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Posts Tagged ‘Cloudscapes’

According to statistics November is on average the cloudiest month in this part of the country, but as you can see by the above photo not every day is totally cloudy. This was one of those blue sky, white puffy cloud days and I took this photo because of the clouds. That lower one was growing quickly and I thought it might become a thunderhead, but it never did. It just got bigger.

Many of the photos in this post were taken before the snowstorm I showed in the last post. Snow or not I won’t be seeing anymore fleabane flowers for a few months now. It’s just too cold now for flowers.

November can be a very cold month, when we start to really realize that winter is right around the corner. Frost on the windows helps remind us of that, and I caught this frost crystal growing on my car winshield. They’re beautiful things that most of us pay no attention to.

Ponds are starting to freeze up as well. Bright sunshine has little real warmth in November unless it is coupled with a southerly breeze.

I went to the river to see if any ice baubles had formed along the shore but I got sidetracked for a bit by the beautiful light.

I’ve never seen this stretch of water look gold and blue like it did on this morning.

It was like seeing molten light. None of these colors have been enhanced by me. Nature did all the enhancing.

And on another, colder day, there were ice baubles growing along the shore. If you’ve ever made a candle, you know that you dip the wick in hot wax over and over again, letting the wax harden between dips. If you think of the twigs as wicks, you can see how every wave crest “dips” the twigs in water and the cold air hardens that water into ice. Over time, ice baubles like those seen here form.

Twigs aren’t the only thing that the ice forms on. Anything that the water splashes on over and over will ice up.

The ice baubles are usually as clear as blown glass but on this day a lot of them had air bubbles trapped inside. Many of these examples were nearly round as well but they’re often more pear shaped. Along a river or stream is the only place I’ve ever seen them form in this way, though I suppose they could form anywhere where there is splashing water in winter.

On shore, the sun lit up an oak leaf beautifully.

Some of the biggest oak leaves I’ve ever seen belong to the swamp white oak (Quercus bicolor.) This is a rare species in the woods here but in 2010 the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services removed a 250-year-old timber crib dam in this section of river, and when they replanted the river banks, they chose swamp white oak as one of the tree species. Though the trees are barely 10 feet tall this leaf must have been 8 inches long. Brown is the fall color for the leaves of this oak. The New Hampshire state record for the largest swamp white oak is held by a tree in Swanzey. It is 67 feet tall and has a circumference of 192 inches. That’s 16 feet, so I’m not sure if even 4 people could link hands around a tree that size.

One characteristic of swamp white oak is peeling bark on its branches, giving it a ragged look. On young trees like these even the bark of the trunk will peel, as it was on this example. Planting this species of tree here makes sense because it is tolerant of a variety of soil conditions and can stand drought or flood. The only thing they can’t bear is beavers, and these critters have cut down and hauled off many of them.

When I was taking photos of this tree’s branches I looked down and sure enough, beavers had been at its bark. This tree is a goner, I’m afraid. It has been girdled.

At this time of year, when the soil starts to freeze but before any snow falls, you can often hear the soil crunch when you walk on it. That’s the signal that you should get down on your hands and knees and peer down into those tiny frozen canyons. If you do you’re liable to find ice needles there, because the crunching you heard was probably them breaking. Several things have to happen before needle ice can form. First there has to be groundwater. Next, the air temperature has to fall below 32 degrees F right at the soil surface while the soil and groundwater remain thawed. Hydrostatic pressure forces the groundwater, sometimes super cooled, out of the soil where it freezes instantly into a “needle.” As more water is forced out of the soil the process is repeated over and over, and each needle grows in length because of more water freezing at its base. I’ve read that each thin needle is hexagonal in shape, and that needles have been found that were 16 inches long. The needles in these photos were 1-3 inches long I’d guess, and they were frozen into ribbons. They’re another of those gems of nature that many never see.

Puddle ice has been a friend of mine for a very long time. When I was a boy, after the snow melted in spring, I’d get my bike out and ride it to school. It was still cold enough for ice to form on the puddles and I used to think it was great fun to ride through them so I could hear the strange tinkling / crinkling sounds that the breaking ice made. I have since found out that the whiter the ice, the more oxygen was present in the water when it formed. These days instead of breaking the ice I look for things in it. This time I thought I saw a penguin in that curvy shape to the right of center.

I saw a pair of mallards but this is the only shot that came out useable. I thought this was unusual because usually one will tip up while the other stands guard and watches.

An oriental bittersweet vine had reached the top of a small tree and many of its berries had fallen into a bird’s nest, built where the branches met underneath the bittersweet. Birds love these berries but I think the bird that built this nest must be long gone for warmer climes. These vines are terribly invasive so the fewer berries eaten by birds, the better.

The birds have been eating the river grapes, finally.

They have plenty to eat. It has been an exceptional year for grapes and many other plants.

I love that shade of blue on juniper berries. A waxy coating called bloom reflects the light in a way that makes them that color. I always wonder how many gin drinkers know that the unique flavor in their drink comes from this plant’s fruits. Though they’re called berries, botanically speaking juniper fruits are actually fleshy seed cones. Unripe green berries are used to flavor gin and the ripe, deep purple-black berries are the only part of a conifer known to be used as a spice, often used on game like venison, moose and bear meat. Birds also love them so they won’t last long.

The winterberries (Ilex verticillata) are covered with berries this year. This native holly holds its berries through the winter and they look great against the white snow. They have a very low-fat content and birds won’t eat them until other fruits with higher fat contents have been eaten. Other plants that fruit in the fall like maple leaf viburnum, high bush cranberry, and staghorn sumac also produce fruit that is low in fat content. That’s why you often see these plants with the previous season’s berries still on them in the spring. Due to the light of the day all three cameras I carried had a hard time with these berries but I wasn’t surprised because red is one of the hardest colors for a camera to capture.

I found a very old hemlock log. The branches had been cut off long ago but the stubs that were left were amazing in their texture. It was if someone had carved them. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this before.

Orange fan shaped jelly fungi (Dacryopinax spathularia) grew on the dark end of a log and looked like tiny lights. Actually they were more nose shaped than spatula shaped but I’ve found that fungi don’t always live up to what they were named. In the winter they’re a pretty spot of color in a white world.

But for color in winter turkey tails (Trametes versicolor) have to take the prize. These examples were beautiful, and they wore my favorite turkey tail color combinations.

I saw this foreboding sky at dawn one morning. I thought it was beautiful and I hope you’ll think so too.

In a few blinks you can almost see the winter fairies moving in
But first, you hear the crackle of their wings. ~Vera Nazarian

Thanks for stopping in.

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1. Trail Start

Last Saturday was the hottest day of the year so far, with plenty of tropical humidity as well. Puffy white clouds floated slowly through the sky and if you hadn’t known it was May you’d have sworn it was August. When I was a boy I used to love such days, when you could see the shadows of the clouds moving across the distant hills, so I decided to climb one of those hills to see those shadows again. Since it was so hot I decided on an easy climb and chose Hewe’s Hill in Swanzey. You start by crossing the meadow in the above photo. I saw that someone had been there before me; maybe another cloud lover.

2. Grass Flowering

Grasses were flowering. It’s too bad that so many miss them, because they can be very beautiful when they blossom.

3. Blue Eyed Grass

Blue eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium) wasn’t a surprise; meadows like this one is where it loves to grow. Despite its name this little beauty isn’t a grass at all; it’s in the iris family. Wild turkeys love its seeds.

4. Trail

I knew if I didn’t stop dawdling among the meadow flowers I’d never get to the top of the hill, so I set off up the trail.

5. Lady's Slipper

But there were more flowers there to dawdle over. Pink lady’s slippers (Cypripedium acaule,) one of our most beautiful native orchids, bloomed alongside the trail. Native Americans called it moccasin flower, for obvious reasons. They used the plant medicinally as a nerve tonic and a pain reliever.

6. Wooly Oak Gall

Further up the trail I found a woolly oak gall, created by the wool sower gall wasp (Callirhytis seminator.) It was a small example about the size of an acorn, but I’ve seen them as big as ping pong balls. The gall is caused by secretions from the grubs of the gall wasp, which will only build it on white oak and only in spring. There are small seed like structures inside the gall which contain the wasp larva, and that’s why these galls are also called oak seed galls.

7. Oak Apple Gall

Oak apple galls fall from the trees regularly at this time of year. Theses galls are caused by a gall wasp known as Biorhiza pallida laying an egg inside a leaf bud. Tissue swells around the egg and a gall is formed.

8. Oak Apple Gall Inside

The gall wasp larva lives in the very center of the gall. Once they develop into an adult wasp they make a hole through the side of the gall and fly (or crawl) off to begin the cycle again. A web of spokes keeps the hollow sphere from deflating by connecting the inner hub to the outer shell.

9. Tippin Rock

When you see the 40 ton glacial erratic called Tippin rock you know the climb is just about done. This rock gets its name from the way it can be rocked or tipped when pushed in the right spot, but I’ve never found the spot. Anyhow, this wasn’t what I had come to see so I took a quick photo and moved on. The climbing might be over but the hiking to the scenic overlook isn’t.

10. View

I came hoping to see puffy white clouds casting shadows on the hills, and though I saw plenty of puffy white clouds I didn’t see any shadows. That’s because the clouds were off to the left and the sun was on the right. I find that usually when I go into the woods expecting to see a certain thing I don’t usually see it. Focusing on just one thing can make you miss a lot of what nature has to offer, so that’s why when I go into the woods I try to strip myself of all expectations and just enjoy whatever happens to be in my path. I saw many other interesting things so a lack of cloud shadows wasn’t disappointing. There will be other days with puffy white clouds.

11. View

Some of the puffy white clouds were becoming puffy dark gray clouds, and I wondered if we might see a thunderstorm. I hoped not since I was carrying three cameras (2 in pockets) with no way to protect them.

12. View

This view probably comes closest to what I was trying for, but it’s still not it.

13. Clouds

This shot, taken earlier on the same day at a different location, is what started it all, and shows what I was hoping to see on the hilltop. I might have done better just staying in the low lands.

14. Toadskin Lichen

But if I hadn’t climbed I wouldn’t have gotten to see my old friends the toadskin lichens (Lasallia papulosa,) because they only grow on hilltops. Their warty projections are called pustules and if you look at the back of this lichen there will be a corresponding pit for every pustule. When wet the greenish color of the algae that is present comes through but when dry they can be very ashy gray. They are also very brittle when dry, like a potato chip.

16. Rock Tripe Lichens

Growing right alongside the toadskin lichens is rock tripe (Umbilicaria mammulata) which is kind of like a toadskin without the warts. It attaches to the rock in the same way and also gets brittle when dry. Though I imagine they must taste like old rubber, these lichens were a source of emergency food for Native Americans and saved the lives of many an early settler. Even George Washington’s troops are said to have eaten rock tripe to survive the brutal winter at Valley Forge in 1777.

17. Toadskin and Rock Tripe Lichens

In this photo the green rock tripe lichens are smaller than the gray toadskin lichens and that’s unusual, but it’s because the rock tripe lichens in this photo are babies. I’ve seen rock tripe lichens as big as my hand but have only seen toad skins about 2 inches across, which is what I’d say the biggest examples in this photo were.

18. Toadskin Lichen

Each lichen, both rock tripe and toad skin, is attached to the rock at a single point that looks much like a belly button, and that makes them umbilicate lichens. I hope everyone reading this will make lichens one of the things they look for when outdoors. They’re fascinating, beautiful things that grow virtually everywhere; even in cities if the air is clean. Cemeteries are a good place to look for those that grow on stone.

19. Smiley Face

Mr. Smiley face was happy as always because that’s what happens when you spend all of your free time outside. You become filled with more joy than you ever thought possible.

Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under the trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time. ~John Lubbock

Thanks for coming by.

 

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