Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Painted Turtle’

Last Sunday was supposed to be the hottest day of the year according to the weather people, with highs nearing 100 degrees. In the 1800s before air conditioning our ancestors used to climb hills for the breeze or find water to sit by or swim in to stay cool. It was too humid to climb so I went to the Ashuelot River, one of the most beautiful and natural bodies of water in the area.

Not only are the trails shaded along the river but there are no hills there, so there is little exertion required to hike them. Still, it was hot.

Ferns often make it seem cooler but on this day they burned like flames.

A turtle contemplated the beautiful blue of a pickerel weed blossom.

Fragrant white water lilies (Nymphaea odorata) blossomed all along the river banks on both sides of the river. Each blossom lasts only 3 days before the stems coil and pull them underwater to set seeds but there are so many of them they never seem to disappear.

Blue vervain, Allegheny monkey flower and fringed loosestrife grew all in a tangle, all competing for the same place in the sun.

Allegheny monkey flowers (Mimulus ringens) have square stems and are also called square stemmed monkey flowers. The throat is partially closed and bumblebees are one of the few insects strong enough to pry it open to get at the nectar. Native Americans and early settlers sometimes used the leaves as an edible green. This plant usually gets about knee high and likes to grow in wet, sunny places, and it isn’t all that common. No matter how many times I see it I never see a monkey.

Beautiful blue vervain (Verbena hastata) also likes to grow in damp sunny places so it does well along the river. The plants here must have been six feet tall. Its bitter roots were used by Native Americans to treat gastric irritation and some tribes roasted them and ground them into flour. Others dried the flowers and used them as snuff to stop nosebleeds. This is one of the plants they introduced to the Europeans and they used it in much the same way.

Great colonies of fringed loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliata) can be found along roadsides and wood edges, and along waterways. They are the last of the native yellow loosestrifes to bloom in this area but they seem to be having an extended bloom period this year. The flowers on fringed loosestrife are about the size of a quarter and nod to face the ground so I have to bend the stems up gently to get a face on photo like this one. It’s always worth the effort.

This bat box was new since I was here last. I’m seeing more and more of these in my travels. Bats are natural insect controllers so I’m all for seeing more of them.

I love the leaves of the royal fern (Osmunda regalis.) They look like no other fern I’ve ever met.

White rattlesnake root (Prenanthes alba) can be tough to identify because even plants growing side by side can have differently shaped leaves, but once they bloom identification becomes much easier. I can’t think of another plant that has small, drooping white, lily like blossoms at this time of year. The half inch flowers appear in clusters at the end of branched stems that can reach 5 or 6 feet in some cases, and have forked stamens that are longer than the petals. The plant gets its common name from the Native American belief that it could cure rattlesnake bites.

Though I’ve been coming here for over 50 years I always find something new when I return, and today’s new thing was a colony of marsh bellflowers (Campanula aparinoides.) Since I’ve never seen them anywhere before I had to spend a while trying to identify them but they were obviously in the campanula family so it only took a little while.

The small white flowers are maybe a half inch long and about the same diameter as an aspirin. The 5 petals flare outward and are pointed at the tip, with a single thin gray or blue line down the center. White stamens and a long curly style make up the reproductive parts. They’re quite small but very pretty.

The plants have weak stems and tend to sprawl and tangle.

I thought I heard a tall meadow rue say “Pssst; hey, come over here and look at this.” I didn’t need to see its leaves yellowing already, but I looked. Like spring fall begins on the forest floor with just a whisper, but before you know it the whisper becomes a shout and the trees are ablaze. The forest here is made up of mostly red maples and in the fall this trail is as beautiful as a place can be.

Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) had just started blooming here. Its flowers look like white Joe Pye weed and that’s because the two plants are closely related. In fact they can often be found growing side by side I find it on river, pond and stream banks; almost always near water.

Mad dog skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) plants grow in great bunches along the shoreline. These small blue-violet flowers get their common name from the way that the calyx at the base of the flowers look a bit like a medieval helmet, called a skull cap, and how the plant was once thought to cure rabies because of its anti-spasmodic properties. Though it doesn’t cure rabies there is powerful medicine in this little plant so it should never be eaten. When Native Americans wanted to go on a spirit walk or vision quest this was one of the plants they chose.

Mad-Dog Skullcap flowers grow in pairs in the leaf axils. Another skullcap, marsh skullcap (Scutellaria galericulata,) looks very similar and the two are difficult to tell apart. Both grow in full sun on grassy hummocks at the water’s edge, but the blossoms of mad dog skullcap are slightly smaller than those of marsh skullcap.

One of my favorite shades of blue is found on bottle gentians (Gentiana andrewsii) but I don’t see many because they are quite rare here. This is the only place I can find them so you can imagine my delight when I found that they hadn’t been cut down this year like they had been two years ago. That was the time I found that the Keene Parks and Recreation Department had sent someone out here with a weed wacker, and that person had cut down countless beautiful wildflowers all along the trail, including the gentians. When they start to go by theses flowers become even more beautiful by turning very dark blue and then a kind of purple. They closely resemble narrow leaved gentian (Gentiana linearis) but that plant has much narrower leaves. Why anyone would cut down such a rare and beautiful thing is beyond me.

By the time I reached the little red bridge I was drenched and ready to turn around and go back.

I saw a lot of blue here on this day and since it’s my favorite color I was happy to see it. Blue is supposed to be a cool color but I didn’t feel very cool. When I started the temperature was 66 degrees F. and when I finished it was 86 degrees F. A rise of 20 degrees in an hour and a half, but was it worth it? Absolutely. In the words of the Chinese poet Lu Tung (790 – 835), “all the wrongs of life passed out through my pores.”

Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night. ~Edgar Allan Poe

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »

With the moderate drought we’re in I haven’t expected to see any fungi so I was surprised to see these little beauties popping up out of an old hay bale. From what I’ve read I believe they are wooly ink cap fungi (Coprinus lagopus.)

The wooly part of the name comes from the way the fungus is covered in “wool” as it comes out of the ground and because of the fuzzy stem, which can be seen here. The stem is hollow and very fragile, seeming to disappear at the slightest pressure from fingers. I love the color of the cap and gills but they seem, from what I saw these examples do, to change color as they age. And they age fast; this little mushroom goes through its entire above ground life cycle in just a day. By the end of this day these were black.

These mushrooms seem to just melt away as their spore bearing gills turn to “ink.” I’m not sure why this one looked so wet, because it was a dry day. Maybe the whole thing was turning to liquid.

The next day more mushrooms appeared from the same bale of hay, but this time they were wearing black and white. I wonder if the early morning, shaded light had something to do with the colors seen in the first three photos. This one was taken in full sun. I’ve seen them in both colors in online photos.

I saw a big bolete which had grown out of the side of an embankment, only to have gravity pull it downward. I think it might be the ruby bolete (Hortiboletus rubellus) but there are many that look alike and I’m not a mushroom expert.  Had I checked to see if it turned blue when it was bruised I would have known for sure but I didn’t want to eat it, I just wanted to admire it.

I’ve heard from quite a few sources that hemlock varnish shelf (Ganoderma tsugae) growth seems to be exploding this year, for reasons unknown. People are seeing them everywhere and as this hemlock log shows, so am I. It is closely related to the Reishi mushroom found in China. That mushroom is considered the most important of all the herbs and substances used in Chinese Herbal Medicine, including ginseng and scientists around the world are researching its anti-cancer potential. I’m guessing this could be a valuable log; I stopped counting mushrooms at ten, and some were quite big.

Nature can show the brightest colors in the oddest places and I always wonder why. What benefit can this stalked bracket fungus gain from all of that color? Do the colors relate to the minerals it is absorbing from this old hemlock log? And why do the colors change over time?

Wooly oak galls are created by the wool sower gall wasp (Callirhytis seminator) and are about the size of a ping pong ball, but “felt covered” like a tennis ball. The gall is caused by secretions from the grubs of the gall wasp, which will only build it on white oak and only in spring. There are small seed like structures inside the gall which contain the wasp larva, and that’s why these galls are also called oak seed galls. They are a great help when searching for white oak trees. We have mostly red oaks here so I don’t see many of these.

I’m always amazed by the colors on the inner bark of trees. I’ve seen red, orange, yellow, and even blue. This photo shows the inner bark of an old gray birch, which had fallen off. I liked the patterns as well as the colors. Things like this always make me wonder why the most beautiful parts of a tree are sometimes hidden away where nobody can see them.

I also liked the pattern the leaves of this Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum) made. I often see this beautiful little fern in gardens.

Meadow spike moss (Selaginella apoda) has plenty of new growth so I’m guessing it doesn’t mind dryness, even though I’ve read that it prefers moist soil. Spike mosses are considered “primitive” seedless (spore bearing) vascular plants and therefore aren’t mosses at all. This pretty little plant is more closely related to the clubmosses, which are also spore bearing vascular plants known as lycopods. It doesn’t appear to be evergreen like the clubmosses however. It’s a pretty little thing which is native to the eastern and midwestern U.S. but its cousins grow all over the world in every continent except Antarctica. The acorn in the upper right will give some idea of scale.

The male flowers of eastern white pine trees (Pinus strobus) are called pollen cones because that’s what they produce. Pine trees are wind pollinated and great clouds of pollen make it look like the trees are burning and releasing yellow green smoke each spring. Virtually everything gets dusted with pollen; cars, buildings, and even entire lakes and ponds. If you live near pine trees it’s impossible not to breathe some of it in and if you leave your windows open you’ll be doing some house dusting in the near future. Pine pollen is a strong antioxidant and it has been used medicinally around the world for thousands of years. Its health benefits were first written of in China nearly 5000 years ago and they are said to be numerous.

The red fruits of the red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa,) are usually hard to find because the birds eat them as soon as they ripen, but for the first time I found a bush full of them. Why the birds left these alone is a mystery. The berries are said to be toxic but they were cooked and eaten by Native Americans so I’m sure they knew how to cook them in such a way as to remove the toxicity. They also used them medicinally. Red elderberry is one of two elderberries native to New Hampshire. The other is the common or black elderberry (Sambucus nigra V. canadensis) which has black berries and isn’t toxic.

I saw a little brown bird dancing on the rocks at the river. It would hop from one to the other and back again, staring at me the entire time. It was easy to love and I wished I could have it land in my hand. I’ve had gray squirrels eat from my hand but not birds. Not yet.

I think the bird was a song sparrow but I’m not sure of that. Long time readers of this blog know that I’m not a bird person due to colorblindness, so maybe someone out there better versed in birds knows for sure. Whatever its name it was a cute little thing that seemed to be smiling. It also seemed to be trying to distract me with its cute hopping back and forth and I wondered if it might have a nest nearby that it was hoping I didn’t see.

A mother turtle, which I believe is a painted turtle (Chrysemys picta,) was laying eggs on a lawn, quite a while after the snapping turtles had finished. She pulled her head into her shell when she saw me, but didn’t move. Snapping turtles can’t pull their head in as far as painted turtles but they do have long necks and can surprise people when they suddenly extend them.

One day I went to the shore of Halfmoon Pond in Hancock and found the entire shoreline moving with what I thought were dark colored insects; crickets maybe, but when I looked closer I found that they were tiny baby toads, so small that one of them could fit on the nail of my little finger with room to spare. Many thousands of them swarmed over the shoreline but that isn’t the strangest part of the story; the same thing is happening in other places. Saratoga Springs New York for instance, has seen the same thing happen and you can see excellent photos and even a video at the Saratoga Woods and Waterways blog, by clicking here. I can’t guess what caused such a mass hatching of toads, maybe it happens regularly, but in any event I would guess that fish, snapping turtles and herons will be eating well this year.

This red spotted purple butterfly ( Limenitis arthemis astyanax) landed on the damp sand in front of me and let me take a few photos. The white admiral and red spotted purple are essentially different forms of the same butterfly. I think the deep coloration of this one suffered some in this shot because of the harsh sunlight.

I see pale beauty moths fairly regularly but they are usually resting on leaves, not sand as this one was. it was actually on a beach at a pond. Their wings and body are pale greenish to grayish white and the female, which I think this example is, is said to be much larger than the male. The caterpillars are said to feed on the leaves of 65 species of trees and shrubs including alder, ash, basswood, beech, birch, blueberry, cherry, fir, elm, hemlock, maple, oak, pine, poplar, rose, spruce, larch, and willow. They’re supposed to be nocturnal but I often see them in daylight. Usually in the evening or early morning though. I’m not sure I could think of a name any more beautiful than pale beauty moth.

I felt something hit me in the back and when I saw what it was I could hardly believe my eyes, because it had really big eyes. Actually the eyed click beetle’s (Alaus oculatus) “eyes” are really just eye spots, there to mesmerize and confound predators. They certainly had me mesmerized for a bit. This unusual insect can snap a spine hidden under its thorax and make a clicking sound. It can also use that spine to launch itself into the air, which is apparently what it did before it hit me in the back. In this photo it has hidden its legs and antennae under its body. At about an inch and a half long it may be a mid-size beetle but it has quite a big bag of tricks.

Here we are looking at the eyed click beetle’s eye spots. If I was a predator I’d think twice, and by the time I had made a decision this bug would have most likely clicked its spine and would be sailing through the air, getting away. What a great gift is this life we live; from dust to dust nothing but wonders and miracles. How sad I feel sometimes for those who don’t see them.  

Though I think this was a calico pennant dragonfly it’s a little hard to tell because of the way the sky was reflected in its wings early on this morning. Its wings could have been wet but what interests me more than the dragonfly is the dry husk, called an exoskeleton, on the stem just above it. I’m seeing a lot of them lately and they signal dragonfly emergence from the water. A dragonfly crawls up a leaf or stick as a nymph and once the exoskeleton has dried a bit the dragonfly emerges from it to unfold and dry its wings. When its wings are dry it simply flies away and leaves the exoskeleton behind, and that’s what the strange husks are. 

But my question, since I actually measured one of the husks, is how do you pack all that dragonfly into a 3/4 inch long exoskeleton? As it turns out it isn’t all that much dragonfly; after searching for the length of a calico pennant I find that their maximum length seems to be 1-3 to 1.5 inches. Still, that’s twice the length of the exoskeleton that I measured. I’ve read that, though the dragonfly is fully formed when it emerges from the husk, it is not fully shaped.

The dragonfly is all folded up in its exoskeleton and that’s how so much dragonfly can fit inside what seems such a small package. Once it comes out of its exoskeleton it unfolds itself, begins pumping bodily fluids to all its parts, and warms itself in the sunshine. Finally, it is ready to fly and it reminds me of a quote by Jodi Livon: Fill yourself up with light and fly! Now if I could only get a shot of a dragonfly actually emerging from its exoskeleton. I’d be very thankful to have seen such a wonder.

Just a feather hanging on a stalk of grass. I’m guessing most people would think “big deal” and walk on, if they even noticed it. But this feather was special. First it was quite big; easily as big as a hen’s egg. And second I’ve never seen one like it, and third it was pretty and I thought the bird it came from would be even prettier. I wondered about hawks. Owls? Eagles? The brown banding must be a good clue, so I tried to match this photo with something I might find online. Identifying feathers is not easy when they aren’t from common birds, and I gave up after a few hours of searching. The closest I could come was a great horned owl, but it wasn’t quite right. In the end all I can do is show you its beauty and hope that is enough. Maybe it will take you on the same wonder filled journey it has taken me on. I learned many things I didn’t know about birds, all because of this feather.

He who has experienced the mystery of nature is full of life, full of love, full of joy. Radiance emanates from the whole existence itself; it does not know the meaning of holding back. ~ Maitreya Rudrabhayananda

Once again I have to apologize for the length of this post but I do like you to see all of the wonders that I’ve seen. Thanks for stopping in, and have a safe and happy 4th.

Read Full Post »

There were two things I wanted to know last weekend; were turtles active yet and were trout lilies blooming. I couldn’t think of anyplace better to answer those questions than along the Ashuelot River, so last Saturday off I went along one of my favorite riverside trails. The water was quite high, probably from snow still melting in the higher elevations. Snow is still chest deep in the northern part of the state and they’re still having avalanches in the White Mountains, so reports have said.

I’ve been walking this trail for over 50 years so I know it well. There used to be a small wooden hut up ahead where that paved spot is. It had an open front facing the river and a bench to sit on, almost like a bus stop. It was made of wood so of course every young boy with a pocket knife had to come here and carve their initials into it, including me. I’ve wondered for years why it was there because in the 1960s this trail saw very little traffic. Traffic or not the trail was here and I think that it’s been here for quite a lot longer than I’ve been around because I think it was originally used by Native Americans. It’s close to many shallow areas in the river and there are lots of places to fish. It seems like it would be perfect for someone who lived off the land.

A pair of Canada geese chatted quietly off across a setback.

My question of active turtles was answered quickly. I also heard toads and tree frogs out here, as well as the little frogs we call spring peepers. It was great to hear them again. I wanted to get a better view of this turtle so I walked on, hoping for a side shot.

But all that was left was the log the turtle sat on. Not a very interesting subject.

I thought I had scared the turtle away but then I saw those two geese come steaming up the river and I wondered if they were what the turtle was afraid of. Do geese bother turtles? I don’t know the answer to that one. It’s a question that would require much sitting and watching to answer.

The geese weren’t afraid of me. In fact they followed along beside me as I went on. Maybe they thought I had a pocket full of bread. A couple of young boys on bikes came along, saw the geese and dropped their bikes. Once the geese saw them sit on the river bank they swam right over. Whether or not the boys had bread for them I don’t know.

It was a beautiful day but at 70 degrees F. it seemed warm and I was glad I hadn’t warn a jacket. The shirts I had on were plenty warm enough. There were lots of insects out but I didn’t get bitten by any of them.

There was still ice to be found in cool, shaded backwaters but the frogs were active and chirping even in places that still had ice.

A couple of posts ago I showed a papery trumpet shaped stem and wondered what it was. Luckily reader Eliza Waters recognized them and said they were jewel weed (Impatiens capensis) stems. I knew a lot of jewel weed grew in a spot along this trail and when I got there sure enough, there they were. Thanks again Eliza! Each stem is about a foot tall and has a trumpet shaped opening that looks just about right for a pea to sit in.

Ever since I was a young boy I’ve wondered what was over there on the other side of the river but since it probably would involve a lot of bushwhacking due to the lack of a trail, I’ve never gotten up enough ambition to find out. Maybe it’s better that way, but that glow does look inviting.

I suppose it’s a good thing I never did cross the river and follow along its far side. I might have been arrested. No hunting, no fishing and no trespassing pretty much covers everything.

That dark spot ahead is actually a wet spot, one of surprisingly few along this trail. The trail through these woods isn’t that far from where the railroad repair depot used to be in Keene, and the trail is black because it was “paved” with the unburned slag from the big steam locomotive fireboxes. This slag is usually called “clinkers” or “clinker ash” and it is made up of pieces of fused ash and sulfur which often built-up over time in a hot coal fire. Firebox temperature reached 2000 to 2300 degrees F. in a steam locomotive but they still didn’t burn the coal completely. A long tool called a fire hook was used to pull the clinkers out of the firebox and in Keene we must have had tons of the stuff, because it was used as ballast on many local railroad beds. The section that ran by my house was as black as coal.

I had finally reached the little red bridge, and this was the spot where my second question would be answered. I had been to another spot where thousands of yellow trout lilies grow and didn’t see any sign of them, not even a leaf. I thought this place might get more sunshine and maybe the soil warmed quicker, but there was still no sign of trout lilies. I could be rushing it though; I just discovered by looking back through the blog that April 20 is the earliest I’ve seen them.

I did admire some American wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) The leaves are just coming out of their purple winter color and turning green so they can begin photosynthesizing again. This plant is also called teaberry or checkerberry and its small white flowers resemble those of the blueberry. It is probably the easiest of all wintergreens to identify because of the strong, minty scent that comes from its crushed leaves. If you have ever tasted teaberry gum then you know exactly what it smells and tastes like. The plant contains compounds that are very similar to those found in aspirin and Native Americans used it medicinally. They also chewed the minty leaves on long hikes.

Alders love water and many grow here. This speckled alder (Alnus incana) lived up to its name.

I’ve tried for a long time to show you what alders look like with all their male catkins open and dangling like jewels and with the help of a flash I was finally able to get a photo. It isn’t as easy as I thought it would be; it only took 8 years.

The bent tree marks a side trail that I keep telling myself I’ll have to follow one day, but I never do. I hope to have much more time for such things once I retire. I’d love to be able to just sit in the woods again without a care like I did when I was a boy.

One of the many feeder streams along the trail had a lot of what looked like orange rust in its water and that’s why this photo of it looks so strange. It might be algae coloring it, or maybe last year’s decaying leaves. The reflections of the trees look as if they have leaves but the leaves are really on the bottom of the stream.

The greatest joy is not finding something that we’ve been looking for. The greatest joy is when we’d given up on ever finding it and then it found us.
~Craig D. Lounsbrough

Thanks for coming by.

Read Full Post »

Last weekend I thought I’d visit a few places along the Ashuelot River in Keene and Swanzey to see if there were any fall colors showing yet. I saw a few, though I really hoped it was still too early for fall.

I even saw signs of fall up in the trees already. As I’ve said here many times, spring and fall start on the forest floor and work their way through the shrubby understory to the trees. To see it already in some of the trees was a bit disconcerting.

Here was a beautiful wild sarsaparilla plant (Aralia nudicaulis) on the forest floor that was sticking to the plan. This is where I expect to see fall first, and sarsaparilla is always one of the first forest floor plants to change. Most turn yellow but this one felt like purple would do best.

Native dogwoods of the shrubby understory are also starting to change. They’re often one of the first shrubs to turn and will often turn purple.

Another shrub that’s beginning to change is the invasive burning bush (Euonymus alatus.) These understory shrubs can take a lot of shade and can form monocultures in the forest. They in turn cast enough shade so natives can’t get a start.  Burning bushes often turn unbelievable shades of pink and a forest full of them is truly an amazing sight. Their sale and cultivation is banned in New Hampshire but there are so many of them in the wild they’ll always be with us now.

Last time I saw this butterfly I had a very hard time identifying it and finally settled on silvery checkerspot, but several of you knew it as a pearly crescent. Then someone wrote in and said they were fairly sure it was indeed a silvery checkerspot, so I’ll leave it up to you to decide. To be honest I just enjoy seeing butterflies and don’t really need to know their names to love them.

This one I did know; a cabbage white butterfly rested on a Virginia creeper leaf. This species is originally from Europe along with quite a few of the cabbage family of plants that their caterpillars feed on.

Of course there were turtles. There are almost always turtles to be seen along the Ashuelot. In the fall this turtle would be looking out upon a blaze of flaming red maples in this spot but on this day all we saw was green.

I saw plenty of flowers along the river, including this aster that I’ve been too lazy to try to identify.

I hate to say it but when I was a boy this river was so polluted you could hardly stand the smell in high summer. I’ve seen it run orange and purple and green, and any other color the woolen mills happened to be dyeing with on any particular day. I’ve seen people dump their trash on its banks and I’ve seen it close to dead, with only frogs, turtles and muskrats daring to get near it. But after years of effort it is clean once again and eagles fish for trout and other freshwater fish along its length. It no longer smells and though you can still find an occasional rusty can or broken bottle it is far cleaner than it was when I was growing up. Or so I thought; when I was a boy you could step in the mud at the river’s edge and see oil accumulating in your footstep, just like it did in the photo above. How long will it take to clean that up, I wonder? It’s a hard thing to see, after all these years.

But the plants don’t seem to mind. Blue vervain (Verbena hastata) is just about done this year but I still loved seeing the few pretty little flowers that were left. This plant can get quite tall under the right conditions but it’s fussy about where it grows. It likes wet soil and full sun, which means I almost always find it near water. Its bitter roots were used by Native Americans to treat gastric irritation and some tribes roasted them and ground them into flour. Others dried the flowers and used them as snuff to stop nosebleeds. This is one of the plants they introduced to the Europeans and they used it in much the same way.

Ducks and many other birds feed on the seeds of buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) and the ones on this plant were almost gone. This native shrub grows all along the river and I see it fairly often. Each puffy bit that looks like a bladder is what a fertilized flower turns into and each should hold two black seeds.

Hairy galls on buttonbush leaves are caused by the buttonbush mite (Aceria cephalanthi.) There are over 900 species of the nearly microscopic Aceria insects that are identified by the host plants they feed on.

Nodding bur marigolds (Bidens tripartita) grew along the shore with smartweeds like tearthumb. I just featured this plant in my last post so I won’t go on about it, other than to say that the way to tell how old the flowers are is by their position. As they age they nod and point toward the ground, so it’s safe to assume that these flowers were relatively freshly opened.

Mad dog skullcaps (Scutellaria laterifolia) are still blooming, I was surprised to see. This plant was unusual because of its one flower. They always bloom in pairs and I must have gotten there just after one of this pair had fallen. They love to grow on grassy hummocks near rivers and ponds and that’s where I always find them. The skullcap part of the common name comes from the calyx at the base of the flower, which is said to look like a medieval skull cap. The plant was once thought to cure rabies, and that is where the mad dog part of the common name comes from. This plant contains powerful medicine so it should never be eaten. When Native Americans wanted to go on a vision quest or a spirit walk, this was one of the plants they chose to get them there.

Giant foxtail grass (Setaria faberi) is a large annual grass that can form large colonies. Its nodding, bristly, spike like flower heads and wide leaves make it easy to identify. The flower heads go from light green to straw colored as they age.

I think pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) goes from flower to fruit quicker than any plant I know of. These berries were overripe and stained my fingers purple when I touched them. The birds usually eat them right up and I was surprised to find so many on this plant. Science says that humans should never eat the berries or any other part of the plant because it’s considered toxic, but people do eat the new shoots in spring. Native Americans used the plant medicinally and also used the juice from the berries to decorate their horses.

My favorite part of the pokeweed plant is the tiny purple “flower” on the back of each berry. The flower is actually what’s left of the flower’s five lobed calyx, but it mimics the flower perfectly. I just noticed that this calyx has six lobes rather than five. That’s the first time I’ve ever seen more than five.

A hedge bindweed (Calystegia sepium) found its way to the top of a pokeweed plant to get more sunlight. Pokeweeds can get 5 or 6 feet tall so the bindweed got a lot closer to the sun than it would have normally been able to.

And here was something new; at least, it was new to me. I can’t believe I’ve walked the banks of this river for over 50 years and have never seen native swamp smartweed (Persicaria hydropiperoides.) This plant is also called false water pepper or mild water pepper and is the only smartweed I’ve ever seen that had most of its flowers open at once. You’re usually lucky to find one or two open on a smartweed.

From what I’ve read even botanists have a hard time with this one because the plant is so variable, probably because of cross breeding. The pretty pinkish white flowers are quite small; less than an eighth of an inch across.  They remind me of the sand jointweed flowers that I featured in the last post, right down to the plum colored anthers.

No, I haven’t put the same shot of the Ashuelot River in this post twice. This one looks upriver from a bridge and the one at the start of the post looks downriver. I couldn’t decide which one I liked best so you get to see both of them. I hope you like one or the other. They show how the green is starting to lighten and fade from a lot of the leaves.

This was one of those perfect New England days in late summer where the spirit of autumn takes a first stealing flight, like a spy, through the ripening country-side, and, with feigned sympathy for those who droop with August heat, puts her cool cloak of bracing air about leaf and flower and human shoulders. ~Sarah Orne Jewett

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »

Longtime readers of this blog know how much I enjoy exploring the banks of the Ashuelot River; it is something I’ve done since I was a young boy. On this day I chose a section with nice wide trails through a beautiful forest.  The old trail winds through a place called Ashuelot Park, which is in downtown Keene. It has been a big hit with joggers, dog walkers, bikers, and families with children but when I started coming here 50 or so years ago there was no park. Back then it was just a trail through the woods and you hardly ever saw anyone, but on this day it was busy and it was nice to see so many people out enjoying nature. It was a hot humid day; more August than May, and like me I suppose they sought out the shade of the forest and the breeze off the river.

The trail through these woods isn’t that far from where the railroad repair depot used to be in Keene, and the trail is black because it was “paved” with the unburned slag from the big steam locomotive fireboxes. This slag is usually called “clinkers” or “clinker ash” and it is made up of pieces of fused ash and sulfur which often built-up over time in a hot coal fire. Firebox temperature reached 2000 to 2300 degrees F. in a steam locomotive but they still didn’t burn the coal completely. A long tool called a fire hook was used to pull the clinkers out of the firebox and in Keene we must have had tons of the stuff, because it was used as ballast on many local railroad beds. The section that ran by my house was as black as coal.

It’s hard to believe that the seeds of red maples (Acer rubrum) are falling already. It seems like it was hardly more than a week or two ago that I was taking photos of the flowers. Though I felt like I was 10 years old again walking along this trail this little seed reminded me just how fast time passes.

Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum multiflorum) was one of the first flowers I found along the trail, but this was no ordinary Solomon’s seal. The plant was large and very robust, much bigger than our native plants. Its leaves and flowers were also at least twice the size of those on native plants, and that’s because it is a hybrid plant that has escaped a garden and is now naturalizing in the woods. It’s the first one I’ve ever seen in a forest and there’s really no telling what it will do.

False Solomon seal (Maianthemum racemosum or Smilacina racemosa) have just started blooming and they were all along the trail. False Solomon’s seal has small white, star shaped flowers in a branching cluster (raceme) at the end of its stem, unlike the dangling pairs of flowers of true Solomon’s seal. Soon the blossoms will give way to small reddish berries that provide food for many birds and other wildlife. It is said that a Native American tribe in California crushed false Solomon’s seal roots and used them to stun fish. Other native tribes used the plant medicinally.

Last year at this same spot I saw a turtle wiggling its toes in the breeze and had to laugh, because it looked like it was trying to fly. This year on the same sunken log here was another turtle doing the same thing, and as I watched a woman stopped and asked how long my monopod extended. “Would it be long enough to help that poor turtle?” she asked. “Just look at the poor thing; it’s stuck and can’t get back into the water.” Last year a helpful reader told me that this is one way turtles regulate their body heat, so I passed that on to the concerned woman. “Well that’s a relief” she said, “now I’ll be able to sleep tonight!” We humans, I thought after she left, sure do come up with some strange ideas about nature. And yes, I do include myself in that statement.

When they are near a water source royal ferns (Osmunda spectabilis) can grow quite large and appear to be a shrub, but this one was young and on dry ground so it wasn’t very big. The royal fern is found on every continent except Australia, making 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 believed to be able to live for over 100 years. Cinnamon and interrupted ferns are also in the Osmundaceae family. It is thought that the genus might have been named after King Osmund, who ruled in the British Isles in the eighth century. Royal ferns are one of my favorites because they are so unlike any other fern.

Royal ferns have just started growing their spore bearing fertile fronds. Another name for this fern is “flowering fern,” because someone once thought that the fertile fronds looked like bunches of flowers.

At this stage the sporangia of royal ferns are green but soon they’ll turn a beautiful purple color, and that’s why the plant was named flowering fern.

Chokecherries blossomed on the river bank. Like most of the white spring flowering trees, chokecherries (Prunus) and chokeberries (Aronia) grow on the edge of the forest. Though they look alike from a distance, chokeberries and chokecherries are only distantly related in the rose family. The common name is the giveaway here: A cherry is a stone fruit with one seed, so the chokecherry will have one seed. A berry will have multiple seeds; in the case of the chokeberry 5 or fewer.  Chokeberry flower clusters are smaller than chokecherry and kind of flat on top. Chokecherry flower clusters are usually long and cylindrical like a bottle brush. Positive identification between these two is important because chokecherry leaves and seeds contain prussic acid which can convert to cyanide under the right conditions, so it wouldn’t be good to eat too many seeds. The simplest way to be sure is by counting the seeds in a piece of fruit before picking and eating from the tree.

After walking the trail for a while you see it begin to narrow a bit and that’s because it doesn’t see a lot of traffic on the more northern section. Many people turn and go back rather than walk the entire trail and they miss a lot of beauty by doing so.

In spots with little to no current the tree pollen collected on the water’s surface. With all of the different species of trees we have pollination is an extended event in spring, and then after the trees come the grasses, so it goes well into summer. It’s a tough road for allergy sufferers.

You would expect to see insects along a river and I saw this one, which I think must be some type of crane fly.

I came upon the biggest colony of Indian cucumber root plants (Medeola virginiana) I’ve ever seen, right there beside the trail and I have to say that I was astounded. I’ve walked by this spot literally hundreds of times since I was a boy and have never seen it, so that shows that it’s worthwhile to walk the same trail again and again. In years past I’ve spent hours searching for just one plant and here were hundreds upon hundreds of them. So much for my “excellent powers of observation;” I miss as much as anyone else.

The flowers of Indian cucumber root have 6 yellowish green tepals, 6 reddish stamens topped by greenish anthers, and 3 reddish purple to brown styles. These large styles are sometimes bright red- brown. These plants were blooming earlier than I’ve ever seen them bloom. Each flower will become a shiny, inedible dark purplish black berry. Native Americans used Indian cucumber roots as food. As its common name implies, this plant’s small root looks and tastes a lot like a mini cucumber.  It’s easy to identify because of its tiers of whorled leaves and unusual flowers. It likes to grow under trees in dappled light, probably getting no more than an hour or two of direct sunlight each day.

There were also some large colonies of blue bead lily out here, which I have also never noticed before. Since I just featured them in my last post I’ll just show their photo here.

The round white flower heads of wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) hide beneath its leaves and quite often you can’t see them from above.  Compared to the ping pong ball size flower heads the leaves are huge and act like an umbrella, which might keep rain from washing away their pollen. These flower heads are usually covered with insects and I think this is the only time I’ve ever gotten a photo of them blooming without insects on them.

Each sarsaparilla flower is smaller than a pea but as a group they’re easy to see. Dark purple berries will replace the flowers if pollination is successful, and it’s usually very successful. This is one of the most common wildflowers I know of and I see them virtually everywhere I go, including in my own yard. Every now and then you’ll find a plant with flowers but no leaves over them. I don’t know if these leafless plants are a natural hybrid or how the plant benefits from having fewer leaves. Fewer leaves mean less photosynthesizing and that means less food for the plant but maybe animals eat them, I don’t know.

I saw the strangely shaped pine tree that I’ve wondered about for years. Something traumatic must have happened to it. I’m guessing another tree fell on it when it was young.

There were many violets blooming all along the trail, including beautiful little northern white violets (Viola pallens.) As I’ve said in previous posts, this seems to be a banner year for violets. I’ve never seen so many.

All journeys back into childhood have to end somewhere and mine ended right here. Not too far up ahead is a busy highway that I didn’t need to see so I turned and meandered back to my starting point, giving a good look to everything that caught my eye along the way.  I saw kayakers and friendly dogs, spoke with friendly people, and saw a nice big patch of lilies that will bloom in a month or so, so all in all it was a fine day. I hope yours was and will be the same.

Every summer, like the roses, childhood returns. ~Marty Rubin

Thanks for stopping in.

 

Read Full Post »

I’m not seeing many now, possibly because the nights are getting cooler, but I was seeing at least one monarch butterfly each day for quite a while. That might not seem like many but I haven’t seen any over the last couple of years so seeing them every day was a very noticeable and welcome change.

For the newcomers to this blog; these “things I’ve seen posts” contain photos of things I’ve seen which, for one reason or another, didn’t fit into other posts. They are usually recent photos but sometimes they might have been taken a few weeks ago, like the butterflies in this post. In any event they, like any other post seen here, are simply a record of what nature has been up to in this part of the world.

After a rest the knapweeds started blooming again and clouded sulfur butterflies (I think) were all over them. I’ve seen a lot of them this year. They always seem to come later in summer and into fall and I still see them on warm days.

This clouded sulfur had a white friend that I haven’t been able to identify. I think this is only the second time I’ve had 2 butterflies pose for the same photo.

I saw lots of painted ladies on zinnias this year; enough so I think I might plant some next year. I like the beautiful stained glass look of the undersides of its wings.

The upper surface of a painted lady’s wings look very different. This one was kind enough to land just in front of me in the gravel of a trail that I was following.

A great blue heron stood motionless on a rock in a pond, presumably stunned by the beauty that surrounded it. It was one of those that likes to pretend it’s a statue, so I didn’t wait around for what would probably be the very slow unfolding of the next part of the story.

Three painted turtles all wanted the same spot at the top of a log in the river. They seem to like this log, because every time I walk by it there are turtles on it.

Three ducks dozed and didn’t seem to care who was where on their log in the river.

Ducks and turtles weren’t the only things on logs. Scaly pholiota mushrooms (Pholiota squarrosa) covered a large part of this one. This mushroom is common and looks like the edible honey mushroom at times, but it is not edible and is considered poisonous. They are said to smell like lemon, garlic, radish, onion or skunk, but I keep forgetting to smell them. They are said to taste like radishes by those unfortunate few who have tasted them.

There are so many coral mushrooms that look alike they can be hard to identify, but I think this one might have been yellow tipped coral (Ramaria formosa.) Though you can’t see them in this photo its stems are quite thick and stout and always remind me of broccoli. Some of these corals get quite big and they often form colonies. This one was about as big as a cantaloupe and grew in a colony of about 8-10 examples, growing in a large circle.

Comb tooth fungus (Hericium ramosum) grows on well-rotted logs of deciduous trees like maple, beech, birch and oak. It is on the large side; this example was about as big as a baseball, and its pretty toothed branches spill downward like a fungal waterfall. It is said to be the most common and widespread species of Hericium in North America, but I think this example is probably only the third one I’ve seen in over 50 years of looking at mushrooms.

Something I see quite a lot of in late summer is the bolete called Russell’s bolete (Boletellus russellii.) Though the top of the cap isn’t seen in this shot it was scaly and cracked, and that helps tell it from look alikes like the shaggy stalked bolete (Boletellus betula) and Frost’s bolete (Boletus frostii.) All three have webbed stalks like that seen above, but their caps are very different.

Sometimes you can be seeing a fungus and not even realize it. Or in this case, the results of a fungus. The fungus called Taphrina alni attacks female cone-like alder (Alnus incana) catkins (Strobiles) and chemically deforms part of the ovarian tissues, causing long tongue like galls known as languets to form. These galls will persist until the strobiles fall from the plant; even heavy rain and strong winds won’t remove them. Though I haven’t been able to find information on its reproduction I’m guessing that the fungal spores are produces on these long growths so the wind can easily take them to other plants.

Elderberries (Sambucus canadensis) are having a great year. I don’t think I’ve ever seen as many berries (drupes) as we have this year. The berries are edible but other parts of the plant contain calcium oxalate and are toxic. Native Americans dried them for winter use and soaked the berry stems in water to make a black dye that they used on their baskets.

Native cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon) are also having a good year. The Pilgrims named this fruit “crane berry” because they thought the flowers looked like Sandhill cranes. Native Americans used the berries as both food and medicine, and even made a dye from them. They taught the early settlers how to use the berries and I’m guessing that they probably saved more than a few lives doing so. Cranberries are said to be one of only three fruits native to North America; the other two being blueberries and Concord grapes, but I say what about the elderberries we just saw and what about crab apples? There are also many others, so I think whoever said that must not have thought it through.

In my own experience I find it best to leave plants with white berries alone because they are usually poisonous, and no native plant illustrates this better than poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans.) Though many birds can eat its berries without suffering, when most humans so much as brush against the plant they can itch for weeks afterward, and those who are particularly sensitive could end up in the hospital. I had a friend who had to be hospitalized when his eyes became swollen shut because of it. Eating any part of the plant or even breathing the smoke when it is burned can be very dangerous.

Native bluestem grass (Schizachyrium scoparium) catches the light and glows in luminous ribbons along the roadsides. This is a common grass that grows in every U.S. state except Nevada and Washington, but is so uncommonly beautiful that it is grown in gardens. After a frost it takes on a reddish purple hue, making it even more beautiful.

It is the way its seed heads reflect the light that makes little bluestem grass glow like it does.

I think the above photo is of the yellow fuzz cone slime mold (Hemitrichia clavata.) The most unusual thing about this slime mold is how it appears when the weather turns colder in the fall. Most other slime molds I see grow during warm, wet, humid summers but I’ve seen this one even in winter. Though it looks like it was growing on grass I think there must have been an unseen root or stump just under the soil surface, because this one likes rotten wood. It starts life as tiny yellow to orange spheres (sporangia) that finally open into little cups full of yellowish hair like threads on which the spores are produced.

I was looking at lichens one day when I came upon this grasshopper. The lichens were on a fence rail and so was the grasshopper, laying eggs in a crack in the rail. This is the second time I’ve seen a grasshopper laying eggs in a crack in wood so I had to look it up and see what it was all about. It turns out that only long horned grasshoppers lay eggs in wood. Short horned grasshoppers dig a hole and lay them in soil. They lay between 15 and 150 eggs, each one no bigger than a grain of rice. The nymphs will hatch in spring and live for less than a year.

The gypsy moth egg cases I’ve seen have been smooth and hard, but this example was soft and fuzzy so I had to look online at gypsy moth egg case examples. From what I’ve seen online this looks like one. European gypsy moths were first brought to the U.S. in 1869 from Europe to start a silkworm business but they escaped and have been in the wild ever since. In the 1970s and 80s gypsy moth outbreaks caused many millions of dollars of damage across the northeast by defoliating and killing huge swaths of forest. I remember seeing, in just about every yard, black stripes of tar painted around tree trunks or silvery strips of aluminum foil wrapped around trunks. The theory was that when the caterpillars crawled up the trunk of a tree to feed they would either get stuck in the tar or slip on the aluminum foil and fall back to the ground. Today, decades later, you can still see the black stripes of tar around some trees. Another gypsy moth population explosion happened in Massachusetts last year and that’s why foresters say that gypsy moth egg cases should be destroyed whenever they’re found. I didn’t destroy this one because at the time I wasn’t positive that it was a gypsy moth egg case. If you look closely at the top of it you can see the tiny spherical, silvery eggs. I think a bird had been at it.

Folklore says that the wider the orangey brown band on a wooly bear caterpillar is, the milder the winter will be. If we’re to believe it then this winter will be very mild indeed, because this wooly bear has more brown on it than I’ve ever seen. In any event this caterpillar won’t care, because it produces its own antifreeze and can freeze solid in winter. Once the temperatures rise into the 40s F in spring it thaws out and begins feeding on dandelion and other early spring greens. Eventually it will spin a cocoon and emerge as a beautiful tiger moth. From that point on it has only two weeks to live.

This bumblebee hugged a goldenrod flower head tightly one chilly afternoon. I thought it had died there but as I watched it moved its front leg very slowly. Bumblebees sleep and even die on flowers and they are often seen at this time of year doing just what this one was doing. I suppose if they have to die in winter like they do, a flower is the perfect place to do so. Only queen bumblebees hibernate through winter; the rest of the colony dies. In spring the queen will make a new nest and actually sit on the eggs she lays to keep them warm, just like birds do.

I’ll end this post the way I started it, with a monarch butterfly. I do hope they’re making a comeback but there is still plenty we can do to help make that happen. Planting zinnias might be a good place to start. At least, even if the monarchs didn’t come, we’d still have some beautiful flowers to admire all summer.

I meant to do my work today, but a brown bird sang in the apple tree, and a butterfly flitted across the field, and all the leaves were calling. ~Richard le Gallienn

Thanks for coming by.

Read Full Post »

Last Sunday I decided that a walk along the Ashuelot River in Keene was in order because this stretch of river is one of only two places I know of where gentians grow, and I wanted to see how they were coming along. They should bloom in a little over a month.

People have been walking along this path since long before I came along and it’s still a favorite of bike riders, dog walkers, joggers and nature lovers. On a good day you might see ducks, geese, blue heron, beavers, muskrats, squirrels, chipmunks and more birds than you can count here, as well as a wide variety of wildflowers and fungi. There have also been quite a few recent reports of a black bear in the area, but I was hoping that it was taking this day off.

You might even see something you’ve never seen before; that was my experience with this Asiatic dayflower (Commelina communis.) This is the first time it has appeared on this blog because this is the first time I’ve ever seen it. I was surprised by how small it was. I thought it would be as big as a tradescantia blossom but it was only half that size. It is an introduced plant from China and Japan but it could hardly be called invasive; it seems to be quite rare here. I love that shade of blue.

Another introduced plant that can be called very invasive is purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) and I was sorry but not surprised to see it here. If left unchecked it might very well be the only plant on these river banks a few years from now. It eventually chokes out almost every native plant it contacts.

Native Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum) grew along the river bank as well, and I hope it doesn’t lose the battle to purple loosestrife. I like seeing its dusty rose flower heads at this time of year.

Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) also grew on the river bank but I couldn’t get near them because they were growing in the water. I was surprised because every other time I’ve seen this native shrub it was growing up high on the river bank well away from the water. The waterfowl will appreciate it being so close because they love the seeds.

This was one of a few strange things I saw on this day. I don’t know what it was all about but what struck me as even stranger than its being here in the first place was that hundreds of people have walked by it and nobody has touched it. I must have seen at least ten children walking or bike riding with their parents and I don’t know why they left it alone. They must be very well behaved. When my own son and daughter were little this would have been like a magnet to them.

This was another strange thing I saw. It was nailed to a pine tree and I don’t have any idea why.  I do know for sure that Europeans weren’t nailing metal tags to trees in New Hampshire in 1697 though.

Yet another strange thing I saw was a turtle that appeared to be trying to fly. It kept putting its hind legs up in the air and wiggling its toes in the breeze. I don’t know what it was trying to do but it seemed very happy to be doing it. Maybe it was just celebrating such a beautiful day.

A young robin flew into a nearby bush and watched the turtle trying to fly. It didn’t seem real impressed, but what bird would be?

Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) and gray goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis) grew near the turtle’s log. At a glance common boneset looks like white Joe Pye weed. That’s because the two plants are closely related. In fact they can often be found growing side by side, but boneset blossoms a little later than Joe Pye weed here. I find it on river, pond and stream banks; almost always near water. The “perfoliatum” part of boneset’s scientific name means “through the leaf,” and that’s what boneset leaves look like; as if they had been perforated by the stem. The leaves joining around the stem as they do looked like bones knitting together as they healed to ancient herbalists, and that’s how the plant got its common name.

I’ve never seen pink lady’s slipper orchids (Cypripedium acaule) blooming along this stretch of the Ashuelot but the plants are here. I must not have walked this trail at the right time but I’ll be here next spring when they bloom.

There are many side trails off the main trail and every time I come out here I tell myself that I’m going to explore them one day but, even though I’ve been coming here since I was a boy, so far that day hasn’t come.

A crust fungus had nearly engulfed this entire tree stump. I think it was the netted crust fungus (Byssomerulius corium,) but I’ve never seen it get so big. It looked as if it was oozing right out of the stump.

White rattlesnake root (Prenanthes alba) is sometimes called white lettuce but it isn’t a lettuce, though they are in the same aster family that the lettuces are in. It’s probably thought to be another lettuce because it blooms at the same time and in the same locations as the wild lettuces do, but instead of the daisy like petals of lettuce flowers these look more bell shaped and lily like. The Native American Choctaw tribe used the tops of the plant in tea that they used to relieve pain. It is said that the common name comes from the way that some Native American tribes used the plant to treat snakebite.

Native long leaved pondweed (Potamogeton nodosus) also grew in the calm shallows. It likes to root in the mud and grow in full sun in warm standing water up to 4 feet deep. Many types of waterfowl including ducks and swans eat the seeds and leaves of this plant and muskrats like the stems. Many species of turtle eat the leaves, so it seems to be a plant that feeds just about every critter on the river. A man and woman came along when I was taking this photo and the woman came over to see what I thought was so interesting “Yuck, that’s disgusting!” she said. Since I see nothing disgusting about it her reaction to this important pond weed baffled me. Maybe she just doesn’t get out much.

Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) is doing well this year; this plant was loaded with berries. They’ll ripen to a chalky white from the green seen here. I get into it every year and this year was no exception. One of my fingers has had a blister on it for about a week and is itching as I type this. Luckily it stays put on me and doesn’t spread, but I’ve known people who were hospitalized by it.

Tall blue lettuce (Lactuca biennis) isn’t being very blue this year. I keep hoping to find a plant with deep blue flowers but so far all I’ve seen are ice blue examples. There are hundreds of plants along this stretch of river and I know of many more that grow along a stream and some near a pond, so the plant must like to be near water, possibly due to the increased humidity.

Though I usually look for narrow leaf gentians (Gentiana linearis) near mid-August the bottle gentians (Gentiana andrewsii) along the Ashuelot were nowhere near blooming. Last year I found them blooming in mid-September, so I’ll wait awhile and come back. The plants looked good and healthy with plenty of buds and hadn’t been eaten by bug or beast, so they should bloom well.

I was born not far from this river and I first put my toes into it just about 50 years ago. I’ve been near it pretty much ever since but even after all this time I still see many things along its banks that I’ve never seen, and I guess that’s why I keep coming back. I hope there is a river in your life as well.

If you have a river, then you should share it with everyone. ~Chen Guangbiao

Thanks for stopping in.

 

Read Full Post »

1. Striped Maple

Some of the most beautiful things that happen in a northeastern forest are happening right now, and I hope everyone living in the area will have a chance to witness them. Bud break, when a plant’s bud scales open to reveal the new leaves within, can be a very beautiful thing, as we see here in the velvety pink buds of striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum.) The larger center bud’s scales have just opened and leaves will appear shortly. Bud break can go on for quite some time among various species; striped and sugar maples follow cherry, and birch and beech will follow them, and shagbark hickory will follow birch and beech. Oaks are usually one of the last to show leaves. That’s just a small sampling that doesn’t include shrubs like lilac and forest floor plants that also have buds breaking.

2. Horsetail

Even the lowly horsetails are breaking bud beautifully. The fertile spore bearing stem of a common horsetail (Equisetum arvense) ends in a light brown, cone shaped structure called a strobilus. Since it doesn’t photosynthesize at this point in its development the plant has no need for chlorophyll, so most of it is a pale, whitish color. When it’s ready to release its spores the cone opens to reveal tiny, mushroom shaped sporangiophores.

3. Horsetail Closeup

The whitish “ruffles” at the base of each brown sporangiophore are the spore producing sporangia. When the horsetail looks like the one in the photo it has released its spores and will soon die and be replaced by an infertile stem. Nature can seem very complicated at times but it always comes down to one simple thing: continuation of the species.

4. Horsetail Infertle Stem

More people are probably familiar with the infertile stems of horsetail, shown here. They grow from the same roots as the fertile spore bearing shoots in the previous two photos and they do all the photosynthesizing.  Horsetails spread quickly and can be very aggressive. If they ever appear in your garden you should remove them as soon as possible, because large colonies are nearly impossible to eradicate.

5. Bittersweet on Elm

Invasive Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) is an expert at continuation of its species; not only does it produce berries that birds love; it also strangles the tree it uses to reach the most abundant sunshine. That can be seen here as this bittersweet vine slowly strangles an American elm. The vine is like a steel cable that wraps around the tree’s trunk and since the tree can’t break it, it often slowly strangles.

6. Cattail Shoot

Cattails (Typha latifolia) have just started coming up. Cattails at the edge of pond can grow faster than fertilized corn in a field and can create monocultures by shading out other plants with their dense foliage and debris from old growth. They are also very beneficial to many animals and birds and even the ponds and lakes they grow in by filtering runoff water and helping reduce the amount of silt and nutrients that flow into them.  Cattails were an important food for Native Americans. Their roots contain more starch than potatoes and more protein than rice, and native peoples made flour from them.  They also ate the new shoots in spring, which must have been especially welcome after a long winter of eating dried foods.

7. Male Mallard

A mallard swam serenely in the pond near the cattail shoots, so intent on something he saw on the far side that he didn’t even hear me walking on the trail.

8. Male Mallard

Or so I thought anyway. He knew I was there but my presence didn’t seem to bother him and he just swam along beside me as I walked the trail. I think he was as curious of me as I was of him.

9. Unknown Shoots

If you looked at the root of the aquatic arrowhead plant (Sagittaria latifolia) you’d see a whitish, chestnut size tuber with a shoot coming out of its top center. The shore of a local pond was littered with many shoots and since I know arrowheads grow here I’m guessing that’s what they were from. Though arrowhead plants are also called duck potatoes mallards eat only the seeds but muskrats, painted turtles and snapping turtles all eat the tubers. I’ve never seen a muskrat in this pond but I’ve seen many of both kinds of turtles here, so they may be the culprits.

10. Turtle

All of the sudden I’m seeing turtles everywhere, as if someone flipped a switch. This painted turtle let me get one photo and then it was gone. Fossils show that painted turtle have been here for about 15 million years. They can be found from Canada to Mexico and Maine to California and can live for over 50 years. Native Americans listened for the turtle’s splash into the water and used it as an alarm and one native legend says that Painted Turtle put his paint on to entice a chief’s daughter into the water. I don’t know about that but they have certainly enticed many a child into the water, and I was one of them.

11. Bullfrog

I doubt that painted turtles bother bullfrogs but I’d bet that snapping turtles do, and there are some big ones in this pond. I wondered if that was why this male bullfrog was sitting in the trail instead of in the water. He didn’t flinch when I walked to within a foot from him, and he let me take as many photos as I wanted. Bullfrogs are big; the biggest frog in North America, and the males do sound a bit like a bull. I’ve seen bullfrogs in the Ashuelot river that were so big they wouldn’t have fit in the palms of both hands held together.

12. Bullfrog

He let me walk around him to take photos of his other side without moving. Since it was just the two of us it’s doubtful that he though I couldn’t see him. Male bullfrogs have very large tympanic membranes that cover their ears. They sit slightly below and behind their eyes and are always bigger than the eye. Females have tympanic membranes that are the same size as their eyes, even though female bullfrogs can be much bigger than males. In some Native American tribes frogs were considered medicine animals that had healing powers and brought rain. Some, like the Chippewa tribes, had frogs as their clan animal. Clan members take their clan animal as their emblem, but they don’t believe that their clan is descended from that animal.

13. Robin

This robin looked like it had been eating very well. I’ve never seen as many as we have lately; large flocks of them. In the past I’ve felt lucky to have seen a single bird in spring.

14. White Baneberry

I love the movement in the young spring shoots of white baneberry (Actaea pachypoda) and I look for it every spring. This example had what looked like a prehistoric hand holding its flower buds while the newly opened leaves gazed down from above, enraptured. I fell under its spell for a while myself; it was such a beautiful and interesting little thing. This entire plant is poisonous and its berries especially so. They are white with a single black dot that gives them the common name doll’s eyes. In summer the berries follow a raceme of white flowers that is taller than it is wide, and which will grow from the tiny buds seen in this photo.

15. Japanese Knotweed

Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) can be very beautiful as it spreads its new leaves to catch the sun. Unfortunately it’s also very invasive and almost impossible to control. I’ve seen Japanese knotweed shoots killed to the ground by cold in the past, and within 3 weeks they had come right back and grew on as if it had never happened. I’ve heard that the new shoots taste much like rhubarb but the plants grow into large, 4-5 foot tall shrub like masses that shade out natives.

16. Cinnamon Fern-2

Both cinnamon (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) and interrupted ferns (Osmunda claytoniana) have fuzzy shoots, called fiddleheads because of their resemblance to the head of a violin. Ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) must be up as well, and fiddleheads from that fern are considered a delicacy in many restaurants. Last year I went with a professional fiddlehead forager and saw thousands upon thousands of ostrich fern fiddleheads. Cinnamon and interrupted fern fiddleheads are very bitter and mildly toxic. In fact many are toxic and shouldn’t be eaten unless you know them well or are buying them at a store or restaurant. .

17. White Ash Buds

The male flower buds of American white ash (Fraxinus americana) appear before the leaves and can sometimes be colorful and sometimes black as blackberries. The Wabanaki Indian tribes made their baskets from ash. Some tribes believed ash was poisonous to rattlesnakes and used ash canes to chase them away.

18. Sugar Maple Bud

The buds of sugar maple (Acer saccharum) have just broken on some trees and on others small leaves are already showing. The veins are prominent even on leaves that haven’t unfurled. Deer love to snack on sweet sugar maple buds and quite often you find only branch stubs and this time of year.

19. New Maple Leaves

Red maple (Acer rubrum) leaves live up to their name when they’re this young. The red color in spring leaves is caused by the same pigments that bring the reds of autumn, the anthocyanins. That covers the how but little is really known about the why. One theory says that it’s because deer and moose can’t see red and therefore won’t eat the new, tender leaves. Another says that the red color protects the leaves from cold temperatures and damaging ultraviolet rays, but nobody seems to know for sure. I like to think the colors are there just to make the world a more beautiful place.

I meant to do my work today, but a brown bird sang in the apple tree, and a butterfly flitted across the field, and all the leaves were calling. ~Richard le Gallienn

Thanks for coming by.

Read Full Post »

1. Clouded Sulfur

I saw a clouded sulfur butterfly (Colias philodice) on an aster recently. It moved from flower to flower but was willing to sit still long enough for a couple of photos. I like the color combination.

2. Painted Turtle

Painted turtles are still lazing in the sun along the Ashuelot River. Soon they will burrow into the mud on the river bottom. As the water cools their internal temperature will drop to nearly match the water temperature and their metabolism will slow. They will take up enough oxygen to stay alive through their skin and hibernate until the weather warms in spring.

3. American Dagger Moth Caterpillar

The American dagger moth caterpillar (Acronicta americana) feeds on the leaves of deciduous trees like birch, elm, ash, hickory, maple, and oak. This one had someplace to be and was moving about as fast as I’ve ever seen a caterpillar move. It had a black head but it wouldn’t let me get a shot of it. American dagger moth caterpillars aren’t poisonous but some people do get a rash when they handle them.

4. Moose Antler

A coworker found a moose antler in the woods and I asked if I could get a photo of it for those who have never seen one. This was from a young moose and wasn’t that big, but some can get very big indeed. One recent trophy moose had antlers that spanned over 6 feet (75 5/8 inches) from tip to tip. Shed antlers aren’t a common site in these woods even though moose wander through every town in the region. Since they are relatively rare large moose antlers can be valuable when found in good condition. The trick is to find them before the mice, birds, coyotes and other critters chew them up.

5. Virginia Creeper

Fall always seems to start at the forest floor and slowly work its way up to the trees. At present it has reached the understory, as this Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) shows. I grew up with this plant; my mother loved it so much that she planted it to grow up the side of the porch. I watched it turn red each fall when I was a boy and now I look for it every year at this time.

6. Burning Bush

Burning bushes (Euonymus alatus) are also showing signs of fall, with more pink leaves coming every day. This shrub is much loved for its fall color but it is extremely invasive so its sale and cultivation are banned in New Hampshire. Our native highbush blueberry bushes (Vaccinium corymbosum) are quite colorful in the fall and are good alternatives for burning bush. Plant breeders have developed cultivars that are even more colorful than the natives. The American cranberry bush (Viburnum opulus var. americanum) is another native shrub that breeders have been working on and some cultivars display amazing color.

7. Burning Bush

They may be invasive but it’s hard to deny the beauty of burning bushes. Along the Ashuelot River in Swanzey there is a narrow strip of woodland where nearly the entire understory is made up of hundreds of these shrubs. It’s a great example of how invasive plants choke out the natives and create a monoculture. I’m not happy about the monoculture but when all of these shrubs turn the color of the leaves shown in the photo it’s an astoundingly beautiful sight. Though I can understand and even agree with every argument that says they should be destroyed, I have to admit that I’d be sorry to see them go.

8. Birches

Birch trees are among the first to turn in the fall but these examples are still showing more green than gold. We’ve had a very dry summer and I’m curious to see what the colors will be like this year; muted or more intense? So far the shrub colors don’t seem to be affected.

9. Lion's Mane Mushroom

Bear’s head or lion’s mane mushroom (Hericlum americanum) is a beautiful toothed fungus that looks like a fungal waterfall. Soft spines hang from branches that reach out from a thick central stalk. As it ages it will change from white to cream to brown. I didn’t think I was going to see one this year but I found this naval orange size example growing from the cut end of a felled tree just yesterday. I took its photo with my cellphone because that’s all I had with me. I haven’t had much luck taking close-ups with that phone so I was surprised when I saw that this shot was useable.

10. Coral Fungus

I think this white coral fungus might be cockscomb or crested coral (Clavulina coralloides.) Crested corals have branches that end in sharp tips which often turn brown. I don’t see these as often as I do other types of coral fungi. They are supposed to like growing under conifers and that’s just where I found it.

11. Golden Pholiota (Pholiota limonella) Mushrooms

Golden pholiota (Pholiota limonella) mushrooms grew on a beech log. The gilled, lemon yellow caps with reddish scales are slimy to the touch on these inedible mushrooms. An oak kindly dropped an acorn beside them for me so I could give you a sense of their size.

12. Pear Shaped Puffballs

Pear shaped puffballs (Lycoperdon pyriforme) grow in clusters on stumps and logs but these examples were growing on a rotted part of a living, standing tree. That’s not good and the tree will eventually have to go. Their common name comes from their upside down pear shape which can’t really be seen in this photo. As they age pores open in the top of each one so its spores can be released.

13. Wild Plums

The wild plums are ripening. I found a thicket of about 3 small trees under some power lines in Swanzey a few years ago and though I’ve taken photos of the flowers I never came back to take any of the fruit until this year. I thought they were American plums (Prunus americana) but I’m not positive about that. They could also be Canada plums (Prunus nigra.) I’m going to have to pay very close attention to the flowers next spring. The fruit is small at about half the size of a hen’s egg but is said to make delicious jelly, whether American or Canadian.

14. Indian Cucumber Root

Botanically speaking a whorl is an “arrangement of sepals, petals, leaves, stipules or branches that radiate from a single point and surround or wrap around the stem,” and nothing illustrates this better than Indian cucumber root (Medeola virginiana.) Its leaves wrap around the stem arranged in a single flat plane, so if you saw them from the side theoretically you would see an edge, much like looking at the edge of a dinner plate. If any leaf or leaves in the arrangement are above or below others it’s not a true whorl.

15. Little Bluestem

Native little bluestem grass (Schizachyrium scoparium) catches the light and glows in luminous ribbons along the roadsides. This grass is common, growing in every U.S. state except Nevada and Washington. According to the USDA its appearance can vary in height, color, length of leaves, flowering, and clump diameter from location to location. It’s a beautiful little 2-3 foot tall grass that lends a golden richness to life outdoors. After a frost it takes on a reddish purple hue, making it even more beautiful. The world would be a duller place without it.

16. Little Bluestem Seedhead

There is a lot going on in a light catching little bluestem seed head but I won’t try to explain it; I’ll just let you enjoy its unique beauty.

17. Hindu God Ganesh

I’ve been walking the banks of the Ashuelot River almost since I learned how to walk and I’ve seen some unusual things over the years, but by far the most unusual thing I’ve seen recently is this statue of the Hindu deity Ganesh that I found on its banks in Swanzey. Ganesh is said to be the lord of success and the remover of obstacles on one’s spiritual path. He is also thought to bring education, knowledge, wisdom and prosperity, so I’m wondering what it is the river is trying to tell me. It seems like whatever it is can only be good.

He who has experienced the mystery of nature is full of life, full of love, full of joy. Radiance emanates from the whole existence itself; it does not know the meaning of holding back. ~ Maitreya Rudrabhayananda

Thanks for coming by.

Read Full Post »

1. Blue Dragonfly

The beautiful blue of this dragonfly dazzled me for a few moments one recent day. I’m not sure but I think it might be a blue dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis.) Its color reminded me of the blue stemmed goldenrod, which appears at this time of year.

NOTE: A reader says that this looks like a slaty skimmer. Any thoughts on that?

2. Blue Jay Feather

The blue of the blue jay feather matched that of the dragonfly. This shade of blue seems to appear in unexpected places in nature, like on smoky eye boulder lichens, cobalt crust fungi and first year black raspberry canes.

3. Turtles

There were two painted turtles (Chrysemys picta) on a log one day and the big one looked to be scratching the little one’s back. Or maybe he was trying to push the little one off the log, I don’t know.  They looked like happy turtles, whatever they were doing.

4. White Caterpillar

The hickory tussock moth caterpillar (Lophocampa caryae) is black and white and can cause quite an itchy rash, from what I’ve read. The nettle like hairs can break off and stick in the skin and they are said to bother some people enough for them to be hospitalized, so it’s probably best to look and not touch this one.

5. Salamander

New Hampshire has eight native salamanders including the red-spotted newt (Notophthalmus viridescens.) I found this one under a log and I think it must be a juvenile red-spotted newt, which is called a red eft. It was bigger than many adults I’ve seen of that species but it was bright red as red efts are supposed to be.

NOTE: A reader has confirmed this salamander as an erythristic red-back salamander. Erythristic means that it has more red pigment, like a red headed person. Red back salamanders are the most common salamander in the northeast and usually found under logs, so everything fits this example.

6. Salamander

The salamander was cooperative and let me take several photos until finally quickly ducking under a leaf.

7. Hemlock Growing out of Stump

I saw that a Canadian hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) seed had fallen onto a rotten hemlock stump that was apparently dirt like enough to let the seed grow. And grow it did, until its roots encircled the rotten stump and reached the ground. When the young tree is grown and the stump has rotted away this hemlock will look as if it’s standing on stilts.

8. Fern

Before they go dormant for the winter some ferns turn white, and if you catch them at just the right time they can be very beautiful.

9. Fern Shadow

Other ferns command my attention for different reasons.

10. Smooth Sumac Berries

Smooth sumac (Rhus glabra) berries are ripe and red. These berries don’t get anywhere near as hairy as staghorn sumac berries do but the plants still look alike and are easy to confuse if you don’t look closely for the hairy stems of staghorn sumac. Smooth sumac leaves turn bright red in the fall and produce a rich brown dye. Birds love them.

11. Staghorn Sumac Berries

Staghorn sumac berries, like the rest of the plant, are very hairy. They are an important winter emergency food for many types of birds including Robins, Evening Grosbeaks, Bluebirds, Cardinals, and Scarlet Tanagers. After a thorough soaking and washing, the berries were made into a drink resembling pink lemonade by Native Americans. In the Middle East they are dried and ground into a lemon flavored spice.

12. Sumac Pouch Gall

Since I’m speaking of sumacs I might as well give you an update on the sumac pouch galls that the Smithsonian Institution is coming to harvest. They’re looking for winged adult sumac gall aphids (Melaphis rhois) so they asked me to cut a gall open. These galls turn tomato red as they age but as the photo shows this example looked more like a blushing potato.

13. Sumac Pouch Gall Inside

All I found inside were green aphid larva. They need to grow a bit but since I don’t know much about their life cycle I’ll let the Smithsonian people decide when to come. They’re researching the coevolution of Rhus gall aphids and their host plants. Science has found that this relationship between the aphids and the sumac has been going on for at least 48 million years, with no signs of stopping. The galls are surprisingly light; they are really just bags of air.

14. False Solomon's Seal

When false Solomon’s seal (Smilacina racemosa) berries are fully ripe they will be bright red, but I like them speckled like they are at this stage too. I’ve read that soil pH can affect fruit color. Native American’s used all parts of this plant including its roots, which contain lye and must be boiled and rinsed several times before they can be used. Birds, mice, grouse, and other forest critters eat the ripe berries that grow at the end of the stem. They are said to taste like molasses and another common name for the plant is treacle berry.

15. Solomon's Seal Berries

Dark blueish purple true Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum) berries dangle under the leaves and look like grapes-quite different than the false Solomon’s seal berries in the previous photo. The berries and leaves of this plant are poisonous and should not be eaten. Solomon’s seal and its variants are great plants for a shaded woodland garden.

16. Burning Bush

Most burning bushes (Euonymus alatus) are still green but every now and then just one branch will turn this orchid color, as if it can’t wait to announce summer’s passing. Though they are very invasive they can also be beautiful. They have taken over the understory of a strip of forest along the Ashuelot River and when the hundreds of shrubs all turn this color it becomes a breathtakingly beautiful sight.

One very important aspect of motivation is the willingness to stop and to look at things that no one else has bothered to look at. This simple process of focusing on things that are normally taken for granted is a powerful source of creativity. ~ Edward de Bono

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »