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Posts Tagged ‘Silky Dogwood Fruit’

The clouds were very angular on this morning at Half Moon Pond in Hancock, but they weren’t what I was trying to get a photo of. I was interested in the trees along the far shoreline, which are starting to show just the first hint of their fall colors.

Some of our native dogwoods like this silky dogwood (Cornus amomum) have already turned a beautiful deep red-maroon.

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 I’ve always wondered 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 birds eat them up quickly.

Among the birds that love silky dogwood berries is the beautiful, sleek cedar waxwing. 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 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 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. I wondered what is with this crazy bird as it flew at me several times, but once I finally realized what was happening and moved away from its berries it left me alone. I can still remember the feel the wind on my face from its drunken aerobatics.

If you’re wondering if I climbed a tree to get above that cedar waxwing in the last photo the answer is no; I just stood on a bridge and looked down on it. There is a huge brush pile against one of the bridge piers and the birds rest here between flights. They fly out quickly and grab insects out of the air in the evening, just before the sun sets. Earlier in the day they feed on silky dogwood and other berries and rest in the bushes.

Cedar waxwings are beautiful birds that don’t seem to mind me being above them, but if I walk down along the riverbank so I can be eye to eye with them it causes quite a ruckus among the flock and they all go and hide in the bushes. Though this photo looks like we were on nearly the same level I was quite far above the bird when I took the photo. Once I saw the photo I thought that the bird’s wing didn’t look quite right. Or maybe it does; I’ve never been much of a bird studier and it was obviously able to fly, but it does seem to be missing the red wax drops.

Rain can be a blessing to an allergy sufferer because it washes all of the sneezy, wheezy pollen out of the air, but on this day it washed it into the river where it could reveal the otherwise invisible currents and eddies.

One of the reasons I like cutting and splitting firewood is because, unless you want to lose a finger or two, you have to be focused on the task at hand and on each piece of wood before you. When you focus so intently on any subject you see many unexpected things, like these robin’s egg blue “insect eggs.” At least I thought they were insect eggs, so I put this piece of wood aside to see what happened when they hatched. They hatched all right, but after turning white and splitting open instead of baby insects out came black spores, and then I knew it was a slime mold. Blue is a rare color among slime molds and I’m happy to have seen it.

This event really was an insect hatching and there were hundreds of baby hickory tussock moth caterpillars (Lophocampa caryae) crawling all over this tree. I’ve never seen as many as there are this year.

Hickory tussock moth caterpillars 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.

I’ve done several posts that included hickory tussock moth caterpillars but I just realized that I’ve never seen the moth itself, so I went to Wikipedia and found this photo of a very pretty hickory tussock moth by Mike Boone from bugguide.net.

According to what I’ve read the banded net-winged beetle (Calopteron discrepans) is commonly found resting on leaves in moist woods, and that’s right where I found this one. Its bright Halloween colors warn predators that this insect contains acids and other chemicals that make it at best, distasteful. The adult beetles eat nectar, honeydew, and decaying vegetation.

I find more feathers than you can shake a stick at but this is the first time I’ve ever found one like this one. It was quite big as feathers go and I think it was a great blue heron feather.

But the feather wasn’t from this great blue heron. I walked around a tall clump of Joe Pye weed at a local pond and almost ran nose to beak into this bird. We both looked at each other for a moment and I don’t know which of us was the most startled, but instead of flying away the big bird just calmly walked into the cattails and began hunting for food while I fumbled around for my camera.

Instead of pretending to be a statue the heron bent and jabbed at some unseen morsel several times, but from what I could tell it missed every time because it never swallowed.

Each time after the heron had dipped and missed whatever it was it was trying for it would look back at me and grin in a self-effacing way before wiggling its tail feathers vigorously. I’m not sure what it was trying to tell me. If at first you don’t succeed try, try again?

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 so are the pink stalks (pedicels) that they’re on. Though Native Americans used its roots medicinally all parts of this plant are extremely toxic. As few as six berries can kill so it’s no surprise that “bane berry” comes from the Old English words bana or bona, which both mean “slayer” or “murderer.”

Another baneberry that can have white berries is red baneberry (Actaea rubra) but I know these plants well and I’m sure they’re white baneberry. It really doesn’t matter though, because both plants are extremely toxic. 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.

On their way to becoming brilliant red, the berries of false Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum) are speckled green and red for a short time. This plant is also called treacle berry because the berries are supposed to taste like treacle or bitter molasses. They are rich in vitamins and have been used to prevent scurvy, but large quantities of uncooked berries are said to act like a laxative to those who aren’t used to eating them. Native Americans inhaled the fumes from the burning roots to treat headaches and body pain. They also used the leaves and roots in medicinal teas.

From a distance I thought a beautiful spotted butterfly had landed on a leaf but as I got closer I saw that the beauty was in the leaf itself.

I did find butterflies though; they were all on the zinnias at the local college but only the painted ladies were willing to pose. I was able to tell the difference between this butterfly and the American painted lady thanks to a link posted by blogging friend Mike Powell. If you love nature but aren’t reading Mike’s blog you’re doing yourself a real disservice. You can find him by clicking on the word here. I’ve also seen several monarch butterflies lately but none would pose for a photo.

How very lucky and grateful I am to be able to see such beauty in this life. I hope all of you will take time to see it too.

Beauty is the moment when time vanishes. Beauty is the space where eternity arises. ~Amit Ray

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1. Old Tree

I drive to work past this old tree every day but have never noticed it until recently, when a sunbeam decided that I should pay more attention to it. Now I see it every morning and probably will for a long time to come. I had to stop and take its photo so it would forgive me for ignoring it for so long. It was most likely mighty in its day but it’s very old now and its time as a tree might be just about over.

2. Mountain Ash Fruit

American mountain ash (Sorbus americana) is a relatively short lived tree when compared to the tree in the previous photo. They only live for 50-70 years in ideal conditions, but in the wild most die after 30-40 years. Though mountain ash is native here I’ve never seen one in a forest. They like a climate that is cool and humid and that’s why they’re seen more in the northern part of the state up in the White Mountains, often in the 2,300-3,300 foot elevation range. The orange red berries and large white flower heads have made it a favorite among gardeners and it was first cultivated in 1811. As this photo of the fruit shows, the trees are having a good year. I’ve read that the berries are low in fat and very acidic, so they’re one of the last foods that wildlife will choose. Ruffed grouse, robins, thrushes, cedar waxwings, blue jays, squirrels, chipmunks and mice eat them, and moose will eat the leaves, twigs, and bark. Mountain ash bark was once used in a medicine to combat malaria because it resembles the quinine tree. Whether or not it worked I don’t know.

3. Doll's Eyes

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 so are the pink stalks (pedicels) that they’re on. White baneberry plants are extremely toxic and no part of them should be eaten.

4. Scaly pholiota Mushrooms in Button Stage

At first I thought these were spiny puffballs but after seeing them a week later I knew that I’d have to do some research. They turned out to be what I think are scaly pholiota (Pholiota squarrosa) mushrooms in the immature button stages of growth. It is also called shaggy scaly cap. It’s a parasitic mushroom that can infect and kill live trees but luckily I found them growing on an old beech blowdown.

5. Scaly pholiota Mushrooms

And here are the scaly pholiota mushrooms a week later looking like honey mushrooms, which are edible. But this one is not edible and is considered poisonous, so that’s why I don’t collect and eat wild mushrooms. I know that a lot of people do, but I don’t have a microscope and probably wouldn’t know what I was looking at if I did, so I don’t feel comfortable eating them. I didn’t notice an odor but it’s described as being like garlic, lemon, radish, onion, or skunk, depending on who is doing the sniffing I suppose. They are said to taste like radishes by those unfortunate enough to have tasted them.

6. Gilled Bolete

This is another mushroom I thought looked a bit like a honey mushroom from a distance but I think that it might be a gilled bolete (Phylloporus rhodoxanthus.) These grew in large clusters at the base of an oak and most likely signal its doom. I wish I had gotten a shot of its gills, which are golden yellow when young. The cap, as seen in the above photo, often cracks with age. This mushroom was big, with a cap about 8-9 inches across. It looked like a soufflé that had just come out of the oven.

7. Coral Fungus

Though I’ve been seeing more mushrooms I’m seeing very few coral fungi, and they should be everywhere right now. I found what I think is this clustered coral (Ramaria botrytis) growing under some pines recently.

8. Red and Yellow Bolete

Many mushrooms will stain a certain color when they’re bruised and red boletes with yellow stems stain blue, some almost instantly. You can see blue in the scratches on the cap in this example, but unfortunately that doesn’t help much with identification because there are at least 5 different boletes with red caps and yellow stems that stain blue. A bolete usually (but not always) has pores instead of gills on the underside of the cap. The gilled bolete we saw previously shows how confusing mushroom identification can be.

9. Red and Yellow Bolete

I’m not even going to guess which bolete this and the previous younger example were, but they grew to a large size. That’s a nickel in the center of this one. A nickel is 3/4 (.75) inches in diameter, so I’m guessing that this bolete was about 6-7 inches across. It’s a pretty mushroom, I thought. It reminded me of a freshly baked pie.

10. Shelving Tooth Fungus aka Climacodon septentrionale

Here’s a mushroom that has never appeared on this blog. It’s called the shelving tooth fungus (Climacodon septentrionale.) Though the shelving part of the name is obvious the tooth part wasn’t, so I had to go back and have another look when I was trying to identify it. It’s quite big but from a distance as in this shot the teeth are hardly visible.

11. Shelving Tooth Fungus aka Climacodon septentrionale Close

But up close it’s apparent that this mushroom has many thousands of very tiny teeth, there so it can increase its spore bearing surface. This mushroom is a parasite on live hardwood trees, primarily maples and, according to mycologist Tom Volk, especially sugar maples. It causes heart rot in the tree and weakens it enough so strong winds can snap the trunk. As it turns out I was lucky to find this example growing just above eye level, because they usually grow quite high in the tree.

12. Bolete

This cute little bolete had been partially eaten by slugs but I thought it was still very photogenic. When I used to draw mushrooms its shape was always the picture I had in my mind. We’ve most likely all seen the shape a hundred times; usually colored red with white spots, and sometimes with an elf or fairy sitting on or under the cap. I haven’t been able to identify it but it resembles the devil’s bolete (Boletus satanas,) enough to tell me that I won’t be eating one.

13. Yellow Patches

Yellow patches (Amanita flavoconia) gets its common name from the yellow bits of the universal veil on its orange cap. The universal veil is made of tissue and completely covers the young mushroom. As the mushroom grows it eventually breaks through the membranous veil and pieces of it are left behind on the cap. Rain can wash them off, but since we’ve had so little rain the patches have stayed in place on this example.  This mushroom is in the amanita family and is considered toxic. The amanita family contains some very dangerous mushrooms, so we should never eat any mushroom that we aren’t 100% sure is safe.

14. Purple Cort

Young purple cort mushrooms (Cortinarius iodeoides) are very purple but lighten as they age. Squirrels and chipmunks won’t touch this one, possibly because it’s covered with a very bitter slime. This slime often makes the young examples look wet but this one looked quite dry. Slugs don’t have a problem eating it though, and I often see white trails on the caps where they have eaten through the purple coating to the white flesh below. Purple corts often develop white or yellow streaks as they age and this helps in identifying them.

16. Tussock Moth Caterpillar

I’m not sure what this caterpillar’s name is but I was sure that I wasn’t going to touch it because I’ve heard that sometimes these hairy caterpillars can give people quite a rash. This one was spiky all over.

17. Garter Snake-

I’ve seen just a handful of snakes this year but the other day this garter snake was sitting in the middle of a dirt road and just stayed right there while I took some photos. We’re having a toad population explosion so he will eat well, I’m sure.

18. Cottontail

At a certain time of day, in the early evening, the cottontail rabbits come out to eat and play along the banks of the Ashuelot River. I try not to bother them but I wasn’t thinking about rabbits as I walked noisily into their area and saw this one. He immediately froze as soon as he saw me. Rabbits do that; they freeze for a minute or two and then they run away, but not this one. Once he relaxed he just went back to eating as if I wasn’t even there.

19. Cottontails

And then his friend came hopping out of the bushes to join him. What was odd was how close they let me get to them. I walked slowly toward them as they looked right at me but they didn’t run away. Then when I stopped they just went back to eating as if they had no fear at all. I’ve never seen a rabbit act like that.  Not since a porcupine crossed a field and sat beside me in Walpole last year have I been so close to an animal.

20. Cottontail

This one wanted to make sure that we all knew that he was indeed a cottontail.

21. Cedar Waxwing

Getting caught up in the rabbit patch almost made me forget what I was doing at the river in the first place, which was seeing if the cedar waxwings were there yet. They were, and in great numbers. They come each year at this time when the silky dogwood berries ripen. They love the berries and will do just about anything to get them. One year I found myself between a bird and its silky dogwood bush and it kept flying right at my face; pulling up only at the last minute. It took me a minute to understand what he was trying to tell me but once I turned and saw the silky dogwood berries I knew what he wanted, so I beat it out of there and let him eat in peace. Cedar waxwings are beautiful sleek birds that travel in large flocks, at least at this time of year.

22. Silky Dogwood Berries

Silky dogwood berries (Cornus amomum) 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 I’ve always wondered 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.

How quick and rushing life can sometimes seem, when at the same time it’s so slow and sweet and everlasting. ~Graham Swift

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