Snow Day

Years ago, when my daughter was in school, I almost always took off when the schools closed for snow – either with vacation or make up hours or working at home. Now that I’m retired, I am still doing it. Having a snow day is a mini-holiday with traditions. My daughter knew all the best sledding slops in the neighborhood. I enjoyed being outside too although it was usually to shovel the drive or take a walk. The snow day last week did not require shoveling since the forecast for the next day was temperature in the 50s. So - I took a walk. I bundled up in lined boots, snow pants, coat with a hood, scarf with a hood and gloves. I took my cell phone and small camera with me – deciding not to take the larger camera since it was still snowing, and I couldn’t shield it inside my coat easily.

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There were about 3 inches on the ground already when I opened the garage door and headed out.

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The fire hydrants in the neighborhood looked festive with their burden of snow.

My destination was the water retention pond. When I got there the old cattail stalks were catching snow and the still parts of the pond were skimming over with ice. The temperature was in the low 30s.

There were two pairs of ducks at the pond! The surprise (for me) were  Hooded Mergansers.  

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I’ve seen more of them this year in our area and I wonder if their numbers are increasing. Were the pair was looking for a good nesting area? I don’t think our water retention pond would be a good place for ducklings although the pair were occasionally diving and (maybe) finding something to eat in the pond.

The other pair were Mallards. They are dabblers and I noticed they both had snow collecting on their backs since they don’t go completely under water for edibles.

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I headed home. The pan and spatula to collect snow to make snow ice cream was in the garage to cool down. I filled the pan to overflowing then left it to prepare the other ingredients: peppermint candy puffs in a Ziploc broken to bits with a hammer and vanilla soy creamer (it has sugar and vanilla already…so it reduces the ingredient list). I got out the electric mixer and big bowl.

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Then I went out to get the snow. The bowl is so large that it holds the whole pan of snow. I added the peppermint candy and creamer…then beat it all together. The snow was drier than expected so I added more creamer and vanilla coconut almond milk to get the consistency I wanted for the ice cream.

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My husband and I each had two large servings to finish it off in one sitting. It was a yummy lunch.

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.

Winter Walk in the Neighborhood - 2

I noticed a lot of mud as I walked in our neighborhood. Some of it was on the sidewalks – not something I’d noticed in previous years. 2018 was a record rain year for us…and we’ve continued to get rain in the first part of 2019.

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There is mud where grass used to grow under many of the trees.

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Sometimes the trees would have made the area very shady before the leaves fell but most of the branches of trees along the street are trimmed high by the county so emergency vehicles can get down the street without being damaged. There is still a lot of bare soil under them.

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I am already thinking about what alternatives I have for the area under our plum tree; since we have a challenge with deer eating tender plants, my first idea is to simply mulch out to the dripline of the tree.

A squirrel was rooting in a raised bed in one yard. He noticed me, but I was far enough away (using the zoom on my camera) that he continued his investigation.

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.

Neighborhood Walk – August 2018

I started out about 7:30 AM. The temperature was in the mid-70s already and the humidity was high. It was better than waiting until later when the forecast was for 90 degrees. The birds were quiet again; it was well after sunrise. I did see a robin with a grub (or caterpillar).

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The storm water pond sometimes has egrets or herons…but not on this morning. The frogs were noisy at the pond although I didn’t see them. It seems like there were enough of them to attract the herons as they have in previous years.

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I did notice two dragonflies flying over the pond attached to each other – the male clasping the female behind the head. He landed on some grass in the pond – too low for them to complete the ‘wheel’ that is the next phase of the mating choreography. I didn’t stay long enough to see the finale.

A female purple finch (white eyebrow) flew to one of the dried reeds.

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On the way home there were quite a few mushrooms in one yards – on both sides od the sidewalk. They were not all the same kind either. I wondered if the owners had done something in that area that made it good for mushrooms since I didn’t see others during my walk.

I returned home – ready to be in the air-conditioned house for the rest of the day!

Neighborhood Walk

I took a walk in the neighborhood yesterday – needing an invigorating winter walk to help move my internal clock to daylight savings time. It takes several days for me to settle into the new ‘normal’ and I always wish we could just be on the same time all the time. I bundled up in layers and wore my hiking boots. I stayed very comfortable except for my legs and hands; I’ll remember my snow pants and hand warmers next time I am walking the neighborhood when it is barely above freezing. There were a few photographic opportunities: a spray of crepe myrtle seed pods that has blow from some nearby trees,

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A sidewalk that was already impacted by tree roots (it was replaced in the last couple of year – the repair did not last very long),

And a cardinal (silhouette) singing high in a tree.

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My destination was the storm water pond for the neighborhood. It does have grass growing on the slopes – a good thing – but had no habitat the red wing blackbirds like it did before all the vegetation around the edges was cleared.

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Trash was visible around the edges. Next time I’ll bring a pole to bring the pieces far enough onto land so I don’t have to wade into the pond to collect it.

There is already algae beginning to grow on one end of the pond. Maybe the pond always had the scummy surface but the vegetation around the edge was thick enough that we didn’t see it. The run off must overload the water with nutrients.

On the plus side, there was a mallard pair exploring the pond. I wondered if the pond is big enough to support a nest and ducklings. There isn’t a lot of shelter around the pond but there is an overgrown area behind the pond that might work.

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Neighborhood Walk

A few days ago, I took a walk down to the storm water retention pond in our neighborhood. It was my first time out of the house after some exceedingly cold days and a head cold/ear ache. It felt good to be bundled up and crunching through the light coating of snow on the sidewalk. The pond is still rather barren looking after it’s refurbishment but there were a few dried cattails at the edge that were surrounded by ice. They had caught some of the snow. It was the ‘artsy’ image of the walk.

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Across the street, the gutter is labeled…whatever goes down, is on its way to the bay. I was surprised at how rusted and cracked the cover for the gutter looked. It’s probably the age of the neighborhood – about 25 years.

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I noticed some of the limbs that had been cut off our street crews by the county to reduce the possibility of equipment damage if fire trucks had to come down our street. The tees have healed in most cases, but I noticed at least two trees where the wound resulted in part of the tree rotting; that’s not good. I’m glad our oak was not one of them.

Walking in the Neighborhood

Our neighborhood is not great for a long distance walk…still – there are photographic opportunities at every turn. Before I even left my house, I saw a sycamore tussock moth caterpillar (dense white hairs with butterscotch tuffs at the head end).

I also realized I needed to do another round of raking; the sycamore is beginning to shed is very large leaves – some more than a foot across.

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Along the walk I saw a few other leaves on the ground and photographed ones caught my attention. The oaks (not that there are two different kinds of oak leaves in our neighborhood) are shedding their leaves more than the other trees. Most of the maples – which provide the most colorful or our fall leaves – are still green.

The storm water retention pond is not appealing – still full of scum that is very visible without the vegetation that used to grow around the pond. On the plus side, the slopes have not been mowed so the erosion that happened right after the pond was cleaned out last spring has been stabilized.

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I sat on the bench and took some zoomed pictures of some of the plants in the unmowed area.

I walked up to the entry of the neighborhood and took a picture of the cornfield across the street. It will be harvested soon. The only green left in the field itself area the weedy vines using the corn for support. There is some chicory growing in the area between the road and the field. Chicory seems to be resilient to just about everything – unlike milkweed which no longer grows in the margins around cornfield.

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Our Neighborhood Streets

The first indication that something was going to happen to our neighborhood streets, were he signs that appeared in late June…and then the big equipment at the front of the neighborhood. The neighborhood is about 25 years old; the streets did not seem that problematic but I was glad the work was being done proactively….and interested in how it would proceeed.

Markings were made on the street around the utility covers and the connections of cul-de-sacs to the primary street into the neighborhood. They started at the front of the neighborhood and scraped off the top few inches of asphalt from a few cul-de-sacs.

The increased heavy equipment traffic caused some break up of asphalt – a sign that it was old enough to be easily damaged.

The big equipment finally removed the asphalt from in front of our house in mid-July. A dump truck moved slowly in front of the big machine to collect the asphalt that was scrapped up. Smaller equipment (Bobcat size) came along and removed chunks of asphalt that the bigger equipment didn’t. And then there were street sweepers. Every night when the work was done for the day, the neighborhood was left tidy.

Ten days later, the asphalting was done in front of our house. The dump truck carrying the surfacing material links with the equipment and then the two pieces move forward and the layer is put on top of the road bed. Big rollers come along behind and compress the material. By the time all that happens – the new layer is flush with the concrete curb.

Our neighborhood looks spruced up with the new street - and the earlier work to replace buckling segments of sidewalk and clear out the clogged water retention pond. 2017 has been a busy year for infrastructure maintenance in our neighborhood!