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Posts Tagged ‘NH’

The last time I passed through this section of woods I couldn’t have been more than 12 years old. The house I grew up in was just a few yards from the railroad tracks and I’d guess I started walking those tracks almost as soon as I could walk. I knew that if I followed them one way (north) I’d get to my grandmother’s house and then downtown Keene further on. But I didn’t know where the other direction went, so one day I decided it was time to find out. It would be my first great adventure.

There was a slight problem though. The Ashuelot River was also just a few yards from the house and if I was going to follow the tracks the way I’d never been I had to cross it by way of the train trestle over the Ashuelot River. The trestle had gaps between the ties and if you weren’t careful my grandmother said, a skinny little boy like me could fall right through one of those gaps and end up in the river. That thought had held me back for a long time as she knew it would but on this day I was determined, so off I went across the trestle for the first time, headed south.

My father knew that a boy had to run and explore and learn, and he let me off the leash early on. I had no mother to say otherwise so I simply loved life and made my own fun. Unlike the other boys I knew who could only seem to focus on what they didn’t have I saw what I did have, and though we were poor when it came to money I knew that I was rich; I could see it, sharp and clear, and even at twelve years old I knew that no boy anywhere else on earth was having a better boyhood than I was.

But even so my father would have had something to say about this adventure and I probably would have had to eat standing up for a few days if he’d found out. That’s because he knew the river drew me like a magnet. He was forever having to tell me to stay away from it, and with good reason. As I was taking photos of the frozen river on this day it began to groan and crack open and my stomach fell into my shoes. It was the same sound I’d heard when I was walking down the middle of it so many years ago when the ice gave way. Even after 50+ years it’s a sound that can still make my stomach lurch and my hands shake.

I could have drowned that day but instead I learned a good lesson, and it’s one I’ve never forgotten. In fact I learned all kinds of things along these rail lines because I was curious and I wanted to know the answers to the thousand and one questions I had in my head. Since nobody I knew could answer the questions I turned to books. Botany books, wildflower books, tree books, bird books, I had them all and I learned from them, but even so I’m still what I call “overly curious” when it comes to the natural world, and it’s that curiosity that fuels this blog. For instance I’ve wondered for years why the buds on a black birch will suddenly form a cluster of buds like that in the above photo. It’s almost like a witches’ broom but not quite because they don’t seem to grow after they knot up like this. Actually I think they die.

This is what a normal, healthy black birch bud (Betula lenta) looks like. The young bark of these trees looks a lot like cherry bark but if you nibble a twig and taste wintergreen, it’s a black birch. It’s also called sweet birch and cherry birch, and birch beer was once made from it and so was oil of wintergreen. In fact so many trees were taken to make oil of wintergreen for many years the trees were very hard to find. This is the only birch that I’ve seen the strange bud clusters on.

Another mystery is why birds don’t eat sumac berries until spring in this part of the country. I’ve heard that in other parts of the country they snap them up as soon as they ripen but here they’re still on the bushes even into April in some years. I’ve heard that they’re low in fat and not very nutritious so that might have something to do with it, but why wouldn’t that be true everywhere? The berries seen here are those of the smooth sumac (Rhus glabra) but smooth or staghorn sumac berries, most will still be there in spring.

Another mystery is how can a river look frozen solid in one place and then be free of ice less than a mile downstream. It could have something to do with restricted flow, I think. The place where I took the photo of the iced over river has a kind of S curve and an island, and both would slow down the flow.

I had to have a look at the shagbark hickory buds (Carya ovata) while I was here. There is no sign of any movement yet but come mid-May they’ll open to reveal some of the most beautiful sights in the spring forest.

I did see some movement in some of the beech buds (Fagus grandifolia) I looked at though it was almost imperceptible. You can just see how some of the silvery white tips of the bud scales have barely pulled away from the bud. Soon they will start to grow and lengthen and then in May will finally open, and then the trees will look as if they’ve been hung with tiny angel wings.

In places the woods were full of ice.

And in other places they were nearly ice free.

The drainage ditches that were dug by the railroad 150 years ago were still working fine, though they were ice covered.

What interests me most about this ice is the oak leaf shape in the lower left corner. I can’t even guess how that would have happened. Ice is such fascinating stuff.

There are lots of old stone walls out here. They are “tossed” or “thrown” walls, where the stones were literally just thrown on top of one another, because the object was to get them out of what would become cropland as quickly as possible. I know this wall is quite old because of the lichens and mosses on the stones. Walls I built 45 years ago still don’t have any mosses or lichens on them and the stones haven’t even grayed yet. I’d guess this one must be at least 200 years old, built even before the railroad came through.

This boulder pile shows what those who first cleared the land faced. Left here by the last glacier, they had to be moved if you were going to plant crops.  I’ve collected stones to build walls with and I can say that it is backbreaking work.

I hoped to see some signs of hazelnut catkins opening but these were still closed tight. It won’t be long now though.

Distances seemed longer and time passed much slower when I was a child and this walk seemed very long indeed, but for the first time I had actually left my town and crossed into another: Swanzey, and that was quite a feat in my opinion. Swanzey lies to the south of Keene and it isn’t very far but I remember feeling so tired that day when I came to this road, and I had the walk home still ahead of me. I could have waited for the Boston and Maine freight and hopped it, but my grandmother told me in graphic detail what can happen to little boys who try to hop on trains. Of course she did that to keep me from hopping the trains I saw creeping by twice a day, and it was very effective. I wanted badly to try, but I never did.

So I walked back home dog tired but elated, and as I retraced those steps on this day once again I realized how very lucky I was to have had this place to grow up in; to be able to run and play in the fields and forests along the river, surrounded by and immersed in nature. It was such a glorious life and if I ever had a choice of where and when I could return to it would be that place and that time, because for me there is simply nothing better. I really do hope that all of you have a place that you feel the same about, and I hope you’re lucky enough to be at least able to revisit it occasionally.

A boy’s will is the wind’s will,
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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We’re having a very strange winter here, with roller coaster temperatures falling to -10 degrees F one day and soaring to 60 degrees the next. In between we’ve seen more rain than snow and all that rain has frozen into ice, because it can’t seep into the frozen ground. I took this view of the Ashuelot River in Swanzey in one of the colder stretches. Now, a week later there is no white to be seen in this view.

A week ago there were ice skirts around the stones and now there are none.

An icicle had formed in a tree, which is a sight you don’t often see.

I had to catch a wave while I was at the river. When the sun is right they have such beautiful colors in them.

Frost figures danced across my windows one morning.

If you want to strike fear into the heart of any New Englander just tell them an ice storm is on the way. We’ve seen two so far this winter but they haven’t been bad enough to bring down trees and cause power outages. I’ve seen friends have to go for weeks with no power due to an ice storm in the past.

In an ice storm liquid rain falls on cold surfaces and ice coats everything. The added weight starts to damage trees like this birch and they begin to lose branches or fall over, bringing power lines down with them.

The more surface area exposed on the tree, the more weight the ice has. White pines (Pinus strobus) are particularly at risk of losing large limbs in an ice storm.

In spite of the crazy weather or maybe because of it, we’re having some beautiful sunrises.

I thought I saw some yellow on these male speckled alder catkins (Alnus incana) but that might be wishful thinking. Yellow or green would be pollen and pollen would mean they were flowering, and it’s too early for that. They’ll open in late March or early April after the maple sap has all been gathered, and then for a short time the bushes will look like someone has strung gold and purple jewels from the alder branches.

A bird’s nest fell off an outdoor building light where I work. It wasn’t very big but it was soft like a cushion, made mostly of mosses and grasses. It also had lichens and a few twigs in it. I think it was the nest of an eastern phoebe, which is a small gray bird about half the size of our robin. They nest all over the buildings where I work, but they don’t seem to be very smart because they will often fly into buildings when a door is opened. Chasing them out again can be a chore and it has taken two of us over an hour in the past. If you leave a door or window open and walk away they still can’t seem to find their way out again.

There was a lot of moss in the nest and it was easily the softest bird’s nest I’ve ever felt. I’ve read that eastern phoebes will take over the nests of swallows or robins but I don’t think this nest was built by either of those birds. They also re-use nests year after year, but this bird will have to re-build.

I think a lot of the moss used in the phoebe nest was white tipped moss (Hedwigia ciliata.) This is a very common moss that I find mostly growing on stones in sunny spots. It would be a very easy moss for birds to harvest.

I’ve seen lots of galls picked open by woodpeckers and other birds but I don’t see too many oak marble galls opened. I was surprised at the thickness of the walls on this one. There would be plenty to eat all winter long for the gall wasp (Andricus kollari) larva had it survived the bird.

I saw a milkweed pod where I didn’t know they grew and of course I immediately thought of coming back in summer to hopefully see some monarch butterflies. I’ve seen more each year for the last three or so, but that doesn’t mean whole flocks of them. I think I saw 6 or 7 last year.

The birds and animals didn’t get to eat all the river grapes (Vitis riparia) this year and now the ones that are left look more like raisins than anything else. I was surprised to see them because they usually go as fast as they ripen. It could be that the birds simply had enough to go around; we do have a lot of wild fruits. River grapes are known for their ability to withstand cold and have been known to survive -57 degrees F. That makes them a favorite choice for the rootstock of many well-known grape varieties. We have about 20 native species of wild grape in the U.S. and Native Americans used them all. The fruit is usually too acidic to eat from the vine so they mostly made juice and jelly from them. They were also used to dye baskets a violet gray color.

An oak leaf skittered across the snow as if it had feet. More and more oak and beech leaves are falling, signaling spring isn’t far off. I hope.

You could almost believe you were feeling the warm breath of spring when two days of 60 degree weather turned the top layer of ice on Half Moon pond in Hancock to water. Ice fishermen are having a hard time of it this year because we haven’t had a lengthy spell of really cold weather to thicken the ice.

Since we’ve had some warm days and since the groundhog said we’d have an early spring, I went looking for signs. The ice was melting around the skunk cabbage shoots but I didn’t see any of the splotchy, yellow and maroon flower spathes. They are our earliest flowers so it shouldn’t be too long before they appear. Shortly after they flower the spring blooming vernal witch hazels will start in.

You might think that seeing daffodil shoots would be a sure sign of spring but these bulbs grow in a raised bed and raised beds warm and thaw earlier, so these bulbs start growing earlier. But I’ve never seen them this early and I’m sure they are being fooled by the few days of unusual warmth. They often come up too early and get bitten by the cold, which turns their leaves to mush. I’m guessing the same will happen this year but I hope not.

When spring came, even the false spring, there were no problems except where to be happiest.
~Earnest Hemmingway

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It was cloudy but finally warm at 38 degrees F. last Sunday so I decided to see how the ice had grown in the deep cut rail trail that ice climbers call the icebox. Since we have had plenty of below zero nights I expected the ice to be big, and I wasn’t disappointed.


Though I’ve seen as many as thirty at a time, on this day there were only two ice climbers here. It was dark in this part of the canyon on such a cloudy day so I had to really increase the ISO on my camera. Sunshine is limited on this part of the trail even on a sunny day because it’s about 50 feet below the surrounding hill that the railroad cut through.


The ice climbers said this was their third time here but they were climbing on a skimpy little ice column that didn’t look like it would support much weight. I pointed out the huge ice column on the other side of the canyon and told them that was where most people climbed, but they stayed where they were and I bid them good luck. You could fit what I know about ice climbing in a thimble anyway.

This massive pile of ice is where most ice climbers climb but on this day you could hear water dripping behind it, and that was odd.


There was a large pool of water at its base as well, and that probably would have given me second thoughts about climbing it. If groundwater was dripping between the ice and the stone of the canyon the whole thing could come tumbling down, and you don’t want to be here when that happens.


But I decided not to think of such things and instead focused on the beauty of the ice. After all, it was why I had come. All of the water that drips from the stone walls of the canyon collects in drainage ditches originally built by the railroad 150 years ago. The water is carried by the ditches out into the woods where it must eventually find its way to a swamp or pond. Meanwhile beautiful patterns form in the ice covered ditches.

Ice can be very beautiful, especially on a warm day when you have time to linger and appreciate it. I often catch myself lost in the photos I’ve taken of it as well, wondering what I might see. I’ve seen birds flying, eyes staring, waves and rivulets caught in mid flow and entire galaxies, all frozen into the ice. I love what it did here; it’s much like a topographic map because if you look closely you see that the ripples formed around peaks, and the peaks are stones in the stream. It’s a beautiful scene, and there are thousands upon thousands of others much like it out there, just waiting to be discovered.


I saw that someone had put up a sign to warn snowmobilers that there were people on the trail. That’s a good idea because the trail curves in the canyon and I’m sure a snowmobiler could be just about on top of the climbers before he sees them, depending on how fast he was moving. I hear people complaining about snowmobilers but I don’t agree, because if it wasn’t for them many of these rail trails would have become impassable long ago. Many snowmobile clubs donate their time and tools and work hard all summer long to keep these trails open and we who use them owe them a real debt of gratitude.


When you come into the canyon you can go north where the ice climbers climb or you can go south where the most colorful ice grows. I usually do both. The walls don’t soar quite as high in this section but the ice comes in many colors and grows as thick as tree trunks.

There was lots of blue ice here this day and I wasn’t surprised because it has been so cold. I’ve heard that blue ice is the hardest and most dense, and its color comes from the way the dense ice reflects light, rather than any imperfections in the water.


Other colors come from the minerals in the groundwater, I believe. Some years you see lots of orange ice like this and in other years you hardly find any. You can see at the base of the column how the snow is stained by the dripping, mineral colored water.


Though I see green when I see this ice my color finding software sees tan. Since I’m colorblind the software gets the call. Whatever the color, this formation was big. This also illustrates why I don’t come here much after the end of February, because when large ice columns like this one release from the stone they often fall like trees, right across the trail. I’d rather not be here when that happens because a person could easily be crushed.

Here is some mineral staining on the stone walls of the canyon. I believe this is what colors the ice but the strange thing is how these colors all but disappear in warmer months. Cold brings out the colors in many things like tree sap, and apparently mineral staining on stone.


It was the texture of this ice column that caught my eye. It was like ten thousand icicles had all frozen together. Quite often you see these ice columns with a smooth, shiny surface but this one was rough.


Here is a better example of how the snow stains at the base of these columns.


Frost flowers bloomed on the ice covering the drainage ditches.


I don’t see these very often so conditions must have to be just right. I’m guessing it has a lot to do with humidity. I see birds flying above Saturn’s rings, and the universe beyond.


This takes the prize as the biggest mass of ice I’ve ever seen off a pond. It’s so big I don’t know how to explain just how big it is. Tons and tons of ice, I’d guess.


Somehow a beech leaf stuck itself to an icicle. I’ve noticed that many beech and oak leaves are falling, and I hope that’s a sign that spring isn’t far away.

A small animal came out of its den for a drink and found the well frozen over. Its tracks made the snow look as if it had been zipped together.


My walk through the canyon ends at the old lineman’s shack, because that’s where the big ice ends. It looks like the old building will make it through another winter, though I don’t know how. It’s the very definition of well built. I picture it full men sitting around a potbellied, coal fired stove, wishing they didn’t have to shovel all the snow out of that canyon. But that chore must have fallen to someone.

Ice burns, and it is hard for the warm-skinned to distinguish one sensation, fire, from the other, frost. ~A.S. Byatt

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Even by my own account this will be a strange post because it starts with a dream or a thought that I had about brooms. The very first thought I had one morning was “Three brooms,” so I wrote it down. Since I rarely remember a dream I pay attention to those I do remember so I said okay, we’ll do brooms. But what do I know about brooms?

I know broom moss (Dicranum scoparium,) but the only thing it has to do with brooms is how it looks like it has been swept by one. This is a common moss that likes to grow in the woods on soil, stumps or logs. Its leaves generally point in one direction and so do its spore capsules. It is said to be called “mood moss” by florists, though I don’t know why. The example in this photo was very dry, which does affect its appearance.

I know a little about another kind of broom, which is called witches’ broom. It’s a plant deformation which appears as a very dense cluster of branches and it is usually found on woody shrubs and trees, like the white pine in the above photo. Witches’ broom can also happen on food crops and in some cases it can be fatal to the plant. Rice for example, will die if the fungus that causes witches’ broom reaches it. Each plant has a different fungus that causes the broom deformation in it, so the one that causes it in rice will not affect any other plant. The witches’ broom fungus that affects potatoes causes the tubers to form on top of the soil rather than under it, and potatoes exposed to sunlight become toxic by forming a toxic alkaloid called solanine, so this will ruin the crop.

Mistletoe is a type of broom deformation but we don’t have it here, so this witches’ broom on a maple tree must have been caused by a fungus. It isn’t always a fungus that causes it though; in honeysuckles it is caused by an aphid and on hackberry trees it is caused by both a powdery mildew fungus and a tiny mite. On cherry and blackberry it is caused by a bacteria carried by insects from elm or ash trees.

The most common form of witches’ broom that I see forms on highbush blueberry bushes. This fungus lives part of its life on balsam fir trees. It is a rust fungus that must have a fir and blueberry as hosts, so the fungus from one blueberry bush can’t infect another blueberry. Most witches’ brooms in fact need two host plants; the fungus that causes witches’ broom in fir trees must have chickweed as a host and the fungus that infects spruce trees needs bearberry as a host.

Though witches’ broom on blueberry plants can be unsightly it doesn’t seem to harm the plant. When I was gardening professionally I picked blueberries from a bush with a large witches’ broom on it for years. This photo shows the dense mass of deformed branches that are typical of witches’ broom on blueberry. Medieval writers wrote of bewitched bundles of twigs called Hexenbesen, which were obviously caused by witches. In 1453 warlock Guillaume Edelin confessed to flying on a broomstick.

I’ve never seen witches broom on lowbush blueberry plants, but I like their spidery branch structure against the snow.

Now we come to the third kind of broom, the sweeping kind, which I knew nothing about until I did this post. Historically, brooms were made of just about any natural material you can imagine, including birch branches. It seems though, that people always found fault with them; they wore out too fast, they didn’t clean as well as they liked, etc. But then in 1797 in Hadley Massachusetts farmer Levi Dickinson made a broom out of sorghum, which is a grain native to Australia that he grew. Levi also eventually made a machine that made brooms faster than he could by hand, because everyone wanted one of his brooms. Levi and his broom machine owned the broom market until the Shakers invented the broom vise in 1798 and made the normally round brooms flat. Levi and the Shaker’s broom machines are credited with starting the industrial revolution and gave us the flat brooms that we all use today.

If you Google “3 brooms” like I did after my dream this is what you come up with. I don’t drink wine so I have never heard of it. I thought it was interesting that the brooms on the label are old style, before the Shakers re-invented them. This is the kind of broom that was used for thousands of years; sweeping is even mentioned in the Bible.

Well, I’m sure we all now know more than we ever wanted to about booms. Let’s hope I never dream of vacuums. I’m sorry this post strayed so far from my usual fare but doing a broom post allowed me to sweep away all thoughts of going outside in the bitter cold we’ve had. It was about -9 degrees F. the morning I started this post and it hadn’t reached freezing (32 degrees) until about 3 o’clock that afternoon, which was much too late to get out and take photos because it gets dark so early. I’ve found that, due to COPD, extreme cold is much harder to bear these days and in fact the doctors say that it can be dangerous. There is a bright side though; Punxsutawney Phil the groundhog didn’t see his shadow so spring will come early, even though the calendar says we’ll have 6 more weeks.

I make no secret of the fact that I would rather lie on a sofa than sweep beneath it. ~Shirley Conran

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When the snow is piled high and it seems like anything of any interest is buried under it I go to the woods and look at the trees. They’re never buried and they always have something fascinating to show me, like lichens. Lichens will grow on just about anything including glass, but this post is devoted to those I’ve found on trees.

The yellow on the trunk of the tree in the previous photo I believe is made up of fringed candle flame lichens (Candelaria fibrosa) like that seen above, but I’m not a lichenologist and I don’t own a test kit or microscope, so don’t hold me to it. This lichen must like a lot of water because I see it a lot on the lower parts of trees that grow near irrigation systems, with trunks that are almost always wet in warmer months. This lichen always reminds me of scrambled eggs.

What prompted me to do this post was a visit to the doctor’s office. I walked past a tree that had bushy green things all over it and luckily I had my camera with me, so I ran back and took a few quick shots before the appointment. This is the first time I’ve seen anything like this.

It has taken quite a while to figure out what this lichen might be called but its green body (thallus) with flattened strap like branches and white fruiting bodies (apothecia) have led me to finally settle on the tufted ramalina lichen (Ramalina fastigiata.) A lichen guide from 1902 says this lichen is “very common in New England” but I’ve never seen it. It is also apparently very common in the U.K.

This is an odd lichen with large apothecia that look like they just erupt anywhere on the body but also look like they are stalked, depending how you look at them. Some are convex and some concave and some have rims and some don’t. The white apothecia are reproductive structures where the lichen’s spores are produced. This is a very interesting lichen that I hope to see more of without having to visit the doctor.

The doctor’s trees were full of surprises. I almost made myself late taking photos of the tufted ramalina so I went back later and looked the trees over a little more closely. When I did I found another lichen I had never seen; the Eastern speckled shield lichen. According to what I’ve read it grows on the bark of deciduous trees, has a bluish gray body with large brown apothecia, and has brown to black dots (pycnidia) on the surface of the body. This lichen has all of that but what it doesn’t have that I could see are white, grainy bits called psuedocyphellae so I can’t be 100% sure of my identification. If you know more about this or any of the lichens seen here I’d love to hear from you.

Common greenshield lichen (Flavoparmelia caperata) is indeed very common. It’s a large lichen and colonies of them often grow to cover entire trees. Older ones wrinkle like the example seen here. Like many lichens they change color, and go from grayish when dry to yellow green when wet. This example had just been rained on a day or two before I took the photo but was still dry, so it doesn’t take them long to dry out. This lichen also taught me that many lichens prefer growing on the shady side of trees, presumably so the sun doesn’t dry them out quite so fast.

If you saw what looked like blue eyes near the greenshield lichen in the previous photo they were just the apothecia of the star rosette lichen (Physcia stellaris) seen here. The apothecia of this lichen are actually dark brown but they have a powdery wax coating that can cause their color to change depending on the light. Plant parts with this powdery waxy coating are said to be pruinose and a good example of it is the “bloom” on blueberries, grapes, plums, and other fruit. The coating reflects light and protects what it coats from the sun. Depending on the angle of the light these apothecia can appear blue, gray, brown or black. That’s why it pays to visit lichens several times.

I was shocked to find a tree with hammered shield lichens (Parmelia sulcata) all over it, because my experience up to this point has shown it to be on the rare side here. There didn’t seem to be anything special about the deciduous tree they were on, but it was in a sheltered spot. Hammered shield lichen is said to have a large variety of named varieties and forms, so it can be tough to pin down.

Hammered shield lichens are silvery gray and their many sharp ridges and depressions makes them look like they’ve been hammered out of a piece of steel. Fruiting bodies are said to be rare and I’ve never seen them. It is said to have powdery, whitish soredia but I’ve never seen them either. This one had granular bits that looked like soredia on its lobe edges but they were gray, so maybe it’s one of the aforementioned varieties.

Poplar sunburst (Xanthomendoza hasseana) is a very pretty lichen but it isn’t very common, in my experience. It’s a good one to study because it has large apothecia that are almost always present. A close relative of this lichen, the elegant sunburst lichen, was sent into space and exposed to ultraviolet radiation, cosmic radiation, and the vacuum of space for a year and a half.  When it was brought back to earth it grew on as if nothing had happened, and that’s why many believe lichens are virtually indestructible and are therefore as immortal as any earth based life form can be.

Some lichens prefer growing on smooth barked trees but others don’t seem to care and will form themselves to whatever shape the bark they grow on happens to have. What I think is a rosy saucer lichen (Ochrolechia trochophora) had done just that and was bowl shaped, but still happily producing spores.

Shrubby little beard lichens are fruticose lichens, and fruticose lichens have upright or pendulous branches. I think this one is a bristly beard (Usnea hirta.) Though it grew on the shadier side of a tree it was caught in bright sunlight, and I’d guess that it must get an hour a day. One way beard lichens reproduce is by fragmentation. Pieces break off and are carried by the wind or maybe animal fur to another spot to colonize. There are many of these high up in the trees and they come down, often still attached to the branch they grew on, during a good wind. I’ve found as many on the ground as I have on trees.

This is an extreme close up of a different beard lichen showing its granular soredia, which are another means of reproduction. A soredium is a tiny granular ball of fungal hyphae and algal cells. They can grow on the body of the lichen or on its margins. No matter what living thing you find in nature, it’s always about the continuation of the species, and the drive to survive seems very strong in all of the things I see.

I think this lichen is a powder edged ruffle lichen (Parmotrema stuppeum) because of its uniform gray color, broad rounded lobes with erect edges, and soralia on the lobe edges. Soralia are groups of soredia meant to fall or break off a lichen and are used as a vegetative means of reproduction. They are what makes this lichen’s lobe edges look like they were dipped in powdered sugar. This lichen also has dark brown to black undersides but they aren’t seen in this photo. It was about as big as a penny, or about 3/4 of an inch across.

Some lichens might look like they have little spiders on them, or maybe as if they had been carved with a pocket knife but no, the squiggly lines are the apothecia of the script lichen (Graphis scripta.) This lichen prefers trees with smooth bark and, from what I’ve seen, only produces spores in winter. You can walk right by a tree full of script lichens in summer and see only grayish spots with no apothecia at all. In fact many lichens seem to prefer winter for spore production and I’ve never been able to find out why.

Beautiful in its simplicity is the maple dust lichen (Lecanora thysanophora.) Plain and undressed without the fussiness of other lichens, it makes me think I could just stand and stare at it, warmed by its calm, clean lines. But how does it reproduce? I’ve never seen any reproductive structures of any kind on it so I had to look it up. The answer is that it does have apothecia, but very rarely. It also has “a thin patchy layer of soredia,” though I’ve never noticed it. The white fringe around the outside is called the prothallus and using it is a great way to identify this lichen, because from what I’ve read there isn’t another that has it.

I hope you’ll go out and look at the trees in your neighborhood. You might be very surprised by what you see.

I find myself inspecting little granules as it were on the bark of trees – little shields or apothecia springing from a thallus – such is the mood of my mind – and I call it studying. ~ Henry David Thoreau

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I hope everyone can stand seeing more ice covered water because we have an awful lot of it here right now. This is a little pond I visit often in summer but I don’t think I’ve done so in winter, so I thought I’d give it a go. In summer it is full of fragrant white water lilies, and great blue heron, Canada geese, and ducks visit it often. I’ve seen mink and beaver here as well, so it seems to be a popular place with wildlife of all kinds. The pond ice was very shiny because we had a day of rain and warmth and then everything re-froze.

The rain washed a lot of the snow away again. It’s been going this way since November, with cold and snow one week and warmth and rain the next.

Not all the snow had disappeared but the top layer of this snow had and the tunnels of a mouse or vole became visible. There is a lot more activity under snow than a lot of people realize.

Near the shore the ice was thin and full of lacy patterns.

There are a lot of alders around the pond. You can often tell an alder from quite a distance because of all the tongue gall that grows on the female seed cones, called strobiles. They are what make these large dark bunches on the branches.

The male alder catkins (On the right) are starting to show some color. It will be a while before the much smaller female catkins on the left show any. Once they bloom tiny scarlet threads, which are the female flowers, will poke out from between the scales on the catkins. I watch for the male catkin’s release of pollen to know when to look for the almost microscopic female flowers.

Though I don’t know if this is one of their nests red winged blackbirds nest here in great numbers, and they aren’t afraid to protect their nests by flying all around your head.

They’ll use the downy seeds from the many cattails around the pond to line their nests with. This is where I first saw a female red winged blackbird grab a big white grub out of a dead cattail stem. I’ve seen them do the same in other places since. I had no idea that grubs were in cattail stems and I still don’t know what insect they turn into.

I could see a lot of plant growth under the ice.

I could also see thousands of bubbles in the ice and I wondered if they were coming from the plants.

Here was something I’ve never seen on a pond; the huge slab of ice on the right had broken away from that on the left and had fallen about 3 or 4 inches. That tells me there must be quite an air space under the ice. This happens regularly on rivers but not on ponds that I’ve seen. The ice was noisy on this day and was cracking, creaking, groaning, and grinding. If you’ve never heard the eerie sounds that ice can make you really should walk by a frozen pond or lake. You’ll hear things you’ve never heard.

You could have knocked me over with a feather when I saw these pussy willows. In January!

Much of January was warm but I didn’t think it was warm enough to coax plants into bloom. Since we’re supposed to drop below zero again this week spring might be a little different this year. I would think that extreme cold would kill off these buds, but maybe not. They do have nice fur coats.

I saw a very strange pouch like web or cocoon on a tree. It wasn’t very big; about the diameter of a pencil or maybe a little bigger. I’ve never seen anything like it and couldn’t find anything that looked like it online so I wrote to insect expert Charley Eiseman and sent him the photo. In about 5 minutes he had written back and explained that this is a tussock moth cocoon, probably made by the white marked tussock moth. The caterpillar constructed it incorporating its own hairs into the design. Tussock moth caterpillars are very hairy and their hairs can cause a rash when touched, so I’m glad I didn’t touch it. Thanks very much to Charley for the help.

If you like seeing and reading about insects Charley’s blog is the place for you. It can be found at bugtracks.wordpress.com

That isn’t water. It’s ice and yes, it was as slippery as it looks. I didn’t think I’d need my micro spikes out here so I was bare soled and sliding.

I went off the road into the brush to look at something and got snagged on these, the sharp, ripping thorns of the multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora,) which is an invasive plant from China that seems bent on taking over the world. The raspberry plant-like blossoms appear in June by the hundreds and are extremely fragrant.

Of course each blossom turns into a rose hip and birds (and squirrels) love them. That’s why and how the plants spread like they do. They crawl up and over native shrubs and take up most of the available sunlight. The native shrub, deprived of light, eventually dies.

Overhead were thousands of red maple buds. It won’t be much longer before they start to open. It usually happens sometime in mid-March.

Milk white toothed polypores (Irpex lacteus) are resupinate fungi, which means they look like they grow upside down, and that’s what many crust fungi seem to do. This is a common winter mushroom with “teeth” that are actually ragged bits of spore producing tissue which start life as pores or tubes and break apart and turn brown as they age. This fungus can often be found on the undersides of hardwood branches but these examples grew on a stump. They seem to thrive in the cold but also seem to shun direct sunlight, because I often find them on the shaded side of whatever they’re growing on.

Geum urbanum is also called herb Bennet or wood avens, and it’s originally from Europe and the Middle East. The flowers are yellow with 5 petals and have the “look” of the avens family like our native white or yellow avens. But the seed heads are very different and that’s why I think this must be the seen head of Geum urbanum. According to what I’ve read the plant’s roots have the same compounds as the clove plant and are used as a spice in soups and for flavoring ale. Modern herbalists use the plant medicinally as it has been used for many centuries. The idea for Velcro came from a plant with barbed seeds much like this example.

I think the seeds of curly dock (Rumex crispus) are very pretty but I never thought I’d see them in January. There were quite a few plants here, all full of seeds. Though the leaves of curly dock are poisonous to sheep and cattle humans can eat it. The leaves are high in beta carotene, vitamin C, and zinc and the seeds are rich in calcium. Curly dock was an important vegetable during the great depression and the humble plant kept many people alive. They are said to have a lemony flavor.

The cold of winter does things to people and it also does things to plants. Sap from conifers like the white pine and certain spruces like that seen here is usually a honey, amber color but in winter the cold can turn it blue. The deeper the blue, the colder it’s been. It’s quite a beautiful cornflower blue on this tree at the moment and that might be because we’ve seen below zero cold.

All in all I found the pond to be the same quiet, serene place in winter that it is in summer. That should be surprising because this little pond is actually a man-made retention pond that holds water for firefighting, because there is a large mall just off the edge of some of these photos. It just goes to show once again that you don’t have to go very far to enjoy nature. It’s just outside.

Looking at the pond all I could think was that it is an incredible thing how a whole world can rise from what seems like nothing at all. ~Sarah Dressen

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I should mention, for newer readers, that these “Things I’ve seen” posts are made up of photos I’ve taken of things that didn’t fit into other posts, usually because the other posts were already far too long. Quite often I end up with too many photos to fit in one post but I don’t want to waste them, so here they are.

The pond in this shot shows very well what “rotten ice” looks like. Specks of dirt and bubbles get between the ice crystal bonds and weaken their strength, and when it looks like this, with a dark matte finish, you certainly don’t want to walk on it. Of course this was taken when we had a warm spell. The ice has firmed up now and is covered with about 6 inches of snow.

The pond in the previous photo connects to a swamp by way of a culvert under a road and beavers use it to travel back and forth, stopping long enough to cut some trees on the way.

The beavers have been very active here this year and have cut many young birch trees in this area. They do this every few years and then cut somewhere else, giving the birches time to grow back. I’ve seen these clumps grow back at least twice in the 30 years or so that I’ve paid attention.

You know you’re seeing some strange weather when a tree drips sap in January.

But then it got cold; cold enough to grow ice shelves on the Ashuelot River.

How enticing they are to pig headed little boys who don’t like to listen to their elders. I know that because I was one of those once, and I walked right down the middle of the frozen river. All of the sudden I heard what sounded like rifle shots and I ran as fast as I could for the river bank. When I was able to peel myself from the tree I had a death grip on and take a look, I saw water where I had been walking. It scared me more than anything else ever has I think, and I doubt I’ll ever forget it.

Even the stones were coated with ice.

The Ashuelot was tame on this day and there were no waves to take photos of.

The river had coughed up an ice bauble which caught the sunshine but didn’t melt. I’m always surprised by how clear river ice is. This bauble was so clear I could see a V shaped something frozen inside it.

Jelly fungi are made almost entirely water so of course they were frozen too. This amber example felt like an ice cube rather than an earlobe as they usually do. Freezing doesn’t seem to affect them much, I’ve noticed.

The seed eating birds have been busy picking all the prickly looking coneflower seeds in my yard. They had just gotten started on this one.

And they had just about finished with this one. Odd that these seed heads are hollow.

I don’t know if birds eat the tiny seeds of forked blue curls (Trichostema dichotomum) but the seed pods look almost like a trough that would make them easy to reach. I can’t remember this pretty little annual plant having such hairy parts in life but they certainly do in death.

I thought the color of these dead fern stems (Rachis) was very beautiful on a winter day. I think they might have been hay scented fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula,) which grow in large colonies and have stems that persist long after the leaves have fallen.

Many things are as beautiful in death as they are in life, especially fungi. I don’t know if I’d go so far as to call this one beautiful but it was certainly interesting.

This isn’t a very good photo but it does help illustrate how strange our weather has been, because you don’t see too many flies flying around in January in New Hampshire. Last Tuesday it was -13 degrees F. and everything was frozen solid. By Thursday it was 50 degrees; warm enough apparently to awaken this fly. It was also warm enough to cause an unusual snow slide in Claremont, which is north of here. A large amount of snow suddenly slid down a hillside and slammed into a house, partially destroying it. It also pushed a parked truck about 75 feet.

It’s easy to see how the horse hoof fungus (Fomes fomentarius) got its name. It’s also easy to see how this fungus grows, because its spore bearing surface always points toward the ground. If you see a fallen log with this fungus on it and its spore bearing surface doesn’t point toward the ground you know that it grew while the tree was standing. If it does point toward the ground it grew after the tree fell. This bracket fungus produces spores at all times of year but through spring and summer studies have shown that it can produce as many as 800 million in a single hour; fine as dust and nearly impossible to see. The fungus is also known for its ability to stop bleeding and was recommended for that purpose by Hippocrates, who is considered the father of medicine.

Lemon drop fungi (Bisporella citrina) start life as a tiny bright yellow disc and look as if they lie flat on the log, but they actually hover just above the surface on a short stalk. As they age each disc becomes cup shaped. The Citrina part of the scientific name comes from the Latin Citrin, which means “lemon yellow.” They are very small, so you’ll need a loupe or a macro lens to see them properly.

Longtime readers of this blog know that I like looking at buds at this time of year and some of my favorite buds are found on the red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa.) They’re about medium size as buds go, and nice and chubby. I love their beautiful purple and green color combination.

I think my favorite thing this time around is this river ice that caught and magnified the blue of the sky. I thought it was quite beautiful, but blue is my favorite color so that could have something to do with it.

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

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