W. Brooks Paternotte

Host, The Nature of Things

W. Brooks Paternotte took the helm of Irvine Nature Center as executive director in July 2013 and immediately began building on the strong 35-year foundation.  Brooks is a Baltimore native who was a teacher, coach, advisor, dean and Head of the Middle School during his 13 years at Boys’ Latin School in Baltimore.  He is also an instructor and ambassador of the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) and is a Leave No Trace Master, as well as an avid outdoorsman and a features writer for FlyLife Magazine.

Ways to Connect


May 24, 2016
Jason Bolonski/Flickr Creative Commons

Last June, my son Jack and I were wandering through the fields behind our home, when Jack came bolting toward me with his latest nature find.

Atop his finger was a tiny, green, kneeling insect peering at me through large eyes on its triangular head. Its miniscule, yet still prominent, front legs were held together at an angle that nearly looked like they were in reverence to some greater power. I knew immediately what it was: a juvenile praying mantis.

Loblolly Pines

May 17, 2016
Ildar Sagdejev

This time of year, I love kayaking through the calm waters of Maryland’s tidal rivers and wetlands. There’s something special about our Chesapeake Bay’s blue-green inlets, briny air and abundant wildlife that make me feel like I’m home. But there’s something else I love to see while I’m paddling too: the view of hundreds of towering loblolly pine trees.

Lady Beetles

May 10, 2016
John Flannery/Flickr Creative Commons

Over the weekend, I was in my garden and saw one of nature’s own pest controllers. It was my first ladybug of the season and I was really lucky, as it was a native species, called a ‘convergent’ ladybug. The tiny, beautiful insect was an orangey-red half-sphere with 13 bold black spots and had its trademark stubby legs and roving antennae.


May 3, 2016
Peter Dickson/Flickr Creative Commons

There may be no bug creepier than a tick.

These sesame-seed-sized parasites crawl slowly and silently up our bodies, surround their mouth-parts in our skin, and then casually slurp their fill of our blood until their bodies expand like tiny water balloons.

So as you carefully pluck a tick from your skin, you may undoubtedly wonder: what purpose could they possibly serve? What good are ticks, exactly?


Apr 26, 2016
Kamil Gopaniuk/Flickr Creative Commons

Just this weekend, my young daughter Emma brought my wife a tiny bouquet of flowers. There were some nice greens, and many more bright yellows. The arrangement would be familiar to any parent, as it was a bunch of sweet, sun-loving dandelions.

Mike Beauregard/Flickr Creative Commons

Maryland is one of only 8 states that have designated a state dinosaur. We were the 5th state to do so, after Colorado and New Jersey started a trend in the 1980s and 90s. But only Maryland has the astrodon as its prehistoric symbol.

A hundred and 40 years before our state chose the astrodon, Maryland’s agricultural chemist Philip T. Tyson was producing the area’s first geologic map of Maryland. His work brought him Prince George's County and he did some digging in an open-pit iron mine. There, he discovered our region’s first dinosaur fossils.


Apr 5, 2016
Rodney Campbell/Flickr Creative Commons

Recently, I turned to a book by one of my conservation heroes, Aldo Leopold. In a favorite passage of mine, Leopold found himself quite taken with one of our native birds, the humble woodcock. After seeing their acrobatic mating flights, he wrote that the American woodcock is “a refutation of the theory that the utility of a game bird is to pose gracefully on a slice of toast.”

Jason Ferrell/Flickr Creative Commons

Most of our native trees are preparing to sprout their 2016 crop of leaves. Only a few weeks ago, they were barren and covered in snow. But soon there will be an explosion of new life.

It’s amazing. How does it happen?

Over-simplified, plants need water, light, warmth and soil to grow. During spring, they get all the conditions they need. Frequent showers give them the water they require. Longer days mean they have more daylight and warmth from the sun. But there’s more to it than just that.


Mar 15, 2016
Eric Ellingson/Flickr Creative Commons

With all of this winter’s snow, we’re all seeking harbingers of spring.

And soon we’ll be hearing the tell-tale cheery song of one my favorites: the American robin.

The quintessential early bird, robins are North America’s largest thrushes. They are distinctive for their warm orange potbellies, long legs and fairly long tails. They are common sights on lawns across the continent, where you can often see them tugging earthworms out of the ground.


Mar 8, 2016
Virginia State Parks

Just imagine this.

There. At the bottom of the river.

There’s a 7-and-½-foot-long, 170-pound, armor-covered behemoth. Its brown, sandpaper-like hide has sharp bony plates along its back. Its fins are large, and its tail is just like a shark’s. And its dark eyes regard you suspiciously as it flexes its blubbery, sucker mouth and the catfish-like whiskers on its chin. The giant prehistoric-looking animal uses its snout to root around the sandy Chesapeake Bay bottom before lumbering away.

For some of us, this would be a reason to call the authorities about a slow-moving water dinosaur loose in the Bay. But for any Maryland naturalist, it would be an incredible reason to celebrate.

Unmistakably, you’d have just seen an Atlantic sturgeon, thought perhaps extinct from Chesapeake Bay waters. But in the last few years, scientists have found them still living in the Bay. Naturalists around the state have been cheering on their resurgence. There’s reason to hope that this creature can rebound and again become a plentiful part of our waterways.