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Posts Tagged ‘Robin’s Eggs’

There are spring haters out there. I know there are because I’ve talked to some of them. They complain of dirty snowbanks, brown grass, bare trees, wind and cold, and just the blah-ness of it all. No color, they say. Well, this post is designed to show them how wrong they are. Spring shouldn’t be about seeing tulips and daffodils out of the car window as you drive past. It should be about walking slowly, looking closely, and marveling at what is in my opinion the most beautiful season of all. It should be about seeing the incredible beauty of nature, and witnessing the miracles that happen each and every day. It’s hard to deny the beauty of red maple blossoms (Acer rubrum) for instance, as we see in this photo. Though this shot is from last year they have started blooming now. The blooming period doesn’t last long, so now is the time to look for them. You won’t have to look hard though, because these trees are everywhere.

Silver maple flowers (Acer saccharinum) look a lot like those of red maples, but the fruits (samaras) of silver maple are far more beautiful, in my opinion. You can find these in mid-May here and no, you don’t need to be able to tell a silver maple from a red maple; all you need to do is look closely, regularly.  These samaras look like this for only a day or two.

American hazelnut flowers (Corylus americana) have also just started to bloom. These beautiful, rarely seen things are very small, so if your eyes are as old as mine you might want to carry a loupe or macro lens. Or, there are also free magnifying glass apps that you can get for a cell phone. I have one and it works well. I took this photo at just about this time last year. Hazelnut shrubs grow along rail trails, roadways, and in waste places.

Other tiny flowers are those of the speckled alder (Alnus incana.) The cylindrical flower clusters are long and thin and often appear in groups at the ends of branches. They are called catkins or aments. Each flower cluster has many crimson, thread-like female stigmas just poking out. Don’t be afraid to grab a branch of a tree or shrub and pull it toward you so you can see better; you won’t hurt the plant at all. This photo was taken on March 26th of last year and I’ve already seen hints of them this year, so the time to look is now in this area. Alders get little hard black cones called strobiles on their branch ends and usually grow near water.

If you can’t find anything to marvel at on shrubs or trees check the stones. They’re often covered with lichens like the beautiful smoky eye boulder lichen (Porpidia albocaerulescens) shown here. Unless the stones are covered with snow there are always lichens to see and they can be very beautiful.

If there aren’t any stones look in the bushes. You might be astonished by what you find. These robin eggs hatched in May two years ago.

The leaves of the red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) look like tiny fingers as they pull themselves away from their protective covering of the flower bud and straighten up. Bud break comes very early on this native shrub; this photo was taken in mid-April of 20105. The purplish green flower buds will become greenish white flowers, followed by bright red berries. One of life’s simple pleasures is watching buds like these open and it costs nothing but a few minutes of time each day.

On every stone, on every branch and in every puddle, the beauty of spring can be found. Tiny new eastern larch flowers (Larix laricina) are beautiful and always worth looking for. They appear in mid-May and are quite small. Their color helps me see them and a macro lens shows why I bother looking for them in this photo from May 17th of 2014. They’re very beautiful so I hope you’ll take a look at any larch trees you might know of.

Leaves can also be beautiful, as this photo of the deeply pleated leaves of false hellebores (Veratrum viride) from mid-May of 2015 shows. False hellebore is one of the most toxic plants we have here, so you’re probably better off just admiring rather than touching this one. They like low, moist areas along streams and rivers.

The point of all this is to learn to see rather than to simply look. There is a difference; one day I met two college age girls on a woodland trail. They complained that they hadn’t seen a single wildflower, though the area was known for them. When I walked the same trail I saw flowers everywhere. They were small yes, but they were there. So how can this be? I’m guessing that they probably walked too fast and thought more about the end of the trail than what they might see along it. A toddler’s pace and a willingness to look a little closer would have let them see beautiful things that they probably hadn’t even imagined were there. Beautiful little Pennsylvania sedge flowers like those shown here are barely 4 inches tall, so you have to look the ground over carefully for them. They’ll appear along woodland edges and roadsides in mid-April, coming up out of what look like little tufts of course grass.

Orangey pink striped maple buds (Acer pensylvanicum) are a good example of why, when a bud or flower catches your eye in the spring, you should watch it every day because changes come quickly. In a day or two your beautifully colored bud might have become leaves. The tree or shrub you happen to be looking at wants food, and food means leaves that can photosynthesize. There is no benefit to keeping its leaves tightly wrapped in the bud unless it is to protect the tender new growth from cold. If it is warm they’ll open quickly.

Box elder (Acer negundo) is in the maple family but it’s a “soft maple” and in this area is considered a weed tree because of how they come up everywhere. A box elder was the first tree I ever planted when I was a boy though, so they’re special to me. I think they’re at their most beautiful in April when they flower. The lime green, sticky pistils of female box elder flowers seen in this photo appear along with the tree’s leaves, just a few days after the male flowers have fully opened, I’ve noticed. Box elders have male flowers on one tree and female flowers on another, unlike a lot of other maples. The earliest known example of a Native American flute, dating from 620-670 AD, was made from its wood.

Fern fiddleheads just out of the ground are some of the most beautiful things to see in spring. One of my favorites is the lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina.) Lady fern is the only one I know of with brown / black scales on its stalks. This fern likes to grow in moist, loamy areas along streams.

If you’re in a moist, loamy area looking for lady ferns you might as well look for some horsetails too. The fertile spore bearing stem of a common horsetail (Equisetum arvense) ends in a light brown, cone shaped structure called a strobilus, and it’s a beautiful thing to see. Since it doesn’t photosynthesize at this point in its development the plant has no need for chlorophyll, so most of it is a pale, whitish color. When it’s ready to release its spores the cone opens to reveal tiny, mushroom shaped sporangiophores. The whitish “ruffles” at the base of each brown sporangiophore are the spore producing sporangia. When the horsetail looks like the one in the photo it has released its spores and will soon die and be replaced by an infertile stem. I find these at around the end of April.

I know what the big buds of shagbark hickory look like when they open but even so, they’re so beautiful they always stop me in my tracks and make me stand there with my mouth hanging open. They are easily one of the most beautiful things in the spring forest and I start watching for them in mid-May. I usually find them growing near water; along river banks or near lakes and ponds.

So why  should you bother looking for all this stuff in spring? Well, why should you bother going to an art gallery, or listen to music, or read a book? We do these things to enrich our lives, to help renew and rejuvenate our minds and spirits; to make ourselves more comfortable with the unknown; more at peace, and more creative. Nature will do all of this for us and more. Nature, from my own experience, is very healing. If you face a rough spot in life try just walking alone on a favorite woodland path each day. In no time at all your problems will seem to have been solved with very little effort. I would never tell you this if it wasn’t true; it has happened in my own life again and again. I think it’s because nature study makes us meditate quite naturally, so we don’t even realize we’re doing so. It’s hard to worry and fret when something captivates your attention so just look at all that’s happening in the white baneberry (Actaea pachypoda) shoot above. Just up out of the soil and it’s already amazing. When I see it I want to draw it, and I think I could sit and look at it all day.

A large part of why I spend every free minute in nature is because of the incredible beauty I see. It’s amazing to think that so much beauty has been in plain sight all along. For a large part of my life I never took the time to see it and I hope you won’t make the same mistake. Everyone knows where there is a beech tree. Just start watching the branch tips around the first week in May. You’ll see the long, pointed buds begin to curl quite severely and then a day or so later miracles will happen; it will look like a host of angles has swooped down and shed their downy wings. Even the gloomiest among us will feel their pulse quicken and magically, a smile will appear on their face. If they spend time with nature it will be there for a while, so they’d better get used to it.

So here we are at the end of this post and until now we haven’t seen a flower with petals on it, so if you’re one of those people who think the beauty of spring means tulips and daffodils I hope I’ve changed your mind. But, if it is still flowers you want try a woodland walk in mid-April. If you’re lucky you might just find some spring beauties (Claytonia virginica) like those in this photo. All of what you’ve seen here and so very much more is just starting to happen, so I hope very much that you’ll get out there and see it for yourself.

Go out, go out I beg of you
And taste the beauty of the wild.
Behold the miracle of the earth
With all the wonder of a child.
~Edna Jaques

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1. Mount Monadnock from Troy

This photo isn’t really about Mount Monadnock; it’s about the incredible shades of spring green that the surrounding forests are clothed in right now. I’ve tried several times to capture these colors on “film” and have failed. Even this photo doesn’t do them justice, but it’s the closest I’ve been able to come.

 2. Bee

The long antennas on this insect tell me it isn’t a hoverfly, but what look like little knobs at the ends of the antennae have me wondering if it’s a bee or not because I can’t seem to find an example of a bee with those knobs. A carpenter bee maybe? Whatever it is, it seemed to want its picture taken. I was shooting over this branch focused on something else when it walked down the branch and stopped right in front of the lens.  And then it sat there letting me snap as many photos as I wanted. Usually the minute I point the camera at them they’re off and gone. Maybe it was the sunny spot on the branch that attracted it.

 3. Robin's Eggs

Some friends had a robin’s nest in their holly bush so I snuck my camera in and took a quick couple of shots after momma flew off.  They look green to me but my color finding software sees blue and turquoise.

 4. Stuffed Black Bear

The same friends that have the robin’s nest deal in antiques and found this stuffed and mounted juvenile black bear at a tag sale recently. If it was standing on its hind legs those front paws would fit comfortably right on your shoulders as if you were about to waltz. Being surprised by a cousin of this guy on a trail wouldn’t be good at all, so you have to be aware of what’s going on around you. The black bear population is on the rise in New Hampshire and I’ve even seen them in my own yard.

5. Cinnamon Fern

Someone once thought that the fertile fronds of cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea) looked like cinnamon sticks and that’s how it got its common name. The reddish brown, fertile fronds appear after the green, infertile ones. Once the fern grows its fertile fronds it stops growing and puts all of its energy into producing spores.

6. Cinnamon Fern Closeup

Many ferns have their spore bearing sporangia on the undersides of their leaves but cinnamon and other ferns in the Osmunda family grow them clustered on small leaflets on fertile fronds. The sporangia are tiny round growths that will dry as they mature until finally splitting open to release the spores.

7. Great Scented Liverwort Colony

The lighter green color in this photo means that great scented liverworts (Conocephalum conicum) are showing plenty of new growth, but I still haven’t seen any of their umbrella-like fruiting structures.

8. Fungus on Pine Tree

I don’t have any idea what is going on here except maybe that the fungus that looks like bread dough has a fungus on it. The larger of the two was as big as a marble and was growing on a pine tree.

9. Juniper Haircap Moss Splash Cups

Splash cups on juniper haircap moss (Polytrichum juniperinum) are as rare as hen’s teeth in this area. Mosses in the polytrichum genus have male and female reproductive organs on separate plants, so when you see these little cups you know you’ve found a male plant that is ready to reproduce.

 10. Juniper Haircap Moss Splash Cups

The male moss produces sperm in these splash cups and when a raindrop falls into the cup the sperm is splashed out. If there is enough water to swim in, the sperm 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 tiny orange leaves surrounding the reproductive parts.

 11. Spider on Rhody

This spider magically appeared in the photo I took of a small leaved rhododendron blossom. It’s a tiny little thing and I didn’t even see it while I was taking the photo. I’m not sure about its name. I know it isn’t a crab spider but that’s about as far as I was able to get.

12. Viceroy Caterpillar

I think this creature is the caterpillar of a viceroy butterfly. It tries to look like a bird dropping so it doesn’t get eaten. It looks to me like it was successful.

13. Viceroy Caterpillar

Giant swallowtail butterfly caterpillars also resemble bird droppings but they don’t have the horns that this one does. It is said that viceroy caterpillars feed at night and stay still during the day when birds are out and about, but this one was crawling along a twig in daylight. It couldn’t have been much more than an inch long.

14. Waves on the Ashuelot

For over three years now I’ve been practicing photographing cresting waves on the Ashuelot River and I’ve learned a little by doing so. Like a great blue heron I stand at the ready and wait for the perfect time to strike, because just a fraction of a second either way can make a big difference in how advanced the curl of the wave is. Click the shutter too soon and you have a strange lump of green water, too late and you have only white foam and spray. In this spot the best colors and sharpest detail are found in the morning when the sun is over my shoulder and the river is before me. Noon or later means washed out color and less detail, and on cloudy days trying for stop action isn’t worth the effort.

If you take the time to sit and watch for a while, and then close your eyes and just listen to the crash of the waves, a river will speak to you in its own way. After a time you’ll come to feel as well as see and hear its rhythm, and the rejects will become fewer as a result.

Nature is man’s teacher. She unfolds her treasures to his search, unseals his eye, illumes his mind, and purifies his heart; an influence breathes from all the sights and sounds of her existence. ~Alfred Bernhard Nobel

Thanks for stopping in.

 

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