Gleanings of the Week Ending July 13, 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.

We organized a conference for 570 people without using plastic. Here’s how it went – It’s hard to do anything without plastic….but we’ll find ways eventually. I am focused on the ‘single use’ items first but when I can I choose materials other than plastic even for more durable items.

Arches National Park Recognized As "Dark Sky" Park – Now for my husband to find a way to get there with his telescope….

Timber Rattlesnakes: Cool Facts and an Uncertain Future – This snake is found in western Maryland….not in the county where I live. But we always mention it to students interested in snakes. This article provided some additional ‘cool facts’ to pass along.

Macro Photos of Water Droplets Reveal the Overlooked Beauty of Nature – Beautiful images in water droplets - And the artist included some pictures of the set up he uses to get the pictures!

In an Era of Extreme Weather, Concerns Grow Over Dam Safety – There have been dams in the news in recent years (like the Oroville Dam spillway failure in 2017). In our area, some small dams have been removed. But there are 91,000 dams in the US that are aging and need repairs. It’s going to be expensive…and the extreme weather we’ve been having probably makes it more urgent…but the funding is just not forthcoming so far.

Chiggers are the worst – Agreed.

Photo of the Week – July 5, 2019 – Milkweed in bloom. This is a blog post from The Prairie Ecologist…showing some bugs too. No Monarch butterflies though.

8 ways wild animals beat the heat – The mucous that hippos secrete was new to me…it’s acts as sunscreen, antibiotic, moisturizer, and water repellant. Now that we’ve learned that the sunscreen we’ve been using may be toxic to corals (and maybe to us too), perhaps we could develop an alternative by learning more about the hippo mucous.

Winter Bee Declines Greatest in 13 Years: Survey – Habitat loss, pesticides, Varroa mites….it adds up. Evidently in recent years the strategies that beekeepers have been using to deter mites have not worked as well. Some crops rely more on commercial beekeepers than others. Almonds, cherries, and blueberries are mentioned as examples.

Top 25 Wild Bird Photographs of the Week: Flowers – Last but not least this week…..birds and flowers. Enjoy the photographs.

Cape May Birding Festival Finale

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On the last morning of the Cape May Spring (birding) Festival, we took a trolley tour that included the second stop at Cook’s Beach for more shore birds…but the rest stop at the New Jersey Audubon – Cape May Bird Observatory Center for Research and Education offered some different types of photography.

I indulged in some macro photography with my cell phone…targeting some of the native plants in the garden beside the building.

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There was a bee stealing nectar from the base of a flower.

I managed to capture pollen threads on native honeysuckle using the phone camera at close range (no macro lens).

Using my camera…and zooming – the cliff swallow nesting in the eaves of the building was visible. The bird kept an eye on the people below but did not move from the nest. Nearby many carpenter bees were making holes in the siding of the building. They were moving around too fast to photograph.

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As our group was getting ready to leave – someone noticed a box turtle in the front vegetation. What a beautiful specimen!

Two Mile Beach Whelks

We also found whelk shells and egg cases at Two Mile Beach during our field trip during  Cape May Spring (birding) Festival . The shells are the largest on the beach and appear in a range of colors due to weathering.

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There were also whelk egg cases. Our guide encouraged us to open them to find the small shells inside – whelks that were never grow to adulthood because their egg cases have become detached from their anchor in the sea and washed to the shore.

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We took a picture with the cell phone and I dug out my macro lens clip for a closer look. They are miniatures of the adults!

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I didn’t bring anything to keep the sand and tiny shells…and there was not time to count the ones that were in the case. Supposedly each capsule can contain up to 100 eggs! From the picture – I think there were at least 30.

Macro Photography at Belmont

I did a short session of macro photography at Belmont with my smartphone and the clip-on lens in early May before one of the elementary school field trip students arrived. I already had some ideas of what I wanted to photograph from some previous field trips with student BioBiltzers. My first stop was the shelf-fungus growing just below eye level on a large sycamore.

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I got as close as I could focus with just the smartphone:

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Then clipped on the macro lens to take a closer look at the cracks and edges of the fungus.

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Dandelion seed globes are always a favorite subject. I was careful to not touch it and cause the seeds to scatter before I could get the picture!

The tiny sycamore leaves have a lot of color – I took a picture with the phone alone…and then the macro lens.

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The sweet gum is beginning to form gum balls. The balls are small and green currently; they enlarge as the seeds form.

I took pictures with the macro lens of the female flowers (becoming gum balls) and the male flowers that had already fallen from the tree. Both are hard to photograph with the macro lens because they have depth…and the focal plain is shallow.

Overall – it was a very productive 10 minutes of macro photography!

Up Close Irises

There was a large vase of irises from the garden to welcome us to my parents’ house last week. Over the course of the evening, I took several opportunities to photograph them at close range – with and without the macro lens. I like the curves of all parts of the flower - from bud to full flower to spent flower. Today - savor the color and shapes of irises!

Macro Photography - Textiles

I am finally experimenting with my 60x macro lens that I got for my phone. Textiles around the house were an easy project. The lens has a light and I found it handy. With this lens, I use the zoom on the phone to avoid clipping the image to take out the vignetting around the edges. I’d rather compose the image in the camera.

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I liked the simple weave and colors of the worn dishcloth.

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A crocheted hat had brilliant color but was not flat enough to focus well.

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The washcloth had more fuzzy fibers than I expected but

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Not nearly as many as the wool sock.

I got stuck on a tapestry jacket…had a challenge to choose just 3 to include in this post. The last one was from the inside of the jacket.

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The machine embroidery of a silk jacket looked very different than I anticipated.

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The weave of a light-weight jacket was more complex.

I realized that the patterns on t-shirts were painted – but hadn’t thought about what they would look like with the macro lens. The blobs of color stand out on the surface of the cotton knit.

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The most non-fuzzy fabric was microfiber underwear!

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The yarn in the bulky cardigan was almost too big to look interesting at this magnification.

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Machine-made borders look more orderly than the fabric sometimes (the black is thread).

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The eye detects tiny holes in the fabric of the bag for delicate fabrics to go in the washer; with macro lens, it looks like a Zentangle.

After I got back to my office, I looked at two mouse pads with the macro lens. One is a woven surface…the other looks like a paint.

Tree Bud Project – Week 1

I started a project to photograph tree buds this week by cutting small branches from trees in our yard: cherry, plum, red maple, tulip poplar, black walnut, and sycamore. Unfortunately, there were no branches low enough for me to reach on our oak.

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The plan is to bring the branches indoors (where it is warm) and monitor the buds – see how many of them would open indoors over the next few weeks. Once they do, I’ll check to see what is happening with the buds on the tree outdoors.

I took pictures of the buds with the 15x macro lens clipped to my smart phone…starting with the cherry. The buds are enlarging but still firmly closed. Our tree lags the blossoms down in DC around the tidal basin.

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The plum buds are still very small. They already show the pink color of the flowers. The tree usually blooms after the cherry.

The red maple twig is easy to identify - opposite twigs, red buds. I was surprised that there were so few branches with buds on the lower branches; the deer must be the culprits. It took a lot of looking to find a branch I could reach with buds.

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The tulip poplar already had a popped bud! The others on the branch were still closed. The leaf scars are interesting to notice too.

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The black walnut has a lot of buds at the tip of the branch. This tree was also heavily browsed by deer. The branch leaked sap as I was taking pictures. Hope is it OK with the water from the vase.

Finally – the sycamore buds are still tight. In a previous year, a sycamore bud on my indoor branch opened and a tiny leaf unfurled.

I’ll be posting about the leaf buds about once a week if there is action to report.

Ice Bubbles

Last week there were plenty low temperature nights. I started a project to collect frost flowers on a red glass plate to photograph. The conditions were not right for frost a single night! But – it did rain a little and the water that collected froze around the red plate that I had slanted in a container.

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When I pulled out the plate and the ice, I noticed that there were a lot of bubbles in the ice and modified my plan to photograph them.

I started with the lower magnification (15x) macro clip-on lens for my phone. The bubbles that were near the surface of the ice look fractured – not quite round.

My favorite at the 15x magnification was near the edge of the ice – where it met the plate. There were some long narrow bubbles as if the air was climbing the slope of the plate.

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I switched to my 60x macro lens with its own light source. The bubbles look jewel-like and the color of the red glass plate come through the ice.

My favorite was one that did not have the red color. It looks like a grayish pearl.

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I am still hoping for some frost flowers and there is a possibility since it’s only March. There should be a few more frosty days for us here in Maryland.

Stink Bug

As part of my early spring cleaning recently, I found a stink bug carcass in a storage closet. It could have been there for a long time. it looked a little squashed with the wings visible on one side). And it was missing some pieces – one antenna, 5 of the 6 legs, and an edge of the under abdomen.

A few years ago, we had many more stink bugs inside our house than we’ve seen in the past year. The brown marmorated stink bug is invasive in the US and initially seemed destined to be a bother for the long term but maybe the other bugs (wheel bugs?) and spiders and parasitic wasps that are native have figured out that stink bugs are fit to eat! Or maybe it is just the vagaries of the weather than have caused the population of stink bugs to drop off.

I experimented with the higher resolution clip on lens with my phone. The bug was not flat enough to get the whole field in focus. I was a little surprised by the extra color and texture that showed up with the magnification.

I took the carcass to the trash (outside). I’ll wait for a better specimen to do a more thorough photographic study.

Macro Petals and Leaf

The last hurrah of some flowers I bought over the holiday was after it was spent – just before the stems and petals and greenery went to the compost bin. I experimented with my macro lens clipped to my cell phone – particularly the 60x one.

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After some trial and error, I discovered that putting the specimen (a petal or a leaf) on a window provided good backlight and I could easily stabilize the lens too. I zoomed a little – just enough to take away the vignetting around the edges.

The petals looked almost white to the eye, but subtle colors of the veins and cell walls came out at the higher magnification. The petals were desiccated and fragile. Some cracked as I held them. Fortunately, there were plenty more to try. 

In general, I like the lower magnification macro (15x) better than this lens…but the 60x was great for this project.

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!

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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.

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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!

Twigs and Witch Hazel

I have been looking more closely at twigs of trees recently and trying out simple dichotomous keys. As an example: here is one I looked at during a class on winter tree identification. Looking at the full branch – it was obvious that the leaf scars were opposite. Next, we needed to look at the leaf scars in more detail. There were hand lenses for everyone but I used my 15x lens clipped to my phone so I could share what I was seeing. The leaf scar was D shaped and had three bundles. And the new growth was red. We had to break the twig to smell it…its didn’t smell rank, so it was a RED MAPLE.

It turns out that multiples buds at the twig tip is indicative of maples and oaks…and that maples are opposite, and oaks are alternate. So – it’s possible to take a picture looking up into a tree and make a tentative identification. For example – this was a picture I took in my neighborhood with alternate branching and multiple buds at the end of the twigs – an OAK.  I had been using the relative height of the trees in my neighborhood (oaks are taller) but this identification is better and maybe easier too for the street trees planted by the builder 25-30 years ago – oaks and maples.

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I couldn’t resist taking a picture of the crumpled bark on the red maple twig. I wonder if they smooth out as the twig grows when the weather warms?

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On a more colorful note: be on the look out for witch hazels. Some bloom in the fall but others bloom now. There is one at Howard Country Conservancy’s Mt. Pleasant location that I am watching. Hopefully bitterly cold weather will not damage the flowers that are beginning to unfurl.

Smartphone Nature Photography – part 1

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We almost always have our smartphones with us….ready for those natural events that just happen and for planned photoshoots. I pulled together a presentation of a Maryland Master Naturalist retreat on the topic and am using it as a basis for the blog posts for today and tomorrow.

Gear

Learn about the camera in your phone. Two critical aspects: 1) Usually the autofocus is reasonably good but tapping on the screen where you want the focus to be can sometimes improve results. Do some experiments to see how close you can be and maintain the focus on your subject. 2) Realize that the zoom is digital – not optical. You are better off getting close to your subject rather than zooming. This is difficult if your subject is an animal that will move if you get close. Birds are notoriously difficult to photograph with a phone.

Consider a lanyard. I like to carry my phone on a lanyard (one that is structured to not obstruct the camera) so that I can be ‘hands free’ while I am hiking or rolling over logs…just doing regular naturalist things.  I want my phone to be easy to access – easier than getting it out of a pocket or pack.

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I enjoy using macro lenses. I have 3 different kinds (8x, 15x, and 60x) and tend to use the 15x clip the most. Sometimes I just have it on my phone so that I can move it over the camera as needed. The depth of field is very shallow with the magnification and the phone must be close to the subject. Practice the best stance to steady your hands. I find that tucking my elbows into my body helps….and using one had to hold the phone and the other to take the picture.

Examples of Smartphone nature photography

BioBlitz. Almost all the BioBlitz pictures are taken with smartphones or tablets. Sometimes we use hands for scale – and sometimes the macro lens gives a new perspective! These are pictures taken during BiobBlitz: spotted salamander, wooly bear caterpillar, milkweed.

Landscapes.  The joy of being outdoors! Try to get something of high interest in the landscape: the trail as a leading line, clouds over the trees, an early winter scene with bare trees/large rock/pines.

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Macro. The macro lens offers to many opportunities to observe more closely than you can observe with just your eye: clams filter feeding, the center of sunflower.

A chicory flower, a newly hatched Monarch butterfly caterpillar turning to eat its egg covering, and damselfly larvae.

A few minutes observing. I play a game with myself looking closely at one thing and taking photos as fast as I can over a short period of time. In this case it was a sweet bay magnolia. There were seed pods at several stages of development and some eggs under a leaf (maybe a leaf footed bug…if I was patient enough I could see what hatched but that was outside my time box).

(To be continued tomorrow…)

A few minutes observing…a tree stump

During one of the training sessions for the Howard County Conservancy’s fall field trips, we stopped briefly near the chicken coop to talk about topics for the kindergarten and 1st grade hikes. There is a stump in the area that used to be mostly surrounded by other plants…hard to get close enough to look at closely. Now it is clear all around it and it’s possible to approach in from all sides.  It’s been decomposing long enough to have several examples of fungus that were enjoying the recent wet weather to grow rapidly. As I listened to the conversation around me – I spent a few minutes photographing parts of the stump.

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A flat fungus with tiny water droplets – with the clip-on macro lens.

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A jelly fungus that seemed to glow (also with the clip-on macro).

And a picture with and without the macro lens that was a fungus that reminded me of mineral deposits in caves!

Sometimes pictures I take very quickly when I am rushed are ones I only take time to enjoy later…once I am home and have time to really look.

Butterfly Macro

When I use my phone for photography I resist using the zoom (since there is not optical zoom available…only digital) and just try to get close to what I want to photograph. Sometimes that it enough – like these to pictures of small Monarch caterpillars in my front flowerbed. They are still small enough that the black bands are dominating the yellow ones!

The clip-on macro lens is something I use frequently too. It requires getting even closer and a steady hand to focus. The touch samples at the Brookside Gardens Wings of Fancy  Discovery Station provided an excellent opportunity to take a macro look at butterfly wings.

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The clear wing has a small patch of white scales but otherwise the wing is membrane stretched on a copper colored structure.

The blue morphos show the variation in blue from the incident of light even at the macro level. It is just barely possible to make out individual scales with the macro lens.

Brookside Gardens Macro Flowers

Yesterday I enjoyed some macro photography at Brookside Gardens. There were several flowers blooming around the parking lot next to the conservatory. I took a photo of the plant and then a macro of the flower. I am always surprised at how different the impression of the plant is from a macro perspective. Here are my favorite pairs of pictures.

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Sumac

 

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Sunflower

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Cone flower

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Yellow composite

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Joe-Pye Weed

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I was surprised there were not more insects (butterflies) around the flowers. The Joe-Pye Weed is not quite blooming yet. Maybe next time in am in the gardens they will be. Last year – there were clusters of tiger swallowtails on the plant.

Brookside Gardens Wings of Fancy – May 2018

I volunteered for 5 shifts at Brookside Gardens Wings of Fancy butterfly exhibit. I visited once during a non-shift day as well in May; there is relatively little time to take butterfly pictures before visitors start arriving and I must focus on them.

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During one calm morning in the caterpillar house, there was a female cecropia moth that had emerged from a cocoon – on that grew as a caterpillar in the caterpillar house last summer and overwintered at Brookside. It was released in the garden later that day. The moths don’t eat as adult…they simply try to find a mate and lay then lay eggs.

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When I did come as a visitor, I was most interested in getting heads and eyes of butterflies. I’m always a little surprised at the color and complexity around the head…also the variation in eyes.

I have been able to take a few caterpillar pictures. The longwing caterpillars were only about ¼ inch long when I photographed them.

The spicebush swallowtail caterpillar was already about an inch long and had visible eye spots.

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On the walk up to the ticket taker table, I am checking the milkweed plants for Monarch butterfly caterpillars. So far, I haven’t found any although there are some leaves that have holes…something is eating the leaves. The flowers are beginning to form, and I did see a lady bug on one of the youngest leaves. Hopefully there will be caterpillars soon.

The other type of pictures I like to try before my shift begins are macro shots of flowers in the Brookside Gardens. I usually get there about 8:30 AM and the light is still good….not still the lemony color of just after dawn but still mellow…better than mid-day. The best of the best of those pictures are for another post.

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.

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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.

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Macro photography before hiking

Last week I was at Howard County Conservancy’s Mt. Pleasant Farm for several field trips (kindergarteners and second graders). Before the field trips, I walked around the grounds and experimented with some more macro photography with my smartphone – using the same set up as I did at Brookside Gardens earlier (results from Brookside here).

It is sometimes surprising how different something looks with the macro lens. The textures along with the small structures I wouldn’t see otherwise are what makes it so appealing to walk around taking pictures with the macro lens. My favorite in this group is the baby pear.

The highpoint of the hikes with the school groups happened during the kindergarten field trip. I had walked up to the front of the farm house with my first group of the day. We were talking about what might live in the big oak tree near the house. They answered squirrels and birds right away. I turned around to look at the tree – and noticed a black coil in a depression of the trunk about at the eye level of children! The sun was shining on it like a spotlight. I turned back to the children and told them that black rat snakes live in trees too – and there was one right on the trunk of tree (and I was glad we were not standing any closer than we were). The two parent chaperones took a step back. The children just watched as the snake started moving and crawled under the loose bark of the tree. What a fabulous drama to start a field trip!

Macro Photography with a Smartphone

Before my second shift at Brookside Garden’s Wings of Fancy exhibit, I spent a few minutes doing some macrophotography with my Smartphone. I ordered a clip-on macro lens from Amazon last fall to use to photograph macroinvertebrates but haven’t done a lot of other photography with it until now.

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Brookside Gardens is a great place to experiment. There is so much in bloom right now including the buckeye near the conservatory. The flower has a very odd shape through the macro lens (it looks like it has Mickey Mouse ears!). Even the tips of evergreen shrubs become something unexpected.

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The center of the dogwood bloom is a riot of shapes. I’m going to photograph them again next time I go to see how it changes as the seeds start to develop.

Dandelion seed puffs are recognizable.

Just about any flowers are good subjects for macrophotography.

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I ran out of time in the garden. My shift was beginning. I got one last picture just before the first visitors came into the exhibit – a spicebush butterfly egg on spicebush leaf. It looks like a very tiny pearl.