My lichen book, Lichens of the North Woods by Joe Walewski, says that one of the best places to find lichens is in a cemetery. I suppose that I already knew that but I’ve never really done anything about it, so last weekend I decided to visit an old cemetery in Westmoreland, New Hampshire. The town is North West of Keene on the banks of the Connecticut River between New Hampshire and Vermont. My Grandfather was the town blacksmith here in the late 1800s.
Though many of our cemeteries date to before the revolutionary war this one is relatively young, having been established in 1806. Most of our older cemeteries are bordered by stone walls. Stone was a cheap, easy to find material that built walls, foundations, and even entire houses that have stood for centuries.
There were rings for hitching horses driven into the top of the wall every 10 feet or so. My grandfather would have forged things very much like this.
Instead of pecking wood like he is supposed to, this little clown squeaked and squawked at me the whole time I was at the cemetery. He was quite high on this branch on a dreary, foggy day, so the pictures aren’t the greatest. I think he’s a hairy woodpecker, but he could also be a downy woodpecker. He was about as big as a blue jay, or maybe even a little bigger. In this picture he was either showing how he could hang on with one foot or waving me off.
When I asked him what the problem was he ran up a limb and squawked even louder. (Yes-I really did ask him that.) If you would like to hear what he sounded like, just click here. Ignore the drumming sounds though-this one just squawked and didn’t peck wood at all. At least, not in mixed company.
In spite of the woodpecker scolding I still looked for lichens. This stone was covered with them.
Most of the lichens I saw here were fairly common and not very exciting, but these nice yellow-orange ones were dotted here and there. I think this is the elegant sunburst lichen (Xanthoria elegans.) This lichen has been studied extensively in extreme environments, including that of outer space. It survived an 18 month exposure to solar UV radiation, vacuum, cosmic rays and varying temperatures in an experiment performed by the European Space Agency outside of the International Space Station. Lichens probably have the best chance of any earth based life form of successfully colonizing another planet.
Since I wasn’t seeing any really unusual or beautiful lichens I decided to leave the cemetery to the woodpecker. (He jabbered at me all the way to my truck.) On the way home I decided to stop and see what the beavers were up to. I think this pond is the only body of water that I’ve seen completely frozen over this winter.
Of all the trees in the forest beavers could gnaw on they chose elm, which is one of the toughest. Dutch elm disease swept through this part of the country starting in the 1950s so our elms have a short lifespan with or without beavers visiting.
They gnawed through a couple of smaller ones.
This shield lichen was on a tree and is one of the biggest I’ve seen. I think it is a common green shield lichen (Flavoparmelia caperata.) When dry these lichens appear pale gray but become green when they get wet because the algae inside migrate closer to the surface. This one was very wet. Hummingbirds use shield lichens to camouflage their nests.
As it turned out there was no reason to drive anywhere to see lichens as this “lichen garden” that I found less than a mile from my front door shows. I’m still wondering what the whitish bumps are.
A taste for the beautiful is most cultivated out of doors ~Henry David Thoreau
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