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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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1-the-ashuelotEvery single time I walk the banks of the Ashuelot River without fail I see something new or unexpected, and this rainy day I spent exploring its banks in Swanzey was no exception. I hope you won’t mind the dreariness of some of these photos. I had to take what nature gave me and after such a long drought a little rain was very welcome.  Ashuelot is pronounced ash-wee-lot or ash-will-lot depending on who you ask. It is thought to mean “ the place between” by Native American Pennacook or Natick tribes.

2-multiflora-rose-hips

Raindrops on multiflora rose hips (Rosa multiflora) told the story of the day. The many hips on this single plant show why it’s so invasive. It originally came from China and, as the old familiar story goes, almost immediately escaped and started to spread rapidly. It grows over the tops of shrubs and smothers them by hogging all the available sunshine and I’ve seen it grow 30 feet into a tree. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it was imported more for its scent than any other reason, because to smell it is like smelling a bit of heaven on earth.

3-pumpkin

A pumpkin floated downriver. In October 2010 close to 100,000 pumpkins were washed into the Connecticut River during flooding in Bradford, Vermont. This one will probably go to the Atlantic, just like they did.

4-milkweed-seed

What I thought was a feather in the sand turned out to be a milkweed seed. Though many insects feed on milkweed and birds use the fluffy down from its seed pods for nest building, I’ve never found any reference to birds or animals eating any part of the plant.

5-juniper-haircap-moss

Juniper haircap moss plants (Polytrichum juniperinum) look like tiny green starbursts there among the river stones.

6-badge-moss

Badge moss (Plagiomnium insigne) is a pretty little moss that loves to grow in shady moist places and along stream banks. This was the first time I had ever seen it growing here though I’ve walked this river bank countless times. The long oval leaves have a border of tiny sharp teeth and become dull and shriveled looking when they’re dry. It looked like something had been eating them.

7-beech-leaves

Beech leaves have gone pale and dry, and rustle in the wind. They’re very pretty at all stages of their life, I think. One of the things I look forward to most each spring is beech buds unfurling. Just for a short time they look like silver angel wings.

8-split-gill-fungus

Split gill mushrooms (Schizophyllum commune) had their winter coats on, as usual. These are “winter” mushrooms that are usually about the size of a dime but can occasionally get bigger than that. They grow on every continent except Antarctica and because of that are said to be the most studied mushroom on earth. Their wooly coats make them very easy to identify.

9-split-gill-fungus

The “gills” on the split gill fungus are actually folds on its underside that split lengthwise when it dries out. The splits close over the fertile surfaces as the mushroom shrivels in dry weather. When rehydrated by rain the splits reopen, the spore-producing surfaces are exposed to the air, and spores are released. These beautiful little mushrooms are very tough and leathery. I don’t see them that often and I’ve never seen two growing together as they are in this photo.

10-orange-crust-fungus

Orange crust fungus (Stereum complicatum) grew on the underside of a branch, in excellent form and color because of the rain. This small fungus has a smooth whitish underside with no pores. The complicatum part of the scientific name means “folded back on itself” and the above photo shows these examples just starting that folding. It also likes to grow on the logs of deciduous trees.

11-musclewood

The muscle wood tree (Carpinus caroliniana) is also known as American hornbeam and ironwood. It’s very hard and dense and its common name comes from the way that it looks like it has muscles undulating under its bark much like our muscles appear under our skin. This tree is a smallish understory tree that is usually found on flood plains and other areas that may be wet for part of the year.  It’s hard to find one of any great size because they have a short lifespan.

12-woodpecker-hole

A woodpecker had drilled a perfectly  conical hole through this piece of wood. It looked like a funnel.

13-barberry-fruit

These small red berries are what make Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) so invasive. The shrub grows into nearly impenetrable thickets here along the river and fruits prolifically. It crowds out native plants and can prevent all but the smallest animals getting through. The berries are rich in vitamin C and are sometimes used to make jams and jellies.

14-barberry-thorn

Its sharp spines will tell you which variety of barberry you have. European barberry (Berberis vulgaris) and American barberry (Berberis canadensis) both have clusters of 3 or more spines but since American barberry doesn’t grow in New England it comes down to European or Japanese here, and only Japanese barberry has single spines. They’re numerous and very sharp. I had to walk through them to get several of these photos and my legs got a bit scratched up.

15-barberry

Barberry has yellow inner bark that glows with just the scrape of a thumbnail. A bright yellow dye can be made from chipped barberry stems and roots, and the Chinese have used barberry medicinally for about 3000 years.

16-the-ashuelot

It is common enough to love a place but have you ever loved a thing, like a river? I first dipped my toes into the waters of the Ashuelot River so long ago I can’t even remember how old I was. I’ve swam it, paddled it, explored it and lived near its banks for the greater part of my lifetime. Though readers might get tired of hearing about the Ashuelot it means home to me and is something I love, and I’m very grateful for what it has taught me over the years. In fact if it wasn’t for the river this blog probably wouldn’t exist.

17-raindrops-in-sand

I often visit the sandy area in the previous photo because there are usually animal tracks there, but on this day all I saw were the tracks of raindrops. I think this is the first time I haven’t seen animal tracks there. Raccoons come to feed on the many river mussels, deer come to drink, and beaver and muskrats live here.

18-witchs-butter

It must be a good year for jelly fungi because I’m seeing more than I ever have. Or maybe it’s just the rain that’s bringing them out. In any case they’re another winter fungi and I expect to see them at this time of year. I almost always find them on stumps and logs; often on oak. After a rain is the best time to look for them, so this day was perfect. The above example of witch’s butter (Tremella mesenterica) grew on a fallen branch and looked plump and happy.

19-beggars-tick

Purple stemmed beggar ticks (Bidens connata) grow well in the wet soil at the edges of ponds and rivers and there are plenty of plants here along the Ashuelot. It has curious little yellow orange ray-less disc flowers that never seem to fully open and dark, purple-black stems. The name beggar ticks comes from its seeds, which are heavily barbed as the example in the above photo shows. They stick to fur and clothing like ticks and I had them all over me by the time I left the river. They don’t brush off; they have to be picked off one by one.

The first river you paddle runs through the rest of your life. It bubbles up in pools and eddies to remind you who you are. ~ Lynn Noel

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1. Daylily Seed Pod

I found what was left of a daylily seed pod at work one day. An insect had eaten all of the soft tissue and left the tougher veins, creating a work of art in the process. Sometimes I have to wonder if creating works of art aren’t their primary purpose; I’ve seen some amazing things done by insects. The engraver beetle for instance, creates some beautiful and intricate calligraphy on tree branches.

2. Barberry

I had to tangle with a Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) at work recently. The plant was quite old and some stems were bigger around than my thumb, which is unusual. Usually they are no bigger than a pencil but in this case the large size made the chrome yellow inner bark much easier to see. Barberry is the only shrub I know of with such vibrant color under its bark.

3. Barberry Stem

When Japanese barberry bark is injured the bright yellow color of the inner bark is easily seen. I decided to whittle the bark off a piece of stem to see what it would look like. When I put it against my black coat to take a photo it seemed to glow, so bright was the color, and in the photo it almost doesn’t look real. Not surprisingly, a bright yellow dye can be made from chipped barberry stems and roots and apparently this is true of any barberry, not just the Japanese variety.

4. Barberry Berries

If the inner bark doesn’t convince you that you have a barberry the fruit and thorns (actually spines) will. These small red berries are what make the Japanese variety so invasive. I’ve seen impenetrable thickets of it in the woods that not only crowd out native plants but also prevent all but the smallest animals getting through. Its sharp spines will tell you which variety of barberry you have. European barberry (Berberis vulgaris) and American barberry (Berberis canadensis) both have clusters of 3 or more spines but since American barberry doesn’t grow in New England it comes down to European or Japanese here, and only Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) has single spines.

5. Birch Polypore

Something I’ve never noticed before is animals eating birch polypores (Piptoporus betulinus,) but this year I’m seeing half eaten ones everywhere. Scientists have found that this mushroom is effective in treating intestinal parasites and I wonder if animals eat them for that reason or simply as food. Since chipmunks aren’t active during the winter it would probably be squirrels, deer or porcupines. I read that these fungi smelled like green apples and, though I’m not sure what green apples smell like the mushroom does have a strong but pleasant scent.

6. Maple Scae

I found this starburst scar on a maple trunk and can’t imagine what made it. The way the bark has turned platy reminds me of target canker on maples, but that isn’t shaped the same. It could have simply been caused by a boy with a pocket knife, but I don’t suppose that I’ll ever know.

7. Beech Blister

This bark deformity I know well, unfortunately. Beech bark disease is caused by beech scale insects (Cryptococcus fagisuga) that pierce the bark and leave a wound. If the spores from either of two fungi, called Neonectria faginata and Neonectria ditissima, find the wound and grow, cankers form. These cankers are what look like blisters on the bark of beech trees, as can be seen in the above photo. The disease originally came from Europe and the first case in the United States was reported in 1929 in Massachusetts. By 2004, the disease had spread as far west as Michigan and as far south as western North Carolina. There is no cure and infected trees will ultimately die.

8. Hobblebush Bud

I start watching buds closely at this time of year and one of those I watch are the naked buds of hobblebush (Viburnum alnifolium.) They are naked because they have no bud scales to protect them but they make up for the lack by being covered with a multitude of fine hairs. In this photo the flower bud is in between two leaf buds that stand up like wings. In about mid-May the flower bud will become one of our most beautiful native viburnum flowers.  This understory shrub gets its name from the way its sprawling stems can trip up or “hobble” a horse, but it isn’t just horses that get hobbled; I’ve gotten my feet tangled in it a few times. I’m guessing that the white hairs seen in the photo are from a deer, so apparently the stems don’t hobble them.

9. Striped Maple Buds

Hobblebush and striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) often grow side by side. Deer had eaten the buds off many of the striped maples that were growing near the hobblebush in the previous photo, but they missed this one. Striped maple buds are on my list of things to watch at this time of year because when the red or pink bud scales open and the leaves emerge they are easily one of the most beautiful things in the forest.

10. Striped Maple Buds

Just to give you a little preview of why my pulse quickens in spring, here is a photo from last April of striped maple buds after they had just opened. The chance of seeing beauty like this again is what gives me spring fever.

11. Ice Fall

But not so fast; there are a few things that nature has to take care of first, like this ice fall that I saw in the woods the other day. It was big.

12. Motherwort

The combination of a mild winter and growing near a stone chimney kept this motherwort plant (Leonurus cardiaca) green through the winter. Motherwort is originally from Europe where it has been used medicinally for centuries. It is said to calm the heart and nerves as the cardiaca part of its scientific name implies. The ancient Greeks gave it to pregnant women, and that’s how it comes by its common name. Colonists brought it to North America, which is a sign that it was very highly regarded.

13. Rose Moss

The lack of snow this winter has meant rough times for our mosses, but rose moss (Rhodobryum roseum) is still pretty even when it’s as dry as paper. Each rosette of leaves looks like a tiny flower, and that’s how it comes by its common name. It’s one of the most beautiful of all the mosses, in my opinion. Even when dry it sparkles as if with an inner light.

To look at a thing is very different from seeing a thing.  One does not see anything until one sees its beauty. ~ Oscar Wilde

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1. Ashuelot

Last Saturday we were blessed with wall to wall sunshine and a warm breeze out of the southwest that nudged the thermometer up towards 50 degrees. Even though it isn’t spring it was the perfect spring day, so I went off to see if nature was stirring. A week ago we had below zero cold and this stretch of the Ashuelot River in Swanzey had frozen nearly from bank to bank. As I stood looking out at the river on this day with a warm breeze in my face I wondered if I had dreamed the ice and dangerous cold of just seven days ago, so amazing was the difference.

2. Ice

There were still some slabs of ice on the river but they were melting quickly in the warn sunshine.

3. Frozen Stream

Even in the shade of the forest ice was melting, and how the birds did sing!

4. Maple with Sunglasses

Even the trees seemed to be in a spring time frame of mind.

5. Daffodils

I stopped by a local park and saw daffodils out of the ground everywhere I looked.

6. Orange Witch Hazel

I also saw some orange vernal witch hazel that was in full bloom. I’m not sure of its name but it was very fragrant and you could smell its fresh clean scent on the breeze. Someone once described witch hazel as smelling like clean laundry that has just been taken down from the clothesline, and I’d say that’s a fair description. After a long winter such a scent can seem like a small piece of heaven, right here on earth.

7. Yellow Witch Hazel

I hoped to see some yellow witch hazel flowers and I did see some color, but like a swimmer dipping his toe into a cold pond it hesitated, and just couldn’t seem to make up its mind.

8. Island

Speaking of cold ponds; there was still ice on Wilson Pond in Swanzey but it too was melting fast. This is the first winter I can remember when ice fisherman’s huts didn’t dot our lakes and ponds, but this year the ice just never grew thick enough to be safe. If we still lived in the days before refrigeration when ice was harvested from ponds for ice houses and ice boxes, we’d be seeing a meager harvest indeed. Food preservation would be on everyone’s mind right about now, I would think.

9. Skunk Cabbage Swamp

I also visited one of my favorite places to explore in the spring, and that’s the swamp where the skunk cabbages grow.

10. Skunk Cabbage

It seems like I always have to re-train my eyes in spring so it took me a while to find any skunk cabbages (Symplocarpus foetidus.) I finally saw this small blue-gray finger poking up out of the snow, which told me that the plants were up. I also stepped on a couple of plants that I didn’t see and they released their scent so I’d know what I had done. It isn’t as overpowering as actual skunk spray but it runs a close second.

11. Skunk Cabbage

The soil of the swamp felt frozen to walk on but even so before long I started seeing skunk cabbages everywhere. They don’t mind frozen soil because they produce their own heat through a process called thermogenesis, and can melt their way even through solid ice. Skunk cabbage is in the arum family and like most arums, inside the spathe is the spadix, which in the case of skunk cabbage is a one inch round, often pink or yellow stalked flower head from which the small flowers emerge. The flowers don’t have petals but do have four yellowish sepals. You can just get a glimpse of them in this photo in the darkest area of the spathe. This is the spathe’s slit-like opening and is the way flies get to the flower’s pollen. The pointed green shoot on the left will become the plant’s foliage.

12. Barberry Berries

I didn’t have any trouble finding the invasive Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) because it was snagging my pants and poking its sharp spines into my legs every now and then. In 1875 seeds of Japanese barberry were sent from Russia to the Arnold Arboretum in Boston, Massachusetts. In 1896 plants were planted at the New York Botanic Garden and the plant was promoted as a good substitute for European barberry (Berberis vulgaris,) which was a host for the black stem rust of wheat. These days it’s everywhere, including in our forests, where it tolerates shade and crowds out our much more valuable native plants.

13. Birch Polypore

I saw an interesting television program recently about Ötzi the 5000 year old iceman whose well preserved body was found in the Ötztal Alps in 1991. Among the many things he carried were birch polypores (Piptoporus betulinus,) a fungus that is so common even I rarely write about it. But I’d heard years ago that he carried them when he was found and I assumed that he used them to sharpen tools (They are also called razor strops and their ability to hone a steel edge is well known.) but apparently Ötzi carried them for other purposes; scientists have recently found that Ötzi had several heath issues, among them whipworm, which is an intestinal parasite (Trichuris trichura,) and birch polypores are poisonous to them. The fungus also has antiseptic properties and can be used to heal small wounds, which I’m sure were common 5000 years ago.

14. Birch Polypore Underside

Well, now I’ve done it. While looking into the connection between the 5000 year old iceman and birch polypores I read that as they age both the fungi and the wood they grow on begin to take on an odor similar to green apples, so if you happen to see someone out there with his nose to a birch tree, it’ll be me. The photo above shows the many pores found on the underside of the birch polypore. This is where its spores are produced.

15. LBMs

Ötzi the iceman probably knew the name and medicinal value of every mushroom he saw but I don’t, especially when it comes to the little brown ones, because there are many that look alike. I was surprised to find these examples growing on a log in February. I thought they were probably frozen solid but they were perfectly pliable and felt as tough as shoe leather. I wondered if they had been there all winter or if they had grown recently. Whatever the answer they must have great cold tolerance.

16. Turkey Tails

The snow had melted away from the trunk of this tree revealing turkey tails (Trametes versicolor) that have waited patiently for spring. These fungi are wood degrading and cause white rot, so this rather small tree won’t see old age. Turkey tails have been found on over 70 species of hardwood trees and a few conifers as well. They grow in every state in the U.S. and in most other countries.

17. Turkey Tails

These small turkey tails on a stump looked to be just starting to grow, but what a strange time of year to be doing so.

18. Fern

A fern frond had what looked like flower petals on it, but whatever they were didn’t fall off when the wind blew. I’m guessing that they must have been some kind of insect cocoons but they were very flat and thin.  I can’t remember ever seeing anything like them.

19. Oak Buds

These oak buds appeared to be quite swollen, but that might have been wishful thinking on my part. Still, maple sap is running so the same must be happening to other trees.

20. Pussy Willows

The single bud scales of what I think is the American pussy willow (Salix discolor) have suddenly opened to reveal the fuzzy gray male catkins, but I shouldn’t be surprised because they almost always appear in late winter before the leaves. As these flowers age yellow stamens will appear and will begin releasing pollen. The bees will be buzzing at about that time and they will further cross pollinate the many willow varieties. Henry David Thoreau once said “The more I study willows, the more I am confused,” but I don’t need to study them.  I just enjoy seeing their early flowers because they tell me that nature is stirring and spring is very near.

It was such a spring day as breathes into a man an ineffable yearning, a painful sweetness, a longing that makes him stand motionless, looking at the leaves or grass, and fling out his arms to embrace he knows not what. ~ John Galsworthy

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1. Lady Fern

Since we aren’t having the pumpkin festival here in Keene any longer I don’t have any carved Jack O’ Lanterns to show you, but I did see a ghostly lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina) on a recent walk in the woods. According to the “Fern Bulletin,” which is a quarterly publication devoted to ferns, fern reproductive systems weren’t understood until the middle of the 16th century, when fern spores were finally studied. Before that time people thought that there were male and female ferns, and that’s how the lady fern came by her common name. There are other stories about the origin of the name but this one seems the most plausible.

2. Howling Stump

How about a scary, one eyed howling stump for Halloween?  No, it wasn’t really howling but it looked like it was about to.

3. Hazel Galls

Jacqueline Donnelly from the Saratoga woods and waterways blog said that cone galls (Hormaphis hamamelidis) on witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) reminded her of tiny witch hats, and I have to agree. These galls are caused by the witch-hazel cone gall aphid. The gall is rich in nutrients and provides both food and shelter for the female aphids. For part of their life cycle these galls are bright red.

4. Willow Gall

The parts of the willow that would have once been leaves were converted into a gall when a fly called a gall gnat midge (Rabdophaga strobiloides) laid an egg on its stem. The resulting larva released a chemical that convinced the willow to produce this gall rather than the leaves that it normally would have. The little pink larva rests inside all winter and emerges as an adult when the air temperature warms up in the spring.

5. Turkey Tails

After seeing few turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor) over the last couple of years this year I’m seeing them frequently, including the blue / purple ones that I’m always happy to see.  They range from tan to brown to orange, red or blue and purple. I’ve searched for a few years to find out what influenced their color and finally just read that both genetics and environment are determining factors. There are many other fungi that look like this one but the pores on its underside and the colorful banding are the two most reliable identifying characteristics for turkey tails. Turkey tails are saprobic fungi, meaning they decompose dead or decaying organic material. They cause white rot of the sapwood, so having them on a living tree is not good.

6. Blue Crust Fungus

Fungi with a resupinate or flat sheeting habit are sometimes called crust fungi. They often grow on the undersides of logs, which is where I found this blue example. Some crust fungi, like the cobalt crust fungus (Terana caerulea,) are very beautiful and also very rare. Rolling logs over can be a lot of work but can also reveal hidden and unexpected beauty.

7. Bunchberry

These bunchberry plants (Cornus canadensis) seemed all ready for Halloween. Seeing a forest floor carpeted in drifts of white bunchberry flowers is a delight that is hard to equal. The bright red berries that follow the flowers grow in bunches, and that gives this plant its common name. The berries are loaded with pectin and early settlers put them in puddings to add color and help them jell.

Bunchberry has also been found to be the fastest plant. According to a study done at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts “Tests have shown that the petals of the bunchberry plant’s tiny flowers can move at 22 feet per second when they open with an explosive force. The petals explode open to launch pollen an inch into the air. The pollen is ejected to 10 times the height of the small plant so that it can be carried away on the wind.”

The scientists say in Nature Magazine: “Bunchberry stamens are like miniature medieval trebuchets, specialized catapults that maximize throwing distance by having the payload [pollen in the anther] attached to the throwing arm [filament] by a hinge or flexible strap.”

8. Barberry Stump

A Japanese barberry stump (Berberis thunbergii) bleeds bright yellow. A strong, permanent yellow orange dye can be made from all parts of the barberry. From the Pioneer Thinking Newsletter: “To make the dye chop the plant into small pieces and place them in a pot. Double the amount of water to plant material. Bring to a boil and then simmer for about an hour. Strain. Now you can add your fabric to be dyed. For a stronger shade, allow material to soak in the dye overnight. To fix the color mix 4 parts cold water to 1 part vinegar. Add fabric to the fixative and simmer for an hour. Rinse the material and squeeze out excess. Rinse in cool water until water runs clear.” Maybe dyeing fabrics with it would help control the spread of this invasive shrub.

9. Beaver Stump

The beavers seem to have started a sculpture garden along the banks of the Ashuelot River. Nearby they had felled a large American elm (Ulmus americana.) Anyone who has cut and split wood knows that elm is tough and stringy and hard to do much of anything with, so why beavers would choose it is a mystery.

10. Fungus

This fungus was big-as big as a soccer ball. I thought it might be a black-staining polypore (Meripilus sumstinei) which is related to the hen of the woods. However, since a few cuts on the spore bearing surface showed no black stains I’ll have to keep searching for its identity. It and a few others grew on the roots of a living oak, which does not bode well for the tree.

11. Fly Agaric Mushroom

This fly agaric mushroom (Amanita muscaria) was also big; easily the biggest capped mushroom that I’ve ever seen. I put a quarter on its cap to give you a sense of its size. The quarter is about an inch across and I’d guess the mushroom was about 10 inches. It looked like a dinner plate.

12. Mushroom

This mushroom was no bigger than a nickel, but far more beautiful than the two giant ones seen previously. I think that the gills are the most beautiful part of some mushrooms.

13. Feern

This fern came into life curled like the head of a fiddle and left the same way.  Sometimes beauty can be found even in death.

14. Beech

Lest you think that autumn has ended here, the beeches and oaks are now taking center stage. This small beech looked like it was on fire, so brilliant were its leaves.

15. Chair

There’s just no telling what you’ll find in the woods of New Hampshire. What a peaceful place to sit and contemplate the wonder of it all.

The knots in the wood can’t be untied. ~Marty Rubin

Thanks for stopping in. Happy Halloween!

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1. Coneflower Seed Head

When I walk through the fields and forests in the fall I’m always struck by the great abundance of food that nature provides, from seeds to nuts to berries. Everything from bees to birds to bears relies on it and it’s always good to see a year like this one when they can easily find plenty.  Some is saved and not eaten right away but coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) like the one in the above photo always seem to be stripped of seeds almost as soon as they form. Goldfinches especially love these seeds.

2. Aster Seeds

If you’d like a photographic challenge try a shot of a single aster seed. If that seems too easy try it when the wind is blowing. Turkeys, goldfinches, sparrows, chipmunks, and white-footed mice all eat aster seeds. There are so many asters that the seed heads last through most of the winter.

3. Milkweed

There is one oddity in this post and this is it. Though I’ve searched several times for birds, animals or insects that eat milkweed seeds (Asclepias syriaca) over the years I can’t find a single one that does. It’s hard to believe that a plant would produce so many seeds when they don’t get eaten, but milkweed seeds apparently aren’t eaten by anything. Or if they are, scientists don’t seem to know much about it.

4. Buttonbush

Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) grows along rivers and streams and this is the perfect place for ducks and other waterfowl to get at the seeds. Deer feed on the shrub’s leaves and wood ducks often nest in its thicket like branches. Native Americans chewed its bark to relieve toothache pain.

5. Winterberry

Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) is our only deciduous native holly. Many birds including robins, catbirds, mockingbirds, bluebirds, and cedar waxwings love these berries and will eat them throughout winter. Though the berries are toxic it is thought that their toxicity lessens the longer they stay on the shrub, so that might help explain why many of the berries can still be found in late winter.

6. Grapes

It’s a great year for grapes; I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many on the vines. These in the photo are river grapes (Vitis riparia), so called because they grow on the banks of rivers and streams. They are also called frost grapes because of their extreme cold hardiness. The freeze we had finished the leaves on this vine but not the fruit, which probably became sweeter. Many birds eat these small grapes including cardinals, mockingbirds, catbirds, robins, wood ducks, several species of woodpecker, cedar waxwings, blue jays, and turkeys. Many animals also love grapes, including foxes, rabbits, raccoons, skunks and opossums. Deer will eat the leaves and new shoots and many birds use the bark for nest building; especially crows.

7. Apples

In the mid-1800s for several different economic reasons the bottom fell out of farming in this area and many farms were abandoned, with the farmers and their sons going off to work in the woolen, shoe and paper mills that were springing up everywhere in New England. What they left behind is mostly gone now except for many miles of stone walls, an occasional cellar hole, and apple orchards. It isn’t at all unusual when out in the middle of nowhere to stumble upon apple trees that are still bearing bushels of fruit. Of course since they receive no care the apples aren’t very good for much besides cider, but many animals and birds love them. Deer and bears will travel long distances for ripe apples and just the other day I saw two gray squirrels fighting over a half-eaten one. Robins, blue jays, bobwhites, cardinals, cedar waxwings, crows, grackles, downy woodpeckers, bluebirds, grosbeaks, catbirds, hairy woodpeckers, house finches, mockingbirds, orioles, purple finches, red-bellied woodpecker, red-headed woodpecker, and titmice all eat apples.

8. Virginia Creeper

Though Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) are poisonous to humans many birds love them, including thrushes, woodpeckers, warblers, vireos, mockingbirds chickadees, and turkeys. So do mice, red fox, skunks, chipmunks, squirrels, and deer. I’ve read that birds are attracted more to red fruits than the blue black berries of Virginia creeper, so the vine compensates by having red leaves and stems in the fall. When the birds land amidst all the attractive red hues they find and eat the berries. Since thirty five species of birds eat them it must be a successful ploy.

9. Partridge Berry

I don’t know about partridges, but I do know that turkeys eat the berries of partridge berry plants (Mitchella repens) because I’ve seen them doing so. Bobwhites, grouse, red foxes, skunks, and white-footed mice are also said to eat them. This little trailing, ground hugging vine makes a great native groundcover if you’re looking to attract birds and wildlife.

10. Poison Ivy

I’ve always suspected that birds or animals were eating poison ivy berries (Toxicodendron radicans) because they disappeared so quickly, but it wasn’t until I visited Grampy’s Goat Sass Farm blog that I saw photos of them actually doing so. By the way, if you’re a bird lover you’d be wise to visit Grampy’s blog; you’ll see some of the most amazing photos of them that you’ve seen, including bald eagles. For example I saw some photos of warblers, chickadees and sparrows eating these poisonous berries and thought Ah ha, I knew it! I’ve since read that vireos, cardinals, goldfinches, woodpeckers, deer, black bears, muskrats and rabbits consider the berries a delicacy. For a human, eating these berries would be a very bad idea. People have nearly died from getting the rash produced by poison ivy inside their bodies.

11. Burning Bush

Unfortunately birds also love the berries of the highly invasive burning bush (Euonymus alatus) and spread the seeds everywhere, so it isn’t uncommon to find a stand of them growing in the woods. I know a place where hundreds of them grow and though they are beautiful at this time of year not another shrub grows near them. This is because they produce such dense shade it’s hard for anything else to get started. The sale and cultivation of the shrub is banned in New Hampshire. There are many native shrubs that make a good substitute.

12. Barberry

Another highly invasive plant with berries that are loved by birds is the Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii.) In 1875 seeds imported from Russia were planted at the Arnold Arboretum in Boston, Massachusetts. Birds helped it escape and now it has become a very invasive shrub that forms dense thickets and chokes out native plants. These thickets are so thorny that only the smallest animals can get through them so for years the plant was used for hedges.

European barberry (Berberis vulgaris) and American barberry (Berberis canadensis) also grow in parts of New England but each of those has clusters of three or more thorns while Japanese barberry has a single thorn, as can be seen in the above photo. Thorn count is a good identifying characteristic when the plants have no leaves. This is another shrub that is banned in New Hampshire but I don’t think we’ll ever stop its spread.

13. Rose Hips

Rose hips are a fruit that’s good for birds, animals, and humans; they are one of the richest sources of vitamin C known. During World War 2 vitamin C syrup was made from rose hips because citrus fruits were almost impossible to find. The best rose hips for harvesting are found on Rosa rugosa, named for the wrinkled (rugose) surface of its leaves. Personally I like to leave them for the birds and animals. Squirrels, rabbits, deer, bears, moose, and coyotes are animals that are known to eat rose hips. Birds include blackbirds, robins, grouse, juncos, bluebirds, grosbeaks, pheasants, quail, and thrushes.

14. Shadbush

Shadbush (Amelanchier arborea) is a tree with a lot of historical baggage. The Native American food pemmican was flavored by its fruits along with dried meat and fat. Natives also made arrow shafts from its dense, hard wood and showed early colonists how to use the blue-black berries. The name shadbush comes from the way the trees bloomed in spring when the shad fish were running in New England Rivers. I recently found a spot where many of them grow and they were heavily laden with fruit, which surprised me because bluebirds, cardinals, cedar waxwings, gray catbirds, orioles, red squirrels, and scarlet tanagers all eat the fruit. Beavers and deer eat various other parts of the tree but I didn’t see any signs of them either. It seems odd that there would be so much fruit left and I wonder why the birds and animals haven’t eaten it.

15. Shagbark Hickory

We have many different nut trees here in New Hampshire, including beechnuts, walnuts, butternuts, hazelnuts, acorns, and hickory nuts. We have several hickories here including bitternut and shagbark, like the one in the above photo. Unfortunately most of our chestnuts were wiped out by blight in the early 1900s, but I’ve heard rumors of them possibly making a comeback.

16. Shagbark Hickory

Bears, deer, raccoons, squirrels, chipmunks, turkeys, sparrows, white-breasted nuthatches, yellow-rumped warblers, pine warblers, cardinals, rose-breasted grosbeaks, grouse, pheasants, and wood ducks are just some of the animals and birds that eat our native nuts. Without nuts many forest animals and birds wouldn’t survive.

17. Acorns

I’ve never seen so many acorns on the ground as we have this year. A single large oak can produce 15,000 acorns in a good year and there are so many on the ground right now that walking the trails is like trying to walk on marbles. The blue jays, pigeons, ducks, woodpeckers, squirrels, mice, chipmunks and other birds and animals are having an easy time of it, thankfully. I ate some red oak acorn meat once when I was a boy and I don’t think I’ll ever forget how bitter it was, but acorns were the main food source for many Native Americans tribes who knew how to remove the bitterness.

If you’d like to try to make flour from acorns as the natives did, choose only those with their caps still on, because when acorns are ripe they normally fall fully dressed. Usually only the added weight of a worm thrashing around inside can make them break free from their caps while still on the tree, and you don’t want wormy acorns.

18. Gray Squirrel

My little smiling friend seemed very happy to see such abundance in the forest but it isn’t always this way. Plants go through cycles and sometimes a year of abundance can be followed by a year of scarcity. One way to help animals and birds survive the winter is by planting native trees, shrubs and plants. Our natives often have beautiful flowers as well as fruit that animals and bids love, so you really can’t go wrong in choosing them.

Autumn is the mellower season, and what we lose in flowers we more than gain in fruits. ~Samuel Butler

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1. Hole in Stone Wall

I was going to do this post on the day before Thanksgiving but then it snowed so I got a little off track. Anyhow, here is another forest mystery for all of you mystery lovers out there.  See the hole in the stone wall? There is no way the wall was built with that hole there, so how did it get there and what is holding up the stones above it that appear to be floating in air? Move one stone and they all go.

2. Barberry Berries

Japanese barberry berries (Berberis thunbergii) couldn’t seem to figure out what color they wanted to be. This shrub is one of our most invasive and it has been banned here in New Hampshire but there are so many in the woods, all covered in berries, that it is close to impossible to stop its spread.

 3. Bear Claw marks

Up in Nelson, New Hampshire the black bears like using telephone poles to mark their territory and they bite and claw them to make sure everyone pays attention. They can take quite large chunks of wood from a pole with their teeth.

4. Chipmunk on Log

Does the chipmunk live in that hole in the log? He wasn’t about to go into it while I was watching so I can’t answer that question. They usually live in stone walls in these parts so I’m guessing no, but he could have a food stash in there.

5. Larches

The larches (Larix laricina) went out in a blaze of glory this year. The wood of larches is tough but also flexible and Native Americans used it to make snowshoes. They called the tree tamarack, which not surprisingly, means “wood used for snowshoes” in Algonquin. They also used the inner bark medicinally to treat frostbite and other ailments.

6. Larch Needles

Larch needles are very soft and quite long compared to many of our other native conifers. Larch is the only conifer in this area to lose its needles in the fall.

7. Deadly Galerina Mushrooms on a Log

There are good reasons why expert mycologists want little to do with little brown mushrooms, and this photo shows one of those reasons. Deadly galerina mushrooms (Galerina autumnalis) are, according to mushroom expert Tom Volk, so poisonous that eating even a little bit can be deadly. It is common on rotting logs in almost all months of the year and can fruit in the same spot several times. If you collect and eat wild mushrooms it is one that you should get to know very well.

 8. Downy Rattlesnake Plantain

Orchids might seem fragile but many are actually quite tough, like the evergreen downy rattlesnake plantain shown here. I get as much enjoyment from seeing its beautiful silvery leaves as I do its small white flowers. I was pleased to find these plants in a spot where I’ve never seen them before. According to the USDA this native orchid grows as far west as Oklahoma and south to Florida, though it is endangered there.

9. Striped Wintergreen

In the summer when there are leaves on the understory shrubs striped wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata) is almost invisible, but at this time of year it’s easier to see and I’ve found more and more plants each fall. It is still quite rare here though; I know of only two or three small colonies. It likes to grow in soil that has been undisturbed for decades and that helps account for its rarity.

10. Pipsissewa Seed Heads

Pisissewa (Chimaphila umbellata) is another native wintergreen, though not as rare as some of the others. Its glossy green leaves make it easy to see in both summer and winter. It prefers cool dry sandy soil and I always find it near conifers like pine, hemlock and larch. The large colony where this photo was taken usually flowers quite well, as the many seed pods show. This plant, like many of the wintergreens, is a partial myco-heterotroph, meaning it gets part of its nutrition from the fungi that live in the surrounding soil. Odd that a plant would be parasitic on fungi, but there you have it.

11. Starflower Seed Pod

Five chambered starflower (Trientalis borealis) seed pods look like tiny soccer balls and are very hard to get a good photo of. Luckily the chalky white color makes them easy to see against the brown leaves. I bent one over this penny so you could see how small it really was. You can imagine how small the seeds inside are. Seeds are carried here and there by insects and don’t germinate until their second year. Germination is so rare that it has never been observed in the wild and, though they are easily grown from seed in nurseries, most of the plants found in the forest have grown vegetatively from underground tubers.

12. Lichen Number Six

This powdery goldspeck lichen (Candelariella efflorescens) had a tiny number 6 on it.

13. Ice Cave

Tiny ice stalactites and stalagmites grew and pushed up a crust of soil covered ice. This formed a small cave, and I had to get a look inside. The penny gives a sense of scale.

14. Tiny Ice Formation

This bit of ice looked like a tiny trimmed Christmas tree.

15. Swamp Wite Oak Leaf-aka Quercus bicolor

This salmon pink oak leaf with violet red veins was a very beautiful thing, but I had a hard time identifying it. I think, because of the leaf’s shallow lobes and color, that it might be a white swamp oak (Quercus bicolor.) I can’t remember ever seeing another one like it.

If you reconnect with nature and the wilderness you will not only find the meaning of life, but you will experience what it means to be truly alive. ~Sylvia Dolson

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