Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Turkey Tail Fungi’

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.

Read Full Post »

In 1906 Albert Proell, manager of the Keene Forestry Association, was allowed to start a tree plantation on unused land near what is now the Keene airport. Trees, chiefly Scot pine and Norway spruce, were grown from seed to be used in reforestation projects. The spruce trees have done well but the Scot pines have not; neither the soil nor climate is right for them. Many of the spruce trees are still here and, as the above photo shows, are tall but have no real girth because they were meant to be transplanted into other areas, not allowed to reach full size. They are too close together and cast such deep shade that nothing but a few mosses and fungi will grow beneath them.

This view looking up shows how the trees are more poles than trees.

The plantation trees often die young as this one did.

But the near sterile tree plantation is only part of the story, because not all of the trees in this forest were planted. In fact most of them weren’t and some have been here for a very long time. Many old and large white pines (Pinus strobus) grow here, as well as hemlocks, larches, birches, beeches, maples, oaks and poplars.

Beech leaves glowed in the sun. I watch these leaves in winter because when they start falling from the trees spring isn’t far off. This is a tree that brings me year round pleasure, from its beautiful new leaves in spring until the last leaves fall in the following spring. I just read that beech trees were a sign of soil fertility for early settlers moving west, and when they found a good stand of beech that’s where they would start their farms. It’s also a very important tree to woodland creatures and everything from mice to black bears eat its nuts.

A large part of this land is swamp, and this is where I come to see skunk cabbage, wild azaleas and many other plants I don’t find anywhere else.

Skunk cabbages (Symplocarpus foetidus) are just waiting for it to warm up a bit and at the end of February or early March they’ll start to bloom. They’re one of our earliest spring blooming plants, if not the earliest.

I was happy to see seed pods on a few of the native roseshell azaleas (Rhododendron prinophyllum.) If a plant is producing seed it is happy, and these native shrubs are hard to find. The fragrant pink flowers are among the most beautiful found in the spring forest.

The shiny evergreen leaves of pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata) are quite easy to see in winter. They’re one of our native wintergreens and they like to grow in undisturbed, sandy woodland soil that is on the dry side. Pipsissewa 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. This is one of a very few places I’ve seen it. 

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.

Another rarity in this forest is striped wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata.) I’ve found 5 or 6 examples here, all growing in the same general area. Striped wintergreen has a symbiotic relationship with the mycelium of certain fungi in the soil and is partially parasitic on them through a process called myco-heterotrophy. This means that, even though they photosynthesize, they supplement their diet with nutrients taken from fungi. That explains why they will only grow in certain places, much like our native orchids. It also explains their rarity. I read recently that the plant is considered rare in both New England and Canada. I’ve also read that it won’t grow on land that has been disturbed in the last 100 years.

A yellow area on a tree had me thinking I knew what it was, but then I looked closer…

…and I realized that I had no idea what it was. But I thought that it must be a liverwort and after some digging I came up with a liverwort called flat-leaved scalewort (Radula complanate.) It is said to be relatively common on trees and rocks but I don’t think I’ve ever seen it. It doesn’t like direct sunlight and it certainly wouldn’t have gotten any where I found it growing.

Another of our native evergreen’s leaves were buried under the snow but I didn’t need to see them to identify this plant. The big J shaped flower styles of shinleaf (Pyrola elliptica) are unmistakable, even on its winter seedpods. Shinleaf is quite common in this area and can form large colonies. It seems to be more successful than some other wintergreens. Shinleaf and other plants in the wintergreen family contain compounds that are similar to aspirin and shinleaf was used by Native Americans as a poultice on injured shins and other parts of the body. That’s how the plant comes by its common name. Shinleaf leaves form a rosette at the base of the single, 4-5 inch tall flower stalk.

I’ve seen a lot of holes in trees but this was more of a slit than a hole and I haven’t a clue how it came to be. It was in an old white pine that was hollow inside. There are an amazing number of hollow trees in forests but it takes a long time; a hundred years or more, for a tree to become hollow so most of them are quite large. Many birds, animals, and even frogs and snakes live in tree hollows, so they’re important to wildlife but they can also be dangerous if they’re near buildings. I saw a big old white pine that had fallen and cut a barn right in half. It was hollow inside.

Amber jelly fungi (Exidia recisa) looked like stained glass. Being in the snow meant these examples had absorbed plenty of water so they were pliable and rubbery, like your ear lobe. I see this fungus everywhere, especially on fallen oak limbs but also on alder and poplar as well.

A tinder fungus (Fomes fomentarius) looked older than the tree it grew on but of course that isn’t possible. These bracket fungi produce spores at all times of year but through spring and summer studies have shown that they can produce as many as 800 million spores in a single hour. Its common name comes from its usefulness as tinder for starting fires.

Turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor) are some of the most colorful in the forest. For years now I’ve wondered what determines the colors that turkey tails display. Why are some brown and others blue? Or orange? Or purple?  If the question has an answer I haven’t found it, but I have found that they are full of antioxidants and contain many immune boosting properties. In fact studies have shown that they can boost the effectiveness of cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation.

Lots of clubmosses grow here and fan clubmoss (Lycopodium digitatum) is one of my favorites. The plant gets its common name from the way its branches fan out in a 180 degree arc at the top of the stem. Another common name is ground cedar because of its resemblance to the cedar tree. At one time this and other clubmosses were used to make Christmas wreaths and were collected almost into oblivion, but they seem to be making a fairly good comeback. A single plant can take 20 years or more to grow from spore to maturity, so they should never be disturbed. Clubmosses aren’t mosses at all. They are vascular plants that don’t flower; they produce spores instead of seeds and are considered fern allies. Fossils have been found that show the lowly clubmosses once grew to 100 feet tall.

Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora) are white and ghostly and grow in the dark places in the forest. They can get away with doing that because they don’t photosynthesize, but they do have flowers and when the flowers are pollinated they stand straight up toward the sky. This tells me that the flower seen here either wasn’t pollinated or didn’t see any need to stand up straight like all of its cousins. The seeds are fine like dust and I think the flower standing up straight must have something to do with rain being able to splash the seeds out of the capsule. Many plants and mosses use the same strategy for seed and spore dispersal. Fresh Indian pipe plants contain a gel that Native Americans used to treat eye problems, and the common name comes from the plant’s resemblance to the pipes they smoked.

That’s what winter is: an exercise in remembering how to still yourself then how to come pliantly back to life again. ~Ali Smith

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »

The highpoint of my fall foliage viewing comes at Willard Pond in Hancock. I usually visit the pond just before Halloween but this year the trees in lower elevations told me I might want to visit a little earlier. Beeches and oaks predominate here and they seemed to be changing earlier in the low places. If I was to go by the road to the pond I had made a good decision, and it was likely to be a very beautiful afternoon.

Willard Pond is a wildlife sanctuary under the protection of the New Hampshire Audubon Society and it is unusual because of the loons that nest here. There are also bears, moose and deer living here, as well as many bird species, including bald eagles. I’ve never seen a loon here but on this day I heard their haunting cries from clear across the pond. There are no motorboats allowed here so it’s always very quiet. All you hear is the wind and if you’re very lucky, a loon or two.

That’s where we’re going; along the shoreline at the base of that hill.

Here’s a closer look at the hill. The oaks and beeches looked to be in peak color.

I had a little friend join me on the trail. Chipmunks often follow along with people, hopping along from rock to log, chipping the whole way. If I was a hunter I wouldn’t like that because they alert all the other forest creatures that you’re coming. We have billions of acorns falling this year so these little guys won’t have to work quite as hard. Maybe that’s why he had time to follow along with me.

Hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) in red and striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) in yellow made for a pretty scene along the trail.

Speaking of the trail; in most places along its length it is one person wide because the hillside comes right down to the water. It can be wet at times and is always very rough and rocky, so good hiking boots are a must. You can’t see it very well in this photo, but it’s there.

In places huge boulders seem ready to tumble down the hillside, but they have probably rested in the same spot since the last ice age. This one is easily as big as a one car garage. These huge stones are one reason the trail has to be so narrow; no machine I know of could ever move one. Sometimes you have to weave your way through them to move down the trail.

Last year I was a little late and many of the leaves had fallen but this year even the maples still had leaves and the forest couldn’t have been more beautiful. It’s the kind of place you wish you could spend a week in.

Boardwalks are well placed so your feet stay dry but this year it has been so dry not a trickle came down from the hillside.

The trail I follow is on one side of a U shaped bay so you can look across and see another hillside, just as beautiful as the one you’re on. I don’t know if there is a trail on that side but I’d like to find out one day.

There were kayakers on the pond but they were quiet for the most part. A place like this makes you want to speak in whispers, so I wasn’t surprised.

New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) still bloomed along the pond edges, warmed by the water I would imagine.

Sometimes the trail leads you to just a few feet from the water’s edge.

Leaves were falling by the hundreds but the trees didn’t seem at all bare.

They certainly weren’t bare on the hill across the bay.

I took far too many photos while I was here but it’s hard to stop. Around every bend in the trail there is more of this.

This burnt looking area on a yellow birch was a chaga fungus (Inonotus obliquus) that has been here for years. This fungus has been used medicinally in Russia, China, Korea and Japan for centuries, and it is said to be packed with vitamins and minerals. Recently it has shown promise in cancer research, reducing the size of tumors. In Siberia it is said to be the secret to long life.

I saw some brightly colored turkey tails (Trametes versicolor) on a log. They were a little dry but pretty nonetheless.

A last look at the amazing colors found in this beautiful place.

The old wooden bench has seen better days but I sat here for quite  a while, listening to the breeze and the loons and the gentle lapping of the water. You can step outside of yourself here without even realizing it because you become totally immersed in the beauty of the place. I find that time often seems to stand still here, and what I think was an hour was often really two or three. That was the case on this day and I got back much later than I thought I would, but that was fine.  

Being in the forest can change everything and it can heal a lot of ills. I hope all of you will have a chance to experience the great joy and serenity found in places like this. 

Time doesn’t seem to pass here: it just is. ~J.R.R. Tolkien

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »

With daytime temperatures above freezing the snow is melting more each day. The woods in this photo have a southern exposure so the snow melts quickly. In fact I drove by them again yesterday and saw that all the snow had melted before I could even get this post posted. Soon there will be trout lilies blooming here. False hellebore, Pennsylvania sedges and ramps also grow here and this is one of my favorite places to visit each spring.

There is still a lot of snow left to melt in places though. This pile was about ten feet high and three times that long. It’s best for it to melt slowly so it doesn’t cause any flooding so daytime temperatures in the upper 40s F. and lower 50s are best, and that’s just what we’ve been getting.

Of course all the melting makes mud and we have plenty of it this year. I’ve already come close to getting stuck in it two or three times. We call this time of year mud season, when the upper foot or two of soil thaws but anything under that stays frozen. Water can’t penetrate the frozen soil so it sits on top of it, mixing with the thawed soil and making dirt roads a muddy quagmire. It’s like quicksand and it’s hellish trying to drive through it because you’re usually stuck in it before you realize how deep it is.

As this photo shows mud season has been with us for a long time. If you Google “Mud season” you’ll see cars, trucks, school buses and just about any other vehicle you can name stuck in the mud, just like this one. Some towns in the region have already closed roads because of it. This old tin Lizzie had chains on its wheels but it still got stuck.

One of the things I enjoy most at this time of year is walking through the woods to see what the melting snow has uncovered, like the purple leaves of American wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) seen here. Though the plant is an evergreen it doesn’t photosynthesize in winter so it doesn’t need green leaves. In fact many evergreen plants have purple leaves in winter but they’ll be greening up soon. This plant is also called teaberry and checkerberry because of its minty, bright red berries.

Swamp dewberry (Rubus hispidus) also has purple leaves in winter. This is a trailing vine with white flowers and black berries that look much like blackberries. Though it acts like a prickly vine botanically it is considered a shrub. It is also called bristly blackberry but I’ve heard that the blackberry like fruit is very sour. Native Americans used the roots of this plant medicinally to treat coughs and other ailments.

It isn’t always plants that appear from under the snow. I love seeing these curled fern leaves from last year.

Puddles get very big at this time of year and some, like the one seen here on a mowed lawn, could almost be called small ponds. It had a thin layer of ice on it on this cold morning.

Trail ice unfortunately is some of the last to melt. I’m guessing it’s because it has been so packed down and has become dense. It’s very hard to walk on without ice spikes.

Did this tree look like that when it fell or has the yellow conifer parchment fungus been growing under the snow all winter? Whatever the answer, the tree was covered with it.

Conifer parchment fungus (Stereum sanguinolentum) causes brown heart rot in trees, which is a reddish brown discoloration in the wood of conifers. It is also called bleeding parchment fungus because of the red juice they exude when damaged, but so far all of the examples I’ve seen were very dry and hard, and fairly impossible to damage.

Conifer parchment fungus is beginning to concern me because I’m seeing so much of it, virtually everywhere I go. If it’s on a standing tree like this one it means a death sentence for the tree. Nature will have to run its course and find a balance; I doubt there is very much we can do to stop it.

There were mallards on the Ashuelot River but the river wasn’t quite at bank full despite all the melting going on.

Regular readers know that I like to try to catch cresting river waves with my camera, but the water level has to be just right for good waves. If the river is too high or too low the waves will be small or nonexistent. This one was small but I still wouldn’t want to be hit by it.

Instead of the usual teardrop shape ice baubles along the river took on more of a flattened disc shape this day. They look like coins on sticks in this photo.

This one looked more like an orb but it was a disc. These may be the last ice baubles I get to see this year but that’s okay. They’ll be a happy memory and I’ll be warmer.

Fan clubmoss (Lycopodium digitatum) is one of my favorite clubmosses but I don’t see it too often because it has been so over collected for Christmas wreaths and other things. A single plant can take 20 years from spore to maturity so they shouldn’t ever be disturbed. This plant gets its name from the way its branches fan out at the top of the stem.

Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) has made it through the winter just fine. This plant is also called Mayflower because that’s when its small, very fragrant white or pink flowers appear. It was one of my grandmother’s favorites and seeing it always makes me think of her. Even ice won’t hurt its tough, leathery leaves.

So what I hope I’ve shown in this post are all the beautiful and interesting things that are buried under the snow in winter; things like the turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor) above. This is the time, before plants start growing new leaves and hiding them, that is the best time to find things like this.

These are some of the most beautiful turkey tails I’ve seen and there they were, in a spot I’ve visited many times, but I’ve never seen them. I hope you’ll see something as beautiful when the snow melts where you are.

Like the seeds dreaming beneath the snow, your heart dreams of spring. Kahlil Gibran

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »

Robin Hood Park is a 110-acre park located in the northeastern corner of Keene that I visit often at all times of year, but especially in summer to see all of the amazing fungi and slime molds that grow there. In 1889 George A. Wheelock sold a piece of land known as the Children’s Wood to the City of Keene for a total of one dollar. This area was eventually combined with an additional parcel of land purchased from Wheelock, known as Robin Hood Forest, to form Robin Hood Park. This park has been enjoyed by children of all ages ever since. I decided to go there last Saturday because I couldn’t remember the last time I had been there.

The small pond in the park has drawn ice skaters for a very long time, but this year the unusual warmth has kept people off the ice. This is where I learned how to ice skate 50+ years ago.

There are various small streams and rivulets that feed into the pond. Even though it was only 22 degrees F. on this day none of them had frozen over but they were trying, as this one shows.

There were lots of bubbles in what ice there was.

The spot where the little stream enters the pond showed just how thin the ice was.

But still, even with all the warnings both natural and man-made, someone had shoveled off a large rectangle to skate in. We humans can be very stupid at times. Note how wet the snow is where the water is coming up through the crack in the ice.

I got away from the pond and followed the trail that leads around it. There are many interesting things along this trail and I see things I’ve never seen almost every time I come.

Unfortunately there was nothing new about the thick ice on parts of the trail. There is a lot of groundwater here and ice like this is common in winter so I wore my new micro spikes. With them on I walked right over this ice and didn’t slip or slide one bit. It’s amazing how they grip; you feel like you couldn’t slip if you wanted to.

One of the things I saw on this day that I’ve never seen before is a liverwort called the Bifid crestwort (Lophocolea bidentata.) It grew on a log and at first I thought it was a moss.

But I’ve never seen a moss that looked like this and I suspected right off that it must be some type of liverwort. It is a leafy liverwort and each leaf is flattened with two notches at its tip (Bilobed.) Each lobe is drawn out to a long, narrow point. As you move up the stem the leading edge of each leaf is tucked behind the trailing edge of the leaf ahead of it. Both of these features help with identification as does the pale yellow green color. What I didn’t know at the time I saw it is that the plant is very aromatic, so the next time I see it I’ll have to smell it.

There was no question that this was a moss. Broom moss (Dicranum scoparium) gets its name from the way its curly tipped leaves look like they have all been swept to one side. In fact the scoparium part of the scientific name is Latin for broom. It prefers dry shaded places and won’t tolerate wet feet. Florists call it mood moss but I’m not sure why.

Mosses can change color in the cold and so can lichens. In the summer the blue gray lichens on this stone will become ashen gray and all but disappear into the color of the stone. It’s something I’ve noticed happening for years but I’ve never been able to identify the chameleon like lichen.

This buttressed tree root reminded me of a beautiful yellow slime mold I saw here one day a few years ago. Buttressed tree roots usually grow on all sides of the tree but this huge old oak has just the one. Roots that grow like this are said to grow because of nutrient poor, shallow soil but if that were true then it seems like all of the trees in this forest would have them. They are usually found in rain forests on very tall trees.

Something I’ve never been able to explain is the zig zag scar on this tree. I’ve shown it here before and blog readers have kicked around several ideas including lightning, but none seem to really fit.

The scar is deep and starts about 5 feet up the trunk from the soil line. If it were a lightning scar I would think that it would travel from the top of the tree into the soil. I happened upon a large white pine tree once that had been hit by lightning very recently and it had a perfectly straight scar from its top, down a root, and into the soil. The bark had been blown off all the way along it.

I’ve seen some strange things in the woods and this is one of them. Someone put a chain around this tree for no apparent reason. What will happen is the tree will grow around it and over time simply absorb it. It will become a tree cutters nightmare; one of those thing you hope you never run into with a chainsaw.

This granite stone has a spear of either quartz or feldspar in it. I think, if I remember my geology correctly, that it would be called an intrusion or vein. Granite itself is considered an intrusive igneous rock.

Turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor) are common enough but you don’t often find them growing on a standing tree as these were. There were many hundreds of them all around the tree.

Some of the turkey tails were quite colorful with lots of orange and lavender bands.

Other turkey tails on the same tree were much less colorful and this is interesting. For years I’ve tried to find out what determines the color of these fungi and I assumed it must be the wood itself, but these examples with widely varying colors were all growing on the same wood, so that can’t be it. These are in fact wood eaters which decompose wood so it can be returned to the forest soil to be used again by a new generation of trees. Life is a circle and not a single molecule is lost or wasted.

When I was a boy I found a book in the attic called “Nibbles and Bobtail.” It was all about animals of the forest acting like people, and their escapades. The animals lived in stone houses with thatched roofs and had fields bordered by stone walls. I was in my drawing phase then and I was interested in illustration, but this book bothered me because everything made of stone was colored. There were red stones, blue stones, orange, yellow, purple stones, etc. I thought well, it’s obvious this person has never seen a stone wall; everyone knows they’re gray. But it was I who didn’t know what I was talking about because instead of seeing I was just looking, and it took several years for me to finally see that stone walls could indeed be very colorful, as this one shows. Not only are the stones colorful but the lichens on them are as well. The orange in this photo is caused by the sidewalk firedot lichen (Caloplaca feracissima.)

By walking in a snowy forest you can really forget about this world, and every time you forget about this world you leave this world, and every time you leave this world you gain a very special wisdom that does not exist in this world. ~Mehmet Murat ildan

Thanks for coming by.

Read Full Post »

The rapidly dropping leaves told me if I was going to climb to see the foliage colors from above I’d better get a move on, so on the 14th I drove over to Pitcher Mountain in Stoddard where there is a 360 degree view from the summit. I’ve been having some breathing problems lately and I really didn’t know if I could make it to the summit or not, but I threw caution to the wind and with a good puff on the old inhaler, up I went. Sorry about the lens flare but it was a beautiful sunny day.

There were plenty of opportunities to stop and catch my breath and that was a good thing because if I went by the amount of people coming down as I was going up, it must have been standing room only up there. I’d bet I passed at least twenty people. This photo is of an oak that was already changing into its fall colors.

Beeches are also changing and they along with the changing oaks tell me I had better get over to Willard Pond soon. Willard Pond is especially beautiful at this time of year with its hillsides of yellow beeches and orange, red and purple oaks.

The trail up Pitcher Mountain is short but steep in places and when you feel like you are carrying a weight on your chest it seems even steeper. Pitcher Mountain is named for the Pitcher family who settled here in the mid-1700s. There are still remnants of an apple orchard near the summit, with trees that still bear apples. I doubt they’re from the 1700s but they are quite old.

This is always a stopping place, breathing problems or not. I always feel a great sense of release when I see this view and can imagine I hear a great whooshing sound, as if everything has suddenly been stripped away. There is the earth, the sky, and nothing else but emptiness, and when you’ve lived 60+ years surrounded on all sides by thick forest that emptiness can be very welcoming indeed. I sat on a stone and basked in it and forgot myself for a while.

When I got moving again a blueberry bush on the side of the trail had been caught in a sunbeam, and it was beautiful enough to stop me in my tracks.

While I was admiring the blueberry bush I looked up and saw what I think was a rosy saucer lichen (Ochrolechia trochophora) on a tree. It was full of beautiful rosy brown apothecia and was producing spores to beat the band. If I hadn’t stopped to admire the blueberry I wouldn’t have seen it.

At the base of the tree with the rosy saucer lichen was a log with a peach colored turkey tail fungus (Trametes versicolor) growing on it, so of course I had to get a photo of it. I don’t see many of them this color. One thing leads to another in nature; the blueberry showed me the lichen and the lichen showed me the turkey tails. I wander like this from interesting thing to interesting thing quite regularly. It’s as easy as looking around closely before you leave any given bit of nature. Before you move on down the trail there’s a good chance that you’ll see something else that catches your eye.

Almost there. Enough dilly dallying.

I was high enough now to look out over the forest I had just come through. It’s called the Andorra Forest and it seems to stretch into infinity. Views like this one in the fall let you pick out individual trees because of their varying color and show just how staggering the number of trees here really is; 4.8 million acres of them.

I could just glimpse the fire tower through the glowing blueberries and sumacs.

From here on is the shortest but steepest part of the trail so I stop at the old ranger’s cabin to catch my breath and prepare for it. I don’t know the history of this cabin but it’s certainly big enough to have held at least 4 people at one time. I’m assuming that people lived here when the fire tower was manned daily. The cabin looks like it’s leaning even more to the left, into the mountainside. How it takes the heavy snow load each winter is anyone’s guess.

Just a few more steps and I’d be on the summit. I was happy (and a tiny bit surprised) that I’d made it. I call the fire tower a monument to irony, because in 1940 the original 1915 built wooden tower burned to the ground, along with 27,000 acres of forest and all the trees on the summit. It was one of the worst fires in state history but it is because of that fire that today we have a full 360 degree view from the summit.

The bedrock showing on the summit is covered in lichens.

Common goldspeck lichen (Candelariella vitellina) is a crustose lichen, which means it grows like a crust and probably couldn’t be removed without damaging whatever it is growing on. This lichen contains a yellow pigment called calysin and was once used to dye wool yellow in Sweden. It must have been very hard work scraping it off the stone and yellow wool must have been very expensive.

One of the first things I look for at the summit is what I call the “near hill.” I was a little disappointed that the colors weren’t brighter and didn’t “pop” more. Capturing fall color from above is a lot harder than one would think. I’ve tried many times, from many different hills and mountains, and I really haven’t ever been completely happy with the results.

It was very beautiful up close but harder to see the colors far away.

I could just see the whirligigs over on Bean Mountain in Lempster. I couldn’t tell but they must have been spinning fast. The wind was brisk to say the least, and the camera had a hard time with them through the haze.

Jerry from the Quiet Solo Pursuits blog thought the fall colors would look better with a blue sky behind them so I conjured a bluish one up and here it is. I told Jerry that I found when the sun is behind me a photo will almost always show blue water, and I wondered if the same might be true with the sky. As you can see from these photos in many the sky is milky white and in some it’s blue, and I think it must have a lot to do with where the sun was when I took the photo. I’m going to have to pay closer attention to see if it really does work that way. By the way, if you’re a nature lover, especially a bird lover, you really should be reading Jerry’s blog. You can find him right over there in the “Favorite Links” section under Quiet Solo Pursuits. His latest post shows the glorious fall colors found in Michigan.

I met some people from Stoddard up on the mountain who told me I had missed the peak colors by just a few days. “Last Tuesday was best,” they said. Oh well, as Forrest Gump’s momma always said: Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.

It had rained the day before my climb so I wasn’t surprised to see the depressions in the stone filled with water. I’ve always called them bird baths and a year or two ago a dark eyed junco let me sit and watch it bathe right here.

There was another oak turning orange and prodding me on to Willard Pond so I don’t miss the show there. We’re not done yet; there is more fall color to come. The oaks there blaze with bright orange and the beeches are lemon yellow and together they often put on an unforgettable show.

Going down was easier on the lungs but harder on the legs and I guess that’s the price you pay for climbing. I had a smile on my face though and I had met a few interesting people and had seen many beautiful things, so I’m not sure I could imagine a better day. I hope you’ll have one just as good real soon.

Nature is so powerful, so strong. Capturing its essence is not easy – your work becomes a dance with light and the weather. It takes you to a place within yourself. ~Annie Leibovitz

Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »

I saw quite a few mushrooms in September, including some I’ve never seen before, and I’m still finding them in October. This chicken of the woods (Laetiporus sulphureus) mushroom was the biggest and most colorful. Another common name for them is sulfur shelf though I’ve worked with sulfur and this mushroom doesn’t remind me of it. I’ve read that as they age they lose the orange color but I don’t believe it now because I was able to watch these examples every day and they never lost their orange, even as they rotted away. The name chicken of the woods comes from the way they taste like chicken when cooked. Finding bright colors in the woods at any time of year is always a surprise and I always feel grateful that I was able to see them. This fungus was a beautiful thing and about as big as a soccer ball.

Chicken of the woods is yellow on the underside and has pores rather than gills. The pores are there in this photo but they are far too small to see.

We’ve seen the chicken so now for the hen. Hen of the woods (Grifola frondosa,) is an edible polypore that often grows in the same spot year after year. They are said to look like the back of a brown hen’s ruffled feathers, and that’s how they come by their common name. Though they’re said to be brown I always see green. My color finding software sees bands of gray, peach puff, and rosy brown, which is a surprise. I’ve seen a lot of these this year and every one grew at the base of an oak.

There is a whitish tan mushroom that grows on lawns and in the woods and isn’t very exciting so I’ve always ignored it.  After some research I found that it’s called the bluing bolete (Gyroporus cyanescens,) and if I had known that it turned a beautiful cornflower blue where it was bruised I would have looked more closely.

The bluing bolete is said to be edible but I certainly wouldn’t eat it or any mushroom without an expert’s identification. This mushroom contains a compound called variegatic acid which is colorless until it is exposed to oxygen. Once exposed it quickly turns blue, in this case. It can also turn red, I’ve read.

Dyer’s Polypore (Phaeolus schweinitzii) is also called the velvet topped fungus because of its hairy appearance. These fungi are parasitic on the roots and heartwood of living white pines in the eastern U.S. and cause root rot. They also change color as they age. If found when young as this one was it can be used to dye wool a soft yellow or orange and older examples will dye wool brown.

This is what an older dyer’s polypore looks like. As you can see the color difference between young and old examples is dramatic.  Some of these mushrooms can get quite large but this one was only about 5 inches across. Though they sometimes look as if they’re growing on the ground as this one does, they’re really growing on conifer roots or buried logs.

If you saw this growing on a fallen branch would you know what it was? I wasn’t absolutely sure until I turned it over.

I knew it was some type of shelf or bracket fungi from the back but I didn’t know it was turkey tails (Trametes versicolor.) I never knew their undersides were so pure white when they were young. When older the underside is kind of off white and full of pores. I also always thought they grew singly, but in clusters. The back view shows they’re actually all one body.

Golden pholiota (Pholiota limonella) mushrooms grew on a birch tree, which is something I’ve never seen before. In fact there are very few mushrooms that I’ve seen growing on a living birch, but these mushrooms can grow on living or dead wood. They appear in the summer and fall and usually form in large clusters. Their orange-yellow caps are slimy and covered in reddish scales. The dim morning light really brought out the golden color of these examples.

Wolf’s milk slime mold (Lycogala epidendrum) starts out as tiny pink globules but as they age and become more like what we see in the above photo. As they grow the globules look more like small puffballs growing on a log.

Wolf’s milk slime mold is also called toothpaste slime and that’s because there is a pinkish orange material inside each globule with (usually) the consistency of toothpaste. It can also have a more liquid consistency as it does here, and that’s the way I usually find it. As it ages it will turn into a mass of brown powdery spores.

Some coral fungi come to a blunt, rather than pointed end and are called club shaped corals. I thought these might be Clavariadelphus truncatus but that mushroom has wrinkles down its length and these are smooth, so I’m not sure what they are. They were no more than an inch tall.

Crown coral fungi come in many colors but I usually find the tan / white varieties. The example in this photo was as big as a baseball (about 3 inches) and had a touch of orange, which I was happy to see. The way to tell if you have a crown coral fungus is by the tips of the branches, which in crown coral look like tiny crowns rather than blunt or rounded. They grow on dead wood but if that wood is buried they can appear to be growing in soil.

Mushroom spores are carried by the wind so it is unusual to see them dropping to the forest floor like they have in the above photo. I’ve only seen this happen three times and twice it was on a still, hot, humid day. This time it was on a cooler but still humid day, without a hint of a breeze to blow the spores away.

An unusual mushroom that I’ve never paid attention to before is the black tooth fungus (Phellodon niger.) One of things that I find unusual about it is how, when they grow close enough together, their caps fuse together creating a large misshapen mass. But as this photo shows they also grow singly, as most of the ones I saw on this day did. Another odd thing about it is how the caps seem to split open on top.

On the underside of the black tooth’s cap are the black “teeth” that give it its common name. The teeth are called spines and the mushroom’s spores form on them. It’s easy to see how the spore bearing surface increases when a mushroom grows pores or spines on its cap. I’ve read that this mushroom is endangered in many countries like Switzerland and parts of the U.K. and there is a danger of its extinction in certain parts of the world. They seem to be abundant in this area.

This bracket fungus had all the makings of a dryad’s saddle (Cerioporus squamosus) except for color. Dryad’s saddle is usually brown but I can’t find any information on whether or not they start out life white before turning brown. I have seen photos of them online where they looked whitish, but that could be due to lighting or camera settings. This one was definitely white all over and as big as a saucer.

One of the things about nature study that some people seem to have trouble with is leaving things dangling, with no answers.  When I go into the woods I almost always come back with more questions than answers but quite often, sometimes even years later, the answer comes to me. The question on this day was this grouping of grayish mushrooms growing on a stump. I’ve looked through three mushroom guides and a few websites and haven’t found a single small grayish mushroom with a frayed cap edge. I was fairly sure I’d have trouble identifying them but I wanted their photo anyway, because I thought they were very pretty. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that mystery is a big part of living, and I’ve had to do so yet again.

These little white mushrooms presented another conundrum but I think they might be one called Xerula megalospora. Unfortunately I’ll probably never be 100% sure, because you need a microscope to see the big, lemon shaped spores and I don’t have one.

What leads me to think that this example might be a Xerula megalospora is how mushroom expert Michael Kuo explains that “its gills are attached to the stem by means of a notch and a tiny tooth that runs down the stem.” For me though, their beauty is more important than their name and this one was quite beautiful; even more so upside down.

There is no end to wonder once one starts really looking.― Marty Rubin

Thanks for coming by.

Read Full Post »

Though this is only the third one I’ve done I’ve come to like these “looking back” posts. They make me  have another look at the past year in photos and I always seem to stumble on things I’ve forgotten. These tiny fungi I saw last January are a good example of that. When I saw them I didn’t know what they were and thought they must be some type of winter slime mold, but then I moved the hand that was holding the branch and felt something cold and jelly like.

And that’s when I discovered what very young milk white toothed polypores (Irpex lacteus) look like. These crust fungi are common in winter but it was the first time I had ever seen the “birth” of a fungus.

February can be a strange month, sometimes spring like and sometimes wintery. This year it was wintery, and this is what Half Moon Pond in Hancock looked like on February 4th. The relatively warm air combined with the cold ice of the pond produced lots of fog and I thought it made for a very beautiful scene.

March is the month when the ground finally begins to thaw and things begin to stir. First the skunk cabbages blossom early in the month and then by the end of the month other early plants like coltsfoot can be seen. Many of our trees and shrubs also begin to bloom toward the end of the month. This shot of female American hazelnut blossoms (Corylus americana) was taken on March 25th. They may not look like much but after a long cold winter they are a true pleasure to see. Just think, March is only 60 days away!

April is the month when many of our most beautiful spring ephemeral wildflowers appear and one of those I am always most anxious to see is the spring beauty (Claytonia virginica.) Each flower is very small; maybe as large as a standard aspirin, but the place they grow in often has many hundreds of flowers blooming at the same time so it can be a beautiful sight. These beautiful little flowers often appear at just the same time maple trees begin to flower. I saw the ones in the photo on April 26th.

Another small but beautiful spring flower that I look forward to seeing is the little fringed polygala (Polygala paucifolia.) These plants often grow and flower in pairs as those shown were doing and often form mats that carpet the ground in places where they like to grow. The flowers need a heavy insect like a bumblebee landing on their little fringed third petal, which is mostly hidden. This opens their third sepal and lets the insect crawl into the tubular blossom, where it is dusted with pollen.  They often start blooming in mid-May but this photo is from May 31st. Because of their color at a glance fringed polygalas can sometimes look like violets so I have to look carefully to find them.

Also blooming in May is the beautiful soft pink, very fragrant roseshell azalea (Rhododendron prinophyllum.)  It is also called the early azalea, even though there are those that bloom earlier. It has a fragrance that is delicate and spicy sweet and the fragrance comes from the many hairs that grow along the outsides of the blossoms. This native shrub grows to about 8 feet tall in a shaded area of a mostly evergreen forest. I found it blooming on May 26th.

One of my favorite finds of 2017 was a colony of ragged robin plants (Lychnis flos-cuculi.) I’d been searching for this plant for many years but hadn’t found it until logging kept a small lawn from being mowed last summer. After a month or two of logging operations the unmown grass had gotten tall, but it was also full of ragged robin plants, and that was a great surprise. I don’t know their status in the rest of the state but they are fairly rare in this corner of New Hampshire. This type of ragged robin is not native; it was introduced from Europe sometime in the 1800s but that doesn’t diminish its beauty. I found these plants blooming on June 28.

Two years ago I was walking through a swamp and lo and behold, right there beside the trail was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen; a two foot tall greater purple fringed bog orchid (Platanthera grandiflora) in full bloom. It was beautiful; like a bush full of purple butterflies. I went back again and again this year to keep track of its progress and on July 12 there it was in full bloom again. I can’t explain what joy such a thing brings to me, but I do hope that everyone reading this will experience the same joy in their lives. It’s a true gift.

August was an unusually cold month; cold enough to actually run the furnace for a couple of days, so I didn’t see many mushrooms in what is usually the best month to find them. I did see these little butter wax caps (Hygrocybe ceracea) one day but all in all it wasn’t a good year for mushrooms and slime molds in this area. Some were held back by the cold and appeared much later than they usually do.

The cool August didn’t seem to discourage the wildflowers any, as this view from August 12th shows. In fact we had a great year for wildflowers, even though some bloomed quite a lot later than what I would consider average. I think the abnormal cold had something to do with that, too.

It was also an odd year for fall foliage, with our cold August tricking many trees into turning early, as this photo from September30th shows. Our peak foliage season is usually about the second week of October and some trees had turned color in mid-September. After that it got very hot and the heat stopped all the changing leaves in their tracks, and nobody knew what foliage season would be like at that point.  Some thought it might be ruined, but all we could do was wait and see.

After seeing few to no monarch butterflies for the past 3 years suddenly in September they appeared. First one or two every few days, then more and more until I was seeing at least two each day. This one posed on some Joe Pye weed on September 16th. I can’t say if they’re making a comeback or not but it was a pleasure to see them again. I didn’t realize how much I had taken them for granted until they weren’t there anymore, and that made seeing them again very special. Not only did their reappearance teach me something about myself, it also taught me that monarchs fly like no other butterfly that I’ve seen.

By mid-October, right on schedule for our peak foliage season, all the leaves were aflame and that put a lot of worries to rest. New Hampshire relies heavily on tourism and millions of people come here from all over the world to see the trees, so a disappointing foliage season can have quite a financial impact on businesses. This view from Howe Reservoir in Dublin with Mount Monadnock in the background is one of my favorite foliage views. It was in the October 14th post and reminds me now how truly lucky I am to live in such a beautiful place.

By November 22 Mount Monadnock had its first dusting of snow, which would melt quickly and show no trace just 3 days later. For those new to the blog, Mount Monadnock is one of the most climbed mountains on earth, second only to Mount Fuji in Japan. Even Henry David Thoreau found too many people on the summit when he climbed it in the 1800s. He, like myself, found the view of the mountain much more pleasing than the view from it. He said “Those who climb to the peak of Monadnock have seen but little of the mountain. I came not to look off from it but to look at it. The view of the pinnacle itself surpasses any view which you get from the summit.” I agree.

I thought I’d end this post with something I just found recently on a rail trail; the prettiest bunch of turkey tail fungi that I’ve ever seen. It’s a perfect example of why I spend so much time in the woods; you just never know what beautiful things you might see. I found these beauties on December 2nd.

Laughter from yesterday that makes the heart giggle today brightens the perspective for tomorrow. ~Evinda Lepins

I hope everyone has a very happy and healthy new year! Thanks for stopping in.

Read Full Post »

Last Saturday in part one of this post I headed south out of Swanzey on a quest to find ledges and deep cuts on the old Cheshire Railroad that once ran from Keene to Fitchburg, Massachusetts, and then on to Boston. Now, in part two of this post I’ve driven south just a short bit and I’m heading north to Keene, simply to cut down on the walking mileage. At this point I haven’t found the deep cut but I’ve seen many other interesting things, like this granite railroad bridge on the southern branch of the Ashuelot River. Built in place with granite hacked out of the nearby hills by railroad stone masons nearly 170 years ago, it’s as solid now as it was then and every bit as impressive too. Most of these arched railroad bridges were laid up dry with no mortar, and that’s quite a feat.

Near the railroad bridge are ruins of old bridge abutments which probably held a wooden or iron highway bridge at one time. Ruins like this are common here because our rivers and streams occasionally rise to “100 year flood” levels and wash everything in their path downstream. In reality it seems like the term 100 year flood should be revised to “10 year flood,” because we’ve had several bad ones in just a few years.

I picked up the trail head just off Route 12 south to Troy but this view looks north into Keene, and that’s where I’m going.

A sign told me exactly where I was but it urged me to go south into Troy and that wasn’t in today’s plan. It reminded me though, that Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Harrison Blake and other transcendentalists rode on the railroad to Troy from Fitchburg, Massachusetts and then hiked to Mount Monadnock to climb it. Thoreau did this four times and wrote extensively of his journeys by rail and his climbs afterwards. He loved Mount Monadnock but even in his day complained that there were too many people on the summit. He would be shocked if he could see it today; some days it’s standing room only up there, and that’s why you never see views from the summit of Monadnock on this blog.

I saw a lot of trailing arbutus growing right along the sides of the trail. This was surprising because the plant was once over collected and is notoriously hard to find. We call it Mayflower and its sweet, spicy scent is unmatched. It was one of my grandmothers favorite flowers, so she was with me along this stretch of trail. I’m going to have to come back in May when it must perfume the air all through here.

I didn’t have to walk too long before I finally found some ledges. I had previously checked out the satellite views of this section of trail and this looked like an area that would have ledges, but even a satellite view isn’t a guarantee because of the heavy tree cover.

The ledges were probably about 20 or 30 feet high; not hugely impressive compared to some I’ve seen. I was a little disappointed by the lack of dripping groundwater. I doubt very much that anything like the tree trunk size ice columns that I see in the Westmoreland deep cut would grow here because it takes a lot of constantly dripping groundwater to create them. They are simply gigantic icicles, after all.

But there must be groundwater seeping in from somewhere because the usual drainage channels along the sides of the rail bed had water in them. Sometimes the color of the rocks makes it hard to tell how wet they are.

We have three or four evergreen ferns here in New Hampshire and the spinulose wood fern (Dryopteris spinulose) seen here is one of them. This lacy fern looks fragile but is actually very tough and will still be green in spring after its long sleep under the snow. I saw many examples of this pretty fern along the trail.

Many ferns release their spores in the fall and if you look at the underside of a fertile frond at that time you will often see small dots called sori. The sori are clusters of spore producing sporangia and they can be naked (uncovered) or capped by a cover called an indusium, as they are on the spinulose wood fern. When the spores are ready to be released thicker cell walls on one side of each sorus will age and dry out, and this creates a tension which causes the cover (indusium) to burst open and release its spores.

This photo shows a single sorus with its cover (indusium) burst, revealing the almost microscopic spherical sporangia. This is as close as I’ve ever gotten to this event. Each sorus is tiny and I can’t even guess the size of the sporangia. I do know that I can’t see them without a macro lens. What I could see if I had a microscope!

At one point on the trail I looked down to the left to the road I had been driving on just a short time before and saw that I was probably what must have been about a hundred feet above it, and it was then that I realized that I was walking on fill. Many thousands of cubic yards of soil must have had to have been used to fill in what was once a small valley between hills. The railroad engineers were smart though and used all the blasted rock from the deep cuts to fill in the low spots. This method is still in use today when a road is built; you bulldoze the top of a hill into a valley to make the roadbed level.

Here is a look down at the aforementioned road. I was almost in the tree tops and had to marvel at such an engineering feat. How they did all this in the mid-1800s is beyond me. It must have been very hard work indeed.

I was surprised to find running ground pine (Lycopodium clavatum) out here because in my experience it is relatively rare in this region. Though it is called running ground pine the plant is a clubmoss and has nothing to do with pines. The “running” part of the common name comes from  the way its horizontal underground stems spread or run under the leaf litter. Other names include lamb’s tail, fox tail, wolf’s claw, stag’s horn and witch meal. Native Americans used clubmosses medicinally to treat a variety of ailments including headaches and urinary problems. They were also used to treat wounds and dye fabrics. The Lycopodium part of the scientific names comes from the Greek Lycos, meaning wolf, and podus, meaning foot.  Whoever named them obviously thought clubmosses looked like wolf paws, but I don’t really see that.

It wasn’t too long before I saw more ledges, and these looked to be much higher than the first ones.

In fact these were some of the highest I’ve seen in this area. They might have been 60 feet or more at their highest point I’d guess, and I couldn’t back up enough to get all of them in view. Like the first set of ledges I saw these were quite dry with little groundwater seepage, so I’m guessing that I won’t be seeing many of those huge ice columns out here.

This tree was a fallen white pine that fell when it was young. I’d guess 30-40 years old maybe. It’s hard to say how tall it was but it had some height.

Some parts of the ledges were absolutely covered by what at first I thought was moss but which turned out to be liverworts. Many thousands of them.

This isn’t a very good photo because of the shiny wet leaves but I believe that these liverworts were the same greater featherwort (Plagiochila asplenioides) liverworts I saw at 40 foot falls in Surry back in November. These were very wet while the ones at 40 foot falls were on the dry side. They look quite different when wet like these but that’s when they’re at their best. They’re very small.

Again, this is a poor photo but it shows a closer look at the liverwort that I think is greater featherwort. This is only the second time I’ve ever seen them though, so I could be wrong.

Part of the ledge had collapsed and a large rock slide had dammed up the drainage ditch. This isn’t good because the water will eventually flow out into the rail bed and wash it away. I’ve seen the same thing happen on other rail trails, so I hope one of the snowmobile clubs will repair it. It is they who keep these trails open and we who use them owe them a big thank you. If it wasn’t for them in many cases there would be no rail trails. They work very hard to keep them open using their free time and often their own tools, so I’m sure a donation would be welcomed too if you feel so inclined.

The prize for the prettiest thing I saw on this trail has to go to these turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor.) They were as beautiful as flowers and some of the most colorful I’ve seen this year.

Well, I didn’t find the great scented liverworts and potential ice columns out here like I hoped I would but I certainly found plenty of other interesting things. I hope you thought so too and I hope this post inspires you to explore the rail trails in your own area.

Our minds, as well as our bodies, have need of the out-of-doors. Our spirits, too, need simple things, elemental things, the sun and the wind and the rain, moonlight and starlight, sunrise and mist and mossy forest trails, the perfumes of dawn and the smell of fresh-turned earth and the ancient music of wind among the trees.~ Edwin Way Teale

Thanks for stopping in.

 

Read Full Post »

Though almost all the leaves have fallen from the trees the various brambles have hung on to theirs as the usually do. This blackberry plant’s leaves were a pleasing reddish bronze / brown. Some brambles like dewberry turn a beautiful deep purple color and hold onto their leaves all winter but blackberries and raspberries will lose theirs.

When I first found this odd little thing I wasn’t even sure if it was a fungus or a lichen. It grew on soil (I thought) so I guessed right when I guessed fungus but I still had a hard time identifying it. It turned out to be the pinecone tooth (Auriscalpium vulgare,) which is a little mushroom that grows on pinecones. Since the pinecone this one grew on was buried in the soil, I thought it was growing in soil.

The underside of the cap on the pinecone tooth fungus is toothed, and that’s where that part of its common name comes from. The cap is about the size of an M&M candy (.53”) and is off center so in this view it looks heart shaped. On young examples the teeth are white. They darken to brown with age so this example was somewhere in between.

A good identifying feature of the pinecone tooth is its hairy cap and stem. I can’t think of another mushroom like it. This mushroom grows only on white pine (Pinus strobus) and Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) cones.

Brittle cinder fungus (Kretzschmaria deusta) looks like a shiny lump of coal someone stuck to a tree. Though I’ve only seen this fungus on standing dead trees and logs it will attack live trees and is said to be aggressive. Once it gets into a wound on the tree’s roots or trunk it begins to break down the cellulose and lignin and causes soft rot. The tree is then doomed, though it may live on for a few to even several more years.

The shiny, hard outer coating on brittle cinder fungus is indeed brittle. I just touched this example with my finger and the hard outer shell fell off, exposing the spore mass within. These spores will ride the wind to other trees and if conditions are right, will infect them as well. It’s a silent unseen drama that goes on day after day, year after year.

It’s hard to believe that the brittle cinder fungus we saw in the two previous photos started life as a beautiful gray and white crust-like fungus in the spring, but that’s how they begin. You can see the lumpiness already starting in this example, which I found on a log on a rainy day in June of 2014.

I’m still seeing lots of colorful turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor.) These examples had a lot of orange in them.

For years I’ve tried to find an answer to why turkey tails have so many different colors. Is it the minerals in the soil? The type of wood they grow on? From what I’ve read, there is no answer to why this or any other mushroom displays the colors it does. It seems that they’re colorful simply to be beautiful, and that’s fine with me because I enjoy seeing them. They brighten a gray winter day.

The dry husks of American hazelnuts (Corylus americana) have a cavern in them where the nut was and this makes a good winter home for spiders and other insects. It’s hard to see but the opening of this one had spider webs across it, as many do. I like to see the colors and movement in these empty husks.

There were still hazel nuts in these husks. In 1995 a large shallow pit in Scotland was found to be full of the remains of thousands of burned hazelnut shells and was estimated to be 9,000 years old, so man has been eating this nut for a very long time. In this country Native Americans used them to flavor soups, and also ground them into flour, most likely for thousands of years as well.

A young maple was healing a long frost crack; at about 6 feet one of the longest I’ve seen.  On sunny winter days the sun warms the tree’s bark and the cells in the wood just under the bark expand. If the nighttime temperature falls into the bitterly cold range the bark can cool and contract rapidly, but when the wood beneath the bark doesn’t cool as quickly this stress on the bark can cause it to crack.  On cold winter nights you can often hear what sounds like rifle shots off in the woods, but the sounds are really those made by cracking trees. They can be quite loud and often echo through the forest.

One day I received an email from a man in Europe who asked me if I could look at a detail of a 15th century painting and tell him if I thought the mark on a tree trunk was a frost crack. He had seen frost crack examples on this blog and was curious to know if that was what the artist had painted. The first thing I had to know was if the temperature dropped below freezing in the region that the painting was supposed to represent and he said yes, it got cold there. I then looked at the detail of the painting closely and noticed that flowers grew on the side of the tree with the scar. This told me that since most flowers need sunshine the sun most likely shined on that side of the tree, so you had cold winter nights and sunshine on the tree’s bark during the day; the two things needed to produce a frost crack. I told the man that if I had to bet on it, I’d bet that the scar was indeed a healed frost crack. You can see it there just above the most vertical white flower. What you see here is just a very small detail of the painting, enlarged several times. It had roads and medieval peasant farmers and castles and all kinds of interesting things in it.

At this time of year when the sun is low in the sky it makes things glow, like it did to these virgin’s bower seed heads (Clematis virginiana) one recent sunny day.

The seed head was in silhouette in the midst of shining, feathery sunshine.

Virgin’s bower seeds (achenes) are also hairy with a long hairy tail called a style. This native clematis has panicles of small white flowers in the fall. The foliage is toxic so it isn’t eaten by animals, but early settlers used parts of the vines as a pepper substitute. Native Americans used it to treat migraine headaches and nervous disorders, and herbalists still use it to treat those same illnesses today.

Staghorn sumac stems (Rhus typhina) also glowed in the sunshine, and so did the buds. These buds are naked with no bud scales, so it is up to the hairs to protect them from the cold. Grinding the berries of staghorn sumac produces a purple colored, lemon flavored spice that is very popular in some countries. Another name for this native shrub is not surprisingly, velvet tree.

I’m forever seeing things that make me wonder how I could have possibly walked through these woods for 50 years and not seen them, and this is one of those. It was cone shaped, about two feet in diameter, made of soft sand, and stood about shin high. At first I thought it was some kind of termite mound but a little research showed it was made by ants. Specifically, field ants, which I’ve never heard of.

There were many of these mounds along the sunny side of a road, some quite big. I’ve read that the most likely builder is an ant named Formica exsectoides, also called wood ant, mound ant, thatching ant, and Allegheny field ant. These ants secrete formic acid and can squirt the acid several feet when alarmed. They use the acid to kill tree seedlings and any other plants that would grow around the mound and shade it from the sun. They do this because the mound acts as a solar collector for incubating eggs and larvae. In winter workers and queens move deep into the mounds to hibernate.

A deer walked through this ant mound, showing how soft the course sand and thatch material is. Thousands of ants can live in a single mound, so there were many hundreds of thousands and possibly millions of them in what was quite a large area. The mounds take many years and many ants to build, so the larger ones can apparently be quite old. It’s amazing what nature will teach you if you’re open to learning.

One recent day during the fall leaf cleanup I was blowing leaves and something caught my eye. I thought it was an earth worm at first but it turned out to be a small salamander, stuck to a leaf and frozen solid. Or so I thought; salamanders have a kind of sugar syrup antifreeze in them that keep their tissues and organs safe in the cold. It also keeps their cells from dehydrating as they stop breathing and their heart stops beating. They survive in this suspended animation state all winter long until the warm spring rains revive them. I put this one back where it had come from to sleep on until spring.

Seeing, in the finest and broadest sense, means using your senses, your intellect, and your emotions. It means encountering your subject matter with your whole being. It means looking beyond the labels of things and discovering the remarkable world around you. ~Freeman Patterson

Thanks for coming by.

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »