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Posts Tagged ‘Canada Geese’

I see this view of Halfmoon Pond in Hancock almost every morning on the way to work. Sometimes there are ducks, geese or great blue herons here so I always at least slow down and look. The view from here reminds me of total wilderness, where all you really have is you. At the very edge of a pond the growth is thick and hard to get through because that’s where all the sunlight is. Back away from where the water meets the land, back where the forest is dark and there is less undergrowth, there is usually a way around. I think, long before Europeans showed up, Native Americans most likely had trails around every pond and lake in this area.

Ponds are great places to see waterfowl of all kinds and I’ve seen plenty of Canada geese this year. This family swam quite close and I think it’s because they’ve been fed by humans sometime in the past.

These goslings on the other hand swam away as fast as they could, with mom and dad just out of view, bobbing their heads up and down frantically. Personally I don’t feed wild animals because I’d rather have them rely on nature. Nature will provide all they need, just as it has since the time began.

But nature doesn’t discriminate and it also provides all that snapping turtles need, and some of what they need are small birds like goslings that swim on the surface of their ponds. If you watch a family of geese over time they might start out with 6 or 7 goslings, but then often end up with only one or two that reach adulthood. Foxes, bobcats, snapping turtles and other animals all thin the flock.

The big turtles have been on the move until recently and I’ve seen quite a few females out looking for suitable places to dig their nests and lay their eggs. Once they do many of the nests are almost immediately dug up and the eggs eaten, but there are thousands of eggs around every pond. Nature allows for the losses, so there will always be turtles and there will always be goslings. I should say that you don’t want to get too close to a snapping turtle because though it doesn’t look it they have long necks that can stretch out quickly. They also have very strong jaws.

Rosy maple moths appear at about this time each year and are easy to identify because there apparently aren’t too many others that look like them. This is a cute little thing with its wooly yellow body and pink and creamy yellow wing stripes. These moths lay their tiny eggs on the undersides of maple leaves and that’s how they come by their common name. Adult moths do not eat but the caterpillars are able to eat a few leaves each. They are called green striped maple worms.

Virgin tiger moths are large, butterfly sized moths and I’ve read that its hindwing color can vary from yellow to scarlet. Unfortunately they can’t be seen in this photo. The larvae feed on various low growing plants. Though there are countless photos of this moth online there is very little information on it. It is certainly one of the prettiest moths I’ve seen.

I saw a wolf spider crawling on one of the buildings where I work. Wolf spiders carry their egg sacs by attaching them to their spinnerets. They have eight eyes and two of them are large, which helps them see their prey. They will sometimes chase prey but usually just wait for it to happen by.

Here is a closer view of the wolf spiders egg sac. According to Wikipedia “the egg sac, a round, silken globe, is attached to the spinnerets at the end of the abdomen, allowing the spider to carry her unborn young with her. The abdomen must be held in a raised position to keep the egg case from dragging on the ground. However, despite this handicap, they are still capable of hunting. Another aspect unique to wolf spiders is their method of care of young. Immediately after the spiderlings emerge from their protective silken case, they clamber up their mother’s legs and crowd onto the dorsal side of her abdomen. The mother carries the spiderlings for several weeks before they are large enough to disperse and fend for themselves. No other spiders are currently known to carry their young on their backs for any period of time.”

A cedar waxwing sat on a lawn and let me walk right up to it and takes as many photos as I wanted before finally hopping away into the undergrowth. This is odd behavior for a bird but it must have either been a juvenile that couldn’t fly yet or maybe an adult that was stunned. I saw a Baltimore oriole fly into a window once and knock itself out. I thought it had died but an hour later it woke up and flew away. I love the beautiful sleek look of cedar waxwings, and the little bandit masks they wear. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology the name waxwing comes from the brilliant red wax drops you can see at the tips of its wing feathers. Cornell also says because they eat so much fruit, cedar waxwings occasionally become intoxicated or even die when they run across overripe berries that have started to ferment and produce alcohol, so maybe this one was simply drunk.

Our white pines have been growing pollen cones, which are the tree’s male flowers. Pine trees are wind pollinated and great clouds of smoke like yellow-green pollen can be seen coming from them on windy days. The trees look like they’re on fire and virtually everything gets dusted with pollen; cars, houses, and even entire lakes and ponds. If you live near pine trees it’s impossible not to breathe some of it in, but pine pollen is a strong antioxidant that has been used medicinally around the world for thousands of years. Its numerous health benefits were first written of in China nearly 5000 years ago.

I like lake sedge (Carex lacustris) because I like the way it seems to flow like the waves of the pond and lake shores it grows on. It is really the wind and its own weak stems that make it bend so, but I think it makes a pretty display. Lake sedge is native to Canada and the northern U.S. and can at times be found growing in water. Waterfowl and songbirds eat its seeds. Even when it isn’t blowing in the wind it seems to have movement.

English plantain (Plantago lanceolata) blooms in rings around the flower stalk, starting at the bottom and working towards the top. Though an invasive from Europe and Asia English plantain prefers growing in soil that has been disturbed, so it isn’t often seen in natural areas where there is little activity. But it is taking hold and it has gone from a plant I rarely saw just a few years ago to one I see just about everywhere now. I see it in lawns more than anywhere else. It is wind pollinated so it hangs its stamens out where the wind can blow the pollen off the anthers. Each stamen is made up of a white bag like anther sitting at the end of a thin filament. If pollinated each flower will bear two tiny seeds in a small seed capsule.

Maidenhair fern (Adiantum pedatum,) is as rare as hen’s teeth but I know of one or two. Some confuse it with royal fern but maidenhair fern really bears little resemblance to royal ferns. The name maidenhair comes from the fine, shiny black stalks, which are called stipes. This fern is very rarely seen in a natural setting in this area.

Grasses like this orchard grass have started flowering and I hope everyone will take a little time to give them a look, because they can be very beautiful as well as interesting. They are also one of the easiest plants there are to find. According to the book Grasses: An Identification Guide by Lauren Brown, George Washington loved orchard grass so much so that he wrote “Orchard grass of all others is in my opinion the best mixture with clover; it blooms precisely at the same time, rises quick again after cutting, stands thick, yields well, and both cattle and horses are fond of it green or in hay.”

Orchard grass seed heads are composed of spikelets that bear two to eight flowers which dangle from thin filaments (pedicels) and shimmer in the breeze, which of course blows the pollen to other plants.

Someone carved a heart into a birch tree. I did the same once but mine was carved into a maple and wasn’t as elaborate. Still, I’d guess the reasons for doing the carving were the same.

It might look like the hills were on fire in this shot but this was mist that the warmth of the sun was wringing out of the forest one morning after a rainstorm the night before. Marty Rubin once said “Mist around a mountain: all reality is there.” And for me, on that morning, it was. I thought it made a beautiful scene, and losing myself in it almost made me late for work.

Mists like the one in the previous photo usually mean high humidity in the forest, and if there’s one bit of nature that loves high humidity it’s a slime mold, and I’ve been seeing a few. I think this one is the scrambled egg slime mold (Fuligo septica.) It gets quite big and will grow in full sun on wood mulch or chips, so it is easily seen and is often people’s first introduction to slime molds. It also produces the largest spore-producing structure of any known slime mold. Slime molds move using a process called cytoplasmic streaming, which is basically a contracting of “muscles” by all of the separate cells until they come together in a single mass,  and I was fortunate enough to find this one on the move. Though its movement is imperceptible you can tell it has moved if you watch it over time. In fact it can climb onto stumps, logs, and living plants.

Scrambled egg slime mold is the perfect name for this one. According to mycologist Tom Volk of the University of Wisconsin, a plasmodium is essentially a blob of protoplasm without cell walls and only a cell membrane to keep everything in. It is really nothing but a large amoeba and feeds much the same way, by engulfing its food, which are mostly bacteria, spores of fungi and plants, protozoa, and particles of nonliving organic matter. Slime molds are a very important part of the ecosystem; it isn’t hard to imagine what this world would be like without decomposers like fungi and slime molds doing their work.

Scrambled egg slime in the plasmodium stage will eventually come together into a sponge-like mass called an aethalium, which is pictured forming here. An aethalium  is a “large, plump, pillow-shaped fruiting body.” Over time this slime mold forms a smooth, brittle crust which breaks easily to reveal a black spore mass.

My fungal offering for this post is a tiny bird’s nest fungus, which few people ever get to see. I think they were fluted bird’s nest fungi (Cyathus striatus) and this is a view of them from the side. They grow in a funnel or vase shape and have flutes around the rim of the body, which is hollow like a cup. They are so small not even a pea would fit inside them.

The “bird’s nest” is actually a splash cup called a peridium and when a drop of rain falls into it with enough force the “eggs” are splashed out. These eggs, which really can’t be seen here, are really disc shaped spore cases called peridioles. Once ejected from the splash cup the peridioles degrade over time to release the spores.

Here is a shot of a fluted bird’s nest cup with two disc shaped “eggs” in the bottom that I took earlier in 2015. It’s another of those miracles of nature that tend to boggle the mind.

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 coming by. I hope everyone has a safe and happy 4th of July tomorrow.

 

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There were two things I wanted to know last weekend; were turtles active yet and were trout lilies blooming. I couldn’t think of anyplace better to answer those questions than along the Ashuelot River, so last Saturday off I went along one of my favorite riverside trails. The water was quite high, probably from snow still melting in the higher elevations. Snow is still chest deep in the northern part of the state and they’re still having avalanches in the White Mountains, so reports have said.

I’ve been walking this trail for over 50 years so I know it well. There used to be a small wooden hut up ahead where that paved spot is. It had an open front facing the river and a bench to sit on, almost like a bus stop. It was made of wood so of course every young boy with a pocket knife had to come here and carve their initials into it, including me. I’ve wondered for years why it was there because in the 1960s this trail saw very little traffic. Traffic or not the trail was here and I think that it’s been here for quite a lot longer than I’ve been around because I think it was originally used by Native Americans. It’s close to many shallow areas in the river and there are lots of places to fish. It seems like it would be perfect for someone who lived off the land.

A pair of Canada geese chatted quietly off across a setback.

My question of active turtles was answered quickly. I also heard toads and tree frogs out here, as well as the little frogs we call spring peepers. It was great to hear them again. I wanted to get a better view of this turtle so I walked on, hoping for a side shot.

But all that was left was the log the turtle sat on. Not a very interesting subject.

I thought I had scared the turtle away but then I saw those two geese come steaming up the river and I wondered if they were what the turtle was afraid of. Do geese bother turtles? I don’t know the answer to that one. It’s a question that would require much sitting and watching to answer.

The geese weren’t afraid of me. In fact they followed along beside me as I went on. Maybe they thought I had a pocket full of bread. A couple of young boys on bikes came along, saw the geese and dropped their bikes. Once the geese saw them sit on the river bank they swam right over. Whether or not the boys had bread for them I don’t know.

It was a beautiful day but at 70 degrees F. it seemed warm and I was glad I hadn’t warn a jacket. The shirts I had on were plenty warm enough. There were lots of insects out but I didn’t get bitten by any of them.

There was still ice to be found in cool, shaded backwaters but the frogs were active and chirping even in places that still had ice.

A couple of posts ago I showed a papery trumpet shaped stem and wondered what it was. Luckily reader Eliza Waters recognized them and said they were jewel weed (Impatiens capensis) stems. I knew a lot of jewel weed grew in a spot along this trail and when I got there sure enough, there they were. Thanks again Eliza! Each stem is about a foot tall and has a trumpet shaped opening that looks just about right for a pea to sit in.

Ever since I was a young boy I’ve wondered what was over there on the other side of the river but since it probably would involve a lot of bushwhacking due to the lack of a trail, I’ve never gotten up enough ambition to find out. Maybe it’s better that way, but that glow does look inviting.

I suppose it’s a good thing I never did cross the river and follow along its far side. I might have been arrested. No hunting, no fishing and no trespassing pretty much covers everything.

That dark spot ahead is actually a wet spot, one of surprisingly few along this trail. The trail through these woods isn’t that far from where the railroad repair depot used to be in Keene, and the trail is black because it was “paved” with the unburned slag from the big steam locomotive fireboxes. This slag is usually called “clinkers” or “clinker ash” and it is made up of pieces of fused ash and sulfur which often built-up over time in a hot coal fire. Firebox temperature reached 2000 to 2300 degrees F. in a steam locomotive but they still didn’t burn the coal completely. A long tool called a fire hook was used to pull the clinkers out of the firebox and in Keene we must have had tons of the stuff, because it was used as ballast on many local railroad beds. The section that ran by my house was as black as coal.

I had finally reached the little red bridge, and this was the spot where my second question would be answered. I had been to another spot where thousands of yellow trout lilies grow and didn’t see any sign of them, not even a leaf. I thought this place might get more sunshine and maybe the soil warmed quicker, but there was still no sign of trout lilies. I could be rushing it though; I just discovered by looking back through the blog that April 20 is the earliest I’ve seen them.

I did admire some American wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) The leaves are just coming out of their purple winter color and turning green so they can begin photosynthesizing again. This plant is also called teaberry or checkerberry and its 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 medicinally. They also chewed the minty leaves on long hikes.

Alders love water and many grow here. This speckled alder (Alnus incana) lived up to its name.

I’ve tried for a long time to show you what alders look like with all their male catkins open and dangling like jewels and with the help of a flash I was finally able to get a photo. It isn’t as easy as I thought it would be; it only took 8 years.

The bent tree marks a side trail that I keep telling myself I’ll have to follow one day, but I never do. I hope to have much more time for such things once I retire. I’d love to be able to just sit in the woods again without a care like I did when I was a boy.

One of the many feeder streams along the trail had a lot of what looked like orange rust in its water and that’s why this photo of it looks so strange. It might be algae coloring it, or maybe last year’s decaying leaves. The reflections of the trees look as if they have leaves but the leaves are really on the bottom of the stream.

The greatest joy is not finding something that we’ve been looking for. The greatest joy is when we’d given up on ever finding it and then it found us.
~Craig D. Lounsbrough

Thanks for coming by.

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The word “Ashuelot” is pronounced Ash-will-ot if you’re from this area or Ash-wee-lot if you’re from away. The word is a Native American one meaning “collection of many waters.” For years I read that the word meant “the place between” but that didn’t make a lot of sense. “A collection of many waters” makes much more sense because that’s exactly what the river is. Wandering the banks of the Ashuelot is something I’ve done since I was too young to even retain the memory of doing so, and I do it often. On this day I was happy to see that the ice shelves had melted and the sandy / stony shoreline was back. The river has been very high for over a month and it’s good to see it finally ready to absorb the next big rain storm, which should come sometime in April unless that month has gone haywire too.

I stopped to admire some ice formations and take some photos so I wouldn’t have to try and explain how cold it was. Actually it wasn’t bad in the sunshine when the wind wasn’t blowing but it was blowing almost constantly along this stretch of river, so it was a day to be wrapped up like you would be in January.

The ice had formed discs on every twig that was in the water and this was remarkable only because the ever splashing water usually forms icy tear drop shapes on the twigs. In fact I don’t think I’ve ever seen these disc shapes here before.

Here is what I’m more used to seeing. Ice baubles I call them, but there weren’t many to be seen. They happen because of the way the current makes the water constantly rise and fall along the shoreline, so one second the twig is in the cold air and the next it’s under water. The runoff freezes and layer by layer and an ice bauble is made. It reminds me of dipping a wick in melted wax over and over again to make a candle.

This is where I come to practice my wave catching skills but there were none to catch on this day because the water was too low. It has to be at just the right height for good waves to form. Too low or too high and there are no waves. I took some photos anyway though, because the water looked like satin as it poured over the unseen stones that cause the waves.

Oak leaves huddled together as if to warm each other in the chilly breeze. I love the warm, orangey brown color of last year’s oak leaves, but I won’t be sorry to see them finally fall.

The oak buds seemed to be swelling a bit but it was hard to know. Oaks are one of our latest trees to leaf out in spring.

I saw a chubby little bird in a bush which looked like it was hoping I wouldn’t see it. I think it was a dark eyed junco but I’m not 100% sure of that. I see these small dark colored birds feeding in flocks along roadsides where the snow has melted away from the pavement , exposing the soil and grass. I’ve read that dark eyed juncos come here as winter sets in and leave in spring, so they must like the cold. There are said to be about 630 million of them from Alaska to Mexico, and all across the U.S. from coast to coast.

I wondered if the juncos were eating the sumac seeds so I had to look it up. Apparently they eat smaller seeds like those of grasses, lamb’s quarters and the like, and in warmer months they also eat insects. Robins, blue jays, grosbeaks, ruffed grouse, cardinals and other larger birds eat the sumac fruit, but it never disappears here until spring.

I went to visit the Ashuelot Falls on West Street in Keene. I used to fish here quite often when I was a boy but back then the river wasn’t as clean as it is now so I didn’t catch that many fish. An occasional perch or dace was about it but that was fine, because my being here really didn’t have much to do with catching fish anyway. I’d let a forked stick hold my pole while I explored the river bank. Now they catch trout here, I’m told.

I wouldn’t have been surprised to see ice pancakes in January but this was March, so I was surprised.

Ice pancakes form when the river foam stirred up by falls or other turbulence comes together into a misshapen lump. As the current moves the misshapen lumps they bump and jostle each other until all the rough edges are shaved off and they’ve become round like a pancake. Then they begin to freeze and their edges build up into rims.

Here is what an ice pancake looks like when it starts life, before its friends smooth out all those angles.

Canada geese waded in the shallows. More and more of them are returning to nest and raise their young in the reed beds along the river. There is always one lookout standing tall while the others preen, sleep, or eat and they count on their lookout to sound the alarm. I wondered if most of these birds even knew I was there.

My pointing the camera at them was too much for one or two of the geese and they swam off quickly.

Normally a river gets deeper as you go toward its middle but a sandbar has grown here, so the water in the middle is quite shallow. Not good for navigation but the geese know they can stand here rather than swim and they take advantage of being able to rest while still in the water. The shading from dark to lighter brown in this photo shows where the sandbar is.

A maple tree had been pecked full of holes by an unseen woodpecker.

I didn’t have to see this woodpecker to know it was a pileated woodpecker, which is our biggest. Its holes are large and almost always rectangular. All of the holes in the previous photo would fit inside this one with plenty of room to spare.

The hole in this old red maple (Acer rubrum) was the biggest of all but I doubt very much that it was made by a bird or an animal. I think the river has washed the soil out from under it.

The hole was plenty big and roomy enough for me to comfortably sit in, almost like a hobbit.

I knew the old tree was a red maple by its buds. The bud scales in many of these examples had pulled back to reveal the many pinkish flowers inside. Those over on the left were even protruding a bit from the bud, but it was still too early to tell if they were male or female blossoms. It’s a good thing they hadn’t fully opened because the temperature fell to zero degrees on this night. The cold isn’t going to leave quickly this year but today is the first full day of spring, even if it doesn’t seem it.

I was born upon thy bank, river,
My blood flows in thy stream,
And thou meanderest forever,
At the bottom of my dream.
~Henry David Thoreau

Thanks for coming by.

 

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The weather people are saying we’re in a “very active pattern” right now. The rest of us are saying “enough.” It wasn’t that long ago when the ground was bare except for plowed up snow piles, but then winter decided it wasn’t finished and we’ve had one nor’easter after another ever since. The first was rain, the second was snow, and the third is snow. Snow at this time of year doesn’t usually stay long but the cooler temperatures of late mean that it’s melting slower than many of us would like.

Despite the storms spring is definitely close at hand. Canada geese have returned and have taken up residence in the Ashuelot River. Soon they’ll be choosing nesting sites.

Willows are shouting spring. I love how they take on this golden color in the spring. It seems unusual that a tree’s branches rather than its foliage would change color, but there they are. Forsythia bushes sometimes do the same thing.

The willow in the previous photo isn’t a “pussy willow” but I did go and visit some. The fuzzy catkins hadn’t changed much since last week but they can grow into yellow flowers quickly. It happened so fast last year that I never did get a good photo of a willow flower. This year I’ll be keeping an eye on them.

The vernal witch hazels have just about bloomed themselves out I think, after blooming for two or three weeks now with storm after storm thrown at them.

It isn’t the cold or snow that will finish their blooming though, it is simply time. You can see in this photo how almost all the petals are brown on their tips. If the winter moths have done their job and pollinated them there will be plenty of seed pods next year. After a year on the bush witch hazel seed pods open with explosive force and can hurl the seeds for many yards. It is said that you can hear them snapping open but it’s a case of being in the right place at the right time, and so far I haven’t been.

Hollyhocks were a surprise. At least I think they’re hollyhocks. I don’t remember them coming along so early, and I used to work for people who grew them. Now I wonder if they aren’t evergreen.

I’ve remembered that the extremely early tulips I’ve been telling you about are actually hyacinths. I remembered their wonderful scent from last year as I was taking their photo. There will be deep blue and pink blossoms here before too long.

Maple syrup makers won’t want to hear this but the red maple flower clusters (Acer rubrum) have opened. You can just see the first flowers peeking out on the right in this poor photo. It’ll still be a while before the flowers unfurl, but they’re on the way and they’re beautiful to see in spring. There are so many red maple trees that the forest comes alive with a red haze when they all bloom together.

I also checked on striped maples (Acer pensylvanicum) but didn’t see any signs of bud break. This is one of those tree buds I most look forward to seeing open, because the pink and orange buds are beautiful when they first open.

Here’s a preview of what those striped maple buds will look like in late April or early May. A tree full of them is really something to see.

I found this mountain of snow when I went to visit the skunk cabbages. It will be a while before it and what was added to it yesterday disappears.

The swamp where the skunk cabbages grow is also home to thousands of spring peepers. On a warm spring day you can often find this part of their swamp filled with floating, chirping frogs, but this was not a warm day and in any event I haven’t heard the frogs singing at night yet. I also still haven’t heard red winged blackbirds or seen any turtles, but spring is moving forward so it shouldn’t be long.

The skunk cabbages (Symplocarpus foetidus) were melting their way through the snow. I’ve seen a surprising number of insects flying around on warmer days so if the plants can stay uncovered they have a good chance of being pollinated.

I went to see how the alders were doing and got this shot of both male and female catkins on the same branch. This doesn’t happen often so I was happy to finally get them both in the same frame. The longer lower ones are the male catkins and the smaller ones at the top are the female catkins. When they’ve been pollinated the female catkins will become the small cone shaped seed bearing strobiles that I think most of us are probably familiar with. I was hoping to see pollen on the male catkins, but not quite yet.

While I was poking around looking at alders I noticed a bird’s nest. I wondered if it was a used red winged blackbird’s nest, because they vigorously defend this area when they’re here.

I checked the female buds of American hazelnuts (Corylus americana,) but I didn’t see any flowers yet. Last year they bloomed near March first but this year the weather must be holding them back. Any time now though the tiny scarlet threads that are the female stigmas will appear.

The daffodils still hang on even though winter has thrown everything it has at them. Last year they came up too early and their leaves turned to mush, so it’ll be interesting to see if they have enough strength left to bloom this year. I haven’t seen any flower buds yet.

The daylilies also made it through the last storm, but I wonder if they’ll make it all the way.

Crocuses are coming up and trying to bloom where the snow is thin. Unfortunately it isn’t thin in many places at the moment.

The biggest surprise on this day was a blooming dandelion. It wouldn’t win a prize in a flower show but it was a flower, and the plant had many buds. No matter what the calendar says this dandelion says spring is here. That along with the fact that we now have an extra hour of daylight at the end of the day is enough to bring on a good case of spring fever.

It’s spring fever, that’s what the name of it is. And when you’ve got it, you want — oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so! ~Mark Twain

Thanks for coming by.

 

 

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We’ve had some hot weather lately and that always makes me want to be near water, and of course when I’m near water I can’t help noticing the plants that grow there. Cattails (Typha latifolia) are the easiest to see, sometimes towering to 6 or 8 feet tall. They can grow faster than fertilized corn and can create monocultures by shading out other plants with their dense foliage and debris from old growth. They are very beneficial to many animals and birds and even the ponds and lakes they grow in by filtering runoff water and helping reduce the amount of silt and nutrients that flow into them. Scientists have recorded cattail marshes travel up to 17 feet in a year with prime conditions just by sending out new shoots. Of course, that doesn’t account for all the new plants that grow from seed.

Cattail flowers start life with the female green flowers appearing near the top of a tall stalk and the fluffy yellowish green male pollen bearing  flowers above them. Once fertilized the female parts turn from green to dark brown and the male flowers will fall off, leaving a stiff pointed spike above the familiar cigar shaped seed head. Cattail flowers are very prolific; one stalk can produce an estimated 220,000 seeds. Cattails were an important food for Native Americans. Their roots contain more starch than potatoes and more protein than rice, and native peoples made flour from them.  They also ate the new shoots in spring, which must have been especially welcome after a long winter of eating dried foods. They had uses for every part of this plant; even the pollen was harvested and used in bread.

Though Native Americans used blue flag irises medicinally its roots are considered dangerously toxic and people who dig cattail roots to eat have to be very careful that there are no irises growing among them, because the two plants often grow side by side. Natives showed early settlers how to use small amounts of the dried root safely as a cathartic and diuretic, but unless one is absolutely sure of what they’re doing it’s best to just admire this one. This photo is of the last one I saw blooming this year.

Bur reed grows just off shore but I’ve also found it growing in wet, swampy places at the edge of forests. Bur reeds can be a challenge to identify even for botanists, but I think the one pictured is American bur reed (Sparganium americanum.) There are two types of flowers on this plant. The smaller and fuzzier staminate male flowers grow at the top of the stem and the larger pistillate female flowers lower down.

The male staminate flowers of bur reed look fuzzy from a distance and kind of haphazard up close.

The female bur reed flowers are always lower down on the stem and look spiky rather than fuzzy. They’re less than a half inch across. After pollination the male flowers fall off and the female flowers become a bur-like cluster of beaked fruits that ducks and other waterfowl eat. The flowers of bur reed always remind me of those of buttonbush. This plant can colonize a pond very quickly. I know of one small pond that started with 2 or 3 plants a few years ago and now nearly half the pond is being choked out by them.

The seeds of the yellow pond lily plant (Nuphar lutea) were a very valuable food source to Native Americans, who ground them into flour. They also popped them much like popcorn, but unless the seeds are processed correctly they can be very bitter and foul tasting. The plant was also medicinally valuable to many native tribes. There were tiny flies crawling over most of the blossoms I saw on this day.

Mad dog skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) plants grow in great bunches along the shorelines of lakes and ponds. These small blue-violet flowers get their common name from the way that the calyx at the base of the flowers look a bit like a medieval helmet, called a skull cap, and how the plant was once thought to cure rabies because of its anti-spasmodic properties. Though it doesn’t cure rabies there is powerful medicine in this little plant so it should never be eaten. When Native Americans wanted to go on a spirit walk or vision quest this was one of the plants they chose.

Mad-Dog Skullcap has the smallest flowers among the various skullcaps and they always grow in pairs in the leaf axils. Another skullcap, marsh skullcap (Scutellaria galericulata,) looks very similar and the two are difficult to tell apart. Both grow in full sun on grassy hummocks at the water’s edge, but the blossoms of mad dog skullcap are slightly smaller than those of marsh skullcap.

Some of the aquatic plants that I like to see up close grow far enough out in the water to have to be photographed from a boat or by swimming out to them with a waterproof camera. If you really want to challenge your photographic skills, try photographing aspirin sized flowers from a kayak that you can’t keep still.

Swamp roses (Rosa palustris) are about as big as an Oreo cookie and grew where I kayaked in great numbers. This rose, like many other plants, grows on hummocks  and small islands but it can grow in drier locations as well. I saw a lot of swamp milkweed too, but I couldn’t get close enough for a photo.

One day I saw a couple of Canada goose families eating cherries from cherry trees that had bent low over the water. I didn’t know that they did this.

The adults seemed to be trying to teach the goslings how to get at the cherries but the little birds didn’t have the neck stretch it took to reach the fruit.

What I believe is creeping spike rush (Eleocharis macrostachya) isn’t a rush at all; it’s a sedge, so I’m not sure why it’s called a rush. As sedges go this one is very small; just a spiked stem with a brushy little flower head on top and a couple of basal leaves. It likes to grow in standing water at pond and lake edges, just off shore but I’ve read that it will also grow in ditches, vernal pools, and wet meadows.

The flower head of this sedge is called a spikelet and it is about a half inch long. The cream colored oval parts are the male flowers and the wispy white feathery bits are the female flowers. There are several sedges in this family that look nearly identical so I could be wrong about its name. According to the book Grasses: An Identification Guide by Lauren Brown, the only way to tell them apart is by their tiny fruits, and I doubt that I could even see them.

Dwarf St. John’s wort (Hypericum mutilum) is a small, bushy plant that gets about ankle high and has flowers that resemble those found on its larger cousin, St. John’s wort. A noticeable difference, apart from their small size, is how the flowers lack the brown spots often found on the petals of the larger version. Since the plants often grow right at the water’s edge, you usually have to get wet knees to get a good photo of them.

One of the bonuses of looking for aquatics is that you see a lot of dragonflies, like this male common whitetail dragonfly. This dragonfly rests on twigs and grasses near the water, and sometimes on the ground. I haven’t seen one on the ground but I have seen them on stones. This isn’t a very good shot but he only perched long enough for one click of the shutter.

If only narrow leaved speedwell (Veronica scutellata) would grow at the water’s edge. Instead it grows in standing water in a very wet but sunny meadow and by the time I was finished taking its photo my feet were soaked. How odd it seems that a meadow could be in full sun all day every day and still be so wet, but we have had a lot of rain. The plant is also called marsh speedwell and that makes perfect sense.

Here’s a closer look at the flower of the narrow leaved speedwell. Small blue flowers with darker blue stripes are typical of speedwells, but these can also be white or purple. They are very small and only have room for two stamens and a needle-like pistil. The plants obviously love water because there were many plants growing in this very wet area. If you were looking for a native plant for the shallow edges of a water garden it might be a good choice. Though most speedwells we see here are non-native, this one belongs here. Like lobelias, Native Americans used plants in the veronica family to treat asthma.

Native swamp candles (Lysimachia terrestris) are one of our yellow loosestrifes that bloom at about the same time as the yellow whorled loosestrife that I spoke of in my last post. But whorled loosestrife likes dry ground and swamp candles like to have their feet wet most of the time. They are common along the edges of ponds and wetlands at this time of year. I’ve even seen them growing in standing water.

Swamp candles stand about 1-2 feet tall and have a club shaped flower head (raceme) made up of 5 petaled yellow flowers. With darker vegetation behind them swamp candles really live up to their name.

Though they are very hard to see in this example because of the bright light each yellow petal of a swamp candle flower has two red dots at its base that help form a ring of ten red dots around the five long stamens in the center of the flower. The petals are often streaked with red and the flowers are about half the size as those of whorled loosestrife.

Queen of all the aquatics in my opinion is the very beautiful fragrant white water lily (Nymphaea odorata.) A bright yellow fire burns in the center of its snow white petals, and its fragrance is much like that of honeydew melon. There are some flowers that are so beautiful I want to just sit and gaze at them all day, and this is one of them. To see a pond full of them is breathtaking.

It is life, I think, to watch the water. A man can learn so many things. ~Nicholas Sparks

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1-purple-cort

Do mushrooms wait until it rains before they fruit? This purple cort (Cortinarius iodeoides) would have me answer yes to that question because it’s the latest I’ve ever seen them. I usually find them in August. Mushrooms are the fruiting body of mycelium, which is found underground. The mycelium could be compared to a tree and the mushroom its fruit. The fruit is what we see growing above ground, but this fruit has spores instead of seeds. Rain helps mushrooms spread their spores., so it would make sense for them to wait for rain to fruit. We had a good day of rain recently and finally, here are the mushrooms. Purple corts often have a slimy cap and are toxic enough to make you sick. Slugs are the only critters that I’ve seen eat them.

2-velvet-shank-mushrooms

Velvet foot (Flammulina velutipes) mushrooms are considered a “winter mushroom” and they can usually be found from October through early spring. Though many say that they grow on logs I always find them growing in clusters on standing trees, particularly on American elm (Ulmus americana) as they were in this photo. They are very cold hardy and I sometimes find them dusted with snow. This group had just appeared and was very small; no more than an inch and a half high.

3-velvet-shank-mushrooms

On another nearby elm tree this grouping, probably about six inches from top to bottom, grew. The orange caps of these mushrooms often shade to brown in the center and are very slimy and sticky. The stem is covered in fine downy hairs that darken toward the bottom and that’s where their common name comes from. When the temperature drops below freezing on a winter day it’s a real pleasure to see them.

4-velvet-shank-mushrooms

Still another grouping of velvet foot mushrooms grew on another nearby elm, and these had reached full size, with caps maybe 3 inches across. Though the caps are slimy it was raining on this day so they were also wet. They aren’t usually this shiny. I’ve never been able to find an answer to the question of why some mushrooms wait until cold weather to fruit. Another one that is commonly seen when it gets cold is the fall oyster mushroom (Panellus serotinus.)

5-turkey-tails

Turkey tails (Trametes versicolor) have been all but invisible this year but I did find the brown ones pictured here recently. I was hoping for another year like last year when they grew in beautiful shades of blue, purple, and orange but I suppose the drought has affected them. This bracket fungus gets its common name from the way it resembles a turkey’s tail, and according to the American Cancer Society there is some scientific evidence that substances derived from turkey tail fungi may be useful against cancer.

6-lion-s-mane-fungus-aka-hericium-americanum

Bear’s head, also called lion’s mane mushroom (Hericlum americanum) is a beautiful toothed fungus that looks like a fungal waterfall. Soft spines hang from branches that reach out from a thick central stalk. As it ages it will change from white to cream to brown, and the brown tips on this example means it has aged some. This one was small; about the same size as a hen’s egg, but I’ve seen them as big as a grapefruit. They seem to fruit toward the end of summer but this year they’re later than in recent years.

7-wolfs-milk-slime-mold

I keep my eye out at this time of year for what look like small, pea size white or pink puffballs. They aren’t puffballs though, so if you squeeze them you’ll be in for a surprise.

8-wolfs-milk-slime-mold

The “puffballs” are actually a slime mold called wolf’s milk slime mold (Lycogala epidendrum) and if you squeeze them when they’re young instead of the smoke like spores you would expect from a puffball, you often get pink or orange liquid. Though books say that the consistency is that of toothpaste I almost always find liquid like that seen in the photo. As it ages the liquid will become like toothpaste before finally turning into a mass of brown powdery spores. By that time the outside will have also turned brown and at that stage of its life this slime mold could probably be confused with a small puffball. I think these examples were very young.

9-fallen-tree

Something you don’t hear much about until you have a drought is how the dryness weakens the trees enough to make them topple over. Dryness can cause the root system to shrink and makes it hard for the roots to hold onto the dry soil. Without a good strong root system trees can become almost top heavy. Sometimes all it takes is a gust of wind to bring down a big tree like the one in the above photo, so you have to watch the weather before going into the woods. I just heard that, rather than a single summer of drought, this current one has been ongoing for about 4 years. Though that may be true this was the first year that it was so obviously dry in this corner of the state.

10-maple-leaf-viburnum

Falling trees or not I’ll be going into the woods because that’s where you find things like this beautiful maple leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium.) The leaves on this native shrub have an amazing color range, from purple to orange to pink, but they always end up almost white, with just a faint hint of pastel pink.

11-bittersweet-berries

There are many berries ripening right now and the birds are happy. Unfortunately they love the berries of invasive Oriental bittersweet and help it in its quest to rule the world. This vine is very strong like wire and as it twines its way around tree trunks it strangles them. Once it reaches the tree canopy it grows thickly and covers it, stealing all the light from the tree. It’s common to see a completely dead tree still supporting a tangle of bittersweet, and sometimes the vine is the only thing holding it up.

12-burning-bush-fruit

Another invasive that’s fruiting right now is burning bush (Euonymus alatus.) It’s a beautiful shrub in the fall but Its sale and importation is banned here in New Hampshire now because of the way it can take over whole swaths of forest floor. Birds love the berries and spread the seeds everywhere, so it isn’t uncommon to find a stand of them growing in the woods. I know a place where hundreds of them grow and though they are beautiful at this time of year not another shrub grows near them. This is because they produce such dense shade it’s hard for anything else to get started.

13-canada-mayflower-berries

Canada mayflower (Maianthemum canadense) is described as “a dominant understory perennial flowering plant” and dominate it is, often covering huge swaths of shaded forest floor. It forms monocultures in forests and also invades woodland gardens, where it is almost impossible to eradicate. Its tiny white four petaled flowers become red berries that are loved by many birds and small animals. It’s a native plant that acts like an invasive.

14-cranberry

The native cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon) have ripened and normally you’d get your feet wet harvesting them, but this year they were high and dry because of the drought. The pilgrims named this fruit “crane berry” because they thought the flowers looked like sandhill cranes. They were taught how to use the berries by Native Americans, who used them as a food, as a medicine, and as a dye. Bears, deer, mice, grouse and many other birds eat the fruit.

15-geese

Each year for as long as I can remember hundreds of Canada geese have stopped over on their way south in the fall to glean what they can from the cornfields. The harvester must spill quite a bit to feed such large flocks of geese.

16-sensitive-fern

Early settlers noticed this fern’s sensitivity to frost and named it sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis.) This fern loves low, damp places so when you see it it’s a fair bet that the soil stays on the wet side. I don’t know if they eat it or use it for bedding, but beavers harvest this fern and I’ve seen them swimming with large bundles of it in their mouth.

17-forsythia

A Forsythia couldn’t seem to make up its mind what color it wanted to be.

18-witch-hazel

Another odd thing about this drought is how trees like oak are loaded with acorns and shrubs like witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) have more flowers than I’ve ever seen. They’re very beautiful this year, and fragrant too.

19-monkshood

Witch hazels might be late bloomers but so is aconite, commonly called monkshood (Aconitum napellus.) It’s a beautiful flower which, if you look at it from the side, looks just like a monk’s hood.  This plant can take a lot of cold and its blooms appear quite late in the season. Though beautiful the plant is extremely toxic; enough to have been used on spear and arrow tips in ancient times. In ancient Rome anyone found growing the plant could be put to death because aconite was often used to eliminate one’s enemies. It is also called wolfbane, because it once used to kill wolves.

Beauty is something that changes your life, not something you understand. ~Marty Rubin

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1. Road to Work

Good morning! As many of you read this I’ll probably be on my way to work, which is where the road in this photo leads. May is living up to its promise of spring beauty and the many shades of green seem particularly vibrant this year.

2. Canada Geese

One morning on my way to work I saw mother goose. Father goose was there too and so were their rapidly growing goslings. Since I was early I was able to sit with them for a few minutes, watching the parent geese bob their heads up and down on their long necks. I think their head bobbing behavior was meant to signal a threat but the goslings were having none of that and just kept on eating as if I wasn’t even there.

3. Interrupted Fern

There are many ferns up and still unfurling their long fronds. The interrupted fern (Osmunda claytoniana) gets its common name from the way its green infertile leaflets are “interrupted” about half way up the stem by the darker colored fertile leaflets. The fertile leaflets are much smaller and their color makes them stand out even at a distance. This fern doesn’t seem to mind dry, sunny spots because that’s usually where I find them.

4. Interrupted Fern

The leaflets on the interrupted fern’s fertile fronds are covered with tiny, round spore producing sporangia. They will release their spores through tiny openings and then fall off, leaving a piece of naked (interrupted) stem between the upper and lower infertile leaflets.

5. Cinnamon Fern

Both the cinnamon (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) and interrupted ferns have wooly fiddleheads that make them hard to tell apart in the fiddlehead stage, but at this stage the fertile fronds make identification easier. The fertile fronds on cinnamon fern are separate from the infertile fronds and there is no gap or interruption along the stem. These fertile fronds once reminded someone of sticks of cinnamon, and that’s how the fern comes by its common name.

6. Cinnamon Fern

I don’t think of cinnamon sticks when I see the cinnamon fern’s fertile fronds, but I’m not naming it so that’s okay. These fronds are covered with tiny sporangia just like those on the interrupted fern and they’ll release their spores in the same way.

7. Cinnamon Fern

Here’s a close-up of the cinnamon fern’s sporangia. They’re hardly bigger than a pin head so I had to push my camera to the limit for a useable shot of them.

8. Stream

I have a calendar that has a view looking up a stream for the month of May and it’s a beautiful photo, so I thought I’d try to replicate it. I failed at that but I decided to keep the above photo because it shows what it’s like in the woods right now, with the light streaming through all the different shades of green.

9. Beech

But it isn’t just green that you see in spring; many new leaves unfurl in shades of red and maroon, as these beautiful beech leaves show so well. According to Chittenden (Vermont) County Forester Michael Snyder, most hardwood tree leaves have some red in them when they open. They turn green gradually as they produce more chlorophyll but cool, cloudy weather like we had in April prevents them from making chlorophyll, so they remain reddish until the sun comes out and it warms up. The beech leaves in this photo were growing from a stump on the shaded edge of the forest and were slow to turn green.

10. Rattlesnake Weed

Why some plants have red leaves in spring isn’t fully understood, but it’s thought that the color helps protect their new, fragile leaves from damaging ultraviolet rays and cold temperatures. It isn’t just trees that use this strategy; many shrubs and plants also have new leaves tinged with red. The rattlesnake weed (Hieracium venosum) in the above photo shows just how red some new spring leaves can be, though it has some that have started to turn green. Eventually all its leaves will be green but the red won’t disappear entirely; a deep maroon color will be left on their veins, making this a very beautiful plant.

11. Hawkweed Buds

Rattlesnake weed is in the hawkweed family and though I didn’t look at its still tiny buds I’m sure they will grow to look like these that I saw on a hawkweed plant. They are very hairy.

12. Ladybug Eggs

I went to visit a larch tree (Larix laricina) that I know to see if it was flowering and found these tiny yellow jellybean like objects on one of the needles. It wasn’t very big; the entire cluster was half the size of the head of a match, and each tiny object was about 1/4 of an inch long. It took some research to discover that they were ladybug eggs. I saw a ladybug on a branch too, so it makes sense. Why they choose larch needles to lay their eggs on is anyone’s guess.

13. Larch Flower

This is what I was looking for when I got distracted by the ladybug eggs; a larch flower, which will eventually become a small brown cone. These are even smaller than the cluster of ladybug eggs and are hard to see, but it’s always worth it because they’re beautiful little things. I had trouble getting a photo of one this year because they are almost too small for me to see. I think a dozen of them could dance on my thumbnail, so I look for color rather than shape.

14. White Morel

I saw the honeycombed cap of a yellow morel mushroom (Morchella esculentoides) near the larch tree. This is supposed to be a choice edible mushroom but since I’m not really a mushroom person I left it for someone who is. This example stood only about 4 inches high and wouldn’t have made much of a meal.

15. Gray Feather

I’m always finding feathers everywhere I go and this one seemed interesting with its black stripe so I took a photo of it. When I got home I tried to figure out what kind of bird lost it. It was only about 6 inches long so I thought it was maybe a grackle feather, but I didn’t see any feathers that looked like this one on line from any bird. Instead I found reams of information on what feather colors mean. Gray signifies peace and neutrality, authenticity and flexibility, while black signifies protection and warning, mystical wisdom, and spiritual growth. I don’t know the truth of any of that but I have read that Native Americans held all feathers in high regard and considered them a gift from the bird that left them. Birds were considered messengers; if this were a raven feather for instance, it would symbolize creation and knowledge – the bringer of the light.

16. Shagbark Hickory

I know a place along the Ashuelot River in Swanzey where shagbark hickory trees grow, and each spring along about the first week of May I start checking the buds for signs of swelling. The buds are fairly big anyway, but they swell up to the size of an average human’s big toe before the bud scales open to reveal a new crop of leaves. The insides of the bud scales are often striped with shades of yellow, pink, orange or red and a tree full of them is a very beautiful sight. There are many things in nature that can take us out of ourselves and let us walk in a higher place for a time, and for me this is one of them.

17. Stream

This post was about showing you spring in New Hampshire but I’ve only just scratched the surface. I don’t think I could ever show you everything there is to see, but I’ll keep trying. I hope spring is just as beautiful where you live and I hope you can get outside to enjoy it.

It is very important to go out alone, to sit under a tree—not with a book, not with a companion, but by yourself—and observe the falling of a leaf, hear the lapping of the water, the fishermen’s song, watch the flight of a bird, and of your own thoughts as they chase each other across the space of your mind. If you are able to be alone and watch these things, then you will discover extraordinary riches which no government can tax, no human agency can corrupt, and which can never be destroyed. ~ Jiddu Krishnamurti

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1. Rhubarb

I saw a great example of bud break in this rhubarb plant. Bud break is defined as “when the green tip of a leaf can be seen emerging from the bud,” but there is often far more to it than that. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a more crinkly leaf.

2. Gritty British Soldier Lichen

At first I thought these were British soldier lichens but something about them didn’t seem quite right. They seemed almost gritty, and that’s because they’re gritty British soldiers (Cladonia floerkeanna.) They like to grow on well-rotted wood or soil and I found this example on very old wood. The stems are covered with granules and squamules, which are lobed, scale like growths on the body of a lichen.

3. Birds Nest Fungus

Fluted bird’s nest fungi (Cyathus striatus) grew in the mulch at a local park. The tiny funnel shaped nests are the spore producing fruiting bodies of this fungus and are called peridia. Their shape makes them splash cups and when a raindrop falls into one it splashes out the eggs (peridioles), which contain the spores. Unfortunately the eggs had already been splashed out of these examples, but I’m hoping they might produce another crop.

4. Birds Nest Fungus

This view of the bird’s nest fungus shows the funnel shape and inside flutes. The flutes on the inside and brown hairs on the outside are identifying features. Each one is about .39 inches (1 cm) tall. They are very hard to spot since they are so small and essentially the same color as the wood that they grow on, and this is only the second time that I’ve ever seen them. They felt quite tough and almost woody.

5. Great Blue Heron

Even though I was sitting in my truck taking photos through the windshield this great blue heron was determined to keep as many cattails between us as he could. Then just for a few seconds he stepped out into the open to catch a spring peeper and was caught in the above photo. The small pond is full of spring peepers and he was doing his best to clean it up. He caught a few while I watched but I couldn’t catch the action with the camera. The pond also has some big snapping turtles in it but I don’t know if they’d bother a bird this big.

6. Canada Geese

Along the Ashuelot river the Canada geese came as close to shore as I’ve ever seen. Normally they stay well out in the middle but on this day for some reason they had no fear. They were also very quiet and didn’t honk once the entire time I was there, which is also unusual. They’re usually quite loud.

7. Canada Goose

This one kept a wary eye on me as if wondering just what I was up to. Or it could have been that he was hoping for a few crumbs of bread, but I didn’t have any.

8. Striped Maple

The buds of striped maples (Acer pensylvanicum) have just started to break. These are among the most beautiful buds in the forest, covered in soft down which is sometimes orange and sometimes pink, and often both together. They are worth looking for, and now is the time. Soon two other beautiful leaf bids will open; beech and shagbark hickory. Those are events I never miss.

9. Woodpecker Tree

I’m guessing that this tree is a woodpecker’s equivalent to the corner convenience store. I’ve never seen a tree so full of holes, and they went all the way up the trunk. It must be full of insects.

10. Colonial Coin

You might think I’m straying far from the forest when you see this coin but since it was found in the forest I’m really not straying far. I show it here for the history buffs out there and because it’s a very important coin; the first official copper one cent piece ever minted in the Colonial United States. It was designed by Benjamin Franklin and is called the Fugio cent because of its image of the sun shining down on a sundial in the center with the word “Fugio” on the left. Fugio is Latin for “I flee / fly,” which when shown with the sundial reminds the bearer that time flies. On the right is the date 1787 and at the bottom are the words “Mind Your Business.” A coworker found it near an old cellar hole in the woods. To hold something over 200 years old that Benjamin Franklin had a hand in was a rare treat.

11. Colonial Coin Reverse

The reverse side of the coin has the words “We Are One” in the center, surrounded by the words “United States.” A chain with 13 links symbolizes the 13 original states. I wonder how much it must have hurt to lose this coin in 1787. At about the diameter of a Kennedy half dollar (1.2 inches) it is large for a cent.

12. Ramps

Ramps (Allium tricoccum) are up and growing fast. These wild leeks look like scallions and taste somewhere between an onion and garlic. They are a favorite spring vegetable from Quebec to Tennessee, and ramp festivals are held in almost all states on the U.S. east coast and many other countries in the world. Unfortunately they are slow growers and a ten percent harvest of a colony can take ten years to grow back. They take up to 18 months to germinate from seed, and five to seven years to mature enough to harvest. That’s why ramp harvesting has been banned in many national and state parks and in pats of Canada, and why Ramp farming is now being promoted by the United States Department of Agriculture.

13. Ramp Bulbs

This is what the complete ramp looks like. I foolishly pulled these two plants three years ago before I knew they were being threatened. The bulbs and leaves are said to be very strongly flavored with a pungent odor. In some places they are called “The king of stink.” The name ramps comes from the English word ramson, which is a common name of the European bear leek (Allium ursinum), which is a cousin of the North American wild leek. Their usage has been recorded throughout history starting with the ancient Egyptians. They were an important food for Native Americans and later for white settlers as well.

14. False Hellebore

False hellebores (Veratrum viride) grow close to the ramps and woe be to the forager who confuses them. Though all parts of ramps are edible false hellebore is one of the most toxic plants in the New England forest, so it would be wise to know both well before foraging for ramps. One clue would be the deeply pleated leaves of the false hellebore, which look nothing like ramp leaves. Second would be the color; ramps are a much deeper green. Third would be size; everything about false hellebore is bigger, including leaf size. The final clue would be the roots. False hellebore roots are tough and fibrous and don’t look at all like the bulbous, scallion like root of ramps. I’m really surprised that anyone could confuse the two, but apparently it does happen.

15. Willow

I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a willow more colorful than this one was. A kind of orange red, I think.

16. Robin

This robin watched me watch him. He was only about two feet away and just sat quietly while I took his photo. I said thank you and told him that his photo would be seen all around the world. He didn’t seem at all impressed and went back to seeing what he could find to eat.

The serenity produced by the contemplation and philosophy of nature is the only remedy for prejudice, superstition, and inordinate self-importance, teaching us that we are all a part of Nature herself, strengthening the bond of sympathy which should exist between ourselves and our brother man. ~Luther Burbank

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1. Stream IceWinter made a strong comeback last week with daytime temperatures barely reaching the 20s and nights near zero, so everything froze up again. The weather can often change dramatically and quickly in New England and this winter has certainly done its best to prove it; today we might see 70 degrees.

2. Stuck Log

A tree got stuck on the Ashuelot River dam and the spray grew into long icicles.

3. Canada Geese

The Canada geese drew me over to the river with their loud honking. Several of them seemed to be looking for something and honked back and forth as they swam and walked the shore. Could they be looking for nesting sites, I wonder? I’ve also seen many flocks flying overhead lately.

4. Canada Geese Flying

I must have spooked them because all of the sudden several of them flew up river, letting me get the first fuzzy shot of a bird in flight to ever appear on this blog.

5. Ice in Bushes

Ice high on the branches of the bushes told the story of the drop in water level. I’d guess it must have been at least 5 feet from the surface of the water.

6. Witch Hazel

The yellow vernal witch hazel that grows in the park by the river was blooming heavily. What a change from the last time I was here when there wasn’t a flower to be seen on it.

7. Witch Hazel

If there is a color combination more pleasing than yellow and blue, I can’t think of what it would be. When I see this shade of yellow I think of daffodil, dandelion, and Forsythia blossoms.

8. Cornelian Cherry

Since Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) doesn’t bloom until mid-April I was surprised to see that its bud scales had opened to reveal a glimpse of its yellow buds. Cornelian cherry is in the dogwood family and is our earliest blooming member of that family, often blooming at just about the same time as forsythias do. The small yellow flowers will produce fruit that resembles a red olive and which will mature in the fall. It is very sour but high in vitamin C and has been used for at least 7000 years for both food and medicine. In northern Greece early Neolithic people left behind remains of meals that included Cornelian cherry, and the Persians and early Romans also knew it well.

9. Box Buds

Box shrubs (Buxus) were showing white flower buds in their leaf axils. They will open into small greenish yellow flowers soon. The flowers are very fragrant and attract a lot of bees. These small leaved, easy to trim shrubs are usually used ornamentally, often in hedges. Only the European and some Asian species are frost hardy and evergreen, so any examples seen here in New Hampshire are from those parts of the world. Box is another plant that has been used by man since ancient times; it was used for hedges in Egypt as early as 4000 BC.  Some species of box can live as long as 600 years.

10. Swamp

I made my way to a beaver pond to see if the beavers were awake yet, but the only sign of activity was a woodpecker drumming on a distant tree.

11. Beaver Lodge

Skunks have come out of hibernation and chipmunks are once again scampering along the stone walls so I’m sure the beavers must be awake, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at their lodge. They might have abandoned this area.

12. Heron Nest

We had some ferocious winds one day that blew to near 50 miles per hour but the great blue heron nest stayed in the dead tree in the beaver swamp. It looks like it might need some tidying up, but it held.

13. Hole Under Tree

I found what was left of a wild turkey here last year and I wondered if a bobcat had gotten it. I didn’t see this hole under a tree then, but it looked to be the perfect place for a bobcat den. That could explain the lack of chipmunks in this place. Bobcats are doing well in New Hampshire and there is now a debate raging here about whether or not there should be a bobcat hunting season. They do a lot of good in the way of rodent population control and I say let them be. Though they can rarely reach 60 pounds in weight most aren’t a lot bigger than a house cat and are rarely seen. After having a few run ins with feral house cats over the years I know that I wouldn’t want to tangle with a bobcat, no matter what it weighed.

14. Stilted Golden Birch

Sometimes if a stump or log has decayed enough tree seeds can grow on them. In this photo a golden birch (Betula alleghaniensis) grew on a log that has since mostly rotted away, leaving the birch to look as if it’s standing on stilts. From what I’ve seen any type of tree will do this.

15. Hellebore Buds

The pale shoots of hellebore (Helleborus) were nestled under last season’s leaves. Once they grow up into the sun they’ll become deep green but for now they are blanched white. A common name for hellebore is Lenten rose because it blooms very early; often during lent. This year lent ends on March 24th, so this plant has some fast growing to do if it’s going to live up to the name.

16. Skunk Cabbage

The curvy, splotchy spathes of the skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) flowers have come up fully now but the foliage shoots are just sitting and waiting for the right time. Once they’ve started they will grow quickly and the leaves will hide what we see here.

17. Skunk Cabbage Swamp

The swamp where the skunk cabbages grow looked like it was frozen solid but with all the thin ice warnings this winter I didn’t want to try my luck. There’s nothing quite like a boot full of ice water.

18. Pussy Willow

The pussy willows have gotten bigger since the last time I saw them. I love their beautiful bright yellow flowers and I’m looking forward to seeing them again soon. They’re among the earliest to bloom.

19. Red Maple Buds

Red maples (Acer rubrum) protect their buds with as many as four pairs of rounded, hairy edged bud scales. The scales are often plum purple and the bud inside tomato red. If you see more red than purple on the buds that’s a sign that they’ve began to swell. Red maple is one of the first of our native trees to blossom in spring and also one of the most beautiful, in my opinion. Each small bud holds as many as 6-8 red blossoms. Red maple trees can be strictly male or female, or can have both male and female blossoms on a single tree. They bloom before the leaves appear and large groves of them can color the landscape with a brilliant red haze.

20. Maple Sap

The drop of maple sap on the end of the spile shows that the trees are coming out of dormancy and growing again. A spile is the metal or wooden peg which is hammered into the hole made in the tree and it directs the sap into the sap bucket that hangs from it. Flowing sap means that the tree is taking up water through its roots and that means that the ground has thawed, so it won’t be long now.

Spring is sooner recognized by plants than by men. ~Chinese Proverb

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1. Winter Woods

After more than 3 months of warmer than average temperatures we’ve finally had a real taste of winter here, with a few inches of snow and a couple of days and nights of bone chilling cold. The cold I could do without but it’s hard to imagine anything more beautiful than freshly fallen snow decorating everything in the forest.

2. Hemlock

Eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) branches catch so much snow that there is often bare ground under them a day or two after a storm. That’s why white tailed deer bed down under them. Years ago when I smoked I used to stand under a big old hemlock in the front yard when it rained, and even in a downpour barely a drop of rain reached me.

3. Morning Clouds

I don’t know what it is but there is something about the hill on the far side of Half Moon Pond in Hancock that seems to attract sunshine. I have no way to explain what I’ve seen here but even on cloud covered days the clouds will often part to let the sun shine on it. I hope to climb it one day. Maybe the sun will shine while I take photos for a change.

4. Half Moon Pond at Sunrise

This photo is deceiving because even though the sun had just risen above the hills behind me it looked like it was rising behind the hills in the distance. It’s one more thing I can’t explain about how the light and shadows play on Half Moon Pond and the hills that surround it. Odd things happen here. This photo was taken in January just as the pond had frozen over, and what looks like water in the distance is actually glare ice.

5. Cattails

Wind plays a big part of winter and it can often mean the difference between bearable and unbearable temperatures, but how do you show it in a photo? This is one way; the prevailing winds showed these cattail leaves which way to grow.

6. River

Some see winter as dark and bleak and colorless, but there is much color and beauty to be seen if they’d only look around a little. I love how the white snow makes water look so inky black. If it hadn’t been so cold I could have stood there longer, admiring it.

7. Sunrise

The sun promised a warm day but it was a bitter cold morning when I stopped to get a shot of it with my cell phone. It did turn out to be a warm day in spite of the morning cold, though. In fact most of them have been on the warm side this winter, but not all; we’ve seen night temperatures drop to -15 ° F (-26 ° C.) Interestingly on this, one of the coldest mornings of the season, I heard the sad but beautiful Fee Bee mating call of the male black capped chickadee. Now I’m sure that spring is just around the corner, no matter how much more winter we see.

8. Ice Finger

When the water level of the river dropped it left a skirt of ice around this stone. Then the sun warmed the stone and the ice skirt melted into an icy finger that reached around it from its back side. I’m sure the icy finger had to attach to the stone somewhere, but it wasn’t anywhere that I could see. It must have been on the far side which I couldn’t get to because the river was so close.

9. Ice Finger

Another view of the icy finger, which looks to be just about ready to tickle the stone.

10. Canada Geese

Canada geese don’t seem to mind the cold. They appear to act the same, winter or summer, though I usually see them in flocks rather than pairs.

11. Canada Geese

As usual one stood guard while the other fed.

12. Ashuelot Falls

The stones at the base of Ashuelot Falls in Keene were ice covered, but since it was only about 15° F, I wasn’t surprised.

13. Ice Pancakes

Downriver from the falls ice pancakes were frozen into the ice covered surface. This view also shows the needless cutting of all the shrubs along the riverbank, most of which were silky dogwoods that robins and cedar waxwings enjoyed eating the berries from. The same thing happened last summer along the Ashuelot in Swanzey. I think this is driven more by ignorance than for any other reason, but I didn’t know that this kind of ignorance was so widespread.  I’ve heard that the Army Corps of Engineers has been here studying the dam for possible removal so the bank clearing might have something to do with that, but why they would need to cut everything so far from the actual dam is a mystery.

14. Ice Pancakes

Ice pancakes, according to Wikipedia, can grow to nearly 10 feet in diameter and can have a thickness of nearly 4 inches.  Each pancake has an elevated rim that forms when the frazil ice or slush that it is made from bumps up against other pancakes. Since these one foot diameter examples were frozen into the river ice I think they were done bumping together, at least for now.

15. Ice Formations

Since these formations didn’t have raised rims I’m guessing that they weren’t pancake ice. They looked more like paving stones.

16. Ice on Ice

I saw a kind of ice that I’ve never seen before. What I can only describe as light colored frost feathers grew all over the darker ice of a stream.

17. Ice on Ice

This is a closer look at the frost feathers from a photo taken with my cellphone. I wonder if anyone has ever seen something similar. Many of them stood vertically on the ice of the stream. I can’t imagine what caused them to form unless it was very high humidity on the surface of the stream ice.

18. Stone Frozen in Ice

A stone was trapped in the ice near the formations in the previous shot but since it probably wasn’t going anywhere I doubt that it cared. It’s interesting how the sun seems to warm some stones enough to melt the ice on them but others stay coated in it.

19. Puddle Ice

Nature laid the universe at my feet but I was too blind to see it until I looked at the photo I took of this puddle ice. It was only then that I saw the stars, asteroids, galaxies and distant nebulae, almost as if I was looking at a photo taken by the Hubble telescope. As Edward Abbey once said: There is beauty, heartbreaking beauty, everywhere. To that I’ll add: Even in mud puddles.

20. Sap Bucket

So far this winter has been an upside down one; warm enough to get sap flowing and witch hazel blooming before a bitter below zero cold snap and then 50 degrees and rain yesterday. When spring finally does get here there’s no telling how plants will react to such an overall warm season. My feeling is that they’ll be fine, but we’ll have to wait and see.  The first thing nature teaches is patience.

There is nothing in the world more beautiful than the forest clothed to its very hollows in snow. It is the still ecstasy of nature, wherein every spray, every blade of grass, every spire of reed, every intricacy of twig, is clad with radiance. ~William Sharp

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