December on the Trolley Trail

The Howard County Conservancy organized a winter hike for its volunteers last week on the Trolley Trail (Trolley Trail #9 near Ellicott City/Benjamin Banneker Historical Park and Museum). We were celebrating the end of another fall field trip season. About 40 people met in the Banneker parking lot and headed out.

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The connecting trail from Banneker to the Trolley Trail was through the forest and very muddy. There was an Osage orange tree that had dropped its fruit recently. Most of the fruit look pristine. When I got home, I did some research and discovered that the fruit is not eaten except sometimes by squirrels. One theory is that the fruit was eaten by large mammals that are now extinct (ground sloth, mammoth, mastodon) and that these animals would have spread the seed. Now the tree is propagated by people for its wood and as windbreaks.

We headed north on the Trolley Trail first. I didn’t take many pictures because I was so busy trying to keep up with the group. It was the same the last time I was on the Trolley Trail in 2015 with my Master Naturalist class (posted about it here).

There was some stream restoration (and maybe something else since there is infrastructure like sewer lines in the streambed) that was active next to the trail.  The stream did look more scoured than the last time we were in the area.

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We reached the end of the trail at the north and retraced our steps…passing the trails to Banneker to continue south on the Trolley Trail.

We got to the part of the trail that was damaged in the last flood. Repair work was not complete, so we stopped before getting down to Ellicott City; I turned around and took a picture back along the trail. The asphalt of the trail was damaged by the flood; the asphalt edges were uneven, and pieces were missing.

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There were bright green Christmas fens on the cliff to the right

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A little further back up the hill, winter trees looked good against the sky. It’s easy to pick out the sycamores this time of year.

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A waterfall was scenic rather than roaring. I thought more about what it must have been like during the flood to sweep away asphalt a little further down.

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We’ve gotten so much rain this fall/early winter that the moss is thick and bright green – like a carpet.

We made the muddy trek back up to Banneker to retrieve our cars…and head for lunch with healthy appetites.

Smithsonian Environmental Research Center - Part II

Continuing about my day at SERC last Friday…

I got to SERC early enough that I walked around a small pond and took my first pictures of marshmallows.

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There were more of them in the marsh near the boardwalk as we made our way out to Hog Island. They were – by far – the biggest flowers of the area.

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A tiny flower that I photographed along the trail from very close up was a mint. I was careful to look for poison ivy and plants with thorns before I positioned myself to take the picture.

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And then there were trees…trees with lichen…a canopy of green…a pathway lined with green.

There are ongoing studies that make exact measurements of tree trunks over time. Metal bands are used; they expand as the tree grows and the amount they have expanded is measured.

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There were trees with holes in their trunks. The rows of holes are probably made by a bird – a yellow-bellied sapsucker. I remembered seeing a similar tree during my last hike at Belmont and being thrilled that the campers already knew the bird that made the holes!

There are young paw paw trees in the forest and I realized that I had seen these at Belmont as well. I know the tree from its bark but not is leaves!

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There was a standing dead tree that had the thickest collection of shelf fungus I’ve ever seen.

A sickly dogwood had more colorful bark that I am used to seeing on a dogwood.

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As we got back to the cluster of buildings – on the road by the geothermal well area – there were some sycamores – with a few skeletonized leaves…something was eating them…and the last flower of the day:

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Some black eyed susans.

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After the hike, we had lunch followed by a lecture about orchids. The North American Orchid Conservation Center is based at SERC and there are 9 native orchids that have been found there! We saw one on the earlier hike (the cranefly orchid) – unfortunately I didn’t get a good picture of it. The website for the organization - https://northamericanorchidcenter.org/ - is full of get information about native orchids and there is a colelction of orchid-gami printables if you want to make paper models of orchids!

Smithsonian Environmental Research Center - Part I

I spent last Friday at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) near Edgewater MD. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources had organized the day and announced it to Master Naturalists. It was a day well spent! When we were not hiking, we were in a classroom in the Mathias Lab Building, a LEED platinum facility complete with solar panels and geothermal wells.

The first lecture of the day was about spiders (and other creepy crawly critters) that sometimes are unappreciated or frightening to some people. I find myself being more interested in looking closely at spiders – although when one crawled across the ceiling of my bathroom there was still a cringe.

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The first critter we saw as we gathered for our hike after the lecture was a spider almost hidden by a funnel shaped web. There were others along our route as well but they are notoriously hard to photograph.

Some of the high points of the hike for me were: Indian pipes (a non-photosynthetic flowering plant),

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Wintergreen (a plant that I’ve probably seen before but didn’t know what it was),

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The summer version of the jack-in-the-pulpit (the seeds have not turned red – yet),

A click beetle,

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Several kinds of ferns (some with spores), and

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Then out on the boardwalk to Hog Island where the phragmites is surrounding a shrinking area of cattails.

I’ll continue this post about my day at SERC tomorrow….

First field trip of the season

The spring field trips have begun. I volunteered for the first pre-school field trip last week provided by Howard Country Conservancy at Belmont. It was the day everyone went back to school after our big snow and there still patches of snow on the ground. It was a sunny day but very chilly. The children arrive in cars with a parent (or two) rather than a bus. They were mostly 3 years old…a few had recently had a 4th birthday. They were bundled up enough that we walked around and looked at trees. The maple trees were blooming and had a branch that I could show them the flowers closeup. One little boy noticed that the color was redder in the sunlight but was almost black when the branch was in my shadow.  I learn something every time I do these field trips!

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We talked about how seeds are planted – sprout – grow…Then started looked for tree seeds. They were thrilled to find sweet gum balls under one of the trees.

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I also showed them a magnolia seed pod…also from under the tree.

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We all pretended to be a tree seed growing in a forest – growing tall – and our branches moving in the breeze. Then we went inside and I shared a tiny tulip poplar tree (root and small shoot). The leaves had started unfurling because I’d had it inside for the past three weeks. The children warmed up while they learned about butterflies and the animals in the nature center. We learned a little about birds then trekked back outdoors to see and hear them. Unfortunately, it was a very quiet morning. We did see a hawk and the children remembered that they has seen geese on the pond earlier.

A good time was had by all!

Ten Little Celebrations – February 2018

February 2018 has been busier than usual for me than in previous years since ‘graduation’ from my career (that does sound better than ‘retirement’!). The activity that caused that was the day long HoLLIE (Howard County Legacy Leadership Institute for the Environment) classes once a week. I celebrated 1) after the first one – realizing what a rich learning experience the institute was going to be – and after 2) after the second week when we are at Goddard learning about how and what satellites help us understand the Earth…and having the serendipity add on to the class seeing the big rock with dinosaur and early mammal tracks. I could have counted all 4 days as ‘celebrations’ but decided to choose some other items to add variety to this post.

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I celebrated seeing 3) 2 kinds of woodpeckers within about 10 minutes from my office window: pileated and downy and 4) the springtime tussling of male cardinals in the maple tree while the female looked on and stayed out of the way (a sign that winter in waning already).

The old crock pot being replaced by 5) an Instant Pot was a little celebration (because of immediate success using it) and continuing.

Usually I don’t find anything to celebrate in the news…but the 6) successful launch of the Falcon Heavy was something to celebrate. It’s great that there is a heavy lift capability available - a capability we need to further our exploration of space.

Several things came together this month – focusing my attention on how much I’ve enjoyed being a 7) Maryland Master Naturalist…I celebrated the 4-year journey.

I vicariously shared some of my daughter’s experiences this month – 8) celebrating her post doc – teaching – and ‘what next’ search. It’s invigorating to understand how full her life is --- how much we still share so easily.

The weather after mid-month has turned very mild here in Maryland. Earlier I celebrated 9) enough snow to be pretty and that I had 10) no commitments and could stay home on the day it turned icy.

Becoming a Volunteer

It’s been 6 years since I retired and started volunteering more regularly. I got off to a slow start during the first year – taking 18 months to settle on what I wanted to do as a volunteer and the organization. Being outdoors in nature and working with a variety of age groups turned out to be ‘calling;’ it helped that the Howard Country Conservancy provided focused training to give me the know how to do it – first with elementary school field trips and then to preschool through high school. The interactions with hiking groups is something I don’t think I will ever want to give up!

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Over the years, I’ve ramped up the amount of time volunteering and increased my knowledge over the last 4 years to be more effective as a volunteer by

  • becoming a Maryland Master Naturalist,
  • taking a 2-day course on benthic macroinvertebrates,
  • attending an annual Maryland water monitoring conference, and
  • (currently) enjoying HoLLIE (Howard County Legacy Leadership Institute for the Environment).
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Last summer I added volunteering at Brookside Gardens (Wings of Fancy butterflies and model trains) in addition to the volunteering for Howard Country Conservancy programs. That filled in the volunteering lull in summer and December in prior years.

At this point, the only season of the year that I don’t have a lot of volunteer activity is the depths of winter! Right now – that seems like a good thing since the lull is allowing time to savor the HoLLIE days.