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Posts Tagged ‘Bird Tracks’

Half Moon Pond in Hancock iced over but then it warmed up and the ice melted quickly. All that was left early one morning was the mist that was left from the melting. I wanted to get a shot of it but all I had was my cell phone. I decided to try it anyway, and this is what the phone’s camera saw. What I saw was not quite so much bright sunlight up in the clouds, though dawn was just breaking over the hills behind me. I liked what the phone camera saw though, and I hope you will too.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked quite far into the woods after seeing what I thought was a beautiful flower, only to find instead that it was a feather. But I’m never disappointed because feathers can often be as beautiful as flowers. These “blossomed” on a hazelnut twig and changed shape contantly in the wind. They were very fine and soft, like goose down.

I know these are bird tracks and I know the middle longer toe points in the direction the bird was facing but I don’t know why they were so long or what the lines behind them were about. It looked to me like the bird went into a skid when it tried to land. Their feet weren’t very big but there were many prints around the area and I’m guessing dark eyed juncos made them. You can often see flocks of sometimes twenty or more juncos along roadsides in winter, presumably looking for small seeds.

At work one morning I spotted a dark colored animal a little bigger than a house cat running from one of the buildings. It ran with a kind of loping gait like a mink but quite fast. One of the paw prints we found afterwards is in the above photo but we can’t know if it belongs to the animal we saw. There are lots of animals in these woods. But judging by the animal’s size and the way it ran like a big mink, we think it must have been a fisher cat. Fisher cats aren’t cats, they are members of the weasel family, and they don’t eat fish. They were hunted for their fur almost to extinction in times past and though they are making a comeback they’re very wary of man and aren’t often seen. They’re usually active at night so seeing this one in daylight was a rare thing.

I believe these turkey feathers tell the story of the fisher cat and why it was near one of the buildings. They were found near the spot it ran from. Fishers eat small to medium sized animals and birds, and will also eat beechnuts, acorns, apples and berries. They will also eat porcupines, leaving nothing but the hide and a few bones behind. In fact they’ll eat just about anything and I’ve heard they have a blood curdling scream when they’re on the hunt. Just for fun (?) I went to You Tube and listened to a fisher cat scream, and now I understand how some people have been scared half to death by them at night in the woods. It’s an eerie sound, and that’s putting it mildly.

A huge old oak tree died where I work and when it was cut down the butt end showed purple staining, meaning it has steel or iron objects like screws or nails in it. Sawmills look for this kind of thing when logging trucks bring in a load of logs and they’ll reject the whole load if they see it. This log was easily four feet across but it will never be sawed into boards.

I used to feel comfortable in the knowledge that any time I saw this platy bark in the shape of a target on a tree, I was looking at a red maple. But then last fall I saw a very old yellow birch with target canker that looked just like the example in the above photo. Now, I thought, I can’t be quite so sure of what I’m seeing, so I returned to the book Bark; a Field Guide to Trees of the Northeast, by Michael Wojtech. In it he does indeed say that red maple is the only tree in the northeast that develops target canker, so what of that birch? I don’t know every tree in the forest but if I can’t tell the difference between a red maple and a yellow birch, I’d better give up nature blogging. The answer I think, is to go back and find that birch and better document its bark.

Here is the only photo I took of the yellow birch I saw with target canker, which can be clearly seen on the tree. I can remember how surprised I was and thought that I must be mistaken but no, I’ve never seen maple bark peel and curl like that. The trick will be to find this tree again in a forest full of trees.

I had to go to the local car dealership to have my car serviced and while I was waiting, I noticed this piece of tree bark sitting on a counter. I was happy to find it there, not so much because of the bark itself, but because someone thought it was beautiful enough to show in the waiting room like an art object. It grabbed someone’s attention, as it did mine.

Because of all the rain we had this summer fruits, seeds and nuts are everywhere, including the poison ivy berries (Toxicodendron radicans) seen here. I’ve never seen so many of the small fruits on poison ivy vines. Though I like to get photos of them when they’ve turned white and are fully ripe, the birds eat them so fast I usually can’t find any. All parts of this plant can give you quite a rash if touched, so I try not to get too close. Even inhaling the smoke from a fire where it is being burned can cause severe throat issues.

I finally found some ice needles that really looked like needles. Usually they have been stepped on and look stubby, with squared off ends. A lot has to happen for them to form but they’re fairy common once you know what to look for. And what to listen for; the soil they grow in will crunch when it’s walked on. I’ve read that each thin needle is hexagonal in shape and that needles 16 inches long have been found, but most of the ones I see are less than 5 inches long. These might have been closer to 6 inches long.

I saw this feature in some puddle ice. It looked like the disc or lens shape froze and the water moving around it created waves. But how could this be? Wouldn’t all of the puddle surface have frozen at the same time? I don’t expect anyone to answer this; I’m just thinking out loud. Puddle ice is an endless source of fascination for me because it’s amazing what you can see in it.

I think weevils must have killed the terminal leader of this hemlock tree (Tsuga canadensis) and then two of its branches became new leaders, giving it a U-shaped appearance. I usually see this on white pine, not hemlock. White pine weevils do attack lots of other evergreen species like spruce and fir but I haven’t heard of them attacking hemlocks, so I can’t say what might have caused it.

Speaking of eastern hemlocks, I’ve been lucky enough to be able to look out a window at work to see gray squirrels trying to get at the seed cones. They’ll hang from the branch by their back feet and tail and grab the small cones with their front paws. I’ve seen four or five squirrels working a single tree, and one day I saw an eagle flying over the tree they were in. The squirrels disappeared in a hurry that day. When I look at this photo of a cone I wonder if man thought up roof shingles by looking at something like this.

The white stripes on the undersides of the flat hemlock needles come from four rows of breathing pores (stomata) which are far too small to be seen without extreme magnification. The stripes make the tree very easy to identify.

I found these squirrel tracks in my yard and I wasn’t surprised because there are also lots of hemlock trees here. I’ve seen chickadees eating the seeds but until this year I’ve never seen squirrels eating them.

Northern white cedar (Thuja occidentalis) also grows in my yard. There are many seed pods on the cedars and robins, common redpolls, pine siskins, and dark-eyed juncos eat the seeds. Many small birds use the trees to hide in and robins nest in them each spring. The open seed pods always look like beautiful carved wooden flowers to me. The Native American Ojibwe tribe thought the trees were sacred because of their many medicinal uses, and maybe they were. They cured scurvy for many a European.

A few years ago I started noticing what I thought looked like teeth marks on lichens and wrote and showed photos of it here. Now I’m seeing those same marks on certain fungi, like this tinder fungus. The squiggly lines in the top bluish portion are what I’m talking about.

I finally found out when a knowledgeable reader wrote in, that these lines and squiggles are not chipmunk or mouse teeth marks. He measured the marks and found that no American mammal had teeth that small. Instead they’re caused by algae eating land snails. Accoding to what I’ve read “squiggly lines or tiny fan patterns on rock or tree bark show where a snail has scraped off algae or fungi, leaving a paler spot. Smooth-barked red maple or American beech are good trees to check for snail or slug feeding tracks. You can look closely at mushrooms to see if a chewed area is found along with a slime trail.” The top of this mushroom did indeed look chewed. Snail mouths (radula) are raspy and are said to feel like a licking cat’s toungue if you hold one in your hand. That’s another mystery solved.

Just before dawn one morning the full moon hung over Half Moon Pond and reflected in the new ice. This was after the ice I mentioned in that first photo had melted. I think the pond has frozen over and melted three times now, which shows what roller coaster temperatures we’re seeing so far this winter. It’s beautiful but a little unusual as well.

As children, we are very sensitive to nature’s beauty, finding miracles and interesting things everywhere. As we grow up, we tend to forget how beautiful and magnificent the world is. There is magic and wonder for eyes who know how to look with curiosity and love. ~ Ansel Adams

Thanks for coming by.

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I was going to climb a hill last Saturday but it felt quite warm at 55 degrees, so I went to the lake instead. This is Swanzey Lake, one of many lakes in the area. Since it is relatively close to Keene you can usually expect the swimming area on the east side of the lake to be packed with children on a sunny summer day. I spent many wonderful hours swimming and playing here as a boy. There were even bathrooms and a snack bar.

If it rained you could go into the hall but there wasn’t really much of anything to do other than sit and wait for the rain to stop.

On this day the water was low because of the drought so the beach was twice as wide as it usually is. I swam here regularly as a boy but I had a blockage in my mind that told me I couldn’t swim in deep water, even though I swam fine in shallow water. My cousin, who was a lifeguard, told me “Don’t say you can’t swim. I’ve seen you do it; you swim like a fish.” He said that just before he dropped me into the deep end of a swimming pool, and it was a good thing he was a lifeguard because I swam like a stone and had to be rescued before I drowned. Only after I surrendered to the fact that I would never swim for real did the paralyzing fear melt away so I could finally swim in deep water. I didn’t have many opportunities to show it off here though; the water goes out 30 feet before it is over an adult’s head and a swimming area was always roped off for younger children. There was a lifeguard that made sure you stayed inside the ropes as well.

I discovered that watching ripples through a camera lens is completely mesmerizing.

A large bird with big feet walked all over the sand of the beach. I thought it might be a heron but I don’t know for certain.

You get down to the beach by following a paved downhill driveway, and rainwater washes down the driveway with such force that it creates deep gullies in the beach. I would have thought that it would have been fixed by now but no. It has been going on since I was a boy and I found myself wondering how much sand had washed into the lake in all that time.

If it weren’t for the fact that the swimming area has been developed the forest would grow right down to the water’s edge. There is a small area that is still forested and some quite large white pines grow there. They are lichen covered, with the ones that want the most humidity like these shield lichens growing on the side toward the lake.

There are a few trees just at the beach start and their roots have become quite exposed, both by years of small foot traffic and the washing of the water.

I was very surprised to find trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) growing among the tree roots. Trailing arbutus is also called mayflower because that’s often when its small white to pink, very fragrant flowers appear.  Its oval evergreen leaves are tough and leathery and hug the ground but though it looks like a groundcover botanically speaking it has a persistent woody stem, so it is classified as a shrub. This was one of my grandmother’s favorite flowers and she would walk in the woods to find and smell it rather than dig it up to plant in her yard.  It’s too bad everybody didn’t do the same because this plant was once collected into near oblivion. These days it can be found at many nurseries so there is no longer any reason to dig it up. Since it’s very fussy unless it’s given the right amount of light, water, nutrients and soil type it won’t grow except where it chooses to anyway. It seemed to be doing well here in full sun, even though I usually find it in shady areas.

Horsehair lichens (Bryoria trichodes) and others grow on the sides of the trees opposite the water, which tells me they must need a little less humidity. Since it has rained little lately these lichens were very dry. Beard and hair lichens are extremely sensitive to air pollution and will only grow where the air quality is high. Deer, moose and squirrels eat this lichen and there are stories of deer rushing out of the forest and eating it out of the tops of felled spruce trees while loggers with chainsaws were still cutting the trees up.

An old tree stump was covered with American wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) plants. They are also called teaberry or checkerberry and their small white flowers resemble those of the blueberry. It is probably the easiest of all wintergreens to identify because of the strong minty scent that comes from its crushed leaves. If you have ever tasted teaberry gum then you know exactly what it smells and tastes like. The plant contains compounds that are very similar to those found in aspirin and Native Americans used it much like we use aspirin. They also chewed the leaves for refreshment on long hikes.

Cushion mosses grew under an alder. White cushion moss (Leucobryum glaucum) can appear silvery, white, bluish green or grayish green but it always forms a thick cushion and stands out from the mosses that might surround it. It likes plenty of water and shade. It is probably the easiest of all the mosses to identify.

What could be better than green grass on November 21st in New Hampshire? Not that long ago you could ice skate in November.

This toadskin lichen (Lasallia papulosa) is very special to me because it is the only one I’ve ever seen that wasn’t on a mountaintop. Toadskin lichens show dramatic color changes when they dry out like many other lichens. When wet it is pliable and pea green and when dry it becomes crisp and ash gray like the above example. Toadskin lichens get their common name from their many “warts.” They attach themselves to stone at a single point that looks like a belly button, and that makes them umbilicate lichens.

I left the beach and went down the road just a bit to the boat launch. I used to fish here with my daughter and son when they were younger and I still see many people doing the same in the summer. We always hoped for lake trout but got sunfish instead.

The black line on that boulder shows the normal water level. I’d say it was down about a foot and a half which, when spread over the surface of the entire lake, is an awful lot of water lost.

I was surprised to see water still flowing over the dam but it was really just a trickle when compared to a normal water height.

Someone built a fine new bridge over the spillway. I stood on it to take that previous photo.

Mallards didn’t mind the low water level. In fact it probably made it easier for them to find food. There was quite a large group of them and I was surprised that they didn’t fly away when they saw me. Mallards are often very skittish in these parts, I think because nobody feeds them.

There is a large grassy area where people can sit and picnic. I sat here for awhile and enjoyed the sound of the waterfall while I watched the ducks. To sit by the water on a green lawn in the warm sunshine without a coat on in November while listening to the birds sing is a great gift.

What I think was a winter oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus) grew on a tree. Its upturned gills made them easy to admire. This example was dying but I often find that mushrooms are often as beautiful in death as they are in life. The color and movement that this one showed were beautiful.

On another stump there was quite a crop of them. You have to watch what you’re doing at all times when foraging for mushrooms but especially the “winter mushrooms”, because the cold can change their color. We’ve had nights in the teens and I’m sure these examples had probably been frozen and had darkened because of it. They might have also been the late oyster mushroom (Panellus serotinus).

This one looked very fresh. I think it was a late oyster because of the yellow orange gill color. Late oysters aren’t considered as choice as winter oysters here but the Japanese consider them a great delicacy.

And this little mushroom had found a place to get out of the cold winds. I’m not sure what it was but I admired its pluck.

The strangest thing I saw this day was this willow shedding its bud scales and showing its “pussies.” The only guess I have is that it was fooled by the warm weather after the cold we had. Plants can be fooled by such things and they usually pay for it by not being able to produce seeds the following year.

If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself. ~Tecumseh, Shawnee

Thanks for coming by. I hope everyone has a safe and happy Thanksgiving Day. 

A few of the many things I have to be thankful for this year are:
The neighbor’s rooster. I love hearing him crow each morning when I leave for work.
The wonderful smell of woodsmoke I smell each day on the way home as I drive by a barbecue restaurant.
The time change; the sunrises have been beautiful on my way to work.
And I’m most thankful for the fact that nobody I know has gotten sick. I do hope all of you can say the same.

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