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Archive for the ‘Insects’ Category

I’m starting this post on aquatics with blue vervain (Verbena hastata,) only because I like its color. It isn’t a true aquatic but every time you find it there will be water very nearby. Blue vervain provides a virtual nectar bar for many species of bees including the verbena bee (Calliopsis verbenae.) Butterflies also love it. It likes wet soil and full sun and can reach 5 feet when it has both. I find it in wet ditches, on river banks and just about anywhere where the soil stays constantly moist.

Wild calla (Calla palustris) is also called water dragon or water arum, and it is a true aquatic. It is an arum like skunk cabbage or Jack in the pulpit, both of which also like wet places. I don’t know if I could say this plant is rare but it is certainly scarce in this area. It’s the kind of plant you have to hunt for, and you have to know its habits well to catch it in bloom. Like other arums its flowers appear on a spadix surrounded by a spathe. The spathe is the white leaf like part seen in the above photo. This plant is toxic and I’ve never seen any animal touch it.

I missed the tiny greenish white flowers this year. They grow along the small spadix and are followed by green berries which will ripen to bright red and will most likely be snapped up by a passing deer. This plant was in the green, unripe berry stage. One odd fact about this plant is how its flowers are pollinated by water snails passing over the spadix. It is thought that small flies and midges also help with pollination, because the odor from the blossoms is said to be very rank.

Pickerel weed is having a bad year and gone are the beautiful ribbons of blue flowers along the river’s banks. I’m not sure what is causing such a sparse bloom but I hope it rights itself because large masses of this plant in bloom can be truly spectacular.

One of the things that always surprises me about pickerel weed is its hairiness. I don’t expect that from a water plant. Its small blue / purple, tubular flowers on spikey flower heads will produce a fruit with a single seed. Once the flowers are pollinated and seeds have formed the flower stalk will bend over and drop the them into the water, where they will have to go through at least two months of cold weather before being able to germinate. If you see pickerel weed you can almost always expect the water it grows in to be relatively shallow and placid, though I’ve heard that plants occasionally grow in water that’s 6 feet deep.

I haven’t seen any berries yet but elderberries (Sambucus nigra canadensis) have bloomed well this year so we should have plenty. This is another plant that doesn’t grow in water but it grows as close as it can to keep its roots good and moist. This native shrub can get quite large and its mounded shape and flattish, off white flower heads make it very easy to identify, even from a distance.

A floating plant that is attached by roots to the pond or lake bottom is an aquatic, and that description fits floating hearts (Nyphoides cordata) perfectly. Floating hearts have small, heart-shaped, greenish or reddish to purple leaves that are about an inch and a half wide, and that’s where their common name comes from. The tiny but very pretty flowers are about the size of a common aspirin and resemble the much larger fragrant white water lily blossom. They grow in bogs, ponds, slow streams, and rivers. This flower was having trouble staying above water because it had rained and the water level had risen.

Forget me nots are not an aquatic plant but I keep finding them in very wet places. This one grew right at the edge of a pond so its roots must have been at least partially in water. The ground they grew in was also so saturated my knees got wet taking this photo. Many plants that are thought of as terrestrial are able to tolerate submersion in water and can live where they’re exposed regularly to water and from what I’ve seen, this is one of them.

Water lobelia (Lobelia dortmanna) is probably the rarest of all the aquatics that grow in this area. I still know of only one pond it grows in and there are only a handful of them there. I’ve read that the plant has the unusual ability of removing carbon dioxide from the rooting zone rather than from the atmosphere. It is said to be an indicator of infertile and relatively pristine shoreline wetlands. This year I saw only 4 or 5 plants in a small group. The small, pale blue or sometimes white flowers are less than a half inch long and not very showy. They have 5 sepals and the base of the 5 petals is fused into a tube. The 2 shorter upper petals fold up. I’ve read that the flowers can bloom and set seed even under water. True aquatic plants are plants that have adapted to living in aquatic environments (saltwater or freshwater) and this one has adapted well.

I saw a strange looking bubble which had ripples coming from it, as if it were moving. It was in a pond, just off shore.

Of course if you go looking for aquatic plants, you’re going to see dragonflies like this widow skimmer.

I’m also seeing lots of what I think are spangled skimmers this year. On this day all of them were watching the water.

Pipewort plants (Eriocaulon aquaticum) are also called hatpins, and this photo shows why perfectly. Pipewort plants have basal leaves growing at the base of each stem and the leaves are usually underwater, but falling water levels had exposed them here. Interestingly, this photo also shows the size difference between a floating heart, which is there in the center, and a standard water lily leaf, which you can just see in the top left. Floating hearts are tiny in comparison.

Pipewort stems have a twist and 7 ridges, and for those reasons it is called seven angle pipewort. The quarter inch diameter flower head that sits atop the stem is made up of minuscule white, cottony flowers. I think it’s interesting how their leaves can photosynthesize under water.

Sometimes it doesn’t matter if there are any flowers in view. The light is enough.

I saw what I thought was a pretty clump of grass right at the very edge of the river bank but when I looked closer, I saw that it wasn’t any grass that I had ever seen before and I think it is reed sweet-grass (Glyceria maxima,) which is invasive. It is native to Europe and Western Siberia and is a semi-aquatic, perennial grass with unbranched stems that get up to 8’ tall. There is a reddish tint on the lower parts of the stems. This plant towered up over my head but I can’t swear it had red on the stems because I have trouble seeing red. Reed sweet-grass invades wetlands and crowds out natives, and is not suitable for nesting. It is also a poor food source for our native wildlife.

Meadowsweet (Spirea alba) grows in the form of a small shrub and is in the spirea family, which its flowers clearly show with their many fuzzy stamens. It’s a common plant that I almost always find near water.

Meadowsweet flowers are fragrant and have a sort of almond-like scent. A close look shows that clearly, they belong in the spirea family. Before long their pretty purple cousins the steeple bushes will come along.

In my opinion swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) is the most beautiful milkweed of all. It grows onshore but a few yards away from the water’s edge on land that rarely floods. Many insects were visiting it on this day. I know of only a single plant now, so I hope it produces plenty of seeds. The flowerheads always remind me of millefiori glass paperweights.

Swamp candles (Lysimachia terrestris) are not true aquatics but they do grow close enough to water to have their roots occasionally flooded. They are common along the edges of ponds and wetlands at this time of year. Their name comes from the way their bright color lights up a swamp, just as they did here.

Swamp candles have a club shaped flower head (raceme) made up of 5 petaled yellow flowers. Each yellow petal of a swamp candle flower has two red dots at its base that help form a ring of ten red dots around the five long stamens in the center of the flower. The petals are also often streaked with red and this is common among the yellow loosestrifes. Reddish bulbets will sometimes grow in the leaf axils. I’ve read that our native yellow loosestrifes were thought to have soothing powers over animals so people would tie the flowers to the yoke of oxen to make them easier to handle.

Pretty little sheep laurel (Kalmia angustifolia) will sometime grow in standing water but only when it rains and the water level rises. By choice they live right at the water’s edge. On the day I saw these I saw thousands of flowers blooming on the banks of a pond.

Here is a closer look at the flowers. Sheep laurel is part of the Kalmia clan, which in turn is part of the very large heath family, which includes rhododendrons, blueberries and many other plants. I know of only three Kalmias here and they are Mountain, Sheep and Bog laurel. The flowers of all three, though different in size and color, have ten spring loaded anthers which release when a heavy enough insect lands on the flower. It then gets dusted with pollen and goes on its way.

You can always tell that you’ve found one of the three Kalmias by looking at the outside of the flower. If it has ten bumps like those seen here you have found one of the laurels. Each bump is a tiny pocket that the tip of an anther fits into. If the flowers are anything but white it is either a sheep or bog laurel. If the flowers are white it’s a mountain laurel, though I’ve seen mountain laurels with pink flowers in gardens for the first time this year.

Fragrant white water lilies (Nymphaea odorata) are having a good year, I’m happy to say. They’re one of our most beautiful native aquatics. If you could get your nose into one you might smell something similar to honeydew melon or cantaloupe, but getting your nose into one is the tricky part.

I went to a local pond and saw what I thought were two-foot-tall white flowers on an island offshore. The pickerel weeds growing near the island told me the water could be up to six feet deep, so I certainly couldn’t wade out to them. My only choice was the zoom on my beaten-up old camera so I put it on the monopod and gave it a shot. When I looked at the photo I was stunned to see that the flowers weren’t white, they were pink. That was because they were rose pogonia orchids (Pogonia ophioglossoides,) a most rare and beautiful flower that I had been searching for in the wild for probably twenty years. And here they were, at a pond I had visited a hundred times. Why had I not seen them before? Because I had never come to this exact spot on the shore at this exact time of year before. That’s how easy it is to miss seeing one of the most beautiful flowers found in nature in bloom.

I’m sorry these are such poor photos but if you just Google “Rose Pogonia” you will see them in all their glory. This is a fine example of why, once you’ve started exploring and studying nature you feel that you really should keep at it, because you quickly learn that right around that next bend in the trail could be the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen. I hope you have found that this is true in your own walks through nature.

Away from the tumult of motor and mill
I want to be care-free; I want to be still!
I’m weary of doing things; weary of words
I want to be one with the blossoms and birds. 
~
Edgar A. Guest

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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

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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’ve been walking each day since the day after I retired and it has made my lungs feel so much better, so I thought I’d tackle climbing Mount Caesar in Swanzey. It was a beautiful spring day of the kind where it really doesn’t matter where you are or where you go, as long as you are outside.

I didn’t know it at the time I started the climb but this would be a day of firsts, and the first first was seeing goldthread (Coptis groenlandicum) growing beside the trail. I can’t remember seeing it here before, though I’ve come here countless times. Any time now I should be seeing its tiny but very pretty white flowers. Once collected almost to the point of extinction, it has made a good comeback and I was happy to see that it had found its way here.

I’ve never seen a striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) here before either but here was a small tree, quietly lengthening its velvety buds. Those buds are one of the most beautiful sights in the forest in the early spring, in my opinion.

I don’t remember why I took this photo. Maybe to show what a beautiful day it was.

I stopped along the trail for a moment and happened to glance down and saw some small, hard black, cup shaped fungi that I’ve since found are called ebony cup fungi (Pseudoplectania nigrella.) The smallest one was about the size of a pencil eraser and the biggest maybe a half inch across. According to Wikipedia they like to grow in groups on soil, often amongst pine needles and short grass near coniferous trees, and that was the situation here except for mosses instead of grass. Wikipedia also says that they have a worldwide distribution, but are hard to see because of their small size and dark color. I wondered how many times I had walked by them without seeing them. It was just luck that I saw them on this day.

I’ve read that jays, nuthatches and even chickadees stash acorns in holes in trees. This wasn’t a hole but I guess it was good enough for stashing acorns in.

This trail is steadily uphill but it isn’t steep until you near the summit. I think most people could go up and down in an hour or less, as long as they didn’t stop to see anything. Since I stop to see everything, it takes me twice as long.

Here was something I’ll probably never see again. This branch fell from one of those maples and got stuck just as it is. I looked it over and there were no nails or screws, just fate and branch forks in the right places. All it needed was a sign hanging from it.

I was happy to see trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) growing along the trail. It wasn’t showing any flower buds but this wasn’t a very big plant, so they’ll come along in the future. This is another plant that is making a comeback after being collected almost into oblivion.

A huge tree fell long ago and I always stop here to catch my breath before I reach the steepest part of the trail. I didn’t see them at the time but now that I see the photo my question is, how did those stones get inside the log?

This isn’t just any old log; it has lots of interesting things to see on it no matter where you look, and one of those things is a fungus called ceramic parchment fungus (Xylobolus frustulatus.) Apparently it prefers shade because it only grows on the shaded surfaces of the log, like under that branch stub.

Here is a closer look at the fungus. I’ve never seen anything else like it but a helpful reader identified it the last time I showed it here. Its common name comes from the way it resembles broken ceramic tiles, put back together with black grout. I’ve read that it is found on the dry, well-decayed wood of oaks, so this must be an oak log. What a gigantic tree it must have been.

Here was the steepest part of the trail. I didn’t fly up it but I have to say that all the walking I’m doing has improved my lung power greatly over what it was just a short time ago. I didn’t have to take anywhere near as many breaks as I did the last time I climbed here.  

And here was the granite bedrock of the summit itself, where you realize that you’ve been climbing a huge granite dome covered by just a thin skin of soil.

I thought that I might see the red haze caused by millions of red maple flowers from up here but I couldn’t see any at all.

Instead I saw red maple flowers right here on the summit. Some of them can be seen on that tree on the right in this photo I took of clouds.

There weren’t a lot of red maple flowers up here but what were here seemed well balanced between male and female flowers.

The male red maple flowers had that beautiful light, what I call the light of creation, shining out of them. I’ve come to believe that everything created has that light. Sometimes it is dim and other times it shines brightly as it did here, but everything (and everyone) has it.

Staghorn sumac also grew on the summit. They seem to be slow to get going this year, or maybe it is just impatience on my part. They have nice red new leaves coming out of the buds in spring that I’d like to see.

If, when you’re in nature, something catches your eye, just sit with it for a while. While you’re sitting with the thing that interests you, be it a flower or a leaf or a stone or a toadskin lichen, study it. Get to know it. Study it as if you were going to have to write a paper describing it. See every little nuance, its color and shape, feel its texture, hear it whisper or see the movement it makes when the wind blows over it. Just let yourself fall into it. Forget about naming it, forget about missing the game yesterday or going to work tomorrow and just be there with it, without a thought of anything but what is there in front of you.

Take some photos or take some notes, and when you get home look them over. If you do this, before long you’ll know the thing that caught your attention better than you ever thought possible, and doing this regularly will mean the end of your looking but not seeing. Before long you’ll see with new eyes, and you’ll want to see more. Fortunately there is always plenty more to see.

I once met two college age girls coming off a trail. When I asked them if they had seen any wildflowers both said they hadn’t seen a single one. As soon as I had followed the trail for just a few yards I started seeing flowers everywhere. They were small but they were there, and I realized that day that even though some people look, they just don’t see. Don’t be one of them. You’ll miss so much of the beauty in this world.

I took the trail east from the summit for a few yards to see Mount Monadnock. I hope I wasn’t as close to the edge of that cliff as it appears when I took this photo, because it’s a long way down.

That’s better. I cropped the cliff out because heights give me the heebie jeebies and also, we can see the mountain a little better now. Henry David Thoreau said he’d rather see Mount Monadnock from a distance rather than see out from its summit because it was far more beautiful from a distance, and I agree. Once you’re up there it doesn’t look much different than right here does, and this is a much easier climb.

As I started back down the trail three mourning cloak butterflies spun in a whirlwind above my head and then disappeared. Or so I thought; this one landed on a fallen branch just out ahead of me. It sat there with its wings folded, so I waited for them to unfold. They would unfold and then quickly fold back together, and I would miss the shot. I tried and missed several times-anyone who has ever tried to photograph a butterfly knows what I mean-but then finally the beautiful wings opened and stayed open, just long enough to get what you see here.

A little further down the trail there was another one sunning itself on an outcrop. I’ve read that these butterflies mate in spring, which might account for the whirlwind behavior that I saw happening several times. They’re very pretty and I was happy to have seen them. Usually the way it works with me is, once I see something I begin to see it everywhere, so hopefully I’ll see more of these beautiful creatures.

I thought I’d leave you with some good advice I found on the summit. I find these painted stones just about everywhere I go these days.

Butterflies can’t see their wings. They can’t see how truly beautiful they are, but everyone else can. People are like that as well. ~Naya Rivera

Thanks for stopping in.

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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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I looked out the window to see the sun shining and the rhododendron leaves not curled one morning, so I knew it would be a good day for a walk. And how great it was to have nothing to do but choose a place to go walking, I thought. I chose a rail trail in Swanzey that I knew would be ice free over at least parts of its length, because I could see it from the road. My starting point still had a little ice on it but there was also gravel to walk on.

Once I got into the sunshine it was clear sailing. Or so I thought. There were two or three shaded spots further on that still had ice on them. One of the great things about this walk was the singing of the birds. Like someone flipped a switch, it seemed they all had to sing. One of the bird songs that always says spring to me is the “fee-bee” mating call of the black capped chickadee. Since I was a boy, I’ve loved hearing it in spring. Though some hear “hey sweetie,” from what I’ve read most of us hear “fee-bee.” In the end it doesn’t matter what you hear, what’s important is being out there to hear it.

The ice on the drainage channels beside the roadbed looked to be thick in places.

Most of it varied from between one and three inches thick, by the looks.

A beech in the sunshine on a winter day is a beautiful thing. What was strange though, was not having someone stop and ask me what I was looking at. That happens all the time but on this day, I had this trail to myself. I never saw another soul. That must be a weekday thing as blogging friend Eliza said, because the last time I was out here it was on a weekend and there were people everywhere.

Another beech had lost all its leaves so I looked at a few buds and noticed the bud scales were relaxing. They weren’t as tightly closed as they are in January. I could just see the hint of an arc in this one and that’s the thing I’ll watch for. Sunlight causes the cells at the top, or sunlit part of the bud to grow slightly faster than the shaded part and this makes the bud arch up until finally it can arch no more, and that’s when bud break happens. The bud fairly tears itself apart and the new leaves emerge, and fresh spring beech leaves are one of the most beautiful things you can see in a New Hampshire Forest in the spring. How nice it will be I thought, to be able to watch spring slowly unfold.

The big buds of shagbark hickory hadn’t changed much but they also bear watching, because they are also very beautiful when they open. A tree full of newly opened buds is a sight that can take the breath away.

One of the reasons I wanted to come out here was to see how my new camera would do with moss spore capsules, but I didn’t see a single one the whole way. Not any on the apple mosses, not even any left over from last year.

I could see the Ashuelot River through the trees and it was ice free. A good sign.

A pine tree had fallen and had been cut into logs, and they had been oozing plenty of sticky sap. Turpentine is made frome white pine sap, and that’s what it takes to get it off your clothes.

Another reason I wanted to come out here was to see if any work had been done to the drainage ditches. I was happy to see that they had been dug out and pitched correctly so the water would flow away from the rail bed. The only problem I saw was how all the removed soil had been piled along the tops of the ditches. I thought that when it rained the rain might wash the soil back into the ditches.

No sooner had I that thought I saw that the rain had indeed washed the soil back into the ditch, filling it to the top and completely stopping up any water flow. This damming up of the drainage ditch has happened in two or three places and means that water may fill the ditch and run up over the railbed in a heavy rain. This could wash out the railbed, which is exactly what digging out the ditches is supposed to prevent. The decision to pile the dirt where it has been piled doesn’t seem to have been a good one.

American wintergreen, also called teaberry, (Gaultheria procumbens) leaves were shining in the sunlight. They often turn purple in winter and these had done so.

The third reason I wanted to come out here was because I saw some skunk cabbage leaves at the base of this ledge last year and I wondered if I might see a spathe or two, but it looked like the plant went away when the ditch was dug out.

I saw what looked like bark beetle damage on a young red oak that had died and lost its bark. I think this is the first time I’ve seen damage like this on oak.

There was an apple gall on another oak, on what was left of a leaf. In May, a female wasp emerges from underground and injects one or more eggs into the mid-vein of an oak leaf. As it grows the wasp larva causes the leaf to form a round gall. Galls that form on leaves are less harmful to the tree than those that form on twigs, but neither causes any real damage. This gall was empty, and I knew that by its color and by a tiny exit hole near the top on the far side.

Though it looked like a fault had pulled apart this drainage ditch ice I think it was fast running water that caused the big gap.

And there was the trestle. This one is quite high above the Ashuelot River in this spot, much higher than the trestle that was near our house, which I grew up playing on.

The ripples on the river show how hard the wind was blowing up here.

The water was muddy but it had gone down some, according to the line of ice on the riverbank. It usually stays quite high through spring and that’s the time you see most of the kayaks and canoes on it.

The reason you don’t see many canoeists or kayakers once the water level drops in summer is because of all the submerged trees there are in this river. They seem to fall in constantly throughout its length.

I saw a curious almost perfectly round, thawed circle in the ice on the way back, and that was enough to keep me wondering all the way back to the car.

To walk into nature is to witness a thousand miracles. ~Mary Davis

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Here on my first day of retirement I don’t think the reality that I have nothing I have to do and nowhere I have to go has fully sunken in yet. Maybe I’ll need time to decompress after 50+ years of working. It was an odd career that went from gardener to mechanical engineer and then buildings and grounds maintenance. Though I started out fine with maintenance nearly 7 years ago I didn’t end fine. The job, always a dirty and dusty one, became increasingly difficult due to weakening lungs and I could feel myself slowing down, so it was time to go. One of the more pleasant memories of those last 7 years that comes to mind is of the many beautiful things I saw on those 25-mile drives to and from work; like clouds of mist rising up out of the forest in Marlborough, or the morning sunlight turning the snow-covered peak of Mount Monadnock to pink and orange. These sights were always unexpected and, though the drive wasn’t always welcome, they always were.

When I finally got to work each day, there on the shores of Half Moon Pond in Hancock, it wasn’t that uncommon to find something like this waiting. Each morning I would cross the road and stand on the shore in the quiet and watch as the sun rose behind me. It was a wonderful way to start the day and it wasn’t long before I felt that I had stumbled into paradise. I might not miss the work but I will miss the place.

You could feel an energy on the shores of the pond; an infectious childlike spirit, and that’s because children have come here for over 100 years to learn about and enjoy nature. The land, all 700+ acres, is known as The Sargent Center for Outdoor Education, owned by Boston University and currently in use by Nature’s Classroom, which is an outdoor environmental education program. Children, musicians, artists and other groups come from all over the world and the happy shouts and laughter of children can be heard all day every day, almost all year round. It was like music to me and I loved hearing them and seeing them having so much fun, but then covid came along and everything had to stop for a time. I can’t see that the place will ever stop attracting children though; after a fallow year in 2020 they returned for 10 weeks last summer and this summer looks like it will be even better.

The children come to what we call the camp to learn about nature and though that wasn’t my reason for coming, I learned right along with them. This was the first place I had ever seen dragonfly nymphs clutching the pond weeds, waiting to shed their exoskeletons. Once free they are apparently disoriented for a time. (I know how they feel) I had them land on me several times over the years and their empty shells, called exuvia, can be found here and there all along the shoreline.

This was the only place I knew of where I could get close enough to the big mother snapping turtles to see them laying their eggs. It was a slow, seemingly exhaustive process.

Before I went to work there, I had to drive for half an hour to see a rhodora (Rhododendron canadense) in bloom but that first year I found them along the shoreline. I was able to get to know them like I never could before. They’re one of our most beautiful early spring flowers and it was great to know that I could now find them with ease.

The same is true for sheep laurel (Kalmia angustifolia). I used to have to drive for miles to find it and even then I had a hard time, but there it was right on the shore of the pond. This is another relatively rare and beautiful native shrub which blooms later than the rhodora. Our native laurels have 10 anthers that fit into tiny pockets and spring out when an insect lands on the blossom, dusting it with pollen. The thought of it always fascinates me.

Before I started working at the camp the only way I could see a beautiful marsh St. John’s wort (Hypericum virginicum) was from a kayak, and if you’ve ever tried taking photos while sitting in a kayak you know how that went. Here, I could walk right up to them and see them in all their beautiful glory. It’s a relatively rare plant so I was happy to find them growing right along the shoreline. This is the only St. John’s wort I know of with pink flowers; all of our others St John’s worts are yellow.

A little further up on shore I found my favorite milkweed, swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata). As I watched over the years one plant became two, and the first plant grew more and more flowers. The pretty flower clusters always remind me of millefiori glass paperweights.

Humble little Narrow leaf cow wheat plants (Melampyrum lineare) grew and bloomed by the hundreds there. I know of only one other place to find them and they don’t grow well there. This little, shoe top high plant may look innocent but it has a secret; it is a hemiparasite, which is a plant that can photosynthesize and create its own food but is still a parasite on surrounding plants. It seems to want more than its share. 

One year I cut a large area of brush right along the pond edge to open up a view and the following year I was surprised to find it full of wildflowers, including the beautiful little fringed polygalas (Polygala paucifolia) above. This is one of the last of our spring ephemeral flowers to bloom and it’s a signal that it’s time to start looking for flowers out in the sunny meadows rather than in the woods. Other plants that grew in this spot were pink lady’s slippers, painted trillium, blue bead lily, and partridge berry.

In certain places in the camp woods you can sometimes find large colonies of painted trilliums (Trillium undulatum). Throughout my experience I have found only one or two plants here and there, so finding large numbers of them here in this place was surprising. And beautiful; painted trilliums are our most beautiful trillium, in my opinion. They will bloom in May, just about the same time as the rhodora we saw earlier.

I was also surprised to find so many broad leaved helleborine orchids (Epipactis helleborine) growing at the camp because I normally see so few of them. They were introduced from Europe in the 1800s and almost immediately escaped gardens and are now considered an invasive orchid; the only one I’ve ever heard of. Scientists have discovered that its nectar contains the strongest narcotic compounds found in nature, and wasps have been seen moving away from it in a kind of staggering flight. Strangely, the plants have chosen to grow in the shade around building foundations.

Since I’m colorblind, before I started working at the camp I had seen only one cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), and that was only because a kind reader had sent me directions to it. But it was across a stream, so I could never get close to it. When a red cardinal lands in a green tree it disappears to these eyes, so I almost stepped on the plant in this photo before I saw the red flower. It grew in a peaceful place beside a stream at the camp. It was a real treat to finally see them up close after so many years of looking for them but now I know that I should stop looking, because the only way I’ll ever find them is by luck. If I should happen to stumble across them again well, that will be a lucky day.

Another plant that I had never seen before working at the camp was the ragged robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi). Like the cardinal flower it is a plant I searched for for many years. I stumbled across it growing in a lawn, which is the last place I’d have thought to look for it. Though there are native plants called ragged robin in the U.S. this particular plant was introduced from Europe into New England.

As I think back on my time at the camp, I can see that it was really just one discovery after another, and I could probably fill two posts with all the “firsts” I saw, like the eyed click beetle (Alaus oculatus) above. Its “eyes” are really just eye spots, there to mesmerize and confound predators. It has a spine that it can click and use to propel itself away from predators, and it used it to jump and hit me in the back, otherwise I’d have never seen it. One day a bobcat walked past a group of us from just feet away, and one morning I saw a young moose come up out of the pond. Several people told me that a black bear walked just 10 feet from me when I was blowing leaves one day, but I never heard or saw it. This was also the first and only place I ever heard the song of a whippoorwill. It really is a magical place that is filled with natural wonders, and I’m very grateful to have had the chance to spend time there.

Another wonder was the cluster of Dryocosmus deciduous galls I found on a red-oak leaf one day. These galls are created when a tiny wasp in the Dryocosmus genus lays eggs on the midrib of a red oak leaf. Each tiny gall has a single larva inside. As the scientific name reveals, these galls are deciduous, and fall from the leaf before the leaf falls from the tree. I remember how amazed I was when I read that about them.

One of the jobs I had at the camp was mowing a 13-acre meadow. The first time I mowed it I noticed that there were one or two chicory plants (Cichorium intybus) in it, so I started mowing around them. Year by year their numbers increased until last year there must have been 15 plants, all blooming together. Several people asked me about them over the years and I think everyone enjoyed the blue flowers, even though they looked a little odd out in such a big expanse of grass.

The meadow that I mowed was full of tiny black insects which I think must have been weevils. There were so many thousands of them I could feel them peppering any uncovered spot on my body as I mowed, so I had to always wear glasses and keep my mouth closed tight. But mowing was when I first noticed something strange; a group of dragonflies would fly alongside the tractor, a few on either side, and every now and then one or two would peel off for a moment or two before coming back to rejoin the group. I realized then that the dragonflies were eating all the insects that were being scared up by the mower. I also realized that they were intelligent creatures. They must also have some type of a memory, because they flew along beside me every time I mowed the meadow in summer. The one in this photo was so used to me mowing I rode right up to it and took this shot with my macro camera as it perched on a chicory plant. If a fish can learn to come when it is called at feeding time, why can’t a dragonfly?

Because I spent most of my time outside, I could keep a close eye on the local monarch butterfly population, which seemed to rise and fall quite a lot from year to year. Last summer seemed to be a good one for them and I hope the future will be kind to them.

I realize as I work on this post how much there was to see and discover in an area smaller than the center of an average small New England town. It’s just amazing, but it isn’t just the beauty of it all; it’s also the rarity of the things found here, like the dewdrop (Dalibarda repens) flowers above. I’ve seen them in exactly one other place in over 50 years of wandering through nature.  

And then there is the purple fringed bog orchid (Platanthera grandiflora) I found growing beside a trail through a swamp one day. People had been walking by it without seeing it perhaps for years and if I hadn’t caught just a glimpse of color out of the corner of my eye, I would have done the same. If I live to be a hundred, I’ll never forget how I felt that day. I think it has to be the most beautiful flowering plant I’ve ever seen in these New Hampshire woods.

All of the animals, plants, insects, and amphibians that have made this place their home is what makes it so special. Just think of all the children, more than a hundred years’ worth of them, who came to this place and might have seen one, two or all of the things in this post. Think of how much they might have learned. This place, full of beauty, wonder and enchantment, should always be here for them.

Last year a group of artists came to stay for a week and my co-workers cajoled one of them into doing an oil painting of the bog orchid, which they gave me on my last day. It was a great gift and it now hangs here where I’ll see it every day. Though I doubt I could ever forget the camp, this painting will make sure I don’t. I hope many people who pass through the camp will get to see and admire the flower that inspired it, especially the artist. He did the painting from a photo that I had taken.  

There was a time when I could sit in the quiet of dawn on a summer morning and listen to the birds sing through the open windows, and that’s what I’m looking forward to doing again more than anything else. In the evening I can walk to the stream down the road and watch the sunset turn it to liquid gold, and then when it gets dark I can sit outside and watch the stars while listening to the the spring peepers. These are some of the things that are most important to me, and I’ll have time now to do them and anything else that comes to mind. The possibilities are infinite.

One sweet dream, came true today. ~The Beatles

Thanks for coming by.

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We had a good string of 50-degree weather last week but of course on the weekend it dropped back down into the 20s F. and even snowed, just enough to slick up the roads and be a nuisance. That’s why we call them nuisance storms. Anyhow I’d had glimpses here and there of what looked like the Ashuelot River flooding and I wanted to see if what I thought I saw was actually happening, so I chose a section of rail trail in Keene that more or less follows the river. This was not a day for photography; all 3 cameras I carried had a hard time but I can’t tell you why. It was as if there was a mist in the air that only the cameras could see, so we’ll just have to pretend we’re walking into an impressionist painting.

The first thing I noticed was a flock of robins in the trees but I couldn’t tell what they were eating until I saw this photo, which tells me their food was the berries of the invasive Oriental Bittersweet. Unfortunately it doesn’t show the entire bird but it shows enough. It looked like he’d eaten enough berries to last for a week, but I didn’t want to embarrass him in front of his friends, so I didn’t say anything. Maybe he had just puffed himself up.

Further down the trail I saw a nest from last year that would have been the right size for a robin, so I think a lot of them live out here. There’s plenty for them to eat. When I was a boy, this area was filled with Baltimore orioles but I haven’t seen one here in years, and I think it’s because the type of fruit they ate no longer grows out here. I don’t see many wild grapes, for instance.

There were a lot of invasive burning bush berries but thankfully the birds were leaving them alone.

They had eaten all the native staghorn sumac berries so that was a good thing. Since I couldn’t get a shot of any sumac fruit I settled for a bud instead. It looked as much animal as vegetable but these buds are naked with no bud scales, so they use hairs to keep from freezing.

You have to really know hazelnut catkins to tell, but they are losing their green color and starting to turn just a little golden colored. They’re also lengthening and becoming pliable rather than stiff, as they’ve been all winter. These are all signs that the shrubs are switching from winter to spring mode and are getting ready to produce pollen. It won’t be that long before I have to start watching for the tiny scarlet threads of the female blossoms.

The catkins hold the male flowers, which are all arranged in a spiral around a central stalk. Each tiny group of hairs seen here is on the edge of a bud scale, and soon these scales will lift to reveal the golden pollen bearing male flowers underneath. It’s an event I’m looking forward to, very much.

Here was a sign that made me happy but I wish the deep cut trail in Westmoreland had been included. The drainage ditches have completely failed up there.

Before I decided to walk this trail, I got out of the car and walked a short way to make sure there wasn’t any ice. All I found was gravel but right after the sign in the previous shot there it was, and someone had slipped on it. There’s nothing worse than light snow on ice. It’s very slippery and now I was going to have to walk over half the trail on it. I knew I should have worn spikes. I hope the person who slipped didn’t fall and get hurt. I see quite a lot of older folks out here.

Some were even riding bikes out here. I’m not sure I’d do that on ice but maybe the tires had spikes.

I saw a very unusual oak gall, at least in my experience. It looked like this on one side….

….and it looked like this on the other side. Usually they are smooth and very hard. These galls form when an insect called a rough bullet gall wasp lays its eggs on part of the tree, be it leaves or twigs. They are of course called bullet galls and are maybe twice the diameter of a pea. They will often grow in large clusters of many galls but though this tree had many on it they all grew singly.

Here was something I had been wondering about for years and I thought maybe the new camera could show me what I couldn’t see. I’m talking about all those dark “pits” on the underside of beech leaves.

The new camera did a fine job of showing me that they weren’t pits at all. They looked like some type of gall. I looked them up and found that they are called “Erineum patches.” They are created by eriophyid mites and they don’t really hurt the tree unless there are very large numbers of them. Each patch is made up of tiny hairs that grow from the tissue of the leaf but you would need at least 40X magnification to see them or the mites that create them. The new camera is good but not quite that good, so we’ll just have to imagine creatures so small they can’t be seen.

This is what you see on the upper surface of the leaf; what look like pock marks. I see these all the time so I’m glad to finally know what they’re all about. Thanks goes to Ohio State University Extension Service for help in solving this riddle.

I had to say “wow” when I saw that the whole forest had flooded, even though the river was running very fast. Apparently, there is nowhere for all the water to go down to the south of town, so it’s backing up.

I went down the embankment as far as I dared to see if I could get shots that weren’t looking through brush. The noises from the ice cracking, hissing and groaning, were amazing. It might be as flat as a dance floor but it’s very alive and it lets you know it. Life is always flowing, even when it appears still.

Almost all of the trees here are red or silver maples and they can stand this kind of treatment but still, it was amzing to see. I used to play here as a boy and I used to see the river flood, but I can’t remember ever seeing it quite like this. The reflections must be beautiful under a blue sky.

Here was the trestle. I hoped to get a good view of the ice from there.

And there was what was supposed to be Ash Brook. It had grown many times over its normal width.

I can’t even guess what made that pattern in the ice. It looked like foam had frozen into it but where the foam came from, I don’t know.

The dark area shows where the channel of Ash Brook would normally be. I was flabbergasted by the extent of the flooding, and I left hoping no homes along the river had flooded. We lived just feet away from the river when I was a boy and each spring the river would rise just to the top of its banks but not spill over on our side. I hope that’s still true. The street I lived on isn’t far from here.

The blue sap on this white pine told me how cold it was but I didn’t really need its help because after being surrounded by all this ice I was chilled just about to the bone. I made it back to the car without slipping on the ice and the thermometer read only 27 degrees, so there would be no melting on this day. The next day, Monday was supposed to reach 50, so we’re on the spring roller coaster as far as temperatures go.

If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water. ~Loren Eiseley

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We’ve had two or three warm days in the mid 50s F. and the ice that has covered everything is finally starting to melt. The ice is everywhere you go and it has kept me from climbing, and even off the trails. Even with spikes on it is difficult to negotiate so I went to a small pond where I thought most of the ice would be on the pond where it belongs.  

I was wrong. There was ice covering the land as well so I had to think about each step and plan my route. If you’re traveling very far it can be exhausting but fortunately I move at a toddler’s pace so I can see the wonders.

Despite the ice I was able to get to the pond and I saw that the ice on it was melting. It was like a booster shot of joy into my arm.

Another shot came when I looked up at all the buds on a big red maple.

And the willows that showed their soft catkins.

There were lots of sensitive fern spore bearing fronds here and they, along with the willows and the big red maple told me that I was in a damp, or even wet place. All three plants like lots of water.

I love to see the color of last year’s grasses against the white snow but even there, there was ice.

This shot is for those who have never seen how a white or gray birch changes from brown to white. It’s always kind of a ragged looking process. White and gray birches can split easily in what are often extreme temperature changes in winter, where the outer bark warms or cools faster than the inner wood. A tree can tear itself apart with the stresses, so the relatively weak white colored birches use the color to reflect, rather than absorb sunlight. By doing so they’re less prone to frost cracks.

I ran into a blackberry, which is always a memorable experience. At least until your torn flesh heals.

What, I’m wondering, is going on with the mallards? A few days before this encounter mallards just stood and ignored me as if they didn’t see me, even though I was just feet away, and on this day these two swam toward me as fast as their webbed feet would take them and then just sat, as if expecting me to do something. This is very odd behavior for New Hampshire mallards, which are usually so skittish they have flown or paddled away long before you can get near them. They must be from the city where people feed them bread. That’s the only answer I can come up with.

The male just swam in circles as if waiting impatiently.

And his lovely mate just sat in a state of bliss while I took her portrait. I hope they learned from the experience that not all humans mean to harm them. I hope they also learned that not all humans walk around with a pocket full of bread.

The mallards were in the sheltered outflow of the pond, which had already thawed. Out here near the frozen pond itself the wind tore through the place with enough force to blow even the tough cattails back and forth. I’m surprised this shot came out at all because that wooly head was all over the place when I snapped the shutter. I think the wind was actually blowing the fluffy seeds right off the plant, which is part of The Plan.

Another plant that relies on the wind is the vine called virgin’s bower, which is a wild clematis also called traveler’s joy or woodbine. Its tadpole like seeds have long, feathery tails (styles) which the wind catches and blows to a new growing spot. I know that it’s a successful strategy because I see this plant wherever I go.

The long feathery style attaches the female stigma to the ovary. Once pollen finds the stigma a pollen tube grows down through the style to fertilize the eggs in the ovary, which is where the seeds form. I’ve looked at these seed heads a thousand times since I was a boy and I’ve never seen the finger like growths that show here. Are they what is left of the pollen tubes? It will take someone more knowledgeable in botany than I am to answer that question, but it any event they were small enough to be almost microscopic, and I’d guess that’s why I’ve never seen them.

I stopped to admire some tongue galls on these alder cones (strobiles.) These long, tongue like galls are caused by a fungus called Taphrina alni. The fungus chemically deforms part of the ovarian tissue of the developing strobile and causes long, strap shaped galls called languets to grow from them. These galls, like most galls, don’t seem to bring any harm to their host. I do wish I knew how they benefited from growing in such unusual forms. Maybe to present more surface area to the wind?

Under the alder were all of last year’s leaves. Once they begin to decompose, they will become compost that feeds the plant they came from.

There were lots of galls on the goldenrods out here. This type of gall, called an apple gall, is caused when a tiny fly lays its eggs on the plant. When they hatch the gall fly larvae (Eurosta solidaginis) eat holes into the plant’s stem, and this makes the goldenrod grow a ball shaped gall around them. The larva will start to produce an antifreeze in its blood in the fall and will grow inside the gall all winter. These galls have thick walls to discourage wasps and birds from reaching the larva, but I have seen birds, including chickadees, pecking their way into the center.

Here was a double gall, which I don’t see that often.

This pretty lichen grew on a fallen tree. I believe it is one of the sunburst lichens (Xanthomendoza.) One of the best places to go to study nature is near water because water is so important to all life. Many lichens for instance, like high the humidity found near water. You will find a good cross section of all the various forms of life that live in an area near water, even by a small pond like this one, and that is why most of the posts found on this blog have water in some form in them. It is of course also a great place for children to start exploring nature.

When you gaze out on a quiet, peaceful meadow, next to a still pond, under a motionless blue sky, you wonder how the noisy, busy cacophony of life could have arisen from such silent, motionless beginning.
~ Anonymous

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You might have read in the last post that I have bought a new camera. I had a couple of quick photos I took with it that I added to that post but I always like to put a camera through its paces and see what it can do before I start using it for day-to-day blogging, and that’s what this post is about. I was happy to see what it can do with window frost in microscope mode. This is one of the best shots of frost I’ve ever taken. I love seeing things like this that are right there in plain sight but are rarely seen. How something so flat can look so 3 dimensional I don’t know, but it was beautiful.

These frost crystals were on the mirror of a truck. I’ve never seen them grow curved like this. The detail was so fine It was as if they had been etched into the glass.

To think that something so beautiful could live on the mirror of a truck. It’s a good example of why I always try to be aware of my surroundings and look closely at whatever is near. You never know what you might see. Life life has put beauty in our path at every turn but if we don’t see it, we have only ourselves to blame. Because this was a mirror you can see the reflection of the camera lens behind the crystals in some of these shots. It’s a bit distracting but there wasn’t any way to hide or camouflage it.

Here was another curvy frost crystal on a mirror. They’re very beautiful but also delicate; one warm breath or a ray of sunlight and you’ve lost your subject.

This shot is of sunlight coming through a frozen jelly fungus, which is always a hard shot. I should have tried for better depth of field. If you ask it to, this camera will use photo stacking to improve depth of field, and I’ve heard that it is amazing. I’m going to have to try it.

This small icicle was full of bubbles and it was also smaller in diameter than a pencil. This camera really excels at macro photography and since that’s what I bought it for, that was what I was most interested in.

This is the midrib of a feather.

Here was the seedhead of a purple coneflower. Birds, I’d guess finches, had been eating the seeds and revealed the beautiful spirals hidden inside.

I saw a cocoon of some sort on an old door where I work. It was cottony and full of holes, and as big around as my finger and maybe an inch and a half long. I saw what looked like tiny flies on it. If you know what insect made it, I’d like to know.

Whatever they were they were too small to get a good shot of, even in microscope mode. I don’t know if they came from this cocoon or were just stuck in its wooliness. In any event they were no longer alive.

I’ve been trying to get this shot looking down a beech leaf off and on since last fall and the new camera pulled it off with ease, though the depth of field could have been better.

The last Olympus camera I had, the Stylus TG-870, wasn’t worth much when it came to landscapes, at least in my opinion, so I wanted to test its zoom capabilities. This oak leaf frozen in the ice was shot at full zoom in auto mode. I thought the camera did a fair job of it.

This shot of dry rot on a standing dead tree was shot in microscope mode from about 4 inches away. I was surprised because I thought you had to be closer to the subject to use microscope mode. This camera hs two macro modes and three microscope modes and you can get as close as 1 cm. The missing piece of wood was about as big as an average postage stamp and for microscope mode that’s huge, so I probably didn’t need to use it.

I found a tree full of lichens. This is where I would need microscope mode again.

My first choice was a beautiful star rosette lichen (Physcia stellaris.) It was maybe three quarters of an inch across. It was cold at about 20 degrees F. and this lichen was in the shade. Now that I see the photo it looks like there was frost on the apothecia.

I think this was the Eastern speckled shield lichen (Punctelia bolliana.) According to what I’ve read it grows on the bark of deciduous trees, has a bluish gray body with large brown apothecia, and has brown to black dots (pycnidia) on the surface of the body. I think this one checks all of those boxes.

I would call this color bright red but the Eastern speckled shield lichen’s description says the apothecia should be brown, and my color finding software sees rosy brown, so I can’t argue. What you see here averages about .08 to .12 inches across. I don’t think I’ve ever been able to get this close to a lichen and I don’t know of a DSLR lens that could.

This shot of a smoky eye boulder lichen is another example of what microscope mode will do. I never knew this lichen’s apothecia sat on top of the body (thallus) in that way. I’m going to have a lot of fun using this camera but I should take a little more time and use a tripod. I also want to try stacking in microscope mode. It will stack as many as 7 shots together for amazing depth of field.

These are the bracts that the flower petals come out of on a witch hazel. They are tiny little cups that I could barely see, but the camera found them. I hope to see petals on the spring blooming witch hazels soon.

This camera’s lens is an F 2.0, which is considered a “fast” lens. That means it has good light gathering capabilities due to a larger aperture, so I tested it one recent early morning at this stream. I’ve had to lighten the photo just a bit but at full zoom in what was barely dawn, it did fairly well for a point and shoot camera that is smaller than a 3 X 5 card. All in all so far, I’m really happy with it and I think I’m going to have a lot of fun with it. The fact that it will do landscapes is a pleasant surprise. In case you missed it in the last post, the 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. If you’re interested in macro photography this is a relatively inexpensive camera that will take you anywhere you’d care to go.

The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera. ~Dorothea Lange

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