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Posts Tagged ‘Goldfinch’

Each fall as the silky dogwood berries ripen the cedar waxwings return to this spot on the Ashuelot River. They supplement their berry diet with insects and perch on logs and boulders, waiting. When an insect is seen they fly out and grab it in mid-air often returning to the same perch, much as a dragonfly would. They are sleek, beautiful birds that are very fast, and I love watching them.

Silky dogwood berries 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 every time I see them I wonder 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.

Though this might look like the same bird that is in the first photo that bird’s bill is hooked and this one’s bill is not. I chose this shot because I thought it gave a better look at the beautiful bird’s black bandit mask and crest. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology the name waxwing comes from the brilliant red wax drops you can see on its wing feathers. Cornell also says because they eat so much fruit, cedar waxwings occasionally become intoxicated or can even die when they run across overripe berries that have started to ferment and produce alcohol. I met a drunken cedar waxwing once so I know that the story is true. I got between a bird and its fermented dogwood berries one day and it flew directly at my face at high speed, only pulling up at the last second. It did this several times until I moved away from its berries. Only then did it leave me alone. There’s little that’s more jarring than having a bird fly like a miniature jet plane right at your face.

I saw some goldfinches picking the petals off a zinnia and I wondered what they were up to. I thought when the gardener returned and saw all the zinnias were bald they wouldn’t be very happy. I don’t know who that gardener is but if you’re reading this, here’s your culprit.

Once they spit the petal out they still had something to chew on but I wasn’t sure what it was. I’m going to have to look into how zinnia seeds form because goldfinches are great seed eaters. I’ve seen them eating bull thistle seeds almost everywhere I go this year. Imagine being light enough to sit on a flower.

These birds were only picking the petals off the white zinnias and didn’t touch other colors. This one sat and waited its turn for a peck at a white flower while sitting on a purple one and I wondered why it looked a little shabbier than the others. Was it molting? A juvenile? A less colorful female? As of right now I can’t answer any of these questions. Maybe it was just the quality of the light.

I’m not sure what is going on but I seem to be a dragonfly magnet this year. This one came and sat on a branch close enough to whisper in my ear. I don’t know its name but it’s a cute little thing.

Unfortunately other insects like deerflies seem to find me likeable as well. I thought this insect was a deerfly at first but though the wing markings are similar, now I’m not so sure. It was on a building at work early one morning. In any event for those who don’t know what a deerfly is, they have a very painful bite. Even more painful than horseflies.

I recently found this milkweed plant covered with aphids.  Not surprisingly, they are called milkweed aphids (Aphis nerii) and are tiny, bright yellow/orange insects with black legs that pierce plant tissue and suck the juices out of plants. An aphid colony can produce large amounts of honeydew which attracts sooty mold and is a black color.

Aphids stunt plant growth and if not controlled will eventually kill the plant. These aphids are also called oleander aphids and in places like Florida can often be found on that shrub. When conditions get crowded and there are too many milkweed aphids females will grow wings and fly off to find another plant.

The corn never grew in the fields due to the drought, which has now reached moderate or severe proportions in different parts of the state, so all of the volunteer plants in the cornfields are being raked under in a cloud of dust. According to those in the know this has been the 4th hottest summer on record in our area.

Even though it has been as dry as I can remember I have seen a few mushrooms. Dyer’s Polypore (Phaeolus schweinitzii) is also called the velvet topped fungus because of its hairy appearance. These fungi are parasitic on the roots and heartwood of living white pines in the eastern U.S. and cause root rot. They also change color as they age. If found when young as this one was it can be used to dye wool a soft yellow or orange and older examples will dye wool brown. As it ages this fungus turns a dark red / maroon.

Crown coral fungi come in many colors but I usually find the tan / white varieties. The way to tell if you have a crown coral fungus is by the tips of the branches, which in crown coral look like tiny crowns rather than blunt or rounded. They grow on dead wood but if that wood is buried they can appear to be growing in soil. The example in this photo was about as big in diameter as a hen’s egg.

Eyelash fungi (Scutellinia scutellata) are considered cup fungi and they get their name from the hairs around the perimeter. The hairs can move and sometimes curl in towards the center of the disc shaped body. I just read the other day that some believe that the hairs might collect moisture, similar to the way spines on cacti work.

This shot shows how the eyelash fungus can curl its “lashes” inward. They’re fascinating things that there seems to be very little information about. These examples grew on a damp, leaking tree wound and the largest of them was smaller than a pea.

Black jelly drop fungi (Bulgaria inquinans) grew on an oak log. They are also called poor man’s licorice but they aren’t edible. They look and feel like black gumdrops, and for some unknown reason are almost always found on oak trees that have been felled and cut up. The tree that these examples were on however, fell naturally.

Though they look like jelly fungi black jelly drops are sac fungi. Their fertile, spore bearing surface is shiny and the outside of the mature cups look like brown velvet. They are sometimes used for dying fabric in blacks, browns, purples and grays.

Can this be your everything for a moment; all that there is? It was mine for a time, kneeling there in the forest.

Young fly agaric (Amanita muscaria v. formosa) mushrooms found here often have a metallic yellow color when they just come up. They’re common where pine trees grow and this one was under a pine. The name fly agaric comes from the practice of putting pieces of the mushroom in a dish of milk. The story says that when flies drank the milk they died, but it’s something I’ve never tried. Fly agaric is said to have the ability to “turn off” fear in humans and is considered toxic, but I think that would be the red variety with white spots (Amanita muscaria) that is commonly found in Europe. Vikings are said to have used it for that very reason and those who used it were called “berserkers.” By all accounts I’ve read berserkers were very frightening people.

At this time of year small black witch hats can be seen on some witch hazel leaves, but what looks like a witch hat is actually a gall which the plant created in response to the witch hazel gall aphid (Hormaphis hamamelidis.) It’s also called nipple gall and cone head gall. I’ve seen lots of these but I’ve never seen one with hair. It’s nice to occasionally be completely surprised by reality. It takes us down a peg or two and prevents us from believing that we know it all.

In 2015 someone from the Smithsonian Institution read a post where I spoke about sumac pouch gall and contacted me to ask if I could tell them where they grew in this region. They are researching the co-evolution 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. 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 they collected galls from here and also collected them from Georgia, Arkansas, Michigan and Ohio.

When mature the galls become tomato red. It’s hard to comprehend being able to see the very same living thing now that could have been seen 48 million years ago.

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.

Each berry of a Jack in the pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) starts out green and contains 3-5 seeds. Soon they’ll turn a beautiful bright, shiny red.  This is a native plant in the arum family similar to the Lords and Ladies plant found in the U.K. Deer often come by and chomp off the berries of the plant so I was happy to find these.

Chokecherries (Prunus virginianadangle beautifully 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.”

I learned the secret of photographing purple grasses from purple love grass (Eragrostis spectabilis.) This beautiful little shin-high grass grows on sandy roadsides and flowers in late summer and early fall. Its purple flower heads will eventually turn a tannish color and break off. They are often seen rolling and floating along the roadsides like tumbleweeds in the fall. It reminds me each year how fall, like spring, actually starts on the forest floor.

Once fall begins there’s no stopping it and before long it moves from the forest floor to the understory, as these hobblebush leaves (Viburnum lantanoides) show so well.

And of course fall moves from the understory into the trees above, and you can just see that happening in the yellow tree in the center of this hill on the other side of Half Moon Pond, just a short distance down from the top. It’s an ash tree I believe, which is one of the first trees to turn in the fall. By the way, the name “ash” can be traced back to old English where it meant “spear,” because ash wood was the first choice for the shaft of such a weapon.

You can experience the beauty of nature only when you sit with it, observe it, breathe it and talk to it.
~Sanchita Pandey

I hope all of you are experiencing the beauty of nature, wherever you may live.

Thanks for stopping in.

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