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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Last weekend I was working on the mushroom post you saw last Wednesday but it wasn’t coming together. I was getting all tangled up in it and I needed to get away from it for a while, so I decided to go out for a walk and maybe catch the last of the fall color. I chose a familiar rail trail that I know as well as I know myself, so I hoped I wouldn’t have to search for the name of anything I saw there. I thought maybe I could just put my mind in my back pocket for a while and enjoy the beauty. The above shot is looking west across a cornfield that runs alongside the rail trail, and looks over to some of the many hills that surround Keene. We sit in a kind of a bowl that is surrounded by hills, and since cold air acts like water and flows down hills to fill valleys like this one, it can get cold. Most of the trees were bare over across the cornfield but it was still a colorful scene.

Canada geese have been coming to this cornfield by the hundreds for as long as I’ve been here, and here they were again. This year though, they would get a surprise because there was no corn grown in this field. I’ve always thought that the geese came after the harvest so they could eat all the spilled kernels of corn but for the past two years drought stopped the corn, and this year the fields flooded, so they’ve had slim pickings.

When I got to the rail trail I noticed that some of the trees weren’t that colorful but that was fine, I thought the shrubs more than made up for it.

Here was an invasive but beautiful burning bush. I’ve only just discovered that the red color is more prominent when they grow in sunshine. I’ve shown the pale pastel pink and magenta bushes along the river in Swanzey on this blog many times, and now I know that their paler colors come from them growing in shade. That shade doesn’t stop them from growing into an impenetrable thicket though.

They were loaded with berries and the birds love them, so in the future we’ll have more burning bushes.

Goldenrod still bloomed and I could hardly believe it.

They were covered in small flies. This one had a buzz.

Dandelions bloomed as well and, since I’ve seen their blooms in every month of the year, they were a little less surprising.

At times I had to just stop and look, and then take a photo or two so you could see what I saw. What a beautiful day it was. I was happy to be outside away from the computer, but then I’m always happy to be outside. It never gets old.

The rains we’ve had have washed all the joy out of our native clematis called traveler’s joy apparently because their seed heads were looking a little bedraggled. This native vine is also called old man’s beard and I thought maybe that name was more appropriate on this day.

Its deep purple, almost black leaves are usually quite pretty. I’ve never seen them splotched with green like this.

The American hazelnuts are ready for spring.

The seedpods of wild cucumber had empty chambers where the seeds grow, so it is also ready for spring. It’s an annual that grows new from seed each year and the vines that grow from those seeds can sometimes reach 30 feet long in a single summer.

Some of the maples still had leaves and they contrasted nicely with the red of the oaks.

This staghorn sumac was trying to be pumpkin orange.

And this one wanted to be tomato red. Or maybe plum purple. They have quite a color range.

The American beeches are slowly losing their yellow but they’re still very beautiful. They’re easily one of our most beautiful trees at almost any time of year.

Another nearly 5 inches of rain the previous week had caused Ash Brook to flood and the woods near it were flooded all along the trail. This has been happening for a long time here and the silver and red maples that grow here can take it. What can’t take it is corn. The cornfields have deep drainage ditches around their perimeters but they can’t keep up with this much rain. The Ashuelot River takes all the runoff away to the Connecticut River and then on to the Atlantic, but the river is also being overwhelmed. Come to think of it there must be a lot of silt spilling into the Atlantic these days.

The old rail trail wasn’t like a Manhattan sidewalk on this day but it was fairly busy with dog walkers, bike riders and joggers. The area south of here, where the bike rider in the photo is heading, is densely populated and over the years people have discovered what a great trail system they have right in their back yards. It’s nice to see more people getting outside.

I think the boards that the snowmobile clubs put down on the trestles helped bring a lot of people out onto the rail trails. A lot of people were scared to walk over them when there were gaps between the ties. Until I was about ten I was afraid as well but I finally found the courage to cross, and then I had the whole world in front of me. I was a bird that had escaped its cage, and I flew. Stephen King once said: Some birds are not meant to be caged, that’s all. Their feathers are too bright, their songs too sweet and wild.

There was a lot of water where there normally isn’t any.

Despite the flooding the railbed was high and dry, and so very pretty. I hated to leave.

When I got back to the car, I stretched my zoom lens out as far as it would go and took a last shot of one of the distant hills. I was surprised to see so much color still on the trees. It was the perfect end to what had turned into a beautiful afternoon. Now I thought, maybe I could finish that mushroom post.

If you seek creative ideas go walking.
Angels whisper to a man when he goes for a walk.
~ Raymond I. Meyers

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Anyone who has read this blog for very long knows I like to play on the banks of the Ashuelot River, which meanders through several local towns. Though when I was a boy it was terribly polluted, now people fish for trout along its banks and eagles can sometimes be seen flying over it. That’s why a few years ago I was disturbed when I saw an oily sheen on the water that filled my footprint on the shore. It looked much like the puddle I found on the shore in the photo above and I posted it on this blog, saying how I was hoping I’d never see such a thing on these riverbanks again. Then happily, thanks to several knowledgeable readers, I found out that this sheen might easily have come from natural sources. Iron rich ferrous hydroxide that occurs naturally in soil can cause the oil like sheen on water, as can bacteria which generate hydrocarbons in oxygen depleted soil. I was very happy to hear that because though I don’t want to see this river polluted, I do think that this film on the water is beautiful. Just look at those colors.

While I was at the river, I spotted trees that had grape vines loaded with grapes growing in them. Wild river grapes (Vitis riparia) like a lot of rain, and I know that because we’ve had a lot of rain and I’m seeing more grapes than I’ve ever seen before. The odd thing about it though, is how the birds don’t seem to be eating them. These grapes are a favorite of many birds and they are often gone even before I can get a photo of them, but on this day I didn’t see that a single one had been picked. That’s a little disturbing.

Also disturbing is how none of the Oriental bittersweet berries (Celastrus orbiculatus) have been eaten. They are another favorite of the birds and they disappear as quickly as the grapes, so why aren’t they? This vine is very invasive and can strangle trees to death so I don’t want it to spread, but I do wonder about the birds.

While I was there wandering along the river, I took a shot of the Thompson covered bridge, named after playwright Denmon Thompson, who was a native son, and built in 1832. The bridge design is known as “Town lattice,” patented by Connecticut architect Ithiel Town in the early 1800s. The open lattice work lets a lot of light into the bridge and this is unusual because many covered bridges are dark and cave like. In the 1800s being able to see daylight inside a covered bridge would have been the talk of the town. The Thompson Bridge is considered by many to be the most beautiful covered bridge in New England but the person who ran the wires must not have known that.

This bridge is known as the Cresson Bridge, also in Swanzey and also crossing the Ashuelot River. It was opened to traffic in 1859 and I wanted you to see it so you could get an idea of how dark it was inside these old covered bridges. The tiny square windows didn’t let in much light, and that’s why Town truss bridges like that in the previous photo were such an innovation, and why they were so welcomed by the traveling public. By the way, back in those day traveling was done by sleigh in winter, so snow had to be shoveled onto the plank floors of covered bridges so sleigh runners would have something to slide on. What a job that must have been.

I finally found a blue bead lily plant (Clintonia borealis) with a ripe berry on it and now you know why I call it “electric blue.” That might sound like the title of a Jimmy Hendrix song but it is a very unusual shade of blue, to these eyes at least. It seems to sparkle in the right light and it is a deer magnet. From seed to berry can take 14 years, with two of those years taken up by seed germination. This is not a fast-growing plant.

I went to see Baily Brook Falls up in Stoddard and was surprised to see how little water was actually falling. With all of the rain we’ve had I thought they would be roaring. I have a feeling that beavers are involved and if I walked upstream, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find that they’ve dammed up the stream.

Since Bailey Brook Falls werent roaring I went to where I knew I’d hear the roar of water; the outflow dam at Swanzey Lake.

I’m always amazed by what I see when the leaves start falling. Here was a wasp nest as big as a soccer ball up in a maple tree, and I had been walking under it several times each day all summer long without seeing it. I’d bet its residents saw me though, and I’m glad they decided we could coexist. I was pruning a large rhododendron once that had a similar nest in the center of it. By the time I was able to stop running I had been stung on the back several times.

When the leaves fall from the trees the wind has greater force as it whistles through the bare branches and inevitably, small bird nests like these get blown out. I don’t know what bird made this one but you could barely have fit a hen’s egg in it. It was as light as a feather and very well made of grass.

I saw a spider web on a lawn and it reminded me of the synapses in my own brain. One of the questions that has been nagging at that brain for quite a long time is why nature uses the same shapes over and over again.

I looked down into the heart of a yucca plant and thought of the Native Americans who used every single part of this plant. They pounded the leaves and used the strong fibers inside them to weave sandals, cords, belts and baskets. They also ate the flowers and fruit of the plant. The sharp points at the tips of the leaves were used as sewing needles and the roots were peeled and ground and mixed with water to make soap for washing their hair and treating dandruff.  Sap from the leaves was used medicinally to stop bleeding and heal sores. Not a bit of it was wasted.

I found this colony of wooly alder aphids (Paraprociphilus tessellatus) on an alder limb in a swamp one recent day. Wooly alder aphids grow a white, filamentous waxy covering that looks like it’s made up of tiny white ribbons. A colony of them looks like white fuzz on the alder’s branches and this white fuzz helps protect them from the eyes of predators. They are sap sucking insects which secrete a sweet honeydew on the leaves and branches of plants. This honeydew attracts a fungus called black sooty mold, but since the mold grows only on the honeydew and not the plant, it doesn’t harm plants. The aphids themselves will do far more harm because they can literally suck the life out of a plant.

I’m not sure if the aphids with dots in this photo I took previously always look that way, if they haven’t grown the white waxy covering yet, or if they’ve lost the covering for some reason. They are very small; not even half the size of a house fly. I find them usually on the undersides of alder branches. If you are lucky enough to catch these insects in flight, they look like tiny white fairies. In fact another name for them is “fairy flies.” This is the best time of year to find them.

Here is something quite rare, unfortunately. American chestnuts were one of the most important forest trees, supplying both food and lumber. An Asian bark fungus (Cryphonectria parasitica) was introduced into North America on imported Asiatic chestnut trees and the disease all but wiped out over three billion American chestnut trees. New shoots often sprout from chestnut roots when the main trunk dies so they haven’t yet become extinct. Unfortunately the stump sprouts are almost always infected by the Asian fungus by the time they reach 20 feet tall but since some trees do bloom maybe these particular examples are growing from chestnuts. I found these three or four young trees a few years ago and have watched them get bigger over the years. They look very healthy so far. Though the leaves resemble beech leaves they are much bigger with very serrated margins. Many botanists and other scientists are working on finding and breeding disease resistant trees and maybe these trees will one day fit the bill. If you happen to find any you might want to keep an eye on them.

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 example is special because it looks like the very tip of a branch on one trunk grew directly into the other trunk. It must have taken many years of strong winds and bark rubbing before they could grow together as they did.

Frost cracks happen when the sun warms the tree during the day and the temperature drops quickly at night. If you’re in or near the woods at night in winter you can often hear the trees splitting and cracking, and sometimes it’s as loud as a rifle shot. Frost cracks can heal in the summer when the tree produces a new layer of inner bark to heal the wound but then can crack again in winter. When this repeated healing and cracking happens over the course of a few years the buildup of new tissue can create a frost rib like that seen in the photo. I’ve seen them on several different species, so I don’t think any one species is more or less susceptible to cracking than others. It’s more a matter of how the sunlight falls on a tree’s trunk. Wrapping an ornamental tree’s trunk loosely in burlap in winter can help prevent the bark splitting.

If you grow stone fruits like peaches, apricots, plums or cherries then you should know the disease called black knot. It is caused by a fungus called Apiosporina morbosa. This fungus grows in the wild and its spores can be spread by rain or wind. The spores will typically infect trees from April through June on new growth. Infected stems swell up and produce hard black knots like that in the above photo. This disease can eventually kill the tree so infected limbs should be pruned off 2-4 inches below the knots and buried or burned before bud break the following spring. Black cherry seems particularly susceptible to the disease.

I saw a hollowed-out stump that was slowly filling with fallen leaves beside a trail. From what I’ve read in the book Bark; a Field Guide to Trees of the Northeast, by Michael Wojtech, eastern white pine (Pinus strobus) and eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) are the only trees with stumps that will rot away from the inside out. It’s an interesting thing that I don’t see that often.

You would think that with all the rain we’ve had I’d be seeing slime molds everywhere, but actually I’ve seen very few this year. I believe the orangey brown material in this photo was once an active slime mold but by the time I found it, it was dry and hard. There are many different orange slime molds so it’s impossible to tell which one it is but it was still interesting. It shows how a slime mold will spread over its immediate surroundings, looking for food. Slime molds “eat” tiny unseen organisms such as bacteria and yeasts, and they are also said to help decompose leaves and rotting logs.

I’ve seen many thousands of pixie cup lichens (Cladonia pyxidata.) They’re the ones that look like tiny golf tees, but I’ve always wondered what they looked like when they first started forming. Did they always look like golf tees? I didn’t think so but I couldn’t say why. Then one day I thought I had found the answer. As you can see in this photo the little golf tees start life looking like simple pegs. You can see a few with tiny “cups” just starting to form. Pixie cup lichens are squamulose lichens with fruticose fruiting structures called podetia. Squamulose means they have scale like lleafy obes that often overlap like shingles. The parts that look like tiny golf tees are called podetia. Podetia means a stalk like growth which bears the spore bearing fruiting bodies. Finally, frucitose means a lichen with bushy, vertical growth. It is thought that some colonies of pixie cup lichens might be as old as 4,500 years. It’s good I think, to know a little more about these tiny life forms that see everywhere I go.

A boulder on the side of the road was covered by moss and though that might not seem surprising or earthshaking, it caught my attention.

Picture yourself in a small, single engine plane flying low over the treetops in the Amazon jungle, and you’ll understand why I was fascinated by this mossy boulder. I imagined that scene would look a lot like this.

Here’s a little hint of what’s to come. We finally had a frost, more than a month after our average first frost date and the second latest since such things have been recorded. But we haven’t had a freeze, and that means we still have colorful leaves on some of the trees.

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

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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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We are in full on, everywhere you look aster time here in this corner of New Hampshire, and that includes my favorite deep purple New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae.) You have to search for this color because they aren’t anywhere near as common as the lighter lavender asters. In this particular spot these plants have lots of competition so they can get quite tall. I saw plants on this day that were taller than I was.

The flowers were beautiful and so was the place they grew in. Now part of the local university system, this path winds through woods I played in as a boy. Now it’s part of a nature preserve and that makes me very happy, because its beauty should be preserved. The Ashuelot River is just over on the other side of that fence on the left and on this day, it was scary high. I saw evidence in places where it had topped its banks and flooded the forest so it’s probably best not to come here after heavy rains. But it’s such a beautiful spot I’ve decided that I should visit more often. I’m very anxious to come here when the leaves have colored up. These trees are almost all red and silver maples.

There were mixtures of asters and goldenrods in sunnier spots. I also found lots of Japanese knotweed out here, unfortunately.

There were fields of goldenrod too. Interestingly (unless you’re a photographer) not one of the three cameras I carried could cope with this scene. I took photos with all three and they were all baffled. So though it isn’t a good photo, it does give you an idea of what I saw here. It was just beautiful.

I like the contrast between goldenrod and those dark New England asters.

Most of the woodland sunflowers (Helianthus divaricatus) I saw had been flattened by the flooding but this one still stood tall. This is another native that can get quite tall. I sometimes see it growing up out of the middle of dogwoods and other shrubs.

There were two monarch butterflies on this stand of asters but of course they flew off as soon as I got close enough for a shot. But then this one couldn’t resist and came back for another taste.

I saw pure white New England asters too. They are not something I often see. In fact I think I’ve only seen them two or three times in the 10+ years I’ve been doing this blog.

This New England aster was in a sunny spot in the forest. This color is by far the most common but that fact does nothing to diminish its beauty.

I was out here a day or two earlier and saw even more monarchs. Unfortunately they were on some very invasive purple loosestrife.

But they were beautiful and yes, so was the purple loosestrife.

One more shot of this beautiful place that I have loved all of my life. I hope you liked seeing it too. What fun I had here when I was just a pup, but of course there were no mowed paths here then. Just the forest, but that was always enough.

I left one place I spent a lot of time in as a boy and went to another one and there, along the Ashuelot River near downtown Keene, I found more closed gentians (Gentiana clausa) blooming than I have ever seen before. Yes, these plants grow along this trail but these were not the ones I came to see. These were new to this place; previously unseen, and they made me wonder how they got here and how I could have missed them last year. They are not flowers you pass by with a nod and a shrug, because they’re rarely seen in this area, so I would have fallen onto my knees to admire them last year just as I did on this day.

But a minute or two after I fell onto my knees none of what I had just thought mattered, because I was lost in their unique beauty. It is a special kind of unusual beauty that makes me wonder if I were a bee, how would I get in there? And the leaves; why had they changed so soon? Though I know that fall starts on the forest floor I wondered if I had been missing it just as I had missed the gentians. I’m going to have to pay closer attention.

It’s turtlehead time. I haven’t seen any of our native white flowered plants this year so I’m guessing they aren’t a huge fan of lots of rain. These pink ones don’t seem to mind however; it was raining when I took this photo and they were in good health.

I’ve never seen turtles when I looked at turtlehead blossoms but after looking at this shot for a while, if I called that little whiteish “tongue” the head and the rest of the flower the shell, I finally saw a turtle. Whether or not that’s what others see, I can’t say.

I always like to look inside a turtlehead blossom because each time I do I see something I haven’t seen, like the stripe that guides insects straight into the blossom. And when an insect lands on the landing pad “tongue” and follows that stripe the hairy anthers on either side will brush their pollen all over it, so it can then fly off and pollinate another flower. Miracles; all around us every day. Nature will reveal them to you, if you pay attention and look closely.

Though its flowers resemble those of boneset, which flowers at the same time, white snake root’s (Ageratina altissima) large heart shaped, toothed leaves look nothing like boneset leaves. This plant contains a toxic compound called trematol, which is passed from the plant to cows that graze on it and when humans drink the milk or eat the meat before too long, they start to show signs of what was once called “milk sickness.” In a week or less most who drank the tainted milk would die of heart or liver failure. Abraham Lincoln’s mother died from what is believed to have been milk sickness when he was just 9 years old. All parts of the plant are toxic to cattle, horses, sheep, and humans, but today’s farmers eradicate the plant from their pastures and mix the milk from many cows together, so milk sickness is now virtually unheard of. A Native American woman from the Shawnee tribe is credited with finally warning settlers about this plant and most likely saving thousands of lives. If you use boneset medicinally you should get to know this plant well so you don’t confuse the two.

I went to the one place I knew of to find pretty little sand jointweed (Polygonum articulatum) flowers and could find not a single plant, but luckily later on I found several plants growing in the sand of a road shoulder. This curious little plant gets its common name from the way it that grows in pure sand, and from its many jointed stems. It is an annual, which grows new from seed each year. They grow to only about knee high and though there are usually many flowers per stem they’re so small they can be hard to see.

How small are sand jointweed blossoms? This shot from 2016 shows that they’re about 1/8 of an inch across, or nearly the same size as Abraham Lincoln’s ear on a penny. You can see the curiously jointed stems that give the plant its common name in this shot as well.

I’ve not been able to find any red cardinal flowers this year. All of those I’ve found in the past grew on the very edge of the water, so with all the flooding they’ve been either flattened or washed away. But, for the first time I did find blue lobelia, also called blue cardinal flower (Lobelia siphilitica) in a garden bed at a local park, of all places. I talked to some ladies who were tidying up the beds and they told me the plants had been there for many years. Too long for anyone to know how they came to be there, but I think they were most likely planted years ago. This is a plant I’ve been hoping to find for a very long time so I was happy to see it.

I think it’s time to say goodbye to our native chicory plants (Cichorium intybus) for this season. That’s too bad, because its flowers are a shade of blue not often found outside of a garden.

I noticed that plant breeders have been working on globe amaranth plants while I wasn’t watching. These I found in a local garden were like beautiful little starbursts.

I thought I’d save the biggest surprise for last; a Forsythia blossom in September. Then I saw four more the next day. Though they are a spring bloomer over the years I’ve found a blossom or two even during  a warm January one year. It’s always a surprise.

The wonder of the beautiful is its ability to surprise us. With swift sheer grace, it is like a divine breath that blows the heart open. ~ John O’Donohue

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I’ve seen a lot of deer over the course of this blog but every time I’ve seen them I either didn’t have the right camera with me, or I’ve been driving a car. Once I drove right up to a doe like this one on a tractor and she just stood there, 5 feet away until I tugged open the velcro camera case I carry. As soon as she heard the rip of the velcro she was gone like a shot. But she was okay with me being so close until then, and this one was fine with me being close too. This time I made sure I made no strange sounds.

She had two fawns and they all fed on green grass in a cornfield while I watched. The thought came to me then that they were feeding on pure sunshine.

They were beautiful creatures, so gentle and quiet. I didn’t hear a sound out of them the whole time I watched. I tried to get a shot of their tails in the air; they were constantly flicking their tails to keep flies away, but I missed every time.

Slowly the doe led her fawns to the edge of the woods, and then they were gone. I was grateful to have seen them and I hope they have an easy time of it this winter.

This big, 3 foot long northern water snake was not quite so easy with my being close to it as the deer were but at least it didn’t leave. All I had for a camera was my phone so I had to lean in quite close to get this shot. It was a gamble because, though these snakes don’t have fangs they can bite and scratch the skin, and I’ve heard that you might get a nasty infection if that happens. I took a couple of quick shots and left it to soak up some more sunshine. That’s all it was really after.

I followed this small, fidgety butterfly around for several minutes, trying to get a shot of its beautiful blue wings. Blue that is, on the upper part of the wings. The underside of the wings is white or very pale blue with dark markings and I doubted that I’d be able to identify it, but it was relatively easy. It’s a holly blue butterfly (Celastrina argiolus) so called because the larvae feed on Holly. They also eat euonymus, dogwoods, snowberries and other wild and cultivated plants. They don’t sit still long, so you’ve got to be quick.

Here are the beautiful upper wings of the holly blue butterfly in an excellent photo by By Charles J. Sharp that I found on Wikipedia. This is a female, identified by the large dark areas on the wing edges. The wing color is a kind of silvery blue that shimmers beautifully in the light.

I saw this insect exploring queen Anne’s lace blossoms. I haven’t been able to identify it but I like its big eyes. It could be one of the flesh flies (Sarcophagae.)

A cabbage white butterfly (I think) explored flowers at a local garden. This species is originally from Europe along with quite a few of the cabbage family of plants that their caterpillars feed on.

Quite often at this time of year I’ll see hickory tussock moth caterpillars (Lophocampa caryae) everywhere, but so far this year I’ve only seen two or three. They have a stark beauty but each one should come with a warning label because those long hairs can imbed themselves in your skin and cause all kinds of problems, from rashes to infections.

If you’ve never seen how beavers start building a dam, this shot is for you. And where did they build it? Why, in Beaver Brook of course. Beavers are busy damming up the brook that was named after them again and the town road crews aren’t happy about that, because if you leave these dams in place roads and businesses flood. Since this brook was named after beavers when Keene was first settled in the 1700s, I’m guessing that there have always been plenty of them in it. Since building ponds is what beavers do, I’m also guessing that building so close to this brook wasn’t a good idea. Some industrial buildings in town even have the brook running under them and they have been flooded. It’s hard to believe that someone actually thought that was a good idea.

I’ve seen a lot of red bark on conifers like hemlock and pine but here it was on an oak. It isn’t always red; it can be orange as well. I’ve read that it affects all kinds of trees, both conifers and deciduous, and many different species, but this is the first time I’ve seen it on a hardwood. Red bark is caused by the algae Trentepohlia, which is a genus of filamentous chlorophyte green algae in the family Trentepohliaceae. It appears on tree trunks, stones and is even present in many lichens. Scientists are very interested in why it is attracted to tree bark and call it RBP for red bark phenomenon. Alga in Latin means seaweed, so I suppose it’s no wonder they’re so curious about it.

Pouch galls on stag horn sumac (Rhus typhina) are caused by the sumac gall aphid (Melaphis rhois.) These galls look like some kind of fruit but they are actually hollow inside and teeming with thousands of aphids. They average about golf ball size and change from light yellow to pinkish red as they age. Scientists have paleobotanical evidence that this aphid has had a relationship with its sumac hosts for at least 48 million years. The galls can also be found on smooth sumac (Rhus glabra.) They remind me of potatoes so I always think of them as potato galls.

It’s a great year for wild grapes. Our woods are full of ripe river grapes (Vitis riparia) at this time of year and on a warm, sunny fall day the forest smells like grape jelly. Not for long though, because birds and animals snap them up quickly. North America has about 20 native species of wild grape and Native Americans used them all. The fruit is smaller than cultivated grapes and is usually too acidic to eat from the vine so the grapes were used for juice and jelly, or cooked and used in various recipes. Grapes were also used to dye baskets with a gray violet dye. They sometimes remind me of Aesop’s fable about the fox and the grapes, which teaches that we shouldn’t belittle and depise that which is beyond our reach.

Oaks also seem to be doing well this year. I’ve seen trees like this one with quite a crop of acorns. I can’t say if it’s a mast year yet though. In a mast year the trees grow a bumper crop and produce much more fruit than in a non-mast year. Scientists believe that by sometimes producing huge amounts of seed that at least some will survive being eaten by birds and animals and grow into trees. Many acorns survive intact until spring in a mast year.

I’m not sure what is going on with our birds but I’m seeing lots of black cherries on the ground under the trees this year. You can see in this photo that it doesn’t look like a single one has been picked. According to the USDA black cherries are eaten by the American robin, brown thrasher, mockingbird, eastern bluebird, European starling, gray catbird, blue jay, willow flycatcher, northern cardinal, common crow, and waxwings, thrushes, woodpeckers, grackles, grosbeaks, sparrows, and vireos. So why aten’t they eating them? There are three cherry species native to New Hampshire, Pin cherry (Prunus pensylvanica), choke cherry (Prunus virginiana) and black cherry (Prunus serotina). We also have a native plum, which is the wild American plum (Prunus americana).

Of our native cherries both choke and black cherries are edible. Black cherries have the largest fruits, and they can be identified by the cup like structure found where the stem meets the fruit. Black cherries are the only ones that have this feature, and you can see it on two or three of the cherries in this shot. Rounded, blunt serrations on the leaf edges are another identifier. Choke cherries have sharp, pointed serrations.

Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) grows just about everywhere here these days but I can’t remember ever seeing it as a boy. It was always considered a southern plant but like opossums, it has found its way north. People eat its new shoots in the spring but all parts of this plant are considered toxic, so it’s wise to know exactly what you’re doing if you choose to try it. Native Americans used the plant medicinally and also used the red juice from its berries to decorate their horses. They also used the plant for dye and a while ago I recieved a letter from a woman who was looking for the berries to use just that way. She freezes them until she has enough to make a batch of dye so I told her where to find them them along the river in Swanzey. She should be gathering them this year because I’ve never seen so many pokeweed berries as there are right now.

I like to look for the pink “flowers” at the base of the dark purple poke weed berries. They are actually what’s left of the flower’s five lobed calyx, but mimic the flower perfectly. They’re very pretty and worth looking for.

The red-orange fruit in fall and white flowers in spring have made American mountain ash (Sorbus americana) a gardener’s favorite and that’s where you’ll find most of them in this area. This tree grows where I work. I do see them in the wild, but rarely. They prefer cool, humid air like that found in the 3000-foot elevation range. The berries are said to be low in fat and very acidic, so birds leave them for last. For some reason early settlers thought the tree would keep witches away so they called it witch wood. Native Americans used both the bark and berries medicinally. The Ojibwe tribe made both bows and arrows from its wood, which is unusual. Usually they used wood from different species, or wood from both shrubs and trees.

Another plant that is having a good year is silky dogwood. The bushes are loaded with berries this year and the cedar waxwings will be very happy about that because they love them. This is a large shrub that grows in part shade near rivers and ponds. It gets its common name from the soft, silky hairs that cover the branches. Native Americans smoked the bark like tobacco. They also twisted the bark into rope and made fish traps from the branches. 

The berries of silky dogwood start out porcelain white and slowly change to dark blue. Once ripe they’ll go fast. Every time I see these berries I wonder if the idea for the blue and white porcelain made in ancient China came from berries like these. I’ve looked it up and tried to find out but blue and white porcelain has been around for a very long time. The cobalt “Persian blue” glaze was imported from what is now Iran as early as the seventh century, so it’s impossible I think to find out where the original idea for the blue and white color combination germinated. I do know that lots of artists look to nature for inspiration.

These bright red seedpods of the marsh St. John’s wort (Hypericum virginicum) have nothing to do with fruit but I like the color, so here they are. Seeing them glowing red all along the edges of ponds is a beautiful sight.

In the continuing saga of the poor farmer who lost all his corn to drought last year, and this year had his fields flooded so badly there were herons and egrets fishing in them; he has come up with a new plan. I know he tried winter wheat in one of his fields last year but then I recently saw something low growing, with yellow flowers, so I went to see what it could be.

At first I thought he was growing pumpkins, because I think I’ve heard that cows eat pumpkins but no, it was squash, and what appears to be butternut squash. Now my question is, how do you harvest squash on such a large scale? The fields are huge and I can’t see anyone actually picking all these squashes, so is the entire plant harvested? Everyone knows how prickly a squash plant can be; can cows eat such a prickly thing? Can the harvesting machines separate the squash and the vines? Unless someone who knows cows writes in, I suppose I’ll just have to watch and see.

Beautiful little shin-high purple love grass (Eragrostis spectabilis) grows on sandy roadsides and flowers in late summer and early fall. Its misty flower heads look like purple ground fog for a while before eventually turn a tannish color and breaking off. They are often seen rolling and floating along the roadsides like tumbleweeds in the fall. Years ago I learned the secret of photographing purple grasses by taking photos of this grass. It wasn’t easy to get the color correct in a photo but as a nature photographer you never stop learning, and nature itself is often the best teacher.

You’d think, after driving the same road to work every day for so long now that it would have become kind of ho-hum for me but it hasn’t, and this is why. I just never know what I’ll find around the next bend. I hope all of your days are filled with beauty, wonder and awe, whether you drive or not.

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

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We had lots of rain here in July; well over a foot in some places but luckily no serious flooding as of this writing. Since it’s raining hard as I write this near the end of the month though, that could change.

I’ve been lucky because on most of the days that I’ve had a chance to get into the woods, it hasn’t been raining. That doesn’t mean it hasn’t been wet though. Most of the grasses and undergrowth have looked like what you see in the above photo for quite a while now, and many lawns have standing water on them because the ground is so saturated the water has nowhere to go.

The rains have made many moths and other insects seek shelter under the eaves of buildings, and that’s where this one was one morning when I arrived at work. I think it might be one of the underwing (Catocala) moths, so called because when they spread their upper wings their underwings show a flash of color, but I haven’t been able to satisfactorily identify it. They have names like “charming underwing,” “girlfriend underwing,” “betrothed underwing,” and “bride underwing,” so it sounds like whoever named them had something other than moths on their mind at the time.

I often see moths resting on leaves during the day and that’s what this pretty one was doing when it caught my eye. I think it might be a large lace border moth (Scopula limboundata,) which is found only east of the Rocky Mountains. From what I’ve seen online wing colors and patterns can vary considerably on this moth. Their caterpillars are a type of inchworm that feeds on clover, blueberry, apple, and black cherry.

Early one windy morning I saw this dragonfly hanging on to a blueberry leaf, blowing in the wind like a flag. That’s why I think it’s one of the pennant dragonflies. Maybe a calico pennant. It wasn’t the least bit spooked by me and just kept hanging on as I took photos. I wish they were all so willing.

Note: A knowledgeable reader who knows much more about dragonflies than I do tells me that this may be a female banded pennant dragonfly. Thanks Mike!

Widow skimmers don’t seem to stay still very long. This one flew off and returned to its perch several times before I was able to get a decent shot of it. It wasn’t the shot I was hoping for but it does show off this dragonfly’s beautiful wings.

Slaty skimmers are another beautiful dragonfly. I think this is a mature male, which are dark blue with black heads. Females and juveniles look quite different, with brownish bodies and a dark stripe down their backs. These large dragonflies are fairly common here and can usually be found on pond shorelines.

What I believe is a Mayfly hung onto the wall of a building where I work. It was under the eaves, probably trying to get out of the rain. Mayflies are very interesting creatures that can be seen anytime in summer, not just in May. From what I’ve read they are part of an ancient group of insects that includes dragonflies and Damselflies. People have been fascinated by them for a very long time; Aristotle and Pliny the Elder wrote about them. Adults, if I understand what I’ve read correctly, do not eat. Their sole function is reproduction, so I’d guess that maybe this adult male was just hanging out, waiting for his mate to come along.

Banded net wing beetles also waited under the eaves of another building, but they were still getting wet. At first, I thought this was just one beetle but I couldn’t figure out why it had its wings spread so wide until I saw the photo. There are actually 3 beetles here. Two are hiding under the wings of the first, possibly mating? Males are smaller than the females but these three looked to all be about the same size to me. These beetles contain defensive chemicals and most birds and spiders leave them alone. They feed on plant juices or sometimes other insects.

Japanese beetles cause a lot of damage to plants but they aren’t very remarkable otherwise. They’re common and fairly easy to control, even by hand picking. But this one surprised me by turning into a lion.

The beetle turned, lifted its hind legs, and roared. Or at least I thought that when I saw this photo on the camera’s screen. It looked like the beetle had opened its big mouth and roared at me, but then I thought wait a minute, beetles don’t have big mouths. It was a trick of the light, with the bright sunlight shining on the beetle’s “snout” or nose, or whatever it is called. I had to laugh at my own foolishness.

A white crab spider hung upside down among the blossoms of a swamp milkweed, hoping it wouldn’t be noticed by any visiting insects. Crab spiders can change color from white to either yellow or pink but it takes anywhere from 2 to 21 days. They’re very patient little things and if you pay attention creatures like spiders, great blue herons, frogs, and many other creatures will teach you all about what it means to be truly patient.

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing when I saw this great egret wading through a flooded cornfield. Usually when I see things like this I don’t have the right camera with me, but on this day I had it. Without a thought I slammed on my brakes, jumped out and started shooting, so it was a good thing there was nobody behind me. I’ve really got to stop doing that.

I’ve been wanting to see an egret my whole life and never had, even when I lived in Florida, so this beautiful bird was an exciting find. I looked up how to tell which egret you were seeing and from what I read the orange bill and black legs mean it’s a great egret. It looked to be about the size of a great blue heron, but it was quite far across a cornfield so that might not be correct. We’d had quite a storm the night before and I wondered if maybe it had been blown off course. It kept pecking at the ground so it was apparently seeing plenty of food.

I didn’t find any egret feathers but I’ve seen plenty of turkey feathers. We have lots of turkeys around and I’m always seeing feathers but not usually tail feathers like this one.

I found this feather hanging from a grass stalk, gently twisting in the breeze. Google lens has said repeatedly that it is from a long-eared owl but I have a hard time believing it because, though we do have long eared owls here they’re exceedingly rare and are hardly ever seen. On the other hand, I’ve read that they nest in the woods near open fields where they like to hunt, and that was the type of terrain I found it in. I’m hoping some knowledgeable reader might be able to sort it out.

The blue of blue bead lily berries (Clintonia borealis) is quite different from the blue of blueberries; what I call an electric blue. They don’t seem to be doing very well this year though; this is the only berry I’ve seen. The seeds in these berries can take two years to germinate and adult plants can take twelve years to finally show their yellow, lily like blossoms. This plant is also called “cow tongue” because of the shape of its leaves. Deer, chipmunks and many other animals and birds love the berries and I often have trouble finding them because they get eaten so fast. Native Americans used the plant medicinally to treat burns and infections, and bears are said to be attracted to its root.

The berries of the white baneberry plant (Actaea pachypoda) are called doll’s eyes, for obvious reasons. The remains of the flower’s black stigma against the porcelain white fruit is striking, and I can’t think of another plant with fruit quite like these. These plants are toxic so no part of them should ever be eaten. Luckily the berries are so bitter one bite would be enough to make anyone spit them out. Finding baneberry in the woods tells the story of rich, well drained loamy soil and a reliable source of moisture, because those are the things that it needs to grow.

Red or purple trillium (Trillium erectum) seed pods turn bright red in late summer, but few people ever seem to see them. Trilliums are all about the number three or multiples of it, and the seed chamber has six parts. The fleshy seeds are prized by ants because they have a sweet, pulpy coating that they eat, so many of the trilliums we see have most likely been planted by ants. It takes about five years for a trillium to go from seed to flower.

Tiny starflower seedpods (Trientalis borealis) look a bit like soccer balls. They’re very small so you often have to look at the plant’s leaves to find them. The few brown seeds inside need a cold period to germinate and will not do so until the fall of the second year. Ants and other insects “plant” the seeds.

This photo from a few years ago gives a good idea of how small a starflower seed pod really is; about as big as Abraham Lincoln’s ear on a penny. They’re a challenge to get a good shot of.

Witch hazel gall aphids (Hormaphis hamamelidis) have been doing their work. These cone shaped galls are where the gall aphids grow and reproduce. When they’re ready they leave the gall and fly off to find birch trees. The young aphids feed on birch leaves until they give birth to nymphs, which develop wings and fly back to witch hazels, where the process begins again.

The galls are called nipple galls or cone heads and each year, usually around Halloween, they turn black and look like witch hats. For some reason this one was early.

I went to see if I could get some shots of goldenrod flowers and instead found dodder attacking the goldenrod plants. Dodder (Cuscuta) is an annual and grows new from seed in the spring. It is a leafless vining plant that wraps and tangles itself around the stems of other plants. It is a parasite that pushes root like growths called haustoria into the stem of the host plant. Dodder can do a lot of damage to food crops and some of its other common names reflect how people have felt about it over the years:  devil’s guts, devil’s hair, devil’s ringlet, hail weed, hair weed, hell bine, pull-down, strangle weed, and witch’s hair.

In this photo from 2013, if you look just to the upper left of the white flower in the photo you can see how the orange dodder stem (haustoria) has burrowed into a goldenrod stem. Once it is feeding on its host it loses all connection to the soil and from then on will survive by sucking the life out of the host plant. Dodder has no chlorophyll and its stems can be bright orange, yellow, or red. The round growths are seed pods. One of its favorite hosts seems to be goldenrod.

Here is a close look at the dodder’s flowers. They’re among the smallest I’ve ever photographed but I’d guess that they produce plenty of seeds.

While I was getting photos of the dodder, I saw a flash out of the corner of my eye and it turned out to be 3 monarch butterflies flying around some milkweed plants. Of course, they all flew away when I walked over but this one returned and hid under a leaf. I’ve seen quite a few monarchs this year but most have been wary and hard to get good shots of.

I saw more monarchs on some hyssop plants and I tried and tried to get a photo of their open wings, but this was the best I could do. They were almost all the way open.

I ended up with most shots looking like this one but with wings open or closed they are still very beautiful things. Hyssop is a very pretty plant that would be happy in any garden and it would attract butterflies too, so it isn’t hard to do something to help these creatures survive. There are many ways in fact, and a helpful reader was kind enough to send me some information on how we can help monarchs and many other insects simply, with no real effort other than putting some thought into which plants we select for our gardens. If you’re interested you can find a wealth of information by clicking this link: https://homegrownnationalpark.org/faq

The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself. ~Henry Miller 

Thanks for stopping in. I’m sorry this post is so long but there are just so many beautiful things to see out there. I do hope that you’re seeing as many of them as I am.

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An eastern cottontail hiding in the tall grass saw me as soon as I saw it and we both froze. I was able to turn my camera on and slowly raise it up to eye level, and finally get a couple of not so hot shots.

The rabbit was fine with me being there for a while because it munched on grass, but then it turned and hopped off, and I saw its fluffy cotton tail.

What I believe is a band winged meadowhawk dragonfly landed on an old garage door at work early one morning. The light was low and the photos weren’t that good so I was going to discard them, but then I saw something odd going on. This dragonfly had what appeared to be tiny eggs all over it.

Here is a closer look at the “eggs” on the dragonfly. I’ve searched for dragonfly diseases and dragonfly parasites but have had no luck finding anything out. If you happen to know what this is about I’d really love to hear from you. I know dragonflies lay eggs but I’ve never heard of them laying them on each other.

Note: A helpful reader has identified these as immature water mites. What is happening in these photos is called “Phoresy,” which a symbiotic relationship where one organism transports another organism of a different species. The red mites are parasites in the tick family and they do suck the dragonfly’s bodily fluids. When the dragonfly lands or hovers near water they will fall / jump off. Thanks go to Ginger Wells Kay, to the folks at BugGuide.net and to Kathy Keatley Garvey and the bug squad from the University of California for this information.  

This dragonfly looked fine but I haven’t been able to identify it. One of the club tails, maybe?

A grasshopper seemed very interested in what I was doing. In fact as I was taking its photo it turned to get a better look. Or maybe to give me a better look.

I expect to see leaves in colors other than green in the spring or fall but not in summer, so these ash leaves seemed confused to me. It is thought that plants might do this to prevent the leaves getting too much sunlight, but it doesn’t seem like anyone really knows for sure.

I can’t explain why some plants do this but it can often be beautiful, as this Joe Pye weed shows.

For years now I’ve meant to check our native alder bushes in the spring for new tongue gall growth and each year I’ve forgotten. But then I was taking photos of a Deptford pink that grew under an alder and I stood up and there they were. And they really do look like tongues, especially at this stage. Some were even bright red.

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

Once they’ve reached their limit of growth the tongue galls dry and blacken, and look like this. I think this is something most of us have seen.

Azalea Exobasidium gall is another leaf and flower gall that is caused by a fungus instead of an insect. It can cause swollen shoots, stem galls, witches’ brooms and red leaf spots, but more often than not it causes white galls like that seen in the above photo. The white color comes from the spores of the fungus, which are spread by wind and rain. I found this and many other examples growing on some wild roseshell azaleas.

While I’ve been working on this post we’ve had two days of rain, so I hoped to see some mushrooms. I didn’t have to look too hard; this yellow fly agaric (Amanita muscaria v. formosa) grew in the middle of a trail. I used to do 2 or 3 mushroom posts each year but last year I didn’t find enough to do any, so I was happy to see this one. The name fly agaric comes from the practice of putting pieces of the mushroom in a dish of milk. The story says that when flies drank the milk they died, but it’s something I’ve never tried. Fly agaric is said to have the ability to “turn off” fear in humans and is considered toxic. Some Vikings, called “berserkers”  are said to have used it for that very reason.

I also saw a white slime mold on an oak leaf. Some slime molds can be very small and others quite large. This one in its plasmodium stage was average, I’d say; about as big as the leaf itself. When slime molds are in this state they are usually moving, but very slowly. Slime molds are very sensitive to drying out so they usually move at night, but they can be found on cloudy, humid days as well. I haven’t been able to identify it so for now all I can say is that it is a white slime mold, possibly a Physarum, in the plasmodium stage. Slime molds, even though sometimes covering a large area, are actually made up of hundreds or thousands of single entities. These entities move through the forest looking for food or a suitable place to fruit and eventually come together in a mass. They move with the single mindedness of a school of fish or a flock of birds. So far science can tell us what they aren’t, but not what they are.

And there were Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora,) which are not fungi but often appear at the same time. Each plant has a single flower and each flower nods toward the ground until it is pollinated. Once pollinated they turn and point straight at the sky, and in that position they will turn brown and become hard like wood, and finally the seed pods will split open and release the tiny seeds. They are dust like and are borne on the wind.

Blueberries seem to be having a great year. The bushes I’ve looked at have been loaded with berries, so the bears and birds will eat well.

Invasive Tatarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica) berries ripen from green to orange to red and for the first time I caught all the stages in one photo. This shrub is native to Siberia and is very tough. Birds love its berries and that’s why it has been so successful. In this area there are very few places where it doesn’t grow. Tatarian honeysuckle was introduced as an ornamental shrub in the 1750s. It has deep pink, very fragrant flowers in spring. Though it is invasive it has been here so long that it’s hard to imagine life without it.

Black elderberry fruit has just started to form. In this stage the big flower heads always remind me of star charts.

Fern balls are created by an insect called either a fern leaf tier or a leaf roller, depending on who you listen to. They appear at the tip of a fern frond and look like a ball. Inside the ball are caterpillars of a moth, possibly in the herpetogramma family. The caterpillars pull the tip of the fern into a ball shape and tie it up with silk. Once inside the shelter they feed on the leaflets.

These are busy moths; I’m seeing a lot of these balled up leaves this year.

The fern that had the fern balls on it was either an interrupted fern (Osmunda claytoniana,) shown above, or a cinnamon fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum,) shown in the next photo. Since it had no spore cases on it, it was hard to tell. Interrupted fern gets its common name from the way the fertile fronds look as if they’ve been “interrupted” by spore cases, which are the dark areas on this fern.

Cinnamon fern spore bearing fronds are reddish and whoever named the fern thought they looked like cinnamon sticks. If you saw both ferns growing side by side and neither was producing spores most of us would think they were identical.

Timothy grass has just started to flower. Each flower head is filled with tiny florets, each with three purple stamens and 2 wispy white stigmas. Timothy grass makes an excellent hay crop and gets its common name from Timothy Hanson, a farmer who began to cultivate and promote it in 1720, a few years after its introduction into colonial America in 1711. It should be cut for hay before it reaches this stage but it’s quite beautiful when it blossoms. When you see someone chewing a stalk of grass in a photo or painting it is usually Timothy. I chewed many myself as a boy, and I just thought of the opening line of Ventura Highway by the band America: Chewing on a piece of grass, walking down the road

The oddest thing I’ve seen lately is this piece of cantaloupe i found on a lawn. I once worked with someone who made pens as a hobby, and he told me that he knew some people who used the netting from cantaloupes to decorate the pens they made. I can’t imagine how it was done but I’d bet they were beautiful pens.

This view says summer to me. I grew up lazing on the banks of a river, seeing views just like this one every day. May every child be so lucky.

Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.
~Lao Tzu

Thanks for Stopping in.

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Hazy, hot and humid weather has settled into this part of New Hampshire, with temperatures in the mid 90s F. and tropical humidity. When that happens I think of being by the water, and that’s what this post is about. I went to several of our local ponds, like Perkin’s Pond above, to see what I could find in the way of aquatic plants and flowers. I found plenty and I hope you’ll enjoy seeing them.

One of the pondside flowers I always enjoy seeing is swamp candle (Lysimachia terrestris,) which I believe is our earliest member of the loosestrife family to bloom. As their name implies swamp candles like wet places and often grow right where the water meets the shore. Though they usually stay at about 2 feet tall I saw one last week that was chest height. They usually grow in large groups.

Each of the 5 yellow swamp candle petals has two red dots at its base, which makes the flowers look a lot like those found on whorled loosestrife, but slightly smaller. A major difference between the two plants is how the leaves don’t grow in whorls on swamp candles. There seems to be at least a bit of red on all of our yellow loosestrife flowers, no matter which plant they’re on.

One of my favorite aquatic plants is pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata.) It grows off shore in what are sometimes huge colonies. Native Americans washed and boiled the young leaves and shoots of this pretty plant and used them as pot herbs. They also ground the seeds into grain. The plant gets its name from the pickerel fish, which is thought to hide among its underwater stems.

Pickerel weed has small purple, tubular flowers on spikey flower heads that produce a fruit with a single seed. Ducks and muskrats love the seeds and deer, geese and muskrats eat the leaves. 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’m always surprised that the flower spikes and buds are so hairy. It seems odd for a plant that grows up out of the water.

This photo that I took previously is of a pickerel weed bud. It shows how the flowers spiral up the stalk and open from bottom to top. Being able to get this close to one is a rare event.

Yellow pond lily (Nuphar luteum) flowers almost always bloom a few inches above the water surface, making them very easy to see. They are cup shaped and have six petal like sepals and grow in water that is usually no more than 18 inches deep.

NOTE: A helpful reader has let me know that this plant is now known as Nuphar variegata, which I hadn’t heard. Thanks Sara!

Inside the outer sepals are many yellow petals and stamens, and a yellow central stigma with 8 to 24 lines or rays on its disk shaped top. Something has been eating the sepals of these flowers as you can see in this photo. Many flowers are seen floating free because they’ve been pulled up. Since the plant is also called beaver root they might have had a hand in it. The plant is also a favorite of both painted and snapping turtles, so it could be them. I find many along the shoreline with their outer sepals gone. The roots of the plant were a very valuable food source to Native Americans, who ground them into flour. They also popped the seeds much like popcorn, but unless the seeds are processed correctly they can be very bitter and foul tasting. The plant was also medicinally valuable to many native tribes.

Floating Pondweed (Potamogeton natans) is so common it has shown up in many of these photos of other plants without my trying. It is also called long leaved pondweed and it likes to root in the mud and grow in full sun in warm standing water up to 4 feet deep. It does flower but they’re green and small and hard to see. Many types of waterfowl including ducks and swans eat the seeds and leaves of this plant and muskrats like the stems. Many species of turtle eat the leaves, so it seems to be a plant that feeds just about everything that lives on and in the water.

The rarest plant in this post has to be the water lobelia (Lobelia dortmanna.) I only know of 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.

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 but these plants grew just offshore with flowers above the water. The seed pods are said to contain numerous seeds which are most likely eaten by waterfowl. For several plants in this post I had to stand right at the water’s edge and lean out over the water with my camera in one hand to get a photo, so that should tell you how close to shore they grow.

Plants and flowers aren’t all you’ll find on the shore of a pond. This male bullfrog was docile enough to let me walk right up to him and take this photo with my cell phone camera. Were it always that easy. The round spot behind the frog’s eye is called the tympanum, which is an external ear. In males frogs it is much larger than the eye and in females it is as large or smaller than the eye.

Some days nature seems to throw itself at you, and that’s how it was on this day when this spangled  skimmer dragonfly kept landing at my feet. Dragonflies will often come back to the same perch again and again and apparently that white stone was very appealing to this one. From what I’ve read, the “spangles” are the black and whitish bars (stigmas) at the leading edges of its wings. Only females and immature males have them. I believe this one was a male because females are yellow and brown. Since my track record with insect identification isn’t very good however, I’d welcome any input. In any event this dragonfly likes to hunt the marshy shallows found along pond edges, which is right where I found it. I’m sure Mr. Bullfrog would have liked to have been there.

There isn’t anything at all unusual about seeing cattails (Typha latifolia) at the edge of a pond, but rarely do you find a single plant in flower. Cattail flowers start life with the female green flowers appearing near the top of a tall stalk and the fluffy yellowish green male pollen bearing flowers above them. Once fertilized the female parts turn from green to dark brown and the male flowers will fall off, leaving a stiff pointed spike above the familiar cigar shaped seed head. Cattail flowers are very prolific; one stalk can produce an estimated 220,000 seeds. Cattails often form huge colonies that grow into impenetrable walls of green, and that’s why I was so surprised to find a single plant.

Bur reed (Sparganium americanum) grows just off shore but I’ve also found it growing in wet, swampy places at the edge of forests. There are two types of flowers on this plant. The smaller and fuzzier staminate male flowers grow at the top of the stem and the larger pistillate female flowers lower down. The female bur reed flowers look spiky rather than fuzzy. They’re less than a half inch across. The male staminate flowers of bur reed are smaller and look fuzzy from a distance. After pollination the male flowers fall off and the female flowers become a bur-like cluster of beaked fruits that ducks and other waterfowl eat. The flowers of bur reed always remind me of those of buttonbush.

Cranberry plants have just started blooming. Though the flower petals curve backwards on most cranberry blossoms you can occasionally find a blossom that wants to be different, as this one did. I usually find them in wet, boggy areas but these grew on an embankment by a small pond. We have two kinds here, the common cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccos) and the small cranberry (Vaccinium microcarpum.) I think these were the common cranberry.

Early European settlers thought cranberry flowers resembled the neck, head, and bill of a crane so they called them crane berries, which over the years became cranberries. The flower petals have an unusual habit of curving backwards almost into a ball like those seen here, but I don’t see cranes when I look at them. Cranberries were an important ingredient of Native American pemmican, which was made of dried meat, berries, and fat. Pemmican saved the life of many an early settler.

Pipewort (Eriocaulon aquaticum) usually grows in ankle deep standing water. Since they grow with their lower stems submerged being able to see the entire plant is rare, but there are basal leaves growing at the base of each stem underwater. I’m guessing that they must still get enough sunlight through the water to photosynthesize. The hollow stem has a twist to it with 7 ridges and because of that some call it seven angle pipewort. It is also called hatpins, for obvious reasons.

If you’re very, very lucky you will be able to see the reproductive parts poking up out of the tiny, cotton like pipewort flowers. On this day I got to see several male anthers. They sometimes make the 1/4 inch diameter flower heads look like they’re black and white from a distance. I believe the gray, thread like bits showing in the previous photo are the female stigmas. You can just see a few poking up in this shot as well. It is thought that the flowers must be pollinated by flies but I don’t think anyone knows for sure.

You also have to be lucky to find floating heart plants (Nyphoides cordata) growing close enough to shore to get photos of them. They 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. I think they are our smallest water lily. Usually they grow just far enough offshore to need a boat or to make you roll up your pant legs.  

The tiny flowers of floating heart are about the size of a common aspirin, but never seem to open fully. They resemble a Lilliputian version of the much larger fragrant white water lily. They grow in bogs, ponds, slow streams, and rivers, sometimes by the hundreds.

This photo from a few years ago shows the scale of a floating heart flower. Just about the size of Abraham Lincoln’s head on a penny.

Last year I found hundreds of golden ragwort plants (Packera aurea) blooming in a swamp but this year there were only 3 or 4 blooming. It’s not a common plant in this part of the state, but it can be found here and there. Golden ragwort is in the aster family and is considered our earliest blooming aster. The plant is toxic enough so most animals (including deer) will not eat it, but Native Americans used it medicinally to treat a wide variety of ailments. Though not strictly a pond plant it likes wet places and I could easily imagine it growing along shorelines. It usually grows in full sunlight but it does tolerate some shade.

Droopy fringed sedge (Carex crinita) likes wet feet and is a very common plant that I see on the edges of ponds and rivers wherever I go. The hanging flower heads make it attractive enough to also be seen in gardens. Ducks and other waterfowl feed on the seeds, and muskrats will eat almost the entire plant. Native Americans used sedge leaves to make rope, baskets, mats, and even clothing.

No post about ponds and aquatic plants would be complete without a fragrant white waterlily in it. In fact I have a hard time thinking of a pond in this area that doesn’t have them in it and I know of at least one pond with so many in it you can hardly see the water. This one happened to be tilted just right so we could see that  golden fire that burns brightly in each flower. In my opinion it is the most beautiful of all our native aquatic plants.

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

Thanks for stopping in. I hope everyone has a safe and happy fourth of July!

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