A little winter color

From the first to bloom to the last to bloom, a little bit of winter color on a winter’s walk.

The first wildflower of the season to bloom in Maryland’s Piedmont — Skunk Cabbage — is emerging now along streambeds.


Skunk cabbage bloom

Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus), a relative of the better known Jack-in-the-Pulpit plant, has the capacity to warm and thaw the earth around it, allowing it to emerge months before other wildflowers. The flower will die back, and big, skunk-scented leaves will unfurl to become an unmistakable mainstay of a thousand classroom trail walks.

But Skunk Cabbage is still subtle in early February. Here are other views of its reds and greens.


I had hoped and expected to find Skunk Cabbage in February. What was a surprise was discovering yellow still clinging to an American Witch-Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) that bloomed in the fall.


American Witch-Hazel post-bloom (February 2017)

This is how the same native Witch-Hazel tree looked last autumn.


American Witch-Hazel blooms in late autumn (October 2016)

While we wait for the blossoms and colors of spring, there’s beauty to discover in winter.


Snow bunting visitors


Snow Bunting making a rare visit to the Chesapeake Bay

In late November, four Snow Buntings (Plectrophenax nivalis) were spotted in a park along the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay. Snow Buntings are considered scarce this far south, and worth braving a cold wind to see.

Snow Buntings breed among rocks and crevices in Arctic Canada and Greenland. They migrate south to winter in Canada’s southern provinces and across the northern US. Every so often, a few venture farther south.

Even in their winter plumage, they are a very pretty little bird.



Our visiting Snow Buntings chose an old earthen pier habitat that provides large rocks for concealment from predators and protection from the elements as well as grasses that supply seed for foraging. They are well camouflaged amid the rocks and grasses.





Good camouflage for Snow Buntings

Despite their name, Snow Buntings are more closely related to Longspurs than to familiar buntings.

Time will tell whether the four visitors will stay the winter or move to another shoreline or field.


Chilly beach scenes

The full Hunter’s Moon rose over a chilly, windy beach a couple weeks ago. Even though I didn’t see the Monarch migration I’d hoped to see, there is always something interesting along the Maryland seashore.


American Oystercatcher — The dark beak tip reveals that this is an immature bird. From the coloration of its legs, eyes and plumage, I’d guess it is 12 – 24 months.



Ghost crab, one of many scurrying in the sunshine on Assateague Island


Ghost crab camouflage

The full moon and wind made for extreme tides.


Patterns cut in the sand by the changing tide


The moon creates tides. October 2016 Full Hunter’s Moon




A season of butterflies

With the cold weather arriving to the Maryland Piedmont, here is a look back at the butterflies that visited my native plant garden this year.

While no match for country meadows or coastal flyways, this succession of native plant blooms (listed below) support butterflies, bees and other beneficial pollinators from spring to fall, creating habitat even on the edge of a city.

In my garden (photos not to scale):

Black swallowtail M 051916

Eastern Black Swallowtail male emerged in May, having over-wintered as a chrysalis. Released here on Golden Alexander, one of its host plants, although they seem to prefer to lay eggs on fennel.

Black swallowtail F 051916

Eastern Black Swallowtail female ready for take-off

Gray hairstreak milkweed crop

Gray Hairstreak on swamp milkweed


red banded bf

Red-banded Hairstreak on mountain mint


White M Hairstreak BF better

White M Hairstreak. See the “M” touching the red spot.



Eastern-tailed Blue on white clover. At less than an inch in size, the Eastern-Tailed Blue and Summer Azure in the next photo are the smallest butterflies in my garden.


Summer Azure better crop

Summer Azure on Mountain Mint


Eastern tiger swallowtail coneflower

Eastern Tiger Swallowtails are common visitors to purple coneflowers



Eastern Comma, named for the white comma mark on the underside of its wing


Variegated Fritillaries were abundant this year


Common Buckeye on mountain mint. A small, fast, beautiful, migrating butterfly, it’s my favorite.



Pearl Crescent on white aster



Fiery Skipper, one of many skippers to visit the garden


Clouded Sulphur


American Lady on aromatic aster



Monarch, one of 16 that paused to nectar on aromatic aster on a late October afternoon on their journey to Mexico

And seen nearby:


Red Admiral on neighbor’s zinnia


Spicebush Swallowtail on Allegheny Monkeyflower in a park meadow


Silvery Checkerspot on Queen Anne’s Lace in a park meadow


Sun-loving flowering native plants in my garden include Golden Alexander, False Indigo, Bee Balm, Blazing Star, Cardinal Flower, Wild Petunia, Mountain Mint, Swamp Milkweed, Butterflyweed, Joe Pye Weed, Purple Coneflower, Prairie Coneflower, Black-eyed Susan, False Sunflower, Ironweed, Goldenrod, and — the best for late-season and migrating butterflies — Aromatic Aster. Common blue violets, clover, white aster and white snakeroot grow wild in abundance. Late this season I added Boneset and Button Bush that will bloom next year.

Butterfly Hairstreaks


Gray Hairstreak MM crop

Gray Hairstreak is North America’s most common and widespread Hairstreak butterfly

Hairstreaks are a family of small, fast-moving butterflies, each not much bigger than an inch — easy to overlook and a delightful challenge to photograph. It is said they are called Hairstreaks for the thin “tails” on their hindwings. Most Hairstreak species are specific to selected patches of the country. Several Hairstreaks are found in Maryland and a few visit my garden, particularly attracted to the abundant native Mountain Mint.

gray hairstreak ventral crop

Gray Hairstreak basking with open wings – an uncommon sight

Red banded hairstreak blue spot

Red-banded Hairstreak is more common in the southeast than in Maryland. Like many Hairstreaks, it sports hindwing spots or “eyes.”

White M Hairstreak BF better

White M Hairstreak, also more common to the south, named for the prominent “M” touching the red spot

Gray Hairstreak nectar sedum crop

A closer look at a Gray Hairstreak probing sedum for nectar







Green frog on lily pad mkj

Green frog on lily pad

A little water garden is nestled between the old fields and woods of a local park. On this August day, a Green Frog soaks in the late afternoon sunshine, surrounded by Common Water-Lilies. It’s a peaceful scene.

Common water-lily mkj

Common Water-Lily

Common water-lily in a row

Blossoms in a row



Queen Anne’s Lace

Queen Annes Lace Silv Chkrspt and red spot crop

Silvery Checkerspot butterfly on Queen Anne’s lace. The tiny red flower in the middle of the blossom is said to represent Queen Anne pricking her finger while making lace.

Queen Anne’s lace is in bloom in every field and roadside. It is so common it is easy to overlook. When viewed from different angles and at different stages, the flower is in its lacy glory.

Queen Annes Lace underside

Another full-bloom view

Queen Annes Lace cup

Post-bloom nest

Queen Annes Lace January HoCoCo

Queen Anne’s lace in winter

Since being introduced from Europe, Queen Anne’s lace has spread across the US and most of Canada. It is listed as a noxious weed in a handful of states where it fouls pasture land. Also called wild carrot, like other members of the carrot/parsley family, Daucus carota is a host plant for Black Swallowtail butterfly caterpillars.

Queen Anne’s lace resembles its close relative, the highly poisonous Water Hemlock. Even touching Water Hemlock is dangerous and ingestion fatal. The flower heads of Water Hemlock are looser than the tight umbrella of Queen Anne’s lace, and its stems are smooth with purple or black streaks compared to the hairy green stems of Queen Anne’s lace. But identification can be tricky, so beware!


Uncommonly beautiful

Common Buckeye bee BF mkj

Common Buckeye (and friend) on Mountain Mint

A visit from the uncommonly beautiful Common Buckeye butterfly (Junonia coenia) is the reward for native plant gardening.


Bold butterflies

American Lady 7.28.16 AI mkj

American Lady nectaring on Buttonbush, Assateague Island National Seashore, 7/28/16

Having posted recently about inconspicuous butterflies, here’s a look at a few of the showier butterflies that are now flying in Maryland.

Eastern tiger swallowtail coneflower

Eastern Tiger Swallowtails are common visitors to Purple Coneflowers in the garden

swallowtail 9 BFs bergamot

At least 9 Eastern Black Swallowtails and Eastern Tiger Swallowtails going wild for Wild Bergamot growing in a park

Monarch M CV

Monarch male perches in a milkweed field



Baby dove

MODOve juvie2

Short tail feathers, pale legs. Must be a juvenile Mourning Dove.

How is it that I’ve never noticed a baby dove before now? Mourning Doves are one of the most widespread and abundant birds in North America, and adults have several broods a year. This little one frequented the front yard, probably from the nest in one of the hollies beside the front door. Short tail feathers, drab plumage — it’s young.

Adults care for fledglings for only 12 days after they leave the nest, and then the young are on their own. They stay close to their nesting area for a couple weeks.

MODO juv wall2

A few days later and the tail feathers are getting longer

MODO juv dgwdam1

Just after being rebuffed by a Cardinal that wasn’t interested in feeding it.

MODO cover border

Where it sheltered from weather and predators

When it matures, the little Mourning Dove will acquire an iridescent plumage and other characteristic features. And it will have the long tail feathers and wing feathers needed for longer flights.

MODO adult

Adult Mourning Doves have bright pink legs and blue eye rings



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