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Posts Tagged ‘Great Blue Heron’

We’ve had some rough weather since I last did one of these “things I’ve seen” posts; large amounts of rain, record high temperatures and strong winds. Clouds like these have been commonly seen in the afternoon, just before a downpour.

One storm had strong straight line winds of 60+ mph and blew down many trees. These examples were sheared off rather than blown down but the trees were still done for no matter how it happened.

The wind blew bird’s nests right out of the trees.

The rain filled the rivers and gave me a chance to practice my wave shots at the Ashuelot River in Swanzey.  I like to see if I can tune myself into the rhythm of the river so I can tell ahead of time when a wave will form. Once you have tuned into its rhythm you can get photos of cresting waves again and again, with little effort.  As Joseph Campbell once said; The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature.

Bailey Brook Falls up in Nelson, which is north of Keene, had plenty of water tumbling over the rocks. Last time I was there it was barely a trickle.

Since I was at Baily Brook Falls anyway I decided to walk the old dirt road and look for signs of bear. They were easy to find; marking this utility pole seems to be a favorite pastime of theirs. All the light colored tooth and claw marks seen here were all made by bears.

They also use the pole as a scratching post and rub up themselves against it. They often leave hairs behind when they do, and these were just slightly above eye level. I was glad I didn’t meet up with the donor. I wouldn’t have wanted him to think I was marking his territory.

I’ve seen a few great blue herons this summer but Lo and behold, this one was moving instead of pretending to be a statue. It was moving because moments before I had stepped around some brush and came almost nose to beak with it. We were both startled (in fact I might have said aa!) but the heron calmly walked away while I stood fumbling with my camera. This is the second time this has happened in as many years and I’m convinced that great blue herons don’t have very good hearing. I wish they’d find a way to let me know they were on the other side of the bush.

This heron was also moving but it was notable because it was moving through a field, and that’s something I’ve read about but have never seen. But since I took this photo I saw another one doing the same thing so it must be fairly common behavior. I’d say from the bulge in this one’s throat that it’s also a successful strategy. You don’t realize just how tall a great blue heron is until you see them with their neck fully outstretched. I wasn’t close enough to be able to tell for sure but it looked like this one could have pecked the top of my head.

I saw a beetle with a strange insignia on a shield like appendage and I immediately thought that it would be a nightmare to identify, but it was actually very easy.

It was the American carrion beetle (Necrophila americana) which is something I’ve never seen before. Not surprisingly, this beetle eats decaying flesh in both its adult and larval stages. Since there was no decaying flesh anywhere near where it was I thought it was odd that it was there but they do eat insect larvae as well so maybe that’s what it was hunting. I’ve read that adults prefer moist habitats and are active all summer. One generation is born each year.

There’s nothing odd about a bumblebee on a flower until I tell you that this bee was huge; at least as big as half my thumb. It also looked very different than the bumblebees that I’m used to.

That’s because it isn’t a bumblebee at all. It’s an eastern or Virginia carpenter bee (Xylocopa virginica) and that marking just between its eyes makes it very easy to identify. These bees nest in wood and eat pollen and nectar. They don’t eat wood but they will excavate tunnels through rotten wood. The adults nest through winter and emerge in spring. Though it is said to be common in the eastern part of the country I can’t remember ever seeing one. I’ve read that they can be up to an inch long and this one was all of that. Females can sting but they do so only when bothered. Males don’t have a stinger, thankfully.

Here was something strange that I can’t begin to explain. That butterfly flat on the ground was dead and the two standing butterflies were watching over it as if guarding it. As I got closer to take photos they would fly around me and then land near their dead compadre again, time after time. I think the standing ones were clouded yellow butterflies (Colias croceus.)

This is the dead butterfly that the mourners were tending to. I thought it would be easy to identify but it hasn’t been and I’ve run out of time. If you happen to know I’d love for you to tell me and I’d also love to know what this behavior is all about. I’ve never seen anything like it.

I saw another strange insect that I haven’t been able to identify on a milkweed plant. A “wheel bug” is the closest I could come, but that isn’t it.

I wondered if the strange insect did this to the milkweed seed pod. I’ve never seen one grow in a spiral.

Wooly alder aphids (Paraprociphilus tessellatus) grow a white, filamentous waxy covering that looks like it’s made up of tiny white ribbons. When grouped together in a colony the insects look like white fuzz on the alder’s branches and this white fuzz helps protect them from the eyes of predators. You can see aphids without their covering at about twelve and nine o’clock in this photo. They have a kind of checkerboard pattern on their backs. They are sap sucking insects which secrete a sweet honeydew on the leaves and branches of plants. This honeydew attracts a fungus called black sooty mold, but since the mold grows only on the honeydew and not the plant, it doesn’t harm plants. The aphids themselves will do far more harm because they can literally suck the life out of a plant.

Wooly alder aphids are quite small; smaller than a pencil eraser and can be hard to see, even with the white waxy covering. I look on the undersides of alder branches at about this time of year. Something I’ve never seen before are the reddish blobs that appear in this photo. I’m not sure but it looks as if some of the aphids on this branch were crushed somehow and I think that is their “blood.” If you are lucky enough to catch these insects in flight, they look like tiny white fairies. In fact another name for them is “fairy flies.”

I was driving slowly, looking for fall color, down an old road one recent evening and saw a young cottontail ahead. I stopped and turned my camera on. It was cloudy and already nearly dark at 6:00 pm but I thought I’d at least try. But the camera wouldn’t have it; I was too far away. So, instead of getting out of the car and scaring the rabbit away I simply took my foot off the brake and let the car creep toward the bunny. It couldn’t have cared less and kept munching grasses while the car crept ahead. This poor photo was taken from about 10 feet away through the windshield. The rabbit never moved until another car came along from the opposite direction.

I haven’t seen the beautiful autumn scarlet leaves of Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) yet but the berries are ripe. The blue berries on their pink stems (pedicels) is a sight that goes far back into my memory because my mother loved Virginia creeper and grew it on wire on the side of our house. Many birds (35 species) love these berries, including thrushes, woodpeckers, warblers, vireos, mockingbirds, chickadees, and turkeys. So do mice, red fox, skunks, chipmunks, squirrels, and deer. I’ve read that birds are attracted more to red fruits than the blue-black ones found on Virginia creeper, so the vine compensates by having flaming red leaves in the fall. When birds land amidst all the attractive shades of red they find and eat the berries.

The berries of silky dogwood are ripe now but when I took this photo they were in their turning from green to white to blue phase. In the middle of that turning some of the berries are white and blue at the same time and I’ve always wondered if that’s where the ancient Chinese got the idea for their beautiful blue and white porcelain. That’s a question that will most likely never be answered but I’d say that it is a fair bet that most if not all ancient innovations came from studying nature. One need only to look at the spiral as an example; it is found in everything from the center of a sunflower to a hurricane to the Archimedes screw; they have fascinated mathematicians, scientists, and artists for thousands of years.

Fall starts tonight at about 10:00 pm so I thought I’d show the only good display of fall colors that I’ve seen so far. There should be plenty more coming but for now this view of Half Moon Pond in Hancock is a good preview. For some reason the trees around this pond change before most of the others I see.

I’d like to end this post with a thank you to all the readers who wrote in to say that what I thought was pollution on the banks of the Ashuelot River in my post of last Saturday might easily have come from natural sources. Iron rich ferrous hydroxide that occurs naturally in soil can cause the oil like sheen on water, as can bacteria generated hydrocarbons in oxygen depleted soil. The example shown here was found on the very wet soil of a seep. It did my heart good to think that the Ashuelot River might really be completely clean once again, so thanks again for the enlightening information.

Since we cannot know all there is to be known about anything, we ought to know a little about everything. ~Blaise Pascal

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As I said in my last post, it rained here every day for a week. The mushrooms are almost jumping up out of the ground and I hope to find enough for a full fungus post in the near future. Meanwhile here is what I think are yellow patches (Amanita flavoconia,) but since my fungi identifying skills aren’t what they should be I wouldn’t bet the farm on it. Yellow patches gets its common name from the yellow bits of universal veil on its cap. You can just see them on the smaller example. The universal veil is made of tissue and completely covers the young mushroom. As it grows it eventually breaks the veil and pieces of it are left on the cap. Rain can wash them off and I’m guessing that’s what happened on the larger example. The rains have been torrential.

Without any human intervention trees get wounded in the forest. It can happen when one tree falls and hits another or sometimes when a large branch falls. Squirrels chew bark, woodpeckers drill holes. In any event a wounded tree is not that unusual, even when it is black and weeping like the wound on this oak was, but what caught my eye were those tiny yellow-orange dots in the upper center of this photo.

I was very surprised to find that the tiny dots were eyelash fungi (Scutellinia scutellata.) This is only the third time I’ve seen them and I don’t know much about them, but I thought they only lived on dead wood. Very well soaked dead wood, in fact; the two previous examples I saw were growing on twigs lying in the standing water of a seep. Eyelash fungi are in the cup fungus family. The hairs on them can move and curl in towards the center of the disc shaped body.

I walked through a field of milkweed looking for monarch butterflies or their caterpillars. I never did see the monarchs but I saw an amazing amount of other insects, including hundreds of bumblebees.

An eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly was on a milkweed plant but flew off to a Queen Anne’s lace blossom before I could get a photo. These butterflies have been skittish all summer and have hardly sat still at all for me, so I was a bit befuddled when this one finally let me take as many shots as I wanted.

I’ve had quite a time trying to identify what I thought was a common butterfly. It was a small one; much smaller than a swallowtail, maybe about the size of a cabbage white. It liked hawkweed and flew from blossom to blossom in a patch of panicled hawkweed. I think it was a silvery checker spot; at least, that’s the closest I could come by looking at similar examples. It was a pretty little thing, whatever its name.

A Japanese beetle looked like a shiny jewel on a milkweed leaf. These beetles do a lot of damage here but this year they don’t seem to have the staggering numbers they’ve had in the past.

Red spotted milkweed beetles hid on the underside of a milkweed leaf. The scientific name of this beetle, Tetraopes, means “four eyes” in Greek. This longhorn beetle is unusual because of the way the base of its long antennae bisect its eyes. The antennae actually splits each eye in two, so they do indeed have four eyes. It is thought that these beetles ingest toxins from milkweed plants to protect them from predators, just like monarch butterflies do. The red and black colors are also there to warn predators.

I thought a milkweed leaf had a tiny gall on it, but when I tapped on it with my fingernail it started to move.

And it moved pretty fast. That’s because it was a snail and not a gall. I’ve never seen snails on milkweed before but we’ve had snail-ish weather this summer with very high humidity, so maybe that has something to do with it. I believe these are called blunt amber snails. They were almost translucent and quite small.

A fly was on the same milkweed plant that the snails were on and it agreed to sit for a photo shoot. I think it was a tachinid fly. From what I’ve read there are over 1300 species of tachinid fly, so I’m not even going to try to come up with an identification. It reminded me of that movie The Fly with Vincent Price.

What I think was a slaty skimmer dragonfly showed signs of age with pieces missing from its wings, but it was still a beautiful blue. It let me get just one shot before it flew off.  I’ve read that mature males are dark blue with black heads, so I’d guess that this is an example of a mature male.

A beautiful blue river of pickerel weed flowed through a ditch next to a cornfield. When I see things like this I have no choice; I have to stop and admire them because they are so unexpected. It’s as if they were put there specifically to be admired. These are the things that can take you outside of yourself and let you walk in a higher place for a time. As Amit Ray once said: Beauty is the moment when time vanishes.

A great blue heron wanted to be a statue in its own hidden patch of pickerel weed, and it made a good one. I didn’t have time to wait for it to move; that can sometimes take quite a while.

A yellow bellied sapsucker left its neat rows of holes in a hawthorn. Many other birds, bats, insects and animals sip the sap that runs from these holes and they are an important part of the workings of the forest.  But why does the pattern have to be so neat? I wonder.

The berries of false Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum) are speckled green and red for a short time before becoming brilliant red. The plant is called treacle berry because the fruit is said to taste like bitter molasses, which is also known as treacle. They’re rich in vitamins and have been used to prevent scurvy. They have also been known to act as a laxative to those who aren’t used to eating them. Native Americans used the leaves and roots in medicinal teas and also inhaled the fumes from burning roots to treat headaches and body pain.

Though I don’t see a banner year for blueberries this year the crop doesn’t look too bad. I think there will be enough to keep both bears and humans happy. One of the best places to pick blueberries that I’ve seen is from a boat, canoe or kayak, because blueberries grow on the shores of our lakes and ponds in great profusion and the bushes often hang out over the water. You can fill a small bucket in no time.

Tatarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica) berries start out green and then turn orange before finally ripening to red. They are pretty things but they can be mildly toxic to adults and more so to children, though I’ve never heard of anyone eating them. Tatarian honeysuckle is considered an invasive shrub. Birds eat the berries and the plant spreads quickly, with an estimated seedling density of 459,000 per acre. Once grown their dense canopy shades the forest floor enough so native plants can’t grow, so the land around dense colonies is often barren.

The seeds of curly dock (Rumex crispus) start out looking like tiny seed pearls before ripening to the pretty things seen here. Curly dock is in the rhubarb family and is originally from Europe. The small seeds can be roasted and used as a coffee substitute, and the leaves can be eaten raw or cooked. They are rich in beta-carotene and vitamins A and C and were used by many as a green vegetable during the depression. Its common name comes from the wavy edges on the leaves.

What does all this ripening mean? I don’t want to be the one to say it but I shouldn’t have to; just looking around will tell the story.

So many hues in nature and yet nothing remains the same, every day, every season a work of genius, a free gift from the Artist of artists. ~E.A. Bucchianeri

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Back a few years ago I had the luxury of working from home, telecommuting in a way. At times it could get slightly monotonous so to break up the monotony I took a walk at lunch time each day. Of course I had a camera with me and many of the photos I took on those lunchtime walks appeared here on this blog. The above photo shows the road I walked on, what we always called the “dirt road,” because it was a dirt road for many years until the town came along and paved it.

To the right of the road is a small pond where Canada geese used to swim but now it is home mostly to frogs, snapping turtles, and muskrats.

The muskrats eat the cattail roots. The snapping turtles eat the frogs, and the frogs eat up a lot of mosquitoes, for which I am very grateful. I’m looking forward to hearing the spring peepers start singing again in March.

To the left of the road is a large alder swamp where in the spring red wing blackbirds by the many hundreds live. They don’t like people near their nesting sites and when I walked by here they always let me know how disappointed they were with my walking habits. Just out there in the middle of the swamp was an old dead white pine I used to call it the heron tree, because great blue herons used to sit in its branches. Since it fell I haven’t seen as many herons fishing here.

The alders were heavy with dangling catkins, which in this case are the shrub’s male (Staminate) flowers. I believe that most of the alders here are speckled alders (Alnus incana) but I can’t get close enough to most of them to find out, because this swamp never freezes entirely.

The beautiful alder catkins, each packed with hundreds of male flowers, will open usually around the last week in March to the first week of April. When the brownish purple scales on short stalks open they’ll reveal the golden pollen, and for a short time it will look as if someone has hung jewels of purple and gold on all the bushes. That’s the signal I use to start looking for the tiny crimson female (Pistillate) flowers, which will appear in time to receive the wind born pollen. They are among the smallest flowers I know of and they can be hard to see.

The female alder flowers become the hard little cones called strobiles which I think most of us are probably familiar with.  These strobiles have tongue gall, which is caused by a fungus called Taphrina alni. The fungus chemically deforms parts of the ovarian tissue of the developing cone and causes long, tongue like galls called languets to grow from them. I’m guessing that the fungus benefits from these long tongues by getting its spore bearing surfaces out into the wind. They don’t seem to hurt the alder any. In fact most galls don’t harm their hosts.

Medieval writers thought witch’s brooms were a bewitched bundle of twigs and called them Hexenbesen, but witch’s brooms are simply a plant deformity; a dense cluster of branches caused by usually a fungus but sometimes by a parasitic plant like mistletoe. Witch’s broom can sometimes be desirable; the Montgomery dwarf blue spruce came originally from a witch’s broom. This example is on an old dead white pine (Pinus strobus) and is the only one I’ve ever seen on pine.

A colorful bracket fungus grew on a fallen log. Or maybe I should say that it was frozen to it, because it was rock hard. My mushroom book says that this fungus can appear at all times of year though, so it must be used to the cold. It’s described as hairy with ochre to bright rust yellow and rust brown banding and if I’ve identified it correctly it’s called the mustard yellow polypore (Phellinus gilvus.) That’s an odd name considering that it has very little yellow in it but even the photo in the book shows only a thin band of yellow.

This bracket fungus was very thin and woody and grew in several examples around the perimeter of a fallen tree. I think it’s probably the thin maze polypore (Daedaleopsis confragosa,) which is fairly common.

This photo is of the maze-like underside of the thin maze polypore. This is a great example of how some mushrooms increase their spore bearing surfaces. When fresh the surface is pale gray and turns red when bruised. This fungus causes white rot in trees.

Despite having more cold days than warm days the sun is doing its work and melting the snow in places with a southerly exposure. Our average temperature in February here in southern New Hampshire is 35 degrees F. so try as it might, winter can’t win now. It can still throw some terrible weather at us though; the average snowfall amount is 18 inches but I’ve seen that much fall in a single February storm before. We are supposed to see 10-12 inches later today, in fact.

The reason the area in the previous photo is so clear of growth is because a large stand of bracken fern grows (Pteridium aquilinum) there. Bracken fern releases release chemicals that inhibit the growth of other plants and that’s why this fern grows in large colonies where no other plants or trees are seen. Bracken is one of the oldest ferns, with fossil records dating it to over 55 million years old. Though they usually grow knee high I’ve seen some that were chest high.

Down the road a ways a large colony of American wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) grows. Since this was the first plant I learned to identify I’m always happy to see it. It is also called teaberry or checkerberry and those who have ever tasted Clark’s Teaberry Gum know its flavor well. Oil of wintergreen has been used medicinally for centuries and it is still used in mouthwash, toothpaste, and pain relievers. Native Americans carried the leaves on hunts and nibbled on them to help them breathe easier when running or carrying game. The leaves make a pleasant minty tea but the plant contains compounds similar to those found in aspirin, so anyone allergic to aspirin shouldn’t use this plant.

Common speedwell (Veronica officinalis) has also been used medicinally for centuries in Europe and its leaves were used as a tea substitute there. Though it isn’t really invasive it is considered an agricultural weed. It forms mat like growths like that seen in the above photo but sends up vertical flower stalks in May. Each flower stalk (Raceme) has many very small blue flowers streaked with dark purple lines. They are beautiful little things, but they aren’t easy to photograph.

Yet another plant found in large colonies along the road is yarrow (Achillea milefolium.) Yarrow has been used medicinally since the dawn of time, and bunches of the dried herb have been  found in Neanderthal graves. It is one of the nine holy herbs  and was traded throughout the world, and that’s probably the reason it is found in nearly every country on earth. I’ve never looked closely at its seed heads before. I was surprised to see that they look nothing like the flowers. If it wasn’t for the scent and the few dried leaves clinging to the stem I’m not sure I would have known it was yarrow.

In one spot a small stream passes under the road. Strangely, on this side of the road it was frozen over…

…while on this side of the road it was ice free. That shows what a little persistent sun or shade can do at this time of year.

This is the tree that first got me wondering why some Eastern Hemlocks (Tsuga canadensis) had red on their bark when most didn’t. I’ve never been able to answer that question so I don’t know if it’s caused by algae, or is some type of loosely knitted lichen, or if it is simply the way the tree’s genes lean.

My lunchtime walk sometimes found me sitting in the cool forest on an old fallen hemlock tree, with this as my view. Just over the rise, a short way through the forest, is a stream that feeds into the swamp we saw previously. This is a cool place on a hot summer day and one that I used frequently. Sometimes it was hard to go back to work but you need discipline when you work from home and I always made it back in time. It was fun taking this walk again for this post. So many good memories!

The walks met a need: they were a release from the tightly regulated mental environment of work, and once I discovered them as therapy they became the normal thing, and I forgot what life had been like before I started walking.  ~ Teju Cole

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I’m not seeing many now, possibly because the nights are getting cooler, but I was seeing at least one monarch butterfly each day for quite a while. That might not seem like many but I haven’t seen any over the last couple of years so seeing them every day was a very noticeable and welcome change.

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.

After a rest the knapweeds started blooming again and clouded sulfur butterflies (I think) were all over them. I’ve seen a lot of them this year. They always seem to come later in summer and into fall and I still see them on warm days.

This clouded sulfur had a white friend that I haven’t been able to identify. I think this is only the second time I’ve had 2 butterflies pose for the same photo.

I saw lots of painted ladies on zinnias this year; enough so I think I might plant some next year. I like the beautiful stained glass look of the undersides of its wings.

The upper surface of a painted lady’s wings look very different. This one was kind enough to land just in front of me in the gravel of a trail that I was following.

A great blue heron stood motionless on a rock in a pond, presumably stunned by the beauty that surrounded it. It was one of those that likes to pretend it’s a statue, so I didn’t wait around for what would probably be the very slow unfolding of the next part of the story.

Three painted turtles all wanted the same spot at the top of a log in the river. They seem to like this log, because every time I walk by it there are turtles on it.

Three ducks dozed and didn’t seem to care who was where on their log in the river.

Ducks and turtles weren’t the only things on logs. Scaly pholiota mushrooms (Pholiota squarrosa) covered a large part of this one. This mushroom is common and looks like the edible honey mushroom at times, but it is not edible and is considered poisonous. They are said to smell like lemon, garlic, radish, onion or skunk, but I keep forgetting to smell them. They are said to taste like radishes by those unfortunate few who have tasted them.

There are so many coral mushrooms that look alike they can be hard to identify, but I think this one might have been yellow tipped coral (Ramaria formosa.) Though you can’t see them in this photo its stems are quite thick and stout and always remind me of broccoli. Some of these corals get quite big and they often form colonies. This one was about as big as a cantaloupe and grew in a colony of about 8-10 examples, growing in a large circle.

Comb tooth fungus (Hericium ramosum) grows on well-rotted logs of deciduous trees like maple, beech, birch and oak. It is on the large side; this example was about as big as a baseball, and its pretty toothed branches spill downward like a fungal waterfall. It is said to be the most common and widespread species of Hericium in North America, but I think this example is probably only the third one I’ve seen in over 50 years of looking at mushrooms.

Something I see quite a lot of in late summer is the bolete called Russell’s bolete (Boletellus russellii.) Though the top of the cap isn’t seen in this shot it was scaly and cracked, and that helps tell it from look alikes like the shaggy stalked bolete (Boletellus betula) and Frost’s bolete (Boletus frostii.) All three have webbed stalks like that seen above, but their caps are very different.

Sometimes you can be seeing a fungus and not even realize it. Or in this case, the results of a fungus. The fungus called Taphrina alni attacks female cone-like alder (Alnus incana) catkins (Strobiles) and chemically deforms part of the ovarian tissues, causing long tongue like galls known as languets to form. These galls will persist until the strobiles fall from the plant; even heavy rain and strong winds won’t remove them. Though I haven’t been able to find information on its reproduction I’m guessing that the fungal spores are produces on these long growths so the wind can easily take them to other plants.

Elderberries (Sambucus canadensis) are having a great year. I don’t think I’ve ever seen as many berries (drupes) as we have this year. The berries are edible but other parts of the plant contain calcium oxalate and are toxic. Native Americans dried them for winter use and soaked the berry stems in water to make a black dye that they used on their baskets.

Native cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon) are also having a good year. The Pilgrims named this fruit “crane berry” because they thought the flowers looked like Sandhill cranes. Native Americans used the berries as both food and medicine, and even made a dye from them. They taught the early settlers how to use the berries and I’m guessing that they probably saved more than a few lives doing so. Cranberries are said to be one of only three fruits native to North America; the other two being blueberries and Concord grapes, but I say what about the elderberries we just saw and what about crab apples? There are also many others, so I think whoever said that must not have thought it through.

In my own experience I find it best to leave plants with white berries alone because they are usually poisonous, and no native plant illustrates this better than poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans.) Though many birds can eat its berries without suffering, when most humans so much as brush against the plant they can itch for weeks afterward, and those who are particularly sensitive could end up in the hospital. I had a friend who had to be hospitalized when his eyes became swollen shut because of it. Eating any part of the plant or even breathing the smoke when it is burned can be very dangerous.

Native bluestem grass (Schizachyrium scoparium) catches the light and glows in luminous ribbons along the roadsides. This is a common grass that grows in every U.S. state except Nevada and Washington, but is so uncommonly beautiful that it is grown in gardens. After a frost it takes on a reddish purple hue, making it even more beautiful.

It is the way its seed heads reflect the light that makes little bluestem grass glow like it does.

I think the above photo is of the yellow fuzz cone slime mold (Hemitrichia clavata.) The most unusual thing about this slime mold is how it appears when the weather turns colder in the fall. Most other slime molds I see grow during warm, wet, humid summers but I’ve seen this one even in winter. Though it looks like it was growing on grass I think there must have been an unseen root or stump just under the soil surface, because this one likes rotten wood. It starts life as tiny yellow to orange spheres (sporangia) that finally open into little cups full of yellowish hair like threads on which the spores are produced.

I was looking at lichens one day when I came upon this grasshopper. The lichens were on a fence rail and so was the grasshopper, laying eggs in a crack in the rail. This is the second time I’ve seen a grasshopper laying eggs in a crack in wood so I had to look it up and see what it was all about. It turns out that only long horned grasshoppers lay eggs in wood. Short horned grasshoppers dig a hole and lay them in soil. They lay between 15 and 150 eggs, each one no bigger than a grain of rice. The nymphs will hatch in spring and live for less than a year.

The gypsy moth egg cases I’ve seen have been smooth and hard, but this example was soft and fuzzy so I had to look online at gypsy moth egg case examples. From what I’ve seen online this looks like one. European gypsy moths were first brought to the U.S. in 1869 from Europe to start a silkworm business but they escaped and have been in the wild ever since. In the 1970s and 80s gypsy moth outbreaks caused many millions of dollars of damage across the northeast by defoliating and killing huge swaths of forest. I remember seeing, in just about every yard, black stripes of tar painted around tree trunks or silvery strips of aluminum foil wrapped around trunks. The theory was that when the caterpillars crawled up the trunk of a tree to feed they would either get stuck in the tar or slip on the aluminum foil and fall back to the ground. Today, decades later, you can still see the black stripes of tar around some trees. Another gypsy moth population explosion happened in Massachusetts last year and that’s why foresters say that gypsy moth egg cases should be destroyed whenever they’re found. I didn’t destroy this one because at the time I wasn’t positive that it was a gypsy moth egg case. If you look closely at the top of it you can see the tiny spherical, silvery eggs. I think a bird had been at it.

Folklore says that the wider the orangey brown band on a wooly bear caterpillar is, the milder the winter will be. If we’re to believe it then this winter will be very mild indeed, because this wooly bear has more brown on it than I’ve ever seen. In any event this caterpillar won’t care, because it produces its own antifreeze and can freeze solid in winter. Once the temperatures rise into the 40s F in spring it thaws out and begins feeding on dandelion and other early spring greens. Eventually it will spin a cocoon and emerge as a beautiful tiger moth. From that point on it has only two weeks to live.

This bumblebee hugged a goldenrod flower head tightly one chilly afternoon. I thought it had died there but as I watched it moved its front leg very slowly. Bumblebees sleep and even die on flowers and they are often seen at this time of year doing just what this one was doing. I suppose if they have to die in winter like they do, a flower is the perfect place to do so. Only queen bumblebees hibernate through winter; the rest of the colony dies. In spring the queen will make a new nest and actually sit on the eggs she lays to keep them warm, just like birds do.

I’ll end this post the way I started it, with a monarch butterfly. I do hope they’re making a comeback but there is still plenty we can do to help make that happen. Planting zinnias might be a good place to start. At least, even if the monarchs didn’t come, we’d still have some beautiful flowers to admire all summer.

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

Thanks for coming by.

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The clouds were very angular on this morning at Half Moon Pond in Hancock, but they weren’t what I was trying to get a photo of. I was interested in the trees along the far shoreline, which are starting to show just the first hint of their fall colors.

Some of our native dogwoods like this silky dogwood (Cornus amomum) have already turned a beautiful deep red-maroon.

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 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 birds eat them up quickly.

Among the birds that love silky dogwood berries is the beautiful, sleek cedar waxwing. 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 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 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. I wondered what is with this crazy bird as it flew at me several times, but once I finally realized what was happening and moved away from its berries it left me alone. I can still remember the feel the wind on my face from its drunken aerobatics.

If you’re wondering if I climbed a tree to get above that cedar waxwing in the last photo the answer is no; I just stood on a bridge and looked down on it. There is a huge brush pile against one of the bridge piers and the birds rest here between flights. They fly out quickly and grab insects out of the air in the evening, just before the sun sets. Earlier in the day they feed on silky dogwood and other berries and rest in the bushes.

Cedar waxwings are beautiful birds that don’t seem to mind me being above them, but if I walk down along the riverbank so I can be eye to eye with them it causes quite a ruckus among the flock and they all go and hide in the bushes. Though this photo looks like we were on nearly the same level I was quite far above the bird when I took the photo. Once I saw the photo I thought that the bird’s wing didn’t look quite right. Or maybe it does; I’ve never been much of a bird studier and it was obviously able to fly, but it does seem to be missing the red wax drops.

Rain can be a blessing to an allergy sufferer because it washes all of the sneezy, wheezy pollen out of the air, but on this day it washed it into the river where it could reveal the otherwise invisible currents and eddies.

One of the reasons I like cutting and splitting firewood is because, unless you want to lose a finger or two, you have to be focused on the task at hand and on each piece of wood before you. When you focus so intently on any subject you see many unexpected things, like these robin’s egg blue “insect eggs.” At least I thought they were insect eggs, so I put this piece of wood aside to see what happened when they hatched. They hatched all right, but after turning white and splitting open instead of baby insects out came black spores, and then I knew it was a slime mold. Blue is a rare color among slime molds and I’m happy to have seen it.

This event really was an insect hatching and there were hundreds of baby hickory tussock moth caterpillars (Lophocampa caryae) crawling all over this tree. I’ve never seen as many as there are this year.

Hickory tussock moth caterpillars have a stark beauty but each one should come with a warning label because those long hairs can imbed themselves in your skin and cause all kinds of problems, from rashes to infections.

I’ve done several posts that included hickory tussock moth caterpillars but I just realized that I’ve never seen the moth itself, so I went to Wikipedia and found this photo of a very pretty hickory tussock moth by Mike Boone from bugguide.net.

According to what I’ve read the banded net-winged beetle (Calopteron discrepans) is commonly found resting on leaves in moist woods, and that’s right where I found this one. Its bright Halloween colors warn predators that this insect contains acids and other chemicals that make it at best, distasteful. The adult beetles eat nectar, honeydew, and decaying vegetation.

I find more feathers than you can shake a stick at but this is the first time I’ve ever found one like this one. It was quite big as feathers go and I think it was a great blue heron feather.

But the feather wasn’t from this great blue heron. I walked around a tall clump of Joe Pye weed at a local pond and almost ran nose to beak into this bird. We both looked at each other for a moment and I don’t know which of us was the most startled, but instead of flying away the big bird just calmly walked into the cattails and began hunting for food while I fumbled around for my camera.

Instead of pretending to be a statue the heron bent and jabbed at some unseen morsel several times, but from what I could tell it missed every time because it never swallowed.

Each time after the heron had dipped and missed whatever it was it was trying for it would look back at me and grin in a self-effacing way before wiggling its tail feathers vigorously. I’m not sure what it was trying to tell me. If at first you don’t succeed try, try again?

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. Though Native Americans used its roots medicinally all parts of this plant are extremely toxic. As few as six berries can kill so it’s no surprise that “bane berry” comes from the Old English words bana or bona, which both mean “slayer” or “murderer.”

Another baneberry that can have white berries is red baneberry (Actaea rubra) but I know these plants well and I’m sure they’re white baneberry. It really doesn’t matter though, because both plants are extremely toxic. 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.

On their way to becoming brilliant red, the berries of false Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum) are speckled green and red for a short time. This plant is also called treacle berry because the berries are supposed to taste like treacle or bitter molasses. They are rich in vitamins and have been used to prevent scurvy, but large quantities of uncooked berries are said to act like a laxative to those who aren’t used to eating them. Native Americans inhaled the fumes from the burning roots to treat headaches and body pain. They also used the leaves and roots in medicinal teas.

From a distance I thought a beautiful spotted butterfly had landed on a leaf but as I got closer I saw that the beauty was in the leaf itself.

I did find butterflies though; they were all on the zinnias at the local college but only the painted ladies were willing to pose. I was able to tell the difference between this butterfly and the American painted lady thanks to a link posted by blogging friend Mike Powell. If you love nature but aren’t reading Mike’s blog you’re doing yourself a real disservice. You can find him by clicking on the word here. I’ve also seen several monarch butterflies lately but none would pose for a photo.

How very lucky and grateful I am to be able to see such beauty in this life. I hope all of you will take time to see it too.

Beauty is the moment when time vanishes. Beauty is the space where eternity arises. ~Amit Ray

Thanks for stopping in.

 

 

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1-trail

We’ve had two good snowstorms recently about six days apart. The first dropped about six inches and the second about seven inches, so unless we get some rain or warm weather I think it’s safe to say that we’ll have a white Christmas. This view shows a trail around a pond that I follow quite regularly. I wasn’t the first one here on this day.

2-pondside

The pond is frozen but isn’t safe for skating yet. This is a very popular skating place and once the ice is thick enough the City of Keene will plow it so it can be used. Hopefully the ice will be thick enough to plow; the plow truck has ended up on the pond bottom several times over the years. Luckily it isn’t that deep.

3-cattails

Cattails tell you where the solid ground ends and the pond begins. This is a good thing because often unless you know the place well you can’t tell where the land meets water when it’s all covered in snow. That’s especially true along rivers; one year I realized that I was standing on an ice shelf quite a few feet out over a river. Once I stopped shaking I was able to get back on land without getting wet. I’ve made sure never to make that mistake again; people drown by doing such foolish things.

4-pondside

Because it was so cold when it fell the snow was light and fluffy and easy to shovel. Since all it takes is a light breeze to blow such powdery snow around I didn’t think my chances of seeing snowy trees was very good, but thankfully there was no breeze and the trees stayed frosted. In the woods every single thing was covered by a coating of snow.

5-otter

But wait a minute; what is that dark object out there on the ice?  I know this pond well enough to know that there shouldn’t be anything sticking up out of the water in that spot.

6-otter

It was the otter, and this makes the second terrible photo that I’ve taken of it. My camera simply isn’t made for such long shots but I keep trying anyway. Odd that this animal would live here all alone. At least, I’ve never seen more than a single one at a time. I thought they were very social animals and I’m surprised that it hasn’t gone off in search of a mate. It stayed just long enough for a single photo before slipping through a hole. I wondered how it was able to make a hole. Maybe the ice is thin there. The snow plow driver might want to take note.

7-shadows

This view of some blue shadows was taken the day before the latest storm, when the sun was shining.

8-rail-trail

There were snowmobile tracks on this rail trail but snowmobiles must be getting lighter because the snow wasn’t packed down and each step was more of a slide, because there was ice under the snow.

9-snowmobiles

But the snowmobiles weren’t having any trouble. I’m  grateful for snowmobile clubs because if it wasn’t for them many of these trails would have grown over with brush and trees years ago.

10-oak-leaves

I always see pink in certain winter oak leaves and orange in others. My color finding software sees salmon pink in some of these leaves and tan in others.

11-ashuelot-river

I can’t say that I often feel aghast but I felt just that when I saw the Ashuelot River frozen from bank to bank in this spot, because in all the years I’ve been doing this blog it has never frozen here this early. In fact it’s rare for it to freeze here at all, mostly because of the fast current, I think. Apparently below zero temperatures work quickly; we’ve only had one night where they dropped that low.

12-ashuelot-on-12-11-16

This photo was taken just five days before the previous one. Hard to believe I know, but true. As Mark Twain once said: “If you don’t like the weather in New England now, just wait a few minutes.”

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The snow on these oak branches told me that there hadn’t been a puff of wind along the river either.

14-asters

What was left of the asters bent under the weight.

15-river-stones

I like how water turns so dark in the winter. I don’t know if the white of the snow makes it seem darker or if it’s a play of the light.

16-swamp

Sharp eyed longtime readers might notice something missing in this shot. There used to be an old dead white pine in this swamp that I called the heron tree.

17-blue-heron-tree

This was what the heron tree looked like on Thanksgiving Day in 2014.  Later, one day I looked for it and it was gone without a trace, as if someone had plucked it like a flower.

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And this view of the first snow in December of 2013 shows why I called it the heron tree. Herons sat in it regularly and I wonder if they miss it as much as I do.

19-sunlight

No matter how dark the sky is the sun always shines again and the clouds broke on this day to let it shine for all of about 5 seconds while I was out.

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

Thanks for coming by. Happy winter solstice!

 

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1-ashuelot-islandsThough we’ve had a rainy day or two the drought has brought the level of the Ashuelot River down to the point where islands have appeared where they’ve never been, and they’re already covered with grasses and wildflowers. It would be quicker to walk down the middle of it than trying to navigate it in a boat. I don’t think you would even get your knees wet now, but in a normal summer it would be about waist deep here.

2-ashuelot-island-flowers

Extreme zooming showed the flowers were nodding bur marigolds (Bidens cernua.) I don’t know how they and the grasses grew on the islands so fast.

3-great-blue-heron

It’s cooling off quickly now and morning temperatures have been in the 30s and 40s, but great blue heron are still with us. They can take a lot of cold and can sometimes be seen even when there’s snow on the ground.

4-great-blue-heron

This one walked slowly into the pickerel weeds as I watched. It was nice to see one that wasn’t practicing to be a statue for a change.

5-hickory-tussock-moth-caterpillar

The hickory tussock moth caterpillar (Lophocampa caryae) is black and white and can cause quite an itchy rash, from what I’ve read. The nettle like hairs can break off and stick in the skin and they are said to bother some people enough for them to be hospitalized, so it’s probably best to look and not touch this one.

6-lbms-on-log

We’ve had a poor mushroom season because of the dryness but there are occasional surprises, like these brown mushrooms colonizing a log. I think they were in the Galerina genus, which contains some of the most toxic mushrooms known including the deadly galerina (Galerina marginata.) Mushroom hunters would be wise to study them and know them well.

7-bracket-fungus

This large leathery bracket fungus grew on a tree root and looked like a well-worn saddle. I haven’t been able to identify it.

8-hen-of-the-woods-fungus-on-oak

Do mushrooms grow back in the same place year after year? Yes, some do and this convoluted bracket fungus is a good example of that. I found it at the base of a large oak tree last year and here it is again. I believe that it is hen of the woods (Grifola frondosa,) which is an edible polypore that often grows in the same spot year after year. They are said to look like the back of a brown hen’s ruffled feathers, and that’s how they come by their common name. Though they’re said to be brown I see green and my color finding software sees gray.

9-hen-of-the-woods-fungus-on-oak

Hen of the woods mushroom caps are attached to each other by short white stems. They appear at the base of oak trees in September and October and can be quite large; sometimes two feet across. In China and Japan they are used medicinally. Science has found that they contain blood sugar lowering compounds that could be beneficial in the treatment of diabetes.

10-mushroom-on-mushroom

This was a first for me; the white mushrooms were growing out of the black decaying gills of another mushroom. I’m not quite sure how to explain it.

11-jack-in-the-pulpit-berries

Jack in the pulpit berries (Arisaema triphyllum) are ripe and red, waiting for a deer to come along and eat them. Deer must love them because they usually disappear almost as soon as they turn red.

12-jack-in-the-pulpit-root

I found a Jack in the pulpit that someone had kicked over and I washed the bulbous root (corm) off in a nearby stream so we could see it. All parts of the Jack in the pulpit plant contain calcium oxalate crystals that cause painful irritation of the mouth and throat if eaten, but Native Americans knew how to cook the fleshy roots to remove any danger. They used them as a vegetable, and that’s why another name for the plant is “Indian turnip.” My father in law liked hot foods and would eat hot peppers right out of the jar, but when he bit off a small piece of this root one day he said it was the hottest thing he’d ever tasted.

13-false-solomons-seal-berries

False Solomon’s seal (Smilacina racemosa) berries are fully ripe and are now bright red instead of speckled. Native American’s used all parts of this plant including its roots, which contain lye and must be boiled and rinsed several times before they can be used. Birds, mice, grouse, and other forest critters eat the ripe berries that grow at the end of the drooping stem. They are said to taste like molasses and another common name for the plant is treacle berry.

14-yew-berry

All parts of the yew tree (Taxus) are poisonous except (it is said) the red flesh of the berry, which is actually a modified seed cone. The seed within the seed cone is the most toxic part of the plant and eating as few as 3 of them can cause death in just a few hours. In February of 2014 a man named Ben Hines died in Brockdish, Norfolk, England after ingesting parts of yew trees. Nobody has ever been able to figure out why he did such a thing but the incident illustrated how extremely toxic yews are.

15-virginia-creeper

Many birds love Virginia creeper berries (Parthenocissus quinquefolia,) including thrushes, woodpeckers, warblers, vireos, mockingbirds chickadees, and turkeys. So do mice, red fox, skunks, chipmunks, squirrels, and deer. I’ve read that birds are attracted to red fruits more than the blue black berries of Virginia creeper, so the vine compensates by having red leaves in the fall when the berries are ripe. When the birds land amidst all the attractive red hues they find and eat the berries. Since thirty five species of birds eat them it must be successful.

16-bvirginia-creeper-berries

On Virginia creeper even the flower stems (petioles) are red.

17-royal-fern

Burnt orange must be one of the most frequently seen colors in the fall and this royal fern (Osmunda regalis var. spectabilis) wore it well. Royal fern is the only fern that grows on every temperate continent except Australia, which makes it one of the most widespread of all living species. They are also thought to be one of the oldest living things, with fossil records of the Osmundaceae family dating back over 300 million years. Individual plants are thought to be able to live 100 years or more. They like wet feet and grow along stream and river banks in low, damp areas.

18-sensitive-fern

Sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis) gets its common name from early colonials, who noticed that it was very sensitive to frost. Usually by this time of year these ferns would be brown and crisp from frost but since we haven’t had a real frost yet this year this example is slowly turning white. In my experience it’s unusual to see this particular fern doing this. Lady ferns (Athyrium filix-femina) do the same each fall and are usually the only white fern that we see. This is only the second time I’ve seen a sensitive fern do this.

19-burning-bush

Burning bush (Euonymus alatus) almost makes up for its invasiveness by showing beautiful colors like these each fall, but Its sale and importation is banned here in New Hampshire now because of the way it can take over whole swaths of forest floor. Ironically not that many years ago though, homeowners were encouraged to plant it by the state, which touted its attractiveness to birds and other wildlife. The saying “Be careful what you wish for” comes to mind.

20-virgins-bower-leaf

The crinkly leaves of Virgin’s bower (Clematis virginiana) continue to turn purple. Despite its being toxic enough to cause internal bleeding this native vine was called was called “pepper vine” by early pioneers because they used it as a pepper substitute when they couldn’t get the real thing. Native Americans used clematis to treat migraine headaches and nervous disorders, and for skin infections.

21-poison-ivy

Speaking of toxic plants, poison ivy is putting on its fall show. It’s often one of the most colorful plants on the forest floor but no matter the leaf color they’re still toxic, and so are the stems that they grow on. I usually get a rash on my knees in early spring by kneeling on the leafless vines to take photos of wildflowers. Luckily I’m not that sensitive to it, but I know people who have been hospitalized because of it.

The morning had dawned clear and cold, with a crispness that hinted at the end of summer. ~George R.R. Martin

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