Brookside Gardens – Butterflies and more

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Brookside Gardens’ Wings of Fancy exhibit was one of the places I volunteered in June – one of my happy places. One of my shifts was so cloud-covered and rainy that butterflies were still roosting in the fiscus at mid-morning.

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There were more clearwing butterflies in the conservatory that earlier in the season – enough that I saw one or two during most of my shifts.

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There aren’t as many paper kite butterflies this year…but they are still one of my favorites.

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The overall favorite for most people is the blue morpho; it’s one of mine too although for more than the blue color…I like the orange markings on the underside and body too. I manage to get some quick pictures during times when there are very few or no visitors in the exhibit.

And there were many other kinds of butterflies that posed for a picture at handy times.

And then there is the caterpillar house. Most of the caterpillars that were in the house during June were Julia Longwing or Zebra Longwing; both use passion flower as the host plant for their caterpillars.

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Toward the end of the month the eggs of the Palamedes swallowtail hatched….and the very small caterpillars begin to make their visible mark on the leaves. When they get bigger, they’ll have ‘eye spots’ to keep the predators away.

There were butterflies outside in the gardens too – mostly tiger swallowtails and skippers.

The bees enjoy the flowers too.

Sometimes a dragonfly would sit for long enough to be photographed.

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Birds like the gardens. A goldfinch and cardinal were near the conservatory one morning before my shift. I also saw a catbird that same morning but it flew away before I could get a photograph.

But the high point of the animals at Brookside was a box turtle! I had just exited my car and saw it emerge from a bed at the side of the conservatory and walk across the concrete in front of the service door to the north conservatory.

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It continued until it was close to the seal between the two doors then looked up like it expected the door to open. I wondered if it had – sometime in its life – spent some time inside the conservatory.

Cape May Birding Festival Finale


On the last morning of the Cape May Spring (birding) Festival, we took a trolley tour that included the second stop at Cook’s Beach for more shore birds…but the rest stop at the New Jersey Audubon – Cape May Bird Observatory Center for Research and Education offered some different types of photography.

I indulged in some macro photography with my cell phone…targeting some of the native plants in the garden beside the building.


There was a bee stealing nectar from the base of a flower.

I managed to capture pollen threads on native honeysuckle using the phone camera at close range (no macro lens).

Using my camera…and zooming – the cliff swallow nesting in the eaves of the building was visible. The bird kept an eye on the people below but did not move from the nest. Nearby many carpenter bees were making holes in the siding of the building. They were moving around too fast to photograph.

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As our group was getting ready to leave – someone noticed a box turtle in the front vegetation. What a beautiful specimen!

Gleanings of the Week Ending October 27, 2018

The items below were ‘the cream’ of the articles and websites I found this past week. Click on the light green text to look at the article.

Earth Matters - New Tools to Boost Access to NASA Earth Science Data – How NASA is using big data strategies to streamline processing time to get the information from satellites into usable form.

Trend of the Month… asocially| What's Next: Top Trends – Richard Watson noticing that some people prefer to be left along to look at their devices.

Image of The Day: Open-and-Shut Case | The Scientist Magazine® - They used box turtles in this research….a turtle we see here in Maryland relatively often.

Top 25 Wild Bird Photographs of the Week: Migratory Birds 2 – National Geographic Blog – Tis the season for bird migration!

BBC - Future - Should everyone be taking vitamin D? – It’s not clear cut. In the winter we probably don’t get enough Vitamin D from diet/sunlight…but the impact of that shortage is not obvious in many people. There are some trials that are ongoing that may provide some answers.

Why the Current Hurricane Rating System Needs to Be Scrapped - Yale E360 – Hurricanes are rated based on wind-spead….but storm surge and flooding for rain (coastal and inland) also causes damage. Hurricane Florence is an example of a Category 1 storm causing tremendous damage even though it wasn’t a ‘major’ hurricane.

Detailed maps of urban heat island effects in Washington, DC, and Baltimore | NOAA – Close to home for me since we live between Washington DC and Baltimore (not on either of the two maps).

Well-Preserved Murals Discovered in Pompeii - Archaeology Magazine – Finding new things in a site that has been studied for many years.

Surprising places where germs lurk in bathrooms | Berkeley Wellness – Hmmm…maybe we should add some tasks to cleaning the bathroom.

Nikon Small World photo competition reveals nature in minuscule detail | New Scientist – The beauty in the microscopic world. I want to look more closely at spittle bugs next spring…see if I can see the bug.

Fishmobile – Take 2

My first experience with the Fishmobile was back in April at an elementary school in Carroll County (posted about it here). I got an email just after I returned from Texas asking if I could help with the Fishmobile’s visit to a nature center near where I life for a weekend event. I still had committed to anything else so I accepted. The day started out well when I checked the milkweed in my front flower bed and found a good-sized Monarch caterpillar!


The day was not too hot and my ‘shift’ was from 10-12 when the temperature was in the mid-70s. Most of the animals that were there for the school were in the tanks again: horseshoe crabs, Larry the diamond backed terrapin, a blue crab, and a box turtle.

The American eel was silvery and was more active this time. The only thing I missed from last time were sea horses but there were some preserved ones to talk about with the families that came through. In the two hours I was there, almost 200 people came through. Some of the children came through the exhibit several times (after they built up their courage to experience the two touch tanks).

During one lull I stepped off the Fishmobile bus and photographed some bees on the plants just outside. The bees were very active and focused on the flowers…not flying amongst the people coming to the Fishmobile.

After my shift was over, I walked over to the compost demo and filled out the form to get a free compost bin. After the tour yesterday and further education today, I am going to do my own compost. My plan it to put the bin back near the forest and start it off with some shredded paper and veggie/fruit scraps from the kitchen. This time of year taking the watermelon rinds to the compost bin will be a lot easier than lugging them to the curb in a trash bag that might leak! Stay tuned for posts about my compost adventure.

2018 Belmont BioBlitz – part 1


I’ve been volunteering for the Howard County Conservancy’s Belmont BioBlitz field trips since they started in the fall of 2014. We had a 3-day BioBlitz this week with students coming from 2 schools. On the first morning the day started out foggy and stayed cloudy. While we were waiting for the buses to arrive with the students, I took some pictures.


The horse chestnut tree was blooming although the blooms were past their prime and some had fallen to the ground already. I took a picture of one with the macro lens on the cell phone.


All the vegetation was covered in water droplets. Even grass seeds look like little works of art with the droplets.


The buses came up the tree lined drive. There are more gaps in the tree line now that the ashes have been cut down.


We headed back to our assigned ‘zone’ in the woods – finding white pines along the way to document and then a box turtle and violets gone to seed on the forest floor.

Stay tuned for more BioBlitz finds in tomorrow’s post.



Last week, I volunteered when the Phillips Wharf Environmental Center’s Fishmobile visited an elementary school in Carroll County, Maryland.

The Fishmobile is a bus fitted with aquarium tanks for live exhibits of animals from the Chesapeake Bay and bookcases/walls of related materials. It’s a field trip that comes to the school! Groups of 10-12 students take about 15 minutes in the bus to see everything…spending another 15 minutes outside getting more details about horseshoe crabs. There were 4 classes of 4th graders that came through in 2 hours!

I managed to take pictures of some of the animals in the Fishmobile before the students arrived. There were small horseshoe crabs – the smallest being a little larger than a quarter. They were active all over the bottom of their tank.


The oyster toadfish was not happy after the first few groups and retreated to the back of the tank. I was glad I got a picture of him.


The lined seahorse was one that was harder to photograph. It was a good discussion starter since the seahorse depends on the grasses in the bay and is becoming more numerous now that they are recovering. I was impressed that the 4th graders were aware of the grasses even if they didn’t know about the seahorses.

The only animal in the Fishmobile that the students could touch was the diamondback terrapin. They were told to use 2 fingers gently on his back…because he can bite! He evidently is very accustomed to handling…and he has a name: Larry. There was a baby diamondback terrapin (hatched last fall) in a neighboring tank that didn’t move around very much.

There was also a small box turtle and a mystery box with a box turtle shell. We prompted the students that tried the mystery box to feel whether the shell was flat or domed…and then to look at all the turtles on display to identify what kind of shell was in the mystery box.


The fish that had a name linked to history was the hogchoker. It is a flounder like fish that lives in the grassy areas of the bay. When the colonists collected the grasses to fee to their pigs, sometimes this fish was harvested with the grasses….and choked the pig that tired to eat it. That’s how it got its name.


The bookcases had jaws from a modern shark…and a fossil tooth, a dolphin skull, and the molt of a horseshoe crab. There was a wall of various kinds of trash with estimates of how long it took to degrade. Plastic water bottles and fishing line take 100s of years!