Road Trip to Florida

Last week we drove down to Florida for the annual Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival in Titusville. I’ll be posting about the trip for the next week or so…but today the post is focused on the drive itself. We left the house at 5:30 AM to beat the worst of the commuter traffic around Washington DC. Venus and Jupiter were visible in the darkness to the east. We made a very cold rest stop at 6:30 AM south of DC and on I95…the interstate we would take all the way to Florida. The temperature was in the low teens. Leaving early had achieved its purpose; no stop and go or slow traffic! We listened to Planetary Society podcasts that my husband had on his phone.

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It was getting light by our next rest stop at about 7:30 still in Virginia. It was a newer rest stop with a compass in the entry floor, an area to charge/use laptops (we never spend that much time at a rest stop), and a toddler toilet (I’ve only seen these in the newer Virginia rest stops….what a wonderful feature for young families).

We took I295 around Richmond and stopped at a McDonalds for a second breakfast. The sun was shining in our eyes. Turkey vultures were soaring. By 9:40 AM we were in North Carolina. I remembered the rest stop from a previous trip: red tile strips and glass brick.

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There was a bird’s nest in the tree just outside the building – easy to see in the winter.

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The next stop was a large truck stop in Kenly, North Carolina- with a large tile mosaic in the entry.

We stopped for lunch at Arby’s in Lumberton, North Carolina that did not take long and then were back on the road – crossing into South Carolina and seeing a Honda plant with its own exit from the highway and water tower.

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The next rest stop did not have any structural distinction, but I did notice a large river birch in the picnic area.

I saw a hawk fly low across the road in front of us and began to see black vultures along with turkey vultures. Our last rest stop for the day had green tile and a skylight in the facilities. The picnic area had sabal palmettos – matching the South Carolina license plates.

We stopped for the night in Savannah – just off I95.

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We didn’t start out as early the next morning. It was already beginning to get light. We made a stop, still in Georgia, where the roses were blooming.

As we drove into Florida a line of clouds moved in.

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I took pictures of the Dames Point Bridge going around Jacksonville (some morning commuter traffic).

At the next rest stop there was a pond with a fence around it (with signs warning of snakes)…but I braved the short walk up to the fence (didn’t see any snakes). I took pictures of the birds around the pond…the first for the trip: hooded mergansers,

White Ibis (mature and juvenile), and

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Not bad birding at a rest stop along I95.

We arrived at the registration desk for the festival a little after 11.

Winter Tree Identification – Part 1

Leaves are an easy first step to identifying a tree…but not in the winter. Other identifying characteristics come to the fore. I’ve collected up some photos from the past few winters and will show the ones I find easy to identify even in the winter. Do you recognize the white barked trees that grow near rivers and have round seeds that often stay on the tree during the winter?

The sycamores are common in our area and are easier to spot in the winter than in the summer when their big leaves sometimes hide the whiteness of their branches.

They are only one of the trees that have distinctive bark. Others are spicebush (it can be a bush or understory tree) and beech below. They both have relative smooth bark. The spicebush is speckled with light colored lenticels.

Both the sycamore and river birch have peeling bark.

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Sometime thorns can be an identifying characteristic – like with the honey locust.

The bald cypress is the only conifer I’m including in this post since it sheds its needles for the winter. It is easy to recognize by its shape and the presence of knees…and that it likes wet areas.

The dogwoods have distinctive buds. Sometimes they are described as onion-shaped. They look more like slightly flattened Hershey’s kisses to me!

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Mt Pleasant in January 2019 – Part 1

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My first hike at Howard County Conservancy’s Mt. Pleasant was last week on a cold, blustery day after a night rain. We were prepared for the cold and managed to work our way around the muddy parts of the trails. The sun played hide and seek with the clouds. I was taking pictures of winter trees. I am very familiar with a black walnut near the rock wall on the meadow side.

The nuts on the ground all around it would give it away even if I didn’t know it was a black walnut. I am always amazed that the squirrels can get the shells open with their teeth.

The path along the wall was in relatively good shape – still mostly covered with grass. We didn’t go all the way down to the Davis Branch…but cut across the meadow mid-way down the hill.

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We took the long way around to an overlook of the Branch since the lower trails were too muddy to attempt.

The water was not high, but everything looked wet. I was noticing the beech trees – easy to identify by their smooth bark.

One of the root balls that had been placed upside down in the restored part of the stream had been washed downstream by an earlier flood…and was still balanced where I’d seen it last fall. It will stay there until the next big flood. It had a collapsed pillow-like orange fungus growing on it.

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A river birch is easy to identify with its curly bark.

As we turned back toward the nature center, I noted that one of the trees across the smaller stream had finally rotted enough to collapse.

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The only ‘bloom’ I saw on the hike was the beginning of the witch hazel bloom on the tree near the farmhouse. The streamer like petals are still curled up in the opening flowers. I’ll have to remember to look at the tree every time I go to Mt. Pleasant over the next month or so!

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