Zooming – July 2019

I probably use the zoom on my camera for most of my pictures. It allows me to frame the picture the way I want and to ‘see’ the environment better than I can with just my eyes. Sometimes I am at the limit of what my camera can do. For example – the tiger swallowtails are particularly numerous in my back yard this summer and I kept seeing then flying under the maple tree where my compost pile is located. I used my camera like binoculars to see that the swallowtails were ‘puddling’ in the compost pile after a rain. They must have been enjoying the nutrient rich water!

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There was a smallish robin that fluttered down from the maple and sat in the grass – just looking around for a few minutes before returned to the tree. It didn’t look or find a worm! Probably a fledging.

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On the hottest day of the summer (so far), a wasp got a drink from our bird bath. Sometimes I find wasps that have drowned in the bird bath but so far it hasn’t happened this year. Maybe they are getting better as just getting the drink that they need.

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Now enjoy the slide show of other zoomed pictures from this month:

  • Plane tree

  • Fireworks

  • Pocket prairie plants

  • Yellow crowned night heron

  • Great egret

  • Female cardinal

  • Fawn

  • Goldfinch

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


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!


It was a productive 10-minute photo shoot!

Belmont – April 2019

The Howard County Conservancy spring field trips at Belmont and Mt. Pleasant are into prime time. The two I volunteered for last week had beautiful weather for hiking – almost perfect temperature and dry. I always arrive more than 30 minutes before the students. It’s a short walk from parking to the Carriage House….long enough to get some pictures. Birds that are around: chipping sparrows, robins, and red winging blackbirds. There is at least one resident mockingbird which I heard but didn’t get a picture.

The warmer weather is also causing things to bloom and new spring green leaves to unfurl.

As I wait for the bus, I take pictures toward the manor house, down the entrance road, and down toward the pond. It’s the calm….before the students arrive.

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The students, teachers, and chaperones come on buses and there is a flurry of activity to get the groups sorted into hiking groups and activity groups.

The hikes are about an hour. There are forest and meadows…lot of opportunity for good observations. One of my hiking groups was making BioBlitz observations…documenting a common blue violet blooming in the middle of the mowed path!


Moving the Compost Bin

Last week we had some warm days and I moved my compost bin. It is so hard to turn the whole bin of material adequately, that it’s better to just move the bin periodically and get a good mix of the materials (and take the ‘finished’ compost out for other distribution). The stakes that I’d used to hold the cylinder of rigid plastic up were leaning toward the center too. I decided to move the bin just a few feet away on a bare patch of dirt – still under the red maple.

I got side tracked looking at the haze of yellow in the forest: spice bush in bloom.


And the baby ferns in the mossy area under the deck.


And a shell that had collected some water (probably need to turn it over so it doesn’t become a mosquito nursery).


And some robin nests (neat enough to be from this year) on the deck support beams.

I pulled the stakes out from inside the bin - then lifted the plastic and repositioned it. I put the stakes back in using some branches from the brush pile to cross brace too. Then the material that still needed to decompose was moved with a pitchfork to the newly placed bin. Lesson learned: pine needles and egg shells take longer to decompose than kitchen scrapes and shredded leaves/paper!


I found something that had sprouted in the compost as I spread the compost from the bottom of the bin around under the red maple in front of the brush pile. Maybe a beet top from last fall’s harvest?


Birding through a Window – March 2019

The birds seem to be moving faster this month – harder to photograph. There are a lot more robins about. Some seem to be looking around for nesting places and others are just passing through.

Flocks of red-winged blackbirds fly through this time of year too. I took some pictures of a flock of birds high up in the tulip poplar trees behind our house one afternoon and discovered there were two types of birds in the group: red-winged blackbirds (black eyes) and rusty blackbirds with yellow rimmed eyes.

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The titmice were too fast for me this month – but I managed to get a picture of a Carolina chickadee.

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A mourning dove preened on the deck railing.


The most startling ‘birding through the window’ event of the month was a mourning dove that bashed itself against my office window. It left some small (about 1/4 inch) down feathers behind on the window.

The bird apparently recovered quickly because it managed to fly to a neighbor’s roof – sat for a few minutes (recovering) – and then flew on as if nothing had happened.

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There was a similar incident a few years ago with a cardinal. I’m glad it doesn’t happen very often.

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!

Zooming – May 2018

Sometimes I use the zoom on my camera to capture botanicals that I can’t get close to – like this weathered sycamore seed ball.

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And sometimes I capture an insect on a plant that I don’t see until I look at my ‘take’ on the big screen after I get home. This is a grass seed head I photographed at Belmont while I was waiting for the bus with the students coming for BioBlitz.

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Most of the time I use the zoom to capture things like frogs (yesterday’s post) or birds that would move away if I tried to get closer to them. This month I photographed two birds that were singing: a Grackle in the black walnut and a Caroline Wren on our deck railing.

There was a Mourning Dove with an iridescent patch on its neck near our birdbath

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And a Robin alert to what was happening in our backyard.

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I managed to get one good image of a Chipping Sparrow on a split rail fence at Belmont; it kept flying ahead of me even with the distance the zoom was providing.

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Finally – I got some pictures of Tree Swallows at Belmont. They were protecting their nest along the path to the pond – would dive bomb hikers (to the delight of all the BioBlitz groups) and return to the top of their box between rounds.

Baltimore Birding – part 3

We continued our Baltimore Birding experience with a walk around Fort McHenry the next morning. It was mostly sunny and warmer. Even with the better light and no rain – I saw more birds than I managed to photograph. I’m featuring the ones that say still long enough for me to get the camera in position. There were quite a few Great Crested Flycatchers (I remember seeing one in my back yard last year about time…posted about it here).

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There were American robins in the grass.

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The small birds moved around rapidly in the trees. I think this one is an orchard oriole.

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I photographed mushrooms when I saw them. The mulch was support several groupings….and a sycamore stump had a collection of small shelf fungus.

There was a grackle aggressively defending a trash can at the front of the visitor center.

There were mallards about. There was a female that looked calm for the moment…the males were being very aggressive.

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There was a ‘mixed breed’ duck…probably mallard and a domestic duck of some kind.

There were some sycamores along the path that did not look healthy. I wondered if salt water incursion was happening through the seawall around the fort….or maybe they are all the same age and getting old. I took a picture of one that already had its top gone; there was a knot with leaves sprouting at about eye level with ‘wrinkles’ on all sides – almost like skin.

We headed over to a marshy are beside the fort…and I managed to finally get a picture of a one kind of swallow we say: a tree swallow. We saw barn swallows on our walk as well.

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Overall our Baltimore Birding experience provided a different perspective on the city. I would guess that birding in just about any city would have the same results. Maybe it is something we should do more often….although the amount of trash (particularly in the water) is always depressing.

Birding through a Window – March 2018

I was out and about more during March than earlier in the year so I wasn’t around to see birds through my office window as much. I did catch the birds that seem to always bee around: the blue jays,

The cardinals,

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The mourning doves,

The juncos (they’ll be leaving for their nesting grounds in the north soon),

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The titmouse, and

The Carolina wren.

There are the ones I see less often – so continue to view them as special:

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the pileated woodpecker and

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The northern flicker.

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There seemed to be more flocks of birds in the yard and around the feeder/bath: cowbirds,


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Starlings, and

Robins of course (I always associate springtime and flocks of robins coming through…some staying for the season and others continuing northward).

All in all – a good number of birds around in March through high winds and snow….the swings of temperature. It’s been a wild weather month.

Signs of Spring

The very first days of March and there are already two signs of spring outside my office window:

A robin looking for worms (not flocks of them yet but single birds…I’ve seen larger groups at both Belmont and Mt Pleasant already this years) and

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The red maple blooming. I’m a little worried about the red maple because we are going to get some cold weather again in the next week or so. How much can these maple flowers withstand? It will be interesting to watch and see. Last year we had very few samaras (seeds of the maple) because some cold water caught the tree at a critical time. I’ll be looking for maple seedlings soon to pull up for display during the tree activity for pre-schoolers; hope there were other maples in the neighborhood that did produce seeds.

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Gleanings of the Week Ending February 24, 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.

#ColorOurCollections & Europeana Colouring Book | Europeana Blog – I’d rather draw my own Zentangles rather starting with an existing picture. For those who want images already on the page - here is a free downloadable coloring book of historical images.

Top 25: Wild Birds on the Edge – National Geographic Blog – Endangered birds….many factors causing stressing these birds…no quick fix.

Explore Thurston Lava Tube At Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park By Flashlight  and The Nature Conservancy Transfers 222 Acres To Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park  - Reminded how much I enjoyed our trip to the big Island (and the national park there) a few years ago.

11 Chocolate Desserts That Are Totally Healthy – Dark chocolate…it’s wonderful that it is also good for you too – in moderation.

Long-term economic impact of cover crops: 29-year study finds cover crops offer benefits with no-till cotton systems -- ScienceDaily – Decreasing soil erosion….always a good thing.

Artists envisioned the future of work, and the results are pure fantasy - MIT Technology Review – What do you think? Some of these are (somewhat) logical extensions of existing technology and jobs.

Why Are You Seeing Robins in Winter? – Cool Green Science – I didn’t see any robins at my birdbath this winter, but we don’t have trees with berries that might be food for them. I did see some robins at Mt. Pleasant yesterday…a small group…and wondered if the warm weather we had earlier in the week (in the 70s) is bringing them in larger numbers to our area.

Saving a Crown Jewel – National Geographic – We spent some time at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge last November when we were at the Rio Grand Valley Birding Festival See my post here). The short video is worth watching. The wall that is being built through the refuge (destroying the refuge) is the proof of concept for the wall that some in our country want to build. It’s very sad.

BBC - Future - An effortless way to improve your memory – After reading this, I wondered if creating a Zentangle tile has the effect of a short rest period for me. I’ve noticed that it is easier for me to learn new material if I include breaks to make tiles!

Creative Ways to Boost Creativity – How many of these just come naturally to you?