Archive for January, 2013

Like a large part of the country, the temperatures here in New Hampshire dropped to below zero nearly every night last week. The low here at my house was 11 below zero but parts of the state fell to 30 below. Daytime temperatures barely made it to 20 degrees, so there was no melting going on.

1. Frosty Window at 10 Below

Frost ferns were seen on the windows every morning. It often took until noon for them to melt.

2. Sunlight on Milkweed Seeds

The sun peeked through the clouds at times but it was all light and no heat. A thin ray just grazed these milkweed seeds and turned them to gold one cold afternoon.

 3. Ashuelot River

This section of the Ashuelot River has grown some ice and is down to just a narrow open channel.  I wonder if this week’s warmer temperatures will melt it all again.

 4. Geese on the River

The Canada geese on the river seem to be getting more used to seeing people. I watched them and took pictures until I thought my fingers might be frozen. On this day the water temperature was probably warmer than the air temperature.

 5. Open Water

Some parts of the river, like this section north of Keene, have little to no ice on the surface.

 6. River Ice

But where the ice does grow, it grows thick.

 7. Reflections in Stream

Even our streams have yet to ice over completely. There are many animals that drink from this stream so they’re probably grateful to see some open water.  I saw everything from mice tracks to deer tracks along just a short section of stream.

 8. Frosty Leaves in Stream

These leaves stuck on a twig in midstream had all kinds of ice and frost on them.

 9. Stream Ice

Some of the stream ice was as clear as crystal…

 10. Stream Ice

And some was as white as snow.

 11. Sunlight in the Woods

Yesterday we saw temperatures above freezing for the first time in over a week and the word is that today might set records with highs in the 50s. And then we might see torrential rain and thunder storms before it gets colder again, so we’re still on the roller coaster ride that is this winter.

Winter either bites with its teeth or lashes with its tail.  ~Proverb

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It has been cold here this week with below zero nights and below zero wind chills during the day. My days of being outside “enjoying” that kind of weather are over for the most part, so these pictures were taken just before this latest cold snap.

1. Bog in January

Our days are still dim, with feeble sunshine even at noon when this was taken.  We’ve had more snow but barley more than dustings compared to what we’ve seen in years past. One snowfall seems to melt before we get more, so there haven’t been more than 5 or 6 inches on the ground at any one time. Certainly not snowshoe weather!

2. Witch Hazel Leaf

Any spot of color is welcome at this time of year and this orange witch hazel leaf (Hamamelis virginiana) really caught my eye.

 3. Goldenrod Gall

A tiny hole at the base of this goldenrod gall means that the goldenrod gall fly that once lived here has moved on. It is thought that the insect’s saliva causes the plant stem to grow into a gall. A larger hole at the top of the gall can mean that a bird has pecked its way in to eat the fly larva, which can survive being frozen almost completely solid in the winter.

 4. Winter Moss

I’ve ordered a moss identification book but it hasn’t come in yet so I’m not sure what kind this is, but its green color seemed cheery against the white snow. I think it might be one of the sphagnums. The moss book, if you’re interested, has a tedious title: Outstanding Mosses and Liverworts of Pennsylvania and Nearby States by Susan Munch. Readers of this blog often ask me what books I use for identification and I don’t look forward to answering that question for mosses and liverworts!

5. Foliose Lichen on Pine

I think this might be hooded tube lichen (Hypogymnia physodes) but I’m not 100 percent certain because I can’t find it in my lichen book. I found it growing on a white pine branch (Pinus strobus.) It looked plump and happy but lichens can and do change color as they dry out.

6. Dried Carrion Flower Fruit

I’m fairly certain that these are the mummified berries of the carrion flower vine (Smilax herbacea.) These blue berries are a favorite of birds, so I was surprised to see them in this state. This plant is easy to identify even in winter because it is a vine. It gets its name from the strong odor of its flowers.

7. Ice Covered Pebbles

We had some freezing rain one day so it was a good idea to wear the Yaktrax. I’ve already taken several minor spills this winter.

 8. January Turkey Tails

These turkey tails (Trametes versicolor) have been covered by light snow several times, and when the snow melts they always look the same. I’m not sure my theory that cold intensifies their color is going to hold water.

9. Toothed Fungi with Lichen and Moss

This tree had a virtual garden full of mosses, fungi and lichens on it, even though this was taken after our first blast of below zero weather. The small bracket fungi were toothed on the underside. I’ve seen these before but couldn’t identify them then, and still haven’t been able to now. I think the lichen is called Parmotrema tinctorum. I can’t find a common name for it.

 10 Sycamore Leaf

This sycamore leaf (Platanus occidentalis ) was almost as big as a dinner plate. I put a quarter on it so you would have something to compare it to.

11. Icy Brook

We’ve had snow, cold, and even below zero nights but also enough warmth to keep our lakes, rivers and streams from freezing over. Open water at the end of January makes this an unusual winter.

It is not easy to walk alone in the country without musing upon something. ~Charles Dickens

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A few years ago developers decided that they would build a shopping center in a field that is in a corner of two intersecting highways here in Keene, New Hampshire

 1. Wetland

The trouble was it wasn’t just a field but a wetland as well. After fighting tooth and nail over what impact building in a wetland would have on the town, the developers and the town came to an agreement and the shopping center was built on the drier part of the large parcel.

 2. Evergreen Screen On Berm

 They started by building huge berms and planting them with pine, spruce, fir, cedar and juniper to give the place a woodsy feel and to hide what remained of the wetland. In landscaping terminology a berm is a long mound of soil that resembles a dam or levee but doesn’t hold back any water. They are a good way to reduce noise and they provide a good screen when planted.

 3. Mountain Ash Berries

I’ll have to give the developers credit for not totally ignoring the wildlife in the area because they planted quite a few fruit bearing trees like mountain ash (Sorbus,) the fruits of which are shown here. Many birds feed on these berries.

4. Juniper Berries

Nice ripe juniper berries also await hungry birds.

5. Flowering Crab

Flowering crab apple trees offer even more fruit.

 6. Beaver Lodge

Everything seemed to be going well and all of the local birds and beasts happily co-existed with the shopping center. Until beavers started moving into the water retention pond, that is. Then things started to get interesting.

 7. Beaver Stump

The beavers started cutting down the ornamental trees-in this case a Bradford pear (Pyrus calleryiana.) A tree this size would easily cost over $500.00 to replace and might run close to a thousand after the stump was dug out and a new tree planted. But what should the developers expect after providing a nice man made pond and then an open path from the tree to the pond?  The beavers said “Thank you very much-we’ll take it! You can bet we’ll shop here again!”

 8. Poplar Sunburst Lichen aka Xanthoria hasseana

There are many more ornamental trees in this area and one of them had these beautiful poplar sunburst (Xanthoria hasseana) lichens on it. I hope the beavers will leave this tree alone but I doubt that they will. Hungry beavers have to eat, after all.

 9. Alder Tongue Gall

Alders grow naturally on the banks of the pond so I’m surprised that the beavers aren’t eating them or the many birches and poplars that grow nearby. These female alder cones (strobiles) have alder tongue gall, brought on by a natural pathogen that causes a chemically induced distortion of tissues. These long curled “tongues” are very noticeable.

 10. Cattails

Cattails (Typha) grow in abundance throughout the wetland. Beavers eat the new shoots in the spring and red winged blackbirds will line their nests with the fluffy seeds.

 11. Beaver Pond

For now the pond and wetland are iced over except for the small area shown in the photo, but before long the ice will melt. Beavers are extra hungry in the spring, so the shopping center managers might want to start putting some stout wire fencing on their tree trunks now.

12. American Beaver

This photo of a happy beaver is from Wikipedia. Beavers in this area are very wary of man and I’ve never gotten a good photo of one.

In nature there are neither rewards nor punishments; there are consequences. ~Robert Green Ingersoll

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Last week brought the January thaw that the weathermen promised but it wasn’t wash your car in the driveway weather. Though temperatures reached the 40s for a day or two and snow was melting, the sun was hardly seen. Instead the skies were gray and thick fog occasionally enveloped everything.  One day I decided to drive up and out of the deep bowl that is Keene, New Hampshire. I was hoping that I’d get above the mist and see some sun but instead it got even thicker as the elevation changed so I could barely see the road by the time I reached the top of the hill. There was no escaping it.

1. Sun at Noon

This was taken at lunch time one day. It felt more like late afternoon. The sun tried hard each day but couldn’t burn through the dense fog.

2. Thin Ice Sign

The ice is dangerously thin this year. As you can see by all of the footprints, people aren’t paying attention.

 3. Canada Geese on Ice

The geese aren’t worried about a little thin ice. Geese that come and land on this part of the river are extremely wary for some reason, and fly off at even the hint of someone nearby. I was able to get two quick shots before they took off.  Sorry this one is fuzzy-I was at the limit of my zoom capabilities.

 4. Foggy Mountain

I know that there is a large mountain here somewhere because I’ve climbed it.

5. Foggy Trail

The foggy trail was empty of even sound-not a leaf rustle or bird song was heard. And it was wet-so much so that I was afraid my cameras might get wet, so I turned back.

 6. Rose Hip with a Drip

Everything was dripping in the heavy fog.

 7. Moss Sporangia in Fog

The mosses were loving it.

 8. Orange Witch's Butter

This orange witch’s butter (Tremella mesenterica ) was frozen solid just a while ago, but the warmth and rain plumped it right back up again. It feels and jiggles just like Jell-O.

9. Dried Out Black Jelly Fungus

This is what black witch’s butter looks like when it hasn’t rained for a while.

 10. Black Jelly Fungus

And this is what black witch’s butter (Exidia glandulosa) looks like when it has had plenty of moisture. Both of these examples were on the same alder shrub, but taken at different times.

 11. Bracket Fungi

Bracket fungi don’t seem to mind any weather unless it is hot sunshine.

 12. Mare's Tails

The sun finally came out as always, the temperature shot up to 60 degrees, and the sky was blue again. For a day. Those clouds in the lower half of the picture are called mare’s tails and they usually signal that a storm is brewing. It got murky again the next day and snowed two days later. My color finding software sees mostly Dodger blue (as in the L.A. Dodgers baseball team) in this sky, but also sees dark teal blue, cornflower blue, steel blue and light sky blue. Imagine all of that in a simple blue sky!

It is the memory that enables a person to gather roses in January ~Anonymous

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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.

1. Cemetary Wall

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.

2. Hitching Ring

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.

3. Cemetary Woodpecker 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.

4. Cemetary Woodpecker

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.

5. Lichens on Headstone

In spite of the woodpecker scolding I still looked for lichens. This stone was covered with them.

6. Green and Yellow Lichens

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.

7. Beaver Lodge

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. 

8. Beaver Damage on Elm

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. 

9. Beaver Stumps

They gnawed through a couple of smaller ones. 

10. Shield Lichen

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. 

11. Lichen Log

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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We’re on a temperature roller coaster here in southwestern New Hampshire, with temps in the low 20s one day and high 30s the next. This weekend they say we might hit 50 degrees, so the ice and snow will be melting fast.

1. 1-5-13 River

Watching water freeze probably wouldn’t be considered high excitement, but if the above shot is compared to the one in last Saturday’s post, taken from the same spot, the slow buildup of ice in the Ashuelot river can be seen.

2. 1-5-13 River Ice

Last Saturday none of this ice was here.

3. January Witch Hazel

While I was at the river I walked along the banks to my favorite grove of witch hazel shrubs (Hamamelis virginiana.) I found one blooming here on the day before Christmas, and here it is still blooming. It is supposed to be a late fall bloomer-one of the latest-but seeing it blooming this late is strange. It is only one plant out of many that is doing this, and I’d bet that plant breeders would love to get their hands on it and develop an “ever blooming” witch hazel.

4. January Witch Hazel Bracts

This is what one would expect an American witch hazel to look like at this time of year. The small cups are formed by four bracts that curve back. The petals unfurl from these cups on warm fall days. It takes about a year for the plant to form seeds.

5. Alder Strobiles

Alder (Alnus) fruits come in the shape of small cones, called strobiles, which contain even smaller seeds, called nutlets. These flat, triangular seeds are an important food source for small birds like chickadees. Alders like a lot of moisture and can be found on the banks of ponds, rivers and streams in full sun.

 6. Alder Catkins

These are the male staminate flowers of the alder, called catkins, which will open in the spring and release pollen to fertilize the female flowers. The female flowers will then produce the strobiles shown in the previous picture.

7. Beard Lichen 7

Lichens are much easier to see in the winter. This is bristly beard lichen (Usnea hirta) I think. I’m beginning to see that, though they grow almost anywhere, many lichens seem to prefer growing near a water source like a river or a lake. Ledges that trickle groundwater are another good spot to find them. 

8. Dried Burning Bush Fruit

I’ve never noticed before that the bright red fruits of the burning bush (Euonymus alatus) seem to turn to a kind of orange jelly in the winter. I’m surprised there were any fruits left because birds love them. Burning bush, also called winged euonymus, is one of our most invasive plants and the woods near the river are full of them. 

9. Whitewash Lichen aka Phlyctis argena

It’s easy to see how whitewash lichen (Phlyctis argena) got its name because it looks like somebody took a paintbrush to the tree trunk that it grows on. This crustose lichen almost always grows on deciduous trees like red maple but can occasionally be found on conifers. It is also called blemished lichen. 

10. Seed Head

I liked these furry looking seed heads but couldn’t figure out what plant they were on. It had a woody stem and stood about a foot and a half tall. 

11. Hoar Frost 3

Hoar frost is also called rime and forms when water vapor contacts surfaces which are below freezing. The sun melted the snow around this clump of grass, but then frost formed on it quickly. This frost usually happens when the sky is clear and is also called radiation frost for the radiational cooling that takes place before it forms.

Wilderness touches the heart, mind and soul of each individual in a way known only to himself ~Michael Frome

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These photos are of what nature has shown me over the last week or so.

1. Hornet's Nest

Piece of a hornet’s nest blew down onto the snow, so I had to get a picture of it. It looks very abstract and I wonder if I would guess that it was a picture of part of a hornet’s nest if I didn’t already know.

2. Hornet's Nest

When I took pictures of it with the new Panasonic macro master camera, it was even more abstract, but also more interesting and beautiful.

3. Goldspeck LichenCommon gold speck lichen (Candelariella vitellina) grows on granite rock in full sun. This crustose lichen grows in small patches in this area so I always need a macro lens for it. The fruit bearing bodies of this lichen are tiny, flat discs-so small that I’m not even sure that I could get a picture of them.

4. Turtlehead Seed Pods

I took a picture of turtlehead blossoms (Chelone glabra) last fall and wrote that I didn’t really see any resemblance to a real turtle’s head. A friend said just the opposite-he thought the blossoms looked just like turtle heads. Now, on the other side of the solstice, the seed pods do remind me of turtle heads- a bunch of hungry, snapping turtle heads. According to the U.S. Forest Service this native plant is also called balmony, bitter herb, codhead, fish mouth, shellflower, snakehead, snake mouth, and turtle bloom.

5. Hawthorn

The hawthorn (Crataegus species) is a tree that doesn’t mess around and is not about to be used as browse for moose and deer. Its 1-1/2 inch long thorns are every bit as sharp as they look, and they keep the browsers away. The unlucky person who finds themselves tangled in a hawthorn thicket will most likely need some new clothes. And maybe some time to heal.

6. Lowbush Blueberry in Snow

I like the way the branching structure of shrubs and trees is so visible in the winter .This is a low bush blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium) no more than 8 inches tall.

7. Oak Leaf on Snow

Something about this oak leaf on top of the snow grabbed me, but I’m not sure what it was. Maybe that it seemed so alone.

8. Rose Hips

Rose hips are the fruit of a rose. In this case the plant is a multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora,) which is considered an invasive species. Its small red hips are one of the most colorful things in the winter landscape. Unfortunately, birds like them and spread them everywhere. I think I could have worked on the depth of field a little more in this picture, but you get the idea.

 9. Intermediate Woodfern

Intermediate woodfern (Dryopteris spinulosa var. intermedia) doesn’t let a little snow slow it down. This is one of our native evergreen ferns and is also called American shield fern, evergreen woodfern, or fancy fern. This clump I saw growing on a boulder was smaller than my hand.

10. Tall Grass I drive by this clump of tall grass quite often and have admired not only its 4 foot height, but also its resilience. It’s been through two snow storms and still stands proud as the tallest weed in the field. 

11. Oak Leaves Close Up

I took a couple of pictures of a cluster of oak leaves that interested me because of the way they hung-they seemed to all be clasping each other, trying to stay warm. When I got home and looked at the photo though, I didn’t like it. Then I cropped it just to see what would happen, and it became an entirely different picture that I do like.

The tree which moves some to tears of joy is, in the eyes of others, only a green thing that stands in the way ~William Blake

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Quite often after a snowfall in January or February it will get quite cold for a while here in New Hampshire when the storm moves out over the Atlantic and pulls the polar express in behind it. The coldest I’ve ever seen it is 35 below zero (F) and it has only gone that low twice in the 50+ years that I’ve been around to witness it. But, it’s not supposed to get anywhere near that this week. We are supposed to have relatively balmy temps, with highs in the 30s during the day and above zero at night. There is no talk of a January thaw just yet.

1. Snowy River

The river is just starting to ice up. Areas where the current runs slow along its banks get icy first and then the ice slowly grows in towards the middle. When I was a young boy I was walking on the ice of this river one day and all of the sudden it started cracking. It was so loud, echoing off the frozen river banks, that it sounded like gun shots as I ran and dove onto the bank. That adventure cured my curiosity about frozen rivers and I have never walked on one since.

2. Ice Covered Shrub

Ice forms on everything near the river’s edge.  It weighs down young shrubs and sometimes breaks their stems.

3. Icy Twigs

And sometimes they just wear ice collars.

4. Ice Covered Stones

Even the stones are coated in ice.

5. Window Frost

One night when the temperature dropped to below zero Jack Frost paid a visit and drew patterns on my windows. The frost edges looked like feathers, or ferns. Oddly enough these coldest temperatures happened on the night before the earth passed closest to the sun, January 2nd.

6. Window Frost

The different shapes that frost can grow into seem endless.

7. Pinecone in the Snow

Did you ever wonder which end of a pine cone hit the ground first after it fell? Well, now you know.

8. Shepherds Purse Seed Head

This Shepherd’s purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris) seed head was the only thing poking up out of a large expanse of white. 

9. Snowy Fungi

These bracket fungi must have been frozen solid. 

10. Vernal Pool

The vernal pools in the forest are also beginning to freeze. A vernal pool is temporary and does not hold water year around. “Vernal” means “occurring in spring,” and these small pools are usually at their maximum depth in the spring due to snow melt and runoff. In the hot, dry days of June, July and August they will disappear completely. Frogs, toads, salamanders, insects and many plants rely on these pools. 

11. Tree Frog on Snow

I wasn’t expecting to see this poor tree frog on top of the snow. I followed his short trail to find that it began in the middle of nowhere, so he either dug his way up from the soil to the snow’s surface or fell out of a tree. I’ve always heard that they burrow into mud for the winter but he seemed to have a broken leg, and that got me wondering if he had fallen out of a tree. Other than wishing him well, there was little I could think of to do for him.

12. Oak Galls

The wasps inside these oak galls will fare much better than the tree frog, I’m sure. They will emerge in spring when it is warm and the snow has melted.

If you are seeking creative ideas, go out walking.  Angels whisper to a man when he goes for a walk. ~Raymond Inmon

Thanks for stopping in. I hope you see plenty of bright sunshine and bearable temperatures, no matter where you live.



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On the day after Christmas, we had a 4 or 5 inch snowfall and then, with a day or so in between, we had another storm just like the first. This is the first real snow we’ve had since the Halloween storm of 2011. These pictures were taken during shoveling breaks.

1. Snowy Road

The snowy roads make us drive slower, which means we have more time to admire the landscape.

 2. Snowy Path

The snow on the trails isn’t deep enough to warrant snow shoes, which means I huff and puff a little more, which might mean that I’ll burn more calories, and that’s always a good thing.

3. Snowy Weed

Light, fluffy snow covers everything.

4. Snowy Oak Leaf

5. Virgin's Bower

6. Sedum Seed Head

7. Snowflakes

I decided to see what would happen if I took pictures of the snow at night with a flash. Even though they were shot in macro mode these photos have to be cropped to about 1/10-1/20th of their original size to show any real detail.

 8. Snow Crystals 2

In this one you can see what looks like the geometric shape of a single snowflake in the middle/lower right corner. An average snowflake is made up of 180 billion drops of water vapor.

9. Blue Sky

 The snow seems to deepen the blue of the sky and the morning after the storm it was beautiful. The color finding software I use to cheat color blindness tells me it is cornflower blue.

To appreciate the beauty of a snow flake it is necessary to stand out in the cold ~Anonymous

I hope everyone had a safe and happy New Year’s celebration. Thanks for stopping in.


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