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Posts Tagged ‘Purple Love Grass’

I’ve seen a lot of deer over the course of this blog but every time I’ve seen them I either didn’t have the right camera with me, or I’ve been driving a car. Once I drove right up to a doe like this one on a tractor and she just stood there, 5 feet away until I tugged open the velcro camera case I carry. As soon as she heard the rip of the velcro she was gone like a shot. But she was okay with me being so close until then, and this one was fine with me being close too. This time I made sure I made no strange sounds.

She had two fawns and they all fed on green grass in a cornfield while I watched. The thought came to me then that they were feeding on pure sunshine.

They were beautiful creatures, so gentle and quiet. I didn’t hear a sound out of them the whole time I watched. I tried to get a shot of their tails in the air; they were constantly flicking their tails to keep flies away, but I missed every time.

Slowly the doe led her fawns to the edge of the woods, and then they were gone. I was grateful to have seen them and I hope they have an easy time of it this winter.

This big, 3 foot long northern water snake was not quite so easy with my being close to it as the deer were but at least it didn’t leave. All I had for a camera was my phone so I had to lean in quite close to get this shot. It was a gamble because, though these snakes don’t have fangs they can bite and scratch the skin, and I’ve heard that you might get a nasty infection if that happens. I took a couple of quick shots and left it to soak up some more sunshine. That’s all it was really after.

I followed this small, fidgety butterfly around for several minutes, trying to get a shot of its beautiful blue wings. Blue that is, on the upper part of the wings. The underside of the wings is white or very pale blue with dark markings and I doubted that I’d be able to identify it, but it was relatively easy. It’s a holly blue butterfly (Celastrina argiolus) so called because the larvae feed on Holly. They also eat euonymus, dogwoods, snowberries and other wild and cultivated plants. They don’t sit still long, so you’ve got to be quick.

Here are the beautiful upper wings of the holly blue butterfly in an excellent photo by By Charles J. Sharp that I found on Wikipedia. This is a female, identified by the large dark areas on the wing edges. The wing color is a kind of silvery blue that shimmers beautifully in the light.

I saw this insect exploring queen Anne’s lace blossoms. I haven’t been able to identify it but I like its big eyes. It could be one of the flesh flies (Sarcophagae.)

A cabbage white butterfly (I think) explored flowers at a local garden. This species is originally from Europe along with quite a few of the cabbage family of plants that their caterpillars feed on.

Quite often at this time of year I’ll see hickory tussock moth caterpillars (Lophocampa caryae) everywhere, but so far this year I’ve only seen two or three. They have a stark beauty but each one should come with a warning label because those long hairs can imbed themselves in your skin and cause all kinds of problems, from rashes to infections.

If you’ve never seen how beavers start building a dam, this shot is for you. And where did they build it? Why, in Beaver Brook of course. Beavers are busy damming up the brook that was named after them again and the town road crews aren’t happy about that, because if you leave these dams in place roads and businesses flood. Since this brook was named after beavers when Keene was first settled in the 1700s, I’m guessing that there have always been plenty of them in it. Since building ponds is what beavers do, I’m also guessing that building so close to this brook wasn’t a good idea. Some industrial buildings in town even have the brook running under them and they have been flooded. It’s hard to believe that someone actually thought that was a good idea.

I’ve seen a lot of red bark on conifers like hemlock and pine but here it was on an oak. It isn’t always red; it can be orange as well. I’ve read that it affects all kinds of trees, both conifers and deciduous, and many different species, but this is the first time I’ve seen it on a hardwood. Red bark is caused by the algae Trentepohlia, which is a genus of filamentous chlorophyte green algae in the family Trentepohliaceae. It appears on tree trunks, stones and is even present in many lichens. Scientists are very interested in why it is attracted to tree bark and call it RBP for red bark phenomenon. Alga in Latin means seaweed, so I suppose it’s no wonder they’re so curious about it.

Pouch galls on stag horn sumac (Rhus typhina) are caused by the sumac gall aphid (Melaphis rhois.) These galls look like some kind of fruit but they are actually hollow inside and teeming with thousands of aphids. They average about golf ball size and change from light yellow to pinkish red as they age. Scientists have paleobotanical evidence that this aphid has had a relationship with its sumac hosts for at least 48 million years. The galls can also be found on smooth sumac (Rhus glabra.) They remind me of potatoes so I always think of them as potato galls.

It’s a great year for wild grapes. Our woods are full of ripe river grapes (Vitis riparia) at this time of year and on a warm, sunny fall day the forest smells like grape jelly. Not for long though, because birds and animals snap them up quickly. North America has about 20 native species of wild grape and Native Americans used them all. The fruit is smaller than cultivated grapes and is usually too acidic to eat from the vine so the grapes were used for juice and jelly, or cooked and used in various recipes. Grapes were also used to dye baskets with a gray violet dye. They sometimes remind me of Aesop’s fable about the fox and the grapes, which teaches that we shouldn’t belittle and depise that which is beyond our reach.

Oaks also seem to be doing well this year. I’ve seen trees like this one with quite a crop of acorns. I can’t say if it’s a mast year yet though. In a mast year the trees grow a bumper crop and produce much more fruit than in a non-mast year. Scientists believe that by sometimes producing huge amounts of seed that at least some will survive being eaten by birds and animals and grow into trees. Many acorns survive intact until spring in a mast year.

I’m not sure what is going on with our birds but I’m seeing lots of black cherries on the ground under the trees this year. You can see in this photo that it doesn’t look like a single one has been picked. According to the USDA black cherries are eaten by the American robin, brown thrasher, mockingbird, eastern bluebird, European starling, gray catbird, blue jay, willow flycatcher, northern cardinal, common crow, and waxwings, thrushes, woodpeckers, grackles, grosbeaks, sparrows, and vireos. So why aten’t they eating them? There are three cherry species native to New Hampshire, Pin cherry (Prunus pensylvanica), choke cherry (Prunus virginiana) and black cherry (Prunus serotina). We also have a native plum, which is the wild American plum (Prunus americana).

Of our native cherries both choke and black cherries are edible. Black cherries have the largest fruits, and they can be identified by the cup like structure found where the stem meets the fruit. Black cherries are the only ones that have this feature, and you can see it on two or three of the cherries in this shot. Rounded, blunt serrations on the leaf edges are another identifier. Choke cherries have sharp, pointed serrations.

Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) grows just about everywhere here these days but I can’t remember ever seeing it as a boy. It was always considered a southern plant but like opossums, it has found its way north. People eat its new shoots in the spring but all parts of this plant are considered toxic, so it’s wise to know exactly what you’re doing if you choose to try it. Native Americans used the plant medicinally and also used the red juice from its berries to decorate their horses. They also used the plant for dye and a while ago I recieved a letter from a woman who was looking for the berries to use just that way. She freezes them until she has enough to make a batch of dye so I told her where to find them them along the river in Swanzey. She should be gathering them this year because I’ve never seen so many pokeweed berries as there are right now.

I like to look for the pink “flowers” at the base of the dark purple poke weed berries. They are actually what’s left of the flower’s five lobed calyx, but mimic the flower perfectly. They’re very pretty and worth looking for.

The red-orange fruit in fall and white flowers in spring have made American mountain ash (Sorbus americana) a gardener’s favorite and that’s where you’ll find most of them in this area. This tree grows where I work. I do see them in the wild, but rarely. They prefer cool, humid air like that found in the 3000-foot elevation range. The berries are said to be low in fat and very acidic, so birds leave them for last. For some reason early settlers thought the tree would keep witches away so they called it witch wood. Native Americans used both the bark and berries medicinally. The Ojibwe tribe made both bows and arrows from its wood, which is unusual. Usually they used wood from different species, or wood from both shrubs and trees.

Another plant that is having a good year is silky dogwood. The bushes are loaded with berries this year and the cedar waxwings will be very happy about that because they love them. This is a large shrub that grows in part shade near rivers and ponds. It gets its common name from the soft, silky hairs that cover the branches. Native Americans smoked the bark like tobacco. They also twisted the bark into rope and made fish traps from the branches. 

The berries of silky dogwood start out porcelain white and slowly change to dark blue. Once ripe they’ll go fast. Every time I see these berries I wonder if the idea for the blue and white porcelain made in ancient China came from berries like these. I’ve looked it up and tried to find out but blue and white porcelain has been around for a very long time. The cobalt “Persian blue” glaze was imported from what is now Iran as early as the seventh century, so it’s impossible I think to find out where the original idea for the blue and white color combination germinated. I do know that lots of artists look to nature for inspiration.

These bright red seedpods of the marsh St. John’s wort (Hypericum virginicum) have nothing to do with fruit but I like the color, so here they are. Seeing them glowing red all along the edges of ponds is a beautiful sight.

In the continuing saga of the poor farmer who lost all his corn to drought last year, and this year had his fields flooded so badly there were herons and egrets fishing in them; he has come up with a new plan. I know he tried winter wheat in one of his fields last year but then I recently saw something low growing, with yellow flowers, so I went to see what it could be.

At first I thought he was growing pumpkins, because I think I’ve heard that cows eat pumpkins but no, it was squash, and what appears to be butternut squash. Now my question is, how do you harvest squash on such a large scale? The fields are huge and I can’t see anyone actually picking all these squashes, so is the entire plant harvested? Everyone knows how prickly a squash plant can be; can cows eat such a prickly thing? Can the harvesting machines separate the squash and the vines? Unless someone who knows cows writes in, I suppose I’ll just have to watch and see.

Beautiful little shin-high purple love grass (Eragrostis spectabilis) grows on sandy roadsides and flowers in late summer and early fall. Its misty flower heads look like purple ground fog for a while before eventually turn a tannish color and breaking off. They are often seen rolling and floating along the roadsides like tumbleweeds in the fall. Years ago I learned the secret of photographing purple grasses by taking photos of this grass. It wasn’t easy to get the color correct in a photo but as a nature photographer you never stop learning, and nature itself is often the best teacher.

You’d think, after driving the same road to work every day for so long now that it would have become kind of ho-hum for me but it hasn’t, and this is why. I just never know what I’ll find around the next bend. I hope all of your days are filled with beauty, wonder and awe, whether you drive or not.

The possession of knowledge does not kill the sense of wonder and mystery. There is always more mystery. ~Anaïs Nin

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Each fall as the silky dogwood berries ripen the cedar waxwings return to this spot on the Ashuelot River. They supplement their berry diet with insects and perch on logs and boulders, waiting. When an insect is seen they fly out and grab it in mid-air often returning to the same perch, much as a dragonfly would. They are sleek, beautiful birds that are very fast, and I love watching them.

Silky dogwood berries go from green to white and then from white to blue, but for a short time they are blue and white like Chinese porcelain. In fact every time I see them I wonder if the original idea for blue designs on white porcelain didn’t come from berries just like these. Once they are blue and fully ripe the cedar waxwings eat them up quickly.

Though this might look like the same bird that is in the first photo that bird’s bill is hooked and this one’s bill is not. I chose this shot because I thought it gave a better look at the beautiful bird’s black bandit mask and crest. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology the name waxwing comes from the brilliant red wax drops you can see on its wing feathers. Cornell also says because they eat so much fruit, cedar waxwings occasionally become intoxicated or can even die when they run across overripe berries that have started to ferment and produce alcohol. I met a drunken cedar waxwing once so I know that the story is true. I got between a bird and its fermented dogwood berries one day and it flew directly at my face at high speed, only pulling up at the last second. It did this several times until I moved away from its berries. Only then did it leave me alone. There’s little that’s more jarring than having a bird fly like a miniature jet plane right at your face.

I saw some goldfinches picking the petals off a zinnia and I wondered what they were up to. I thought when the gardener returned and saw all the zinnias were bald they wouldn’t be very happy. I don’t know who that gardener is but if you’re reading this, here’s your culprit.

Once they spit the petal out they still had something to chew on but I wasn’t sure what it was. I’m going to have to look into how zinnia seeds form because goldfinches are great seed eaters. I’ve seen them eating bull thistle seeds almost everywhere I go this year. Imagine being light enough to sit on a flower.

These birds were only picking the petals off the white zinnias and didn’t touch other colors. This one sat and waited its turn for a peck at a white flower while sitting on a purple one and I wondered why it looked a little shabbier than the others. Was it molting? A juvenile? A less colorful female? As of right now I can’t answer any of these questions. Maybe it was just the quality of the light.

I’m not sure what is going on but I seem to be a dragonfly magnet this year. This one came and sat on a branch close enough to whisper in my ear. I don’t know its name but it’s a cute little thing.

Unfortunately other insects like deerflies seem to find me likeable as well. I thought this insect was a deerfly at first but though the wing markings are similar, now I’m not so sure. It was on a building at work early one morning. In any event for those who don’t know what a deerfly is, they have a very painful bite. Even more painful than horseflies.

I recently found this milkweed plant covered with aphids.  Not surprisingly, they are called milkweed aphids (Aphis nerii) and are tiny, bright yellow/orange insects with black legs that pierce plant tissue and suck the juices out of plants. An aphid colony can produce large amounts of honeydew which attracts sooty mold and is a black color.

Aphids stunt plant growth and if not controlled will eventually kill the plant. These aphids are also called oleander aphids and in places like Florida can often be found on that shrub. When conditions get crowded and there are too many milkweed aphids females will grow wings and fly off to find another plant.

The corn never grew in the fields due to the drought, which has now reached moderate or severe proportions in different parts of the state, so all of the volunteer plants in the cornfields are being raked under in a cloud of dust. According to those in the know this has been the 4th hottest summer on record in our area.

Even though it has been as dry as I can remember I have seen a few mushrooms. Dyer’s Polypore (Phaeolus schweinitzii) is also called the velvet topped fungus because of its hairy appearance. These fungi are parasitic on the roots and heartwood of living white pines in the eastern U.S. and cause root rot. They also change color as they age. If found when young as this one was it can be used to dye wool a soft yellow or orange and older examples will dye wool brown. As it ages this fungus turns a dark red / maroon.

Crown coral fungi come in many colors but I usually find the tan / white varieties. The way to tell if you have a crown coral fungus is by the tips of the branches, which in crown coral look like tiny crowns rather than blunt or rounded. They grow on dead wood but if that wood is buried they can appear to be growing in soil. The example in this photo was about as big in diameter as a hen’s egg.

Eyelash fungi (Scutellinia scutellata) are considered cup fungi and they get their name from the hairs around the perimeter. The hairs can move and sometimes curl in towards the center of the disc shaped body. I just read the other day that some believe that the hairs might collect moisture, similar to the way spines on cacti work.

This shot shows how the eyelash fungus can curl its “lashes” inward. They’re fascinating things that there seems to be very little information about. These examples grew on a damp, leaking tree wound and the largest of them was smaller than a pea.

Black jelly drop fungi (Bulgaria inquinans) grew on an oak log. They are also called poor man’s licorice but they aren’t edible. They look and feel like black gumdrops, and for some unknown reason are almost always found on oak trees that have been felled and cut up. The tree that these examples were on however, fell naturally.

Though they look like jelly fungi black jelly drops are sac fungi. Their fertile, spore bearing surface is shiny and the outside of the mature cups look like brown velvet. They are sometimes used for dying fabric in blacks, browns, purples and grays.

Can this be your everything for a moment; all that there is? It was mine for a time, kneeling there in the forest.

Young fly agaric (Amanita muscaria v. formosa) mushrooms found here often have a metallic yellow color when they just come up. They’re common where pine trees grow and this one was under a pine. The name fly agaric comes from the practice of putting pieces of the mushroom in a dish of milk. The story says that when flies drank the milk they died, but it’s something I’ve never tried. Fly agaric is said to have the ability to “turn off” fear in humans and is considered toxic, but I think that would be the red variety with white spots (Amanita muscaria) that is commonly found in Europe. Vikings are said to have used it for that very reason and those who used it were called “berserkers.” By all accounts I’ve read berserkers were very frightening people.

At this time of year small black witch hats can be seen on some witch hazel leaves, but what looks like a witch hat is actually a gall which the plant created in response to the witch hazel gall aphid (Hormaphis hamamelidis.) It’s also called nipple gall and cone head gall. I’ve seen lots of these but I’ve never seen one with hair. It’s nice to occasionally be completely surprised by reality. It takes us down a peg or two and prevents us from believing that we know it all.

In 2015 someone from the Smithsonian Institution read a post where I spoke about sumac pouch gall and contacted me to ask if I could tell them where they grew in this region. They are researching the co-evolution of rhus gall aphids and its host plants the sumacs. A female aphid lays eggs on the underside of a leaf and plant tissue swells around them to form a gall like those seen here. The eggs overwinter and mature inside the hollow gall until spring, when the aphids leave the gall and begin feeding on the plant. Scientists have paleobotanical evidence that this aphid has had a relationship with its sumac hosts for at least 48 million years. They are studying this relationship at the Smithsonian and they collected galls from here and also collected them from Georgia, Arkansas, Michigan and Ohio.

When mature the galls become tomato red. It’s hard to comprehend being able to see the very same living thing now that could have been seen 48 million years ago.

The berries of the white baneberry plant (Actaea pachypoda) are called doll’s eyes, for obvious reasons. The remains of the flower’s black stigma against the porcelain white fruit is striking, and I can’t think of another plant with fruit quite like these except maybe when red baneberry (Actaea rubra) decides to have white fruit instead of red. It doesn’t matter though, because both plants are extremely toxic and no part of them should ever be eaten. Finding baneberry in the woods tells the story of rich, well drained loamy soil and a reliable source of moisture, because those are the things that it needs to grow. I often find it at or near the base of embankments that see a lot of runoff. Actually white baneberry berries remind me of Kermit the frog’s eyes.

Each berry of a Jack in the pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) starts out green and contains 3-5 seeds. Soon they’ll turn a beautiful bright, shiny red.  This is a native plant in the arum family similar to the Lords and Ladies plant found in the U.K. Deer often come by and chomp off the berries of the plant so I was happy to find these.

Chokecherries (Prunus virginianadangle beautifully red and ripe from the trees. The Native American Ojibwe tribe called them Asasaweminagaawanzh. They crushed them with stones and then heated them in a pan with lard and sugar. The berries were used in pemmican, in cakes, or cooked in stews after they had been crushed and dried. Pemmican was a meat, lard and fruit mixture which was stored as a high energy emergency winter food that kept people from starving if food became scarce. It saved the life of many a European as well. The Ojibwe still make and sell chokecherry syrup and chokecherry jelly. They say that they are one of the “sweetest tastes of white earth.”

I learned the secret of photographing purple grasses from purple love grass (Eragrostis spectabilis.) This beautiful little shin-high grass grows on sandy roadsides and flowers in late summer and early fall. Its purple flower heads will eventually turn a tannish color and break off. They are often seen rolling and floating along the roadsides like tumbleweeds in the fall. It reminds me each year how fall, like spring, actually starts on the forest floor.

Once fall begins there’s no stopping it and before long it moves from the forest floor to the understory, as these hobblebush leaves (Viburnum lantanoides) show so well.

And of course fall moves from the understory into the trees above, and you can just see that happening in the yellow tree in the center of this hill on the other side of Half Moon Pond, just a short distance down from the top. It’s an ash tree I believe, which is one of the first trees to turn in the fall. By the way, the name “ash” can be traced back to old English where it meant “spear,” because ash wood was the first choice for the shaft of such a weapon.

You can experience the beauty of nature only when you sit with it, observe it, breathe it and talk to it.
~Sanchita Pandey

I hope all of you are experiencing the beauty of nature, wherever you may live.

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Fall came early this year I think, but for what must be the first time I’m noticing how dependent on temperature and weather the foliage colors are. We had some quite cool nights a week or two ago and that started things off but then it got hot again; it was 80 degrees and humid on the day of this writing, and the foliage changes seem to have slowed. This view of the Ashuelot River north of Keene in Gilsum is bright enough but other than a spot of yellow or orange I think it’s mostly made up of varying shades of green. But since I’m colorblind I’m the last person you should choose to believe when it comes to color. I’ll let you make your own decisions.

One thing I’m sure of by these photos is how little water is actually in the river bed. Normally I would have been very foolish to try to stand where I was when I took this one but it’s been so dry there was nothing to worry about on this day. They say we’ve had the 18th driest September since records have been kept over the last 150 years.

Something that struck me as odd and interesting was this dog lichen, which was growing on a stone that is submerged for at least a few months in spring. I’ve seen mosses stand it but this is the first lichen I’ve seen put up with being underwater. But they do love water; evidenced by their color changes and their increased pliability after a rain.

This is another scene along the Ashuelot River in the northern part of Keene. There wasn’t really more water in this part of the river, just fewer rocks.

Sometimes highbush blueberries will take on a plum color in the fall as this one has and sometimes they’re bright red.

An ash tree burned brightly at the edge of the woods. Ash trees are among the first to turn and you can often see green hillsides with spots of bright yellow here and there.

And this young ash turned a beautiful deep purple. This is a white ash (Fraxinus americana,) I believe.

One of the scenes I look forward to each fall is this one, where birches grow out of the bedrock.

Many ferns are putting on their fall colors and one of the prettiest is the cinnamon fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum.

And a forest full of them is even prettier.

Another plum colored blueberry with a yellow maple caught my eye on the way to work one morning.

I actually learned the secret of photographing purple grasses from taking photos of purple love grass (Eragrostis spectabilis.) As a nature photographer you never stop learning, and nature itself is often the best teacher. You try and try and then try again, and eventually you hit on the right light, or the right background, or the right perspective and then finally you have it, and then you can show the plant or any other bit of nature at its best. In my line of thought, this is how you get people interested enough to want to get out there and see nature for themselves; by showing it at its most beautiful. This beautiful little shin-high grass grows on sandy roadsides and flowers in late summer and early fall. Its purple flower heads will eventually turn a tannish color and break off. They are often seen rolling and floating along the roadsides like tumbleweeds in the fall.

Here is a closer look at purple love grass. It’s very pretty and I’m lucky enough to see quite a lot of it along roadsides.

Bittersweet nightshade (Solanum dulcamara) also chose to wear purple for fall. Pretty, but it contains solanine, which is the same toxic substance found in many members of the nightshade family including deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna.)

Virginia creeper vines (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) are beautiful this year.

Red leaves and blue berries on pink stems make Virginia creeper really stand out in the fall, and sometimes whole trees are draped in it.

Winterberries, one of our native hollies, also ripen in the fall and if the birds don’t eat them they’ll persist well into winter. Photos of winterberries with snow on them have become so common they have become almost a cliché, like raindrops on roses. Still snow on these berries is a relatively difficult shot, only because you have to be in the right place at the right time. Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) is toxic, but birds snap up the berries fairly quickly after they’ve been in the cold for a while. This plant loves wet feet so if you find it you can almost always be sure there is water nearby. Native Americans used many parts of it medicinally but they knew how to prepare it so it would cure and not make them sick.

There must be many millions of acorns falling this year; I would guess enough to call it a mast year. In a mast year the trees grow a bumper crop and produce much more fruit than in a non-mast year. Scientists believe that by sometimes producing huge amounts of seed that at least some will survive being eaten by birds and animals and grow into trees. Having been outside most of my life I can say that many acorns survive intact until spring in a mast year. I’ve spent a good deal of time raking them up.

Native witch hazels (Hamamelis virginiana) often lose their chlorophyll in an odd way. Sometimes in winter you see these leaves wearing a warm, rosy brown which is very beautiful against the snow. 

Red maples (Acer rubrum) aren’t always red in the fall, but they’re almost always unbelievably beautiful and we have many millions of them here in our 4.8 million acres of forest. Over the years I’ve heard  different people say that these tree colors “can’t be real,” and that there must be some kind of camera trick involved, but I’m here to tell you that they are indeed very real and there is no trickery involved. This photo is exactly how it came out of the camera, so if you feel that what you see here is some kind of trick I would suggest that before determining the reality of a thing you might want to experience it for yourself. Many millions of people from every country on earth come here to see the autumn foliage each year. Maybe you should too.

This view of the Ashuelot River in Keene was another that held more varying shades of green than anything else but I thought it was so beautiful and peaceful I had to include it. I hope you think so too, and I really do wish you could experience it for yourselves. At this time of year you can find people who have lived here their entire lives just standing and staring, and I think that’s because when you see something like this for a time you’re taken away to a higher place. I stood and stared for a while myself, forgetting that I was supposed to be taking photos for you.

The first act of awe, when man was struck with the beauty or wonder of nature, was the first spiritual experience. ~Henryk Skolimowski

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I think since March we’ve had one completely dry week and that was last week. Other than that we’ve had at least one rainy day every week, and sometimes as much as 4 inches of rain has fallen in that one day. Parts of the state have seen flooding and roads have been washed away, but so far in this part of the state we seem to be weathering the storms quite well. All that water means waves in the Ashuelot River though, so I was able to practice my wave photography skills. I try to catch them just as they curl, as this one was.

Deer tongue grass (Dichanthelium clandestinum) blossomed along the Ashuelot. I don’t suppose many people have seen a deer’s tongue but I have and the leaves of this grass really do look like one, so it’s a perfect name for the plant. This is a very course, tough grass that is common in waste areas, roadsides and forest edges. It can be very beautiful when its leaves change in the fall; sometimes maroon, deep purple or yellow, and sometimes multiple colors on one leaf.

All the rain means a great mushroom season is upon us. The American Caesar mushroom (Amanita jacksonii) starts out bright orangey red and then turns to orange or yellow. Its flesh is white and its gills are bright yellow. It is said to be the American version of the European Caesar mushroom (Amanita caesarea,) which got its common name by being a favorite food of early Roman rulers. This mushroom is closely related to the toxic fly agaric and the deadly death cap and destroying angel mushrooms, so great care should be taken with identification before it is eaten.

Violet toothed polypore (Trichaptum biformis) looks a little like the turkey tail fungus (Trametes versicolor,) and I’m fairly certain that I have misidentified it as such here on this blog. Once you get to know the two though, it’s obvious that the purple edges on these are not found on turkey tails. I wish I had taken a photo of the undersides of these as well because it is supposed to be a beautiful lilac purple color and that’s something I’ve never noticed before. I see this pretty fungus rarely enough to always forget to peek underneath.

Elderberry flowers have been successfully pollinated and are slowly becoming berries, but at this stage the big flower heads look like star charts.

All the rain, heat and humidity we’ve had means perfect conditions for slime molds. I found this example searching for food on a fallen branch. Through a process called cytoplasmic streaming slime molds can reach speeds of up to 1.35 mm per second, which is the fastest rate recorded for any micro-organism. Scarcity of food is what drives them on, always searching for bacteria and yeasts to feed on. As this photo shows, slime mold plasmodium can be a mass of glistening vein-like material (actually a single-celled amoeba) that creeps across dead leaves, wood, or soil. I think this example might be the many headed slime (Physarum polycephalum.)

Here is another form that shape shifting slime molds can take. I believe this is the plasmodium stage of egg shell slime mold (Leocarpus fragilis.) In one stage of their life cycle these slime molds have a brittle outer shell that cracks and fractures like an eggshell. They will mature and become dry and turn first brown, and then gray. Blackish spores will be produced. Eggshell slime molds like to hang out on pine needles logs, stumps, and sometimes will even appear on living plants.

Spotting slime molds from a distance isn’t that hard if you know what to look for and where to look. It’s important to remember that hot sunlight dries them out, so they’ll be on the shaded sides and undersides of logs, on stumps, mossy rocks, and in the leaves on the forest floor in the darkest part of the forest where the soil stays moist. I look for what look to me like white or colored smudges. The closer you get to the smudge the easier it is to see detail, as this photo from about 3 feet away shows.

Here’s a closer look at the slime mold in the previous photo. I think it might be coral or white fingered slime mold (Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa.) Most good mushroom books will include a section on slime molds that can help identify some of the most common ones, but uncommon slime molds can be very hard to identify.

A juvenile male widow skimmer (Libellula luctuosa) landed on a grass seed head for a few seconds. I think it’s a juvenile male because the females don’t have white wing markings and adult males have a whitish blue body.  The luctuosa part of the scientific name means sorrowful or mournful and it is thought that it might be because the darker wing markings make them look like they are draped in mourning crepe.

I haven’t seen a single monarch butterfly yet this year but I’ve seen a few of the other large butterflies, like this eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus).  Butterflies can absorb minerals and salts from the soil and I think that’s what this one was doing. It’s called puddling.

This eastern tiger swallowtail found a tasty heal all plant (Prunella vulgaris) to snack on.

I thought that this stunning creature was a butterfly when I first saw it on the grass in a lawn but after some research I found that it was a virgin tiger moth (Grammia virgo.) It is a large, butterfly sized moth and I’ve read that its hindwing color can vary from yellow to scarlet. Unfortunately they can’t be seen in this photo. The larvae feed on various low growing plants, which is apparently why I found it in a lawn. Though there are countless photos of this moth online there is very little information on it. It is certainly one of the prettiest moths I’ve seen.

I’ve been checking milkweed plants for signs of monarch butterflies but so far all I’ve seen are red milkweed beetles (Tetraopes tetrophthalmus.) These beetles eat milkweed plants and absorb its toxins much like monarch butterflies do and this and their red color keeps predators away. I’ve read that milkweed beetles squeak when they’re feeding on milkweed, but I saw hundreds and didn’t hear a single peep out of any of them. The ancient Greeks called this insect four eyes because of the way their antennae bisect and seem to grow out of their eyes.

Timothy grass was unintentionally brought to North America by early settlers and was first found in New Hampshire in 1711 by John Hurd. A farmer named Timothy Hanson began to promote cultivation of it as a hay crop about 1720, and the grass has been called Timothy ever since. Timothy-grass (Phleum pratense) flowers from June until September and is noted for its resistance to cold and drought.

Timothy grass is an excellent hay crop for horses but what I like most about it is its flowers. Each flower head is filled with tiny florets, each with three purple stamens and 2 wispy white stigmas. This one wasn’t showing the purple stamens so I might have been too early. Quite often the heads look completely purple when they bloom. The example shown does show the tiny, feather like female stigmas. Flowering grasses can be very beautiful and I hope more people will stop and take a look at them.

If you want purple in your grass it’s hard to beat purple top grass (Tridens flavus cupreus.) This is a perennial grass that can get 3-5 feet tall. It likes to grow in disturbed soil and I see it along field and forest edges. I’ve tried for several years to get the camera to see what I see when I look at purple grasses but the photos were never accurate until I discovered the secret just recently, and that is taking the photo just after sunset when the light is still bright but there is no direct sunlight on the grass heads. There is also less wind to blow them around at that time of day as well.

I actually learned the secret of purple grasses last year when I was taking photos of purple love grass (Eragrostis spectabilis,) but it didn’t click in my mind until this year. As a nature photographer you never stop learning, and nature itself is often the best teacher. You try and try and then try again, and eventually you hit on the right light, or the right background, or the right perspective and then finally you have it, and then you can show the plant or any other bit of nature at its best. In my line of thought, this is how you get people interested enough to want to get out there and see nature for themselves; by showing it at its most beautiful. This beautiful little shin-high grass grows on sandy roadsides and flowers in late summer and early fall. Its purple flower heads will eventually turn a tannish color and break off. They are often seen rolling and floating along the roadsides like tumbleweeds in the fall.

When the tiny green flowers of staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) have been pollinated they become fuzzy red berries, but before that they go through a fuzzy purple stage, as can be seen in the above photo. I’ve never seen this before this year, probably because I wasn’t paying attention. Native Americans made a kind of lemonade from these berries and they can also be dried and ground to be used as a lemony flavored spice.

The black willows (Salix nigra) along the Ashuelot River have gone to seed. Willows have been used medicinally for thousands of years. The ancient Greeks made willow bark tea to ease the pain of stiff joints and headaches and to reduce fevers, and Native Americans used the plant in the same way. Willows are so useful for pain relief because they contain a compound called salicylic acid. The acetylsalicylic acid found in aspirin is a synthetic version of it. Willows like wet feet and usually grow on the banks of ponds and rivers.

The blue of blue bead lily berries (Clintonia borealis) is quite different from the blue of blueberries; what I call electric blue. The seeds in these berries can take two years to germinate and adult plants can take twelve years to finally show their yellow, lily like blossoms. This plant is also called “cow tongue” because of the shape of its leaves. Deer, chipmunks and many other animals and birds love the berries and I often have trouble finding them because they get eaten so fast. Native Americans used the plant medicinally to treat burns and infections, and bears are said to be attracted to its root.

What I believe is a male slaty skimmer (Libellula incesta) is easily one of the most beautiful dragonflies I’ve seen. Its deep indigo blue color isn’t seen often in nature, but the blue bead lily berries do come close. I actually thought this dragonfly was black when I was taking its photo from several feet away and didn’t realize it had such a beautiful color until I saw the photo.  Nature is full of surprises, and that’s one reason I’m outside as often as possible. I just love seeing things like this that I’ve never seen.

Nearness to nature keeps the spirit sensitive to impressions not commonly felt and in touch with the unseen powers. ~Charles Eastman

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1. Coral Fungus

We had a couple more quick moving thunderstorms roll through and they dropped enough rain to get a few fungi stirring, as this yellow spindle coral fungi (Ramariopsis laeticolor) shows. These fungi aren’t very big; close to the same diameter as a piece of cooked spaghetti, but they can reach 3 or 4 inches tall. They have the odd habit of growing in the packed earth of trails so I often find that they have been stepped on and broken. I’ve watched these beautiful little fungi come back year after year in the same spot. I think of them as bright but tiny flames burning up out of the soil and always look forward to seeing them.

2. Berkeley’s polypore

Berkeley’s polypore (Bondarzewia berkeleyi) grew at the base of a tree. These are some of the biggest mushrooms that I’ve seen. Though they can reach as much as two feet across the examples above were only about the size of a 33 1/3 record album, if anyone remembers those. This large bracket fungus grows on the roots of hardwood trees and causes butt rot in the tree’s heartwood. The wood turns white before rotting away and leaving a standing hollow tree.

3. Mushroom on Tree

A limb fell off a tree and left a wound big enough for fungus spores to settle in and this is what they grew into. It must have been moist in there; I’m sure more moist than our soil is right now. I haven’t tried to identify the mushroom, but extreme longevity doesn’t seem to be in the cards for the tree. Mushrooms growing on live trees is never a good sign.

4. Jelly Babies

I have a special fondness for jelly baby fungi (Leotia lubrica) because they taught me just how small things in nature can be. One day I sat on a stone and looked down, and there they were; tiny colorful beings. The largest one pictured in the center of the above photo is smaller than the diameter of a pea, and the smallest are so small that I can’t think of anything to compare them to. They taught me to see with new eyes and a new understanding, and I’m very grateful. Since that day I’ve found that there is an entire Lilliputian world in nature that I never knew existed, and that makes me wonder what I’m missing without a microscope. The urge is to go ever smaller to see if and when the smallness ever ends.

5. Great Blue Heron on Log

I saw a great blue heron standing on a log in a pond one evening with his back to the sun. He had company.

6. Great Blue Heron and Wood Duck

As I zoom out you can see that the heron shared his log with a female wood duck. Wood ducks are very skittish here and I don’t see them very often. The males are a very colorful, beautiful duck but I didn’t see one in the area.

7. Wood Ducklings

I did see a clutch of wood ducklings though. There were 8 or 9 of them and they easily won that day’s award for cuteness.

8. Wood Duck Mother and Ducklings

Unfortunately my presence apparently made mama duck nervous, because after a minute or two she and her ducklings swam off into the setting sun. I was sorry that I had disturbed them but when I saw the log from a distance all I could see was the heron and I didn’t know the ducks were there. As they swam off all I could think of were the very big snapping turtles that live in this pond.

9. Great Blue Heron on Log

 I withered under the heron’s harsh, I’m-very-disappointed-in-you glare.

10. Gall on Maple Leaf

As if nature wanted to teach me a lesson for disturbing the ducks a clenched, fist like bladder gall rose up out of the tissue of a maple leaf. I thought it was bit much; after all I didn’t ask the ducks to do anything they wouldn’t normally do.

11. Pinecone in Knotweed Leaf

A pinecone had fallen through a knotweed leaf heavy end first, but with only enough momentum to go through the leaf for half its length it was stuck there. Nature could have just as easily dropped it on my head but the only things falling from the trees that day were hard little unripe acorns, and a few of them did hit me. They are falling unripe because the oaks are protecting themselves. Ripening a tree full of acorns takes a lot of energy and because we haven’t seen beneficial rain for over a month the trees will shed them to conserve energy. The same is true with pines and other trees. This cone was also unripe. The animals might have to tighten their belts this winter.

12. Feather

Some believe that different kinds of feathers have different meanings and that they are found in one’s path to relay a message. A black feather with purple iridescence for example, is said to represent a deep spiritual insight and finding one is supposed to be taken as a mystical sign. I’ve always seen them as just feathers that a bird dropped and never knew that they meant anything. I usually see at least one each day so I must have a lot of messages being conveyed that I can’t yet decipher. I wonder if finding a great blue heron feather would mean that I would learn great patience. I could always use more of that.

13. Purple Grass

I’ve tried for years to get a decent photo of the purple topped grasses that grow here and I think I might have finally done it with this purple love grass (Eragrostis spectabilis.) This beautiful little shin-high grass grows on sandy roadsides and flowers in late summer and early fall. Its purple flower heads will eventually turn a tannish color and break off. They are often seen rolling and floating along the roadsides like tumbleweeds in the fall.

14. Juniper Haircap Moss

Splash cups on juniper haircap moss (Polytrichum juniperinum) aren’t seen that often in this area but you can find them if you know where to look. Mosses in the Polytrichum genus have male and female reproductive organs on separate plants, and when you see these little flower like cups you know you’ve found male plants that are ready to reproduce. Juniper haircap moss grows on every continent, including Antarctica.

15. Juniper Haircap Moss

The male juniper haircap moss produces sperm in these tiny splash cups (perigonial rosettes) and when a raindrop falls into the cup the sperm is splashed out. If there is enough water for them to swim in, they will then swim to the female plant and fertilize the eggs. Each cup, about half the diameter of a pencil eraser, looks like a tiny flower with its rosettes of leaves surrounding the reproductive parts.

16. Juniper Haircap Moss Spore Capsule

The female spore capsule (sporangium) of juniper haircap moss is covered by a cap called a calyptra, which protects the spore capsule and the spores within. It is very hairy, and this is what gives this moss part of its common name. Eventually, as the capsule ages it moves from a semi vertical to a more horizontal position before the calyptra falls off.  The spore capsule continues to ripen and when the time is right it will open and release the spores. I’m guessing that at this stage the capsule is about the same diameter as a piece of cooked spaghetti.

17. Juniper Haircap Moss Spore Capsule Without  Calyptra

When the time is right the end cap (operculum) of the reddish brown, 4 cornered but not square spore capsule will fall off and the spores will be borne on the wind.

18. False Solomon's Seal

Spring starts on the forest floor, and so does fall. By the time we see the colorful tree leaves many leaves have already put on their fall colors in the understory, among them those of false Solomon’s seal, which are some of the earliest. It marks the passage of time and though I like to see what their turning leaves will look like this year, I’m not ready to see them just yet. It seems like spring was just last week.

19. False Solomon's Seal Fruit

The berries of false Solomon’s seal turn from green to red and for a short time they are speckled with both colors.  I’ve read that soil pH can affect the 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.

20. Branch Collar

I know I shouldn’t but when I think of fall I can’t help thinking about what follows. Thankfully though, things like this old pine log remind me that I’ll see beautiful things, even in winter. Sun, wind, rain and snow have smoothed and polished its wood and made it very beautiful, and in my opinion worthy of being exhibited in any museum. Nature is filled with things every bit as beautiful and I hope everyone will be able to see them. All it takes is a walk outside.

In summer, the song sings itself. ~William Carlos Williams

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