Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Spring Peeper’

Over the nearly nine years I’ve been doing this blog the question I’ve been asked more than any other is “How do you find these things?” So this post will be about how I find them; I’ll tell you all the secrets, starting with the jelly baby mushrooms above. Do you see how small they are? They’re growing in an acorn cap. The first time I saw them I was feeling winded and when I sat on a rock to rest I looked down and there was a tiny clump of jelly babies, Just like this one. That day a side of nature that  I never knew existed was revealed and from then on I started seeing smaller and smaller things everywhere I went. 

You have to learn to see small by seeking out small things and training your eyes, and your brain somewhat, to see them. It also helps to know your subject. For instance I know that slime molds like the many headed slime mold above appear most often in summer when it’s hot and humid, and usually a day or two after a good rain. They don’t like sunshine so they’re almost always found in the shade. I’ve learned all of this from the slime molds themselves; by finding one and, not knowing what it was, looking it up to find out. I’ve learned most of what I know about nature in much the same way. If you want to truly study nature you have to be willing to do the legwork and research what you see.

Another secret of nature study is walking slowly. Find yourself a toddler, maybe a grandchild or a friend with one, or maybe you’re lucky enough to have one yourself. No older than two years though; they start to run after that and they’re hard to keep up with. Anyhow, watch a two year old on a trail and see how slowly they walk. See how they wander from thing to thing. They do that because everything is new and they need to see and experience it. You need to be the same way to study nature; become a toddler. Slowly cross and crisscross your line of progress. See, rather than look. Why is that group of leaves humped up higher than all the others? Is there something under them making them do that? Move them and see. You might find some beautiful orange mycena mushrooms like these under them.

So you need to train yourself to see small, to toddle and think like a toddler, and then you need to know your subject. All that comes together in something like this female American hazelnut blossom. I first saw them when I had toddled over to a bush to see the hanging male catkins, which are very beautiful, and out of the corner of my eye I saw a flash of red.

But all I could see was a flash of color because female hazelnut blossoms are almost microscopic. That’s a paperclip behind these blossoms. Even with eye problems I can find them though, because I know they’re tiny. I know they bloom in mid-April and I know they’re red and I know what shape the buds they grow out of are. All I need do is find one and the camera does the rest, allowing me to see its Lilliputian beauty.

That’s how I start the growing season each spring; by re-training my eyes to see small again. Most of what I see in winter is big so I need to get used to small again. Spring beauties like those above are as small as an aspirin, so they’re a good subject to start with. They’re also very beautiful and a forest floor carpeted with them is something you don’t soon forget.

Sometimes I’ll see something like this larch flower in a book or on another blog and I’ll want to see it in person. That’s what happened when I first found one, and I was surprised by how small they were. This is another example of my being able to only see a flash of color and then having to see with a camera. They’re just too small for me to see with my eyes but they’re beautiful and worth the extra effort it takes to get a photo of them.

I spend a lot of time looking at tree branches, especially in spring when the buds break. I’ve learned what time of month each tree usually blossoms and I make sure I’m there to see it happen. This photo shows male red maple flowers. Each flower cluster is full of pollen and the wind will be sure the pollen finds the female blossoms. When you see tulips and magnolias blooming it’s time to look at red maples. One of the extraordinary things about these blossoms was their scent. I smelled them long before I saw them.

Lichens aren’t easy to identify but there are easy to find because they grow virtually everywhere; on soil, on trees, on stone, even on buildings. But most are quite small, so walking slowly and looking closely are what it takes to find them. This mealy firedot lichen was growing on wet stone and that’s why the background looks like it does. You could spend a lifetime studying just lichens alone but it would be worth it; many are very beautiful.

Countless insects make galls for their young to grow in and the size and shape of them is beyond my ability to show or explain, so I’ll just say that I always make a point of looking for them because they’re endlessly fascinating, and you can match the gall to the insect with a little research. This one looked like a tiny fist coming up out of a leaf. Something else I like about them is that you don’t have to kneel down to see them. That isn’t getting any easier as time goes on. 

When young the female spore capsule (sporangium) of juniper haircap moss is covered by a cap called a calyptra, which protects the spore capsule and the spores within. It is very hairy, and this is what gives this moss part of its common name. Eventually, as the capsule ages it moves from a semi vertical to a more horizontal position before the calyptra falls off.  The spore capsule continues to ripen and when the time is right it will open and release the spores. When it’s time to release the spores the end cap (operculum) of the now reddish brown, 4 cornered but not square spore capsule will fall off and the spores will be borne on the wind. I learned all of that by studying the moss and reading about what I saw going on, and you can too. And you can do it with virtually anything you find in nature. To me, that is exciting.

A good memory isn’t strictly necessary for nature study but it can come in handy if you wish to see a plant in all stages of its life cycle. I knew where some rare dwarf ginseng plants grew in this area and I knew when they blossomed but I had never seen their seedpods, so I had to remember to go back to see what you see here. It might not look like much but it’s a rare sight and I doubt more than just a few have seen it. I often can’t remember my own phone number or where I parked my car but I can lead you right to the exact spot where this plant grows, so I seem to have two memories; one for every day and one for just nature. The one for nature works much better than the every day one.

Develop an eye for beauty. Give yourself time to simply stand and look, and before long you’ll find that you don’t just see beauty, you feel it as well, all through your being. This is just tree pollen on water; something I’ve seen a thousand times, but not like this. On this day it was different; it usually looks like dust on the surface but this pollen had formed strings that rode on the current. I wasn’t looking for it; I just happened upon it, and that shows that a lot of what you see on this blog is just dumb luck. But I wouldn’t happen upon it if I wasn’t out there. That’s another secret; you have to be out there to see it. You’ll never see it by staring at a phone or television.

This is another rarity that I just happened upon; a mushroom releasing its spores. Mushroom spores are carried by the wind so it is unusual to see them dropping to the forest floor like they have in this photo. I’ve only seen this happen three times and twice it was on a still, hot, humid day. Once it was on a cooler but still humid day, without a hint of a breeze to blow the spores away. This is why it’s so important to walk slowly and look carefully. You could easily pass this without seeing it.

Something else that is rare to see is a mushroom with another fungus feeding on it, like this bolete with a mycoparasite called Syzygites megalocarpus growing on its cap. A mycoparasite is essentially a fungus that feeds on other fungi. This one has been found on over 65 species of mushroom. It can appear overnight if heat and humidity levels are just right, and that’s exactly what this one did. You can’t plan to see something like this, you simply have to be there when it happens.

Do you know how many puddles there are with ice on them in winter? I don’t either, but I do take the time to look at them and I almost always see something interesting when I do. I’ve never seen another one like this.

Sometimes if you just sit quietly unusual things will happen. I was on my hands and knees looking at something one day and I looked up and there was a fly, sitting on a leaf. I slowly brought my camera up and this is the result. By the way, much of what I see comes about because I spend a lot of time on my hands and knees. If you want to see the very small, you have to. And before I get back on my feet I always try to look around to see if there’s anything interesting that I’ve missed.

I was crawling around the forest floor looking for I don’t remember what one day and saw something jump right in front of me. It was a little spring peeper. It sat for a minute and let me take a few photos and then hopped off. Another secret of nature study is to expect the unexpected. If you want to document what you see always have your camera ready. I have one around my neck, one on my belt and another in my pocket, and I still miss a lot.

I was in a meadow in Walpole climbing the High Blue trail when I saw a blackish something moving through the grass on the other side. Apparently it saw me because it turned and came straight for me. When it got close I could see that it was a cute porcupine. I thought it must have poor eyesight and would run away when it got close enough but then it did something I never would have  expected; it came up to me and sat right at my feet. I took quite a few photos and then walked on after telling it goodbye. I still wonder what it was all about and what the animal might have wanted. I’ve never forgotten how we seemed to know one another. It’s another example of why you have to expect the unexpected in nature study. You just never know.

Sometimes all you need to do is look up. When was the last time you saw mare’s tails in the sky? There’s a lot of beauty out there for you to see, and you don’t really have to study anything.

So, what you’ve read here isn’t the only way to study nature. It’s simply my way; what I’ve learned by doing. I had no one to guide me, so this is what and how I’ve learned on my own. I thought that it might help you in your own study of nature, or you might find your own way. It doesn’t matter as long as you’re out there having fun and enjoying this beautiful world we live in. I’ll leave you with a simple summary that I hope will help:

  1. To see small think small. There is an entire tiny world right there in plain sight but there’s a good chance you haven’t seen it. Nothing is hidden from the person who truly sees.

  2. Don’t just look, see; and not just with your eyes. Use all your senses. I’ve smelled certain plants and fungi before I’ve seen them many times. I also feel almost everything I find.

  3. Walk at a toddlers pace. Cross and crisscross your path.

  4. Know your subject. You probably won’t find what you hope to unless you know when and where it grows, or its habits. When you see something you’ve never seen if you want to know more about it research it.

  5. Be interested in everything. If you’re convinced that you’ve seen it all then you’ll see nothing new. Run your eye down a branch. Roll over a log. Study the ice on a puddle.

  6. Expect the unexpected. I’ve heard trees fall in the forest but I’ve never seen it happen. Tomorrow may be the day.

  7. Develop an eye for beauty; it’s truly everywhere you look. Allow yourself to see and feel it. Appreciate it and be grateful for it and before long you too will see it everywhere you go.

  8. Let nature lead. Nature will teach you far more than you’ve ever imagined. It will also heal you if you let it, but none of this can happen if you spend all your time indoors.

  9. None of the things you’ve read here are really secrets. Nature is there for everyone and you can study it and take pleasure in it just as easily as I can.

  10. Have fun and enjoy nature and you’ll be surprised how quickly your cares melt away. Problems that once might have seemed insurmountable will suddenly seem much easier to solve.

To look at any thing,
If you would know that thing,
You must look at it long. 
~John Moffitt

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »

1. Polypody Fern

It’s time again for many ferns to start their reproductive cycles and in this photo the tiny spore cases (sorus) of polypody fern (Polypodium virginianum) shine like beacons.  Henry David Thoreau liked polypody ferns and said that “Fresh and cheerful communities of the polypody form a lustrous mantle over rocky surfaces in the early spring.” Of course they do exactly that and that’s how they come by the name rock cap fern. They’re an evergreen fern that loves to grow on boulders.

2. Polypody Fern Sorus

The tiny sori are made up of clusters of sporangia and are naked, meaning they lack the protective cap (indusium) that is found on many ferns. Each will turn a reddish brown color when ripe and ready to release its spores. The spores are as fine as dust and are borne on the wind. Sorus (plural of sori) is from the Greek word sōrós, and means stack, pile, or heap, and each sori is indeed a round pile of sporangia. As they begin to release spores the sorus are very pretty and look like tiny baskets of flowers. As of this photo it hadn’t happened yet.

3. Yellow Mushroom

We’re still having thunderstorms roll through and after each one passes I find a few more fungi, but nothing like the numbers I should be seeing. I thought this one might be the American Caesar’s mushroom (Amanita jacksonii) but it should be redder in color and the cap should have lined margins. Colors can vary but I wouldn’t think that the lined cap margin would, so in the end I don’t really know what it is. If you do I’d love to hear from you.

4. Jelly Babies

I put this tiny cluster of orange jelly baby fungi (Leotia lubrica) in an acorn cap so you could see how small they are. Once you train your eyes to see small things before long you’ll be able to see them everywhere and a whole new chapter in the book of nature will open for you. I have to retrain my eyes to see small things again each spring and I do that by visiting places where I know small flowers like spring beauty, red maple, and wild ginger grow. Your eyes adjust quite easily, I’ve found.  Despite their name jelly babies are sac fungi rather than jelly fungi.

5. Puffballs

These spiny puffballs (Lycoperdon echinatum) were young when I found them and I know that because they were pure white and still had their spines. As they age the spines will fall off, leaving a brownish powdery coating on the surface. Eventually a small hole will appear at the top of the puffball and brownish purple spores will puff out through it whenever it is touched or stepped on.

There are young people out there who seem to think that inhaling certain puffball spores will get them high, but it is never a good thing to do. People who inhale the spores often end up in the hospital due to developing a respiratory disease called Lycoperdonosis. In one severe instance a teenager spent 18 days in a coma, had portions of his lung removed, and suffered severe liver damage.

6. Oyster Mushrooms

These oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) were pure white and seemed to shine against the dark wood of the log. They’re usually found on logs in large clusters. These examples were young and no bigger than a quarter.  Oyster mushrooms have off center stems that usually grow out of the side of the log and are hidden by the cap. They cause a white rot in living trees.

7. Oyster Mushroom

Mushrooms are often eaten by tiny worms called nematodes that live on plant and fungal tissue, but not oyster mushrooms. Scientists discovered in 1986 that oyster mushrooms “exude extracellular toxins that stun {nematode] worms, whereupon the mycelium invades its body through its orifices.” What this means is that oyster mushrooms are actually carnivorous. They also consume bacteria (Pseudomonas and Agrobacterium) in order to get nitrogen and protein.

8. Great Blue Heron

I’m seeing a lot more great blue herons this year than I did last year. The one in the above photo was happy to stand like a statue, up to his knees in the Ashuelot river. I hoped it would do something interesting but in the end its patience outlasted mine.

9. Spring Peeper-

I’m sure the heron would have loved to have met this spring peeper, but luckily the little frog was off in the forest near a pond.  The dark colored X shaped marking on its back and the dark bar on its head from eyes to eye make this frog easy to identify. Spring peepers are tiny things that are usually less than an inch and a half long and experts at camouflage, so I don’t see them often. I love them because they are the heralds of spring; few things are more pleasing to these ears than hearing their song on the first warm March evening.

10. Bumblebee

I’m happy to be seeing quite a lot of bees this year. This bumblebee foraged on a Joe Pye weed flower head one day.

11. Spider

I was kneeling, trying to get that perfect shot of a flower when I noticed movement out of the corner of my eye. I watched for a while, fascinated as an orb weaver spider wove its web, before remembering that I had a camera.  It was quite big as spiders go and easily seen but the camera had trouble with the details, so I had to move in closer. When I did it retreated to its home under a fern frond, so this was the only useable shot I got. It had very furry legs and a bright red body.

12. Oak Leaf Skeleton

There is an insect called the oak leaf skeletonizer but it eats only the soft tissue on the upper side of an oak leaf, leaving it translucent The damage to the oak leaf in the above photo was most likely caused by a caterpillar. It ate the soft tissue on both sides of the leaf, leaving only the veins behind. I’m guessing that the beautiful white hickory tussock moth caterpillar was the culprit. It feeds on nut trees, including oaks.

13. Oak Leaves

Speaking of oaks, they’re shedding their leaves regularly now due to the drought. They and other trees like apples and hickory nuts are shedding their fruit as well, trying to conserve energy. Wild blueberries, raspberries and blackberries have also been in distress and many are small and deformed. Some animals might have a hard time of it, but it’s too early to tell.

14. Meadow Rue Foliage

The leaves of tall meadow rue (Thalictrum pubescens) often change color early on. These became a beautiful purple; as beautiful as any flower. In spring before it blossoms meadow rue is often mistaken for columbine because its leaves look similar. It is also called king of the meadow due to its great height. I’ve seen plants reach more than 8 feet tall in optimal conditions.

15.Bracken Fern

In some places bracken ferns (Pteridium aquilinum) have already dried out and gone to orange. Bracken is one of the oldest ferns; fossils date it to over 55 million years old. The plant releases chemicals which inhibit the growth of other plants and that is why large colonies of nothing but bracken fern are found. Some Native American tribes cooked and peeled the roots of bracken fern to use as food but modern science has found that all parts of the plant contain carcinogens.

16. Honeysuckle Fruit

Invasive Tatarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica) berries can be red or orange but I seldom see the orange ones and I wonder if that might be because they ripen from green to orange to red. This shrub is native to Siberia and is very tough; our drought doesn’t seem to have affected any of the plants I’ve seen. Birds love its berries and that’s why it has been so successful. In this area there are very few places where it doesn’t grow.  Tatarian honeysuckle was introduced as an ornamental shrub in the 1750s. It has deep pink, very fragrant flowers in spring. Though it is invasive it has been here so long that it’s hard to imagine life without it.

17. Hobblebush Berries

Hobblebush berries (drupes) turn dark purple when they’re fully ripe but I like seeing them when they’re in the red stage as they are here. Anyhow, I rarely see them in the purple, ripe stage because birds and animals eat them up so fast. Among the birds cardinals, turkeys, cedar waxwings and even pileated woodpeckers are known to eat the fruit. Bears, foxes, skunks and squirrels are among the animals that eat them, so there is a lot of competition. It’s no wonder I rarely see them ripe. The fruit is edible and is said to taste like clove spiced raisins or dates but the seeds are large and the flesh thin. They can be eaten raw or cooked and are said to taste better after a frost. Native Americans had several medicinal uses for hobblebush, from curing headaches to chest and breathing problems, and they also ate the berries.

18, Smokey Eye Boulder Lichen

Why pay attention to the little things? If the beauty of this smoky eye boulder lichen (Porpidia albocaerulescens) doesn’t answer that question, then nothing ever will.

There’s a whole world out there, right outside your window. You’d be a fool to miss it. ~Charlotte Eriksson

Thanks for coming by.

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

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.

 

Read Full Post »