Monthly Archives: January 2024

New Year’s Day

New Year's Day Gathering Participants

New Year’s Day Gathering Participants

Many January firsts since 2004 we have gotten together with Amy and her family. Other guests have varied over the years and we’ve missed a few years (like last year, when Cathy got Covid at the end of December). A few things have been very consistent, including having fondue for the meal. Today’s meal included both cheese fondue and chocolate fondue for dessert. We decided to forego the meat fondue because Jon smoked a large piece of beef instead. Choosing between smoked meat and meat fondue is something of a toss up, but we made a good choice. We also had two new attendees this year. Carly, Jon’s wife of about a year and a half and their little one graced us with their presence. It’s great to start a year off with a relaxing time catching up with friends, even if much of the conversation these days seems to be centered around caring for parents or personal medical issues. Regardless, here’s wishing you a very happy new year.

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Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)

  • Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)

    Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)

    We went to the C&O Canal today at Great Falls. It was in the mid-30s but we dressed appropriately and had a really nice walk. The river was relatively high and I got some nice pictures of the raging torrent. We didn’t see many small birds but saw three great blue herons (Ardea herodias), lots of mallards (Ardea herodias), and one sharp-shinned hawk (Accipiter striatus). Between the wind and the noise of the water we couldn’t really hear birds, even if they were there. Two of the herons we saw (which may have been the same bird two hours apart) were on the side of the river. This one, however, was in the canal, behind some cattails.

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    Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens)

    Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens)

    Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens)

    Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens)

    Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens)

    We woke up to about three-quarters of an inch of snow this morning and it kept coming down lightly all day. It never really snowed very hard and there was very little wind, so it was actually quite pretty and nice to be out in it. In the early afternoon we went for a walk, heading down from the neighborhood to Lake Frank. We saw (and I photographed) a pileated woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) on the way there and once in the park saw quite a few other small birds, including quite a few downy woodpeckers (Dryobates pubescens). This one moved from a tree to a grape vine and then let me get fairly close. I’m pretty pleased with these two photos, almost certainly the best I’ve taken of this bird species.

    I could get pictures of these and many other birds in our yard fairly easily. Downy woodpeckers will almost certainly come if I were to put out suet for them. Nevertheless, there’s something special about getting them totally in the wild. It’s especially nice to get them on a snowy day, which allows a much lighter background than would otherwise be the case in the woods most of the time. The downy woodpecker and its second-cousin the hairy woodpecker (Leuconotopicus villosus) look much alike and at a glance it’s not always easy to tell them apart. The hairy is about 50% larger than the downy, which is especially useful if you see both of them at once. The other noticeable difference is the length of their bill. On the downy is is very short and stubby while on the hairy it is much longer relative to the size of the head.

    Both are present but my experience is that the downy is considerably more common, at least in our area. They both can often be heard—drumming on a tree—long before they are seen.

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    Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus)

    Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus)

    Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus)

    Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus)

    Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus)

    As mentioned in the previous post, we had a nice snowfall today, last most of the day and slowly accumulating to about four inches. We walked around part of Lake Frank early this afternoon, heading down Trailways from the neighborhood. We saw the downy woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens) in the previous post in the woods at the bottom of Trailways.

    From there we walked towards the dam, stopping to take a few pictures on the way. There were lots of sparrows and we saw dark-eyed juncos (Junco hyemalis), white-breasted nuthatches (Sitta carolinensis), American robins (Turdus migratorius), northern cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) and a few eastern bluebirds (Sialia sialis).

    I was really pleased to see and photograph two hermit thrushes (Catharus guttatus). This is the second of those and it posed really nicely for me. It was eating the red berries in the second photo but unfortunately I wasn’t able to catch that properly. Still, I think these are pretty nice pictures and I’m happy with them.

    By the time we got home my hat had a good layer of snow on the brim and my beard had some ice in it. Still, I was glad to get out and enjoy the birds.

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    Wildflower Puzzle

    Wildflower Puzzle

    Wildflower Puzzle

    Shortly after Christmas we started a new puzzle (see Wednesday, December 27, 2023). We finished it last night. This was a fairly challenging puzzle due to a combination of reason. First, many of the pieces had nothing on them. Although the background color varied slightly over the width of the puzzle, it didn’t vary much. Furthermore, the pieces were almost all of roughly the same shape. Once we got all the pieces that had any color on them in place, there were about 50 pieces that were pure white. We did eventually get them all together, though. As you can see, there is one piece missing at the top of the white clover. I’m pretty sure we didn’t lose it, but these things happen.

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    Snow

    Snow

    Snow

    We’ve had two moderate snow storms in the last week or so. Last weekend we got about five inches of snow. Then starting early Friday we got another four of five inches. When we got up Friday there was a little over an inch of new snow. We had to go about 2 miles for an appointment and at 7:15 the roads were a bit of a mess but we got there without much trouble. The roads were a bit better by the time we came home. The snow continued falling for most of the rest of the day. This photo was taken from out kitchen door the next morning and there was a little blue showing in the sky by then.

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    Pavonia multiflora (Brazilian Candle Plant)

    Pavonia multiflora (Brazilian Candle Plant)

    Pavonia multiflora (Brazilian Candle Plant)

    We really needed to get out today. In the winter it’s not quite as easy to find growing things, but we are fortunate to live in an area where there are places to go on days like this. Brookside Gardens, described on the Montgomery Parks Web site as an “award-winning 50-acre public display garden within Wheaton Regional Park. Included in the gardens are several distinct areas: Aquatic Garden, Azalea Garden, Butterfly Garden, Children’s Garden, Rose Garden, Japanese Style Garden, Trial Garden, Rain Garden, and the Woodland Walk. The Formal Gardens areas include a Perennial Garden, Yew Garden, the Maple Terrace, and Fragrance Garden. Brookside Gardens also features two conservatories for year-round enjoyment. Admission to the gardens is free.” We spent time both in the conservatories and walking through the grounds. This Brazilian candle plant (Pavonia multiflora) in the first conservatory has very interesting flowers.

    In the outdoor gardens, most things are still dormant but we were happy to see different varieties of Chinese witchhazel (Hamamelis mollis) in bloom. The snow drops (Galanthus nivalis) were also in bloom. We went there specifically hoping to see both of those.

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