Plantains!

During one of my volunteer shifts at Brookside Gardens Wings of Fancy Exhibit, I noticed that the big banana tree was gone (there were several little ones in the bed) and the green and yellow fruit was still on the pod laying in one of the beds. I had seen it blooming last summer (see the pictures here) and was thrilled to see that the fruit had ripened.

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A Brookside staff member explained that the fruit was so heavy that it was pulling the tree over, so the tree was cut down to make room for the younger trees. The big bunches of fruit were left in one of vacant areas of the bed. The fruit often ripens after it is cut from the tree and it happened in this case. The tree is a plantain – like bananas but without the sweetness. The fruit was a little different shape as well. The staff member used pruners to cut the plantains for people who wanted to them. I took a yellow one.

The recipes for plantain chips I found on the web seemed easy enough. They advised a green plaintain since the fruit would be firmer – easier to slice. On the downside, the green ones are harder to peel. I had a yellow one so making a few shallow cuts along the ridges of the fruit was enough to peel it (although still more difficult that a banana). I put parchment paper on a cookie sheet and sprayed it with cooking spray. I cut the plantain into slices with a knife and put the slices on the prepared parchment paper…sprayed them with cooking spray…and sprinkled on some garlic salt. I cooked them in a 350-degree oven until they began to turn brown. I hadn’t cut them evenly, so I took the thin ones out and then let the rest cook a little longer.

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Yum! I ate all the plantain chips in one sitting!

Yum! I ate all the plantain chips in one sitting!

A Few Minutes Observing…Brookside in the Rain

Photography in the rain is always a challenge….and best done quickly before the camera gets raindrops on the lens! I had two rainy days that I was at Brookside Gardens before my Wings of Fancy shift and took a few minutes to photograph a few things near the conservatory.

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On the first morning – I photographed the stream as I crossed the entrance bridge. The rain was light, so the water was not high…but the color of the rocks normally dry above the surface of the water is more vivid since they were wet from the rain.

There were flowers in pots along the way.

I turned to take a picture of the rain garden area near the conservatory entrance before I went inside.

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On the second morning, the two buckeye trees that are at the edge of the parking lot were shedding their flowers. The flowers retained their color on the pavement as the water rippled and moved them into clusters.

It was raining a bit harder this second day and the water droplets were accumulating on the flowers…and rolling off. I was juggling my umbrella while I took the photos!





Brookside Wildflowers

I enjoy the boardwalk between Brookside Gardens and Brookside Nature Center in the spring. Earlier this week the boardwalk was my short walk before by shift in the Wings of Fancy exhibit. There are many native plants in this area that are looking good this spring. The plants are growing luxuriantly at this point – many in bloom.

Clumps of columbine

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Jack-in-the-pulpit (but they are green…sometimes hard to see)

Mayapples (the flower is sometimes hidden under the umbrella of leaves)

Skunk cabbage (with cypress knees poking up among the leaves)

Several kinds of ferns

Forest azaleas

And others.

Of course there are birds too….red-winged blackbirds are calling everywhere and robins are searching leaf mulch for a tasty worm!

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It was a productive 10-minute photo shoot!

Brookside Gardens Wings of Fancy – April 2019

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The Wings of Fancy live Butterfly Exhibit at Brookside Gardens opened in April. I am volunteering there again this season and my first shifts were toward the end of the month.

The Wings of Fancy live Butterfly Exhibit at Brookside Gardens opened in April. I am volunteering there again this season and my first shifts were toward the end of the month.

On the first morning there was a little rain as I arrived, and the outdoor temperature was cool. The sun came out and it warmed up a little as the day went on. The heaters were on in the conservatory to make a comfortable environment for the butterflies. I went in to do some photography before the exhibit opened for the day. The golden-edged owl is new this year and it tends to open and show its colors more than some of the other owls.

The Julia Longwing is around this year. There were a lot emerging from chrysalis during my 1st shift.

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The White Peacock had a lot emerging my second shift and I had groups of pre-schoolers observing! They were very excited and full of questions.

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The Malachites are available from two vendors this year – one in US which means that the chrysalises from that vendor can be in the emergence case in the exhibit.

The zebra longwings are always striking.

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And there are lots of other species too.

The big favorite of most visitors is the Blue Morpho. I like it for more than the metallic blue. The markings around the edges and ‘eye’ spots are interesting too. The orange color is supporting too.

The second day, I didn’t go in early or take my better camera - I still got two decent pictures with my cell phone. It was a little cool, so the butterflies were sitting around more…always good to go at 10 (when the exhibit opens) while it’s still cool!

Brookside Gardens Conservatory– February 2019

The Brookside Gardens conservatory was much warmer than outside – one of the immediate pleasures of stepping inside on a winter’s day. And then all the beautiful flowers that are all around draw attention. I did some quick photography using the zoom rather than taking the time to get closer to the flowers. I find that it’s faster and I like the results of the blurry or dark backgrounds. My favorite picture of the morning was shades of purple against a black background…curves and creases.

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The flowers in the conservatory are always colorful and even more appreciated in winter when the outside is so brown and black. In the conservatory there are always pinks and oranges and yellows and reds…with green framing.

I couldn’t resist documenting the cycads near the door back toward the gift store as we were leaving. There wasn’t as much vegetation around the plants, so the structures were more visible than usual. When I see cycads, I always think of dinosaurs since this type of plant was around that long ago…and somehow survived whatever killed off the dinosaurs.

Brookside Gardens – February 2019

My husband and I opted to walk the outside part of Brookside Gardens first on a cold day in February – planning to warm up in the conservatory before we headed back home. We didn’t make it all the way around the gardens (too cold) but there was plenty to see in the part we did manage.

There were dried flower heads from last summer – wonderful texture in their light browns. There is a fragility to their beauty too.

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There were several kinds of witch hazel – probably the most colorful deciduous tree this time of year.

The cold damaged ferns often look more artsy to me than all green ferns. Their color is more varied.

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And then there are the small bulbs of spring blooming. I was surprised I didn’t see any crocus.

And then we headed into the warm conservatory; that’s the topic for tomorrow’s post.

Zooming – January 2019

I have a bigger than usual group of images for the zooming post this month – primarily from a trip from Florida last week. They’ll be more details in posts coming out over the next few weeks. So sit back and enjoy the slide show. It only includes one snow picture!

Brookside Lights

Last week, we managed to get over to see the holiday lights at Brookside Gardens. They are worth at least one evening walkabout between Thanksgiving and the end of the year. It’s a family tradition for many people in our area of Maryland. There are things that stay the say…some things that are new...every time we go. This year there was another frog sculpture (with a butter fly and little frog) in the visitor’s center; I hadn’t noticed it before.

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The caterpillar tunnel was the same near the entrance to the gardens just outside the visitor center.

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The spider web and rainbow with lightning and clouds with raindrops were also repeats from previous years.

I always like the dragon (mom and baby). In previous years they spewed smoke.

Another new display: saguaro cactus light shapes.

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The butterfly and lights on a water feature (lights instead of water for the winter) were oldies but goodies.

I also like the spotlight on the sphere sculpture that I like so well during the day. The irregularities in the rock are more visible with the shadows. This might be my favorite picture from the whole evening!

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I created a slideshow with my other favorites. I like the nature theme for the lights -  flowers and moon and trees shapes, insects, tall stalks, a snake and ants and a fox, mushrooms. Sometimes I am not sure what it’s supposed to be…but it’s always fun to guess.

It’s also fun to listen to parents interacting with their young children. I noticed a toddler almost in front of us walking across the sidewalk; his father said “Don’t sit in the mulch” and the child promptly took a few more steps, turned around, and sat down in the mulch. He was helped up…dusted off in the back (it was cold so he was well bundled up). Everyone laughed…a good time!

Brookside Gardens at end of September – part II

Yesterday I posted about plants…today is about birds and butterflies. We’d gone to Brookside Gardens to photograph hummingbirds – realizing that it was near the end of the season for them. The garden area full of salvias was still full of flowers.

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There were a few birds, but they did not stay long. The only image I managed was a hummingbird in a tree….using the zoom to advantage. The bird looked very rounded and in good shape to continue south.

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I also photographed a male and female monarch (the male has a black node on each hind wing). They too were probably heading south and stopping at the garden to refuel.

Brookside Gardens at end of September – part I

The growing season is waning, but there is still plenty to see at Brookside Gardens when we went last weekend. Some plants have already produced their seeds – the sumac and sunflowers and castor beans among them.

The magnolia pods are as colorful as the seeds. Some of the seeds have already been eaten by birds or squirrels.

But there are still flowers to see too. I spent time photographing asters with tiny water droplets still coating them from the morning dew.

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But there are other things still blooming as well.

There were some lights that were turned on covering the trunks and lower branches of trees around one of the court yards – evidence that the crew putting up lights for the holiday light show has already started.

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Ten Little Celebrations – September 2018

Every month when I look at the notes I’ve made for each day of little celebrations – I enjoy them again. Many times, it’s hard to pick just 10 for this blog post. Here are the picks for September 2018:

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Volunteering on the last day of Brookside Gardens Wings of Fancy exhibit – It was good to be there for the good-bye day…and know that the next exhibit will open again in April. I enjoy being in the butterfly house and interacting with visitors…it’s a happy place.

Window cleaning – I am surprising myself at how satisfying cleaning the windows (taking the panes apart and cleaning all surfaces except the one on the outside) on a rainy day can be. Instead of spring cleaning – I’m doing fall cleaning! I celebrated the difference clean windows make.

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A monarch butterfly emerging – Caterpillars crawled up from our front flower bed to make chrysalises at the top of the window frames. I finally managed to notice one that was still emerged - hanging from the bit of chrysalis still attached – and then crawling up onto the lentil to finish drying. Celebration!

Yummy zucchini bread – I made a double batch of zucchini bread from squash frozen earlier in the summer. We enjoyed it for days. I celebrated the spicy flavor…helped me feel ready for fall.

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Howard County Conservancy volunteers and staff – With the training for fall field trips, we always have a pot luck lunch and this one – for me – was a celebration of those people (and that they are all such foodies)!

Elementary School Butterfly – What a celebration when the first Monarch butterfly emerged from a chrysalis I took to the elementary school! I wasn’t there for the excitement but got the description from the teacher. They even found another chrysalis on the fence around their school garden while they were releasing their butterfly.

Haircut - I told the stylist – with some trepidation - that I wanted it short….and celebrated the results.

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A birthday spent at Longwood - This is a great place to spend celebrating a family birthday…better than a too-sweet cake!

Yard work – Just as the window cleaning – I celebrated the results. It’s good to know that I’m ending the month in relatively good shape when it comes to the yard…before a lot of leaves have fallen.

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Lacewing larvae – Celebrating seeing (and recognizing) a new-to-me organism (looks like lichen since it covers itself with pieces of the stuff)!

Zooming – September 2018

The zoom on my new camera (60 vs 40 optical zoom…and then comes the digital zoom too) makes it even easier to stand well out of the flowerbed, get a good angle, not scare the butterfly or bee. It’s easier to hold myself steady using the viewfinder rather than the screen like I had to previously. Sometimes I use the monopod…but other times I find that I can simple hold myself steady enough that the camera image stabilization does the rest.

The images I selected this month are from several places: Longwood Gardens, home, Brookside Gardens, and Howard Count Conservancy’s Mt. Pleasant Farm. Some of my favorite places to be.

Enjoy my picks of zoomed images for September 2018!

Cloudy Day at Brookside Gardens

Last weekend we went to Brookside Gardens to photograph hummingbirds. The garden area they frequent still had lots of blooms.

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I photographed other parts of the area: some favorite sculptures,

Seed pods,

A rabbit eating breakfast,

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Mushrooms under the roses,

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And at artsy shot of an orange flower with a spiral shaped bud.

The best observations of the morning were bumblebees nectar robbing. The bee makes a hole in the base of the flower and then drinks the nectar. The shape of the flower would be a tight squeeze for these bees. Still – this is a case where the bees are not acting as pollinators since they bypass the flower structures entirely.

But hummingbird photography was disappointing. The lighting was not as good as the previous visits and there were not as many birds coming to the flowers. I only managed 3 pictures worth sharing.

So – the nectar robbing saved the day!

2018 Wings of Fancy Ends

Yesterday was the last day of Brookside Gardens’ Wings of Fancy butterfly exhibit. I volunteered for the last morning shift; taking in zucchini muffins to share with the other volunteers and staff. It started out slow for the butterflies and visitors; the day was cool and very cloudy. Then it warmed up a little and the sun even came out.

I looked back through pictures I’ve taken in the exhibit -ones I’ve liked but not posted for one reason or another. I think if headlines for some of them:

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A Birdwing resting – being harassed by a smaller butterfly

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Three Queens

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Sleeping late (butterflies roosting long past sunrise because it was so cloudy – mostly Longwings)

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Pining to go outdoors (Blue Morpho)

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Living jade (Malachite butterfly)

I put the rest into a slide show…to prolong the joy of the 2018 Wings of Fancy exhibit one more day. I’m already looking forward to next April when the 2019 version will open!

Brookside Hummingbirds

My husband and I made the effort to get to Brookside Gardens early enough last Saturday and Sunday for some hummingbird photography; I’d seen photographers at ‘the place’ before my shift at the butterfly exhibit. The hummingbirds come to the bed of cardinal flowers and salvias in the fragrance garden that is in bright sunlight in the morning. It was a good opportunity for me to experiment with my new camera. I set the camera for continuous shooting (as fast as it can go when the button is held down) and savored how much easier the viewfinder is when trying to follow fast moving birds. I was pleased with several sequences from Saturday.

On Sunday there were not as many birds, but I had learned to zoom a bit more…make the bird bigger in the frame

I was also luck enough to track a flying bird to the magnolia tree and get a still portrait!

My husband was taking pictures at the same time with a big lens and much more expensive camera. His camera does a better job of ‘freezing’ the wing motion than my point-and-shoot strategy. He caught the hummingbird in the magnolia with is beak open!

Ten Little Celebrations – August 2018

I thought August might be a slow month with the summer camps ending and nothing new starting….but the month developed….not hard at all to pick 10 little celebrations to highlight.

Solitary hike – Usually I hike with other people – most recently with summer campers. Hike my myself at Mt. Pleasant was a change-of-pace and something to celebrate. Getting a artsy picture of two butterflies on Joe Pye Weed with a clear blue sky background was the image to remember of the morning.

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Surviving a long hike – Then there was the much longer hike with camper up and down…across a stream and along muddy paths. I celebrated when that hike was done!

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Blue Jay feather – A special feather is always a celebration for me…and from several perspectives: finding one on the ground, photographing it, remembering my daughter’s feather collection when she was very young, and realizing that know what kind of bird it came from!

Weekend in State College – Deciding to take a weekend trip – spurt of the moment. And dodging the rain to enjoy every minute! Celebrating family.

Butterflies – August seems to be my peak month for butterflies roosting on me in the butterfly exhibit. It’s special every single time.

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Hummingbirds – Last weekend my husband and I attempted to photograph hummingbirds at Brookside gardens for two mornings. We were reasonably successful (a post about our experience is coming) but we’ll both improve with more practice. The birds are fast movers. Both of us are celebrating the photographs we got with the birds in focus!

Blooming bananas – Seeing something familiar but in a little different stage of development….I’m celebrating being in the conservatory at the right time.

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Rulers for 25 cents – I celebrated that several stores in our area had wooden rulers for 26 cents. That’s inexpensive enough I can have my own supply for field trips with children just learning to measure sizes of what we find on our hikes.

Dragonflies – I haven’t found dragonflies in the wheel formation (mating) but I did find two at our neighborhood storm water management pond that were half way there! I celebrated the photographic opportunity and an still looking for the wheel.

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Sweet potato leaves – Yummy sweet potato leaves. Our Community Supported Agriculture must have harvested part of the sweet potato crop in August so we got leaves in one of our shares this month. I hope there are still some left for later since we normally get them in late September. They are probably my favorite salad green….and I get them a couple of weeks a year….so worthy of celebration when they are available.

Blooming Bananas

I haven’t spent much time recently in the north conservatory at Brookside Gardens since I am generally coming to volunteer at the Wings of Fancy exhibit. Yesterday I took the short cut from the ticket taker area through the green house and a corner of the north conservatory on the way to the staff/volunteer room and noticed some petals on the floor. I looked up. The banana tree had blooms! Somehow in all the years I’ve been visiting Brookside and noting the banana trees in that corner, I’d never caught it in this stage of development. Wow! My first impression was that the flowers reminded me of orchids, but bananas are more closely related to the gingers evidently.

Seeing the banana flowers was the best bit of serendipity of the day!

Butterflies at Brookside Gardens

August was a good month for butterflies at Brookside Gardens – both in the conservatory and outdoors in the gardens. Volunteering allows me to visit the Wings of Fancy exhibit and bring guests when I’m not ‘on shift;’ I get there just as the conservatory opens to indulge in some butterfly photography.

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I challenge myself to capture eyes, proboscis, palpi, and antennae for as many butterflies as possible.

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The blue morpho is one I photography a lot so I am always looking for a new and different perspective.

The blue morpho is one I photography a lot so I am always looking for a new and different perspective.

The same is true for true for the malachite. I think I like the underside of the wings more than the upper.

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The Julia longwing is the one I photographyed a few months ago moving its palpi across the parts of its eyes.

The stars for August were the big moths. There were male and female Atlas moths – kept separately so they couldn’t mate and lay eggs everywhere in the conservatory creating a containment problem. The males are much smaller than the females and the shape of the scale-less (clear) portions of the wing are different. In the pictures the male’s antennae are forward from the head…both females have antennae positioned back over their heads.

The other big moth was the Africa Moon Moth which looks very similar to our North American Luna Moth.

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The Wings of Fancy exhibit runs until September 16….so a few more weeks to enjoy the butterflies in the conservatory.

Brookside Wings of Fancy Caterpillars – August 2018

The caterpillars at Brookside Gardens Wings of Fancy exhibit are maturing….getting ready for cooler temperatures. On the walk up the ticket taker table, the last of the milkweed tussock moth caterpillars are finishing their leaves and pupating. A large number had to be moved to milkweed plants further from the caterpillar house so that the Monarch caterpillars would be on view to the visitors waiting to enter the caterpillar house of the exhibit.

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The caterpillar house in August featured a white case (for the saddleback caterpillars) and then places for 3 pots (starring cecropia moth and monarch butterfly caterpillars).

The saddleback caterpillars grew bigger in August. I talked to at least two people that has been stung by them in their gardens!

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The cecropia moth caterpillars made cocoons one my one over the course of the month. Yesterday there was only one caterpillar left on the black cherry – and it had been the runt of the caterpillars from the beginning; it’s catching up now.

There is a spicebush tree in a pot next to the black cherry where the caterpillars have moved to make their cocoons.

The monarch caterpillars have been the most fun to watch. I was in the caterpillar house once just after a caterpillar shed its skin.

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They alternate between resting and eating….mostly eating.

When they are big enough to pupate, they try to leave the host plant. One started the walk-about when I was volunteering in the caterpillar house (round and round the pot looking for a way off) and we moved it to a portable mesh cube where it made its J and then chrysalis.

Outside there were many Monarch chrysalises on the plants and the structure of the caterpillar house. They always look like jade pendants to me.

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Outdoors at Brookside Gardens

I try to take a few minutes before each shift volunteering at Brookside Gardens Wings of Fancy to walk around outside in the gardens. There is a lot going on in August. I am featuring some of my favorite things I noticed and photographed in this post.

Button bush and cone flowers and sunflowers – with and without bees.

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Joe Pye Weed in bloom…very popular with the tiger swallowtails. One morning I photographed a dark morph female with several of the yellow and black versions.

Monarchs are more prevalent in the garden than they were earlier.

I can never resist checking the gingko tree near the conservatory. I like the way the leaves look outlined in gold of the morning sunshine.

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The sumac is a plant I am tracking this year. I recognize the seed heads but want to capture how the seeds develop. This will take me further into the fall since they don’t look like they’ve changed too much during this month.

There are always a lot of funnel spider webs in the low pines around the conservatory….and sometimes the spider is visible.

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There are several kinds of datura in the garden.

I had never nptoced what the seed pod looked like before.

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Some of the trumpets hang downward and I appreciated that the screen on my new camera can pivot so I can see what the camera is seeing when it is point straight up! I’ve always wanted to photography the unfurling flower.

The bald cypress has the scale insects like it did last summer but seems healthy enough to survive. The cones are beginning to form.

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The cannas are beautiful this time of year. Some are producing seed pods.

This is the view from the ticket taker table for Wings of Fancy. I ended up doing the job when no one had signed up for it….a  last minute change of plans.

There are milkweed plants close to the entrance to the caterpillar house and there are often insects on the plants other than caterpillars. When there are no visitors in the area…I roam around and take pictures; more on the caterpillars tomorrow.