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Posts Tagged ‘Half Moon Pond’

I hope everyone had a nice Christmas. Our presents from nature were temperatures in the mid-30s F. and plenty of sunshine but we’ve also had some cold, as this frozen view of Half Moon Pond in Hancock shows. We have no snow in my corner of the state though, because it seems to warm up ahead of every storm and we see rain instead of snow. That’s a good thing because just one storm last week would have dropped over two feet of snow.

Pressure cracks in ice are caused by stress, which is caused by fluctuating temperatures in the ice, wind, or waves. Some are contraction cracks, caused by the top surface of the ice sheet shrinking quickly. I think that’s what this crack on the pond ice in the previous photo might be. There are also wet and dry cracks. Dry cracks obviously have no water in them like this one. Ice can make some very strange, eerie sounds as it changes and sometimes this pond sounds like a Star Wars movie. This crack went all the way across the pond.

There seems to be plenty of seeds and other food for the smaller birds this year, especially since the asters seen here along with goldenrods and so many other late blooming plants grow many millions of seeds each year. All of these seeds are what help small birds and small animals through winter.

And they do get eaten, as this aster seed head shows.

Though the smaller birds seem to have plenty to eat things might be a bit difficult for larger birds like turkeys. Last year was a mast year and millions of acorns and white pine cones fell; easily more than I’ve ever seen, and turkeys, deer, squirrels and other animals had a bountiful year. But as is often the case when trees grow so much fruit, they need time to recover. In the following few years the harvest can be meager, and that’s what has happened this year. Last year I saw more acorns fall than I ever have and this year I’ve seen fewer fall than I ever have, and turkeys and larger animals are now paying the price.  Add to that a layer of snow like that seen here in Hancock, and there could be a serious thinning of the flocks and herds.

Technically a group of turkeys is called a “rafter” rather than a flock but I doubt they care. This one had to come over and see what I was up to. Here in New Hampshire we see turkeys chasing people on the news fairly regularly. They also have a habit of standing in roads. Why, I don’t know.

The way some of these photos show a snow pack and others show none you might think they were taken in different seasons but no, it’s just a matter of a few miles between snow and none at all. In fact looking at this colony of heartleaf foam flowers (Tiarella cordifolia) one might be fooled into thinking it was spring, but they’re an evergreen plant and look like this even under snow. Come mid-May they’ll be covered in small white flowers with long stamens, and it is these “foamy” flower stamens that give the plant its common name. It’s so nice to see green plants in December.

Mosses like this delicate fern moss (Thuidium delicatulum) are non-vascular plants and most if not all are evergreen. I love seeing them at all times of year but especially in winter when there is so little green showing. This moss changes color from deep green to bright lime green when it starts getting cold and it always looks orange to me in the fall, but I’m colorblind so I’m sure it’s just me.

Last year I found this odd, sprawling little plant that I had never seen before. I showed it on a blog post and helpful readers told me it was a spikemoss, which I hadn’t heard of. I went back to see it this year and it really hadn’t changed but I tried to look it over a little more carefully and I did some reading about it. I believe this example is meadow spikemoss (Selaginella apoda.) Spikemosses are considered “primitive” seedless (spore bearing) vascular plants and therefore aren’t mosses at all. This pretty little plant is more closely related to the clubmosses, which are also spore bearing vascular plants known as lycopods. It doesn’t appear to be evergreen like the clubmosses however.

I didn’t look closely at this fern but I think it might be an eastern wood fern (Dryopteris marginalis) which is also called marginal wood fern because of how its spore bearing clusters are placed in relation to its pinnule (leaf division) margins. We have a few evergreen ferns and like the mosses they add much to the winter landscape. They might look delicate but I’ve seen them grow on even after being encased in ice.

Polypody fern (Polypodium virginianum) is another of our evergreen ferns but it doesn’t look delicate at all. In fact if you run your hand over its fronds you’ll find that it feels tough and leathery. This fern is also called rock polypody or rock cap fern  because it is almost always found growing on stones. They are one of just a few vascular plants that can rehydrate after drying out, much like mosses do.

The sori of the polypody fern are considered naked because they don’t have the thin tissue covering, called an insidium, which many other ferns have. I think the little clusters of sporangium look like baskets of flowers. Though small they can be seen with the naked eye. The druids thought this fern had special powers because they found it growing near oak trees. Its roots and leaves have been used medicinally for many centuries and its name appears in some of the earliest herbals and botanical texts.

Milk white toothed polypore (Irpex lacteus) is a resupinate fungus, which means it looks like it grows upside down, and that’s what many crust fungi appear to do. This is a very common winter fungus that grows on the undersides of limbs. The “teeth” are actually ragged bits of spore producing tissue which start life as pores or tubes and then break apart and turn brown as they age. This example was very young and  shows what look more like pores than teeth at this stage. If you pick up a fallen limb and touch something that feels cold and rubbery, it might be one of these. They are very tough and can stand all the snow and cold that winter can throw at them.

Another tough fungus is the turkey tail (Trametes versicolor,) but this one feels leathery rather than rubbery. This is a common fungus that can be found just about anywhere but the beautiful blue, purple, and orange ones are rare in this area. It seems to depend on the year I’ve noticed; sometimes most of them are shades of brown but in some years many will lean towards blues, purples and oranges. I have no idea what determines their color and apparently science doesn’t either, because I’ve never been able to find a single word about what colors them in print.

I’ve seen several trees with these markings on them and I think it might be the start of a bright yellow crust fungus called conifer parchment fungus (Stereum sanguinolentum.) This fungus is also called bleeding parchment because of the blood red liquid it exudes when it is damaged. It causes heart rot in conifers and is a death sentence for the tree. It seems to be very widespread because I’ve seen it in almost every bit of woodland I’ve been in.

A single terminal bud and two lateral buds in red or sometimes pink help identify striped maple (Acer pennsylvanicum.) In late April or early May the bud scales on these buds will open to reveal the beautiful pink and orange buds, which are some of the most beautiful the things one can see in the spring forest.

Many things in nature will turn blue when it gets cold enough. Ice can be blue and so can the sap of the white pine tree. I’ve also seen the white striations that give striped maple its name turn blue. This is the only maple tree in New England that has bark that is striped like this. Other names for the tree are snake bark maple, moosewood maple, goosefoot maple, Pennsylvania maple, and whistle wood, because the soft pith makes the wood easy to hollow out and make whistles from. Native Americans used the bark of the tree to treat many ailments including coughs and colds.

A burl is an abnormal growth on a tree that grows faster than the surrounding tissue. Scientists don’t fully understand why it happens but burls are thought to grow on trees that have been weakened by stress or damage. Once the tree’s defenses have been weakened insects and/or fungi can attack and cause the abnormal growth. Woodworkers prize burls very highly and make some beautiful bowls and other things from them which can sometimes sell for thousands of dollars. This one grew on a maple and was quite large.

Bunch gall is another plant deformity that appears on Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) at the very tip of the stem. A gall midge (Rhopalomyla solidaginis) lays its egg in a leaf bud and when the larva hatches the plant stops growing taller but continues to produce leaves in a “bunch” like that seen here. Since the midge only lays its eggs on Canada goldenrod it makes this plant easy to identify.

I was working one day and this spider crawled up to me and watched for a while. After letting me take a couple of photos it walked off to wherever it was going. It was about as big as a quarter (3/4”) from leg tip to leg tip. I don’t know its name but it could move very fast when it wanted to.

This is how the sky often looks as I drive to work at 7:00 am at this time of year. It’s a great gift that costs nothing but my being there to see it. I hope all of you received similar gifts this year.

A wonderful gift may not be wrapped as you expect. ~Johnathan Lockwood Huie

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We’ve had our first snow and, from the time between when I took some of these photos and started putting together this post, we had our second and third snows. To have this much snow in November with leaves still on many of the trees and shrubs is rare, so I had to go out and see it.

But snow isn’t all we’ve seen. The frost on the windows speaks of full blown winter, even though winter is still weeks away.

These snows have been of the sticky kind and snow covered every branch and leaf.

Beech leaves will stay on the tree through winter and they do collect snow, but though the extra weight seems to bend their branches down I’ve seen very few very few actually fall off.

Oak leaves form the waxy, corky cells called the abscission layer at their base later than many other trees so seeing leaves on oak trees in the winter is no great surprise, but I know this tree well and it has usually shed all of its leaves before it snows.  In fact most oak trees still have most of their leaves and this can be problematic, because the snow load on those leaves can lead to power outages from all the falling branches. Unlike beech trees oak trees lose branches regularly year round, and I’ve seen limbs as big as my leg fall on calm summer days, so it doesn’t take much snow to bring them down.

An odd thing that I noticed was how many oak leaves fell after the storm. Everywhere you looked the snow was covered with oak leaves.

The dark color of oak leaves means they absorb sunshine, which warms them and lets them melt their way through the snow. Oak leaves also repel water and you and see it in the many water droplets on the surface of this leaf.

There were many oak leaves that were still in the process of changing into their fall colors when the snow fell, like the beautiful leaves on this small red oak.

The hemlocks (Tsuga canadensis) in my back yard were heavy with snow but like most evergreens they have a lot of flex in their branches so they can take quite a snow load. In fact they keep much of the snow from falling on the ground under them, so there is often several inches less snow on the ground in a hemlock grove. In a snowy winter deer will go there and so will I, because the walking is much easier.

When the sun fell through the forest in such a way that the still colorful shrubs were highlighted it was a very beautiful scene and I had to stop and just absorb it. It is things like this that truly are good for the soul I think. I’ve discovered that being able to find joy in the simplest things means that joy is never far away.

The small pond in my neighborhood has already frozen over but on this day it was really more slush than solid ice. After -2 degrees F on Thanksgiving night though, I’m sure it must be solid now.

There is a muskrat in this pond that eats an incredible amount of cattail roots (Typha latifolia,) and I know that from seeing not only the muskrat but all of the cutoff cattail stems floating on the surface of the pond. Native Americans used to roast these roots and make flour from them. They contain more starch than potatoes and more protein than rice. In fact Natives used all parts of the plant, eating the new shoots in spring, weaving mats and baskets from the leaves, and even using the pollen in bread.

I thought I’d get an old cliché shot of white snow on red winterberries but by the time I got there the wind had blown all the snow off them. They’re still pretty though, nevertheless. Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) is a native holly that likes a lot of water. Birds love the bright red berries and it is an excellent choice for a landscape plant to attract them, especially if your yard has wet spots.

Here is another view of colorful understory shrubs in a snowy forest. It’s so very beautiful and it doesn’t happen often, so I was thankful that I could see such scenes on this day.

Mount Monadnock is always at its most beautiful when it is snow covered, in my opinion.  Scenes like this remind me of the shoulder deep snow I found up there when I climbed it one April day; snow so deep I had to crawl over it to reach the summit. Henry David Thoreau wrote that felt the presence of “a vast, titanic power” when he saw Mount Monadnock. He climbed Monadnock many times but finally realized “Those who climb Monadnock have seen but little of the mountain. I came not to look off from it, but to look at it. The view of the pinnacle itself from the plateau below surpasses any view which you get from the summit.” I agree, and that’s one reason I don’t climb it.

And then it snowed again, and again…

…until it seemed that every living thing must be coated with it, and it reminded me of one of my favorite winter quotes by William Sharp: 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.

This grove of witch hazels (Hamamelis virginiana) was certainly clad with radiance.

And they also had hundreds of flowers blossoming in the snow. I’ve known for a long time that these flowers were tough, but this is the first time I’ve seen this. I think they were taken by surprise because it had been in the low 40s F before it snowed, and that’s plenty warm enough for witch hazel blossoms.

It is in the deep quiet of a winter morning just before sunup when I really feel the beauty of this season. The birds are silent at that time of day and if I’m lucky so are my thoughts, and it is at those times when a great sense of peace can come over me. It’s the same peace that comes on the top of a mountain, or when I sit beside a river, or when I’m in a forest and sit with my back against a tree. It’s a peace that is always there but one that you can’t just order up like a meal at a diner. You can search for it as long as you like but it is only when you stop searching and are still that it will find you. It is restorative; healing even, and I do hope it will find all of you as well.

The first fall of snow is not only an event, it is a magical event. You go to bed in one kind of a world and wake up in another quite different, and if this is not enchantment then where is it to be found? ~ J. B. Priestley

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We’re seeing some fall color now but it’s still spotty and you have to look for it, rather than it being everywhere like it will be soon. The colors weren’t too bad at Perkin’s Pond over in Troy where this photo was taken, though there wasn’t any color to be seen on the flanks of Mount Monadnock. I suspect those are mostly all white pines on the mountain itself.

I always like to zoom in on the summit of Monadnock to see how many climbers are up there and I was surprised on this beautiful day to see none at all. Mount Monadnock is the second most climbed mountain in the world after Mount Fuji in Japan and it can get quite crowded, especially in the fall. I expected it to look like a Manhattan sidewalk at lunchtime up there on this day, but maybe everyone is waiting for more tree color.

You can see blazes of golden yellow here and there on the hillsides; signs that ash trees have put on their fall colors. Ash is one of the earliest to change and a good sign that autumn has begun.

Not every ash tree turns yellow. Some like white ash become yellow, orange, red and purple.

Our ferns are starting to change and among the most colorful are cinnamon ferns (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum.) The common name for this fern comes from its upright reddish brown fertile fronds which someone thought looked like cinnamon sticks. It often turns bright pumpkin orange in the fall.

Royal ferns (Osmunda spectabilis) turn yellow in the fall, but many people don’t realize that they are ferns. In fact they are thought to be one of the oldest living things, with fossil records dating back dating back over 300 million years. Individual plants are believed to be able to live for over a century and they live on every continent on earth except Australia.

Wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) usually turns yellow in the fall but every now and then you’ll see one that is purple / bronze like this one.

This is more what we expect wild sarsaparilla to look like at this time of year. Yellow spots form on the leaves and slowly grow larger until the entire leaf is yellow. This is one of the earliest plants to start turning color in the fall.

More often than not poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) turns yellow in the fall but it can also be bright scarlet and sometimes bronze / purple as it is here. I like the scarlet color but I haven’t seen any plants wearing it yet. No matter what color it is or even if it has no leaves at all poison ivy will give most people an itchy rash they won’t soon forget, so it’s best to know it well and stay away from it.

The burning bushes (Euonymus alatus) along the Ashuelot River are changing slowly this year and most still look like this one. Though the shrub is extremely invasive there’s nothing quite like seeing huge swaths of the forest understory awash in soft, pastel pink.

Here and there you can find burning bush foliage that has turned white. This is usually what the leaves look like just before they fall.

The wind kept blowing these maple leaves in my face when I was mowing one day, apparently trying to wake me up to the fact that they had put their fall colors on. I finally did wake up to their beauty and took this photo. Maples can be red, yellow or orange.

Trees along the river in Keene are just starting to turn so the colors weren’t spectacular yet.

In late afternoon the sun is behind these trees and at times it looks like the forest is ablaze with colors. On this day it was all more muted and soft.

This tree couldn’t seem to make up its mind what color it wanted to be. You don’t often see yellow, orange and red on a single tree.

Our native maple leaf viburnum shrubs (Viburnum acerifolium) can change to any of many different colors including the maroon / burnt orange seen here. The foliage will continue to lighten over time until it wears just a hint of pale pastel pink just before the leaves fall.

Native little bluestem grass (Schizachyrium scoparium) catches the sunlight and glows in luminous pink ribbons along our roadsides in the fall. This common grass grows in every U.S. state except Nevada and Washington and is beautiful enough to be grown in many gardens. After a frost it takes on a darker reddish purple hue, which makes it even more beautiful.

It’s the way its seed heads capture and reflect sunlight that makes little bluestem glow like it does.

This photo isn’t really about fall colors on the trees. It’s more about how the water in streams and small ponds darkens at this time of year until it appears almost black. When leaves of different colors fall and float on such dark water it can be a very beautiful scene.

Just in the short time since I started taking photos and writing this post things have changed dramatically, and there is now color along just about any road you care to follow. That’s how quickly it can happen sometimes. This view of Half Moon Pond in Hancock is one of my fall favorites.

This shot is of more color along the shoreline of Half Moon Pond. Most of the colorful trees are maples I think, and the colorful shrubs along the water’s edge are blueberry bushes.

This is another view of Half Moon Pond; it was so beautiful I couldn’t stop taking photos. The tourism bureau here in New Hampshire expects that millions of people from over 70 countries will come to see the foliage this year. Though the change is coming a bit later than usual so far the colors look to be breathtaking. If you come chances are you’ll find many of us standing and staring, awestruck by the incredible beauty. That’s what it does to you, no matter how many times you’ve seen it.

Over everything connected with autumn there lingers some golden spell–some unseen influence that penetrates the soul with its mysterious power. ~Northern Advocate

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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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I was shooting photos of a wintery Mount Monadnock when spring hopped into the photo in the form of a robin. He’s there in the grass on the left.

Robins are very curious birds, I’ve found. They seem to like watching what I’m doing as much as I like watching them. I had one let me stand right next to it just the other day.

A raccoon has become a regular visitor to where I work. Somehow it has damaged its paw and doesn’t seem to be able to see very well. We think it must be quite old for a raccoon but it still gets around fairly well and can still climb trees.

Two mallards hid in the reeds in a small roadside pond. While he watched me she tipped up and ate. She ate quite a lot, ignoring me the whole time.

They finally got tired of me watching them and swam off. Ducks and other waterfowl are very wary of humans in this area. They don’t swim right up to you when they see you like they do in other places because nobody feeds them, so getting photos of them is usually tough. This pair put up with me longer than most do.

Activity seems to have increased among all creatures except bees, which I still haven’t seen yet. Squirrels are certainly in abundance; I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many. This one was hopping across a lawn when I tried to get its photo.

I’ve never seen so many pinecones fall as they have this year either. They’ve made a squirrel’s life pretty easy, as this large stone covered with pinecone scales shows. For some reason squirrels usually like to sit up off the ground when they eat and one or more of them ate a lot of pine seeds on this stone.

There was a storm brewing on an ice covered Half Moon Pond in Hancock on March 29th when this was taken.

This is what the pond looked like 14 days later on April 12th. We’re getting just about one sunny day each week and this one was that week’s day. The ice on the pond wasn’t completely gone but there was very little left. It has snowed again once or twice since that photo was taken.

I found what I thought was a toothed crust fungus, but this fungus wasn’t acting like any other crust fungus that I’ve seen.

This crust fungus had developed fruiting bodies that looked like mushrooms with a hollow stem. On the smaller one on the left you can just see the teeth hanging from the underside of the cap. I don’t really know if the toothed crust developed from the mushroom like fruiting bodies or if the mushrooms arose from the toothed crust. Each “cap” was about as big as an aspirin.

On a nearby section of log the toothed crust, if that’s what it is, had completely enveloped the mushroom shaped fruiting bodies. I’ve never seen anything like this and haven’t found anything like it, either in my mushroom guides or online. If you know what it is I’d love to hear from you.

I know what this is; an orange jelly fungus behaving strangely. Orange jelly fungi (Dacrymyces palmatus) are common here and usually grow on fallen eastern hemlocks. They absorb many times their own size and weight in water and usually shrink when they dry out but this one looked like it was melting. These fungi are eaten in China and are said to improve circulation and breathing.

Plantain leaved sedge (Carex plantaginea) is a large plant as sedges go, with wide, pleated, foot long leaves that wrinkle like crepe paper. It’s large leaves are for gathering light so it does well in the shade under trees, where the one pictured grows naturally. Sedges like cooler weather and cool soil, so they grow and flower best in spring in this area. Once it gets hot their growth slows but sometimes in a cool fall they’ll have a second growth spurt. This one is on the rare side here. I know of only a few plants, all growing in one spot.

Plantain leaved sedge usually blooms in mid spring and this plant seems to be right on schedule. It had several beautiful dark purple flower spikes showing. These flowers will open into wispy white female flowers on the lower part of the stalk (Culm) and the long, yellowish male flowers on the upper part. The flowers are called spikelets and the stems that bear them are triangular, and that leads to the old saying “sedges have edges.” I’m guessing that these flowers will appear in a week or two, depending on the weather.

Soil crunching underfoot in the spring and fall is a sure sign that you’re walking on ice needles. For them to form the temperature at the soil surface has to be below 32 degrees F while the soil and groundwater remain thawed. Hydrostatic pressure forces the groundwater, which is sometimes super cooled, out of the soil where it freezes instantly into a “needle.” As more water is forced out of the soil the process is repeated over and over, and each needle grows in length because more water is freezing at its base. I’ve read that each thin needle is hexagonal in shape and that needles 16 inches long have been found, but most of the ones I see are less than 5 inches long. They are often very dirty.

There is a plant called common cotton sedge (Eriophorum angustifolium) but I doubt this is it because another name for it is bog cotton due to its habit of growing in damp boggy ground, and this plant was growing in a spot that was high and dry. It grew at the edge of the woods under pine trees and I’ve never seen anything else like it. It had a single hairy stem about a foot tall with this bit of “cotton” at the top. It had no leaves because of the time of year. If you know what it is I’d love to know.

An eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) was healing a wound in a strange way, I thought. The wound cork had grown over a scar in a kind of lump rather than flat as it usually does. According to the book Bark, by Michael Wojtech eastern hemlock is the only tree in the northeast that grows wound cork in annual increments. Because it grows this way it can be counted just like a tree’s growth rings. From what I counted this scar took 10-12 years to heal. Native Americans used the inner bark (Cambium) of hemlock as a base for breads and soups or mixed it with dried fruit and animal fat to use in pemmican. They also made tea from the tree’s needles, which have a high vitamin C content. This saved many an early settler from scurvy.

I recently went to see one of my favorite lichens, the poplar sunburst (Xanthoria hasseana.) One of the reasons it is one of my favorites is because it is almost always producing spores in its large, sucker like fruiting bodies (Apothecia.) This lichen grows on tree bark near a pond and has a mounded growth habit rather than flat. This example might have been a half inch across. It’s a pretty little thing.

I might have already shown these turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor) but I can’t remember. It doesn’t matter anyway because seeing such beautiful things doesn’t have to happen just once. I certainly think they’re worth a second look. As beautiful as they are though turkey tails frustrate me a bit, because I’ve never been able to find out how they come by their color. They have a wide range of colors and something must influence what color they’ll be. I think it might be the minerals in the wood they feed on, but that’s just a guess. I hope you’ll be able to see at least one thing as beautiful this week.

The appearance of things changes according to the emotions; and thus we see magic and beauty in them, while the magic and beauty are really in ourselves. ~Kahlil Gibran

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There is nothing special about this photo of a swamp, other than to mark the place where I heard the first red winged blackbird of this year. I haven’t seen any but I’ve heard them and that’s another sign of spring.

I hope the red winged blackbirds know what they’re doing because this frozen pond is right across the road from the thawed swamp in the previous photo. Our nighttime temperatures are still falling below freezing but I hear the birds each morning.

Half Moon Pond in Hancock certainly didn’t look very spring like after one of our many recent nor’easters. Before this cold came in March it looked like the ice would be gone in less than another week.

The wind blows strongly off Half Moon Pond almost all of the time, and this lake sedge (Carex lacustris) shows the direction. This sedge grows in large colonies near lakes, ponds, and wetlands and is native to Canada and the northern U.S. It is a pleasant shade of green in summer and can sometimes be the dominant plant along shorelines and in swamps. Waterfowl and songbirds eat its seeds.

When I saw a mullein seedling (Verbascum thapsus) I realized that I had never seen another one, most likely because I wasn’t paying attention. It was every bit as wooly as its adult counterparts and ready to start photosynthesizing. Mullein is a biennial that flowers and dies in its second year. This one was about the size of a baseball, or just over 9 inches.

I went to see my old friends the striped wintergreens (Chimaphila maculata) to see how they came through the winter and I was happy to see that they looked good and healthy. This is a plant I don’t see that often and I only know of three or four small colonies. Hopefully they will bloom and set seed in mid-July.

Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) grows near the striped wintergreens and also came through the winter looking well. This plant always reminds me of my grandmother because it was one of her favorites. The plant is also called mayflower and was once nearly collected into oblivion so the very fragrant blossoms could be used in nosegays, but it is now protected in many states. It relies heavily on a relationship with certain fungi mycelium in the soil and it absolutely refuses to grow anywhere that the mycelium isn’t present. Native Americans used to use the plant medicinally to break up kidney stones. It was so valuable to them that it was thought to have divine origins.

The basal leaves of hawkweed (and many other plants) often turn deep purple in winter. Many trees and other plants conserve a lot of energy if they don’t have to make  chlorophyll so in the fall many stop making it. When that happens other colors which were there all along start to show. Carotenoids make leaves orange and yellow and anthocyanins make them red, pink or purple. Anthocyanins can also protect leaves from getting sunburned in winter if they are evergreen.

Beaked willow gall is caused by a tiny midge laying its egg in a willow bud. The reddish galls usually form at branch tips in the fall and will house the fly larva all winter. It will eat the tissue in the gall until spring, when it will pupate and an adult midge will emerge. Winter is a great time to look for galls, which are often hidden behind leaves at other times of year.

I’m always amazed by how much red there is in highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) and nothing shows it better than the witch’s brooms that are so common on these shrubs. On blueberries witch’s brooms are cause by a fungus that deforms branches or roots and causes a dense mass of shoots to grow from a single point. In my experience they don’t really harm the plant and can even be quite pretty with snow on them.

An old trick that gardeners sometimes use when they want to grow plants that aren’t hardy in their area is to plant the sensitive plats near a stone or brick wall. The mass of masonry absorbs the warmth of the sun during the day and releases it slowly at night, protecting the plants from frost damage. Sweet gum trees grow near such a sunlit wall at the local college and the above photo is of one of their seed pods (Liquidambar styraciflua.) Seeing these pods here seems very strange because sweet gum is thought of as a “southern tree,” and Massachusetts is the northern most point that it grows naturally. I never saw the seed pods as a boy but I wish I had because they’re interesting and hold their shape well when dried. They would have made a great addition to my collection of natural oddities.

The base of this eastern hemlock tree (Tsuga canadensis) was covered by what I think must be yellow green algae (Pleurococcus vulgaris.) These algae grow on the shaded sides of tree trunks, on soil, stones and even on walls. Their closest relatives are said to grow in lakes and rivers, but these species can withstand some dryness. Fossil evidence shows that algae have existed for at least 540 million years.

A saw another hemlock that had a deep crack in its bark that ran straight and true from the ground to about 15 feet up. At first I thought it must be a frost crack but I’ve never seen one so long, so I’m guessing it must have been a lightning strike. Since it was an older wound there were no pieces of bark that might have been blown off lying around. I came upon a tree once that had been recently struck by lightning and there were strips of bark all over the ground. No matter how the crack was made I’m sure it made quite a loud noise when it happened.  On cold winter nights you can sometimes hear stressed trees cracking in the forest. It is sudden and sounds like a rifle shot.

The bud scales on many of the male alder catkins have gone from their deep winter purple to shades of pink, orange, red and brown. Soon the bud scales will open to reveal the yellow green flowers that will release the pollen to the wind. They become very beautiful at this time of year and sometimes when the light is right it looks like someone has strung ropes of multicolored jewels on all the bushes.

Boxwood (Buxus) is called man’s oldest garden ornamental because it has been used for hedges and specimen plantings for centuries. The early settlers thought so highly of it they brought it with them in the mid-1600s. The first plants were brought over from Amsterdam and were planted in about 1653 on Long Island in New York. There are about 90 species of boxwood and many make excellent hedges. These examples I found in a local park were budded. They’ll bloom In late April or early May but so will many other flowers, so these small but pretty ones will probably be overlooked.

The willows seem to be in a holding pattern. They’ve had their fuzzy gray catkins for two weeks now but there are no signs of the bright yellow flowers yet. Maybe I’ll see some later today.

I was flabbergasted when I saw the vernal witch hazels (Hamamelis vernalis) still blossoming. They’ve been through three nor’easters and zero degree cold but there are at least five bushes still full of flowers, so I’d say they were well worth what it cost to buy them. I wish you could smell them. I’ve heard their scent compared to laundry taken in fresh from the line but another description I just read says a hint of citrus-maybe lemon-is there as well. They seem a bit spicy to me but it’s a very pleasant scent that you can smell from quite a distance.

It’s always nice to see budded daffodils in spring. These were coming along well in spite of the zero degree cold we’ve had. They grow near the brick wall of a building and I think the heat radiating off the wall keeps them warm at night, just like the sweet gum trees we heard about earlier.

Not all the daffodils were lucky enough to have a brick wall, and this is what happened to many of those that didn’t. This is the second year in a row that this has happened to these bulbs and I’m not sure if they’ll make it now. A bulb needs leaves to photosynthesize and build up the strength it needs to blossom the following year. With their first spring leaves dying off for two years now I doubt they have much strength left. If they were mine I’d dig and replace them with later blossoming bulbs. They’re a bit overanxious I think.

Sometimes sunlight on moss is really all I need. I pity those who spend their lives chasing after riches, all the while missing the incredible richness all around them.

People don’t notice whether it’s winter or summer when they’re happy. ~Anton Chekhov

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This photo of Half Moon Pond in Hancock only tells half the story because there is still plenty of snow out there, but one day we had a lot of rain that immediately froze into ice and now it’s hard to get into the woods without Yaktrax or some other non-slip grippers on your boots. Where there is still snow there is a thick, icy, and very slippery crust on it. I’ve wanted to climb a hill but I’m a bit put off by the ice. If I was a skater I think I’d be very happy right about now.

I saw this curious lens like formation in some puddle ice. I can’t even imagine how it would have formed.

You can see all kinds of things in ice and I found an owl in this section of puddle ice. It’s on the right, tilted slightly to the left.

Here is a closer look at the owl. There is blue around its eyes and a V shape between them. You can see some amazing things in puddle ice, from distant solar systems to frozen currents, and I always stop and give it a close look. In fact I’ve been known to get down on my hands and knees for a closer look but I found that I was disrupting traffic when I did that, so now I can only do it in the woods. “What is that nut doing kneeling on the side of the road?” I imagined the people wondering as they slowed to see. “Why, he’s taking pictures of a mud puddle!!” It takes all kinds, doesn’t it?

I found this strange ice formation on the river’s shore. I don’t know how it formed but I’m guessing that those branches had something to do with it. It reminded me of the Roman temple ruins I’ve seen photos of. Ice is an amazing thing that surprises me almost every time I look closely at it.

But enough with the ice; it’s giving me a chill. I found a grape vine hanging on for dear life, but it has nothing to worry about. River grapes (Vitis riparia) are also called frost grapes and they’ve been known to survive temperatures as low as -57 degrees F, so our paltry 20 below zero readings this year hardly bothered them at all. Their extreme cold tolerance makes their rootstock a favorite choice for many well-known grape varieties. If you grow grapes there’s a good chance that your vines were grafted onto river grape rootstock. I looked for some leftover grapes on this vine but the birds have taken every single one this year. I wouldn’t wonder; the poor things have had to suffer through two weeks of below zero weather this winter.

We have a bird here in North America called the acorn woodpecker and it makes its living stashing acorns in holes it has drilled into trees, utility poles, house siding, or any other wooden object. But they are a western bird and we don’t have them here in the east, so what bird put this acorn into this hole in a birch tree? After a little reading on the subject I found that many woodpeckers do this, though not on the same grand scale as the acorn woodpecker, apparently. In fact jays, nuthatches and even chickadees stash acorns in holes but they can’t drill the holes like a woodpecker can, as far as I know. In the end I can’t say which bird put this acorn in the hole. Maybe a woodpecker drilled the hole and another bird hid the acorn. In any event if I ever see an oak growing out of a birch I’ll know what happened.

I’ve always loved seeing birds but I knew early on that I could never really study them because of colorblindness. Still, I’ve learned an awful lot about them by blogging, and one of the things I’ve discovered is that the same birds in different parts of the country have different habits. In the Midwest for instance, birds will quickly eat all the staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) berries they can find, but here in New Hampshire they pretty much leave them alone until spring and it’s common to see sumac seed heads still full of seeds even in April. I’ve read that sumac berries are very low in fat and that’s why birds shun them, but that doesn’t fully explain it. Sumac berries in the Midwest have the same amount of fat that those in New Hampshire do, so it must be something else. Maybe it’s the super abundance of other foods we have here. It could be that the birds simply don’t need to eat the berries until the supply of other foods runs out.

A television naturalist noted that a half a loaf of bread provided all the food a large troop of baboons needed for an entire day. They could steal and eat a loaf of bread in a half hour and play for the rest of the day, or they could forage for natural foods all day and not have time for anything else. “Which would you do?” the naturalist asked, and that got me wondering about invasive plants like the Japanese barberry in the above photo. These plants form huge thickets and are loaded with berries, so why would a bird expend energy flying from tree to tree all day foraging for food when it could simply sit in a barberry thicket and eat its fill in an hour? That’s a big part of the reason invasive plants are so successful, I think.

Though American basswood (Tilia americana) trees are native to the eastern U.S. I never find them in the forest in this area so I really don’t know that much about them. I never realized that their seeds were so hairy and I didn’t know until I did some research that chipmunks, mice, and squirrels eat them. Birds apparently, do not. Virtually every basswood tree that I know is used as an ornamental shade tree and that might be because they are one of the hardest trees to propagate by seed. Only 30% of their seeds are said to be viable, and that might account for their scarceness. Surprisingly, the foliage and flowers are both edible and many people eat them. Native Americans used the tree’s pliable inner bark to make ropes, baskets, mats and nets. Bees love the fragrant flowers and basswood honey is said to be of the highest quality.

The smooth carrion flower (Smilax herbacea) vine can reach 8 feet long, with golf ball size flower heads all along it. The female flower clusters when pollinated become globular clusters of dark blue fruit. The berries are said to be a favorite of song and game birds so I was surprised to find several clusters of them. Raccoons and black bears also eat the fruit, so maybe the bears will get some when they wake up in spring. Native Americans and early colonists ate the roots, spring shoots and berries of the vine but after smelling its flowers I think I’d have a hard time eating any part of it. Their strong odor resembles that of decaying meat.

How do you show the wind in a photograph? I thought this downy feather stuck on the tip of a branch would show how windy it was on this day but I had the settings on my camera set to stop even a feather being blown about by the wind, so I guess you’ll just have to believe me when I say it was very windy. Wind is often the nature photographer’s enemy, but you can sometimes find ways around it.

It seems odd that a tree like the northern catalpa (Catalpa speciosa) would have such tiny buds, because everything else about the tree is big. It even has big leaf scars, and that’s what this photo shows. But the bud that appears just at the top of the leaf scar is so small you can barely find it. The tree has huge heart shaped leaves that are the biggest I’ve seen, and great trusses of large flowers which become string bean like seed pods that can be two feet long. Catalpa wood is very rot resistant and railroads once grew great plantations of them to be used as railroad ties. They are still used for utility poles today.  Midwestern Native American tribes hollowed out the trunks of catalpa trees and used them as canoes, and the name Catalpa comes from the Cherokee tribe’s word for the tree. Natives made tea from the bark and used it as an antiseptic and sedative. Parts of the tree are said to be mildly narcotic.

Where I work we’ve seen hundreds of what we thought were stink bugs. They started coming indoors when it got cold and got into smoke detectors, light fixtures and heating ducts. Once I had this photo I was able to look them up and I found that they weren’t stink bugs at all, even though they do have an odor if they’re crushed. Instead this is the western conifer seed bug (Leptoglossus occidentalis.) This insect sucks the sap from the developing cones of many species of conifer. It is native to North America west of the Rocky Mountains but has expanded its range and is most likely here to stay. Though they are a minor pest when it comes to conifers they can be a major pest indoors, because they can pierce PEX tubing with their mouth parts and cause leaks. If your house happens to be plumbed with PEX tubing you might want to vacuum up as many of these insects as you can find when they come indoors in the fall. They can’t bite but they can spray a bitter, stinky liquid when they’re threatened.

Split gill fungi (Schizophyllum commune) are winter fungi that appear in late fall. They are covered by what looks like a wooly fur coat. Because they are so hairy they are very easy to identify. They are usually about the size of a penny and I find them on dead branches. They are very tough and leathery.

The “gills” on the split gill fungus are actually folds of tissue on its underside that split lengthwise when it dries out. The splits close over the fertile spore producing surfaces in dry weather and open to release the spores when they’re rehydrated by rain. I’ve never seen one that was this furry on its underside. Split gills grow on every continent except Antarctica and are said to be the most studied mushroom on earth. Scientists have isolated a compound from it that is said to inhibit the HIV-1 virus.

This is the only clear shot I’ve ever gotten of the open split in the underside tissue of a split gill fungus. Though called gills they really aren’t. It’s just this mushrooms way of increasing its spore bearing surface and thereby increasing its spore production. It’s always about the continuation of the species, whether we talk about fungi, fig trees, fish, falcons or fireflies.

The spidery twigs of lowbush blueberries (Vaccinium angustifolium) make them very easy to identify in winter. They had a fantastic crop last year, so it’ll be interesting to see what they do this year. Quite often when a plant produces a bumper crop one year it has to rest for a while in following years. It can take as long as 5 years for some plants to recover.

It’s hard to believe that anything could live on tiny tree buds but deer can, and they do. Of course, that isn’t all they eat but buds are part of their diet. Winter forage isn’t very nutritious though and deer burn considerable amounts of the fat that they put on in the fall. They can add as much as 30 pounds of fat in a good year but then burn it all just getting through winter. In a winter as harsh as this one has been many may not make it through. You can tell that a deer has been at this twig by the way it is roughly torn. Deer have incisor teeth only on their bottom jaw and these teeth meet a hard pad of cartilage on the front part of their upper jaw, so they can’t bite cleanly like we do. Instead they pull and tear. They also have top and bottom molars but they are quite far back in the mouth and are used for chewing rather than biting.

We’ve had days warm enough to send me off looking for witch hazel blossoms but I didn’t see any. Instead I saw a lilac bud that was as green as it should be in spring and which seemed to be thinking about opening. I hope it changed its mind because we could still have plenty of winter ahead of us. Traditionally February is said to be our snowiest month, so this little bud might have made a mistake. On the bright side it’s time to say goodbye, and possibly good riddance, to January.

It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see. ~Henry David Thoreau

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