Brookside Gardens – February 2019

My husband and I opted to walk the outside part of Brookside Gardens first on a cold day in February – planning to warm up in the conservatory before we headed back home. We didn’t make it all the way around the gardens (too cold) but there was plenty to see in the part we did manage.

There were dried flower heads from last summer – wonderful texture in their light browns. There is a fragility to their beauty too.

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There were several kinds of witch hazel – probably the most colorful deciduous tree this time of year.

The cold damaged ferns often look more artsy to me than all green ferns. Their color is more varied.

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And then there are the small bulbs of spring blooming. I was surprised I didn’t see any crocus.

And then we headed into the warm conservatory; that’s the topic for tomorrow’s post.

Signs of Spring

Last week, a kindergarten class was the first field trip of the ‘spring’ at Howard County Conservancy’s Mt. Pleasant Farm. The temperature was in the 30s and there was a little breeze – very wintery feeling. The children and I had our coats zipped, hoods up, and gloves on. We hiked and looked for signs of spring….and remnants of other seasons.

We saw daffodils coming up and snow drops blooming…signs of spring. We looked at holly with its shiny green leaves and red berries which is often symbolic of winter. One holly was leaning over the snow drop bed.

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We saw evidence of squirrels around: lots of opened black walnut shells which had been their food all during the winter. We searched the trees for squirrel nests but decided that the strong winds recently must have blown the nests away.

There were some trees that had been cut down recently. We noted that the centers had been rotting which was probably why they had been cut. The largest stump was near the farm house and the children crowded onto it for their teacher to take a field trip picture!

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The children were surprised to see the witch hazel in bloom and learning that it normally blooms in late winter. They saw the brown leaves on the ground and still clinging to the branches of the tree – correctly identifying them as the leaves from last summer/fall.

There was a winter jasmine with buds of all sizes – and a single flower. It was another sign of spring on the way. They were surprised at the different sizes of buds and identified the ones that were about ready to open.

In the old orchard, we looked at the buds on the apple trees and the pear tree – deciding that the pear tree would probably bloom first based on way the buds looked.

By the end of the hike – they were ready for a little warm up in the nature center then back outdoors for a focused lesson starting with looking for animal tracks in the muddy areas.

It was a good start to the ramp up of spring field trips!

Ten Little Celebrations – February 2019

February is usually a quiet month for me – not much going on. February 2019 was dominated by the birding after the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival in January, family visits, and celebration of the staff where I volunteer. It seemed like a busier than usual February.

Conversations with my daughter – I celebrated my daughter being more available recently. Seeing her forging ahead in her career and life is something to savor. It feels good to see how wonderfully independent and caring she is these days.

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Icy day – staying indoors – Ice is much worse than snow but has its own beauty. This one was easy for me to celebrate since I didn’t need to get out and none of our trees were damaged.

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Snow day – What’s not to like about a snowy day if I can stay at home. Since I am retired…staying at home when I want to is easy. I celebrate every snow day – taking pictures and making snow ice cream. On our most recent snow day, the weather was warming to 50 degrees the next day, so we didn’t even shovel the drive way.

Spring-like day – And then we had a breezy day in the 50s. I celebrated that this will become the norm in a few short weeks.

Books – On all the cold days, I enjoyed good books on my PC, on my iPad and regular books. Celebrating all the forms that books come in these days.  

Cleaning out progress – We have so many things in our house that we no longer need or use but getting motivated to collect and then donate, recycle, or trash things is challenging. I am celebrating that I am making some progress…building the will-power to continue the trend.

Howard County Conservancy staff – The volunteers held a big celebration for the staff of our favorite non-profit this month. The staff makes volunteering a pleasure and a shared celebration is one way we show it.

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Downy woodpecker – I was home in cold, snowy, or icy weather and enjoyed birding from my office window. I celebrated many of the sightings…the downy woodpecker the most. It’s small, it’s hyper, and it seems to enjoy both our trees and our feeder.

Pink egg salad – I discovered that adding a few slices of beet to hard-boiled eggs and mayonnaise in the small food processor makes beautiful, spreadable egg salad…celebration worthy food.

Headspace app – I subscribed to the Headspace app and am doing a meditation prompt every day. I am celebrating how easy it is to get started and keep going with this app.

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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January Sunrises

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I used the Sun Alarm app on my phone to remind me a bit before sunrise each day this month. My plan was to photograph sunrises. It worked great on the 1st. There were a few clouds to reflect the color near the beginning of the sunrise then they thickened, and the rest of the sunrise blinked out.

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There were a lot of very cloudy days with no color. On the 3rd, it was cloudy, but the clouds had an interesting texture so a took a picture anyway.

The 7th was probably the best overall sunrise of the month. The clouds and color were good for the whole sunrise

And the sun on the trees to the west of our house was rosy too.

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On the 9th, the clouds appeared to be too thick in the east for any sunrise color but a little after sunrise there was a break in the clouds and the color was very red on trees behind (to the west) of our house. The tulip poplar pods looked surreal!

There were some scattered clouds on the 10th that preceded a sunny morning.

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The sunrise on the 14th and 17th were so cloudy the color could barely be seen.

Overall – I am planning to keep the Sun Alarm going in February…and recording the best sunrises of the month.

Twigs and Witch Hazel

I have been looking more closely at twigs of trees recently and trying out simple dichotomous keys. As an example: here is one I looked at during a class on winter tree identification. Looking at the full branch – it was obvious that the leaf scars were opposite. Next, we needed to look at the leaf scars in more detail. There were hand lenses for everyone but I used my 15x lens clipped to my phone so I could share what I was seeing. The leaf scar was D shaped and had three bundles. And the new growth was red. We had to break the twig to smell it…its didn’t smell rank, so it was a RED MAPLE.

It turns out that multiples buds at the twig tip is indicative of maples and oaks…and that maples are opposite, and oaks are alternate. So – it’s possible to take a picture looking up into a tree and make a tentative identification. For example – this was a picture I took in my neighborhood with alternate branching and multiple buds at the end of the twigs – an OAK.  I had been using the relative height of the trees in my neighborhood (oaks are taller) but this identification is better and maybe easier too for the street trees planted by the builder 25-30 years ago – oaks and maples.

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I couldn’t resist taking a picture of the crumpled bark on the red maple twig. I wonder if they smooth out as the twig grows when the weather warms?

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On a more colorful note: be on the look out for witch hazels. Some bloom in the fall but others bloom now. There is one at Howard Country Conservancy’s Mt. Pleasant location that I am watching. Hopefully bitterly cold weather will not damage the flowers that are beginning to unfurl.

Winter Tree Identification – Part 2

Continuing from yesterday -

Seeds that help with identification include tulip poplar (the pods stay on the trees releasing the seeds during the winter breezes to clog up any nearby gutters!),

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Osage orange (that fall to the ground and are only moved around my people these days…they were planted for fence rows after the dust bowl because they are hardy, and the seed balls are easily broken apart and planted),

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Sweet gum (the spikey seeds are a hazard in suburban yards and drive ways), and

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Black walnuts (there are always nuts under the tree but the squirrels may carry then a little further away so look at the shape of the tree too).

Of course – there are trees that are not as easy to identify. That’s why I carry a small book – Winter Tree Finder – when I am hiking in the winter and looking at trees. I found mine at a used book sale, but they are available new from Amazon as well.

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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!

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January Composting

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Egg shells, apple cores, popcorn (the kernels that didn’t pop), a potato and collard stems…not a lot to go back to the pile these early weeks of the year. I picked a sunny day earlier this week to take what I had collected from the kitchen. I put on my boots since we’d had enough rain, I expected it still might be muddy in places. As it turned out, it wasn’t that bad, but I tried to stay on the grass as much as possible.

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After dumping the fresh stuff, I used a pitchfork to turn the pile the best I could. There are a lot of pine needles and leaves…no need to add ‘browns’ right now. I can add all the food waste I generate until spring and just turn it under. In the spring, I’ll move the bin to a new place and put the parts that haven’t totally decomposed yet to it while distributing the compost around the yard.

Texas Sunrise

I was in Texas last week (Carrollton near Dallas to be precise). They were experiencing their first round of cold weather. The first morning I got up to early enough to see the sunrise (not hard this time of year).

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The garden still had a surprising amount of green I wondered how long it would be before the plants succumbed to frost. There were some that already had dried to brown (leaves and flowers) but the soft greens of oxalis and sedum

And the brighter colors of kale dominated the view.

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I took my pictures and hurried back inside…it was cold. Little did I know that the next 3 days would be cloudy…and then wet.

Winter Flowers

My husband bought roses for our January wedding anniversary…and the baby’s breath and greenery that lasted longer than then the roses prompted me to buy a general bouquet of flowers last week at the grocery store. I’ll probably buy another two or three before some of the spring emergence begins with the trees and bulbs in our yard.

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Adding color to the breakfast area table is something to savor in the winter when the dominate color outside is brown…and the days here are mostly cloudy. Color lightens my mood – whether it comes from flowers on the table or birds seen through the window!

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We have so much growing around the outside of our house that I’ve never grown houseplants. They would fill the gap in color I am feeling right now….but I’d also have to care for them for the rest of the year. I’m sticking with the purchased cut flowers for January through mid-March!

Soups for Winter

Homemade soups are my winter lunch favorites. I like Root Soup: easy to make with fresh beet, potato, and carrot…seasoned with onion, garlic and basil. I let it cook long enough for the vegetables to become soft enough to mash a little. The pumpkin seeds on top provide just enough crunch (and protein too).

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I’ve already had a cold (and ear infection) this year and Homemade Chicken Noodle soup tasted so good. I made it several different ways. This one started with chicken bouillon with orange peel, dried onions and garlic, soba noodles and canned chicken. The soba noodles only take about 5 minutes to cook. While the soup bubbled on the stove, I use the scissors to cut up some arugula into the bowl. At the end of the 5 minutes, I poured the hot liquid over the greens – gave a stir. The arugula was part of the soup but not overcooked! So good… and just what I needed to get better.

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Gleanings of the Week Ending December 30, 2017

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 #118 – National Geographic Society – As usual – I can’t resist bird pictures. So many birds….all around the world.

Learning Center Classes and Field Excursions — North Cascades Institute – I’m adding this to my list of places to check out when I get round to planning a vacation in the US Pacific Northwest.

Ancient Maya Heritage Comes Alive...With Some Help from Google and the British Museum | Smart News | Smithsonian and the Preserving Maya Heritage Site – Be prepared to spend some time with the second link if you are interested in Mayan culture at all.

The Woman Who Shaped National Geographic – A short biography of Eliza Scidmore….writer and photographer.

Shutdown of coal-fired power plant results in significant fetal health improvement in downwind areas -- ScienceDaily – A study close to home…a power plan in Pennsylvania…the health impact happened down wind of the plant in New Jersey. An example of the need for multi-state studies (and Federal involvement) …and another reason to reduce generation of electricity using coal-fired plants.

NASA Unveils Finalists for Its Next New Frontiers Mission | Smart News | Smithsonian - A mission to Saturn’s moon Titan (from Applied Physics Lab) and a sample-return mission to a comet (from Cornell). Both projects will be funding through the end of 2018…then one will be chosen.

Bees use invisible heat patterns to choose flowers -- ScienceDaily – Heat pattern on such flowers as poppies and daisies can be 4-5 degrees warmer than the rest of the flower!

BBC - Future - Educationism: The hidden bias we often ignore – Some idea on how to improve: acknowledge that bias exists and use assessment as a tool for education (how to improve) rather than for selection. It turns out that many factors beyond an individual’s control can hinder potential.

Tiny red animals dart in the dark under the ice of a frozen Quebec lake -- ScienceDaily – A surprise for winter researchers – previously the assumption was that everything was on hold during the winter.

Five Surprising Ways Your Christmas Tree Can Give Back Long After the Holidays – Cool Green Science – Maybe there are other things to do with a ‘real’ Christmas tree after the holiday.

Keeping Warm on Cold Winter Days

We’ve been having winter weather for the past few weeks and I’ve been applying the usual tactics for keeping comfortably warm.

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  • Wearing thick socks in my house rather than going barefoot (my feet are most comfortable sans shoes). My sister had gotten me ‘cuddle socks’ the past two Christmases and they are my favorites for ‘at home’ days.
  • Enjoying sweaters and sweatshirts. The T-shirts and lighter weight tops are put away for the season. We keep our house comfortably warm…assuming we are wearing our winter clothes.
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Most skirts are packed away. I have one heavy brocade skirt that I wear for special occasions with tights or leggings under it.

  • Hurray for corduroy. Heavy jeans are OK too.
  • If I want to be warmer, I wear a sweater cape or cardigan. If I am moving around enough, I don’t need it.

If I am going outdoors for a short time – the essential outer layer includes coat, gloves that work with my cell phone, a scarf/hat, and boots (either hiking boots or dressier lined boots).

If I will be outdoors for longer – birding for example – I add to ‘quick trip’ gear:  wear ski bibs over leggings, a balaclava for my head, and a hoody under my coat and then over my head.  Handwarmers and footwarmers are well worth it to. A thermos of hot tea is welcome too!

Mt. Pleasant – December 2017

I took a short walk around Howard County Conservancy’s Mt Pleasant Farm yesterday morning after delivering the reports of the conservation easement monitoring. This was probably the last trek there until January, so I took the opportunity to look around at the signs of winter. There were still some patches of snow in shady places and I realized this was the first time I’d been at Mt. Pleasant when there was snow on the ground.

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Montjoy Barn has its doors closed. The ramp retained some snow.

The path to the meadow was soggy and icy at the same time.

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I walked a little ways down toward the stream until I decided the wind was making it feel very cold. I did a quick zoom series on a round of hay in the field on the other side of the trees that mark where the stream divides the meadow from what’s beyond.

There was a large clump of grass with curly seed heads moving in the wind. I headed back toward the parking lot.

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The high point of the walk about was tracks in the little bit of snow. There would have been more and better ones if I’d gotten there earlier.

Just as I turned to leave I noticed a fluffed cardinal in a tangle of branches. He was on his way to the bird feeders in the Honors Garden.

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