the students could take a close look at the flowers, see the stoma in the bark (white dots) and smell the ‘spice.’ They were thrilled that the trees are surviving in the forest behind Belmont…and that means there will be food for the swallowtail butterfly caterpillars as the days warm and the leaves emerge.

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There was a bird in a high tree as we started the hike back from lunch. We thought it was a crow…and then it flew and ‘cawed’ to confirm.

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As we waited to regroup in the field we compared seeds of sycamores and sweet gums…and picked out the sycamores in the distance along the drive into Belmont.

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I took pictures of the lilacs planted in symmetrical plantings in front of the manor hour as I walked back to my car after the last hikes. The buds for the flowers were not numerous and I wondered if a recent frost had damaged them.

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The third field trip of the week was for 3rd graders and was at Mt. Pleasant Farm. The students arrived in school buses and the normal chaos ensued to divide into groups.

The topic was ‘habitats and home’ which is always a great topic for a hike but particularly in the spring. The hike included observing blue birds and tree swallows jockeying for the bird houses along the trail. My group stood on a little hillock to observe the action. The tree swallows seemed to have staked a claim but weren’t building their nest there yet.

I completely missed the wood frog orgy in the little pool in the Honor’s Garden this year. It evidently happened on some warm days we had back in February! There are a lot of tadpoles in the pool now and were part of the lesson for the students during the non-hiking part of the morning.

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Three days – six hikes….Hurray for spring field trips!

Belmont BioBlitz – Fall 2017 (Part II)

The second day of BioBlitz, the area my group was assigned had some native trees planted as landscaping (one was just beginning to display it fall colors) and long row of white pines. We found mushrooms under the pines; one of the chaperones used the clip on macro lens to photograph underneath the bright yellow mushroom (with the phone in selfie mode).

Of course there were insects and small flowers too….with pinecones to examine while we were enjoying the shade under the pines before heading to the front of the manor house for their picnic lunch.

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The third day of BioBlitz, my group was in the woods. We found several types of fungi growing on rotting wood.


Millipedes seemed to be everywhere. We talked about taking a video as we watched how their legs moved in ‘waves’ to push them forward.

And then there were lots of small insects we tried to capture in the magnifiers so we could get good pictures!

This was probably the best Belmont Bioblitz I’ve participated in: the weather cooperated (dry and not too hot) and the 5th graders were enthusiastic observers!

Belmont BioBlitz – Fall 2017 (Part I)

Last week, 5th graders from 3 Howard County elementary schools participated in a BioBlitz organized by the Howard County Conservancy at Belmont Manor and Historic Park. The three mornings were quite busy. I enjoyed the calm before the buses arrived – watching the birds at the feeder and photographing the generally calm early morning scene. Then someone would spot a bus starting up the tree lined drive to the manor house – and all the volunteers would spread out and wait for their group of about 10 students and at least one chaperone to be assigned. Then we headed out into the field.

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The area my group was assigned on the first day was meadow rimmed with trees. We used iNaturalist to record observations of what we found: horse nettle, pokeweed, worms, spiders, wooly bear caterpillars, and black walnuts. iNatualist helped us identify things better – particularly if the pictures were good. One of exciting things we found but couldn’t photograph well was tiny worms feeding on the black walnut! We also found a birds nest in the tall grasses of the meadow…and lots of multi-flora rose bushes with thorns that seemed to grab pant legs. In two hours…the students were ready for their picnic lunch in front of the manor house and the return to school – tired from a great BioBlitz day.

More on the other two BioBlitz days in tomorrow’s post….