Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Northern Water Snake’

For six weeks now we’ve had at least one rainy day per week and often two or three. This has amounted to a drought busting 2-3 inches of rain each week and the water table is again where it should be, if not a little high. Unfortunately along with the rain we’ve had cold and until this past week it seemed that it would never warm up, but warm up it has and temps in the 90s are expected for part of next week. Beaver brook seems happier when it’s full. It cheering chuckles and giggles can be heard throughout the forest and it is a welcome companion when I walk along its shores.

The orangey red fertile fronds of cinnamon fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) have appeared. They once reminded someone of sticks of cinnamon, and that’s how this fern comes by its common name.

A closer look shows that this isn’t cinnamon. The fertile fronds are covered with its sporangia, which is where its spores are produced. Each one is hardly bigger than a pin head. Native Americans used this fern medicinally, both externally and internally for joint pain. Many ferns were also woven into mats.

Even the seeds (samaras) of red maple (Acer rubrum) are red, and a beautiful red at that. Squirrels love red maple seeds and that’s probably a good thing because our trees produce many millions of them. A single tree about a foot in diameter was shown to produce nearly a million seeds, and red maple is the most abundant native tree in eastern North America. Native Americans used red maple bark to wash inflamed eyes and as a remedy for hives and muscle aches. The tree’s wood was used for tools and its sap boiled into maple sugar, much like the sap of the sugar maple.

One of the things that determines how many acorns an oak will produce is the weather. Since the male flowers release pollen to the wind in the hopes that it will reach the female flowers, rain can have a big impact because it can wash the pollen out of the air. Since we’ve had a lot of rain this spring it will be interesting to see how many acorns we have this fall. The flowers shown are the male catkins of a red oak (Quercus rubra.)

These are the male pollen bearing cones of the mugo pine (Pinus mugo.) Mugo pine is a native of southwestern and Central Europe which is used as a landscape specimen. Its pollen cones closely resemble those of our eastern white pine (Pinus strobus) When the female flowers are fertilized by this pollen they produce the seed bearing pine cones that we are all familiar with. Here in New Hampshire pine pollen is responsible for turning any horizontal surface, including ponds and vehicles, a dusty green color each spring. It also makes some of us have sneezing fits.

I heard that the new spring fiddleheads of the royal fern (Osmunda regalis var. spectabilis) were purple and, since I’ve never paid attention to them I decided to go and see some. Sure enough they were deep purple. I shouldn’t have been surprised because another name for this fern is flowering fern, because its fertile fronds are purple.

Royal fern is the only fern that grows on every temperate continent except Australia, which makes it one of the most widespread of all living species. They are also thought to be one of the oldest living things, with fossil records of the Osmundaceae family dating back over 300 million years. Individual plants are thought to be able to live 100 years or more. They like wet feet and grow along stream and river banks in low, damp areas.

Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) starts out life in spring with its leaves colored red or bronze and people are often fooled by it at this stage. It is a plant that anyone who spends time in the woods should get to know well, but even then you can still occasionally be caught by it. It doesn’t need to have leaves on it to produce a reaction; I usually end up with a rash on my legs each spring from kneeling on the leafless vines to take photos of spring beauties. Luckily it doesn’t bother me too much but I’ve known people who had to be hospitalized because of it.

This Northern water snake was basking in the sun, which they often do. I’ve seen them about 3 feet long but they can reach about 4 1/2 feet in length. According to Wikipedia they can be brown, gray, reddish, or brownish-black, but the ones I’ve seen have looked black. That could be because they were wet but they also darken with age and become almost black. They aren’t venomous but I’ve heard that they will bite and that their bite can sometimes lead to an infection if it isn’t taken care of. They eat small fish, frogs, worms, leeches, crayfish, salamanders, and even small birds and mammals, like chipmunks. They’re also very fast and hard to get a good photo of.

Early one morning I saw a dragonfly on a building. I knew it was alive because it was moving one of its legs slowly back and forth. It let me get the camera very close and didn’t flinch even when I turned on the camera’s LED light. I haven’t been able to confidently identify it but I thought it might be a Lancet club tail. I hope someone will let me know if I’m wrong.

I’ve never gotten so close to a dragonfly. Odd that it didn’t fly away.

Tent caterpillars appear in early spring as buds begin to open. They prefer fruit trees but can also be found on maples, hawthorn and others. Their nests are smaller and more compact than fall webworms and are found in the crotch of branches rather than at the ends. Often the caterpillars can be seen crawling over the outside surface of the nest as these were. They feed in morning and early evening, and on warm nights. They do a lot of damage and can defoliate a tree in no time at all. Though the tree will usually grow new leaves it will have been severely weakened and may not bear fruit. As the larvae feed they will make the silky nest larger to enclose more foliage.

A close up look at the tent caterpillars. They can be seen crawling everywhere at this time of year. Tent caterpillars are an important food source for insects, animals and birds. One bear was found to have eaten about 25,000 of them and more than 60 species of birds will eat them. Frogs, mice, skunks, bats, reptiles and 28 different insects help control the population but nothing can stop them. Scientists have found that a severe outbreak can defoliate tens of thousands of acres of forest.

This robin had a beak full of caterpillars but they weren’t tent caterpillars. He didn’t seem real happy to see me.

Some think that without ants their peony blossoms wouldn’t open, but that’s really just an old wive’s tale. Peony buds have very small glands called extrafloral nectaries along the outside edges of their bud scales. These glands produce a mixture of sugar, water and amino acids, and this is what attracts the ants. To repay the peony for its gift of nectar the ants drive off pests that might harm the buds.

Native Americans held turkeys in such high regard they buried the birds when they died, but the turkey’s value was in its feathers, not its meat. The feathers were used to decorate their ceremonial clothing and as arrow fletching to stabilize arrows.  They were also used for winter cloaks because they were lightweight and very warm. A feather from a turkey was powerful medicine thought to symbolize abundance, pride, fertility and wisdom, but the meat was considered starvation food. Early colonials mentioned the small flocks of young turkeys seen near Native villages and how the Natives refused to kill them for food, which they couldn’t understand. Of course Europeans saw little to no value in the feathers.

Why some plants have red or purple leaves in spring isn’t fully understood, but it’s thought that the color helps protect their new, fragile leaves from damaging ultraviolet rays and cold temperatures. It isn’t just trees that use this strategy; many shrubs and plants also have new leaves tinged with red or purple. The rattlesnake weed (Hieracium venosum) in the above photo shows just how purple some new spring leaves can be. Eventually all its leaves will be green but the color won’t disappear entirely; a deep maroon color will be left on their veins, making this a very beautiful plant at any time of year.

The heartwood of oaks and some other tree species have a high tannin content and when iron or steel come into contact with the tannins a chemical reaction takes place. This almost always results in a discoloration of the wood. It is caused by nails, barbed wire, chains, or any one of a hundred other iron or steel objects that can be found in trees. There is even a photo online of a bicycle grown into a tree. This is trouble for loggers, because if the sawmill sees stains like those on the red oak log pictured above they’ll reject the log. Their saw blades are expensive and running them through steel just doesn’t work.

If you happened upon a shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) tree just after bud break it would be easy to believe that you were seeing a tree full of beautiful flowers, but what you saw would be the colorful insides of the newly opened bud scales. What you saw would also be one of the most beautiful things you could find in a New England forest in spring.

The woods were ringed with a color so soft, so subtle that it could scarcely be said to be a color at all. It was more the idea of a color – as if the trees were dreaming green dreams or thinking green thoughts.  ~Susanna Clarke

Thanks for Stopping in.

Read Full Post »

1. Logging Road

On Saturday I decided to visit a beaver pond that I’d heard might prove to be a worthwhile walk. I started off down this old logging road, which was well worn and rutted, in Hancock. It was early and cool on a day that was supposed to be hot later, with temperatures in the high 80s F. We’ve been having a few of those lately and there are more to come.

2. Stone Wall

The stone walls lining both sides of the road told me that this land once looked far different than what it does now. It was cleared and farmed at one time and folks lived out here in what now seems like the middle of nowhere. But I can see why they built here; the land is level in places and is relatively protected by hills, and there is a stream running through it.

3. Trail

Through a break in the wall you turn onto the trail that leads to the beaver pond.

4. Boulder

The trail is called boulder trail for good reason. There are some very big stones out here; car, truck and house size. Can you imagine wanting to clear the land and seeing this, when all you had was an axe and maybe a pair of oxen? They must have just cleared around it because here it still sits.

5. Swamp

Finally you reach the beaver pond. It’s peaceful here but far from quiet. Bullfrogs made their presence known with loud bellowing cries from every direction. They usually do this in the evening and at night, but will also croak during the day when the breeding season is at its peak. It must be at its peak now because there had to have been thousands calling; most of them male. At one point they started calling at one end of the pond and then more and more joined in, all perfectly synchronized, until you could feel as well as hear the wave of sound pass around the pond. I’ve never heard anything like it from bullfrogs. Spring peepers yes, but not bullfrogs.

6. Beaver Lodge

A beaver lodge was off shore a few yards, but I didn’t see any beavers.

7. Beaver Trail

I didn’t really need to see the beavers to know they were there though. Their trails through the floating aquatic plants told me that they were active, most likely at night. The grass growing beyond the trail isn’t a good sign for the beavers though. It means their pond is silting up, and there isn’t a thing that they can do about it except move on. Sometime in the future their unmaintained dam will collapse and the land will drain and dry out. Trees will take root, and once again this place will be a forest with a stream running through it. Beavers will then move back in, start to cut the trees and build another dam, and the ever repeating 30 year cycle will start again.

8. Beaver Tree

Their activity was very recent. There must have been 30 or more trees either felled or in the process of being cut. It’s a bit unnerving out here on a windy day I would imagine, because some of the standing trees had been cut to one tenth their original diameter.

9. Beaver Tree

There isn’t much left of its original self. One good wind gust and over it goes.

10. Blue Flags

But there wasn’t any wind and anyway, I was too busy looking at all the beautiful things around me to worry about falling trees.

11. Blue Flag-2

Blue flag iris (Iris versicolor) is a beautiful flower and I’m always happy to see it. It loves to grow on the shore of virtually any slow moving or still water and so is right at home here.

12. Great Blue Heron Chicks

The beaver pond attracted fish and bullfrogs and they in turn attracted great blue herons, which built their nests in the still standing dead trees. Sometimes the trees looked like high rise apartments with multiple nests. Each nest seemed to have at least two chicks in it.  I heard that one of the special things about this place is how the herons have become used to seeing people, and it’s true; they aren’t as skittish as they’ve been in other rookeries I’ve visited. All of these photos were shot in the morning, but I learned to wait until afternoon to come here, because in the morning the sunshine falls almost directly on the trail where you stand, which means right at your lens, and that can make for some challenging photography.

13. Great Blue Heron

My camera really doesn’t have the reach required to get good photos of herons in the middle of a beaver pond but this one sat in a tree nearer to me than most. Herons will teach you patience by standing statue-still for long periods of time but finally, this one had an itch.

14. Dragonfly

When I wasn’t watching statuesque herons I watched the multitudes of dragonflies flitting back and forth. I think this one is a female or newly emerged male blue dasher, but it’s hard for me to tell. As dragonflies will, this one kept leaving and returning to its perch and even fought with others for the right to use it.

15. Fragrant White Waterlily

The fragrant white waterlilies (Nymphaea odorata) were just opening and were beautiful as always. While I was trying to find an unobstructed view of this flower a big black northern water snake caught a frog and dragged it under. There would be one less voice in the chorus on this night.

16. Northern Water Snake by Wikipedia

The Northern water snake was too fast for me to get a photo of but I thought you might want to see what they looked like, so I found this excellent shot by Matthew Hayes on Wikipedia.  It shows one of the big snakes basking in the sun, which they often do. I’ve seen them about 3 feet long but they can reach about 4 1/2  feet in length. According to Wikipedia they can be brown, gray, reddish, or brownish-black, but the ones I’ve seen have looked black. That could be because they were wet but they also darken with age and become almost black. They aren’t venomous but I’ve heard that they will bite and that their bite can sometimes lead to an infection if it isn’t taken care of. They eat small fish, frogs, worms, leeches, crayfish, salamanders, and even small birds and mammals, like chipmunks. They’re also very fast and hard to get a photo of.

17. Indian Cucumber

I’ve never seen so many trillium, lady’s slippers, blue bead lilies and Indian cucumber root plants in one place before. There were so many in places it was hard not to step on them. The above photo shows an immature Indian cucumber root plant (Medeola virginiana,) too young to bloom. I chose it for a photo because I wanted you to see how its leaves grow in a whorl around the stem. It will produce another tier of whorled leaves higher on the stem when it becomes old enough to bloom. The plant gets its common name from its small white, carrot shaped edible root, which tastes like cucumber. Native Americans used it for food and also used it medicinally. The Medeola part of the plant’s scientific name is from Medea, a magical enchantress from Greek Mythology. It refers to the plant’s magical curative powers.

18. Indian Cucumber Blossom

The flowers of Indian cucumber root usually nod under the leaves and have 6 yellowish-green recurved tepals, 6 reddish stamens topped by greenish anthers, and 3 reddish-purple to brown, curved styles. These large styles are sometimes bright red-brown like those shown but I think they darken as they age. Each flower will become a shiny, inedible dark purplish-black berry.

19. Black and Blue Damselfly

I think this is a common blue damselfly, but it’s uncommonly beautiful. It’s also my favorite shade of blue.

20. Wild Calla aka Calla palustris

As I was sitting on a log waiting for the blue herons to do something interesting I noticed these plants that I’d never seen before growing at the water’s edge. I get excited when I see a plant I’ve never seen, so I had to have a closer look.

21. Wild Calla aka Calla palustris

Wild calla (Calla palustris) was what they were and you could have knocked me over with a feather, I was so surprised. I’ve been roaming around swamps and backwaters for 50 years and I’ve never seen this plant. Though it isn’t thought to be rare in New Hampshire it is said to be a more northern species, so that could explain why I never see it. It’s also called water arum and is in the same family as Jack in the pulpit and other arums. Like jack in the pulpit the flowers appear on a spadix surrounded by a spathe. The spathe is the white leaf like part seen in the above photo. The plant is toxic and it is said that the Native American Meskwaki tribe of the great lakes region chopped the root and put it in the food of their enemies, causing them great pain and possibly death.

22. Wild Calla aka Calla palustris Close

Unfortunately I missed the actual flowers, which are tiny and greenish white, and grow along the spadix where the green berries are now. These berries will ripen to bright red and will most likely be snapped up by a passing deer. One odd fact about this plant is how its flowers are pollinated by water snails passing over the spadix. It is thought that small flies and midges also help with pollination, because the odor from the blossoms is said to be very rank.

23. Swamp

Some say that you can see heaven in water and I thought I saw it once or twice myself in this beautiful place. There is a sense of wonder and mystery in such places and time can seem to stop, and that’s one thing that makes them so special. I’m sorry that this grew to such a long post but there was much to see and still, I’ve barely scratched the surface. I’ll definitely be returning; I’d love to see it in winter.

I am grateful for the magic, mystery and majesty of nature – my loyal friend and companion – always there, welcoming and waiting for me to come; to be healed. ~Tom North

Thanks for coming by.

Read Full Post »