Monday, October 12, 2020

Hawk beacons at Democracy Blvd and Walter Johnson H.S. are now working

I noticed that the new  HAWK beacons are now active along Democracy Blvd near Walter Johnson High School.  HAWK beacons are normally dark, but when activated by a pedestrian, they turn yellow, then red.  This provides a safe opportunity for people to cross the street.

This is a very important place to have them since (in normal years when children actually go to school buildings) many kids cross this busy street on their way to and from school.  They also make it easier to walk from the neighborhood to the Giant Food store and other shops at Georgetown Square. These signals are a big improvement over the old flashing yellow crosswalk signals since those were always active even when no one was around.  These only activate when a person pushes the button for the walk signal.

There are two of them, one for each of the two crosswalks that flank Davis Library.  When activated you have 30 seconds to cross the street, which is more than enough time for most people to cross.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Monarch Buterfly Chrysalis and more

Green Monarch Butterfly Chrysalis

In yesterday's post I talked about how many Monarch Butterfly caterpillars I had this summer and how they kept disappearing.  Not all of them did, however. One day I came out to find a caterpillar hanging upside down from a leaf, looking mostly dead.  After a day of that, it turned into this beautiful green chrysalis.  I looked around on the web and found out that they stay in this stage for a little over two weeks.  I'd check on it every few days, but after about two and a half weeks I was getting concerned.

Transparent Monarch Butterfly Chrysalis

Then, a couple of days ago, I found that the chrysalis was semi-transparent and you could see the butterfly's wings through it.  This was encouraging, but as I kept checking it, it seemed to darken and no butterfly was emerging.  The next day I was away from the house, but when I came home...

Monarch Butterfly Chrysalis, post emergence

The chrysalis was just an empty shell.  The Monarch Butterfly had emerged!  I started looking all around to see if I could find it.

A newly emerged Monarch Butterfly

After a short hunt, I saw it on a plant.  As I got closer it tried to fly away, but it couldn't, so it kind of glided to the ground and sat there, wings shaking a bit.  I left it a while and when I looked again it had made it back to a plant and appeared to be sleeping with it's wings folded.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Monarch Catepillars

A Monarch Butterfly egg

I planted milkweed a couple of years ago, hoping to attract Monarch Butterflies.  I didn't see any until earlier this year when one came by to lay some eggs.  In the photo above you can see a tiny speck of an egg on the bottom of a milkweed leaf.

A very, very small Monarch Butterfly caterpillar

I was very excited when I found a number of eggs and they started hatching and I saw tiny little black, yellow, and white striped Monarch caterpillars. 

As the caterpillars started growing, I noticed that many of them simply disappeared without a trace.  I saw a yellow jacket eating one but I don't know if the yellow jacket killed it or happened across it after it died.

Some of them got quite large, but they also disappeared.  There seems to be something that eats them.  It wasn't uncommon for me to have half a dozen on a single plant and about one a day disappear until they were all gone. It is possible some of them crawled off to make a chrysalis, but I suspect most of them became dinner for something.  This photos are not of the same caterpillar, they are of many different ones.

Sometimes I'd have two or three Monarch caterpillars eating the same leaf.

Despite the heavy casualties, there were some successes, I'll talk about them tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Fall colors

 On Sunday I went for a hike along the Northwest Branch and saw this interesting bit of fall color.  The last few feet of the tree branch is brilliant red, but closer to the trunk the leaves are still green.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Hiking the Northwest Branch south of Colesville Road

 On Route 29, Colesville Road is Burnt Mills East park, it is on the same side of the road as the Trader Joe's and California Tortilla.  This park has a reasonably sized parking area and a number of nice trails.  Facing the trailheads, the trail on the right is closest to the Northwest Branch and it is called the Fall Line trail.  It Proceeds downstream and ends when it meets the Northwest Branch trail.  On the left is the Northwest Branch trail. In this area it is higher up the hill than the Northwest Branch stream, but it will eventually come down and meet the stream where the Fall Line Trail ends.  The Fall line trail is the steeper, rockier of the two trails and is only suitable for hiking, whereas the Northwest Branch trail has been designed to allow biking too.

Another trail in the area is the Copperhead Run trail.  There are 3 "chute" trails that connect it to the Northwest Branch.

The Northwest Branch itself is a good-size stream.  In many places it is rocky, but other areas are smooth and placid.

One of the interesting, but noisy, sights is where Interstate 495 crosses the stream.  The bridge is high above the trees, and although you can hear the traffic, when you are walking south it is hard to see the bridge until you are right under it.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Walt Whitman High School Construction Update

Walt Whitman High School is in the middle of a 24.5 million dollar expansion.  I first posted about this in early March of this year when they started tearing down the old Whittier Woods Elementary School, but now things look a lot different.

The building is just beginning to take shape, with some of the steel beams and concrete block walls being put up.  In the foreground there will eventually be a parking lot.


 The existing Walt Whitman H.S. is on the left, the road goes to the loading dock.  On the right is where the new expansion connects to the school.

For comparison, here is a photo I took back in 2008 when the school was still standing.

If you'd like more information about what is going on, here is an article on Bethesda Beat about the expansion, and you can look at this PDF of the different options they considered.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Construction on the Little Falls Trail

 Construction is starting on improvements to the Little Falls Stream Valley Park and the Little Falls hiker-biker paved trail.  The work is scheduled for late summer 2020 (ie, now) through Spring of 2021 and will close portions of the trail.

Two pedestrian bridges that connect the trail to the Capital Crescent Trail near Westmoreland hills and near the Dalecarlia tunnel will be replaced. (For those of you who have memorized every bridge in the area and the designations the Montgomery County Department of Parks has given them, they are bridges P17-01 and P17-02, there will be a quiz later.)  In addition to replacing the bridges, the trail in the area will be repaved, there will be drainage improvements and stream channel stabilization.

Footbridge P17-01 on the left.

Markers along the trail in preparation for the construction

P17-02 and Little Falls stream

More information is available on the county website.

And now for the promised quiz, there is just one question:

Who gives bridges names like P17-01 and P17-02?

Friday, September 4, 2020

Walking around Bethesda at night

 Wednesday night, after the rain, I went for a walk around Downtown Bethesda.  It was a cool and quiet evening.  Here are some photos I took, starting with the new mural on the parking garage on Woodmont Avenue near Battery Lane.

Veterans Plaza, where Woodmont and Norfolk Avenues meet.  

Woodmont Market

Sala Thai

California Tortilla

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Go Visit: Harpers Ferry


Harpers Ferry lies at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers where Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia meet. The town is in West Virginia and the lower part of the town is within the US Park Service run Harpers Ferry National Historic Park. 


You have probably heard of Harpers Ferry when you learned history in school.  It is the site of the abolitionist John Brown's raid on the US arsenal there. Brown attacked and captured several buildings; hoping to secure the weapons depot and arm the slaves, starting a revolt across the South. The raid ultimately failed when the US army sent an expedition commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Lee (who would later become a general in the Confederate army) stormed the fire house where Brown and his men had taken refuge.

In addition to the downtown area, there are a number of hiking trails and beautiul sights to see.  There are two railroad bridges that cross the Potomac here as well as the piers of a couple of older bridges.  This one was built in 1894 and carries the CSX Shenandoah Subdivision line toward Winchester Virginia. The other bridge is just upstream was built in 1930 and caries the CSX Cumberland Subdivision line to Martinsburg, WV.

The bridge also carries the Appalachian Trail across the Potomac River.  This crossing was closed in late 2019 because of a train derailment, but the damage was fixed and the trail reopened in early July of this year.

A popular hike is to start in downtowm Harpers Ferry, cross the Potomac on the Appalachian Trail, travel north on the C & O canal a short distance, then take the Maryland Heights trail up to an overlook with a stunning view of Harpers Ferry and the rivers.

Here's the view of Harpers Ferry, the two railroad bridges, and the confluence of the Shenendoah River (top) and the Potomac River (bottom).  You can see piers from older bridges crossing the Potomac just to the left of the railroad bridges, and piers from a bridge that crossed the Shenandoah just before the confluence.

The C & O canal also runs along the Maryland side of the Potomac River.  The canal doesn't have water in it but the tow path is well maintained and is a popular place for hiking and biking. Here we are looking down at the bright ribbon of the C & O canal towpath and the Potomac River.  As seen from Maryland Heights, a large rock outcropping that overlooks Harpers Ferry, WV.

 Another hike you can do is to cross the Shenandoah River on the US Route 340 bridge (which is also used by the Appalachian Trail, so there is a separated walkway), follow the trail up the mountain then take a left on the Loudoun Heights overlook trail.  This takes you to an overlook where you can see Harpers Ferry from just below the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Go Visit: Seneca Creek Greenway Trail at River Road

 Last month, I explored the Seneca Creek Greenway Trail starting at Maryland Route 28 and going west towards the Potomac River.  Today I'm starting at the western end of the trail and going east, towards MD-28.

If you are a purist, you will want to start at the official beginning, at the ruins of Seneca Mill, or at Riley's Lock, where Seneca Creek flows in to the Potomac river.  In either case, the first mile is walking along a road.  Since I'm not a purist, and I don't enjoy walking along the side of roads, I started just across River Road, on Seneca Rd.  There is a wide shoulder there with enough parking for 3-4 cars.

This trail goes through varied terrain, sometimes heavily wooded, sometimes meadows, and everything in between.

If you aren't familiar with the Seneca Creek Greenway trail, it runs all the way from the Potomac River to Watkins Mill Road, a total of 24 miles.  North of Watkins Mill, it continues as the Lower Magruder Trail.

The first 1.3 miles connects Seneca Road to Berryville Road.  It is a hilly section of the trail with lots of ups and downs.  The trail is forested and shady.  There are a couple of small streams with wooden bridges over them.

Along the way I saw this old log with a mass of miniature mushrooms growing out of it. I was surprised both at how many there were and how small they are.  Other parts of the trail in this area have ferns growing right up to the trail's edge.

Towards the end, it can get confusing, what looks like a path that leads off to the left with access to the creek is really the main trail.  Go down the hill and cross the creek on stones.  If you get to a road (Berryville Rd), you've gone too far, but don't panic, just take a left and walk along the road until you see a parking area and the trail again.

At the parking area, the trail continues on, 4.4 miles to MD Route 28. This post won't cover the whole way, just to the Berryville Road Side Trail.

Seneca Creek is deep and wide here. Lots of families come to splash in the water and swim.  Shortly after this area the trail veers away from the creek and you won't see much of it again, so enjoy the water now.  From here on the trail is mostly flat with the occasional hill.

The trail has mile posts every half mile so you can keep track of your progress, it also has these blue posts with the trail name on it.  Even with that, it isn't all that well marked.  There are lots of side trails and it sometimes isn't clear which trail is the main trail. It would be nice if they had signs where trails met so you know which way to go.

There are a couple of places where you can see signs of the past.  Here is a couple of long refrigerator cases. I'm not sure how they got here, and they have obviously been here for a while, but out in the middle of the woods, just a little way off the main trail is this old refrigerator case from a grocery store.

A stretch of the trail goes through a meadow.  Here is near the start, as the trees give way to grass.

Another sign of the past.  In some places you can see remnants of fence from before this area was a park. Here, right by the path, are several strands of barbed wire coming out of a tree.

The trail crosses a number of small streams, many of them have bridges built over them.

One of the few marked side trails is this one, the sign says Berryville Road side trail, and it should take you back to Berryville Rd.  This is where I turned around.  If you want to see what there is if you continued, read my post on the trail starting at MD-28.  You can also learn more about Seneca Creek on Wikipedia.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

It's not too late to go see the sunflowers

 Sunflower season is drawing to a close, but it isn't too late to go see the fields of sunflowers at McKee-Beshers wildlife management area.  I went there today, and even though many of the flowers are drooping, there are still a lot that are looking up and following the sun.  Next weekend is probably the last chance to go this year.

Every year the state of Maryland plants these sunflowers to food for mourning doves and other songbirds, pollinators and mammals.  These fields are open to the public and many people go there and enjoy them each year.

 I went today and the parking areas were crowded, but the fields themselves are large so everyone spreads out when the get there.  There are several parking areas and the fields are a short walk on level ground away.


From the Capital Beltway, take Exit 39 (River Road) west toward Potomac. Proceed for approximately 11 miles to the intersection of River Road and MD 112, Seneca Road. Turn left and continue on River Road for about 2 1/2 miles. McKee-Beshers will be on your left as you head west on River Road.