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Posts Tagged ‘Oak Buds’

The word “Ashuelot” is pronounced Ash-will-ot if you’re from this area or Ash-wee-lot if you’re from away. The word is a Native American one meaning “collection of many waters.” For years I read that the word meant “the place between” but that didn’t make a lot of sense. “A collection of many waters” makes much more sense because that’s exactly what the river is. Wandering the banks of the Ashuelot is something I’ve done since I was too young to even retain the memory of doing so, and I do it often. On this day I was happy to see that the ice shelves had melted and the sandy / stony shoreline was back. The river has been very high for over a month and it’s good to see it finally ready to absorb the next big rain storm, which should come sometime in April unless that month has gone haywire too.

I stopped to admire some ice formations and take some photos so I wouldn’t have to try and explain how cold it was. Actually it wasn’t bad in the sunshine when the wind wasn’t blowing but it was blowing almost constantly along this stretch of river, so it was a day to be wrapped up like you would be in January.

The ice had formed discs on every twig that was in the water and this was remarkable only because the ever splashing water usually forms icy tear drop shapes on the twigs. In fact I don’t think I’ve ever seen these disc shapes here before.

Here is what I’m more used to seeing. Ice baubles I call them, but there weren’t many to be seen. They happen because of the way the current makes the water constantly rise and fall along the shoreline, so one second the twig is in the cold air and the next it’s under water. The runoff freezes and layer by layer and an ice bauble is made. It reminds me of dipping a wick in melted wax over and over again to make a candle.

This is where I come to practice my wave catching skills but there were none to catch on this day because the water was too low. It has to be at just the right height for good waves to form. Too low or too high and there are no waves. I took some photos anyway though, because the water looked like satin as it poured over the unseen stones that cause the waves.

Oak leaves huddled together as if to warm each other in the chilly breeze. I love the warm, orangey brown color of last year’s oak leaves, but I won’t be sorry to see them finally fall.

The oak buds seemed to be swelling a bit but it was hard to know. Oaks are one of our latest trees to leaf out in spring.

I saw a chubby little bird in a bush which looked like it was hoping I wouldn’t see it. I think it was a dark eyed junco but I’m not 100% sure of that. I see these small dark colored birds feeding in flocks along roadsides where the snow has melted away from the pavement , exposing the soil and grass. I’ve read that dark eyed juncos come here as winter sets in and leave in spring, so they must like the cold. There are said to be about 630 million of them from Alaska to Mexico, and all across the U.S. from coast to coast.

I wondered if the juncos were eating the sumac seeds so I had to look it up. Apparently they eat smaller seeds like those of grasses, lamb’s quarters and the like, and in warmer months they also eat insects. Robins, blue jays, grosbeaks, ruffed grouse, cardinals and other larger birds eat the sumac fruit, but it never disappears here until spring.

I went to visit the Ashuelot Falls on West Street in Keene. I used to fish here quite often when I was a boy but back then the river wasn’t as clean as it is now so I didn’t catch that many fish. An occasional perch or dace was about it but that was fine, because my being here really didn’t have much to do with catching fish anyway. I’d let a forked stick hold my pole while I explored the river bank. Now they catch trout here, I’m told.

I wouldn’t have been surprised to see ice pancakes in January but this was March, so I was surprised.

Ice pancakes form when the river foam stirred up by falls or other turbulence comes together into a misshapen lump. As the current moves the misshapen lumps they bump and jostle each other until all the rough edges are shaved off and they’ve become round like a pancake. Then they begin to freeze and their edges build up into rims.

Here is what an ice pancake looks like when it starts life, before its friends smooth out all those angles.

Canada geese waded in the shallows. More and more of them are returning to nest and raise their young in the reed beds along the river. There is always one lookout standing tall while the others preen, sleep, or eat and they count on their lookout to sound the alarm. I wondered if most of these birds even knew I was there.

My pointing the camera at them was too much for one or two of the geese and they swam off quickly.

Normally a river gets deeper as you go toward its middle but a sandbar has grown here, so the water in the middle is quite shallow. Not good for navigation but the geese know they can stand here rather than swim and they take advantage of being able to rest while still in the water. The shading from dark to lighter brown in this photo shows where the sandbar is.

A maple tree had been pecked full of holes by an unseen woodpecker.

I didn’t have to see this woodpecker to know it was a pileated woodpecker, which is our biggest. Its holes are large and almost always rectangular. All of the holes in the previous photo would fit inside this one with plenty of room to spare.

The hole in this old red maple (Acer rubrum) was the biggest of all but I doubt very much that it was made by a bird or an animal. I think the river has washed the soil out from under it.

The hole was plenty big and roomy enough for me to comfortably sit in, almost like a hobbit.

I knew the old tree was a red maple by its buds. The bud scales in many of these examples had pulled back to reveal the many pinkish flowers inside. Those over on the left were even protruding a bit from the bud, but it was still too early to tell if they were male or female blossoms. It’s a good thing they hadn’t fully opened because the temperature fell to zero degrees on this night. The cold isn’t going to leave quickly this year but today is the first full day of spring, even if it doesn’t seem it.

I was born upon thy bank, river,
My blood flows in thy stream,
And thou meanderest forever,
At the bottom of my dream.
~Henry David Thoreau

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1-out-the-back-door

After a cold December and the eighth warmest January on record, February is doing it again; we’ve had so many storms in the first two weeks I’ve lost track. This view is of my back yard after one of them; a light one, by the looks.

2-ashuelot-river

We’ve also had cold, but not much of the bitter below zero kind. Still, as this view of the Ashuelot River in Swanzey shows, temperatures in the teens for a few days are enough to get rivers freezing.

3-snow-wave

We’ve had plenty of wind too, and below zero wind chills one day. Because it has been so cold when the snow falls it falls as light powder which blows and drifts easily. In one spot it had been blown into a snow wave; curled just like an ocean wave.

4-snow-wave

I tried to be clever and get a photo through the curl of the snow wave but all I had was my cell phone so it didn’t work out very well. I was trying not to get snow all over the phone while kneeling and bending in the snow.

5-ashuelot-river

Unfortunately the river is on the low side and calm, so I couldn’t get any photos of waves at my favorite spot for wave watching. With the drought last summer cancelling most of the wave action I’m starting to feel wave deprived. I love to see if I can tune in to the rhythm of the river and click the shutter at just the right moment.

6-ashurlot-wave

This earlier photo of river waves shows what I was hoping to see, but we need more rain or snow melt to make this happen again. And then we’ll need some sunshine too.

7-oak-leaves

I love the beautiful rich, warm orange brown of oak leaves in winter. They and beech always add a little color to the winter woods. And quite often add sound as well, when the wind blows.

8-oak-branch

I’m not the only one who appreciates oaks in winter; a deer came along and ate buds from this branch. They’re having a rough time of it this winter I think, with lots of snow on top of ice it’s very hard to get around. I tried to wade through knee deep snow the other day without snowshoes on and was quickly turned back. I’m not young enough for that anymore. It’s exhausting.

9-squirrel-nest

I saw what looked like a bundle high up in the top of a tree one day.

10-squirrel-nest

A closer look showed it to be a bundle of leaves; a gray squirrel nest. Leaf nests start with a floor woven from twigs with damp leaves and moss packed on top. A spherical framework is woven around the base and leaves, moss, and twigs are stuffed into it until a hollow shell of about 6 to 8 inches across has been created. Gray Squirrels can have nests that are up to 2 feet wide. This one was quite big; at least the size of a soccer ball. Squirrels will also use hollow trees as nests when they can find them. Last spring I saw a hollow tree with three baby gray squirrel heads poking out of a crack, but of course I didn’t have a camera ready.

11-squirrel-tracks

Gray squirrels have 4 toes on their front feet and 5 on their rear feet, and when they’re bounding along at speed the tracks have the smaller front feet behind the rear feet, as this photo shows. Gray squirrels don’t hibernate. I see them every day when it is warm enough, out foraging for nuts and seeds. Like deer they can have a hard time of it in the winter. Only 25% of gray squirrels survive their first year but those that do might live 4 or 5 years, and can have 2 litters of young per year. They were a favorite food of Native Americans. Some tribes considered the squirrel to be a messenger who often alerted them to danger.

12-birch-eye

This birch tree seemed to be keeping an eye on things.

13-woodpile

And so did this woodpile.

14-lichens

Even the lichens seemed to be watching with their many different colored eye like fruiting bodies (apothecia.) They were really vying for space on this tree that grows beside a pond, so they must all be moisture lovers. There are at least 6 different lichens in this photo. I think the large one in the center is a rosy saucer lichen (Ochrolechia trochophora.) The color of its apothecia can range from pink to orange but these looked more red than pink or orange.

15-grape

Most of the grapes have been eaten by the birds except for a few unappetizing examples. We have quite a lot of wild fruit growing in this area and I keep hoping that it will attract Baltimore orioles, but I never see them. There used to be lots of them when I was a boy and I used to like seeing their hanging basket nests in the trees. I haven’t seen one in probably 50 years, since they cut down the last American elm on the street I grew up on.

16-willow-gall

Galls are much easier to see in winter than they are in summer and some can be really interesting so I usually watch for them. This is a stem gall which was formed when willow gall midges (Rhabdophaga) burrowed into the willow’s stem last year. These galls are usually red and are very hard and tough. I’m not sure if the holes in this example were made when midges burrowed out, or if birds burrowed in. Many bids including wood peckers rob different galls of their larva.

17-witch-hazel-bracts

The small cups found on native witch hazel shrubs (Hamamelis virginiana) at this time of year are formed by four bracts that curve back. The strap like flower petals unfurl from these cups on warm fall days. Soon the spring blooming vernal witch hazels (Hamamelis vernalis) will be unfurling their petals on warm days.

18-drifted-snow

I wanted to get a photo of the way the windblown snow sparkled in the sunlight but instead it came out looking like white stone.

19-snowy-road-2-2

This is what my approach to work looked like early one recent morning after another snowstorm. It’s very beautiful but I’m ready for the kind of beauty that is found in spring. The outlook is good; the weather people say we’ll see above freezing temperatures from now well into March, so that means that our maple syrup season will start any day now.

Snow was falling
so much like stars
filling the dark trees
that one could easily imagine
its reason for being was nothing more
than prettiness.
~Mary Oliver

Thanks for stopping in.

 

 

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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

Thanks for coming by.

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