It was a little late for the hummingbirds at the north tract of the Patuxent Research Refuge last week. During the summer the feeders near Visitor Contact Station have a lot of ruby-throated hummingbirds; by this time of year, a few females and juveniles are left. They will soon all be migrating southward. At this point they are fattening up for the long flight. Next year my husband and I will go earlier in the season and – hopefully – have a chance to photograph both males and females.

While I was sitting on the bench waiting for the hummingbirds, I photographed some nearby milkweed seeds. The plants were looking the season: leaves curling and scared. I did see a good-sized Monarch caterpillar and a few milkweed tussock moths caterpillars as well. The seeds always draw my attention this time of year – the bright white of the fibers, the tight package of seeds in the pod and then the fluff bursting up and out…floating the seeds away in the fall breeze.

There was a sunflower that I photographed from the bench as well. The lighting was just right to naturally darken the background once I zoomed in to almost fill the frame with the flower.

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Overall – a good early fall morning at Patuxent Research Refuge.

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.

June Yard Work – Round 1

I was out in my yard by 7:30 AM one morning this week. My husband had requested that I pull all the milkweed in the front flower beds. I agreed even though it probably means that there won’t be a Monarch (caterpillar) nursery at my house when the butterflies arrive in our area. There were day lilies and black-eyed susans growing around most of the plants so pulling them would not leave the ground bare. I took before and after pictures of three areas. Having the milkweed gone makes quite a difference!

I pulled the plants trying to get at least some of the root. There will probably be other milkweed plants that will come up since most of the plants came out with only a bit of the root right under the stem. Milkweed can grow new plants along their horizontal roots (i.e. a ‘stand’ of milkweed might all be the same plant). I also learned last year that cutting milkweed just causes it to grow branches. Hopefully I can continue to pull the tiny milkweed plants that emerge, and the front flower beds will look more traditional this summer.

After I was done pulling milkweed and grass from the flower beds – I carried the pile back to the forest. Before I went indoors, I took some pictures:


An insect on a leaf.


A tiny mushroom in the grass.

Flower parts and drowned insects in the bird bath. I cleaned the birdbath and refilled it before I went inside. It’s more visible now that the milkweed is gone.

Our Front Yard

The milkweed is up in the front flowerbed. Hopefully some monarch butterflies will show up soon to lay eggs on it and my monarch nursery will be in business for this year.


The day lilies are still just green – no bud stalks yet. I’ll try to cut the buds before the deer eat them (enjoy them in vases indoors) and just leave the greenery behind. There are some black eyed susans that should offer some yellow to the beds once the temperature is warm enough.


The smell of mint rises as I pull weeds – I try to leave the mint behind.


There are plenty of weeds and grass to pull in the front flower beds. It helps to have the day lilies shading out some of them.

The ninebark bush has some blooms this year and seems to be healthier. Maybe the deer did not eat it as much this past winter.


I have one iris that is about ready to bloom. I cut it to take inside a few days after this picture was taken. The other irises have leaves but no stalks yet. They do seem to be recovering from whatever ate most of the rhizomes year before last.

Virginia creeper is growing on the oak. I’m leaving it for now because I like the contrast it makes with the day lily leaves around the base of the tree.

Over all – I’m slowly making progress to get the front flower beds looking lush with greenery and weed-free. The Next chore will be trimming the bushes. There is one I will wait on; it has a catbird nesting in it.

Smartphone Nature Photography – part 1


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.


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.


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.


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…)

Festival of the Cranes – part 12

This is last post about our trip to New Mexico and Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge (unless my husband eventually wades through his photos and provides me some good owl pictures…or photos from when he went to the Very Large Array). Our last field trip of the festival was with a refuge biologist…to talk about endangered species they are providing habitat for. We spent the most time on the New Mexico Meadow Jumping Mouse which are already hibernating in November. Winter is the time of year when the refuge managers tweak the habitats to help the endangered species; for the mouse they provide areas for day nests, maternal nests, food (the mice like seeds on stalks), saturated soils. The mice can swim the irrigation canals but have problems climbing up steep banks…and avoiding the bull frogs there that can eat them!

We saw a Great Blue Heron in an area that will be reworked with the mouse in mind and it will be better for other wildlife as well.

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The refuge has milkweed….and supports monarchs in season. The pods looked a little different than the common milkweed we have in Maryland…but I knew it was a milkweed relative as soon as I saw it.

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The Southwest Willow Flycatcher is also a species they manage for. The bird will nest in salt cedar but the invasive plant is a fire hazard (burns very hot and fast); the refuge is removing it and encourages the native willows to return. That is the natural progression from grassy meadows in the area so there is some balance to helping the mouse (that needs meadow) and having good stands of willows for the flycatcher.

We went back to a part of the refuge not on the wildlife loop and saw turkeys.

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One jumped over an irrigation ditch….the others went down into the ditch and back up rather than making the jump!

This field trip was the most detailed discussion of the festival about the behind the scenes work done on the refuge for the wildlife that makes this place home – for the whole year or just for part of the year.

Gleanings of the Week Ending November 10, 2018

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.

Uncapped Wells Have Been Leaking Oil into the Gulf of Mexico for 14 Years - Yale E360 – Why can’t the oil companies do a better job of preventing leaks…or, at least, stopping leaks if they occur? Don’t they have the technology to address this issue?

With Shorter Winters, Plants Bloom Early and Die Young – National Geographic – Green springs…but the plants don’t sustain the green through the drier summers. Not good for our yards and our farms…and us.

Photo of the Week – October 19, 2018 – The Prairie Ecologist – Fluffy seeds from the prairie…including common milkweed,

Image of the Day: Clubbing | The Scientist Magazine® - Peacock Mantis Shrimp have a spring-like structure that enables them to beat the life out of their prey.

Beautifully Painted Shrine Emerges from the Ashes of Pompeii | Smart News | Smithsonian – Much of Pompeii that we know from tourist books was excavated before modern methods…and sometimes ‘restored’ in a way that we don’t know exactly what it looked like when originally uncovered. New excavation can provide clues about older excavations as well as the particulars of the newly uncovered walls.

Substantial changes in air pollution across China during 2015 to 2017 -- ScienceDaily – Particulates are down but ozone is up….so good and bad trends.

BBC - Future - The flu that transformed the 20th Century – The 1918 flu epidemic…100 years ago this year. There is still research on the virus and what happened…some surprises in the findings.

This Humongous Fungus Is as Massive as Three Blue Whales | Smart News | Smithsonian – 91 acres, 110 tons, and about 1,500 years old. And this is not the biggest one discovered…it was the first that was well documented.

Top 25 Wild Bird Photographs of the Week: Black plumage – National Geographic – I always like to include birds in my gleanings. I was surprised that there were no crows or ravens or starlings in this collection of birds with black plumage.

The Winners of the 2018 Astronomy Photographer of the Year Contest Are Out of This World – Three are some pictures from the 2017 solar eclipse in this collection.

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.

Zooming – October 2018

The fall foliage had not been as colorful as usual this fall…but there has still been a lot to see outdoors – aided my the zoom on my camera: Canadian geese, a common buckeye butterfly, webs of funnel spiders on a root ball of an overturned tree, colorful ferns, milkweed seeds spilling out, tiny mushrooms in mulch, a spider web highlighted by water droplets, and a female cardinal with fluffed feathers. Enjoy the slide show!

Fall Yard Work – Part I

Yesterday I got a head start on fall yard work. My first target was the front flowerbed with common milkweed (no caterpillars left) and lots of day lily leaves. I took a before and after picture. It’s not entirely cleared yet but the bird bath near the porch is more visible. I tried to leave the black eyed susans to finish seed production for next year. I pulled tulip poplar sprouts and a largish poke weed that has grown low enough that it wasn’t obvious how big it was until I started looking for its main stalk.

I took some rocks and shells out of the flower bed and put them on the corners of the porch to get cleaned by rains.


My second target was the day lily foliage around the oak tree. I took a before and after picture again. That filled up the trash can with greens for the compost bin.

I stripped the larger stems of leaves since I’ve learned that the stems don’t decompose very rapidly…better for them to go in a brush pile than in the compost bin where the leaves were going.

I carried the arm load of stems (some of them milky with milkweed sap) to put just outside the the compost bin with the pitch fork in the other hand. The compost bin has been decomposing. I turned it – stirred it. Decided a lot had decomposed but I could still just add more on top since there is still plenty of room in the bin.


I put the kitchen scraps on top and carried it around to the compost bin located the back of the back yard. It was a little heavier than I expected…but I managed.

I put the ‘greens’ in to the bin followed by some brown sycamore leaves cleaned from the stairs up to the deck (reducing the hazard on the stairs) and the paper shreds from house.

I didn’t water the compost pile yet since everything was so wet from recent big rains. The paper and leaves were dry, but I used the pitch fork to some holes through the layers and reduce the height of the additions to the pile. If it doesn’t rain again in the next few days I might check to make sure it is moist enough to ‘cook.’ There is still a lot of fall yard work to do…but I felt good about the progress I made in two hours.

Monarch Buddy

I started preparing for being a Monarch Buddy the week before school started (post about the prep here). By the time I delivered the larvae and leaves to the school at the end of the second day of school, I’d had further adventures.


The monarch egg that I’d gotten from the school garden on August 31st, hatched on September 3rd! I was checking it so frequently that I managed to take a picture before it ate its egg case! Compare the size of the caterpillar and its egg case just above to the straight pin used to hold the original leaf to a fresh leaf.


Twenty-four hours later the tiny caterpillar had eaten some holes on the fresh milkweed leaf and had visible stripes. It was still very tiny when it went to the school.

Wednesday morning, I had 2 of the 4 caterpillars making chrysalises. I was panicked because I wanted the school to have at least three caterpillars and I had only 2 (and 3 chrysalises).


I went outside and found no caterpillars – just lots of chrysalises. Then – in the tender top leaves of a milkweed – I found a tiny caterpillar about the size of the one that had hatched on the 3rd. I was thrilled and quickly set up to take it to the school later in the day. I ended up with two very small caterpillars, one medium to large caterpillar, and 3 chrysalises….and a gallon Ziploc of milkweed leaves that – hopefully – will feed the caterpillars of a few days at the school.

Monarch Buddy

The third grade science curriculum in our county starts with a module about life cycle and traits important to survival….using Monarch butterflies as an example. I signed up to assist one of the school close to where I live to have raise Monarch caterpillars in their classroom. That means helping to find eggs or caterpillars and a supply of milkweed for them to eat. School starts tomorrow and I’m as ready as I can be for my Monarch Buddy role.

I started preparing last Thursday by collecting a large caterpillar from the milkweed in front of my house. It continued eating all day Thursday and I learned how to handle the leaves and caterpillars in the large plastic cups with a coffee filter held in place with a rubber band covering the top.


The covering worked. The caterpillar climbed to the top on Friday – hung in the J shape – and made its chrysalis. It should still be in that stage when I take the 4 cups to the school on Wednesday afternoon.

On Friday, I visited the school and teacher and I looked at the small garden that has been planted several years ago. It hasn’t been maintained recently but the common milkweed and butterfly weed was doing great without any intervention. There were lots of Monarch caterpillars. We decided to leave the garden as is; the teachers will us it as an outdoor classroom for their students. We did harvest a leaf with a Monarch egg on it and I am trying to keep it moist so that they egg would hatch. It would great to have a tiny caterpillar for the children.

On Sunday morning I collected 3 caterpillars: two larger ones and a smaller caterpillar.


I hope that at least two of them will still be caterpillars on Wednesday afternoon….if not – I’ll have to look for other caterpillars on the milkweed. My goal is to have 3 caterpillars and some chrysalises. The challenge might be to find very small caterpillars!


Zooming – August 2018

Bugs and flowers and butterflies and spider webs and seed pods and bird feet– oh my! I really do enjoy the extra zoom capability of my new camera. I am using the monopod if I can anticipate going to 65x…since it’s too difficult to compost the picture otherwise. I might eventually give in and use a tripod although not when I am going to be moving about. Lugging a tripod is never going to be something I want to do!

Enjoy the show!

Brookside Wings of Fancy Caterpillars – August 2018

The caterpillars at Brookside Gardens Wings of Fancy exhibit are maturing….getting ready for cooler temperatures. On the walk up the ticket taker table, the last of the milkweed tussock moth caterpillars are finishing their leaves and pupating. A large number had to be moved to milkweed plants further from the caterpillar house so that the Monarch caterpillars would be on view to the visitors waiting to enter the caterpillar house of the exhibit.

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The caterpillar house in August featured a white case (for the saddleback caterpillars) and then places for 3 pots (starring cecropia moth and monarch butterfly caterpillars).

The saddleback caterpillars grew bigger in August. I talked to at least two people that has been stung by them in their gardens!

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The cecropia moth caterpillars made cocoons one my one over the course of the month. Yesterday there was only one caterpillar left on the black cherry – and it had been the runt of the caterpillars from the beginning; it’s catching up now.

There is a spicebush tree in a pot next to the black cherry where the caterpillars have moved to make their cocoons.

The monarch caterpillars have been the most fun to watch. I was in the caterpillar house once just after a caterpillar shed its skin.

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They alternate between resting and eating….mostly eating.

When they are big enough to pupate, they try to leave the host plant. One started the walk-about when I was volunteering in the caterpillar house (round and round the pot looking for a way off) and we moved it to a portable mesh cube where it made its J and then chrysalis.

Outside there were many Monarch chrysalises on the plants and the structure of the caterpillar house. They always look like jade pendants to me.

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Outdoors at Brookside Gardens

I try to take a few minutes before each shift volunteering at Brookside Gardens Wings of Fancy to walk around outside in the gardens. There is a lot going on in August. I am featuring some of my favorite things I noticed and photographed in this post.

Button bush and cone flowers and sunflowers – with and without bees.


Joe Pye Weed in bloom…very popular with the tiger swallowtails. One morning I photographed a dark morph female with several of the yellow and black versions.

Monarchs are more prevalent in the garden than they were earlier.

I can never resist checking the gingko tree near the conservatory. I like the way the leaves look outlined in gold of the morning sunshine.

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The sumac is a plant I am tracking this year. I recognize the seed heads but want to capture how the seeds develop. This will take me further into the fall since they don’t look like they’ve changed too much during this month.

There are always a lot of funnel spider webs in the low pines around the conservatory….and sometimes the spider is visible.

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There are several kinds of datura in the garden.

I had never nptoced what the seed pod looked like before.

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Some of the trumpets hang downward and I appreciated that the screen on my new camera can pivot so I can see what the camera is seeing when it is point straight up! I’ve always wanted to photography the unfurling flower.

The bald cypress has the scale insects like it did last summer but seems healthy enough to survive. The cones are beginning to form.

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The cannas are beautiful this time of year. Some are producing seed pods.

This is the view from the ticket taker table for Wings of Fancy. I ended up doing the job when no one had signed up for it….a  last minute change of plans.

There are milkweed plants close to the entrance to the caterpillar house and there are often insects on the plants other than caterpillars. When there are no visitors in the area…I roam around and take pictures; more on the caterpillars tomorrow.

Front Flowerbeds

The most urgent yard work when I returned from Texas was the front flowerbeds. The bushes needed trimming, the milkweed was rampant, and the day lilies were full of buds that the deer were sure to eat! On one side of the door, the sidewalk was half covered with leaves from day lilies and other vegetation.


On the other, the milkweed were hiding the small nine bark that survived and filled in the hole of the one that died. The mint was so think that it covered the sidewalk to the front porch.


We went to work. I wanted to save some of the milkweed to become a Monarch caterpillar nursery but opted that it did not need to be on both sides. My husband and I worked for about an hour in the steamy morning heat with had trimmers and pruners. After 8 we got out the electric hedge trimmers and weed eater – hoping that everyone would be up and about by that time on a summer weekday.

After two mornings, we had made noticeable progress and were both pleased with the results. I put the glass bird bath in the stand of milkweed in front of the door. The taller plants will shade the water a little and provide some cover for the birds bathing or getting a drink!


We worked a third morning and pruned a bush to the side of the house to about half its size. Now to just keep it tidy….

Caterpillars and Day Lilies

Since I’ve been home, I’ve started doing some remedial yard work…more on the changes to the flowerbed later. I’m focused on caterpillars and day lilies that were a biproduct of the work. The biggest excitement was a very small monarch caterpillar on the milkweed! I can’t cut it down now. Every morning I look at the plants and I haven’t found the caterpillar again but there are a lot of other insects on the plants. Milkweed is popular with the insect crowd.

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Yesterday there was a different kind of caterpillar on the milkweed. I’m not sure what it is. Maybe some kind of Tiger Moth caterpillar? It isn’t a milkweed tussock moth caterpillar since those are orange and block and white and bristles are shorter and there are more of them.

The day lilies that I thought would be so gorgeous in the front flower bed always make beautiful foliage and then last year the deer ate the buds before many of them could open .  Evidently the buds are deer candy. I’m giving up on day lilies after this year. So - while I was working in the flower bed, I cut all the flower stalks I found and put them in a big vase. The next morning, I took the vase outside and took pictures in the morning light.

I appreciate the opening buds and the spent flowers of the orange lilies. Placing the vase on the deck railing and using the out-of-focus forest as the background worked out well.

I photographed the one pink and white lily from different angles. It was the only non-orange flower in the vase.

At least this way I get to enjoy the flowers one last time rather than getting mad at the deer.

Zooming – June 2018

I am late getting out the posts that I normally write toward the end of the month….this is a catch up week after being in Texas for almost 3 weeks! As usual – it was easy to find favorite pictures taken in June that used the zooming capabilities of my camera. There are all the usual suspects – birds, butterflies, and vegetation. Can you pick out which ones were in Texas and which were in Maryland?

Enjoy the June slideshow!

Milkweed Buds

June is the time the milkweeds bloom. In our area the buds on the common milkweed are about ready to open in our area. They are turning from green to pink. There is a fragrance around the plants already.

There are no Monarch caterpillars that yet. I have seen any Monarch butterflies (i.e. no eggs either). Hopefully they will start appearing soon. There are plenty of plants in my yard and other places I’ve been recently. People are planting milkweed for the Monarchs, so I hope we have butterflies show up! Other insects depend on the plant as well but none of the others have the cachet of the Monarch.

There are other kinds of milkweed too. I’m not sure how well the butterflies like them – but they are getting ready to bloom as well. I did notice that some of the leaves looked like something was eating them but didn’t see any in action.

Back to the common milkweed – when they start blooming they should be full of bumble bees and butterflies….a great place to point a camera for insect pictures!

First Snow of the Season

We had our first snow of the season on Saturday and I got up early enough yesterday to catch some color from the sunrise.

It was the non-disruptive kind of snow: melted quickly on the streets and sidewalks but stuck to the trees and grass. On our asphalt driveway, there were clumps of snow on Sunday morning and they all were associated with a leaf!

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It was very cold on Sunday morning, so I took pictures through my office window of the backyard – the sun making the forest look rosy in the background, the pines and tulip poplars holding clumps of snow, a junco comfortably sitting on the snow-covered deck railing waiting for a turn at the bird feeder.

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A few minutes later – I took a few pictures through a picture from another room. The color of the morning light was fading but the pines and forest were still a pleasant scene.

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I opened the garage door and leaned out to take a picture of the milkweed that are still standing in our garden. In past years the plants have lost their leaves before the frost but this year the leaves are still there, and their curls catch the snow.