Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge


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.

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!

Port Canaveral Boat Tour

After we picked up our registration material for the Space Coast Birding Festival, we went out for lunch then headed to the Kelly Park dock for a boat tour of Port Canaveral. It was a pontoon boat with bench seats. Shortly after we sat down – it started sprinkling then raining harder. We got off the boat to stand in the drier picnic pavilion in the park. The wind was blowing enough that we had to stand well under the pavilion roof.

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I took a picture of a little blue heron that did not seem bothered by the rain and wind at all.

Then the rain stopped, the seats were dried off and we headed out only about 15 minutes late. I took some pictures of barnacles around the dock area.

We saw evidence of manatee in the water….the flat circles of water as they swim along…and then the tips of their noses when they come up for air. The ‘slow speed’ signs did indeed mark areas where there were manatee in the water.

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We saw birds along the canal before we got to the locks: anhinga,

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Great blue heron (looking scruffy from the recent rain),

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And double crested cormorants.

We entered the lock and tied up.  I took some brown pelican portraits while we waited.

Then the gates started to open.

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The pelicans road the little water wave as the water leveled…and one took flight.

There was an immature brown pelican outside the lock area. The light on the water was perfect.

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The high point of the trip was a frigate bird soaring overhead. I just watched it. My husband got the picture.

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There was a cruise ship and the SpaceX barge (used for rocket recovery) in Port Canaveral itself. I was more interested in bird pictures…so didn’t document those sights.

We headed back through the lock. I turned back to take a picture of the white pelicans grouped on the bank and

The horseshoe crab shells that accumulated to the side of the lock.

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I managed to take a picture of a bald eagle just before it flew way…a good ‘last picture’ before we docked back at Kelly Park.

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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!

Ten Little Celebrations – November 2018

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At the beginning of November, we had a short burst of color before the leaves fell off the trees. I celebrated a glorious fall day…wishing the season had not been so short this year.

HoLLIE (Howard County Legacy Leadership Institute for the Environment) graduation was this month after accumulating enough volunteer hours since finishing the class last spring.

And then came the Festival of the Cranes with so many little celebrations:

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Seeing sandhill cranes in flight – being close enough to their fly out to hear the first few high-power flaps of their wings.

Seeing two barn owls circle above the field where I was standing. It was a first for me….so beautiful and ghost-like.

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Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge. It was my first visit to the place and it’s hard to choose the high point maybe it was the screwbean mesquite the herd of pronghorn playing a running game with our caravan or seeing a shrike with a meal.

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Hooded Mergansers. It was not the first time I had seen the birds (there were some on a local (Maryland) pond we visited during our 5th HoLLIE class). But they were not displaying like the birds we saw during the Festival of the Cranes.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. What an amazing place….and great hosts to the Festival of the Cranes. I am already planning to go again! There are so many sights and sounds to celebrate here.

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Home again. I celebrate returning every time I am away for longer than a couple days.

Bald Eagle seen from my office window. The morning we left to drive to Pennsylvania for Thanksgiving, a bald eagle flew over the forest behind our house while I was shutting down my laptop for the road trip. It continued over our house. Since I saw a pair of eagles soaring a nearby shopping center recently, I think perhaps their nest is somewhere in the forest along the Middle Patuxent River near us. What a way to start the Thanksgiving holiday!

Thanksgiving….celebrating the day…realizing how much I am thankful for.

Festival of the Cranes – part 8

After the fly out, we headed to the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge visitor center to meet the bus for a Raptor ID tour.

The refuge is home to many red-tailed hawks…several different morphs. The basic ‘football’ shape is what we were looking for in the trees.

The bald eagle was in the snag in the middle of the flight deck pond. Nothing happened when the eagle opened its wings and moved all little (just as I snapped a picture…good enough to identify it as a bald eagle but not much else).

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Later the bird suddenly flew away….and caused a cloud of snow geese to rise all at one time from the water’s surface.

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There are a lot of northern harriers this year too. Every time we drove the wildlife loop, we saw a few. They fly low over the fields looking for their prey.

There were other birds that were not raptors that we saw too. The ravens seemed to pose of us.

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My favorite birds to watch were the hooded mergansers. At first there was just one pair interacting…then another male came along and then another female. They were almost beyond the range of my camera without the monopod. The first pair was acting a lot like is was time to breed but New Mexico is far from their breeding grounds.

The tour was an enjoyable 3 hours around the refuge wildlife loop.

Ten Little Celebrations – October 2018

Glorious fall – even if our leaf color is the least spectacular of the 30+ years I’ve lived on the east coast. All my celebrations this month were outdoors!


Hiking in the Middle Patuxent Environmental Area after heavy rain – lots of mud but my boots handled it well

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Bald Eagles – the serendipity of seeing them soaring over a shopping center parking lot

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Common Buckeye in a native plant garden on a sunny day

Mushrooms and cobwebs at Centennial Park…spectacular on a foggy morning

Finding a crawfish and hellgrammite in the Middle Patuxent River with high schoolers. We were all very cold but managed to still find some interesting critters.


Fifth graders with clipboards and pencils on a BioBlitz at Belmont.


First graders enjoying a hike on a cold fall morning (seeing a immature black rat snake)


Finding a spotted salamander with a group of 7th graders on a BioBlitz at Mt. Pleasant


A rainy day in the Middle Patuxent River with high schoolers – and realizing that the students were pleased with the macroinvertebrates we found. They came dressed for the rain!

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A long hike from Belmont to the Patapsco Valley State Park Avalon area – getting all my steps for the day in less than 3 hours

Bald Eagle

I made a quick stop at the Kings Contrivance shopping center after a training session for field trips last week and spotted some soaring birds over the parking lot. The birds we most frequently see soaring over our neighborhoods are turkey or black vultures. These 2 birds caught my attention immediately because they had white heads and tails. I put my purchases on the roof of the car and tried to get a picture.

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The picture isn’t great…but it was good enough to identify that the bird was a bald eagle. A woman had noticed my hurry and picture attempt and looked to see too. She came over and watched the birds for a few minutes with me….as did some others. It was a ‘bald eagle moment’ of community.

When I got home, my husband said he had been reading about a pair of eagles in our area so maybe these two have made their home in the forested corridor of the Middle Patuxent River.

I’m always thrilled to see bald eagles because they were so rare when we moved to the east coast a little over 30 years ago. There are a lot more of them now. Hurray for the birds and our successful removal of environmental toxicity that had made it hard for them to reproduce successfully.

Ten Little Celebrations – March 2018

March 2018 had a lot to celebrate; some of the top ten were unexpected.

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The Snow Day just last week was our first substantial snow of the winter. There had been so many forecasts that didn’t quite pan out that I didn’t bother to buy the makings for snow ice cream like I usually do. We celebrated with just the view and that we didn’t have to get out in the thick of the event.

Beavers at Mt. Pleasant

Two birds with fish at Conowingo. I celebrated that we saw both a bald eagle and a cormorant getting their fish within a relative short period of time after we got to Conowingo.

Another sign of spring – the first pre-K field trip of the season. I enjoy all of the volunteering I do but somehow the youngest children almost always are the highlight of the season.

The HoLLIE classes continued from February into March; each one was a finely-honed learning experience. I was overwhelmed with little celebrations so I picked a bird that I saw on one of the field trips that I had not seen before in our area – a hooded merganser pair.

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The shell spiral in my front flowerbed was a visual celebration – somehow it made the day for me. I think earlier it had been covered with leaves but after the March winds, its whiteness made it stand out.

I also celebrated that we didn’t lose electrical power in the wind storm like a lot of other neighborhoods did. There was some siding damage and at least one tree down in our neighborhood….but nothing happened to our house.

The miniature iris at Brookside were something I did not expect; I didn’t remember them from previous years. Seeing them blooming among the other spring bulbs was a treat.

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Yellow grass might not be something to celebrate in other seasons, but the bright color was like a beacon at the end of winter.

Finishing up our 2017 taxes was worth celebrating too. It’s something that happens every year and I’m glad my husband does more of the work…it’s celebration – and relief – when they are done.

Bald Eagles at Conowingo Dam

Last weekend we got up early and headed to Conowingo Dam to photograph Bald Eagles. We go there about 30 minutes after sunrise and saw eagles in the trees next to the parking lot at the Conowingo Fisherman’s Park. There were two eagles in the trees near where we parked…along with a black vulture.

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Both types of birds were enjoying the bright sunlight on the cold morning.

There were other birds on the opposite side of the river….too far way for good pictures.

It seemed at first that there wasn’t going to be much action. Then one of the eagles took off.

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It flew out over the river swooped down and came up with a fish!

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It flew back to almost where it had been before…and started to enjoy the meal.

Then a second eagle appeared and wanted a share of the fish. My husband tried to take pictures of the tussle that ensued. The eagle with the fish is above the challenger in this picture. I just stood and watched.

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Tomorrow’s post will feature a Cormorant at Conowingo.

Conowingo in January – part 1

My husband and I chose and sunny day …. Headed north to Conowingo Dam one morning last week. We hoped the day would be good for seeing the bald eagles. It was a bit of a disappointment: the birds all stayed on the far side of the river – seemingly even further away than usual, there were not very many of them, and the sky was hazy rather than blue. The gulls and cormorants (and maybe some ducks) were too far away as well.

I turned my camera to other things. The Princess Tree had velvety buds.

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There was a small stand of trees near the edge of water that had quite a load of ice; I wondered if it would survive.

An old stump was deteriorating near the fishing pier. I thought part of it looked like a one-eyed owl looking out of the decaying wood.

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There was an oak leaf covered with salt that had been liberally scattered on the sidewalk.

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There were not many sycamore balls…last spring was not conducive to seed production in our area. This one does not look like it has been discovered by seed loving birds either.

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Tomorrow – I’ll write about the ice at Conowingo.