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Posts Tagged ‘Swanzey New Hampshire’

In New Hampshire a class six designation means a road isn’t maintained by either the state or the town, so it could be rough going. I don’t know if this road actually has that designation but I do know that it can be impassable in winter, so whether or not you will make it over its entire length is anyone’s guess.

Since we have had very little snow this winter I doubted there would be much snow on it and I was right. There was a dusting but nothing that needed plowing.

If anything would give a driver trouble on this day it was ice; the road was like a skating rink so I walked on the edges, which is where I would have walked anyway. It’s hard to see anything interesting from the middle of a road.

The road was also heavily rutted. I’ve driven over it in spring and between the ruts and the washboards, sometimes you feel like the teeth will rattle right out of your head.

It’s common in this area to see huge boulders right on the very edge of the road. That’s because in the 1700s when many of these roads were laid out stones this big were impossible to move and it was too much work to drill and blast them, so the road was simply built around them. And there they still sit to this day. This one was easily as big as a delivery truck.

I loved the beautifully bright green brocade moss (Hypnum imponens) that grew on a log. This pretty moss gets its common name from the way it looks like it has been embroidered on whatever it grows on. I’ve searched high and low for it so I could include it in my moss posts, but I never could find any.  Now all I need to do is remember where it is.

There was a lot of logging going on out here last summer. It looks like they left a lot of the deciduous trees and took mostly evergreens, probably hemlock and pine.

The logging was being done on a tree farm, which in New Hampshire means a privately owned forest managed to produce timber with, according to the New Hampshire Tree Farm Program, “the added benefits of improved wildlife habitat, water quality, recreation, and scenic values.”

A small stream had formed a pool and it was covered over by what I call puddle ice. It’s that brittle white ice full of oxygen bubbles that makes tinkling sounds when you break it. Seeing it always takes me back to my boyhood when I would ride my bike through puddles covered by it in spring. I’ve thought of it as a sign of spring ever since, even though I see it in fall and winter too.

The little stream also had some beautiful ice formations in it as well.

If you know where to look you can find a winding trail through the woods that leads to a beaver pond.

It’s a large pond, several acres in size.

This shows what happens when a forest is flooded by beavers; what trees they don’t cut down drown and die. Areas like this often become rookeries for great blue herons because they’re full of frogs and small fish. I’ve seen herons here before but I haven’t seen a nest yet.

There are several beaver lodges here and the open water near this one suggests beaver activity. They work hard to keep channels open in winter. This lodge doesn’t look like most I’ve seen. It looks as if it has had a lot of mud added to the outside, which is something I haven’t seen.

This is more what I think of when I imagine a beaver lodge. They usually look like a pile of sticks, but the one in the previous photo looks more like a pile of dirt.

I think this one might have been abandoned. It had a light coating of snow on it and from what I’ve seen beaver lodges aren’t snow covered for very long unless we’ve had heavy snows. Heavy snow helps insulate the lodge and sunshine helps warm it. The temperature at water level in a beaver lodge is usually about 32 degrees F. but it might fluctuate a bit due to outside temperature and body heat generated by the beavers themselves. They have to leave the lodge to eat but they lose body heat quickly in the cold water, so they aren’t very active in winter if it is very cold. So far this winter they’ve had it easy but that’s about to change, with wind chills of -14 degrees F. expected on Monday.

I thought these were rabbit tracks but I think the smaller front feet should be directly in front of the larger rear feet, not off to the side like what is seen here. Maybe it was a turning rabbit.

I can’t even guess what made these swishy tracks. I’ve looked at examples of both animal and bird tracks and nothing comes close to matching. And it’s too cold for reptiles, so I’ve struck out.

Someone lost their hat and a kind soul picked it up and put it on a mossy rock. You meet very few unkind people in the woods, I’ve found.

The reminders of the terrible winds we had last summer are all around me each time I go into the woods, in the form of tangled blowdowns like these. In fact I saw several just like it in these woods. I think thousands of trees must have fallen in this area but I also think that the trees that were already weekend by disease were the ones that fell. You can see bracket fungi all over the largest of these and that’s a good sign of a sick tree.

I’ve spoken about how water resistant oak leaves are on this blog for years, but now I can show it. Oak leaves can take a year or more to decompose because they are leathery and contain a lot of woody substances like lignin and cellulose, and I’ve always believed that it is also because they don’t absorb water as readily as leaves from other trees. This photo shows how water will puddle on an oak leaf.

There are roads known by everyone and there are roads known by no one. Choose the second, the mysterious one where many glories are hidden. ~Mehmet Murat Ildan

Thanks for stopping in.

 

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Last Saturday morning it was cold at about 3 degrees F. so I had to wait for it to warm up a bit before going out. My camera doesn’t perform well at anything below 10 degrees and neither do I, so I waited until the thermometer read 20 degrees before visiting a local swamp. I was hoping to show you the flock of mallards that swam here seconds before I clicked the shutter but apparently they thought my collapsible monopod was a gun, because as soon as I went to extend it off they flew. I was at the crest of the hill shown here and they were far below, but they still saw my every move.

So instead of the wildlife I concentrated on the plants that grow here, like these winterberries. Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) is a native plant in the holly family and is toxic, but birds snap up the berries fairly quickly so I only saw a handful of rather puckered fruit. This plant loves wet feet so if you find it you can almost always be sure there is water nearby. Native Americans used many parts of it medicinally but they knew how to prepare it so it would cure and not make them sick.

I come to this swamp specifically because it is the only place I know of to find skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus,) which is usually our first flower to appear in spring. But as the above photo of its shoots shows the plants are there all winter, just waiting for the sign that it is warm enough to begin growing again. That date is usually in early March and the plant, through a process called thermogenesis, will grow through any amount of ice and snow to bloom. It can do that because it produces heat and can raise its temperature as much as 60 degrees F. above the surrounding air temperature. The splotchy maroon and yellow spathes are always a treat to see because they mean that spring is here, no matter what the calendar says.

Another sign of spring I watch for is when the catkins of American hazelnuts (Corylus americana) start to turn golden yellow. This is a sign that they are producing pollen and that means that the tiny scarlet threads that are the female flowers must also be showing. The bud on the right is a female bud and the tiny female flowers will grow from it in early to mid-April. A good way to tell that you have an American hazelnut and not its cousin the beaked hazelnut is by the very hairy stem seen here. Only American hazelnut has hairy stems.

The forest was nearly free of snow but the trail through it had a light coating. That’s probably because it was well packed and icy.

It hasn’t been easy to find much snow in this part of the state this year and I’m not complaining about that at all. The weather people are hinting that a stormier pattern will crop up towards the end of the week.

There was one spot in the forest that had a measurable amount of snow and I wondered why only this spot had so much.

That was because there weren’t many evergreens overhead. Evergreen trees keep an amazing amount of snow from reaching the ground.

The shiny evergreen leaves of pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata) poked up out of the snow. This plant is one of our native wintergreens and it likes to grow in undisturbed, sandy woodland soil that is on the dry side. It was once used as a flavoring in candy and soft drinks, including root beer. Its common name comes from the Native American Cree tribe, who used it medicinally to treat kidney stones. It was thought to break them up into pieces. Even though pipsissewa photosynthesizes it supplements its diet by taking certain nutrients from fungi, and for that reason it is considered partially parasitic.

The pretty little seedpods of pipsissewa persist through the winter and poke up out of the snow. They are woody and split open into 5 parts to release the tiny seeds. Each capsule is about a quarter inch across. They remind me of the seedpods of the Indian pipe (Monotropa uniflora,) in some ways.

When I finally got my driver’s license at 16 I would give my grandmother rides to the cemetery to visit the family graves. Near there was a wooded area and we would walk through the woods looking for checkerberries, which we had done since I was just a small boy. I can remember her always hoping we’d find some mayflowers so she could show me what they looked like, but we never did see any. That’s because their very fragrant flowers were collected for nosegays to such an extent the plant became almost impossible to find. Another name for mayflowers is trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens,) and my grandmother would be happy to know that I’ve found several large colonies. Many plants come with memories attached and for me this one comes with some strong ones.

I saw a very large witches’ broom on a blueberry bush. This deformation is caused by a fungus and causes a very dense cluster of branches to form. Though they might look unsightly they don’t seem to harm the plant. I picked berries for many years from a bush that had a large witches’ broom on it.

One part of the swamp had frozen into a pebbled, textured pattern.

We had a small ice storm that coated the trees with ice. The sun came out but the temperature dropped so as the sun melted the ice on the trees it fell into water that was freezing below, and that’s what made these patterns in the ice. I know that because the same thing happened where I work and, since I spend a lot of time outside, I watched (and felt) it happen. Millions of pieces of ice fell from the trees, rattling and tinkling as they fell. If they hit you in the face, they hurt.

Clubmosses grew up out of the ice. These little evergreen plants are vascular so they aren’t mosses at all, but someone must have thought so at one time. They are also called princess pine, ground pine and ground cedar but they have no relationship to those trees either. Clubmosses are considered fern allies, which are vascular plants that produce spores. Horsetails and Spikemosses are also in the same family. Clubmosses were used in a medicinal tea by Native Americans and the dried spores were once used to produce the flash in photography. They are very flammable when dry.

Goldthread (Coptis trifolia) gets its common name from its bright yellow, thread like roots. Native Americans showed early colonists how to chew the roots to relieve the pain of canker sores and that led to the plant being called canker root. It became such a popular medicine that the Shakers were paying 37 cents per pound for dried roots in 1785 and people dug up all they could find. At one time more goldthread was sold in Boston than any other plant, and of course that meant the plant came close to being lost. Two centuries of being left alone have brought healing to Goldthread though, and today I see the tiny but beautiful white flowers quite regularly in April.

I finally saw some more blue / purple turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor.) They can be beautiful at times; like little painted fans.

The small stream that brings water from the upper part of the swamp to the lower was strangely colored orangey brown on this day. I wondered if it was some type of algae that colored it this way; I’ve never seen this here before.

Maybe it was all of the leaves in the stream that gave it its odd color, I don’t know.

A spruce tree had quite a large wound on it and a lot of resin around it. If you gently heat the resin, which is called spruce gum, of the black spruce tree (Picea mariana,) it will melt down into a liquid which can then be strained and poured into a shallow pan or other container to cool. After about half an hour it will be hardened and very brittle, and when broken into bite sized pieces it can be chewed like any other gum. Spruce gum is antiseptic and good for the teeth. It has been chewed by Native Americans for centuries and was the first chewing gum sold in the United States.

Go to the winter woods: listen there; look, watch, and ‘the dead months’ will give you a subtler secret than any you have yet found in the forest. ~ Fiona Macleod

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All week long the weather people said last Saturday, January 5th would be rainy and Sunday the 6th would be sunny. It did indeed rain Saturday and even dusted the landscape with snow overnight but there was very little sunshine on Sunday. The sun did break out eventually and I decided to follow a small stream that meanders through my neighborhood. It weaves its way through a small slice of true wilderness where nobody ever goes; just the kind of place you would have found me when I was a boy.

A deer had come this way not too long ago.

I could see where they crossed the stream.

There is a small tributary on the far side and I wouldn’t be surprised if they had walked right down it.

The stream bed is gravel and the water is very clean.

But this stream can fool you and I remember having to carry my son across it once as it came up and over the road in a flood. Since then it has flooded a few times and is scary enough for me to know that I don’t want to be anywhere near it when it does. The Christmas fern with its fronds all pointing in the same direction told of recent high water.

There is a beautiful burl here that I’ve been watching for years. It isn’t very big; about the size of a baseball, and if it’s growing it’s doing so very slowly. If it was bigger it would make a beautiful bowl.

There on the bank of the stream was a clump of something I wanted to see.

I like to visit my friends the tree mosses (Climacium dendroides) every now and then but I think it has been a year or more since I saw them last. They are cheery mosses that look like little palm trees, and they always glow with a beautiful inner light. This is the only spot I’ve ever found them so they aren’t common in this area, but I was happy to see that they’re spreading here along the little stream. They must not mind being under water for a time because it’s getting so the stream floods once or twice a year now. When I moved here it flooded once each decade.

It was dark in the forest because the sun had gone.

And it had started to rain again.

The oddest thing I saw was a free standing river grape vine (Vitis riparia.) This is odd because the top of the vine was in the trees and grapes need something to climb on. The stems are too weak to support themselves and without something to climb they’ll sprawl on the ground. I’m guessing that the tree it originally grew on had died a long time ago; so long ago that all traces of it had disappeared.

I’ve seen some magical things in grape tendrils. This one reminded me of someone sitting cross legged. Maybe it was the beautiful Hindu dancer I saw in another tendril a few years ago.

Sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis) is a good wetland indicator and they grow all alongside the stream in the almost always wet soil. Their shin high, spore bearing fronds full of round black spore cases make them very easy to see in winter. Early colonists noticed that this fern was very sensitive to frost and they gave it its common name. It has toxic properties and animals rarely eat it, but some Native American tribes used its root medicinally.

Delicate fern moss (Thuidium delicatulum) grew at the base of a tree. Whoever named this moss couldn’t have known it well, because it is far from delicate. This example has been under the water of a fast moving stream many times but you’d never know it. Orchid growers use this moss in commercial orchid cultivation.

Papery beech leaves whispered in the breeze. I hadn’t thought about beech trees having such a strong presence in the forest until recently. All year long they are there, from the time of their beautiful buds breaking in May until the pale white leaves fall from their branches the following spring, a continual woodland companion, always welcome.

I’ve been seeing turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor) in various shades of brown and orange but I haven’t seen many in blues and purples, which are my favorites. The scientific names of this fungus mean thin (Trametes) and many colored (versicolor) and that’s exactly what they are. Someday I hope to learn what determines their color.

This large fungus looked like it was trying to form brackets or shelves but it wasn’t having much luck and looked more like a misshapen blob than anything else and I couldn’t identify it. I don’t feel too bad about not being able to identify mushrooms though, because there are an estimated 3.8 million different fungi on earth and about 90% of them haven’t been identified. Science has found that mushrooms are closer to animals than plants because they contain chemicals that are also found in lobsters and crabs.

Black jelly fungi (Exidia glandulosa) have become rarer than other jelly fungi over the years and that’s why I don’t show them here very often. I saw some good examples this day though, and they were nice and plumped up because of the rain. When this fungus dries out it loses about 90% of its volume and shrinks down to tiny black specks of the bark of what it grows on. These pillow shaped, shiny black fungi grow mostly on alders in this area.

I thought I might see some witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) in bloom but all I saw were the little cup like bracts that the strap shaped yellow petals come out of.

The most beautiful things I saw on this day were the witch hazel’s orange brown leaves. It’s a pretty color that warms you even on a winter day, and I was happy to see them.

To sit in solitude, to think in solitude with only the music of the stream and the cedar to break the flow of silence, there lies the value of wilderness. ~ John Muir

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This relatively warm weather and rain we’ve had for weeks now have left me with a longing for spring but it is only January, so about this time every year I scratch my itch for spring by looking at buds. Being able to identify trees and shrubs by their buds can come in handy, especially in winter, and it is a skill that any serious nature lover should have in their bag of tricks. It adds another dimension to nature study and makes it even more interesting. The bud shown above is from a speckled alder (Alnus incana,) and it has two bud scales. Bud scales protect the bud within and keep it from freezing. Buds with just two (sometimes three) scales are called valvate buds. The scales meet but usually do not overlap.

A catkin like this one on the same speckled alder is simply a long string of buds, in this case male buds, and each purple bit is a bud scale. I took this photo because it shows the gummy resin that fills the spaces between the scales of many buds. This makes the bud waterproof and this is important, because if water reaches the bud and freezes the bud will die.

This Cornelian cherry bud is another great example of a valvate bud. In the spring when the plant begins to take up water through its roots the buds swell and the scales part to let the bud grow. Some bud scales are hairy and some are covered with sticky resin. Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) is an ornamental flowering shrub related to dogwoods. It blooms in early spring (in March) with clusters of blossoms that have small, bright yellow bracts. It has a long history with mankind; its sour red fruit has been eaten for over 7000 years, and the Persians and ancient Romans knew it well.

Magnolia flower buds in botanical terms are “densely pubescent, single-scaled, terminal flower buds.” The hairy single scale is called a cap and it will fall off only when the bud inside has swollen to the point of blossoming. Just as the plant flowers the ground under it will be littered with these hairy caps for a short time.

I saw something on the magnolia that I’ve never seen before; seed pods. At first I thought it was some type of gall.

I’ve done bud posts before but this year I wanted to show some buds I hadn’t shown before. The alder is one and this sweetgum bud is another. If you know anything about sweetgum trees or how cold it can be here in New Hampshire you are probably wondering how I took a photo of a sweetgum bud without driving south. After all, the sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) reaches the northernmost limits of its natural range along the coast just above of New York City, but these trees grow near a massive wall of brick and that keeps them warm enough to thrive here in the cold. Buds with many scales that overlap like shingles are called imbricate buds. A gummy resin often fills the spaces between the scales and makes the bud waterproof on northern trees, but I’m not sure how the sweetgum buds waterproof themselves.

The identification of the sweetgum trees came easily because of their strange seed pods. I’ve read that the infertile seeds found in each of these gummy pods are a source of shikimic acid, which is one of the main ingredients in Tamiflu, so if you had a flu shot and get through winter without getting the flu this year you can thank a sweetgum.

The leaves of the sweetgum seem almost evergreen but I’m really not sure if they are or not because they aren’t supposed to grow this far north. I wonder if the radiant heat from the mass of brick they grow near has them completely baffled. By the way, if you have green plants by the foundation of your house in January the same thing is happening, but it’s your furnace instead of the sun that supplies the radiant heat. It’s fairly common in cold climates.

The oddest thing about the sweetgum tree in my opinion is its strange flattened branches. The first description of the sweetgum tree came from Spanish conquistadors who wrote of its use by the Aztec chief Montezuma. He was using the tree’s resin to flavor a pipe full of tobacco, which was another plant the Spaniards had never heard of. It must work well because it is still used to flavor tobacco today.

The lilac buds (Syringa vulgaris) in the above photo are another good example of imbricate buds. Lilac buds are very red and in spring once the plant begins taking up water again they can swell quickly enough to notice, if they’re regularly watched. I’ve watched lilac buds in spring since I was just a small boy and it has always been one of my favorite things to do in the spring. They aren’t swelling yet but it won’t be long before spring is here.

Some of the smallest buds I know belong to hawthorns (Crataegus) and the cherry red hawthorn bud in the above photo could easily hide behind a pea. There are over 220 species of hawthorn in North America, with at least one native to every state and Canadian province. In New Hampshire we have 17 species, so the chances of my identifying this example are slim to none. The closest I can come is Gray’s hawthorn (Crataegus flabellata.) I know the tree in the photo well so I know that its blossoms will be white. Hawthorn berries are called haws and are said to have medicinal value. Native Americans mixed the dried haws and other fruits with dried venison and fat to make pemmican.  The dried flowers, leaves, and haws can be used to make a tea to soothe sore throats, and hawthorn also shows promise for treating heart disease.

If you can’t identify a hawthorn by its buds then its thorns will help. On this example they were about 2 inches long and just as sharp as they look. Native Americans made fences around their settlements with brambles and thorny branches like those from hawthorns. They also made very sharp awls and fish hooks from hawthorn thorns.

A bud I most look forward to seeing open is the beech (Fagus grandifolia.) There are beautiful silvery downy edges on the new laves that only last for a day or two, so I watch beech trees closely starting in May. Botanically beech buds are described as “narrow conical, highly imbricate, and sharply pointed.” In May they are one of the most beautiful things in the forest.

Box elder buds (Acer negundo) and young twigs are often a beautiful blue or purple color due to their being pruinose. Pruinose means a surface is covered in white, powdery, waxy granules that reflect light in ways that often make the surface they are on appear blue. Certain grapes, plums, and blueberries are pruinose fruits. Certain lichens like the beautiful smoky eye boulder lichen have fruiting bodies (Apothecia) that are often pruinose.

Norway maple (Acer platanoides) is supposed to be a very invasive species but they’ve been used for years as landscape trees so the genie has been let out of the bottle and now there is no stopping them. Even squirrels don’t like these trees; last fall over several days I watched five or six squirrels cut all of the unripe seeds from a Norway maple. In just a few days the ground under the tree was littered with them and there wasn’t a seed left on the tree. The Norway maple’s terminal bud and stem are larger than the sugar maple’s, and its bud scales are fewer and colored a pleasing maroon. Sugar maples have twice as many bud scales and they are brown. Norway maple terminal buds are also rounded while those of sugar maple are sharply pointed. Norway maple is native to eastern and central Europe and western Asia, from France east to Russia, north to southern Scandinavia and southeast to northern Iran.

Red maple flower buds (Acer rubrum) are small and round or oval with short stalks and 4 pairs of bud scales. The bud scales are often purple and / or tomato red. They have a fine fringe of pale hairs on their margins. Red maples can be tapped and syrup made from their sap but the sap gatherers have to watch the trees carefully, because the sap can become bitter when the tree flowers. Seeing the hillsides awash in a red haze from hundreds of thousands of red maple flowers is a treat that I always look forward to. Unfortunately I’ve found that it’s almost impossible to capture that beauty with a camera.

I could look at a calendar to see when spring begins but I prefer watching the plants in the forest, because they’re rarely wrong. The terminal buds of shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) shown in the above photo are quite large and can fool you into thinking that they are swelling because of spring sap flow but no, they’re this way all winter.

Mountain ash buds (Sorbus americana) often look like they have a single cap like bud scale but they actually have several overlapping scales which are quite sticky. You have to look closely at buds to see what is really going on, so it helps to have a loupe or a macro lens.

For those who can’t see or don’t want to look at small buds fortunately there are big buds on plants like rhododendron. It also has imbricate buds that are large enough to see without magnification. Bud scales are modified leaves and some buds can have several, some have two, some have just one scale called a cap, and some buds are naked, with none at all.

I hope this little foray into the world of buds has left you wanting to go out and start looking a little closer at the branches of trees and shrubs in your own neighborhood. I started looking at our local trees years ago; right after the little paperback booklet in the above photo was published in 1968. I carried it in my back pocket and started trying to identify common trees that I already knew something about, like apples and maples. The booklet is still being published today and costs little, especially if you find it in a used bookstore. It is also online in PDF format.

If you are open to being taught by nature, go listen to the trees. ~Kenneth Meadows

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We still haven’t seen much snow and the temperature would average out at about 35 degrees, I’d guess, so winter has been easy so far and that means easy hikes as well. Last Saturday I decided to go and see if the Ashuelot River had any ice on it out in the woods where nobody can see it, and to get there I had to use this rail trail.

White cushion moss (Leucobryum glaucum) lived up to its name with its perfect pin cushion shape. This moss gets its common name from the way its color lightens when it dries out. It often is a good example of how dry winter can be.

I saw a mushroom that looked like it had been painted by van Gogh. It was a beautiful thing; a painting and a poem, and was more beautiful in death than it would have been in life.

A tree decided to eat the small sign that had been tacked to it. As it grows the tree will grow out around it and finally engulf it so it can’t be seen. Many things are found in trees when they are cut down, including screws and nails, signs, pipes, fencing, cannonballs, bullets, beer bottles, hammers, handsaws, horse shoes, chains, ropes, stones, and one arborist even found a Chevy Corvette rim. Trees will grow around just about anything, and this doesn’t bode well for the wood cutter.

This sign was for the Yale Forest, which borders this trail. How it got into the tree in this way is a mystery, but I saw two or three of them doing the same thing.

Hard little oak marble galls had grown on a small oak. These are formed when a gall wasp called Andricus kollari lays its eggs inside a leaf bud. The plant reacts by forming these small spherical galls.

The wasp larvae live and grow in the gall by eating the plant tissue, but in this case they didn’t have a chance. A bird pecked its way into each gall and ate the insects.

The hard little wood-like seed pods of Indian pipes stood here and there along the way. Interesting in this grouping was how some of the seed heads pointed towards the ground. The stems usually become erect and point the flowers toward the sky once they have been pollinated.

This is how an Indian pipe seed head usually looks at this time of year. They look like little carved wooden flowers and when their seams begin to split open it is a signal that the seeds have ripened. The pods split open to reveal 5 separate chambers full of dust like seeds which will be taken by the wind. Each individual seed is just about microscopic at only 10 cells thick.

Blowdowns throughout our forests tell of the strong winds we had last summer. We lost many trees, and many houses, cars, and outbuilding as well when the trees fell on them.

Wood pulp where its heartwood would have been showed in one white pine that had been twisted off its stump by the wind. It was a huge old tree that was all but hollow. Carpenter ants had turned its insides to dust. It’s amazing how many trees there are just like this one, still standing and waiting for a strong wind to knock them down.

What looked like white animal hair was tangled on a bramble and quivered in the slight breeze. It might have been from a skunk or a dog. Lots of people walk their dogs here but skunks should be hibernating by now.

I think the bramble was a rose, possibly the invasive multiflora rose, but if so it was a young example. I can’t account for the two tiny black beads of liquid at the base of the bud.

An animal sampled this birch polypore (Fomitopsis betulina) and apparently didn’t find it very tasty. They’re said to smell like green apples and I wonder if they taste the same. This common fungus is also called razor strop fungus because of its ability to sharpen knives when it dries out. It has also been used medicinally for thousands of years due to its antiseptic, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties. It also contains betulinic acid, which has shown promise in cancer research.

I love these old trestles out here in the middle of nowhere. I’ve been playing on them since I was a young boy so they come with many great memories.

This is the last trestle I know of with its tell tales still in place. These are pencil size pieces of soft wire that hang down low enough to hit the head of anyone standing on top of a freight car. They would warn the person, or “tell the tale” of an upcoming trestle. I walked from the trestle to this one in under a minute, so whoever was on top of the train wouldn’t have had much time to duck before they’d hit the trestle, and that would have been too bad. Tell tales used to hang on each end of every trestle in the area, but this is the last one I know of.

I saw a few small bits of ice along the trail in shaded spots but there wasn’t any on the river. This is an unusual scene for January but it speaks of the mild temperatures we’ve seen so far. As I write this on New Year ’s Day at 11:00 am the sun is shining and it is already 37 degrees F, with an expected high today of 47. I might have to stop writing and get outside.

The high water mark on the river’s flanks showed the water had dropped what looked to be 5-6 feet. You can see the fine white silt the river deposited near the high water mark.

Pine bark beetles had penned abstract calligraphy on a fallen limb. Shallow channels like these are made by the female beetles and the males make much deeper channels. It’s all about having chambers to deposit eggs in and when the eggs hatch even more chambers are made.

The sun had lowered by the time I had turned around and it cast a golden light on the trail ahead.

The sun was also caught in the little bluestem grass across the way. It made the grass even more beautiful than it usually is. It, combined with all of the other interesting things I saw, made this walk very enjoyable.

In the winter, the world gets sharp. Beautiful things happen. Peter Fiore

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I hope everyone had a nice Christmas. Our presents from nature were temperatures in the mid-30s F. and plenty of sunshine but we’ve also had some cold, as this frozen view of Half Moon Pond in Hancock shows. We have no snow in my corner of the state though, because it seems to warm up ahead of every storm and we see rain instead of snow. That’s a good thing because just one storm last week would have dropped over two feet of snow.

Pressure cracks in ice are caused by stress, which is caused by fluctuating temperatures in the ice, wind, or waves. Some are contraction cracks, caused by the top surface of the ice sheet shrinking quickly. I think that’s what this crack on the pond ice in the previous photo might be. There are also wet and dry cracks. Dry cracks obviously have no water in them like this one. Ice can make some very strange, eerie sounds as it changes and sometimes this pond sounds like a Star Wars movie. This crack went all the way across the pond.

There seems to be plenty of seeds and other food for the smaller birds this year, especially since the asters seen here along with goldenrods and so many other late blooming plants grow many millions of seeds each year. All of these seeds are what help small birds and small animals through winter.

And they do get eaten, as this aster seed head shows.

Though the smaller birds seem to have plenty to eat things might be a bit difficult for larger birds like turkeys. Last year was a mast year and millions of acorns and white pine cones fell; easily more than I’ve ever seen, and turkeys, deer, squirrels and other animals had a bountiful year. But as is often the case when trees grow so much fruit, they need time to recover. In the following few years the harvest can be meager, and that’s what has happened this year. Last year I saw more acorns fall than I ever have and this year I’ve seen fewer fall than I ever have, and turkeys and larger animals are now paying the price.  Add to that a layer of snow like that seen here in Hancock, and there could be a serious thinning of the flocks and herds.

Technically a group of turkeys is called a “rafter” rather than a flock but I doubt they care. This one had to come over and see what I was up to. Here in New Hampshire we see turkeys chasing people on the news fairly regularly. They also have a habit of standing in roads. Why, I don’t know.

The way some of these photos show a snow pack and others show none you might think they were taken in different seasons but no, it’s just a matter of a few miles between snow and none at all. In fact looking at this colony of heartleaf foam flowers (Tiarella cordifolia) one might be fooled into thinking it was spring, but they’re an evergreen plant and look like this even under snow. Come mid-May they’ll be covered in small white flowers with long stamens, and it is these “foamy” flower stamens that give the plant its common name. It’s so nice to see green plants in December.

Mosses like this delicate fern moss (Thuidium delicatulum) are non-vascular plants and most if not all are evergreen. I love seeing them at all times of year but especially in winter when there is so little green showing. This moss changes color from deep green to bright lime green when it starts getting cold and it always looks orange to me in the fall, but I’m colorblind so I’m sure it’s just me.

Last year I found this odd, sprawling little plant that I had never seen before. I showed it on a blog post and helpful readers told me it was a spikemoss, which I hadn’t heard of. I went back to see it this year and it really hadn’t changed but I tried to look it over a little more carefully and I did some reading about it. I believe this example is meadow spikemoss (Selaginella apoda.) Spikemosses are considered “primitive” seedless (spore bearing) vascular plants and therefore aren’t mosses at all. This pretty little plant is more closely related to the clubmosses, which are also spore bearing vascular plants known as lycopods. It doesn’t appear to be evergreen like the clubmosses however.

I didn’t look closely at this fern but I think it might be an eastern wood fern (Dryopteris marginalis) which is also called marginal wood fern because of how its spore bearing clusters are placed in relation to its pinnule (leaf division) margins. We have a few evergreen ferns and like the mosses they add much to the winter landscape. They might look delicate but I’ve seen them grow on even after being encased in ice.

Polypody fern (Polypodium virginianum) is another of our evergreen ferns but it doesn’t look delicate at all. In fact if you run your hand over its fronds you’ll find that it feels tough and leathery. This fern is also called rock polypody or rock cap fern  because it is almost always found growing on stones. They are one of just a few vascular plants that can rehydrate after drying out, much like mosses do.

The sori of the polypody fern are considered naked because they don’t have the thin tissue covering, called an insidium, which many other ferns have. I think the little clusters of sporangium look like baskets of flowers. Though small they can be seen with the naked eye. The druids thought this fern had special powers because they found it growing near oak trees. Its roots and leaves have been used medicinally for many centuries and its name appears in some of the earliest herbals and botanical texts.

Milk white toothed polypore (Irpex lacteus) is a resupinate fungus, which means it looks like it grows upside down, and that’s what many crust fungi appear to do. This is a very common winter fungus that grows on the undersides of limbs. The “teeth” are actually ragged bits of spore producing tissue which start life as pores or tubes and then break apart and turn brown as they age. This example was very young and  shows what look more like pores than teeth at this stage. If you pick up a fallen limb and touch something that feels cold and rubbery, it might be one of these. They are very tough and can stand all the snow and cold that winter can throw at them.

Another tough fungus is the turkey tail (Trametes versicolor,) but this one feels leathery rather than rubbery. This is a common fungus that can be found just about anywhere but the beautiful blue, purple, and orange ones are rare in this area. It seems to depend on the year I’ve noticed; sometimes most of them are shades of brown but in some years many will lean towards blues, purples and oranges. I have no idea what determines their color and apparently science doesn’t either, because I’ve never been able to find a single word about what colors them in print.

I’ve seen several trees with these markings on them and I think it might be the start of a bright yellow crust fungus called conifer parchment fungus (Stereum sanguinolentum.) This fungus is also called bleeding parchment because of the blood red liquid it exudes when it is damaged. It causes heart rot in conifers and is a death sentence for the tree. It seems to be very widespread because I’ve seen it in almost every bit of woodland I’ve been in.

A single terminal bud and two lateral buds in red or sometimes pink help identify striped maple (Acer pennsylvanicum.) In late April or early May the bud scales on these buds will open to reveal the beautiful pink and orange buds, which are some of the most beautiful the things one can see in the spring forest.

Many things in nature will turn blue when it gets cold enough. Ice can be blue and so can the sap of the white pine tree. I’ve also seen the white striations that give striped maple its name turn blue. This is the only maple tree in New England that has bark that is striped like this. Other names for the tree are snake bark maple, moosewood maple, goosefoot maple, Pennsylvania maple, and whistle wood, because the soft pith makes the wood easy to hollow out and make whistles from. Native Americans used the bark of the tree to treat many ailments including coughs and colds.

A burl is an abnormal growth on a tree that grows faster than the surrounding tissue. Scientists don’t fully understand why it happens but burls are thought to grow on trees that have been weakened by stress or damage. Once the tree’s defenses have been weakened insects and/or fungi can attack and cause the abnormal growth. Woodworkers prize burls very highly and make some beautiful bowls and other things from them which can sometimes sell for thousands of dollars. This one grew on a maple and was quite large.

Bunch gall is another plant deformity that appears on Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) at the very tip of the stem. A gall midge (Rhopalomyla solidaginis) lays its egg in a leaf bud and when the larva hatches the plant stops growing taller but continues to produce leaves in a “bunch” like that seen here. Since the midge only lays its eggs on Canada goldenrod it makes this plant easy to identify.

I was working one day and this spider crawled up to me and watched for a while. After letting me take a couple of photos it walked off to wherever it was going. It was about as big as a quarter (3/4”) from leg tip to leg tip. I don’t know its name but it could move very fast when it wanted to.

This is how the sky often looks as I drive to work at 7:00 am at this time of year. It’s a great gift that costs nothing but my being there to see it. I hope all of you received similar gifts this year.

A wonderful gift may not be wrapped as you expect. ~Johnathan Lockwood Huie

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Last Saturday’s sunshine and 50 + degree temperatures made it easy to fall into spring daydreams. I decided to walk along the Ashuelot river in Swanzey where there are witch hazels (Hamamelis virginiana) growing to see if they might be blooming. They often blossom on warm winter days and I’ve even seen them blooming in January.

The river had tamed itself and the water level had dropped considerably since the last time I was here. There weren’t even any waves to photograph.

There were ice baubles still hanging onto the twigs in shaded areas but their gray opaqueness told me they were rotting in the sun.

Here was one with a hole right through it, which I can’t explain. I’m guessing it was made by a twig, but where is the twig?

There was green grass along the river and that made it even easier to dream of spring. It was a beautiful day; a well-deserved bonus day after the terrible weather of the last month or two.

I’m not sure what caused this bright yellow color on this and a couple of other stones. It wasn’t lichen. These stones spend time submerged when the river rises so I wonder if it might be some type of algae. I doubt the color is natural to the stone itself, it looked more like it was on it rather than part of it.

The spot where the witch hazels grow is on a small peninsula that juts out into the river. There was a trail out to its end but it has come close to disappearing over the years. I thought it was an old fisherman’s trail but I’ve seen enough deer tracks out here to wonder if it isn’t a game trail. It’s still being used;  you can just see the disturbed leaves that mark the trail just to the right of center in this photo.

Off to the right of the trail, closer to the river, the high water mark lies just above silt which has been deposited by the river over the years. I’ve seen this high water mark grow closer and closer to the trail, which means flooding on the river is getting worse. This is a very scary place when the river is high.

The ice on this tree branch shows how high the water was just recently. I’d guess about two feet higher than it was on this day, and I’d have had very wet feet and probably wet knees as well.

The silt the river leaves behind is as fine as sugar and anything that falls or steps on it will leave a mark. Even raindrops pock mark it. I wondered if these tracks were made by a beaver but there were none of the usual claw marks. They were big enough to be made by a bobcat  and cats have retractable claws, so that’s a definite maybe. Whatever made them comes here a lot because there was a trail of these prints through the silt, going in both directions.

There are beavers here. This was a freshly cut tree, and a beaver would make a good meal for a bobcat.

The witch hazels were indeed blooming and even though these aren’t spring blooming vernal witch hazels (Hamamelis vernalis) the sight of flowers just made my dream of spring all the more real. The thought hit me while I was here that it is this intense longing for spring that makes winters seem so long for me. Desire causes pain. Remove the desire and remove the pain. It sounds so simple.

One of my favorite mosses grew on a log.  I love the way it reaches out to colonize new lands. I think it might be beaked comb moss( Rhynchostegium serrulatum) but I can’t be sure because I’ve never seen it with spore capsules. It might also be Isopterygium tenerum, which is another creeping moss.

A woodpecker had pecked very small holes in a limb that was no bigger than 2 inches across. I was thinking that it must have been a very small woodpecker when I heard a tapping behind me.

It was a woodpecker pecking at a tree and it wasn’t tiny. Judging by where its red spots are I’m guessing it is a hairy woodpecker, but since I don’t do birds I could be wrong. It didn’t sit still long, whatever its name.  There were lots of other birds here too including chickadees and juncos and this small piece of forest was full of birdsong, which of course made it seem even more like spring.

I think the reason so many birds populate this area is because there is plenty here for them to eat, but unfortunately much of that food comes from plants that are invasive, like the oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) seen here.

This maple tree shows what bittersweet can do when it wraps itself around a tree trunk. The vine is as strong as wire and doesn’t expand as the tree grows, so the tree has no choice but to grow out around it, and this deforms the tree.  The tree will eventually be strangled to death unless something is done.

I saw what looked like a blush of blue on a lichen that grew on a tree so I took a few photos of it, but it wasn’t until I got home and looked at the photos that I saw something very unusual.

Very unusual in my experience, anyhow; each of the lichen’s apothecia, which in this case are little round spots where its spores are produced, had liquid in them. It hadn’t rained for a while so I’m not sure what this is all about. I have seen lichens with wet apothecia right after a rain but nothing like this. This lichen looked more like moisture was being squeezed from it rather than it picking up any moisture from its surroundings. If you know what it happening here I’d love to hear from you. I’ve searched and searched but haven’t had any luck.

The sun had gone by the time I was ready to leave but that didn’t bother me because it had been a great spring like walk with plenty of interesting things to see. Any day that reaches 50 degrees in December is a good day in my opinion. That night I actually dreamed lilacs were blooming and the strangest thing about that is, I rarely remember my dreams.

Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night. ~Edgar Allan Poe

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