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Posts Tagged ‘Red Winged Blackbird’

There is nothing special about this photo of a swamp, other than to mark the place where I heard the first red winged blackbird of this year. I haven’t seen any but I’ve heard them and that’s another sign of spring.

I hope the red winged blackbirds know what they’re doing because this frozen pond is right across the road from the thawed swamp in the previous photo. Our nighttime temperatures are still falling below freezing but I hear the birds each morning.

Half Moon Pond in Hancock certainly didn’t look very spring like after one of our many recent nor’easters. Before this cold came in March it looked like the ice would be gone in less than another week.

The wind blows strongly off Half Moon Pond almost all of the time, and this lake sedge (Carex lacustris) shows the direction. This sedge grows in large colonies near lakes, ponds, and wetlands and is native to Canada and the northern U.S. It is a pleasant shade of green in summer and can sometimes be the dominant plant along shorelines and in swamps. Waterfowl and songbirds eat its seeds.

When I saw a mullein seedling (Verbascum thapsus) I realized that I had never seen another one, most likely because I wasn’t paying attention. It was every bit as wooly as its adult counterparts and ready to start photosynthesizing. Mullein is a biennial that flowers and dies in its second year. This one was about the size of a baseball, or just over 9 inches.

I went to see my old friends the striped wintergreens (Chimaphila maculata) to see how they came through the winter and I was happy to see that they looked good and healthy. This is a plant I don’t see that often and I only know of three or four small colonies. Hopefully they will bloom and set seed in mid-July.

Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) grows near the striped wintergreens and also came through the winter looking well. This plant always reminds me of my grandmother because it was one of her favorites. The plant is also called mayflower and was once nearly collected into oblivion so the very fragrant blossoms could be used in nosegays, but it is now protected in many states. It relies heavily on a relationship with certain fungi mycelium in the soil and it absolutely refuses to grow anywhere that the mycelium isn’t present. Native Americans used to use the plant medicinally to break up kidney stones. It was so valuable to them that it was thought to have divine origins.

The basal leaves of hawkweed (and many other plants) often turn deep purple in winter. Many trees and other plants conserve a lot of energy if they don’t have to make  chlorophyll so in the fall many stop making it. When that happens other colors which were there all along start to show. Carotenoids make leaves orange and yellow and anthocyanins make them red, pink or purple. Anthocyanins can also protect leaves from getting sunburned in winter if they are evergreen.

Beaked willow gall is caused by a tiny midge laying its egg in a willow bud. The reddish galls usually form at branch tips in the fall and will house the fly larva all winter. It will eat the tissue in the gall until spring, when it will pupate and an adult midge will emerge. Winter is a great time to look for galls, which are often hidden behind leaves at other times of year.

I’m always amazed by how much red there is in highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) and nothing shows it better than the witch’s brooms that are so common on these shrubs. On blueberries witch’s brooms are cause by a fungus that deforms branches or roots and causes a dense mass of shoots to grow from a single point. In my experience they don’t really harm the plant and can even be quite pretty with snow on them.

An old trick that gardeners sometimes use when they want to grow plants that aren’t hardy in their area is to plant the sensitive plats near a stone or brick wall. The mass of masonry absorbs the warmth of the sun during the day and releases it slowly at night, protecting the plants from frost damage. Sweet gum trees grow near such a sunlit wall at the local college and the above photo is of one of their seed pods (Liquidambar styraciflua.) Seeing these pods here seems very strange because sweet gum is thought of as a “southern tree,” and Massachusetts is the northern most point that it grows naturally. I never saw the seed pods as a boy but I wish I had because they’re interesting and hold their shape well when dried. They would have made a great addition to my collection of natural oddities.

The base of this eastern hemlock tree (Tsuga canadensis) was covered by what I think must be yellow green algae (Pleurococcus vulgaris.) These algae grow on the shaded sides of tree trunks, on soil, stones and even on walls. Their closest relatives are said to grow in lakes and rivers, but these species can withstand some dryness. Fossil evidence shows that algae have existed for at least 540 million years.

A saw another hemlock that had a deep crack in its bark that ran straight and true from the ground to about 15 feet up. At first I thought it must be a frost crack but I’ve never seen one so long, so I’m guessing it must have been a lightning strike. Since it was an older wound there were no pieces of bark that might have been blown off lying around. I came upon a tree once that had been recently struck by lightning and there were strips of bark all over the ground. No matter how the crack was made I’m sure it made quite a loud noise when it happened.  On cold winter nights you can sometimes hear stressed trees cracking in the forest. It is sudden and sounds like a rifle shot.

The bud scales on many of the male alder catkins have gone from their deep winter purple to shades of pink, orange, red and brown. Soon the bud scales will open to reveal the yellow green flowers that will release the pollen to the wind. They become very beautiful at this time of year and sometimes when the light is right it looks like someone has strung ropes of multicolored jewels on all the bushes.

Boxwood (Buxus) is called man’s oldest garden ornamental because it has been used for hedges and specimen plantings for centuries. The early settlers thought so highly of it they brought it with them in the mid-1600s. The first plants were brought over from Amsterdam and were planted in about 1653 on Long Island in New York. There are about 90 species of boxwood and many make excellent hedges. These examples I found in a local park were budded. They’ll bloom In late April or early May but so will many other flowers, so these small but pretty ones will probably be overlooked.

The willows seem to be in a holding pattern. They’ve had their fuzzy gray catkins for two weeks now but there are no signs of the bright yellow flowers yet. Maybe I’ll see some later today.

I was flabbergasted when I saw the vernal witch hazels (Hamamelis vernalis) still blossoming. They’ve been through three nor’easters and zero degree cold but there are at least five bushes still full of flowers, so I’d say they were well worth what it cost to buy them. I wish you could smell them. I’ve heard their scent compared to laundry taken in fresh from the line but another description I just read says a hint of citrus-maybe lemon-is there as well. They seem a bit spicy to me but it’s a very pleasant scent that you can smell from quite a distance.

It’s always nice to see budded daffodils in spring. These were coming along well in spite of the zero degree cold we’ve had. They grow near the brick wall of a building and I think the heat radiating off the wall keeps them warm at night, just like the sweet gum trees we heard about earlier.

Not all the daffodils were lucky enough to have a brick wall, and this is what happened to many of those that didn’t. This is the second year in a row that this has happened to these bulbs and I’m not sure if they’ll make it now. A bulb needs leaves to photosynthesize and build up the strength it needs to blossom the following year. With their first spring leaves dying off for two years now I doubt they have much strength left. If they were mine I’d dig and replace them with later blossoming bulbs. They’re a bit overanxious I think.

Sometimes sunlight on moss is really all I need. I pity those who spend their lives chasing after riches, all the while missing the incredible richness all around them.

People don’t notice whether it’s winter or summer when they’re happy. ~Anton Chekhov

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1. Ashuelot

We finally had some much needed rain last weekend. The Ashuelot River can use it; I’m guessing that it’s about a foot lower than it usually is at this time of year. The line of grasses above the far embankment shows how high it can get with the spring runoff, which is 10 feet or more above where it is now.

2. Beaver

As I took photos of its far bank a beaver swam down the middle of the river with a bundle of sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis) in its mouth. I didn’t know that beavers ate ferns but a little research shows that they do and they must be a delicacy, because this one swam quite a long way to get them. I watched him haul this bundle downriver until he was out of sight. Apparently there aren’t any sensitive ferns in his neighborhood.

3. Crab Spider

A tiny yellow crab spider waited on Queen Anne’s lace for a meal and was very obvious. Crab spiders can change their color to match the color of the flower they’re on and I know they can be white because I’ve seen them in that color. Maybe this one had just left a black eyed Susan and was in the process of becoming white. I’ve read that it can take days for them to change.

4. Great Blue Heron

I was looking at plants along the edge of a pond when I looked up and saw that I was just a few close feet from this great blue heron. I thought he’d fly off before I had a chance for a photo but he just walked slowly away through the pickerel weed. I was very surprised when I saw this photo to see that the pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata) was as tall as the heron; the plant is usually barely 2 feet tall.

5. Great Blue Heron

In this photo I see more of what I would expect, which is a three foot bird standing taller than the pickerel weed. Apparently I was very focused on the heron and paid no attention to the plants, because I don’t remember them being taller than the bird. I wasn’t very observant that day, I guess, but it isn’t often I find myself so close to a great blue heron.

6. Great Blue Heron

The heron kept shaking its head and the photo shows why; it was being plagued by flies. You can see one just where the bill meets the head. The photo also shows the bird’s forward pointing eyes. I’ve read that the eyesight of the great blue heron is about three times more detailed than a human. Their night vision is also better; they are able to see more at night than a human can see in daylight.

7. Mushroom

We had to dig down to about three feet at work recently and the soil was dry even at the bottom of the hole. The extreme dryness means that I’m seeing very few mushrooms and slime molds. The mushroom pictured had a half-eaten stem, most likely caused by a squirrel. I wasn’t able to identify it.

8. Slime Mold

Though most slime molds grow in low light and high moisture scrambled egg slime mold (fuligo septica) isn’t a good indicator of moisture or light. I’ve seen it growing in full sunlight in dry conditions. This slime mold is usually bright, egg yolk yellow and I’m not sure if its lighter color was caused by dryness or age.

9. Indian Pipes

I’ve seen a few Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora) pushing up through the forest litter but they seem to be quickly going by. Their white stems turn black when damaged but nearly every plant I saw had black on it. Each stem holds a single flower that will turn upward when it sets seed. Fresh stems hold a gel-like sap that is said to have been used by Native Americans to treat eye problems. The common name comes from the plant’s shape, which is said to resemble the pipes that Natives smoked.

10. Red Wing Blackbird

A red winged blackbird flew to the top of a fir tree and told everyone I was coming.

11. Staghorn Sumac

Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) is flowering now. Its large greenish flower heads can be seen from a good distance but though they are quite big in a mass, each individual flower is tiny.

12. Staghorn Sumac Flower

I think a group of 2 or 3 sumac flowers could hide behind a pea without any jostling. If they’re pollinated each flower will become a bright red, fuzzy berry. Native Americans used these berries to make a lemonade substitute and in some countries they’re ground and used as a lemon flavored spice. Many birds eat them but you can still find them on the plants well into winter.

13. Curly Dock

Curly dock (Rumex crispus) seeds always remind me of tiny seed pearls. The plant is originally from Europe and is also called yellow dock. It’s a relative of rhubarb and its seeds look much like those found on rhubarb, though they’re somewhat smaller. Once the seeds mature they can be roasted and used as a coffee substitute, and the leaves are rich in beta-carotene and vitamins A and C, and can be eaten raw or cooked. The leaves were used by many as a vegetable during the depression when food was scarce. Curly dock’s common name comes from the wavy edges on the leaves.

14. Curly Dock

Until this year I never noticed the beautiful color variations in curly dock’s seed heads. The above examples were found side by side on the same plant.

15.Timothy Grass

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.

16. Timothy Grass

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, but though I looked at several examples I couldn’t find a single one 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.

17. Acorns

We have a fine crop of acorns this year, and that means well fed animals.

18. Blueberries

Blueberries are also having a good year in spite of the dryness. The bears will be happy.

19. Blue Bead Lily Berries

The blue of blue bead lily berries (Clintonia borealis) is quite different from the blue of blueberries. 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.

20. Oak Leaf

The patterns left by leaf miners on this oak leaf reminded me of the artwork found on ancient Greek vases. Oak leaf miners are the larvae of tiny silvery moths which have bronze colored patches on their wings.

Summer is the annual permission slip to be lazy. To do nothing and have it count for something. To lie in the grass and count the stars. To sit on a branch and study the clouds. ~Regina Brett

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