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Posts Tagged ‘Red Squirrel’

A cute little red squirrel ran up the backside of a pine tree and peeked around it to see what I was doing. I probably see one red squirrel for every hundred gray squirrels so they aren’t that common in this immediate area. They’re cute but if they get into your house they can and will cause a lot of damage. I worked for a lady once who had them in her attic and I spent all summer trapping and relocating them. They had chewed all the wiring, got into stored items, and made a mess in general. A big mess.

I’ve mentioned the storm that dropped 16 inches of snow in other posts but what I haven’t mentioned is the below zero cold that came after. Ponds and streams froze quickly, but as I write this it’s near 60 degrees F. and raining like it was June, so I’d guess tomorrow all the snow will be gone and all the rivers and streams will be at bank-full.

I saw ice doing strange things. I’m sure the wind had a lot to do with this teardrop shape on a standing shrub but I couldn’t quite figure out where the water had come from. Maybe it had simply trickled down the branch but if so why didn’t the wind blow it while it trickled? It seemed to have all collected in this one spot.

Though it’s hard to tell from this photo this is ice, frozen onto deck boards in very strange patterns. I can’t even guess why water would have pooled and frozen in this way, but it was pretty.

Just as I got to work one morning the sun was just kissing the clouds, and I had to stop and watch. I try not to let such things go unappreciated. If you let yourself pay attention to the beauty in this world more and more you’ll find yourself saying a silent thank you. Serenity, gratitude, joy; these are just some of the things that nature will fill you with.

Just to the right of that last shot the sun was also kissing the moon.

Quite often you’ll find a place where the ground looks like it has heaved up and around stones. The stone sits at the bottom of a hole that is usually shaped exactly like it is, so it also looks like the sun has heated the stone enough for it to melt down into the frozen soil. I’ve doubted for years that that is the answer though because the sun would heat the surrounding stones as well and they don’t always melt into the soil. As I walked in this area around the stone the soil sank about two inches with every step, so now I’m certain that frost had heaved up and lifted all the soil and smaller stones that surrounded the bigger one. Frozen soil is a lot more plastic than we realize.

I was happy to see some tiny bird’s nest fungi, which few people ever get to see. I think they were fluted bird’s nest fungi (Cyathus striatus) and this is a view of them from the side. They grow in a funnel or vase shape and have flutes around the rim of the body, which is hollow like a cup. They are so small not even a pea would fit inside them.

The “bird’s nest” is actually a splash cup called a peridium and when a drop of rain falls into it with enough force the “eggs” are splashed out. These eggs, which can be seen here, are really spore cases called peridioles. Once ejected from the splash cup the peridioles degrade over time to release the spores.

There is a much studied phenomenon called the Red Bark Phenomenon, and scientists have devoted much time studying trees with colored bark all over New England. It isn’t always red; it can be orange and yellow as well. It affects all kinds of trees, both conifers and deciduous, and many different species. I’ve seen it here and there on tree bark and after a lot of research a few years ago I found that it was 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. So if you see a tree with red bark there isn’t anything wrong. It’s just algae looking for a place to perch. This example was on an eastern hemlock.

Eastern hemlocks (Tsuga canadensis) are numerous here and black capped chickadees flock here to eat the seeds from the hemlock cones like the one pictured above. The 1/2 inch long cones are among the smallest of all the trees in the pine family but the trees usually produce so many of them that the ground is completely covered by them in the spring. The needles and twigs of hemlocks are ground and distilled and the oil is used in ointments. Native Americans also showed Europeans how to prevent scurvy by making tea from the tree’s needles.

Gray birch (Betula alba var. populifolia) flowers grow in long clusters known as catkins. They flower, which means the male flowers release pollen and the female flowers accept it, in April and May and then the female flowers ripen into seeds throughout the summer. Ripe female catkins like the one seen here are called strobiles and resemble small cones. Fruit (seeds) are blown about by the wind in late fall and winter. Unless that is, birds get to them. Many songbirds love them.

You can often find the snow under a gray birch littered with hundreds of tiny winged seeds, which are called nutlets. Seeds can persist for years in the soil and will grow if the soil is disturbed.

Other plentiful winter seeds for birds include those of asters, which I’m still seeing a lot of.

A beech leaf was caught by the sun and was beautiful enough to stop me in my tracks. Beech is a tree that lends great beauty to the forest all year long. Its orangey brown leaves will slowly lighten to a yellow so pale it is almost white, and then they will finally fall to make room for new leaves in spring.

The deep blue shadows on snow always remind me of a special high school art teacher who taught me to see rather than just look. To me, probably due to colorblindness, winter shadows looked gray but she convinced me that they were and should be blue. The odd thing about all of that is how, once I began painting them blue I began seeing them in blue and I have ever since, so she gave me a great gift. Colorblindness is a very strange thing and it doesn’t behave as many people think it does. I can see red and green separately for instance but when a red cardinal lands in a green tree it completely disappears. In fact I have never been able to see a cardinal, even when someone pointed at one and said “It’s right there, can’t you see it?”

But blue still isn’t always blue to these colorblind eyes. I know that cold will turn the normally amber sap of the white pine tree blue but this looks kind of pinky / lavender to me. My color finding software tells me it is steel blue though, and it always wins the argument. Colors come in shades or hues and telling them apart can be quite confusing to the colorblind.

Here is something I’ve never seen before; pixie cup lichens (Cladonia pyxidata) growing on a tree. I know lichens can and will grow on just about anything but until now I’ve only seen this particular one on soil and very rotten wood; never on a live, growing tree. Lichens surprise me continuously. Pixie cups are squamulose lichens, and the tiny golf tee shapes arise from leafy growths called squamules. A squamule is a lobe of the body of the lichen (thallus), and  squamulose lichens have small, leafy lobes, which is the green growth seen here. But though pixie cup lichens are squamulose they have fruticose fruiting structures called podetia. The parts that look like tiny golf tees are its podetia. “Podetia” describes a stalk like growth which bears the apothecia, or fruiting bodies. 

This is the first time I’ve shown the seed pods of the beautiful native shrub known as rhodora (Rhododendron canadense). I’m going to have to watch and see when they open. Quite late, apparently.

I thought I’d show the beautiful flowers of the rhodora because I don’t think most people ever see them. Even in this area it’s a shrub that many don’t know. The flowers appear just when the irises start to bloom and I often have to search for them because they aren’t common. Rhodora is a small, knee high, native rhododendron (actually an azalea) that loves swampy places. It is native to the northeastern U.S. and Canada and both its western and southern limits are reached in Pennsylvania. The flowers appear before the leaves, but only for a short time in spring. By mid-June they will have all vanished.

Sweet gale (Myrica gale) is also called bog rosemary. It likes to grow on the banks of acidic lakes, bogs and streams just like the rhodora we saw previously. Touching the foliage releases a sweet, pleasant scent from its resinous leaves which have been used for centuries as a natural insect repellent. Though it is a native plant here it also grows native in Europe, where it is used as an ingredient in beer making in some countries. It is also used in an ointment used to treat sensitive skin and acne. Its buds are very pretty, but also very small.  They will open and flower in spring.

Is it too early to think of spring? It’s never too early in my opinion and it’s usually in the depths of winter that I start checking buds. These lilac buds were quite pretty, I thought. They are great examples of imbricate buds, which have scales that overlap like shingles. A gummy resin fills the spaces between the scales and makes the bud waterproof. If water got in and froze it would destroy the future flower or leaf embryo within, so buds go to great lengths to prevent that.

While I’ve been working on this post we’ve had just about every kind of weather imaginable. We had snow but of course since it’s so dark before and after work I really couldn’t show it to you. Then on Christmas eve through Christmas day we had temperatures near 60 degrees and 2 inches of rain fell. The shot above shows what the Ashuelot River looks like after 2 inches of rain and a 16 inch snow melt find their way into it. It will boil like this for a few days and then return to its placid self, but meanwhile it will have the wild, rugged beauty we see here. I love watching the waves.

Those who find beauty in all of nature will find themselves at one with the secrets of life itself. ~L. Wolfe Gilbert

Thanks for coming by. I hope everyone will have a happy and healthy 2021.

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1. Trail Start

In 2010 Keene built a new middle school at the edge of a 500 acre wetland called Tenant Swamp. The building sits on a high terrace that overlooks the swamp. it can be seen to the left in this photo. Before the school could be built however an archaeological sensitivity assessment had to be done, and by the time the dig was completed it was found that Native Americans lived here at the end of the last ice age, approximately 11,000-12,000 years ago. The dig also found that the Ashuelot River once ran through here; about a half mile east of where it now flows. Since the site evolved into a swamp it was never farmed or built on so it was valuable enough archeologically to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Since then, after much hard work and fund raising, a path and boardwalk leading into the swamp itself has been completed. As a certifiable nature nut I couldn’t wait to get into this swamp, so I went to see it right after all the fanfare had died down. It’s the kind of place that people rarely get to experience so it is meant to be a kind of outdoor classroom for anyone who wants to learn more about nature.

2. Blackberries

The first thing I noticed were all the blackberries blooming along the hillside above the swamp. The bears will eat well this year.

3. Bridge

A sturdy bridge was built over a small seasonal stream.  The paths are well packed and plenty wide enough even for wheelchairs, and in fact I saw a man in a wheelchair here on my second visit. He looked very happy.

4. Stream

A small stream feeds this side of the swamp, but one of the things I found most surprising about this place was the lack of very much standing water. I’m not sure if it has to do with the drought we had in May or if it’s always this way.

5. Boardwalk

The 850 foot boardwalk is sturdy and well-built and about a foot or two off the ground. When it was being installed 9-12 feet of peat was discovered in some places. Two feet of peat takes about a thousand years to form so this peat has been here for a very long time. I’m tempted to call this a peat bog because of these discoveries but technically because it is forested, the correct term is swamp.

6. Bunchberries

Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) grows well here. I wasn’t too surprised to see it because it likes cool, moist woods and will not grow where soil temperature exceeds 65 degrees F. According to Nature Magazine the tiny flowers have hinged flexible anthers that act like tiny catapults to eject their pollen to ten times the plant’s height so it can be carried by the wind. Once pollinated the flowers, which are actually in the center of the four white bracts, will become a bunch of red berries, and that’s how this pretty little creeping dogwood comes by its common name. Some Native American tribes preserved the berries in bear fat. They’re high in pectin and make excellent jelly.

7. Arrowheads

The roots of arrowhead plants (Sagittaria latifolia) look like small, purplish potatoes and were a very important food crop for Native Americans. They are said to taste like potatoes or chestnuts and can be sliced, dried and ground to make flour, or eaten in the same ways that potatoes are. This plant likes to grow in shallow water that has little or no current and can form very large colonies. Ducks love the seeds and beavers, muskrats and porcupines will eat the whole plant.

Note: Sara has pointed out that this plant is actually Halberd-leaved tearthumb (Polygonum arifolium.) I’m sorry for any confusion. That’s what comes from rushing!

8. Royal Fern

Royal fern (Osmunda spectabilis) has a strong presence here, along with cinnamon and sensitive fern. There is a rumor that ostrich fern grows here as well but I didn’t see any. Royal fern is one of the most beautiful of our native ferns in my opinion, but often fools people by not really looking very fern like. Royal fern is in the family Osmundaceae, and fossils belonging to this family have been found in rocks of the Permian age, which was about 230 million years ago. There is also a European species of royal fern called Osmunda regalis.

9. Viewing Platform

There are viewing platforms meant for birders, painters, photographers, or anyone who just wants to sit and enjoy nature. They haven’t been installed yet but there will be many benches for people to sit on. I have a feeling that this will become a bird lover’s paradise because the amount of birdsong here is incredible. It’s really a wonderful experience that I hope all of the townspeople will enjoy at least once…

10. Swamp View

…but I hope they’ll stay on the boardwalk when they do. 500 acres of swamp boggles my mind and I know that if I hopped off the boardwalk and bush wacked my way into the swamp, I’d probably be lost in under an hour. Once you get turned around and start wandering in circles it’s all over, and in November of 1890 that’s exactly what happened to George McCurdy, who died of exposure. I’ve heard stories about another man who went into the swamp and was never found, so as much as I’d love to explore the entire area I think I’ll just stay on the boardwalk.

11. Beard Lichen

There are some fine examples of beard lichen growing on the spruce trees; I think this one is bristly beard (Usnea hirta.) That’s another thing I noticed as I entered the swamp; there are many spruce and balsam fir trees here, which is unusual because they like it cool and normally grow further north. You rarely see them growing naturally in this area so when you do you know that you’re in a special place.

Henry David Thoreau said “The most primitive places left with us are the swamps, where the spruce still grows shaggy with usnea,” and he was right.

12. White Admiral

A white admiral butterfly (Limenitis arthemis) landed on the boardwalk and said “Go ahead; take my picture,” so I did. I wish he’d landed in a somewhat shadier spot but you can’t have everything. I also saw a lot of dragonflies but of course they wouldn’t sit still. I was hoping to see some of the rare salamanders that the schoolkids have found but so far I haven’t seen a one.

13. Red Squirrel

I’m not sure what this red squirrel was doing but he stayed just like that for a while and seemed to want his picture taken too so I obliged, even though he was really out of comfortable camera range. As soon as I took a couple of steps toward him though he was off like a shot, running up one tree and jumping into the crown of another. Two or three red squirrels followed me all through the swamp on this day and even climbed the hill as I was leaving, making sure to stay just out of camera range the entire time. That was really odd because I rarely see red squirrels; gray squirrels are much more common here. I’m not sure the reds know what to make of this sudden increase in human activity; they seem very curious.

14. Phragmities

I wasn’t happy to see this invasive reed called Phragmities australis here but I had a feeling that it would be. Tenant swamp is bisected by a highway (Rte. 12 N.) and you can see large colonies of it from the road. This reed came from Europe and forms large monocultures that even burning can’t control unless it is done 2 or 3 times. Not only does a thick matted root system choke out other plants, but decaying reeds also release gallic acid, which ultraviolet light turns into mesoxalic acid and which means that seedlings of other plants that try to grow near the reed have very little hope of survival.

15. Phragmities

This is a glimpse of a monoculture known as a reed bed. Some have been known to reach nearly a square kilometer in size. There are no other plants to be seen among the reeds in this photo.

16. Winterberry

I met a lady who works at the middle school and who was instrumental in getting the boardwalk project up and running. Unfortunately I never got her name but she said the boardwalk was going to be open in the winter. I was hoping it would be because there are more winterberry shrubs (Ilex verticillata) here than I’ve ever seen in one place, and the red berries against the white snow are really beautiful. This photo shows what the flower buds look like. Each one will open to a tiny white flower and then become a red berry.

17. Sphagnum Moss

I always thought that peat bogs or swamps were made up almost entirely of sphagnum mosses but I found by researching this post that mosses are just one component. Many other plants contribute to the overall mass.  Not only do plants fall into the mix but so does their pollen, and scientists can look back at thousands of years of plant growth and the environment they grew in by studying it.

18. Unknown Tree

You can’t have a swamp without a little mystery to go with it, and here it is. I think this tree is some type of sumac, but it isn’t staghorn (Rhus typhina) or smooth sumac (Rhus glabra.) Those are the two most common sumacs in these parts but their flower buds look nothing like those pictured here. It isn’t winged (or shiny) sumac (Rhus copallinum) because there are no wings on the branches and the leaves aren’t shiny. I wondered if it was Chinese sumac (Ailanthus altissima), an invasive also called tree of heaven, but another name for that tree is stinking sumac and this small tree doesn’t really stink. I found that out by crushing a leaf and holding it up to my nose, and that’s when I remembered that poison sumac (Toxicodendron vernix) grows in swamps in this area. But that doesn’t fit either because it’s been a week since I crushed that leaf and I haven’t gotten a rash on my hand or nose, so I’ve run out of likely choices. If you know what it is or even want to guess I’d love to hear from you.

19. Unknown Tree Flower

This tree’s flowers are very small; no bigger than a BB that you’d put in an air rifle. If they turn into white berries I’ll know that this is poison sumac, and I’ll wonder why I’m not itching.

If you’d like to visit the middle school’s website and see photos of the boardwalk being built, trail maps and many other interesting things, just click on the word here. This boardwalk was built for the people of Keene as well as the school children, and I think we all owe the school and all of the donors a real big thank you. Being able to visit a place like this is a very rare opportunity.

To love a swamp is to love what is muted and marginal, what exists in the shadows, what shoulders its way out of mud and scurries along the damp edges of what is most commonly praised. And sometimes its invisibility is a blessing. Swamps and bogs are places of transition and wild growth, breeding grounds, experimental labs where organisms and ideas have the luxury of being out of the spotlight, where the imagination can mutate and mate, send tendrils into and out of the water. ~Barbara Hurd

Thanks for coming by.

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