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Archive for the ‘Slime Molds’ Category

Finally, after I believe two years since my last full mushroom post, I’m able to do another. I thought I’d start with these pretty little butter wax caps (Hygrocybe ceracea.) I’m not a mycologist and I don’t even like eating mushrooms but I sure do like looking at them because they can be very beautiful.

I think theses small white mushrooms might have been flat oysterlings (Crepidotus applanatus.) They are a pure white wood rotting mushroom that feel like your earlobe and I’ve read that they’re sometimes called simply flat creps. They should not be confused with oyster mushrooms because they are inedible.

Here is the what the underside of the previous mushrooms looks like. I’ve heard that the gills brown with age so these examples must have been quite fresh.

I was able to see something I’ve never seen before; the “birth” of a Berkley’s polypore (Bondarzewia berkeleyi,) the largest mushroom I’ve ever seen. What you see here are at least three mushrooms erupting from that lumpy, whitish mass.

There were two groups here near a tree and this is one of the groups when it was young and just taking on that familiar shape. This mushroom grows at the base of hardwoods in the east and in the west a similar example, Bondarzewia montana, grows at the base of conifers.

These photos were taken over a period of about three weeks, so this is a slow growing mushroom. As I said, they can be huge, and this one was probably at least two feet across. I don’t know if it had finished growing but as this photo shows something had been eating it. I’d guess a squirrel. They get to a lot of mushrooms before I do.

From the gigantic to the almost microscopic. These eyelash fungi (Scutellinia scutellata) grow on the wet, seeping wound of a standing tree. Each of the bigger ones is less than the diameter of a pea. They are considered cup fungi and they get their name from the hairs around the perimeter. The hairs can move and sometimes curl in towards the center of the disc shaped body. I’ve read that some believe that the hairs might collect moisture, similar to the way spines on cacti work, but I’ve always found them growing in very wet places so I’m not sure about that. The shine you see in the photo is caused by the camera’s LED light. It’s quite dark where these grow.

Fan shaped jelly fungi (Dacryopinax spathularia) are spatulate fungi, meaning they’re shaped like a spatula. These grew out of the crack in a log and were quite pretty, I thought. Sometime you’ll see spatulate fungi that are more fan shaped or club shaped but these examples seemed to live up to the name fairly well. In China it is sometimes included in a vegetarian dish called Buddha’s delight.

According to Mushroom Expert.com Staghorn fungi (Calocera cornea) grow after heavy rains on the barkless, dead wood of oaks and other hardwoods. This log had its bark still on but these small fungi came out from under it.

The website goes on to say that this jelly fungus appears as clusters of slick, cylindric fruiting bodies with rounded-off or somewhat sharpened tips. In fact it looks more like a tiny club fungus than a jelly fungus. These examples covered a good part of this log. They’re fun to look at but getting a useable photo can often be a little less than fun. These fungi are quite small.

You can tell that it has been rainy, hot and humid when slime molds start to appear. Despite the name slime molds aren’t molds and they aren’t always slimy. Unfortunately, though everybody argues about what they aren’t, nobody seems to know exactly what they are. The easiest way for me to think of them is as a single celled organism like an amoeba, with thousands of nuclei. Many headed slime mold (Physarum polycephalum) likes decaying organic matter like leaves and logs because this is where it finds its food supply of bacteria, yeasts, mushroom spores and microbes. The slime mold in the photo is in a vegetative phase called plasmodium, which is when it can move by ”streaming ” at about 1 millimeter per hour. The plasmodium is made up of networks of protoplasmic veins and many nuclei which move to seek out food. Once it finds something it likes it surrounds it and secretes enzymes to digest it.

Here is a closer look at a “streaming” many headed slime mold on an oak leaf. It was moving, but so slowly the eye can’t detect it.

This example of a many headed slime mold looked like it was climbing this stone. There must have been something on the stone very appealing to it to have it do this. I think this was only the second time I’ve seen a slime mold on stone.

Slime molds can be very beautiful things and one of my favorites is white finger slime (Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa var. fruticulosa.) Finger is a good description of the way this slime mold appears. It’s hard to relate just how small these are, but in each ‘finger” would be less than the diameter of a toothpick, and in length possibly 1/16th of an inch. As if that didn’t make photographing them tough enough sunlight is an enemy of slime molds, so they are only found in very dark places like the undersides of logs.

I was pleased with this photo because it shows something I’ve wondered about for years. I once saw a log with hundreds of clear, antler shaped beings on it and I’ve wondered what they were ever since. Now I know that they were young finger slime molds, because you can see two of them just right of center in this shot. They’re so small I couldn’t see them when I was taking this photo.

The honeycomb coral slime mold (Ceratiomyxa  fruticulosa  var. porioides) in the above photo that I took previously is a close relative of the finger slime mold we just saw. When conditions are right and food is running low this organism will produce the white honeycomb shapes seen in the photo. They do this prior to fruiting, which is when they create the spores needed to reproduce. Without magnification this slime mold looks like a white smudge on a log and is far too small for me to see in any great detail. I’m always surprised when I finally see what is in the photos.

Each one of the yellow dots you see in this photo is part of a slime mold called Physarum viride. As far as I can tell it has no common name. This slime mold likes decaying logs and can be found in conifer or hardwood forests. Each bright yellow “Lens-shaped structure” is on a stalk, and as they age they will blacken and harden, and start to crack open before releasing their spores to the wind. Each of these tiny “dots” would measure less than the diameter of a common pin.

The white cousin of the slime mold we just saw is called Physarum alba. These structures are also stalked and except for their color behave in the same way as their cousins. You have to look closely but you can see how some of these have cracked open to show their black spores inside.

As I’ve said here before Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora) are not fungi but because they like the same conditions they often show up when the fungi do, and so they often end up in these mushroom posts. I’ve included this one because I don’t think most people ever see them doing what this one is doing. When an Indian pipe is ready to become pollinated and begin producing its dust like seeds it turns is flower straight up to the sky and slowly browns and hardens, finally looking a lot like it’s made of wood before splitting open to release its seeds. They usually crack open in very late fall or winter.

And here is a view looking down into an Indian pipe flower; a view I’m guessing many have never seen. It is thought that the flower turns up like this so its ten yellow pollen bearing stamens surrounding a large central style will be more visible to pollinators. It is fitting that the plant appears in a post on fungi because it has recently been discovered, according to the University of Texas, that Indian pipes are associated with a fungus which obtains nutrients directly from the roots of green plants. That makes Indian pipe a parasite, with the fungus acting as a “bridge” between it and its host.

Chanterelle mushrooms (Cantharellus cibarius) are often deformed when we’ve had a lot of rain and over 12 inches of rain in a little more than two weeks is a lot, but this chanterelle looked fine. Chanterelle mushrooms are considered a delicacy but I’ve had mushroom experts tell me that you can never be 100% sure of a mushroom’s identity without examining its spores under a microscope. Since I don’t own a microscope that means you can never be sure of my identifications either, so please don’t eat any mushroom you see here until you have an expert examine them. There are mushrooms so toxic that one or two bites have killed. We have mushroom walks led by an expert or experts here. If you want to become serious about mushroom foraging you might find out if you have anything like them in your area. They’re a good place to start.

From the side chanterelles look like trumpets, but so do many other mushrooms including the false chanterelle, which is inedible. False chanterelles have orange flesh, while true chanterelles have white flesh. This example had white flesh but I still wouldn’t eat it without showing it to an expert first.

Common stinkhorns (Phallus impudicus) have an odor like rotting meat when they pass on, and that’s where their common name comes from. Though this example was dry, the green conical cap is sometimes slimy and shiny. It uses its carrion like odor to attract insects, which are said to disperse its sticky spores. Its stalk is hollow and spongy. I find these mushrooms almost always growing on some type of wood, often wood chips or very rotten logs. Though this one looks like it was coming up in a lawn I’d bet my lawnmower that there was wood in some form under the grass.

Jackson’s amanita (Amanita jacksonii) is also called American Caesar’s mushroom. It has a bright orange or orange-red cap with a lined perimeter, yellow gills, and a white, sack like volva. The volva is what remains of the outer skin, called a universal veil, that enclosed the mushroom in its young “egg” stage. As the mushroom grows the universal veil tears open to finally reveal what we see here. I had to brush a few pine needles away so we could see it clearly.

The Jackson’s amanita in the previous photo turned into this in a single night. It must have been 3 inches across, and it was a very colorful, beautiful thing.

I hope you enjoyed seeing these beautiful wonders of nature and I also hope you will be able to find plenty of mushrooms in your area this summer. You don’t have to eat them or even know their names; just admire their beauty. They’re popping up everywhere here.

The sudden appearance of mushrooms after a summer rain is one of the more impressive spectacles of the plant world. ~John Tyler Bonner

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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

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To be sure that the beech and oak trees are at their peak colors I usually wait until Halloween to visit Willard Pond in Hancock but this year I was afraid that Halloween might be too late, because I saw lots of oak trees already changing. The weather people told me that last Sunday was going to be a perfect fall day, so off I went to the pond.

Before I start following the trail I go to the boat landing to see what the colors are like. That’s where we’re going; right along that shoreline at the foot of the hill. The oaks didn’t look at their peak but the colors weren’t bad.

What I call the far hillside was showing good color as well. Halloween is usually too late for that hillside’s peak because I think it is mostly maples and by then their leaves had fallen.

And then there was a surprise. I heard they built a windfarm over in Antrim and that you could see it from Willard Pond but I didn’t know the wind turbines would be so big. They were huge, and spinning rapidly.

Here is the trail we’re taking. Can you see it? If not don’t worry, it’s there. It’s a very narrow, often one person wide trail.

The trail is very rocky and has a lot of roots to stumble over, but it’s worth all of that and more to be walking through such a beautiful hardwood forest.

Blueberry bushes are virtually everywhere here and they were all wearing their fall best. Such beautiful things they are.

Striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) is common here as well, and the big hand size leaves still had some green in them. They will go to yellow and then to white before falling.

Striped maple comes by its common name honestly. Another name for striped maple is whistle wood because its pulp is easily removed and whistles can then be made from the wood of its branches.

You have the pond just to your right and the hillside just to your left on the way in, and what there is left can be very narrow at times.

There were leaves falling the whole time. These are mostly maple.

Someone had done some trail work at some point in the past and had cut some small oaks, but they were growing back and were beautifully red against the yellow of the beeches.

Wolf’s milk slime mold (Lycogala epidendrum) grew on a log. These tiny brown spheres are common at this time of year. The biggest I’ve seen were about the size of a pea. They start out as tiny pink globules but as they age and become more like what we see in the above photo, the globules look more like small puffballs growing on a log.

Wolf’s milk slime mold is also called toothpaste slime because of the consistency of its inner plasmodial material. It’s usually pink and goes from liquid to a toothpaste consistency like that seen here, before becoming dusty gray spores.

The hard black balls of the chaga fungus (Inonotus obliquus) grew on a fallen birch. Chaga is the only fungus I can think of that looks like burnt charcoal and grows on birch.  This fungus has been used medicinally in Russia, China, Korea and Japan for centuries, and it is said to be packed with vitamins and minerals. Recently it has shown promise in cancer research, reducing the size of tumors. In Siberia it is said to be the secret to long life.

Hobblebushes (Viburnum lantanoides) were beautiful in their fall reds. Hobblebush is a good name for them because their stems grow close enough to the ground to be covered by leaf litter and if you aren’t careful you could be tripped up and hobbled by them. They’ve brought me down on my face more than once.

The hobblebushes have their spring flower buds all ready to go. These are naked buds with no bud scales. Their only protection from the cold is their wooly-ness.

As is often the case when I come here I took far too many of this incredibly beautiful forest, so I’ll keep sneaking them in when you aren’t watching.

Huge boulders have broken away from the hillside and tumbled down, almost to the water in some places. Some were easily as big as delivery vans. You might find yourself hoping there isn’t an earthquake while you’re here.

In one spot you have to weave your way through the boulders, sometimes with barely enough room for your feet to be planted side by side.

No matter how big the stone if it has a crack that water can seep into and then freeze, the pressure from the ice will eventually split the stone. This boulder was easily as big as a garden shed, but just look what water has done.

Polypody ferns (Polypodium virginanum) grow in great profusion here on many of the boulders. Another name for this fern is the rock cap fern, and it makes perfect sense because that’s what they do. They were one of Henry David Thoreau’s favorites.

They are producing spores at this time of year and each of the spore producing sporangia looks like a tiny basket full of flowers. This is the time of year to be looking at the undersides of ferns fronds. How and where the sporangia grow are important parts of an accurate identification for some.

Another fern that you see a lot of here is the royal fern. Royal ferns (Osmunda spectabilis) turn yellow in the fall before becoming this kind of burnt orange. Many people don’t realize that they’re ferns but they are thought to be one of the oldest; indeed one of the oldest living things, with fossil records dating back dating back over 300 million years. Individual plants are believed to be able to live for over a century and they live on every continent on earth except Australia. They’re very pretty things.

I wonder how many people have ever been deep in a forest like this one. I hope everyone has but I doubt it. If I could take people who had been born and had lived their lives in a city and lead them into this forest what would they think about it, I wonder. Would they love it, or would it frighten them? I hope they would love it because there is nothing here to be frightened of. It is a gentle, sweet, loving place where the illusion that you and nature are separate from each other can begin to evaporate. It is a place to cherish, not to fear.

Our native maple leaf viburnum shrubs (Viburnum acerifolium) can change to any of many different colors including the beautiful deep maroon seen here. The foliage will continue to lighten over time until it wears just a hint of pale pastel pink just before the leaves fall. There are lots of them along this trail.

Witch hazels blossomed all along the trail. I love seeing their ribbon like petals so late in the year and smelling their fresh, clean scent.

The old bent oak tells me I have reached the end of my part of the trail. Though it goes on I usually stop here because I like to sit for a while and just enjoy the beauty of the place.

There is a handy wooden bench to sit on and so I put away the camera and just sit for a time. On this day I heard a loon off in the distance. Moments of serenity, stillness and lightness; that’s what I find here. It seems an appropriate place to witness the end of the growing season and watch as nature drifts off to sleep in a beautiful blaze of color.

Here is one reason I like to sit on the bench; this is what you see.

And this is what you see on the way back. If you come to Willard Pond you’ll find that you’re in a truly wild place; before the axe and the plow this is how it was. But you’ll also find that the only thing really difficult about being here is leaving.

In wilderness people can find the silence and the solitude and the noncivilized surroundings that can connect them once again to their evolutionary heritage, and through an experience of the eternal mystery, can give them a sense of the sacredness of all creation. ~ Sigurd Olson

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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 every day 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 study. 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 toddlers 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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I see this view of Halfmoon Pond in Hancock almost every morning on the way to work. Sometimes there are ducks, geese or great blue herons here so I always at least slow down and look. The view from here reminds me of total wilderness, where all you really have is you. At the very edge of a pond the growth is thick and hard to get through because that’s where all the sunlight is. Back away from where the water meets the land, back where the forest is dark and there is less undergrowth, there is usually a way around. I think, long before Europeans showed up, Native Americans most likely had trails around every pond and lake in this area.

Ponds are great places to see waterfowl of all kinds and I’ve seen plenty of Canada geese this year. This family swam quite close and I think it’s because they’ve been fed by humans sometime in the past.

These goslings on the other hand swam away as fast as they could, with mom and dad just out of view, bobbing their heads up and down frantically. Personally I don’t feed wild animals because I’d rather have them rely on nature. Nature will provide all they need, just as it has since the time began.

But nature doesn’t discriminate and it also provides all that snapping turtles need, and some of what they need are small birds like goslings that swim on the surface of their ponds. If you watch a family of geese over time they might start out with 6 or 7 goslings, but then often end up with only one or two that reach adulthood. Foxes, bobcats, snapping turtles and other animals all thin the flock.

The big turtles have been on the move until recently and I’ve seen quite a few females out looking for suitable places to dig their nests and lay their eggs. Once they do many of the nests are almost immediately dug up and the eggs eaten, but there are thousands of eggs around every pond. Nature allows for the losses, so there will always be turtles and there will always be goslings. I should say that you don’t want to get too close to a snapping turtle because though it doesn’t look it they have long necks that can stretch out quickly. They also have very strong jaws.

Rosy maple moths appear at about this time each year and are easy to identify because there apparently aren’t too many others that look like them. This is a cute little thing with its wooly yellow body and pink and creamy yellow wing stripes. These moths lay their tiny eggs on the undersides of maple leaves and that’s how they come by their common name. Adult moths do not eat but the caterpillars are able to eat a few leaves each. They are called green striped maple worms.

Virgin tiger moths are large, butterfly sized moths and I’ve read that its hindwing color can vary from yellow to scarlet. Unfortunately they can’t be seen in this photo. The larvae feed on various low growing plants. Though there are countless photos of this moth online there is very little information on it. It is certainly one of the prettiest moths I’ve seen.

I saw a wolf spider crawling on one of the buildings where I work. Wolf spiders carry their egg sacs by attaching them to their spinnerets. They have eight eyes and two of them are large, which helps them see their prey. They will sometimes chase prey but usually just wait for it to happen by.

Here is a closer view of the wolf spiders egg sac. According to Wikipedia “the egg sac, a round, silken globe, is attached to the spinnerets at the end of the abdomen, allowing the spider to carry her unborn young with her. The abdomen must be held in a raised position to keep the egg case from dragging on the ground. However, despite this handicap, they are still capable of hunting. Another aspect unique to wolf spiders is their method of care of young. Immediately after the spiderlings emerge from their protective silken case, they clamber up their mother’s legs and crowd onto the dorsal side of her abdomen. The mother carries the spiderlings for several weeks before they are large enough to disperse and fend for themselves. No other spiders are currently known to carry their young on their backs for any period of time.”

A cedar waxwing sat on a lawn and let me walk right up to it and takes as many photos as I wanted before finally hopping away into the undergrowth. This is odd behavior for a bird but it must have either been a juvenile that couldn’t fly yet or maybe an adult that was stunned. I saw a Baltimore oriole fly into a window once and knock itself out. I thought it had died but an hour later it woke up and flew away. I love the beautiful sleek look of cedar waxwings, and the little bandit masks they wear. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology the name waxwing comes from the brilliant red wax drops you can see at the tips of its wing feathers. Cornell also says because they eat so much fruit, cedar waxwings occasionally become intoxicated or even die when they run across overripe berries that have started to ferment and produce alcohol, so maybe this one was simply drunk.

Our white pines have been growing pollen cones, which are the tree’s male flowers. Pine trees are wind pollinated and great clouds of smoke like yellow-green pollen can be seen coming from them on windy days. The trees look like they’re on fire and virtually everything gets dusted with pollen; cars, houses, and even entire lakes and ponds. If you live near pine trees it’s impossible not to breathe some of it in, but pine pollen is a strong antioxidant that has been used medicinally around the world for thousands of years. Its numerous health benefits were first written of in China nearly 5000 years ago.

I like lake sedge (Carex lacustris) because I like the way it seems to flow like the waves of the pond and lake shores it grows on. It is really the wind and its own weak stems that make it bend so, but I think it makes a pretty display. Lake sedge is native to Canada and the northern U.S. and can at times be found growing in water. Waterfowl and songbirds eat its seeds. Even when it isn’t blowing in the wind it seems to have movement.

English plantain (Plantago lanceolata) blooms in rings around the flower stalk, starting at the bottom and working towards the top. Though an invasive from Europe and Asia English plantain prefers growing in soil that has been disturbed, so it isn’t often seen in natural areas where there is little activity. But it is taking hold and it has gone from a plant I rarely saw just a few years ago to one I see just about everywhere now. I see it in lawns more than anywhere else. It is wind pollinated so it hangs its stamens out where the wind can blow the pollen off the anthers. Each stamen is made up of a white bag like anther sitting at the end of a thin filament. If pollinated each flower will bear two tiny seeds in a small seed capsule.

Maidenhair fern (Adiantum pedatum,) is as rare as hen’s teeth but I know of one or two. Some confuse it with royal fern but maidenhair fern really bears little resemblance to royal ferns. The name maidenhair comes from the fine, shiny black stalks, which are called stipes. This fern is very rarely seen in a natural setting in this area.

Grasses like this orchard grass have started flowering and I hope everyone will take a little time to give them a look, because they can be very beautiful as well as interesting. They are also one of the easiest plants there are to find. According to the book Grasses: An Identification Guide by Lauren Brown, George Washington loved orchard grass so much so that he wrote “Orchard grass of all others is in my opinion the best mixture with clover; it blooms precisely at the same time, rises quick again after cutting, stands thick, yields well, and both cattle and horses are fond of it green or in hay.”

Orchard grass seed heads are composed of spikelets that bear two to eight flowers which dangle from thin filaments (pedicels) and shimmer in the breeze, which of course blows the pollen to other plants.

Someone carved a heart into a birch tree. I did the same once but mine was carved into a maple and wasn’t as elaborate. Still, I’d guess the reasons for doing the carving were the same.

It might look like the hills were on fire in this shot but this was mist that the warmth of the sun was wringing out of the forest one morning after a rainstorm the night before. Marty Rubin once said “Mist around a mountain: all reality is there.” And for me, on that morning, it was. I thought it made a beautiful scene, and losing myself in it almost made me late for work.

Mists like the one in the previous photo usually mean high humidity in the forest, and if there’s one bit of nature that loves high humidity it’s a slime mold, and I’ve been seeing a few. I think this one is the scrambled egg slime mold (Fuligo septica.) It gets quite big and will grow in full sun on wood mulch or chips, so it is easily seen and is often people’s first introduction to slime molds. It also produces the largest spore-producing structure of any known slime mold. Slime molds move using a process called cytoplasmic streaming, which is basically a contracting of “muscles” by all of the separate cells until they come together in a single mass,  and I was fortunate enough to find this one on the move. Though its movement is imperceptible you can tell it has moved if you watch it over time. In fact it can climb onto stumps, logs, and living plants.

Scrambled egg slime mold is the perfect name for this one. According to mycologist Tom Volk of the University of Wisconsin, a plasmodium is essentially a blob of protoplasm without cell walls and only a cell membrane to keep everything in. It is really nothing but a large amoeba and feeds much the same way, by engulfing its food, which are mostly bacteria, spores of fungi and plants, protozoa, and particles of nonliving organic matter. Slime molds are a very important part of the ecosystem; it isn’t hard to imagine what this world would be like without decomposers like fungi and slime molds doing their work.

Scrambled egg slime in the plasmodium stage will eventually come together into a sponge-like mass called an aethalium, which is pictured forming here. An aethalium  is a “large, plump, pillow-shaped fruiting body.” Over time this slime mold forms a smooth, brittle crust which breaks easily to reveal a black spore mass.

My fungal offering for this post is a tiny bird’s nest fungus, which few people ever get to see. I think they were fluted bird’s nest fungi (Cyathus striatus) and this is a view of them from the side. They grow in a funnel or vase shape and have flutes around the rim of the body, which is hollow like a cup. They are so small not even a pea would fit inside them.

The “bird’s nest” is actually a splash cup called a peridium and when a drop of rain falls into it with enough force the “eggs” are splashed out. These eggs, which really can’t be seen here, are really disc shaped spore cases called peridioles. Once ejected from the splash cup the peridioles degrade over time to release the spores.

Here is a shot of a fluted bird’s nest cup with two disc shaped “eggs” in the bottom that I took earlier in 2015. It’s another of those miracles of nature that tend to boggle the mind.

Go out, go out I beg of you
And taste the beauty of the wild.
Behold the miracle of the earth
With all the wonder of a child.
~Edna Jaques

Thanks for coming by. I hope everyone has a safe and happy 4th of July tomorrow.

 

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Last Friday I cut wood for most of the afternoon at work and come Saturday morning I wasn’t feeling very agile, so I decided to take an easy, gentle and very beautiful walk along the Ashuelot River in Keene. I think I must have been about 10 years old the first time I walked this trail and it has been one of my favorite places to go ever since. You really never know what you’ll see here and I think 9 times out of 10 I come back surprised at what I’ve seen.

The biggest surprise of this day was a few clumps of yellow flag iris (Iris pseudacorus) growing on the river bank. I’ve searched for this plant for many years and found it only in one other spot in the woods by a pond that was very difficult to get to, but now here it is, right out in the open. This iris is a native of Europe and was introduced in the mid-1800s as a garden plant. Of course it escaped and began to naturalize and was reported near Poughkeepsie, New York in 1868 and in Concord, Massachusetts in 1884. Today it considered highly invasive and its sale and distribution is banned in New Hampshire, though in my experience it is a rarity in this part of the state. It’s a beautiful flower but now I do wonder what the banks of the river might look like 50 years from now if the plants are left alone.

In places the riverside trail is about 4 people wide but most of it is more like 2 people wide. Though I have no proof I believe the original trail is thousands of years old; once used by the Native Americans who used to fish, hunt and camp here. Natives were known to populate the Keene area and a little further upriver a school was built a few years ago and many Native artifacts estimated to be somewhere near 12,000 years old were found.

American water horehound (Lycopus americanus,) with its purple leaves, grew along the bank of the river. An interesting fact about this plant is how the Native American Iroquois tribe considered it poisonous, but the Cherokees used it to treat snakebite in both people and dogs. Usually I find that a plant used medicinally by one tribe was used in much the same way by other tribes, but not this one. In modern times it is used by herbalists to treat a variety of ailments including anxiety and insomnia.

A hoverfly found an ox-eye daisy very inviting. One of its wings seemed a little skewed but it looked like it could fly with no problems.

Like the ribs of an ancient sunken ship the branches of a fallen tree rose up out of the river. I read recently that in June 24, 1819 the New Hampshire legislature granted permission for the river, from this point south to where it meets the Connecticut River, to be dredged for steamboat travel. A toll on the steamers would be no more than 50 cents per ton of weight. Locks were built and in November of 1819 the first steamer 60 feet long and capable of carrying 15 to 20 tons, arrived in Keene. The venture seemed promising for a few years but the arrival of the railroad finally dashed the hopes of those wanting to see steamboats traveling the Ashuelot. Thanks goes to Alan Rumrill, director of the Cheshire County Historical Society, for this interesting bit of historical knowledge. If I saw a riverboat floating on the Ashuelot today I think I’d have to be revived.

Recent rains and high humidity helped a slime mold to grow on a well-rotted log. This slime mold is called coral slime (Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa var. porioides) and it loves to grow on rotted logs after a rain.

Coral slime mold is a plasmodial slime, which means that it moves using cytoplasmic streaming, which is basically a contracting of “muscles” by all of the separate cells until they come together in a single mass. They then shift from the growth stage to the fruiting stage. Slime molds die if they dry out, so most of this usually occurs at night or on damp, humid days after a rain. One of the most fascinating things about slime molds is how they move. They are thought of as a giant single cell with multiple nuclei which can all move together as one at speeds of up to an inch per hour. According to Wikipedia “A plasmodial slime mold is enclosed within a single membrane without walls and is one large cell. This super cell (a syncytium) is essentially a bag of cytoplasm containing thousands of individual nuclei.” Slime molds aren’t plants and they aren’t fungi. They come closer to being amoebas than anything else and are believed by some to have simple brains. My question is how they know what the others are “thinking?” They seem to have the same “group think” abilities as a school of fish or a flock of birds, and that is really quite amazing.

My daughter was with me on this day and she found a broken robin’s egg, so I’m guessing that mom and dad are keeping very busy these days. If what I’ve read is accurate they will feed the young until they learn how to feed themselves. That could take as long as a month.

Porcupine sedge (Carex hystericina) blossomed along the river. You can just see the tiny, almost microscopic wisps of whitish flowers at the pointed ends of some of the upper spiky protrusions (perigynia.) This plant is also called bottlebrush sedge, for obvious reasons. It’s very common near water and waterfowl and some songbirds love its seeds.

Daisy fleabane (Erigeron annuus) started blooming a while ago. This plant has a very long blooming period; I see them in early June blooming profusely and then sporadically through the following months, even into November. I usually find more of them in waste places but I see them just about everywhere I go. It is considered a pioneer species, meaning it is one of the first plants to grow in unused pastures, or cleared or burned areas. Woodchucks and rabbits will eat the leaves and stems. Native Americans made a tea from the plant which was used as medicine for digestive ailments. Fleabanes get their name from the way the dried plants repel fleas.

Deer tongue grass (Dichanthelium clandestinum) was getting ready to blossom in sunnier spots. I don’t suppose many people have seen a deer’s tongue but I have and the leaves of this grass really do look like one, so it’s a perfect name for the plant. This is a very course, tough grass that is common in waste areas, roadsides and forest edges. It can be very beautiful when its leaves change in the fall; sometimes maroon, deep purple or yellow, and sometimes multiple colors on one leaf.

Invasive multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora) grew everywhere out here and in this shot it is growing up a dead tree. I just featured this rose in my last flower post so I won’t say much about it, other than its fragrance was astounding.

Insects love multiflora rose and that is the problem with its invasiveness, because birds love the rose hips that pollinated flowers produce. But just try to stop it; the genie is out of the bottle and there is no stopping it or any of the other invasive plants that are in this country.

Luckily invasive plants haven’t choked out all of our natives. Here was a large colony of Indian cucumber root plants (Medeola virginiana,) all in bloom.

The 3 large styles of Indian cucumber root darken as they age. Each flower will become a shiny, inedible dark purplish black berry. Native Americans used Indian cucumber roots as food. As its common name implies, this plant’s small root looks and tastes a lot like a mini cucumber.

It was a beautiful day to be on the river, but the big puffy clouds in the distance reminded me that there was a chance of a real old fashioned thunderstorm. When I was a boy our house had a covered porch and I used to love sitting on it and watching thunderstorms as they rumbled by. I don’t have a porch now but I still love a good summer thunderstorm.

The seeds of the yellow pond lily plant (Nuphar lutea) were a very valuable food source to Native Americans, who ground them into flour. They also popped them 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. There were quite a few growing in this part of the river where the water was so still it hardly moved at all.

The little red bridge is my signal to turn and go back because not too far after it is a highway full of cars. Both my daughter and I were surprised by the time. What seemed like a relatively short walk had taken us hours, but that’s what happens when you become lost in the beauty of nature and start discovering things that you’ve never seen before; time is a very easy thing to forget.

My favorite photo of this day was of what I think is American eelgrass (Vallisneria Americana.) I love the hypnotizing way it moves and undulates in the current of the river. It is also called tape grass and water celery, and it is an important food for turtles and other aquatic wildlife.

The song of the river ends not at her banks, but in the hearts of those who have loved her.
~ Buffalo Joe

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I saw quite a few mushrooms in September, including some I’ve never seen before, and I’m still finding them in October. This chicken of the woods (Laetiporus sulphureus) mushroom was the biggest and most colorful. Another common name for them is sulfur shelf though I’ve worked with sulfur and this mushroom doesn’t remind me of it. I’ve read that as they age they lose the orange color but I don’t believe it now because I was able to watch these examples every day and they never lost their orange, even as they rotted away. The name chicken of the woods comes from the way they taste like chicken when cooked. Finding bright colors in the woods at any time of year is always a surprise and I always feel grateful that I was able to see them. This fungus was a beautiful thing and about as big as a soccer ball.

Chicken of the woods is yellow on the underside and has pores rather than gills. The pores are there in this photo but they are far too small to see.

We’ve seen the chicken so now for the hen. Hen of the woods (Grifola frondosa,) is an edible polypore that often grows in the same spot year after year. They are said to look like the back of a brown hen’s ruffled feathers, and that’s how they come by their common name. Though they’re said to be brown I always see green. My color finding software sees bands of gray, peach puff, and rosy brown, which is a surprise. I’ve seen a lot of these this year and every one grew at the base of an oak.

There is a whitish tan mushroom that grows on lawns and in the woods and isn’t very exciting so I’ve always ignored it.  After some research I found that it’s called the bluing bolete (Gyroporus cyanescens,) and if I had known that it turned a beautiful cornflower blue where it was bruised I would have looked more closely.

The bluing bolete is said to be edible but I certainly wouldn’t eat it or any mushroom without an expert’s identification. This mushroom contains a compound called variegatic acid which is colorless until it is exposed to oxygen. Once exposed it quickly turns blue, in this case. It can also turn red, I’ve read.

Dyer’s Polypore (Phaeolus schweinitzii) is also called the velvet topped fungus because of its hairy appearance. These fungi are parasitic on the roots and heartwood of living white pines in the eastern U.S. and cause root rot. They also change color as they age. If found when young as this one was it can be used to dye wool a soft yellow or orange and older examples will dye wool brown.

This is what an older dyer’s polypore looks like. As you can see the color difference between young and old examples is dramatic.  Some of these mushrooms can get quite large but this one was only about 5 inches across. Though they sometimes look as if they’re growing on the ground as this one does, they’re really growing on conifer roots or buried logs.

If you saw this growing on a fallen branch would you know what it was? I wasn’t absolutely sure until I turned it over.

I knew it was some type of shelf or bracket fungi from the back but I didn’t know it was turkey tails (Trametes versicolor.) I never knew their undersides were so pure white when they were young. When older the underside is kind of off white and full of pores. I also always thought they grew singly, but in clusters. The back view shows they’re actually all one body.

Golden pholiota (Pholiota limonella) mushrooms grew on a birch tree, which is something I’ve never seen before. In fact there are very few mushrooms that I’ve seen growing on a living birch, but these mushrooms can grow on living or dead wood. They appear in the summer and fall and usually form in large clusters. Their orange-yellow caps are slimy and covered in reddish scales. The dim morning light really brought out the golden color of these examples.

Wolf’s milk slime mold (Lycogala epidendrum) starts out as tiny pink globules but as they age and become more like what we see in the above photo. As they grow the globules look more like small puffballs growing on a log.

Wolf’s milk slime mold is also called toothpaste slime and that’s because there is a pinkish orange material inside each globule with (usually) the consistency of toothpaste. It can also have a more liquid consistency as it does here, and that’s the way I usually find it. As it ages it will turn into a mass of brown powdery spores.

Some coral fungi come to a blunt, rather than pointed end and are called club shaped corals. I thought these might be Clavariadelphus truncatus but that mushroom has wrinkles down its length and these are smooth, so I’m not sure what they are. They were no more than an inch tall.

Crown coral fungi come in many colors but I usually find the tan / white varieties. The example in this photo was as big as a baseball (about 3 inches) and had a touch of orange, which I was happy to see. The way to tell if you have a crown coral fungus is by the tips of the branches, which in crown coral look like tiny crowns rather than blunt or rounded. They grow on dead wood but if that wood is buried they can appear to be growing in soil.

Mushroom spores are carried by the wind so it is unusual to see them dropping to the forest floor like they have in the above photo. I’ve only seen this happen three times and twice it was on a still, hot, humid day. This time it was on a cooler but still humid day, without a hint of a breeze to blow the spores away.

An unusual mushroom that I’ve never paid attention to before is the black tooth fungus (Phellodon niger.) One of things that I find unusual about it is how, when they grow close enough together, their caps fuse together creating a large misshapen mass. But as this photo shows they also grow singly, as most of the ones I saw on this day did. Another odd thing about it is how the caps seem to split open on top.

On the underside of the black tooth’s cap are the black “teeth” that give it its common name. The teeth are called spines and the mushroom’s spores form on them. It’s easy to see how the spore bearing surface increases when a mushroom grows pores or spines on its cap. I’ve read that this mushroom is endangered in many countries like Switzerland and parts of the U.K. and there is a danger of its extinction in certain parts of the world. They seem to be abundant in this area.

This bracket fungus had all the makings of a dryad’s saddle (Cerioporus squamosus) except for color. Dryad’s saddle is usually brown but I can’t find any information on whether or not they start out life white before turning brown. I have seen photos of them online where they looked whitish, but that could be due to lighting or camera settings. This one was definitely white all over and as big as a saucer.

One of the things about nature study that some people seem to have trouble with is leaving things dangling, with no answers.  When I go into the woods I almost always come back with more questions than answers but quite often, sometimes even years later, the answer comes to me. The question on this day was this grouping of grayish mushrooms growing on a stump. I’ve looked through three mushroom guides and a few websites and haven’t found a single small grayish mushroom with a frayed cap edge. I was fairly sure I’d have trouble identifying them but I wanted their photo anyway, because I thought they were very pretty. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that mystery is a big part of living, and I’ve had to do so yet again.

These little white mushrooms presented another conundrum but I think they might be one called Xerula megalospora. Unfortunately I’ll probably never be 100% sure, because you need a microscope to see the big, lemon shaped spores and I don’t have one.

What leads me to think that this example might be a Xerula megalospora is how mushroom expert Michael Kuo explains that “its gills are attached to the stem by means of a notch and a tiny tooth that runs down the stem.” For me though, their beauty is more important than their name and this one was quite beautiful; even more so upside down.

There is no end to wonder once one starts really looking.― Marty Rubin

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Mushrooms are 90-95% water and since we’ve had plenty of rain they’re popping up literally everywhere I go right now. When mushrooms appear you can’t dilly dally like you can with flowers; you’ve got to get to them relatively quickly, because animals like deer and squirrels will eat all they find in a matter of hours. What mushrooms animals don’t eat slugs and molds will. Nothing is wasted in nature and everything gets eaten in one way or another eventually, like the mushrooms in this photo; mold had started to cover them before they could even release their spores.

Here are a couple of slugs eating this mushroom; a common sight. Mushrooms don’t stay around long, so I’ve been in the woods every chance I had to get the photos that follow. I show them here not so you’ll run out and pick mushrooms to eat, but simply so you can see what is happening in the woods right now, and so you can enjoy their beauty as much as I do.

A jelly fungus called Calocera cornea covered this log. This tiny fungus appears on barkless, hardwood logs after heavy rains. The fruiting bodies are cylindrical like a finger coral fungus and it looks like a coral fungus, but microscopic inspection has shown it to be a jelly fungus. This photo shows only part of what covered this log. The huge numbers of what looked like tiny yellow flames licking out of the log was quite a sight.

Calocera cornea is called the small staghorn fungus, for obvious reasons. Each fruit body comes to a sharp looking point.

These are a good example of a coral fungus called spindle or finger corals (Clavulinopsis fusiformis.) They look quite different from the jelly fungus we just saw. The taller ones might reach an inch and a half high and their diameter is close to a piece of cooked spaghetti. They have the odd habit of growing in the packed earth of trails so I often find that they have been stepped on and broken. One fact helpful in identifying these yellow finger coral mushrooms is that they always grow in tight clusters, while look alikes do not.

There are many types of coral fungi in the woods at this time of year. They can be very hard to identify without a microscopic look at the spores but I think this one might be cockscomb or crested coral (Clavulina coralloides.) Crested corals have branches that end in sharp tips and these tips will often turn brown. I don’t see these as often as I do other types of coral fungi.

I’ve seen photos online of slime molds very similar to this one but the people who took the photos didn’t have any more luck identifying it than I did. For now all I can say is that it is a white slime mold, possibly a Physarum, in the plasmodium stage. I should also say that I had to use a flash for many of these photos because of the cloudy days and forest darkness. This plasmodial slime mold, like many others, moves using cytoplasmic streaming, which is basically a contracting of “muscles” by all of the separate nuclei until they come together in a single mass, when they shift from the growth to the fruiting stage.

One of the most fascinating things about slime molds is how they move. They are thought of as a giant single cell with multiple nuclei which can all move together as one at speeds of up to an inch per hour. They can also climb as they have on this tree.

As slime molds go, this many headed slime (Physarum polycephalum) is usually large and easy to see. This one covered a beech log. According to Wikipedia “A plasmodial slime mold is enclosed within a single membrane without walls and is one large cell. This super cell (a syncytium) is essentially a bag of cytoplasm containing thousands of individual nuclei.” Slime molds aren’t plants and they aren’t fungi. They come closer to being amoebas than anything else and are believed by some to have simple brains. My question is how they know what the others are “thinking?” They seem to have the same “group think” abilities as a school of fish or a flock of birds, and that is quite amazing.

People will tell you that there aren’t any blue slime molds but I tend to believe what I see over what people tell me so here is a blue slime mold that I’ve seen each year for the past three. These tiny things are so small all I can see is their color, like a blue smudge on a log. I can’t see any real detail by eye, so I have to let the camera see for me-quite literally “shooting in the dark.” From this blue stage they go on to become white.

NOTE: A helpful reader has identified this as a fungus called Chromelosporium coerulescens.

We go from the tiny to the huge; this tree stump was about 7 feet tall and was absolutely covered with oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus.) The fallen part of the tree was also covered with them. I’ve never seen so many growing together.

Oyster mushrooms are pure white and seem to always grow in overlapping clusters like those in the photo. Oyster mushrooms have off center stems that usually grow out of the side of the log and are hidden by the cap when seen from above. That little insect might want to be careful; scientists discovered in 1986 that oyster mushrooms “exude extracellular toxins that stun [nematode] worms, whereupon the mycelium invades its body through its orifices.” What this means is that oyster mushrooms are actually carnivorous. They also consume bacteria (Pseudomonas and Agrobacterium) in order to get nitrogen and protein.

I’ve read that large amounts of water will cause deformation in chanterelle mushrooms (Cantharellus cibarius) and I wonder if that’s what is going on here. We have certainly had a lot of rain lately. Chanterelle mushrooms are considered a delicacy.

From the side chanterelles look like trumpets, but so do many other mushrooms including the false chanterelle. That’s why mushrooms should never be eaten unless you are absolutely sure you know what you’re eating. I’ve had mushroom experts tell me that you can never be 100% sure of a mushroom’s identity without examining its spores under a microscope. Since I don’t have a microscope that means you can never be sure of my identifications either, so please don’t eat any mushroom you see here until you have an expert examine it first. There are mushrooms so toxic that one or two bites have killed. We have mushroom walks led by an expert or experts here. If you want to become serious about mushroom foraging they are a good place to start.

If they’re small, sticky and orange with bell shaped caps and grow on a cluster on a log they must be orange mycena mushrooms (Mycena leaiana.) These little (less than an inch across) mushrooms fruit from June through September and are fairly common. If you touch them the orange color will stain your fingers. Mycena mushrooms also come in bright red, pink and purple. Some also bleed a blood colored latex when cut.

Young purple cort mushrooms (Cortinarius iodeoides) are very purple but lighten as they age. Squirrels and chipmunks won’t touch this one, possibly because it’s covered with a very bitter slime. This slime often makes the young examples look wet. Slugs don’t have a problem eating it and I often see white trails on the caps where they have eaten through the purple coating to the white flesh below.

Considering the weather we’ve had red hot milk caps (Lactarius rufus) seem appropriate. Milk caps get their name from the white milky latex they exude, which is said to be extremely hot and acrid. Though it looks like it has a ring on the stem just under the cap in this photo I think that must be slug damage to the stem itself, because this mushroom has no ring. Of course, I could also be wrong about its name.

To see very small things you need to re-train your eyes. (And your mind, somewhat) Jelly babies (Leotia lubrica) are what led me down that path years ago. One day I sat down on a stone to rest and looked down, and there they were. I was surprised by how tiny they were, but they helped me see that forests are full of things just as small and sometimes many times smaller. You need to be ready (and able) to flatten yourself out on the forest floor to get good photos of jelly babies. Each one in this group was smaller than a pea.

My Mushroom books don’t say much about club shaped fungi but I think this might be Clavaria ornatipes. This fungus is described as spatula or club shaped and greyish to pinkish gray. These fungi shrivel when they dry out and revive after a rain. They grew directly out of the ground and there were hundreds of them.

I’ve seen little orange mushrooms all over the place and they all seem to differ slightly is size, shape and color intensity. I think these might be chanterelle wax cap mushrooms (Hygrocybe cantharellus.) This type of mushroom is considered one of the most colorful and also one of the most aesthetically pleasing, according to mushroom identification books. One of my books even has them on its cover. I have to agree; they even look good broken.

What I think are horsehair parachute mushrooms (Marasmius androsaceus) look a lot like their cousins the tiny little pinwheel mushrooms (Marasmius capillaris,) except for the dark spot in the center of the cap. These mushrooms grow on leaf litter on the forest floor and help break down all the debris that falls from the trees. They usually grow in large groups but are so small many don’t see them. The caps on the largest of these might reach pea size on a good day.

By far the biggest mushroom that I’ve ever seen is Berkeley’s polypore (Bondarzewia berkeleyi.) I put a quarter above and to the right of the center of this one so you could get an idea of how big this monster was. It must have been 2 feet across at its widest point. This mushroom grows at the base of hardwoods in the east and in the west a similar example, Bondarzewia montana, grows at the base of conifers.

If you happen to see a mushroom that looks like it stuck its finger in a light socket you’re probably seeing something rarely seen. Called a “mycoparasitic mucorale,” Syzygites megalocarpes pin mold has been found on about 65 different mushrooms, but it will only appear when the temperature and humidity are absolutely what it considers perfect. It has multi branched sporangiophores that make the mushrooms it attacks look like it is having a bad hair day. This pin mold can appear overnight and starts off bright yellow, but as it ages it becomes paler until finally turning a blue gray color. It looks on the whitish side in this photo because I had to use a flash. It’s best not to get too close to these molds because inhaling their spores can make you very sick.

That’s all I have for mushrooms right now and for most of you that’s probably more than enough. I’m sorry for putting so many photos in this post but once you get bitten by the mushroom bug you can’t seem to stop looking for them, always hoping you’ll see something as adorable as these butter wax caps (Hygrocybe ceracea.) I hope you find all of them as beautiful as I do but if not I hope you will at least find them as interesting. I also hope you’ll see some of them for yourself.

Wild mushrooms and carpets of moss and bumblebees turning figure eights in the slashes of sun in the woods, as if they too are stupefied by the beauty of the place. ~Smith Henderson

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We had a single day of rain on Thursday the 29th so this past Sunday I thought I’d hike around Goose Pond in Keene. It’s a great place to find fungi and slime molds at this time of year and I thought the rain would have brought them out for sure. The trouble was the weather people were warning about dangerous heat, but I thought if I went early enough I’d miss the worst of it so at 9:00 am off I went. The sun was bright and hot in some places but this tall meadow rue (Thalictrum pubescens) wasn’t bothered by it.

Most of the trail around the pond is shaded so though it was warm and humid it didn’t seem too bad. Back in the old days people would either climb a mountain or find a lake or pond to escape the heat so I thought I would do the same. I have an old black and white photo somewhere that shows a woman dressed in 1800s garb walking along the shore of this pond.

Some of my favorite woodland scenery lies near Goose Pond. This fern filled glen is a special treat.

This is another favorite spot. I often see salamanders here. This spot says wild to me and the Goose Pond natural area is indeed a wilderness; a 500 acre wilderness. The vast forest tract has been left virtually untouched since the mid-1800s. The pond itself was once used as a water supply for the city of Keene and in 1865 it was enlarged to 42 acres. It takes a while to walk around it.

White pine trees have roots that lie just under the soil surface and when people walk on that soil it tends to disappear, and this is what happens. Much of the trail has exposed roots like these and where there aren’t roots there are stones and / or mud, so it’s best to wear good sturdy hiking shoes if you come here. I actually saw one lady wearing flip flops! I’m guessing that she’s never been here before. She had to stop every few feet and fix them, so I’m also guessing that she learned an awful lesson.

A century or more of people walking on tree roots can sand them down and even polish them, and I’ve seen some that were so beautiful I wished I had a saw so I could carry them home with me. They were like living sculptures. I thought this one was very pretty but it would have been even better with bark still on it.

Pipewort is an aquatic plant that grows in the mud just offshore. As the photo shows the stems have a twist and 7 ridges, and for those reasons it is called seven angle pipewort (Eriocaulon aquaticum.) The quarter inch flower heads are made up of tiny white, cottony flowers. Another common name for them is “hat pins.” I think this is the best shot I’ve ever gotten of one. They can be a tough subject.

American bur reed (Sparganium americanum) also  likes to grow just off shore and that’s where this one was, just beginning to flower. There are two types of flowers on these plants; the smaller and fuzzier male staminate flowers bloom at the top of the stem and the larger pistillate female flowers blossom lower down. After pollination the female flowers become a bur like cluster of beaked fruits that ducks and other waterfowl love. These plants, though native, act like invasive aliens and can fill small ponds quickly.

What I think were creeping spike rush plants (Eleocharis macrostachya) were flowering just off shore. Though it has the word rush in its name this plant is actually a sedge, and it’s a small one. The cream colored oval parts are its male parts and the white, wispy parts are its female flowers. There are several sedges in this family that look almost identical so I could easily be wrong about the identification, but it is a sedge and it was flowering.

Fringed sedge (Carex crinita) is one sedge that’s so easy to identify it can be done from just a silhouette. This sedge is a water lover and I usually find it on the edges of ponds and streams. It is quite large for a sedge and is sometimes grown in gardens. This plant looks a lot like pendulous sedge (Carex pendula) but that plant grows in Europe.

I took several photos of the pond and the island but it was so hazy and humid this was the only one that came out. There were people out on the island on this day, swimming. They had kayaks that they must have dragged up here, because you can’t drive to the pond. It seemed a little hot to be dragging kayaks up hills, but to each his own.

I saw slime molds almost everywhere I looked but instead of the yellow, red and blue ones I hoped to see all I saw were white ones.

I think this one was white fingered slime (Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa, variety fruticulosa.) Slime molds can be very beautiful things and I hope everyone will get to see some for themselves this summer. They aren’t slimy and they aren’t molds. In fact science doesn’t really know what they are, but they have enough intelligence to navigate a maze to get to food. Look for them in shady places like the side of a log away from direct sunlight. They usually appear on hot humid days a day or two after a good rain, along with many mushrooms. Unfortunately on this day I saw only one sad little brown mushroom, shriveling from the heat.

An eastern tiger swallowtail finally decided to sit still for more than a few seconds. It was getting a drink from a wet spot on a piece of concrete at the pond’s outflow. Even the butterflies were parched. I was certainly glad I had something to drink with me.

The swallowtail even turned so we could see the outside of its wing. It held steady but I couldn’t; my sweaty hands were shaky from the heat, hence the poor quality of these photos.

A garter snake hoped I wouldn’t see it.

Maleberry shrubs (Lyonia ligustrina) line the shore of the pond along with blueberries, and sometimes it can be hard to tell the two apart. The flowers of maleberrry, though nearly the same shape and color, are about half the size of a blueberry flower and the shrub blooms about a month later. There are often berries on the blueberries before maleberrry blossoms.

Maleberry blossoms become small, hard brown 5 part seed capsules that persist on the plant, often for over a year. They make maleberrry very easy to identify, especially in spring; just look for the seed capsules and you’ll know it isn’t a blueberry.

The strangest thing I saw on this hike was a bee or wasp stinging a moth over and over again. I heard a buzzing that sounded like a bee swarm and when I followed the sound I saw a moth rolling in the leaves, beating its wings furiously. And then I saw a smaller insect attacking it. You can just see the striped body of the bee or wasp under the moth’s left wing in this blurry photo. It knew enough to sting the moth’s body and the poor moth must have been stung 12-15 times while I watched. Finally the moth crawled into a pile of leaves and the bee / wasp flew into a hole in the ground. Because it’s so dry many bees and yellow jackets are nesting in the ground this year and I think the moth must have blundered onto the entrance to an underground nesting site. I mowed over the entrance to a ground nest once and was stung 5 or 6 times by yellow jackets. I was wearing shorts at the time and it’s something I’ve never forgotten.

And then I started to feel strange; a bit dizzy and my legs felt heavy, and I began to wonder if I’d make it out of there without help. The heat was unbelievable and the sweat pouring from me was causing the insect repellant I was wearing to run into my eyes and all but blind me, so I sat down in the shade to rest and I let my thoughts go. I let them swim in the cooling water of the pond, and thought of nothing but an old tree stump for a time. After a while what the heat had taken from me my thoughts, cooled by the water of the pond, replenished and I was able to go on until I reached my car. Never was an air conditioner appreciated more than it was that day. Just before sunset that evening the thermometer here reached 101 degrees F., the hottest I’ve seen in nearly thirty years I’ve lived here.

Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time. ~John Lubbock

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Two or three years ago I saw my first pale beauty moth and now I’m seeing them everywhere. Their wings and body are pale greenish to grayish white and the female, which I think this example is, is said to be much larger than the male. The caterpillars are said to feed on the leaves of 65 species of trees and shrubs including alder, ash, basswood, beech, birch, blueberry, cherry, fir, elm, hemlock, maple, oak, pine, poplar, rose, spruce, larch, and willow. They’re supposed to be nocturnal but I see them in daylight. Usually in the evening though, so maybe they come out early.

There are a lot of dragonflies about this year and for some reason many of them are on lawns. I’ve walked over lawns and had hundreds of them flying around me. I can’t think of another time I’ve seen this but it must be that they’re finding plenty of food on the lawns. Or something. This example of what I think is a female widow skimmer (Libellula luctuosa) was near a pond on a cattail leaf, but there are lawns nearby. There were light whitish spots outside the dark spots on the wings but I think the lighting hid them.

 

A black ant was so interested in something it found on a sarsaparilla leaf (Aralia nudicaulis) it let me get the camera very close. I couldn’t see what attracted its attention and can’t tell from the photo either, but it was rapt. I think it was a common black house ant. It didn’t seem big enough to be a carpenter ant.

While I was visiting with the ant a winter dark firefly (Ellychnia corrusca) flew down and joined us on the same sarsaparilla leaf. According to Bugguide.net, these fireflies can be a pest in sap buckets in the spring because they like maple sap, and they will also drink from wounds in maple trees. They like to sun themselves on the sunny side of trees or buildings, but this one seemed happy just being on a leaf. Most fireflies live as larvae in rotting wood and forest litter near water and stay in the area they were born in, even as adults. They like it warm and humid, so they must be happy right now. They don’t seem to be afraid of people at all; I’ve gotten quite close to them several times.

On a very windy day what I believe was a male calico pennant dragonfly (Celithemis elisa) clung to the siding of a building. The light wasn’t right for dragonfly photography but I tried anyway and though it isn’t a great shot you can see most of the wing markings. These dragonflies are used to being blown about on the tips of twigs like a pennant, and that’s where their common name comes from. A fact that I find interesting about this dragonfly is how the males are not territorial and often perch facing away from water, apparently waiting for females as they approach the water. I’m not sure why this one chose a building.

NOTE: Blogging friend Mike Powell has pointed out that this is a female calico pennant dragonfly. If you’re interested in dragonflies or any other natural wonder, you should be reading Mike’s blog. You can find a link right over in the “Favorite Links” section of this blog. Thanks Mike!

I’m lucky enough to work near a pond and as I drive to work, early in the morning on a certain day in June, the snapping turtles begin to lay their eggs. As if someone flipped a switch the sandy shoreline between the pond and the road will be lined with the big turtles, sticking half out of the sand. And they are big; snapping turtles can weigh between 10-35 pounds. Though some snappers have been found as far as a mile from water most will dig their nest closer to it. They’ve been known to nest in lawns, gardens, and even muskrat burrows. Snapping turtles reach maturity at 8 to 10 years and can live up to 40 years or more.

It is said that some turtles weep from the strain of egg laying but this one had dry eyes. In fact she looked like she was smiling. You can see her beak in this photo; it has a rough cutting edge that is used for tearing food. They have powerful jaws and the snapping beak is easily able to snap off a finger or toe, so it isn’t wise to get too close to one. They have a neck that stretches quite a distance and they can lunge at high speed, which is how they catch their food. Snapping turtles eat plants, insects, spiders, worms, fish, frogs, smaller turtles, snakes, birds, crayfish, small mammals, and carrion. Plants make up about a third of their diet.

Snapping turtles lay one clutch of eggs in May or June and unfortunately this photo shows how most of them end up. Out of a nest of 15 to 50 eggs most will be eaten by raccoons, skunks, or crows. Though I’ve looked in the sand near disturbed nests I’ve never seen a paw print, so I can’t say what animal is doing this. It doesn’t take much to harm the turtles; the eggs are very delicate and the turtle embryo can be killed if turned or jarred. As many as 90% of the nests are destroyed each year and as I think about it I wonder if that isn’t part of nature’s plan. If every egg in every nest on this small pond were to hatch it would be overrun by snapping turtles and they would quickly run out of food. It might be better for them to never be born than to slowly die of starvation, but I’m very thankful that it isn’t up to me to make that decision.

Nature has a way of ensuring the continuation of each species and I know that many snapping turtles survive because I see them in ponds and streams everywhere. Egg hatching takes about three months but it varies depending on temperature and weather conditions. If the nest isn’t disturbed the hatchlings dig their way out in August through October and head right for the water. In winter they hibernate in the mud at the pond bottom. I should say that there are laws against disturbing turtle nests in New Hampshire, so they are best left alone.

I’m guessing that this bullfrog was very happy that there were no snapping turtles nearby. Adult female bullfrogs have an eardrum (tympanic membrane) that is about the same size as the eye and on a male it is much larger than the eye, so I’d say this one was a female. Females don’t croak but there was a lot of croaking going on here on this day.

With such a rainy spring I’m surprised that mushrooms aren’t popping up out of the sidewalks, but I’m not seeing that many. I did find some little horsehair mushrooms (Marasmius rotula) growing on a log recently. These are very small things; the biggest one in this photo might be as big as a pea.

Horsehair mushrooms are also called pinwheel mushrooms. Their pleated and scalloped caps always make me think of tiny Lilliputian parachutes. The shiny, hollow black stem lightens as it reaches the cap and is very coarse like horse hair, and that’s where the common name comes from. They grow in small colonies on rotting logs, stumps, and branches. Their spore release depends on plenty of moisture so look for this one after it rains. In dry weather they dehydrate into what looks like a whitish dot at the end of a black stem, but when it rains they rehydrate to release more spores. They can do this for up to three weeks.

The underside of the horsehair mushroom’s cap also looks like a parachute, with gills spaced quite far apart for such a little thing. In the center the gills join to make a collar that encircles the stem.

Swamp beacons (Mitrula elegans) are interesting fungi that grow in water and I find them in seeps where water runs year round. They are classified as “amphibious fungi” and use a process called soft rot to decompose plant material in low-oxygen areas. Since they only decompose soft tissue they aren’t found on twigs or bark and this photo shows how they are growing out of saturated leaves. I’m sorry about the strange angularity of this photo but I was kneeling in mud when I took it, trying not to drop the camera into it.

Another common name for swamp beacons is “matchstick fungus” and that’s exactly what they remind me of because they are just about the size of a wooden match. This one had an elongated head on it though and didn’t look very match like. If you want to get shots of this fungus be prepared to get your knees wet. Mine were soaked.

Hot humid weather along with a rainy day or two always makes me want to start looking for slime molds and sure enough after a recent shower, I found some. Slime molds seem to grow on just about anything; there is even a photo online of one engulfing a beer can that was left out on a rock. They almost always grow on the side away from the sun because they don’t want to dry out. A slime mold is an amoeba and that says a lot about how very small they are, but luckily they group together and that makes them easier to see. When I look for them I look for a smudge of color on the shaded sides of logs or on last season’s leaves. The one seen here is in its plasmodial stage and is on the move. I think it might be one called the tapioca slime mold (Brefeldia maxima.)

Slime molds can appear in their single celled amoeba form but when I see them they are almost always massed or massing together as these were. This plasmodial slime mold, like many others, moves using “cytoplasmic streaming,” which is basically a contracting of “muscles” by all of the separate cells until they come together in a single mass. They can reach speeds of up to 1.35 mm per second, which is the fastest rate recorded for any micro-organism. Eventually they will shift from the growth to the fruiting stage, when they will release their spores. Slime molds do not like dryness, so most of this usually occurs at night or on damp, humid days after a rain.

Here’s another look at what a slime molds can look like from a distance. This could also be yellow, orange or red. When looking for slime molds it’s important to remember that hot sunlight dries them out, so they’ll be on the shaded sides and undersides of logs, on stumps, mossy rocks, and in the leaves on the forest floor in the darkest part of the forest where the soil stays moist.

Here’s a closer look at the slime mold in the previous photo. Identifying slime molds can be tricky, but most good mushroom books will include a section on them and there are a few good online resources as well. If you want to photograph slime molds you’d better have a good macro lens because many are almost microscopic in size. What you see in this photo wouldn’t even cover a penny. A good LED light is also helpful. I think this example might be coral or white fingered slime mold (Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa.)

I think all slime molds are beautiful but this one really takes the cake. At least I think it’s a slime mold. I’ve found various examples of it for about three years now and I’ve spent that long trying to identify it with no luck. I haven’t found anything even similar to it online or in a book. I think part of the problem is it starts out looking like the white, blurry, bumpy mass in the lower left corner and then opens into the tiny blue starbursts seen above. What that means is it’s hard to know whether to search for a white or blue slime mold. I’ve tried both many times with no luck, so if you know its name I’d love to hear from you.

As I was walking through the woods one day something told me to look up and when I did I saw a young porcupine sitting on the crook of a branch. It let me get close enough for a couple of quick photos but I didn’t want to disturb it, so I left and let it be. Porcupines are herbivores and eat leaves, twigs, and green plants such as clover. They often climb trees to find leaves for food, and in winter they will eat the bark of some trees. They are shy, gentle creatures but unfortunately I see many of their kind run over on the roadsides. They roam at night a lot and can be very hard to see. This one was quite small; probably smaller than a soccer ball. Many Native American tribes used porcupine quills for decoration on their clothing but women in the Lakota tribe found a way to get the quills without harming the porcupine; they would throw a blanket over it and then pick out the quills that were stuck in the blanket.

I went to the Ashuelot River one recent evening and found it raging because of strong thunder showers we’d had the day before, but a duck had found a calm spot away from the chaos of curling whitecaps. The river was high too; that small island isn’t usually an island.

But the duck didn’t seem to care one way or the other. It splashed and preened and tipped up to eat and smiled serenely while the river raged on around it. There has to be a lesson for us all in there somewhere. After all, nature is full of them.

He who has experienced the mystery of nature is full of life, full of love, full of joy. Radiance emanates from the whole existence itself; it does not know the meaning of holding back. ~ Maitreya Rudrabhayananda

Thanks for stopping in. Have a safe and happy 4th of July!

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