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!

Icy Trees

Last week, we had some icy weather. It caused schools to close or start late. I was glad I could just stay at home and enjoy the scene through my office window. The zoom on my camera allowed me to get some pictures of the ice coating the vegetation. Many times, it looks like water droplets simply froze before they could fall to the ground. The sycamore had one last-season leaf catching the icy bits. The ice on the stems was coating the buds that looked enlarged…maybe getting ready for spring.

The remnants of a seed head from last summer collected flatter panes of ice.

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The evergreen bushes are sometimes damaged by the ice because their leaves hold so much of it. It seems that ours all came through the ordeal without any breakage.

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The Thundercloud Plum tree is showing its color even in the winter. Once the ice is gone, I’ll have to check to see if there are any split branches; the tree has had problems in previous ice storms. This time we were fortunate that it was relatively calm; ice followed by wind is what causes most breakage.

The next day I noticed that the icicles on the sycamore were quite a bit longer.

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 The red maple had very red buds. Hopefully the ice protected them rather than destroying.

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The shelf fungus on a tulip poplar back in the forest supported a mini ice flow

The trees that had the hardest time were the pines. Each needle became encased in ice. It remined me of art glass. The pines in our neighbors’ yards survived without breakage but I noticed as I drove to my errands the next day that there were some pines that did not fare as well. There were some significant branches that were ripped from trees along my route. Fortunately, there were enough people that had been out before me and all the branches were moved off the roadway.

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BioBlitz with 7th Graders

I spent two mornings at Howard County Conservancy’s Mt. Pleasant with 7th graders for a BioBlitz.

Both days were cool and a little breezy. I arrived early enough the first day to take a few pictures of the fall gardens (in the calm before almost chaos)

And to look at the Green Infrastructure Network map again….enough to locate the approximate location of their school and think through how to talk about hubs/corridors in the county.

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I had 11 students and a chaperone for about 2 hours and we found quite a lot. The most exciting – for me and the students on the first day – was a spotted salamander when we rolled over a log.

The brightly colored shelf-fungus and a wolf spider were good finds too.

On both days – one of the students borrowed my macro lens and became a specialist at getting macro pictures. Overall – the students handled being a little cold very well and stayed focused the BioBlitz for most of the two hours.

In the Middle Patuxent River – Day 1

Last Monday, I volunteered through the Howard County Conservancy to help with a high school Stream Assessment in the Middle Patuxent River off the Kings Contrivance Loop trail. It was raining when I left the house before sunrise and continued through the assessment.

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It was starting to get lighter when I arrived at the site and helped to set up for the macroinvertebrate collection and identification.

We discovered very quickly that the white boards would not work in the rain – even if we wiped them off immediately before we tried to write.

Fortunately, the rain was gentle and water still relatively clear. This part of the river is silty…not a lot of cobbles.

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We found quite a few critters. There were at least 3 different kinds of dragonfly larvae; I had never seen the kind with a more rounded abdomen. All the other critters were the more typical ones.

Paper was quickly damaged in the rain. The students took pictures and (hopefully) enough data sheets will survive to make a good composite data set for the class. I took a picture of one of the sheets. The macroinvertebrate analysis done on site showed the river to be in the moderate range.

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The students finished and headed to their buses. As I made my way up the hill to my car, I stopped to look at some of the feeder rivulets along the way (there were bridges although I could have easily walked across these with my boots). There were some signs of erosion along the banks….it wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be after our recent downpours.

There were also some colorful fungi. Orange is seen frequently.

There was an area with a lot of shelf fungi on logs. It was so damp that some seemed to have something green growing on them.

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My favorite was nearby – bright red and orange with yellow on the edge.

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Shelf Fungus

There were several tree trunks/branches thick with shelf fungus that I photographed last Friday during my muddy hike in the Middle Patuxent Environmental Area). The first was a tree standing by the river – exposed roots holding it right on the edge. There were at least three different kinds of fungus on the trunk.

Perhaps seeing that tree made me more observant as we hiked further along the along the loom of the South Wind Trail. I spotted some bright orange fungus on some fallen branches beside the path. The color jumped out – a contrast with the greens and browns on the forest floor.

With all the rain we’ve been getting – there are quite a few fungi around…and they are fresh enough to be brightly colored. They are fun to find and photograph. Exact identification is frustrating for most of them, so I am lumping these as ‘shelf fungus’!

Smithsonian Environmental Research Center - Part II

Continuing about my day at SERC last Friday…

I got to SERC early enough that I walked around a small pond and took my first pictures of marshmallows.

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There were more of them in the marsh near the boardwalk as we made our way out to Hog Island. They were – by far – the biggest flowers of the area.

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A tiny flower that I photographed along the trail from very close up was a mint. I was careful to look for poison ivy and plants with thorns before I positioned myself to take the picture.

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And then there were trees…trees with lichen…a canopy of green…a pathway lined with green.

There are ongoing studies that make exact measurements of tree trunks over time. Metal bands are used; they expand as the tree grows and the amount they have expanded is measured.

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There were trees with holes in their trunks. The rows of holes are probably made by a bird – a yellow-bellied sapsucker. I remembered seeing a similar tree during my last hike at Belmont and being thrilled that the campers already knew the bird that made the holes!

There are young paw paw trees in the forest and I realized that I had seen these at Belmont as well. I know the tree from its bark but not is leaves!

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There was a standing dead tree that had the thickest collection of shelf fungus I’ve ever seen.

A sickly dogwood had more colorful bark that I am used to seeing on a dogwood.

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As we got back to the cluster of buildings – on the road by the geothermal well area – there were some sycamores – with a few skeletonized leaves…something was eating them…and the last flower of the day:

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Some black eyed susans.

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After the hike, we had lunch followed by a lecture about orchids. The North American Orchid Conservation Center is based at SERC and there are 9 native orchids that have been found there! We saw one on the earlier hike (the cranefly orchid) – unfortunately I didn’t get a good picture of it. The website for the organization - https://northamericanorchidcenter.org/ - is full of get information about native orchids and there is a colelction of orchid-gami printables if you want to make paper models of orchids!

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.

Skunk Cabbage

Last week I hiked down to the marshy area where the skunk cabbage usually grows at Howard County Conservancy’s Mt. Pleasant Farm – and it was already coming up out of the muck. There were no blooms yet; those will be left for February. I used the zoom to get pictures since the area was muddy both from rain the previous day and the usual water from the small spring. It was warm enough that there was no ice in the area where the skunk cabbage was sprouting.

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In other areas there was more ice – further from the spring (the water that emerges from the ground must be a little warmer) or where ice got thicker when the temperature was very low and it takes longer to thaw. It wasn’t freezing on the day I was hiking so part of the stream that has accumulated more water and the flowing more rapidly was entirely melted.

Other highlights from the leisurely hike: the stump for the elementary school hiking groups to climb and count tree rings is surviving the winter…will still be good for the spring field trips,

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Shelf fungus group just about everywhere – even on stumps of invasive trees (these were probably Callery pear).

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The bird feeders in the Honors Garden were active: nuthatches, downy woodpeckers, and goldfinches beginning to get their spring plumage were the ones I managed to photograph.

Monitoring Conservation Easements

This December is my first experience volunteering to do the annual monitoring of conservation easements for the Howard County Conservancy. I went to a training back in September and then ‘shadowed’ an experienced monitor visiting 2 easements in November. In December, I was ready to monitor 2 easements with a cohort that was doing it for the first time as well.  The owners were notified by Howard County Conservancy that we would be monitoring on a particular day and the weather cooperated for both days – dry and not overly cold. The first property was mostly forest and the hike around the property was different than my usual hike since there were no well-defined trails; deer trails or picking a path through the briars (glad we were doing this in December when it was cold enough to wear heavy pants to protect my legs from thorns). It was a wonderful early winter ‘walk in the woods.’

The land was crossed by a stream that feeds into the Patuxent River. We had one stream crossing over a culvert but made another stepping on rocks; it was good that it had not rained recently. Most of the trees were native…but there was a substantial clump of bamboo growing on one streambank.

The land was easier to see with the leaves on the ground. As usual, I noticed fungi.

There was an odd holly-like plant as part of the understory. The leaves looked like holly but the top did not.

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At the end of the walk, I rejoiced that the property owner had made the effort to make it a conservation easement and that it was about that same as it had been in previous years.

The second easement was entirely different: surrounded by housing developments and an active farm/golf related business rather than forest. The business was about the same as it had been in the previous year…but there was a change at the farm: a guard dog. The dog did not appear immediately, but no one was home. We could tell that there had been some earth moving going on upslope from the stream that starts on the farm and eventually flows into the Patuxent River. If a heavy rain came – a lot of soil would slump down into the stream. The dog appeared…and we decided to gracefully retreat without completing our check of the easement. The monitoring will have to be done when the owner or their representative can be there. It was a rattling experience, but we enjoyed a hefty morning snack with hot tea/latte to recover!

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Zooming – October 2017

Using the zoom on my camera keeps be out of the tall grass (and away from the ticks and other biting insects). I spotted shelf fungus growing on stumps and trunks of trees cut down along the road to Belmont Manor and Historic Park on my way to an event…and stopped on my way out in one of the nearby pull off areas. The largest ones were growing on a large trunk facing the road but there were more in the space where a log was cut. Some of the pieces were removed but others were left to rot in place.

Another example of staying out of the tall grass, but getting the picture I wanted – milkweed seeds bursting from their pods at the Middle Patuxent Environmental Area

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And some other fluffy seeds on a plant growing on the slope of our neighborhood’s storm water retention pond.

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The zoom is almost always used for bird photography….but even with the zoom they still sometimes notice me and fly away. This house finch was busy getting breakfast from the feeder.

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Sometimes zooming enables a better composition. The tree was mostly green but zooming – just a little – made the oranges and reds a more pronounced part of the picture.

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This is a ‘get close’ picture rather than a zoomed picture…of the edge of a rotting stump. I liked the curves and the colors.

Hiking to the Patapsco

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Last Saturday, I led a group from Belmont Manor and Historic Park to the Avalon area of Patapsco Valley State Park. It was a beautiful day for a hike – sunny and not too hot. I didn’t take any pictures going downhill since I needed to be in the front. I did stop to check some spicebush (understory trees) for caterpillars since I am more aware of spicebush swallowtail caterpillar behavior from the Brookside Gardens’ Wings of Fancy caterpillar house (see my post about them here) while we made a short stop to allow the group to come together.

Once we got down near the river, a volunteer ranger met us to provide some park history. One stop was concrete Avalon Dam and I took a picture of it through the tangle of vegetation trees. The river bypasses the dam now! Looking down I noticed some self-fungus and very green moss among the accumulating leaves.

We stopped at the sign about Elkridge Landing. There is some controversy about exactly where the Landing was but it probably was not exactly where the sign I located. Another bit of history: the sign was made as an Eagle Scout project; it was very nice at the beginning - but has not weathered well. Maintenance in the park is always a challenge.

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This is a wall that remains near what was the mill race in colonial times for the Avalon Nail and Iron Works – mended many times. It could be used for a geology talk as easily as for history.

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While we were in the park we saw an ambulance come by with flashing lights and then leave again – lights still flashing. We heard that a hiker had gotten bitten by something. Later we learned the bit was from a copperhead and was on the ankle. It was a warm enough day that many people were in hiking sandals and shorts….scary that there was at least one snake not that far from where were hiking.

We started our hike back up the trail and noted the shelter along the trail that we hadn’t noticed on the way down because we stayed on the fire road rather than taking the trail.

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The trail through the forest was up hill but shady and scenic.

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I stopped to enjoy the stand of bigleaf magnolia. I didn’t hike to see them in the spring this year…maybe something to plan to do in 2018. That’s when they would be blooming.

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The path is at the edge of the meadow for some distance and took pictures of a spider and meadow plants going to seed.

The hike was over 4 miles --- a good prelude-to-fall hike.