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Posts Tagged ‘Garter Snake’

I’m happy to say that I’ve seen more monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) this year than I have in the last few years combined. In fact one day there must have been a dozen on and around a patch of milkweed I saw recently. I hope this means that they’re making a comeback.

I should say for the newcomers to this blog; these “things I’ve seen posts” contain photos of things I’ve seen which, for one reason or another, didn’t fit into other posts. They are usually recent photos but sometimes they might have been taken a few weeks ago, like the butterflies in this post. In any event they, like any other post seen here, are simply a record of what nature has been up to in this part of the world. I often do a post like this one when I can’t go on a hike or climb due to rain or in this case, heat and humidity.

This isn’t a very good photo but it does show that this butterfly is indeed a monarch and not a viceroy. Viceroys have a black line drawn across their hind wings and they aren’t seen here.

This is the first photo of a monarch butterfly caterpillar to ever appear on this blog and that’s because I never see them, but on this day I saw two of them on some badly chewed milkweed plants. Monarch females usually lay a single egg on a milkweed plant, often on the bottom of a leaf near the top of the plant. Eggs are only about the size of a pinhead or pencil tip and are off-white or yellow, characterized by longitudinal ridges that run from the tip to the base. The eggs hatch about four days after they are laid and the caterpillars appear. It takes monarchs about a month to go through the stages from egg to adult.

I haven’t seen many pearl crescent butterflies (Phyciodes tharos) this year but this one landed on a nearby coreopsis blossom and let me get quite close. I’ve read that males have black antenna knobs, so I’m guessing that this is a male.

This white admiral butterfly (Limenitis arthemis) landed on a dry gravel road in the very hot sun. It seemed like odd behavior for a butterfly but you could fit what I know about them in a thimble and have room to spare.

Where I work there is a large roof overhang and an outdoor light that attracts many different moth species. The roof overhang protects them from rain and probably bats too, and they are often there on the wall when I get to work in the morning, like this false crocus geometer moth (Xanthotype urticaria) was. The true crocus geometer moth (Xanthotype sospeta) is larger, pale yellow, and has few or no brown spots. Because of its striking markings this moth was relatively easy to identify.

I saw a bumblebee on a thistle blossom and in fact I’m seeing many bumblebees this year, sometimes 2 or 3 on a single blossom.

I saw a wasp like creature on a goldenrod but I haven’t been able to identify it.

I went into bear country in Nelson to see if I could find a club spur orchid that I found there last year. I didn’t find the orchid but I did find bear hair on one of their favorite phone poles. I was very happy that I got out of there without meeting up with the donor because these hairs were quite high up on the pole and that means a tall bear.

There were also fresh bite / claw marks on the pole. I wonder what the bear thought when it came back to its favorite scratching pole and found my scent on it.

A garter snake stuck its tongue out at me.

And another one, hiding under a kayak, smiled at me. These two snakes were young and small and probably couldn’t have eaten anything bigger than a cricket.

I’ve seen egg sacs of spiders before but they’ve always been white, until now. I read on Bugguide.net that pirate spider egg sacs (Mimetus) are roughly spherical with an irregular covering of loose, brownish or orange silk, and hang by an inch-long thread, so I’m guessing this is a pirate spider’s egg sac. I’ve also read that pirate spiders get their name from the way they hunt by picking at the strands of another spider’s web to simulate the movements of either a trapped insect or a potential mate. When the other spider comes to investigate, they are captured and eaten. 

One of the most toxic plants known is the castor bean, so I was a little surprised when I found this one growing in a local garden. I think it is Ricinus communis “red giant”, which has red leaves and bright red, bur like seed heads. Though the seed pods have a beautiful color, according to Colorado State University “several toxic compounds are found in the leaves and seeds. Ricinoleic acid is the primary component of castor oil and ricin (glycoprotein) is found in highest concentration in the seeds. Toxic effects appear within a few hours and are generally fatal.”  They also said that castor bean plants (Ricinus communis) have become a weed in most southern U.S. states, which I didn’t know. Beautiful but deadly.

The berries of the white baneberry plant (Actaea pachypoda) are called doll’s eyes, for obvious reasons. The remains of the flower’s black stigma against the porcelain white fruit is striking, and I can’t think of another plant with fruit quite like these except maybe when red baneberry (Actaea rubra) decides to have white fruit instead of red. It doesn’t matter though, because both plants are extremely toxic and no part of them should ever be eaten. Finding baneberry in the woods tells the story of rich, well drained loamy soil and a reliable source of moisture, because those are the things that it needs to grow. I often find it at or near the base of embankments that see a lot of runoff.

Actually white baneberry berries remind me of Kermit the frog’s eyes.

Long time readers of this blog probably know that I’m colorblind and that red is one of the hardest colors to see for me. That being said I can’t explain why the bright red seedpods of some St. John’s wort plants (Hypericum) are so easy for me to see. I saw this plant growing in the wet mud at a pond edge. St John’s wort berries may ripen to green, white, yellow, peach, orange, scarlet or purplish colors, with some finally becoming almost black at maturity. The fruits and seeds of all hypericum-family plants are considered toxic and will cause digestive upset if eaten.

By far the biggest mushroom that I’ve ever seen is Berkeley’s polypore (Bondarzewia berkeleyi.) These monsters often measure feet across and this one must have been 2 feet across at its widest point. This mushroom grows at the base of hardwoods in the east and in the west a similar example, Bondarzewia montana, grows at the base of conifers.

A couple of years ago I found this odd, sprawling little plant that I had never seen before. I showed it on a blog post and helpful readers told me it was a spike moss, which I hadn’t heard of. I went back to see it this year and it really hadn’t changed much but I tried to look it over a little more carefully and I did some reading about it. I believe this example is meadow spike moss (Selaginella apoda.)

Spike mosses are considered “primitive” seedless (spore bearing) vascular plants and therefore aren’t mosses at all. This pretty little plant is more closely related to the clubmosses, which are also spore bearing vascular plants known as lycopods. It doesn’t appear to be evergreen like the clubmosses however. It’s a pretty little thing.

In 2015 someone from the Smithsonian Institution read another post where I spoke about sumac pouch gall and contacted me to ask if I knew where they grew. They are researching the coevolution of rhus gall aphids and its host plants the sumacs. A female aphid lays eggs on the underside of a leaf and plant tissue swells around them to form a gall like those seen here. When mature they will be tomato red. The eggs overwinter and mature inside the hollow gall until spring, when the aphids leave the gall and begin feeding on the plant. Scientists have paleobotanical evidence that this aphid has had a relationship with its sumac hosts for at least 48 million years. They are studying this relationship at the Smithsonian and I told them that I could show them or tell them where many of these galls grew. They collected galls from here and also collected them from Georgia, Arkansas, Michigan and Ohio.

One of my favorite things to see is this river of reindeer lichen, like snow in summer. Since there are no reindeer or other animals to eat the lichens they thrive here. But they are fragile and should never be walked on.  Reindeer lichen is very slow growing at about an eighth to three eighths of an inch per year and if overgrazed or dug up, it can take decades for drifts like the one pictured to reappear.

This reindeer lichen was very dry and crisp like a potato chip due to lack of rain. Once it rains it will become soft and pliable, much like your ear lobe. The Native American Ojibwa tribe was known to bathe newborns in water in which reindeer lichens had been boiled.

I hope everyone has the time to just go outside and soak in those parts of nature, however great or small,  that are available to you. Though I’ve shown two or three photos of pickerel weed already I can’t resist showing another. I just stand and gaze at scenes like this and I hope you have places of your own where you can do the same. You’ll know you’ve found such a place when you find a smile on your face you didn’t know was there.

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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We had a single day of rain on Thursday the 29th so this past Sunday I thought I’d hike around Goose Pond in Keene. It’s a great place to find fungi and slime molds at this time of year and I thought the rain would have brought them out for sure. The trouble was the weather people were warning about dangerous heat, but I thought if I went early enough I’d miss the worst of it so at 9:00 am off I went. The sun was bright and hot in some places but this tall meadow rue (Thalictrum pubescens) wasn’t bothered by it.

Most of the trail around the pond is shaded so though it was warm and humid it didn’t seem too bad. Back in the old days people would either climb a mountain or find a lake or pond to escape the heat so I thought I would do the same. I have an old black and white photo somewhere that shows a woman dressed in 1800s garb walking along the shore of this pond.

Some of my favorite woodland scenery lies near Goose Pond. This fern filled glen is a special treat.

This is another favorite spot. I often see salamanders here. This spot says wild to me and the Goose Pond natural area is indeed a wilderness; a 500 acre wilderness. The vast forest tract has been left virtually untouched since the mid-1800s. The pond itself was once used as a water supply for the city of Keene and in 1865 it was enlarged to 42 acres. It takes a while to walk around it.

White pine trees have roots that lie just under the soil surface and when people walk on that soil it tends to disappear, and this is what happens. Much of the trail has exposed roots like these and where there aren’t roots there are stones and / or mud, so it’s best to wear good sturdy hiking shoes if you come here. I actually saw one lady wearing flip flops! I’m guessing that she’s never been here before. She had to stop every few feet and fix them, so I’m also guessing that she learned an awful lesson.

A century or more of people walking on tree roots can sand them down and even polish them, and I’ve seen some that were so beautiful I wished I had a saw so I could carry them home with me. They were like living sculptures. I thought this one was very pretty but it would have been even better with bark still on it.

Pipewort is an aquatic plant that grows in the mud just offshore. As the photo shows the stems have a twist and 7 ridges, and for those reasons it is called seven angle pipewort (Eriocaulon aquaticum.) The quarter inch flower heads are made up of tiny white, cottony flowers. Another common name for them is “hat pins.” I think this is the best shot I’ve ever gotten of one. They can be a tough subject.

American bur reed (Sparganium americanum) also  likes to grow just off shore and that’s where this one was, just beginning to flower. There are two types of flowers on these plants; the smaller and fuzzier male staminate flowers bloom at the top of the stem and the larger pistillate female flowers blossom lower down. After pollination the female flowers become a bur like cluster of beaked fruits that ducks and other waterfowl love. These plants, though native, act like invasive aliens and can fill small ponds quickly.

What I think were creeping spike rush plants (Eleocharis macrostachya) were flowering just off shore. Though it has the word rush in its name this plant is actually a sedge, and it’s a small one. The cream colored oval parts are its male parts and the white, wispy parts are its female flowers. There are several sedges in this family that look almost identical so I could easily be wrong about the identification, but it is a sedge and it was flowering.

Fringed sedge (Carex crinita) is one sedge that’s so easy to identify it can be done from just a silhouette. This sedge is a water lover and I usually find it on the edges of ponds and streams. It is quite large for a sedge and is sometimes grown in gardens. This plant looks a lot like pendulous sedge (Carex pendula) but that plant grows in Europe.

I took several photos of the pond and the island but it was so hazy and humid this was the only one that came out. There were people out on the island on this day, swimming. They had kayaks that they must have dragged up here, because you can’t drive to the pond. It seemed a little hot to be dragging kayaks up hills, but to each his own.

I saw slime molds almost everywhere I looked but instead of the yellow, red and blue ones I hoped to see all I saw were white ones.

I think this one was white fingered slime (Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa, variety fruticulosa.) Slime molds can be very beautiful things and I hope everyone will get to see some for themselves this summer. They aren’t slimy and they aren’t molds. In fact science doesn’t really know what they are, but they have enough intelligence to navigate a maze to get to food. Look for them in shady places like the side of a log away from direct sunlight. They usually appear on hot humid days a day or two after a good rain, along with many mushrooms. Unfortunately on this day I saw only one sad little brown mushroom, shriveling from the heat.

An eastern tiger swallowtail finally decided to sit still for more than a few seconds. It was getting a drink from a wet spot on a piece of concrete at the pond’s outflow. Even the butterflies were parched. I was certainly glad I had something to drink with me.

The swallowtail even turned so we could see the outside of its wing. It held steady but I couldn’t; my sweaty hands were shaky from the heat, hence the poor quality of these photos.

A garter snake hoped I wouldn’t see it.

Maleberry shrubs (Lyonia ligustrina) line the shore of the pond along with blueberries, and sometimes it can be hard to tell the two apart. The flowers of maleberrry, though nearly the same shape and color, are about half the size of a blueberry flower and the shrub blooms about a month later. There are often berries on the blueberries before maleberrry blossoms.

Maleberry blossoms become small, hard brown 5 part seed capsules that persist on the plant, often for over a year. They make maleberrry very easy to identify, especially in spring; just look for the seed capsules and you’ll know it isn’t a blueberry.

The strangest thing I saw on this hike was a bee or wasp stinging a moth over and over again. I heard a buzzing that sounded like a bee swarm and when I followed the sound I saw a moth rolling in the leaves, beating its wings furiously. And then I saw a smaller insect attacking it. You can just see the striped body of the bee or wasp under the moth’s left wing in this blurry photo. It knew enough to sting the moth’s body and the poor moth must have been stung 12-15 times while I watched. Finally the moth crawled into a pile of leaves and the bee / wasp flew into a hole in the ground. Because it’s so dry many bees and yellow jackets are nesting in the ground this year and I think the moth must have blundered onto the entrance to an underground nesting site. I mowed over the entrance to a ground nest once and was stung 5 or 6 times by yellow jackets. I was wearing shorts at the time and it’s something I’ve never forgotten.

And then I started to feel strange; a bit dizzy and my legs felt heavy, and I began to wonder if I’d make it out of there without help. The heat was unbelievable and the sweat pouring from me was causing the insect repellant I was wearing to run into my eyes and all but blind me, so I sat down in the shade to rest and I let my thoughts go. I let them swim in the cooling water of the pond, and thought of nothing but an old tree stump for a time. After a while what the heat had taken from me my thoughts, cooled by the water of the pond, replenished and I was able to go on until I reached my car. Never was an air conditioner appreciated more than it was that day. Just before sunset that evening the thermometer here reached 101 degrees F., the hottest I’ve seen in nearly thirty years I’ve lived here.

Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under 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

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Flowers aren’t the only beautiful things to appear in spring. Fern fiddleheads can also be beautiful as this lady fern fiddlehead (Athyrium filix-femina) shows. Lady fern is the only ferns I know of with brown / black scales on its stalk. This fern likes to grow in moist, loamy areas along streams and rivers.

I came very close to stepping on this small garter snake because I didn’t see it until the last moment, but it didn’t move. In fact it let me take a few photos and walk away and when I went back later it was still there soaking up the sun. It’s a good thing my grandmother wasn’t with me because she would have been up the nearest tree, so great was her fear of snakes. She knew garter snakes weren’t poisonous, but she was still afraid of them.

Garter snakes might not be poisonous but false hellebore (Veratrum viride) certainly is. In fact it’s one of the most toxic plants to grow in a New England forest and people have died from eating it after mistaking it for something else. Even animals won’t eat them, but certain insects or slugs will, and usually by July the plant’s leaves look shot full of holes. I think the deeply pleated oval leaves are quite pretty when they first come up in spring.

It’s hard to believe that a plant with flowers that look as delicate as those on heartleaf foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia) can make it through a winter but these plants are evergreen and because of that are photosynthesizing far ahead of their competition. Their pretty 4 inch tall racemes of small white flowers will appear in mid-May. Sometimes these leaves are mottled with purple or have dark purple veins. Some Native American tribes used the mashed roots of foamflower in a poultice on wounds and used an infusion of the dried leaves to relieve sore eyes.

Japanese knotweed can be quite beautiful when it starts to unfurl its leaves in spring but Americans have no love affair with it because it is an invasive weed that is nearly impossible to eradicate once it becomes established. I’ve seen it killed back to the ground by frost and in less than 3 weeks it had grown right back. I’ve heard that the new spring shoots taste much like rhubarb, so maybe we could defeat it by eating it.

Speaking of rhubarb, it has just come up. This one was just unfolding a new leaf and had a tomato red bud just waiting. Rhubarb is a native of China, and though its leaves are poisonous it was used medicinally there for centuries.

Though these plants looked like ferns I’m not sure if they are. If they are they’re the earliest to leaf out that I’ve seen.

Beaver brook wasn’t showing any signs of new leaves on the trees that arch out over it but I don’t think it’s going to be long before they appear. We saw 90+ degree temperatures this week.

While at beaver Brook I visited the plantain leaved sedge (Carex plantaginea) to see if its flower buds had opened. They were open but only the cream colored male stamens were showing. This is odd because female sedge flowers usually appear first.  In any case I’m sure it knows what it’s doing better than I and I would bet that by now the female flowers are out and waiting to be pollinated.

How I wish you could have heard all the spring peepers chirping and trilling away in this beaver swamp. It’s a sound that many of us here in New England long to hear once March and April come along.  For those not familiar with them, spring peepers are small frogs with a loud voice and sometimes a pond full of them can be almost deafening on a warm spring evening. They are brown with a darker X shape on their backs and large toe pads for climbing. The “peep” is a mating call that comes from the male, which of course is trying to attract a female.

I went to the beaver pond looking for the bloodroot flowers that grow there but they hadn’t come up yet. Instead I saw some of what I think were Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pennsylvanica) flowers. It’s too bad that many people never see these tiny blooms. They stand about 4 inches tall and grow from a clump of what looks like coarse grass, but what is actually a sedge. Creamy yellow male staminate flowers release their pollen above wispy, feather like female pistillate flowers. The female flowers usually open first so they can receive pollen from another plant and avoid self-fertilization. As the plant ages the male flowers will turn brown and the female flowers, if pollinated by the wind, will bear seed. Though it looks much like the plantain leaved sedge flowers we saw earlier these flowers and plants are much smaller.

What look like giant pussy willow catkins are actually the catkins of quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides.) Quaking aspen is the only poplar tree with catkins like these that doesn’t also have sticky bud scales. If the shiny brown bud scales were sticky it would be a balsam poplar(Poplar balsamifera.) These long catkins fall from the trees and get stuck in other tree’s branches and in shrubs. They can make quite a mess for a short time.

Though these tiny stigmas looks like the female flowers of American Hazelnut (Corylus americana) they are actually the flowers of the beaked hazelnut (Corylus cornuta,) which grows in areas north and east of Keene. Beaked hazelnuts get their name from the case that surrounds the nut. It is long and tubular and looks like a bird’s beak, while the nut cases of American Hazelnut have two parts that come together like a clamshell. The best way to tell the two apart is by looking at the new growth. On American hazelnut the new twigs will be very hairy and on beaked hazelnut they’ll be smooth like the one shown.

White baneberry (Actaea pachypoda) is an extremely toxic plant but I love the movement that its new spring shoots have. Every time I see them I think how nice it would be to sit beside them and draw them, but I never seem to find the time. Native Americans brewed a tea from the roots of this plant and used it medicinally to treat pain and other ailments, but no part of it should ever be ingested. In late summer it will have bright white berries with a single black dot that give the plant its common name of doll’s eyes.

When you see white fur like that in this photo appear on female silver maple buds, this means the seeds (samaras) are just about to appear. For just a very short time they’re deep red with a furry white fringe, and they’re beautiful enough to watch each day so you don’t miss them. I hope to have a chance to catch them in all their glory this year.

The stamens of male box elder flowers (Acer negundo) hang down from the buds on long filaments and sway in the breeze. Box elder is in the maple family but its wood is soft when compared to other maples. Several Native American tribes made syrup from its sap and the earliest example of  a Native American flute, dating from 620-670 AD, was made from its wood.

Once the leaves start to show on a box elder it’s time for the lime green female flowers to appear.

Here’s a closer look at the female box elder pistils just starting to show. They’re very pretty things but they don’t last long. Soon the seeds will form and there will be no need of flowers.

The flower buds of the American white ash (Fraxinus americana) appear before the leaves and can be colorful sometimes and at other times be as black as blackberries. The Native American Wabanaki tribe made baskets from ash splints and some tribes believed the wood was poisonous to rattlesnakes, and used canes made of ash to chase them away.

The beautiful pink and orange buds of striped maple (Acer pennsylvanicum) have appeared but I was a little late in seeing them because many had already opened so the leaves could unfurl. Their opening signals that it’s time to now watch beech buds, which should open at any time. Beech bud break is another very beautiful forest treat that many people miss seeing.

I meant to do my work today, but a brown bird sang in the apple tree, and a butterfly flitted across the field, and all the leaves were calling. ~Richard le Gallienn

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1. Old Tree

I drive to work past this old tree every day but have never noticed it until recently, when a sunbeam decided that I should pay more attention to it. Now I see it every morning and probably will for a long time to come. I had to stop and take its photo so it would forgive me for ignoring it for so long. It was most likely mighty in its day but it’s very old now and its time as a tree might be just about over.

2. Mountain Ash Fruit

American mountain ash (Sorbus americana) is a relatively short lived tree when compared to the tree in the previous photo. They only live for 50-70 years in ideal conditions, but in the wild most die after 30-40 years. Though mountain ash is native here I’ve never seen one in a forest. They like a climate that is cool and humid and that’s why they’re seen more in the northern part of the state up in the White Mountains, often in the 2,300-3,300 foot elevation range. The orange red berries and large white flower heads have made it a favorite among gardeners and it was first cultivated in 1811. As this photo of the fruit shows, the trees are having a good year. I’ve read that the berries are low in fat and very acidic, so they’re one of the last foods that wildlife will choose. Ruffed grouse, robins, thrushes, cedar waxwings, blue jays, squirrels, chipmunks and mice eat them, and moose will eat the leaves, twigs, and bark. Mountain ash bark was once used in a medicine to combat malaria because it resembles the quinine tree. Whether or not it worked I don’t know.

3. Doll's Eyes

The berries of the white baneberry plant (Actaea pachypoda) are called doll’s eyes, for obvious reasons. The remains of the flower’s black stigma against the porcelain white fruit is striking, and so are the pink stalks (pedicels) that they’re on. White baneberry plants are extremely toxic and no part of them should be eaten.

4. Scaly pholiota Mushrooms in Button Stage

At first I thought these were spiny puffballs but after seeing them a week later I knew that I’d have to do some research. They turned out to be what I think are scaly pholiota (Pholiota squarrosa) mushrooms in the immature button stages of growth. It is also called shaggy scaly cap. It’s a parasitic mushroom that can infect and kill live trees but luckily I found them growing on an old beech blowdown.

5. Scaly pholiota Mushrooms

And here are the scaly pholiota mushrooms a week later looking like honey mushrooms, which are edible. But this one is not edible and is considered poisonous, so that’s why I don’t collect and eat wild mushrooms. I know that a lot of people do, but I don’t have a microscope and probably wouldn’t know what I was looking at if I did, so I don’t feel comfortable eating them. I didn’t notice an odor but it’s described as being like garlic, lemon, radish, onion, or skunk, depending on who is doing the sniffing I suppose. They are said to taste like radishes by those unfortunate enough to have tasted them.

6. Gilled Bolete

This is another mushroom I thought looked a bit like a honey mushroom from a distance but I think that it might be a gilled bolete (Phylloporus rhodoxanthus.) These grew in large clusters at the base of an oak and most likely signal its doom. I wish I had gotten a shot of its gills, which are golden yellow when young. The cap, as seen in the above photo, often cracks with age. This mushroom was big, with a cap about 8-9 inches across. It looked like a soufflé that had just come out of the oven.

7. Coral Fungus

Though I’ve been seeing more mushrooms I’m seeing very few coral fungi, and they should be everywhere right now. I found what I think is this clustered coral (Ramaria botrytis) growing under some pines recently.

8. Red and Yellow Bolete

Many mushrooms will stain a certain color when they’re bruised and red boletes with yellow stems stain blue, some almost instantly. You can see blue in the scratches on the cap in this example, but unfortunately that doesn’t help much with identification because there are at least 5 different boletes with red caps and yellow stems that stain blue. A bolete usually (but not always) has pores instead of gills on the underside of the cap. The gilled bolete we saw previously shows how confusing mushroom identification can be.

9. Red and Yellow Bolete

I’m not even going to guess which bolete this and the previous younger example were, but they grew to a large size. That’s a nickel in the center of this one. A nickel is 3/4 (.75) inches in diameter, so I’m guessing that this bolete was about 6-7 inches across. It’s a pretty mushroom, I thought. It reminded me of a freshly baked pie.

10. Shelving Tooth Fungus aka Climacodon septentrionale

Here’s a mushroom that has never appeared on this blog. It’s called the shelving tooth fungus (Climacodon septentrionale.) Though the shelving part of the name is obvious the tooth part wasn’t, so I had to go back and have another look when I was trying to identify it. It’s quite big but from a distance as in this shot the teeth are hardly visible.

11. Shelving Tooth Fungus aka Climacodon septentrionale Close

But up close it’s apparent that this mushroom has many thousands of very tiny teeth, there so it can increase its spore bearing surface. This mushroom is a parasite on live hardwood trees, primarily maples and, according to mycologist Tom Volk, especially sugar maples. It causes heart rot in the tree and weakens it enough so strong winds can snap the trunk. As it turns out I was lucky to find this example growing just above eye level, because they usually grow quite high in the tree.

12. Bolete

This cute little bolete had been partially eaten by slugs but I thought it was still very photogenic. When I used to draw mushrooms its shape was always the picture I had in my mind. We’ve most likely all seen the shape a hundred times; usually colored red with white spots, and sometimes with an elf or fairy sitting on or under the cap. I haven’t been able to identify it but it resembles the devil’s bolete (Boletus satanas,) enough to tell me that I won’t be eating one.

13. Yellow Patches

Yellow patches (Amanita flavoconia) gets its common name from the yellow bits of the universal veil on its orange cap. The universal veil is made of tissue and completely covers the young mushroom. As the mushroom grows it eventually breaks through the membranous veil and pieces of it are left behind on the cap. Rain can wash them off, but since we’ve had so little rain the patches have stayed in place on this example.  This mushroom is in the amanita family and is considered toxic. The amanita family contains some very dangerous mushrooms, so we should never eat any mushroom that we aren’t 100% sure is safe.

14. Purple Cort

Young purple cort mushrooms (Cortinarius iodeoides) are very purple but lighten as they age. Squirrels and chipmunks won’t touch this one, possibly because it’s covered with a very bitter slime. This slime often makes the young examples look wet but this one looked quite dry. Slugs don’t have a problem eating it though, and I often see white trails on the caps where they have eaten through the purple coating to the white flesh below. Purple corts often develop white or yellow streaks as they age and this helps in identifying them.

16. Tussock Moth Caterpillar

I’m not sure what this caterpillar’s name is but I was sure that I wasn’t going to touch it because I’ve heard that sometimes these hairy caterpillars can give people quite a rash. This one was spiky all over.

17. Garter Snake-

I’ve seen just a handful of snakes this year but the other day this garter snake was sitting in the middle of a dirt road and just stayed right there while I took some photos. We’re having a toad population explosion so he will eat well, I’m sure.

18. Cottontail

At a certain time of day, in the early evening, the cottontail rabbits come out to eat and play along the banks of the Ashuelot River. I try not to bother them but I wasn’t thinking about rabbits as I walked noisily into their area and saw this one. He immediately froze as soon as he saw me. Rabbits do that; they freeze for a minute or two and then they run away, but not this one. Once he relaxed he just went back to eating as if I wasn’t even there.

19. Cottontails

And then his friend came hopping out of the bushes to join him. What was odd was how close they let me get to them. I walked slowly toward them as they looked right at me but they didn’t run away. Then when I stopped they just went back to eating as if they had no fear at all. I’ve never seen a rabbit act like that.  Not since a porcupine crossed a field and sat beside me in Walpole last year have I been so close to an animal.

20. Cottontail

This one wanted to make sure that we all knew that he was indeed a cottontail.

21. Cedar Waxwing

Getting caught up in the rabbit patch almost made me forget what I was doing at the river in the first place, which was seeing if the cedar waxwings were there yet. They were, and in great numbers. They come each year at this time when the silky dogwood berries ripen. They love the berries and will do just about anything to get them. One year I found myself between a bird and its silky dogwood bush and it kept flying right at my face; pulling up only at the last minute. It took me a minute to understand what he was trying to tell me but once I turned and saw the silky dogwood berries I knew what he wanted, so I beat it out of there and let him eat in peace. Cedar waxwings are beautiful sleek birds that travel in large flocks, at least at this time of year.

22. Silky Dogwood Berries

Silky dogwood berries (Cornus amomum) go from green to white and then from white to blue, but for a short time they are blue and white like Chinese porcelain. In fact I’ve always wondered if the original idea for blue designs on white porcelain didn’t come from berries just like these. Once they are blue and fully ripe the cedar waxwings eat them up quickly.

How quick and rushing life can sometimes seem, when at the same time it’s so slow and sweet and everlasting. ~Graham Swift

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1. Virginia Ctenucha aka Ctenucha virginica moth

The Virginia ctenucha moth (Ctenucha virginica) is a pollinating wasp moth that feeds on nectar and flies during the day rather than at night. It’s the largest and most broad-winged of wasp moths in North America, with a wing span of up to two inches. It’s also a pretty moth with its orange head, metallic blue body, and grayish brown wings. There is another moth called the yellow-collared scape moth (Cisseps fulvicollis) that looks very similar but its wings are a darker bluish brown and sometimes black.

2. Unknown Shorebird

Maybe this is a juvenile spotted sandpiper or an adult that has already put on its winter feathers, or maybe it isn’t a spotted sandpiper at all. To be honest I’ve looked at bird pictures in books and online long enough for my eyes to cross and I’m close to being beyond caring what its name is. Whatever it is it’s a cute little thing, about the size of a robin maybe, which I saw at a local pond recently. It constantly wiggled its tail feathers up and down as it walked, which is something I’ve never seen a bird do.

3. Unknown Shorebird

Here is another shot of the same shore bird showing its back and wing feathers better. Its tail feathers came out blurred from its wiggling them up and down.

4. Otter

I’ve been watching this otter play in the same pond for over a year now. He’s a smart critter that always stays far out of camera range, but on this day he popped up just off shore to eat the pond weeds. He knew I was close and that I was watching him but he didn’t seem to mind. I never knew that otters ate pond weeds, so he taught me something.

Note: This could be a muskrat but otters (or one otter) have been seen many times in this pond, and further research shows that river otters do indeed eat aquatic plants. Who knew?

5. 12 Spotted Skimmer

Right after I saw the otter I saw this female 12 spotted skimmer resting in the shade on a fence post. At least I think it’s a female 12 spotted skimmer; I’m never 100% certain when it comes to insect identification. It was a large dragonfly with eyes that looked like pearls and there was some white on its wings but it was very hard to see it in this light. It let me get closer than dragonflies usually do and since it was a very hot day and I wondered if it was trying to get out of the sunshine.

Note: Mike Powell says this is a juvenile male twelve spotted skimmer. Thanks Mike! If you like dragonflies Mike takes some great photos of them and they can be seen at https://michaelqpowell.wordpress.com/

6. Great Blue Heron

This heron was just standing on some lily pads with its mouth open, which really doesn’t make for a very exciting photo. I thought I might get a shot of him doing something interesting if I waited around, so I waited and waited and waited. I had almost convinced myself that he was really just a statue of a heron when off he flew without ever doing anything interesting. Of course by that time the camera was hanging from my neck and I really wasn’t paying attention anyway, so I didn’t even get a shot of him flying away. If you need lessons in patience herons are always happy to teach.

7. Garter Snake

I was kneeling down taking some photos of flowers and when I looked to the side I saw this garter snake eyeing me. He stayed absolutely frozen still as I switched cameras and took some photos of him. This was the biggest garter snake I’ve seen in a long time.  He must have been a foot and a half long and I’d bet that the heron in the previous photo would have loved being as close to him as I was.

8. Tachinid Fly

What I think is a tachina fly was also eyeing me one day from atop a small Queen Anne’s lace flower head. He was very hairy and willing to pose, so I snapped a few photos. Some species of tachinids attack moths that are responsible for cut worms, peach twig borers, and others that do damage to our fruit and vegetable crops.

9. Yellow Coral Fungus

Yellow club coral fungi (Clavaria amoena) have just started appearing in the well packed and always damp earth along the sides of woodland paths. I haven’t seen many coral fungi this summer though, in spite of weekly rain and plenty of heat and humidity.

10. Yellow Coral Fungus

I remembered to put a penny down by some yellow coral fungi so you could see just how small they are. This example would easily fit on the penny with room to spare. They look like tiny yellow flames coming up out of the earth.

11. Pinwheel Mushrooms

These tiny pinwheel mushrooms (Marasmius rotula) reminded me of parachutes with the light from above coming through their pea size caps. I find these mushrooms growing in clusters on hardwood logs or leaves; often on oak leaves, but never on soil. The stem starts out light colored and darkens as it ages, so these examples had some age. They are able to withstand dry spells by shriveling up and all but disappearing, and when it rains they re-hydrate.

12. Eyelash Fungus

Though I saw some eyelash fungi (Scutellinia scutellata) at Distant Hill Gardens I never really thought I’d find them again because of their small size and because I have such trouble seeing red and orange, but I looked down at a wet twig lying in a seep and there they were. They were easy to see against the dark colored wood. It seems to prove once again that once you see a thing in nature you soon start seeing it everywhere. It’s all a matter of knowing where to look and the size of what you’re looking for.

13. Eyelash Fungi

I must have taken 20 shots of these tiny things before discovering that a side view was the best way to show the “eyelashes.” Eyelash fungi are considered cup fungi. The hairs can move and curl in towards the center of the disc shaped body but I can’t find a bit of information about what they’re for.

14. Flowering Grass

Grasses are still flowering. I’m not sure which one this is but I’ve learned enough from other grasses to know that the yellow parts at the ends of the whitish filaments are the pollen bearing male (staminate) flowers and the white feathery parts are the female (pistillate) flowers. One way grasses and trees protect against self-fertilization is by having the male flowers release their pollen before the female flowers become receptive to pollen blown on the wind from another plant.

15. Shack in a Hayfield

Speaking of grasses, the first cutting of hay in this field revealed a little screen house off in the distance. There wouldn’t be anything unusual about that if I hadn’t driven by this field almost every day for over twenty years without ever seeing it. I’m often as amazed by discovering what I’ve missed as I am by what I’ve seen.

What we do see depends mainly on what we look for. … In the same field the farmer will notice the crop, the geologists the fossils, botanists the flowers, artists the coloring, sportsmen the cover for the game. Though we may all look at the same things, it does not always follow that we should see them.  ~John Lubbock

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1. Coltsfoot Flowers

Some of our terrestrial wildflowers have started to open. I was real happy to find several coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) plants blossoming beside an old dirt road. Coltsfoot is one of our earliest blooming wildflowers and once I see them I know that things will happen fast from then on. Spring beauties, trout lilies, bluets and many others will follow in rapid succession now. I don’t think coltsfoot looks much like a dandelion but it does get mistaken for them.

2. Coltsfoot Stem

One look at the scaly stem of a coltsfoot should convince anyone that they’re not looking at a dandelion, which has a very smooth stems. I was hoping to find a dandelion so I could get a photo to use in comparison but what was once one of our earliest wild flowers now seems to be blooming later each year.

3. Single Daffodil

Getting a decent shot of a yellow flower in full sun is difficult to say the least but nothing says spring like a daffodil in the sunshine, so I had to try. We’ve had about a full week of good warm, sunny weather and the spring flowering bulbs are opening quickly now.

4. Striped Squill

One of the spring flowering bulbs I most look forward to seeing each spring is striped squill. The simple blue stripe down the middle of each white petal makes them very beautiful, in my opinion. The bulbs are very hard to find but they are out there. If you’d like some just Google Puschkinia scilloides, var. libanotica and I’m sure that you’ll find a nursery or two that carries them. They are much like the scilla (Scilla siberica) that most of us are familiar with in size and shape but they aren’t seen anywhere near as often and border on rare in this area. The example pictured here grows in a local park.

5. Skunk Cabbage Leaf

Skunk Cabbage leaves (Symplocarpus foetidus) are up and growing fast. It’s at this point that some of them really do resemble cabbage leaves.

 6. Male Alder Flowers

Male speckled alder (Alnus incana) catkins go from brown to purplish red to yellow as they open to release their pollen. It’s like someone has hung colorful ornaments from the branches during the night, because it seems like they appear that quickly.

7. Male Alder Flowers

Close up photos reveal brown and purple scales on alder catkins. These scales are on short stalks and surround a central axis. There are three flowers beneath each scale, each with a lobed calyx cup and three to five stamens with anthers usually covered in yellow pollen, but I’m not seeing a lot of pollen on this particular example.

8. Female Alder Flowers

When the male (staminate) alder catkins become more yellow than reddish brown then it’s time to start looking for the tiny female (pistillate) flowers. Since alders are monoecious both male and female flowers can be found on the same shrub. The female flowers often form at the very tips of the branches in groups of 3-5 and contain red stigmas that receive the male pollen. Once fertilized the female flowers will grow into the small, cone like seed pods that I think most of us a familiar with.

Nature uses this same color again and again on the female flowers of red maple, hazelnut, speckled alder, eastern larch and others but why, I wonder. All of those flowers are wind pollinated so the color isn’t used to attract insects. There must be something more to it that I’m missing.

 9. Frogs

One day I went to a small pond and there must have been hundreds of frogs of at least three different kinds peeping, croaking and quacking at once. It was the loudest frog concert that I’ve ever heard.

10. Garter Snake

Frogs aren’t the only ones that the warm days have stirred. I saw these two garter snakes warming themselves in the sun one day.

11. Garter Snake

I don’t know enough about snakes to know if one was a female and one a male but this is the other one.

12. Turtle

I’m not sure why this turtle was balancing itself on such a skinny little tree branch but it seemed content and was willing to pose.

13. Robin

I didn’t see it until I looked at the photo but this robin had a damaged a wing feather. It didn’t seem to hinder his flying ability at all so I think he was probably fine. I was surprised that he let me get so close.

14. Willows

My grandmother had a large weeping willow so willow trees always bring back fond memories. Right now they have taken on that golden haze that they show only in early spring and seeing them makes my winter weary spirit soar.

15. Willow Flowers

Down at eye level the gray, fuzzy willow catkins have turned to golden blossoms that light up the pond edges and river banks. They are a beautiful reminder of why spring has always been my favorite season and it’s such a joy to see them again.

Whenever I have found myself stuck in the ways I relate to things, I return to nature. It is my principal teacher, and I try to open my whole being to what it has to say.  ~Wynn Bullock

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1. Larch Cone

Behind every stone, on every branch and in every puddle, beauty can be found. This tiny new larch cone (Larix laricina) is to me as beautiful as any flower.

2. Lilac Buds

Since I was just a boy one of my favorite things about spring has been watching lilac buds swell and finally open. It’s a simple thing, but for me it’s part of the magic of life that makes it so worth living.

3. Trapped Solomon's Seal

Does an emerging plant make a hole in one of last year’s leaves, or is the hole already there and the plant grows up through it? These are questions that came to mind as I sat pondering how every one of this Solomon seal’s leaves (Polygonatum biflorum) got trapped by a hole in a leaf. Will the plant be able to break free of the leaf and live as it was meant to, or will it be forever trapped by it?

4. Unknown Nest

The nest in this photo was baseball size and hanging from a maple branch. I don’t know what made it but the insects buzzing all around it looked like hornets or yellow jackets. The really odd thing about it is how it looks more like a bird’s nest than a hornet or wasp nest. I’ve never heard of an insect using birch bark to build a nest. Could it be that the wasps or hornets were attacking a bird inside its nest? Another forest mystery.

 5. Painted Turtle

This painted turtle seemed to be having some trouble with its shell. Since seeing it I’ve read that turtles can have all kinds of shell problems, including rot and fungus.

6. Garter Snake

My grandmother was so afraid of snakes that she would almost convulse with revulsion at the mere mention of the word. You’d think someone had run their fingers down a chalkboard to watch her. I think that’s why I became so interested in snakes at an early age. I wanted to see what it was that scared her so badly-she who wasn’t afraid of anything. It sure was a good thing she wasn’t with me when I saw this garter snake. It was a cloudy day and he was too sluggish to slither away, so I had a chance to get a couple of photos. My grandmother would have jumped in the river before the shutter had even clicked.

7. New Beech Leaves

A pillow for thee will I bring.
Stuffed with down of angel’s wing.
~Richard Crashaw

8. Bracken Fern

If you live in New England and see a fern with a single tall stem and three branches at its tip it is a bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum.) Bracken ferns often grow in large, dense colonies with few other plants present and this is because it releases chemicals that inhibit the growth of many other plants. Plants compete for light, water, and nutrients but bracken fern has found a way to almost eliminate the completion.

9. New Staghorn Sumac Leaves

Most tree leaves start life colored something other than green and that’s because they don’t need chlorophyll at this stage because they aren’t photosynthesizing. Production of the green pigment chlorophyll requires plenty of light and warmth so if spring weather happens to be cloudy and cool, you might see reddish leaves on the trees for a while. The crimson leaves on this staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) have just started unfurling. This year, with sunshine and warmth, it has taken them less than a day to turn green.

 10. Petrified Red Pine Cones

The branch that these pine cones grew on died before they could mature and now they seem frozen in time, as if they’re petrified, curled and pointed like animal claws.

11. Rattlesnake Weed aka Hieracium Venosum

The rarest plant I know of is rattlesnake weed (Hieracium venosum). I’ve seen one plant in my lifetime and this is it. It has grown in this spot for some time but didn’t bloom last year and I wondered if it would even appear this year, but here it is. It is in the hawkweed family and its flowers look just like yellow hawkweed, but its purple veined foliage is what makes it so unusual and so beautiful. I’m hoping it will produce plenty of seeds this year and that they will grow into more plants. Its common name comes from the old belief that it only grew where there were rattlesnakes.

12. Unknown Sedge Poss. Carex nigra

I like to watch for grasses and sedges at this time of year because many flower now and they can be very beautiful. I think this one might be common or black sedge (Carex nigra). I like its scaly, almost reptilian appearance. I found it growing beside a small pond.

13. Shagbark Hickory Bud Break

I can understand why flowers have certain colors, and mushrooms and even slime molds, but it’s hard to even guess why the insides of the bud scales of the shagbark hickory tree (Carya ovata) have such extraordinary colors. They spend their entire existence closed tightly around the tender leaves and then open for a day or two before falling from the branch, so what purpose can such colors serve?  I like to think that some things on this earth are here simply to delight the eye of the lucky person who stumbles upon them, and maybe these bud scales are a good example of that.

Looking at beauty in the world is the first step of purifying the mind. ~Amit Ray

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