Belmont – March 2019

Howard County Conservancy hosted a training session at Belmont for upcoming elementary school BioBlitzes last week. I hadn’t been to the location since January, so I looked around before going into the Carriage House for class. The plane trees (they are like sycamores but are a little different – have some seed balls in pairs rather than single) seemed full of seed balls. We’ve had quite a lot of wind and the fibers holding the balls to the tree look worn at this point. I wondered how long they would stay attached after I saw the zoomed image through my camera.

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It was sad to see the stump of the red maple they had to cut down recently. Evidently it lost a lot of big branches during some of the recent winds. The colors in the stump drew my attention. The tree was not extensively rotten but there were some insect holes. The stump would have to be sanded to count the rings. The tree had been struggling in recent years, but I always pointed it out because it had small branches low enough on its trunk for children to see the flowers and leaves.

It also had a root that was above the surface and been injured by mowers…but still survived.

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I almost always pointed out the red maple to contrast with the nearby sugar maple – which is still standing with some ivy growing on it. It was a good concept for student to think through – how the trees were alike and how they were different…both maples.

The class had an outdoor portion to try out the app and tablets the students would be using. I used the time to take a few more pictures. There were crocuses blooming in the grassy area near the mailboxes.

The wind had blown pine cones and sweet gum balls into the same area.

The pond still looked like it has all winter. The clouds had rolled in while we had been indoors. And this landscape shows the dimness of the day.

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I turned back to the view the manor house and notice a maple that no longer had its upper branches. One of the them was very rotten. But the tree is still blooming!

We headed up to the cemetery and I checked the hemlock. The tree looks like the treatment for wooly adelgid has worked. I tried an experimental shot with a cone highlighted…and blurry branches above and below.

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By the time I am at Belmont again – there will be even more signs of spring.

Belmont in January 2019

Last week, I attended a lecture for Howard County Conservancy volunteers at the Belmont Carriage House – arriving early to walk around a bit before the lecture. There was still quite a lot of snow on the ground.

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I stayed on the cleared roads until I made the trek up to the old cemetery.

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The old tulip poplar looks even more ancient in the winter with all the hollows and bark injuries more clearly visible. It had a lot of seed pods from last season just as the younger trees do.

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One of the people I was hiking with pointed out an ash tree on the Patapsco Valley State Park side of the cemetery that had evidence of emerald ash borer (the lighter color on the bark). This tree will have to be cut down before it falls on the cemetery taking down fences and stones.

On a positive note – the hemlocks in the cemetery seem to be thriving. A few years ago they were infested with wooly adelgid but they were treated and it seems have saved them.

The wind must have ‘pruned’ the holly in the cemetery. A branch was draped from one of the headstones – no footprints in the snow around the headstone.

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There were lots of deer tracks in the snow as we walked up to the cemetery and back. We didn’t see any rabbit tracks. Maybe a coyote?

We circled back along the row of white pines. The snow stands out even on a very cloudy day.

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It was time to head back. I stopped near the mailboxes to take a picture of the pond with the bald cypress standing just to the left of it. It does have a classic cypress shape but if I wasn’t familiar with the tree, I’d have to hike down to the pond and see the cypress knees that surround it for a definitive identification.

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There used to be hemlocks


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.

A lecture and walk around at Belmont

Earlier this week, I attended a lecture about the history of the Patapsco River Valley at Belmont Manor and Historic Park and then took a walk around the grounds. It was a sunny day – but cold and breezy. I put on all my layers. There are some changes since the last time I was there. Much of the meadow and field areas have been mowed and some new trees have been planted. The shorter grass somehow made it seem even more wintery – to seedpods or long grasses to add texture to the landscape.

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The bald cypress down by the pond stands out because of its location and because it seems to be a slightly different color that the trees behind it. I’m glad the area around it is soggy enough that they didn’t mow around its base – scarring its knees. We didn’t make the trek down there to check. Hopefully I’ll hike down sometime before the bluebirds and swallows start moving into the boxes…and protecting their territory.

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Up at the front of the manor house, many of the trees look like they’ve been pruned – either intentionally or by winter weather.

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Along the road into Belmont, the ashes are being cut down. Some were already gone, others just had tape around them. It’s evidently a project this winter. They are being killed by the invasive emerald ash borer.

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We hiked around the fence behind the manor house to a hemlock that had been invested with wooly adelgid (another invasive insect). The tree looks better; there were some new cones and growth from last summer; I’m glad the park is trying to save it. Underneath the tree – there was a scattering of feathers. Some relatively large bird met its end here.

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We hiked on around to the Belmont cemetery. I noticed some holes within the hollow up high in a very large tulip poplar…a home for a woodpecker or maybe just a pantry that contained a lot of insects. The hemlocks at the cemetery looked healthier too. Some of the dead branches had been removed and they had new growth and cones.