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Wildflowers Blooming at Patapsco Valley State Park

On Thursday, I enjoyed a short hike after work on the Rockburn Branch Trail at Patapsco Valley State Park. I noticed this jack-in-the-pulpit and other blooms along the way. In my pre-Master Naturalist days, I either would’ve been hiking this trail for time and more worried about being in the correct heart rate zone or I would’ve been zipping by on my mountain bike intensely focused on the trail. Either way, I never would’ve noticed these treasures.

Inspired by Nature – Art Quilts at Cylburn Arboretum

Well, sometimes nature is just “inside” my door, or at least someone’s vision or representation of nature, in an art form. Cylburn Arboretum is hosting an art exhibit of hand-crafted quilts titled: Reflections of Nature Captured in Stitches. The quilts are the work of the Baltimore Heritage Quilters’ Guild. I enjoyed seeing how artists are inspired by nature and the level of detail and creativity they use to bring their vision to life.

My favorites:

A Week’s View of Nature

My observances of nature this past week in Harford, Howard, and Baltimore counties:

  • Highlight: red-tailed hawk at intersection of Charles St. & Bellona Ave. in Towson
  • Baby frog crossing the road at Oregon Ridge Nature Center:

 

  • A lunchtime walk at Robinson Nature Center:

  • skunk cabbage blooming:

  • Wasps !! no pic though 🙂
  • Color! :

 

  • As quickly as they appeared, some bulbs are already spent:

 

Celebrating Spring – The Vernal Equinox

        

The 1st day of spring! We smile. We cheer. And we breathe a big sigh of relief that winter is officially over. No matter how mild our winter was, we’re glad to put it behind us.

Celebrating the return of increased daylight, growth & birth goes back in time as far as legends and lore tell us. The symbols of our current religious and commercial festivities have their roots in those ancient traditions.

The 1st day of spring is actually the date of the vernal equinox, when the earth is tilted neither toward nor away from the sun – the sun is in the same plane as the earth’s equator. This means that the day is equally as long as the night.

From now until the summer solstice, days will get longer. Longer daylight means growth, warmth, energy and renewal. Look around outside and that’s clear – flowers are blooming, birds are nesting, and animals are mating. For cultures more attuned to, and dependent upon, the seasonal changes of nature, this inspired festivals and rituals.

Rabbits, or hares, symbolized fertility and birth, as did eggs. Those have evolved into our Easter bunny and baskets. The dates of some of our religious holidays are grounded upon the date of the vernal equinox: Easter falls on the Sunday after the first full moon following the March equinox and Passover usually falls on the first full moon after the equinox. Many other religious and cultural commemorations are marked by the date of the vernal equinox and the return of spring.

How are you celebrating the return of spring?

Transforming My TownHome Backyard Into A Native Garden – The “Before”

Enjoying this unseasonably warm weather, I headed to my backyard garden this morning to do “one quick thing” before leaving for my commitments. That “one quick thing” evolved into a few hours of trimming, planting, and trash-collecting before I remembered I was supposed to be somewhere else.

(Luckily when I went outside & forgot about everything else, I had not left anything on the stove. I’ve done that before … Smoke detectors are THE BEST INVENTION EVER!)

My entire backyard is a garden, none of it is lawn. But everything that I’ve planted was chosen because it was “pretty” and its growing conditions matched my yard. Through my Naturalist work though, I’ve learned about the importance of native plants. So I’ve planned to convert my backyard into a native garden, or wildlife habitat.

“Wildlife” being birds, butterflies, insects, frogs — that sort of thing. Not wildlife like coyotes. (Tho do I have a choice as to what wildlife comes into my garden??)

So some days you just gotta go with the flow. And that makes Sunday as Day #1 of BackYard Transformation. To track my progress, I took some pics of my garden as it is today. I’m not sure why I waited til dusk to take photos … so they are poorer quality. I’ll replace if I get home any day this week when it’s still light

From my back door, looking down the right side of the yard:

Front part of garden: hellebores, perennial geraniums, and a few other “pretty” plants. Likely, none of them are native:

 

Decoration: bird bath and lantern:

Two rose bushes. I had planted five rosebushes the autumn before the blizzards. From the sheer volume of snow, and the the soggy soil for months after, I lost about 80% of my plants. But these two rosebushes thrived incredibly well:

I hope to get my garden certified under the  “Bay-Wise Landscape Management” program. One criteria is having a woodpile for animals and birds to hide and rest. I saved the trimmings accumulated today to make my brush pile, next to a group of things to take to the landfill for disposal:

Trimmed back butterfly bushes along the back fence:

Looking down the left side of the garden; I spent most of my time on Sunday clearing out this area:

This was a seating area / terrace. It will become a water garden – which also would fulfill the “Bay-Wise” criteria. I’ll move my gazing ball here:

Extended view of entire area to become a water garden. I hope to have a frog or two:

I used to have a fountain here. And I have a random, unplanted mulberry bush that invited itself into my yard. I think this area will be used for another shrub or a small tree. I’m considering an American Holly. I’ve placed a few ornaments in the area to get a spatial idea if a large shrub/small tree will work here:

A weigela and the back end of my garden, an area I’ve used for storage:

My backyard garden gate and trellis. The gate needs work, after multiple attempts at breaking-in, or just vandalism:

I also have a small circle garden that I’ve used for herbs, but no pic.

Spring Has Exploded!

Spring has exploded! This week was a sensory dessert of color, song, and scent.

  •  2 separate hawk sightings (who knew the ramp from Broken Land Pkwy onto Rt 32 is a hot hawk-viewing spot??)
  • A fox off Rt 32, looking very confused watching cars at 6:15am (make that 7:15am, 1st work day of Daylight Savings Time)
  • Dozens of robins in my neighborhood – lovely chirping to accompany an evening walk
  • Daffodils and crocus
    
  • Pink, red, and white buds on the trees
    
  • More bird sounds, and they’re awake earlier. I heard my first bird chirp this morning at 4:50am, more than 2 hours before sunrise. (Why was I awake at 4:50 on a Saturday???)
  • Animal screeches (mating?) in the middle of the night behind my house (maybe that’s why I’m awake ….)
  • Yellow butterfly flitting, lunchtime, Robinson Nature Center
  • Noisy chorus of wood frogs quacking and spring peepers peeping
  • Delightful (though unseasonable) temps for being outdoors – sunrise from MARC commuting; sunset at Lake Elkhorn    

Still visible is the convergence of Venus & Jupiter, easily seen at dusk. Last weekend, while in Delaware, I saw a rainbow (an aurora?) to the left of Jupiter – astonishing. Could not get a pic of it though.

A mid-week check on my osprey nest – the area in front of the nest has been bulldozed – yikes! Wonder what effect that will have on any potential nesting? The ospreys are just returning to the mid-Atlantic area from their winter migration spot in northern South America. Hopefully, I’ll see some activity this week or next.

 

The Sound of Quiet – A Visit to Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

I don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere as quiet as Blackwater NWR on the Eastern Shore. Except for human voices and the quiet hum of a car gently passing by on the driving tour, the only sounds are nature. I believe I never even heard a plane overhead.

Blackwater is also one of the most beautiful areas I’ve visited. The landscape of sky, marshes, and grasses extending as far as the eye can see, punctuated by tall stands of evergreens and deciduous trees, is remarkable.

  

The Refuge consists of over 25,000 acres of freshwater impoundments, brackish tidal wetlands, open fields, and mixed evergreen and deciduous forests, according to its Friends of BNWR website. That makes it an ideal home for 150 bald eagles during the winter; upwards of 35,000 geese and 15,000 ducks during the November migration; as well as over 250 species of birds, 35 species of reptiles and amphibians, 165 species of threatened and endangered plants, and numerous mammals. That’s a lot of wildlife to look for and observe.

    

A “traffic backup” once an eagle was spotted

What brought me to Blackwater were those eagles. Well, actually a Festival celebrating the eagles. It’s hard to pass up a party for the 1st visit. Like all good festivals, there was good food (crab soup!) along with an eagle prowl, marsh hike, wildlife exhibits, and kids activities. And an eagle – this one sat for at least a half hour, watching us watch him: