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!

g 2019 08 IMG_5095.jpg

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

gm 2019 08 IMG_5144.jpg

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.

m 2019 08 IMG_5152.jpg

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.

Patuxent Research Refuge – Part I

Last weekend, we spent an hour at the south tract of the Patuxent Research Refuge – that’s the area that includes the visitor center (map). We got there early enough that it wasn’t overwhelmingly hot (and before the visitor center was open). We stopped at a recent addition along the Loop Trail: a bird blind with bird feeders: seeds, hummingbird, and suet. They are still working on the area; as time goes by it should become a better and better place to see birds. In just a few minutes, I saw and photographed three different birds in the area: a male Red-winged Blackbird with patches just beginning to show,

2019 08 IMG_9892.jpg
2019 08 IMG_9906.jpg

And a juvenile Common Grackle.

2019 08 IMG_9913.jpg

We walked down to the Cash Lake Trail and out onto the pontoon lake crossing part of the trail. There were two Great Blue Herons out on the lake in the shallow water.

Note the water lilies in bloom around the herons. I’ll post about other things (not birds) we saw in our short visit tomorrow.

Zooming – July 2019

I probably use the zoom on my camera for most of my pictures. It allows me to frame the picture the way I want and to ‘see’ the environment better than I can with just my eyes. Sometimes I am at the limit of what my camera can do. For example – the tiger swallowtails are particularly numerous in my back yard this summer and I kept seeing then flying under the maple tree where my compost pile is located. I used my camera like binoculars to see that the swallowtails were ‘puddling’ in the compost pile after a rain. They must have been enjoying the nutrient rich water!

a 2019 07 IMG_9670.jpg

There was a smallish robin that fluttered down from the maple and sat in the grass – just looking around for a few minutes before returned to the tree. It didn’t look or find a worm! Probably a fledging.

a 2019 07 IMG_9658.jpg

On the hottest day of the summer (so far), a wasp got a drink from our bird bath. Sometimes I find wasps that have drowned in the bird bath but so far it hasn’t happened this year. Maybe they are getting better as just getting the drink that they need.

a 2019 07 IMG_9719.jpg

Now enjoy the slide show of other zoomed pictures from this month:

  • Plane tree

  • Fireworks

  • Pocket prairie plants

  • Yellow crowned night heron

  • Great egret

  • Female cardinal

  • Fawn

  • Goldfinch

Brookside Gardens – Butterflies and more

a 2019 06 IMG_4680.jpg

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.

a 20190610_102103.jpg

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.

a 20190617_101148.jpg

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

b 20190610_101317.jpg

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.

p 20190624_120917.jpg

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.

d 2019 06 IMG_4747.jpg

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.

h 2019 06 IMG_4791.jpg

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.

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!

2019 05 IMG_4305.jpg

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.

2019 05 IMG_4307.jpg

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

2019 05 IMG_4309.jpg
2019 05 IMG_4313.jpg

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!

2019 05 IMG_4317.jpg

Birding through a Window – February 2019

It’s great to see birds from my office window – I take a little break to observe while staying warm…and I get other things done between sightings.

Some kinds of birds I see every day.

2019 01 IMG_4208.jpg

The Blue Jays generally make a lot of noise, so I notice when they are around. They come for the water in the heated bird bath and then for seed if it’s spilled out from the feeder (the feeder itself does not work for jay-sized birds). Somehow, they always seem to be looking in my direction when I take a picture of them.

The Dark-eyed Juncos are also around every day. They come for the seed and, sometimes, the birdbath.

The Northern Cardinal also is a frequent visitor. We have a resident pair that stays around our area. They made their nest in the bushes in front of our house last season. Sometimes more than the pair are around…but not every day.

Mourning Doves are plentiful. One morning we heard one seemingly very close to our breakfast area door but couldn’t see it. My husband opened the door and it flew from it’s hiding place under the deck railing. These birds are also too big for the feeder, but they enjoy any seed on the ground and the bird bath and just sitting around on the deck railing or the roof of the covered deck.

The Tufted Titmouse makes rapid transits between the feeder or birdbath and the red maple. It must feel safer in the maple. We have at least one pair, and maybe more, that frequent our deck.

The Carolina Chickadees are very similar to the titmice in that they don’t linger on the deck. They prefer to get seed and take it back to the maple.

This year we have more American Gold Finches coming to the feeder. In previous years we’ve had more House Finches but I’ve only seen one this year and I didn’t get a picture.

And there are birds I don’t see as frequently.

One American Robin came to the bird bath – and I got a picture. There will be a lot more of them around soon.

2019 01 IMG_4224.jpg
2019 01 IMG_4271.jpg

Sometimes we have Northern Flickers visit – usually as a pair. They like the heated bird bath in very cold weather. The area under the pines appears to be a good place for them to find insects.

The Downy Woodpecker returns again and again to some damaged branches not that far from my window. I’ve seen a male and female…only got pictures of the female this month.

European Starlings are not an everyday occurrence in our yard. There must be better food sources for them elsewhere. That’s probably a good thing.

2019 02 IMG_4566.jpg

We have a White-Breasted Nuthatch that comes to our feeder occasionally. It moves very quickly and goes back to the forest.

2019 02 IMG_4600.jpg

There are birds that I remember seeing but didn’t manage to photograph this month: Red-winged blackbirds, Turkey vultures, Black Vultures, Pileated woodpecker, red-bellied woodpecker, and House sparrow. Overall – not a bad month for birding through window.

Belmont Hikes with Summer Campers I

2018 07 IMG_1819.jpg

I have started weekly hikes with summer campers at Howard County Conservancy’s Belmont location. The theme for this week was ‘Fossils and Feathers’ – to I focused on birds during the hike. The cardinal flowers near the entrance to the Carriage House (the camp headquarters) have evidently attracted some hummingbirds but there were too many people about while I was there to see them.

I was early enough that I walked around to see how the butterfly meadow looks during its first season. It’s mostly grass!

2018 07 IMG_1759.jpg

I photographed some of the flowers that are there among the grass. I hope the butterflies find them!

There were two groups of campers; the first group to hike were the younger children. We hiked down to the pond. There are birdhouses along the way down the grassy path through the newly mowed field. The tree swallows were very active…and then we saw purple martins in their house and flying off toward the pond. Turkey vultures made slow circles in the sky. There were red-winged black birds around the pond and we talked about other birds that like to be around water; Great Blue Herons and Wood Ducks both came up in the talk. We also saw dragon flies at the pond and talked about how they lay their eggs in the water. We hiked back along the tree lined drive to the manor house and stopped at the sycamore; we noticed the pieces of bark on the ground and agreed that next time they go to the stream they might try the curls of bark as ‘boats.’

I had a break between the two groups. I found a chair in the shade and took pictures of birds at the feeders and nearby trees.

2018 07 IMG_1787.jpg

There were red-winged blackbirds, goldfinches, a red-bellied woodpecker, and a mockingbird. I was hearing the mockingbird long before I managed to see it.

The second hike was a bit longer. We walked along the edge of the forest then went a short way in…listening for birds in several places along the way. We heard birds…but didn’t see any except doves and vultures. There was a lot of other things to see: a deer, a tiger swallowtail, chicory, wineberry, sweet gum balls, lichen, a cicada’s shed.

In both groups we found a few feathers to talk about. I enjoyed the hikes…and I think the campers did too.

Photography through a Window – April 2018

The juncos were in out backyard and frequent visitors to our feeder and birdbath at the beginning of the month…and then they left for their nesting grounds to north and west. We won’t see them here in Maryland until it gets cold again.

The big story of month for our backyard was more about trees than birds. The red maple bloomed and made seeds. I am watching for when the seeds helicopter away from the parent. Of course, some of our backyard birds (cardinals and goldfinches) were in tree for some of the pictures. They like to snack on the tender seeds.

The tulip poplar leaves are unfurling with the pods from last summer still holding a few seeds.

2018 04tIMG_9861.jpg

The sycamore is still looking very much like it has all winter; it is always one of the last to leave out.

2018 04s IMG_9853.jpg

The tree I haven’t photographed yet is the black walnut. I noticed last time I walked around that it had some leaves unfurling but it’s location requires that I walk to it rather than trying to photograph it through a window!

Birding through a Window – February 2018

I’ve posted many of my bird pictures for the month already (bluebirds bathingbefore (woodpeckers) and after the Great Backyard Bird Count) so this post will have the ‘best of the rest.’ There were birds that just come to the birdbath – like the blue jays (we have a small flock that makes the rounds in our neighborhood most days with a stop at our bird bath…one bird at a time)

And the flickers (sporadically).

Sometimes the little birds visit the bird bath together. I managed to photograph a chickadee, goldfinch, and nuthatch together. It’s interesting to see how chunky the nuthatch is compared to the other two birds.

2018 02 IMG_8324.jpg

I saw the nuthatch and chickadee several times during the month…but didn’t get any more worthwhile pictures. The goldfinches comes to the feeder and bird bath more frequently. They are still in their winter plumage…I keep looking for the more brilliant yellow feathers to appear.

At the bird feeder – a house finch and downy woodpecker shared for a few seconds. The woodpecker is a little bigger than the finch…but they both are light enough that their combined weight does not pull down the metal ‘flowers’ to cover the seed holes (the squirrel proofing of the feeder).

2018 02 IMG_8463.jpg

The house finches are probably the most frequent visitors to the feeder. We have a resident group that makes rounds in our neighborhood.

The resident cardinal pair prefers seed on the ground but has developed a technique to flutter near the feeder and get seed when there is not enough scattered around underneath.

2018 02 c IMG_8373.jpg

A mockingbird came to the bird bath recently….which is unusual for us. They are around our neighborhood (I hear them and see them) but we haven’t had one that frequents our deck…maybe this one will stick around.

Skunk Cabbage

Last week I hiked down to the marshy area where the skunk cabbage usually grows at Howard County Conservancy’s Mt. Pleasant Farm – and it was already coming up out of the muck. There were no blooms yet; those will be left for February. I used the zoom to get pictures since the area was muddy both from rain the previous day and the usual water from the small spring. It was warm enough that there was no ice in the area where the skunk cabbage was sprouting.

2018 01 IMG_8069.jpg

In other areas there was more ice – further from the spring (the water that emerges from the ground must be a little warmer) or where ice got thicker when the temperature was very low and it takes longer to thaw. It wasn’t freezing on the day I was hiking so part of the stream that has accumulated more water and the flowing more rapidly was entirely melted.

Other highlights from the leisurely hike: the stump for the elementary school hiking groups to climb and count tree rings is surviving the winter…will still be good for the spring field trips,

2018 01 IMG_8042.jpg

Shelf fungus group just about everywhere – even on stumps of invasive trees (these were probably Callery pear).

2018 01 IMG_8074.jpg

The bird feeders in the Honors Garden were active: nuthatches, downy woodpeckers, and goldfinches beginning to get their spring plumage were the ones I managed to photograph.

Birding through a window – September 2017

2017 09 IMG_3567.jpg

The goldfinches are enjoying the sunflowers on the deck…making them easier to photograph. The look about after each acrobatic move to pluck a seed.

2017 09 IMG_3575.jpg

A fledgling was making quite a fuss on the deck roof outside my office. I looked around to see what else was going on and discovered the parent in the gutter --- ignoring the noise from the fledgling and enjoying a bath!

A few days later our resident Carolina Wren was out early and singing. There was still water in gutter and it soon took a bath and emerged very wet and bedraggled looking.

Birding through a window – August 2017

Last month, I posted about an America goldfinch that perched on the window frame outside my office. And it’s a goldfinch again for August’s ‘through a window’ post. This male is already in the process changing to winter plumage. He has patches of gray on his head and neck and there are tufts of feathers that the bird was moving around on both sides – like they itched. It was not exactly symmetrical but maybe molting never is.

As the leaf cover of the trees gets thinner, there is always less protection from predators so the drabber winter plumage helps the bird survive. No need for him to stand out when it’s not breeding season!