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Posts Tagged ‘Snapping Turtle’

June is when the big female snapping turtles come up out of the ponds and swamps to find some warm sand to lay their eggs in. This one had just done so and still had wet mud clinging to her when I saw her on one of my walks. Egg laying seems to be quite a project for the big reptiles but every year many thousands of eggs are lain, so they always find a way.

Seeing this garter snake might have stopped the snapper in its tracks, because they are omnivores and eat snakes, frogs, fish, crayfish, insects, plants, birds, small mammals, and even other turtles. It was on another walk that I saw this snake and what was really odd about it was how it was out in the open in daylight. They often come out to the edge of the woods to sun themselves during the day but are always within easy reach of cover, and will slither off quickly if you approach them. This one had no cover at all, not even high grass.

I kept trying to get a shot of the snake with its forked tongue out, but I missed every time. Garter snakes are timid and nonpoisonous, so they are nothing to worry about. Still, if my grandmother had been there, she would have been up a tree. Garter snakes eat crickets, grasshoppers, small fish, and earthworms. They do have teeth, but they’re no real danger to humans. I’ve read that the saliva of some garter snake species contains a mild neurotoxin that causes paralysis, making small prey easier to swallow.

While I was taking photos an 85 year old lady stopped and rolled down her car window and told me how she was deathly afraid of snakes but, she said, when she was just a girl she once let them drape a boa constrictor over her shoulders at a circus for a free candy bar. I told her she and my grandmother would have gotten along quite well.

That garter snake probably would have like to have met Mr. bullfrog, but I doubt it could have swallowed him. This was a big frog, but I never would have seen it if it hadn’t croaked loudly after a neighboring frog did the same. They do talk to each other. One will start it off and then they’ll all start croaking, one right after the other. It can be quite loud.

On the same day I saw the frog in the previous shot I saw a bullfrog jump right out of the water and snatch something out of the air before landing with a splash, and I think it might have been a cousin of this spangled skimmer dragonfly. The “spangles” are the black and white markings on its wings, otherwise it closely resembles the slaty skimmer, which is what I thought it was at first. It was quite far away when I took this shot. I also saw lots of pretty twelve spotted skimmers on this day but I couldn’t get a shot of any of them.

I saw 3 or 4 eastern swallowtail butterflies probing the damp sand at the edge of a dirt road recently. They’re pretty things and at about the same size as a monarch butterfly, big enough to see easily. They often show up just before the mountain laurels bloom and I see them hanging from the laurel flowers almost every year.

Usually I have to wait for butterflies to fold their wings but this time I had to wait for this one to unfold them. I was hoping it would have more blue/purple on its wings than it did.

I hike in the woods but I walk on roads, and on one of those walks a hawk flew out of the woods, swooped down right over my head, and landed on a wire ahead of me. I thought as soon as I got too near it would fly off but no, I walked over and stood right under it and it didn’t move. I don’t carry my “big” camera with me when I walk because I walk fast and its constantly bumping into my chest bothers me, so I had to get this shot with my small macro camera. That’s why it isn’t a very good shot, but it does show a hawk. I’m not very good with birds but it might be a cooper’s hawk. If you know what it is for sure I’d love to hear its name because I think it lives here and I’m fairly sure I’ve seen it before.

In this shot I took of the evening sky with my phone camera there was a bird flying up there to the right that I never saw until I looked at the photo. I wondered if it could be a hawk, but the detail isn’t fine enough to tell. It’s just a silhouette.

I saw a familiar sight on an oak branch on a recent walk. Wooly oak galls are usually about the size of a ping pong ball when I find them, but have a kind of felt feel, like a tennis ball. The gall is caused by secretions from the grubs of the wool sower gall wasp (Callirhytis seminator) and they only appear in spring.

There are small seed like structures inside the gall which contain the wasp larva, and that’s why these galls are also called oak seed galls. What I want to point out about these galls though, is how books will tell you that they will only grow on white oak trees, and that isn’t true. Though they almost always do grow on white oaks I’ve also seen them on red oaks, so don’t be fooled by the galls like I have been; check the leaves. One thing I’ve learned from studying nature is the words always and never do not apply.

White pine (Pinus strobus) pollen cones have come and have opened, and have released their yellow-green pollen to the wind. It settles on everything, and if you leave your windows open you find that it even comes into the house. My car is covered with it but luckily it is like dust and just blows away.

This year I went looking for red pine pollen cones (Pinus resinosa) and the ones I found before they had opened were very beautiful, but they were also in someone’s yard so I didn’t get a shot of them. Then I remembered where there were others that I could get close to and here they are in this photo, but they had already opened. They are much bigger than white pine pollen cones.

Pollen cones are the male flowers of the tree and this photo shows the female flowers. When the male pollen finds them, if all goes according to plan they will be fertilized and will become the seed-bearing pine cones that I think we’re all familiar with. Some flowers on coniferous trees are very small; so small that sometimes all I can see is a hint of color, so you have to look closely to find them.

The Ashuelot River gets lower and lower and still no beneficial rain comes to refill it. I’m starting to get the feeling that it may not be a good year for mushrooms, but I hope I’m wrong.

Another name for royal fern (Osmunda spectabilis) is “flowering fern,” because someone once thought that the fertile, fruiting fronds looked like bunches of flowers. You can see them here on the fern in the photo but though they are often purple they don’t look much like flowers to me. Royal fern is the only fern that grows on every temperate continent except Australia, which makes it one of the most widespread of all living species.

Here is a closer look at the spore capsules of the royal fern. They aren’t something that many people get to see.

For the first time, this year I was able to find and get a shot of a royal fern fiddlehead. Even at this stage it’s a beautiful fern. In the fall, at the other end of its life, it will turn first bright yellow and then will become a kind of beautiful burnt orange color.

Three bracken fern fronds (Pteridium aquilinum) appear at the end of a long stem and flatten out horizontally, parallel to the ground. They also overlap and shade the ground under them. These growth habits and their ability to release chemicals that inhibit the growth of many other plants means that almost nothing will grow under a colony of bracken fern. They will not tolerate acid rain, so if you don’t see them growing where you live you might want to check the local air pollution statistics.

Ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) is not a fern that I see a lot of. It likes damp ground and shade but even beyond that it seems to be very choosy about where it grows. It’s a very beautiful fern that I wish I’d see more of.

Ostrich fern fronds are narrower at the tip and base and wider in the center. The leaf stalk of an ostrich fern is deeply grooved, much more pronounced than others. Sensitive, interrupted fern and cinnamon fern have grooved leaf stalks but their grooves are much shallower. If you like to eat fern fiddleheads in spring you should get to know ostrich fern by that groove.

In some plants the same pigments that color leaves in the fall when they stop photosynthesizing also color their leaves in the spring before the leaves have started photosynthesizing. Once they start producing more chlorophyll, they’ll quickly turn green. This coloring of new spring leaves is a form of protection from the weather that some plants and even trees use. Heavy cloud cover, cold snaps, and even too much sunlight can cause some leaves to slow down their greening process in spring, but plants like the Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium) seen in this photo do it almost every year, I’ve noticed.

Another plant with purple leaves in spring, every spring in my experience, is the native clematis called virgin’s bower or traveler’s joy (Clematis virginiana). It won’t be long before its small white flowers decorate the roadside shrubs as it climbs over them to reach optimum sunlight but by that time all of its leaves will have turned green. An extract made from the plant is hallucinogenic (and dangerous) and was used by Native Americans to induce dreams. Mixed with other plants like milkweed, it was also used medicinally. It is a very toxic plant that can cause painful sores in the mouth if eaten.

There are many grasses starting to flower now and I hope you’ll go out and see them. Never mind your hay fever; I have allergies too. Nature doesn’t mind being sneezed at. Take a pill, grab some tissues and become one of those who sees the beauty that most never see. Even if you have to see it through watery eyes now and then, it’s still beautiful.

A native smooth carrion flower vine (Smilax herbacea) grew beside a trail and it seemed as if it just flung itself into existence and went wild, with leaves and tendrils and great arching stems everywhere. I thought it was a beautiful thing, and it stopped me right in my tracks. No matter what is going on in life, no matter where you are, there is always beauty to be seen. You don’t even have to search for it; it is just there, like a dandelion blooming in a crack in the sidewalk as you hurry along, or a white cloud floating across a blue sky reflected in the glass of your car window. It is there I think, to remind us to just slow down a little and appreciate life more; to take the time to enjoy this beautiful paradise that we find ourselves in.

If you Love all Life you observe, you will observe all Life with Love.  ~Donald L. Hicks

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Here on my first day of retirement I don’t think the reality that I have nothing I have to do and nowhere I have to go has fully sunken in yet. Maybe I’ll need time to decompress after 50+ years of working. It was an odd career that went from gardener to mechanical engineer and then buildings and grounds maintenance. Though I started out fine with maintenance nearly 7 years ago I didn’t end fine. The job, always a dirty and dusty one, became increasingly difficult due to weakening lungs and I could feel myself slowing down, so it was time to go. One of the more pleasant memories of those last 7 years that comes to mind is of the many beautiful things I saw on those 25-mile drives to and from work; like clouds of mist rising up out of the forest in Marlborough, or the morning sunlight turning the snow-covered peak of Mount Monadnock to pink and orange. These sights were always unexpected and, though the drive wasn’t always welcome, they always were.

When I finally got to work each day, there on the shores of Half Moon Pond in Hancock, it wasn’t that uncommon to find something like this waiting. Each morning I would cross the road and stand on the shore in the quiet and watch as the sun rose behind me. It was a wonderful way to start the day and it wasn’t long before I felt that I had stumbled into paradise. I might not miss the work but I will miss the place.

You could feel an energy on the shores of the pond; an infectious childlike spirit, and that’s because children have come here for over 100 years to learn about and enjoy nature. The land, all 700+ acres, is known as The Sargent Center for Outdoor Education, owned by Boston University and currently in use by Nature’s Classroom, which is an outdoor environmental education program. Children, musicians, artists and other groups come from all over the world and the happy shouts and laughter of children can be heard all day every day, almost all year round. It was like music to me and I loved hearing them and seeing them having so much fun, but then covid came along and everything had to stop for a time. I can’t see that the place will ever stop attracting children though; after a fallow year in 2020 they returned for 10 weeks last summer and this summer looks like it will be even better.

The children come to what we call the camp to learn about nature and though that wasn’t my reason for coming, I learned right along with them. This was the first place I had ever seen dragonfly nymphs clutching the pond weeds, waiting to shed their exoskeletons. Once free they are apparently disoriented for a time. (I know how they feel) I had them land on me several times over the years and their empty shells, called exuvia, can be found here and there all along the shoreline.

This was the only place I knew of where I could get close enough to the big mother snapping turtles to see them laying their eggs. It was a slow, seemingly exhaustive process.

Before I went to work there, I had to drive for half an hour to see a rhodora (Rhododendron canadense) in bloom but that first year I found them along the shoreline. I was able to get to know them like I never could before. They’re one of our most beautiful early spring flowers and it was great to know that I could now find them with ease.

The same is true for sheep laurel (Kalmia angustifolia). I used to have to drive for miles to find it and even then I had a hard time, but there it was right on the shore of the pond. This is another relatively rare and beautiful native shrub which blooms later than the rhodora. Our native laurels have 10 anthers that fit into tiny pockets and spring out when an insect lands on the blossom, dusting it with pollen. The thought of it always fascinates me.

Before I started working at the camp the only way I could see a beautiful marsh St. John’s wort (Hypericum virginicum) was from a kayak, and if you’ve ever tried taking photos while sitting in a kayak you know how that went. Here, I could walk right up to them and see them in all their beautiful glory. It’s a relatively rare plant so I was happy to find them growing right along the shoreline. This is the only St. John’s wort I know of with pink flowers; all of our others St John’s worts are yellow.

A little further up on shore I found my favorite milkweed, swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata). As I watched over the years one plant became two, and the first plant grew more and more flowers. The pretty flower clusters always remind me of millefiori glass paperweights.

Humble little Narrow leaf cow wheat plants (Melampyrum lineare) grew and bloomed by the hundreds there. I know of only one other place to find them and they don’t grow well there. This little, shoe top high plant may look innocent but it has a secret; it is a hemiparasite, which is a plant that can photosynthesize and create its own food but is still a parasite on surrounding plants. It seems to want more than its share. 

One year I cut a large area of brush right along the pond edge to open up a view and the following year I was surprised to find it full of wildflowers, including the beautiful little fringed polygalas (Polygala paucifolia) above. This is one of the last of our spring ephemeral flowers to bloom and it’s a signal that it’s time to start looking for flowers out in the sunny meadows rather than in the woods. Other plants that grew in this spot were pink lady’s slippers, painted trillium, blue bead lily, and partridge berry.

In certain places in the camp woods you can sometimes find large colonies of painted trilliums (Trillium undulatum). Throughout my experience I have found only one or two plants here and there, so finding large numbers of them here in this place was surprising. And beautiful; painted trilliums are our most beautiful trillium, in my opinion. They will bloom in May, just about the same time as the rhodora we saw earlier.

I was also surprised to find so many broad leaved helleborine orchids (Epipactis helleborine) growing at the camp because I normally see so few of them. They were introduced from Europe in the 1800s and almost immediately escaped gardens and are now considered an invasive orchid; the only one I’ve ever heard of. Scientists have discovered that its nectar contains the strongest narcotic compounds found in nature, and wasps have been seen moving away from it in a kind of staggering flight. Strangely, the plants have chosen to grow in the shade around building foundations.

Since I’m colorblind, before I started working at the camp I had seen only one cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), and that was only because a kind reader had sent me directions to it. But it was across a stream, so I could never get close to it. When a red cardinal lands in a green tree it disappears to these eyes, so I almost stepped on the plant in this photo before I saw the red flower. It grew in a peaceful place beside a stream at the camp. It was a real treat to finally see them up close after so many years of looking for them but now I know that I should stop looking, because the only way I’ll ever find them is by luck. If I should happen to stumble across them again well, that will be a lucky day.

Another plant that I had never seen before working at the camp was the ragged robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi). Like the cardinal flower it is a plant I searched for for many years. I stumbled across it growing in a lawn, which is the last place I’d have thought to look for it. Though there are native plants called ragged robin in the U.S. this particular plant was introduced from Europe into New England.

As I think back on my time at the camp, I can see that it was really just one discovery after another, and I could probably fill two posts with all the “firsts” I saw, like the eyed click beetle (Alaus oculatus) above. Its “eyes” are really just eye spots, there to mesmerize and confound predators. It has a spine that it can click and use to propel itself away from predators, and it used it to jump and hit me in the back, otherwise I’d have never seen it. One day a bobcat walked past a group of us from just feet away, and one morning I saw a young moose come up out of the pond. Several people told me that a black bear walked just 10 feet from me when I was blowing leaves one day, but I never heard or saw it. This was also the first and only place I ever heard the song of a whippoorwill. It really is a magical place that is filled with natural wonders, and I’m very grateful to have had the chance to spend time there.

Another wonder was the cluster of Dryocosmus deciduous galls I found on a red-oak leaf one day. These galls are created when a tiny wasp in the Dryocosmus genus lays eggs on the midrib of a red oak leaf. Each tiny gall has a single larva inside. As the scientific name reveals, these galls are deciduous, and fall from the leaf before the leaf falls from the tree. I remember how amazed I was when I read that about them.

One of the jobs I had at the camp was mowing a 13-acre meadow. The first time I mowed it I noticed that there were one or two chicory plants (Cichorium intybus) in it, so I started mowing around them. Year by year their numbers increased until last year there must have been 15 plants, all blooming together. Several people asked me about them over the years and I think everyone enjoyed the blue flowers, even though they looked a little odd out in such a big expanse of grass.

The meadow that I mowed was full of tiny black insects which I think must have been weevils. There were so many thousands of them I could feel them peppering any uncovered spot on my body as I mowed, so I had to always wear glasses and keep my mouth closed tight. But mowing was when I first noticed something strange; a group of dragonflies would fly alongside the tractor, a few on either side, and every now and then one or two would peel off for a moment or two before coming back to rejoin the group. I realized then that the dragonflies were eating all the insects that were being scared up by the mower. I also realized that they were intelligent creatures. They must also have some type of a memory, because they flew along beside me every time I mowed the meadow in summer. The one in this photo was so used to me mowing I rode right up to it and took this shot with my macro camera as it perched on a chicory plant. If a fish can learn to come when it is called at feeding time, why can’t a dragonfly?

Because I spent most of my time outside, I could keep a close eye on the local monarch butterfly population, which seemed to rise and fall quite a lot from year to year. Last summer seemed to be a good one for them and I hope the future will be kind to them.

I realize as I work on this post how much there was to see and discover in an area smaller than the center of an average small New England town. It’s just amazing, but it isn’t just the beauty of it all; it’s also the rarity of the things found here, like the dewdrop (Dalibarda repens) flowers above. I’ve seen them in exactly one other place in over 50 years of wandering through nature.  

And then there is the purple fringed bog orchid (Platanthera grandiflora) I found growing beside a trail through a swamp one day. People had been walking by it without seeing it perhaps for years and if I hadn’t caught just a glimpse of color out of the corner of my eye, I would have done the same. If I live to be a hundred, I’ll never forget how I felt that day. I think it has to be the most beautiful flowering plant I’ve ever seen in these New Hampshire woods.

All of the animals, plants, insects, and amphibians that have made this place their home is what makes it so special. Just think of all the children, more than a hundred years’ worth of them, who came to this place and might have seen one, two or all of the things in this post. Think of how much they might have learned. This place, full of beauty, wonder and enchantment, should always be here for them.

Last year a group of artists came to stay for a week and my co-workers cajoled one of them into doing an oil painting of the bog orchid, which they gave me on my last day. It was a great gift and it now hangs here where I’ll see it every day. Though I doubt I could ever forget the camp, this painting will make sure I don’t. I hope many people who pass through the camp will get to see and admire the flower that inspired it, especially the artist. He did the painting from a photo that I had taken.  

There was a time when I could sit in the quiet of dawn on a summer morning and listen to the birds sing through the open windows, and that’s what I’m looking forward to doing again more than anything else. In the evening I can walk to the stream down the road and watch the sunset turn it to liquid gold, and then when it gets dark I can sit outside and watch the stars while listening to the the spring peepers. These are some of the things that are most important to me, and I’ll have time now to do them and anything else that comes to mind. The possibilities are infinite.

One sweet dream, came true today. ~The Beatles

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Rosy maple moths are cute with their blonde hair and candy striped wings. They appear at about this time each year and are easy to identify because there apparently aren’t too many others that look like them. They have a wooly yellow body and pink and creamy wing stripes. These moths lay their tiny eggs on the undersides of maple leaves and that’s how they come by their common name. Adult moths do not eat but the caterpillars are able to eat a few leaves each. They are called green striped maple worms. We have lights on at night where I work and in the morning sometimes you might see twenty or more of these little creatures on the side of the building. They don’t seem to mind people at all but at a certain time of day they all disappear.

Fish are jumping right out of the water and this is why; the Mayflies are hatching. These aquatic insects have a very short lifespan. The males die after mating and females die after laying their eggs, but it all happens quickly; a male might live two days and a female a matter of minutes. The females lay their eggs in clean, fresh pond or lake water and when the eggs hatch into nymphs fish are there to eat them on the lake bottom. The nymphs that survive become more Mayflies and the fish jump to eat them, so it seems kind of a miracle that we ever see a Mayfly. It’s really all about numbers; a hatching can contain huge numbers of flies. They are also attracted to light and like the rosy maple moths, cling to lighted buildings at night. There are over 3,000 species of Mayfly so they can be tricky to identify, but they all have abdomens with 10 segments. Their presence in a body of water indicates that it is clean and unpolluted.

One of the strangest creatures I’ve seen on the shop building at work is this toothpick grasshopper. I knew it was a toothpick grasshopper because coincidentally I had just read about one on Mike Powell’s blog. I’m not sure what species it is; it could be a cattail toothpick grasshopper (Leptysma marginicollis) because of the brown stripe from behind the eye to the front legs or it could be another species. At this point the only thing I’m sure of is that it a toothpick grasshopper, which I’ve never seen.

Note: A helpful reader has written in to say that this insect is actually a caddisfly, order Trichoptera. I’ve never heard of either insect but hopefully I’ll recognize them next time!

Here’s a real close look at a toothpick grasshopper. I was surprised that it stayed still and let me get so close. By the way, if you aren’t reading Mike Powell’s blog and you’re a nature lover, you’re doing yourself a disservice. You can find Mike’s blog over in the ‘Favorite Links’ section. There is something new and interesting to see there each day.

I was going to get a photo of a box shrub flower to show you but then a bee came along and was willing to pose, so I forgot about the flower and tried to see what the bee was all about. As near as I can tell it’s a leafcutter bee, which uses leaves to cover its nest hole.

Leaf cutter bees are black with white hairs covering the thorax and the bottom of the abdomen and some species have large, powerful jaws that make the work of leaf cutting easier. They are said to fly very fast so I was lucky that this one was in the mood for a portrait sitting. From what I’ve read they  carry pollen on their abdomens, so they’re pollinators.

As I said in last Saturday’s post about climbing Pitcher Mountain, I was lucky enough to meet Samuel Jaffe, director of the Caterpillar Lab in Marlborough New Hampshire, in the woods one day. On that day he pointed out this caterpillar that looked like a bird dropping and explained that it was an Eastern tiger swallowtail caterpillar. It was feeding on poplar leaves. I should mention again that the Caterpillar Lab is a unique and fascinating place, and you can visit it online here: https://www.thecaterpillarlab.org/ They have a caterpillar of the day and lots of other interesting things there which I think would be especially appealing to schoolchildren.

Here is the Eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly that the caterpillar will turn into. I saw it before I saw the caterpillar so their different stages of life must be staggered a bit among the entire family. I’m seeing a lot of them this year.

As I seem to do every spring I came very close to stepping on this foot and a half long garter snake because I didn’t see it until the last moment. But it didn’t move; in fact it let me take a few photos and walk away, which these snakes often do. They seem to think if they don’t move you can’t see them, and they freeze. It’s a good thing my grandmother wasn’t with me because she would have been up the nearest tree, so great was her fear of snakes. She knew garter snakes weren’t poisonous, but she was still afraid of them.

Here’s a closer look at the garter snake. It saw my every move. It also looked like it might have had a bulge in its stomach, which would mean it had eaten recently.

I’ve been wanting a photo of a chipmunk with its cheeks full and this one sat on a tree and posed, so I got my wish. What might look like a big arm muscle just under its eye is actually a cheek full of seeds. These little rodents, bigger than a mouse but smaller than a squirrel, also eat nuts, fruit, fungi, grains and even bird eggs. They eat just about anything really, and nest in burrows in the ground. They store food for winter in underground chambers and stay underground until spring. In spring they’re usually very hungry, hence the fat cheeks. A face on shot would have showed them better but you can’t have everything.

It’s turtle time here in this part of New Hampshire and the big snapping turtles are on the move, looking for soft sand to dig their nests in. This one found a spot right on the edge of a road and that explains why they sometimes get hit by cars. Average adult snapping turtles can be over two feet long and weigh as much as 50 pounds and they can be very aggressive on land, so it’s best to stay away from them. They don’t have teeth but they have strong jaws and beaks that can easily break fingers. I took this photo of a large female laying her eggs just the other day. Snapping turtles dig rather shallow holes with their hind legs and lay anywhere from 25-80 eggs each year. Incubation time is 9-18 weeks but many eggs don’t make it anywhere near that long. Foxes, minks, skunks, crows and raccoons dig them up and eat them and destroyed nests are a common sight along sandy roadsides. These big turtles eat plants, fish, frogs, snakes, ducklings, and just about anything else they can catch. Oddly, when in the water they are rather placid and don’t bother humans.

I’ve had a few fungal encounters lately and one of the most interesting is the false morel mushroom.  I think it is called a brain fungus (Gyromitra esculenta,) which is a false morel that often grows very near true morels. This is a problem because false morels can be toxic and true morels are not, so if you are a mushroom forager you’ll want to know each one well. An easy way to tell them apart is by the way the cap attaches to the stem. The brain fungus cap attaches only at the top of the stem, and a morel’s cap attaches to the stem over its full length. Cutting one in half lengthwise will tell the story.

The brain fungus gets its common name from its reddish brown cap that resembles a brain. In my experience it really doesn’t resemble a true morel, either in color or shape, but I certainly haven’t met many morels.

I saw some striking turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor.) They aren’t usually this dark. I love how there always seems to be a surprise waiting with turkey tails. I’ve never seen them marked quite like this.

I’ve finally solved a mystery that has plagued me for years, and that was which maple seeds were from a silver maple and which were from a red maple. Of course there are no leaves in spring when the seeds are produced, so I had to remember to go back when the leaves came out. This year I finally remembered to go back and see the leaves. The leaves above are silver maple leaves. They have sharp points and are deeply lobed.

Now I can say with certainty that these pretty little maple seeds are produced by a silver maple. They quickly lose that white fur. To get a photo of them like this one you may have to visit them every day for a week.

This is a red maple leaf. The lobes aren’t as deep and the leaf looks completely different than a silver maple leaf.

And these are red maple seeds (samaras) just after they have formed. Pretty yes, but not as pretty as the silver maple examples, in my opinion. Now, next spring I’ll be able to tell you for sure which seeds are which.

The interrupted fern (Osmunda claytoniana) gets its common name from the way its green infertile leaflets are “interrupted” about half way up the stem by the darker colored fertile leaflets. The fertile leaflets are much smaller and their color makes them stand out even at a distance. This fern doesn’t seem to mind dry, sunny spots because that’s usually where I find them.

The leaflets on the interrupted fern’s fertile fronds are covered with tiny, round spore producing sporangia. They will release their spores by opening much like a clamshell, as this photo shows. Once the spores have been released the sporangia fall off, leaving a piece of naked (interrupted) stem between the upper and lower infertile leaflets. This is the first shot I’ve ever gotten of the open spore cases.

Grasses are starting to flower and I do hope you’ll have the time to look at a few, because they can be beautiful.

Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) leaves usually appear red in spring but I couldn’t seem to catch any red ones this year. Red leaves mean plants are in no hurry to begin photosynthesizing but some years they seem to want to start immediately. This is one of those years apparently, and it makes me wonder what they know that we don’t. Notice how the new spring leaves shine.

And then notice how they no longer shine as they age. Poison ivy plants can appear very different at different times and in different situations. This poison ivy was wearing its vine disguise, climbing a tree by using aerial roots which grow directly out of the wood of its stem when it needs them. Poison ivy can appear as a plant, a shrub, or a vine and if you’re going to spend much time in the woods it’s a good idea to know it well. This one still had last year’s white berries on it, just about in the center  of the photo. Birds usually snap them up quickly, so I’m not sure why they left them.

If you happened upon a shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) tree just after bud break you might see what look like large pinkish orange flowers on the trees and think gosh, what beautiful things. If you get closer you will see that the colors are on the insides of the bud scales of the shagbark hickory tree, and aren’t flowers at all. And then you might wonder why such beautiful colors would be on the inside of a bud where nobody could ever see them, and as you walk on you might find yourself lost in gratitude, so very thankful that you were able to see such a thing.

Live this life in wonder, in wonder of the beauty, the magic, the true magnificence that surrounds you. It is all so beautiful, so wonderful. Let yourself wonder. ~Avina Celeste

Thanks for stopping in. I’m sorry this post is so long but every time I turn around there is another interesting and beautiful thing there waiting to be seen, and I can’t stop clicking that shutter button.

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1. Ashuelot River on 5-23-15

The month of May has been very warm and dry so far in this part of the state and we are now officially in a moderate drought, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Rainfall was down by 5.17 inches since March first at last look. It seems odd since we had record breaking snowfall last winter, but they say all of the water from winter has now dried up. To illustrate the dryness, this view of the Ashuelot River in Swanzey shows the many stones that aren’t usually visible until July. The water in this spot is shallow enough to allow walking across the river without getting your knees wet right now, but normally attempting that at this time of year would be foolish.

2. False Hellebore

Even tough plants like false hellebore (Veratrum viride) are slowing down. I was struck by the lack of insect damage on the beautiful pleated leaves of these plants. Though very toxic their leaves usually look like they’ve been shot through by buckshot at this time of year.  I’ve read that the roots of this plant can be ground and used in a spray form to keep insects away from garden plants so I can’t imagine what insect actually eats it, but whatever it is doesn’t appear to be very hungry this year.

A word of warning: if you think you might want to grind the roots of false hellebore and make a spray for your own garden you should be aware that this plant is extremely toxic. Native Americans once made poison arrows from its sap, and knowing that is enough to make me stay away from damaging it in any way.

3. Ginko Leaves

I don’t see many ginkgo leaves (Ginkgo biloba) so I have to take photos of them when I do. The order ginkgoales first appeared around 270 million years ago but almost all of its species had become extinct by the end of the Pliocene; wiped out during the ice ages by advancing ice. Ginkgo biloba, which is only found in the wild in China, is the single surviving species. The tree is an actual living fossil; fossilized leaves look much like those in the photo. Extracts made from this tree have been used medicinally for over 3000 years.

4. Grass Flowering

Grasses are starting to flower. Many grasses are beautiful and interesting when they flower, but it’s an event that most of us miss. If only we had the time to slow down a little and look a little closer at the things around us, how much more interesting this world might be.

5. Dandelion Seed Head

Dandelions aren’t wasting any time in their quest for world domination, though they do seem to be blooming later in spring here each year. Dandelions are apomictic plants, meaning they can produce seeds without being pollinated. They produce somewhere between 54 to 172 seeds per seed head and a single plant can produce more than 2000 seeds per season, all without the help of insects.

6. Haircap Moss

Common hair-cap moss (Polytrichum commune) is tending to perpetuation of the species which, if you know anything about the way this moss reproduces, is odd, considering the lack of rain.

7. Haircap Moss Splash Cup

Male and female plants of common hair cap moss grow in separate colonies but the colonies are usually quite close together. Male plants have splash cups like that shown in the above photo where sperm are produced. In spring, raindrops splash the sperm from the male shoots to the female plants where they then swim to the eggs.

8. Haircap Moss Spore Capsule

Common hair cap moss gets its name from the hairs that cover, or cap, the calyptra where each spore case is held, and which can just be seen in the above photo. Once the male sperm reaches the eggs and fertilizes them spores are produced in the capsules. Later on in the summer the capsules will open and the wind will carry the spores to new locations where they will germinate so the process can begin again. But none of this can happen without rain; rain to splash the sperm out of the splash cups and moisture on the plants for them to swim in to reach the eggs.  Maybe they know it’s going to rain.

9. New Oak Leaves

The gall insects aren’t wasting any time, as these new oak leaves show; hardly unfurled and already galled. Oak apple galls are usually found on the midrib of an oak leaf so these might be them just beginning to form. Galls can be unsightly but don’t hurt the tree and the best thing to do about them is to just let nature take its course.

10. Japanese Andromeda Leaves

The new leaves on this Japanese Andromeda (Pieris japonica) were a startling shade of red. Chlorophyll absorbs red and blue light and reflects green so leaves look green, but most plants also have other pigments present. Carotenoids are usually yellow to orange and anthocyanins are red to purple. Only one pigment usually dominates, so a plant with red leaves probably has higher than usual amounts of anthocyanins. Chlorophyll is still present even in leaves that aren’t green, and if a plant like this Andromeda normally has green leaves chlorophyll will eventually dominate and its new red leaves will soon turn green. Thanks go to Susan K. Pell, director of science at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden for explaining that so well.

11. Poison Ivy

Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) also starts out life in spring with its leaves colored red or bronze and people are often fooled by it at this stage. It is a plant that anyone who spends time in the woods should get to know well, but even then you can still occasionally be caught by it. It doesn’t need to have leaves on it to produce a reaction; I got a blistering rash on my lower leg this spring from kneeling on the leafless vines to take photos of spring beauties. Even burning the plants and inhaling the smoke can be dangerous; having the rash inside your body can lead to a hospital stay.

12. Robin Eggs

Friends of mine have robins nesting in their holly bush again this year, so they must have had success there last year. It might have something to do with their little dog Minnie, who spends much of her time just a few feet from the nest and keeps the cats away.

13. Snapping Turtle

I asked this snapping turtle to smile for the camera but this was the best he could do. He doesn’t have to worry about me dangling my toes in his pond. I think the yellowish string like objects are floating pine needles that somehow came out looking vertical.

14. Spring Peeper aka Pseudacris crucifer

This tiny little spring peeper (Pseudacris crucifer) was hopping through the dry forest litter and I wondered if he was looking for water. Most of the smaller forest pools and brooks have dried up, so he might have a hard time finding it. They say that we might see thundershowers every afternoon this week but showers don’t usually help much.

Man – despite his artistic pretensions, his sophistication, and his many accomplishments – owes his existence to a six inch layer of topsoil and the fact that it rains. ~Anonymous

Thanks for coming by.

 

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1. English Plantains

English plantain (Plantago lanceolata) pollen has been found in sites in Norway that date to the early Neolithic period, so it has been around for a very long time. It was introduced into North America from Europe and loves it here. It is a favorite of many butterflies, songbirds, and animals, and is pretty when it flowers like the one in the photo.

2. Turtle in the Grass

Last year I was walking through a forest clearing and almost stepped on a turtle. This year I did the same thing in almost the same spot and wondered if it was the same turtle. Last year it was spotless and looked as if it had come from the local Buff ‘N Shine and, as you can see in the photo, this one looked the same.

3. Snapping Turtle

This snapping turtle was also very clean and I almost stepped on it as well. Luckily I caught some movement out of the corner of my eye. It was as big as a soccer ball.

 4. Cows

I went to visit my favorite lone tree one day but the girls were heading to their favorite stream for a drink. For some reason my being there was spooking them away from the stream, so I left. The white around their noses is really striking.

5. Lone Tree

My favorite lone tree was still there the next time I paid a visit. Since it’s in a fenced in pasture and I can’t get near it I’ve been wondering what it was for years. Finally, after scanning the leaves with binoculars, I can see that it is some type of hickory tree. There are a lot of shagbark hickories in this area so it might be one of those. Unfortunately I can’t see the bark well enough to know for sure.

6. Pendulous Sedge

Pendulous sedge (Carex pendula) is living up to its name. It is also called weeping sedge and grows along stream and pond banks. The slightest breeze gets the dangling flower heads swaying, so getting a decent photo of it can be a challenge. It took several tries to get one that didn’t show movement.

7. Unknown Evergreen

There is an unusual evergreen tree with deep green, very long needles growing in a local park and this photo is of some new needles emerging. They look like a bundle of optical fibers. I’ve tried to identify this tree several times with no luck.

8. Tiny White Mushrooms

The largest of these mushrooms was barely the size of a pea. The crisscrossing “sticks” are pine needles. I think they are Mycena osmundicola. I can’t seem to find a common name for them.

9. Tiny Mushroom

This small funnel shaped mushroom grew at the very end of a twig no bigger than a pencil. I think it is one of the Clitocybe group ofmushrooms.

10. Lophocampa caryae aka Hickory Tussock Moth

I thought this was a spotted tussock moth but the helpful folks at Bugguide.net tell me that it’s a hickory tussock moth (Lophocampa caryae.) Its beautiful wings reminded me of stained glass.

11. Viceroy Butterfly

This viceroy butterfly seemed very hairy and I’ve never noticed that before. It wouldn’t let me get closer to see a little better and flew off after one step. I’m also seeing a lot of swallow tails this year but I don’t think I’ve seen a monarch in 2 years now.

12. Leafminer Phytomyza aralivora on Sarsaparilla Leaf

Just imagine something so small it can crawl between the upper and lower surfaces of a leaf and eat the tissues. That’s what made this path in this sarsaparilla leaf; a leaf mining insect called Phytomyza aralivora, according to Bugguide.net. By reading about these leaf trails I’ve learned that leaf miners are very specific about the leaf they chew, so a sarsaparilla leaf miner probably won’t mine an oak leaf. I’ve also learned that their trails start out thin but then become wider as the insect grows, and that can be seen in the above photo.

13. Coral Fungus

Our recent spate of heat and high humidity has brought on many coral fungi. I think this orangey pink one is crown coral (Clavicorona pyxidata.)This is the first one I’ve seen growing on a birch log.

 14. Azalea Leaf Gall

I found this white growth on a native azalea recently. It was about the size of a golf ball, and hard and heavy. Azalea Exobasidium gall is a leaf and flower gall that is caused by a fungus instead of an insect. It can cause swollen shoots, stem galls, witches’ brooms and red leaf spots, but more often than not it causes white galls like that seen in the above photo. The white color comes from the spores of the fungus, which are spread by wind and rain.

15. 12-Spotted Male Skimmer-2

This dragonfly decided to take a break from hunting and pose for a picture. I think it’s an immature male 12 spotted skimmer (Libellula pulchella,) but apparently immature males look much like females, so it could be a she. Since it doesn’t really matter to me I didn’t pursue the identification any further. Sometimes just enjoying something for what it is-for its beauty- can be more rewarding than finding out what makes it tick.

No; we have been as usual asking the wrong question. It does not matter a hoot what the mockingbird on the chimney is singing. The real and proper question is: Why is it beautiful? ~Annie Dillard

Thanks for coming by.

 

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I’ve had enough vision challenges to know that chasing insects and animals for photographs just wasn’t my thing. Still, that doesn’t mean that I won’t grab shots of things that sit still for more than 30 seconds. I don’t know if it’s the heat and humidity or not but lately a lot of things have been sitting still. I think this is the first post I’ve done that is about nothing but moving things.

1. Belvosia borealis Tachinid Fly

This spiny insect was bigger than a bumblebee and flew slowly from blossom to blossom. I had never seen anything like it and couldn’t find it online so I bought an insect guide. Unfortunately I couldn’t find it in there either so I asked the good folks at bug guide.net if they knew what it was. They tell me that it is a Tachinid Fly (Belvosia borealis.) After much searching for information I found that there are 15 known species of Belvosia in North America, all of which are very similar in appearance.

2. Belvosia borealis Tachinid Fly

According to nature search online, this fly reaches its peak numbers in July and August and takes nectar from flowers. The fly is a parasitoid of the larvae and pupae of moths like the sphinx and silk moth. A parasitoid is different from a parasite by the way it eventually kills its host while a parasite does not.

 3. Female Mallard

This female mallard didn’t hear me coming down the river bank toward her because of the roar of the river. When she turned and saw me she gave me some strange looks and quacked loudly, but since Mallards always seem to be smiling it was hard to take her scolding very seriously. I watched her slip all over the rock she was on until she finally nearly fell off it into the river. Apparently embarrassed that I had witnessed such klutzy behavior, she flew off with one last loud quack.

4. Swallowtail in Daylily

What I think is an eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly was digging deep into this orange daylily blossom.

 5. Large Snapping Turtle

I found this large snapping turtle in the grass quite far away from the river one evening by almost stepping on it. It was probably two feet long from the tip of its nose to the tip of its tail and I was glad I had shoes on because it looked like it could have easily taken a toe or two. It must have been a fast mover because its shell was still wet. It stayed still while I took some photos but when I returned from a walk down the river about ten minutes later it was gone.

Oriental Beetle

This is another bug I had to go to bug guide.net to get identified. I knew it was a beetle but that’s as far as I could go. The experts at bug guide tell me it is an oriental beetle-kind of a cousin of the Japanese beetle. Like its cousins its sole purpose seems to be eating garden plants instead of what it can find in the wild. In this photo it is checking out a coleus.

 7. Peck’s Skipper Butterfly aka Polites peckius

Peck’s skipper (Polites peckius) is supposed to be one of the most common butterflies in New England, but I can’t remember ever seeing it before, even though its brown and tan colors are pretty and it seems like they would be hard to forget. It is said to have black and orange colors on the upper side of its wings.

8. Butterfly on Milkweed

When I bought the insect guide to try and identify the Tachinid fly at the beginning of this post I also bought a butterfly guide to help me with this butterfly. I can get as far as identifying it as a skipper and no further, even with the book. I have also struck out online, so it will probably be the third bug to go to bug guide.net. I wonder if the harsh sunlight has made some of its markings disappear? If so that means that an accurate identification will be difficult. No matter what its name though, I like the look of its green, crushed velvet like wings.

9. Monarch Butterfly

I finally spotted two monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) in a meadow that I visit. One of them was kind enough to sit on this boneset flower flexing its wings while I snapped a few photos. I can’t remember seeing a monarch at all last year.

NOTE: Fellow blogger Mike Powell has pointed out that this is actually a Viceroy butterfly (Limenitis archippus.) The differences are very subtle and have to do with the horizontal line across the hind wing. Mike sent me a very good link to a website that shows and explains the differences clearly:  http://www.learner.org/jnorth/tm/monarch/Viceroy1.html

10 Spider Silhouette

I was on my favorite covered bridge one evening as the sun was setting and I noticed some big spiders repairing their webs in the corners. I took a few photos, not hoping for much because of the poor light, but when I saw this shot it looked like the spider had built a web leading up into the clouds. I don’t know what kind of spider it is, but she’s big and it looks like she’s got a long climb ahead of her.

Each species is a masterpiece, a creation assembled with extreme care and genius. ~Edward O. Wilson

Thanks for coming by.

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