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Posts Tagged ‘Beech Scale’

Last Saturday was cold but clear with wall to wall sunshine. I decided to take a walk along the Ashuelot River in Keene to see if it had frozen over and was surprised to find that it had frozen over the whole length of the distance I walked.

It looked more like a pasture than a river.

I saw some strange animal tracks on the ice but I couldn’t get close enough to find out what animal they were from. They might have been from a rabbit or squirrel.

Wool grass (Scirpus cyperinus) likes wet places and grows here and there on the riverbank. Though its common name points to a grass this plant is actually in the sedge family. It is also called bulrush. Its seeds are eaten by waterfowl and muskrats will eat its roots. Native Americans used this plant to weave mats, bags and other utilitarian objects. I like its drooping habit.

Something that sets my blood racing at this time of year is bare ground, and I’m seeing more of it wherever I go. The sun gets stronger each day and no matter how many storms we have or how cold it is the snow will melt, starting on southern exposures. You can also see in this shot how the snow on the trail had been packed down by many feet. The going was easy as long as I stayed on the trail.

There were strange looking ice formations on the surface of the river.

There was some snow built up on the bent tree that lives out here. This tree never seems to get any larger.

I thought the beavers might have finished the job they started last fall on this huge oak tree but they’ve abandoned it. Girdling means that the bark has been removed around the entire tree and since the inner bark (cambium) is what carries nutrients and moisture to the crown, a tree cannot survive without it. Anything above the girdling will die.

It really is amazing what beavers can do with their sharp teeth. From what I’ve seen no wood is too hard for them.

I saw a girdled smaller tree and I can say for certain that this was not done by a beaver. I don’t know why anyone would do this unless it was the Keene Parks and Recreation Department wanting to remove trees along the trail. Girdling has been used to remove trees for thousands of years and the Native Americans who once lived and fished in this area surely used it to clear land. Once the trees died and fell on a piece of land the brush and trunks would be burned and the resulting wood ash and whatever rotting wood was left helped to fertilize the land for farming. Girdling is still used by foresters, horticulturalists and land owners today.

I saw many trees that had fallen naturally out here. In fact I see them wherever I go and most of them are white pines and red maples.

I was stopped by the bright, orange-brown color of a blueberry branch in the sunlight. I should have gotten a shot of its small red buds as well.

The sunlight was also caught in the trees and it was so beautifully golden against the deep blue of the sky.

I saw lots of oriental bittersweet berries (Celastrus orbiculatus) still on plants, and that’s a good thing. It means the birds aren’t spreading its seeds around.

Oriental bittersweet vines are as strong as wire and don’t expand as whatever they wrap themselves around grows larger. The alder with bittersweet wrapped around it in this photo will eventually be strangled to death unless something is done.

When it gets cold dark, almost black spots appear on the bark of trees. They are really there all the time but are kind of a lighter reddish color and not quite so noticeable at other times of year when there are so many other things to see. Those who think they’ve never seen a liverwort might want to stop and take a closer look at these dark, lacy blotches because they are Frullania liverworts, one of the few liverworts that can thrive in dry places.

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. Its leaves are very small and hard to get a good photo of.

Something not quite so pretty as the frullania liverwort is the beech scale (Cryptococcus fagisuga) seen here. Excessive feeding by this scale insect causes two different fungi, Neonectria faginata and Neonectria ditissima, to produce annual cankers or blisters on the bark of the tree. The continuous formation of lesions around the tree eventually girdles it, resulting in canopy death.

You know it’s cold when pine sap turns blue, and we’ve had a cold February. It was about 25° F. (-4° C) on this day.

Yes it was cold but it was also a beautiful sunny day so I stood on the bridge for a while listening to the silence, which was broken only by birdsong and the occasional cracking of river ice. It would have been easy to lose myself and stand here for longer than I did but you have to watch that in winter because frostbite can be a possibility and once you stop moving you cool off fast.

On the way back I thought a contrail looked much like what smoke from a campfire might have looked like long ago. It wasn’t hard to imagine Native lodgings out there somewhere; archeological digs have shown Native Americans were here at least 12,000 years ago.

I decided to check on Ashuelot falls before leaving. They were all splash and foam and remained thawed for the most part.

There were some huge ice formations here and there though. This one looked like the arm and paw of a gigantic polar bear.

Above the falls I saw these strange tracks on the ice. They were big, easily as big as my hand, and I wondered if they might be moose tracks. Moose are occasionally seen in this area. They have even walked through Keene neighborhoods and down city streets. They also occasionally fall through the ice and it’s quite a job getting them back on dry land. An adult male moose can weigh over a thousand pounds.

The earth is rude, silent, incomprehensible at first; be not discouraged – keep on – there are divine things, well envelop’d; I swear to you there are divine things more beautiful than words can tell. ~Walt Whitman

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There is a power that comes when you’re in nature; sometimes it can come from gazing into the unrippled surface of a pond. Sometimes it comes when you sit with your back against an old tree. It is a kind of internal power that comes from the stillness, but sometimes I’d rather feel a different kind of power; an external power. Sometimes I want to just take life by the horns and hang on for what may be a wild ride, and I can find that here at forty foot falls.

Wet oak leaves and acorns can be almost as slippery as ice and I have fallen here a few times, but with your full attention and a bit of planning it can be done without mishap. I also go a bit slower these days. I always wear a bright orange hat and vest here because there are deer in these woods, and there are also deer hunters in these woods. The night after I came here I dreamed that I saw a beautiful white tail buck with a huge rack of antlers just standing at the edge of the woods. I also dreamed that I didn’t have a camera with me, which is usually the case when I see such things.

I saw what I think were more late fall oyster mushrooms (Panellus serotinus) on a log.

The gills looked right.

I made it up to what I call the middle falls easily enough. This is a good place to rest a bit, but don’t expect quiet. Though there wasn’t as much water as I’ve seen in the past the roar was the same.

I usually wait until this time of year after the leaves fall to visit here because this forest is very dark. I thought I’d have enough light for photos on this day but clouds rolled in and it was still quite dark. If the light appears different in one photo to the next that’s why.

I’ve known for a long time that what we call beech bark blister disease is caused by both an insect and a fungus but I had never seen it until now. The white cottony substance seen on this tree is the insect called beech scale (Cryptococcus fagisuga). According to Wikipedia science doesn’t fully understand how it works but it is known that excessive feeding by this insect causes two different fungi, Neonectria faginata and Neonectria ditissima, to produce annual cankers or blisters on the bark of the tree. The continuous formation of lesions around the tree eventually girdles it, resulting in canopy death. I would say in this instance we could call this excessive feeding by the scale. I’ve read in the past that each insect pierces the bark to feed, and that tiny hole is enough to let fungal spores in.

Here are the cankers or lesions, also called blisters. Some trees are covered with them as high up as you can see and I see dead beeches just about wherever I go. It’s really too bad because beech is one of our most beautiful trees.

A few years ago there was a terrible flood that came through here and washed away roads and structures, and one of the things it washed away was a bridge, and I believe this steel cable was part of that bridge.

In any event the cable is here and is easy to get tangled up in, so I always watch for it. On this day I used it to help pull myself up the hill.

Soon it will have become part of several trees. A woodcutter’s nightmare.

Once you’ve made it up the hill you get a first glimpse of what I call the canyon.

It’s a tumbled, jumbled place with huge boulders tossed here and there, and trees torn up by their roots. The power of water is incredible, and it shows here.

But it’s also a beautiful place; well worth the effort it takes to get here. I’ve used this view as the opening shot in posts I’ve done on mosses a couple of times.

It’s a beautiful, green place. You can see how vibrant and full of life the mosses are.

And you want to touch them; to pet them, almost. Broom moss (Dicranum scoparium) gets its common name from the way the leaves all point in the same general direction, making it look as if it had been swept by a broom. It’s a fairly common moss that grows in large tufts or mats on logs and tree bases, soil or stone.

The water, or the objects in the water, have stripped the bark off several trees.

Whatever sat on that tree for years and bent it like that has been washed away. Only the memory of it remains.

I made it all the way to the upper falls without a problem this time. The upper falls are a bit anticlimactic; it’s hard to believe all the water and destruction we’ve seen comes from what appears to be a trickle, but I wouldn’t want to be standing here after two days of heavy rain. One odd thing I noticed that I never have before is how everything, the boulder faces and even the waterfall itself, is tilted at about 10 degrees off vertical.

Now we go back down, and going back down this hill is harder than most. Some of it is so steep I have to sit down and slide on the leaves. Not very dignified perhaps, but it beats breaking a leg.

As I was driving off I saw a bright spot in the woods. At first I thought these fungi must be chicken of the woods but they couldn’t be because they had gills and chicken of the woods is a polypore with pores, so it was off to the mushroom books. I’m fairly sure now that they were the mock oyster or orange oyster (Phyllotopsis nidulans) mushrooms. They can be very hairy or fuzzy at first but smoother later. These were more like velvet. They are supposed to be very stinky but I got quite close and smelled nothing unusual. They can be found clustered on both hardwood and conifer logs from fall to late winter. They are said to cause a white, stringy rot in the log. They’re quite pretty and this is the first time I’ve seen them.

Leisure is a form of silence, not noiselessness. It is the silence of contemplation such as occurs when we let our minds rest on a rosebud, a child at play, a Divine mystery, or a waterfall. ~Fulton J. Sheen

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