Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Alder Tongue Gall’

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

Thanks for coming by.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

1-pond

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.

2-leaves-on-water

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

3-oak

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

4-low-water

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

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »

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

Thanks for stopping in.

 

Read Full Post »

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

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »

1. Storefronts

In 2003 bulldozers and dump trucks moved onto a local wetland and began tearing it up. After two years had passed what was left was a sprawling 70 acre suburban eyesore, and any trace of what was once a natural wetland was gone. Or so I thought. I’ve been keeping an eye on this place since it was built just to see what kind of an impact it would have on the natural surroundings and I’ve been surprised again and again.

2. Pond

When they built the shopping center they also built a retention basin to manage runoff and hopefully improve the quality of the water that makes it into the Ashuelot River and from there ultimately to the Atlantic Ocean. Retention basins are described as “artificial lakes with vegetation around the perimeter which include a permanent pool of water in their design.”  This is more of a pond than a lake but it is able to hold the runoff from drainage ditches that were dug around the entire perimeter. The pond did come very close to flooding one summer but that was because beavers moved in and immediately dammed the outflow channel. The beavers also began cutting down and feeding on the very expensive ornamental trees that the landscape architects ordered, but they didn’t get far. After they dropped the first thousand dollar Bradford pear they “disappeared” and I haven’t seen a beaver here since.

3. Juniper Berries

For some unknown reason, possibly to keep people from driving into it, they built long mounds of earth called berms all along the edges of the parking lots and roadways near the retention pond. The berms are about 5-6 feet high but apparently that wasn’t enough so they planted evergreens on top of them. They used spruce, balsam fir, white pine and juniper and they do a great job of completely hiding any hint of of water. The junipers here fruit heavier than any I’ve seen and I wanted to get a photo of the beautiful blue berries (actually modified cones). So there I was with my Panasonic Lumix point and shoot that I use for macro photos all warmed up and ready to go when a blackish colored head popped up out of the snow not three feet from where I stood. It saw me and immediately dropped back down into the snow, but just a few seconds later popped up again and stared at me. I felt like I was playing one of those Whack a Mole games. “Well hello there,” I said, “what are you doing here?” A stupid question if there ever was one I know, but it was all I could think of with such short notice.

4. Mink on the Run-3

And then after a few seconds of trying to figure out what I was off it went, bounding over the snow, so I just pointed the Panasonic in its general direction and without even looking through the view finder clicked the shutter as fast as my finger could go. The very poor photo above is the result, but it along with a lot of detective work tells me that this sleek blackish brown animal with white under his chin and a tail that tapers to a point is very probably an American Mink. He was about 2 feet long and his round hairy tail made up about a third of his length.

5. Burrow

This explained how he could pop up out of the snow without having snow all over his face and head. Minks are burrowing animals but they usually take over the burrows of muskrats and other animals in embankments along rivers and ponds instead of digging them themselves. They are carnivores and eat just about anything including frogs, mice and voles, fish, and birds. They also kill and eat muskrats and will go right into their burrows to do so. I haven’t been able to find any information on whether or not they bother beavers but I wondered if minks could be responsible for the mysterious disappearance of the beavers from this pond.

6. MinkTracks

If I understand what I’ve read correctly, one way to tell a mink from other members of the weasel family is by its bounding gait. This one was a real bounder and moved surprisingly fast. Rough measurements with my monopod tell me that there are about 14 inches between these prints. Minks can also climb trees and this one headed right for the evergreens along the top of the berm.

7. Paw Prints

I went back the next day to see if I could get photos of the mink’s tracks but because of the powdery snow he bounded through the tracks were barely visible. The ones in this photo were the best and they aren’t great, but one of them does show claw marks.  I’ve read that minks have paws that are slightly webbed, but nothing like the webbing that otters have. The State Fish and Game website says that minks and other members of the weasel family are very rarely seen, so I feel lucky to have gotten these photos even if they aren’t great.

8. Poplar Sunburst Lichen

After the excitement of seeing the mink died down I decided to visit one of my favorite lichens, the poplar sunburst (Xanthoria hasseana.) These lichens grow on the Bradford pear trees that grow alongside the pond and this is the only place that I’ve ever seen them. I’ve been visiting them for several years and each year they get more beautiful. The parts that look like suction cups are their fruiting bodies (apothecia) where their spores are produced.

 9. Hawthorn Fruit

For the most part the landscaping here seems uninspired and unimaginative, but there are bright spots like the two or three hawthorn (Crataegus) trees planted off in a corner where few ever see them.  They usually fruit quite heavily and the birds snap up the berry-like haws quickly. The haws, botanically speaking, are pomes, like apples and pears.  One odd fact about hawthorns is how their young leaves and flower buds are edible and can be used in salads.

10. Hawthorn Thorn

If the haws and the roundish, bright red buds don’t convince you that you’re looking at a hawthorn then the sharp, inch long thorns probably will.

 11.Spruce

I thought I’d use some of the evergreens that they planted on the berms to show you an easy way to tell a spruce from a fir. One way is by their cones. Spruce cones hang down from the branches.

12. Balsam Fir

And fir cones stand up on the branches like candles. This isn’t a great example but it’s the best I could find. Fir cones break apart as they ripen and the thing that looks like a skinny mushroom over on the upper right is what is left behind. Just a stalk and a few scales at the top. Since cones usually appear high up in the tree and are often only produced in 3-5 year cycles it’s wise to learn how to tell conifers apart by other means. Needle shape, length and color, bark appearance, overall growth habits and fragrance can all be used to identify conifers. Since spruce needles are sharp, stiff and square and fir needles are soft, flexible and flat I would have known these trees even if they hadn’t had cones, but the differences would have been much harder to illustrate here.

13. Meadow

The strip of unbroken snow in the foreground of the above photo is one of the drainage ditches and I come here in summer to take photos of arrowhead, nodding burr marigold and other wetland wildflowers that grow in great abundance here. This is a good spot to photograph them because I can get closer to them than I can when they grow in pond water. In the mini meadow in the background goldenrod, Joe Pye weed, boneset, purple loosestrife and other taller wildflowers create scenes worthy of a Monet painting in late summer.

14. Alder Tounge Gall

Native shrubs in the area include various willows, sumacs, and common alder (Alnus glutinosa). The long strap shaped growths coming out of the female alder cones (strobiles) in the above photo are tongue galls caused by a fungus called Taphrina alni. The fungus causes a chemical reaction that deforms the alder strobiles and produces the tongue like galls. Early in the season when the galls are fresh they’re green but as they age they can become yellow, pink, red, purple or orange. Once they mature they turn brown or black and often stay on the strobiles until the next season. I always seem to miss their younger, more colorful stages.

Note: Julie has correctly pointed out that common Alder is a native of Europe. It also goes by the name of black or European alder and was introduced by the earliest settlers. It has taken well to its new home and is seen everywhere here in New Hampshire along with our native gray or speckled alder (Alnus incana.) It is so common that I think of it as a native, even though I know better. Thanks Julie!

15. Hawk

I happened to glance up and saw this hawk sitting on a light pole. I think it’s the same red tailed hawk that I’ve seen in the general area several times before, but I’m not positive about that identification. It’s a big bird; bigger than a crow-and always sits on the highest point available, watching open fields. I’m sorry again about the poor quality of these photos but I’m pretty sure if I could get a look into this bird’s nest I’d find a Canon Powershot SX40 manual that it reads when it isn’t out hunting, because every time I see him / her it makes sure that it is just beyond what the zoom on my camera can comfortably handle. These shots were taken at what would be the equivalent of about 840mm with a DSLR and I still had to crop them.

16. Hawk

When I’m around this bird never sits still long enough to even think about getting the camera on a monopod or tripod. As soon as it sees me with a camera it flies off. I wonder what the mink’s chances are now that it has moved into the neighborhood. If I were him I think I’d be just a bit worried.

Surprisingly, as this walk around this strip mall shows, nature seems to be thriving here. In fact if you include the mink and the hawk, I’ve actually seen a greater cross section of nature here than I usually do in the woods. While I was taking these photos and thinking about what I was seeing I had a strong feeling that nature couldn’t wait to reclaim this land.

Nature is what you see plus what you think about it. ~John Sloan

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »

This is another one of those posts full of unusual things that I see in the woods that don’t seem to fit in other posts.

1. Amber Jelly Fungi

These amber jelly fungi (Exidia recisa) were frozen solid and looked like lollipops, or maybe half lollipops. This fungus is called willow brain because it is often found growing on willows. It produces spores on its upper surface, which is smooth and shiny, and the underside has more of a matte finish. Winter is a great time to find jelly fungi of many kinds, but you have to look closely. Those in the photo were no bigger than a dime-roughly 18mm.

 2. Split Gill Mushroom

Split gill fungi (Schizophyllum commune) are probably the easiest winter fungi to identify because of their wooly winter coats. These mushrooms grow year round on dead limbs but for some reason, I only notice them in winter. That could be because they are very small-no larger than a penny at best-roughly 19mm. They’re also very tough and leathery. They grow on every continent except Antarctica and because of that are said to be the most studied mushroom on earth. Scientists have recently isolated a compound from them that has been shown to inhibit the HIV-1 virus.

3. Split Gill Mushroom-2

The “gills” on the split gill fungus are actually folds on its under surface that split lengthwise when it dries out. This example was very dry. The splits close over the fertile surfaces as the mushroom shrivels in dry weather. When rehydrated by rain the splits reopen, the spore-producing surfaces are exposed to the air, and spores are released.

5. Beech Bud

Beech trees have their long, pointed buds all ready for spring. When these begin to break and unfurl they are one of the most beautiful sights in the forest, in my opinion. The fuzzy, silvery new leaf looks like an angel wing, but just for a very short time.

 6. Zig Zag Tree Wound

I can’t even guess what caused this zig-zag pattern in this tree bark. My first thought was lightning, but that would run from the top down. This scar comes out of the soil and runs about 3 feet up the trunk.

7. Cheese Polypore

White cheese polypore (Tyromyces chioneus) is, according to the website Mushroom Expert.com, just about the most boring mushroom going. But it is a “winter mushroom” and that, in my opinion, makes it at least a little interesting. It grows on hardwood logs and causes white rot, and gets its common name from its scientific one. Tyromyces means “with a cheesy consistency,” and chioneus means “snow white.” These mushrooms are big enough to be seen from a distance and when they are fresh they have a pleasing fragrance that some think is like cheesecake.

8. Frozen Mushroom Gills

This mushroom was frozen solid but had still held on to its colors, which reminded me of fall.

9. Alder Toungue Gall

Instead of being caused by an insect like many galls, alder (Alnus glutinosa) 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 ponds and streams.

10. Orange Jelly Fungi

I don’t think I’ve ever seen this many orange jelly fungi (Dacrymyces palmatus) growing in one place before. They were on a hemlock stump no bigger than the average doughnut. Most of the orange ones that I see are growing on hemlock.

 11. Orange Jelly Fungi 2

These orange jelly fungi (Dacrymyces palmatus) grew inside a hollow log. Walking slowly and looking into hollow logs is a great way to find unexpected things but I only stick my hands in them after I’ve had a look first, because I’ve also seen sharp toothed chipmunks in them.

 12. Black Jelly Fungus

Black jelly fungi (Exidia glandulosa) often decorate alder bark in this area. These were a bit shriveled because of the cold and the lack of rain, but once we see some rain they will swell up and look like puffed up pillows. It’s amazing how much jelly fungi can swell up after a rain.

 13. Witch Hazel Bracts

Last year the witch hazels (Hamamelis virginiana) along the river were still blooming on January 21st, but not this year. All that is left are the cup shaped bracts which the strap shaped yellow petals unfurl from. I think 10 below zero in early December was too cold too soon and “switched them off” for this winter. Normally they won’t bloom much past Thanksgiving, so the last two or three years of seeing them bloom later and later have been unusual.

 14. Maleberry Seed Pods

If you glanced at a maleberry (Lyonia ligustrina) shrub in spring or early summer you might think it was a blueberry, because its flowers resemble blueberry flowers. Both shrubs are in the blueberry family and maleberry is sometimes called male blueberry. You would be waiting a long time to find anything blue on this bush though-its fruit is a hard capsule full of seeds. The 5 part capsules make this an easy shrub to identify in winter. I just look for the star on the end of the capsules. I find them on the banks of ponds, growing next to alders.

Commonly we stride through the out-of-doors too swiftly to see more than the most obvious and prominent things. For observing nature, the best pace is a snail’s pace.  ~Edward Way Teale

Thanks for coming by.

Read Full Post »

A few years ago developers decided that they would build a shopping center in a field that is in a corner of two intersecting highways here in Keene, New Hampshire

 1. Wetland

The trouble was it wasn’t just a field but a wetland as well. After fighting tooth and nail over what impact building in a wetland would have on the town, the developers and the town came to an agreement and the shopping center was built on the drier part of the large parcel.

 2. Evergreen Screen On Berm

 They started by building huge berms and planting them with pine, spruce, fir, cedar and juniper to give the place a woodsy feel and to hide what remained of the wetland. In landscaping terminology a berm is a long mound of soil that resembles a dam or levee but doesn’t hold back any water. They are a good way to reduce noise and they provide a good screen when planted.

 3. Mountain Ash Berries

I’ll have to give the developers credit for not totally ignoring the wildlife in the area because they planted quite a few fruit bearing trees like mountain ash (Sorbus,) the fruits of which are shown here. Many birds feed on these berries.

4. Juniper Berries

Nice ripe juniper berries also await hungry birds.

5. Flowering Crab

Flowering crab apple trees offer even more fruit.

 6. Beaver Lodge

Everything seemed to be going well and all of the local birds and beasts happily co-existed with the shopping center. Until beavers started moving into the water retention pond, that is. Then things started to get interesting.

 7. Beaver Stump

The beavers started cutting down the ornamental trees-in this case a Bradford pear (Pyrus calleryiana.) A tree this size would easily cost over $500.00 to replace and might run close to a thousand after the stump was dug out and a new tree planted. But what should the developers expect after providing a nice man made pond and then an open path from the tree to the pond?  The beavers said “Thank you very much-we’ll take it! You can bet we’ll shop here again!”

 8. Poplar Sunburst Lichen aka Xanthoria hasseana

There are many more ornamental trees in this area and one of them had these beautiful poplar sunburst (Xanthoria hasseana) lichens on it. I hope the beavers will leave this tree alone but I doubt that they will. Hungry beavers have to eat, after all.

 9. Alder Tongue Gall

Alders grow naturally on the banks of the pond so I’m surprised that the beavers aren’t eating them or the many birches and poplars that grow nearby. These female alder cones (strobiles) have alder tongue gall, brought on by a natural pathogen that causes a chemically induced distortion of tissues. These long curled “tongues” are very noticeable.

 10. Cattails

Cattails (Typha) grow in abundance throughout the wetland. Beavers eat the new shoots in the spring and red winged blackbirds will line their nests with the fluffy seeds.

 11. Beaver Pond

For now the pond and wetland are iced over except for the small area shown in the photo, but before long the ice will melt. Beavers are extra hungry in the spring, so the shopping center managers might want to start putting some stout wire fencing on their tree trunks now.

12. American Beaver

This photo of a happy beaver is from Wikipedia. Beavers in this area are very wary of man and I’ve never gotten a good photo of one.

In nature there are neither rewards nor punishments; there are consequences. ~Robert Green Ingersoll

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »