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Posts Tagged ‘Ice Crystals’

Last Sunday was a beautiful but chilly day at about 30 degrees F. After almost two weeks of cold weather I thought I’d visit a local beaver swamp to see how they were doing. If beavers haven’t stored enough food underwater before their ponds freeze they can be in serious trouble, and this year the ponds have frozen earlier than average.

What might look like water is actually ice; very smooth ice, but also thin. I walked out on it and didn’t get too  far before it started creaking and cracking, so I quickly returned to shore.

There is a trail of sorts that leads a little way around the swamp. There were lots of fallen trees out here but they were caused by wind and old age, not beavers.

This one broke off about 10 feet up, making it a challenge for a chainsaw. Widow makers they call these, and for good reason.

Stone walls tell me someone used to live out here and farm this land before the beavers took it over. Nobody did the back breaking labor of clearing stones from the land unless it was absolutely necessary, so this wall wasn’t built here for the fun of it. I’m guessing it probably dates from the late 1700s to early 1800s. Many farmers went off to work in factories in the mid-1800s after the industrial revolution and gave up farming, and their pastures slowly returned to forest.

Vinca (Vinca minor) is one of the plants you often find near old stone walls and cellar holes. Others are wild roses, lilacs and peonies. All were passed from one neighbor to another. This colony is one of the largest stands of vinca I’ve seen and it still grows and blooms beautifully after hundreds of years. The word vinca means “to bind” in Latin, and that’s what the plant’s wiry stems do.

I was going to say that there wasn’t a cloud in the sky but there was one shy one hiding behind some trees.

Not all the water here was frozen. This is a seep, which happens 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. They’re also an important water source for many small animals and birds.

Stilted trees grow from seeds that fall on a rotted log or stump and grow their roots around the stump or log. Once the stump or log rots away what is left is a tree that looks like it’s standing on stilts. The strange thing about this stilted tree though, is how it grew over a stone. I don’t see them do that very often. I’m guessing that, probably over centuries, enough leaves fell on that stone to eventually turn into humus. Enough at least for a tree seed to sprout.

This is more what I’d expect from a stilted tree. Whatever it grew on has rotted into the soil and now it looks like it’s running away.

This beaver pond has two beaver lodges in it and this is one of them. I don’t know if that means there are two families of beavers or if one family uses both lodges. Beavers will move into a place, dam a stream to make a pond, and cut all the nearby trees and then move on. Their pond will eventually drain and new trees will start to grow, and then they will move back again to repeat the cycle. I’ve read that it takes about thirty years to go once around the cycle. I’m not sure what stage of the cycle this pond is in but I’ve never seen freshly cut trees here.

There are lots of standing deadwood here and that usually means it’s a good place for great blue herons to nest. I’ve seen the big birds fishing here but I’ve never seen one of their huge nests in any of the trees. What struck me most about this place was the quiet. I heard a bird or two but for the most part it was absolutely still, and that’s a rare and wonderful thing.

Here was a sign of beavers. I think that dark line of ice was made by beavers trying to keep their channel from freezing. But freeze it did, later than the rest of the pond, and that means thinner, darker ice.

Much of the ice was made up of large crystals.

Leaves were frozen into the ice in places and they were white with rime.

Scratches on a tree were too small for a bear. I’d guess it was a bobcat because I found wild turkey wings very close to this spot one day. Bobcats are one of the most common predators of wild turkeys. According to the New Hampshire Department of Fish and Game “Based on observation reports occurring over the previous 20 years, bobcat numbers appear to have increased in New Hampshire. They  take advantage of environmental conditions, such as winter snow depth, to kill large prey, such as deer and turkey.”

Seeing green goldthread leaves was enough to have me longing for spring, even though winter hasn’t yet arrived. Goldthread (Coptis trifolia) gets its common name from its bright yellow, thread like roots. Native Americans showed early colonists how to chew the roots to relieve the pain of canker sores and that led to the plant being called canker root. It became such a popular medicine that the Shakers were paying 37 cents per pound for dried roots in 1785 and people dug up all they could find. At one time more goldthread was sold in Boston than any other plant, and of course that meant the plant came close to being lost. Two centuries of being left alone have brought healing to Goldthread though, and today I see the tiny but beautiful white flowers quite regularly in April.

Many mosses will grow on wood, stone or soil and delicate fern moss (Thuidium delicatulum) is one of them. Delicate fern moss is a beautiful little thing that isn’t as delicate as its name implies, but it certainly is fern like. The leaves of this moss are often bright yellow green in fall and are dull rather than shiny. It is fairly common and easy to find because it often forms very large mats. It grew on many of the logs here.

American wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens,) is also called teaberry or checkerberry and it is the first wild plant that I learned to identify, with the help of my grandmother. We used to love to eat the bright red minty tasting berries. It’s probably the easiest of all wintergreens to identify because of the strong, minty scent that comes from its crushed leaves. If you have ever tasted teaberry gum then you know exactly what it smells and tastes like. The plant contains compounds that are very similar to those found in aspirin and Native Americans used it much like we use aspirin. Its leaves often turn purple as the nights get colder, as these plants show. The name teaberry comes from a pleasing tea that can be made from the leaves. Squirrels, chipmunks, mice, grouse, partridges, bobwhites, turkeys, fox, deer and bears eat the berries.

There is a much studied phenomenon called the Red Bark Phenomenon, and scientists have devoted much time studying trees with colored bark all over New England. It isn’t always red; it can be orange as well. It affects all kinds of trees, both conifers and deciduous, and many different species. I’ve seen it here and there on tree bark and after a lot of research a few years ago I found that it was caused by the algae Trentepohlia, which is a genus of filamentous chlorophyte green algae in the family Trentepohliaceae It appears on tree trunks, stones and is even present in many lichens. So if you see a tree with red bark there isn’t anything wrong. It’s just algae looking for a place to perch.

Hope and the future for me are not in lawns and cultivated fields, not in towns and cities, but in the impervious and quaking swamps. ~Henry David Thoreau

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1. Moon Set

The full moon was setting over Half Moon Pond in Hancock early one morning so I took a photo of it with my cell phone. The muted pastel colors were beautiful I thought, but the cell phone’s camera overexposed the moon. Its gray cratered surface was much more visible than is seen here.  A lone ice fisherman’s hut stood on the ice, even though thin ice warnings have been repeated time and again this winter.

2. Red Elderberry Buds

This is the time of year that I start wondering about bud growth and what the trees are doing. I saw some red elderberry buds (Sambucus racemosa) recently that were quite a beautiful sight on a winter day. Though they didn’t have as much purple on the scales as I’ve seen in the past they reminded me of spring.

3. Sap Lines

One reason I’m interested in what buds are doing so early is due to my seeing a photo captioned “The Weird Season” in the local newspaper. It showed two tree tappers tapping trees in a sugar bush, and they said that the sap is running because December was so warm. Though the photo was recent last week we didn’t see 32 degrees or above for a single day, so I doubt the sap ran for long. I suppose though when you have 6000 trees to tap you’re anxious to get started. The above photo shows how tapping is done these days; with a plastic tube running from tree to tree and then to a collection tank or the sugar shack. A vacuum pump helps gravity make sure the sap flows as it should. It’s quicker and easier for the syrup makers and is also more sanitary but I prefer seeing the old steel buckets hanging on the trees.

4. Tap Hole in Maple

There are insects that can make a perfectly round hole in a tree but the above photo shows a tap hole in a maple, drilled last year. It’s about a half inch in diameter and the tree is most likely working to heal it.

5. Rose Hip

The hips of the Alberta wild rose (Rosa acicularis) and the soft downy-rose (Rosa mollis) are the only ones I’ve heard of that have prickles. I’ve never seen them on rugosa rose hips. I’m not sure which these are but the birds haven’t touched a single one of them.

6. Brook Ice

I took a walk along Beaver Brook in Keene to see if there were any ice formations. There were and they had grown quickly.  From the water to the top of the ice was about 3 feet, I’d guess, so this would not be a good hole to fall into.

7. Brook Ice

It’s amazing to think that a river or stream can stop itself with ice. Beaver Brook wasn’t dammed up but I could see how it might easily happen. Last year the brook had so much ice on it that hardly a trickle of water could be heard in places where it is usually quite noticeable. It was if it had frozen solid, right down to its gravel bed.

8. Ice Crystals

For the third time this winter I’ve found very long, sharply pointed ice crystals. Temperature and humidity are said to determine the forms that crystals take but I don’t know why the temperature and humidity this winter would be telling the ice to grow so long and pointed. Humidity seems low but the temperature is 4 degrees above average for the month. This makes 3 months in a row with temperatures above average, and maybe it’s having an effect on the ice. Lake, pond and river ice all seem normal.

9. Frost Crack on Birch

While I was at the brook I saw a yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis) with a healed frost crack. Frost cracks happen when the sun warms the tree during the day and the temperature drops quickly at night. If you’re in or near the woods at night in winter you can often hear the trees splitting and cracking, and sometimes it’s as loud as a rifle shot. Frost cracks can heal in the summer when the tree produces a new layer of inner bark to heal the wound but then can crack again in winter. When this repeated healing and cracking happens over the course of a few years the buildup of new tissue can create a frost rib like that seen in the photo.

10. Frullania Liverwort

When it gets cold dark purple, almost black spots appear on the bark of some trees. They are really there all the time but are kind of a reddish color and not quite so noticeable at other times of year when there are so many other things to see. Those who think they’ve never seen a liverwort might want to stop and take a closer look at these dark blotches because they are Frullania liverworts, one of the few liverworts that can thrive in dry places.

11. Frullania Liverwort

There are about 800 species of Frullania liverworts and many grow as epiphytes on the bark of trees and shrubs where the humidity is high. Epiphytic plants take nothing from the host plants they grow on, so this liverwort does no harm to trees. It can look very lacy and fern like at times. Sometimes it reminds me of the beautiful fan corals found on distant coral reefs, as the above example does.

12. Frullania Liverwort 2

The very small leaves of the Frullania liverwort were strung together like beads. Some Frullania liverworts are said to be very fragrant so I’ll have to smell some and see.

13. Candle Flame Lichen

This crabapple tree was encrusted with fringed candle flame lichen (Candelaria fibrosa.) This lichen seems to be trying to tell me that certain lichens prefer certain trees. So far I’ve seen it only on crabapple trees.

14. Candle Flame Lichen 2

Fringed candle flame lichen is extremely small and looks like a tiny pile of scrambled eggs as you get closer. From a distance it can look like a yellow powder on the tree’s bark.

15. Script Lichen

It seems that script lichen is another lichen that produces spores in winter; at least that’s when I see their squiggly spore bearing bodies (Apothecia) appear.

16. Script Lichen

A close look shows that the apothecia sit on the grayish body (Thallus) of this lichen, making them look as if they were beautifully painted on rather than etched into the surface. I think this example is the common script lichen (Graphis scripta.) There is another script lichen called the asterisk lichen (Arthonia radiata) that I’ve always wanted to see. It has apothecia that look just like asterisks.

17. Lily Pad

Someone found a water lily leaf in the river and put it on a stone as if it were a beautiful sculpture on a plinth. I loved it for its veins and its rich red-brown color and its missing pieces, and I left it not knowing or caring how long I’d sat beside it. Where does the time go?

Go to the winter woods: listen there; look, watch, and ‘the dead months’ will give you a subtler secret than any you have yet found in the forest. ~ Fiona Macleod

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1. 15 Below

So what do you do when nature breaks off a piece of the polar vortex and the temperature drops to -15 F (-26 C)?

2. Ice Crystasls

If you’re like me you take pictures of thermometers and the frost crystals on your windows.

 3. Ice Crystal

There were plenty of crystals and I wasn’t going anywhere for a while, because my truck’s battery was dead.

4. Ice Crystals

But too much of a good thing can lead to boredom and, since the sun had finally warmed it up to +15 F, it was time to take a little walk.

5. Wind Sculpted Snow

Not only did I feel the sting of the wind, I could see what it had created while it had howled during the night.

6. Puddle Ice

The puddle in the driveway froze solid when it was about 3 inches deep and then cracked to pieces.

 7. Crack in Pond Ice

Pond ice was also cracking and sounded like rifle shots. A crack caused by a change in temperature is called a thermal crack. Apparently the weak sunshine could warm ice, but it wasn’t doing much to warm me.

8. Footprints to Pine

The snow under a white pine isn’t as deep as it is in the open, so a critter decided to explore.  It could have been the rabbit that lives in this area, but it was too cold to stand around wondering.

 9. Folded Snow

The wind can do some strange things to snow. Here it had folded it.

 10. Snow Wave 2

On the corner of a building the wind sculpted what looks to be a swan or a snow goose. I’m not sure about the placement of the pine needle.

11. Frost on River Ice

There were thousands of little piles of what looked like hoar frost crystals on the river ice. I didn’t dare walk on it to find out for sure.

 12. Sunset on Ice 

After our coldest night in years the sun gave us plenty of light but little heat and it seemed like the ice was winning the battle. It would be another below zero night. The rumor is that the vortex might have another go at us next week. As I write this we have 64 days, 16 hours, 13 minutes, and 15 seconds until spring.

Nothing burns like the cold. ~ George R.R. Martin

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We haven’t had any measurable snow yet, but our mornings have been frosty.

Ice coats everything on some mornings. 

Ice needles will only grow when the temperature at the soil surface is below freezing and hydrostatic pressure forces cooled, unfrozen water to the surface. Though they often grow in bundles like those in the photo, each individual needle can be as thin as a human hair. If you’d like to learn more about them, just click here

Ice crystals are forming on my windshield each morning, and I wondered if I could get pictures of them.

Like snowflakes, each one is different. Our ponds are freezing and staying frozen during the daytime, so we won’t see much open water here until spring. This pond is called Perkin’s Pond and the mountain is Mt. Monadnock, a well-known local landmark.

Alongside the river, ice forms on anything that comes into contact with its water. 

Even tree sap froze as it dripped from a wound. 

Our sunsets are colorful but deceiving; any heat they hold lies only in our imagination.

Frost grows on the window glass, forming whorl patterns of lovely translucent geometry.
Breathe on the glass, and you give frost more ammunition.
Now it can build castles and cities and whole ice continents with your breath’s vapor.
In a few blinks you can almost see the winter fairies moving in . . .
But first, you hear the crackle of their wings ~Vera Nazarian

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