Friday, July 22, 2011

Rocky Raccoon's tips on staying cool

We've got a big old post oak in our backyard, and over the last several years we've increasingly seen a raccoon that seems to be living up there. The times we see the raccoon the most are when it is HOT. It likes to hang out spread-eagle on a branch.

And a few times now, we've caught it swimming in our pond.
Rocky clearly has read our list of ways to beat the heat, including seeking shade, taking it easy...and getting wet.

Now would also be a great time to check out our list of places to swim within a 2 hour drive of Washington DC. It's not supposed to get below 80 degrees until Sunday. (Did you know Washington, D.C. has had twice as many 80+ lows in the last two years than the entire period from 1872-1930? Yikes.)

Raccoon pool party in our pond tonight!


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Calendar: Outside in the Evening, July 20-24

We went out to Luray this weekend to celebrate a friend's birthday and it was downright cool out there in the evenings. In honor of that break from the summer heat, here are some selections from our calendar that will take you into the evening hours:

P1030430 Flying Bat
Photo credit:
Wednesday, 8 PM: Head to Huntley Meadows to watch bats. "The only mammals with true flight can find insect prey in complete darkness. Learn about the diversity and adaptations of bats at a slide-illustrated lecture at Huntley Meadows Park from 8 to 9:30 p.m. Then search twilight skies for these fascinating animals on the wing." $6 per person.

Thursday, 5 PM: Join Melanie Choukos-Bradley for a tour of the local trees at the US Botanic Garden on the Mall. " Melanie will teach you how to identify tupelo, hophornbeam, red buckeye, pawpaw, oaks, pines and many other native trees as you stroll the grounds of the National Garden. She will also share some of the arboreal history of Washington, D.C., which has long been known as the “City of Trees,” and offer ideas for self-guided tree tours in and around the nation’s capital."

Friday, 8:00 PM: Meadowside Nature Center in Rockville is leading a nighttime walk. "We'll learn about the special way nocturnal animals have adapted to the night, and hike the trails around Meadowside to experience a world much different than its daytime counterpart."

Sunday, 6:00 PM: Every Sunday, Brookside Nature Center hosts a sketching group. This week's theme is birds. $10.

There are many, many more activities on our calendar, during the evenings and during the day. Enjoy!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Wild Edibles of July

We're looking forward to foraging with Steve Brill on Friday -- come join us!

We went out a few weeks ago in the Ft. Totten area and were impressed by the number of unripe blackberries and blueberries there, along with a decent share of wineberries. What a great spot to show off wild edibles, we thought. Everybody loves berries!

So do the birds.

As soon as the catbirds catch on that a patch of berries is ripening up, forget about it. We should have known home we have to put netting over our blueberries and blackberries to get any. But there were so many, a city block practically lined with blackberry canes. It seemed reasonable to think there would be some to eat...

Ah, well.

Here's what we did find:

Photo credit: I'm Not That Girl
We've written before about milkweed and its role in the monarch life cycle. Milkweed pods are edible when small (1" long) but must be boiled. Just be sure to leave enough behind that the plants can reproduce and keep feeding those monarchs.

Black locusts are one of our favorite wild edibles when they're in flower. You can gorge on handfuls of white flowers. But now they have made their seeds...which you can also eat.

They're in the legume family, can you tell?

The roots of sassafras have been used for centuries to make tea and root beer. Did you know you can also eat the tender leaves? They are the original gumbo filé -- the dried leaves were used to thicken soups in Louisiana long before there were Cajuns.

Please never, ever eat something if you're not 100% confident what it is. The information in this post isn't enough unless you already know these plants...I'm just hoping to whet your appetite! Get a good identification book or come out on one of our walks. Maybe we'll see you tomorrow with Steve Brill!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Calendar: Rock Creek Park, July 16-17

It's in the heart of our city, but how much have you really explored Rock Creek Park? This weekend our calendar holds five different events in five different sections of the park. I bet at least one of them will go somewhere you've never been. Why not take this opportunity to explore?

Taft Bridge from Ellington Bridge
Photo credit: KCIvey

The Sierra Club is walking the Melvin Hazen and Soapstone Valley trails -- a hilly section of the park with interesting geology. Free, Saturday at 10 AM.

And four ranger-led events caught our eye:

Join a ranger on a hike from the Nature Center and learn about the environmental challenges facing the park and how the NPS is addressing them. (I predict deer and sewage will be on the list.) Free, Saturday at 10 AM.

Or, join the Paws in the Park exploration of Georgetown's Montrose Park, also part of the Rock Creek parkopolis. Free, Saturday at 10 AM.

Sunday, you can see if there are spots left on the ranger-led horseback tour. Reservations must be made at least 24 hours in advance. $40, 10 AM.

Or you could join a ranger on a hike to Rolling Meadows Bridge. Free, Sunday at 2 PM.

Our calendar has lots more options all over the DMV. And don't forget about Steve Brill this Friday.


Thursday, July 7, 2011

Things to Look For in July

Summer is so abundant! We're looking forward to a month of flowers and wild edibles. (Links are to previous years' LOOK FOR posts):

Photo credit: The Natural Capital
Jewelweed is a pretty flower, a sparkly wonder, a trailside snack, and a soothing skin treatment. What's not to love?

hummingbird and cardinal flower
Photo credit: The Natural Capital
I used to love cardinal flower just because it's a gorgeous flower. It took a few years before I realized that if you sit quietly for long enough by a large patch, a hummingbird will come by. And that takes it to another level.

Photo credit: brocktopia
Chantarelles are a choice culinary mushroom prized by chefs around the world. And they grow in Washington, DC.

rose mallow (hibiscus)
Photo credit: The Natural Capital
I always thought of hibiscus as a tropical flower. It's the kind of thing you expect to see printed on Hawaiian shirts, or tucked behind a hula dancer's ear. But we've got native hibiscus right here in DC. It blooms in July.

Tamias striatus
Photo credit: Gilles Gonthier
Chipmunks aren't particular to July...but it was about this time last year that I remarked that we've been seeing a lot more of them than we used to. We hear them a lot too: play the video in our post and you may realize you hear them more than you thought.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Calendar: Upcoming Wild Edibles Events, July 9-15

Photo credit: heartfeltrobot
Have you eaten any wineberries yet this year? We picked several quarts up in Burtonsville this weekend. The season is winding down in DC, but head out to one of these events for a chance to find them (or maybe some blackberries, which come next on the wild berry calendar):

This Saturday, July 9, Matt and I will lead a walk leaving from the Fort Totten Metro looking for wineberries, blackberries and blueberries as well as some non-berry wild edibles. $20 - Register here.

Next week, wild food author "Wildman" Steve Brill will be in town and leading two walks on Friday, July 15. We've been meaning to go up to check out one of his foraging walks in NYC's Central Park for years, so we're really looking forward to playing hooky and joining him. $15 - Register here.

Wildman's visit is part of Eat Local First Week in DC, which also includes a Foraged Cocktail event on Friday night. We're contributing wineberry syrup, mint, and possibly other wild edibles to this event, so if you can afford the $60 ticket come check it out!

There are lots of non-foraging events on our calendar as well...enjoy!

Friday, July 1, 2011

LOOK FOR: Bald Eagles

Matt and I were driving down the Beltway not too long ago when we realized a bald eagle was flying overhead. That this is even possible is such a potent reminder of how far these birds have come in our lifetime.

Bald eagle at the National Zoo by geopungo
When I was born, bald eagles were on the brink of extinction. In the early 1970s, there were only about 400 nesting pairs recorded in the lower 48 states. They were one of the original species listed when the Endangered Species List was created in 1973.

With that legal protection from hunting and habitat destruction, plus the banning of DDT in 1972, bald eagles have made an amazing recovery. By 2007, it was estimated that there were more than 10,000 nesting pairs in the continental US -- enough that they were removed from the Endangered Species List that year. (They're still protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.)

Bald eagles like to nest near water (they eat fish). They avoid nesting near buildings and people -- with the exception of a few city slickers, including some who have nested in the District. With these requirements, and with each nesting pair defending a territory of about 250 acres, their nesting options are limited. But there are a few protected waterfront locations around the DC metro area that suit bald eagles just fine. We see an eagle almost every time we go to Jug Bay, for example. Farther afield, Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge on Maryland's Eastern Shore is reported to have a population of over a hundred eagles.

Bald eagle - soaring
Photo credit: scorpion23ca
Eagles are the largest bird of prey you're likely to see near Washington, DC: they have a 6+ foot wingspan. They take their name from their all-white head (in Latin, too: Haliaeetus leucocephalus means sea eagle with a white (leukos) head (cephalus)). But for me, what really distinguishes them in flight is the all-white tail. Ospreys are smaller and have a mostly-white head, but not that white tail.

Keep an eye out anywhere along the Potomac or the Anacostia (check out our list of places to rent a canoe) and let us know if there's a spot where you see them!

For guaranteed sightings, Meadowside Nature Center in Rockville has an injured eagle that they care for. The National Zoo normally does too, but apparently their eagle area is under construction right now.

Happy Fourth of July!

A Clean Getaway
Photo credit: InspiredinDesMoines