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Archive for the ‘Birds’ Category

Every year around Halloween I go to Willard Pond over in Hancock to see what in my opinion, is some of the most colorful foliage in the region. Every year I tell myself that I’ll come back in the spring to see what it looks like then but I never have, until now. We’re going to be walking through a beautiful hardwood forest of oak, beech, and birch right along that shoreline over there behind that boulder.

Though the forest looked leafless in that previous shot there were plenty of spring leaves to see. This is the start of the trail that I follow. It is called the Tudor trail but I think I would have named it serenity, because that’s where it leads.

There were lots of new, velvety oak leaves.

Shadbushes (Amelanchier canadensis) still bloomed.

Ferns were in all stages of growth.

And everywhere you looked there were the big white flowerheads of hobblebushes (Viburnum lantanoides). It was hard to get a shot of them in the bright sunlight so I had to underexpose this shot. White is a tricky color for a camera on a sunny day. I’ve had several questions about cameras and how to use them lately and if this situation seems tricky for you, you might want to read about “bracketing exposures.”  It’s a simple tip that covers a lot of bases and helps you get more used to changing the settings on your camera.

Another native viburnum, maple leaved viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium), showed how it got the name. In the fall these leaves can turn pink, purple, red, yellow, and orange and combinations of two or three, and are really beautiful. The Native American Chippewa tribe used the inner bark of this plant to relieve stomach pains.

The beavers had cut down a big beech and were in the process of stripping all its bark from it.

I stopped to look at the hillside across the pond with its soft, hushed hints of green. I saw what I had suspected; that this place is beautiful no matter what time of year it is. I could hear a loon laughing and giggling over there somewhere and I wondered what the early settlers must have thought when they first head loons. With all of their many superstitious beliefs it must have scared them half to death. If you’d like to hear what I heard, just click here: www.loon.org/the-call-of-the-loon/

A fly fisherman was fishing for trout from his kayak and he heard the loon too. The loon was most likely also fishing for trout. Willard pond is considered a trout pond and there are rainbow and brook trout, as well as with smallmouth bass. No boats with motors are allowed, and fly fishing is the only form of fishing allowed. Since it is part of a wildlife sanctuary the land surrounding the pond can never be developed. It is about as close to true wilderness as you can find in this area and it is beautiful.

Several times when I came here in the fall, I saw the seed heads of rhodora (Rhododendron canadense). They’re one of our most beautiful shrubs and I hoped to find them in bloom, but all I saw were buds. I had to go back to get these photos of them but it was worth it because this is not a common shrub.

Rhodora is a small, two-foot-tall native rhododendron (actually an azalea) that loves swampy places. It is native to the northeastern U.S. and Canada and both its western and southern limits are reached in Pennsylvania. The flowers appear just before the leaves, but only for a short time in spring. They bloom just before irises in this area, and by mid-June their flowers will have all vanished. Henry David Thoreau knew it well, and wrote “The splendid Rhodora now sets the swamps on fire with its masses of rich color.” He would have loved this place.

Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum commutatum) grew all along the trail and on some of the boulders. I saw plenty of buds but no flowers yet. In the fall dark blue or purple berries will hang where the flowers were.

I’m including this view of the trail to show that if you come here, you’d be wise to wear good sturdy hiking boots. Mud, stones and roots are some of the things you’ll have to scramble up and over. I tell you about trail conditions in these posts so you won’t get here and wonder what you’ve gotten yourself into. I often wish someone had done the same for me. Every hike has its own set of challenges, and their difficulty seems to increase with age.

For years, each fall I’ve seen what I thought was a species of dicentra growing on a boulder. But which boulder, I wondered on this trip. Then up ahead I saw that a tree had fallen across the path, stopped only by a boulder. When I got to the boulder sure enough, it was the boulder with the plant I was looking for on it. Luckily the tree hadn’t crushed the plants, so I was able to see them flowering. I could see that they weren’t dicentra.

Though I could see that they weren’t dicentra I didn’t know what they were because I had never seen them before. I took photos of the flowers and leaves from all sides as I always do and when I got home, I found that they were pale cordyalis. (Corydalis sempervirens.) They are a native which, from what I’ve read likes sandy, stony soil along pond and river banks. They are also called rock harlequin and why is perfectly clear, since this one grew on a boulder.

The small flowers of pale corydalis have two pairs of petals, which are bright pink with yellow tips. Some were white, but I’m not sure if they fade to white or come out white and turn pink. They are a biennial, which means that the plants appear in the first year and flower in the second. Flowers are small and appear in clusters (Racemes). They are related to Dutchman’s breeches, which is a native dicentra.

When I got home and saw this photo I took of the forest I thought my camera had lost its marbles, but then I checked the shots I took with the other two cameras I carried and they all showed the same; the most intense green I’ve ever seen. Colorblindness makes it hard to understand what color I’m seeing sometimes and sometimes the colors I see just don’t seem possible. “Find that on a color wheel” my mind taunts.

I’m always awe struck by this huge boulder. In relation to the glacier that scraped it up and brought it here it must have been little more than a grain of sand, and it’s hard to even imagine that.

Violets grew out of the moss on a stone at the water’s edge.

Blue flag irises grew close enough to the water to have wet feet, and that’s what they like. I haven’t seen any in bloom as of this post.

Over the years a few people have told me what I’ve missed by not following the trail past this old oak with its rickety little bench but I’ve seen, heard and felt enough, and I usually have more photos than I would want or need by the time I get here, so this is where I end my hike. I could go on to what is called “the point” or I could climb Bald Mountain, but I don’t feel a need to do so. This spot always calls to me to come and sit so that’s what I do, and it has always been enough.

I sit on the ground these days because the bench is getting wobbly, but it doesn’t matter. The view is the same and the sounds are the same. There is just the lapping of the waves and bird song, and maybe an occasional chuckle or hoot from a loon.

I watched the shadows from the waves move over the stone covered pond bottom. There was just enough of a breeze to kick them up a bit and thankfully, to keep the biting bugs away. In this region you would be hard pressed to find a day when there wasn’t a breeze coming across a lake or pond.

The one thing that is most abundant here is silence, and the simplest lesson nature teaches is the most valuable: silence heightens awareness. Once we have learned this silence becomes the teacher, and silence teaches peace. When I come upon the kind of beauty that makes me quiet and still, be it a tiny flower or a mountain top, I find that peace is always there, waiting. I do hope that you find the same.

The best places aren’t easy to see; instead of following light one must follow silence. ~Hanna Abi Akl

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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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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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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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Last Sunday was supposed to be a nice day so I thought I’d go for a climb up Hewe’s Hill in Swanzey. When I left the house it was 40 degrees and two hours later it was 50 degrees, so for December in New Hampshire it was a beautiful and unusually spring like day.

I’d guess, from all the woodpecker holes, that this hemlock is full of carpenter ants. The rectangular holes were made by a pileated woodpecker, which is our biggest.

We’d had quite a rainstorm the day before and the weather people said we’d had 60 mph wind gusts overnight, so I wondered if that was why this old tree was leaning so badly. I don’t remember seeing it when I came here last fall.

An old hemlock had a leaf shaped scar on it. Fully healed, I’ve heard that you can count the rings to know how long it took for the scar to heal. If I’ve counted accurately, I think this one took about 20 years.

Though sunshine breaks through here and there this forest is generally quite dark due to all the conifers.

I said in the last post that the yellow crust fungus I showed I had only seen on conifers, but here it was on a dying birch. As I said then, though I once believed it was the conifer parchment fungus (Stereum sanguinolentum,) now I’m not so sure. The examples I see are always very dry and thin, almost as if they were part of the bark. This example almost looks like a lichen but I would doubt that.

Growing right beside the birch was an eastern hemlock and here was the crust fungus on it as well. I wonder now if it will grow on any tree.

The trail just before you reach the summit is the steepest part. It seems to usually be that way on our hills.

I was finally able to get a shot of Tippin Rock and the sign pointing to it. I always have to laugh at the sign because it seems to me that nothing could be more obvious.

The people who climb this hill almost always do so to see Tippin Rock, and I’m sure they know what they’re seeing. It’s like having a sign saying “The Sky.”

Since I found this crack in the stone a few years ago, I haven’t been able to stop inspecting it every time I come here. It goes almost all the way around the boulder, so it’s probably a good thing that most people don’t know how to get the huge stone moving. Until I saw it rock slowly back and forth like a baby cradle, I thought the legend was probably just a story but no, it really does move.

The top of this hill is solid granite where the glacier dropped Tippin Rock. I’m always stunned when I think of all that had to happen, not only for a 40-ton boulder to be up here at all, but for it also to be perfectly balanced enough to rock back and forth on a bed of flat, level granite. The bedrock is exposed right at the surface so nothing but mosses and reindeer lichen can get a foothold, and that’s why the big stone sits in a clearing all by itself, almost as if man placed it there. Maybe in a few thousand years there will be enough soil for trees to grow.

Usually in December I would expect to see icicles on the ledges up here, but not this year. Not yet. You can see how the stone is wet from groundwater though so as soon as it gets cold enough, they’ll be there.

My camera wanted to focus on the tiny hemlock needles it saw rather than the comparatively huge barred owl that sat behind them so this isn’t a very good shot of the bird, but it does show that they are up here. I watched it fly silently through the forest and land on that tree but when I bent to fiddle with my camera settings, off it went.

I tried to do the Limbo under this hemlock that had fallen across the trail but I failed miserably so I just went around it on the way back.

I couldn’t shoot the view to the left because that was where the bright sunshine was, and the view to the right is blocked by trees, so this is it.

I went to see how the toadskin lichens were doing. Some were pea green and happy but most were not.

Considering all the rain we’d had the day before I thought all the lichens would be at their best but many had already gone from green to brown and even more were already ash gray. This told me that these lichens don’t even stay moist for 24 hours after a rain, and that’s amazing.

There are blueberry bushes up here, and also wasps. Blueberry stem gall forms when a shiny black wasp called Hemadas nubilipennis damages a bud while laying her eggs on a tender shoot. The plant responds to the damage by growing a kidney shaped gall around the eggs, and this is where the larvae will overwinter before emerging as adults in the spring. This example was a highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) but this wasp isn’t choosy and will also use lowbush plants (Vaccinium angustifolium.) The galls do no real harm to the plants. I think this one was empty, because of all the exit holes.

I was kneeling down getting a shot of a face on a log when a father and his little boy came along. The boy asked me if I was chopping the log and I told him no, I was looking at the face on it. He couldn’t have been more than four or five and when I said “see the face?” his eyes got wide and his mouth dropped open, and I’m afraid that it might have scared him. He didn’t say anything about the face but he told me he and his dad were going to Tippin Rock. I said I had just come from there and told him to have fun, and we went our separate ways. I hope the little guy doesn’t have bad dreams about the face on the log. It reminded me of the painting “The Scream” by Edvard Munch. An interesting though disturbing side note about that painting was how Edvard Munch said he had sensed an “infinite scream passing through nature,” and that’s why he painted it.

Anyhow, I wished I had been kneeling by Mister Smiley Face when the boy came along. He couldn’t scare anybody.

Once you really commence to see things, then you really commence to feel things. ~Edward Steichen

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Some of you who came here expecting to find flowers might be a little disappointed but I’ve been taking a lot of fall foliage photos and I need to put them in a blog post, otherwise I’ll still be showing them in December and everyone will be confused. On this day I wanted to take just a short walk by the Ashuelot River to see if the cinnamon ferns had changed into their beautiful fall pumpkin orange color yet, but everything was so beautiful, what started as a short walk turned into a complete blog post. Sometimes it seems as if nature just throws itself at you and this was one of those days.

Not only was the forest beautiful, the weather was as well. So far we’ve had a very warm October and that has meant that the leaves are changing later than they usually do, so this might be an extended fall foliage year.

I saw a few orange cinnamon ferns but most hadn’t turned yet, which is unusual.

Turtles were even out, still soaking up as much of the weakened autumn sunshine as they could. These were painted turtles, I think. It’s unusual to see them in October.

Other creatures were active as well. Do you see the great blue heron walking along the far shore? It’s over on the far left, just by the last tree on the left side.

The big bird was hungry and on the move. Here it approaches a fallen tree from the left. I couldn’t decide if I wanted to watch the heron or the trees so I stopped to get shots of both.

But then it saw me and froze. I thought it would stay that way but it continued on, very slowly.

I hoped it would see a fish or a frog but it didn’t catch a thing while I was there. I know there are still frogs to catch because I scared a few into the water while getting these photos.

I’ve watched enough blue herons stalking food to know that this wouldn’t be over soon, so I moved on.

When I left it was watching what I was doing rather than looking for food.

I had leaves to see, so I left the bird alone. I didn’t come here looking for colorful foliage but since the trees surprised me by being so beautiful already, I stayed. My color finding software even sees salmon pink in this view.

They were beautiful no matter if you looked forward or back.

I liked this view but it might have been better if if duckweed hadn’t covered the blue of the water.

It was hard to watch where I was going instead of looking up.

The branches on the old sunken tree still looked more like the ribs of a a sunken ship.

The way these polypores were spaced on this tree made me think of squirrel steps.

The forest glowed and beckoned, so I had to go and see. I love walking into scenes like this that have such soft, beautiful light.

I found a fine old American hornbeam, also known as iron wood or muscle wood (Carpinus caroliniana.) The latter name comes from the way it looks like tendons are rippling under its bark. It is common along our rivers but seeing one this big is not common because these trees don’t seem to live long. Low down on its trunk I can see a good example of a maple dust lichen (Lecanora thysanophora) in this shot that I didn’t see in person. It’s that light grayish spot. The tree also had lots of spidery Frullania liverworts on it. They are the darker blotches. They like places where the humidity is high, like here along the river.

New England asters bloomed here and there but they won’t last too much longer.

Many asters looked more like these.

Well there wasn’t peak color here yet, but when leaves start turning they can do it quickly and most of these have started. Sometimes in just a day or two a tree, especially a red maple, can change from green to red or orange so you’ve got to be on your toes if you want to catch them at thier most colorful. I hope you have plenty of color where you live, if not from leaves then maybe flowers. I’m still seeing flowers here so there should be at least one more flower post soon.

The fallen leaves in the forest seemed to make even the ground glow and burn with light. ~Malcolm Lowry

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I didn’t have a bird in the hand last month, but I did have two in a bush. When I stopped at a local convenience store up they popped out of this overgrown yew. Since I had my camera with me, I took this shot through the windshield.

I think they were juvenile house sparrows, which are not native to the US. They like to nest in or near buildings. Adults have dark bills and juveniles have a more honey colored bill. As I watched another bird flew into the bush lower down on the left and the birds sitting on top disappeared quickly, as if they had taken a down elevator. I’m guessing it was a parent, come home to feed them. If I have misidentified these birds, I hope someone will let me know. I’m not good with birds. (Or colors of birds.)

I didn’t have to look this bird up. Just before I took this shot, I was lucky to see this great blue heron actually moving. As I watched it preened itself for maybe 5 minutes, and I have many shots of what look like a headless heron. This shot was taken just as it decided to rest after its grooming session, and I thought I’d might as well move on because I could tell it was going to be in statue mode for a while. But at least I got to see it actually moving; most blue herons I see act like they’re made of painted bronze. I shouldn’t complain though, because they’ve taught me a lot about being more patient.

I saw this well decorated little insect crawling up a plant stem one day and I was able to get a good side shot, but every time I turned the stem to see its back it would turn too, so I had quite a time getting the next shot.

I’ll probably always remember this one as the frustrating bug, or maybe the highly intelligent bug, but its real name is the green stink bug. Actually it is a stink bug nymph and as it grows it will lose its pretty decoration and become rather plain looking.

I went into the woods to look at a mushroom and instead found many thousands of red ants, both winged and wingless, crawling on the forest floor. I learned later that these were red harvester ants doing something they have done for millions of years: looking for a mate. I was seeing a swarm, and a swarm happens when several ant colonies leave their colonies and come together to mate. There were winged males and females here, along with wingless workers. After mating, the mated females shed their wings and find new nesting sites. Swarms like this one happen in warm weather, after a rain and in the afternoon on a day in August through September, and those were exactly the conditions when I found them. It all takes place in one day and that’s it until the following year. I’ve read that they do something called “hill topping” which simply means finding the highest spot within the swarm, and I’m guessing that was why they were climbing this pile of stones. They do it for the same reason we would; so they can see better and more easily find a mate. It was an amazing thing to watch.

I saw a red backed salamander at the base of a maple tree. The red stripe is there to scare off predators and I’ve read that the stripe can get redder when it perceives a threat and freezes in place  That’s just what happened when I started taking photos with my phone; it froze.

I waited a bit and the salamander relaxed and started climbing the tree. These small amphibians don’t have lungs so they take what gasses they need through their skin, but to do so they can’t let their skin dry out. To keep it moist they hide under tree bark, rocks, logs, anywhere they can stay out of the sun.

As I continued watching the salamander it crawled through a hole that I hadn’t seen and into the tree. I suppose the inside of a tree would be moist enough. It wasn’t until I started reading about this creature that I realized I had been lucky to see one. The day was warm and humid with occasional rain showers, and those are about the only conditions this little creature will wander around in during the daytime.

I’m still seeing monarch butterflies I’m happy to say, but this one ran into trouble somewhere along the line and damaged its wing. I’d guess that a bird got a hold of it. It seemed to still fly just fine though.

Last year a coworker and I had to pull a beaver dam apart and this year, here we were again almost in the exact same spot, pulling another dam apart. After two hours of tugging on miscellaneous tools and a rope tied to a grappling hook, we had it apart and the water flowing. This had to be done so the stream wouldn’t back up and flood roads.

I have to say that these beavers have it made; imagine living in this Eden. It was so beautiful and serene. To be able to walk out of my door and see this every morning would be sheer bliss.

A prophesying bracken fern foretold the future. Or at least the near future.

It had rained the night before and the strong morning sunshine turned the moisture left on this pine tree’s bark into steam. It made me wonder just how warm it must get inside a tree.

In 1906 in this spot trees, chiefly Scot pine and Norway spruce, were grown from seed to be used in reforestation projects. The spruce trees have done well but the Scot pines have not; neither the soil nor climate is right for them. Many of the spruce trees are still here and, as the above photo shows, are tall but have no real girth because they were meant to be transplanted into other areas, not allowed to reach full size. They are far too close together and cast such deep shade that nothing but a few mosses and fungi will grow beneath them. It is a stark, sterile place but it still has its own beauty.

This forest is far more natural. Or as natural as a second or third growth forest can be, anyway. Enough light reaches the forest floor to allow the growth of many species of plants, shrubs and ferns. It is much more natural than what we saw in the previous photo. It is also much easier to walk through than it appears here.

With all the rain I’ve been talking about this summer I’d guess that this photo of the Ashuelot River doesn’t surprise anyone. It rose higher up the bank in this spot than I’ve ever seen. On this day the water level had dropped but it was still making some impressive waves.

I thought I could see an owl coming up out of the water at one point.

This was my favorite wave shot of the day. I should say that the colors in these photos haven’t been changed in any way, and I say that because they’re so amazing they might seem unbelievable. This river has taught me much, and I know if I come here at a certain time of day when the sun is shining and the river is at the right level, it will be at its most beautiful. The sun is slightly behind and to the left of where I stand, and when a wave comes up and crests the sunlight shines through it and exposes all of the colors it contains. It is very beautiful and also mesmerizing to watch as each wave grows and changes its colors.

From the roar of the river to the quiet of the forest. This oak tree burl reminded me of Vincent van Gogh’s painting Starry Night. Burl is an abnormal growth on a tree which grows faster than the surrounding tissue, and all the little circular grain swirls in this one signify branches that tried to grow out of it. It would have looked like a witch’s broom. 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. Woodworkers prize burls very highly and make some beautiful bowls and other things from them, which can sometimes sell for thousands of dollars.

After so many years of looking at trees you would think that I would have seen the beautiful golden color of the inner bark of a gray birch (Betula populifolia) before but I guess not, because I was stopped cold when I saw this. Gray birch is a short-lived species, often found in waste areas or other disturbed places. It is a colonizer; often the first tree to grow after a burn. This is also the birch tree that is often seen with hundreds of birch polypores along its length. I see as much of it on the ground as I do standing but I’ve never seen it like this before.

Hawthorn (Crataegus) fruit is ripe but so far the birds haven’t touched them. The fruit is high in pectin, so they are often added to other fruits when making jelly. Nobody seems to know how many species of hawthorn there are, but some say that it could be a thousand or more. Native Americans used the often-tasteless fruit in ointments and other medicines. The haws, botanically speaking, are pomes, like apples and pears.  One odd fact about hawthorns is how their young leaves and flower buds are edible and can be used in salads. Hawthorns are also important when used medicinally. Hawthorn has been used to treat heart disease since the 1st century and the leaves and flowers are still used for that purpose today. There are antioxidant flavonoids in the plant that may help dilate blood vessels, improve blood flow, and protect blood vessels from damage.

Kousa dogwood fruit looks a little different but it’s the edible part of a Kousa Dogwood (Cornus kousa.) This dogwood is on the small side and is native to Asia. I don’t see it too often. It is also called Japanese or Korean Dogwood. Kousa Dogwood fruit is made up of 20-40 fleshy carpels. In botany one definition of a carpel is a dry fruit that splits open, into seed-bearing sections. Kousa dogwood fruits are said by some to taste like papaya. 

The toxic berries of the native snowberry shrub (Symphoricarpos albus) persist through winter, as the common name implies. This is an old-fashioned shrub in the honeysuckle family that has been grown in gardens for hundreds of years. As a general rule of thumb, it isn’t a good idea to eat white fruit. Poison ivy and poison sumac berries are also white.

White ash (Fraxinus americana) and green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica) leaves are among the earliest to turn in the fall, usually becoming brilliant yellow and sometimes, the beautiful deep purple seen here in this fallen leaf.

The burning bushes (Euonymus alatus) along the river have started to change into their amazing colors. Before the leaves fall they’ll change from deep magenta to soft pink, and then finally nearly white. To see drifts of hundreds of them, all the same color, is an amazing thing, invasive or not.

Maple leaved viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) is another plant that goes through many color changes in the fall and I always look forward to seeing what colors I’ll see this year. These were a kind of plum color.

This one was more lavender. This native shrub has a lot going for it and I wish more people new about it. It’s easy to maintain, has great fall color, and attracts birds with its dark purple fruit.

Well congratulations; you’ve made it to the end, but the end is really the beginning as you can see by this beech tree. The beginning of fall that is. Beech trees seem to be turning a little early this year but that doesn’t matter because they’ll be beautiful no matter when they change. Any time now the population of New Hampshire will increase by an expected 3 million souls, all come to see the beauty of the season. If the past few years are any indication they’ll be stunned, right along with the locals. It’s the kind of beauty that takes your breath away, and I hope that you too can experience similar beauty wherever you are.

I meant to do my work today, but a brown bird sang in the apple tree, and a butterfly flitted across the field, and all the leaves were calling. ~Richard le Gallienne

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On Friday, April 16th nature decided to surprise us. This photo shows what I saw on my way to work that day. Parts of the state ended up with a foot of heavy wet snow but it was too warm for it to last..

…and in a day or two it was all gone.

It did get cold for a while but that didn’t slow things down for too long. Ferns like this lady fern  (Athyrium filix-femina) still showed off their stamina with their naked spring fiddleheads. Lady fern is the only fern I know of with brown / black scales on its stalk in the fiddlehead stage. This fern likes to grow in moist, loamy areas along streams and rivers. They don’t like windy places, so if you find a shaded dell where a grove of lady fern grows it’s safe to assume that it doesn’t ever get very windy there.

Interrupted fern (Osmundastrum claytoniana) fiddleheads wore fur and huddled together to keep warm.

Red maple (Acer rubrum) seeds (samaras) are growing by the many millions. These are one of the smallest seeds in the maple family. It is estimated that a single tree 12 inches in diameter can produce nearly a million seeds, and if the tree is fertilized for 2 years seed production can increase by 10 times. It’s no wonder that red maple is getting a reputation for being a weed tree.

For a short time between when they appear and when they ripen and fall American elm (Ulmus americana) seeds have a white fringe. When they ripen they’ll become dry and papery and finally fall to the wind. I grew up on a street that had huge 200 year old elms on it and those trees put out seeds in the many millions. Elm seeds contain 45% protein and 7% fiber and in the great famine of 1812 they were used as food in Norway.

As I write this the large, infertile white blossoms of hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) have most likely fully formed, but when I last went to see them this is what they looked like; almost there. Hobblebush flower heads are made up of small fertile flowers in the center and large infertile flowers around the perimeter. The infertile flowers are there to attract insects to the much less showy fertile ones and it’s a strategy that must work well because I see plenty of berries in the fall. They start out green and go to a beautiful bright red before ripening to a deep purple color.

Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) can be quite beautiful when it starts to unfurl its leaves in spring but Americans have no love affair with it because it is an invasive weed that is nearly impossible to eradicate once it becomes established. I’ve seen it killed back to the ground by frost and in less than 3 weeks it had grown right back. I’ve heard that the new spring shoots taste much like rhubarb. If we ate them maybe they wouldn’t be such a bother. Maybe in pies?

This mullein plant was one of the biggest I’ve seen; as big as a car tire. I loved the pattern the leaves made. Native Americans used tea made from its large, gray green furry leaves to treat asthma and other respiratory ailments. They also used the roots to treat coughs, and it is also said to be useful as a relaxant and sleep aid. The Cherokee tribe are said to have rubbed mullein leaves in their armpits to treat prickly rash and the Navaho tribe made an infusion of the leaves and rubbed it on the bodies of their hunters to give them strength. Clearly this plant has been used for many thousands of years. It is considered one of the “oldest herbs’ and recent research has shown that mullein does indeed have strong anti-inflammatory properties.

Wild Leeks (Allium tricoccum), also called ramps, are up. They look like scallions and taste somewhere between onions and garlic. They are considered a great delicacy and are a favorite spring vegetable in many parts of the world, but they’ve been over collected so harvesting has been banned in many parts of the U.S. and Canada. They’re slow growers from seed and a 10 percent harvest of a colony can take 10 years to grow back. They take 18 months to germinate from seed and 5 to 7 years to become mature enough to harvest. That’s why, when people write in and ask me where to find them, I can’t tell them. The two small colonies I’ve found have less than 300 plants combined.

This photo is from a few years ago when I foolishly pulled up a couple of ramps, not knowing how rare they were. It shows their resemblance to scallions though, and that’s what I wanted you to see. They are said to be strongly flavored with a pungent odor, but they’ve been prized by mankind since the ancient Egyptians ate them. Each spring there are ramp festivals all over the world and in some places they’re called the “King of stink.” The name ramp comes from the English word ramson, which is a common name of the European bear leek (Allium ursinum,) which is a cousin of the North American wild leek.

In one of the spots I go to find ramps I find false hellebore (Veratrum viride) growing right beside them. There is a lesson in that, and it is know your plants well if you’re going to eat them. Ramps are one of the most delicious wild plants and false hellebore one of the deadliest. As you can see from the photos they look nothing alike but people do still confuse them. As recently as 2019 a physics professor and his wife wanted some spring greens for breakfast at their cabin in Vermont. The greens they chose, instead of the ramps they thought they were picking, were actually false hellebore. They spent 2 weeks in the hospital and almost died. From 2014 to 2019 in Vermont 18 people were poisoned by false hellebore so again; know your plants. In this case it is simple: ramps smell like onions and false hellebore does not.

And then there is skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus,) which is also up at the same time as ramps and false hellebore. Though I haven’t heard of anyone mistaking skunk cabbage for ramps,. when the leaves of skunk cabbage just come up and start to unfurl I could imagine some thinking they were ramps. In any event skunk cabbage won’t kill a person but after smelling it I can picture it giving a person a good tummy ache.

There are is magic in the woods; beautiful things that many never see, and the glowing spring buds of the striped maples are one of them. Velvety soft and colored in pink and orange, they are one of the things I most look forward to seeing in spring.

But you have to be quick and pay close attention if you’re going to watch spring buds unfold, because it can happen quickly. This striped maple bud was all ready to break.

I saw a porcupine in a tree where I work. This porcupine, if it is the same one, had a baby with her last year. This year she doesn’t look well but since you could fit what I know about porcupines in a thimble and have room to spare, I can’t be sure. I do know that three or four of us thought she looked as if something was wrong.

I felt as if I was being watched one day when I was taking photos of violets and turned to find a very suspicious robin wondering just what it was I was up to. I said hello and it hopped even closer. It looked very well fed and I wondered if it was hopping in the grass because it was too heavy to get off the ground. Of course I didn’t ask. Instead I stood and walked across the lawn and when I turned to look again I saw that it was still watching me. Probably making sure I wasn’t making off with any of its worms.

I don’t see many wooly bear caterpillars in spring but here it was. Folklore says that the wider the orangey brown band on a wooly bear caterpillar is, the milder the winter will be. We did indeed have a mild winter but I doubt the wooly bear cared either way because wooly bears produce their own antifreeze and can freeze solid. Once the temperature rises into the 40s F in spring they thaw out and begin feeding on dandelion and other early spring greens. Eventually they spin a cocoon and emerge as a beautiful tiger moth. From that point on it has only two weeks to live. Since this one was on a step I’m guessing that it was looking for a place to make a cocoon.

The new shoots of Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum) are up and leafing out. Usually even plants this small will have tiny flower buds on them but I didn’t see any on this one. Each year the above ground stem leaves a scar, or “seal” on the underground stem, which is called a rhizome. Counting these scars will reveal the age of the plant but of course you have to dig it up to do that and I never have.

I finally found the female flowers of sweet gale (Myrica gale.) They’re bushy little things that remind me of female alder catkins. Sweet gale is also called bog rosemary and likes to grow on the banks of acidic lakes, bogs and streams. Touching the foliage releases a sweet, pleasant scent from its resinous leaves which have been used for centuries as a natural insect repellent.

These are the male catkins of sweet gale. They’re much larger than the female catkins and much easier to spot.

If there is anything that holds more promise than new spring leaves I’ve never experienced it.

Bud break is defined as “when the green tip of a leaf can be seen emerging from the bud.” It’s happening right now to a lot of trees like this sugar maple. I love the veining on sugar maple leaves just before they unfurl.

I complained in an earlier post how, though maple leaves often come out of the bud colored red, all I was seeing this year were green. Of course as soon as I say something like that nature throws me a curve ball and on this day all I saw were young red leaves. Actually my color finding software calls them salmon pink and orange.

All of the snow in that first photo ended up like this; spring runoff. That means of course that I get to enjoy the moisture in its two forms; first when it clothes every branch and twig and second when it becomes a beautiful waterfall. This is one of my favorite spring scenes. I call this the “disappearing waterfall” because it comes and goes depending on the weather. It was in fine form on this day but it could be gone completely the next time I go to see it.

I meant to do my work today, but a brown bird sang in the apple tree, and a butterfly flitted across the field, and all the leaves were calling. ~Richard le Gallienn

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This post will be the last with ice in it for a while, but scenes like this one were still common just two or three weeks ago. Beaver lodges can be quite big, with the floor a couple of inches above the water level. On the floor they scatter a 2 or 3 inch deep bed of dry leaves, grass, shredded wood and other materials to keep the floor dry. They don’t hibernate. They can swim under the ice but they can’t hold their breath forever so they can’t stray far from their lodges in winter. Their winter food is green branches and twigs they anchor into the soft mud around the lodge. When hungry they dislodge a branch, which stay green in the cold winter water, and drag it into the lodge.

This winter I’ll remember for its ice. It was everywhere. It was terrible to walk on but often beautiful to see.

But ice melts, and in this photo it is doing just that on Half Moon Pond in Hancock. The ice usually melts off around mid-April but this year it happened about two weeks early due to above average temperatures and record breaking warmth.

This snowbank raised what looked like a defiant fist and seemed to say “I will not melt”! But it did melt; they all did.

In fact the ice and snow melted so fast the sign removal people couldn’t keep up.

The Canada geese knew the thaw was coming and they were here almost immediately after the ice melted. Many ducks have returned as well, and I’ve heard spring peepers, wood frogs, red winged blackbirds, and the beautiful but sorrowful sounding fee-bee mating call of male black capped chickadees.

I’ve been watching buds, like this blueberry bud. It always amazes me that a plant with blue fruit can have so much red in it. I think the white stripe running up the stem and around the base of the bud might have been frost.

Lilac buds can also have a lot of red in them. They’re starting to swell noticeably now.

Red elderberry buds are also getting bigger by the day. The deep purple fingers of unfurling leaves are beautiful as they come from their buds in the spring. It won’t be long now.

I think the buds of sweet gale have elongated some but they’re so small it’s hard to tell. They’re pretty little things. This small, very aromatic shrub is also called bog rosemary. I find it on the shorelines of ponds along with leatherleaf, alder and rhodora.

How beautiful the leaves of swamp dewberry are in spring before they turn green and start photosynthesizing. Swamp dewberry (Rubus hispidus) is a trailing plant with fruit like a black raspberry and its stems are every bit as prickly. It also looks a lot like a strawberry when it’s in bloom and because of its strawberry like leaves, which are evergreen. This is a plant that can trip you up when hidden by snow. Native Americans had many medicinal uses for this plant, including treating coughs, fever and consumption. Swamp dewberry, as its name implies, is a good indicator of a wetland or moist soil that doesn’t dry out.

We lost a huge old pine tree where I work and I wanted to get photos of it because if you look closely you can see that the bottom half was completely hollow. A big pine like this one fell on a friend’s barn a few years ago and cut it right in half. A snow blower parked inside was crushed down to a jumble of mashed metal.

The scary part of this tree falling was how it fell right next to one of our roads. Thankfully there was no one going by at the time. When it fell it took two or three other smaller trees with it.

I saw a small delicate feather stuck on the bark of a tree and wondered if it might be a nuthatch breast feather. We have lots of them where I work. The rose breasted nuthatches are so fearless that one day I almost stepped on one. I’m glad I saw it at the last minute.

Blue jays stayed here all winter long; the first time I’ve ever seen this. And there were large flocks of them. Many people in the area were commenting about how unusual it was.

I found a beech leaf and a pinecone twirling slowly in the breeze at the end of a strand of spider silk. Since both leaves and cones fall from trees I’m guessing that they fell through a spider’s web. I’ve read that spider silk is five times as strong as the same diameter thread made of steel. I’ve also read that, if you had a piece of spider silk the same diameter as a pencil, it would be strong enough to stop a Boeing 747 in flight. It’s always good to have a little awe in our lives, I think.  

Here is one of the strangest things I’ve ever found in the woods. I said “Oh, a bird’s nest” and walked over to it. I could see bits of yarn and string like a bird would use but something didn’t look right. It was too perfectly round.

And it was as hard as a rock. That’s because it was a ball with the outer covering torn off. If you’ve ever taken the covering off a baseball you’ve seen this same thing, because this was indeed the inside of a baseball.

The inside had been hollowed out like a bird’s nest and I have to say that I have no idea how it got its outer covering removed or how it got stuck in the crotch of a willow tree. Did someone hit a homerun that landed in a tree? Did someone put it there hoping birds would nest in it? It’s a mystery to me.

Tree skirt moss (Anomodon attenuatus) does just what its name sounds like it would; it grows at the base of trees and makes them look like they’re wearing green stockings. It can also grow on soil or stone and can form extensive mats. This was a beautiful example of it. Jut look how it glows.

Tree skirt moss grows up to 3 feet high around the bases of hardwoods, especially oaks. Knowing where certain mosses prefer growing, whether on soil, stone or wood, can help with identifying them. This moss is very changeable and changes its appearance depending on how dry it is. This example was moist and happy.

This one is for Ginny, who last fall said she couldn’t imagine what a leaf pile the size of a box truck would look like. These are all the leaves that were collected last season where I work.

Of course the pile has settled some over the winter but that’s still a lot of leaves. It takes three full months to collect them all; maple, birch, basswood, oak and beech mostly, and once they decompose we use the resulting compost for lawn patches and what have you. You can just see the top of an older pile in the background that we have dug into.

My little friend here and his cousins try to collect all the acorns and pinecones that fall but we had another mast year and there must be millions of both still left to cleanup. I’ve read that mast years happen when the trees are stressed and I’d guess that drought over the past couple of years would have stressed them severely.

I do hope everyone has a healthy and happy Easter and I hope the sun shines for you, wherever you are.

It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see. ~Henry David Thoreau

Thanks for stopping in.

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I was driving along an old road looking for fall color when I saw a barred owl in a tree. I stopped the car and got out and much to my surprise the owl stayed put.

A few years ago I came upon a barred owl sitting right in the middle of a trail and like this one it let me take as many photos as I wanted. This one was much bigger than that one but like that owl, this one sat perfectly still and watched me almost the entire time. In this shot you can see that it did look away, and I’d like to think that was because it sensed that I meant it no harm. After taking A few shots I got back in the car and got ready to leave, watching as the owl flew deeper into the woods. Being able to look a wild creature directly in the eyes for a while is a rare thing, and something you never really forget. I’ve stared into the eyes of everything from black bears to porcupines to chipmunks and each time it feels as if they’re giving you something of themselves, willingly. And you want to do the same.

Wilde Brook in Chesterfield was a little wild on the day I was there and it was good to see.

Many streams like this one have dried up completely and though we’ve had some rain this part of the state is still in moderate drought. Other parts of the state are seeing extreme drought so we’re fortunate.

I find tree roots like this one on well-traveled trails. How beautiful it is; like a work of art worn smooth by who knows how many years of foot traffic? It looks as if it had been made; sanded, polished and crafted with love. But how easily missed it would be for someone who was more anxious to see the end of the trail than what could be seen along it. I’m guessing that many thousands of people have rushed by it without a glance, and this is why when you ask them what they saw they will often say “nothing much.”

A piece of driftwood on a pond shore reminded me of the bleached bones of an ancient creature. It is, or was a tree stump and I liked the flow of its roots and its weathered silvery finish. It grabbed me and held my attention for a while.

Witch hazels are having a glorious year. I’ve never seen them bloom as they are now. Apparently drought doesn’t really bother them.

New England asters didn’t have a very good time of it this year but what I did see were beautiful. This is probably the last one I’ll see until next year.

Golden pholiota mushrooms (Pholiota limonella) usually grow in large clusters on dead or dying logs and trees, but this tiny thing grew alone. It’s cap was no bigger in a diameter than a penny. These mushrooms are toxic and are said to smell like lemon, garlic, radish, onion or skunk. They are said to taste like radishes by those unfortunate few who have tasted them. Note how it seems to be growing out of a tiny hole in the log.

Though jelly fungi grow at all times of year I think of them as winter fungi because that’s usually when I find them. I often see them on fallen branches, often oak or alder, and I always wonder how they got way up in the tree tops. Yellow jellies (Tremella mesenterica) like this one are called witch’s butter and are fairly common. We also have black, white, red, orange and amber jelly fungi and I’d have to say that white and red are the rarest. I think I’ve seen each color only two or three times. Jelly fungi can be parasitic on other fungi.

Puffballs grew on a log. The biggest, about as big as a grape, had been partially eaten and I would guess that a chipmunk had been at it. I never knew chipmunks ate mushrooms until I saw one doing so this past summer. I often see gray squirrels eating them as well.

A tree “marriage” happens when two trees of the same species rub together in the wind. When the outer bark is rubbed off the inner cambium layer of the trees can become naturally grafted together and they will be married from then on. The process is called inosculation and isn’t as rare as we might think. This maple tree shows that even limbs on the same tree can do it, but this is the first time I’ve seen it happen this way.

Native little bluestem grass (Schizachyrium scoparium) catches the light and glows in luminous ribbons along the roadsides. This is a common grass that grows in every U.S. state except Nevada and Washington, but is so uncommonly beautiful that it is grown in gardens. After a frost it takes on a reddish purple hue, making it even more beautiful.

It is the way its silvery seed heads reflect the light that makes little bluestem grass glow like it does.

I had quite a time trying to find out what was wrong with this blueberry leaf with big black, tar like spots and I’m still not sure I have but it might be blueberry rust (Thekopsora minima,) which is a fungal disease which infects the leaves and fruit of blueberries and other plants in the Ericaceae plant family. The disease can eventually kill the plant if left alone so it’s important to treat it if you have a lot of bushes. I don’t see many problems on wild blueberry bushes so I was surprised to see this. I wish I had thought to look at the underside of the leaf. That’s where the spores are released and wind and rain can carry them quickly to other plants.

This mullein plant was as big as a car tire and will most likely have an impressive stalk of flowers next year. Mullein is a biennial that flowers and dies in its second year. Native Americans used tea made from its large, gray green furry leaves to treat asthma and other respiratory ailments. They also used the roots to treat coughs, and it is also said to be useful as a relaxant and sleep aid. The Cherokee tribe are said to have rubbed mullein leaves in their armpits to treat prickly rash and the Navaho tribe made an infusion of the leaves and rubbed it on the bodies of their hunters to give them strength. Clearly this plant has been used for many thousands of years. It is considered one of the “oldest herbs’ and recent research has shown that mullein does indeed have strong anti-inflammatory properties.

The spiny, 2 inch long fruits of the wild cucumber (Echinocystis lobata) have a watermelon shape and boys have been throwing them at each other for as long as I’ve been around. The fruit is not edible and the menacing looking spines are soft and pliable at this stage.

Inside a wild cucumber seed pod you find two chambers which hold a single seed each. These seeds look like giant cucumber seeds. A kind of netting is also found inside wild cucumber seed pods and once they dry the netting is even more interesting. A man wrote to me once and told me that he decorated pens that he makes with that same netting. For me these plants are like a time machine that always takes me back to my boyhood.

A friend’s tomatillos have ripened and are ready for salsa Verde. Tomatillo usage dates back to at least 800 B.C. when they were first cultivated by the Aztecs. Today they are also called husk tomatoes and they can be eaten raw or cooked. Scientists have found fossil tomatillos in Argentina dating back 52 million years, so they’ve been around a long time.

Here was another hemlock root, polished by thousands of feet. Do you see its beauty? Part of the beauty I see comes from knowing how much work would go into trying to create something like this in a wood shop, and part of it comes from the artistic bent I was born with. Much of what I choose to show you here I choose so you might see the beauty that shines out of those every day bits of life that we ignore so readily. Instead of stepping on a root without a thought maybe you could just stop and be still for a moment and really see what is there in front of you. It doesn’t have to be a root; it could be a blade of grass or a mountain or an insect. But just see the beauty in it. The more you let yourself see beauty, the more beauty you will see. Finally you will see beauty everywhere, in every thing, and you will become filled with a deep gratitude for being allowed to see the true wonder and beauty of this earth. This is not hard; all it takes is your attention, your contemplation, and a bit of time.

These are some of the things I have learned simply by spending time in nature. I make no secret of the fact that this blog’s sole purpose is to see you spending time in nature as well. It’s kind of like dangling a carrot before a horse, but why do I care what you do? Would you like an occasional glimpse of bliss? Would you like peace to wash over you like a gentle rain and comfort to cover you like a warm blanket? If you experienced these things would you want to harm this earth? Of course you wouldn’t, and that’s what this is all about.

Can we go from fall to winter just like that, with a snap of the fingers? Yes we can because this is New England and the weather can change that quickly here. Snow on Halloween is unusual but it isn’t unheard of; in 2011 we had a nor’easter come through that dropped close to two feet in my yard and cancelled trick or treating for that year. On the other side of the coin sometimes we don’t see any snow until well after Christmas. Nature seeks balance and we’ve had a several months long drought, so we might get a few surprises this winter.

This was a wet, heavy snow that stuck to everything and reminded me of the quote by William Sharp, who said: 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.

This blueberry bush with its red fall leaves did look radiant with its frosting of white snow.

The oaks were beautiful as well, but too much heavy snow when the leaves are still on the trees can cause major damage and power outages which can last for weeks. Luckily this storm was minor, with only 3-4 inches falling.

Still, leaves fell and autumn leaves in the snow are always beautiful. How beautiful this scene was with its simplicity and that amazing color. I couldn’t just walk away without a photo of it, and then I couldn’t stop taking them.

Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.
~Albert Einstein

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