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Archive for the ‘Things I’ve Seen’ Category

Good Morning everyone. I’m sorry this post is later than usual but I woke to no internet this morning, and there isn’t much you can do about that.

The monarch butterflies have returned and have gone straight for the Joe Pye weed, which they seem to love. Nature has its own rhythm but I can’t think of anything that illustrates it more beautifully than the monarch butterfly.

I hoped the monarch would open its wings for me but this was the best I could do.

Bull thistles are attracting more insects this year than I’ve ever seen. Here was a silver spotted skipper and a bumblebee sharing this one.

And here was an eastern black swallowtail on another. What a beautiful thing; I think this was the only one I’ve seen.

Early one morning I found this pretty moth resting on a leaf. Imagine sleeping on a leaf, waiting for the sun to warm and wake you at dawn. I took a few photos and it never moved. I think its name is the large lace-border moth. It has a lacy fringe on its trailing wing edges.

I never knew there was such a difference in the size of milkweed beetles. I’m assuming one is a male and the other female. It seems like every other time I’ve seen them they’ve been the same size.

I found another insect I had never seen before one morning; a dobsonfly. Luckily a coworker knew what it was. It was quite big; it must have been 3-4 inches long including its big, fierce looking pincers. Actually they’re called mandibles and males, which this one is, use them to fight off interlopers. I’ve read that these insects can give you quite a painful bite but it is more warning than anything serious.  

Here’s a closer look at the dobsonflies many eyes. The larvae are called hellgrammites or toe biters and are aquatic. They are eaten by fish and are often used for bait by fisher folk. They can also give you quite a bite, hence the name toe biters. They stay in the larval stage for one to three years before leaving the water as a male or female dobsonfly. Once they leave the water their lifespan is shortened to three days for males and eight to ten days for females. During that time it’s all about continuation of the species.

One morning a dragonfly flew off a pickerel weed stalk and landed bang, right on my left shoulder. It was odd because I saw the dragonfly on the pickerel weed and then saw it fly at me as if in slow motion, as if it had it all planned out. Luckily I’m right handed so I was able to get my small macro camera out of its case on my belt and get this photo. But then there was a problem; how do I get the dragonfly to fly away? I put my camera away and put my finger on my shoulder and much to my surprise the dragonfly climbed aboard.

But then there was another problem; how could I get a shot of it on my right finger when I had to use my right hand to take the photo? So, I put my left my left finger up to my right finger and sure enough, it climbed right on just like my grandmother’s parakeets used to do. I was able to take several photos but since the sun hadn’t come up over the hills I was able to salvage only this one by adjusting the exposure in post processing. But then I faced another problem; how to get the dragonfly off my finger. I wiggled it gently but it held right on, so then I put my finger up to the siding of a building and it finally crawled off and flew away. I love it when insects and animals decide they want to be friends. It happens more often than I would have ever thought.

I thought the color of this dragonfly would make it very easy to identify but that hasn’t proven to be so. I’ve included it here so you can simply enjoy its beauty as I have. Beauty doesn’t need a name and as time passes I find that I care less about the names of things and more about their beauty. In 1970 Ray Stevens sang a song called “Everything is Beautiful.” At the time I didn’t believe it; I thought well that would be great if it were true, but as I’ve come down through the years I’ve found that it is indeed true. Everything is beautiful, in its own way.  

Up to this point we’ve seen a lot of relatively big insects, but now imagine one so small it can actually feed between the upper and lower surfaces of a leaf. That’s a leaf miner and that’s amazing, and that’s why nature study can change the way you look at life.

In a normal year I would have done at least one mushroom post by now and possibly two, but we’ve had so little rain until recently mushrooms just weren’t happening. Then it rained a little each week for a couple of weeks and I saw this mycelium on a log, so I knew I should see mushrooms soon. If you think of a mushroom as a vascular plant, which it isn’t, the mycelium would be its roots and the above ground part would be its stalk, and its spores would be its fruit.

Yellow spindle corals (Clavulinopsis fusiformis) lick up out of the soil like tiny flames. Each cylindrical finger is about the same diameter as a piece of cooked spaghetti. The tips are usually pointed as they are here. This species usually grows in tight clusters, often in the hard packed soil on the side of the trail, which is where I found these. Because they grow where they do you often find them broken from being stepped on, as some of these were.

If you find a shelf like fungus that shines like it has been varnished growing on an eastern hemlock tree then you’ve found a hemlock varnish shelf mushroom (Ganoderma tsugae.) I show this mushroom regularly on this blog because I see it regularly, but not often in its mature form as it was here. Brick red, often quite large, and shiny.

I’m seeing quite a few boletes all of the sudden so I’ve ben doing some reading, trying to learn more about them. There are a few with red caps and yellow stems, but I think I know how to tell them apart.

When you touch the spore surface or gently squeeze the stem and where you’ve touched turns very blue, you have found Boletus pseudosensibilis. If the surfaces turn only moderately blue, you’ve found Boletus sensibilis. This one stained what I thought was quite intense blue immediately when I touched it.

This bolete did not stain blue and its pore surface on the underside of the cap was bright yellow, so it must be Boletus bicolor. Of course this is all very interesting but these mushrooms can very greatly even among the same species so I’d never eat any of them without an expert identification, and I hope you won’t either.

I rolled over a log and here was this tiny being on the side of it. I believe it is called a cotton based coral fungus (Lentaria byssiseda,) which gets its name from the creamy white, furry, feltlike, mycelial patch that it arises from. It is a pliant but tough little thing that could comfortably sit on a penny with room to spare. According to my mushroom guides they can be whitish, pink or gray.

Sometimes you don’t realize you’ve been looking for a thing until you find it, and that was the case with these Indian pipes. I’ve seen many thousands of Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora) but these were just coming up out of the soil, and that’s something I’ve never seen.

Of course this is what Indian pipes usually look like when we notice them.

The female spore capsule (Sporangium) of juniper haircap moss is barrel shaped with a beaked end cap or lid called the operculum. When the time is right this end cap will fall off and release the spores to the wind but I’ve never seen it happen, so this year I took an end cap off myself and I was surprised by the cloud of spores that came out of the capsule. They were like dust and must have numbered in the thousands, so it’s no wonder I see so many mosses. The capsules are about 1/8 to 1/4 of an inch long and about 3/16 of an inch in diameter and are a challenge to photograph. Since they’re too small for my tired eyes to be able to see any real detail in person I was pleasantly surprised to see the line of tiny water droplets when I saw the photo. They must have been very small indeed.

I’m guessing that we’ll have a great blueberry crop this year. The bears will eat well.

The blue of blue bead lily berries (Clintonia borealis) is quite different from the blue of blueberries; what I call electric blue. The seeds in these berries can take two years to germinate and adult plants can take twelve years to finally show their yellow, lily like blossoms. This plant is also called “cow tongue” because of the shape of its leaves. Deer, chipmunks and many other animals and birds love the berries and I often have trouble finding them because they get eaten so fast. Native Americans used the plant medicinally to treat burns and infections, and bears are said to be attracted to its root.

These blue bead lily berries were much darker and closer to a blueberry blue, but I’m not sure why.

In last Saturday’s post I was complaining about how hot it was and this stone illustrates it perfectly, because it was sweating. Porous rocks have the ability to absorb water and when it’s hot they can sweat, much like we do. I see this fairly regularly. There was no other explanation on this day because it hadn’t rained recently.

Congratulations are in order, because you’ve made it to the end of the longest post I’ve ever done. I hope it was worth your time and I also hope, as always, that it will entice you outside to see these things for yourself. Nature is endlessly fascinating and always beautiful so I hope you’ll get outside and let it change your life. I thought I’d leave you with this shot of the view I see when the sun comes up over the hills every morning, just before I start my work day. It’s one of my favorite scenes and yes, I do know how lucky I am. I hope all of you are every bit as lucky.

Seeing, in the finest and broadest sense, means using your senses, your intellect, and your emotions. It means encountering your subject matter with your whole being. It means looking beyond the labels of things and discovering the remarkable world around you. ~Freeman Patterson

Thanks for stopping in.

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In 1889 George A. Wheelock sold a piece of land known as the Children’s Wood to the City of Keene for a total of one dollar. This area was eventually combined with an additional parcel of land purchased from Wheelock, known as Robin Hood Forest, to form Robin Hood Park. It’s a 110-acre park located in the northeastern corner of Keene and it is a place that has been enjoyed by children of all ages ever since. I decided to go there last weekend because it had been quite a while last time I had been there. On this day the pond surface was so calm it was a mirror, showing me twice the beauty.

In March I come here to see the coltsfoot that grow along the shoreline and in July I come to see the pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata) that grows just off the shoreline. Who needs a calendar? Or a clock for that matter; it’s the same here now as it was 50 years ago. Native Americans washed and boiled the young leaves and shoots of pickerel weed and used them as pot herbs. They also ground the seeds into grain. The plant can form huge colonies in places and it gets its name from the pickerel fish, which is thought to hide among its underwater stems.

Meadowsweet (Spirea alba) also grows along the shoreline, along with many other plants. In fact if I listed all the plants that grew here the list would be very long indeed. For a nature nut coming here is like visiting paradise. There are interesting things to see no matter where you look.

I once worked in a building that had outside lights on all night and in the morning when I got there the pavement would be littered with moth wings of all shapes and sizes. The wings were all the bats left after they ate the moths, I guessed. On this day I saw many wings floating on the surface of the pond. This was the prettiest. Bats eat many insects during the night, including mosquitoes and biting flies.

A frog meditated on an old plank. This told me that there were probably no great blue herons here this day. I see them here fairly regularly though, along with cormorants, and one winter there was an otter living in the pond.

There were many dragonflies here on this day, flying up out of the tall grass by the pond. I think this one is a widow skimmer but I wouldn’t bet the farm on it.

There is a trail that follows all the way around the pond but it gets rocky in places and there are lots of tree roots to trip over, so you have to watch your step. The trail wasn’t as empty as this photo makes it seem; I saw a few people walking. Some were fishing, some were sitting on benches and some, the littlest ones, were running and laughing, bursting with joy.

In two places seeps cross the trail. This one looked like a beautiful stream of molten sunshine. Hydrologically speaking a seep is a wet place where water reaches the surface from an underground aquifer and this one stays just like this winter and summer. It never freezes solid and it never dries out.  

I saw many broken trees here. This red maple must have just fallen because its leaves weren’t wilted yet. The woodpecker hole tells the story; most likely the tree is full of insects and, if it had stood, it would probably have had fungi growing on it as well. It’ll be interesting to see how long it takes fungi to appear on what’s left after it’s cut down.

A young white pine grew in the arms of a much older tree. Some of these pines can be hundreds of years old.

An older white pine has very thick, platy and colorful bark. But these are very common trees in these parts and I think few people notice.

Robin Hood park is a great place to find mushrooms and slime molds and with our recent rains I thought I might find a fungal bonanza but no, this was one of only two I saw and it was in sad shape.

By far the biggest mushroom that I’ve ever seen is Berkeley’s polypore (Bondarzewia berkeleyi.) This example was easily 2 feet across at its widest point. They grow at the base of hardwoods in the east and in the west a similar example, Bondarzewia montana, grows at the base of conifers. It causes butt rot in the tree’s heartwood. The wood turns white before rotting away and leaving a standing hollow tree.

Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora) are white and ghostly and grow in the dark places in the forest but they aren’t fungi. They can get away with doing that because they don’t photosynthesize, but they do have flowers and when the flowers are pollinated they stand straight up toward the sky.

This is what the flowers look like once they’re pollinated. The seeds are fine like dust and I think the flower standing up straight must have something to do with rain being able to splash the seeds out of the capsule. Many plants and mosses use the same strategy for seed and spore dispersal. Fresh Indian pipe plants contain a gel that Native Americans used to treat eye problems, and the common name comes from the plant’s resemblance to the pipes they smoked.

This might not look like much but it is a rare sight. American chestnuts were one of the most important forest trees, supplying both food and lumber. An Asian bark fungus (Cryphonectria parasitica) was introduced into North America on imported Asiatic chestnut trees and the disease all but wiped out over three billion American chestnut trees. New shoots often sprout from chestnut roots when the main trunk dies so they haven’t yet become extinct. I’ve seen photos of the trees blossoming on other blogs but I’ve never seen it in person. Unfortunately the stump sprouts are almost always infected by the Asian fungus by the time they reach 20 feet tall but since some trees do bloom maybe these particular examples are growing from chestnuts. Many botanists and other scientists are working on finding and breeding disease resistant trees. This forest must have once been full of them because I’ve found three or four young trees growing here. Though the leaves resemble beech leaves they are much bigger with very serrated margins.

This tiny fern would easily fit in a teacup. It has been growing in a crack in this boulder for years, never getting any bigger. It gets a gold star for fortitude.

Something I’ve never been able to explain is the zig zag scar on this tree. I’ve shown it here before and blog readers have kicked around several ideas including lightning, but none seem to really fit. The scar is deep and starts about 5 feet up the trunk from the soil line. If it were a lightning scar I would think that it would travel from the top of the tree into the soil. I happened upon a large white pine tree once that had been hit by lightning very recently and it had a perfectly straight scar from its top, down a root, and into the soil. The bark had been blown off all the way along it. This tree shows none of that.

There are lots of stones here, some huge, but this one always catches my eye because it has a spear of either quartz or feldspar in it. I think, if I remember my geology correctly, that it would be called an intrusion or vein. Granite itself is considered an intrusive igneous rock.

For over half a century I have visited this place. I learned how to ice skate here and swam in the pool and fished in the pond. I listened to band concerts and camped in the woods and now I walk the trails and sit on the benches. It’s a peaceful place full of life and since the 1800s generations of children have come here to play and enjoy nature and many like myself have never really left. Time means little in such a place and this day might have been any of the other days I’ve spent here in the last 50+ years. I’ve done and seen much here but now I think I come here more for the serenity than anything else. I hope all of you have a place like this to go but it doesn’t matter if you don’t; bliss is a fruit always ready to be harvested, no matter where we happen to be.

When was the last time you spent a quiet moment just doing nothing – just sitting and looking at the sea, or watching the wind blowing the tree limbs, or waves rippling on a pond, a flickering candle or children playing in the park? ~Ralph Marston

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With the moderate drought we’re in I haven’t expected to see any fungi so I was surprised to see these little beauties popping up out of an old hay bale. From what I’ve read I believe they are wooly ink cap fungi (Coprinus lagopus.)

The wooly part of the name comes from the way the fungus is covered in “wool” as it comes out of the ground and because of the fuzzy stem, which can be seen here. The stem is hollow and very fragile, seeming to disappear at the slightest pressure from fingers. I love the color of the cap and gills but they seem, from what I saw these examples do, to change color as they age. And they age fast; this little mushroom goes through its entire above ground life cycle in just a day. By the end of this day these were black.

These mushrooms seem to just melt away as their spore bearing gills turn to “ink.” I’m not sure why this one looked so wet, because it was a dry day. Maybe the whole thing was turning to liquid.

The next day more mushrooms appeared from the same bale of hay, but this time they were wearing black and white. I wonder if the early morning, shaded light had something to do with the colors seen in the first three photos. This one was taken in full sun. I’ve seen them in both colors in online photos.

I saw a big bolete which had grown out of the side of an embankment, only to have gravity pull it downward. I think it might be the ruby bolete (Hortiboletus rubellus) but there are many that look alike and I’m not a mushroom expert.  Had I checked to see if it turned blue when it was bruised I would have known for sure but I didn’t want to eat it, I just wanted to admire it.

I’ve heard from quite a few sources that hemlock varnish shelf (Ganoderma tsugae) growth seems to be exploding this year, for reasons unknown. People are seeing them everywhere and as this hemlock log shows, so am I. It is closely related to the Reishi mushroom found in China. That mushroom is considered the most important of all the herbs and substances used in Chinese Herbal Medicine, including ginseng and scientists around the world are researching its anti-cancer potential. I’m guessing this could be a valuable log; I stopped counting mushrooms at ten, and some were quite big.

Nature can show the brightest colors in the oddest places and I always wonder why. What benefit can this stalked bracket fungus gain from all of that color? Do the colors relate to the minerals it is absorbing from this old hemlock log? And why do the colors change over time?

Wooly oak galls are created by the wool sower gall wasp (Callirhytis seminator) and are about the size of a ping pong ball, but “felt covered” like a tennis ball. The gall is caused by secretions from the grubs of the gall wasp, which will only build it on white oak and only in spring. There are small seed like structures inside the gall which contain the wasp larva, and that’s why these galls are also called oak seed galls. They are a great help when searching for white oak trees. We have mostly red oaks here so I don’t see many of these.

I’m always amazed by the colors on the inner bark of trees. I’ve seen red, orange, yellow, and even blue. This photo shows the inner bark of an old gray birch, which had fallen off. I liked the patterns as well as the colors. Things like this always make me wonder why the most beautiful parts of a tree are sometimes hidden away where nobody can see them.

I also liked the pattern the leaves of this Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum) made. I often see this beautiful little fern in gardens.

Meadow spike moss (Selaginella apoda) has plenty of new growth so I’m guessing it doesn’t mind dryness, even though I’ve read that it prefers moist soil. Spike mosses are considered “primitive” seedless (spore bearing) vascular plants and therefore aren’t mosses at all. This pretty little plant is more closely related to the clubmosses, which are also spore bearing vascular plants known as lycopods. It doesn’t appear to be evergreen like the clubmosses however. It’s a pretty little thing which is native to the eastern and midwestern U.S. but its cousins grow all over the world in every continent except Antarctica. The acorn in the upper right will give some idea of scale.

The male flowers of eastern white pine trees (Pinus strobus) are called pollen cones because that’s what they produce. Pine trees are wind pollinated and great clouds of pollen make it look like the trees are burning and releasing yellow green smoke each spring. Virtually everything gets dusted with pollen; cars, buildings, and even entire lakes and ponds. If you live near pine trees it’s impossible not to breathe some of it in and if you leave your windows open you’ll be doing some house dusting in the near future. Pine pollen is a strong antioxidant and it has been used medicinally around the world for thousands of years. Its health benefits were first written of in China nearly 5000 years ago and they are said to be numerous.

The red fruits of the red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa,) are usually hard to find because the birds eat them as soon as they ripen, but for the first time I found a bush full of them. Why the birds left these alone is a mystery. The berries are said to be toxic but they were cooked and eaten by Native Americans so I’m sure they knew how to cook them in such a way as to remove the toxicity. They also used them medicinally. Red elderberry is one of two elderberries native to New Hampshire. The other is the common or black elderberry (Sambucus nigra V. canadensis) which has black berries and isn’t toxic.

I saw a little brown bird dancing on the rocks at the river. It would hop from one to the other and back again, staring at me the entire time. It was easy to love and I wished I could have it land in my hand. I’ve had gray squirrels eat from my hand but not birds. Not yet.

I think the bird was a song sparrow but I’m not sure of that. Long time readers of this blog know that I’m not a bird person due to colorblindness, so maybe someone out there better versed in birds knows for sure. Whatever its name it was a cute little thing that seemed to be smiling. It also seemed to be trying to distract me with its cute hopping back and forth and I wondered if it might have a nest nearby that it was hoping I didn’t see.

A mother turtle, which I believe is a painted turtle (Chrysemys picta,) was laying eggs on a lawn, quite a while after the snapping turtles had finished. She pulled her head into her shell when she saw me, but didn’t move. Snapping turtles can’t pull their head in as far as painted turtles but they do have long necks and can surprise people when they suddenly extend them.

One day I went to the shore of Halfmoon Pond in Hancock and found the entire shoreline moving with what I thought were dark colored insects; crickets maybe, but when I looked closer I found that they were tiny baby toads, so small that one of them could fit on the nail of my little finger with room to spare. Many thousands of them swarmed over the shoreline but that isn’t the strangest part of the story; the same thing is happening in other places. Saratoga Springs New York for instance, has seen the same thing happen and you can see excellent photos and even a video at the Saratoga Woods and Waterways blog, by clicking here. I can’t guess what caused such a mass hatching of toads, maybe it happens regularly, but in any event I would guess that fish, snapping turtles and herons will be eating well this year.

This red spotted purple butterfly ( Limenitis arthemis astyanax) landed on the damp sand in front of me and let me take a few photos. The white admiral and red spotted purple are essentially different forms of the same butterfly. I think the deep coloration of this one suffered some in this shot because of the harsh sunlight.

I see pale beauty moths fairly regularly but they are usually resting on leaves, not sand as this one was. it was actually on a beach at a pond. 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 often see them in daylight. Usually in the evening or early morning though. I’m not sure I could think of a name any more beautiful than pale beauty moth.

I felt something hit me in the back and when I saw what it was I could hardly believe my eyes, because it had really big eyes. Actually the eyed click beetle’s (Alaus oculatus) “eyes” are really just eye spots, there to mesmerize and confound predators. They certainly had me mesmerized for a bit. This unusual insect can snap a spine hidden under its thorax and make a clicking sound. It can also use that spine to launch itself into the air, which is apparently what it did before it hit me in the back. In this photo it has hidden its legs and antennae under its body. At about an inch and a half long it may be a mid-size beetle but it has quite a big bag of tricks.

Here we are looking at the eyed click beetle’s eye spots. If I was a predator I’d think twice, and by the time I had made a decision this bug would have most likely clicked its spine and would be sailing through the air, getting away. What a great gift is this life we live; from dust to dust nothing but wonders and miracles. How sad I feel sometimes for those who don’t see them.  

Though I think this was a calico pennant dragonfly it’s a little hard to tell because of the way the sky was reflected in its wings early on this morning. Its wings could have been wet but what interests me more than the dragonfly is the dry husk, called an exoskeleton, on the stem just above it. I’m seeing a lot of them lately and they signal dragonfly emergence from the water. A dragonfly crawls up a leaf or stick as a nymph and once the exoskeleton has dried a bit the dragonfly emerges from it to unfold and dry its wings. When its wings are dry it simply flies away and leaves the exoskeleton behind, and that’s what the strange husks are. 

But my question, since I actually measured one of the husks, is how do you pack all that dragonfly into a 3/4 inch long exoskeleton? As it turns out it isn’t all that much dragonfly; after searching for the length of a calico pennant I find that their maximum length seems to be 1-3 to 1.5 inches. Still, that’s twice the length of the exoskeleton that I measured. I’ve read that, though the dragonfly is fully formed when it emerges from the husk, it is not fully shaped.

The dragonfly is all folded up in its exoskeleton and that’s how so much dragonfly can fit inside what seems such a small package. Once it comes out of its exoskeleton it unfolds itself, begins pumping bodily fluids to all its parts, and warms itself in the sunshine. Finally, it is ready to fly and it reminds me of a quote by Jodi Livon: Fill yourself up with light and fly! Now if I could only get a shot of a dragonfly actually emerging from its exoskeleton. I’d be very thankful to have seen such a wonder.

Just a feather hanging on a stalk of grass. I’m guessing most people would think “big deal” and walk on, if they even noticed it. But this feather was special. First it was quite big; easily as big as a hen’s egg. And second I’ve never seen one like it, and third it was pretty and I thought the bird it came from would be even prettier. I wondered about hawks. Owls? Eagles? The brown banding must be a good clue, so I tried to match this photo with something I might find online. Identifying feathers is not easy when they aren’t from common birds, and I gave up after a few hours of searching. The closest I could come was a great horned owl, but it wasn’t quite right. In the end all I can do is show you its beauty and hope that is enough. Maybe it will take you on the same wonder filled journey it has taken me on. I learned many things I didn’t know about birds, all because of this feather.

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

Once again I have to apologize for the length of this post but I do like you to see all of the wonders that I’ve seen. Thanks for stopping in, and have a safe and happy 4th.

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Last Sunday, the first full day of summer, was another hazy, hot and humid day. By the time I had finished this walk on a rail trail in Swanzey my car thermometer said 98 degrees F. That, coupled with no beneficial rain for several weeks, means that many plants are blooming quickly, with their flowers lasting only a day or two in some cases. I thought I’d see what was blooming in the shady areas along the trail.

Our native whorled loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia) is one of the plants that is having a hard time. I saw many of them wilted enough so their flowers and leaves were drooping badly. This plant’s leaves and flowers grow in a whorl around the stem and that’s where its name comes from. A whorl, in botanical terms for those who don’t know, is made up of at least three elements of a plant (leaves, flowers, etc.) that radiate from a single point and surround the stem. In this case both the leaves and flowers grow in a whorl, because where each leaf meets the stem a five petaled, star shaped yellow flower appears at the end of a long stalk. The leaves in each whorl can number from 3 to 7. Each yellow petal of the 1/2 inch flowers are red at the base and form a ring around the central red tipped yellow stamens. The petals also often have red streaks as those in the photo do. Whorled loosestrife is the only yellow loosestrife that has pitted leaves and long-stalked flowers in the leaf axils. It normally grows in dry soil at the edge of forests but as I’ve seen, that soil can be too dry.

Starflowers (Trientalis borealis) came and went so fast this year I barely had time to see them. All I see now are its tiny seed pods, like the one seen here.

I was surprised to see that there was still a trickle of water running through this old box culvert. Many small streams and ponds have dried up.

Porcupine sedge (Carex hystericina) is blossoming. This common sedge is also called bottlebrush sedge and I usually find it on the shores of ponds or in wet ditches. The flowers of porcupine sedge are so small they are almost microscopic, but you can see them here. They are the whitish wisps that appear at the ends of the spiky protrusions, which are called perigynia. Waterfowl and other birds love its seeds. These were found in the now dry drainage channels along the trail.

Cinnamon ferns (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) have now released their spores and all that remains of that process are the bright red fertile fronds that give the fern its name. Someone once thought it looked like a cinnamon stick.

The fertile fronds are covered with its sporangia, which are tiny spheres where its spores are produced. Each one is hardly bigger than a pin head and you can see their open halves here. Native Americans used this fern medicinally, both externally and internally for joint pain. Many ferns were also woven into mats.

Deer tongue grass (Dichanthelium clandestinum) looked like it had just finished blooming. 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. I saw many yellow leaves on this day but that isn’t normal for June.

This grass couldn’t have held another flower. I’m not sure what its name is.

I found these hawkweed flowers (Hieracium caespitosum) blooming in the shade, which is odd for a sun lover. Each strap shaped, yellow “petal” on a yellow hawkweed flower head is actually a single, complete flower. The Ancient Greeks believed that hawks drank the sap of this plant to keep their eyesight sharp and so they named it hierax, which means hawk.

Oak apple galls are caused by a wasp (Amphibolips confluenta) called the oak apple gall wasp. In May, the female wasp emerges from underground and injects one or more eggs into the mid-vein of an oak leaf. As it grows the wasp larva causes the leaf to form a round gall. Galls that form on leaves are less harmful to the tree than those that form on twigs, but neither causes any real damage.

This apple gall still had a small leaf attached.

A man walking his dog walked by and saw me kneeling at the edge of the trail to get a photo of a flower. “Be careful” he said, “there’s poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) all along here.” He was right and I thanked him for the warning but I know poison ivy well enough not to kneel in it. Usually when I kneel on it it’s early spring before the leaves come out and then I get a rash on my knees from the naked stems, because all parts of the plant are poisonous. Even inhaling the smoke from a fire where it is being burned can cause severe throat issues.

Sweet ferns (Comptonia peregrine) grew here and there and I saw this one was producing nuts. The part that looks like a burr at the top of the plant is actually a cluster of bracts.

Inside these bracts are 4-6 small brown nuts (seeds) that are about 1/4 inch long and oval in shape. They can be just seen here. These seeds form in place of the female flower, which is red, small, and easily missed. Sweet fern foliage is very fragrant but it isn’t a fern; it’s actually in the bayberry family. Native Americans used the fragrant foliage as incense, putting bundles of them on smudge fires. They also made a tea from the leaves and some people still make tea from them today. I’ve heard that a handful of leaves put in a Mason jar full of cool water and left in the sun will make very good tea. “Sun tea,” it’s called.

You can get a glimpse of the Ashuelot River here and there along the trail, but it’s a long climb down to it. As I walked along I could see large sandbars in the river, and they told the story of how low the water really was.

Before you know it you’re at the old Boston and Maine Railroad trestle, which has been refitted for snowmobile travel. We’re lucky enough to find these old trestles still crossing the river on many of our rail trails. It would be costly to replace them but they’re well-built and should last for many years to come.

The great thing about having the rail trails and the trestles is that you can easily get to parts of the river that you would normally never see. I hate to think of how long I’d spend and how much bushwhacking I’d have to do to get to this part of the river without the trail, because the surrounding countryside is about as close to wilderness that you can get.

The water was very low in the river. Only once before have I seen it low enough to expose the fallen trees along the bank like it was this day. It’s hard to get any sense of scale from this photo but some of those trees are mature white pines, which routinely grow to 100 feet or more.

There are lots of silver maples (Acer saccharinum) along the river and some are so close to the trestle you can reach out and touch them, so I plucked a leaf so I could show you the silvery underside, which is what gives the tree its name. A story I’ve heard my whole life is how, when the wind blows and you see the silvery undersides of maple leaves, it means it’s going to rain.

But the clouds obviously haven’t heard the old story of the maple leaves because they haven’t hardly let go a drop of rain in weeks. They say that today and tomorrow we might finally see some rain and everyone seems willing to even give up their weekend outdoors to get it. I know I’ll be happy to see it.

If you reconnect with nature and the wilderness you will not only find the meaning of life, but you will experience what it means to be truly alive. ~Sylvia Dolson

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Since it had been about a year since my last visit and since I was interested in seeing what aquatic plants might be blooming, I decided to go up to Goose Pond last weekend. The pond is part of a five hundred acre wilderness area that isn’t that far from downtown Keene. Goose Pond was called Crystal Lake and / or Sylvan Lake in the early 1900s. The pond was artificially enlarged to 42 acres in 1865 so the town of Keene would have a water supply to fight fires with. Wooden pipe fed 48 hydrants by 1869, but the town stopped using the pond as a water supply in the 1930s, and in 1984 it was designated a wilderness area. The vast forest tract surrounding the pond has been left virtually untouched since the mid-1800s.

One of the first things I saw were these fungi growing on a fallen hemlock log and despite their odd shapes I believe they were hemlock varnish shelf fungi. Hemlock varnish shelf fungi (Ganoderma tsugae) can be quite big and their color can vary greatly but they’re almost always shiny on top, hence the “varnish” part of the common name. In China this mushroom is called the Reishi mushroom and it has been used medicinally for centuries. It is considered the most important of all the herbs and substances used in Chinese medicine and scientists from around the world are researching its anti-cancer potential.

I think we’ll have plenty of blackberries this year. I’ve never seen them bloom like they are now.

Beautiful blue flag irises (Iris versicolor) bloomed in the shallow water along the shore.

Unless you own a nursery or spend a good deal of time in the woods, there’s a good chance that you’ve never seen the seed leaves of an American beech tree (Fagus grandifolia.) Seed leaves are called cotyledons and appear before a plant’s true leaves. If the plant has 2 seed leaves it is called a dicot (dicotyledon), and if only one it is called a monocot (monocotyledon.) The cotyledons are part of the embryo within the seed and contain stored food that the young plant needs to grow. As the food stores are used up the cotyledons might either turn green and photosynthesize, or wither and fall off. That’s the quick botany lesson of the day. It’s hard to make it any more exciting.

What is exciting, at least for me, is how this was only the second time in my life that I’ve seen this, and since I’ve spent a lot of time in nurseries and forests I’m guessing this is a rare sight. Seed leaves, as anyone who has ever started vegetables or flowers from seed knows, often look nothing like the true leaves.  In the case of American beech they look more like flower petals than leaves and feel tough and leathery. If you know of a beech tree that produces nuts, take a look underneath it in the spring for seedlings that still have their seed leaves.

In places the trail is one person wide but generally two people can pass easily. If you come here you should wear good stout hiking boots because there are a lot of roots and stones and in places it gets muddy. I’ve had questions from people afraid of getting lost out here and I did on this day as well. A man asked about following the trail all the way around the pond and I pointed out that the trees were blazed with white rectangles. But even without the blazes I told him, if the pond is on your right side when you start make sure it stays there the whole way around, and don’t leave the main trail. That way you’ll never get lost. Even though the trail does leave the water’s edge in a couple of places you can still tell where the pond is. It sounds like common sense but I’ve caught myself wandering off the trail before, especially when looking for slime molds or fungi. You need to pay attention to the trail as well as what grows along it.

A large colony of hobblebushes (Viburnum lantanoides) had been eaten down to about a foot high by deer. They’re one of our most beautiful native viburnums but they’ll never bloom while being constantly pruned like these were. Deer have to eat though, so I don’t fault them for doing a little pruning. At least they aren’t pruning someone’s vegetable garden.

I think is the best shot I’ve ever gotten of the tiered and whorled growth habit of the Indian cucumber root (Medeola virginiana.) It’s a very pretty plant and I saw a lot of them here. Since I just described their flowers in my last post I won’t put you through that again.

Fringed sedge (Carex crinite) grew in wet spots along the trail, and sometimes right in the water. It’s a large sedge that grows in big, 2 foot tall clumps. I like its drooping habit and I’m not the only one, because it has become a popular garden plant. Many animals and waterfowl eat different parts of sedge plants, especially the seeds. Other names for this plant are drooping sedge and long-haired sedge.

I’m not prone to blisters thankfully, but all of the sudden I felt what felt like a painful blister on the bottom of one of my toes, so I thought I’d sit down for a bit. I’ve had bouts of back pain for most of my life so I know a little about how to get past pain. Watching dragonflies helped me get my mind off it and trying to photograph them put me in another place altogether. When I got home and saw the photos though I saw something else on the cattail leaf under the dragonfly, so I thought I’d try to figure out what it was.

The toe was still bothering me when I started out again but not as bad as it had been and it didn’t matter anyway because I was half way around the pond and the only other way out of here was by boat or helicopter.

The bridge in the previous photo is chained to a nearby tree and I’ve heard people laugh about how “they must think that someone will steal it,” but that isn’t it. The chain is there to keep it from washing away in flooding, which has happened. It’s amazing what our small streams can do after a few inches of rain has fallen.

Royal fern (Osmunda spectabilis) grew near the stream that the bridge crossed. This is the only fern that grows on every temperate continent except Australia, which makes it one of the most widespread of all living species. They are also thought to be one of the oldest living things, with fossil records of the Osmundaceae family dating back over 300 million years. Individual plants are thought to be able to live 100 years or more. They like wet feet and grow along stream and river banks in low, damp areas. Another name for this fern is “flowering fern,” because someone once thought that the purple, fertile, fruiting fronds looked like bunches of flowers.

At their early stage the spore cases of royal ferns are green but they soon turn a beautiful purple color, and that’s why the plant was named flowering fern.

I saw lots red trillium (Trillium erectum) seed pods, so I’m guessing there will be lots more of them in the future.

The flowers on our native viburnums like the maple leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) shown will almost always have five petals and the leaves, though quite different in shape throughout the viburnum family, are usually dull and not at all glossy. In fact I can’t think of one with shiny leaves. What I like most about this little shrub is how its leaves turn so many colors in fall. They can be pink, purple, red, yellow, and orange and combinations of two or three, and are really beautiful. Each flattish maple leaved viburnum flower head is made up of many small, quarter inch, not very showy white flowers, which were just starting to open here. If pollinated each flower will become a small deep purple berry (drupe) that birds love to eat. This small shrub doesn’t mind dry shade and that makes it a valuable addition to a native wildflower garden. The Native American Chippewa tribe used the inner bark of this plant to relieve stomach pains.

I sat beside the water again for a while to rest my toe and watch the dragonflies and saw another one of the husks on the same cattail leaf that the dragonfly was perched on, just like last time. I was fairly sure that I had seen this before and that was confirmed when I did some reading on the Dragonfly Woman’s blog. According to what I read I was seeing dragonflies not too long after they had emerged from the water. They crawl up a leaf or stick (with great effort) as nymphs and shed their exoskeletons, and that’s what the husks are. A part of metamorphosis is what I was seeing and I’m very grateful for having had the chance to see it. By the way, the Dragonfly Woman is a very knowledgeable lady. If you are at all interested in insects you can visit her here: https://thedragonflywoman.com/

A few years ago I found the only example of a northern club spur orchid (Platanthera clavellata v. Ophioglossoides) that I’ve ever seen here. On this day I found its single leaf, so I know it’s still alive and well. I hope to see it bloom again in late July. 

By the time I had made it to the odd stone that doesn’t belong here, my toe pain was gone. I’ve never been able to figure out what kind of rock this strange thing was made from but a lot of work went into making it square, with perfect 90 degree corners and very smooth faces. It’s about 5-6 inches on a side and dark colored like basalt, which makes it even more of an enigma. It’s too short to be a fence post but in the 1800s people didn’t spend hours of their time working on something like this for a lark, so it was used for something. How it ended up partially buried in the trail is a mystery. I’d love to be able to dig it up and see, but of course that isn’t possible. I wonder if it’s just the very top of a marker of some sort.

Or maybe the odd stone is the very top of a gravestone. People did live out here at one time, as evidenced by the stone walls that are found crisscrossing the landscape. In fact this entire forest was most likely pastureland in the 1800s, probably abandoned when the men went to work in the woolen mills, furniture, or shoe factories that had suddenly sprung up everywhere. They made more money in the mills for less strenuous work and many left farming altogether. Piling up all those stones and cutting down trees with an axe is hard work; I’ve done both and I hate to say it but I probably would have followed them to the mills.

As I was leaving this dragonfly flew toward me and landed right on the trail between my feet and stayed there, letting me take as many photos as I wanted. It had the same markings as those I had seen earlier on the cattail leaves, and I think it’s a calico pennant dragonfly (Celithemis elisa.) I also think it’s a male, but with my poor record of insect identification I wouldn’t bet the farm on it. Juvenile males look different than adults so it can be confusing, especially if you’re colorblind. In the end it really didn’t matter what its name was because it and others of its kind had taken me on a fascinating journey, and that was enough.

It is very important to go out alone, to sit under a tree—not with a book, not with a companion, but by yourself—and observe the falling of a leaf, hear the lapping of the water, the fishermen’s song, watch the flight of a bird, and of your own thoughts as they chase each other across the space of your mind. If you are able to be alone and watch these things, then you will discover extraordinary riches which no government can tax, no human agency can corrupt, and which can never be destroyed. ~ Jiddu Krishnamurti

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Rosy maple moths are cute with their blonde hair and candy striped wings. They appear at about this time each year and are easy to identify because there apparently aren’t too many others that look like them. They have a wooly yellow body and pink and creamy 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. We have lights on at night where I work and in the morning sometimes you might see twenty or more of these little creatures on the side of the building. They don’t seem to mind people at all but at a certain time of day they all disappear.

Fish are jumping right out of the water and this is why; the Mayflies are hatching. These aquatic insects have a very short lifespan. The males die after mating and females die after laying their eggs, but it all happens quickly; a male might live two days and a female a matter of minutes. The females lay their eggs in clean, fresh pond or lake water and when the eggs hatch into nymphs fish are there to eat them on the lake bottom. The nymphs that survive become more Mayflies and the fish jump to eat them, so it seems kind of a miracle that we ever see a Mayfly. It’s really all about numbers; a hatching can contain huge numbers of flies. They are also attracted to light and like the rosy maple moths, cling to lighted buildings at night. There are over 3,000 species of Mayfly so they can be tricky to identify, but they all have abdomens with 10 segments. Their presence in a body of water indicates that it is clean and unpolluted.

One of the strangest creatures I’ve seen on the shop building at work is this toothpick grasshopper. I knew it was a toothpick grasshopper because coincidentally I had just read about one on Mike Powell’s blog. I’m not sure what species it is; it could be a cattail toothpick grasshopper (Leptysma marginicollis) because of the brown stripe from behind the eye to the front legs or it could be another species. At this point the only thing I’m sure of is that it a toothpick grasshopper, which I’ve never seen.

Note: A helpful reader has written in to say that this insect is actually a caddisfly, order Trichoptera. I’ve never heard of either insect but hopefully I’ll recognize them next time!

Here’s a real close look at a toothpick grasshopper. I was surprised that it stayed still and let me get so close. By the way, if you aren’t reading Mike Powell’s blog and you’re a nature lover, you’re doing yourself a disservice. You can find Mike’s blog over in the ‘Favorite Links’ section. There is something new and interesting to see there each day.

I was going to get a photo of a box shrub flower to show you but then a bee came along and was willing to pose, so I forgot about the flower and tried to see what the bee was all about. As near as I can tell it’s a leafcutter bee, which uses leaves to cover its nest hole.

Leaf cutter bees are black with white hairs covering the thorax and the bottom of the abdomen and some species have large, powerful jaws that make the work of leaf cutting easier. They are said to fly very fast so I was lucky that this one was in the mood for a portrait sitting. From what I’ve read they  carry pollen on their abdomens, so they’re pollinators.

As I said in last Saturday’s post about climbing Pitcher Mountain, I was lucky enough to meet Samuel Jaffe, director of the Caterpillar Lab in Marlborough New Hampshire, in the woods one day. On that day he pointed out this caterpillar that looked like a bird dropping and explained that it was an Eastern tiger swallowtail caterpillar. It was feeding on poplar leaves. I should mention again that the Caterpillar Lab is a unique and fascinating place, and you can visit it online here: https://www.thecaterpillarlab.org/ They have a caterpillar of the day and lots of other interesting things there which I think would be especially appealing to schoolchildren.

Here is the Eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly that the caterpillar will turn into. I saw it before I saw the caterpillar so their different stages of life must be staggered a bit among the entire family. I’m seeing a lot of them this year.

As I seem to do every spring I came very close to stepping on this foot and a half long garter snake because I didn’t see it until the last moment. But it didn’t move; in fact it let me take a few photos and walk away, which these snakes often do. They seem to think if they don’t move you can’t see them, and they freeze. It’s a good thing my grandmother wasn’t with me because she would have been up the nearest tree, so great was her fear of snakes. She knew garter snakes weren’t poisonous, but she was still afraid of them.

Here’s a closer look at the garter snake. It saw my every move. It also looked like it might have had a bulge in its stomach, which would mean it had eaten recently.

I’ve been wanting a photo of a chipmunk with its cheeks full and this one sat on a tree and posed, so I got my wish. What might look like a big arm muscle just under its eye is actually a cheek full of seeds. These little rodents, bigger than a mouse but smaller than a squirrel, also eat nuts, fruit, fungi, grains and even bird eggs. They eat just about anything really, and nest in burrows in the ground. They store food for winter in underground chambers and stay underground until spring. In spring they’re usually very hungry, hence the fat cheeks. A face on shot would have showed them better but you can’t have everything.

It’s turtle time here in this part of New Hampshire and the big snapping turtles are on the move, looking for soft sand to dig their nests in. This one found a spot right on the edge of a road and that explains why they sometimes get hit by cars. Average adult snapping turtles can be over two feet long and weigh as much as 50 pounds and they can be very aggressive on land, so it’s best to stay away from them. They don’t have teeth but they have strong jaws and beaks that can easily break fingers. I took this photo of a large female laying her eggs just the other day. Snapping turtles dig rather shallow holes with their hind legs and lay anywhere from 25-80 eggs each year. Incubation time is 9-18 weeks but many eggs don’t make it anywhere near that long. Foxes, minks, skunks, crows and raccoons dig them up and eat them and destroyed nests are a common sight along sandy roadsides. These big turtles eat plants, fish, frogs, snakes, ducklings, and just about anything else they can catch. Oddly, when in the water they are rather placid and don’t bother humans.

I’ve had a few fungal encounters lately and one of the most interesting is the false morel mushroom.  I think it is called a brain fungus (Gyromitra esculenta,) which is a false morel that often grows very near true morels. This is a problem because false morels can be toxic and true morels are not, so if you are a mushroom forager you’ll want to know each one well. An easy way to tell them apart is by the way the cap attaches to the stem. The brain fungus cap attaches only at the top of the stem, and a morel’s cap attaches to the stem over its full length. Cutting one in half lengthwise will tell the story.

The brain fungus gets its common name from its reddish brown cap that resembles a brain. In my experience it really doesn’t resemble a true morel, either in color or shape, but I certainly haven’t met many morels.

I saw some striking turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor.) They aren’t usually this dark. I love how there always seems to be a surprise waiting with turkey tails. I’ve never seen them marked quite like this.

I’ve finally solved a mystery that has plagued me for years, and that was which maple seeds were from a silver maple and which were from a red maple. Of course there are no leaves in spring when the seeds are produced, so I had to remember to go back when the leaves came out. This year I finally remembered to go back and see the leaves. The leaves above are silver maple leaves. They have sharp points and are deeply lobed.

Now I can say with certainty that these pretty little maple seeds are produced by a silver maple. They quickly lose that white fur. To get a photo of them like this one you may have to visit them every day for a week.

This is a red maple leaf. The lobes aren’t as deep and the leaf looks completely different than a silver maple leaf.

And these are red maple seeds (samaras) just after they have formed. Pretty yes, but not as pretty as the silver maple examples, in my opinion. Now, next spring I’ll be able to tell you for sure which seeds are which.

The interrupted fern (Osmunda claytoniana) gets its common name from the way its green infertile leaflets are “interrupted” about half way up the stem by the darker colored fertile leaflets. The fertile leaflets are much smaller and their color makes them stand out even at a distance. This fern doesn’t seem to mind dry, sunny spots because that’s usually where I find them.

The leaflets on the interrupted fern’s fertile fronds are covered with tiny, round spore producing sporangia. They will release their spores by opening much like a clamshell, as this photo shows. Once the spores have been released the sporangia fall off, leaving a piece of naked (interrupted) stem between the upper and lower infertile leaflets. This is the first shot I’ve ever gotten of the open spore cases.

Grasses are starting to flower and I do hope you’ll have the time to look at a few, because they can be beautiful.

Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) leaves usually appear red in spring but I couldn’t seem to catch any red ones this year. Red leaves mean plants are in no hurry to begin photosynthesizing but some years they seem to want to start immediately. This is one of those years apparently, and it makes me wonder what they know that we don’t. Notice how the new spring leaves shine.

And then notice how they no longer shine as they age. Poison ivy plants can appear very different at different times and in different situations. This poison ivy was wearing its vine disguise, climbing a tree by using aerial roots which grow directly out of the wood of its stem when it needs them. Poison ivy can appear as a plant, a shrub, or a vine and if you’re going to spend much time in the woods it’s a good idea to know it well. This one still had last year’s white berries on it, just about in the center  of the photo. Birds usually snap them up quickly, so I’m not sure why they left them.

If you happened upon a shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) tree just after bud break you might see what look like large pinkish orange flowers on the trees and think gosh, what beautiful things. If you get closer you will see that the colors are on the insides of the bud scales of the shagbark hickory tree, and aren’t flowers at all. And then you might wonder why such beautiful colors would be on the inside of a bud where nobody could ever see them, and as you walk on you might find yourself lost in gratitude, so very thankful that you were able to see such a thing.

Live this life in wonder, in wonder of the beauty, the magic, the true magnificence that surrounds you. It is all so beautiful, so wonderful. Let yourself wonder. ~Avina Celeste

Thanks for stopping in. I’m sorry this post is so long but every time I turn around there is another interesting and beautiful thing there waiting to be seen, and I can’t stop clicking that shutter button.

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Over the Memorial Day holiday weekend I decided a climb was in order. We had beautiful weather in the morning but it was supposed to warm into the 80s F. in the afternoon, so as early as I could I left for Pitcher Mountain over in Stoddard. I had never climbed Pitcher Mountain that early in the day, so I was surprised to find that the sun was in my eyes the whole way up the trail. That’s why this shot of the trail is actually looking down, not up.

Hobblebushes (Viburnum lantanoides,) one of our most beautiful native shrubs, bloomed alongside the trail. Lower down in Keene they’re all done blooming and are making berries but up here it looked like they were just getting started.

I saw lots of violets along the trail too.

The paired leaves of striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) are already out.

One of my favorite stopping points along the trail is here at this meadow, which often houses Scottish highland cattle. I didn’t see any on this day but it was nice to have such a big, open space. When you live in the second most forested state in the country you don’t see many views like this one. It’s just you, the sky and the earth.

And dandelions. There were lots of them in the meadow.

Here is another view looking down the trail, but up looks much like it.

I saw lots of future strawberries along the trail.

And blueberries too. Pitcher Mountain is known for its blueberries and people come from all over to pick them.

The previous shot of the meadow that I showed was taken down the hill over on the right, so this shot is 90 degrees to it looking across the meadow. A little further out and down the hill a bit is the farm where the cattle live.

I’ve always thought that the cows had the best view of anybody. Last year, almost to the day, there was a big black bear right over there at the tree line. It looked me over pretty well but left me alone. I was the only one climbing that day but on this day I saw a few people, including children. I’m always happy to see them outside enjoying nature, and I spoke with most of them.

A chipmunk knew if stayed very quiet and still I wouldn’t see it.

John Burroughs said “To find new things, take the path you took yesterday” and of course he was right. I thought of him last year when I found spring beauties I had been walking by for years and then I thought of him again on this day, when I found sessile leaved bellwort growing right beside the trail I’ve hiked so many times. I’m always amazed by how much I miss, and that’s why I walk the same trails again and again. It’s the only way to truly know a place.

By coincidence I met Samuel Jaffe, director of the Caterpillar Lab in Marlborough New Hampshire, in the woods the other day. Of course he was looking for insects and I was looking for anything and everything, so we were able to talk a bit as we looked. He’s a nice guy who is extremely knowledgeable about insects and he even taught me a couple of things about poplar trees I didn’t know. I described this insect for him and he said it sounded like a sawfly, but of course he couldn’t be sure. I still haven’t been able to find it online so if you know I’d love to hear from you. (Actually, I’d love to hear from you whether you know or not.)

Samuel Jaffe was able to confirm that this tiny butterfly was a spring azure, just as a helpful reader had guessed a few posts ago. This butterfly rarely sits still but this one caught its breath on a beech leaf for all of three seconds so I had time for only one photo and this is it. It’s a poor shot and It really doesn’t do the beautiful blue color justice, but it’s easy to find online if you’re interested. By the way, The Caterpillar Lab is a unique and fascinating place, and you can visit it online here: https://www.thecaterpillarlab.org/ I don’t do Facebook but if you do you’re in for a treat!

I fear that the old ranger’s cabin is slowly being torn apart. Last year I noticed boards had been torn from the windows and on this climb I noticed that someone had torn one of the walls off the front porch. You can just see it over there on the right. At first I thought a bear might have broken in through the window because they do that sort of thing regularly, but I doubt a bear kicked that wall off the porch. What seems odd is how I could see that trail improvements had been done much of the way up here. You’d think the person repairing the road would have looked at the cabin, but apparently not.

I heard people talking in the fire tower but then I wondered if it might have been a two way radio that might have been left on. The tower is still manned when the fire danger is high and it has been high lately, so maybe there were people up there. I couldn’t see them through the windows though and I wasn’t going to knock on the door, so it’ll remain a mystery.

The view was hazy but not bad. It was getting hot fast but there was a nice breeze that kept the biting black flies away, so I couldn’t complain.

No matter how hot or dry it gets it seems like there is always water in the natural depression that I call the bird bath. I’ve watched birds bathing here before but I like to see the beautiful deep blue of the sky in it, so I was glad they had bathed before I came.

Dandelions bloomed at the base of the fire tower.

The white flowers of shadbushes (Amelanchier canadensis) could be seen all around the summit.

I looked over at what I call the near hill and wished once again that I had brought my topographical map.

The near hill is indeed the nearest but it isn’t that near. There it is to the right of center and this photo shows that it would be quite a hike.

The meadow below was green but the hills were blue and in the distance the hazy silhouette of Mount Monadnock was bluest of all. I sat for awhile with the mountain all to myself except for the voices in the tower, but then more families came so I hit the trail back down. As I left I could hear complaints about the new windmills in the distance, and how they spoiled the view. I haven’t shown them here but as you can see, not all the views were spoiled by windmills.

On the way up a little girl told me that she had found a “watermelon rock” and her grandfather had found a “flower rock.” She wondered why anyone would paint rocks and leave them there, and I told her that they were probably left there just to make her happy. Then I found a rock with a message that made me happy, so I’ll show it here.

It was such a spring day as breathes into a man an ineffable yearning, a painful sweetness, a longing that makes him stand motionless, looking at the leaves or grass, and fling out his arms to embrace he knows not what. ~ John Galsworthy

Thanks for stopping in. Be safe as well as kind.

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I’m seeing more butterflies these days. This one, which I think is a comma (Polygonia c-album,) landed on the path just in front of me one day. They winter over in leaf litter and on the undersides of logs so it would make sense that they would be one of the first to appear. I’ve also seen a few small blue butterflies, maybe half the size of this one, but I’ve yet to get one of them inside the camera. I hope I can show them to you because they’re a beautiful shade of blue.

I was weeding around some lilacs one day and all of the sudden this was there. From what I’ve seen online it appears to be a wireworm, which is a click beetle grub.  Click beetles get their name from the way they click when they try to turn over if they land on their backs. There are about 60 species of click beetles but only five are plant pests. The grubs feed on plant roots but from what I’ve read they don’t do any real damage. In this photo the grubs head is the darker area in the upper left. Not seen are three pairs of legs, just behind the head.

I had to turn a picnic table over one day to clean it prior to painting it, and when I did I found this egg mass from an unknown insect.

A closer look showed that the tiny eggs looked like hen’s eggs, and most had already hatched. There must have been over a hundred of them and they were so small I could hardly tell what they were without looking at the camera screen replay.

There are still plenty of acorns left from last fall’s crop so squirrels are fat and happy. They had a mild winter, too.

All the rain we’ve had has made for some high water in streams and ponds, but one of the streams that run through the property where I work was abnormally high, so we walked its banks to see if anything was damming it up.

It was easy to see what the problem was; beavers, but what you see here is quite rare because this is an eastern hemlock tree and beavers don’t usually eat them. I’ve never seen them eat all the bark off a tree and its roots like this either, of any species.

We kept following the stream until we came to their dam and then we started taking it apart. This photo shows the dam after we had dismantled about half of it. To do the whole dam took all afternoon and it was hard work. The beavers had woven in logs and branches as big as my leg and getting them out of the dam took quite a lot of effort but it had to be done. Dammed up streams flood fields, forests and even roads. In this case this stream flows under a road, so you can’t just ignore the fact that it isn’t flowing. Depending on the size of the beaver family they can build a dam in a day or two, so we expect we’ll be visiting this spot again before long. They don’t give up easily.

All the rain water made taking wave photos at the Ashuelot River a lot of fun. If you didn’t mind the roar, that is.

There seems to be a lot of water in this post but I can’t help that; I just take photos of whatever nature shows me. At one time I thought something like this was an oil slick or some other form of pollution but several helpful readers have commented over the years that it can also be caused naturally, by decomposing vegetation and other natural phenomena.

It’s always very colorful.

White baneberry (Actaea pachypoda) is an extremely toxic plant but I love the movement that its new spring shoots have. Every time I see them I think how nice it would be to sit beside them and draw them, but I never seem to find the time. They make me think of someone contemplating a handful of pearls, which of course are actually its flower buds. Soon it will have a club shaped head of small white flowers. Native Americans brewed a tea from the roots of this plant and used it medicinally to treat pain and other ailments, but no part of it should ever be ingested. In late summer it will have bright white berries with a single black dot that give the plant its common name of doll’s eyes. The berries especially are very toxic.

Hairy fiddleheads like these belong to either cinnamon fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) or interrupted fern (Osmundastrum claytoniana.) Since I know these ferns I know they’re interrupted ferns but normally I wouldn’t be able to tell unless I saw the spore bearing fronds. Both are beautiful right up until fall, when they turn pumpkin orange.

Lady fern fiddleheads (Athyrium filix-femina) are also up. Lady fern is the only fern I know of with brown / black scales on its stalk. This fern likes to grow in moist, loamy areas along streams and rivers. They don’t like windy places, so if you find a shaded dell where a grove of lady fern grows it’s safe to assume that it doesn’t ever get very windy there.

Greater celandine (Chelidonium majus) leaves stay green under the snow all winter and they also shed water. The plant is native to Europe and Asia but early settlers brought it with them to use medicinally, and it has found its way into all but 19 states in the U.S. Soon 4 petaled yellow flowers will appear. When I was a boy we stained our hands with the plant’s yellow sap and called it mustard. Thankfully we never ate it, because all parts of it are toxic.

This strange color belonged to the buds of a bitternut hickory tree (Carya cordiformis,) which is on the rare side here. It is said that the nuts from this tree are so bitter that even squirrels won’t eat them.

Here is the same bud in full sun, looking electric yellow. The wood is very flexible and Native Americans used it to make bows. Early settlers used the oil from the nuts in their oil lamps and to help with rheumatism.

I’ve never seen false hellebore (Veratrum viride) plants grow like they are this year. This spot usually has a few but this year there are hundreds of them.

False hellebore is a pretty thing but it is also one of the most toxic plants in the forest and if you forage for edible plants, you should know it well. In 2010 five campers in Alaska nearly died from eating its roots. Thanks to being airlifted by helicopter to a hospital they survived. There is another account of an entire family being poisoned by cooking and eating the leaves.

It’s amazing what a little sunlight can do for a maple bud…

…and new maple leaves as well.

Tiny new oak leaves were an almost impossible shade of green.

If there is just one thing I hope this posts shows it’s how beauty is all around us, and not just in the form of flowers. I love seeing flowers as much as the next person but when I see something like this beech bud unfurling I have to just stand and admire it for a while. And then I take far too many photos of it, trying to let you see what I saw. Beech bud break in spring is one of nature’s small miracles that will happen each day for the next couple of weeks. I hope everyone gets to witness it.

Art, music, the beauty of a leaf or flower; all can invite us to step outside of ourselves; to lose ourselves and walk a higher path, at least for a time. Art and music may be hard to access at the moment, but nature is always right there. Indescribable, endless beauty and deep, immense joy. These are what nature offers to those willing to receive them, and all it costs is a little time.

But you can’t dawdle too long because once those buds break it’s all about making leaves and it can happen quite fast. If you can’t get into the woods why not take a look at the trees in your own yard or neighborhood? You could be very surprised by what you find.

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

Thanks for stopping in. I’m hoping all of you moms out there have a very happy Mother’s Day tomorrow, and I hope you’ll have beautiful weather on your day.

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On Easter Sunday I went for a walk along the Ashuelot River in Keene. This trail, possibly used by Native Americans for thousands of years, is one of my favorites. 12 Native American historical sites have been found along the Ashuelot River, including the oldest known evidence of humans in New Hampshire dating back 10,500 years.  I’ve walked here for over 50 years and think I know it well, but I see new things each time I visit.

This day’s new thing were these strange orange buds on the shrubs that the river had swamped.

At least I thought they were buds; they’re actually the male catkins of the sweet gale (Myrica gale.) Sweet gale  is also called bog rosemary. It likes to grow on the banks of acidic lakes, bogs and streams. Touching the foliage releases a sweet, pleasant scent from its resinous leaves which have been used for centuries as a natural insect repellent. Though it is a native plant here it also grows native in Europe, where it is used as an ingredient in beer making in some countries. It is also used in an ointment used to treat sensitive skin and acne. I was hoping to see some of the scarlet female flowers but I think I was too early.  

The banks of the Ashuelot are lined with highbush blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum) and their buds had swollen to bursting, easy to see against the blue of the water. The highbush blueberry is a native plant that you can quite literally find just about anywhere in this part of the state.

The bud scales have opened and, though I didn’t see any leaves yet, I think it’s safe to say that bud break has happened among the blueberries.

Bud break is defined as “when the green tip of a leaf can be seen emerging from the bud,” and these new cherry leaves more than fit that description. You can see how the bud scales have curled and peeled back to release the new growth within.

The stamens of male box elder flowers (Acer negundo) hang down from the buds on long filaments and sway in the breeze. Box elder is in the maple family but its wood is soft when compared to other maples. Several Native American tribes made syrup from its sap and the earliest example of  a Native American flute, dating from 620-670 AD, was made from its wood, so it seems appropriate that the trees would grow here along the river.

I saw two turtles on a log but my camera doesn’t have enough reach for anything better than this. As soon as I hit the trail the sun went behind a cloud and stayed there the whole time, so the turtles were gone when I returned. Of course as soon as I left the trail the sun came back out.

The trail through these woods isn’t that far from where the railroad repair depot used to be in Keene, and the trail is black because it was “paved” with the unburned slag from the big steam locomotive fireboxes.

This slag is usually called “clinkers” or “clinker ash” and it is made up of pieces of fused ash and sulfur which often built-up over time in a hot coal fire. Firebox temperature reached 2000 to 2300 degrees F. in a steam locomotive but they still didn’t burn the coal completely. A long tool called a fire hook was used to pull the clinkers out of the firebox and in Keene we must have had tons of the stuff, because it was used as ballast on many local railroad beds. The section that ran by my house was as black as coal and I learned at a very young age not to walk barefoot on it. Those clinkers are sharp.

When a spring beech bud (Fagus grandifolia) grows longer and starts to curl like a rainbow it is getting ready to open. The buds I saw this day have a while to go but you can see the curl starting. The curling begins when the sun shining on one side of the bud causes the cells on that side of the bud to grow faster than those on the other, shaded side. This causes tension in the bud, making it curl first and eventually making it tear open its bud scales, releasing the new growth within. When beech buds break the new growth looks like downy, silvery angel wings for just a very short time. It’s one of the most beautiful things in the forest and well worth watching for.

The roots of this young beech caught my eye.

And the thorns of this multiflora rose caught my clothes. Invasive multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora) originally came from China to be used as an ornamental and as the old story goes, almost immediately escaped and started to spread rapidly. It grows over the tops of shrubs and smothers them by using all the available sunshine. I’ve even seen it reach thirty feet into trees. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it was imported more for its scent than any other reason, because to smell it is like smelling a bit of heaven on earth.

The hips of a multiflora rose are about the size of a pea, so that should tell you something about the size of that spider.

The fuzzy white buds of shadbush (Amelanchier canadensis) were seen here and there along the banks of the river. Shadbushes originally got their name from the way they bloomed when the shad fish were running upriver to spawn, including here in the Ashuelot. Another name, Juneberry, refers to when its fruit ripens. The fruit is said to resemble a blueberry in taste, with a hint of almond from the seeds. Shadbush wood is brown, hard, close-grained, and heavy. It can also be very straight, and Native Americans used it for arrow shafts. Shadbush makes an excellent garden shrub or small tree and is easily found in nurseries. It grows naturally at the edge of forests and along waterways.

The bark peeled off an old dead birch and revealed a bright orange fungus.

I thought I’d found something on a tree that I had been looking for for a very long time; an asterisk lichen (Arthonia radiata.)

But it was a common script lichen (Graphis scripta.) it is also called the secret writing lichen, for obvious reasons. I’ve never been able to decipher their meaning but I enjoy seeing them.

One of the reasons I wanted to come out here was to see if the trout lilies that live here were blooming. They weren’t but the plants looked very robust and healthier than those I’ve seen in other places. I have a feeling this colony will be beautiful when they all are in bloom.

This trout lily leaf came up through one of last year’s leaves so it couldn’t unfurl. Which leaf will win, I wondered.

The trout lilies grow by the little red bridge, which is my turnaround spot.

In July you can step over what is little more than a trickle in this spot and I’ve always wondered why they even put a bridge here, but on this day it was like someone had made a wide path of black marble for it to cross. This stream and many others empty into the Asuelot River, and that might be why the name means “collection of many waters” in Native American language.

Well, I didn’t see many flowers but I did see a lot of other things that brought me closer to spring; especially the swelling buds of many trees. I hope all of you are able to get outside and find a bit of spring for yourself and I hope you’ll be able to be able to stay safe while doing so.

If you have a river, then you should share it with everyone. Chen Guangbiao

Thanks for stopping in.

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In the spring walking along Beaver Brook in Keene is one of my favorite things to do because there are so many interesting and rare plants growing there. Last Sunday was a beautiful spring day of warm temps and a mix of sun and clouds, so off I went to see what was growing.

The walk is an easy one on the old abandoned road that follows alongside the brook. Slightly uphill but as trails go it’s really no work at all.

One of the reasons I like to come here is because I can see things here that I can’t find anywhere else, like this plantain leaved sedge (Carex plantaginea.) This is the only place that I’ve ever seen it. It should be blooming before the trees leaf out sometime in mid-April, and I’ll be here to see it.

The flower stalks (culms) on plantain leaved sedge are about 4 inches tall and when they bloom they’ll have wispy, white female (pistillate) flowers below the terminal male (staminate) flowers. Sedge flowers are actually called spikelets and the stems that bear them are triangular, hence the old saying “sedges have edges.” I can’t speak for the rarity of this plant but this is the only one I’ve ever seen and it isn’t listed in the book Grasses: An Identification Guide, by Lauren Brown. I’ve read that it likes cool shady places where the humidity is relatively high.

The sedge grows on a stone that’s covered by delicate fern moss (Thuidium delicatulum,) which is a very pretty moss. I like how it changes color to lime green in cold weather. Because I’m colorblind it often looks orange to me and an orange moss commands attention.

I knew that red trilliums (Trillium erectum) grew near the plantain leaved sedge but I didn’t expect to see any on this day. But there they were, and already budded, so they’re going to bloom maybe just a little early, I’d guess. They usually bloom in mid to late April. They are one of our largest and most beautiful native wildflowers and are also called purple trillium, wake robin, and stinking Benjamin because of their less than heavenly scent.

Bud break is one of the most exciting times in a forest in my opinion, and one of the earliest trees to open their bud scales so the buds can grow is striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum.) The large velvety buds of striped maple in shades of pink and orange are very beautiful and worth looking for. Bud break can go on for quite some time among various species; striped and sugar maples follow cherry, and birch and beech will follow them, and shagbark hickory will follow birch and beech. Oaks are usually one of the last to show leaves. That’s just a small sampling that doesn’t include shrubs like lilac and forest floor plants that also have beautiful buds breaking.

This is how striped maple comes by its common name. Striped maple bark is often dark enough to be almost black, especially on its branches. This tree never seems to get very big so it isn’t used much for lumber like other maples. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one bigger than my wrist, and even that might be stretching it. It could be that it stays small because it usually gets very little direct sunlight. The green / white stripes on its bark allow it to photosynthesize in early spring before other trees leaf out but it’s still the most shade tolerant of all the maples, and in the shade is usually where it’s found. It is said that Native Americans made arrow shafts from its straight grained wood.

I found a mountain maple (Acer spicatum) growing here a few years ago and realized on this day that I had never paid attention to its buds. I was surprised how even though I’m colorblind I could see how bright red the bud scales were. And then the bud is orange. I can’t think of another tree that has such a splashy color scheme. Something else unique is how all other maple trees have flowers that hang down but mountain maple’s flower clusters stand upright, above the leaves. At a glance the big leaves look much like striped maple leaves. The shrub like tree is a good indicator of moist soil which leans toward the alkaline side of neutral. Native Americans made an infusion of the pith of the young twigs to use as eye drops to soothe eyes irritated by campfire smoke, and the large leaves were packed around apples and root crops to help preserve them.

Someday I’ve got to poke around more in this old boulder fall, because there are some quite rare plants growing among the stones. I believe a lot of these stones are lime rich, due to the plants that grow among them.

One beautiful thing that grows on the tumbled stones of the boulder fall is rose moss (Rhodobryum roseum.) Each little rosette of leaves looks like a tiny flower, and that’s how it comes by its common name. Rose moss is a good indicator of limestone in the soil so it’s wise to look for other lime loving plants in the area when it is found. This is a relatively rare moss in my experience; this is the only place I’ve ever found it.

The two toned buds of Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum) are poking up everywhere now. This is a fast growing plant once it gets started and it won’t be long before it blooms. Native Americans sprinkled the dried powdered roots of this plant on hot stones and inhaled the smoke to alleviate headaches. All parts of the plant except the roots and young shoots are poisonous, but Native Americans knew how to prepare them correctly. Sometimes the preparation method is what makes a plant medically useful.

One of my favorite things to see here is the disappearing stream on the other side of the brook. It runs when we’ve had rain and disappears when we don’t, but the beautiful mossy stones are always there. You can’t see it here but there was still ice up in there in places.

Another reason I wanted to come here on this day was to witness the buds breaking on the red elderberries (Sambucus racemosa) that grow here. They are handsome at this stage but the whitish, cone shaped flowers that will follow are not very showy. The leaves, bark and roots are toxic enough to make you sick, so this shrub shouldn’t be confused with common elderberry (Sambucus nigra) which is the shrub that elderberry wine comes from.

The spring leaves of the red elderberry  look like fingers as they pull themselves from the flower bud and straighten up. Bud break comes very early on this native shrub. The purplish green flower buds will become greenish white flowers soon, and they’ll be followed by bright red berries that birds snap right up. The berries are said to be edible if correctly cooked but since the rest of the plant is toxic I think I’ll pass. Some Native Americans used the hollow stems to make toys. According to the U.S. Forest Service the Alaskan Dena’ina tribe made popguns from the hollow stems, using a shelf fungus (Polyporus betulinus) for ammunition. The Kwakiutl tribe of British Columbia made toy blowguns from red elderberry stems.

I was surprised to find wood sorrel (Oxalis montana) leaves. This plant is a ground hugger, easily hidden by any plant that is ankle high or more, so I have to hunt for it and though I can’t say if it is rare here, I rarely see it. Each time I find it it’s growing near water, and the above example grows in a wet area by the brook. It’s considered a climax species, which are plants that grow in mature forests, so that may be why I don’t often see it. It likes to grow where it’s cool and moist with high humidity. Though the word Montana appears in its scientific name it doesn’t grow there. In fact it doesn’t grow in any state west of the Mississippi River. It’s a pretty little thing that reminds me of spring beauties (Claytonia virginica,) thought its flowers are larger. This is the first time I’ve noticed the hairs on its leaves.

I wasn’t sure if these were early spring mushrooms or if they were leftovers from last fall. Little brown mushrooms, or LBMs as mycologists call them, can be very hard to identify even for those more experienced than I, so they always go into my too hard basket. There just isn’t enough time to try to figure them all out.

It looks like people are geocaching again. I used to find them here quite often, though I never looked for them. According to Wikipedia “Geocaching is an outdoor recreational activity, in which participants use a Global Positioning System receiver or mobile device and other navigational techniques to hide and seek containers, called “geocaches” or “caches”, at specific locations marked by coordinates all over the world.” Someone tried to put this one under a golden birch but it wasn’t hidden very well.

I hoped to see some fern fiddleheads while I was here but I had no luck. I did see some polypody ferns though. Polypody fern spores grow on the undersides of the leaves in tiny mounds called sori, which are made up of clusters of sporangia (receptacles in which spores are formed) and are naked, meaning they lack the protective cap (indusium) that is found on many ferns. Once they ripen they are very pretty and look like tiny baskets of yellow and orange flowers but these had gone past ripened and in fact most had fallen off the leaf, leaving a tiny indentation behind.

We’ve had enough rain to get Beaver Brook Falls roaring. I toyed with the idea of going down to the brook to get a face on view of them but I’m getting a little creaky in the knees and you slide more than walk down the steep embankment, and then you have to nearly crawl back up again on your hands and knees. Since I was the only one here I didn’t think any of that was a good idea, so a side view is all we get.

In the right light the spore producing fruiting bodies (Apothecia) of smoky eye boulder lichens (Porpidia albocaerulescens) turn a beautiful blue. It happens because of a light reflecting, thin coating of wax that covers each one. In different light they can appear black, gray or whitish but in the special light found here they glow different shades of blue and are as beautiful as jewels on the golden colored ledge they grow on. Beaver Brook is one of only two places I’ve ever seen them this beautiful, and they’re just one of many beautiful reasons I love to spend time here.

We do not want merely to see beauty… we want something else which can hardly be put into words- to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it. ~C.S. Lewis

At Beaver Brook I did indeed bathe in beauty. Thanks for stopping in, and take care.

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