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Posts Tagged ‘Oak Galls’

Last Sunday the weather people said it would be windy and cold with possibilities of snow squalls but I wanted to be in the woods, so I headed for a rail trail in Swanzey that I hadn’t been on since last year sometime. When I left the house it wasn’t bad; 36 degrees F. and cloudy, with a slight breeze. I was hoping the snow squalls wouldn’t happen because they can take you into white out conditions in an instant. When they happen you can’t see very well so I made a plan to just stand under a pine or hemlock tree until it passed. Luckily, I didn’t need a plan.

The trail was icy because we’d had rain all day the day before and then it froze up at night, but someone still had their bike out. You wouldn’t catch me doing that.

Though the trail was iced over the forest along the trail was mostly clear. Pines and hemlocks keep a lot of snow from hitting the ground.

The old whistle post wasn’t covered by forest debris yet. The W stands for whistle and the post is called a whistle post because it marks the spot where the locomotive engineer was to blow the train’s whistle. When there is a crossing very nearby, where the railbed crosses a road, the whistle would have alerted wagon or auto drivers that a train was coming. Some whistle posts were marked – – o -, which meant “two longs and a short” on the whistle. I grew up hearing these whistles (actually horns) daily as the old Boston and Maine diesel freights went by our house.

There are houses not too far from this rail trail and years ago someone planted a privet hedge and let it go. Now it has fruit.

I saw lots of big red stem moss (Pleurozium schreberi) out here. This is a common moss that I often see growing in very large mats, sometimes even overrunning and choking out other mosses. In fact I’ve never seen a moss grow as fast as this one. A few years ago I hardly saw it and now I see it just about everywhere I go. I’ve read that it is native but it seems bent on taking over the earth.

There are lots of small oak trees out here that have been cut again and again by the people who maintain these trails, and this is one of them. It stopped me when I noticed all the various colors in its leaves. Beautiful warm browns, orange, and even pink.

Many of the oak leaves were covered with small spots, which I think were some type of fungus.

One of the oaks had galls on it and a bird had pecked them open to get at the galls inside. Years ago I thought at first it was woodpeckers that did this but I’ve seen blue jays and even chickadees pecking at them.

High up in the branches of many oaks jelly fungi grow on the limbs, and when these limbs fall we get a good chance to see them. I think that the most common of all jelly fungi is this one; the amber jelly (Exidia recisa,) because I see it all the time, especially after a rain. This one always reminds me of jellied cranberry sauce. Jelly fungi dry out when it’s dry and appear as tiny colored flakes that you’d hardly believe could grow as much as they do, but they absorb water like a sponge and can grow to 60 times bigger than they were when dry. Jelly fungi have a shiny side and a kind of matte finish side and their spores are produced on their shiny sides. After a good rain look closely at those fallen limbs, big or small, and you’re sure to find jelly fungi.

One side of this trail is bordered by Yale forest and there is plenty to see there. Yale University has a hands on forestry school in this forest so you can occasionally see it being selectively logged.

It’s easy to see how white tipped moss (Hedwigia ciliata) got its common name. This is a fairly common moss that seems to like to hang from the sides of boulders and ledges. Another name for it is Medusa moss, because when dry its leaves press close to the stem and it takes on a very wiry, string like appearance. Its ball shaped orange spore capsules (sporophytes) are hidden among the leaves on very short stalks, so they’re hard to see. This moss will even grow on asphalt roofs, so it is a perfect choice for green roof projects.

Due to the rain of the day before this particular moss looked happy and beautiful.

Before I knew it I was at the trestle.

There are good views of the river from these old trestles so I’m glad they’re still here.

Many trees topple into the river each year and that’s why you usually only see kayaks or canoes on it when the water is high in spring. I have a feeling that leaning maple will be in the water before too long.

I’ve been out here when the leaves were on the trees so I know they’re silver and red maples, but even if I hadn’t seen the leaves, those buds would tell the story.

I walked on past the trestle and saw a few stones with drill marks but I didn’t see any ledges or boulders that they might have come from. Usually you can tell right where they are from.

It was nice to see green leaves in January. I think the overhanging evergreens must have helped protect these blackberry leaves from the cold.

I saw a few partridgeberry plants with the berries still on them. Usually turkeys and other birds snap them up quickly so they can be hard to find. Partridgeberry is one of the lowest growing evergreen plants on the forest floor, hardly growing more than 3 or 4 inches high. Plants have a vining habit but do not climb. Instead they form dense mats by spreading their trailing stems out to about a foot from the crown. Roots will often form at leaf nodes along the stems and start new plants. The berries will remain on the plant for long periods unless eaten, and can sometimes still be found the following spring.

Partridgeberry flowers come in pairs that are fused at the base. Once pollinated, the ovaries of these flowers will join and form one berry with 8 seeds. Partridgeberry plants can always be easily identified by the two indentations on the berries that show where the flowers were, and these can be seen in the photo above.  Other names for this plant include twinberry and two-eyed berry. The berries are edible, but mostly tasteless.

I saw a stone that was shot full of mica. I’ve had a hard time getting a good shot of mica in the past but this one came out reasonably well.

After a time I saw the river again and I knew it was time to turn around, because from here it is just a short walk to the other end of this leg of the trail where several roads meet. I was glad the snow squalls held off until later in the day.

Forests, lakes, and rivers, clouds and winds, stars and flowers, stupendous glaciers and crystal snowflakes – every form of animate or inanimate existence, leaves its impress upon the soul of man. ~Orison Swett Marden

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Back pain led me to look for an easy place to walk, so I chose a familiar rail trail that I knew wouldn’t be too much of a challenge. Since I fell out of a tree and suffered a double fracture to my spine when I was a boy, back pain has been an old “friend” for most of my life. Usually it really isn’t that much of a problem but every now and then it becomes an issue, and I’ve found that the best cure for it is to simply walk it off.

It was a beautiful blue sky day with temperatures just above freezing, so walking was just what the doctor ordered. Actually in my experience the doctor will order you to go home and stay in bed for a week if you complain of back pain, but I’ve found that is the worst thing I can do. Keeping moving; that’s my cure.

I saw a log with some very strange looking branch collars on it. It was some type of evergreen, possibly spruce, but I’m not sure. The part of the tree that protrudes and surrounds the branch is called the branch collar and it should always be left intact when pruning. As can be seen here, the tree leaves it behind naturally.

Private suburban land abuts this section of trail along parts of its length and over the years the homeowners have planted numerous nonnative trees and shrubs, trying to screen their yards from the trail that cuts through them. A homeowner who lived along the rail trail had long ago planted a privet hedge and then never trimmed it so the hedge grew to about ten feet tall, and it was covered with berries that the birds weren’t eating. That’s a good thing because privet is considered invasive.

Evidence of the ice storm I wrote about in my last post was still seen over a week later, sparkling in the sun.

An Oriental bittersweet vine (Celastrus orbiculatus) decided it would try to strangle a large white pine tree. If the tree lives another 50 years or so the bittersweet will most likely win and the tree will die, because these vines are like steel cables. They strangle many native trees by wrapping themselves around the tree’s trunk like a boa constrictor. I’ve seen vines as big as my arm wrapped tightly around trees so as the trees grew they had no room to expand and slowly died. 

Sometimes they even try to strangle each other.

The bittersweet berries are quite pretty but unfortunately they’re also quite tasty to birds, and of course that’s why they’re so successful at spreading throughout the countryside, and why they grow near trees and fences.

One of the things I’ve noticed over the years of doing this blog is how windstorms are becoming more numerous and more severe, and I saw evidence of it everywhere out here. Though it’s hard to tell from a photo this pine tree was the diameter of a car tire and it snapped like a toothpick.

The pine tree wasn’t the only tree that had fallen. Downed trees were everywhere.

I saw a child’s footprint frozen into the ice.

Then I saw a lot more children’s footprints leading off the rail trail into the woods. It seemed I had stumbled onto the trail to a secret hideout off in the woods. It wouldn’t be secret for long though, with all those tracks coming and going. I was tempted to follow the prints but I thought about how I would have felt if an adult had appeared at my secret hideout, so I kept going down the main trail.  

They had marked their secret trail with a broken concrete base to an old birdbath. How in the world did they get that out here, I wondered. It must weigh 50 pounds.

The secret hideout was on Yale Forest land, which borders part of the trail. This sign marking the forest is slowly being eaten by a tree.

These oak leaves shining in the sunshine were beautiful, I thought.

This oak was full of galls. There are horned oak galls, gouty oak galls, artichoke oak galls, potato oak galls, and oak marble galls. The photo above is of marble galls and they really are about the size of a marble. These marble galls are usually near perfect spheres. Some galls form on the undersides of leaves, some on the tree’s roots and others, like the one shown, on the twigs and stems. All are caused by different wasps or mites which will only lay their eggs on the leaves, roots, or twigs of their favorite species of oak tree. Iron sulfate mixed with tannic acid from oak galls made ink that was the standard writing and drawing ink from the 12th century until well into the 20th century. Some still use it today.

I’m not sure what happened here but this oak gall was seriously misshapen.

My back felt much better by the time I reached the trestle but it didn’t last so I’m still trying to walk it off as of this writing. It takes longer to straighten it out as I get older, but it will happen.

Every time I see the Ashuelot River from one of these old trestles I’m very happy that I didn’t have to bushwhack my way through the woods to see it. We’re very lucky to have these trails.

When I was a boy I walked the railroad tracks to get to my grandmother’s house but before I got there I had to cross a street. This was the same street crossing that, twice a day, the big diesel Boston and Maine locomotives would slow for. Before they crossed they would blow their horns to warn the cars on the street, and you could hear those horns from either my or my grandmother’s house, so I heard them twice a day everyday while I was growing up. Knowing all that you would think I would know what the W on this post stood for but it has taken me years to learn that it simply means “Whistle,” as in “blow your whistle because there’s a road crossing up ahead.” Two longs blasts followed by a short blast and a final long blast of the train’s whistle or horn is a Federal law and every train crossing a road has to abide by it to warn passing traffic. These days you’re more likely to see a flashing light or some type of barrier, but back then I could tell time by the horns on those trains.

These trains are just like the ones that rumbled by (and shook) my house for so many years. Once the trains stopped running it was very hard to see them tearing up all the tracks in this area, and it took several years before I could walk the rail trails left behind. Though I’m very thankful that we have the rail trails, seeing photos like this one is like seeing a photo of an old friend who has died. They roll by only in dreams now, hauling boxcars full of memories.

Human history and natural history are visible from trails. The old railroad routes through a town can show a lot about how the town developed, what it was like long ago. When you go through a town by bicycle on an old railroad route, the place looks very different than from the customary perspective of the car and the highway. ~Peter Harnick

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1. Pennsylvania Sedge aka Carex pensylvanica

Along the river creamy yellow male staminate flowers bloom above the wispy, feather like, white female pistillate flowers of Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pensylvanica.) This is a very early bloomer that usually appears at just about the same time as spring beauties and trout lilies. As the plant ages the male flowers will turn light brown and the female flowers, if pollinated by the wind, will bear seed.

2. Pennsylvania Sedge Clump aka Carex pensylvanica

When it isn’t blooming Pennsylvania sedge is easily mistaken for a course grass. I find it along the river and also in the woods under trees. It doesn’t seem too fussy about where it grows and will tolerate shade.

3. Virginia Creeper

Tendrils of Virginia creeper first exude a sticky substance before expanding into a disc shaped pad that essentially glues itself to the object that the vine wants to climb-in this case, a dead tree limb.  Once the adhesive discs at the tendril ends are stuck in place the tendrils coil themselves tightly to hold the vine in place. Charles Darwin discovered that each adhesive pad can support two pounds. Just imagine how much weight a mature vine with many thousands of these sticky pads could support. It’s no wonder that Virginia creeper can pull the siding off a house.

4. Bittersweet on Grass

Invasive oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) doesn’t have tendrils so it becomes a tendril over its entire length and winds its way up trees, wires, and even grass stems, as the photo shows. I’ve seen old bittersweet vines as big around as my leg.

5. Lady Fern Fiddleheads (2)

Lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina) fiddleheads are about 2 inches tall. The dark brown scales on their smooth lower stems help to identify this one. This fern doesn’t like windy places, so if you find a shaded dell where a grove of lady fern grows it’s safe to assume that it doesn’t ever get very windy there.

6. Red Maple Seeds Forming

The wind has brought plenty of pollen from the male flowers so now the pistillate female flowers of red maple (Acer rubrum) have begun turning into seeds, which are called samaras. These are one of the smallest seeds in the maple family. It is estimated that a single tree 12 inches in diameter can produce nearly a million seeds, and if the tree is fertilized for 2 years seed production can increase by 10 times. It’s no wonder that red maple is getting a reputation for being a weed tree.

7. Apple Moss

It’s easy to see how apple moss (Bartramia pomiformis) got its common name. This moss grows its almost spherical spore capsules (sporangia) very early in spring. As they age the capsules turn brown but it pays to watch closely because some spore capsules will turn red between their green and brown stages, and that’s when these tiny orbs really look like apples. It’s an event in nature that most people never get to see.

8. Black Oak Inner Bark aka Quercus velutina

The inner bark of the black oak (Quercus velutina) shows why this tree was once called yellow oak. Native Americans made yellow dye from this bark and also used it medicinally. The yellow pigment is called quercitron and was sold in a bright yellow dye in Europe as late as the 1940s. Black oak is a member of the red oak family and easily cross breeds with red oaks to form many natural hybrids.

9. Red Elderberry aka Sambucus racemosa

Elderberry flowers really aren’t much to look at (or to smell) but the flower buds of this red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) are very beautiful. Since the flowers are white, plum purple is a very odd color for the buds. They remind me of lilac buds.

10. Lilac Buds Breaking

Of course, after comparing red elderberry buds to lilac buds I had to show those as well. This is a French hybrid, deep purple lilac that was given to me by a friend many years ago. Its bud scales have just broken to reveal the flower buds tucked inside. This is part of the magic that is spring, and something I love to watch happen.

11. Unknown Gall on Oak

This is the strangest gall I’ve seen. It looks (and feels) like a group of small deflated balloons. It was growing on an oak limb and I haven’t been able to identify it.

NOTE: Helpful readers have identified this gall as the oak fig gall, caused by the wasp Trigonaspis quercusforticorne. They are specific to the white oak family, apparently. Thank you to David and Charley for the identification. I learned a lot.

12. Rockfoam Lichen

Rock Foam (Stereocaulon saxatile) is a fragile looking lichen but it is really quite tough. As their common name suggests, they are found on rocks and boulders, usually in full sun. These lichens are often used as a prospecting tool because a simple lab test will show what type of rock they grow on and what minerals, like copper or magnesium, are present.

13. Rockfoam Lichen Closeup

A closer look at rock foam lichen. When it is dry it feels as rough as it looks.

 14. Orange Oak Leaf

I’m seeing a lot of orange oak leaves this spring and I’m not sure what makes them turn this color. It must be some kind of bacteria or fungus.

15. Hairy Cap Moss aka Polytrichum commune

This hairy cap moss (Polytrichum commune) with its water droplet reminded me that flowers aren’t the only beautiful things to see in spring. There is plenty there for the seeing if only we take the time to look.

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes. ~ Marcel Proust

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Quite often after a snowfall in January or February it will get quite cold for a while here in New Hampshire when the storm moves out over the Atlantic and pulls the polar express in behind it. The coldest I’ve ever seen it is 35 below zero (F) and it has only gone that low twice in the 50+ years that I’ve been around to witness it. But, it’s not supposed to get anywhere near that this week. We are supposed to have relatively balmy temps, with highs in the 30s during the day and above zero at night. There is no talk of a January thaw just yet.

1. Snowy River

The river is just starting to ice up. Areas where the current runs slow along its banks get icy first and then the ice slowly grows in towards the middle. When I was a young boy I was walking on the ice of this river one day and all of the sudden it started cracking. It was so loud, echoing off the frozen river banks, that it sounded like gun shots as I ran and dove onto the bank. That adventure cured my curiosity about frozen rivers and I have never walked on one since.

2. Ice Covered Shrub

Ice forms on everything near the river’s edge.  It weighs down young shrubs and sometimes breaks their stems.

3. Icy Twigs

And sometimes they just wear ice collars.

4. Ice Covered Stones

Even the stones are coated in ice.

5. Window Frost

One night when the temperature dropped to below zero Jack Frost paid a visit and drew patterns on my windows. The frost edges looked like feathers, or ferns. Oddly enough these coldest temperatures happened on the night before the earth passed closest to the sun, January 2nd.

6. Window Frost

The different shapes that frost can grow into seem endless.

7. Pinecone in the Snow

Did you ever wonder which end of a pine cone hit the ground first after it fell? Well, now you know.

8. Shepherds Purse Seed Head

This Shepherd’s purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris) seed head was the only thing poking up out of a large expanse of white. 

9. Snowy Fungi

These bracket fungi must have been frozen solid. 

10. Vernal Pool

The vernal pools in the forest are also beginning to freeze. A vernal pool is temporary and does not hold water year around. “Vernal” means “occurring in spring,” and these small pools are usually at their maximum depth in the spring due to snow melt and runoff. In the hot, dry days of June, July and August they will disappear completely. Frogs, toads, salamanders, insects and many plants rely on these pools. 

11. Tree Frog on Snow

I wasn’t expecting to see this poor tree frog on top of the snow. I followed his short trail to find that it began in the middle of nowhere, so he either dug his way up from the soil to the snow’s surface or fell out of a tree. I’ve always heard that they burrow into mud for the winter but he seemed to have a broken leg, and that got me wondering if he had fallen out of a tree. Other than wishing him well, there was little I could think of to do for him.

12. Oak Galls

The wasps inside these oak galls will fare much better than the tree frog, I’m sure. They will emerge in spring when it is warm and the snow has melted.

If you are seeking creative ideas, go out walking.  Angels whisper to a man when he goes for a walk. ~Raymond Inmon

Thanks for stopping in. I hope you see plenty of bright sunshine and bearable temperatures, no matter where you live.

 

 

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