Gleanings of the Week Ending October 5, 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.

BBC - Future - The desert soil that could save lives – Bioprospecting for antibiotics and industrial biocatalysts from bacteria that survive in extreme environments like the Atacama or Antarctica

Top 25 Wild Bird Photographs of the Week: Resident Birds – National Geographic Society Newsroom – ‘Resident’ around the world….beautiful birds.

Global warming may threaten availability of essential brain-building fatty acid -- ScienceDaily – Impacts of climate change go far beyond the climate models…many probably still to be discovered.

Recovery: Restoring the Floodplain Forest – Cool Green Science – I started reading the article since I am always interested in how restoration projects are created and evolve…but the aspect I’ll remember about it was the info about a tree: American Elms. Ones resistant to Dutch Elm Disease are among the trees being planted as part of the restoration. I grew up at a time when the elms were all dying. There were several I remember at my grandparents’ house in Oklahoma and a tree beside the playhouse at the house we moved to in Dallas in the early 1970s. It was already sickly. I wonder if there will soon be enough varieties and availability of elm trees for them to become landscaping trees again.

Interview: Self-Taught Myanmar Photographer Captures People Working – Capturing images of human-made place. Now I am wondering what I would photograph in my part of the world to do something equivalent.

Crying over plant-based milk: neither science nor history favors a dairy monopoly – An article about milk….and the argument about what the word means. The dairy industry wants it to mean milk from cows…but milk has been used more broadly to mean white liquid for a very long time. We even have plants with ‘milk’ in their name (i.e. milkweed)!

Pictures of India's UNESCO World Heritage sites – Rich cultural and natural history…reflected in places selected to protect.

'Report card' on diet trends: Low-quality carbs account for 42 percent of a day's calories: Older people, those with lower income, and those with less education face greater hurdles -- ScienceDaily – With results like this, maybe we should come up with better ways of helping people learn about nutrition. Do our schools help students learn about nutrition? How many adults have logged their food intake into an app and discovered how good (or poor) their food choices are? The current outreach strategies relative to nutrition are not enough. Sometimes even doctors seem to lack any expertise other than knowing that a patient is overweight/obese or their waist is too large.

Create Wildlife Habitat Around Your House – Cool Green Science – I already have a bird bath and feeder, milkweed patch, brush pile and some native trees (maple, sycamore, tulip poplar, oak). Even a spongy compost pile is habitat (this summer I had puddling tiger swallowtails on it)!

Komodo Dragons Have Skin That Looks Like Chain Mail | Smart News | Smithsonian – Four distinct morphologies of osteoderms in the skin of adult Komodo dragons. Another example of the wonderful complexity in the natural world.

Training at Belmont

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There was a volunteer training session for the 5th grade BioBlitz field trip at Belmont led by Howard County Conservancy a week or so ago. The short hike back to the woods…to an area along the trail where water seeps out of the ground to create a small stream…gave us an opportunity to see how easy it is to find interesting organisms to document. The trees are obvious.

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Looking more closely there are things like mushrooms growing on a moss-covered log, macroinvertebrates in the water,

Crawly things (millipedes, worms, termites, insect larvae, etc.) under logs that can be rolled and sometimes frogs/toads that jump and show themselves. In our case it was a small American toad.

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Sometimes even the texture of tree bark can be interesting. This beech tree has wrinkles!

It was a ‘in a few minutes’ type of event…so much found, quickly. We could spend the whole time documenting what we found in that small area. It helps that there is water…since we haven’t had much rain recently and some longs that were mossy and full of fungi last spring are brown right now.

Belleplain State Forest

We got up at 3:30 AM to get to our first organized field trip of the Cape May Spring (birding) Festival by 5:30 AM – a very early start to the day at Belleplain State Forest.  As the sun came up, the forest was full of bird song. We heard a lot of birds…saw fleeting glimpses of a few. I am in awe of people that can identify birds by simply hearing them! I enjoyed the morning light for photography of the forest itself while I listened to the birds and tried to spot them with my binoculars.

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The mountain laurels were in all stages of their bloom. They like the shade under oaks but sometimes the sunlight streamed through the canopy to spotlight the clusters of blooms. The buds look very pink…the petals make a ‘balloon’ before they open into the full flower that looks white with red specks.

On one of the early stops – before it was fully light – I noticed a tree full of burls. These are swellings in the trunks or big limbs of trees that are covered by bark. They are part of the tree’s response to stress like injury or disease. Because of the number of them in this case, it’s more likely to be a disease of some kind.

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The only easy birds to photograph during the trip were some Canada Geese (with goslings) on a small lake.

The lighting makes quite a difference. I liked the green background but the painterly look (nearer the limit of the digital zoom) of the bright picture is also appealing.

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There was moss growing over the roots of a tree near a lake – a carpet melded to every nook and cranny of the surface with the roots on the surface showing through.

Some Virginia Creeper was growing on a stop sign.

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There were wet woods along the road. Some frogs croaked. There were water bugs on the surface – interference patterns and the tree reflections.

One of my favorite pictures of the morning was the tip of a pine branch – dying or dead – spotlighted – surrounded by green.

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 Overall – it was a great morning to be out in the forest – getting a fill of the forest before be headed to the shore.

Mt. Pleasant – May 2019

I arrived at Howard County Conservancy’s Mt. Pleasant before one of the elementary school field trips – early enough to take a short hike and photograph some of the May sights along the trail. One of the first birds I saw was a small flock of gold finches near the Community Garden – eating ravenously.

Earlier in the week, when I was hiking with 2nd graders, we had spotted some caterpillars on a newly planted hickory tree. I never try to photograph things while I have a field trip group with me, so I was going back to try to photograph the caterpillars. The morning was cool…and I couldn’t find the caterpillars on the tree! The walk through the quiet area of new trees – invasive removed – was worth it anyway - a contrast to the noisy enthusiasm that would arrive on the school buses.

On the walk back, I was quite enough approaching a nest box to see the tree swallow at the hole. It looks almost like a plug – a perfect fit!

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There was a feather in the grass beside the mowed path. From a hawk? The feather was large…must have come from a large bird.

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The dew was still on the funnel spider webs. It’s hard to find them after the grass is dry.

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Dandelions had already had a first round of flowers…and gone to seed.

The tulip poplar (also called yellow poplar) had lots of buds…ramping up to blooms. The flowers do look a lot like tulips!

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Gleanings of the Week Ending May 18, 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.

Beautiful Photos by Manuelo Bececco Captures the Essence of the Forest – Awesome views of the forest…mostly looking upward.

IYPT 2019 Elements 023: Vanadium: Hardened steel and yellow blood | Compound Interest – Vanabins are vanadium-binding proteins that make sea cucumber blood yellow!

Titanium: Sunscreens and space stations | Compound Interest – Lots of makeup and other cosmetics have titanium (for its sunscreen properties) and fighter jets do too!

Marine Viruses Detailed from Pole to Pole | Technology Networks – There are a lot more viruses than previous cataloged in the ocean. The are in roughly 5 groups based on location and depth. The Arctic Ocean has high viral diversity…higher than at the equator.

NASA's Cassini reveals surprises with Titan's lakes -- ScienceDaily – The data from Cassini’s final flyby of Titan in 2017 has revealed that the lakes in its northern hemisphere are more then 300 feet deep and are methane. Lots more science still to come as more analysis of the Cassini data is done.

Could high-flying drones power your home one day? - BBC News – How could this not cause problems with aircraft if it was widespread? Both the drone and the tether could cause problems.

Top 25 Wild Bird Photographs of the Week: Passerines – Always room on the gleanings list for bird photographs!

Four ways to attract birds and butterflies – Native plants, bird bath, brush pile in my yard….3 of 4 is not bad!

Black, Hot Ice May Be Nature’s Most Common Form of Water – Superionic ice – a new kind of ice crystal with the oxygen atoms forming a cubic lattice and the hydrogen atoms flowing like liquid through the rigid cage of oxygens.

We’ll soon know the exact air pollution from every power plant in the world. That’s huge. –It won’t just be regulators and politicians that can see the data…it will be accessible by the public too. It will become a lot clearer to everyone which power plants are negatively impacting air quality.

Patuxent Research Refuge

I attended the Patuxent River Conference last week. The conference was informative – lots of up-to-date information about the river. One of the branches of the river (the Middle Patuxent) is through the forest – downhill – from my house. The conference venue was the Patuxent Research Refuge and there was opportunity to look around the visitor center and onto a nearby trail. It has been awhile since I had visited the place and the visitor center was in better condition that I remembered.

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The displays in the visitor center had been updated. The one I found most poignant was the whopping crane display. The Patuxent Research Refuge tried for years to raise whooping cranes to establish a new migratory flock but this year the effort was stopped. The whopping crane we saw down in Florida during the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival (see my post here) began its life at this refuge.

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During the morning break – a mockingbird sat in a nearby tree. It had quite a repertoire of songs.

I remember the timber wolf sculpture in front of the visitor center but the colorful screening on the front windows of the visitor center was new to me.

The refuge biologist let a hike during the last session of the day. A prescribed burn had been done on some of the areas around the visitor center to clear out biomass…keep the area grassland habitat rather than forest.

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We hiked over the causeway and into the forest. The Refuge is doing an inventory of the forest trees and taking core samples to determine the age. One of the corers got stuck in an oak and they are still trying to get it out!

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The trees are not leafed out…but some are easy to identify. Beech trees are easy any time of year.

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A lot of the pines at the refuge were planted about the same time and are dying off together too. There are quite a few that have fallen over. But there are still a lot of trees that fill in the canopy. This will be a very shady area when the trees leaf out.

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It was a good day for a conference and a visit to the refuge!

There used to be hemlocks

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We’ve lived in our current house for almost 25 years. The forest behind the house was one of the reasons we bought it in the first place; my office is the best room in the house because of the view from the window. Over the years the trees have grown – the maple in our yard acting as a foreground to the taller tulip poplars behind. There is a holly that is the only tree that keeps its green in the forest.

But it wasn’t like that in the beginning. The forest is growing on a slope…down to the Middle Patuxent River. You can see the sky through the trees because of that slope and because the hemlocks that used to grow in the forest are all gone. I remember seeing them in the early years; the trees seemed to have crows at the top frequently; I always thought there must have been crows’ nests in the hemlocks. But then West Nile Virus killed almost all the crows and wooly adelgid – I am assuming - killed the hemlocks.

I don’t know exactly when it happened, but the hemlocks are gone, and they won’t be coming back. The crows, on the other hand, seem to be rebounding. I have seen more each year for the past several years. Today I am missing the hemlocks.

Foggy Morning

One morning recently, it was warmer (in the 40s and warming to the 50s) and the forest was full of fog.

The forest layers look different. The forest’s edge that is only a neighbor’s yard away disappears in the mists making it harder to determine distance. Rather than lemon light of just after sunrise, everything is shades of bluish gray.

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The forest does not look as friendly in the fog. The birds were staying quiet even though it was their normal time to be active.

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There is a coldness to the scene that belies the warmer temperature and is not comfortable – except from the warmth of my office – which is where I was standing to take both pictures through the window. It was a good morning to enjoy being indoors.

Hiking with 4th Graders at Belmont

Last week I spent a morning hiking with 4th graders at Howard County Conservancy’s Belmont location. The theme for the hike was how the land has changed from it was all a forest 300+ years ago…to the way it is today with emphasis on the impact of our development of farms and factories…streets and homes.

I arrived early to help with set up. I carried a bag with materials for the terrain model to the table mid-way along the hike and then carried the other bag into the forest for the students to compare aerial photos of the Belmont area.  I took some pictures since I knew once the students arrived I wouldn’t have time for more – I am totally focused on the students while we hike. Some areas in the forest have deep leaf litter and would soak up a lot of water before the water would run off…and right now there are some leaves that are still colorful too.

Coming out of the forest I took a picture of the Belmont cemetery and the row of white pines. I took my hiking groups to the side of the cemetery and talked about the ground penetrating radar that was used a few years ago finding graves under the ground within the cemetery even where there are no markers and also where we were standing outside the fence (lot’s of fun to point out on a Halloween hike) but the conversation also included the idea of shifting of sediment and deterioration of grave markers that might have been made of wood. The pine needles that have accumulated over the years under the pines make the ground feel spongy; that surprised some of the students….and that area would soak up a lot of water just as the leaf litter does – like a sponge.

There was a terrain model that we poured blue liquid over to represent the normal river level…then more blue liquid to be a minor flood (houses nearest the river wet)…up to the level representing the 1868 flood which washed away Elkridge Landing and parts of Ellicott City. The mills never recovered, and towns ceased to exist. The students were surprised to learn that the flood experienced by Ellicott City in 2018 was not that much below 1868 and it was higher than the flood caused by Hurricane Agnes (1972) in Ellicott City.

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Overall – it was a great day for a fall hike with 4th graders!

In the Middle Patuxent at MPEA

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It was a cold morning last week when I headed out at dawn to help set up for another Middle Patuxent stream assessment – this time at the Middle Patuxent Environmental Area which is upstream from the other Middle Patuxent field trips I had done this fall. It was a field trip that had been canceled previously because of high water (see the post about hike I made that day).

The day was cloudy but dry. I enjoyed the hike down to the river.

The water was low enough that we could walk across near one of the riffles without jumping from rock to rock. I was wearing two pairs of socks to fill out my boots and keep my feet warm. My table got macroinvertebrate identification (after we captured them) was set up on a gravel island in the middle of the river. The other two were on the bank further downstream.

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Mayfly larvae were the more numerous critters we found – all sizes. There were numerous good photos taken with the macro lens by the students.

But the highlights of the day were two larger critters. The crayfish was large enough that it had to be in the plastic bin while the hellgrammite fit into the ice cube tray. Photos of these did not require the macro lens!

The group of 60 students managed reasonably well in the cold; it might have been a little warmer at the river level when we were dry. I realized as I walked back up the path afterwards that I was cold but for the two hours I was in the river – I was warm enough and overwhelmingly focused on the experience with the students.

Gleanings of the Week Ending October 6, 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.

BBC - Future - The recipes born from hardship – A little history…and food chemistry.

Fall Foliage: When, Why & How Vibrant Will Maple Leaves Be? – Cool Green Science – A little about the season. Unfortunately our September weather was just opposite of what it takes to get great leaf color from maples.

A mechanism of color pattern formation in ladybird beetles -- ScienceDaily – The Asian ladybird beetle… more that 200 color patterns…from a single gene.

Each Pigeon Painting by Adele Renault Shows the Bird's Overlooked Beauty – Some eye candy of a very common urban bird. Pigeons might be worth a closer look through a birding scope or camera with a big lens.

Praying Mantis Seen Hunting Fish for the First Time | Smart News | Smithsonian – In India…a large praying mantis ate a guppy.

A one-way street for salt -- ScienceDaily – How quinoa gets rid of the extra salt that it absorbs from saline soils.

My Penn’s Woods, Ever Changing – Cool Green Science – A little history about the forest in Pennsylvania (and Maryland too).

Life Thrives Within the Earth’s Crust – We know that there are a lot of living things in soils…but now we are discovering that deeper still – in rocks – there is life where previously we thought there was none. It’s a whole new area of biological research.

The surprising truth about loneliness – Some results from the BBC Loneliness Experiment.

The American Dream is Harder to Find in Some Neighborhoods – Look at the overall US map and read the article…then look at the Interactive: Explore the Opportunity Atlas to look at more detailed map locations.

Monitoring Conservation Easements

This December is my first experience volunteering to do the annual monitoring of conservation easements for the Howard County Conservancy. I went to a training back in September and then ‘shadowed’ an experienced monitor visiting 2 easements in November. In December, I was ready to monitor 2 easements with a cohort that was doing it for the first time as well.  The owners were notified by Howard County Conservancy that we would be monitoring on a particular day and the weather cooperated for both days – dry and not overly cold. The first property was mostly forest and the hike around the property was different than my usual hike since there were no well-defined trails; deer trails or picking a path through the briars (glad we were doing this in December when it was cold enough to wear heavy pants to protect my legs from thorns). It was a wonderful early winter ‘walk in the woods.’

The land was crossed by a stream that feeds into the Patuxent River. We had one stream crossing over a culvert but made another stepping on rocks; it was good that it had not rained recently. Most of the trees were native…but there was a substantial clump of bamboo growing on one streambank.

The land was easier to see with the leaves on the ground. As usual, I noticed fungi.

There was an odd holly-like plant as part of the understory. The leaves looked like holly but the top did not.

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At the end of the walk, I rejoiced that the property owner had made the effort to make it a conservation easement and that it was about that same as it had been in previous years.

The second easement was entirely different: surrounded by housing developments and an active farm/golf related business rather than forest. The business was about the same as it had been in the previous year…but there was a change at the farm: a guard dog. The dog did not appear immediately, but no one was home. We could tell that there had been some earth moving going on upslope from the stream that starts on the farm and eventually flows into the Patuxent River. If a heavy rain came – a lot of soil would slump down into the stream. The dog appeared…and we decided to gracefully retreat without completing our check of the easement. The monitoring will have to be done when the owner or their representative can be there. It was a rattling experience, but we enjoyed a hefty morning snack with hot tea/latte to recover!

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Gleanings of the Week Ending October 21, 2017

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.

What’s With That Dam? : The National Wildlife Federation – We got to Conowingo to see bald eagles….so I was interested in learning more about it. Evidently - the dam’s current impact on the Chesapeake Bay is not a positive one.

On Bee-ing – Cool Green Science – About the Minnesota Bee Atlas.

Stunning Video Captures Humpback Whales Catching Fish with Nets of Bubbles | Smart News | Smithsonian – I’d heard of this phenomenon but the video is still thrilling! Well work the 40 seconds!

How honeybees read the waggle dance -- ScienceDaily – The field trip the Howard County Conservancy does for 3rd graders includes a segment on the waggle dance….so I read this article to find out more about it….both the history of its discovery and the current research on the neurons responding to the dance.

Bathtub Bloodbath, 1793 | The Scientist Magazine® - A famous painting of Jean-Paul Marat murdered in his bath…what he was before his revolutionary activities.

Adaptation as Acceptance: Toward a New Normal in the Northwoods – Cool Green Science – Forests are changing – with climate change and invasive insects like emerald ash borer and woolly adelgid culling some trees that were, until recently, common in our forests. There is a grief for those lost trees that will not make a comeback. This article is about finding hope via adaptation. The forest will be different…but still forest.

Meet the Transgenic Silkworms That Are Spinning out Spider Silk | The Scientist Magazine® - Spider silk combines elasticity and strength but has been difficult to produce. Now the fiber is produced by silkworms and the increased availability makes it viable for a host of applications. It will be interesting to observe how the market develops.

Treetop Walkway Provides an Elevated Path Through Danish Forest – What an awesome way to observe a forest!

National Mall and Memorial Parks – Hope the laser ablation of the biofilm on the Jefferson Memorial works as well as the test spot. The dome has gotten a lot grayer over the years from ‘biofilm.’

Seeing Big Changes in Baltimore: The National Wildlife Federation Blog – Hurray for the schools and students in Baltimore provided wildlife habitat!