Brookside Gardens – August 2019

There is a lot to see at Brookside Gardens in August. I try get there early enough before my Wings of Fancy volunteer shifts to look around.

A plant that was new to me and is evidently doing better than usual in the garden this year (according to one of the gardeners I talked to) is Cardoon or artichoke thistle. In early August, most were still just buds.

By the third week of August there were a lot of blooms. It looks like artichoke and is closely related.

I see Goldfinch almost every time I am in the gardens…but only managed one picture!

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The evidence of Bald Cypress Gall Midge is on the trees now. Soon the tips of the branches will die.

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Sometimes the shape of a leaf catches my attention. These are folded along the central rib – sometimes until they get quite large – and then unfolded into a heart shape leaf.

Milkweed bug larvae (many different instars) are common on milkweed this time of year.

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There were a few Dogwood Sawfly larvae on the dogwood plants near the front of the conservatory buildings but not as many as last year (see the post about them here from August 2018). They were treated with BT (found out from one of the gardeners) and only shriveled larvae were on the plants the next time I visited the gardens.

Brookside Gardens – July 2019

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Even though the weather has been very hot this month, there are still plenty of flowers at Brookside Gardens that are weathering the heat.

The buttonbushes have all stages of flowers and seed formation now.

The green cones are forming on the bald cypress.

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The butterfly weed seed pods are bursting open even as the Monarch caterpillars are munching on their leaves. The common milkweed pods are still green.

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There are quite a few butterflies out in the gardens enjoying the flowers. The tiger swallowtails particularly enjoy the Joe Pye Weed. Last weekend I noticed more Monarch butterflies in the gardens. Maybe these are arriving from Mexico although it certainly is later than usual.

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I walk around the gardens before my shifts at the Wings of Fancy exhibit. There were only two this month because of the travel I did during the first half of the month. There are plenty of things to see like chipmunks and milkweed bugs.

I even found a feather on a leaf that I could get close enough for a macro shot.

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In the exhibit, the caterpillars are eating and growing. There was a Palamedes swallowtail caterpillar that had a ‘sun worshipper’ pose on a ‘excessive heat’ day.

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There are plenty of Monarch caterpillars of all sizes on butterfly weed in the caterpillar house as well.

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Inside the conservatory, I don’t have much time to take pictures of butterflies (lots of visitors) but I did manage a few. One day it was so hot that even the butterflies were desperate for water (on the floor) and not flying as much.

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!

Winter Tree Identification – Part 1

Leaves are an easy first step to identifying a tree…but not in the winter. Other identifying characteristics come to the fore. I’ve collected up some photos from the past few winters and will show the ones I find easy to identify even in the winter. Do you recognize the white barked trees that grow near rivers and have round seeds that often stay on the tree during the winter?

The sycamores are common in our area and are easier to spot in the winter than in the summer when their big leaves sometimes hide the whiteness of their branches.

They are only one of the trees that have distinctive bark. Others are spicebush (it can be a bush or understory tree) and beech below. They both have relative smooth bark. The spicebush is speckled with light colored lenticels.

Both the sycamore and river birch have peeling bark.

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Sometime thorns can be an identifying characteristic – like with the honey locust.

The bald cypress is the only conifer I’m including in this post since it sheds its needles for the winter. It is easy to recognize by its shape and the presence of knees…and that it likes wet areas.

The dogwoods have distinctive buds. Sometimes they are described as onion-shaped. They look more like slightly flattened Hershey’s kisses to me!


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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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.


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.

A lecture and walk around at Belmont

Earlier this week, I attended a lecture about the history of the Patapsco River Valley at Belmont Manor and Historic Park and then took a walk around the grounds. It was a sunny day – but cold and breezy. I put on all my layers. There are some changes since the last time I was there. Much of the meadow and field areas have been mowed and some new trees have been planted. The shorter grass somehow made it seem even more wintery – to seedpods or long grasses to add texture to the landscape.

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The bald cypress down by the pond stands out because of its location and because it seems to be a slightly different color that the trees behind it. I’m glad the area around it is soggy enough that they didn’t mow around its base – scarring its knees. We didn’t make the trek down there to check. Hopefully I’ll hike down sometime before the bluebirds and swallows start moving into the boxes…and protecting their territory.

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Up at the front of the manor house, many of the trees look like they’ve been pruned – either intentionally or by winter weather.

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Along the road into Belmont, the ashes are being cut down. Some were already gone, others just had tape around them. It’s evidently a project this winter. They are being killed by the invasive emerald ash borer.

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We hiked around the fence behind the manor house to a hemlock that had been invested with wooly adelgid (another invasive insect). The tree looks better; there were some new cones and growth from last summer; I’m glad the park is trying to save it. Underneath the tree – there was a scattering of feathers. Some relatively large bird met its end here.

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We hiked on around to the Belmont cemetery. I noticed some holes within the hollow up high in a very large tulip poplar…a home for a woodpecker or maybe just a pantry that contained a lot of insects. The hemlocks at the cemetery looked healthier too. Some of the dead branches had been removed and they had new growth and cones.

Fall at Brookside Gardens


Last week my sister and I walked around Brookside Gardens. As we parked I noticed a tall Bald Cypress that was dropping its needles – a good sign of fall. Up close the cones were still a little green compared to the needles.


The gardens were full of plants that can survive the cooling temperatures for a little while. There was a new sculpture near the scent garden – a sphere of stones carefully pieced together without mortar. A few flowers were still blooming, and the bumble bees were active.

There was a monarch butterfly and I hoped that it would continue southward fast enough…not be caught here were we have our first frosts.


The area around the ponds and teahouse was partially closed (maybe some flood damage repair) but the bridge to the maze was a nice fall foliage scene. The maze itself has some sediment on one side – maybe washed there by recent rains.


Inside the conservatory, it was warm and lush – as usual.

The part of the conservatory that will be used for model trains during the holiday light exhibit currently has mums. The plants were formed into saguaro cactus shapes this year! It was quite different than I expected…but pleasant. The plantings are in pots, so they can be repositioned when the trains to be installed just before Thanksgiving.

Volunteering at Wings of Fancy at Brookside Gardens XV-XIX

The 5 most recent shifts at Brookside Gardens’ Wings of Fancy have not been overly hot – unusual for August here in Maryland. Before the 15th shift, it was damp. I took some pictures under a bald cypress of a Cypress Gall (Midge) that had not matured enough to kill the small branch and some developing cones. When I walked over to the boardwalk toward the nature center I walked through a spider web that has been built overnight; not the best way to start the morning. I brushed myself off and headed into the conservatory. The shift was a special one for photographers – so not crowded at all and calmer than the public shifts.

It was raining for the entire 16th shift. I managed to find some dry spots under trees along the stream when I got there for my walk around the gardens prior to the shift. Some big rocks have been added to the stream bed to stabilize the banks. There is one area that eroded perilously close the fence and the road just beyond.

The slide show below is the rest of my walk. I moved fast when I was being rained on but took pictures when I found a sheltered place: 1) of a curve in the stream, 2) in the rose garden under the crepe myrtle trees, 3) a waterlily (note the ripples from the raindrops into the pool), and 4) under the cypress trees that kept the butterfly bench mostly dry. Wings of Fancy got off to a slow start that day because the ticket seller was late…and it was raining harder. The conservatory leaks! The tiny space between the ticket taker awning and the caterpillar house becomes a little waterfall when it is raining hard! But the exhibit was a good rainy day activity for people once they got into the conservatory.

The 17th shift was not rainy. It was an early shift for photographers again and I relaxed before hand with a good walk around the gardens noting blooms (sumac, joe pye weed, sunflowers) and then some oddities on the bald cypress (something that looks like tiny yellow ‘flowers’, and a fuzzy caterpillar with horns), jewelweed growing near the boardwalk on the way to Brookside Nature Center (the plant is supposed to be good for treating poison ivy…but it often grows in locations the poison ivy does), and a cocoa tree in the part of the conservancy not used for the butterfly exhibit.

The 18th shift was sunny – but not too hot. I’m paying more attention to the tiny yellow blobs on the bald cypress; one of them had red filaments. The rose garden is beginning to bloom more now that the high heat of summer is over.

The rest of the garden has benefited from the rain too and looks lush. I enjoyed trying to photograph the skipper butterflies on the Mexican sunflowers.

The 19th shift was sunny and cooler than I excepted; as I was walking around I was glad I was going to be in the conservatory once my shift started where it would be warmer. I talked to one of the Brookside staff about the tiny yellow blobs on the cypress; it’s not something they have seen before.

I headed up toward the scent garden and saw a dragonfly in the air. It landed on one of the maples…and sat while I managed to find him in the foliage for a zoomed image. The maple leaves are beginning to change color for fall.

Another sign of fall in the gardens – a cardinal molting and getting new feathers on its head. This is not bald…but all the new feather shave not come in so the crest looks scruffy and around the eye still needs additional feathers to look ‘normal.’

I walked over to the boardwalk to photograph the jewel weed again and got side tracked when I noticed a spider near one of the flowers. It took long enough to get the photograph I wanted that i hurried to the volunteer entrance to get into 'flight attendent' gear and ready for the shift. It was a busy morning in the exhibit.

The Wings of Fancy is over for 2017 on September 17….I’ll most about the last of my shifts just after ‘the end.’ It’s been a great volunteer experience!

Previous posts re Volunteering at Wings of Fancy: prep, I, II-IV, V-X, XI-XIV.