Mt. Pleasant – May 2019

I arrived at Howard County Conservancy’s Mt. Pleasant before one of the elementary school field trips – early enough to take a short hike and photograph some of the May sights along the trail. One of the first birds I saw was a small flock of gold finches near the Community Garden – eating ravenously.

Earlier in the week, when I was hiking with 2nd graders, we had spotted some caterpillars on a newly planted hickory tree. I never try to photograph things while I have a field trip group with me, so I was going back to try to photograph the caterpillars. The morning was cool…and I couldn’t find the caterpillars on the tree! The walk through the quiet area of new trees – invasive removed – was worth it anyway - a contrast to the noisy enthusiasm that would arrive on the school buses.

On the walk back, I was quite enough approaching a nest box to see the tree swallow at the hole. It looks almost like a plug – a perfect fit!

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There was a feather in the grass beside the mowed path. From a hawk? The feather was large…must have come from a large bird.

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The dew was still on the funnel spider webs. It’s hard to find them after the grass is dry.

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Dandelions had already had a first round of flowers…and gone to seed.

The tulip poplar (also called yellow poplar) had lots of buds…ramping up to blooms. The flowers do look a lot like tulips!

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Our Front Yard

The milkweed is up in the front flowerbed. Hopefully some monarch butterflies will show up soon to lay eggs on it and my monarch nursery will be in business for this year.

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The day lilies are still just green – no bud stalks yet. I’ll try to cut the buds before the deer eat them (enjoy them in vases indoors) and just leave the greenery behind. There are some black eyed susans that should offer some yellow to the beds once the temperature is warm enough.

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The smell of mint rises as I pull weeds – I try to leave the mint behind.

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There are plenty of weeds and grass to pull in the front flower beds. It helps to have the day lilies shading out some of them.

The ninebark bush has some blooms this year and seems to be healthier. Maybe the deer did not eat it as much this past winter.

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I have one iris that is about ready to bloom. I cut it to take inside a few days after this picture was taken. The other irises have leaves but no stalks yet. They do seem to be recovering from whatever ate most of the rhizomes year before last.

Virginia creeper is growing on the oak. I’m leaving it for now because I like the contrast it makes with the day lily leaves around the base of the tree.

Over all – I’m slowly making progress to get the front flower beds looking lush with greenery and weed-free. The Next chore will be trimming the bushes. There is one I will wait on; it has a catbird nesting in it.

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!





Red-Headed Woodpecker at Blackwater

Another bird we saw at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge was a Red-headed Woodpecker. There is a lot of standing dead wood in the refuge because of the water level changes in recent years. Trees less tolerant to wet roots or brackish (becoming saltier) water are dying. One area along the wildlife loom was almost all dead and the woodpeckers were having a heyday based on the numbers of holes we saw…and then we saw the red-headed woodpecker. It wasn’t at work…just looking around in the forest and didn’t notice when we got out of the car (quietly….didn’t turn the engine off or close the doors).

It posed very nicely on the snag – one that the tree top had already fallen from.

So many woodpeckers have some red on their head…but this is the one that gets the name. It is in this area for both breeding and wintering. This part of Blackwater is prime habitat for it…at least for now.

Blackwater Osprey Drama

We saw more Osprey at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge than we did bald eagles (see previous post for the bald eagle pictures).

There was an occupied nesting platform near the beginning of the wildlife loop (to the left – labeled Little Blackwater River on the map). There was a bird on the nest on both days we drove the loop. Since we knew the nest was there and we were using the car as our blind, my husband and I had already positioned ourselves on the left side of the car with camera supports on the doors on the second day; his was a metal frame that the camera mounted on and mine was a neck pillow turned downward over the door frame…enough for my smaller camera (it was an experiment and worked…good to know for when I travel…yet another reason to take a neck pillow along).There were osprey vocalizations almost immediately and then the male swopped in and there was mating action on the nest.  It was a good thing we were already prepares for photography! The whole sequence below took place in about a minute.

The male flew off to a snag further along the wild life loop afterwards.

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Further along the loop there was an osprey on a post closer to the wildlife loop – an opportunity to get some bird portrait shots.

We took the turn off onto the part of the loop that goes by Pools 5a-c…and there was another osprey nesting pair! These two seemed to be doing a bit of nest rearranging and watching the skies for danger. It was a very windy day – ruffled feathers.

This part of the drive exits near the Tubman Visitor Center.

Overall – osprey were the dramatic stars for the Blackwater Wildlife Loop!

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!

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

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We visited a second National Wildlife Refuge last weekend: Blackwater. We usually visit Blackwater on the same trips at Chincoteague because it is ‘on the way.’ Of the two – Blackwater is my favorite. It is the first place I saw a bald eagle in the wild. It was back in 1990 when by daughter was a baby - a pleasant spring day and we were sitting out side on a blanket letting her finish off a bottle….and a bald eagle soared overhead. It was idyllic when it happened and in my memory. We saw eagles during this visit too. On the first day it was raining and the eagle was looking very wet. Note in the last picture of this series, the membrane eyelid on the right eye is closed (must have gotten a rain drop in the eye!).

The next morning when we drove around the wildlife loop again, it was sunny and there was an eagle on the same platform – maybe the same one – looking much happier. It took off before we could get pictures and continued to soar in the area until it vanished into the trees. There was another eagle on a snag near a blind – almost out of range for my camera.

The visitor center has a little garden at the back with small trees (like dogwoods) and a butterfly sculpture. There are bird feeders that attracted a few small birds. The red-winged blackbirds were very vocal. I saw a hummingbird sampling the clumps of columbine in the gardon on the sunny morning.

My husband saw a lump in the road and stopped quickly for us to get out and take a look: a baby snapping turtle. It didn’t move while we watched it, but it was in a patch of sun and would warm up enough to finish crossing the road soon after we left. It was already close to the edge of the road.

I’ll post later about the other birds we saw at Blackwater. I see something new just about every time we go to Blackwater…and this trip was no exception.

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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The Zentangle® Method is an easy-to-learn, relaxing, and fun way to create beautiful images by drawing structured patterns. It was created by Rick Roberts and Maria Thomas. "Zentangle" is a registered trademark of Zentangle, Inc. Learn more at zentangle.com.

Zooming – April 2019

The accelerating change of the seasons in Maryland and Texas…so much to see and do. I’ve picked a few of my favorite images captured with the zoom on my camera. There are insects in at least two of the flower images (maybe a third)….the little critters enjoying the spring bounty. Enjoy the April slideshow!

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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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!

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!

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.

Tree Bud Project – Week 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then the bigger structure grew.

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And now they seem to be drying out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few minutes observing Mourning Doves

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

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

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

Tree Bud Project – Week 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March Sunrise

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

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

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

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

Stink Bug

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

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

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

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