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Archive for January, 2014

1. Snowy Heron Tree

Though the January thaw was a week long, welcome relief from the biting cold it seemed to pass as quickly as an October afternoon. Hot on its heels came a snowstorm that the weather people told us wouldn’t be anything more than a dusting, but turned out to be several inches of wet, heavy snow that stuck to every branch and twig. The tree in the distance is the one that great blue herons sit in, but even though one of them stayed until it snowed this year, I haven’t seen him or his kinfolk in over a month.  I know if I had wings I’d be heading to someplace a little warmer.

2. Snowy Trail

I was up before the sun came over the eastern hills, wanting to make every minute count because there was a strong wind forecast for that afternoon and I knew would it blow all of the snow off the trees. I should have stayed in bed though, because there was no sunshine to be seen and the first few photos I took were dark enough to be unusable. Disappointed, I returned home and waited impatiently for the sun to make an appearance. In the end it decided to take the day off, but the skies finally brightened just enough to get a few shots in.

 3. Snowy Ashuelot Swanzey

I thought I’d visit some of my favorite places along the Ashuelot River, starting south of Keene in Swanzey and ending north of Keene in Surry. As can be seen in this photo, the January thaw had stripped it of any hint of ice.

4. Snowy Ashuelot Keene

This view is from a bridge in the northern part of Keene. It was so quiet here I could hear the slight whispering ripples of the Ashuelot against its banks.  I’ve always thought that winter was so quiet because the snow reflected sound waves and bounced them back where they came from but scientists say that it’s just the opposite-that pores in the snow actually absorb sound waves. If you would like to learn more about snow acoustics you can visit the scientists who make up the Snow Interest Group by clicking here.

 5. Mini Covered Bridge

This covered bridge crosses the Ashuelot River as it winds its way through a local golf course and was built for golf carts. It’s only about one half the size of a standard bridge, but it’s impossible to see that in a photo.

 6. Snowy Field 

Quite often this is a good place to see an example of how even bare trees can block snowfall, but not on this day. The prevailing winds are from the right side (north) in this spot and often the ground on the left side of the line of maple trees and stone walls is almost bare.

7. Snowy Hillside 3

There was snow on every tree as far as the eye could see, but by midafternoon the wind had blown most of it away.

I’m sorry that many of these photos have such a bluish cast to them, but that’s just the kind of day it was and no amount of fiddling with the camera would change it. In her blog Breaking New Ground in Zone 6 Annie explained that the blue cast is “due to the density and heaviness of the wet snow. Snow is colorless. Dry, fluffy snow contains more air bubbles to reflect light out, thus looking whiter. The heavy, wet snows absorb more red light and the more red that is absorbed, the bluer the snow.” I don’t know about you, but that’s something I’ve been wondering about for years and I was glad that Annie explained it.

 8. Snowy Ashuelot Surry

In Surry the snow on the trees was so heavy the Ashuelot disappeared beneath them.

 9. Snowy Ashuelot Surry 2 

No matter what angle you viewed it from, the snowy trees almost completely obscured the river. People who have never lived in or visited New England might think scenes like this are common here, but they really aren’t. Many times the snow is quite dry and, though it sits on tree branches it doesn’t stick to them, and it’s that stickiness that seems to make the difference in how beautiful the scenery becomes.  I’d guess that we only see one or two storms each season when everything comes together in just the right way to create scenes like this.

10. Snowy Ashuelot Keene 2

It wasn’t long after this shot of the river that the wind started gusting hard, and it didn’t take long for it to spoil views like this one.  It was a brief but beautiful outing.

There is nothing in the world more beautiful than the forest clothed to its very hollows in snow.  It is the still ecstasy of nature, wherein every spray, every blade of grass, every spire of reed, every intricacy of twig, is clad with radiance. ~William Sharp

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 1. Thawing Stream

This winter has been colder than we’ve seen in several years, but the coldest winters always seem to come with a short break called a January thaw, and we’ve had ours this year. I think of it as a taste of spring in the dead of winter, and it is always welcome. January thaws usually last for about a week and temperatures rise an average of 10° F higher than those of the previous week. Spring has always been my favorite season so for me a thaw is also a tease that lights the pilot light of spring fever. By the end of February the fever will be strong.

 2. Icy Trail

It’s hard to tell from the photo, but that’s ice on the trail. I was glad that I wore my Yak Trax because there was nowhere you could go to avoid it except back the way you came.

 3. Multicolor Gill Polypore Lenzites betulina

At first glance you might think these were turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor), but it’s important to look at the underside of mushrooms when trying to identify them. Though they aren’t always shown on this blog I always try to get photos of their spore producing surfaces and any other features that might help in identify them.

4. Multicolor Gill Polypore Lenzites betulina

The undersides of the mushrooms in the previous photo show that these fungi can’t be turkey tails because turkey tails have pores, not gills. Though many bracket fungi have gills, the multicolor gilled polypore (Lenzites betulina) shown in the photos is the only one that has both gills and white flesh.  All of the other gilled bracket fungi have reddish brown flesh, which makes identifying the multicolor gilled polypore much easier than most. I also carry a pen and a small notebook to note things like white or brown flesh but a lot of times I don’t use it because I don’t like harming the mushrooms. I like to leave the woods exactly as I found them if I can, so the next person can see the same things I’ve seen.

 5. Fern Growing in Boulder Crack-2

Evergreen intermediate wood fern (Dryopteris intermedia) looks fragile, but it can take a lot of weather. I found these examples growing in a crack in a room sized boulder. This is one of just a handful of true evergreen ferns. I usually expect to find another evergreen fern called polypody or rock cap ferns (Polypodium vulgare) growing on boulders but I didn’t see any in this area.

 6. Melt Runoff

The only time nature seems to be in a hurry is when snow melt rushes downhill. There was a lot of rushing going on this day.

 7. Melting Ice

All that water had to go somewhere and with the soil still frozen a lot of it puddled up in low spots in the woods. Mini ponds like the one in the photo could be seen everywhere.  Many were about the size of back yard skating rinks and once re-frozen they would have been great to skate on.

 8. Ashuelot Ice Shelves Collapsing

Along the Ashuelot River the ice shelves hanging out over the water were collapsing under their own weight. Not a good time to find yourself accidentally standing on one of these!

 9. Jelly Crep Mushrooms aka Crepidotus mollis

Jelly creps (Crepidotus mollis) are small, quarter sized “winter mushrooms” that like to grow on hardwood logs. They are also called soft slipper mushrooms and feel kind of spongy and flabby, much like your ear lobe.

 10. Jelly Crep Mushrooms aka Crepidotus mollis

The gills of the jelly crep are soft and turn from whitish yellow to brown as they age. You can see how these mushrooms grow in overlapping tiers in this photo.

11. Red Maple Buds

Red maple flower buds (Acer rubrum) are just waiting for the signal. These are one of my favorite early spring flowers and I’m looking forward to seeing them again. The flowers, twigs, leaf stems, seeds, and autumn foliage of this tree all come in varying shades of red.

The sun came out,
And the snowman cried.
His tears ran down
On every side.
His tears ran down
Till the spot was cleared.
He cried so hard
That he disappeared.

~ Margaret Hillert, January Thaw

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Even in winter there is still plenty to see in the woods. These are a few of the things I’ve seen lately that didn’t fit into other posts.

1. Foliose Lichen On Birch

I don’t know the name of this beautiful foliose lichen but I found it in a birch tree that I’ve visited many times.  I thought I had examined every lichen  within reach in that tree but I was obviously mistaken. My failure to see it even after so many visits helps illustrate the difference between seeing a thing and knowing it. I would have told you that I knew this birch tree like the back of my hand, but now I wonder what else I’ve missed.

2. Blackberry Thorns

Another illustration. This one shows why it’s best to wear old clothes when picking blackberries.

3. Motherwort Seed Head

The tiny pink flowers of motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) grow in circular tufts spaced up the length of the stem. Each flower produces 4 triangular brown nutlets, and in this instance the birds have eaten almost all of them. The scientific name cardiaca means “for the heart” and motherwort was once used to remedy nervousness and dizziness.  Whether it has any medicinal effect on birds is anyone’s guess.  The male black capped chickadees seem very excited this year so it doesn’t seem to be calming them down any.

 4. Purple Coneflower Seed Head

Birds have also been after the purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) seeds.  This is one reason I let plants go through their natural cycle and don’t cut them back until spring. Another reason is plain old laziness, which I’m sure the birds appreciate.

 5. Squirrel Tracks

If the question is “Does a squirrel slip in the woods?” the answer has to be yes.

6. Black Sooty Mold from Beech Wooly Aphid

Wooly aphids are sap sucking insects that secrete sweet honeydew on branches and leaves of plants. The honeydew attracts a fungus called black sooty mold. Since the mold only grows on the aphid honeydew and not the plant, it doesn’t harm plants. In fact, the aphids will do far more harm. This mold feels hard and brittle when dry and soft and pliable after a rain. The example in the above photo was growing on alder, but it can also be found on beech, magnolia, maple, oak, elm, basswood, willow, walnut, white pine and hemlock.

7. Barberry Fruit

Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) is native to Japan. In 1875 seeds imported from Russia were planted at the Arnold Arboretum in Boston, Massachusetts. Birds helped it escape and now it has become a very invasive shrub that forms dense thickets and chokes out native plants. According to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, recently “barberry has been implicated in the spread of Lyme disease. Researchers have noted higher densities of adult deer ticks and white-footed deer mice under barberry than under native shrubs. Deer mice, the larval host, have higher levels of larval tick infestation and more of the adult ticks are infected with Lyme disease. When barberry is controlled, fewer mice and ticks are present and infection rates drop.”

8. Foliose Lichen

I think this might be a tube lichen (Hypogymnia physodes) but I find that these gray / green lichens are one of the hardest to identify. Identification is made even more difficult by their habit of changing color between their wet and dry state. When wet the algae in some lichens (known as chlorolichens) “bloom” and turn the body of the lichen green. The algae are the photobiont part of the fungal and algal symbiotic pair that makes up a lichen, which means that the algae do all the photosynthesizing.

9. Green Shield Lichen

This common green shield lichen (Flavoparmelia caperata) lives on an old hemlock tree just outside my back door, so I know it well.  The recent rain and snow have got it looking just about as good as it ever does so I thought I’d take its photo. Lichens have several ways of reproducing and one of them is vegetatively.  The granular bits in the center of this lichen are called soredia, and are made up of intertwined fungi and algae granules. They will eventually fall to the ground and will be blown or carried to another place where, if all goes well, another lichen will grow.

In the book Gathering Moss author Robin Wall Kimmerer mentions an experiment that showed that many mosses spread by sticking to the bottoms of the tiny feet of chipmunks. I wouldn’t be surprised if lichens were spread in the same way.

10. Honey Locust Seed Pods

The ground beneath an old honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos) was littered with thousands of long, flat seed pods. Considering that each one of these was once a flower, this tree must have been very beautiful last June. The reason I was surprised enough by these to take a photo is because the seed pods when fresh contain sweet pulp that is loved by animals, including livestock. Native Americans used the pulp for food as well. Some say it is very sweet and tastes like the fig in a Fig Newton cookie. You do not want to just go munching on seed pods to find out though-black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) seed pods are very toxic.

 11. Honey Locust Seed Pod

Honey locust seed pods look a lot like giant flat string bean about 9-12 inches long and often curled. Some of them look like polished mahogany and others can be purple.

12. Unusual Jelly Fungus

I’ve seen two red jelly fungi in my life and this is one of them. I should say red-ish, my color finding software sees salmon pink, dark salmon, rose, orange, rosy brown, and chocolate brown. I think it might be a purple jelly disc (Ascocoryne sarcoides) but I’m not completely sure. Whatever it is, it is rare here.

 13. Snow Cone

Here is a question to ponder: How does the wind sculpt a perfectly circular feature in the snow? Wouldn’t it have to blow from every direction at once to do so?

The possession of knowledge does not kill the sense of wonder and mystery. There is always more mystery. ~ Anaïs Nin

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Long time readers will recognize this place but for you newer readers who are interested, last summer I did what turned out to be a popular two part post on an old abandoned road that we have here in Keene. Since people seemed to enjoy it I thought they might be interested in seeing what the area looks like in winter. If you missed the original posts or if you’d like to see what the area looks like in summer just click here.

1. Old Road Start

This is the starting point. Rather than break a trail through fresh snow I let the cross country skiers and snowshoers get here first. I was able to walk on nice, packed snow with just hiking boots on.

2. Frozen Brook

The road follows Beaver Brook, named for all of the beavers that once lived here. In places the ice had completely covered the brook and in others it was close to doing so.

3. Frost Covered Shrub

Down near the water every twig was covered in hoar frost.

 4. Hoar Frost

Hoar frost grows just about anywhere when there is enough moisture and it is cold enough. Here the delicate, feathery crystals grew at the edge of a puddle. Just a single warm breath is enough to destroy their beauty, so I wrapped all but my eyes up in a scarf before kneeling in the snow to take this photo.

 5. Moss and Snow

The feathery patterns in the hoar frost were repeated in this delicate fern moss (Thuidium delicatulum.) Though this moss has the word delicate in its name in my experience it is quite tough. Snow and ice don’t seem to bother it at all.  It is also one of the prettier mosses, in my opinion.

6. Frozen Waves

In places the brook looked like it had flash frozen, with even its small waves captured in the ice. Once again I saw the feather pattern that I had seen in the hoar frost and delicate fern moss. It’s interesting how nature re uses some of the same patterns again and again.

7. Icicles

There were plenty of groundwater icicles on the ledges, but there was also still enough rock exposed to allow some lichen hunting.

8. Smokey Eye Boulder Lichen

Smokey eye boulder lichens (Porpidia albocaeralescens) are crustose lichens that grow well here. The gray fruiting pruinose discs surrounded by black borders are very striking. A pruinose surface is one that is covered by white powdery granules and looks as if it has been frosted or dusted with powdered sugar. In this instance the surface reflects light, so these apothecial bodies often appear to be blue instead of gray.

9. Mountain Haircap Moss Capsules

Mosses also grow on these ledges. This example of mountain haircap moss (Polystrichastrum pallidisetum) had open spore capsules (sporophytes). When immature these capsules are covered by a hairy hood that resembles a stocking cap, and that’s how the name haircap moss came about. This moss is very similar to common haircap moss (Polytrichum commune). The chief difference between the two is a disk at the base of the spore capsules. Common haircap moss has this disk and mountain haircap moss does not.

10. Old Road

I took this photo to show how close the brook is to the road. I’ve met people up here who have told me that they remembered seeing the water up over the road in spring. Evidence that the brook is slowly eating away at the road can be seen all along it.

 11. Brook Ice

Ice dams had blocked the brook and created large pools behind them. This one had the flow down to little more than a trickle.

12. Beaver Brook Falls

I’ve spoken with a few people that I’ve met here and I think a lot of them come simply to get a taste of nature. Others though, come to see Beaver Brook Falls, which usually splashes into the pool below with a roar. On this day it was partially frozen and the water was falling behind a curtain of ice, so the roar had been reduced to little more than a splash. This isn’t a great shot of the falls but the steep path down to the brook looked treacherous, so I snapped what photos I could from the road. Even though this area isn’t that far from downtown Keene a twisted ankle out here alone could quickly turn serious, so I decided to play it safe. If you’d like to see and hear the falls in summer, just click the link at the start of this post.

The sole criterion is to walk with the senses, with hands that feel, ears that hear, and eyes that see. ~ Robert Browne

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1. 15 Below

So what do you do when nature breaks off a piece of the polar vortex and the temperature drops to -15 F (-26 C)?

2. Ice Crystasls

If you’re like me you take pictures of thermometers and the frost crystals on your windows.

 3. Ice Crystal

There were plenty of crystals and I wasn’t going anywhere for a while, because my truck’s battery was dead.

4. Ice Crystals

But too much of a good thing can lead to boredom and, since the sun had finally warmed it up to +15 F, it was time to take a little walk.

5. Wind Sculpted Snow

Not only did I feel the sting of the wind, I could see what it had created while it had howled during the night.

6. Puddle Ice

The puddle in the driveway froze solid when it was about 3 inches deep and then cracked to pieces.

 7. Crack in Pond Ice

Pond ice was also cracking and sounded like rifle shots. A crack caused by a change in temperature is called a thermal crack. Apparently the weak sunshine could warm ice, but it wasn’t doing much to warm me.

8. Footprints to Pine

The snow under a white pine isn’t as deep as it is in the open, so a critter decided to explore.  It could have been the rabbit that lives in this area, but it was too cold to stand around wondering.

 9. Folded Snow

The wind can do some strange things to snow. Here it had folded it.

 10. Snow Wave 2

On the corner of a building the wind sculpted what looks to be a swan or a snow goose. I’m not sure about the placement of the pine needle.

11. Frost on River Ice

There were thousands of little piles of what looked like hoar frost crystals on the river ice. I didn’t dare walk on it to find out for sure.

 12. Sunset on Ice 

After our coldest night in years the sun gave us plenty of light but little heat and it seemed like the ice was winning the battle. It would be another below zero night. The rumor is that the vortex might have another go at us next week. As I write this we have 64 days, 16 hours, 13 minutes, and 15 seconds until spring.

Nothing burns like the cold. ~ George R.R. Martin

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1. Stone Walls

Whitetail deer know if they are to survive in the winter they need to follow the sun and stay on warm, south eastward facing slopes during the day. Not only is it warmer in these places, but the abundant sunshine often means quicker snow melt and plenty of browse. Quite often in winter I follow their lead and on this day I walked along an old stone wall where the overhanging white pines and eastern hemlocks made for light snow cover and the bright sunshine meant it was considerably warmer.

 2. Shingled Rock Shield Lichen aka Xanthoparmelia stenophylla

But sunshine and warmth aren’t the only reasons I come here. Lichens and mosses grow on these stones by the thousands and this old wall has become one of my favorite places to hunt for them in winter. Many of the lichens are in their fruiting stage at this time of year, as the above example of a shingled rock shield lichen (Xanthoparmelia stenophylla) shows. The dark brown, cup shaped growths are the apothecia, or fruiting bodies. These lichens have been here probably for hundreds of years because they are quite large. I’ve seen some that were the size of grapefruit.

3. Rock Greenshield Lichen aka Flavoparmelia baltimorensis

Rock Greenshield Lichens (Flavoparmelia baltimorensis) are also quite large and are very common along this stretch of stone wall. Most foliose lichens seem to prefer growing in the sunshine and these are no different. Foliose means “leaf like” but these lichens always remind me of melted candle wax. In fact there is a lichen known as the eastern candle wax lichen (Ahtiana aurescens), but it grows on tree limbs instead of stone and leans more towards gray than green.

 4. Scattered Rock Posy Lichen aka Rhizoplaca subdiscrepans

I’m going into my third year of visiting this scattered rock posy lichen and if it has changed in that time the change is imperceptible. When I first found it, it was the only one I knew of but over the years I’ve found others. It likes to grow on granite in full sun and is one of the most beautiful lichens, in my opinion. This photo is the closest I’ve ever been able to get to it. The orange disc shaped growths are its fruiting bodies and the grayish, brain like growth is the thallus, or body. The entire lichen is about the size of a penny.

 5. Orange Crust Fungus aka Stereum complicatum

Lichens weren’t the only finds here on this day. This orange, crust like fungus is a parchment fungus called, not surprisingly, orange crust fungus (Stereum complicatum). It was growing a fallen branch. The complicatum part of the scientific name means “folded back on itself.” One of the identifying characteristics of this fungus is the smooth, pore free underside.

 6. Aster Seed Heads

There were plenty of aster seed heads along the wall, waiting for hungry birds.

 7. British Soldier Lichens

British soldier lichens (Cladonia cristatella) grew on an old rotting stump. This lichen was named by someone who thought they resembled the eighteenth century uniform of a  British soldier. It’s very slow growing, and in a good year might grow 2 millimeters. The red parts of this lichen are where its spores are produced and, since they don’t make spores until they reach at least 4 years of age, I know this one has been here awhile. British soldiers and their cousins pixie cups are frutose lichens, which is a lichen that stands upright or hangs down.

8. Rusty Rod in Stone-2

Here and there in this wall there were holes drilled into the stone. In this case a steel rod was held in the hole by an old cut nail. The wire, I think, was probably used to fasten a strand or two of barbed wire to the rod. This gave the stone wall about 2 feet of extra height and probably helped keep the livestock in. Or out, if they had an enclosed vegetable garden.

 9. Hole in Stone

In some cases the rods were gone. The quarter sized holes were most likely done by hand with a star drill and sledge hammer.

10. Hedwigia cillata Moss

Hedwigia cillata moss looked good and healthy. This moss loves to grow on exposed surfaces like stones and cliff faces in sun or shade and is common all over the world. When dry this moss pulls its leaves in tight to the central stem and loses much of its bushy appearance.  Its fruiting bodies (sporophytes) are orange but hide deep among the leaves on short stalks so they aren’t as easy to see as those on other mosses.

11. Moss Covered Boulder

This boulder was covered with carpet mosses and lichens. In her book Gathering Moss author Robin Wall Kimmerer says that lichens pave the way for mosses on stones and other smooth surfaces. Lichens produce acids that slowly etch surfaces just enough to give rootless mosses enough of a purchase to anchor themselves to. The acids in lichens are powerful enough to etch even glass, and they have been known to damage stained glass in some of the great cathedrals of Europe. The yellow square in the above photo shows the area where the following macro photo of moss came from.

12. Brick Carpet Moss aka Bryoerythrophyllum recurvirostrum

This is an extreme close-up of what I believe is brick carpet moss (Bryoerythrophyllum recurvirostrum). There are many different low growing moss species that form carpets and, in my experience, are very hard to identify. These mosses seem to grow in the harshest conditions like on boulders in full sun, but mosses are tough. Robin Wall Kimmerer notes that mosses held dry in herbarium cabinets for 40 years revived in just a few minutes after being given water.

13. Common Goldspeck Lichen aka Candelariella vitellitta

Common goldspeck lichen (Candelariella vitellitta) is uncommonly beautiful. This bright yellow lichen grows on calcium free stones and the examples that I’ve found have always been quite small.  This was the first time that I’ve seen this lichen fruiting. The apothecia or fruiting bodies are disc shaped and slightly darker in color than the granular body, and are so small that I can’t think of anything to compare them to. In fact, I didn’t even see them until I looked at the photo. This one was a real test of the macro capabilities of my camera-all that you see in this photo would easily fit on a dime with room to spare.

14. Golden Moonglow Lichen

Golden moonglow lichen is another small but beautiful, greenish yellow squamulose lichen that grows on stone in full sun. The example in the photo grew on granite and was about the size of a penny, but I’ve seen them larger. This example had quite a lot of dark, disc shaped fruiting bodies showing in its center. A squamulose lichen falls somewhere between the leafy foliose lichens and crusty crustose lichens and has “squamules,” which in this case are the curled lobes around its outer edges.

There is no absolute scale of size in nature, and the small may be as important, or more so than the great. ~Oliver Heaviside

Note: I’m sorry that I don’t remember which of you told me about the Gathering Moss book, but I’d like to thank you for doing so. It’s a great book.

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1. Winter Light

 

I called this post winter light because the light has been so unusal over the past week or two. Or maybe it’s just that I’m noticing it more. It is easy and gentle on the eyes and I pay particular attention to it in the afternoon, hoping for any signs of a lengthening day.

 2. Winter Light

This was taken late one afternoon after a snow storm. “Late” afternoon actually means about 4:30 right now.

3. Sunlight on Snowy Trees

This was the view out my back door after a recent snowstorm that quit at about mid day and let the sun come out. With such weak sunshine and no wind the snow stayed on the tress for quite a while.

 4. Ashuelot Sunset 

The Ashuelot River hasn’t frozen over yet but border ice is forming along its banks, growing slowly in towards its middle. I call these ice shelves, and if you aren’t familiar with the lay of the land on the shoreline, they can be dangerous once covered by snow. Twice last year I found myself standing on ice shelves when I thought that I was standing on dry land. Thankfully, they held my weight each time, but I’m being much more careful this year. Walking on frozen rivers is a dangerous game.

 5. River Ice Patterns 

In the shade, patterns could be seen in the ice. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) website tells me that this ice is called columnar ice because of its column shaped grain. This ice is very clear and usually grows in areas with slower flow. Once the river has been covered bank to bank with ice the crystals continue to grow downward, thickening the ice cover.

 6. River Rapids 

On a slightly warmer day I tried to get shots of some interesting waves on the Ashuelot. There’s a rhythm to a river just like with most things in nature, and if you tune in to that rhythm you can get shots of cresting waves every time you click the shutter. If you watch a certain spot and only that spot you find that the river does almost the same thing over and over again, just a few seconds apart.

7. Monadnock from Perkins Pond

I could see from quite a distance that Mount Monadnock had snow on it but I wanted a closer look so I drove to Perkin’s Pond in Troy, which is a favorite viewing place. The pond was completely frozen over and the only sunshine to be had was up on the mountain. The wind often howls down the length of this pond in winter, making this a very cold spot. Still, I’m sure that it was much colder on the summit.

8. Monadnock from Perkins Pond

Snow makes the mountain even more beautiful. It could be ankle deep or shoulder deep. It’s hard to tell from here, and I’m not going to climb it to find out.

 9. Winter Light

In summer I’m usually worn out from traipsing through the woods long before the sun sets, but in the winter the days wear out before I do. When you’re out there with a camera on a cold winter day and everything is going well and you feel that you might be getting some good shots, it’s hard to watch the sun set so early.

10. Sunset on the Waterfall

The setting sun turned the Ashuelot River falls into a golden ribbon one afternoon. I was surprised that they hadn’t frozen.

11. Sunset on the River

The river was also colored gold and had frazil ice pans forming in it. Frazil ice forms in super cooled water and then floats to the surface where it clumps together to make various ice formations .They were a sure sign that the water was frigid, no matter how hard the sun tried to hide it.

Nature is so powerful, so strong. Capturing its essence is not easy – your work becomes a dance with light and the weather. It takes you to a place within yourself. Annie Leibovitz

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This is another one of those posts full of unusual things that I see in the woods that don’t seem to fit in other posts.

1. Amber Jelly Fungi

These amber jelly fungi (Exidia recisa) were frozen solid and looked like lollipops, or maybe half lollipops. This fungus is called willow brain because it is often found growing on willows. It produces spores on its upper surface, which is smooth and shiny, and the underside has more of a matte finish. Winter is a great time to find jelly fungi of many kinds, but you have to look closely. Those in the photo were no bigger than a dime-roughly 18mm.

 2. Split Gill Mushroom

Split gill fungi (Schizophyllum commune) are probably the easiest winter fungi to identify because of their wooly winter coats. These mushrooms grow year round on dead limbs but for some reason, I only notice them in winter. That could be because they are very small-no larger than a penny at best-roughly 19mm. They’re also very tough and leathery. They grow on every continent except Antarctica and because of that are said to be the most studied mushroom on earth. Scientists have recently isolated a compound from them that has been shown to inhibit the HIV-1 virus.

3. Split Gill Mushroom-2

The “gills” on the split gill fungus are actually folds on its under surface that split lengthwise when it dries out. This example was very dry. The splits close over the fertile surfaces as the mushroom shrivels in dry weather. When rehydrated by rain the splits reopen, the spore-producing surfaces are exposed to the air, and spores are released.

5. Beech Bud

Beech trees have their long, pointed buds all ready for spring. When these begin to break and unfurl they are one of the most beautiful sights in the forest, in my opinion. The fuzzy, silvery new leaf looks like an angel wing, but just for a very short time.

 6. Zig Zag Tree Wound

I can’t even guess what caused this zig-zag pattern in this tree bark. My first thought was lightning, but that would run from the top down. This scar comes out of the soil and runs about 3 feet up the trunk.

7. Cheese Polypore

White cheese polypore (Tyromyces chioneus) is, according to the website Mushroom Expert.com, just about the most boring mushroom going. But it is a “winter mushroom” and that, in my opinion, makes it at least a little interesting. It grows on hardwood logs and causes white rot, and gets its common name from its scientific one. Tyromyces means “with a cheesy consistency,” and chioneus means “snow white.” These mushrooms are big enough to be seen from a distance and when they are fresh they have a pleasing fragrance that some think is like cheesecake.

8. Frozen Mushroom Gills

This mushroom was frozen solid but had still held on to its colors, which reminded me of fall.

9. Alder Toungue Gall

Instead of being caused by an insect like many galls, alder (Alnus glutinosa) tongue gall is caused by a fungus (Taphrina alni). The fungus chemically deforms parts of the ovarian tissue of the female cone-like catkins (strobiles) and causes long, tongue shaped galls known as languets to grow from them. These galls seem to like high humidity so are usually found on alders that grow near ponds and streams.

10. Orange Jelly Fungi

I don’t think I’ve ever seen this many orange jelly fungi (Dacrymyces palmatus) growing in one place before. They were on a hemlock stump no bigger than the average doughnut. Most of the orange ones that I see are growing on hemlock.

 11. Orange Jelly Fungi 2

These orange jelly fungi (Dacrymyces palmatus) grew inside a hollow log. Walking slowly and looking into hollow logs is a great way to find unexpected things but I only stick my hands in them after I’ve had a look first, because I’ve also seen sharp toothed chipmunks in them.

 12. Black Jelly Fungus

Black jelly fungi (Exidia glandulosa) often decorate alder bark in this area. These were a bit shriveled because of the cold and the lack of rain, but once we see some rain they will swell up and look like puffed up pillows. It’s amazing how much jelly fungi can swell up after a rain.

 13. Witch Hazel Bracts

Last year the witch hazels (Hamamelis virginiana) along the river were still blooming on January 21st, but not this year. All that is left are the cup shaped bracts which the strap shaped yellow petals unfurl from. I think 10 below zero in early December was too cold too soon and “switched them off” for this winter. Normally they won’t bloom much past Thanksgiving, so the last two or three years of seeing them bloom later and later have been unusual.

 14. Maleberry Seed Pods

If you glanced at a maleberry (Lyonia ligustrina) shrub in spring or early summer you might think it was a blueberry, because its flowers resemble blueberry flowers. Both shrubs are in the blueberry family and maleberry is sometimes called male blueberry. You would be waiting a long time to find anything blue on this bush though-its fruit is a hard capsule full of seeds. The 5 part capsules make this an easy shrub to identify in winter. I just look for the star on the end of the capsules. I find them on the banks of ponds, growing next to alders.

Commonly we stride through the out-of-doors too swiftly to see more than the most obvious and prominent things. For observing nature, the best pace is a snail’s pace.  ~Edward Way Teale

Thanks for coming by.

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Regular readers might be getting tired of seeing this part of the New Hampshire rail trail system north of Keene but I never get tired of exploring here because I never know what I’m going to find. There are mosses, lichens, and liverworts here that I don’t see anywhere else so last week, after a nuisance snowstorm of 2 or 3 inches, I decided to see what I could find. The ice formations alone make this a worthwhile trip.

 1. Rail Trail

I think the reason all of the unusual plants grow so well here is because of the all of the groundwater that constantly seeps from the stone cliff faces. Mosses, lichens and liverworts don’t have roots so they depend on rain, snowmelt, and groundwater for their nutrients. In the winter the groundwater that helps them survive also freezes into huge, interesting ice formations and there are many people who come here to climb them.

 2. Ice Climber

I happened to meet up with a solitary ice climber here this day, and I took his picture so you could get an idea of the scale of this man made canyon that was blasted out of the bedrock. He looked to be 6 feet tall or so-maybe a little taller.

3. Green Ice

The ice climber had gotten there before me and I followed his footprints in the fresh snow, noting that he went from ice column to ice column, finally settling on a large column of green ice much like the one in the above photo. He was climbing alone so there was no safety rope and I didn’t want to take a photo of him climbing because I didn’t want to do anything to break his concentration. I was wishing that I could have talked to him about the ice and why he climbed it.

I haven’t been able to answer the question of why the ice is green so I don’t know if it is being stained by minerals or vegetation.  My gut feeling says it’s probably a little of both.

4. Fan Pocket Moss aka Fissidens dubius

Ice wasn’t the only reason I came here. These old walls are covered in mosses, lichens and liverworts. I think the moss shown here growing out of a crack in the stone is fan pocket moss (Fissidens dubius.)  It was very small-no bigger than a quarter. Fissidens mosses always appear flat and have two leaves directly across from one another along the stem.

5. Green Algae

I also came here to see something I was only recently able to identify. Though it is bright orange, this is called green algae (Trentepohlia aurea.) The orange color comes from the carotenoid pigment in the alga cells called hematochrome or beta- carotene, which is the same pigment that gives carrots their orange color. One of the reasons I wanted to visit this place again was to try to get better photos of it.

6. Green Algae 2

I found that getting a better photo was easier said than done, but at least you can see the hairiness of what is described as “filamentous green chlorophyte algae.” The pigment masks the green chlorophyll and can also be yellow or red.  In 2001 airborne spores from these algae were in high enough concentrations in India to cause a “red rain” that actually stained clothes pink. Yellow, green, and black rain was also reported. You can read more about that by clicking here.

7. Fallen Tree

I know from previous visits that this fallen tree means I should start watching for liverworts growing on the walls. With all the fresh snow, I wasn’t sure that I’d see any.

 8. Fountain Smoothcap Moss aka Atrichum crispum

It would probably take a lifetime to identify all the different mosses growing here. I think this one might be fountain smoothcap moss (Atrichum crispum), but to be honest I can’t be certain. There are many mosses that look very much like this one and often only a microscope will reveal their true identity. The fact that it was growing in such a wet environment and the way the dry lower leaves had a crisp look is what leads me to believe it is Atrichum crispum. In any case, I thought it was a very pretty moss. Since most moss leaves are only one cell thick they look translucent in certain kinds of light.

9. Running Water

Speaking of wet environments, this is not the place to come if you want silence, because the sound of dripping water is constant. Winter, summer, spring and fall it, and the sounds of birds chirping, are all that you hear in this place. Sometimes the drip turns to a gush, as can be seen in this photo. Luckily the railroad engineers designed drainage ditches along each side of the road bed that still keep it nice and dry close to 200 years after they were dug.

10. Sun on Ice-2 

The canyon walls are high enough and the sun low enough in the sky so very little sunlight is seen here in winter.  A few shafts fall here and there, but they do little to warm things up. Also, the ice seems to create its own micro climate so you need to dress warmly if you plan to explore this area. On this day the temperature must have been a good 10 degrees colder in the canyon than on the more open parts of the trail that get sunshine.

11. Winter Crane Fly aka Trichocera

On the more open parts of the trail winter crane flies (Trichocera) could be seen soaking up the sun.

12. Liverwort in Snow

I finally saw some liverworts that had been protected from the snow but the drainage ditch full of water kept me from getting close. I’ve decided that I’m going to get some knee high wading boots to overcome the drainage ditch problem. That way I’ll be able to get closer to all of the unusual plants growing here. A ladder would also be useful but I hate to think of carrying one all the way out here.

 13. Preissia quadrata Liverwort

Every time I come here I see something I’ve never seen before. Today’s find was this liverwort that reminded me a little of cooked bacon. Or maybe I was just hungry.  Anyhow, I think this one is called narrow mushroom-headed liverwort (Preissia quadrata,) but since it can sometimes take a team of botanists to identify a liverwort, don’t bet the farm on my identification. Fresh plants are said to have a disagreeable odor, but I was able to get quite close to this one thanks to the frozen over drainage ditch, and I don’t remember smelling much of anything. Plants are also said to have a very hot taste when nibbled, but I think I’ll leave the nibbling to the botanists. I’m anxious to come back in June to see the mushroom shaped fruiting bodies.

 14. Conocephalum conicum Liverwort

Sometimes we see things so beautiful that we just want to sit and gaze at them, and when we do we find that when we’ve finished we have no idea how much time has passed, because the thing has taken us outside of ourselves. It can happen with a view from a mountain top, or a sunset, or a liverwort. This one is called the great scented liverwort (Conocephalum conicum) and it is another reason I come here.

The woods were made for the hunters of dreams. ~ S.W. Foss

Thanks for stopping in. Happy New Year!

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