Gleanings of the Week Ending February 16, 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.

Top 25 Wild Bird Photographs of the Week: Mountain Birds – National Geographic Society Newsroom – Starting off the gleanings this week with bird pics!

BBC - Future - The perils of short-termism: Civilization’s greatest threat – It is very difficult for individuals and groups of humans to think strategically. And maybe since we are now quite capable of catastrophically destroying civilization (atomic bombs and climate change are the two most probable) – we need to make strategic thinking a higher priority.

Could Spider Silk Become a Natural Replacement for Plastic? – Cool Green Science – It is still very far from the goal – mass production cheaply. But it is hot material science topic.

Report: Americans Are Now More Likely to Die of An Opioid Overdose Than on The Road: NPR – Gives another take on the magnitude of the opioid deaths.

Not One, Not Two, But Three Fungi Present in Lichen | The Scientist Magazine® - For a long time the textbooks used lichen to exemplify symbiosis of a lichen and a fungus. It’s more complicated than that….and it’s a good example of how science is refined over time to improve our understanding.

BBC - Future - Why it pays to declutter your digital life – Getting rid of stuff needs to be about more than the physical junk we accumulate…we now have email and photos…all kinds of digital media stored and rarely – or never – used. It’s clutter. And it might need different strategies to declutter.

Central Texas salamanders, including newly identified species, at risk of extinction -- ScienceDaily – It seems like I’m seeing several stories like this recently – a newly identified species that is already almost gone. Depressing.

Elevated Nitrate Levels Found in Millions of Americans’ Drinking Water - Yale E360 – I don’t like articles like this because they point to a situation that has negative consequences…then doesn’t have anything that individuals can do to reduce the risk. It’s very frustrating.

Flowers Sweeten Up When They Sense Bees Buzzing | Smart News | Smithsonian – Flowers increase sugar content by 12-20% within 3 minutes of hearing a bee’s buzz.

Food is medicine: How US policy is shifting toward nutrition for better health – Glad this idea is getting more attention. We’ve been way to gullible to think that medications can overcome poor day-to-day dietary habits. I hope the 2018 Farm Bill and the “Food is Medicine” working group in the House are good ‘first steps’ to change the way we think about what we eat.  

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.

Three Water Birds at Centennial Park

Last week my husband wanted to try out some new camera gear and decided to do it at Centennial Park. I tagged along to do some photography myself.  The lake is settling into winter.

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I saw three birds on the water.

Canada geese were the most numerous although still a smaller number than I often see. The water was high in the lake and   the stone jetty near the boat launch (closed for the winter) was partially submerged. A goose stood on one – like a game of ‘king of the hill’ with the other geese.

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There was a female bufflehead was periodically visible. Buffleheads are diving ducks that are very hard to photograph while they are feeding.

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I managed to capture a sequence of the bird just after it surfaced…and then it dove again!

The third bird I saw on the water was a female common merganser. This bird was not feeding but quickly swam further away than I could follow with my zoomed lens.

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That was it – less that a dozen Canada geese and then two lone ducks!

Walking back toward the car, I photographed some old birds nest fungus. There were still some ‘eggs’ in some of them…but probably thoroughly dried out by now.

There was also a very robust lichen on a dogwood tree. With all the extra rain we have recently the lichens and mosses are bigger and brighter than usual.

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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.

Belmont Hikes with Summer Campers III

Yesterday I was at Howard County Conservancy’s Belmont for photography hikes with the summer campers. We could hike because the rain moved out during the night and the morning was sunny. The cardinal flowers near the entrance were blooming well after the deluge of the previous days.

I started off the younger group with an activity looking at sycamore leaves from the branches I had cut from my tree at home: looking at the holes made by caterpillars and comparing the sizes of the leaves. We made a pattern on the pavers of the patio in front of the Carriage House as a subject for our first photographs.

We found a very small caterpillar on one of the leaves.


Then we went around to the other side of the house and looked at the pollinator garden and the surrounding vegetation.

The older group of campers went to the formal gardens behind the manor house. There were three kinds of butterflies that I managed to photograph….but missed the monarch that some of the campers managed to catch on the cone flowers. I took the common buckeye, a cabbage white, and a hairstreak (maybe a gray hairsteak). The last one was new to me….had to look at it closely when I got hope. It looks like it has antennae on both ends!

We gathered around the water feature in the gardens and enjoyed the variety water lilies and a lotus growing there. There were bees – usually head down – in several flowers.

Dragonflies are hard to capture with cell phone type camera (which is what most of the campers were trying to use) but everyone saw them…and I managed a picture.

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Behind the formal gardens – the campers with cell phones experimented with the macro lens to photograph lichen.

There were tree roots damaged by mowers that look like eyes in the soil!


Overall – a good day for hiking and photography!

Smithsonian Environmental Research Center - Part II

Continuing about my day at SERC last Friday…

I got to SERC early enough that I walked around a small pond and took my first pictures of marshmallows.

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There were more of them in the marsh near the boardwalk as we made our way out to Hog Island. They were – by far – the biggest flowers of the area.


A tiny flower that I photographed along the trail from very close up was a mint. I was careful to look for poison ivy and plants with thorns before I positioned myself to take the picture.

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And then there were trees…trees with lichen…a canopy of green…a pathway lined with green.

There are ongoing studies that make exact measurements of tree trunks over time. Metal bands are used; they expand as the tree grows and the amount they have expanded is measured.

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There were trees with holes in their trunks. The rows of holes are probably made by a bird – a yellow-bellied sapsucker. I remembered seeing a similar tree during my last hike at Belmont and being thrilled that the campers already knew the bird that made the holes!

There are young paw paw trees in the forest and I realized that I had seen these at Belmont as well. I know the tree from its bark but not is leaves!

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There was a standing dead tree that had the thickest collection of shelf fungus I’ve ever seen.

A sickly dogwood had more colorful bark that I am used to seeing on a dogwood.

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As we got back to the cluster of buildings – on the road by the geothermal well area – there were some sycamores – with a few skeletonized leaves…something was eating them…and the last flower of the day:

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Some black eyed susans.

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After the hike, we had lunch followed by a lecture about orchids. The North American Orchid Conservation Center is based at SERC and there are 9 native orchids that have been found there! We saw one on the earlier hike (the cranefly orchid) – unfortunately I didn’t get a good picture of it. The website for the organization - - is full of get information about native orchids and there is a colelction of orchid-gami printables if you want to make paper models of orchids!

Howard County Living Farm Heritage Museum

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The Howard County Living Farm Heritage Museum was a place I’ve never been before this week – was there as a volunteer to support all day field trips for several schools.

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My role was to guide the student scientists as they analyzed forest soil (our entry to the forest was marked by a cone). One of the days was more challenging when heavy rain moved it…mud everywhere! Fortunately the temperature was warm enough and the students remained enthusiastic about what they were doing; we retreated to the shed and analyzed the (very wet) soil.

Before the students arrived, I did a little photography. Plants are always a favorite…and I’m still experimenting with the clip-on macro lens for my smartphone camera.

I looked at the rust on an old plow.


There was a very large tree that looked like the trunk had been twisted. There were several kinds of lichen and moss growing on it.

As I walked around the tree, I noticed the bark had formed and eye-like pattern…like a dragon just waking up.


2018 Belmong BioBlitz – part 2

Continuing from yesterday….there was a web of very small spiders just off the path. They were all moving rapidly although it wasn’t clear where they going!

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Another benefit of the rain was the increased visibility of spider webs in the grass. Sometimes we could even see the spider hiding in the ‘funnel’ of the web.

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These small white flowers were found down by the pond. They aren’t native – probably planted sometime during Belmont’s long history - but they are propagating themselves at this point.

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The lichen and moss seemed to have richer colors because of the dampness all three days of this year’s BioBlitz.

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During one of the few times the sun came out (on the second day) – the group found a snail on blade of grass. Shortly after this picture was taken the snail’s weight bent the grass…a little drama in the meadow.

The group also documented a stand of locust trees – native but invasive; the stand was probably started by fill dirt that included the seeds.

When we started the last day, we thought it might start to rain at any time --- and were thrilled when we go about 1.5 hours of good observations – tadpoles, small insects, trees…and ropey roots under one of the big trees along the road. We headed back to the Carriage House at lunch time; it started to sprinkle as we got there.


The 2018 Belmont BioBlitz in a wrap!

Icy Stream

At mid-week, I hiked down to the stream restoration area at Mt. Pleasant. The day was a little warmer than many of our recent days and there was very little wind. I dressed for the weather and didn’t get chilled. There has been enough rain that the ox bow portion had water/ice in it. The trees that were extracted during the restoration and repositioned in the stream to upside to down as habitat were indicated how high the water has gotten since the restoration reconnected the stream with its flood plain. The stumps have not been completely covered but the water has gotten a few feet higher than it is now.

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Further along the stream a smaller stream – frozen – cascades over rocks.

Some ice had broken free with the melting and turned over – showing frost crystals…bubbles…smooth contours. It looked like a chunk of clear glass.

I liked the leaves held in place my ice on the flowing water; they added color.

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The water level had gone down since this ice froze. It was a shelf above the flowing water. Based on the sediment on top of the ice, it is older and may have had sediment laden water flowing over it briefly.

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The beach area that used to be mostly small pebbles and sand, has had large rocks since the Ellicott City flood before the restoration project and then additional rocks were added during the restoration. It makes it harder to walk in the middle of the stream…but better habitat.

One area had conditions just right for forming crystals…a favorite photography target for me.

As we started back up the hill, I noticed a battered lichen on some of the rocks.  After all the clear ice, the bit of color caught my attention!

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