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Posts Tagged ‘Great Blue Heron’

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.”

13-snowy-branches

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.

18-gb-heron

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

Thanks for coming by.

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1. Polypody Fern

It’s time again for many ferns to start their reproductive cycles and in this photo the tiny spore cases (sorus) of polypody fern (Polypodium virginianum) shine like beacons.  Henry David Thoreau liked polypody ferns and said that “Fresh and cheerful communities of the polypody form a lustrous mantle over rocky surfaces in the early spring.” Of course they do exactly that and that’s how they come by the name rock cap fern. They’re an evergreen fern that loves to grow on boulders.

2. Polypody Fern Sorus

The tiny sori are made up of clusters of sporangia and are naked, meaning they lack the protective cap (indusium) that is found on many ferns. Each will turn a reddish brown color when ripe and ready to release its spores. The spores are as fine as dust and are borne on the wind. Sorus (plural of sori) is from the Greek word sōrós, and means stack, pile, or heap, and each sori is indeed a round pile of sporangia. As they begin to release spores the sorus are very pretty and look like tiny baskets of flowers. As of this photo it hadn’t happened yet.

3. Yellow Mushroom

We’re still having thunderstorms roll through and after each one passes I find a few more fungi, but nothing like the numbers I should be seeing. I thought this one might be the American Caesar’s mushroom (Amanita jacksonii) but it should be redder in color and the cap should have lined margins. Colors can vary but I wouldn’t think that the lined cap margin would, so in the end I don’t really know what it is. If you do I’d love to hear from you.

4. Jelly Babies

I put this tiny cluster of orange jelly baby fungi (Leotia lubrica) in an acorn cap so you could see how small they are. Once you train your eyes to see small things before long you’ll be able to see them everywhere and a whole new chapter in the book of nature will open for you. I have to retrain my eyes to see small things again each spring and I do that by visiting places where I know small flowers like spring beauty, red maple, and wild ginger grow. Your eyes adjust quite easily, I’ve found.  Despite their name jelly babies are sac fungi rather than jelly fungi.

5. Puffballs

These spiny puffballs (Lycoperdon echinatum) were young when I found them and I know that because they were pure white and still had their spines. As they age the spines will fall off, leaving a brownish powdery coating on the surface. Eventually a small hole will appear at the top of the puffball and brownish purple spores will puff out through it whenever it is touched or stepped on.

There are young people out there who seem to think that inhaling certain puffball spores will get them high, but it is never a good thing to do. People who inhale the spores often end up in the hospital due to developing a respiratory disease called Lycoperdonosis. In one severe instance a teenager spent 18 days in a coma, had portions of his lung removed, and suffered severe liver damage.

6. Oyster Mushrooms

These oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) were pure white and seemed to shine against the dark wood of the log. They’re usually found on logs in large clusters. These examples were young and no bigger than a quarter.  Oyster mushrooms have off center stems that usually grow out of the side of the log and are hidden by the cap. They cause a white rot in living trees.

7. Oyster Mushroom

Mushrooms are often eaten by tiny worms called nematodes that live on plant and fungal tissue, but not oyster mushrooms. Scientists discovered in 1986 that oyster mushrooms “exude extracellular toxins that stun {nematode] worms, whereupon the mycelium invades its body through its orifices.” What this means is that oyster mushrooms are actually carnivorous. They also consume bacteria (Pseudomonas and Agrobacterium) in order to get nitrogen and protein.

8. Great Blue Heron

I’m seeing a lot more great blue herons this year than I did last year. The one in the above photo was happy to stand like a statue, up to his knees in the Ashuelot river. I hoped it would do something interesting but in the end its patience outlasted mine.

9. Spring Peeper-

I’m sure the heron would have loved to have met this spring peeper, but luckily the little frog was off in the forest near a pond.  The dark colored X shaped marking on its back and the dark bar on its head from eyes to eye make this frog easy to identify. Spring peepers are tiny things that are usually less than an inch and a half long and experts at camouflage, so I don’t see them often. I love them because they are the heralds of spring; few things are more pleasing to these ears than hearing their song on the first warm March evening.

10. Bumblebee

I’m happy to be seeing quite a lot of bees this year. This bumblebee foraged on a Joe Pye weed flower head one day.

11. Spider

I was kneeling, trying to get that perfect shot of a flower when I noticed movement out of the corner of my eye. I watched for a while, fascinated as an orb weaver spider wove its web, before remembering that I had a camera.  It was quite big as spiders go and easily seen but the camera had trouble with the details, so I had to move in closer. When I did it retreated to its home under a fern frond, so this was the only useable shot I got. It had very furry legs and a bright red body.

12. Oak Leaf Skeleton

There is an insect called the oak leaf skeletonizer but it eats only the soft tissue on the upper side of an oak leaf, leaving it translucent The damage to the oak leaf in the above photo was most likely caused by a caterpillar. It ate the soft tissue on both sides of the leaf, leaving only the veins behind. I’m guessing that the beautiful white hickory tussock moth caterpillar was the culprit. It feeds on nut trees, including oaks.

13. Oak Leaves

Speaking of oaks, they’re shedding their leaves regularly now due to the drought. They and other trees like apples and hickory nuts are shedding their fruit as well, trying to conserve energy. Wild blueberries, raspberries and blackberries have also been in distress and many are small and deformed. Some animals might have a hard time of it, but it’s too early to tell.

14. Meadow Rue Foliage

The leaves of tall meadow rue (Thalictrum pubescens) often change color early on. These became a beautiful purple; as beautiful as any flower. In spring before it blossoms meadow rue is often mistaken for columbine because its leaves look similar. It is also called king of the meadow due to its great height. I’ve seen plants reach more than 8 feet tall in optimal conditions.

15.Bracken Fern

In some places bracken ferns (Pteridium aquilinum) have already dried out and gone to orange. Bracken is one of the oldest ferns; fossils date it to over 55 million years old. The plant releases chemicals which inhibit the growth of other plants and that is why large colonies of nothing but bracken fern are found. Some Native American tribes cooked and peeled the roots of bracken fern to use as food but modern science has found that all parts of the plant contain carcinogens.

16. Honeysuckle Fruit

Invasive Tatarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica) berries can be red or orange but I seldom see the orange ones and I wonder if that might be because they ripen from green to orange to red. This shrub is native to Siberia and is very tough; our drought doesn’t seem to have affected any of the plants I’ve seen. Birds love its berries and that’s why it has been so successful. In this area there are very few places where it doesn’t grow.  Tatarian honeysuckle was introduced as an ornamental shrub in the 1750s. It has deep pink, very fragrant flowers in spring. Though it is invasive it has been here so long that it’s hard to imagine life without it.

17. Hobblebush Berries

Hobblebush berries (drupes) turn dark purple when they’re fully ripe but I like seeing them when they’re in the red stage as they are here. Anyhow, I rarely see them in the purple, ripe stage because birds and animals eat them up so fast. Among the birds cardinals, turkeys, cedar waxwings and even pileated woodpeckers are known to eat the fruit. Bears, foxes, skunks and squirrels are among the animals that eat them, so there is a lot of competition. It’s no wonder I rarely see them ripe. The fruit is edible and is said to taste like clove spiced raisins or dates but the seeds are large and the flesh thin. They can be eaten raw or cooked and are said to taste better after a frost. Native Americans had several medicinal uses for hobblebush, from curing headaches to chest and breathing problems, and they also ate the berries.

18, Smokey Eye Boulder Lichen

Why pay attention to the little things? If the beauty of this smoky eye boulder lichen (Porpidia albocaerulescens) doesn’t answer that question, then nothing ever will.

There’s a whole world out there, right outside your window. You’d be a fool to miss it. ~Charlotte Eriksson

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1. Coral Fungus

We had a couple more quick moving thunderstorms roll through and they dropped enough rain to get a few fungi stirring, as this yellow spindle coral fungi (Ramariopsis laeticolor) shows. These fungi aren’t very big; close to the same diameter as a piece of cooked spaghetti, but they can reach 3 or 4 inches tall. They have the odd habit of growing in the packed earth of trails so I often find that they have been stepped on and broken. I’ve watched these beautiful little fungi come back year after year in the same spot. I think of them as bright but tiny flames burning up out of the soil and always look forward to seeing them.

2. Berkeley’s polypore

Berkeley’s polypore (Bondarzewia berkeleyi) grew at the base of a tree. These are some of the biggest mushrooms that I’ve seen. Though they can reach as much as two feet across the examples above were only about the size of a 33 1/3 record album, if anyone remembers those. This large bracket fungus grows on the roots of hardwood trees and causes butt rot in the tree’s heartwood. The wood turns white before rotting away and leaving a standing hollow tree.

3. Mushroom on Tree

A limb fell off a tree and left a wound big enough for fungus spores to settle in and this is what they grew into. It must have been moist in there; I’m sure more moist than our soil is right now. I haven’t tried to identify the mushroom, but extreme longevity doesn’t seem to be in the cards for the tree. Mushrooms growing on live trees is never a good sign.

4. Jelly Babies

I have a special fondness for jelly baby fungi (Leotia lubrica) because they taught me just how small things in nature can be. One day I sat on a stone and looked down, and there they were; tiny colorful beings. The largest one pictured in the center of the above photo is smaller than the diameter of a pea, and the smallest are so small that I can’t think of anything to compare them to. They taught me to see with new eyes and a new understanding, and I’m very grateful. Since that day I’ve found that there is an entire Lilliputian world in nature that I never knew existed, and that makes me wonder what I’m missing without a microscope. The urge is to go ever smaller to see if and when the smallness ever ends.

5. Great Blue Heron on Log

I saw a great blue heron standing on a log in a pond one evening with his back to the sun. He had company.

6. Great Blue Heron and Wood Duck

As I zoom out you can see that the heron shared his log with a female wood duck. Wood ducks are very skittish here and I don’t see them very often. The males are a very colorful, beautiful duck but I didn’t see one in the area.

7. Wood Ducklings

I did see a clutch of wood ducklings though. There were 8 or 9 of them and they easily won that day’s award for cuteness.

8. Wood Duck Mother and Ducklings

Unfortunately my presence apparently made mama duck nervous, because after a minute or two she and her ducklings swam off into the setting sun. I was sorry that I had disturbed them but when I saw the log from a distance all I could see was the heron and I didn’t know the ducks were there. As they swam off all I could think of were the very big snapping turtles that live in this pond.

9. Great Blue Heron on Log

 I withered under the heron’s harsh, I’m-very-disappointed-in-you glare.

10. Gall on Maple Leaf

As if nature wanted to teach me a lesson for disturbing the ducks a clenched, fist like bladder gall rose up out of the tissue of a maple leaf. I thought it was bit much; after all I didn’t ask the ducks to do anything they wouldn’t normally do.

11. Pinecone in Knotweed Leaf

A pinecone had fallen through a knotweed leaf heavy end first, but with only enough momentum to go through the leaf for half its length it was stuck there. Nature could have just as easily dropped it on my head but the only things falling from the trees that day were hard little unripe acorns, and a few of them did hit me. They are falling unripe because the oaks are protecting themselves. Ripening a tree full of acorns takes a lot of energy and because we haven’t seen beneficial rain for over a month the trees will shed them to conserve energy. The same is true with pines and other trees. This cone was also unripe. The animals might have to tighten their belts this winter.

12. Feather

Some believe that different kinds of feathers have different meanings and that they are found in one’s path to relay a message. A black feather with purple iridescence for example, is said to represent a deep spiritual insight and finding one is supposed to be taken as a mystical sign. I’ve always seen them as just feathers that a bird dropped and never knew that they meant anything. I usually see at least one each day so I must have a lot of messages being conveyed that I can’t yet decipher. I wonder if finding a great blue heron feather would mean that I would learn great patience. I could always use more of that.

13. Purple Grass

I’ve tried for years to get a decent photo of the purple topped grasses that grow here and I think I might have finally done it with this 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.

14. Juniper Haircap Moss

Splash cups on juniper haircap moss (Polytrichum juniperinum) aren’t seen that often in this area but you can find them if you know where to look. Mosses in the Polytrichum genus have male and female reproductive organs on separate plants, and when you see these little flower like cups you know you’ve found male plants that are ready to reproduce. Juniper haircap moss grows on every continent, including Antarctica.

15. Juniper Haircap Moss

The male juniper haircap moss produces sperm in these tiny splash cups (perigonial rosettes) and when a raindrop falls into the cup the sperm is splashed out. If there is enough water for them to swim in, they will then swim to the female plant and fertilize the eggs. Each cup, about half the diameter of a pencil eraser, looks like a tiny flower with its rosettes of leaves surrounding the reproductive parts.

16. Juniper Haircap Moss Spore Capsule

The female spore capsule (sporangium) of juniper haircap moss is covered by a cap called a calyptra, which protects the spore capsule and the spores within. It is very hairy, and this is what gives this moss part of its common name. Eventually, as the capsule ages it moves from a semi vertical to a more horizontal position before the calyptra falls off.  The spore capsule continues to ripen and when the time is right it will open and release the spores. I’m guessing that at this stage the capsule is about the same diameter as a piece of cooked spaghetti.

17. Juniper Haircap Moss Spore Capsule Without  Calyptra

When the time is right the end cap (operculum) of the reddish brown, 4 cornered but not square spore capsule will fall off and the spores will be borne on the wind.

18. False Solomon's Seal

Spring starts on the forest floor, and so does fall. By the time we see the colorful tree leaves many leaves have already put on their fall colors in the understory, among them those of false Solomon’s seal, which are some of the earliest. It marks the passage of time and though I like to see what their turning leaves will look like this year, I’m not ready to see them just yet. It seems like spring was just last week.

19. False Solomon's Seal Fruit

The berries of false Solomon’s seal turn from green to red and for a short time they are speckled with both colors.  I’ve read that soil pH can affect the fruit color. 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 stem. They are said to taste like molasses and another common name for the plant is treacle berry.

20. Branch Collar

I know I shouldn’t but when I think of fall I can’t help thinking about what follows. Thankfully though, things like this old pine log remind me that I’ll see beautiful things, even in winter. Sun, wind, rain and snow have smoothed and polished its wood and made it very beautiful, and in my opinion worthy of being exhibited in any museum. Nature is filled with things every bit as beautiful and I hope everyone will be able to see them. All it takes is a walk outside.

In summer, the song sings itself. ~William Carlos Williams

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1. Ashuelot

We finally had some much needed rain last weekend. The Ashuelot River can use it; I’m guessing that it’s about a foot lower than it usually is at this time of year. The line of grasses above the far embankment shows how high it can get with the spring runoff, which is 10 feet or more above where it is now.

2. Beaver

As I took photos of its far bank a beaver swam down the middle of the river with a bundle of sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis) in its mouth. I didn’t know that beavers ate ferns but a little research shows that they do and they must be a delicacy, because this one swam quite a long way to get them. I watched him haul this bundle downriver until he was out of sight. Apparently there aren’t any sensitive ferns in his neighborhood.

3. Crab Spider

A tiny yellow crab spider waited on Queen Anne’s lace for a meal and was very obvious. Crab spiders can change their color to match the color of the flower they’re on and I know they can be white because I’ve seen them in that color. Maybe this one had just left a black eyed Susan and was in the process of becoming white. I’ve read that it can take days for them to change.

4. Great Blue Heron

I was looking at plants along the edge of a pond when I looked up and saw that I was just a few close feet from this great blue heron. I thought he’d fly off before I had a chance for a photo but he just walked slowly away through the pickerel weed. I was very surprised when I saw this photo to see that the pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata) was as tall as the heron; the plant is usually barely 2 feet tall.

5. Great Blue Heron

In this photo I see more of what I would expect, which is a three foot bird standing taller than the pickerel weed. Apparently I was very focused on the heron and paid no attention to the plants, because I don’t remember them being taller than the bird. I wasn’t very observant that day, I guess, but it isn’t often I find myself so close to a great blue heron.

6. Great Blue Heron

The heron kept shaking its head and the photo shows why; it was being plagued by flies. You can see one just where the bill meets the head. The photo also shows the bird’s forward pointing eyes. I’ve read that the eyesight of the great blue heron is about three times more detailed than a human. Their night vision is also better; they are able to see more at night than a human can see in daylight.

7. Mushroom

We had to dig down to about three feet at work recently and the soil was dry even at the bottom of the hole. The extreme dryness means that I’m seeing very few mushrooms and slime molds. The mushroom pictured had a half-eaten stem, most likely caused by a squirrel. I wasn’t able to identify it.

8. Slime Mold

Though most slime molds grow in low light and high moisture scrambled egg slime mold (fuligo septica) isn’t a good indicator of moisture or light. I’ve seen it growing in full sunlight in dry conditions. This slime mold is usually bright, egg yolk yellow and I’m not sure if its lighter color was caused by dryness or age.

9. Indian Pipes

I’ve seen a few Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora) pushing up through the forest litter but they seem to be quickly going by. Their white stems turn black when damaged but nearly every plant I saw had black on it. Each stem holds a single flower that will turn upward when it sets seed. Fresh stems hold a gel-like sap that is said to have been used by Native Americans to treat eye problems. The common name comes from the plant’s shape, which is said to resemble the pipes that Natives smoked.

10. Red Wing Blackbird

A red winged blackbird flew to the top of a fir tree and told everyone I was coming.

11. Staghorn Sumac

Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) is flowering now. Its large greenish flower heads can be seen from a good distance but though they are quite big in a mass, each individual flower is tiny.

12. Staghorn Sumac Flower

I think a group of 2 or 3 sumac flowers could hide behind a pea without any jostling. If they’re pollinated each flower will become a bright red, fuzzy berry. Native Americans used these berries to make a lemonade substitute and in some countries they’re ground and used as a lemon flavored spice. Many birds eat them but you can still find them on the plants well into winter.

13. Curly Dock

Curly dock (Rumex crispus) seeds always remind me of tiny seed pearls. The plant is originally from Europe and is also called yellow dock. It’s a relative of rhubarb and its seeds look much like those found on rhubarb, though they’re somewhat smaller. Once the seeds mature they can be roasted and used as a coffee substitute, and the leaves are rich in beta-carotene and vitamins A and C, and can be eaten raw or cooked. The leaves were used by many as a vegetable during the depression when food was scarce. Curly dock’s common name comes from the wavy edges on the leaves.

14. Curly Dock

Until this year I never noticed the beautiful color variations in curly dock’s seed heads. The above examples were found side by side on the same plant.

15.Timothy Grass

Timothy grass was unintentionally brought to North America by early settlers and was first found in New Hampshire in 1711 by John Hurd. A farmer named Timothy Hanson began to promote cultivation of it as a hay crop about 1720, and the grass has been called Timothy ever since. Timothy-grass (Phleum pratense) flowers from June until September and is noted for its resistance to cold and drought.

16. Timothy Grass

Timothy grass is an excellent hay crop for horses but what I like most about it is its flowers. Each flower head is filled with tiny florets, each with three purple stamens and 2 wispy white stigmas, but though I looked at several examples I couldn’t find a single one showing the purple stamens so I might have been too early. Quite often the heads look completely purple when they bloom. The example shown does show the tiny, feather like female stigmas.

17. Acorns

We have a fine crop of acorns this year, and that means well fed animals.

18. Blueberries

Blueberries are also having a good year in spite of the dryness. The bears will be happy.

19. Blue Bead Lily Berries

The blue of blue bead lily berries (Clintonia borealis) is quite different from the blue of blueberries. The seeds in these berries can take two years to germinate and adult plants can take twelve years to finally show their yellow, lily like blossoms. This plant is also called “cow tongue” because of the shape of its leaves. Deer, chipmunks and many other animals and birds love the berries and I often have trouble finding them because they get eaten so fast. Native Americans used the plant medicinally to treat burns and infections, and bears are said to be attracted to its root.

20. Oak Leaf

The patterns left by leaf miners on this oak leaf reminded me of the artwork found on ancient Greek vases. Oak leaf miners are the larvae of tiny silvery moths which have bronze colored patches on their wings.

Summer is the annual permission slip to be lazy. To do nothing and have it count for something. To lie in the grass and count the stars. To sit on a branch and study the clouds. ~Regina Brett

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