A Serendipity Hike at Mt Pleasant

Last Saturday morning, there was a Serendipity Hike offered at Howard County Conservancy’s Mt Pleasant location. There were quite a few registrations for the free event after the forecast temperature and humidity were lower than recent days in our area. About 50 people came and we had 4 volunteers to lead hikes. My group included people that had not been to Mt Pleasant before.


My focus turned out to be about landscaping with native plants (like the sweet bay magnolias)

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And cone flowers.

We headed through the Honors Garden to see more flowering plants and around to the stand of Joe Pye Weed (full of tiger swallowtails). Along the way, the green frogs provide a serenade from the pool. I told them that I had seen 3 frogs earlier but that the summer campers had found 7 a few weeks ago. My hiking group saw 5 and one was positioned to easily observe when he made his croak!

From the Joe Pye Weed we hiked around to see Ranger the Barred Owl…then to the meadow, noticing the orchard and Montjoy barn along the way. Down at the stream we noticed the steep slopes that now have vegetation growing on them --- an indicator that the stream restoration upstream has slowed the flow of water from storms. To avoid a steep uphill climb, we crossed the meadow and walked along the stone wall and then back to the nature center. I pointed out the tree with myriad yellow-bellied sapsucker holes.

The hike was a little over an hour…several people came in to get maps of the trails afterward.

Belmont – April 2019

The Howard County Conservancy spring field trips at Belmont and Mt. Pleasant are into prime time. The two I volunteered for last week had beautiful weather for hiking – almost perfect temperature and dry. I always arrive more than 30 minutes before the students. It’s a short walk from parking to the Carriage House….long enough to get some pictures. Birds that are around: chipping sparrows, robins, and red winging blackbirds. There is at least one resident mockingbird which I heard but didn’t get a picture.

The warmer weather is also causing things to bloom and new spring green leaves to unfurl.

As I wait for the bus, I take pictures toward the manor house, down the entrance road, and down toward the pond. It’s the calm….before the students arrive.

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The students, teachers, and chaperones come on buses and there is a flurry of activity to get the groups sorted into hiking groups and activity groups.

The hikes are about an hour. There are forest and meadows…lot of opportunity for good observations. One of my hiking groups was making BioBlitz observations…documenting a common blue violet blooming in the middle of the mowed path!


Brookside Gardens – February 2019

My husband and I opted to walk the outside part of Brookside Gardens first on a cold day in February – planning to warm up in the conservatory before we headed back home. We didn’t make it all the way around the gardens (too cold) but there was plenty to see in the part we did manage.

There were dried flower heads from last summer – wonderful texture in their light browns. There is a fragility to their beauty too.


There were several kinds of witch hazel – probably the most colorful deciduous tree this time of year.

The cold damaged ferns often look more artsy to me than all green ferns. Their color is more varied.


And then there are the small bulbs of spring blooming. I was surprised I didn’t see any crocus.

And then we headed into the warm conservatory; that’s the topic for tomorrow’s post.

Signs of Spring

Last week, a kindergarten class was the first field trip of the ‘spring’ at Howard County Conservancy’s Mt. Pleasant Farm. The temperature was in the 30s and there was a little breeze – very wintery feeling. The children and I had our coats zipped, hoods up, and gloves on. We hiked and looked for signs of spring….and remnants of other seasons.

We saw daffodils coming up and snow drops blooming…signs of spring. We looked at holly with its shiny green leaves and red berries which is often symbolic of winter. One holly was leaning over the snow drop bed.


We saw evidence of squirrels around: lots of opened black walnut shells which had been their food all during the winter. We searched the trees for squirrel nests but decided that the strong winds recently must have blown the nests away.

There were some trees that had been cut down recently. We noted that the centers had been rotting which was probably why they had been cut. The largest stump was near the farm house and the children crowded onto it for their teacher to take a field trip picture!


The children were surprised to see the witch hazel in bloom and learning that it normally blooms in late winter. They saw the brown leaves on the ground and still clinging to the branches of the tree – correctly identifying them as the leaves from last summer/fall.

There was a winter jasmine with buds of all sizes – and a single flower. It was another sign of spring on the way. They were surprised at the different sizes of buds and identified the ones that were about ready to open.

In the old orchard, we looked at the buds on the apple trees and the pear tree – deciding that the pear tree would probably bloom first based on way the buds looked.

By the end of the hike – they were ready for a little warm up in the nature center then back outdoors for a focused lesson starting with looking for animal tracks in the muddy areas.

It was a good start to the ramp up of spring field trips!

Ten Little Celebrations – January 2019

As usual – it is easy for me to find little celebrations every day…and here are the top 10 for January 2019.

Getting rid of ‘stuff’ – My husband and I celebrated taking two loads of ‘stuff’ to the landfill (trash and recycling) and donation. I feel like we are finally making progress in getting rid of things we no longer need. We managed to fix 4 floor lamps that we thought were broken…just before we were set to take them to the landfill.

Wedding anniversary – My husband and I usually have a quiet celebration when our wedding anniversary comes around just after Christmas and the beginning of the year. We’re always pleased with ourselves for becoming long-time marrieds….but realize that it has been easier for us than it is for so many others.

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A morning hike at Mt. Pleasant – It was muddy but otherwise an excellent day for a winter hike. I enjoyed getting outdoors.

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New hiking boots – I celebrated getting new hiking boots. The lining of my 4-year-old boots was tearing. I bought the same brand (Merrell) but waterproof and a little wider to leave more room for bunions and thick socks.

No cavities – I went to the dentist for a checkup and celebrated ‘no cavities’ or anything else that required follow-up! It’s been that way for the past few appointments…and I’m glad my teeth seem to be OK and stable.

Anticipating Zentangle class – I registered for a Zentangle class scheduled for late March and started working through the pre-work….what a joy and worth celebrating both the tiles I am creating now and the anticipation of a great experience in the class.

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Walking in snow at Belmont – I celebrated the beauty of snow on the landscape….and that my boots didn’t leak!


Witch hazel blooming – What a thrill to find the burst of color in the browns, dark greens, and whites of a winter day! I like that the petals are like little streams as well…. appropriate for a celebration.


Peppermint snow ice cream – Yum! Yes, I was very cold after I ate it but is was well worth it…celebration-worthy food!

Macro photograph collection – I celebrated the macro photographs I’d made over the past year or so as I prepared charts for a presentation. I have enjoyed the clip on macro lens more than any other photography accessory!

Mt Pleasant in January 2019 – Part 2

Continuing the images from last week’s hike at Howard County Conservancy’s Mt. Pleasant….

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I noticed a bluebird box with lichen growing on its roof. I wondered how long the houses lasted. This one had a plaque below it saying it had been installed in 2009 so it’s held up for 10 years!

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There was some farm equipment near the edge of a field – covered in vines. It must not have been used for at least one season…and maybe longer. Nature is taking over! I didn’t get close enough to determine what kind of vines they might be – mile-a-minute or oriental bittersweet (both invasive) would be a good beginning guess.

With the record amount of rainfall we got in 2018, there was a root ball of a tree that fell – probably last spring.  What a dramatic change it must have been for the organisms around the roots before it fell…there would be a complex story to document different organisms came along after the tree feel and the elements alternatively dried out and filled in the hole (with water or soil washed into the hole). Nature is always in motion!

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A beech tree had been cut down and the big logs left in place.  Maybe the tree had fallen and was cut up to clear the trail or maybe it was a standing dead tree that was cut before it could fall. The center was rotting. The beech bark looks so smooth from a distance but often looks wrinkled upon closer inspection.

Ranger, the barred owl, is back in his quarters near the nature center. He seemed very calm as we hiked by. There aren’t school fieldtrips with lots of students to crowd around his space during the winter; it’s easier for him to be Zen.

It was good to be back at Mt. Pleasant for a hike…maybe I’ll go again sometime with my husband…wear boots that can get muddy and hunt for skunk cabbage peeking through the muck.

Mt Pleasant in January 2019 – Part 1

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My first hike at Howard County Conservancy’s Mt. Pleasant was last week on a cold, blustery day after a night rain. We were prepared for the cold and managed to work our way around the muddy parts of the trails. The sun played hide and seek with the clouds. I was taking pictures of winter trees. I am very familiar with a black walnut near the rock wall on the meadow side.

The nuts on the ground all around it would give it away even if I didn’t know it was a black walnut. I am always amazed that the squirrels can get the shells open with their teeth.

The path along the wall was in relatively good shape – still mostly covered with grass. We didn’t go all the way down to the Davis Branch…but cut across the meadow mid-way down the hill.

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We took the long way around to an overlook of the Branch since the lower trails were too muddy to attempt.

The water was not high, but everything looked wet. I was noticing the beech trees – easy to identify by their smooth bark.

One of the root balls that had been placed upside down in the restored part of the stream had been washed downstream by an earlier flood…and was still balanced where I’d seen it last fall. It will stay there until the next big flood. It had a collapsed pillow-like orange fungus growing on it.

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A river birch is easy to identify with its curly bark.

As we turned back toward the nature center, I noted that one of the trees across the smaller stream had finally rotted enough to collapse.

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The only ‘bloom’ I saw on the hike was the beginning of the witch hazel bloom on the tree near the farmhouse. The streamer like petals are still curled up in the opening flowers. I’ll have to remember to look at the tree every time I go to Mt. Pleasant over the next month or so!

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Winter Walk in the Neighborhood - 1

I took a walk in our neighborhood on the warmest day last week. It was a blustery day – felt more like March than January. I walked down to the storm water retention pond first. It still looks relatively barren but there is vegetation on all the slopes.

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The cattails are beginning to repopulate the shallows. I wondered if there were enough for the red winged blackbirds to come back to the pond. Maybe more cattails will come up next spring from the roots already in the mud…if they aren’t drowned from all the rain we’ve gotten.

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The wind was blowing oak leaves onto the water.

Younger oak trees often keep their leaves well into winter. Or course – every breeze takes a few more leaves away but there were enough left on some of the trees in our neighborhood to still use the leaf shape to say definitively – it’s an oak. The tree in front of our house retained it leaves did years ago but is now old enough that its leaves drop in the fall.

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As I looked back along our street, I realized that the general way to tell the maples from the oaks planted along the street by the builder is to look at the height. The taller ones are oaks.

Ten Little Celebrations – December 2018

It was easy to find 10 little celebrations in December before today. I divided the month into three segments: before I went to Texas, in Texas and then after I got back from Texas.


Before I went to Texas there was the Howard County Conservancy’s Natural Holiday Sale (ate lots of cookies and bought suet garlands from the garden club),

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A glorious hike along the Trolley Trail between Banneker Historic Park and Ellicott City,

The Maryland Water Monitoring Conference and managing to find a replacement travel mug in a store (since I didn’t have time to wait for an online order before I left for my travel to Texas.

While I was in Texas, I enjoyed the birds at Josey Ranch Lake,


Two sunrises (the first and last mornings in Texas!),

Listening to vintage to modern Christmas music…getting in the mood for Christmas and making progress on a Christmas themed jigsaw puzzle that took us almost the whole week to finish.

Afterwards, I celebrated being home again – the usual for me after being away for a week – and staying indoors on some cold, wet days.

Hope everyone is enjoying today’s holiday – Merry Christmas! It’s always of time of year to savor.

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December on the Trolley Trail

The Howard County Conservancy organized a winter hike for its volunteers last week on the Trolley Trail (Trolley Trail #9 near Ellicott City/Benjamin Banneker Historical Park and Museum). We were celebrating the end of another fall field trip season. About 40 people met in the Banneker parking lot and headed out.

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The connecting trail from Banneker to the Trolley Trail was through the forest and very muddy. There was an Osage orange tree that had dropped its fruit recently. Most of the fruit look pristine. When I got home, I did some research and discovered that the fruit is not eaten except sometimes by squirrels. One theory is that the fruit was eaten by large mammals that are now extinct (ground sloth, mammoth, mastodon) and that these animals would have spread the seed. Now the tree is propagated by people for its wood and as windbreaks.

We headed north on the Trolley Trail first. I didn’t take many pictures because I was so busy trying to keep up with the group. It was the same the last time I was on the Trolley Trail in 2015 with my Master Naturalist class (posted about it here).

There was some stream restoration (and maybe something else since there is infrastructure like sewer lines in the streambed) that was active next to the trail.  The stream did look more scoured than the last time we were in the area.

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We reached the end of the trail at the north and retraced our steps…passing the trails to Banneker to continue south on the Trolley Trail.

We got to the part of the trail that was damaged in the last flood. Repair work was not complete, so we stopped before getting down to Ellicott City; I turned around and took a picture back along the trail. The asphalt of the trail was damaged by the flood; the asphalt edges were uneven, and pieces were missing.

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There were bright green Christmas fens on the cliff to the right

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A little further back up the hill, winter trees looked good against the sky. It’s easy to pick out the sycamores this time of year.

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A waterfall was scenic rather than roaring. I thought more about what it must have been like during the flood to sweep away asphalt a little further down.

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We’ve gotten so much rain this fall/early winter that the moss is thick and bright green – like a carpet.

We made the muddy trek back up to Banneker to retrieve our cars…and head for lunch with healthy appetites.

Festival of the Cranes – part 4

Our first day at the Festival ended with a program about owls and then going out into the Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge to look for owls along the wildlife loop. Our guides managed to help us see three species: western screech owl, great horned owl, and barn owl. I didn’t take any pictures and am waiting on my husband to process his to (maybe) write a post about the experience. The barn owls in flight over the field (beside the road where we were standing) were the high point of the evening.

I was glad our field trip for the next day was not an early morning. We got to Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge in plenty of time for our 8AM start. There were screwbean mesquites growing near the entrance of the visitor center. For some reason, I had not noticed this type of mesquite before; the seeds are quite different from the mesquites I grew up with in Texas!

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The field trip was to a part of the refuge not open to the public. It turns out that the majority of Sevilleta is used for research. There is no wild life loop road and the part we would see during the field trip is not directly connected to the parcel that has the visitor center and refuge headquarters. The field trip group headed out in three refuge vehicles – down a highway and across some private land. As soon as we went through the gate to the refuge land the increase in vegetation was obvious. It’s still a dry place.

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Horned larks flew up along the road as our vehicles proceeded down the road. There was a solanum species with their tiny fruits.

Someone with sharp eyes spotted oryx (gemsbok) in the distance. They were imported from Africa to White Sands Missile Range in southern New Mexico and their numbers have been growing in New Mexico (they escaped the missile range). Their numbers seem to be stable on the refuge.

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We stopped to hike through a small canyon where sandstone that contains underground water abuts harder rock – forcing water to the surface – until the harder rock ends and the water goes underground again. I managed an identification-level picture of a Townsend’s Solitaire. There was a thin layer of ice on the water. The water was trickling through underneath.

Along the road, we stopped for birds. Most of the time I just got to see them through binoculars. I managed to get a picture of the Mountain Bluebirds

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And several of a Loggerhead Shrike – one with prey. Later in the field trip as we drove along the barbed wire fence, we saw desiccated insects pinned to the barbs by shrikes.

A little further along there was a Canyon Towhee in the top of a cholla.

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I couldn’t resist photographing the cholla!

A herd of pronghorn were just white rumps running away at first but then they turned and raced the vehicles. They would turn and cross the road in front of the caravan – forcing it to slow or stop until they crossed. Then they would run beside us on that side of the road before they crossed again. It seemed to be a game and only the pronghorn knew the rules. We all wondered whether it was the youngest in the group that decided to run…the dominant male was usually close to the back of the group!

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We stopped at another canyon for another hike. It was drier although during the monsoons there would be water flowing.

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The refuge staff has converted older style drinkers which worked for deer to shallow pools to work for other animals as well. The water pump is powered by a solar panel and there is a camera to document visitors.

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We returned to the visitor center a little before 4. It was the only day of the festival that I got my 12,000 steps!

Field Trips in the Rain

Last week, I volunteered for two elementary school hiking field trips at Howard County Conservancy’s Mt Pleasant Farm….and it rained both days! On Monday it was kindergarteners and the ‘hike’ was shorted from 40 minutes to 20 minutes and accomplished in mostly the nature center. We started out on the terrace above the nature center looking out over the Honor Garden…talking about trees with leaves (and looked at leaves on the ground). Then we walked quickly around the front of the building to get to the nature center…and were wet enough already. Inside the nature center there were animal skulls and pelts…seeds and leaves…preserved insects…


And tree cookies.

When I talk to kindergarteners about tree cookies, I take time to explain what they are…and that they are not to eat! We count the main rings on the Royal Paulownia and then note that the other trees grow more slowly. My favorite is the dogwood because the rings are not as regular the other samples. The children are always enjoy learning about sugar maples…and maple syrup.

The rest of the time that would have normally been hiking was spent observing and hearing about Ranger, the barred owl.


On Friday, it only sprinkled a little on the first hike with second graders while we were out and about in the meadow. It was a very cloudy day.

During the second hike, it started raining. The children were dressed for the weather and more than half of them had umbrellas. We were in the meadow collecting and analyzing soil samples when it started raining. We decided we’d done enough samples and went to learn about the rocks by looking at an old stone wall. We started making our way back to the nature center by way of the goat and chicken enclosures…noting what the animals were doing (both enclosures have shelters and that’s where the animals were…out of the rain). We stopped briefly at the old stump in front of the farm house and discovered a snake skin fragment. Then we headed in to the nature center to see the living black rat snake (Onyx), a snake we see frequently at Mt Pleasant. They were ready for lunch too!

These were my last elementary field trips for the fall season. Even with the challenge of rain, they were good experiences…for me and for the students.

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.


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

Milkweed Seeds

I cut the milkweed stalks in my yard down before they could produce seeds; my stand is big enough and my neighbors might not appreciate milkweed coming up in their yard. I was hiking recently in the Middle Patuxent Environmental Area (hiking back from the river after a stream assessment with high schoolers) and spotted some seed pods with fluffy seeds emerging. We’d had some dry days and the white fiber parachutes were carrying seeds away with every breeze – unless they were still matted inside the split pod.

Milkweed pods are one of my favorite subjects for photography in the fall. The bright white fibers draw the eye in the browning meadows.

Hopefully all these seeds flew away before the rains later that afternoon. Rain tends to destroy the parachute so the seeds are stuck either in the pod or in a soggy mass on the ground.

Milkweed also comes up from the roots so even if these seeds don’t find a way to grow, the stand will be denser next year with plants coming up from all along the roots already there. I noticed some young plants near the stand and wondered if some of the warm days we had in October prompted the plants to send up spring-like shoots.

Ten Little Celebrations – October 2018

Glorious fall – even if our leaf color is the least spectacular of the 30+ years I’ve lived on the east coast. All my celebrations this month were outdoors!


Hiking in the Middle Patuxent Environmental Area after heavy rain – lots of mud but my boots handled it well

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Bald Eagles – the serendipity of seeing them soaring over a shopping center parking lot

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Common Buckeye in a native plant garden on a sunny day

Mushrooms and cobwebs at Centennial Park…spectacular on a foggy morning

Finding a crawfish and hellgrammite in the Middle Patuxent River with high schoolers. We were all very cold but managed to still find some interesting critters.


Fifth graders with clipboards and pencils on a BioBlitz at Belmont.


First graders enjoying a hike on a cold fall morning (seeing a immature black rat snake)


Finding a spotted salamander with a group of 7th graders on a BioBlitz at Mt. Pleasant


A rainy day in the Middle Patuxent River with high schoolers – and realizing that the students were pleased with the macroinvertebrates we found. They came dressed for the rain!

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A long hike from Belmont to the Patapsco Valley State Park Avalon area – getting all my steps for the day in less than 3 hours

Saturday Hike – Part II

We started down from the Howard County Conservancy’s Belmont Carriage House shortly after 10 AM with 21 hikers. I wanted to make good time for the downhill part of the hike to the Patapsco River in the Avalon area of the state park. I didn’t stop for any pictures. Until we got down to the river.

The water was cloudy with silt and the gravel bars that used to be in the center (where tiger swallowtail butterflies liked to puddle in the summer) were gone. The high volume of rainfall has swept them way. The shallows don’t look so shallow any more.

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I noticed a stand of young sycamores as we started back. I wondered if they were planted or had just come up from seeds. There are not many truly large trees along the river because of the violence of the floods.

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The paths were muddy and sometimes slippery with wet leaves. The rain from the night before was still running off. There were two downed trees across the trail at one point…the leaves on one still looked fresh – like it might have fallen the night before. It was easy enough to go under them rather than over.

We’d had enough dry days that there were some noticeable shelf fungi but none of the brightly colored ‘new’ ones that appear after several days of rain.

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There was a light coating of leaves on the forest floor but a lot of green too.

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We knew were past the half way point going back when we came to the Morning Choice Trail.

There were more signs of trees that had fallen recently. I zoomed in on part of this one when I saw a funnel spider web that looked a lot like an owl!

We came out through the stand of big leaf magnolias and into the trail beside a hay field and thne were within sight of the carriage house shortly after noon. I had my 12,000 steps for the day!

Shelf Fungus

There were several tree trunks/branches thick with shelf fungus that I photographed last Friday during my muddy hike in the Middle Patuxent Environmental Area). The first was a tree standing by the river – exposed roots holding it right on the edge. There were at least three different kinds of fungus on the trunk.

Perhaps seeing that tree made me more observant as we hiked further along the along the loom of the South Wind Trail. I spotted some bright orange fungus on some fallen branches beside the path. The color jumped out – a contrast with the greens and browns on the forest floor.

With all the rain we’ve been getting – there are quite a few fungi around…and they are fresh enough to be brightly colored. They are fun to find and photograph. Exact identification is frustrating for most of them, so I am lumping these as ‘shelf fungus’!

Rain and the Middle Patuxent

Last Friday, I had all my gear prepped and was almost walking out the door when I got the word that the field trip for high schoolers to assess stream health in the upper part of the Middle Patuxent River (in the Middle Patuxent Environmental Area) was cancelled. There was a line of heavy thunderstorms come through the night before and crossing the river on rocks was impossible. It’s been a rough fall for stream surveys with all the heavy rain we’ve gotten. I waited until mid-morning then headed out to see the high water myself – recruiting my husband to go along. It is about 15 minutes from our house.

Like a lot of forested areas in our county, there are scheduled deer management hunts posted on bright red signs. There is a similar one in our neighborhood for the forest behind many of our houses (and down to the Middle Patuxent River).


The South Wind Trail started out as older asphalt then became grass with some muddy places.

I saw some Christmas ferns under a low growing tree just off the path.


The closer we got to the river the muddier the trail got. The ground was clearly saturated. It would have become quite a quagmire with 60+ students, teachers, and volunteers hiking down to the river.

At the river the water was higher than I’d see it and foam was floating on the surface. The rocks we used to get across the river where we did most of the sampling were partially submerged…to dangerous to cross the river. The amount of sediment and rapid flow of the water would have made it had to find macroinvertebrates as well.

At first, I thought the gray areas of the rocks close to the river were lichen, but when I looked more closely, the areas looked more like they had been scoured and the lichen might be starting to grow again – very slowly.


As we continued around the loop to get back to our car, a part of the trail looked like it was becoming a rivulet into the river. Since the water had not made a ditch yet, it might be something that has just happened this fall.

Ten Little Celebrations – August 2018

I thought August might be a slow month with the summer camps ending and nothing new starting….but the month developed….not hard at all to pick 10 little celebrations to highlight.

Solitary hike – Usually I hike with other people – most recently with summer campers. Hike my myself at Mt. Pleasant was a change-of-pace and something to celebrate. Getting a artsy picture of two butterflies on Joe Pye Weed with a clear blue sky background was the image to remember of the morning.

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Surviving a long hike – Then there was the much longer hike with camper up and down…across a stream and along muddy paths. I celebrated when that hike was done!


Blue Jay feather – A special feather is always a celebration for me…and from several perspectives: finding one on the ground, photographing it, remembering my daughter’s feather collection when she was very young, and realizing that know what kind of bird it came from!

Weekend in State College – Deciding to take a weekend trip – spurt of the moment. And dodging the rain to enjoy every minute! Celebrating family.

Butterflies – August seems to be my peak month for butterflies roosting on me in the butterfly exhibit. It’s special every single time.


Hummingbirds – Last weekend my husband and I attempted to photograph hummingbirds at Brookside gardens for two mornings. We were reasonably successful (a post about our experience is coming) but we’ll both improve with more practice. The birds are fast movers. Both of us are celebrating the photographs we got with the birds in focus!

Blooming bananas – Seeing something familiar but in a little different stage of development….I’m celebrating being in the conservatory at the right time.

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Rulers for 25 cents – I celebrated that several stores in our area had wooden rulers for 26 cents. That’s inexpensive enough I can have my own supply for field trips with children just learning to measure sizes of what we find on our hikes.

Dragonflies – I haven’t found dragonflies in the wheel formation (mating) but I did find two at our neighborhood storm water management pond that were half way there! I celebrated the photographic opportunity and an still looking for the wheel.

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Sweet potato leaves – Yummy sweet potato leaves. Our Community Supported Agriculture must have harvested part of the sweet potato crop in August so we got leaves in one of our shares this month. I hope there are still some left for later since we normally get them in late September. They are probably my favorite salad green….and I get them a couple of weeks a year….so worthy of celebration when they are available.

Belmont Hikes with Summer Campers V

The theme for last week’s summer campers at Howard County Conservancy’s Belmont location was STEM (Science – Technology – Engineering – Math). I decided to a pick some STEM related activities that were more like field work than actual hikes.


As usual there were two groups of about 15 each. The first group was the younger one; some of that group were just getting ready for kindergarten. I started out by handing a ruler to each camper.

We started by using the rulers to measure samples I’d brought in a bin (a stick and tulip poplar seedling were popular) and parts of the nearby barn. We did quick tutorials for campers that had not used a ruler before. One student measured one of the tiles – discovering that it was the same across and up/down (i.e. a square). Six campers collaborated to measure the lentil over a low window of the barn (5 feet 4 inches)! Most of the time we tried to measure in centimeters although we used both sides of the ruler.

I started a log of everything we measured on a pad of paper and clipboard.

We measured most of what we encountered on our hike including flowers, several feathers, grass, pine needles and cones, a fake rock (used to cover equipment), holly leaves and berries, a stump and and some very colorful mushrooms.

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The second group campers were a little older – up to 12 years old. First, we talked about examples of science new sources (like Science Daily). I used an article about the discovery of moths roosting in hollow trees in Florida as an example. Then I showed them the information about the moth in the Maryland Biodiversity Project site…the way I knew the moth lived in Maryland as well as Florida. And we all knew there was a hollow tree nearby.


I had two small flashlights and we started out.

We didn’t find any moths but there were a lot of spider webs in the hollow tree. There was something there that kept the spiders well fed! We found a dead cicada nearby in the grass and examined it closely before we started out next activity.

The second activity with the group was to determine the height of a tree using a piece of paper and a tape measure. The technique worked but after using it for 2 trees we decided a 25 feet long tape measure for measuring trees over 125 feet tall was too painful (we measured a tulip poplar and white pine)…and it was too hot for more field work. We headed back to the air conditioning and lunch.

It was the last day of summer camp at Belmont. These STEM themed hikes were a good finale for us all. Everyone is getting ready for school to start…and the training sessions for field trip volunteers start too.