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Archive for the ‘Animals’ Category

June is when the big female snapping turtles come up out of the ponds and swamps to find some warm sand to lay their eggs in. This one had just done so and still had wet mud clinging to her when I saw her on one of my walks. Egg laying seems to be quite a project for the big reptiles but every year many thousands of eggs are lain, so they always find a way.

Seeing this garter snake might have stopped the snapper in its tracks, because they are omnivores and eat snakes, frogs, fish, crayfish, insects, plants, birds, small mammals, and even other turtles. It was on another walk that I saw this snake and what was really odd about it was how it was out in the open in daylight. They often come out to the edge of the woods to sun themselves during the day but are always within easy reach of cover, and will slither off quickly if you approach them. This one had no cover at all, not even high grass.

I kept trying to get a shot of the snake with its forked tongue out, but I missed every time. Garter snakes are timid and nonpoisonous, so they are nothing to worry about. Still, if my grandmother had been there, she would have been up a tree. Garter snakes eat crickets, grasshoppers, small fish, and earthworms. They do have teeth, but they’re no real danger to humans. I’ve read that the saliva of some garter snake species contains a mild neurotoxin that causes paralysis, making small prey easier to swallow.

While I was taking photos an 85 year old lady stopped and rolled down her car window and told me how she was deathly afraid of snakes but, she said, when she was just a girl she once let them drape a boa constrictor over her shoulders at a circus for a free candy bar. I told her she and my grandmother would have gotten along quite well.

That garter snake probably would have like to have met Mr. bullfrog, but I doubt it could have swallowed him. This was a big frog, but I never would have seen it if it hadn’t croaked loudly after a neighboring frog did the same. They do talk to each other. One will start it off and then they’ll all start croaking, one right after the other. It can be quite loud.

On the same day I saw the frog in the previous shot I saw a bullfrog jump right out of the water and snatch something out of the air before landing with a splash, and I think it might have been a cousin of this spangled skimmer dragonfly. The “spangles” are the black and white markings on its wings, otherwise it closely resembles the slaty skimmer, which is what I thought it was at first. It was quite far away when I took this shot. I also saw lots of pretty twelve spotted skimmers on this day but I couldn’t get a shot of any of them.

I saw 3 or 4 eastern swallowtail butterflies probing the damp sand at the edge of a dirt road recently. They’re pretty things and at about the same size as a monarch butterfly, big enough to see easily. They often show up just before the mountain laurels bloom and I see them hanging from the laurel flowers almost every year.

Usually I have to wait for butterflies to fold their wings but this time I had to wait for this one to unfold them. I was hoping it would have more blue/purple on its wings than it did.

I hike in the woods but I walk on roads, and on one of those walks a hawk flew out of the woods, swooped down right over my head, and landed on a wire ahead of me. I thought as soon as I got too near it would fly off but no, I walked over and stood right under it and it didn’t move. I don’t carry my “big” camera with me when I walk because I walk fast and its constantly bumping into my chest bothers me, so I had to get this shot with my small macro camera. That’s why it isn’t a very good shot, but it does show a hawk. I’m not very good with birds but it might be a cooper’s hawk. If you know what it is for sure I’d love to hear its name because I think it lives here and I’m fairly sure I’ve seen it before.

In this shot I took of the evening sky with my phone camera there was a bird flying up there to the right that I never saw until I looked at the photo. I wondered if it could be a hawk, but the detail isn’t fine enough to tell. It’s just a silhouette.

I saw a familiar sight on an oak branch on a recent walk. Wooly oak galls are usually about the size of a ping pong ball when I find them, but have a kind of felt feel, like a tennis ball. The gall is caused by secretions from the grubs of the wool sower gall wasp (Callirhytis seminator) and they only appear in spring.

There are small seed like structures inside the gall which contain the wasp larva, and that’s why these galls are also called oak seed galls. What I want to point out about these galls though, is how books will tell you that they will only grow on white oak trees, and that isn’t true. Though they almost always do grow on white oaks I’ve also seen them on red oaks, so don’t be fooled by the galls like I have been; check the leaves. One thing I’ve learned from studying nature is the words always and never do not apply.

White pine (Pinus strobus) pollen cones have come and have opened, and have released their yellow-green pollen to the wind. It settles on everything, and if you leave your windows open you find that it even comes into the house. My car is covered with it but luckily it is like dust and just blows away.

This year I went looking for red pine pollen cones (Pinus resinosa) and the ones I found before they had opened were very beautiful, but they were also in someone’s yard so I didn’t get a shot of them. Then I remembered where there were others that I could get close to and here they are in this photo, but they had already opened. They are much bigger than white pine pollen cones.

Pollen cones are the male flowers of the tree and this photo shows the female flowers. When the male pollen finds them, if all goes according to plan they will be fertilized and will become the seed-bearing pine cones that I think we’re all familiar with. Some flowers on coniferous trees are very small; so small that sometimes all I can see is a hint of color, so you have to look closely to find them.

The Ashuelot River gets lower and lower and still no beneficial rain comes to refill it. I’m starting to get the feeling that it may not be a good year for mushrooms, but I hope I’m wrong.

Another name for royal fern (Osmunda spectabilis) is “flowering fern,” because someone once thought that the fertile, fruiting fronds looked like bunches of flowers. You can see them here on the fern in the photo but though they are often purple they don’t look much like flowers to me. Royal fern is the only fern that grows on every temperate continent except Australia, which makes it one of the most widespread of all living species.

Here is a closer look at the spore capsules of the royal fern. They aren’t something that many people get to see.

For the first time, this year I was able to find and get a shot of a royal fern fiddlehead. Even at this stage it’s a beautiful fern. In the fall, at the other end of its life, it will turn first bright yellow and then will become a kind of beautiful burnt orange color.

Three bracken fern fronds (Pteridium aquilinum) appear at the end of a long stem and flatten out horizontally, parallel to the ground. They also overlap and shade the ground under them. These growth habits and their ability to release chemicals that inhibit the growth of many other plants means that almost nothing will grow under a colony of bracken fern. They will not tolerate acid rain, so if you don’t see them growing where you live you might want to check the local air pollution statistics.

Ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) is not a fern that I see a lot of. It likes damp ground and shade but even beyond that it seems to be very choosy about where it grows. It’s a very beautiful fern that I wish I’d see more of.

Ostrich fern fronds are narrower at the tip and base and wider in the center. The leaf stalk of an ostrich fern is deeply grooved, much more pronounced than others. Sensitive, interrupted fern and cinnamon fern have grooved leaf stalks but their grooves are much shallower. If you like to eat fern fiddleheads in spring you should get to know ostrich fern by that groove.

In some plants the same pigments that color leaves in the fall when they stop photosynthesizing also color their leaves in the spring before the leaves have started photosynthesizing. Once they start producing more chlorophyll, they’ll quickly turn green. This coloring of new spring leaves is a form of protection from the weather that some plants and even trees use. Heavy cloud cover, cold snaps, and even too much sunlight can cause some leaves to slow down their greening process in spring, but plants like the Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium) seen in this photo do it almost every year, I’ve noticed.

Another plant with purple leaves in spring, every spring in my experience, is the native clematis called virgin’s bower or traveler’s joy (Clematis virginiana). It won’t be long before its small white flowers decorate the roadside shrubs as it climbs over them to reach optimum sunlight but by that time all of its leaves will have turned green. An extract made from the plant is hallucinogenic (and dangerous) and was used by Native Americans to induce dreams. Mixed with other plants like milkweed, it was also used medicinally. It is a very toxic plant that can cause painful sores in the mouth if eaten.

There are many grasses starting to flower now and I hope you’ll go out and see them. Never mind your hay fever; I have allergies too. Nature doesn’t mind being sneezed at. Take a pill, grab some tissues and become one of those who sees the beauty that most never see. Even if you have to see it through watery eyes now and then, it’s still beautiful.

A native smooth carrion flower vine (Smilax herbacea) grew beside a trail and it seemed as if it just flung itself into existence and went wild, with leaves and tendrils and great arching stems everywhere. I thought it was a beautiful thing, and it stopped me right in my tracks. No matter what is going on in life, no matter where you are, there is always beauty to be seen. You don’t even have to search for it; it is just there, like a dandelion blooming in a crack in the sidewalk as you hurry along, or a white cloud floating across a blue sky reflected in the glass of your car window. It is there I think, to remind us to just slow down a little and appreciate life more; to take the time to enjoy this beautiful paradise that we find ourselves in.

If you Love all Life you observe, you will observe all Life with Love.  ~Donald L. Hicks

Thanks for stopping in.

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I thought I’d take a break from flower posts this week, not because I’m tired of flowers but because my California friend Dave asked when he would see photos of shagbark hickory buds breaking. They’re easily as beautiful as a flower, but to see them I had to go to the banks of the Ashuelot River. This was no hardship because I started playing on the banks of this river when I was a boy and have loved doing so ever since.

It was beautiful along the river with all the new spring green leaves, but the water level has dropped considerably since the last time it rained. I think it has been close to two weeks since the last substantial rain, and many smaller streams are starting to dry up.

I saw lots of what I think were muskrat tracks in the mud along the shore.

And there were the new shagbark hickory leaves. I couldn’t catch the color I wanted on the bud scales (actually inner scales) in the bright sunshine so I went back the following day when it was cloudy. On this day the beautiful pinks, reds and oranges were easier to capture. It’s not just the light though; some inner bud scales are a single color and others are multi colored like these were. They also lose color quickly as they age so you just have to walk along the river bank and look until you find the one that speaks to you. Fortunately a lot of shagbark hickory buds usually break at the same time so they aren’t hard to find. They’re worth looking for because in my opinion, they’re one of the most beautiful things you’ll find in a spring forest.

This is what they look like when they have spread out to unfurl their leaves. It’s unusual to be able to see this because it usually happens far up in the tree tops, but for some reason in this area the beavers keep cutting the trees. New shoots regrow from the stump and the beavers leave them alone for a while before coming back and cutting them again. Thanks to the beavers there is always a good supply of buds at eye level.

The oaks have also broken their buds, and more new leaves appear each day. Oaks are one of the last buds to break.

Like the maples, oaks can have very colorful new leaves. I’ve seen them in white, pink, red, and just about every shade of green imaginable.

Some new oak leaves even have stripes, as these did. I saw a lot of these leaves in all stages of growth and they appeared to be changing from white to red, which accounted for the stripe. New oak leaves are always velvety and soft.

Some oaks are even showing flower buds already.

Here was a young oak that had barely unfolded its leaves and it was already being eaten by something. It also had three or four oak apple galls on it. They’re caused by a wasp (Amphibolips confluenta) called the oak apple gall wasp. Galls that form on leaves don’t harm the tree so they can be left alone. They’re always interesting to see.

Striped maples (Acer pensylvanicum) are also flowering, with their green bell-shaped flowers all in a string. Sometimes they dangle under the big leaves and other times the wind blows them up and over the leaves as these were. There is only one maple in this region that flowers later, and that is the mountain maple (Acer spicatum).

If you want to see a beautiful, non-flowering plant called the woodland horsetail (Equisetum sylvaticum) you’ll have to leave the trail and go into the forest, but it will be worth the effort to see the delicate, lacy foliage of what is considered the most beautiful of all the horsetails. I was happy to see that they had grown from what was a single plant a few years ago to ten or more now, so they like it here. I originally found them by following a beaver pond outflow stream into the woods.

Woodland horsetails like to grow in bright sunshine in very wet ground. Here they grow right along the water’s edge by this stream. They blend in easily with the foliage of other plants, so you have to walk slowly and look carefully. The sylvaticum part of the scientific name is Latin for “of the forest”, and that’s where you have to search for them.

I found what was left of a wild turkey egg shell by the stream where the woodland horsetail grows. Turkeys nest directly on the ground but I didn’t see any signs of a nest so I wonder if a predator didn’t carry the egg here to eat it. According to the New Hampshire Department of Fish and Game turkeys lay an average of a dozen eggs in early to mid-May, only one per day, and they hatch after about 28 days, so either this hen laid her eggs early or this egg didn’t hatch. If a predator gets to her eggs she’ll lay another clutch in July or August, but normally they lay only once per year. This egg was tan colored, about the size of a hen’s egg I think, with brownish speckles all over it. New Hampshire has an estimated population of 45,000 turkeys. I see them everywhere but they’re almost always running into the woods as I drive by.

If I’m lucky I might see one beech seedling with its seed leaves still intact each year. Here is this year’s seedling. Seed leaves often look nothing like the true leaves. In the case of American beech they look more like flower petals than leaves but feel tough and leathery. On a beech seedling they will photosynthesize until the true leaves appear, and then once they are no longer needed, they will wither and fall off. In my experience they are a rare sight.

Each spring I look for the shoots of the white baneberry (Actaea pachypoda), and each spring they look absolutely identical to the ones I found the spring before. They always look to me like a small hand is holding the plant’s flower buds while an older “parent” gazes down lovingly at them. It always seems like a tender moment has been caught and frozen in time, and it’s always as if I’m seeing the exact same thing I saw the year before. I’ve seen lots of new spring shoots but these are the only ones I know of that never seem to change. They’re like an old friend who comes around once a year to remind me that some things never really change, even though it may seem as if they do.

Mr. robin wondered just what it was I was doing and hopped over to get a better look. Though most robins will hop or fly away if you get too close there are some that are very curious. If you let them come to you they’ll often get quite close, as this one did. I was on my knees taking photos so maybe he wondered why this human’s eyes were so close to the ground while others were not. I didn’t realize what eye movements could do to animals until I watched a show on PBS television that showed border collies herding sheep by using only their eyes. They never bark; it’s all done with eye movements. I’m hoping I remember never to stare into a bear’s eyes again.

I don’t know if this was two trees or one tree that split and grew this way but either way, I’m not sure what would have made it do this. Trees do some strange things.

A big dead white pine fell into a pond and stretched two thirds of the way across it. White pine (Pinus strobus) is New Hampshire’s tallest tree but you often don’t realize how tall they really are until they fall.  

A painted turtle looked like it was practicing its yoga exercises on a log, but really it was just releasing heat. I read that when they raise their feet like that it cools them off. Sometimes they look as if they’re trying to fly.

I went to the skunk cabbage swamp and not surprisingly, found it full of skunk cabbages. But that’s not the only reason I come here. Nearby, higher up on drier ground, our beautiful native azaleas (Rhododendron prinophyllum) bloom so I wanted to check their progress. It’ll be another week or so before we see the flowers, depending on the weather.

I saw something bright yellow in a drainage ditch and when I looked a little closer, I saw that the color was coming from swamp beacons (Mitrula elegans). Swamp beacons are interesting “aquatic” fungi and I find them in seeps and ditches where ground water stays on the surface year-round. They will be my first fungal find of the season.

Swamp beacons use a process called soft rot to decompose plant material in low-oxygen areas. Since they only decompose soft tissue, they aren’t found on twigs or bark. I almost always find them growing out of saturated oak leaves, as these were. They are small; about the size of a wooden match, and another name for them is matchstick fungus. These were some of the brightest colored examples that I’ve seen.

Treasures are hidden away in quiet places. They speak in soft tones and often become silenced as we approach. They don’t beg to be found, but embrace us if we do happen to find them. They are the product of completely ordinary circumstances unfolding in wonderfully extraordinary ways. They are found hidden in the nooks and crannies of our existence; all around us if we quit allowing our attention to be captivated by that which is noisy and listen for that which is quiet and still. ~Craig D. Lounsbrough

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I find the most satisfying times I spend in nature are when I go with no expectations. When I just go and see what I can see without any preconceived notions, I get the most out of it. So with that thought in mind I went to the Ashuelot River in Swanzey on one recent showery day. It was a good choice because I knew if it rained, I could get back to the car without getting too wet. The way the clouds looked I doubted that I would be there long.

The river was tame and had nothing much to say. Surprising, since the last time I came here to get photos of waves, it roared. It was out of its banks here for part of the winter and flooded parts of the area that I’d be visiting, so there was no telling what I’d see on this day.

The first thing I saw was a beautiful mussel shell tangled in the weeds. All the colors of a rainbow were in it and as I see it in the photo, I wish I had brought it home. There are lots of mussels in this section of river and the raccoons come down to the shore at night to enjoy them.

There was another shell, but what I was really taking this photo of were the interesting patterns in the sand. I’d guess that the lighter sand was drier than the darker but why it wasn’t all drying at the same rate was a mystery. What was not a mystery is why the sand was here. The river seems to flood more area each year in this spot and the silt gets deposited higher on its banks.

The water had just receded from this spot and here already were green spring shoots.

The wind had blown all the stuffing out of a bird’s nest. It was some type of fabric and I wondered where the bird had found it all.

The mosses were in many shades of green.

And the oak leaves were in many shades of brown. They were beautiful, as if they had been sculpted. I thought, if I could make a mold by carving an oak leaf into a block of wood, and then get a thin sheet of copper and hammer it into the mold, I would have a copper oak leaf. Then if I curled it and painted it just so, I could have a fair representation of what I see here, and I could see it every day. But then I thought, maybe what makes things like this so special is that we can’t see them every day. We just happen to run into them now and then and that’s why we stop and see, and admire and learn.

This was a bit unnerving. Silt on the trail meant that the river came up over the land here; the first time I’ve seen it happen. This bit of land is a small peninsula that juts out into the river and points like a finger downriver.

There is a huge old maple tree here that first lost one trunk and now it has lost the other. Woodpecker holes and lots of fungi tell the story.

I saw quite a few maple dust lichens growing on a muscle wood tree (Carpinus caroliniana.) Muscle wood is also called American hornbeam, and its wood is very dense and hard. It loves to grow by rivers and streams but it is short lived. I rarely see trees that are much bigger around than my leg, in fact. This one was just about that size but was leaning badly and will probably fall soon. You can see how its “tendons” ripple beneath its “skin” to give it its common name. It is also called blue beech and I think this is the first time I’ve ever seen maple dust lichens (Lecanora thysanophora) growing on one.

The rough looking seedpods of witch hazel are everywhere out here. Something I’ve always wanted to see (or hear) is witch hazel seed pods exploding. They explode with force and can throw the seeds as far as 30 feet. I’ve read that you can hear them pop when they open and even though I keep trying to be there at the right time to see and hear it happening, I never have been.

A burl on a tree reminded me of all the beautiful things that can made from them. Anything made from a burl will be beautiful but also quite pricey. I’ve seen huge antique burl bowls that were just amazing but they were also valued in the thousands of dollars. Scientists don’t fully understand why it happens but burls are thought to grow on trees that have been weakened by stress or damage. Once the tree’s defenses have been weakened insects and/or fungi can attack and cause the abnormal growth. I don’t know how that could follow with this young maple though. I suppose it might have been stressed but I didn’t see any damage.

Slowly, the river is cutting off the tip of the finger. From here on I’ve seen this entire tip of the peninsula under water a few times but there was a time not so long ago when I could walk right through here all the way to the point. Over across the water where all the silt is now thousands of violets used to bloom, and it was a shaded, beautiful spot where people liked to fish. Now as the river slowly erodes it away, it looks more waste land than the idyllic spot it once was.

Here is a view of the end of the peninsula completely under water after heavy rain in 2019. Each time this happens more of it goes.

The beavers had been busy, as they always are. They keep wounding this tree but have never cut it down. You can see this same tree to the far left in the previous photo. The beavers had chewed on it then, too.

There were either blue flag iris or cattails growing in the mud. Since I didn’t see any of what looked like last year’s cattail stems, I’m going to assume they’re irises.

A branch split away from this tree and revealed that it was completely hollow. It is just a shell with nothing inside so it won’t take much of a wind to blow it down. It’s amazing how many standing trees are completely hollow.

A large fugus lay on the ground by the hollow tree but I couldn’t see anywhere on the tree that it might have come from, so that was another mystery for this day.

The river had carved the sand in strange ways here. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anything like that.

This walk I thought, was like walking through an art gallery. The muscle shell, the patterns in this stone, and the way the river carved the sand were all beautiful, and I was grateful to have seen them. I can see a day in the not-too-distant future though, when the river will probably swallow all of it.

Happiness, not in another place but this place…not for another hour, but this hour. ~Walt Whitman

Thanks for coming by. Have a happy Easter!

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Though it hasn’t warmed up much since the last flower post, spring is still happening. Each time I look around I’m seeing more crocuses. Last year there were a lot more white ones in this cool color group but they seem to be disappearing.

A new clump of reticulated iris has bloomed. I thought they were very pretty.

This bicolor is the first daffodil flower I’ve seen this year. Though it had just opened it looked tired and weather worn.

Many others won’t bloom at all because of the two cold nights we had. If you look to where the petals meet the stem on this bud you can see that they’re kind of discolored and watery looking. It and a few others were bitten badly.

I wasn’t going to bother with this shot of scilla but then I saw the oak leaves beside it

The small crocuses with blue stripes on the outside have opened to white. They’re pretty but it’s hard to see the blue when they’re open, and that’s my favorite part.

I like the soft shading on these examples. Google Lens calls them “vernal crocuses” and I think they might be Crocus tommasinianus. But whatever their name it doesn’t matter; they’re very pretty.

I like to see if I can get a bee’s eye view of flowers now and then. What bee wouldn’t want to go in there?

I saw hundreds of tulip leaves but not a single bud.

Magnolias are shedding their fur coats, but very slowly. After three days this one looked just the same as it does here. I love the color of that bud.

Imagine a bud that is the size of a large pea, and then imagine all of those yellow flower buds packed into that space. That’s exactly what is going on in this photo of a Cornelian cherry bud (Cornus mas). The bud scales open to reveal what seems an impossibility.

Grape hyacinths have come along. They aren’t related to grapes; they’re actually in the asparagus family (Asparagaceae) as are true hyacinths, but they do look like little clusters of grapes. These weedy flower beds you see in these some of these shots are at the local college. I went there and asked them if they couldn’t use a part time weeder but the funding isn’t there. I wasn’t surprised. Two years of Covid crippled the University System of New Hampshire but tuition rates are usually still among the highest in the entire country, so I’m sure that must limit spending as well. Maybe if they lowered tuition rates, they’d attract more students and make more money.

There are lots of squirrels around now. I’ve read that a squirrel can live its entire life without ever touching the ground. They bite the bark of trees like maples and lick up the sap, and then they eat buds, bark and fruit. This one found something to nibble on down below though. It also looked like it had been in a fight or two.

The vernal witch hazels, encouraged by the cool weather, just keep on blooming. These bushes are at the local college and a man I took to be a professor walked by when I was taking photos. “Are we all budded up?” he asked. I was a bit surprised. “There are flowers blooming all over the campus,” I told him. I also told him these were some of my favorites because of their scent. He started telling me that he couldn’t smell them because he had allergies, but then he said “Oh wait, I can smell them. They’re wonderful.” It’s easy to imagine him stopping to smell them every time he walks by from now on, just like I do. They are indeed wonderful and well worth stopping for.

I went to see the willows and finally spotted some color amidst the gray. You have to look closely, but it’s there.

The next day I saw this.

And this. Once you see a bit of color on a willow catkin it’s a good idea to go right back the next day because they bloom fast. These are male (Staminate) pollen bearing flowers. I haven’t found any female flowers yet. They aren’t quite as showy as the male blossoms on willows.

One day while visiting the spot where the willows grow, as I was checking to see if they were blooming, I heard a beautiful bird song coming from above. I looked up and there was a cardinal in the top of a tree, the first one I’ve ever seen. It’s hard for someone who isn’t colorblind to understand I know, but with the kind of colorblindness I have two of the most difficult colors to see when they’re together are red and green. I can see that this bird is obviously very red in the photo and I could see it that day when it was in the treetop but if it had been in a green tree, I wouldn’t have been able to see him at all. As if to prove it to me once again, this bird flew into some nearby spruce trees and completely disappeared. I could hear him singing so beautifully, but though I tried and tried I couldn’t see him. In my mind I could hear my son asking, as he did one day while pointing at a tree, “It’s right there. How can you not see it?” I can’t explain the how of it but I can say that this world is full of things we don’t see.

Dandelions are having a great time this spring and I’m seeing lots of them. They’ll disappear as soon as it gets hot so I enjoy them while I can.

One of them had curled stigmas full of pollen showing, which I’m sure the insects were very happy to see. On a dandelion blossom the stigma comes out of a tiny tube formed by the anthers, and though it’s a bit grainy if you look closely, you can see that in this photo.

I didn’t even have to go into the swamp to see that the leaves were unfurling on skunk cabbages. The sunlight highlighted this one perfectly. When they’re young like this they do resemble a cabbage leaf.

I thought I’d take a look at the place where spring beauties (Claytonia carolinana) grow to see if I could find any of their leaves showing but instead, I found a single flower blooming. I was very happy to see it and I thought this day, April second was the earliest I’d ever seen them bloom but no, in 2020 they bloomed a day earlier, on April first. I walked around the area to find more but this was the only one I could find in bloom. It won’t be long though, before the forest floor is alive with them. These beautiful but small, aspirin size wildflowers always help me retrain my eyes to see small in spring. That’s important, because many other tiny flowers like bluets and goldthread will be coming along in mid-month.

The hours when the mind is absorbed by beauty are the only hours when we really live, so that the longer we can stay among these things so much the more is snatched from inevitable Time. ~Loren Eiseley

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I drove north out of Keene Wednesday, thinking I’d do a climb but I saw that there was still a lot of ice and snow in the woods so I decided against climbing that day. Instead I went to Yale Forest in Swanzey, where there is always something interesting to see.

There was ice here as well, but not enough to matter.

Off in the woods I saw a mossy log. Since I was still looking for a chance to see what my new camera could do with a spore capsule, I decided to take a look.

But this log was as smooth as if it had been shaved. It wore a velvet coat of moss that didn’t have a single spore capsule in it.

Even the haircap mosses (Polytrichum) were capsule free.

A big red pine had fallen and that was a surprise because I hadn’t realized that they grew out here. I thought that any red pines found in this area had been planted but I wasn’t sure of that, so I went to the Yale University Forestry website and found that they were indeed planted here after the 1938 hurricane blew down much of the original natural growth. Thousands of trees were lost in that storm in Keene and surrounding towns. My grandmother told of driving from Marlborough to Keene in what she thought was a rain storm until she started seeing trees falling in her rear-view mirror. Luckily, she made it without a scratch.

It wasn’t a hurricane that took this tree, however. There was lots of bark beetle damage on it. They can girdle a tree just under its bark and once girdled, it dies. These particular beetle runs were much larger in width than those found on white pines.

Lots of bush clover grew along the road in sunny spots. These are last year’s seed heads.

What ice there was on this trail was rotten, as could be seen by its milky, opaque appearance. When I walked on it instead of being slippery it just crushed into pieces and I’d guess by the next day it was gone.

I saw these strange tracks further on and wondered who would be hauling what looked like a cart through here. Then later on I met up with a lady who was pushing her grandson (?) in a three wheeled baby stroller. It seemed that it would be very hard work pushing it over ice and through snow but she was smiling and mentioned what a great day it was, so she must have been doing okay with it. I hoped  I’d never meet up with her in an arm-wrestling contest.

I found a pencil size branch with some split gill fungi (Schizophyllum commune) on it. These tough, wooly coated bracket fungi are true winter mushrooms that appear in late fall. Split gills grow on every continent except Antarctica and are said to be the most studied mushroom on earth. It is known for its medicinal properties, which include antifungal and antiviral qualities. These examples were maybe three quarters of an inch across and that’s about as big as I’ve ever seen them get.

The “gills” on the split gill fungus are actually folds of tissue on its underside that split lengthwise when the mushroom dries out. The splits close over the fertile spore producing surfaces in dry weather and open to release the spores when they’re rehydrated by rain. As is all life, this little mushroom is driven to to ensure the continuation of the species, and that’s why it has increased its spore bearing surfaces with these folds of tissue. It’s an unusual strategy that makes this little mushroom very pretty.

A young red maple had fallen across the trail but luckily it rested high enough to walk under. I’d guess fungi weakened it and the wind did the rest.

Soon enough I was at the outflow stream from the beaver pond, which I was going to have to jump. Since the stream is getting wider all the time it gets harder to jump each time, but I just made it without getting wet. Apparently, my shadow decided to stay put while I looked for a suitable jumping spot. I can’t explain it; I was the only one there and I didn’t notice it until I saw the photo. Either there must be a human shaped tree out there somewhere or I had a very quiet companion.

The beavers hadn’t repaired their dam yet and by the looks of the ice on their pond they wouldn’t be doing anything any time soon. I’m sure the unlucky people who had to take it apart are happy about that. Taking beavers dams apart is hard work.

I thought this was a beautiful scene with the bright sunshine and all the colorful beeches.

This was my attempt to get a shot of beech leaves backlighted by the sun. When I could see again, I returned to the trail.

I saw some turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor) with a little blue in them, which just happens to be my favorite color, so I was pleased. I’ve searched for many years now trying to find out what determines what colors a turkey tail will be but apparently nobody knows.

There was quite a large vernal pool thawing in the woods and I wondered how I missed it on the way in. I’d guess that it won’t be long before it’s full of tadpoles.

The last thing I noticed on the way back was a long beaked bird’s head on a log. The last time I was out here last fall I saw an old man’s face in a branch, so this place seems full of interesting “wood spirits.” Seeing faces and other objects where there are none is called Pareidolia and it is said to be a normal human tendency.

One of the best examples of Pareidolia that I can think of is the “Old Man of the Mountain.” The profile could be seen in the White Mountains of New Hampshire until it fell on May 3, 2003. This photo by Jeffery Joseph was taken just seven days before the event. Many thousands of people traveled from all over the world to see the “Great Stone Face” (actually a series of 5 granite ledges) so I suppose it might have been called mass Pareidolia.

One who returns to a place sees it with new eyes. Although the place may not have changed, the viewer inevitably has. For the first time things invisible before become suddenly visible. ~Louis L’Amour

Thanks for coming by. And Happy Spring! (Tomorrow)

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Wednesday the weather people said we’d probably see a dusting of snow that might “stick to grassy surfaces.” They were right; we got a dusting plus 6 inches that stuck to grassy surfaces and every other surface as well. One of the benefits of being newly retired is, I was able to go out and play in it.

But I was the only one playing it it at 8:00 am Thursday, apparently. The only other tracks I saw were of the four footed kind.

The sun was trying but hadn’t accomplished much yet. It was supposed to be sunny and 50 degrees F. on this day and if that turned out to be true all of this snow would quickly melt.

It was a light fluffy snow full of air spaces, but with just enough moisture to make it stick to things.

And it stuck to everything. I admired these coated tree branches and the strange wintery light behind them. I love the changeable light of winter. It’s very different than summer light.

Every tree, every shrub, and every twig was outlined in snow and it was beautiful. It was also absolutely silent; the kind of silence that calls to you. It speaks to the silence that is within us, and I believe that is why we are drawn to nature.

There are few times in nature when it is as silent as it is during and right after a snowfall. Science has found that as little as two inches of snow can absorb nearly 60 percent of sound when it is freshly fallen and fluffy, with plenty of air spaces. As I stood listening to the silence, snow fell from the trees. I call it “snow smoke” and though it isn’t rare, it is rare that I’m there with a camera when it happens.

Sometimes you can hear the snow fall from the trees and other times it is silent. It depends on the consistency of the snow, I suppose. On this day there was a barely perceptible Shhhh, as if it were telling me to be even more quiet than I was.

As is often the case the evergreens bore most of the weight. Their branches are supple and made for this, so they can usually take it.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the big white pines off across the swamp lost some limbs though. The bigger the limb the more weight can pile up on them and white pine limbs get very big.  

Birch seeds had already fallen all over the new snow by the thousands, in less than 24 hours.

I heard a knocking and looked up and saw a woodpecker, and I wondered if it was knocking some of the seeds loose. The small red patch at the back of its head and its small size tells me it might be a downy woodpecker. I was really too far away for a good shot but I didn’t let that stop me.

I walked by some catalpa trees and couldn’t resist taking a photo. When they’re at this stage with their long seedpods hanging from the branches they take me back to second grade, when we called them “string bean trees.” Though nobody ever told us anything about the trees, we knew instinctively that we shouldn’t eat the “beans.” It was a good thing too, because they’re poisonous.

Someone has tried to fence off the forest, which means they get to keep mowing as long as they own the land. Large open spaces around houses may keep a brush fire from reaching the house, and back in the 1600s it might have let you see a bear or wolf’s approach, or the approach of Natives who were angry that you took their land, but it really is time to get over these huge lawns that take almost all of our free time to care for each week.

The fence rails showed the snow’s depth. I’d guess maybe four inches in this spot. Snow depth can vary quite a lot from place to place, even on different side of the same street.

At the river there was just a hint of blue in an otherwise black and white scene.

I looked up into a maple and saw sunshine, and it is that warm March sunshine that is waking it and all of its cousins up, and making their sap flow.

There was sunshine above and below these hemlocks, too.

Beeches added some beautiful color but soon these leaves will be pale enough to appear almost colorless, and thin enough to almost see through.

When the sun comes out right after a snow it can be very beautiful, but the sun has a lot of warmth at this time of year so by the time I got back home it had already started melting. There is an old saying that calls this kind of snow this late in winter “poor man’s fertilizer.” Science has shown that nitrates from the atmosphere attach to snowflakes and fall to earth, and then are released into the thawing soil as the snow melts. The nitrates help feed plants, so the old saying is true.

I wanted to do a post about this storm because I thought it might be the last snow for many months but now they say we’ll see more today, so the roller coaster continues on its way. We’ll have bare ground for a day or two and then snow covers it up again, but the further we get into March the shorter its stay. By Friday most of the snow you saw in this post had melted.

Great truth that transcends nature does not pass from one being to another by way of human speech. Truth chooses silence to convey her meaning to loving souls. ~Kahil Gibran

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We’re coming back into the time of light, when the long dark nights of winter shorten and the days lengthen minute by minute each day. Dawn comes earlier now, and I just happened to be there one day when it did. As I watched I saw its beautiful light spill over the wind sculpted snow, and I forgot how cold it was. Can you love light? When you’ve spent a lot of time in darkness, yes you can.

I’ve seen films that showed the sun coming up over high mountain peaks like those in the Himalayas, so it was easy to imagine that I was there among the highest mountains when I looked at this scene but no, it was just plowed up snow.

Where I work enough snow fell to plow but where I live we barely saw three inches, so there was quite a difference over just 25 miles. On these -10 degree F. mornings when the snow squeaks underfoot and an intake of breath has sharp edges to it I don’t go out and play for long. In fact I just jumped out of the truck I was driving and took this quick photo with my phone. Plowing made the snow look deeper than the 6 or so inches that it was.

The long tree shadows were a beautiful shade of blue and I can see that now because of a wonderful art teacher who, with the help of color wheels and oil paints showed me that they were not the gray color that I saw, but the beautiful blue seen here. Ever since, for all of my life, every time I’ve seen blue shadows in winter I’ve immediately thought of Norma Safford. She was a patient, caring teacher who showed a colorblind boy how to really see, and she was so well loved that she even has a road named after her. We should never believe that those little, off hand things that we do for each other don’t have the power to grow into very big, life changing things.

I can’t show you the wind but I can show you what it does, so here is another look at the wind sculpted snow. If you’re interested, the wind came from the left.

The wind can fool you. In this instance it came from the back of the tree.

And here it came from the left side of the stone.

Beech leaves shivered and whispered in the wind, and they were beautiful. We’re so fortunate to have a tree that is beautiful at all times of year.

I know I just did a post on lichens but I hope you’ll bear with me, because the next few shots are actually more about trees than the lichens that grow on them. The green web like pattern on this old white pine is caused by lichens, and the reason they grew this way is because between the plates that make up the bark there are channels that help shed water away from the bark of the tree. These channels can be thought of as streams, and just like when a stream runs through a desert the growth of mosses and lichens on tree bark often appears on the “banks” of these vertical streams.

Here is a closer look. If you stand in the rain and watch, you’ll find that the water that runs down this tree will follow almost exactly where the growth is.

And here are the “shrubs” that grow on the banks of the “streams” on this particular tree; beard lichens. You can see one of the deep channels in the bark in this shot.

So, the next time you happen to see mosses or lichens growing in a more or less vertical row on a tree you’ll know where the water runs off in a rain. If you’re actually out in a rain look also at the base of the tree. You might see what look like soap bubbles, which are caused by the rain washing off all of the salts, acids and other particles from the air that coat the bark surface. It’s a kind of soap.

Fine, powdery snow will sometimes also find those same channels.

If you look at a female white pine seed cone aerodynamically you would guess that they would always land in the snow just like this one has, but they don’t. Many land with their smaller tip down, buried in the snow. Since I’ve never seen one actually falling through the air I can’t say why that would be. Pine cone scales open in dry weather and close in wet weather to protect the seeds inside,  so maybe the ones that fall point down are closed at the time. That would reduce drag. You can actually watch the scales open and close if you put a cone in a bowl of water. While in the bowl it will slowly close, and then when you take it out and let it dry it will open again, just like a flower. White pine cones are the state flower of Maine, by the way.

A wound on a white pine looked like someone had hung a medallion on the tree. I counted the rings on the wound and the closest I could come with any real accuracy was 80, so if the limb that was cut off was 80 years old I’d guess the tree it was on has to be at least twice that, based on size alone. It’s a big tree. What I found interesting was how most of the growth on the limb had formed down toward the ground, so its growth was off center.

One of my earliest memories is of watching the buds on the lilac that grew at the corner of the house. I’ve always been drawn to buds, especially in late winter, but I’ve never really known why. Then I bought a new camera and of course one of the first photos I took with it was of buds; the beautiful red elderberry flower buds seen here, each about as big as a pea. A day or so later I opened this photo on my computer and my first thought was “the miracle of life.” Now I might have a clue about why I was drawn to buds as a boy; I wanted to see the miracle of life, and if you watch the same buds over the course of a few weeks you can indeed see the miracle of life unfold right before your eyes when the bud scales open to reveal the tiny flower or leaf buds within. So I’ve put this photo here so you too could see the miracle. Maybe with breakfast on this day, maybe before bed; just see how beautiful life is. Just gaze at the miracle of life for a bit. See every little nuance; see how perfect it is. See that all of life is a miracle.

Of course once I got started with the new camera I couldn’t stop, so I found some male sweet gale catkins, with their pretty triangular bud scales. For anyone who wants to know, the new camera is an Olympus TG-6. It is a field camera that many scientists use in the field because it is so tough. It is water, dust and shock resistant, heat and cold resistant, and it takes incredible photos, either on land or under water. I use it almost exclusively for macro photos like the one above. Each catkin seen here is about a quarter inch long and I can see details in them that I’ve never seen. Leading off from the bottom of a catkin for instance you see one bud scale and then two, and then one and two again all the way up, overlapping just like roof shingles to keep the rain out.

When jelly fungi dry out, they can look like a little dry flake of color on a tree branch. This branch was about the diameter of a pencil, so that should give you an idea of how small the jelly fungus was. You can find them on branches on the ground under trees, especially oaks, in winter on top of the snow. Sometimes, rather than dried out they’ll be frozen solid as this one was. Whether frozen or dry though, they can be revived.

This is that same jelly fungus after I put it in a cup of tepid water for about 15 minutes. At this stage it was back to its normal self and felt just like your ear lobe. It had also swollen to maybe half again the size it was in the previous photo. This is a fun, simple experiment for children to do.

Chipmunks seemed to be trying to make figure eights in the snow. I can’t even guess why. Maybe they were just so happy that spring is near, they had to come out and play.

I like to stop at this place on my way to work each day to just take a few moments to enjoy the peace and quiet of nature before the day begins. While there I’ll often take a photo or two but since I’m retiring soon, this will probably be one of the last times we get to see it. I’ve shown it to you in all four seasons, and I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing what has been a special place for me for the past 7 years. The next “big thing” on Halfmoon Pond will be ice out, which usually happens in April but has been happening earlier over the past few years. I have a feeling it’ll happen in March this year.

One of the reasons I feel that ice out on the pond might happen in March this year is because those are daffodil shoots coming up through the snow. Or more accurately, they came up and then it snowed. No, this doesn’t mean that I’ll be showing daffodil blossoms here soon, because these shoots have made a mistake and they will surely die. But what this does mean is spring is stirring. If it wasn’t these daffodils wouldn’t have come up. We’ve had two or three days in the 40s F. and I’d guess that must be when they came up. I do know for sure that they weren’t there in mid January.

Here is something that will warm the heart of any New Englander. On Thursday February 2 the temperature was 42 degrees F. so I snapped a twig on a sugar maple tree just to see what would happen. I went back about a half hour later and lo and behold, there was sap dripping from it. And so it begins; spring is right around the corner.

When I am nowhere, casually wandering about, I feel I am where I need to be. ~Marty Rubin

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I had plans for last Friday; I took the day off from work to use up vacation time before I retire, and I was going to spend the whole day in the woods taking photos of interesting things for you to see, but nature had other plans. It started snowing at about 5 that morning and the roads were treacherous. I went out once (above) but quickly came home again, glad I didn’t have to drive for an hour. On Saturday I went to Beaver Brook and on Sunday we had pouring down freezing rain almost all day. So since I wasn’t able to get enough time outside, for the first time in almost 11 years I’m going to repost something I did a couple of years ago. It was quite a popular post then and I hope new readers will enjoy it. I also hope that regular readers won’t be bored by the repeat. I called it Nature Study 101.

Over the nearly nine years I’ve been doing this blog the question I’ve been asked more than any other is “How do you find these things?” So this post will be about how I find them; I’ll tell you all the secrets, starting with the jelly baby mushrooms above. Do you see how small they are? They’re growing in an acorn cap. The first time I saw them I was feeling winded and when I sat on a rock to rest, I looked down and there was a tiny clump of jelly babies, just like this one. That day a side of nature that I never knew existed was revealed and from then on, I started seeing smaller and smaller things everywhere I went. 

You have to learn to see small by seeking out small things and training your eyes, and your brain somewhat, to see them. It also helps to know your subject. For instance I know that slime molds like the many headed slime mold above appear most often in summer when it’s hot and humid, and usually a day or two after a good rain. They don’t like sunshine so they’re almost always found in the shade. I’ve learned all of this from the slime molds themselves; by finding one and, not knowing what it was, looking it up to find out. I’ve learned most of what I know about nature in much the same way. If you want to truly study nature you have to be willing to do the legwork and research what you see.

Another secret of nature study is walking slowly. Find yourself a toddler, maybe a grandchild or a friend with one, or maybe you’re lucky enough to have one yourself. No older than two years though; they start to run after that and they’re hard to keep up with. Anyhow, watch a two-year-old on a trail and see how slowly they walk. See how they wander from thing to thing. They do that because everything is new and they need to see and experience it. You need to be the same way to study nature; become a toddler. Slowly cross and crisscross your line of progress. See, rather than look. Why is that group of leaves humped up higher than all the others? Is there something under them making them do that? Move them and see. You might find some beautiful orange mycena mushrooms like these under them.

So you need to train yourself to see small, to toddle and think like a toddler, and then you need to know your subject. All that comes together in something like this female American hazelnut blossom. I first saw them when I had toddled over to a bush to see the hanging male catkins, which are very beautiful, and out of the corner of my eye I saw a flash of red.

But all I could see was a flash of color because female hazelnut blossoms are almost microscopic. That’s a paperclip behind these blossoms. Even with eye problems I can find them though, because I know they’re tiny. I know they bloom in mid-April and I know they’re red and I know what shape the buds they grow out of are. All I need do is find one and the camera does the rest, allowing me to see its Lilliputian beauty.

That’s how I start the growing season each spring; by re-training my eyes to see small again. Most of what I see in winter is big so I need to get used to small again. Spring beauties like those above are as small as an aspirin, so they’re a good subject to start with. They’re also very beautiful and a forest floor carpeted with them is something you don’t soon forget.

Sometimes I’ll see something like this larch flower in a book or on another blog and I’ll want to see it in person. That’s what happened when I first found one, and I was surprised by how small they were. This is another example of my being able to only see a flash of color and then having to see with a camera. They’re just too small for me to see with my eyes but they’re beautiful and worth the extra effort it takes to get a photo of them.

I spend a lot of time looking at tree branches, especially in spring when the buds break. I’ve learned what time of month each tree usually blossoms and I make sure I’m there to see it happen. This photo shows male red maple flowers. Each flower cluster is full of pollen and the wind will be sure the pollen finds the female blossoms. When you see tulips and magnolias blooming it’s time to look at red maples. One of the extraordinary things about these blossoms was their scent. I smelled them long before I saw them.

Lichens aren’t easy to identify but there are easy to find because they grow virtually everywhere; on soil, on trees, on stone, even on buildings. But most are quite small, so walking slowly and looking closely are what it takes to find them. This mealy firedot lichen was growing on wet stone and that’s why the background looks like it does. You could spend a lifetime studying just lichens alone but it would be worth it; many are very beautiful.

Countless insects make galls for their young to grow in and the size and shape of them is beyond my ability to show or explain, so I’ll just say that I always make a point of looking for them because they’re endlessly fascinating, and you can match the gall to the insect with a little research. This one looked like a tiny fist coming up out of a leaf. Something else I like about them is that you don’t have to kneel down to see them. That isn’t getting any easier as time goes on. 

When young the female spore capsule (sporangium) of juniper haircap moss is covered by a cap called a calyptra, which protects the spore capsule and the spores within. It is very hairy, and this is what gives this moss part of its common name. Eventually, as the capsule ages it moves from a semi vertical to a more horizontal position before the calyptra falls off.  The spore capsule continues to ripen and when the time is right it will open and release the spores. When it’s time to release the spores the end cap (operculum) of the now reddish brown, 4 cornered but not square spore capsule will fall off and the spores will be borne on the wind. I learned all of that by studying the moss and reading about what I saw going on, and you can too. And you can do it with virtually anything you find in nature. To me, that is exciting.

A good memory isn’t strictly necessary for nature study but it can come in handy if you wish to see a plant in all stages of its life cycle. I knew where some rare dwarf ginseng plants grew in this area and I knew when they blossomed but I had never seen their seedpods, so I had to remember to go back to see what you see here. It might not look like much but it’s a rare sight and I doubt more than just a few have seen it. I often can’t remember my own phone number or where I parked my car but I can lead you right to the exact spot where this plant grows, so I seem to have two memories; one for every day and one for just nature. The one for nature works much better than the everyday one.

Develop an eye for beauty. Give yourself time to simply stand and look, and before long you’ll find that you don’t just see beauty, you feel it as well, all through your being. This is just tree pollen on water; something I’ve seen a thousand times, but not like this. On this day it was different; it usually looks like dust on the surface but this pollen had formed strings that rode on the current. I wasn’t looking for it; I just happened upon it, and that shows that a lot of what you see on this blog is just dumb luck. But I wouldn’t happen upon it if I wasn’t out there. That’s another secret; you have to be out there to see it. You’ll never see it by staring at a phone or television.

This is another rarity that I just happened upon; a mushroom releasing its spores. Mushroom spores are carried by the wind so it is unusual to see them dropping to the forest floor like they have in this photo. I’ve only seen this happen three times and twice it was on a still, hot, humid day. Once it was on a cooler but still humid day, without a hint of a breeze to blow the spores away. This is why it’s so important to walk slowly and look carefully. You could easily pass this without seeing it.

Something else that is rare to see is a mushroom with another fungus feeding on it, like this bolete with a mycoparasite called Syzygites megalocarpus growing on its cap. A mycoparasite is essentially a fungus that feeds on other fungi. This one has been found on over 65 species of mushroom. It can appear overnight if heat and humidity levels are just right, and that’s exactly what this one did. You can’t plan to see something like this, you simply have to be there when it happens.

Do you know how many puddles there are with ice on them in winter? I don’t either, but I do take the time to look at them and I almost always see something interesting when I do. I’ve never seen another one like this.

Sometimes if you just sit quietly unusual things will happen. I was on my hands and knees looking at something one day and I looked up and there was a fly, sitting on a leaf. I slowly brought my camera up and this is the result. By the way, much of what I see comes about because I spend a lot of time on my hands and knees. If you want to see the very small, you have to. And before I get back on my feet, I always try to look around to see if there’s anything interesting that I’ve missed.

I was crawling around the forest floor looking for I don’t remember what one day and saw something jump right in front of me. It was a little spring peeper. It sat for a minute and let me take a few photos and then hopped off. Another secret of nature study is to expect the unexpected. If you want to document what you see always have your camera ready. I have one around my neck, one on my belt and another in my pocket, and I still miss a lot.

I was in a meadow in Walpole climbing the High Blue trail when I saw a blackish something moving through the grass on the other side. Apparently, it saw me because it turned and came straight for me. When it got close I could see that it was a cute porcupine. I thought it must have poor eyesight and would run away when it got close enough but then it did something I never would have expected; it came up to me and sat right at my feet. I took quite a few photos and then walked on after telling it goodbye. I still wonder what it was all about and what the animal might have wanted. I’ve never forgotten how we seemed to know one another. It’s another example of why you have to expect the unexpected in nature. You just never know.

Sometimes all you need to do is look up. When was the last time you saw mare’s tails in the sky? There’s a lot of beauty out there for you to see, and you don’t really have to study anything.

So, what you’ve read here isn’t the only way to study nature. It’s simply my way; what I’ve learned by doing. I had no one to guide me, so this is what and how I’ve learned on my own. I thought that it might help you in your own study of nature, or you might find your own way. It doesn’t matter as long as you’re out there having fun and enjoying this beautiful world we live in. I’ll leave you with a simple summary that I hope will help:

  1. To see small think small. There is an entire tiny world right there in plain sight but there’s a good chance you haven’t seen it. Nothing is hidden from the person who truly sees.
  2. Don’t just look, see; and not just with your eyes. Use all your senses. I’ve smelled certain plants and fungi before I’ve seen them many times. I also feel almost everything I find.
  3. Walk at a toddler’s pace. Cross and crisscross your path.
  4. Know your subject. You probably won’t find what you hope to unless you know when and where it grows, or its habits. When you see something you’ve never seen if you want to know more about it research it.
  5. Be interested in everything. If you’re convinced that you’ve seen it all then you’ll see nothing new. Run your eye down a branch. Roll over a log. Study the ice on a puddle.
  6. Expect the unexpected. I’ve heard trees fall in the forest but I’ve never seen it happen. Tomorrow may be the day.
  7. Develop an eye for beauty; it’s truly everywhere you look. Allow yourself to see and feel it. Appreciate it and be grateful for it and before long you too will see it everywhere you go.  
  8. Let nature lead. Nature will teach you far more than you’ve ever imagined. It will also heal you if you let it, but none of this can happen if you spend all your time indoors.
  9. None of the things you’ve read here are really secrets. Nature is there for everyone and you can study it and take pleasure in it just as easily as I can.
  10. Have fun and enjoy nature and you’ll be surprised how quickly your cares melt away. Problems that once might have seemed insurmountable will suddenly seem much easier to solve.

To look at any thing,
If you would know that thing,
You must look at it long. 
~John Moffitt

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On a recent murky day I went to the Ashuelot River. It wasn’t raining but there was an unseen mistiness in the air that the cameras didn’t like. It was relatively warm and the river was just as smooth as glass, so the plusses outweighed the minuses.

There were a single pair of mallards in the shallows. She watched while he ate.

Then when he was full, he sped off upriver without her. A fine how do you do for having watched out for danger for him.

The reason I wanted to come here was because all of the snow had melted again and I knew the trail would be an easy walk. Snowmobiles aren’t allowed here so in snowy winters you find snow packed down by the many people who walk this trail. Once it gets packed down it turns to ice and makes walking very difficult. This might be the last time I get out here until March.

This is a good example of what happens when snow is packed down, but it wasn’t too bad on this day because it was so warm. It was more slush than ice and wasn’t very slippery. If it had been 20 degrees I would have been walking off trail in the woods.

With no ice on the river the beavers are able to cut trees just as they would in warmer weather, and they had been hungry. I watched a nature show that said they will eat part way through a tree like this and let the wind do the rest. The trouble with that is, there are lots of people using this trail.

The wind blew that large tree in the foreground over some months ago, but the smaller one further on is new.

Here is the smaller tree we saw in the previous photo, felled by hungry beavers. They’re really going to town out here this year.

They cut the top off the tree they had felled and dragged it into the river, and then stripped and ate the bark. They seem to strip trees like this more in the colder months, I’ve noticed. I’d guess the bark must be the tastiest and most nutritious part.

They bit off all the smaller branches and stripped them of bark and then a human came along and put them all into small piles according to size. It looks neat and tidy I suppose, but I doubt the beavers care.

The river was fairly high and I’d guess that would make dragging trees a bit easier when branches didn’t snag on the bottom.

Here was another tree felled and stripped of bark. I’ve never seen so much beaver activity in one area. Easy pickings for them though, so why go anywhere else? With the cleared trail there they don’t even have to drag the trees through brush to get them to the river.

Everything out here was dripping wet. I thought we would probably have a snowless winter because nature always tries to find a balance, and we had feet of rain last summer. To offset all that rain it would make sense that we’d have no snow in winter and we don’t. But it still rains.

A six-foot-tall pokeweed plant had collapsed into a tangle of beautiful blue caned black raspberries.

The pokeweed plant had a lot of berries on it that the birds had missed. They were looking a bit past their prime now.

The pretty color of these royal fern leaves (Osmunda spectabilis) caught my eye. I like seeing warm colors in winter, I’ve recently realized. Royal ferns are thought to be one of the oldest living things, with fossil records of the Osmundaceae family dating back over 300 million years. Individual plants are believed to be able to live for over 100 years.

I admired the healing that this tree had gone through before it died. It hadn’t completely covered the wound but it had obviously tried. Actually no, there was no trying involved. I’d guess it was as natural as breathing is to us. Either way it didn’t matter how or why it happened. It was as if the tree had pulled back its outer skin just a bit to show me its heart, and I thought it was beautiful. It was one of those forest artworks that I always enjoy seeing.

Someone had scratched a skull into a shield lichen. I’ve never thought of doing that.

Bat boxes are fairly common out here but spotting one is not. They’re eight feet or so off the ground and I think most people walk right by them without even knowing they are there. I thank the bats for keeping this walk relatively mosquito free in summer.

This small tree had the strangest bark I’ve even seen. It was soft and spongy like cork and I don’t know what could have caused such a thing. I do know it can’t be good. I think this little tree’s time with us is over.

I saw many Japanese knot weed seeds (Fallopia japonica) but I’ve read that, because the seeds have a very hard time germinating, seed dispersal is not the way this plant usually spreads. Instead it spreads by its roots and stem pieces, so when it is dug, cut or weed whacked and pieces of it get strewn around, more plants will grow. If I understand what I’ve read correctly, the practice of mowing it down on roadsides is often what helps it spread. This is what has been tried here on parts of the riverbank and over the years I’ve seen it spread.

In its native habitat the knotweed’s winged seeds help it get around, but in its native habitat there are natural defenses that keep it in check. There are none of those here; none of the insects or diseases that help control it came with it when it was brought here, and that’s why importing plants from other areas needs to be controlled. I would guess that this country must spend billions each year fighting just this one plant, but the list of invasive species is a long one.

This sums up winter here so far. Little snow but plenty of ice.

Slowly, the river widens and undercuts the roots of trees. They will eventually succumb to gravity and fall in, to be washed away to some unknown place or to sink and lie on the bottom. This maple was halfway there and may not be here at all next year at this time. If you want to be able to see the slow pace of a river widening watch the trees along its banks. I’ve seen many that have fallen into the water over the years and I’ve seen huge old trees stuck on rocks or sandbars out in the middle. It’s all part of the river’s natural cycle, and it is one I’ve watched since I was a very small boy. The river drew me to it like a magnet not too long after I was born, and it has kept me fascinated ever since. Maybe I too am part of its natural cycle.

There is no rushing a river. When you go there, you go at the pace of the water and that pace ties you into a flow that is older than life on this planet. Acceptance of that pace, even for a day, changes us, reminds us of other rhythms beyond the sound of our own heartbeats. ~ Jeff Rennicke

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Half Moon Pond in Hancock iced over but then it warmed up and the ice melted quickly. All that was left early one morning was the mist that was left from the melting. I wanted to get a shot of it but all I had was my cell phone. I decided to try it anyway, and this is what the phone’s camera saw. What I saw was not quite so much bright sunlight up in the clouds, though dawn was just breaking over the hills behind me. I liked what the phone camera saw though, and I hope you will too.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked quite far into the woods after seeing what I thought was a beautiful flower, only to find instead that it was a feather. But I’m never disappointed because feathers can often be as beautiful as flowers. These “blossomed” on a hazelnut twig and changed shape contantly in the wind. They were very fine and soft, like goose down.

I know these are bird tracks and I know the middle longer toe points in the direction the bird was facing but I don’t know why they were so long or what the lines behind them were about. It looked to me like the bird went into a skid when it tried to land. Their feet weren’t very big but there were many prints around the area and I’m guessing dark eyed juncos made them. You can often see flocks of sometimes twenty or more juncos along roadsides in winter, presumably looking for small seeds.

At work one morning I spotted a dark colored animal a little bigger than a house cat running from one of the buildings. It ran with a kind of loping gait like a mink but quite fast. One of the paw prints we found afterwards is in the above photo but we can’t know if it belongs to the animal we saw. There are lots of animals in these woods. But judging by the animal’s size and the way it ran like a big mink, we think it must have been a fisher cat. Fisher cats aren’t cats, they are members of the weasel family, and they don’t eat fish. They were hunted for their fur almost to extinction in times past and though they are making a comeback they’re very wary of man and aren’t often seen. They’re usually active at night so seeing this one in daylight was a rare thing.

I believe these turkey feathers tell the story of the fisher cat and why it was near one of the buildings. They were found near the spot it ran from. Fishers eat small to medium sized animals and birds, and will also eat beechnuts, acorns, apples and berries. They will also eat porcupines, leaving nothing but the hide and a few bones behind. In fact they’ll eat just about anything and I’ve heard they have a blood curdling scream when they’re on the hunt. Just for fun (?) I went to You Tube and listened to a fisher cat scream, and now I understand how some people have been scared half to death by them at night in the woods. It’s an eerie sound, and that’s putting it mildly.

A huge old oak tree died where I work and when it was cut down the butt end showed purple staining, meaning it has steel or iron objects like screws or nails in it. Sawmills look for this kind of thing when logging trucks bring in a load of logs and they’ll reject the whole load if they see it. This log was easily four feet across but it will never be sawed into boards.

I used to feel comfortable in the knowledge that any time I saw this platy bark in the shape of a target on a tree, I was looking at a red maple. But then last fall I saw a very old yellow birch with target canker that looked just like the example in the above photo. Now, I thought, I can’t be quite so sure of what I’m seeing, so I returned to the book Bark; a Field Guide to Trees of the Northeast, by Michael Wojtech. In it he does indeed say that red maple is the only tree in the northeast that develops target canker, so what of that birch? I don’t know every tree in the forest but if I can’t tell the difference between a red maple and a yellow birch, I’d better give up nature blogging. The answer I think, is to go back and find that birch and better document its bark.

Here is the only photo I took of the yellow birch I saw with target canker, which can be clearly seen on the tree. I can remember how surprised I was and thought that I must be mistaken but no, I’ve never seen maple bark peel and curl like that. The trick will be to find this tree again in a forest full of trees.

I had to go to the local car dealership to have my car serviced and while I was waiting, I noticed this piece of tree bark sitting on a counter. I was happy to find it there, not so much because of the bark itself, but because someone thought it was beautiful enough to show in the waiting room like an art object. It grabbed someone’s attention, as it did mine.

Because of all the rain we had this summer fruits, seeds and nuts are everywhere, including the poison ivy berries (Toxicodendron radicans) seen here. I’ve never seen so many of the small fruits on poison ivy vines. Though I like to get photos of them when they’ve turned white and are fully ripe, the birds eat them so fast I usually can’t find any. All parts of this plant can give you quite a rash if touched, so I try not to get too close. Even inhaling the smoke from a fire where it is being burned can cause severe throat issues.

I finally found some ice needles that really looked like needles. Usually they have been stepped on and look stubby, with squared off ends. A lot has to happen for them to form but they’re fairy common once you know what to look for. And what to listen for; the soil they grow in will crunch when it’s walked on. I’ve read that each thin needle is hexagonal in shape and that needles 16 inches long have been found, but most of the ones I see are less than 5 inches long. These might have been closer to 6 inches long.

I saw this feature in some puddle ice. It looked like the disc or lens shape froze and the water moving around it created waves. But how could this be? Wouldn’t all of the puddle surface have frozen at the same time? I don’t expect anyone to answer this; I’m just thinking out loud. Puddle ice is an endless source of fascination for me because it’s amazing what you can see in it.

I think weevils must have killed the terminal leader of this hemlock tree (Tsuga canadensis) and then two of its branches became new leaders, giving it a U-shaped appearance. I usually see this on white pine, not hemlock. White pine weevils do attack lots of other evergreen species like spruce and fir but I haven’t heard of them attacking hemlocks, so I can’t say what might have caused it.

Speaking of eastern hemlocks, I’ve been lucky enough to be able to look out a window at work to see gray squirrels trying to get at the seed cones. They’ll hang from the branch by their back feet and tail and grab the small cones with their front paws. I’ve seen four or five squirrels working a single tree, and one day I saw an eagle flying over the tree they were in. The squirrels disappeared in a hurry that day. When I look at this photo of a cone I wonder if man thought up roof shingles by looking at something like this.

The white stripes on the undersides of the flat hemlock needles come from four rows of breathing pores (stomata) which are far too small to be seen without extreme magnification. The stripes make the tree very easy to identify.

I found these squirrel tracks in my yard and I wasn’t surprised because there are also lots of hemlock trees here. I’ve seen chickadees eating the seeds but until this year I’ve never seen squirrels eating them.

Northern white cedar (Thuja occidentalis) also grows in my yard. There are many seed pods on the cedars and robins, common redpolls, pine siskins, and dark-eyed juncos eat the seeds. Many small birds use the trees to hide in and robins nest in them each spring. The open seed pods always look like beautiful carved wooden flowers to me. The Native American Ojibwe tribe thought the trees were sacred because of their many medicinal uses, and maybe they were. They cured scurvy for many a European.

A few years ago I started noticing what I thought looked like teeth marks on lichens and wrote and showed photos of it here. Now I’m seeing those same marks on certain fungi, like this tinder fungus. The squiggly lines in the top bluish portion are what I’m talking about.

I finally found out when a knowledgeable reader wrote in, that these lines and squiggles are not chipmunk or mouse teeth marks. He measured the marks and found that no American mammal had teeth that small. Instead they’re caused by algae eating land snails. Accoding to what I’ve read “squiggly lines or tiny fan patterns on rock or tree bark show where a snail has scraped off algae or fungi, leaving a paler spot. Smooth-barked red maple or American beech are good trees to check for snail or slug feeding tracks. You can look closely at mushrooms to see if a chewed area is found along with a slime trail.” The top of this mushroom did indeed look chewed. Snail mouths (radula) are raspy and are said to feel like a licking cat’s toungue if you hold one in your hand. That’s another mystery solved.

Just before dawn one morning the full moon hung over Half Moon Pond and reflected in the new ice. This was after the ice I mentioned in that first photo had melted. I think the pond has frozen over and melted three times now, which shows what roller coaster temperatures we’re seeing so far this winter. It’s beautiful but a little unusual as well.

As children, we are very sensitive to nature’s beauty, finding miracles and interesting things everywhere. As we grow up, we tend to forget how beautiful and magnificent the world is. There is magic and wonder for eyes who know how to look with curiosity and love. ~ Ansel Adams

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