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Posts Tagged ‘Bird Feathers’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I see pale beauty moths fairly regularly but they are usually resting on leaves, not sand as this one was. it was actually on a beach at a pond. Their wings and body are pale greenish to grayish white and the female, which I think this example is, is said to be much larger than the male. The caterpillars are said to feed on the leaves of 65 species of trees and shrubs including alder, ash, basswood, beech, birch, blueberry, cherry, fir, elm, hemlock, maple, oak, pine, poplar, rose, spruce, larch, and willow. They’re supposed to be nocturnal but I often see them in daylight. Usually in the evening or early morning though. I’m not sure I could think of a name any more beautiful than pale beauty moth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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1. Blue Dragonfly

The beautiful blue of this dragonfly dazzled me for a few moments one recent day. I’m not sure but I think it might be a blue dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis.) Its color reminded me of the blue stemmed goldenrod, which appears at this time of year.

NOTE: A reader says that this looks like a slaty skimmer. Any thoughts on that?

2. Blue Jay Feather

The blue of the blue jay feather matched that of the dragonfly. This shade of blue seems to appear in unexpected places in nature, like on smoky eye boulder lichens, cobalt crust fungi and first year black raspberry canes.

3. Turtles

There were two painted turtles (Chrysemys picta) on a log one day and the big one looked to be scratching the little one’s back. Or maybe he was trying to push the little one off the log, I don’t know.  They looked like happy turtles, whatever they were doing.

4. White Caterpillar

The hickory tussock moth caterpillar (Lophocampa caryae) is black and white and can cause quite an itchy rash, from what I’ve read. The nettle like hairs can break off and stick in the skin and they are said to bother some people enough for them to be hospitalized, so it’s probably best to look and not touch this one.

5. Salamander

New Hampshire has eight native salamanders including the red-spotted newt (Notophthalmus viridescens.) I found this one under a log and I think it must be a juvenile red-spotted newt, which is called a red eft. It was bigger than many adults I’ve seen of that species but it was bright red as red efts are supposed to be.

NOTE: A reader has confirmed this salamander as an erythristic red-back salamander. Erythristic means that it has more red pigment, like a red headed person. Red back salamanders are the most common salamander in the northeast and usually found under logs, so everything fits this example.

6. Salamander

The salamander was cooperative and let me take several photos until finally quickly ducking under a leaf.

7. Hemlock Growing out of Stump

I saw that a Canadian hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) seed had fallen onto a rotten hemlock stump that was apparently dirt like enough to let the seed grow. And grow it did, until its roots encircled the rotten stump and reached the ground. When the young tree is grown and the stump has rotted away this hemlock will look as if it’s standing on stilts.

8. Fern

Before they go dormant for the winter some ferns turn white, and if you catch them at just the right time they can be very beautiful.

9. Fern Shadow

Other ferns command my attention for different reasons.

10. Smooth Sumac Berries

Smooth sumac (Rhus glabra) berries are ripe and red. These berries don’t get anywhere near as hairy as staghorn sumac berries do but the plants still look alike and are easy to confuse if you don’t look closely for the hairy stems of staghorn sumac. Smooth sumac leaves turn bright red in the fall and produce a rich brown dye. Birds love them.

11. Staghorn Sumac Berries

Staghorn sumac berries, like the rest of the plant, are very hairy. They are an important winter emergency food for many types of birds including Robins, Evening Grosbeaks, Bluebirds, Cardinals, and Scarlet Tanagers. After a thorough soaking and washing, the berries were made into a drink resembling pink lemonade by Native Americans. In the Middle East they are dried and ground into a lemon flavored spice.

12. Sumac Pouch Gall

Since I’m speaking of sumacs I might as well give you an update on the sumac pouch galls that the Smithsonian Institution is coming to harvest. They’re looking for winged adult sumac gall aphids (Melaphis rhois) so they asked me to cut a gall open. These galls turn tomato red as they age but as the photo shows this example looked more like a blushing potato.

13. Sumac Pouch Gall Inside

All I found inside were green aphid larva. They need to grow a bit but since I don’t know much about their life cycle I’ll let the Smithsonian people decide when to come. They’re researching the coevolution of Rhus gall aphids and their host plants. Science has found that this relationship between the aphids and the sumac has been going on for at least 48 million years, with no signs of stopping. The galls are surprisingly light; they are really just bags of air.

14. False Solomon's Seal

When false Solomon’s seal (Smilacina racemosa) berries are fully ripe they will be bright red, but I like them speckled like they are at this stage too. I’ve read that soil pH can affect fruit color. Native American’s used all parts of this plant including its roots, which contain lye and must be boiled and rinsed several times before they can be used. Birds, mice, grouse, and other forest critters eat the ripe berries that grow at the end of the stem. They are said to taste like molasses and another common name for the plant is treacle berry.

15. Solomon's Seal Berries

Dark blueish purple true Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum) berries dangle under the leaves and look like grapes-quite different than the false Solomon’s seal berries in the previous photo. The berries and leaves of this plant are poisonous and should not be eaten. Solomon’s seal and its variants are great plants for a shaded woodland garden.

16. Burning Bush

Most burning bushes (Euonymus alatus) are still green but every now and then just one branch will turn this orchid color, as if it can’t wait to announce summer’s passing. Though they are very invasive they can also be beautiful. They have taken over the understory of a strip of forest along the Ashuelot River and when the hundreds of shrubs all turn this color it becomes a breathtakingly beautiful sight.

One very important aspect of motivation is the willingness to stop and to look at things that no one else has bothered to look at. This simple process of focusing on things that are normally taken for granted is a powerful source of creativity. ~ Edward de Bono

Thanks for stopping in.

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