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Posts Tagged ‘Pileated Woodpecker’

In my last post I spoke about climbing Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard. I took a short detour on the way home that day to see Bailey Brook Falls in Nelson. The brook wasn’t running quite as high as I expected considering the regular rain and all the snowmelt we’ve seen lately. The state says we’re still in a moderate drought because the underground aquifers have been depleted, so hopefully we’ll see our average rainfall this summer. That would help a lot.

This is my favorite view of the falls. Interesting how the brook is always split in two here.

A pileated woodpecker had carved a deep hole out of this white pine (Pinus strobus.) There’s nothing remarkable about that; I see holes like this all the time. It’s what happened afterwards that is worth noting.

The pine tree’s sap had turned a beautiful blue, deeper in color than most I see. I see more blue pine sap in winter than at other times of year so I’ve always assumed that it was the cold that turned it blue, like it does to some lichens, but now that I’m noticing it in warmer weather as well I’m just not sure. Does the cold turn it blue in winter and then it stays that way from then on? I’ve spent many hours searching for the answer and can’t find a single reference to blue pine sap, so I can’t answer the question.

Ninety five percent of the white pine sap I see looks like this; kind of a cloudy tan color, and that’s why blue pine sap is so startling and unusual. Pine sap (resin) has been used by Native American tribes for thousands of years to waterproof just about anything that needed it; baskets, pails, and especially canoes. The Chippewa tribe also used pine sap to treat infections and wounds. The treatment was usually successful because pine sap seems to contain several antimicrobials.

I also saw some resin on a black cherry tree, which is something I’ve never seen before. It was clear and amber colored and very different than pine resin. This is the kind of resin that insects got trapped in millions of years ago and which are found occasionally today, preserved forever just as they were when they became stuck in the sticky sap. There were quite large globs of it here and there on this tree and I wish I had taken one to add to my collection of outdoor oddities.

Because of colorblindness I don’t usually try bird identification but I think I’m safe saying that this is a European starling. European starlings were first introduce into New York In the 1890s. Those original 100 birds have now become  over 200 million, and they can be found from Alaska to Mexico. I saw three birds working this lawn for insects; not exactly a flock. The name starling comes from their resemblance to a four pointed star when they fly.

I’ve read that a starling’s spots are more easily seen in winter and all but disappear in summer, but they were very noticeable on all 3 of these birds. They’re a pretty bird but I understand that a lot of people here in the U.S. don’t like them.

Milk white toothed polypore is a resupinate fungus, which means it looks like it grows upside down, and that’s what many crust fungi seem to do. Their spore bearing surface can be wrinkled, smooth, warty, toothed, or porous and though they appear on the undersides of branches the main body of the fungus is in the wood, slowly decomposing it.

The “teeth” are actually ragged bits of spore bearing tissue. They start life as tubes or pores and break apart and turn brown as they age. Milk white toothed polypores appear very late in the year and are considered “winter mushrooms.”

Lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina) is one of our earliest to show in spring but this year it was even earlier than I thought so it got ahead of me. These fiddleheads were already about 6 inches tall. 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. Lady fern is the only one I know of with brown / black scales on its stalks. It likes wet or very moist ground along rivers and streams.

I found a beard lichen (Usnea) still attached to a cut log and it turned out to be the longest one I’ve seen. They’re very common on pines and hemlocks in our area. They attach themselves to the bark but take nothing from the tree, much like a bird perching. Lichens in the Usnea genus contain usnic acid and have antiseptic / antibiotic properties. They have been used since ancient times throughout the world to heal wounds.

Bud break is defined as “when the green tip of a leaf can be seen emerging from the bud,” and I can’t think of a better plant to demonstrate it than rhubarb.

There is a very short time when skunk cabbage leaves (Symplocarpus foetidus) actually look like cabbage leaves. I’m guessing that with skunk in their name they don’t taste anything like cabbage though, and I hope I’m never hungry enough to be tempted by them. I’ve heard that bears will eat them when they can’t find anything else.

Ramps (Allium tricoccum) are up and growing fast. These wild leeks look like scallions and taste somewhere between an onion and garlic. They are considered a great delicacy and are a favorite spring vegetable from Quebec to Tennessee, and ramp festivals are held in almost all states on the U.S. east coast and in many other countries in the world. Unfortunately they are slow growers and a ten percent harvest of a colony can take ten years to grow back. They take up to 18 months to germinate from seed, and five to seven years to mature enough to harvest. That’s why ramp harvesting has been banned in many national and state parks and in pats of Canada, and why Ramp farming is now being promoted by the United States Department of Agriculture.

This photo from a few years ago shows what the complete ramp looks like. The bulbs and leaves are said to be very strongly flavored with a pungent odor. In some places they are called “The king of stink.” The name ramps comes from the English word ramson, which is a common name of the European bear leek (Allium ursinum), which is a cousin of the North American wild leek. Their usage has been recorded throughout history starting with the ancient Egyptians. They were an important food for Native Americans and later for white settlers as well.

False hellebores (Veratrum viride) grow close to the ramps and woe be to the forager who confuses them. Though all parts of ramps are edible false hellebore is one of the most toxic plants in the New England forest, so it would be wise to know both well before foraging for ramps. One clue would be the deeply pleated leaves of the false hellebore, which look nothing like ramp leaves. Second would be the color; ramps are a much deeper green. Third would be size; everything about false hellebore is bigger, including leaf size. The final clue would be the roots. False hellebore roots are tough and fibrous and don’t look at all like the bulbous, scallion like root of ramps. I’m surprised that anyone could confuse the two, but apparently it has happened.

I think these buds were on a white ash (Fraxinus americana), but it could also be a green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica). Both are commonly planted along streets and in parking lots and I saw this tree in a store parking lot. One thing that helps identify ash trees are the shape of the leaf scars that appear just below the buds, and I didn’t look at it closely. On the white ash these scars are “C” shaped and on green ash they look like a “D.” White ash leaf scars are also much larger than those on green ash. Ash bears male and female flowers on separate trees.

The beautiful fruits (samaras) of the silver maple (Acer saccharinum) start out their lives deep red with a white furry coat. When you see them beginning to form you have to check them frequently to catch them in this stage because it happens quickly and ends just as quickly. The mature seeds are the largest of any native maple and are a favorite food of the eastern chipmunk. Silver maples get their common name from the downy surface of the leaf underside, which flashes silver in the slightest breeze.

The pinkish leaf buds of striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) are growing quickly now. They often show hints of orange and are quite beautiful at this stage; in my opinion one of the most beautiful things in the forest at this time of year. Branches full of them stop me in in my tracks. There is so much beauty out there; I hope all of you are seeing as much of it as you are able to.

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 stopping in.

 

 

 

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1-sign

I’ve been itching to make a climb for a while now, but ice and deep snow have made forest travel very difficult. Many of the parking spots aren’t plowed in winter so even if you can find a good place to climb there’s a good chance that you won’t be able to park anywhere near it. My solution to the problem was Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard, which always gets plowed and is usually an easy, gentle climb.

2-trail-start

One look at the trail told me this would probably not be an easy, gentle climb. There was a good foot of snow on the trail and it wasn’t as hard packed as I had hoped.

3-trail

It wasn’t as bad as ice but it was quite warm so the snow was wet, slushy and slippery. If you stepped off the hard packed part of the trail you found yourself up to your knees in wet snow. I could see that some had worn snowshoes and others had worn spikes, but I wore hiking boots.

4-wood-chips

Woodchips on the snow usually mean one thing when the bears are sleeping; pileated woodpeckers have been busy.

5-woodpecker-tree

They did a real job on this dead birch. It had been shredded and almost cut in half.

6-downed-tree

Up ahead a tree had fallen across the trail. This was a good opportunity to stop and catch my breath.

7-rosy-saucer-lichen

I always like to look to see what was growing in the top of a newly fallen tree. This one was covered with what I think were rim lichens (Lecanora epibryon.) There are many different rim lichens and I think most of them have brownish fruiting bodies (Apothecia.)

8-maple-buds-2

Its buds told me that the fallen tree was a red maple (Acer rubrum.)

9-monadnock-2

After climbing over the fallen maple I slogged on to the Mount Monadnock viewing spot and had another rest. The mountain lies almost directly south of Pitcher Mountain and the bright afternoon sun coming at the camera made this a difficult shot.

10-meadow

I always stop to see the edge of the meadow rising up into the sky. It’s impossible to explain how such an empty place makes me feel but after being in the woods for most of my life such a view is foreign enough to almost make it seem like I’m on another planet. It’s a pleasurable experience that’s always hard to turn away from. French sociologist, social psychologist and philosopher Emile Durkheim once said: “One cannot long remain so absorbed in contemplation of emptiness without being increasingly attracted to it.” I think he was right.

11-meadow

Though I’ve seen photos of Scottish highland cattle in this meadow I’ve never seen the real thing. They’re not common here so I’d like to see them in person someday.

12-cabin

The old fire warden’s cabin looks like it’ll make it through another winter. It’s too bad a use can’t be found for it, it has been empty and unused for years. The cabin marks the steepest part of the climb so I sat on the porch for a bit to catch my breath. It looked like a few others had the same idea. Climbing in this kind of snow was hard work.

13-fire-tower

The fire tower marks the summit. They let people go up in it when it’s manned but I haven’t seen anyone in it since last summer. This is actually the second tower on this mountain. In April of 1940 the first wooden fire tower built in 1915 burned in a fire that destroyed 27,000 acres of forest, including the fire tower and all of the trees on the summit. It was the most destructive fire in the region’s history but it left the Summit of Pitcher Mountain with a full 360 degree view. That and the wild blueberries that grow here make it a popular spot.

14-turnbuckle

The fire tower is pinned to the bedrock for good reason; it was windier here on this day than I’ve ever seen it and there were two or three gusts that I seriously thought would blow me over. At least it wasn’t cold, but I still didn’t stay long.

15-winmills

To the north of Pitcher Mountain 12 wind turbines stretch over several ridgelines in Lempster. These examples are part of the first windfarm in New Hampshire. They looked to be spinning quickly on this day.

16-ski-area

I think this might be Mount Ascutney ski resort in Vermont to the northwest. Chances are it was doing a brisk business on such a warm day.

17-mount-kearsarge

I think this is Mount Kearsarge in Wilmot, New Hampshire to the northeast. It’s a very pretty mountain.

18-near-hill

I call this hill the near hill. After looking at several maps I still haven’t found its name, so it might not have one. It looks very close but it would be quite a hike to get to the top of it from here.

19-common-gold-speck-lichens

Common gold speck lichen (Candelariella vitellina) grows all over the exposed bedrock up here. This lichen contains a yellow pigment called calysin and was once used in Sweden to dye wool yellow. It must have been difficult scraping it off the rocks that it grew on and I would imagine that yellow wool in Sweden was very expensive then.

20-common-gold-speck-lichens

Common goldspeck lichen is a crustose lichen that seems very granular when you get a close look at it. It seems to do very well here; I’m sure that it must get plenty of sunshine.

21-scattered-rock-posy

I’ve seen plenty of scattered rock posy lichens (Rhizoplaca subdiscrepans) but never one with a spore producing apothecium in the shape of a heart. These lichens are very small so I didn’t see this myself until I saw the photo. Scattered rock posy is both beautiful and unusual with its brain like body (Thallus) and orange fruiting discs (Apothecia.) I always find them growing on stone in full sun. This is a lichen that never seems to stop producing spores; its orange pad like apothecia are always there.

22-mountain-ash-bud
I’ve probably walked by this mountain ash tree 50 times but never noticed it, and that’s why I follow the same trails again and again. You just can’t see everything in one or two visits. It was a tough slog going up and coming down the mountain in the wet snow but I’m glad I did it and glad I didn’t miss these large beet colored buds.

We don’t stop hiking because we grow old – we grow old because we stop hiking. ~ Finis Mitchell

Thanks for stopping in.

 

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1-the-stream

There is a small stream near my house that I like to visit at least once in winter and I did so recently. Right now it looks lazy and placid, but I’ve seen it rise overnight into a raging, road eating thing that easily covered everything in this photo except the trees. Its name is Bailey Brook, I just found out the night before posting this, but according to the Maine Geological Survey a brook is just a small stream. On the other hand a stream is a small river or brook, so I’m just going to keep calling it a stream.

2-tree-moss

One reason I like to come here is to see my old friends the tree mosses (Climacium dendroides.) They’re beautiful little mosses that I never see anywhere else. They must like very wet soil because they grow right at the edge of the stream and are covered by water when the stream floods. In fact all of the plants you’ll see in this post are under water for at least a day or two each year. It is their shape that gives tree mosses their common name but it is their inner light that draws me back here to see them.

3-christmas-fern

Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) is probably the most common of our evergreen ferns. When seen at this time of year it is obvious that it has had its branches flattened by the weight of the snow because they splay out all over the ground. When the new fronds, or fiddleheads, appear in spring the previous season’s fronds turn yellow and then finally brown. The dead fronds then form a mat around the living fern that helps prevent soil erosion. This is a fern that doesn’t mind wet soil.

4-christmas-fern

Christmas fern is easy to identify by its leaflets that resemble little Christmas stockings. The narrow fine teeth that line the edges of the leaflets and the short leaf stalks can also be seen in this photo. It is said to be called Christmas fern because early settlers brought the green fronds inside at Christmas.

5-marginal-wood-fern-spore-cases

Marginal wood fern (Dryopteris marginalis) is another evergreen fern that also grows well here because it likes damp, shady places. Its spore bearing sori grow on the edges of the leaves and give this fern its common name. The sori are covered by a kidney shaped cap (indusium,) which is smooth. The cap comes off just when the spores are ready to be released, as it has done on at least two of these examples.

6-pine-sap-on-fern

The sticky sap from a white pine (Pinus strobus) had dripped on the upper part of the marginal wood fern’s frond. I decided to show it to you so you could see how white pine sap turns blue when it’s cold.

7-jelly-fungus

An orange jelly fungus (Dacrymyces palmatus) was drying out and had lost its transparency. Jelly fungi can absorb many times their own weight is water but when they begin to dry out they can shrink down to a hard dry chip the size of a toddler’s fingernail.

8-fungal-growth

I saw a fallen branch with some familiar looking growths on it, so I looked a little closer.

9-fungal-growth

The branch growths had me believing they were slime molds for a minute or two. They looked a lot like a slime mold called Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa v. porioides, which looks like tiny geodesic domes and loves to grow on rotting wood. But something wasn’t right; they were a little too big and they weren’t bright white like Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa. Them my right hand found something cold and jelly like on the branch.

10-fungal-growth

I think what my hand found was a milk white toothed polypore (Irpex lacteus.) This is a “winter” fungus that can appear quite late in the year. It is also a resupinate fungus, which means it looks like it grows upside down, and that’s what many crust fungi seem to do. Their spore bearing surface can be wrinkled, smooth, warty, toothed, or porous and though they appear on the undersides of logs the main body of the fungus is in the wood, slowly decomposing it. This is the first time I’ve seen the “birth” of this fungus.

11-winter-fungus

I saw an awful lot of fungi for a January day. I’m not sure what this one was but it was pleasing to the eye and reminded me of spring, and that was enough.

12-artists-conk

Artist’s conk (Ganoderma applanatum) grew on an old oak and wasn’t hard to identify. This bracket fungus gets its name from its smooth white underside, which is perfect for drawing on.  Any scratch made on the pure white surface becomes brown and will last for many years. I drew a farm scene on one more than 30 years ago and I still have it.

13-artists-conk

Artist’s conks are perennial fungi that get bigger each year. Older examples can be up to two feet across, but this one was closer to half that. I put my Olympus camera on it to give you an idea of how big it was. This fungus causes heart rot in a wide variety of tree species, so this living tree is doomed.

14-horsetails

Horsetails (Equisetum hyemale) rise like spikes from the forest floor. These ancient plants are embedded with silica and are called scouring rushes. They are a great find when you are camping along a stream because you can use them to scour your cooking utensils. Running your finger over a stalk feels much like fine sandpaper.

15-horsetail

In Japan horsetails are boiled and dried and then used to smooth wood, and are said to produce a finish superior to any sandpaper. Horsetails produce spores in their cone shaped tips, but the examples in this spot rarely grow them. I think the stripes on them will always remind me of socks.

16-woodpecker-tree

This tree is full of insects, probably carpenter ants, and the pileated woodpecker that made these holes knew it. Pileated woodpecker holes are almost always rectangular and very big compared to other woodpecker holes. These were quite deep as well.

17-bark-beetle-damage

Pine bark beetles (Ips pini) had a field day here, according to the evidence left behind on several fallen limbs. The look of a jagged saw tooth pattern means unfinished egg chambers.  Pine bark beetles kill limbs and trees by girdling them. This stops the movement of water and nutrients up and down the tree and the infected limbs or the entire tree will die. These beetles are small and range in size from about 1/10 to 1/4 of an inch in length, but they can do a lot of damage when enough of them are in a forest.

18-grape-tendril

Native river grapes (Vitis riparia) grow along the stream banks. These are old vines that grow well into the tree tops and the fermenting fruit makes the forest smell like grape jelly on warm fall days. I like looking at their tendrils. Sometimes I see beautiful Hindu dancers in their twisted shapes; other times animals, sometimes birds. This one took the shape of a heart.

River grapes are also called frost grapes, and their extreme cold tolerance makes their rootstock a favorite choice for many well-known grape varieties. They’ve been known to survive temperatures of -57 degrees F. (-49 C)

19-tangle

Bailey Brook gets its start in the Horatio Colony nature preserve in Keene, which was too far away to hike to on this day, so I stopped at this tangle of trees, brush and vines. Finding ways under, over, through or around snags like these can take a lot out of you. This stream completely dried up in last summer’s drought and I could have walked up its bed all the way to its source, but I didn’t. I’m happy to see it full pf water again.

If it weren’t for the rocks in its bed, the stream would have no song. ~Carl Perkins

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1-sign

Here in New Hampshire a class 6 designation means that a road isn’t maintained by either the state or the town and traveling it could be rough going. Class 6 roads are also subject to gates and bars. Though they are public ways they are roads that are more or less forgotten except by hikers and snowmobilers. The one I chose to hike on this day is in Swanzey and dates from the mid-1800s.

2-trail

The road itself is wide and flat but can be rocky in places. A vehicle with good ground clearance could easily navigate it, at least until it came to the streams that cross the road. The one bridge that I saw hasn’t been maintained, so stream crossing would be a bit of a gamble. According to the Swanzey Town History the road was originally laid out in 1848 and went from the village of West Swanzey to the Chesterfield town line. From that point the town of Chesterfield took over and continued it up the valley to the “Keene and Chesterfield highway,” which I think must now be route 9 that runs east to west.

3-california-brook

The many small streams and rivulets that drain down from the hillsides empty into California Brook, which runs alongside the road for miles. California Brook is a strange name for a brook in New Hampshire and I’ve tried to find the name’s origin but haven’t had any luck. It has its start in the town of Chesterfield and runs southeast to the Ashuelot River in Swanzey. There were at least two mills on the brook in the early 1800s, and it was said to be the only waterway in Swanzey where beavers could be found in the 1700s. They’re still here, almost 300 years later.

4-snowy-log

This was a cold hike; in shady spots there were still traces of the snow that fell several days ago.

5-christmas-fern

Evergreen Christmas ferns (Polystichum acrostichoides) don’t mind a little snow. The tough leathery leaves will stay green under the snow all winter long. In spring they will turn yellow and then brown to make way for new fronds. One story says that the name “Christmas fern” is thought to come from the early settler’s habit of using its fronds as Christmas decorations.

6-foamflower-leaves

Foam flowers (Tiarella cordifolia) grew along the old road. This plant has hairy leaves that look delicate, but they’re fairly tough and stay green under the leaves and snow all winter. The purple veins in each leaf become more pronounced as the nights cool and sometimes the leaves will have purplish bronze splotches. This plant makes an excellent flowering groundcover for a damp, shady spot in the garden. Plant breeders have developed many interesting hybrids but I still like the native best, I think.

7-frozen-pool

Just off the road a small pool had formed and frozen over. It was much like the vernal pools that we see in spring that are so important to wildlife.

8-bridge

I came out here several years ago and was able to drive over this bridge but I doubt I’d try it now. Part of it looks to be fairly rotten. There’s a drop of 3 or 4 feet to the stream bed under it.

9-bridge

A snowmobile or a 4 wheeler could get over the bridge with no problem in spite of the rotted and missing planks, but it looked like it would be tricky for a wider vehicle. I was glad I decided to hike it, especially since a second bridge further up the road had washed away completely. The flooding that happened here a few years ago must have taken it. Someone had tried to fill the stream bed with crushed stone but it would still be a tough crossing. The flooding also destroyed a beaver dam and the large beaver pond that was out here several years ago has drained away.

10-stone-wall

Moss covered stone walls line the road. They were most likely built in the mid-1700s after the original land grants and years before the road was built. According the town history most traveling was done on foot and bridle paths in the early years of settlement. Stone walls like this one which are all but forgotten are sometimes called “wild” walls.

11-woods

One of the things I like about this time of year is how you can see so much farther into the forest once the leaves have fallen. This view shows that there are a lot of stones that would have to be cleared before this piece of land could become a pasture. Frost brings more stones to the surface each year so clearing them out of a pasture can be a constant effort. Though the trees in this view look young I saw some large examples that were obviously very old.

12-wood-chips-from-woodpecker

Fresh woodchips lay all around the base of a beech tree. I’ve learned to look up when I see this.

13-pileated-woodpecker-holes

Because every time I see wood chips at the base of a tree I see pileated woodpecker holes in it. These were high up, just below where the tree had lost its top. The old dead beech must have been full of insects, probably carpenter ants.

14-scars-on-beech-tree

The tree’s trunk had slashing scars on it, made within the last few years.  According to the town history the largest animals that settlers in this area saw regularly were wolf, bear, catamount (mountain lion), lynx, beaver, otter and deer. Of those wolves and bears presented the most “annoyance.” Since we don’t have wolves any longer and mountain lion sightings happen only very rarely, the only other animal I can think of that is powerful enough to leave marks like this is a black bear. I doubt very much that they were made by a human.

15-scars-on-beech-tree

Just as water will take the path of least resistance black bear, deer and other animals use manmade roads and trails and bears will mark the trees and utility poles along them. I saw several trees with marks like these along this section of the trail but they aren’t something that I see regularly in my travels.

16-black-bear

This might not seem like its best side, but if you meet a black bear in the woods this is the side you want to see. Black bears normally weigh from 135 to 350 pounds, but they can reach 600 pounds. They’re amazingly fast and very strong and you can’t outrun, outswim, or out climb them so your best bet is to avoid them. Bear attacks are rare but they do happen, usually when the bear has been surprised or startled. The area I was in on this day is about as close to a wilderness you can get in this part of New Hampshire and is known bear habitat, so I used my monopod as a walking stick and had a bear bell on it so they’d know I was coming. I also had some bear spray with me. I’d hate to ever have to use it but you never know. This photo was taken by a friend’s trail camera just a month ago.

17-markers

A marker and an arrow on a tree pointed me that way.

18-gate

But there was a gate that way, barring a side road that went sharply uphill. It was unlocked and that seemed odd, but I went through it anyway.

19-brook-near-cave

A still, beautiful pool was just inside the gate. I thought it would make a great place to sit for a while but then I saw something that changed my mind.

20-cave

This cave at the side of the pool looked big enough to walk into by bending a bit, but not small enough to have to crawl into. It looked very inviting and called loudly to the hermit in me but it also looked big enough to hold a whole family of bears and snug enough to be attractive to them, so I decided to go back out through the gate and keep moving. Personally I wouldn’t mind spending some time in the solitude of a cave, but I wouldn’t want to have to tangle with a bear to earn the privilege.

21-tree-eating-branch

Though it might look like some tree cannibalism was going on things like this are easy to explain. The tree with the wound grew up through the branches of the tree on the left and the wind made the wounded tree rub against the other’s branch. Over time the tree grew and its wound got deeper until now it has almost healed over the offending branch. I expect that one day it will heal over completely and look very strange with a foreign branch poking out both sides.

22-trail

The old road went on and on. On a map the distance from Swanzey to Chesterfield is about 18 miles using the highway and, though cutting through the forest like this is probably shorter, at a slow pace of three miles an hour hiking to Chesterfield and back could have taken about twelve hours. Since we only have about 9 1/2 hours of daylight available right now that didn’t seem like a wise decision so I turned around. The days will be longer in summer and it will certainly be warmer.

In our noisy cities we tend to forget the things our ancestors knew on a gut level: that the wilderness is alive, that its whispers are there for all to hear – and to respond to. ~Lawrence Anthony

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1. Trail

Last weekend we had a beautiful (and rare) sunny day so I thought I’d hit the trail in Walpole and climb High Blue. Finding places to climb in the winter can be difficult because snowbanks block access to the normal parking spots, but High Blue has one of those few parking areas that are kept plowed.

2. Meadow View

You don’t have to walk too far before you come to a large open meadow. Deer love to come here and browse the shrubs along the edges of the meadow so there are game trails everywhere up here.

3. Deer Print

This track was about as fresh as it could be. I took the photo of it on the way back because it wasn’t there on the way in. I know that because I was thinking how strange it was that I wasn’t seeing any deer tracks. As usual the deer were seeing me but I wasn’t seeing them.

4. Deer Browse

I knew they were there though, even if I didn’t see them or their tracks because they had been browsing the tips of the oaks along the meadow edge. They often tear rather than bite cleanly through a branch and that’s because they have incisors on only their bottom jaw that meets a cartilage pad on the front of the upper jaw. This causes them to pull rather than shear and for this reason they eat mostly tender shoots. Theoretically anyhow; the oak shoot in the photo doesn’t look like it was very tender to me. They might have gotten their back top and bottom molars around it to tear it like that.

5. Orange Crust Fungus

Usually when I see a bright orange crust fungus it has an easily identifiable margin which is usually white as in steccherinum ochraceum, and on closer inspection reveals itself to actually be a toothed crust fungus. The example in this photo has no white margin or teeth but it does have bracket fungus like fruiting bodies, so I’m baffled. I haven’t seen anything like it on line or in books and I’m wondering if it might be an alga like Trentepohlia aurea growing over both the log and the bracket fungi on it. Those algae can be orange and many other colors and do grow on logs.

6. Gray Lichen

Naturalist John Burroughs said “To learn something new, take the path that you took yesterday,” and I couldn’t think of better advice to give a nature lover. I’ve walked by this lichen too many times to count and never saw it, but this time I got a little closer to the tree it grew on and there it was. From a distance I thought it might be a common button lichen (Buellia stillingiana) but it isn’t.

7. Gray Lichen Apothecia

I’ve never seen another lichen like this one and I’m having trouble identifying it. It had interesting cup shaped apothecia (fruiting bodies) but unfortunately there are many lichens that have them and they all look a lot alike. I think this one might be Tephromela atra but I can’t be certain.

8. Natural Graft

These young maple trees showed a fine example of natural grafting. The wind made these two trees rub together enough to wear away the outer bark down to the cambium layer. The cambium layer lies between the inner bark and the wood and is where cells divide and grow. When the cambium layer of one tree meets the cambium layer of another tree of the same species (or of another closely related species), if the conditions are right they can grow together. It is thought that man learned the art of grafting by observing natural grafting.

9. Lichens on Maple

There was a large colony of shield lichens growing on the self-grafted trees. They were slightly darker colored than the tree bark and had prominent black rhizines, which are root like structures that some lichens use to hang onto whatever they grow on. I haven’t been able to identify it but I think it might be one of the Parmelia lichens, of which there are 34 or more species.

10. Sign

It looked like someone had repainted the lettering on the sign.

11. View

I didn’t realize it at the time but every photo that I took while zooming in on the distant hills was hazy and looked out of focus. I’m not sure what happened but it left me with one useable shot of the view and this is it. You can just barely make out Stratton Mountain in Vermont off in the clouds, just to the left of center. At least this photo shows how blue the hills are from up here. The view is always very blue and that’s what gives this place its name.

12. Pond

The small pond on the summit was frozen solid and I wondered how the animals and birds were finding any water to drink.

13. Pileated Woodpecker Chips

I see signs of pileated woodpeckers every time I come here and this day was no different. A large pile of wood chips at the base of a dead tree means only one thing–you should look up.

14. Pileated Woodpecker Hole

Sure enough, there was the woodpecker’s hole about fifteen feet off the ground. Pileated woodpeckers excavate a new nest hole each year and this looked more like a nesting hole than a feeding hole. Abandoned holes are also used by owls, wood ducks and many other birds, and even bats and pine martens. This tree looked to be hollow.

15. Stream Ice

I was glad to see that a small stream was covered only by paper thin ice. The ice had been broken in several places, so the birds and animals would be able to get a drink after all.

You must have the bird in your heart before you can find it in the bush. ~John Burroughs.

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 1. Snowy Field

I went down a road that I had been curious about for years, just to see where it went, and found myself in a wide open, treeless field. When you live in a state with 4.8 million acres of trees places like this are pretty special, so I took a photo of it. When I looked at it later on the computer it looked like a tropical, white sand beach. Unfortunately the “sand” is snow, but I can dream.

After being surrounded by forest for nearly all of my life, being in a place like this makes me feel strange, like being in a house with no walls. It’s great to visit places that are so wide open and have such “big sky,” but I don’t think I could live there. I wonder how prairie people stand it.

2. Script Lichen

Since I complained about having only seen script lichen twice, not only am I seeing it everywhere now but I’m noticing different kids. The dark lines, which are the fruiting bodies (apothecia), are very different between the upper and lower halves of this photo. The upper ones are long and horizontal while the lower ones are short, branched, and squiggly. I think the upper example is elegant script lichen (Graphis elegans) and the lower common script lichen (Graphis scripta). There are 39 species of script lichen.

 3. Sulfur Firedot Lichen aka Caloplaca flavovirescens 

The yellow body (thallus) and dark orange, cushion shaped fruiting bodies (apothecia) tell me that this is a sulfur firedot lichen (Caloplaca flavovirescens).  Though I see this small lichen occasionally this is the first time I’ve ever seen its apothecia. I found this one growing on a stone in an old stone wall. There are 131 species of Caloplaca in North America alone, so identifying them can be challenging.

 4. Rock Disk Lichen

I thought this crustose lichen might be one called tiny button lichen (Amandinea punctata), but after some reading I find that tiny button lichen rarely grows on rock. It prefers bark or wood dust.  Since this lichen was growing on nothing but rock I have to lean more towards rock disk lichen (Lecidella stigmatea), which is described as having a dirty white, gray, brownish gray to sometimes partly pale rusty thallus (body) with blackish brown fruiting bodies (Apothecia).

 5. Rock Disk Lichen Closeup

The fruiting bodies of the rock disc lichen are either even with the body of the lichen (plane) or are convex like those shown in the photo. If they were concave we would most likely be looking at one of the map lichens. Each one of these little apothecia isn’t much bigger than a period made by a pencil on paper, so you have to look closely when trying to make a good identification. Luckily the camera often sees what I can’t.

 6. Woodpecker Condos

Pileated woodpeckers were building condos in this pine tree.  They roost in hollow trees and have many entrance holes to the nest, but I’m not sure if that’s what was going on here.

 7. Woodpecker Hole Closeup

I had to hold the camera up over my head and shoot blind to get this view looking inside a pileated woodpecker hole, so it isn’t the sharpest shot you’ve ever seen on this blog. You can see that he has excavated all the way to the hollow heart of the tree. I wonder if they know the tree is hollow before they start excavating.

 8. Zig Zag Tree Wound

It took me a while to find it because there are a lot of trees out there, but I found the tree with the zig zag scar again. I don’t know why I thought I’d learn any more now than I did when I first ran into it last fall, but I wanted to see it again and take a closer look. Of course I don’t know any more now than I did then-just that it’s a scar deep in the bark of a white pine that looks like a zig zag. It starts below the soil level and runs up the trunk about 3 feet and then stops. I don’t know if lightning or another natural event caused it or if it was a boy with a pocket knife.  It is an oddity though, no matter what caused it.

I did some online searching and didn’t find anything that looked like it but I was contacted by another blogger who found an old hemlock with an even stranger scar. If you’d like to see it, just click here.

 9. Zig Zag Tree Wound Closeup

This close-up shows how thick the bark is on either side of the zig zag scar and how they come together like a zipper. The bark on older white pines is naturally platy and deeply furrowed, but it looks to me like the tree has been trying to heal this scar for a very long time.

 Mini Waterfall

I saw a culvert that directed spring water off a hill and into a pond. I tried to get a shot of the miniature waterfall and the ice cloak that it had wrapped itself in, but it’s a little hard to see that in this photo.

 10. Wire Through Pine Limb

There is a lot of old fencing left in our woods from the 1800s when this was all pasture land. One day I saw a dead pine limb that had grown around the wire of an old stock fence and had broken away from the tree and was now hanging from it. The diameter of the limb was probably about 2 1/2 to 3 inches.

 11. Wire Through Pine Limb Closeup

For the limb to have grown around the wire as it did, both would have had to have been undisturbed for quite a long time, I would think.  I’ve heard of some strange things being found in trees, but wire isn’t that unusual. It is a logger’s nightmare though-imagine running a chainsaw into that. .

 12. Thin Pine Bark 2

I found a piece of pitch pine bark that had orange colored parts that were as thin as paper.

 13. Thin Pine Bark

This is what I saw when I held the piece of pitch pine bark up to the light. Is this what a squirrel sees from inside a hollow tree?

The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes. ~ Arthur Conan Doyle

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1. Staghorn Sumac  Fruit

Fuzzy staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) berries look much different after it rains.

2. Staghorn Sumac Fruit

This is what staghorn sumac berries look like when they’re dry.

3. Rolling Stone

I didn’t think I’d ever see a rolling stone, but this one rolled down a small hill right in front of me. Gravity, sunlight, and ground frost at work.

 4. Pileated Woodpecker Chips

I learned a long time ago that when you see wood chips all over the ground at the base of a tree it can only mean one thing-a pileated woodpecker has been at work.

 5. Pileated Woodpecker Hole

Sure enough he / she had drilled these white pines (Pinus strobus) full of holes. Pileated woodpeckers usually drill into trees that are already sick and are often hollow. Their holes are always rectangular with the long axis vertical, and with rounded corners. This tree isn’t long for this world but while it stands owls, ducks, bats, and other birds will live in these holes.

 6. Pussy Willow

This pussy willow (Salix) seemed to be a bit of an over achiever, with its furry, silvery buds showing in December.

7. Wild Cucumber Pod 2

When I was a boy my friends and I used to spend quite a lot of time throwing things at each other. Snowballs, crabapples, dirt clods, acorns-anything that wouldn’t inflict serious damage-were used as ammunition. One favorite source of ammo was wild cucumber vines (Echinocystis lobata.) The fruit has terrible looking spines that are actually soft and harmless until they dry like those in the photo. In this stage the spines are quite prickly, but since they’ve dried out and dropped their seeds they have little weight and that means they are worthless for throwing.  Probably a good thing.

8. Mealy Pixie Cup Lichens

The pebbly texture and trumpet shape point to the mealy pixie cup lichen (Cladonia chlorophaea.) Though these lichens resemble golf tees they aren’t even one tenth the size.

 9. Burning Bush Fruit

Birds don’t seem to be eating the berries of the invasive burning bush (Euonymus alatus) this year and that’s a good thing, because this shrub doesn’t need any help in its mission to take over the understory. Since its introduction from Asia as an ornamental in 1860, Winged euonymus has spread as far south as the gulf coast, north into Canada, and as far west as Illinois.

 10. Empty Goldenrod Gall

A bird went to great lengths to get at the goldenrod gall fly larva (Eurosta solidaginis) that was growing inside of this goldenrod gall. Both downy woodpeckers and chickadees have been seen pecking at these galls but there are other predators after the gall fly larva as well. The galls form thick walls to discourage the parasitic Eurytoma gigantean wasp from laying her eggs in the gall chamber. If the wasp is successful when her eggs hatch the wasp larva quickly eat the gall fly larva.

11. Engraver Beetle aka Ips calligraphus calligraphus Damage on Log

The Engraver Beetle (Ips calligraphus) is called the calligrapher beetle because the damage it causes under the bark of pine trees looks like some form of ancient text. These beetles usually attack weak or dying trees but they can also kill healthy trees by girdling them.  Adults bore small holes in the bark and lay eggs in a cavity. Once the larvae emerge from the eggs they make tunnels in the inner bark. Once they stop feeding they will pupate at the end of these tunnels. The pupae then become young adults and fly off to find another tree. These beetles carry spores of a bluestain fungus (Ceratocystis ips) which can grow on the outer sapwood and stop the upward flow of water to the crown.

How did it get so late so soon? It’s night before its afternoon. December is here before it’s June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon? ~ Dr. Seuss

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