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Posts Tagged ‘Alder Tongue Gall’

Last Saturday it rained and Sunday the forecast was for 40 mile per hour wind gusts, so I decided to stay out of the woods and play instead along the banks of the Ashuelot river. I’ve seen a lot of blown down trees this year and it doesn’t take much to bring them down when the ground is saturated. And saturated it must be because all the snow has melted and the river is approaching bank-full.

Downstream from the bridge I stood on it was choppy.

I stopped trying to get a good wave photo in the dim light and admired an aster seed head instead.

The remnants of a bird’s nest hung from the branches of a small oak. I was surprised at the length of the fibers it was woven with. They must have been nearly a foot long. I saw an eastern phoebe nesting here in the past but I can’t say it that was a phoebe that built this nest.

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

Birds are gobbling the berries of the invasive burning bush (Euonymus alatus) which isn’t a good thing, because this shrub doesn’t need any help in its mission to take over the understory. Since its introduction from Asia as an ornamental in 1860, Winged euonymus has spread as far south as the gulf coast, north into Canada, and as far west as Illinois. It creates such a dense shade nothing else can get a start, so our native plants won’t grow near it. Because of that burning bushes can create monocultures of hundreds or even thousands of plants, and that is what has happened along this stretch of river.

One of the curious things I saw on this walk was what I think was a hemispherical insect egg case attached to a tree.  It had a single hole in it where either the insect had escaped or a bird had pecked the larva out of it. It was hollow and had opened somehow and fallen away from the tree, and I could see that the inside was pure white.

I carefully closed the egg case (?) against the tree and this is what it looked like. The white spot is the hole in it showing the white inside. It was only about a half inch across and I don’t know what made it.

It was a mostly cloudy day but the sun was kind enough to come out long enough to illuminate a beautiful patch of snowy moss that was in front of me.

There is a trail here that follows a narrow spit of land that juts out into the river. I suppose you’d call it a peninsula. It’s wooded and though I told myself I had to stay out of the woods I couldn’t resist.

A little spruce tree reminded me that Christmas is near. It’s unusual to find a spruce growing here.

Barberry berries looked like tiny Christmas ornaments but barberry is extremely invasive so I’d rather not see it here. Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) is native to Japan. In 1875 seeds imported from Russia were planted at the Arnold Arboretum in Boston, Massachusetts. Birds helped it escape and now it has become a very invasive shrub that forms dense thickets and chokes out native plants. According to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, recently “barberry has been implicated in the spread of Lyme disease. Researchers have noted higher densities of adult deer ticks and white-footed deer mice under barberry than under native shrubs. Deer mice, the larval host, have higher levels of larval tick infestation and more of the adult ticks are infected with Lyme disease. When barberry is controlled, fewer mice and ticks are present and infection rates drop.”

Japanese barberry has inner bark that is bright yellow. It also has thorns that are a son of a gun to kneel on.

This is the first gall I’ve ever seen on a silky dogwood shrub. I haven’t been able to identify the insect that made it but it doesn’t matter because galls don’t usually harm the plants they grow on.

There are many witch hazels (Hamamelis virginiana) on the peninsula and I like to come out here in winter to see their beautiful brown leaves.

Beavers like witch hazels too, and treat them as we would a garden vegetable. Over the years, due to the cropping by the beavers, I’ve seen the witch hazels here grow into many stemmed shrubs. The beavers come and harvest a few; never all of them, and then leave them alone for a few years to grow back. Then they repeat the process, all up and down the river. It’s so good to have beavers here, because when I was a boy this river was so polluted few animals frequented it. Muskrats, I think were the largest animal using the river then. I can’t remember ever seeing a single sign of beavers.

Witch hazel seed pods explode with force and can throw the seeds as far as 30 feet. I’ve read that you can hear them pop when they open and even though I keep trying to be there at the right time to see and hear it happening, I never have been.

Bark beetles usually attack weak or dying trees but they can also kill healthy trees by girdling them.  Adults bore small holes in the bark and lay eggs in a cavity. Once the larvae emerge from the eggs they make tunnels in the inner bark. Once they stop feeding they will pupate at the end of these tunnels. The pupae then become young adults and fly off to find another tree. These beetles carry spores of various fungi which can grow on the outer sapwood and stop the upward flow of water to the crown. Bark Beetles include over 100 species. It is said that their work is like a fingerprint for the species. They can create such beautiful patterns in wood that it looks as if a calligrapher has taken up a chisel instead of a pen. When I think of things like this, created under the bark of a limb and never meant for me to see, that’s when I feel an almost overwhelming sense of gratitude, just for being alive and able to see beauty like this every day.

Bark beetles excavate egg galleries in fresh phloem, the inner bark which carries food from leaves to the roots of a tree. For a living tree this is a death sentence.  

The peninsula I was on gets narrower and narrower until it becomes just a point jutting out into the river, but on this day the water was so high I knew I’d never reach the end.

In fact the end of the peninsula was under water and this was a scary scene that I’ve never seen before. I’m guessing the peninsula is going to be a hundred or so yards shorter from now on.

On my way back up the trail I tripped over a pine branch and fell to my knees right on some Japanese barberry thorns. Once I stopped cursing my bad luck I saw that in fact I’d had good luck, because I saw a little pink, brain like jelly fungus that I’ve never seen before growing on the branch I had tripped over. Now I just have to see if I can identify it. So far I haven’t had much luck doing so. It’s very unusual, and cute too. It was a little over a quarter inch long.

There is no music like a little river’s . . . It takes the mind out-of-doors . . . and . . . it quiets a man down like saying his prayers. ~Robert Louis Stevenson

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So many more of the smaller things become visible when the leaves fall, like the tongue gall on these  alder cones (strobiles.) These long, tongue like galls are caused by a fungus called Taphrina alni. The fungus chemically deforms part of the ovarian tissue of the developing strobile and causes long, strap shaped galls called languets to grow from them. These galls, like most galls, don’t seem to bring any harm to their host.  I wish I knew how they benefit from growing in such unusual forms.

I didn’t know if this ladybug was dead or alive or maybe frozen, but it wasn’t moving. And where were its spots? The answer is, it doesn’t have spots because it isn’t our native ladybug; it’s a female multicolored Asian ladybug. From what I’ve read it is highly variable in color and was purposely introduced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a biological control agent. It is a tree bark dwelling beetle that consumes large amounts of aphids and scale, both of which do large amounts of damage to crops. They’re slightly larger than our native beetles and can drive homeowners crazy by collecting on windowsills, in attics, and even indoors in the spring. They can release a foul smelling defensive chemical which some are said to be allergic to.

We’ve had more snow in parts of the state. It’s very odd to leave my yard at my house that has no snow in it and drive to work where I see snow like this. It’s only a distance of about 25 miles, but it’s enough of an elevation change to cause cooler temperatures. It really drives home what a difference just a few degrees can make.

I thought this beech tree was beautiful, with its Christmas ornament like leaves.

And what was that poking up out of the snow?

It was a fallen limb which was covered by what I think was orange crust fungus (Stereum complicatum,) which is very common here. I see large fallen limbs almost completely covered by it. Though this isn’t a very good shot of it the color is so bright sometimes it’s like a beacon in the snowy landscape. The complicatum part of its scientific name means “folded back on itself”  and that is often just what it does.

Amber jelly fungus (Exidia recisa) grew on the same branch the orange crust fungus grew on. I like holding these up so the light can shine through them because sometimes they look like stained glass. Being in the snow meant these examples had absorbed plenty of water so they were pliable and rubbery, like your ear lobe. I see this fungus everywhere, especially on fallen oak limbs but also on alder and poplar as well.

I decided to visit a grove of witch hazels (Hamamelis virginiana) that I know of to see if they were still blooming. Blooming or not, they were beautiful with all of the newly fallen snow decorating them.

And they were still blooming, even in the snow. This tells me that it must be the air temperature that coaxes them into bloom because it was about 40 degrees this day.

I know it’s far too early to be looking at buds for signs of spring but red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) buds are so pretty I couldn’t help myself. I’ve known people who thought that buds grew in spring when it warmed up, but most buds actually form in the fall and wait  for warm weather to swell up and break and form leaves and / or flowers. These buds should break in mid-May, if it’s warm enough.

I’ve seen some unusual lichens lately, like this grayish white example which had the same color apothecia (fruiting bodies) as the body (Thallus.)  This made them hard to see and I only saw them by accident when I got close to look at something else.

I wish I knew what caused the colors in a lichen. As far as we know they don’t use color to attract insects but many of them are brightly colored nevertheless. I have seen teeth marks in lichens so I’m fairly sure squirrels eat them and I know for sure that reindeer eat them, but I don’t know if this helps them spread or not. I also don’t know the identity of this lichen. I haven’t been able to find it in any of my lichen books or online.

Here’s another unusual lichen; actually two lichens separated by the nearly horizontal crack between them. The lichen on top might be a bumpy rim lichen (Lecanora hybocarpa,) which gets its name from its bumpy body (Thallus) and the rims around its apothecia.  The lichen below the crack has me baffled. It has a fringe around its perimeter that makes it look like a maple dust lichen but I can’t find any reference to apothecia on a maple dust lichen. It’s another mystery to add to the thousands of others I’ve collected.

Here is a true maple dust lichen (Lecanora thysanophora.) Note the white fringe around its outer edge, much like the lichen in the previous photo.  But unlike the previous lichen it has no visible fruiting bodies.

If you have ever tasted gin then you’ve tasted juniper berries, because that’s where gin’s flavor comes from. The unripe green berries are used for gin and the ripe, deep purple black berries seen here are ground to be used as a spice for game like deer and bear. The berries are actually fleshy seed cones and they appear blue because of a waxy coating that reflects the light in such a way as to make them appear blue. The first recorded usage of juniper berries appears on an Egyptian papyrus from 1500 BC. Egyptians used the fruit of junipers medicinally and Native Americans used them both as food and medicine. Stomach disorders, infections and arthritis were among the ailments treated.

Gray, furry willow pine cone galls appear on the very tips of willow branches, because that’s where a midge called Rabdophaga strobiloides lays its egg. Once the eggs hatch the larvae burrow into the branch tip and the willow reacts by forming a gall around them. These galls are about as big as the tip of your thumb and do not harm the plant.

A woodpecker, chickadee, or other bird started pecking at this goldenrod gall to get at the gall fly larva (Eurosta solidaginis) that is growing inside the gall. These galls have thick walls that discourage parasitic wasps like Eurytoma gigantean from laying its eggs inside the larval chamber. If successful the wasp larva quickly eat the gall fly larva. If the bird is successful then everything inside will be eaten.

We’re certainly having some beautiful sunrises lately, probably because of the low cloud deck we seem to have almost every morning.

And those low clouds can hide things, including mountains. Off to the left in this photo is the huge bulk of Mount Monadnock behind the clouds. It’s too bad it was hidden; the bright morning sunshine on its snowy flanks tells me it probably would have been a beautiful scene.

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

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Back a few years ago I had the luxury of working from home, telecommuting in a way. At times it could get slightly monotonous so to break up the monotony I took a walk at lunch time each day. Of course I had a camera with me and many of the photos I took on those lunchtime walks appeared here on this blog. The above photo shows the road I walked on, what we always called the “dirt road,” because it was a dirt road for many years until the town came along and paved it.

To the right of the road is a small pond where Canada geese used to swim but now it is home mostly to frogs, snapping turtles, and muskrats.

The muskrats eat the cattail roots. The snapping turtles eat the frogs, and the frogs eat up a lot of mosquitoes, for which I am very grateful. I’m looking forward to hearing the spring peepers start singing again in March.

To the left of the road is a large alder swamp where in the spring red wing blackbirds by the many hundreds live. They don’t like people near their nesting sites and when I walked by here they always let me know how disappointed they were with my walking habits. Just out there in the middle of the swamp was an old dead white pine I used to call it the heron tree, because great blue herons used to sit in its branches. Since it fell I haven’t seen as many herons fishing here.

The alders were heavy with dangling catkins, which in this case are the shrub’s male (Staminate) flowers. I believe that most of the alders here are speckled alders (Alnus incana) but I can’t get close enough to most of them to find out, because this swamp never freezes entirely.

The beautiful alder catkins, each packed with hundreds of male flowers, will open usually around the last week in March to the first week of April. When the brownish purple scales on short stalks open they’ll reveal the golden pollen, and for a short time it will look as if someone has hung jewels of purple and gold on all the bushes. That’s the signal I use to start looking for the tiny crimson female (Pistillate) flowers, which will appear in time to receive the wind born pollen. They are among the smallest flowers I know of and they can be hard to see.

The female alder flowers become the hard little cones called strobiles which I think most of us are probably familiar with.  These strobiles have tongue gall, which is caused by a fungus called Taphrina alni. The fungus chemically deforms parts of the ovarian tissue of the developing cone and causes long, tongue like galls called languets to grow from them. I’m guessing that the fungus benefits from these long tongues by getting its spore bearing surfaces out into the wind. They don’t seem to hurt the alder any. In fact most galls don’t harm their hosts.

Medieval writers thought witch’s brooms were a bewitched bundle of twigs and called them Hexenbesen, but witch’s brooms are simply a plant deformity; a dense cluster of branches caused by usually a fungus but sometimes by a parasitic plant like mistletoe. Witch’s broom can sometimes be desirable; the Montgomery dwarf blue spruce came originally from a witch’s broom. This example is on an old dead white pine (Pinus strobus) and is the only one I’ve ever seen on pine.

A colorful bracket fungus grew on a fallen log. Or maybe I should say that it was frozen to it, because it was rock hard. My mushroom book says that this fungus can appear at all times of year though, so it must be used to the cold. It’s described as hairy with ochre to bright rust yellow and rust brown banding and if I’ve identified it correctly it’s called the mustard yellow polypore (Phellinus gilvus.) That’s an odd name considering that it has very little yellow in it but even the photo in the book shows only a thin band of yellow.

This bracket fungus was very thin and woody and grew in several examples around the perimeter of a fallen tree. I think it’s probably the thin maze polypore (Daedaleopsis confragosa,) which is fairly common.

This photo is of the maze-like underside of the thin maze polypore. This is a great example of how some mushrooms increase their spore bearing surfaces. When fresh the surface is pale gray and turns red when bruised. This fungus causes white rot in trees.

Despite having more cold days than warm days the sun is doing its work and melting the snow in places with a southerly exposure. Our average temperature in February here in southern New Hampshire is 35 degrees F. so try as it might, winter can’t win now. It can still throw some terrible weather at us though; the average snowfall amount is 18 inches but I’ve seen that much fall in a single February storm before. We are supposed to see 10-12 inches later today, in fact.

The reason the area in the previous photo is so clear of growth is because a large stand of bracken fern grows (Pteridium aquilinum) there. Bracken fern releases release chemicals that inhibit the growth of other plants and that’s why this fern grows in large colonies where no other plants or trees are seen. Bracken is one of the oldest ferns, with fossil records dating it to over 55 million years old. Though they usually grow knee high I’ve seen some that were chest high.

Down the road a ways a large colony of American wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) grows. Since this was the first plant I learned to identify I’m always happy to see it. It is also called teaberry or checkerberry and those who have ever tasted Clark’s Teaberry Gum know its flavor well. Oil of wintergreen has been used medicinally for centuries and it is still used in mouthwash, toothpaste, and pain relievers. Native Americans carried the leaves on hunts and nibbled on them to help them breathe easier when running or carrying game. The leaves make a pleasant minty tea but the plant contains compounds similar to those found in aspirin, so anyone allergic to aspirin shouldn’t use this plant.

Common speedwell (Veronica officinalis) has also been used medicinally for centuries in Europe and its leaves were used as a tea substitute there. Though it isn’t really invasive it is considered an agricultural weed. It forms mat like growths like that seen in the above photo but sends up vertical flower stalks in May. Each flower stalk (Raceme) has many very small blue flowers streaked with dark purple lines. They are beautiful little things, but they aren’t easy to photograph.

Yet another plant found in large colonies along the road is yarrow (Achillea milefolium.) Yarrow has been used medicinally since the dawn of time, and bunches of the dried herb have been  found in Neanderthal graves. It is one of the nine holy herbs  and was traded throughout the world, and that’s probably the reason it is found in nearly every country on earth. I’ve never looked closely at its seed heads before. I was surprised to see that they look nothing like the flowers. If it wasn’t for the scent and the few dried leaves clinging to the stem I’m not sure I would have known it was yarrow.

In one spot a small stream passes under the road. Strangely, on this side of the road it was frozen over…

…while on this side of the road it was ice free. That shows what a little persistent sun or shade can do at this time of year.

This is the tree that first got me wondering why some Eastern Hemlocks (Tsuga canadensis) had red on their bark when most didn’t. I’ve never been able to answer that question so I don’t know if it’s caused by algae, or is some type of loosely knitted lichen, or if it is simply the way the tree’s genes lean.

My lunchtime walk sometimes found me sitting in the cool forest on an old fallen hemlock tree, with this as my view. Just over the rise, a short way through the forest, is a stream that feeds into the swamp we saw previously. This is a cool place on a hot summer day and one that I used frequently. Sometimes it was hard to go back to work but you need discipline when you work from home and I always made it back in time. It was fun taking this walk again for this post. So many good memories!

The walks met a need: they were a release from the tightly regulated mental environment of work, and once I discovered them as therapy they became the normal thing, and I forgot what life had been like before I started walking.  ~ Teju Cole

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I’m not seeing many now, possibly because the nights are getting cooler, but I was seeing at least one monarch butterfly each day for quite a while. That might not seem like many but I haven’t seen any over the last couple of years so seeing them every day was a very noticeable and welcome change.

For the newcomers to this blog; these “things I’ve seen posts” contain photos of things I’ve seen which, for one reason or another, didn’t fit into other posts. They are usually recent photos but sometimes they might have been taken a few weeks ago, like the butterflies in this post. In any event they, like any other post seen here, are simply a record of what nature has been up to in this part of the world.

After a rest the knapweeds started blooming again and clouded sulfur butterflies (I think) were all over them. I’ve seen a lot of them this year. They always seem to come later in summer and into fall and I still see them on warm days.

This clouded sulfur had a white friend that I haven’t been able to identify. I think this is only the second time I’ve had 2 butterflies pose for the same photo.

I saw lots of painted ladies on zinnias this year; enough so I think I might plant some next year. I like the beautiful stained glass look of the undersides of its wings.

The upper surface of a painted lady’s wings look very different. This one was kind enough to land just in front of me in the gravel of a trail that I was following.

A great blue heron stood motionless on a rock in a pond, presumably stunned by the beauty that surrounded it. It was one of those that likes to pretend it’s a statue, so I didn’t wait around for what would probably be the very slow unfolding of the next part of the story.

Three painted turtles all wanted the same spot at the top of a log in the river. They seem to like this log, because every time I walk by it there are turtles on it.

Three ducks dozed and didn’t seem to care who was where on their log in the river.

Ducks and turtles weren’t the only things on logs. Scaly pholiota mushrooms (Pholiota squarrosa) covered a large part of this one. This mushroom is common and looks like the edible honey mushroom at times, but it is not edible and is considered poisonous. They are said to smell like lemon, garlic, radish, onion or skunk, but I keep forgetting to smell them. They are said to taste like radishes by those unfortunate few who have tasted them.

There are so many coral mushrooms that look alike they can be hard to identify, but I think this one might have been yellow tipped coral (Ramaria formosa.) Though you can’t see them in this photo its stems are quite thick and stout and always remind me of broccoli. Some of these corals get quite big and they often form colonies. This one was about as big as a cantaloupe and grew in a colony of about 8-10 examples, growing in a large circle.

Comb tooth fungus (Hericium ramosum) grows on well-rotted logs of deciduous trees like maple, beech, birch and oak. It is on the large side; this example was about as big as a baseball, and its pretty toothed branches spill downward like a fungal waterfall. It is said to be the most common and widespread species of Hericium in North America, but I think this example is probably only the third one I’ve seen in over 50 years of looking at mushrooms.

Something I see quite a lot of in late summer is the bolete called Russell’s bolete (Boletellus russellii.) Though the top of the cap isn’t seen in this shot it was scaly and cracked, and that helps tell it from look alikes like the shaggy stalked bolete (Boletellus betula) and Frost’s bolete (Boletus frostii.) All three have webbed stalks like that seen above, but their caps are very different.

Sometimes you can be seeing a fungus and not even realize it. Or in this case, the results of a fungus. The fungus called Taphrina alni attacks female cone-like alder (Alnus incana) catkins (Strobiles) and chemically deforms part of the ovarian tissues, causing long tongue like galls known as languets to form. These galls will persist until the strobiles fall from the plant; even heavy rain and strong winds won’t remove them. Though I haven’t been able to find information on its reproduction I’m guessing that the fungal spores are produces on these long growths so the wind can easily take them to other plants.

Elderberries (Sambucus canadensis) are having a great year. I don’t think I’ve ever seen as many berries (drupes) as we have this year. The berries are edible but other parts of the plant contain calcium oxalate and are toxic. Native Americans dried them for winter use and soaked the berry stems in water to make a black dye that they used on their baskets.

Native cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon) are also having a good year. The Pilgrims named this fruit “crane berry” because they thought the flowers looked like Sandhill cranes. Native Americans used the berries as both food and medicine, and even made a dye from them. They taught the early settlers how to use the berries and I’m guessing that they probably saved more than a few lives doing so. Cranberries are said to be one of only three fruits native to North America; the other two being blueberries and Concord grapes, but I say what about the elderberries we just saw and what about crab apples? There are also many others, so I think whoever said that must not have thought it through.

In my own experience I find it best to leave plants with white berries alone because they are usually poisonous, and no native plant illustrates this better than poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans.) Though many birds can eat its berries without suffering, when most humans so much as brush against the plant they can itch for weeks afterward, and those who are particularly sensitive could end up in the hospital. I had a friend who had to be hospitalized when his eyes became swollen shut because of it. Eating any part of the plant or even breathing the smoke when it is burned can be very dangerous.

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

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

I think the above photo is of the yellow fuzz cone slime mold (Hemitrichia clavata.) The most unusual thing about this slime mold is how it appears when the weather turns colder in the fall. Most other slime molds I see grow during warm, wet, humid summers but I’ve seen this one even in winter. Though it looks like it was growing on grass I think there must have been an unseen root or stump just under the soil surface, because this one likes rotten wood. It starts life as tiny yellow to orange spheres (sporangia) that finally open into little cups full of yellowish hair like threads on which the spores are produced.

I was looking at lichens one day when I came upon this grasshopper. The lichens were on a fence rail and so was the grasshopper, laying eggs in a crack in the rail. This is the second time I’ve seen a grasshopper laying eggs in a crack in wood so I had to look it up and see what it was all about. It turns out that only long horned grasshoppers lay eggs in wood. Short horned grasshoppers dig a hole and lay them in soil. They lay between 15 and 150 eggs, each one no bigger than a grain of rice. The nymphs will hatch in spring and live for less than a year.

The gypsy moth egg cases I’ve seen have been smooth and hard, but this example was soft and fuzzy so I had to look online at gypsy moth egg case examples. From what I’ve seen online this looks like one. European gypsy moths were first brought to the U.S. in 1869 from Europe to start a silkworm business but they escaped and have been in the wild ever since. In the 1970s and 80s gypsy moth outbreaks caused many millions of dollars of damage across the northeast by defoliating and killing huge swaths of forest. I remember seeing, in just about every yard, black stripes of tar painted around tree trunks or silvery strips of aluminum foil wrapped around trunks. The theory was that when the caterpillars crawled up the trunk of a tree to feed they would either get stuck in the tar or slip on the aluminum foil and fall back to the ground. Today, decades later, you can still see the black stripes of tar around some trees. Another gypsy moth population explosion happened in Massachusetts last year and that’s why foresters say that gypsy moth egg cases should be destroyed whenever they’re found. I didn’t destroy this one because at the time I wasn’t positive that it was a gypsy moth egg case. If you look closely at the top of it you can see the tiny spherical, silvery eggs. I think a bird had been at it.

Folklore says that the wider the orangey brown band on a wooly bear caterpillar is, the milder the winter will be. If we’re to believe it then this winter will be very mild indeed, because this wooly bear has more brown on it than I’ve ever seen. In any event this caterpillar won’t care, because it produces its own antifreeze and can freeze solid in winter. Once the temperatures rise into the 40s F in spring it thaws out and begins feeding on dandelion and other early spring greens. Eventually it will spin a cocoon and emerge as a beautiful tiger moth. From that point on it has only two weeks to live.

This bumblebee hugged a goldenrod flower head tightly one chilly afternoon. I thought it had died there but as I watched it moved its front leg very slowly. Bumblebees sleep and even die on flowers and they are often seen at this time of year doing just what this one was doing. I suppose if they have to die in winter like they do, a flower is the perfect place to do so. Only queen bumblebees hibernate through winter; the rest of the colony dies. In spring the queen will make a new nest and actually sit on the eggs she lays to keep them warm, just like birds do.

I’ll end this post the way I started it, with a monarch butterfly. I do hope they’re making a comeback but there is still plenty we can do to help make that happen. Planting zinnias might be a good place to start. At least, even if the monarchs didn’t come, we’d still have some beautiful flowers to admire all summer.

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

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Every now and then I get discombobulated and run out of ideas for blog posts. Inspiration is a funny thing that seems to come and go as it pleases, and though it has left me only three or four times since I started this blog it is always a bit disconcerting when it happens. It is almost as if my mind has gone completely blank as far as ideas are concerned but I’ve learned that this can be a special time, because when it happens I simply walk into the forest and let nature lead me where it will. On this day I decided to visit a local pond.

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There were many leaves on the water surface, most of them oak.

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But not all of them had fallen. Oak leaves are still beautiful, even when they’re finished photosynthesizing.

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The 8 foot strip of sand where there usually isn’t any showed how the drought has affected this pond.

5-alder-tongue-gall

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

6-false-dandelion

The big surprise of the day was this false dandelion blossom (Hypochaeris radicata.) The flowers of false dandelion look much the same as those of true dandelions in a photo, but in the field they are much smaller and stand on 6-8 inch long, wiry stems. They’re obviously very hardy.

7-trail

All of the previous photos were taken before I had even set foot on the nice wide trail that follows along one side of the pond. That’s how much there is to see here.

8-fern-on-stone

The boulder that you can see on the right in the previous photo had a crack in it and one of our evergreen ferns decided to call it home. I’ve known this fern for several years now and I’ve never seen it get much bigger than an orange.

9-beech-leaves

I was grumbling to myself about the harsh sunlight and how difficult it was to take a decent photo in conditions like these, and then I saw this and stopped grumbling. The sunlight coming through the beech leaves made a beautiful picture and I sat down on a stone to take a photo and admire the scene. That’s when nature decided to show me a few more things.

10-bark-beetle-markings

I looked down and saw a pine limb that had been attacked by bark beetles. There’s nothing unusual about that but what was unusual were the channels that looked as if they had saw teeth. They’re usually smooth sided and I’ve never seen any like them and haven’t been able to find anything like them on line. They reminded me of ancient hieroglyphs. I’d like to know more about them if anyone is familiar with them.

11-squirrels-lunch

To my right on a log was what remained of a squirrel’s lunch. It looked like there was plenty of acorn meat left and I wondered if I had scared it away. Squirrels in this neck of the woods like to sit up on a log or stone or even a picnic table to eat; virtually anywhere off the ground. An adult gray squirrel can eat up to two pounds of acorns each week. Since there are 60-80 acorns in a pound a gray squirrel eats a lot of them each week. At the high end that’s 23 acorns per day. This year there are enough to support a lot of squirrels.

12-smoky-eye-boulder-lichen

A rock near the one I sat on was covered with beautiful smoky eye boulder lichens (Porpidia albocaerulescens.) The blue bits are the spore bearing apothecial disks of the lichen. They have a waxy coating that reflects light much like the whitish bloom on blueberries and which makes them appear blue in the right light. The black border on each disk makes them really stand out from the body (Thallus) of the lichen even though each one is smaller than a baby pea.

13-mycelium

I rolled a log aside to see if there were any cobalt blue crust fungi on it but instead I saw this where the log had been. The mycelium of an unknown fungus was there in the leaves, reminding me of a distant nebula where stars are born, or a streak of lightning flashing in the evening sky, or a woman in the wind with her hair and dress blowing all about her. I love these beautiful bits of nature that can capture your mind and let you step outside of yourself for a time, oblivious to everything except the beauty before you. If somebody were to ask me right now why I spend so much time in the woods and why I do this blog I’d have to show them this photo. And then hope they understood that it’s all about the beauty of this life.

14-frosted-fungi

I saw a few bracket fungi on a nearby tree but they were past their prime. Our mushroom season is about over now except for a handful of the so called winter mushrooms.

15-witch-hazel

The fragrance of witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) was with me all along the path. Witch hazel is our last wildflower to bloom and is pollinated by owlet moths, which are active in winter and are called winter moths. These moths raise their body temperature by shivering. Their temperature can rise as much as 50 degrees and this allows them to fly and search for food when it’s cold.  It must work well because our witch hazels are always loaded with seed pods.

16-script-lichen

Many script lichens decorated the tree trunks. I always find myself looking for words in photos like this one. I never find them but I do see random letters. The light colored background is the body of the lichen and the darker “script” is where it releases its spores. There are 39 species of script lichens in North America and many more throughout the world, and their most important identification characteristic is their squiggly apothecia. I’ve seen examples that have apothecia that all run horizontally or vertically, but most seem random like those in the photo. The script lichen I want to see most of all is the asterisk script lichen, with apothecia that look like tiny stars.

17-frullania-asagrayana-liverwort-2

There are about 800 species of Frullania liverworts and many grow as epiphytes on the bark of trees and shrubs where the humidity is high. Epiphytic plants take nothing from the host plants they grow on, so this liverwort does no harm to trees. It can look very lacy and fern like at times. Sometimes it reminds me of the beautiful fan corals found on distant coral reefs, as the above example does.

18-frullania-asagrayana-liverwort

The very small leaves of the Frullania liverwort are strung together like beads. Some Frullania liverworts are said to be very fragrant but I keep forgetting to smell them. That probably happens because a close shot of them is always very hard for me to get and takes quite a lot of concentration.

19-quartz-vein-in-granite

In geology a vein is not tubular but is, according to Wikipedia  “a sheet like body of crystallized minerals within a rock. Veins form when mineral constituents carried by an aqueous solution within the rock mass are deposited through precipitation. The hydraulic flow involved is usually due to hydrothermal circulation.” Veins can also be beautiful, as this vein of milky quartz in a granite stone shows. If I remember my geology lessons correctly if the quartz were in a tubular form it would be called an intrusion.

So, that’s what nature showed me when I walked into the woods with a blank mind. The answer to what to write a blog post about came when I wasn’t thinking about the question. Just walking into the forest and looking around was all I needed to do.

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

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1. Pondside

As any parent of a male child will tell you, boys have an innate attraction to the muddy shores of rivers and ponds and though you might use every trick in your parental bag of tricks, you’ll never keep them from exploring it. There really isn’t anything to worry about though because most boys grow out of their mud exploration phase. Since I never did I recently decided to visit the shore of Wilson Pond in Swanzey. They draw down the water level there each fall so people can maintain their shorefront docks, rafts, etc. and this exposes yards and yards of the wonderful muddy pond bottom.

2. Deer Print

Did you see the deer tracks in that first photo? Since it rained the day before I came here I knew that these tracks were very fresh. A deer was most likely getting a drink earlier that morning.

3. Raccoon Prints

A raccoon had also paid the pond a visit, most likely looking for snails and mussels.

4. Snail Shell

Empty walnut size snail shells were everywhere. I never knew there were so many in this pond. I’ve read that there are invasive Chinese snails (Bellamya chinensis) in our lakes and ponds but they’re the size of a hen’s egg, so I doubt this was one of those. Another invasive snail found here is the Japanese trapdoor snail (Viviparus malleattus) which gets its name from the trapdoor it can close when danger appears. The snail pictured is smaller than that one too, I think, so I’m not sure what their name is.

5. Frozen Footprint

Ice had formed in a footprint. Once the sun’s rays fell on it, it didn’t last long.

6. Alder

Alder (Alnus incana) tongue gall is caused by a fungus (Taphrina alni) rather than an insect like many galls. The fungus chemically deforms parts of the ovarian tissue of the female cone-like catkins (strobiles) and causes long, tongue shaped galls known as languets to grow from them. These galls seem to like high humidity so are usually found on alders that grow near swamps, ponds and streams.  These galls have a bright red phase in spring but I never remember to look for them at that time of year. They blacken over time so the ones pictured are older.

7. Birch Catkins

Birches have their catkins all ready for spring. Surely it must be right around the corner.

8. Goose Feather

This pond is a popular spot for Canada geese and their feathers hung from the branches of the bushes.

9. Mussel Shell on Nickel

I put a tiny mussel shell on a nickel to see how small it really was. Since the diameter of a nickel is 3/4 of an inch, the mussel was the smallest I’ve seen. It looked like a tiny shiny butterfly.

10. Turkey Tails

Colorful turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor) brightened up a stump at the water’s edge. I’m seeing more blue / purple ones this year than I ever have, and I have no idea why after nearly two years of seeing just a very few brown ones.

11. Spot on Driftwood

There was more color on this piece of driftwood; a nickel size orange spot. You can find colors like this at any time of year if you’re willing to slow down and look just a little closer. I don’t know if this one was algae, rust, or something else. It had virtually no thickness.

12. Stone on Beach

The pond has been drained so low that the water’s edge where it is now would normally be at chest level or higher on an adult, so the rock in this photo wouldn’t be so easily seen. But this is a beach where people swim, and the rock is in a perfect position for swimmers to stub their toes on it. I wonder why someone doesn’t move it now that it’s so easy to get to. No doubt boys vie for a chance to stand on top of it when they swim.

13. Ganesh Statue

I was dumbfounded when I saw this statue of the Hindu deity Ganesh lying on the shore because this is the second statue of him I’ve found this year. The first was in September on the banks of the Ashuelot River and this statue looks exactly like that one except that it has a lot more wear. The Ashuelot River doesn’t flow into Wilson Pond so unless someone brought the statue that I saw on the river bank here, this is a different statue. Why would two different people throw statues into a river and a pond? I wonder what significance water has in the worship of Ganesh? He is said to be the lord of success and the remover of obstacles on one’s spiritual path. He is also thought to bring education, knowledge, wisdom and prosperity. And he seems to be trying to tell me something. I wish I knew what it was.

14. Pond Mud

Maybe Ganesh is trying to tell me that I’m already prosperous. After all I have the riches of this New Hampshire landscape laid out before me like a never ending feast for the eyes and soul, and occasionally I’m transported back in time to enjoy being a boy of 10 again. I don’t see how anyone could possibly be wealthier.

Just imagine becoming the way you used to be as a very young child, before you understood the meaning of any word, before opinions took over your mind. The real you is loving, joyful, and free. The real you is just like a flower, just like the wind, just like the ocean, just like the sun. ~Miguel Angel Ruiz

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1. Stream

Spring is coming slowly this year, mostly because of a temperature roller coaster that can have near zero wind chills one day and 50 degree warmth the next. Still, spring is happening, as the ice free stream in the above photo shows. It’s a stream I know well and it looked so inviting that I decided to follow it one sunny day. There was a lot of snow still in the woods but luckily it had formed a good crust and I could walk along on top of it.

2. Stream Ice

The stream wasn’t completely ice free though. In fact in shady places it still had a thin skim of ice bank to bank. Last fall I saw a brook trout here that was so big it made me gasp with surprise, but I didn’t see any this day.

3. Stream Bottom Growths

I did see some green something on the bed of the stream. I think it might be filamentous algae, but I don’t know for sure.

4. One-rowed water-cress aka Nasturtium microphyllum

Also growing on the stream bed was what I think is one-rowed watercress (Nasturtium microphyllum,) which is originally from Europe and Asia and which, as the all too familiar story goes, has escaped cultivation and found a home in the wild.  The plant is called one-rowed because the seed pods have their seeds in one row instead of the usual two rows found in common watercress (Nasturtium officinale.) I’ve read that it is an aquatic plant but I can’t seem to find out if it will actually grow under water as these do. I think the yellow color of its leaves comes from being under the ice of the stream all winter, which would have cut off light and effectively blanched them.

5. Indian Pipe Seed Pods

It looked like someone had carved tiny wooden flowers and stuck them in the snow for me to find, but of course they were just the seed pods of Indian pipes. Personally I find them much more beautiful in this state than when they’re flowering. They are one of those things that I could lose myself in, and sit and look at for hours.

6. Horsetails

I went to see what horsetails (Equisetum hyemale) looked like in the winter and found that they looked much the same as they do in summer, except that the snow had broken a few. They grow to about knee high here on the stream bank.

7. Horsetail

Horsetails produce spores in their cone shaped tips, but the examples in this spot rarely grow them. Another name for this plant is scouring rush because of all the silica they contain in their tissues. They make great pot scrubbers in a pinch when you’re camping and in Japan they are boiled and dried and then used to smooth wood. They are said to produce a finish superior to any sandpaper. The green, black and tan stripes always remind me of socks.

8. Horsetail

Horsetail stems are hollow and this example was dripping water like a faucet.

9. Droppings

You don’t realize how much stuff falls from evergreen trees until you walk through an evergreen forest in winter. There must be tons of it and I’m so glad that I don’t have to rake it all up.

 10. Alder Tongue Gall

Instead of being caused by an insect like many galls, alder (Alnus incana) tongue gall is caused by a fungus (Taphrina alni). The fungus chemically deforms parts of the ovarian tissue of the female cone-like catkins (strobiles) and causes long, tongue shaped galls known as languets to grow from them. These galls seem to like high humidity so are usually found on alders that grow near swamps, ponds and streams.  These galls have a bright red phase in spring so I’ve got to remember to look for them this year. They blacken over time and the ones pictured are last year’s galls.

11. Grape Tendril

There are many wild grapes growing along this stream and most have reached considerable age. Few people ever come here so they are left to grow on their own. They produce an abundant crop almost every year and on warm days in the fall the woods smell just like grape jelly.

12. European Barberry

European barberry (Berberis vulgaris) and American barberry (Berberis canadensis) both have clusters of 3 or more thorns but since American barberry doesn’t grow in New England this one has to be European barberry. Its red berries were once used medicinally and are rich in vitamin C. They were also used in cooking in much the same way that lemon peel is used today, and the bright yellow inner bark was used to make yellow dye. With so many uses it’s no wonder that early settlers brought it from home, but of course it immediately escaped cultivation and was found growing wild in New England as early as 1671. It’s still here but is nowhere near as invasive as Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) and in fact can be hard to find. I know of only two plants.

13. Bootstrap Fungus

There are a few dead trees along the stream and this might have something to do with it. Bootstrap fungus is caused by honey mushrooms (Armillaria mellea), which are parasitic on live wood and send out long root like structures called rhizomorphs between the wood of a tree and its bark. When fresh the rhizomorphs are cream colored but darken to brown or black as they age. The fungus is also called armillaria root rot or shoestring root rot. It causes a white pulpy rot in the wood and kills many species of both soft and hardwood trees.

14. Woodpecker Hole

Woodpeckers seem to like it here along the stream, because there was plenty of evidence that they had been here. This hole was quite deep into the tree and I wondered if it was a nesting hole. I saw a pileated woodpecker land on a tree right outside my window one day but I don’t see a lot of their rectangular holes, so he might have been just passing through.

15. Engraver Beetle Damage

Bark beetles sometimes create such beautiful patterns in wood that it looks as if a calligrapher has taken up a chisel instead of a pen. When I think of things like this, created under the bark of a limb and never meant for me to see, that’s when I feel an almost overwhelming sense of gratitude, just for being alive and able to see beauty like this every day.

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

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