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Posts Tagged ‘Half Moon Pond’

Or at least this post is. As this early morning view of Half Moon Pond in Hancock shows, our trees are starting to change into their fall colors. The trees on the far side of the pond start very early and that’s my signal to start watching for color wherever I go. Our foliage colors usually peak around the first week of October, but warm weather can slow down the process and cool weather can speed it up.

Right now the colors are spotty and seen just here and there but changes can happen fast so I usually keep a camera close at this time of year. I thought this red maple was worth a photo or two.

Another maple was yellow. Maples are usually our most colorful trees in the fall and come in reds, yellows and various shades of orange.

I could see the sky and the clouds and the earth and the shining sun in this mussel shell. Raccoons regularly fish in the Ashuelot River and one of them probably ate the mussel and left the shell for anyone who happened along to admire. Its colors were beautiful.

Also beautiful are pokeweed berries (Phytolacca americana) when they ripen to their deep purple-black. I love seeing the little purple “flowers” on the back of pokeweed berries. They are actually what’s left of the flowers’ five lobed calyx, but mimic the flower perfectly. People do eat its new shoots in the spring but all parts of this plant are considered toxic, so it’s wise to know exactly what you’re doing if you choose to try it. Native Americans used the plant medicinally and also used the red juice from its berries to decorate their horses. Recently scientists found that the red dye made from the berries can be used to coat solar cells, increasing their efficiency.

Heavy with ripe red fruit is false Solomon’s seal (Smilacina racemosa.) I see large bunches of these berries everywhere I go, so it’s going to be a good year for birds, mice, grouse, and other forest critters. These berries are bright red when fully ripe and speckled green and red as they ripen. You can still see 3 or 4 unripe berries in this bunch. Soil pH can affect fruit color and not all berries will be the same shade of red. Native American’s used all parts of this plant.

Most staghorn sumacs (Rhus typhina) are still green but this one had already gone to red. Sumacs are one of our most colorful shrubs in the fall. They can range from lemon yellow to pumpkin orange to tomato red, and anything in between.

The reason invasive burning bushes (Euonymus alatus) have been so successful at spreading throughout the countryside is because people have planted them extensively for fall color, making it easy for birds to find the berries for food. Most burning bushes start out red like this example.

As fall progresses burning bushes in the wild will turn from red to a pinkish magenta…

..and will finally turn the palest pastel pinkish lavender just before the leaves fall. These three photos of burning bush foliage were taken at the same time and place but the 3 branches were on different plants.

Our native highbush blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum) are a good alternative to invasive burning bushes. They also often turn bright scarlet in the fall, but will also show shades of orange, yellow and plum purple. Purple is a common color in the fall. A Washington Post article last year said that “Studies have suggested that the earliest photosynthetic organisms were plum-colored, because they relied on photosynthetic chemicals that absorbed different wavelengths of light.”

Even poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) turns purple occasionally but it is more common to see it wearing red in the fall.

Silky dogwood berries (Cornus amomum) go from green to white and then from white to blue. Once they are blue and fully ripe birds eat them up quickly, so I was surprised to see them.

Bright red bittersweet nightshade berries (Solanum dulcamara) look like tiny Roma tomatoes, but they’re very toxic and shouldn’t be eaten. Red has the longest wavelength of all the colors and it is the easiest color to distinguish, unless you happen to be colorblind.

Blue is my favorite color and I was able to see plenty of it in this view from a cornfield in Keene. I read recently that 40 percent of people choose blue as their favorite color. Purple is next with only 14 percent.

There are other places to see the color blue as well; many plants like the black raspberry cane (Rubus occidentalis) pictured here use the same powdery, waxy white bloom as a form of protection against moisture loss and sunburn. On plants like black raspberries, blue stemmed goldenrod, smoky eye boulder lichens, grapes and plums, the bloom can appear to be very blue in the right kind of light. Finding such a beautiful color in nature is always an unexpected pleasure.

The bloom on grapes and plums can mean they’re ripe, and these grapes were. Soon the woods will smell like grape jelly from all the fermenting grapes.

Maple leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) isn’t offered by nurseries but I’ve always though it should be. It’s a very low growing shrub; I think the tallest one I’ve seen might have reached 3 feet. It has white flowers at the branch ends in the spring but I’ve always thought that fall was when it was most beautiful because of the amazing range of colors in its leaves.

Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) has started its long, slow change from green to red. Though some trees and bushes seem to change color overnight, Virginia creeper won’t be rushed. This example was just entering its bronze stage.

This beautiful shade of red is what most Virginia creeper vines will look like before their leaves fall.

This pale tussock moth caterpillar was very hairy, and very beautiful. I don’t see as many of these as I do the hickory tussock moth caterpillar. That one is everywhere this year and I see several whenever I go out for a walk.

I’m happy to say that, over the past 3 or 4 weeks, I’ve seen many monarch butterflies. I can’t say if they’re making a comeback but I’ve seen more this year than I have in the past 5 years combined. I’ve seen at least one each day for the past couple of weeks.

I think that to one in sympathy with nature, each season, in turn, seems the loveliest. ~Mark Twain

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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

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Two or three years ago I saw my first pale beauty moth and now I’m seeing them everywhere. Their wings and body are pale greenish to grayish white and the female, which I think this example is, is said to be much larger than the male. The caterpillars are said to feed on the leaves of 65 species of trees and shrubs including alder, ash, basswood, beech, birch, blueberry, cherry, fir, elm, hemlock, maple, oak, pine, poplar, rose, spruce, larch, and willow. They’re supposed to be nocturnal but I see them in daylight. Usually in the evening though, so maybe they come out early.

There are a lot of dragonflies about this year and for some reason many of them are on lawns. I’ve walked over lawns and had hundreds of them flying around me. I can’t think of another time I’ve seen this but it must be that they’re finding plenty of food on the lawns. Or something. This example of what I think is a female widow skimmer (Libellula luctuosa) was near a pond on a cattail leaf, but there are lawns nearby. There were light whitish spots outside the dark spots on the wings but I think the lighting hid them.

 

A black ant was so interested in something it found on a sarsaparilla leaf (Aralia nudicaulis) it let me get the camera very close. I couldn’t see what attracted its attention and can’t tell from the photo either, but it was rapt. I think it was a common black house ant. It didn’t seem big enough to be a carpenter ant.

While I was visiting with the ant a winter dark firefly (Ellychnia corrusca) flew down and joined us on the same sarsaparilla leaf. According to Bugguide.net, these fireflies can be a pest in sap buckets in the spring because they like maple sap, and they will also drink from wounds in maple trees. They like to sun themselves on the sunny side of trees or buildings, but this one seemed happy just being on a leaf. Most fireflies live as larvae in rotting wood and forest litter near water and stay in the area they were born in, even as adults. They like it warm and humid, so they must be happy right now. They don’t seem to be afraid of people at all; I’ve gotten quite close to them several times.

On a very windy day what I believe was a male calico pennant dragonfly (Celithemis elisa) clung to the siding of a building. The light wasn’t right for dragonfly photography but I tried anyway and though it isn’t a great shot you can see most of the wing markings. These dragonflies are used to being blown about on the tips of twigs like a pennant, and that’s where their common name comes from. A fact that I find interesting about this dragonfly is how the males are not territorial and often perch facing away from water, apparently waiting for females as they approach the water. I’m not sure why this one chose a building.

NOTE: Blogging friend Mike Powell has pointed out that this is a female calico pennant dragonfly. If you’re interested in dragonflies or any other natural wonder, you should be reading Mike’s blog. You can find a link right over in the “Favorite Links” section of this blog. Thanks Mike!

I’m lucky enough to work near a pond and as I drive to work, early in the morning on a certain day in June, the snapping turtles begin to lay their eggs. As if someone flipped a switch the sandy shoreline between the pond and the road will be lined with the big turtles, sticking half out of the sand. And they are big; snapping turtles can weigh between 10-35 pounds. Though some snappers have been found as far as a mile from water most will dig their nest closer to it. They’ve been known to nest in lawns, gardens, and even muskrat burrows. Snapping turtles reach maturity at 8 to 10 years and can live up to 40 years or more.

It is said that some turtles weep from the strain of egg laying but this one had dry eyes. In fact she looked like she was smiling. You can see her beak in this photo; it has a rough cutting edge that is used for tearing food. They have powerful jaws and the snapping beak is easily able to snap off a finger or toe, so it isn’t wise to get too close to one. They have a neck that stretches quite a distance and they can lunge at high speed, which is how they catch their food. Snapping turtles eat plants, insects, spiders, worms, fish, frogs, smaller turtles, snakes, birds, crayfish, small mammals, and carrion. Plants make up about a third of their diet.

Snapping turtles lay one clutch of eggs in May or June and unfortunately this photo shows how most of them end up. Out of a nest of 15 to 50 eggs most will be eaten by raccoons, skunks, or crows. Though I’ve looked in the sand near disturbed nests I’ve never seen a paw print, so I can’t say what animal is doing this. It doesn’t take much to harm the turtles; the eggs are very delicate and the turtle embryo can be killed if turned or jarred. As many as 90% of the nests are destroyed each year and as I think about it I wonder if that isn’t part of nature’s plan. If every egg in every nest on this small pond were to hatch it would be overrun by snapping turtles and they would quickly run out of food. It might be better for them to never be born than to slowly die of starvation, but I’m very thankful that it isn’t up to me to make that decision.

Nature has a way of ensuring the continuation of each species and I know that many snapping turtles survive because I see them in ponds and streams everywhere. Egg hatching takes about three months but it varies depending on temperature and weather conditions. If the nest isn’t disturbed the hatchlings dig their way out in August through October and head right for the water. In winter they hibernate in the mud at the pond bottom. I should say that there are laws against disturbing turtle nests in New Hampshire, so they are best left alone.

I’m guessing that this bullfrog was very happy that there were no snapping turtles nearby. Adult female bullfrogs have an eardrum (tympanic membrane) that is about the same size as the eye and on a male it is much larger than the eye, so I’d say this one was a female. Females don’t croak but there was a lot of croaking going on here on this day.

With such a rainy spring I’m surprised that mushrooms aren’t popping up out of the sidewalks, but I’m not seeing that many. I did find some little horsehair mushrooms (Marasmius rotula) growing on a log recently. These are very small things; the biggest one in this photo might be as big as a pea.

Horsehair mushrooms are also called pinwheel mushrooms. Their pleated and scalloped caps always make me think of tiny Lilliputian parachutes. The shiny, hollow black stem lightens as it reaches the cap and is very coarse like horse hair, and that’s where the common name comes from. They grow in small colonies on rotting logs, stumps, and branches. Their spore release depends on plenty of moisture so look for this one after it rains. In dry weather they dehydrate into what looks like a whitish dot at the end of a black stem, but when it rains they rehydrate to release more spores. They can do this for up to three weeks.

The underside of the horsehair mushroom’s cap also looks like a parachute, with gills spaced quite far apart for such a little thing. In the center the gills join to make a collar that encircles the stem.

Swamp beacons (Mitrula elegans) are interesting fungi that grow in water and I find them in seeps where water runs year round. They are classified as “amphibious fungi” and use a process called soft rot to decompose plant material in low-oxygen areas. Since they only decompose soft tissue they aren’t found on twigs or bark and this photo shows how they are growing out of saturated leaves. I’m sorry about the strange angularity of this photo but I was kneeling in mud when I took it, trying not to drop the camera into it.

Another common name for swamp beacons is “matchstick fungus” and that’s exactly what they remind me of because they are just about the size of a wooden match. This one had an elongated head on it though and didn’t look very match like. If you want to get shots of this fungus be prepared to get your knees wet. Mine were soaked.

Hot humid weather along with a rainy day or two always makes me want to start looking for slime molds and sure enough after a recent shower, I found some. Slime molds seem to grow on just about anything; there is even a photo online of one engulfing a beer can that was left out on a rock. They almost always grow on the side away from the sun because they don’t want to dry out. A slime mold is an amoeba and that says a lot about how very small they are, but luckily they group together and that makes them easier to see. When I look for them I look for a smudge of color on the shaded sides of logs or on last season’s leaves. The one seen here is in its plasmodial stage and is on the move. I think it might be one called the tapioca slime mold (Brefeldia maxima.)

Slime molds can appear in their single celled amoeba form but when I see them they are almost always massed or massing together as these were. This plasmodial slime mold, like many others, moves using “cytoplasmic streaming,” which is basically a contracting of “muscles” by all of the separate cells until they come together in a single mass. They can reach speeds of up to 1.35 mm per second, which is the fastest rate recorded for any micro-organism. Eventually they will shift from the growth to the fruiting stage, when they will release their spores. Slime molds do not like dryness, so most of this usually occurs at night or on damp, humid days after a rain.

Here’s another look at what a slime molds can look like from a distance. This could also be yellow, orange or red. When looking for slime molds it’s important to remember that hot sunlight dries them out, so they’ll be on the shaded sides and undersides of logs, on stumps, mossy rocks, and in the leaves on the forest floor in the darkest part of the forest where the soil stays moist.

Here’s a closer look at the slime mold in the previous photo. Identifying slime molds can be tricky, but most good mushroom books will include a section on them and there are a few good online resources as well. If you want to photograph slime molds you’d better have a good macro lens because many are almost microscopic in size. What you see in this photo wouldn’t even cover a penny. A good LED light is also helpful. I think this example might be coral or white fingered slime mold (Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa.)

I think all slime molds are beautiful but this one really takes the cake. At least I think it’s a slime mold. I’ve found various examples of it for about three years now and I’ve spent that long trying to identify it with no luck. I haven’t found anything even similar to it online or in a book. I think part of the problem is it starts out looking like the white, blurry, bumpy mass in the lower left corner and then opens into the tiny blue starbursts seen above. What that means is it’s hard to know whether to search for a white or blue slime mold. I’ve tried both many times with no luck, so if you know its name I’d love to hear from you.

As I was walking through the woods one day something told me to look up and when I did I saw a young porcupine sitting on the crook of a branch. It let me get close enough for a couple of quick photos but I didn’t want to disturb it, so I left and let it be. Porcupines are herbivores and eat leaves, twigs, and green plants such as clover. They often climb trees to find leaves for food, and in winter they will eat the bark of some trees. They are shy, gentle creatures but unfortunately I see many of their kind run over on the roadsides. They roam at night a lot and can be very hard to see. This one was quite small; probably smaller than a soccer ball. Many Native American tribes used porcupine quills for decoration on their clothing but women in the Lakota tribe found a way to get the quills without harming the porcupine; they would throw a blanket over it and then pick out the quills that were stuck in the blanket.

I went to the Ashuelot River one recent evening and found it raging because of strong thunder showers we’d had the day before, but a duck had found a calm spot away from the chaos of curling whitecaps. The river was high too; that small island isn’t usually an island.

But the duck didn’t seem to care one way or the other. It splashed and preened and tipped up to eat and smiled serenely while the river raged on around it. There has to be a lesson for us all in there somewhere. After all, nature is full of them.

He who has experienced the mystery of nature is full of life, full of love, full of joy. Radiance emanates from the whole existence itself; it does not know the meaning of holding back. ~ Maitreya Rudrabhayananda

Thanks for stopping in. Have a safe and happy 4th of July!

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I’m sure everyone has heard about the great nor’easter of 2017 that hit us last week. This photo was taken in my back yard after I got home from work. It was snowing heavily.

Getting home was difficult and took me twice as long as usual. We didn’t have true blizzard conditions here but I hope I never have to drive through a storm like that one again because the wind was blowing the snow around so much it was hard to see where I was going. Some parts of the state were hit very hard and lost power for nearly a week. This photo could have been taken in January but unfortunately it was taken on March 15th. I took one in January at this same spot that looked almost identical.

At my house I had just over 10 inches of snow when I got home, and another 2 or 3 fell that night. Some places had twice what I had here.

After a week of temperatures in the high 60s F. and bare ground during the last week of February this storm and the bitter cold afterwards were disappointing. It was almost as if winter had been rewound somehow and was starting all over again, but the sun came back out as it always does and it’s getting gradually warmer, in fits and starts. Temps are back in the high 40s and the snow is melting again.

This shot of Half Moon Pond was taken before the storm. It was frozen over at this point but the ice was melting quickly and by the time the storm hit open water could be seen. Once the storm came it froze over quickly, and so it’s now covered in snow again.

If there is one thing I’ll remember most about this winter it is the ice. It has been terrible and is everywhere, including on all of the trails that I visit. Getting around has been difficult, to say the least.

Because of all the ice we’ve had to use many thousands of tons of salt and sand on the roads and walkways. This photo shows what our roads and walks look like now; stained by salt.

Spring is still on the march but you have to look for it because many of the signs are subtle, like when last year’s beech and oak leaves finally start to fall.

Also subtle is the swelling of buds; these lilac buds are a perfect illustration of how it happens. The dark red colors on the bud scales once met, so when you saw the buds they looked completely red. But then they began swelling and the red parts pulled apart, revealing an orange stripe. When you see this you know the buds are getting bigger. Before long the scales will pull back completely, revealing the tiny flower bud cluster inside. It’s a great thing to watch happen.

A single pea size bud of a Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) illustrates how, when water taken up by the roots swells the bud, the bud scales open to reveal the flowers inside. This doesn’t happen on all plants; magnolias for instance have only a single furry bud scale that simply falls off.

In northern Greece early Neolithic people left behind remains of meals that included cornelian cherry fruit. Man has had a relationship with this now little known shrub for about 7000 years. The Persians and early Romans knew it well and Homer, Rumi, and Marcus Aurelius all probably tasted the sour red, olive like fruit, which is high in vitamin C. Cornelian cherry is in the dogwood family and is our earliest blooming member of that family, often blooming at just about the same time as forsythias do.

I was worried that the red maples (Acer rubrum) had misjudged the weather when I saw some flowers dangling on a few trees. Chances are good that the blossoms that appeared early are dead but as this photo shows, there are still plenty tucked into their bud scales.

These daffodils weren’t so lucky and these leaves are finished. They’ll probably still bloom but without leaves they can’t photosynthesize to make food, so they probably won’t bloom next year.

Some daffodils still looked good and I think what made the difference was the snow depth. Snow is a good insulator so it probably protected these budded plants from the cold, while the ones in the previous photo probably had no protection.

Once again I was amazed to see this vernal witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis) blooming after a foot of snow and temperatures barely above zero. It’s a very tough plant and one I’d like to have.

A chipmunk peeked out of his tree to see if it was spring yet. I knew just how he felt, so for an instant we probably both thought as one.

One day you stepped in snow, the next in mud, water soaked in your boots and froze them at night, it was the next worst thing to pure blizzardry, it was weather that wouldn’t let you settle. ~E.L. Doctorow

Monday the first day of spring  marked the start of my seventh year of blogging, so a big thank you to all the regular readers for putting up with it for so long. I hope I’ll be able to show you many new things this year.

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1-half-moon-pond

After an extended nice warm January thaw we were brought back to reality by a sleet / freezing rain / snow/ rain storm that immediately froze into concrete like ice, making it treacherous to walk just about anywhere. This was the view across Half Moon Pond in Hancock to Mount Skatutakee, taken by cell phone the next morning. The pond Ice was cold but the air was warm, and that meant fog.

2-monadnock

It wasn’t fog but a cloud that tried to hide the summit of Mount Monadnock at Perkin’s Pond in Troy recently. There is still very little snow on this, the sunny side of the mountain. Every time it snows up there the sun melts it before it snows again, resulting in the least snowy Monadnock summit I’ve seen in a while.

3-puddle-mud

My thoughts turned from the lofty heights of mountaintops to the lowly depths of puddle mud when I found this. I don’t know if the mud froze and made these patterns or if ice on the puddle made them before it melted and then evaporated. Mud puddles can be very interesting things.

4-white-cushion-moss

The white cushion moss (Leucobryum glaucum) growing on a boulder made me want to reach out and pet it, and so I did. Though it looks like it might be stiff and prickly it’s actually quite soft. White cushion moss gets its common name from the way it turns a whitish color when it dries out so even though it was surrounded by ice this one was very dry. A perfect example of the winter desert when, though there is plenty of snow and ice, it’s too cold for any melt water to benefit plants.

5-crowded-parchment

Crowded parchment fungus (Stereum complicatum) lived up to its name on this log. The complicatum part of its scientific name means “folded back on itself.” This fungus often grows on fallen oak limbs and parasitizes some types of jelly fungi. It causes white rot of the heartwood when it grows on standing trees.

6-milk-white-toothed-polypore

I spoke about finding a very young milk white toothed polypore (Irpex lacteus) in my last post. Since then I’ve seen older ones and this is one of them. The “teeth” are actually ragged bits of spore bearing tissue. They start life as tubes or pores and break apart and turn brown as they age. Milk white toothed polypores appear very late in the year and are considered “winter mushrooms.” Look for them in the undersides of tree branches.

7-turkey-tails

I’ve been looking for turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor) that were wearing something other than brown all year and I finally found some that looked bluish gray. They were a little dry I think, because of their wilted looking edges, or maybe they were just old. This fungus been used medicinally by the Chinese, Japanese, and Native Americans for thousands of years and the FDA has approved them for trials on cancer patients. They’re found in forests all over the world from Europe to Asia in the US and Russia.

8-unknown-fungi

These mushrooms were well past their prime but I didn’t care because I loved their color and texture and the way they looked as if they had been sculpted and bronzed. In death they were far more beautiful than they had been in life.

9-sumac-berries

Birds aren’t eating staghorn sumac berries but they never seem to in this area until the end of winter. I’ve heard that birds shun them because they’re low in fat, but I wonder if that’s true of all birds because when birds like red winged blackbirds return in spring the berries disappear quickly. It’s a head scratcher because Jerry from the Quiet Solo Pursuits blog in Michigan says that the birds there gobble them up.

10-rose-hips

Birds haven’t eaten these rose hips either but they were as big as grapes, so maybe swallowing them is a problem. Fresh or dried rose hips are higher in vitamin C than citrus fruits and they can be used in many recipes, including a tea that is very soothing for a sore throat. The seeds inside rose hips should always be removed before use though, because they have a hairy covering that can be irritating. They can cost as much as $25.00 per pound in health food stores, which is more than the price of a rose bush, so it is worth growing your own if you have a fondness for them. The best time to harvest rose hips is after the first frost because frost removes some of the tartness. Choose fruit that is firm and has good, deep color. These examples were not firm but they had plenty of color.

11-cherries

These cherries were the size of peas, so it wasn’t size that turned the birds away from them. I think they were chokecherries (Prunus virginiana) which are dark purple / black when ripe, but I wonder if these might have frozen before they had a chance to ripen. Robins, thrushes, grosbeaks, woodpeckers, jays, bluebirds, catbirds, kingbirds, and grouse eat chokecherries, and so do mice, voles, chipmunks, squirrels, skunks, foxes, deer, bear, and moose. The inner bark of the chokecherry was used by Native Americans in the smoking mixture known as kinnikinnick to improve the taste of the bearberry leaf, which was the chief ingredient for many tribes.

12-red-elderberry-buds

I don’t see many red elderberry bushes (Sambucus racemosa) but I’m always happy when I do because then I get to see their chubby plum colored buds, which are some of my favorites. Later on the plant will have bright scarlet fruits that birds love. The berries are said to be toxic but they were cooked and eaten by Native Americans so I’m sure they knew how to cook them in such a way as to remove the toxicity. They also used them medicinally. Red elderberry is one of two elderberries native to New Hampshire. The other is the common or black elderberry (Sambucus nigra V. canadensis) which has black berries and isn’t toxic.

13-poplar-sunburst-lichen

I had to go and visit one of my favorite lichens; the poplar sunburst lichen (Xanthomendoza hasseana.) It grows on a tree near a retention pond in Keene, right next to a shopping mall. I’ve visited it off and on for years now and it has never stopped producing spores. The sucker like, cup shaped bits are its fruiting bodies (Apothecia) where the spores are produced. Will it ever stop producing spores? After watching it do so for about 4 years now, I doubt it. In fact, it could go on for millennia:

Another sunburst lichen, the elegant sunburst (Xanthoria elegans) was exposed to ultraviolet radiation, cosmic radiation, and the vacuum of space for one and a half years and when it was brought back to earth it grew on as if nothing had happened. Many believe that lichens are virtually indestructible and are therefore as close to immortal as any earthly being can be.

14-star-rosette-lichen-physcia-stellaris

As I finished admiring the poplar sunburst lichen my attention was drawn to another lichen that seemed to be winking at me. It was a star rosette lichen (Physcia stellaris), which has dark brown apothecia that are often pruinose. Pruinose refers to a white, waxy, powdery coating like that found on blueberries, plums, and first year black raspberry canes. I’ve noticed by watching smoky eye boulder lichens, which also have pruinose apothecia, that the coating can reflect light in different ways, sometimes appearing gray and at other times more blue. These examples were kind of blue gray but it was a cloudy day.

15-black-birch-witchs-broom

I keep running into black birches (Betula lenta) with what appears to be a deformity in their buds. I wouldn’t call it witches broom but the buds grow in a tightly packed cluster which isn’t normal, judging by the other buds on the trees. I haven’t been able to find out anything about it from any source, so if you happen to know I’d love to hear from you.

16-black-birch-bud

This is what a normal black birch bud looks like. Birch beer was once made from the black birch and so was oil of wintergreen. If you aren’t sure if the tree you see is a black birch just chew a twig. If it’s a black birch it will taste like wintergreen. So many trees were taken to make oil of wintergreen that black birch is still hard to find in many areas today.

17-liverwort

I saw something on a tree that seemed very pale for this time of year. Most mosses are a deep green in winter so this chartreuse color really stood out. After a little research I think it is a liverwort called flat-leaved scalewort (Radula complanata.) I’ve read that it is common on trees and shrubs but I’ve never seen it. Plants are usually flattened, either forming patches like the one seen above or single stems creeping among mosses.

18-liverwort

A closer look at the liverwort shows round, flattened, overlapping leaves which are quite small. Each one is no more than 1/16  of an inch across. The even smaller, darker leaves look to be part of the same plant but I can find very little information on this liverwort. It is said to like sunny, sheltered, moist conditions and will sometimes grow on streamside rocks. Liverworts are epiphytes that take nothing from the trees they grow on. I’ve read that they were the first land plants to evolve about 500,000 million years ago and are the oldest living land plants.

19-twilight

The days are finally getting longer but it’s still too dark to do any serious photography before or after work. I took this shot of ice covered Half Moon Pond in Hancock at 7:30 one recent morning and it looks like the sun was setting rather than rising. The lack of light on weekdays leaves only weekends for taking photos and lately you can barely find the sun, even on a weekend. Our weather predicting groundhog Punxsutawney Phil just predicted six more weeks of winter (which just happens to coincide with the six weeks of winter left on the calendar) but the days are getting longer and not even old Punxsutawney Phil can stop that. I’m very much looking forward to being able to spend more time in the woods.

The days are short
The sun a spark
Hung thin between
The dark and dark.
 ~John Updike

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1-window-frost

Anyone who has read this blog for a time knows that I’m not a big fan of winter, but that’s because of all the extra work like shoveling the roof that comes along with it. Winter itself is a season filled with beauty, as this window frost shows so well. It looks like crystal ferns and when I was a boy most of the windows I saw in winter were decorated in this way. The newer double pane windows have pretty much put a stop to that, but car windows still become decorated on cold nights.

2-icy-woods

 

Once the ground freezes surface water has nowhere to go so if it rains or if the snow melts, small ponds form and freeze. This kind of ice makes it hard for animals like deer to get around because they slip on it.

3-monadnock

I paid another visit to Mount Monadnock the other day and found Perkin’s Pond frozen over but little snow on the summit. That has changed since; we had about 6 inches of snow on Monday but I haven’t had a chance to get photos yet.

4-monadnock-summit

On this day there was very little snow up there. It was cold enough so the bright sunshine wasn’t melting what there was though.

5-pond-ice

I’ve wondered for a long time what caused these spidery holes in lake and pond ice. I recently read that when it’s warm enough drain holes can form in the ice. When snow falls on ice the added weight forces the ice sheet to sink somewhat and water can wick up through the drain holes and wet the snow, forming channels that look like rivers. These dark spidery creations are called “ice octopi,” “ice spiders,” or “ice stars” and can sometimes grow to many feet across. This example at Perkin’s Pond was no bigger than a softball, or around 4 inches, with arms that stretched for a foot or more.

6-ashuelot-wave

The Ashuelot River hasn’t frozen and enough rain has fallen to create some waves again. I enjoy seeing if I can catch a wave at just the right curl. I don’t use burst mode on the camera so it isn’t easy, but I’ve found that if you are patient you can tune into the river’s rhythm and catch the waves in full curl. I love the colors of the river water in bright sunshine.

7-ice-bauble

Ice baubles formed on the river’s shore and the stones were completely coated with ice, so I had to watch where I stepped. This ice had formed into a round disc shape around a blade of grass.

8-river-ice

The sunlight on such clear ice is always enough to stop me in my tracks. The colors are so beautiful and the shapes in the formations always mind boggling. Like a thousand prisms bending light.

9-ashuelot-falls

I went to the Ashuelot Falls in Keene to see if they had frozen up but other than some ice from the spray they were flowing normally. I’ve seen them turn into huge blocks of ice but I’m hoping I don’t see that again right away. When the sun is just right they look like golden tinsel.

10-ice-pancakes

The waterfall creates foam on the river and when it’s cold the foam can freeze. The current keeps the frozen foam from forming a flat sheet by spinning the irregular pieces into circles. When the circles of foam bump into each other they form rims and start to look like pancakes. These ranged in size from car tires to cantaloupes, and sometimes smaller.

11-ice-pancakes

In fact they are called pancake ice and from what I’ve read are rare outside of the Arctic, even though I see them at least once every winter. In the Arctic, the pancakes can stick together and form ridges that pile on top of each other and can reach up to 60 feet thick but here on the Ashuelot they just float downstream. Whether or not they make it to the Connecticut River and then to the Atlantic Ocean I don’t know.

12-ice-pancake

This pancake formed around a reed and was stuck. It would probably never join the rest of the pack unless it thawed.

13-island

Wilson Pond in Swanzey has frozen over but not completely. If this ice was thicker it would have been perfect for skating on, but it won’t be thick enough for that for a while yet. The latest storm covered it with snow so unless someone plows or shovels it nobody will be skating here.

14-rime-ice

One of the things I saw when I explored the icy shore of Wilson Pond was rime ice. Rime ice forms when super cooled water droplets in ground fog make contact with something that is at a below freezing temperature. The thicker the fog, the larger the crystals. Rime ice can form on virtually anything, even snow. These examples grew on leaves and pine needles.

15-rime-on-leaf

I tried to pick up a twig with ice crystals on it and they were so fragile they just fell apart. This leaf was resting on the pond ice and I left it where it was.

16-rime-on-pine-needlws

I didn’t touch these ice covered pine needles either. The crystals look sharp but just a touch of a finger or a whisper of breath is enough to destroy them.

17-reflection

This was what sunrise looked like reflected in Half Moon Pond before it froze over. We’re not likely to see this again until March or April. It is beauty that will be missed, but it’s by far not the only beauty to be found.

18-half-moon-pond

This is Half Moon Pond now, with the latest super moon setting behind it. Yes, it was as cold as it looks.

19-rust

From a distance I thought these colorful bits were lichens on a piece of driftwood but it turned out to be rust on a piece of steel. But it’s still a beautiful color.

20-ice-patterns

Nature is so very beautiful at any time of year and these simple pleasures are there for anyone to see, so I really do hope you’re able to get outside and enjoy them.

What is life? It is a flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset. ~Crowfoot

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1-bare-trees

The above photo makes me feel that I should say good morning, so please consider it done. I saw this scene on my way to work one morning but since I don’t bring the camera that I use for landscape photos to work with me, I had to use my cellphone. It was a cold morning but the pastel sky was plenty beautiful enough to stop and gaze at. My color finding software tells me it was colored  peach puff, papaya whip, and Alice blue. How bare the trees are becoming.

2-dewberry

The swamp dewberries (Rubus hispidus) are certainly colorful this year. In June this trailing vine blooms with white flowers that look a lot like strawberry flowers. The fruit looks more like a black raspberry than anything else and is said to be very sour. Native Americans had many medicinal uses for this plant, including treating coughs, fever and consumption. Swamp dewberry, as its name implies, is a good indicator of a wetland or moist soil that doesn’t dry out.

3-oak-leaves

Some of the smaller oaks are hanging on to their leaves but they’re dropping quickly from the larger trees now.

4-frost-crystals

Jack frost has come knocking. These crystals grew on my windshield overnight and though I wasn’t happy about the cold that made them I was happy to see them, because I love looking at the many  shapes that frost crystals form in.

5-frosted-mushrooms

Frost had found these mushrooms and turned them to purple jelly. I’m not sure what they started life as.

6-frosted-strawberry-leaves

Frost rimmed the edges of these wild strawberry (Fragaria virginiana) leaves too. There is a lot of beauty to be found in the colder months.

7-blue-crust-fungus

At this time of year I always start rolling logs over, hoping to find the beautiful but rare cobalt crust fungus (Terana caerulea,) but usually I find this lighter shade of blue instead. After several years of trying to identify this fungus I’ve finally found a name for it: Byssocorticium atrovirens. Apparently its common name is simply blue crust fungus, which is good because that’s what I’ve been calling it. Crust fungi are called resupinate fungi and have flat, crust like fruiting bodies which usually appear on the undersides of fallen branches and logs. Resupinate means upside down, and that’s what many crust fungi appear to be. Their spore bearing surface can be wrinkled, smooth, warty, toothed, or porous and though they appear on the undersides of logs the main body of the fungus is in the wood, slowly decomposing it. They seem to be the least understood of all the fungi.

8-blanched-moss

While rolling logs over to look for blue crust fungi I found these mosses that had been blanched almost white from having no sunlight reach them. They reminded me of something I’d see on a coral reef under the sea. I’m guessing that they originally grew on the tree in sunlight before it fell, and when it fell they ended up on the underside of the log. The odd part is how they continued to grow even with no sun light. That urge inside of plants that makes them reach for light must be very strong indeed.

9-mount-skatutakee

We seem to be having weekly rainy days now and the drought’s grip on the land is slowly easing. One showery day at about 1:00 pm a sun beam peeked through the clouds just long enough and in just the right spot to light up Mount Skatutakee in Hancock. I always trust that sunbeams falling in a concentrated area like this will show me something interesting because they always have, so now I’m going to have to climb Mount Skatutakee. From what I’ve heard it takes 4 hours but at my pace it will most likely take 6 or more; I’m sure there will be lots of wonders to see. The name Skatutakee is pronounced  Skuh – TOO -tuh – kee and is said to come from two Native American Abenaki words that mean “land” and “fire,” so there might have once been a forest fire there. It certainly looked like it was burning on this day.

10-wind-circles-in-the-sand

We can’t see the wind but we can often see what it has done. In this case it blew a dead plant stalk around in a complete circle and the stalk marked the river sand as it twirled around and around. It’s one of the more unusual things I’ve seen lately.

11-common-stinkhorn

I don’t see many stinkhorn fungi and I’ve wondered if that was because I wasn’t looking in the right place. This example was sticking out of a very old and very rotted yellow birch log. It is the common stinkhorn (Phallus impudicus) and I have to say that, even though stinkhorns are said to have an odor like rotting meat, I didn’t smell a thing when I was taking its photo. The green conical cap is also said to be slimy but it didn’t look it. This mushroom uses its carrion like odor to attracts insects, which are said to disperse its sticky spores.

12-common-stinkhorn

It’s friend took a turn. Whether it was for the better or worse I don’t know. The old birch log it was on must have had 8-10 different kinds of mushrooms growing on it.

13-false-turkey-tail-stereum-ostrea

False turkey tail fungus (Stereum ostrea) looks a lot like true turkey tail fungus (Trametes versicolor) but it doesn’t have pores on its underside and I find that it often comes in shades of orange. It always helps to look at the underside of fungi when trying to identify them.

14-larch-branch

Eastern larch trees, also called tamarack larch or just tamarack, (Larix laricina) turn brilliant orange yellow in the fall and are one of the few conifers that shed their needles in winter. They like to grow in wet, swampy places and seeds that fall on dry ground usually won’t germinate. Tamarack was an important tree to Native Americans; some used branches and bark to make snow shoes and others used the bark from the roots to sew canoes. The Ojibwe people called the tree “muckigwatig,” meaning “swamp tree” and used parts of it to make medicine.

15-partridge-berries

Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens) is a native evergreen with small, heart shaped leaves on creeping stems which grow at ground level. In spring it has white trumpet shaped flowers that grow in pairs and share a single ovary. In the fall it has bright red berries which are edible but close to tasteless. I leave them for the turkeys, which seem to love them. Bobwhites, grouse, red foxes, skunks, and white-footed mice are also said to eat them.

16-partridge-berry

The unusual fused ovary on the partridgeberry’s twin blossoms form one berry, and you can always see where the two flowers were by looking for the dimples on the berry.

17-poison-ivy-berries-2

Poison ivy berries are ripening to white but until I saw this photo I didn’t know how it happened. It looks as if there is a brown shell around each white berry, and it looks as if the shell falls away to reveal it. Many songbirds eat the white berries, and deer eat the plant’s leaves. In fact there doesn’t seem to be an animal or bird that the plant bothers, but it sure bothers most humans by causing an always itchy, sometimes painful, and rarely dangerous rash. I get the rash every year but I’m lucky that it stays on the part of my body that touched the plant and doesn’t spread. That usually means a hand, knee, or ankle will itch for a week.

18-oak-apple-gall

An oak leaf had fallen with an apple gall still attached. Apple galls are caused by a wasp (Amphibolips confluenta) called the oak apple gall wasp. In May, the female wasp emerges from underground and injects one or more eggs into the mid-vein of an oak leaf. As it grows the wasp larva causes the leaf to form a round gall. Galls that form on leaves are less harmful to the tree than those that form on twigs, but neither causes any real damage.

19-oak-apple-gall

Both the leaf and gall together weighed next to nothing and the hole in the gall told me that the resident wasp had most likely flown the coop.

20-half-moon-pond

I don’t know its name but the hill on the other side of half-moon pond in Hancock still shows a little color. Even so, fall is nearly over now. We’ve had frosts, freezes and were lucky enough to have Indian summer twice and though we rarely talk about it we all know what comes next in the natural progression of the 4 seasons. But it’s only for 3 months, and the weather people now tell us that it will be “normal.”

Every corny thing that’s said about living with nature – being in harmony with the earth, feeling the cycle of the seasons – happens to be true. ~Susan Orlean

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