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Photo by Kellen McCluskey

Thursday, November 10

Join Us for Saturday's Art Reception

Richly toned and hauntingly beautiful, the elegant black-and-white images in Geoff Delanoy's exhibit on view in the Arboretum gallery presents lonely stretches of marshland and stands of loblolly pines bare of needles and branches. Titled Ghost Forest, Delanoy's show documents the impact of climate change on the landscape of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, particularly the increasingly familiar phenomenon of coastal forest diebacks.

Delanoy serves as a professor and the chair of the art department at Notre Dame of Maryland University. Since 2018, he has been photographing the coastal landscapes of Maryland and Delaware, with a focus on Dorchester County. Full of nuance and intricate textures, his images reveal the grace and individuality of trees struggling with rising sea levels.

Please join us Saturday from 2 to 4 p.m. for a reception to meet the artist and learn about his work. We hope to see you!

Geoff Delanoy, "Untitled"

Holiday Cheer is Here!

Some wonderful programs and events are on tap to help you ring in the holiday season!

Wreath Decorating Workshops

Tuesday, November 29

Work with Caitlin Fisher to craft a holiday wreath that is unique to you! We'll supply all materials, hot chocolate, and festive music; you just need to bring your creativity. Cait is a farmer and writer who is passionate about conservation, local culture, and responsible agriculture. Register for one of two sessions: 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. 

Holiday Card Collage

Tuesday, December 6, 10 a.m.–noon

Join Diane DuBois Mullaly to create a beautiful card inspired by nature and created using upcycled junk mail, torn and cut paper, and scissors and glue. All materials are provided, and hot beverages and cookies will be served. Register here. 

Holiday Open House

Saturday and Sunday, December 3 & 4

This weekend only, receive a 20% discount on all gift items and a $10 discount on memberships. With our unique selection of books, jewelry, toys, art, pottery, and more, you're sure to find something for everyone on your list. While you're here, relax with coffee, tea, and homemade cookies. Click here to learn what's new in the gift shop.

Photos by Kellen McCluskey

Special Thanks

THANK YOU for helping to make the inaugural Plein Air Adkins a success by any measure! It was wonderful to meet many new friends and greet longtime friends while celebrating nature, art, and a most beautiful fall day.

Nearly 200 visitors turned out to observe the 30-plus artists as they painted and then to view and purchase their art.

Judge Bernard Dellario with Plein Air Adkins award winners.

Photo by Kellen McCluskey.

Judge Bernard Dellario awarded first place to Alison Barry's "Golden Crown." Chris Ropa's "Every Lead Sings to Me" took second place, and Rhonda Ford came in third with "Adkins Morning." Dellario awarded honorable mentions to Lynn Lewis and Christopher Best for "Almost Goats" and "Feeling Fall," respectively.

Be sure to mark your calendar for November 4, 2023 for the return of Plein Air Adkins!

Photos by Kellen McCluskey

An Unexpected Visitor

On Friday, November 4, an unexpected visitor showed up in the Adkins wetland—an American Bittern. Nancy Steward (whose binoculars are worthy of envy) spotted the Bittern and earned the thanks of the birders and non-birders who gathered to admire it.

American Bittern in the Arboretum wetland. Outstanding photo by photographer-in-residence Kellen McCluskey.

The American Bittern is normally a secretive bird that frequents freshwater marshes with tall and thick vegetation, which does not describe the wetlands at Adkins. The Bittern stalked around in the open, making no effort at concealment as people watched from the two wetland bridges.

The bird is a medium-sized heron measuring about 23 inches long—until it extends its neck, when it becomes about 34 inches. Typically, when they sense someone watching, they will freeze, unlike Great Blue Herons or Green Herons, which will flush. The Bittern trusts in camouflaging colors. It will stretch its neck and point its bill skyward to better blend in. It will even sway in imitation of wind blowing the reeds.

American Bittern in "you can't see me now" pose.

Left, among reeds and grass, by Laura Griffin, courtesy of Birdwatching Magazine.

Right, without reeds and grass, by John C. Avise, courtesy of Natural History of Orange County, CA.

Their yellow eyes can focus downward, giving the bird's face a startled, cross-eyed look. This ability to look downward enhances the bird's ability to spot and capture prey. The eyes turn orange during breeding season.

American Bitterns are fairy common but are difficult to observe in their habitat. They breed in the northern half of the U.S. and into southern Canada. When winter approaches and the water freezes, they head to the far southern portions of the U.S. and into Mexico and Cuba. They breed in the marshes of Southern Maryland and spend the winter there unless cold weather pushes them farther south. Go here to see their distribution map.

American Bittern googly eyes. Instagram photo courtesy of mikulishbee.

This bird is heard more often than seen, and its call is described as booming, clacking, and gulping. The call is unusual, which is an understatement. Listen and watch here. Attempts to describe the sound include: Blonk-a-donk, oong-ka-choonk, or pump-a-lunk. The Bittern's call has earned it an incredible number of nicknames: stake-driver, thunder-pumper, water-belcher, mire-drum, barrel-maker, belcher squelcher, bog-bull, bog-hen, bog-trotter, butter bump, night-hen, plum puddin', slough pumper. I like plum puddin'.  

Their call to claim territory and attract a female is often heard at dawn and dusk during breeding season. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has an occurrence map that shows American Bitterns in Southern Maryland until the end of May, and then they apparently disappear. See the map here. In reality, the birds are easily identified in the dense marshes by their call during the beginning of breeding season and are very difficult to find when they stop blonk-a-donking.

The female American Bittern gathers materials, builds the nest, incubates eggs, broods, and feeds the chicks with no assistance from the male. She builds a mound or platform about 3.5 to 8 inches above the water's surface using dead, dry reeds, sedges, cattails, or other vegetation and then lines the nest with fine grasses. The male does defend the nesting territory. Their diet consists of anything they can catch and get down their throats, including flying dragonflies, other insects, frogs, voles, fish, crabs, snakes, and salamanders. Like owls, Bitterns regurgitate pellets of material they cannot digest.

The small wetland at Adkins hosts breeding Belted Kingfishers, Green Herons, and beavers, which typically need larger areas. Hoping for breeding American Bitterns next spring may be a stretch.

Please contact me at with any questions.

Jeobirdy Answer: This smaller cousin of the American Bittern may also show up someday in the Adkins wetland.

Jeobirdy Question: What is the Least Bittern? At about 12 inches, the Least Bittern also freezes, points its bill upward, and will sway when startled. Like the American Bittern, it is mostly identified by its call, a soft, chuckling coo coo coo coo. Listen here.

Jeobirdy Answer: This bird recently set a new non-stop longest migration record.

Jeobirdy Question: What is the Bar-tailed Godwit? A four-month-old Bar-tailed Godwit known as B6 flew nonstop for 11 days and 8,425 miles from Alaska to Tasmania, Australia.

Jim Wilson

Birder/Arboretum volunteer

Upcoming Programs

Autumn Leaf Workshop

November 18, 10 a.m.–3 p.m.

This watercolor workshop with Lee D'Zmura will introduce unusual techniques to create fall leaves in vibrant color. Open to artists of all skill levels. Register here. 

Autumn Harvest Soup 'n Walk

November 19, 11 a.m.–1:30 p.m.

Following a guided walk with a docent naturalist, enjoy a delicious and nutritious lunch and a brief talk about nutrition and nature. All gift shop purchases are 20% off. This is the year's final Soup 'n Walk! Click here to register. 

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