Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Hawthorn’

Last Saturday was cloudy but warm with temperatures in the 40s. Rain was supposed come in the late afternoon so I headed out to one of my favorite places in Keene early in the day. It’s a trail through a small park at the base of Beech Hill and there is just about anything a nature lover could want there, including a mixed hard and softwood forest, streams, seeps, a pond, and a huge assortment of wildflowers, fungi, and slime molds in spring, summer and fall.

About 6-7 inches of nuisance snow had fallen a few days before but this is a popular spot and many other feet had packed it down before I got there. I find that my trail breaking days through knee deep snow have ended, so my strategy is to let others go first and then follow their trail. There’s plenty to see out there for everybody and it doesn’t matter who sees it first.

Two or three seeps cross the trail, which is actually an old road. As I said in a post last month, a seep happens essentially when ground water reaches the surface. They are like puddles that never dry up and they don’t flow like a stream or brook. In my experience they don’t freeze either, even in the coldest weather. They are always good to look at closely, because many unusual aquatic fungi like eyelash fungi and swamp candles call them home.

The small pond here has been a favorite skating and fishing spot for children for all of my life, and I used to come here to do both when I was a boy. I was never a very good skater though, so I spent more time fishing than skating.

Despite the thin ice sign in the previous photo there were people skating and playing hockey. The pond is plowed each time it snows and it isn’t uncommon for the plow truck to go through the ice, where it sits up to its windows in water until it is towed out. There is a dam holding back the pond and a few years ago it had to be drained so the dam could be worked on, and I was shocked to see how shallow the water was. I think I could walk across it anywhere along its length without getting my hair wet, and I’m not very tall. That gray ice in this photo looks very soft and rotten and with temperatures predicted to be above freezing all week there might be no skating ice left at all by next weekend.

I wanted to show how very clean the water in our streams are by showing you the gravel at the bottom of one through the crystal clear water, but just as I started to click the shutter some snow fell from a tree branch and ruined the shot. Or so I thought; I think this is the only shot of ripples I’ve ever gotten. There is a certain amount of luck in nature photography, I’ve found.

Snow builds up on the branches of evergreens like Eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) and when the weather warms it melts, and in a forest like this on a warm day all that melting snow could make you think it was raining. That’s how it was on this day so I had to keep a plastic bag over the camera.

Fresh snow once again covered everything. I’ve lost count of how many times it has snowed this winter but luckily it has warmed enough between storms to melt much of what has fallen before. Otherwise we’d be in snow up to our eyeballs. It was just a few years ago that I had to shovel snow up over my head because it stayed so cold between storms that none of it melted. I had pathways around the yard that looked like canyons, and I couldn’t see out over the tops of them.

Even in silhouette the thorns of hawthorn (Crataegus) look formidable. And they are; you don’t want to run headlong into one. Another name for the shrub is thorn apple because the small red fruits bear a slight resemblance to apples. These fruits have been used to treat heart disease for centuries and parts of the plant are still used medicinally today.

Something had eaten part of a leaf and turned it into something resembling stained glass.

A young dead hemlock tree’s bark was flaking off in what I thought was an unusual way. Sometimes the platy bark of black cherry trees is described as having a “burnt potato chip” look, but that’s just what the bark of this hemlock reminded me of.

For many years, long before I heard of “forest bathing” or anything of that sort, I’ve believed that nature could heal. In fact in my own life it has indeed healed and has gotten me through some very rough patches, so I really don’t know what I’d do if I could no longer get into the woods. But I recently read of a program where you go into a forest to “heal” by pasting leaves and pinecones to yourself and weaving twigs in your hair and I have to say that it is silliness like this that is driving people away from forests, not toward them. I hope you’ll take the word of someone who has spent his whole life in the woods: you don’t need to do anything, say anything, sing, dance, or anything else to benefit from the healing power of the forest. All you need to do is simply be there. If you want to sing and dance and weave twigs in your hair and paste leaves on your arms by all means do so, but it’s important to me that you know that you don’t have to do any of those things to benefit from nature. And please remember, if something sounds absurd it probably is.

What I think was powdery sunburst lichen (Xanthoria ulophyllodes) grew on a black locust tree. It was very small but thanks to my camera I could see that it was also very beautiful. It can be a real pleasure to find such colorful things when the whole world seems white.

I’ve seen this enough times to know I should look up to see what’s been going on.

Woodpeckers, that’s what’s been going on. In this case a pileated woodpecker, judging by the large rectangular holes.

The snow inside this tree shows how deeply they can drill into the wood, though sometimes they find that the tree is hollow. I’ve seen huge, living trees fall that were completely hollow; it was only their bark and the cambium layer under it that kept them standing.

This tree has had it, I’m afraid. It’s never a good thing to see fungi growing on a living, standing tree and in fact most of them won’t. Many fungi will attack and fruit on only dead and fallen trees because their mission is not to kill, only to decompose. It’s hard to imagine a forest without the decomposers. You wouldn’t be able to walk through it for all the fallen limbs and other litter.

Some bracket fungi are annuals that live for just one year and they turn white when they die, and I thought that was what I was seeing until I ran my hand over these. They were perfectly pliable and very much alive, even after the extreme below zero cold we’ve had. They were also very small; no bigger than my thumbnail.

The small white bracket fungi were very young, I think, and I haven’t been able to identify them. The fragrant bracket (Trametes suaveolens) might be a possibility. This is a photo of the spore bearing surface on their undersides.

There are things that are as beautiful in death as they were in life, and I offer up this empty aster (I think) seed head as proof. Though it is dry and fairly monotone it looks every bit as beautiful as the flower it came from to me.

I’ll tell you what hermits realize. If you go off into a far, far forest and get very quiet, you’ll come to understand that you’re connected with everything. ~Alan watts

Thanks for coming by.

Read Full Post »

I don’t know why I get an itch to start looking at buds at this time of year but I always have. Maybe it makes me think of spring. Buds do give clues that the ground has thawed by taking up water and swelling, and if you watch a bud every other day or so in spring you can see it happen. I usually watch lilac buds, but nothing says spring like the sugar maple buds (Acer saccharum) in the above photo. Sugar maples have large, pointed, very scaly terminal buds flanked by smaller lateral buds on either side. The lateral buds are usually smaller than the terminal bud. Sugar maple twigs and buds are brown rather than red like silver or red maples and the buds have several scales. Buds with many scales that overlap like shingles are called imbricate buds. A gummy resin fills the spaces between the scales and makes the bud waterproof. This is especially important in cold climates because water freezing inside the bud scales would destroy the bud.

For those who can’t see or don’t want to look at small buds like those on sugar maples fortunately there are big buds on plants like rhododendron. It also has imbricate buds that are large enough to see without magnification. Bud scales are modified leaves that cover and protect the bud through winter. Some buds can have several, some have two, some have just one scale called a cap, and some buds are naked, with none at all.

You can see the gummy resin that glues some bud scales together on this gray birch (Betula populifolia) bud. Ruffed grouse will eat both the buds and catkins and pine siskins and black-capped chickadees eat the seeds of gray birch. Yellow-bellied sapsuckers feed on the sap and I’ve seen beavers take an entire clump of gray birch overnight, so they must be really tasty. Deer also browse on the twigs in winter.

Some of the smallest buds I know belong to hawthorns (Crataegus) and the cherry red hawthorn bud in the above photo could easily hide behind a pea. There are over 220 species of hawthorn in North America, with at least one native to every state and Canadian province. In New Hampshire we have 17 species, so the chances of my identifying this example are slim to none. The closest I can come is Gray’s hawthorn (Crataegus flabellata.) I know the tree in the photo well so I know that its blossoms will be white. Hawthorn berries are called haws and are said to have medicinal value. Native Americans mixed the dried haws and other fruits with dried venison and fat to make pemmican.  The dried flowers, leaves, and haws can be used to make a tea to soothe sore throats, and hawthorn also shows promise for treating heart disease.

If you can’t identify a hawthorn by its buds then its thorns will help. On this example they were about 2 inches long and just as sharp as they look. Native Americans made fences around their settlements with brambles and thorny branches like those from hawthorns. They also made very sharp awls and fish hooks from hawthorn thorns.

The lilac buds (Syringa vulgaris) in the above photo are another good example of imbricate buds. Lilac buds are very red and in spring once the plant begins taking up water again they can swell quickly enough to notice, if they’re regularly watched. I’ve watched lilac buds in spring since I was just a small boy and it has always been one of my favorite things to do in the spring. They aren’t swelling yet but it won’t be long before spring is here.

Highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) buds are also imbricate buds, and also very red. It’s interesting that almost everything about the blueberry is red except for its berry. The new twigs are red, the bud scales are red, and the fall foliage is very red.

A bud I most look forward to seeing open is the beech (Fagus grandifolia.) There are beautiful silvery downy edges on the new laves that only last for a day or two, so I watch beech trees closely starting in May. Botanically beech buds are described as “narrow conical, highly imbricate, and sharply pointed.” In May they are one of the most beautiful things in the forest.

Buds with just two (sometimes three) scales are called valvate. The scales meet but do not overlap. This Cornelian cherry bud is a great example of a valvate bud. In the spring when the plant begins to take up water through its roots the buds swell and the scales part to let the bud grow. Some bud scales are hairy and some are covered with sticky resin that further protects the bud. Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) is an ornamental flowering shrub related to dogwoods. It blooms in early spring (in March) with clusters of blossoms that have small, bright yellow bracts. It has a long history with mankind; its sour red fruit has been eaten for over 7000 years, and the Persians and ancient Romans knew it well.

Magnolia flower buds in botanical terms are “densely pubescent, single-scaled, terminal flower buds.” The hairy single scale is called a cap and it will fall off only when the bud inside has swollen to the point of blossoming.

Sycamore bud scales (Platanus occidentalis) are also made of a single brown cap which will fall off to reveal the bud only when the weather warms. When buds are covered by a single bud scale they are encircled completely by a bud scale scar when the scale falls off.

The mountain ash bud (Sorbus americana) in this photo looks like it has a single cap like bud scale but it actually has several overlapping scales which are quite sticky. It looks like a squirrel might have been nibbling at this one.

Red maple flower buds (Acer rubrum) are small and round or oval with short stalks and 4 pairs of bud scales. The bud scales are often purple and / or tomato red. They have a fine fringe of pale hairs on their margins. Red maples can be tapped and syrup made from their sap but the sap gatherers have to watch the trees carefully, because the sap can become bitter when the tree flowers. Seeing the hillsides awash in a red haze from hundreds of thousands of red maple flowers is a treat that I always look forward to. Unfortunately I’ve found that it’s almost impossible to capture that beauty with a camera.

Box elder buds (Acer negundo) and young twigs are often a beautiful blue or purple color due to their being pruinose. Pruinose means a surface is covered in white, powdery, waxy granules that reflect light in ways that often make the surface they are on appear blue. Certain grapes, plums, and blueberries are pruinose fruits. Certain lichens like the beautiful smoky eye boulder lichen have fruiting bodies (Apothecia) that are often pruinose.

Staghorn sumacs (Rhus typhina) have no bud scales at all, so their naked buds are hairy and the hairs protect the bud. Another name for staghorn sumac is velvet tree, and that’s exactly what its branches feel like. Native Americans made a drink from this tree’s berries that tasted just like lemonade, and grinding the berries produces a purple colored, lemon flavored spice.

Hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) is another native shrub with naked buds. This photo shows that the flower bud in the center and the surrounding leaf buds are clothed more in wool than hair, but there are no scales for protection. Still, they come through the coldest winters and still bloom beautifully each spring.

Sometimes there is no flower bud at the end of a hobblebush branch so the leaf buds are able to clasp tightly together, and they always remind me of praying hands. I’m not sure what caused the dark spots on these examples. It’s something I’ve never seen before.

The chubby little green and purple buds of red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) are some of my favorites, but I don’t see them often. I find that being able to identify trees and shrubs when they don’t have leaves adds another layer to the enjoyment of nature study, and I hope readers will try to learn a few. If you are interested in studying tree and shrub buds, start with one in your own yard that you are sure of like a maple tree, and then branch out to those you don’t know well. The following information might be helpful:

A bud scale is made up of modified leaves or stipules that cover and protect the bud in winter. Usually the number of bud scales surrounding a bud will help identify a tree or shrub.

Imbricate bud: A bud with numerous scales that overlap each other like shingles.
Valvate bud: A bud with two or three scales that do not overlap.
Caplike bud: A bud with a single scale that comes off in the spring.
Naked bud: A bud with no scales.

Winter is on my head, but eternal spring is in my heart. ~Victor Hugo

Thanks for stopping in.

 

Read Full Post »

1-snowy-road

This is the road I drove down early one morning after a 5 inch snowfall the night before. The pre-dawn light was really too dim to take photos, but I didn’t let that stop me. It was too pretty, I thought, to pass by without recording it. As Scottish author William Sharp noted: “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.”

2-winter-brook

A small brook wound its way through the woods. I loved its polished black surface against the snow.

3-beech-leaves

Beech leaves provided a touch of color.

4-monadnock

Mount Monadnock loomed dramatically over the surrounding countryside in a view of it that I’ve never shown here before. In another half hour when the sun kissed its flanks it would probably have made an amazingly beautiful scene but I was on my way to work and I didn’t have time to dilly dally. There was snow to move.

5-ice-shelf

Ice shelves have begun forming along the Ashuelot River. This one was clearly visible as a shelf but when they’re completely attached to the river bank and are covered by snow they can create a very dangerous situation, because there are times when you can’t tell if you’re walking on land or on an ice shelf. I’ve caught myself standing on them before and that’s why I now stay well away from rivers in winter unless I know the shoreline well.

6-snow-melt

The dark trunks of trees absorb heat from the sun and reflect it back at the snow, which melts in a ring around it. These melted rings seem to be a magnet for smaller birds and animals like chipmunks and squirrels.

7-black-eye-lichen-tephromela-atra

If I see whitish or grayish spots on tree bark I always like to take a look because it could be a script lichen or some other lichen that I’ve never seen. In this case it was what I think is a black-eye lichen (Tephromela atra.) According to the book Lichens of North America this lichen grows on stone, bark or wood from the tropics to the arctic.

8-black-eye-lichen-tephromela-atra-close

As you can imagine the raised rimmed, black spore bearing apothecia of the black eyed lichen are extremely small, so it’s always a good idea to carry a loupe or a camera with macro capabilities. Many features on this and many other lichens are simply too small to be seen with the eyes alone.

9-mealy-rim-lichen-lecanora-strobilina

Another small lichen on a different tree showed some unusual color in its apothecia but I couldn’t see any definite shape without the camera.

10-mealy-rim-lichen-lecanora-strobilina-close

The book Lichens of North America says the apothecia on the mealy rim-lichen (Lecanora strobilina) are flat to convex and a waxy yellowish color. They grow on bark and wood of many kinds in full sunlight and the apothecia are very small at about .03 inches. Though the color here looks more orangey pink I think the light might have had something to do with that.

11-pixie-cup-lichens

Pixie cup lichens (Cladonia pyxidata) look like tiny golf tees or trumpets, and they are also called trumpet lichens. They are common and I almost always find them growing on the sides of rotting tree stumps. Pixie cups are squamulose lichens, which means they are scaly, but they are also foliose, or leafy. A squamule is a lobe of the body of the lichen (Thallus,) and squamulose lichens are made up of small, leafy lobes. As can be seen in the center of this photo the stalk like cups (podetia) grow out of the leaf like squamules. This is the first time I’ve ever caught it happening in a photo. Pixie Cups were used by certain Eskimo tribes as wicks in their whale blubber lamps. The lichens would be floated in the oil and then lit. The oil would burn off of the lichen but the flame wouldn’t harm it.

12-red-maple-buds

Red maple flower buds (Acer rubrum) are just waiting for the signal from spring. These are one of my favorite early spring flowers and I’m looking forward to seeing them again. The flowers, twigs, leaf stems, seeds, and autumn foliage of this tree all come in varying shades of red. These buds are tomato red, according to my color finding software.

13-hawthorn-bud

Hawthorn buds (Crataegus) are also tomato red but they’re very small; each one no bigger than a single flower bud in the clusters of red maple buds in the previous photo. I had to try several times to get a photo of this one. I think an overcast day might have made things easier. There are over 220 species of hawthorn in North America, with at least one variety native to every state and Canadian province. In New Hampshire we have 17 species, so the chances of my identifying this example are slim to none. Since I see it regularly I know that it has white blossoms.

14-hawthorn-thorn

The hawthorn also has red thorns; as red as its buds and sharp as a pin. This one was about 2 inches long. Hawthorn berries and bark were used medicinally by Native Americans to treat poor blood circulation and other ailments.

15-box-buds

I was surprised to see the flower buds of this boxwood shrub (Buxus) showing color on one recent warm day. I hope it was telling me we’ll have an early spring! Boxwood is called “man’s oldest garden ornamental.” The early settlers must have thought very highly of it because they brought it over in the mid-1600s. The first plants to land on these shores were brought 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.

16-winter-fungi

Jelly creps (Crepidotus mollis) are small, quarter sized “winter mushrooms” that like to grow on hardwood logs. They are also called soft slipper mushrooms and feel kind of spongy and flabby, much like your ear lobe. They grow with an overlapping shelving habit like that seen in the photo.

17-bee-balm-seedhead

The flowers of native scarlet bee balm (Monarda didyma) are tubular and grow out of leafy bracts, and these bracts were all that was left of this bee balm plant. This is the first time I’ve noticed that they had stripes. The Native American Oswego tribe in New York taught the early settlers how to make tea from bee balm. The settlers used it when highly taxed regular tea became hard to find and it has had the name Oswego tea ever since. The plant was also used by Native Americans as a seasoning for game and as a medicine.

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you. Don’t go back to sleep. ~Rumi

Thanks for coming by.

 

Read Full Post »

1. Rail Trail

I decided to visit an old familiar place recently, just to see if it had changed any since my last visit. Now a rail trail, when I was a boy the big Boston and Maine diesels used to roll though here and I spent enough time walking the tracks to know the place as well as I knew my own yard. The view down the trail reminded me of learning how to draw perspective in art class and how easily the concept came to me. I walked here almost daily and the idea of a vanishing point was right there in front of me every time. Way down there where those two steel rails used to look like they came together; that was the vanishing point, and that was where I was going on this day.

 2. Broken Birch

The birches have had a tough time of it this year; that heavy foot of snow we had on Thanksgiving eve was more than some of them could bear. This one broke right in half about half way up its length, and some of the others still haven’t stood back up completely.

 3. Cherry Burl

I saw a burl as big as a soccer ball on a black cherry branch (Prunus serotina.) Seeing something like this would have gotten me excited when I was younger and I would have been off to the library to read all I could about it. If a place can give a gift, then curiosity is the gift that this place gave to me. The things in nature that I saw in here made me curious enough to want to learn about them, and that’s something that’s still with me today.

Burl, for those who don’t know, is an abnormal growth 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 make some very beautiful things from burl and prize burls highly. I find them more on black cherry than any other tree, and I know what they are because of this place.

4. Grafted Elm

Before it died of Dutch elm disease this American elm grafted itself together in two places, both above and below where you can see daylight through the trunks. Natural grafts can’t really be called rare, but this is the first double one I’ve ever seen. The wind blows the trees and they rub together enough to rub off their bark down to the cambium layer, which can then grow together if the two trees are the same species.

 5. Hawthorn Thorn

Years ago the hawthorn trees (Crataegus) I saw here made me want to know why some trees had thorns and others didn’t, so I got ahold of a used 1858 copy of Asa Gray’s How Plants Grow to see if he knew. Gray was a hero of mine but he sure did write some awfully dry books, and if I hadn’t been so interested in plants I don’t think I could have made it through many of them. I learned a lot about the various ways plants defend themselves from his books though, including using thorns, spines and prickles.

6. Snow Depth

Because snowmobiles pack it down so much it’s very hard to judge how deep the snow is along these trails, so I was surprised when I came to a slushy spot and saw that it wasn’t more than an inch deep. It’s still pretty tough getting into the woods but spring is coming.

7. Woods

What are woods here now used to be all cornfields when I was a boy and it seems strange knowing that I’m older than the trees. When I think about it though, I suppose even the youngsters among us are older than at least some of the trees. Maybe it’s getting to meet the trees that I know are younger than me that makes it feel so strange. I like the way these woods have grown up to have a light and airy, uncrowded feel. These trees are mostly red maple and they don’t mind the occasional spring floods that happen here.

8. Winged Euonymus

I was dismayed but not really surprised to see some very invasive burning bushes (Euonymus alatus) growing here. These open woodlands are just the kind of place these shade tolerant shrubs love to grow in. Their shallow root systems and the shade they cast mean that native plants can’t get a start, so before long you have a monoculture made up of invasives. The plant is also called winged euonymus because, as the above photo shows, they have corky ridges or “wings” that grow along their stems.

9. Euonymus Pod

There were only 3 or 4 burning bushes here but they were big and had grown thousands of berries. Unfortunately the birds had eaten every single one of them and all that was left were the once purple pods.

10. Side Rails on Trestle

This old trestle marks the vanishing point that we saw in the first photo. Of course you can’t ever reach it because it moves with you (see-there is another one way down there) but it was a great thing for a young school boy to spend time thinking about. If you walk from vanishing point to vanishing point before you know it you’re in Swanzey with very tired feet, unless you cross country ski it like I used to. That’s another thing I learned how to do here.

11. Beard Lichen

Snowmobile clubs have put wooden safety railings all along these old trestles and there was a great example of a fishbone beard lichen (Usnea filipendula) growing on the weathered wood of this one. There are many lichens that prefer growing on wood, but it doesn’t always have to be in tree form.

12. Trestle Rivet

I’ve always wondered how these old steel trestles were built but I never have been able to find out. I don’t know if they were built in factories and shipped to the site to be assembled or if they were built right in place. Either way I’m sure there was an awful lot of rivet hammering going on. I do know that the stones for the granite abutments that these trestles rest on were taken from boulders and outcroppings in the immediate area, but I think they must have had to ship them from somewhere else in this case because there is little granite of any size to be found here.

13. Trestle Rivets

I’ve always been a lover of solitude and when I was young this is the place I came when I wanted to be alone, because back then you could sit on this old trestle all day without seeing another soul. It was a good place to just sit and think or watch the many birds and animals that came to drink from the river. I don’t come here very often these days because solitude is easier to come by now and the place seems to bring on an ache that’s hard to understand. Maybe it’s an ache for another shot at boyhood or maybe it’s just simple nostalgia, but it always seems to end with the feeling that there’s an empty place somewhere inside of me. Maybe that’s why I only visit about once each year.

 14. Brook View

Hurricane brook starts up in the northern part of Keene near a place called Stearns Hill. Then it becomes White Brook for a while before emptying into Black Brook. Black Brook in turn empties into Ash Swamp and the outflow from the swamp becomes Ash Swamp Brook. Finally it all meets the Ashuelot River right at this spot. Confused? Me too; it has taken me about 50 years to figure all of that out. Why so many name changes? I don’t know, but I’m guessing that the settlers in the northern part of Keene and the settlers here in the southern part didn’t realize that they were both looking at the same brook. I wonder if anyone has ever followed it from here to its source. It would be quite a hike.

15.Embankment

This bluff where the brook meets the river is where bank swallows used to nest. They are social birds and nest together in large colonies that sometimes number in the thousands. What I find fascinating is how the male birds dig nest holes using their feet, wings, and tiny beaks, and these holes can be 2 feet deep. They nest near water and eat insects, and that explains why there were never any mosquitos here. The swallows are a good example of how this place has taught me so much over the years; I didn’t know exactly what kind of birds they were and I had to look them up. After all these years I still learn something when I come here, and it could be that the most important lesson I’ve learned is, as author Thomas Wolfe said, that you can’t go home again.

The past is for learning from and letting go. You can’t revisit it. It vanishes. ~Adele Parks

Thanks for coming by.

 

Read Full Post »

1. Storefronts

In 2003 bulldozers and dump trucks moved onto a local wetland and began tearing it up. After two years had passed what was left was a sprawling 70 acre suburban eyesore, and any trace of what was once a natural wetland was gone. Or so I thought. I’ve been keeping an eye on this place since it was built just to see what kind of an impact it would have on the natural surroundings and I’ve been surprised again and again.

2. Pond

When they built the shopping center they also built a retention basin to manage runoff and hopefully improve the quality of the water that makes it into the Ashuelot River and from there ultimately to the Atlantic Ocean. Retention basins are described as “artificial lakes with vegetation around the perimeter which include a permanent pool of water in their design.”  This is more of a pond than a lake but it is able to hold the runoff from drainage ditches that were dug around the entire perimeter. The pond did come very close to flooding one summer but that was because beavers moved in and immediately dammed the outflow channel. The beavers also began cutting down and feeding on the very expensive ornamental trees that the landscape architects ordered, but they didn’t get far. After they dropped the first thousand dollar Bradford pear they “disappeared” and I haven’t seen a beaver here since.

3. Juniper Berries

For some unknown reason, possibly to keep people from driving into it, they built long mounds of earth called berms all along the edges of the parking lots and roadways near the retention pond. The berms are about 5-6 feet high but apparently that wasn’t enough so they planted evergreens on top of them. They used spruce, balsam fir, white pine and juniper and they do a great job of completely hiding any hint of of water. The junipers here fruit heavier than any I’ve seen and I wanted to get a photo of the beautiful blue berries (actually modified cones). So there I was with my Panasonic Lumix point and shoot that I use for macro photos all warmed up and ready to go when a blackish colored head popped up out of the snow not three feet from where I stood. It saw me and immediately dropped back down into the snow, but just a few seconds later popped up again and stared at me. I felt like I was playing one of those Whack a Mole games. “Well hello there,” I said, “what are you doing here?” A stupid question if there ever was one I know, but it was all I could think of with such short notice.

4. Mink on the Run-3

And then after a few seconds of trying to figure out what I was off it went, bounding over the snow, so I just pointed the Panasonic in its general direction and without even looking through the view finder clicked the shutter as fast as my finger could go. The very poor photo above is the result, but it along with a lot of detective work tells me that this sleek blackish brown animal with white under his chin and a tail that tapers to a point is very probably an American Mink. He was about 2 feet long and his round hairy tail made up about a third of his length.

5. Burrow

This explained how he could pop up out of the snow without having snow all over his face and head. Minks are burrowing animals but they usually take over the burrows of muskrats and other animals in embankments along rivers and ponds instead of digging them themselves. They are carnivores and eat just about anything including frogs, mice and voles, fish, and birds. They also kill and eat muskrats and will go right into their burrows to do so. I haven’t been able to find any information on whether or not they bother beavers but I wondered if minks could be responsible for the mysterious disappearance of the beavers from this pond.

6. MinkTracks

If I understand what I’ve read correctly, one way to tell a mink from other members of the weasel family is by its bounding gait. This one was a real bounder and moved surprisingly fast. Rough measurements with my monopod tell me that there are about 14 inches between these prints. Minks can also climb trees and this one headed right for the evergreens along the top of the berm.

7. Paw Prints

I went back the next day to see if I could get photos of the mink’s tracks but because of the powdery snow he bounded through the tracks were barely visible. The ones in this photo were the best and they aren’t great, but one of them does show claw marks.  I’ve read that minks have paws that are slightly webbed, but nothing like the webbing that otters have. The State Fish and Game website says that minks and other members of the weasel family are very rarely seen, so I feel lucky to have gotten these photos even if they aren’t great.

8. Poplar Sunburst Lichen

After the excitement of seeing the mink died down I decided to visit one of my favorite lichens, the poplar sunburst (Xanthoria hasseana.) These lichens grow on the Bradford pear trees that grow alongside the pond and this is the only place that I’ve ever seen them. I’ve been visiting them for several years and each year they get more beautiful. The parts that look like suction cups are their fruiting bodies (apothecia) where their spores are produced.

 9. Hawthorn Fruit

For the most part the landscaping here seems uninspired and unimaginative, but there are bright spots like the two or three hawthorn (Crataegus) trees planted off in a corner where few ever see them.  They usually fruit quite heavily and the birds snap up the berry-like haws quickly. The haws, botanically speaking, are pomes, like apples and pears.  One odd fact about hawthorns is how their young leaves and flower buds are edible and can be used in salads.

10. Hawthorn Thorn

If the haws and the roundish, bright red buds don’t convince you that you’re looking at a hawthorn then the sharp, inch long thorns probably will.

 11.Spruce

I thought I’d use some of the evergreens that they planted on the berms to show you an easy way to tell a spruce from a fir. One way is by their cones. Spruce cones hang down from the branches.

12. Balsam Fir

And fir cones stand up on the branches like candles. This isn’t a great example but it’s the best I could find. Fir cones break apart as they ripen and the thing that looks like a skinny mushroom over on the upper right is what is left behind. Just a stalk and a few scales at the top. Since cones usually appear high up in the tree and are often only produced in 3-5 year cycles it’s wise to learn how to tell conifers apart by other means. Needle shape, length and color, bark appearance, overall growth habits and fragrance can all be used to identify conifers. Since spruce needles are sharp, stiff and square and fir needles are soft, flexible and flat I would have known these trees even if they hadn’t had cones, but the differences would have been much harder to illustrate here.

13. Meadow

The strip of unbroken snow in the foreground of the above photo is one of the drainage ditches and I come here in summer to take photos of arrowhead, nodding burr marigold and other wetland wildflowers that grow in great abundance here. This is a good spot to photograph them because I can get closer to them than I can when they grow in pond water. In the mini meadow in the background goldenrod, Joe Pye weed, boneset, purple loosestrife and other taller wildflowers create scenes worthy of a Monet painting in late summer.

14. Alder Tounge Gall

Native shrubs in the area include various willows, sumacs, and common alder (Alnus glutinosa). The long strap shaped growths coming out of the female alder cones (strobiles) in the above photo are tongue galls caused by a fungus called Taphrina alni. The fungus causes a chemical reaction that deforms the alder strobiles and produces the tongue like galls. Early in the season when the galls are fresh they’re green but as they age they can become yellow, pink, red, purple or orange. Once they mature they turn brown or black and often stay on the strobiles until the next season. I always seem to miss their younger, more colorful stages.

Note: Julie has correctly pointed out that common Alder is a native of Europe. It also goes by the name of black or European alder and was introduced by the earliest settlers. It has taken well to its new home and is seen everywhere here in New Hampshire along with our native gray or speckled alder (Alnus incana.) It is so common that I think of it as a native, even though I know better. Thanks Julie!

15. Hawk

I happened to glance up and saw this hawk sitting on a light pole. I think it’s the same red tailed hawk that I’ve seen in the general area several times before, but I’m not positive about that identification. It’s a big bird; bigger than a crow-and always sits on the highest point available, watching open fields. I’m sorry again about the poor quality of these photos but I’m pretty sure if I could get a look into this bird’s nest I’d find a Canon Powershot SX40 manual that it reads when it isn’t out hunting, because every time I see him / her it makes sure that it is just beyond what the zoom on my camera can comfortably handle. These shots were taken at what would be the equivalent of about 840mm with a DSLR and I still had to crop them.

16. Hawk

When I’m around this bird never sits still long enough to even think about getting the camera on a monopod or tripod. As soon as it sees me with a camera it flies off. I wonder what the mink’s chances are now that it has moved into the neighborhood. If I were him I think I’d be just a bit worried.

Surprisingly, as this walk around this strip mall shows, nature seems to be thriving here. In fact if you include the mink and the hawk, I’ve actually seen a greater cross section of nature here than I usually do in the woods. While I was taking these photos and thinking about what I was seeing I had a strong feeling that nature couldn’t wait to reclaim this land.

Nature is what you see plus what you think about it. ~John Sloan

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »

This is another post full of things I’ve seen in the woods which, for one reason or another, didn’t fit into other posts.

1. European  Barberry Thorns aka Berberis vulgaris

Early settlers planted European barberry (Berberis vulgaris) so they could make jam from its fruit and yellow dye from its bark. This plant, along with American barberry (Berberis canadensis) plays host to wheat rust disease and has been slowly but surely undergoing eradication by the U.S. government.  Both plants have clusters of 3 or more thorns, but American barberry doesn’t grow in New England. Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii), grows in New England but it has just a single thorn under each leaf or cluster of leaves.

2. Boston Ivy Berries

Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) looks a lot like English ivy (Hedera helix), but English ivy is evergreen and Boston ivy is deciduous, with leaves that turn bright red in the fall before falling. Both plants will climb trees, brick walls, and just about anything else in their path. This photo shows the plant’s dried (and probably frozen) berries. Interestingly, the plant is from Eastern Asia, not Boston.

3. Hydrangea

Some hydrangea blossoms stay on the plant throughout winter and will eventually come to look “skeletonized” and lace like. I keep checking mine, but it hasn’t happened yet.

 4. Indian Pipe Seed Pod

Indian pipe flowers (Monotropa uniflora) are nodding until they have been pollinated, and then they stand straight up. The seed pods dry that way and take on the look of old wood. This capsule will split down its sides into 5 parts to release its seeds. It is said that Native Americans had a story that this plant first appeared where an Indian had dumped some white ashes from his pipe.

5. Marble Gall on Oak

The hole in the side of this oak marble gall tells me that the gall wasp (Andricus kollari) that lived inside it has grown and flown.

6. Witch's Broom on Blueberry

Witch’s broom is a deformity described as a “dense mass of shoots growing from a single point, with the resulting structure resembling a broom or a bird’s nest.” The example in the photo is on a highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum ) and was caused by a fungus (Pucciniastrum goeppertianum). This fungus spends part of its life cycle on the needles of balsam fir (Abies balsamea). When it releases its spores and they land on the stems and leaves of the blueberry, it becomes infected. The fungus overwinters on blueberry bushes and in the spring again releases spores which will infect even more balsam fir trees and the cycle will begin again. In my experience witch’s broom doesn’t affect fruit production.

 7. Hawthorn Fruit

Hawthorns (Crataegusmight have evolved thorns to keep animals away but they don’t keep birds away. This bush had been stripped of every fruit except one tired old, mummified haw.

 8. Winterberry Fruit

There are still plenty of fruit on the winterberry bushes (Ilex verticillata), but they’re starting to whither a bit too. Winterberry is a deciduous native holly with berries that have a low fat content, so birds tend to leave them until last, when it gets a little warmer.  Even so, it is said that 48 different species of birds and many small mammals eat them. Native Americans used the bark of this shrub medicinally to treat inflammations and fevers, which explains how it came by another of its common names: fever bush. It was also used as a substitute for quinine in parts of the U.S. in the 18th century.

9. Disk Lichen aka Lecidella stigmatea

The body (Thallus) of a rock disk lichen (Lecidella stigmatea) can be gray or whitish, but can also be stained green, red-brown or black, so sometimes it’s hard to know what you’ve found. My color finding software sees gray with green in this example. This lichen’s fruiting bodies (Apothecia) are flat or convex dark brown or black disks. This lichen is similar to tile lichens, but the fruiting bodies on tile lichens are always sunken into the body of the lichen rather than even with or standing above it. The rock it was on was wet and that’s why it’s so shiny.

 12. Small White Cup Shaped Fungi

I think these tiny things might be bird’s nest fungi, but I can’t be sure because there are no “eggs” in them. The eggs are actually fruiting bodies that contain spores and are called peridioles. These peridioles have hard waxy coatings and get splashed out of the cup shaped “nest” by raindrops. Once the outer coating wears away the spores can germinate.

11. Small White Cup Shaped Fungi

If you have ever shot an air rifle (BB gun) and know what a “BB” is, picture a single BB filling one of these cups. For those of you unfamiliar with BB guns, most BBs are 0.171 to 0.173 inches (4.3 to 4.4 mm) in diameter. If you would like to see some great photos of bird’s nest fungi with their eggs,  Rick at the Between Blinks blog just did a post about them. You can get there by clicking here.

13. Oak Leaves

Oak leaves curl into each other in the winter as if to keep warm.  I can’t think of any other leaves that do this.

14. Burdock Seeds

When viewing a seed head from the burdock plant (Arctium species) in an extreme close up it’s easy to see why they stick to everything. When Swiss inventor George de Mestral pulled a bunch of burrs from his pants and looked at them under a microscope in 1940, he came up with the hook and loop system that is called Velcro today. The word Velcro comes from the words velour and crotchet. Not surprising really, since the burr seeds look like tiny crochet hooks.

The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself. ~Henry Miller

Thanks for stopping in.

 

Read Full Post »

These photos are of what nature has shown me over the last week or so.

1. Hornet's Nest

Piece of a hornet’s nest blew down onto the snow, so I had to get a picture of it. It looks very abstract and I wonder if I would guess that it was a picture of part of a hornet’s nest if I didn’t already know.

2. Hornet's Nest

When I took pictures of it with the new Panasonic macro master camera, it was even more abstract, but also more interesting and beautiful.

3. Goldspeck LichenCommon gold speck lichen (Candelariella vitellina) grows on granite rock in full sun. This crustose lichen grows in small patches in this area so I always need a macro lens for it. The fruit bearing bodies of this lichen are tiny, flat discs-so small that I’m not even sure that I could get a picture of them.

4. Turtlehead Seed Pods

I took a picture of turtlehead blossoms (Chelone glabra) last fall and wrote that I didn’t really see any resemblance to a real turtle’s head. A friend said just the opposite-he thought the blossoms looked just like turtle heads. Now, on the other side of the solstice, the seed pods do remind me of turtle heads- a bunch of hungry, snapping turtle heads. According to the U.S. Forest Service this native plant is also called balmony, bitter herb, codhead, fish mouth, shellflower, snakehead, snake mouth, and turtle bloom.

5. Hawthorn

The hawthorn (Crataegus species) is a tree that doesn’t mess around and is not about to be used as browse for moose and deer. Its 1-1/2 inch long thorns are every bit as sharp as they look, and they keep the browsers away. The unlucky person who finds themselves tangled in a hawthorn thicket will most likely need some new clothes. And maybe some time to heal.

6. Lowbush Blueberry in Snow

I like the way the branching structure of shrubs and trees is so visible in the winter .This is a low bush blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium) no more than 8 inches tall.

7. Oak Leaf on Snow

Something about this oak leaf on top of the snow grabbed me, but I’m not sure what it was. Maybe that it seemed so alone.

8. Rose Hips

Rose hips are the fruit of a rose. In this case the plant is a multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora,) which is considered an invasive species. Its small red hips are one of the most colorful things in the winter landscape. Unfortunately, birds like them and spread them everywhere. I think I could have worked on the depth of field a little more in this picture, but you get the idea.

 9. Intermediate Woodfern

Intermediate woodfern (Dryopteris spinulosa var. intermedia) doesn’t let a little snow slow it down. This is one of our native evergreen ferns and is also called American shield fern, evergreen woodfern, or fancy fern. This clump I saw growing on a boulder was smaller than my hand.

10. Tall Grass I drive by this clump of tall grass quite often and have admired not only its 4 foot height, but also its resilience. It’s been through two snow storms and still stands proud as the tallest weed in the field. 

11. Oak Leaves Close Up

I took a couple of pictures of a cluster of oak leaves that interested me because of the way they hung-they seemed to all be clasping each other, trying to stay warm. When I got home and looked at the photo though, I didn’t like it. Then I cropped it just to see what would happen, and it became an entirely different picture that I do like.

The tree which moves some to tears of joy is, in the eyes of others, only a green thing that stands in the way ~William Blake

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »