Mt. Pleasant – May 2019

I arrived at Howard County Conservancy’s Mt. Pleasant before one of the elementary school field trips – early enough to take a short hike and photograph some of the May sights along the trail. One of the first birds I saw was a small flock of gold finches near the Community Garden – eating ravenously.

Earlier in the week, when I was hiking with 2nd graders, we had spotted some caterpillars on a newly planted hickory tree. I never try to photograph things while I have a field trip group with me, so I was going back to try to photograph the caterpillars. The morning was cool…and I couldn’t find the caterpillars on the tree! The walk through the quiet area of new trees – invasive removed – was worth it anyway - a contrast to the noisy enthusiasm that would arrive on the school buses.

On the walk back, I was quite enough approaching a nest box to see the tree swallow at the hole. It looks almost like a plug – a perfect fit!

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There was a feather in the grass beside the mowed path. From a hawk? The feather was large…must have come from a large bird.

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The dew was still on the funnel spider webs. It’s hard to find them after the grass is dry.

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Dandelions had already had a first round of flowers…and gone to seed.

The tulip poplar (also called yellow poplar) had lots of buds…ramping up to blooms. The flowers do look a lot like tulips!

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Gleanings of the Week Ending May 18, 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.

Beautiful Photos by Manuelo Bececco Captures the Essence of the Forest – Awesome views of the forest…mostly looking upward.

IYPT 2019 Elements 023: Vanadium: Hardened steel and yellow blood | Compound Interest – Vanabins are vanadium-binding proteins that make sea cucumber blood yellow!

Titanium: Sunscreens and space stations | Compound Interest – Lots of makeup and other cosmetics have titanium (for its sunscreen properties) and fighter jets do too!

Marine Viruses Detailed from Pole to Pole | Technology Networks – There are a lot more viruses than previous cataloged in the ocean. The are in roughly 5 groups based on location and depth. The Arctic Ocean has high viral diversity…higher than at the equator.

NASA's Cassini reveals surprises with Titan's lakes -- ScienceDaily – The data from Cassini’s final flyby of Titan in 2017 has revealed that the lakes in its northern hemisphere are more then 300 feet deep and are methane. Lots more science still to come as more analysis of the Cassini data is done.

Could high-flying drones power your home one day? - BBC News – How could this not cause problems with aircraft if it was widespread? Both the drone and the tether could cause problems.

Top 25 Wild Bird Photographs of the Week: Passerines – Always room on the gleanings list for bird photographs!

Four ways to attract birds and butterflies – Native plants, bird bath, brush pile in my yard….3 of 4 is not bad!

Black, Hot Ice May Be Nature’s Most Common Form of Water – Superionic ice – a new kind of ice crystal with the oxygen atoms forming a cubic lattice and the hydrogen atoms flowing like liquid through the rigid cage of oxygens.

We’ll soon know the exact air pollution from every power plant in the world. That’s huge. –It won’t just be regulators and politicians that can see the data…it will be accessible by the public too. It will become a lot clearer to everyone which power plants are negatively impacting air quality.

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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

Mockingbird at Belmont

We don’t have a resident mockingbird near our house (the trees are too thick now that the neighborhood is 25+ years old), but I see them every time I got to Belmont. Northern Mockingbirds are year-round residents in Maryland. They pick up ‘songs’ from their environment – most of the time other birdsongs but it can be any noise.

I got to Belmont early on a couple of field trip days to take pictures of a bird in the nature place space. It could have been the same bird both days…or not. The space is surrounded by a meadow so plenty of opportunity for the mockingbird to spot insects for a tasty snack or meal. There are plenty of trees and vines with small fruits that develop over the summer surrounding the meadow to feed the mockingbirds into fall and winter. This is prime habitat for the birds.

See the the mockingbird slide show below – the bird enjoying the morning…before the buses arrived.

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!

A Few Minutes Observing…Brookside in the Rain

Photography in the rain is always a challenge….and best done quickly before the camera gets raindrops on the lens! I had two rainy days that I was at Brookside Gardens before my Wings of Fancy shift and took a few minutes to photograph a few things near the conservatory.

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On the first morning – I photographed the stream as I crossed the entrance bridge. The rain was light, so the water was not high…but the color of the rocks normally dry above the surface of the water is more vivid since they were wet from the rain.

There were flowers in pots along the way.

I turned to take a picture of the rain garden area near the conservatory entrance before I went inside.

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On the second morning, the two buckeye trees that are at the edge of the parking lot were shedding their flowers. The flowers retained their color on the pavement as the water rippled and moved them into clusters.

It was raining a bit harder this second day and the water droplets were accumulating on the flowers…and rolling off. I was juggling my umbrella while I took the photos!





Egrets at Chincoteague

This is the last of the posts about our trip to Blackwater and Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. It was a very windy morning that my husband and I photographed two kinds of Egrets along the main drive of the refuge. We used the car as a blind – rolling down the windows on the driver’s side (I was in the back seat) and stopping whenever we spotted something we wanted to photograph. The sequence below is of a Snowy Egret…fishing with the wind ruffling its feathers.

A little further along another Snowy Egret sat still for a portrait (face and yellow feet)!

A Great Egret caught a fish!

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After than action – it continued to search for food. I missed the beginning of the action and the bird must have been frustrated because it didn’t come up with a fish!

This was a very different experience from the Egret Rookery in Dallas (see post here) where the birds were nesting rather than searching for food.

Gleanings of the Week Ending May 11, 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.

Epic Proportions - Archaeology Magazine – Standard measures of Stonehenge and other Neolithic monuments?

Potassium: Soaps and radioactive bananas | Compound Interest – Potassium regulates blood pressure and transmission of nerve impulses in our bodies!

Colorful Birds  and Terrestrial birds – From the National Geographic Society. Still catching up on the backlog. I enjoy birding – and seeing birds in action…and photographs of birds taken by others. That’s why these photographic collections show up on my gleanings list.

BBC - Future - The princess who transformed war medicine – A little medical history not widely known from the early 1900s.

Ancient secrets of medicinal mint -- ScienceDaily – There are so many members of the mint family. This article is about the DNA sequencing from a plant…learning how to more rapidly tap the therapeutic benefits of that plant and the mint family at large.

Four Out of 10 Americans Breathe Unhealthy Air - Yale E360 – That’s 141 million people…up 7 million since last year….partly due to impacts of climate change on air quality. So – we need to find ways to clean up air better than we do now either by reducing emissions or cleaning them out once they are produced.

Aging gracefully: Study identifies factors for healthy memory at any age -- ScienceDaily – The good news is that some of the factors are things we can control - engaging in more social activities, more novel cognitive activities, losing excess weight, and living with others.

What is a Naturalized Outdoor Learning Environment? -The National Wildlife Federation Blog – Early Childhood Health Outdoors (ECHO) program….daily access to the outdoors for young children. When I was growing up, we were outdoors most days but that is not happening consistently these days. I applaud the initiatives that are honing ways to get children outdoors more.

Your Questions About Food and Climate Change, Answered - The New York Times – A hefty article on the topic…with pull down details.

Medical guidelines may be biased, overly aggressive in US -- ScienceDaily – Thought provoking. How is a patient to know when a doctor recommends a test or procedure that it is truly in the best interest of the patient when the doctor has a financial interest in the recommendation, or the doctor is so specialized that they always think their specialty is the best solution?

Red-Headed Woodpecker at Blackwater

Another bird we saw at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge was a Red-headed Woodpecker. There is a lot of standing dead wood in the refuge because of the water level changes in recent years. Trees less tolerant to wet roots or brackish (becoming saltier) water are dying. One area along the wildlife loom was almost all dead and the woodpeckers were having a heyday based on the numbers of holes we saw…and then we saw the red-headed woodpecker. It wasn’t at work…just looking around in the forest and didn’t notice when we got out of the car (quietly….didn’t turn the engine off or close the doors).

It posed very nicely on the snag – one that the tree top had already fallen from.

So many woodpeckers have some red on their head…but this is the one that gets the name. It is in this area for both breeding and wintering. This part of Blackwater is prime habitat for it…at least for now.

Tricolored Heron at Chincoteague

We didn’t see as many herons at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge (see previous post here) as we have in years past. Maybe they were hunkered down in the rain or way from the wind. It was not ideal weather while we were there. The one we did see was not as common as some of the others: a tricolored heron.

It is distinguished from the Little Blue Heron by its white underparts and white on its neck. And it’s smaller than the Great Blue Heron.

This bird was feeding in a waterway with high banks…somewhat protected from the wind. I was pleased with the way the feathers were ruffled and smoothed as I watched the bird move about – oblivious to us in our car (used as a blind).

Blackwater Osprey Drama

We saw more Osprey at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge than we did bald eagles (see previous post for the bald eagle pictures).

There was an occupied nesting platform near the beginning of the wildlife loop (to the left – labeled Little Blackwater River on the map). There was a bird on the nest on both days we drove the loop. Since we knew the nest was there and we were using the car as our blind, my husband and I had already positioned ourselves on the left side of the car with camera supports on the doors on the second day; his was a metal frame that the camera mounted on and mine was a neck pillow turned downward over the door frame…enough for my smaller camera (it was an experiment and worked…good to know for when I travel…yet another reason to take a neck pillow along).There were osprey vocalizations almost immediately and then the male swopped in and there was mating action on the nest.  It was a good thing we were already prepares for photography! The whole sequence below took place in about a minute.

The male flew off to a snag further along the wild life loop afterwards.

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Further along the loop there was an osprey on a post closer to the wildlife loop – an opportunity to get some bird portrait shots.

We took the turn off onto the part of the loop that goes by Pools 5a-c…and there was another osprey nesting pair! These two seemed to be doing a bit of nest rearranging and watching the skies for danger. It was a very windy day – ruffled feathers.

This part of the drive exits near the Tubman Visitor Center.

Overall – osprey were the dramatic stars for the Blackwater Wildlife Loop!

Brookside Wildflowers

I enjoy the boardwalk between Brookside Gardens and Brookside Nature Center in the spring. Earlier this week the boardwalk was my short walk before by shift in the Wings of Fancy exhibit. There are many native plants in this area that are looking good this spring. The plants are growing luxuriantly at this point – many in bloom.

Clumps of columbine

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Jack-in-the-pulpit (but they are green…sometimes hard to see)

Mayapples (the flower is sometimes hidden under the umbrella of leaves)

Skunk cabbage (with cypress knees poking up among the leaves)

Several kinds of ferns

Forest azaleas

And others.

Of course there are birds too….red-winged blackbirds are calling everywhere and robins are searching leaf mulch for a tasty worm!

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It was a productive 10-minute photo shoot!

Rookery at University of Texas Southwestern Medical School

The rookery in the middle of Dallas – on the campus of UT Southwestern Medical School – is busy this time of year. I was there a little over a week ago and the egrets (mostly Great Egrets but some Snowy Egrets as well) were numerous and somewhat acclimated to people watching them. When we first arrived, there was a Great Egret on the ground retrieving a stick to enlarge the nest. And then we looked up in the trees and saw a lot of birds. I noticed the trees from the window of one of the nearby medical buildings where I’d taken my mother for a doctor’s appoint on a rainy day earlier in the week…and the birds were big enough to be noticeable from across the street. I’d worked in the area early in my career (about 45 years ago now!) and there had been lots of talk of cutting down the trees to expand the medical school; the protests back then saved the birds’ nesting area. The rookery has probably been there since the levies were built along the Trinity River and the trees cut down between the levies. The location of the rookery is not far outside the levies and has been active since the 1940s at least.

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There is a lot of bird interaction. I took this series that shows how spiky the feathers on the head can look. Were these Great Egrets having an argument over nest configuration?

Preening is also important for all the gorgeous breeding plumage.

There are Snowy Egrets around too – yellow around the eyes and yellow ‘socks’ on their feet. They are smaller than the Great Egrets but the distinctive features are easy to spot as well. They seemed relatively calmer than the bigger birds on the day I was there.

The Great Egrets provided the best portrait opportunities – with the tree and then zoomed in to almost fill the frame.

Sometimes they sit at the very top of the tree. Are they in sentinel mode when they do? Or maybe they are getting ready to fly out above the traffic and medical buildings and levy…to the river in search of fish for lunch. Soon the eggs will hatch, and the adults will be busy finding enough to feed the chicks.

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There is a small parking area on Campus (off UT Southwestern Drive) and a paved walkway back to a memorial area with a bench – perfect for people that want to enjoy the birds but not walk very far. There is also a loop mulch path that I’ll try next time I am in Dallas in the springtime. There are a lot of birds there from March through May…and some year-round residents. But the egrets – Great and Snow are the most numerous of the birds this time of year.

Brookside Gardens Wings of Fancy – April 2019

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The Wings of Fancy live Butterfly Exhibit at Brookside Gardens opened in April. I am volunteering there again this season and my first shifts were toward the end of the month.

The Wings of Fancy live Butterfly Exhibit at Brookside Gardens opened in April. I am volunteering there again this season and my first shifts were toward the end of the month.

On the first morning there was a little rain as I arrived, and the outdoor temperature was cool. The sun came out and it warmed up a little as the day went on. The heaters were on in the conservatory to make a comfortable environment for the butterflies. I went in to do some photography before the exhibit opened for the day. The golden-edged owl is new this year and it tends to open and show its colors more than some of the other owls.

The Julia Longwing is around this year. There were a lot emerging from chrysalis during my 1st shift.

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The White Peacock had a lot emerging my second shift and I had groups of pre-schoolers observing! They were very excited and full of questions.

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The Malachites are available from two vendors this year – one in US which means that the chrysalises from that vendor can be in the emergence case in the exhibit.

The zebra longwings are always striking.

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And there are lots of other species too.

The big favorite of most visitors is the Blue Morpho. I like it for more than the metallic blue. The markings around the edges and ‘eye’ spots are interesting too. The orange color is supporting too.

The second day, I didn’t go in early or take my better camera - I still got two decent pictures with my cell phone. It was a little cool, so the butterflies were sitting around more…always good to go at 10 (when the exhibit opens) while it’s still cool!

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

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We visited a second National Wildlife Refuge last weekend: Blackwater. We usually visit Blackwater on the same trips at Chincoteague because it is ‘on the way.’ Of the two – Blackwater is my favorite. It is the first place I saw a bald eagle in the wild. It was back in 1990 when by daughter was a baby - a pleasant spring day and we were sitting out side on a blanket letting her finish off a bottle….and a bald eagle soared overhead. It was idyllic when it happened and in my memory. We saw eagles during this visit too. On the first day it was raining and the eagle was looking very wet. Note in the last picture of this series, the membrane eyelid on the right eye is closed (must have gotten a rain drop in the eye!).

The next morning when we drove around the wildlife loop again, it was sunny and there was an eagle on the same platform – maybe the same one – looking much happier. It took off before we could get pictures and continued to soar in the area until it vanished into the trees. There was another eagle on a snag near a blind – almost out of range for my camera.

The visitor center has a little garden at the back with small trees (like dogwoods) and a butterfly sculpture. There are bird feeders that attracted a few small birds. The red-winged blackbirds were very vocal. I saw a hummingbird sampling the clumps of columbine in the gardon on the sunny morning.

My husband saw a lump in the road and stopped quickly for us to get out and take a look: a baby snapping turtle. It didn’t move while we watched it, but it was in a patch of sun and would warm up enough to finish crossing the road soon after we left. It was already close to the edge of the road.

I’ll post later about the other birds we saw at Blackwater. I see something new just about every time we go to Blackwater…and this trip was no exception.

Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge

We visited Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge last weekend…an afternoon and the next morning. The afternoon was very wet so the picture of the visitor center sigh with plants growing through it was taken the next morning in the sunshine.

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The growth around the visitor center was very green…dogwoods were in bloom and pine pollen was everywhere.

The growth around the visitor center was very green…dogwoods were in bloom and pine pollen was everywhere.

On the first day we drove down the main road toward the beach. It was raining and we didn’t try to take any pictures. The wildlife loop is only open to cars after 3 PM and there was a lull in the rain about that time. We started around. I noticed thistles in bloom (attractive to bees),

Heard lots of red-winged blackbirds and managed to photograph one eventually,

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And photographed a glossy ibis almost out of camera range.

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Near the end of the wildlife loop there were a few of the Chincoteague ponies munching on the wet grass….about that time is started raining again and we headed to our hotel for the night.

The next morning was very breezy and almost cold. Our trip to one of the islands in the Chesapeake Bay was cancelled – winds made it unsafe for small boats. So – we bundled up and headed to the beach at Chincoteague. It is a narrower stretch of sand than when we first saw it more than 35 years ago and when we flew kites here with our daughter about 20 years ago. The gulls were not flying. Only the laughing gulls were at the beach and they were on the ground near the parking lot rather than at the water’s edge.

It was a little disappointing to see only people and roiling water at the beach.

As we started back, we saw a few herring gulls in shallow water protected by the dunes.

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The group of birds a little ways from the herring gull was the high point of the morning at Chincoteague: royal terns and black skimmers (and laughing gulls)!

I’ll post later about the egrets and a heron we saw at Chincoteague. Even with the rain and doing most of our photography using the car as a blind, my husband and I both enjoyed the spring birding opportunities at Chincoteague.

Ten Little Celebrations – April 2019

April has been a busy month – only at home for a week out of the month and not all at the same time. There was plenty to celebrate with spring in full swing and the travel to see it in different places.

Certified Zentangle® Trainer (CZT) class. There were so many perspectives of the CZT class to celebrate: the beauty of the creations everyone was making, the conversations, the food…the challenge of being a student…the Zen.

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Train ride home. I don’t go many places where taking the train is feasible…but the CZT class was one of them. I celebrated the low stress hours going home…a fitting finale to the class.

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4th and 5th grade field trips. The early April field trips happened with great weather and the students enjoying being outdoors to learn about the Patapsco heritage (land, water, and rocks) and BioBlitz. It’s always inspiring to see their curiosity and enthusiasm --- celebrating a spring field trip.


Getting to Dallas. I had to travel to Dallas quickly and it was easier than a thought it would be. And I celebrated that I was less stressed by the rapid change in plans (maybe the Zentangle class providing an added benefit.

Spring days. Noticing the rapidly developing blossoms of spring is fodder for many celebrations – oxalis is probably one of my favorites right now. It blooms when the sun is shining!

Rainy day (spent indoors). After busy days – having a rainy day spent indoors is something to celebrate…with homemade soup for lunch!

Josey Ranch Pocket Prairie. A little bit of prairie – carefully tended by volunteers – in a Dallas suburb! Right now it is a celebration of spring wildflowers.

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Cedar waxwings. Birds are migrating and there are serendipity sightings of birds that don’t stay around the area long. I celebrated seeing a small flock of cedar waxwings last week.

Botanical reminders of my grandmother. Many flowers in my parents’ Carrollton yard were planted by my grandmother…good memories to celebrate.

Home again. Providence, Rhode Island to home to Carrollton, Texas to home to Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge and Smith Island to home. I like to travel…but coming home is celebratory too.

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The Zentangle® Method is an easy-to-learn, relaxing, and fun way to create beautiful images by drawing structured patterns. It was created by Rick Roberts and Maria Thomas. "Zentangle" is a registered trademark of Zentangle, Inc. Learn more at zentangle.com.

Zooming – April 2019

The accelerating change of the seasons in Maryland and Texas…so much to see and do. I’ve picked a few of my favorite images captured with the zoom on my camera. There are insects in at least two of the flower images (maybe a third)….the little critters enjoying the spring bounty. Enjoy the April slideshow!

Josey Ranch Lake

After visiting the Pocket Prairie, I headed over toward the lake. The highlight of this part of the walk was a flock of cedar waxwings feeding around the blooms of a tree. I think they may have been eating tiny insects that were attracted by the blooms. They were very active – chowing down before continuing their migration. I didn’t get any great pictures of them, but I saw enough to identify them while I watched them feed! For some reason – a tend to think of them as slightly larger than they are (maybe because they have a crest like a cardinal, and I lapse into thinking they are the same size).

Otherwise the lake was a disappointment. There was a lone Canada goose and a few mallards. The birds that winter there have already moved northward. There were still a few coots around; they were all on the shore. Perhaps they stay for the summer too. The lake was almost empty.

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The resident boat-tailed grackles are noisy and have a lot of attitude. I took two sequences. On that was walking on the sidewalk as I headed back toward the car…

And another in the front of the drive near the library….I think he might have been warning me to come no closer!

Josey Ranch Pocket Prairie

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Last week I discovered the Josey Ranch Pocket Prairie near the Carrollton (Texas) Public Library. At first it looked mostly like a sea of plants blowing in the breeze…then I began noticing the flowers.

I walked around the path slowly using the zoom on my camera to see the flowers better (and photograph them). There were a lot to see. Some I recognized – the bluebonnets, Indian blanket, Indian paint brush, and pink evening primrose. Others I didn’t. I’ll have to go back and get more detailed pictures to identify them. Spring is a great time to see wildflowers!

I’ll have to remember to take a turn around this pocket prairie when I come to Carrollton in the summer and fall…see it in difference seasons. There seems to be a group of volunteers maintaining the area. There were piles of some invasive plants that had been pulled out and were ready for pickup. The rain garden area seemed almost new. If it rains while I am here – I’ll go over in my rain gear to see how it works!