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:


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.


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!

Belmont – March 2019

Howard County Conservancy hosted a training session at Belmont for upcoming elementary school BioBlitzes last week. I hadn’t been to the location since January, so I looked around before going into the Carriage House for class. The plane trees (they are like sycamores but are a little different – have some seed balls in pairs rather than single) seemed full of seed balls. We’ve had quite a lot of wind and the fibers holding the balls to the tree look worn at this point. I wondered how long they would stay attached after I saw the zoomed image through my camera.

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It was sad to see the stump of the red maple they had to cut down recently. Evidently it lost a lot of big branches during some of the recent winds. The colors in the stump drew my attention. The tree was not extensively rotten but there were some insect holes. The stump would have to be sanded to count the rings. The tree had been struggling in recent years, but I always pointed it out because it had small branches low enough on its trunk for children to see the flowers and leaves.

It also had a root that was above the surface and been injured by mowers…but still survived.

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I almost always pointed out the red maple to contrast with the nearby sugar maple – which is still standing with some ivy growing on it. It was a good concept for student to think through – how the trees were alike and how they were different…both maples.

The class had an outdoor portion to try out the app and tablets the students would be using. I used the time to take a few more pictures. There were crocuses blooming in the grassy area near the mailboxes.

The wind had blown pine cones and sweet gum balls into the same area.

The pond still looked like it has all winter. The clouds had rolled in while we had been indoors. And this landscape shows the dimness of the day.

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I turned back to the view the manor house and notice a maple that no longer had its upper branches. One of the them was very rotten. But the tree is still blooming!

We headed up to the cemetery and I checked the hemlock. The tree looks like the treatment for wooly adelgid has worked. I tried an experimental shot with a cone highlighted…and blurry branches above and below.

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By the time I am at Belmont again – there will be even more signs of spring.

Tree Bud Project – Week 2

It’s Friday – so I am doing an update on the tree branches I brought inside a week ago. See the previous post here. All of them seem to be surviving in the vase of water. I’ve freshened the water every few days. All the pictures are with the 15x macro clip-on lens and my smartphone.

The cherry buds have opened into small white flowers! At first the buds just looked bigger.


Two days later, the white tips showed beyond the green of the outer covering.

And the next morning the flowers were open! I took a picture of the back and front of the flowers.


The plum is slower. Some of the buds have not changed at all and I am wondering if they were damaged by cold temperatures. Some look like they are larger. I hope they eventually will open.

The red maple has bloomed and is now drooping. They are wind fertilized…so won’t make seeds in the ‘windless’ house. At first, they looked very red – like little streamers from the bud.

Then the bigger structure grew.


And now they seem to be drying out.

The tulip poplar has been changing a lot too. At first more buds opened.

Two days later all the buds were larger, and a tiny leaf had emerged from one of them.

Over the next few days other tiny leaves emerged and began to get larger. I noticed the tiny leaves while they were still folded inside the bud too. The bark of the twig seems to be a deeper color too.

I haven’t noticed any changes in the black walnut branch. If the buds do open it should be spectacular with so many buds on the tip of the branch.


The sycamore buds haven’t changed much either although they seem to be a little larger and their color has shifted to green with some red overtones.

Stay tuned to next Friday for the next tree bud report!

Tree Bud Project – Week 1

I started a project to photograph tree buds this week by cutting small branches from trees in our yard: cherry, plum, red maple, tulip poplar, black walnut, and sycamore. Unfortunately, there were no branches low enough for me to reach on our oak.


The plan is to bring the branches indoors (where it is warm) and monitor the buds – see how many of them would open indoors over the next few weeks. Once they do, I’ll check to see what is happening with the buds on the tree outdoors.

I took pictures of the buds with the 15x macro lens clipped to my smart phone…starting with the cherry. The buds are enlarging but still firmly closed. Our tree lags the blossoms down in DC around the tidal basin.


The plum buds are still very small. They already show the pink color of the flowers. The tree usually blooms after the cherry.

The red maple twig is easy to identify - opposite twigs, red buds. I was surprised that there were so few branches with buds on the lower branches; the deer must be the culprits. It took a lot of looking to find a branch I could reach with buds.


The tulip poplar already had a popped bud! The others on the branch were still closed. The leaf scars are interesting to notice too.


The black walnut has a lot of buds at the tip of the branch. This tree was also heavily browsed by deer. The branch leaked sap as I was taking pictures. Hope is it OK with the water from the vase.

Finally – the sycamore buds are still tight. In a previous year, a sycamore bud on my indoor branch opened and a tiny leaf unfurled.

I’ll be posting about the leaf buds about once a week if there is action to report.

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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Zooming – January 2019

I have a bigger than usual group of images for the zooming post this month – primarily from a trip from Florida last week. They’ll be more details in posts coming out over the next few weeks. So sit back and enjoy the slide show. It only includes one snow picture!

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!


Conowingo Dam

Back in December we made a trek to Conowingo Dam. The dam was generating electricity and the spillways were open. The water was high and moving fast. A rainbow formed where the mist kicked up from the spillway flow. Almost all the rocks where the eagles and herons normally perch were under water!

The bridge abutment where bald eagles perched during previous visits only has a few gulls and gulls were the only birds we saw in the river too. The river was so strong that the fish were probably not making it close to the dam (when they do – when the water is not as swift – they attract all the fish-eating birds like eagles and herons and cormorants).

There was debris on the few rocks that were not covered by water and on the spit of the island containing the big electrical towers.

The lower part of the fishing park was closed because of high water.

I satisfied my self with some pictures of sycamores – seeds just above where we were standing and the white bark tracery on the other side of the river.

2018 was a record year for rain where we live and that is evidently true for much of the Susquehanna watershed as well. We’ll have to wait to go again when it hasn’t rained for a few weeks and the fishing will be good for the eagles at the dam.

Sunrise and Sunset

One day last week I had serendipity photo ops first thing in the morning and just as the day was ending. In the morning I looked out the front of the house and saw three deer munching on the day lily leaves around our oak. By the time I got my camera, there were only two left. I trimmed the leaves more than a month ago as they began to look ragged and was surprised that they grew back. They are probably some of the most tender green leaves around right now. The day was cloudy and wet so even though the sun had been ‘up’ for about an hour, it was still relatively dark.

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Near sunset I noticed the color reflected on the clouds. They were moving rapidly so the shapes were changing. Our sycamore was already in silhouette with the vibrant color in the background.

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A few minutes later the clouds still looked very orange. I zoomed to some distant tulip poplars that still had a few leaves.

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Back to our sycamore in silhouette – the cloud has the shape of some creature with two big eyes and a toothless mouth…maybe a little like Jabba the Hutt.

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Then the color was down in the trees. We don’t have a clear few of the sunset since there is a forest to our west. It was a nice end-view for the day.

Saturday Hike – Part II

We started down from the Howard County Conservancy’s Belmont Carriage House shortly after 10 AM with 21 hikers. I wanted to make good time for the downhill part of the hike to the Patapsco River in the Avalon area of the state park. I didn’t stop for any pictures. Until we got down to the river.

The water was cloudy with silt and the gravel bars that used to be in the center (where tiger swallowtail butterflies liked to puddle in the summer) were gone. The high volume of rainfall has swept them way. The shallows don’t look so shallow any more.

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I noticed a stand of young sycamores as we started back. I wondered if they were planted or had just come up from seeds. There are not many truly large trees along the river because of the violence of the floods.

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The paths were muddy and sometimes slippery with wet leaves. The rain from the night before was still running off. There were two downed trees across the trail at one point…the leaves on one still looked fresh – like it might have fallen the night before. It was easy enough to go under them rather than over.

We’d had enough dry days that there were some noticeable shelf fungi but none of the brightly colored ‘new’ ones that appear after several days of rain.

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There was a light coating of leaves on the forest floor but a lot of green too.

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We knew were past the half way point going back when we came to the Morning Choice Trail.

There were more signs of trees that had fallen recently. I zoomed in on part of this one when I saw a funnel spider web that looked a lot like an owl!

We came out through the stand of big leaf magnolias and into the trail beside a hay field and thne were within sight of the carriage house shortly after noon. I had my 12,000 steps for the day!

Composting at Home – October 2018


After 3+ months of use my compost bin no longer looks pristine.

I have started piling small sticks around it to cut down on the rain drop splatter from the bare soil under the red maple. The maple roots are very dense and close to the surface…the shade very deep…nothing grows very well there and the soil is eroding down to the maple roots. It has been a good place to put the bin and I’ll leave some of the compost in place with sticks to hold it ---- and hopefully encourage more vegetation to grow. The brush pile is having that effect further down the slope.


We are just beginning to have leaves on the ground – oak and sycamore mostly.

I’ve been using the leaf blower in reverse with a bag attached to catch the lightly shredded leaves. The process works best when the leaves are dry (a challenge recently with all the rain we’ve been getting) and on hard services like the driveway, street gutters, and deck. I’ve discovered that a little shredding goes a long way speeding decomposition.


I typically add the veggie scraps from the kitchen on top then turn some leaves over it. Recently I’ve had more because fall veggies tend to have seeds and skins compost. I’ve also admitted to myself that I don’t eat nearly as many potatoes as I used to.

Even though we’ve been getting rain, the compost probably needs to be watered to ‘cook’ as quickly as possible. The shredded leaves can absorb a lot of moisture, so my plan is to add water with every bag of leaves. The hose barely reaches from the faucet to the compost’s bin location. I’ll have to think about where else I might put it that would be easier to reach and not too close to the house.

Cooler Days – Little Fall Color

Here it is the end of September and most of the leaves are still on the trees and green. The ones that have fallen are brown.

Our oak is a good example of that. Looking at the ground it looks like half the leaves have fall but the tree still looks like it has plenty more. (The ruler in the picture is me learning to take better documentary pictures for trees.)

In the back of our house, the red maple has no red leaves. Usually it starts out with a few that show up surrounded by green. But right now it’s still a wall of green although there are leaves on the ground that are brown.

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The tulip poplar usually has some yellow leaves surrounded by green. Some of the leaves look like they might be turning but even the zoomed image looks like a wall of green.

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There are some green tulip poplar leaves that have fallen in recent heavy rains…but overall the tree still has a lot of green leaves attached.

The sycamore has been dropping brown leaves but still has a lot of green ones on the tree. It’s usual the first to drop leaves. This year some are staying on the tree but there are still more green than brown ones.

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We’ve gotten a lot more rain than usual in September (almost 11 inches rather than the historical average of 4.6 inches) and the trees may be impacted by that. There is a lot of mud even in the grassy areas of our yard.

The end of October is generally the time the leaves fly from the trees, so I am still anticipating fall color. It just seems that there are too many brown leaves on the ground already.

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!

Morning Walk at Mt. Pleasant (part 2)

Today I’m focusing on the plants I photographed during my morning walk earlier this week at Howard County Conservancy’s Mt. Pleasant. The seed pods on the sweet bay magnolia are in all stages of development: from green to

Seeds bursting from the pod (I always think they look like red M&Ms) and then pods that are mostly empty and dry.


There are always chicory flowers after each rain. I liked the blurs of yellow and green behind this macro image.


Goldenrod is beginning to bloom. Goldenrod is one of the nectar plants for butterflies into the fall. People thought it caused their terrible fall allergies but now ragweed is said to be the primary culprit.

There was Queen Ann’s Lace in the meadow as well. It’s always interesting to me how different a plant appears in the macro view.

As I hiked along the narrow path near the stream there was a young sycamore that had leaves that were beginning to lose their chlorophyll for fall. The leaves were backlit so I took some macro images to show the changes.


There are still new leaves being unfurled on the tree too; this one was about the size of a dime.


Thistles are not very friendly looking! Too many prickles.


Bind weed is an occasional plant in the meadow. The flowers always look like they have little pleats.


This mint flower – taken from above with the macro lens – was coated with morning dew.


Dandelions are always attention getters. They look a bit like bursts of fireworks…or yellow streamers.


Even the clovers that are usually not noticed have a unique beauty seen through the macro lens.

Do you recognize mile-a-minute? It’s an invasive plant that grows very quickly and has wicked thorns.

And now for the Pokeweed. The ones I photographed were still blooming and the fruits that were formed were still green. They’ll turn purple later…and the stem will be bright pink. I’ll remember to photograph the plants through the fall to track their development.

By the end of the walk – I was hot…ready to cool off in the air-conditioned car as I drove home and to drink a lot of water.

Belmont Hikes with Summer Campers III

Yesterday I was at Howard County Conservancy’s Belmont for photography hikes with the summer campers. We could hike because the rain moved out during the night and the morning was sunny. The cardinal flowers near the entrance were blooming well after the deluge of the previous days.

I started off the younger group with an activity looking at sycamore leaves from the branches I had cut from my tree at home: looking at the holes made by caterpillars and comparing the sizes of the leaves. We made a pattern on the pavers of the patio in front of the Carriage House as a subject for our first photographs.

We found a very small caterpillar on one of the leaves.


Then we went around to the other side of the house and looked at the pollinator garden and the surrounding vegetation.

The older group of campers went to the formal gardens behind the manor house. There were three kinds of butterflies that I managed to photograph….but missed the monarch that some of the campers managed to catch on the cone flowers. I took the common buckeye, a cabbage white, and a hairstreak (maybe a gray hairsteak). The last one was new to me….had to look at it closely when I got hope. It looks like it has antennae on both ends!

We gathered around the water feature in the gardens and enjoyed the variety water lilies and a lotus growing there. There were bees – usually head down – in several flowers.

Dragonflies are hard to capture with cell phone type camera (which is what most of the campers were trying to use) but everyone saw them…and I managed a picture.

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Behind the formal gardens – the campers with cell phones experimented with the macro lens to photograph lichen.

There were tree roots damaged by mowers that look like eyes in the soil!


Overall – a good day for hiking and photography!

Mt. Pleasant Nature Photography on a Rainy Day

This is the week I do nature photography with summer campers at Howard County Conservancy’s Mt. Pleasant and Belmont. The photography day at Mt. Pleasant was very rainy. It was the first time the weather kept us from the hiking/photo shoot. I cut some lower hanging branches from the sycamore in my yard and we used them for photography and to study the size variation…and the holes in the leaves. All three groups of campers (grouped by ages 5-12) did something with the leaves.


There were a few critters that we found on the covered porch of the nature center: a daddy-long-legs that become very interested in the pile of sycamore leaves,

A slug on a log that had come in from the floor of the nearby forest, and a house centipede that seemed to be just escaping the rain. All three critters stayed around for the 3 hours we were working.

I got some other things out from the storeroom: snake skin, antlers, skulls, honey comb, a nautilus shell, pelts from a racoon an fox.

One of the most popular items was a talon from a red shouldered hawk.


I had my clip on macro lens for campers that were using cell phone cameras. The tattered butterfly wings were popular objects for that experimentation.

The very last group was the luckiest of all because it stopped raining for a little while and we went out into the Honors garden a few steps from the porch. The campers took pictures of flowers and

An Achemon Sphinx moth that was wet and twitching on the ground near one of the flower beds – probably after being bitten by a spider.


I had a few minutes between groups and was thrilled when a couple of hummingbirds braved the sprinkles of rain and came to the feeder!

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I would rather have hiked with the campers…but we managed a ‘next best’ on a rainy day in Maryland.

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.


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 - - 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!

Belmont Hikes with Summer Campers I

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I have started weekly hikes with summer campers at Howard County Conservancy’s Belmont location. The theme for this week was ‘Fossils and Feathers’ – to I focused on birds during the hike. The cardinal flowers near the entrance to the Carriage House (the camp headquarters) have evidently attracted some hummingbirds but there were too many people about while I was there to see them.

I was early enough that I walked around to see how the butterfly meadow looks during its first season. It’s mostly grass!

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I photographed some of the flowers that are there among the grass. I hope the butterflies find them!

There were two groups of campers; the first group to hike were the younger children. We hiked down to the pond. There are birdhouses along the way down the grassy path through the newly mowed field. The tree swallows were very active…and then we saw purple martins in their house and flying off toward the pond. Turkey vultures made slow circles in the sky. There were red-winged black birds around the pond and we talked about other birds that like to be around water; Great Blue Herons and Wood Ducks both came up in the talk. We also saw dragon flies at the pond and talked about how they lay their eggs in the water. We hiked back along the tree lined drive to the manor house and stopped at the sycamore; we noticed the pieces of bark on the ground and agreed that next time they go to the stream they might try the curls of bark as ‘boats.’

I had a break between the two groups. I found a chair in the shade and took pictures of birds at the feeders and nearby trees.

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There were red-winged blackbirds, goldfinches, a red-bellied woodpecker, and a mockingbird. I was hearing the mockingbird long before I managed to see it.

The second hike was a bit longer. We walked along the edge of the forest then went a short way in…listening for birds in several places along the way. We heard birds…but didn’t see any except doves and vultures. There was a lot of other things to see: a deer, a tiger swallowtail, chicory, wineberry, sweet gum balls, lichen, a cicada’s shed.

In both groups we found a few feathers to talk about. I enjoyed the hikes…and I think the campers did too.


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Sycamores are common in our area near rivers and streams particularly. They tend to get their leaves late and loose them early in the fall. Right now – in June – they are about their best looking with their foliage still mostly intact. Later in the season, the many of the leaves will have holes or be partially eaten away. A lot of insects depend on those leaves for food. The leaves keep growing all during the season getting larger and larger…bigger than dinner plates…plenty to go around for the insect company.

Looking up int the tree, the whiteness where the outer bark has peeled way I a little noticeable – not the standout feature that it will be in winter.

This time of year, there are still some very tiny leaves. They are lighter in color than the bigger leaves and from far away look something completely different than a leaf…a little decoration at the ends of all the branches.

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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.