Gleanings of the Week Ending September 21, 2019

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.

These Caterpillars Can Detect Color Using Their Skin, Not Their Eyes | Smart News | Smithsonian – A little surprise…but insects probably have a lot of adaptations developed over eons that are challenging to imagine.

Five weird and wonderful ways nature is being harnessed to build a sustainable fashion industry – New dyes from enzymes, ‘leather’ from mushrooms, lacy fabric made from plant roots that grew that way (watch the video), cellulose for fabrics derived from manure!

Aesthetics of skin cancer therapy may vary by treatment type -- ScienceDaily – Hopefully these findings will guide doctors to use the more aesthetic treatments…since they all have about the same recurrence rates a year after treatment.

On the Alabama Coast, the Unluckiest Island in America - Yale E360 – Dauphin Island…when does everyone decide that these places can’t be saved…should not be rebuilt. It’s not something we are dealing with very well as individuals or as a nation.

Deer browsing is not stopping the densification of Eastern US forests -- ScienceDaily – Deer hurt the understory but the canopy is more impacted by the greater density of the big forest trees (because of fire suppression) and that red maples are growing in areas where young oaks, hickories, or pines would have grown previously. But wouldn’t the deer browse young trees? In our area – the forests have also changed quite a lot in the last 20 years with the decline of the hemlocks and now the ashes. This study – done in Pennsylvania – did not comment about those issues.

Top 25 Wild Bird Photographs of the Week: September – These photographs are always worth a look….birds are so beautiful.

North America has lost 3 billion birds – And fresh from looking at the wonder pictures of birds….this sobering news: North America has lost 25% of its bird population and it’s all happened in the last 50 years. More than 90% of the loss is in just a dozen bird families that includes the sparrows, warblers, blackbirds, and finches. Grassland birds have suffered a 53% loss. Potential causes: habitat degradation, urbanization, and the use of toxic pesticides.

Staying at elementary school for longer associated with higher student attainment – My daughter didn’t seem to have a problem transferring from elementary to middle school after 5th grade…but the middle school was next door to the elementary school, and she was doing well in school. The results of this research will have to overcome the school building infrastructure in many areas. Change happens slowly with school systems. So far I haven’t seen a change in start times for high schools even though there are studies that say that early starts are not good for high school students (in our area, they have always started before the elementary and middle schools).

Spotted in Kenya: a baby zebra with polka dots – I hope there is a follow up story on this baby. Will the pattern make it more susceptible to fly bites? Another note from the article: Zebras are accepting of difference…animals with atypical coat patterns fit right into the herd.

Drought Reveals Lost “Spanish Stonehenge” – The Dolmen at Guadalperal has resurfaced from the Valdecanas Reservoir in western Spain due to lower lake levels from dry, hot conditions this year. It has been submerged for 50 years. Hopefully someone will make a good 3D tour of the place.

Outdoor Butterflies at Brookside

I always walk around a bit before my volunteer shift in Brookside Gardens’ Wings of Fancy exhibit. It’s been easy to see butterflies out in the garden recently. I’ve been able to identify them via my photographs – comparing to the images in the Maryland Butterflies website.

The most numerous butterflies are the tiger swallowtails. I have already posted about them (here) but I did get a good shot of a dark morph (with strips showing in the bright light).

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There was a Pipevine Swallowtail that shared a flower for a few seconds with a Monarch butterfly. These swallowtails are smaller than the tiger swallowtails.

Among the smaller butterflies, the Pearl Crescent is plentiful

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As are the Silver Spotted Skippers.

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I took a picture of a dark butterfly…maybe a Wild Indigo Sooty Wing.

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In the walk up to the Caterpillar House of the exhibit there is a Pipevine with Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillars. There were so large…I couldn’t resist a picture!

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I saw a clearwing moth last time I was cutting flowers at my CSA but I haven’t seen any at Brookside yet this year….and haven’t gotten any pictures.

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.

Ten Little Celebrations – May 2019

May has been a busy month with travel and prep for more travel…lots of volunteer gigs and home maintenance too. As usual – it was easy to identify something to celebrate each and every day. Here are 10 that I’m highlighting for the month.


Plantain chips. I made my own plantain chips using a plantain from the conservatory at Brookside Gardens. It was a spring celebration of Thanksgiving – good food from a local harvest.

Caterpillar on the hickory. I was hiking with second graders looking at habitats…and what lives in them (paricularly insects). When we came to a young hickory tree that had been planted on earth day, it had some holes in the leaves. It was a small enough tree that we could carefully look under the leaves…and we found a caterpillar! It was one of those serendipity momets…the children were pleased with their find and I celebrated sharing their experience.

Clean car mats. My husband and I both took the mats out of our cars and hosed them off – no more salt and mud that had accumulated over the winter! We picked a sunny day so they could mostly dry out in the driveway after we hosed them off. I am celebrating a cleaner car interior.

Good weather for 4th grade field trip. Earlier in May we were having a lot of rain…and I wondered how the back to back field trips were going to dodge the deluge. At this point I am celebrating not having a single rainy day field trip (even thouh I am prepared with a super rain poncho). The 4th grade field trip was a close call….it didn’t rain and we managed to step around the mud puddles.

A whole day at home. Between volunteer gigs and travel, there were very few days that I could just be at home. When it happened – I celebrated the day to recouperate.

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Horseshoe Crabs. I had never seen horse shoe crabs in action like I saw in Cape May. They are recovering after overharvesting….an ancient creature filling its niche in the web of life. Something to celebrate.

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Light on flowers. I missed most of the azaleas blooming this spring…but managed to get some spotlighted in the dappled light along the path near the stream at Brookside Gardens. I celebrated the photographic experience.

Pre-schoolers are Belmont. I’ve only managed to do one field trip with pre-schools so far this season. What fun they are! I talked to them about trees. We pretended to start out as seeds and grow into a forest…then have the breeze ruffle out leaves (fingers)…and then we talked about trees and wind. Some groups fell down in a heap when the really strong winds came! It’s easy to celebrate the outdoors with pre-schoolers.

Rainy day with butterflies – Mother’s Day. It rained on Mother’s Day and the morning started slow in the Wings of Fancy conservatory – the butterflies weren’t very active and there were not early visitors. I celebrated by taking some butterfly pictures with my phone. And then the ramp up of activity began. It became a busy morning.


White morpho butterflies. The brilliant irridescent blue morphs are probably the most popluarl butterflies in the Wings of Fancy exhibit. I celebrated the butterflies that are new or not quite as common. The white morphos are one of the special ones I’m celebrating this year.

Gleanings of the Week Ending March 17, 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.

A Day in The Park: Cuyahoga Valley National Park | National Parks Traveler – I’ve been to the park but only saw a small part of it. Next time I need to be more organized!

Top 25 Wild Waterbirds – National Geographic Blog – Some of these birds were familiar….some unfamiliar and living far away from the US!

BBC - Future - The quest to tackle the rubbish dump in orbit – There is getting to be a lot of junk up there!

Flood risk from American rivers is greatly underestimated -- ScienceDaily – A high resolution model that maps flood risk across the whole continent and includes small streams shows 41 million Americans at risk from flooding rivers rather than 13 million estimated by FEMA (their maps only include 60% of the continent and does not include smaller streams). Seems like anyone buying a house would be keen to know if there was a flood risk for the property and FEMA maps are giving a false sense of security. Here’s the link to the full paper: Estimates of present and future flood risk in the conterminous United States - IOPscience

Recycled carbon fiber improves permeable pavement: Technique reduces waste, improves strength and durability -- ScienceDaily – From Washington State University…in partnership with Boeing

Incredible Pictures of the Caterpillars of New England – I’m going to keep a sharper lookout for caterpillars in our area this summer….get subjects for photography because they don’t move very fast!

Spring Break Goes Wild(life) – Cool Green Science – Lots of places to go in the spring – other than a southern beach.

High-Fiber Diet Shifts Gut Microbes, Lowering Blood Sugar in Diabetics -  If this pans out, they need to get it out to doctors treating patients with type 2 diabetes rather than focusing on all the new (and somewhat expensive) drugs that can have side effects.

The Metamorphosis of Butterflies – A 5-minute video from TED-Ed.

A Place for Pollinators: Bees and Butterflies call National Monuments Home – At Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, a 4-year study found 650 unique bee species from 54 genre of native bees, 3 of which were new to the state of Utah. We need pollinators like native bees for the rest the ecosystem to continue! We should strive to keep the special places (not pockets) of species diversity to not only to sustain our planet…but to help it regenerate. The people alive today are the stewards of the future Earth.

Walking in the Neighborhood

Our neighborhood is not great for a long distance walk…still – there are photographic opportunities at every turn. Before I even left my house, I saw a sycamore tussock moth caterpillar (dense white hairs with butterscotch tuffs at the head end).

I also realized I needed to do another round of raking; the sycamore is beginning to shed is very large leaves – some more than a foot across.

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Along the walk I saw a few other leaves on the ground and photographed ones caught my attention. The oaks (not that there are two different kinds of oak leaves in our neighborhood) are shedding their leaves more than the other trees. Most of the maples – which provide the most colorful or our fall leaves – are still green.

The storm water retention pond is not appealing – still full of scum that is very visible without the vegetation that used to grow around the pond. On the plus side, the slopes have not been mowed so the erosion that happened right after the pond was cleaned out last spring has been stabilized.

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I sat on the bench and took some zoomed pictures of some of the plants in the unmowed area.

I walked up to the entry of the neighborhood and took a picture of the cornfield across the street. It will be harvested soon. The only green left in the field itself area the weedy vines using the corn for support. There is some chicory growing in the area between the road and the field. Chicory seems to be resilient to just about everything – unlike milkweed which no longer grows in the margins around cornfield.

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Belmont BioBlitz – Fall 2017 (Part I)

Last week, 5th graders from 3 Howard County elementary schools participated in a BioBlitz organized by the Howard County Conservancy at Belmont Manor and Historic Park. The three mornings were quite busy. I enjoyed the calm before the buses arrived – watching the birds at the feeder and photographing the generally calm early morning scene. Then someone would spot a bus starting up the tree lined drive to the manor house – and all the volunteers would spread out and wait for their group of about 10 students and at least one chaperone to be assigned. Then we headed out into the field.

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The area my group was assigned on the first day was meadow rimmed with trees. We used iNaturalist to record observations of what we found: horse nettle, pokeweed, worms, spiders, wooly bear caterpillars, and black walnuts. iNatualist helped us identify things better – particularly if the pictures were good. One of exciting things we found but couldn’t photograph well was tiny worms feeding on the black walnut! We also found a birds nest in the tall grasses of the meadow…and lots of multi-flora rose bushes with thorns that seemed to grab pant legs. In two hours…the students were ready for their picnic lunch in front of the manor house and the return to school – tired from a great BioBlitz day.

More on the other two BioBlitz days in tomorrow’s post….

Soldiers Delight Natural Environment Area

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My husband and I visited Soldiers Delight Natural Environment Area yesterday – taking advantage of the dry fall day before a few days of forecasted rain. It’s located less than 45 minutes from our house and I’ve had it on my list of places to visit since I was in Master Naturalist training a few years ago; I’m a little surprised that we haven’t found the time before now.

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The visitor center is open on Saturdays and sporadically on other days. We got there shortly after 11 and there was already quite a lot of activity. We got a map and headed out to hike. Rather than hiking from the visitor center, we drove a short distance to an overlook that doubles as parking from some of the trails. The overlook shows the area back toward the visitor center.

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The loop trail we took started across the road – following red blazes then orange and rejoining the red to get back to the overlook. It past some remains of one of the mines – fenced off to prevent accidents.

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There were leaves beginning to fall. Some of the oaks had a very large crop of acorns this year judging by the piles on the path. My favorite leaf was a red sassafras. There were some areas of invasive plants but not as many as places that have richer soils. There were swaths of ferns in a few areas. We walked down to a little stream. The water runs over bedrock in most places.

The critter-find for the hike as a fuzzy yellow caterpillar with some black tufts. I looked it up after I got home – an American Dagger Moth Caterpillar. It eats oak leaves – among other things.

More than half the path was over rocky areas; Soldiers Delight is – after all – a serpentine barren.

Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar

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The food plant for the Spicebush Swallowtail’s caterpillar is spicebush – an understory tree here in Maryland. When the caterpillars get larger, they have spots on their head that look like eyes…and giver the illusions of a snake! They probably fool quite a few predators.

The caterpillars also fold leaves around themselves when they are not active and that folded leaf may be the easiest way to spot them in the wild. Next time I hike through a forest that I know has spicebush – I’ll be taking a few minutes to look at the leaves.

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The caterpillars I photographed (and observed) were in the caterpillar house of Brookside Gardens’ Wings of Fancy. When the caterpillars are large enough to pupate, they expel the waste in their gut and turn from green to yellow orange. They make a big effort to leave the food plant. Since the food plant is in a pot, the caterpillars trek around the rim then fall off…trek some more…we put them in a pupation chamber so they don’t get stepped on!

Family BioBlitz at The Howard County Conservancy

The Howard County Conservancy hosted the Maryland Diversity Project last Saturday and I volunteered to help with the public part of the program that had families spending the morning photographing and recording the plants and animals at Mt. Pleasant.

Caterpillars seemed to dominate our finds: young milkweed tussock moth caterpillars as well as large Monarch, black swallowtail and orange striped oakworm moth caterpillars. There were also autumn tent worms.

We also saw a millipede, insects mating, a spider guarding a large egg sack…and a carpenter bee (male) that was lazing on a Joe Pye weed.

Near the end, I saw the birds nest fungus growing on mulch near the nature center. I was pleased that our group – which included a young child – all had fun and enjoyed our finds!

The slide show is in hike order….enjoy!