Posts Tagged ‘Hairy Woodpecker’

Last Saturday’s sunshine and 50 + degree temperatures made it easy to fall into spring daydreams. I decided to walk along the Ashuelot river in Swanzey where there are witch hazels (Hamamelis virginiana) growing to see if they might be blooming. They often blossom on warm winter days and I’ve even seen them blooming in January.

The river had tamed itself and the water level had dropped considerably since the last time I was here. There weren’t even any waves to photograph.

There were ice baubles still hanging onto the twigs in shaded areas but their gray opaqueness told me they were rotting in the sun.

Here was one with a hole right through it, which I can’t explain. I’m guessing it was made by a twig, but where is the twig?

There was green grass along the river and that made it even easier to dream of spring. It was a beautiful day; a well-deserved bonus day after the terrible weather of the last month or two.

I’m not sure what caused this bright yellow color on this and a couple of other stones. It wasn’t lichen. These stones spend time submerged when the river rises so I wonder if it might be some type of algae. I doubt the color is natural to the stone itself, it looked more like it was on it rather than part of it.

The spot where the witch hazels grow is on a small peninsula that juts out into the river. There was a trail out to its end but it has come close to disappearing over the years. I thought it was an old fisherman’s trail but I’ve seen enough deer tracks out here to wonder if it isn’t a game trail. It’s still being used;  you can just see the disturbed leaves that mark the trail just to the right of center in this photo.

Off to the right of the trail, closer to the river, the high water mark lies just above silt which has been deposited by the river over the years. I’ve seen this high water mark grow closer and closer to the trail, which means flooding on the river is getting worse. This is a very scary place when the river is high.

The ice on this tree branch shows how high the water was just recently. I’d guess about two feet higher than it was on this day, and I’d have had very wet feet and probably wet knees as well.

The silt the river leaves behind is as fine as sugar and anything that falls or steps on it will leave a mark. Even raindrops pock mark it. I wondered if these tracks were made by a beaver but there were none of the usual claw marks. They were big enough to be made by a bobcat  and cats have retractable claws, so that’s a definite maybe. Whatever made them comes here a lot because there was a trail of these prints through the silt, going in both directions.

There are beavers here. This was a freshly cut tree, and a beaver would make a good meal for a bobcat.

The witch hazels were indeed blooming and even though these aren’t spring blooming vernal witch hazels (Hamamelis vernalis) the sight of flowers just made my dream of spring all the more real. The thought hit me while I was here that it is this intense longing for spring that makes winters seem so long for me. Desire causes pain. Remove the desire and remove the pain. It sounds so simple.

One of my favorite mosses grew on a log.  I love the way it reaches out to colonize new lands. I think it might be beaked comb moss( Rhynchostegium serrulatum) but I can’t be sure because I’ve never seen it with spore capsules. It might also be Isopterygium tenerum, which is another creeping moss.

A woodpecker had pecked very small holes in a limb that was no bigger than 2 inches across. I was thinking that it must have been a very small woodpecker when I heard a tapping behind me.

It was a woodpecker pecking at a tree and it wasn’t tiny. Judging by where its red spots are I’m guessing it is a hairy woodpecker, but since I don’t do birds I could be wrong. It didn’t sit still long, whatever its name.  There were lots of other birds here too including chickadees and juncos and this small piece of forest was full of birdsong, which of course made it seem even more like spring.

I think the reason so many birds populate this area is because there is plenty here for them to eat, but unfortunately much of that food comes from plants that are invasive, like the oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) seen here.

This maple tree shows what bittersweet can do when it wraps itself around a tree trunk. The vine is as strong as wire and doesn’t expand as the tree grows, so the tree has no choice but to grow out around it, and this deforms the tree.  The tree will eventually be strangled to death unless something is done.

I saw what looked like a blush of blue on a lichen that grew on a tree so I took a few photos of it, but it wasn’t until I got home and looked at the photos that I saw something very unusual.

Very unusual in my experience, anyhow; each of the lichen’s apothecia, which in this case are little round spots where its spores are produced, had liquid in them. It hadn’t rained for a while so I’m not sure what this is all about. I have seen lichens with wet apothecia right after a rain but nothing like this. This lichen looked more like moisture was being squeezed from it rather than it picking up any moisture from its surroundings. If you know what it happening here I’d love to hear from you. I’ve searched and searched but haven’t had any luck.

The sun had gone by the time I was ready to leave but that didn’t bother me because it had been a great spring like walk with plenty of interesting things to see. Any day that reaches 50 degrees in December is a good day in my opinion. That night I actually dreamed lilacs were blooming and the strangest thing about that is, I rarely remember my dreams.

Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night. ~Edgar Allan Poe

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My lichen book, Lichens of the North Woods by Joe Walewski, says that one of the best places to find lichens is in a cemetery. I suppose that I already knew that but I’ve never really done anything about it, so last weekend I decided to visit an old cemetery in Westmoreland, New Hampshire. The town is North West of Keene on the banks of the Connecticut River between New Hampshire and Vermont. My Grandfather was the town blacksmith here in the late 1800s.

1. Cemetary Wall

Though many of our cemeteries date to before the revolutionary war this one is relatively young, having been established in 1806. Most of our older cemeteries are bordered by stone walls. Stone was a cheap, easy to find material that built walls, foundations, and even entire houses that have stood for centuries.

2. Hitching Ring

There were rings for hitching horses driven into the top of the wall every 10 feet or so. My grandfather would have forged things very much like this.

3. Cemetary Woodpecker Instead of pecking wood like he is supposed to, this little clown squeaked and squawked at me the whole time I was at the cemetery. He was quite high on this branch on a dreary, foggy day, so the pictures aren’t the greatest. I think he’s a hairy woodpecker, but he could also be a downy woodpecker. He was about as big as a blue jay, or maybe even a little bigger. In this picture he was either showing how he could hang on with one foot or waving me off.

4. Cemetary Woodpecker

When I asked him what the problem was he ran up a limb and squawked even louder. (Yes-I really did ask him that.) If you would like to hear what he sounded like, just click here. Ignore the drumming sounds though-this one just squawked and didn’t peck wood at all. At least, not in mixed company.

5. Lichens on Headstone

In spite of the woodpecker scolding I still looked for lichens. This stone was covered with them.

6. Green and Yellow Lichens

Most of the lichens I saw here were fairly common and not very exciting, but these nice yellow-orange ones were dotted here and there. I think this is the elegant sunburst lichen (Xanthoria elegans.) This lichen has been studied extensively in extreme environments, including that of outer space. It survived an 18 month exposure to solar UV radiation, vacuum, cosmic rays and varying temperatures in an experiment performed by the European Space Agency outside of the International Space Station. Lichens probably have the best chance of any earth based life form of successfully colonizing another planet.

7. Beaver Lodge

Since I wasn’t seeing any really unusual or beautiful lichens I decided to leave the cemetery to the woodpecker. (He jabbered at me all the way to my truck.) On the way home I decided to stop and see what the beavers were up to. I think this pond is the only body of water that I’ve seen completely frozen over this winter. 

8. Beaver Damage on Elm

Of all the trees in the forest beavers could gnaw on they chose elm, which is one of the toughest. Dutch elm disease swept through this part of the country starting in the 1950s so our elms have a short lifespan with or without beavers visiting. 

9. Beaver Stumps

They gnawed through a couple of smaller ones. 

10. Shield Lichen

This shield lichen was on a tree and is one of the biggest I’ve seen. I think it is a common green shield lichen (Flavoparmelia caperata.) When dry these lichens appear pale gray but become green when they get wet because the algae inside migrate closer to the surface. This one was very wet. Hummingbirds use shield lichens to camouflage their nests. 

11. Lichen Log

As it turned out there was no reason to drive anywhere to see lichens as this “lichen garden” that I found less than a mile from my front door shows. I’m still wondering what the whitish bumps are.

A taste for the beautiful is most cultivated out of doors ~Henry David Thoreau

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