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 – January 2019

As usual – it is easy for me to find little celebrations every day…and here are the top 10 for January 2019.

Getting rid of ‘stuff’ – My husband and I celebrated taking two loads of ‘stuff’ to the landfill (trash and recycling) and donation. I feel like we are finally making progress in getting rid of things we no longer need. We managed to fix 4 floor lamps that we thought were broken…just before we were set to take them to the landfill.

Wedding anniversary – My husband and I usually have a quiet celebration when our wedding anniversary comes around just after Christmas and the beginning of the year. We’re always pleased with ourselves for becoming long-time marrieds….but realize that it has been easier for us than it is for so many others.

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A morning hike at Mt. Pleasant – It was muddy but otherwise an excellent day for a winter hike. I enjoyed getting outdoors.

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New hiking boots – I celebrated getting new hiking boots. The lining of my 4-year-old boots was tearing. I bought the same brand (Merrell) but waterproof and a little wider to leave more room for bunions and thick socks.

No cavities – I went to the dentist for a checkup and celebrated ‘no cavities’ or anything else that required follow-up! It’s been that way for the past few appointments…and I’m glad my teeth seem to be OK and stable.

Anticipating Zentangle class – I registered for a Zentangle class scheduled for late March and started working through the pre-work….what a joy and worth celebrating both the tiles I am creating now and the anticipation of a great experience in the class.

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Walking in snow at Belmont – I celebrated the beauty of snow on the landscape….and that my boots didn’t leak!

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Witch hazel blooming – What a thrill to find the burst of color in the browns, dark greens, and whites of a winter day! I like that the petals are like little streams as well…. appropriate for a celebration.

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Peppermint snow ice cream – Yum! Yes, I was very cold after I ate it but is was well worth it…celebration-worthy food!

Macro photograph collection – I celebrated the macro photographs I’d made over the past year or so as I prepared charts for a presentation. I have enjoyed the clip on macro lens more than any other photography accessory!

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.

Mt Pleasant in January 2019 – Part 1

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My first hike at Howard County Conservancy’s Mt. Pleasant was last week on a cold, blustery day after a night rain. We were prepared for the cold and managed to work our way around the muddy parts of the trails. The sun played hide and seek with the clouds. I was taking pictures of winter trees. I am very familiar with a black walnut near the rock wall on the meadow side.

The nuts on the ground all around it would give it away even if I didn’t know it was a black walnut. I am always amazed that the squirrels can get the shells open with their teeth.

The path along the wall was in relatively good shape – still mostly covered with grass. We didn’t go all the way down to the Davis Branch…but cut across the meadow mid-way down the hill.

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We took the long way around to an overlook of the Branch since the lower trails were too muddy to attempt.

The water was not high, but everything looked wet. I was noticing the beech trees – easy to identify by their smooth bark.

One of the root balls that had been placed upside down in the restored part of the stream had been washed downstream by an earlier flood…and was still balanced where I’d seen it last fall. It will stay there until the next big flood. It had a collapsed pillow-like orange fungus growing on it.

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A river birch is easy to identify with its curly bark.

As we turned back toward the nature center, I noted that one of the trees across the smaller stream had finally rotted enough to collapse.

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The only ‘bloom’ I saw on the hike was the beginning of the witch hazel bloom on the tree near the farmhouse. The streamer like petals are still curled up in the opening flowers. I’ll have to remember to look at the tree every time I go to Mt. Pleasant over the next month or so!

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Cold and Blustery at Mt. Pleasant

Last week, the Howard County Conservancy hosted a Weather Conference for representative 6th grade students from 10 middle schools in the county….about 100 students with their teachers.

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It was sunny…but cold with wind gusts up to 50 mph. The plan to have students interact with tree experts while they worked on a large tulip poplar was nixed because of the potential of branches falling with the higher winds.

I was bundled up and outside for most of the conference – directing groups of students to their sessions and directing small groups to the County’s Emergency Services Command Unit. When all was quiet, I took a few pictures. I like the colors of the ferns as some fronds succumb to the cold.

There was a pine cone that seemed to be glowing from within because of the way the sun was shining on it.

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The tulip poplars are releasing their seeds.

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I am always surprised when I see the heron sculpture. I know it’s there but somehow forget.

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There were some small branches torn off by the buses making the tight turn after they let the students off close to the building.

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There were two things blooming: a witch hazel where most of the petals had already fallen (it will be forming seed pods) and some unknown flower that was in the flower bed near the flower pot people. The flower is probably warped by the cold but is still a welcome bit of color in the wintery landscape.

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By 1 PM the students were climbing on buses and the clean up of the big room was underway.

A few minutes observing…witch hazel

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On a very wet morning earlier this week – I arrived at Howard County Conservancy’s Mt Pleasant Farm before a field trip with 1st graders and spent a few minutes observing witch hazel. There is one that I knew was blooming close to the Gudelsky Center entrance. It’s a low growing tree; in a forest it would be in the understory. This time of year, the leaves are yellow.

The flowers have petals that look like curly streamers coming out of the center part of the flower. On this plant they were pale yellow.

I kept by cell phone pointed downward to keep any rain from getting on the lens of the camera. It was raining enough that I needed to dry off the front of the cell phone as I walked inside.

Zooming – March 2018

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I use the zoom on my camera for some many reasons – to frame the picture I want (taking out some items in the foreground),

To get a shot that looks close up without having to get close to the object either because what I want to photograph is too high, there is a barrier, or I don’t want to go traipsing through ice and snow.

Sometimes I use the zoom to get a better view than I can get with my eyes – particularly with wildlife that would not sit still if I moved any closer to them.