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Posts Tagged ‘Dark Eyed Junco’

It’s blueberry picking time here in New Hampshire and one of the best local places I know of to do that is on Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard. Wild blueberry season in New Hampshire usually starts around the end of July and people come from all over to pick them. I like to come here at this time not to pick blueberries but to meet the people who do.

The trail, as mountains go, is relatively easy to climb even for me and I often meet elderly people climbing here.

Hay scented ferns (Dennstaedtia punctilobula) line the trail and they were starting to turn white, here and there. Another signal that fall is in the air. This fern likes shade and will tolerate extreme dryness as well. Its common name comes from the way it smells like hay when it is bruised. It does well in gardens but gardeners want to make absolutely sure they want it because once they have it they’ll most likely have it for a long time. It’s very difficult to eradicate.

A young mountain ash tree was covered with wooly aphids, almost from the soil to its tip. These sucking insects can be winged or unwinged. Eggs overwinter in crevices in the bark of trees and in spring nymphs hatch and begin feeding on the underside of new leaves. In late May through July, they develop wings and fly to trees where they feed on twigs and begin reproducing. Soon the colony is composed of aphids in all stages of development and becomes enveloped in white, fluffy wax as seen in the photo. Some aphids mature and mate. Each mated female lays only one egg, which once again starts the overwintering stage. I’m guessing that this young tree will be severely weakened by such large numbers of aphids. The drops of liquid are their waste, which is called “honeydew.” It’s very sticky and often leads to sooty black mold.

Someone left a small stone on top of a larger one. I used to collect rocks and minerals and I could see that it wasn’t anything special. I almost tossed it into the woods but then I thought that it might have been special to the person, possibly a child, who left it there, so I put it back. Speaking of children I saw a few here on this day, and that made my heart glad. There’s no such thing as too many kids in the woods, and one of the greatest gifts we can give them is introducing them to nature.

There were lots of white whorled wood asters (Oclemena acuminata) growing along the trail but many hadn’t bloomed yet. This plant can take quite a lot of shade.

The leaves were all mottled on this wood aster. I’ve never seen this before and I’m not sure what would have caused it. It didn’t look like leaf miners.

Before I knew it I was at the meadow. The white puffy clouds though unexpected, were fun to see.

The clouds were unexpected because the weatherman said wall to wall sunshine for the day. Instead it looked like the clouds might be on their way to becoming wall to wall and some were huge. That dark area out there is a cloud shadow.

Theses hay rolls (?) were placed near where I saw the big black bear in May on my last trip up the mountain. I’ve thrown hay bales up onto wagons before but I was very thankful that I never had to roll these big things around. They must be for the Scottish highland cattle that live up here.

Chokecherries (Prunus virginiana) dangled red and ripe from the trees. The Native American Ojibwe tribe called them Asasaweminagaawanzh. They crushed them with stones and then heated them in a pan with lard and sugar. The berries were used in pemmican, in cakes, or cooked in stews after they had been crushed and dried. Pemmican was a meat, lard and fruit mixture which was stored as a high energy emergency winter food that kept people from starving if food became scarce. It saved the life of many a European as well. The Ojibwe still make and sell chokecherry syrup and chokecherry jelly. They say that they are one of the “sweetest tastes of white earth.”

Unfortunately most of the cherries in this area have black knot disease. It is caused by the fungus Apiosporina morbosa which can also attack plums, peaches, and apricots. Spores from the fungus can be spread by rain or wind and typically infect trees from April through June on new growth. Infected stems swell up and produce hard black knots like those in the above photo. This disease can eventually kill the tree so infected limbs should be pruned off 2-4 inches below the knots and buried or burned before bud break the following spring.

Flocks of these little gray and black birds flew along the trial beside me. I think they were dark eyed juncos. They were very quiet and didn’t seem frightened of me at all. In fact they were as inquisitive as chipmunks and watched me the whole way.

The old ranger cabin told me I was just a few yards from the summit.

The ranger cabin had me wondering just how often the people in charge come up here, because the boards someone ripped off one of the windows were still missing since at least May. There was also an alarm sounding on the generator that powers the fire tower, but nobody around to silence it.

I’m not sure what would happen if the power was cut to the fire tower. There sure are a lot of antennas on it. You find people on most mountaintops in this area and popular ones like Mount Monadnock can at times seem as busy as a Manhattan sidewalk. There were a few up here on this day and I even saw a woman wearing flipflops, which I wouldn’t recommend. I call the fire tower on Pitcher Mountain a monument to irony because the original wooden tower built in 1915 burned in April of 1940, in the most destructive forest fire to ever strike this part of the state. Twenty seven thousand acres burned, including the tower and all of the trees on the summit.

I met a man with a German (?) accent who was very interested in blueberries. I told him that there were plenty of bushes right here on the summit and he should just help himself. The highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) is a native plant that you can quite literally find just about anywhere in this part of the state. There are areas where they are more concentrated though, and Pitcher Mountain is one of those areas. This is what the man was after and though they grow in great numbers near the summit he wasn’t having much luck finding any berries. I saw people carrying containers around and I saw ripe berries, so I’m not sure why he wasn’t finding any.

Native black highbush blueberry (Vaccinium fuscatum) has smaller fruit than that of the Vaccinium corymbosum highbush blueberry in the previous photo and also grows on the summit. Some say they are sweeter while some say the other highbush blueberries are sweeter. Though I told him that they are both native berries the man with the German accent said he didn’t want these berries because they must be “some kind of strange hybrid.” He wanted native berries he said again, so I finally had to say good hunting and move on. Clearly someone has given him erroneous information about blueberries but it can’t be just him, because most of these berries go untouched by the pickers. When I come up here in January I find them mummified by the thousands, still on the bushes. I’ve eaten many of both kinds and in my experience one isn’t any better or worse than the other, in my opinion. I wish I could have convinced the visitor of that.

It’s been quite dry lately so I was surprised to see water in what I call “the birdbath.” I saw a dark eyed junco taking a bath in it once but they didn’t follow me all the way to the summit to bathe on this day. I did see a black Labrador retriever roll in it though.

There was a certain haziness to the atmosphere so I couldn’t see much detail on  Mount Monadnock over in Jaffrey.

Before long the clouds had almost fully come together and they seemed almost low enough to touch. I began to wonder if wall to wall sunshine was going to turn into wall to wall rain.

So off I went back down the trail, wondering about the woman climbing a mountain in flip flops and the poor man who couldn’t find a blueberry even though he was surrounded by thousands of them. I’ve always found it easier to understand plants than people, and sometimes human nature really does baffle me.

Mountains are not stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve; they are the cathedrals where I practice my religion. ~Anatoli Boukreev

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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At this time every year when the red maples bloom I get the urge to show you what a forest full of millions of red maple flowers looks like from above, so I pick a mountain and climb up above the treetops. This year I chose Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard because it offers a 360 degree view. The above photo shows the start of the trail. It was a sunny, hot Sunday that was supposed to have temperatures in the mid-80s F. It proved true; it reached 85 at my house and the weather people say it was the warmest Easter in 30 years. I’ve never had to use air conditioning in April, but I thought about it that day.

I’ve climbed this mountain fairly regularly for years now and have apparently walked right by this hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) growing right beside the trail every time. The things I don’t see often amaze me as much as the things I see do.  Hobblebush is one of our most beautiful native viburnums. The name hobblebush comes from the way the low growing branches, unseen under last year’s fallen leaves, can trip up or “hobble” a horse or hiker.

A pileated woodpecker had cut this tree right in half looking for insects. I’ve been cutting and splitting wood at work and the other day I split a log that had a huge colony of big black carpenter ants in it. A pileated woodpecker would have been very happy to have pecked at that tree.

An old pine tree had broken off halfway up its trunk and fallen onto the side of the trail. We’ve had some strong winds lately so I wasn’t surprised.

I turned about halfway up the trail to take a photo of Mount Monadnock and I could see by the haze that the views wouldn’t be good, but I wasn’t here for the views; I was here for the red haze produced by millions of red maples. I noticed that there was still snow at the edge of the meadow.

There was even more snow in this part of the meadow. It was hard to believe after a week of warm temperatures and such a hot day as this one. The haze made this view look almost surreal.

I love to see the shading on the distant hills. I saw something similar done in fabric once and it was a very beautiful piece of artwork. The idea must have come from a scene like this one.

Before you know it you can see the fire tower through the trees. This means you’re very close to the summit, but it also means you’ll climb the steepest part of the trail to reach it.

I hoped that all of those trees with bare branches would look like someone had washed them with red watercolor, but I’m not seeing that. My color finding software sees various shades of red in small amounts, but more gray. There are blueberry bushes and mountain ash trees out there too, and they also have red buds.

I got distracted by the clouds for a time.

The near hill showed what looked to be smudges of red but still not what I expected.

The wind whistled loudly through the steel structure of the fire tower. One day last year was the only time I’ve ever seen this tower manned. The  New Hampshire Forestry Service lets people into the tower and quite a few people were going up on the day I was here. Many were children and I didn’t want them to miss their chance so I didn’t bother trying to get in.  This tower was built to replace the original wooden tower that burned in the 1940 Stoddard-Marlow fire. It was the biggest fire in the region’s history.

The tower is anchored to the bedrock by stout cables and it’s a good thing because the wind was so strong I couldn’t stand still swayed in the breeze. It was just as strong the last time I came here and each time was the strongest wind I’ve seen here.

Common goldspeck lichen (Candelariella vitellina) is a crustose lichen that is very granular. Its round, almost microscopic fruiting bodies (apothecia) are hard to see in the photo but they are there. This lichen contains a yellow pigment called calysin and was once used in Sweden to dye wool yellow. It must have been difficult scraping it off the rocks that it grew on and I would imagine that yellow wool in Sweden was very expensive then.

An areolate lichen is one in which the body is made up of many little lumps or islands. The tile lichen (Lecidea tessellata) in the above photo fits that description well. Its black fruiting bodies (apothecia) are even with, or slightly sunken into the surrounding body (thallus). There are 136 species of tile lichens and identification is difficult without a microscope, so the species name in this case is a guess on my part. Tile lichens grow on rock in full sun, winter and summer.

Depressions in the stone catch water and I’ve always called them birdbaths. On this day there was actually a bird there, drinking and bathing.

I think it was a dark eyed junco but I don’t know birds well so I hope someone more knowledgeable in the subject might correct me if I’m wrong.  It was gray on top and white underneath, and was just a little smaller than a robin.

Though the birdbath looks quite big in the photo it isn’t more than 5 inches deep and hardly as big in diameter as an adult bicycle tire. There seems to always be water in it no matter how long we go without rain.

In the end I didn’t get the photo of the red maples that I had hoped but it wasn’t because there aren’t any red maples here. The target canker on the bark of this tree tells me it’s a red maple because, if I understand what I’ve read correctly, red maple is the only maple that gets target canker. I think, though there are plenty of red maples here, the buds simply hadn’t opened yet. Though the buds have fully opened in Keene Pitcher Mountain lies far enough north of town to make a difference, so maybe they were still closed.

But I still had plan B, which was to visit these red maples that grow along a very busy stretch of highway in Keene. I couldn’t show them from above but at least they give some idea of what we see here each spring.

Mountains are not Stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve; they are the cathedrals where I practice my religion. ~Anatoli Boukreev

Thanks for stopping in.

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