Mt Pleasant in October


Last week, I got to Howard County Conservancy’s Mt Pleasant just as the sun was coming up over the place. There were a few fall colors even with the drought which is causing a lot of the leaves to change and fall very quickly.


We were working with high school students --- assessing the water in the Davis Branch with abiotic and biotic sampling. The water was very low.


We found some macroinvertebrates…but everyone was more enthusiastic than usual with other living things we found that weren’t part of the assessment. This large spider caused quite a lot of excitement!

I took a few pictures of fall plants between the early morning and late morning groups. Much of the meadow is turning brown early. Some of the gardens closer to the building may be getting a little watering and are more colorful.

Gleanings of the Week Ending September 7, 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.

BBC - Future - Is city life really bad for you? – Some additional reasons we need to make changes to cities --- if that is where the bulk of humans will live in the future.

A Field Guide to Commonly Misidentified Mammals – Cool Green Science – How many of these animals can you correctly identify?

Blood vessels turning into bone-like particles -- ScienceDaily – The headline caught my interest…bone-like particles in the blood. Then I noticed that the researcher was from the school where I did my undergraduate work back in the 1970s!

Top 25 Wild Bird Photographs of the Week: Raptors and Migration – Catching up on these weekly posts from National Geographic. I always enjoy them.

BBC - Future - Can you cool a house without air conditioning? – We’ve probably had our last 90 degree plus day for the season at this point….but over the long term, I expect broadening the technologies we use to cool our homes and buildings is going to be important.

Turquoise-Tinted Tarantula Discovered in Sri Lanka | Smart News | Smithsonian – Iridescent color that must startle the spider’s prey (or a predator) --- and a discussion of collecting by scientists.

See a different endangered animal in every U.S. state – The map is easy to explore. The Puritan Tiger Beetle was the one listed for Maryland….not something I had heard of before.

Infographic: How Muscles Age | The Scientist Magazine® - A little muscle anatomy lesson – for young and old.

The Earth's Vegetation Stopped Expanding 20 Years Ago - News | Planetizen – Another indication that climate change is already having a worldwide impact?

Forest-killing bark beetles also might help ecosystem, experts say - – It’s distressing to see a forest of dead trees…but maybe it’s an indicator that monoculture forests and fire suppression are not healthy. And then there is climate change in the mix as well. The beetles now survive the winter temperatures in much of their range.

Nature Finds During Yard Work

A week or so ago I was doing yard work and seemed to find interesting subjects to photograph at every turn. I took breaks to get pictures.

A katydid on the mint…and mint flowers…in one flower bed. I was cutting the mint because it had escaped the flower bed and was blocking the path to our front porch.

A black eyed susan and spiderweb filled with dew a few feet away. I noticed both when I was cleaning out the bird bath and filling it with water.


I was cutting day lily leaves from around the oak tree…noticed the way the leaves curve around the stem of the flower. There was a rustle in an area I had already cut….a toad. I left the remaining leaves and hope I didn’t disturb the toad’s home too much.

There was also a very small black rat snake among the remaining leaves. I didn’t stay around to get a picture. I’m pleased that the leaves have provided shelter and ‘home’ for wildlife in a suburban setting!

Gleanings of the Week Ending February 16, 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.

Top 25 Wild Bird Photographs of the Week: Mountain Birds – National Geographic Society Newsroom – Starting off the gleanings this week with bird pics!

BBC - Future - The perils of short-termism: Civilization’s greatest threat – It is very difficult for individuals and groups of humans to think strategically. And maybe since we are now quite capable of catastrophically destroying civilization (atomic bombs and climate change are the two most probable) – we need to make strategic thinking a higher priority.

Could Spider Silk Become a Natural Replacement for Plastic? – Cool Green Science – It is still very far from the goal – mass production cheaply. But it is hot material science topic.

Report: Americans Are Now More Likely to Die of An Opioid Overdose Than on The Road: NPR – Gives another take on the magnitude of the opioid deaths.

Not One, Not Two, But Three Fungi Present in Lichen | The Scientist Magazine® - For a long time the textbooks used lichen to exemplify symbiosis of a lichen and a fungus. It’s more complicated than that….and it’s a good example of how science is refined over time to improve our understanding.

BBC - Future - Why it pays to declutter your digital life – Getting rid of stuff needs to be about more than the physical junk we accumulate…we now have email and photos…all kinds of digital media stored and rarely – or never – used. It’s clutter. And it might need different strategies to declutter.

Central Texas salamanders, including newly identified species, at risk of extinction -- ScienceDaily – It seems like I’m seeing several stories like this recently – a newly identified species that is already almost gone. Depressing.

Elevated Nitrate Levels Found in Millions of Americans’ Drinking Water - Yale E360 – I don’t like articles like this because they point to a situation that has negative consequences…then doesn’t have anything that individuals can do to reduce the risk. It’s very frustrating.

Flowers Sweeten Up When They Sense Bees Buzzing | Smart News | Smithsonian – Flowers increase sugar content by 12-20% within 3 minutes of hearing a bee’s buzz.

Food is medicine: How US policy is shifting toward nutrition for better health – Glad this idea is getting more attention. We’ve been way to gullible to think that medications can overcome poor day-to-day dietary habits. I hope the 2018 Farm Bill and the “Food is Medicine” working group in the House are good ‘first steps’ to change the way we think about what we eat.  

Yard Work - August 2018

I did some weeding in the front flower bed (pulling up weeds and cutting vines that were opportunistically growing into the bushes or climbing the brick façade of the house) earlier this week.


I filled a trash can full of ‘greens’ to take to the compost pile; I also had some paper shreds and veggie scraps from the kitchen to add. I took the pitchfork to punch the material down and turn it over. The compost in the bottom is already looking ‘done.’

The next job was to cut some horizontal branches in the cherry tree – trying to reduce the risk of the tree splitting if we get an ice storm this winter. I noticed a spider in a web between the house and the cherry trees…some long silk lines that I tried to avoid. It was an interesting spider although I haven’t been able to identify it yet. I’ll have to take better pictures next time.


As I walked around the house dragging the branches to the brush pile – I noticed that the sycamore had several collections of fall webworms. At least they were the native webworms and not the exotic ailanthus webworms (I saw the moth a few weeks ago at Mt. Pleasant).

Most of the branches with web worms were low enough for me to cut with the long-handled pruners. There was one higher branch that my husband cut using a ladder and saw…with me pulling the branch downward to stabilize it.

On the way back from the brush pile with the sycamore branches – I noticed a blue jay feather…a little the worse for wear but worth photographing. I left it on the stairs to the deck so I could photography it late. I picked up handfuls of sycamore leaves to put in the compost bin.


I carried my tools up to the covered deck after I was finished and awakened the cat that was enjoying a morning nap there. He seemed more curious than grumpy!

Weekend in State College - Sunday

On Sunday morning we headed to the Arboretum at Penn State.We spent the most time in the Children’s Gate Childrens Garden just like the last time we visited in October 2016 (posts about that visit are here and here). The entrance includes a water feature with a slightly stylized Great Blue Heron sculpture.

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There are areas growing food plants and models of fossils…a water feature to wade into, rocks positioned enable close examination, and a man-made cave (the included bat models hanging from the ceiling)… snake sculptures and real chipmunks that seemed to be everywhere. I kept thinking about how wonderful the garden would be for field trips!

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One of my favorite features is a bowl with kaleidoscopes positioned around it. Last time it had colorful gourds and squash. This time it had succulents.  I took pictures through the scopes!

In the rest of the garden there were many late summer blooms…and spiders too.

There was a lily pond. They had quite a variety of water lilies.

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The one lotus plant they had was spectacular. It must be a hybrid with all the extra very curly petals. I was glad I took a closer look at it.

After lunch we headed home. It was a short but spectacular jaunt into Central Pennsylvania.

Smithsonian Environmental Research Center - Part I

I spent last Friday at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) near Edgewater MD. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources had organized the day and announced it to Master Naturalists. It was a day well spent! When we were not hiking, we were in a classroom in the Mathias Lab Building, a LEED platinum facility complete with solar panels and geothermal wells.

The first lecture of the day was about spiders (and other creepy crawly critters) that sometimes are unappreciated or frightening to some people. I find myself being more interested in looking closely at spiders – although when one crawled across the ceiling of my bathroom there was still a cringe.


The first critter we saw as we gathered for our hike after the lecture was a spider almost hidden by a funnel shaped web. There were others along our route as well but they are notoriously hard to photograph.

Some of the high points of the hike for me were: Indian pipes (a non-photosynthetic flowering plant),

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Wintergreen (a plant that I’ve probably seen before but didn’t know what it was),

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The summer version of the jack-in-the-pulpit (the seeds have not turned red – yet),

A click beetle,

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Several kinds of ferns (some with spores), and

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Then out on the boardwalk to Hog Island where the phragmites is surrounding a shrinking area of cattails.

I’ll continue this post about my day at SERC tomorrow….

2018 Belmong BioBlitz – part 2

Continuing from yesterday….there was a web of very small spiders just off the path. They were all moving rapidly although it wasn’t clear where they going!

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Another benefit of the rain was the increased visibility of spider webs in the grass. Sometimes we could even see the spider hiding in the ‘funnel’ of the web.

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These small white flowers were found down by the pond. They aren’t native – probably planted sometime during Belmont’s long history - but they are propagating themselves at this point.

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The lichen and moss seemed to have richer colors because of the dampness all three days of this year’s BioBlitz.

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During one of the few times the sun came out (on the second day) – the group found a snail on blade of grass. Shortly after this picture was taken the snail’s weight bent the grass…a little drama in the meadow.

The group also documented a stand of locust trees – native but invasive; the stand was probably started by fill dirt that included the seeds.

When we started the last day, we thought it might start to rain at any time --- and were thrilled when we go about 1.5 hours of good observations – tadpoles, small insects, trees…and ropey roots under one of the big trees along the road. We headed back to the Carriage House at lunch time; it started to sprinkle as we got there.


The 2018 Belmont BioBlitz in a wrap!

Spider Webs at Brookside Gardens

Every time I volunteer at Brookside Gardens, I go a little early and look around the gardens for about 20 minutes. One day I parked at the Visitor Center parking lot rather than near the conservatory and walked the path between the two locations. The lighting was good for seeing spider webs.

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This one still looks relatively ‘new’ – no giant holes from catching some prey. Some of the anchor strands are visible too. I liked the neat semicircle shape.

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Most of the time the webs are more circular. I was disappointed that I couldn’t get a better angle on this one to see the complete web…but the spider is waiting in the center!

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Once I got close to the conservatory I noticed a lot of webs on the bushes at the side of the building. As I started photographing this one…the owner-spider made an appearance…surprising me enough that I only took one more picture of the web!

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Some of the webs in the bushes were like little hammocks and this one had relatively large water droplets. It was more three dimensional that the picture captures. I decided that I still liked the image because of the water droplets on the web (there naturally…I was not carrying around a spray bottle!) and the foliage.

One of the greatest joys of these little walks before going into the conservatory is seeing something unexpected and unique for the morning. On this sunny morning….it was the spider webs!

Spider Webs

Last week on a foggy morning, my husband commented that there was a large spider web on our mailbox. I went out to investigate. Sure enough – it was easy to spot.

The fog had left water droplets on the strands of silk. Making it more visible.

As I zoomed in – they looked more and more like beads on a string.

I noticed another web over the mailbox. It was not as organized and the camera had a challenge to focus on anything as I zoomed in. I wonder if the organization of the web indicated it was a different kind of spider than the one that built the web below.

There were different webs in the azalea near our porch but they had caught the fog as well. The webs look like gauzy nets. These spiders had evidently had recent success and were working to wrap up their prey. As I was photographing these webs, I felt a tickly on my right leg – and discovered a small ant was crawling around. Then I looked at my left leg…and there were 12 or more ants! I cut the photography session short and brushed the ants off and put baking soda water on my legs even though – amazingly – I don’t think the ants stung me at all.

Hope everyone along the path of the solar eclipse in the US today takes the opportunity to see it! Be safe and enjoy the event.

Volunteering at Wings of Fancy at Brookside Gardens XI-XIV

The first 4 shifts at Brookside Gardens’ Wings of Fancy in August were not as hot as some of the shifts in July and I settled into the rotation. The discovery station always seemed to be the most crowded hour of the shift. There is so much there: butterflies emerging from chrysalises, plants that butterflies are laying eggs on, and touch samples (laminated butterfly wings for young children…butterflies that have succumbed for adults and older children).

Before the 11th shift, I was a little late and only had time to take a few pictures along the walk up to the exhibit…but one was a Monarch butterfly; they’ve become rare enough to be a little celebration every time I see one.

The little hike before the 12th shift was on the nature center board walk where I saw a spider excise a leaf that had been blown into its web; it was a neat job and the web was left intact.

A beetle was crawling down one of the big trees.

I walked back toward some of the formal gardens and saw a dragonfly in the mulch

And some odd growths on a bald cypress (fungus?).

It was raining before the 13th shift (and for the rest of the day). I took two quick pictures with my cell phone before going into the conservatory to start my shift…some very well cypress cones

And flowers in a wet garden bed.

The 14th shift was on a bright and sunny day. I went overboard with pictures! There a spicebush butterfly fluttering around the rose garden – this is one of the few images I got that was not blurred with its motion.

The roses in the garden were covered with water droplets from morning dew…somehow I like the flowers even better with the droplets.

There was a goldfinch enjoying one of the other plants. It contorted itself to get ‘the goodie’ from the plant.

As I walked back toward the conservatory – a Monarch butterfly was enjoying some flowers…and I zoomed to focus on how it was using its proboscis.

Previous posts re Volunteering at Wings of Fancy: prep, I, II-IV, V-X.