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!


Macro Photography with a Smartphone

Before my second shift at Brookside Garden’s Wings of Fancy exhibit, I spent a few minutes doing some macrophotography with my Smartphone. I ordered a clip-on macro lens from Amazon last fall to use to photograph macroinvertebrates but haven’t done a lot of other photography with it until now.

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Brookside Gardens is a great place to experiment. There is so much in bloom right now including the buckeye near the conservatory. The flower has a very odd shape through the macro lens (it looks like it has Mickey Mouse ears!). Even the tips of evergreen shrubs become something unexpected.


The center of the dogwood bloom is a riot of shapes. I’m going to photograph them again next time I go to see how it changes as the seeds start to develop.

Dandelion seed puffs are recognizable.

Just about any flowers are good subjects for macrophotography.


I ran out of time in the garden. My shift was beginning. I got one last picture just before the first visitors came into the exhibit – a spicebush butterfly egg on spicebush leaf. It looks like a very tiny pearl.

Backyard Walk – May 2018

Last month I posted about violets and spice bush. On an walk through the yard this week, I still say plenty of violets blooming and

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The spice bush was beginning to unfurl leaves. I hope there will be some spicebush swallowtails around this summer to produce several generations of butterflies in our forest.

The maple seeds are drying and will swirl away from the tree soon. The black walnut is beginning to unfurl its leaves. There are multiple leaves that unfurl from the buds on the tips of the stems as well as along it. The bud scars from last year are often visible. The tree lags the tulip poplars leafing out.

The high point of the walk around the backyard was not actually in the yard…it was just into the woods: A Jack-in-the-Pulpit! There are so many invasive plants in the forest that I always am relieved when I find a native making it through another spring. I'll try to pick a good day to spray myself with insect repellent (to keep the ticks away) and walk back into the forest before the prickle bush gets too thick to look for more native wildflowers.

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The sycamore buds have just pops…with leaves too tiny to be very interesting yet. I’ll save it for the June post.

Ten Little Celebrations – April 2018

April has gone by very quickly…full of company and travel and the beginning of the spring volunteering blitz.

Six of the 10 little celebrations were experiences outdoors – typical celebrations of springtime everywhere:

  • Blue birds and tree swallows were making their nests I the boxes at Mt. Pleasant in Maryland.
  • There were ducklings at Josey Ranch Lake in Carrollton, Texas.
  • An eared grebe at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge near Sherman, Texas.
  • Macroinvertebrates in the Middle Patuxent close to home.
  • Spicebush in the forest behind my house and at Belmont Manor and Historic Park (both in Maryland).
  • Deciduous Magnolias blooming at Brookside Gardens. Maryland got a freeze at the wrong time in 2017 and most of the blooms turned brown from the cold just as they were opening. It was a treat to see them again this year.

I celebrated the end of two long driving days between Maryland and Texas. Both were blustery and more traffic than expected. It felt good to be done!

My new iPad is something I celebrate every time I create another Zentangle with it! I a pleasantly surprised with how easy I made the transition from pen and paper tiles to digital.

I thoroughly enjoyed a meal at a Brazilian steakhouse – this time managing to savor the flavors and not overeating. I even topped off the meal with dessert!

Finally – the Watershed Summit where the high schools of the county presented their report cards to the county government for their steams and school yards – based on data they collected last fall. Each of the 13 high schools had 2 presenters. They all were so poised and organized. It was a double celebration: the environmental findings trending positive in most cases and the quality of the students in attendance. Both bode well for the future.

Backyard Walk – April 2018

We had some warmer days late last week and I walked around our backyard to photograph it’s status. The violets are blooming. Sometimes the scent of them wafts through the air. They like the areas where there is lots of leaf mulch.

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The red maple has bloomed, and the samaras (seeds) are forming. Our tree is in further along that the one at Belmont; the microclimate where it is growing is warmer probably.

Do you see the yellow haze under the trees in our forest? That’s spicebush. I think almost all the understory trees are that plant. The others have been killed so heavily browsed by the deer that they haven’t survived. I’m going to make an effort to inspect the spicebush this summer….hoping to find the caterpillars of the spicebush swallowtail butterflies. I am pleased that we have so many food plants for them.

Hurray for Spring Field Trips!

This week I volunteered for school field trips with the Howard County Conservancy – three mornings in a row. The first two were 5th graders at Belmont. I did two hikes with groups of about 10 students and their chaperone on both days. The school buses arrived on time and both groups wanted to head to the forest.

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Along the way to stopped to see a pecan tree and a southern magnolia with lots of seed pods around its base. The students measured and described nuts, husks, pods and leaves…and then it we moved to the forest where we found millipedes and a tiny red mite. The spicebush was in bloom. It’s an understory tree so the students could take a close look at the flowers, see the stoma in the bark (white dots) and smell the ‘spice.’ They were thrilled that the trees are surviving in the forest behind Belmont…and that means there will be food for the swallowtail butterfly caterpillars as the days warm and the leaves emerge.

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There was a bird in a high tree as we started the hike back from lunch. We thought it was a crow…and then it flew and ‘cawed’ to confirm.

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As we waited to regroup in the field we compared seeds of sycamores and sweet gums…and picked out the sycamores in the distance along the drive into Belmont.

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I took pictures of the lilacs planted in symmetrical plantings in front of the manor hour as I walked back to my car after the last hikes. The buds for the flowers were not numerous and I wondered if a recent frost had damaged them.

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The third field trip of the week was for 3rd graders and was at Mt. Pleasant Farm. The students arrived in school buses and the normal chaos ensued to divide into groups.

The topic was ‘habitats and home’ which is always a great topic for a hike but particularly in the spring. The hike included observing blue birds and tree swallows jockeying for the bird houses along the trail. My group stood on a little hillock to observe the action. The tree swallows seemed to have staked a claim but weren’t building their nest there yet.

I completely missed the wood frog orgy in the little pool in the Honor’s Garden this year. It evidently happened on some warm days we had back in February! There are a lot of tadpoles in the pool now and were part of the lesson for the students during the non-hiking part of the morning.

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Three days – six hikes….Hurray for spring field trips!