Posts Tagged ‘White Pine Pollen Cones’

With the moderate drought we’re in I haven’t expected to see any fungi so I was surprised to see these little beauties popping up out of an old hay bale. From what I’ve read I believe they are wooly ink cap fungi (Coprinus lagopus.)

The wooly part of the name comes from the way the fungus is covered in “wool” as it comes out of the ground and because of the fuzzy stem, which can be seen here. The stem is hollow and very fragile, seeming to disappear at the slightest pressure from fingers. I love the color of the cap and gills but they seem, from what I saw these examples do, to change color as they age. And they age fast; this little mushroom goes through its entire above ground life cycle in just a day. By the end of this day these were black.

These mushrooms seem to just melt away as their spore bearing gills turn to “ink.” I’m not sure why this one looked so wet, because it was a dry day. Maybe the whole thing was turning to liquid.

The next day more mushrooms appeared from the same bale of hay, but this time they were wearing black and white. I wonder if the early morning, shaded light had something to do with the colors seen in the first three photos. This one was taken in full sun. I’ve seen them in both colors in online photos.

I saw a big bolete which had grown out of the side of an embankment, only to have gravity pull it downward. I think it might be the ruby bolete (Hortiboletus rubellus) but there are many that look alike and I’m not a mushroom expert.  Had I checked to see if it turned blue when it was bruised I would have known for sure but I didn’t want to eat it, I just wanted to admire it.

I’ve heard from quite a few sources that hemlock varnish shelf (Ganoderma tsugae) growth seems to be exploding this year, for reasons unknown. People are seeing them everywhere and as this hemlock log shows, so am I. It is closely related to the Reishi mushroom found in China. That mushroom is considered the most important of all the herbs and substances used in Chinese Herbal Medicine, including ginseng and scientists around the world are researching its anti-cancer potential. I’m guessing this could be a valuable log; I stopped counting mushrooms at ten, and some were quite big.

Nature can show the brightest colors in the oddest places and I always wonder why. What benefit can this stalked bracket fungus gain from all of that color? Do the colors relate to the minerals it is absorbing from this old hemlock log? And why do the colors change over time?

Wooly oak galls are created by the wool sower gall wasp (Callirhytis seminator) and are about the size of a ping pong ball, but “felt covered” like a tennis ball. The gall is caused by secretions from the grubs of the gall wasp, which will only build it on white oak and only in spring. There are small seed like structures inside the gall which contain the wasp larva, and that’s why these galls are also called oak seed galls. They are a great help when searching for white oak trees. We have mostly red oaks here so I don’t see many of these.

I’m always amazed by the colors on the inner bark of trees. I’ve seen red, orange, yellow, and even blue. This photo shows the inner bark of an old gray birch, which had fallen off. I liked the patterns as well as the colors. Things like this always make me wonder why the most beautiful parts of a tree are sometimes hidden away where nobody can see them.

I also liked the pattern the leaves of this Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum) made. I often see this beautiful little fern in gardens.

Meadow spike moss (Selaginella apoda) has plenty of new growth so I’m guessing it doesn’t mind dryness, even though I’ve read that it prefers moist soil. Spike mosses 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. It’s a pretty little thing which is native to the eastern and midwestern U.S. but its cousins grow all over the world in every continent except Antarctica. The acorn in the upper right will give some idea of scale.

The male flowers of eastern white pine trees (Pinus strobus) are called pollen cones because that’s what they produce. Pine trees are wind pollinated and great clouds of pollen make it look like the trees are burning and releasing yellow green smoke each spring. Virtually everything gets dusted with pollen; cars, buildings, and even entire lakes and ponds. If you live near pine trees it’s impossible not to breathe some of it in and if you leave your windows open you’ll be doing some house dusting in the near future. Pine pollen is a strong antioxidant and it has been used medicinally around the world for thousands of years. Its health benefits were first written of in China nearly 5000 years ago and they are said to be numerous.

The red fruits of the red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa,) are usually hard to find because the birds eat them as soon as they ripen, but for the first time I found a bush full of them. Why the birds left these alone is a mystery. The berries are said to be toxic but they were cooked and eaten by Native Americans so I’m sure they knew how to cook them in such a way as to remove the toxicity. They also used them medicinally. Red elderberry is one of two elderberries native to New Hampshire. The other is the common or black elderberry (Sambucus nigra V. canadensis) which has black berries and isn’t toxic.

I saw a little brown bird dancing on the rocks at the river. It would hop from one to the other and back again, staring at me the entire time. It was easy to love and I wished I could have it land in my hand. I’ve had gray squirrels eat from my hand but not birds. Not yet.

I think the bird was a song sparrow but I’m not sure of that. Long time readers of this blog know that I’m not a bird person due to colorblindness, so maybe someone out there better versed in birds knows for sure. Whatever its name it was a cute little thing that seemed to be smiling. It also seemed to be trying to distract me with its cute hopping back and forth and I wondered if it might have a nest nearby that it was hoping I didn’t see.

A mother turtle, which I believe is a painted turtle (Chrysemys picta,) was laying eggs on a lawn, quite a while after the snapping turtles had finished. She pulled her head into her shell when she saw me, but didn’t move. Snapping turtles can’t pull their head in as far as painted turtles but they do have long necks and can surprise people when they suddenly extend them.

One day I went to the shore of Halfmoon Pond in Hancock and found the entire shoreline moving with what I thought were dark colored insects; crickets maybe, but when I looked closer I found that they were tiny baby toads, so small that one of them could fit on the nail of my little finger with room to spare. Many thousands of them swarmed over the shoreline but that isn’t the strangest part of the story; the same thing is happening in other places. Saratoga Springs New York for instance, has seen the same thing happen and you can see excellent photos and even a video at the Saratoga Woods and Waterways blog, by clicking here. I can’t guess what caused such a mass hatching of toads, maybe it happens regularly, but in any event I would guess that fish, snapping turtles and herons will be eating well this year.

This red spotted purple butterfly ( Limenitis arthemis astyanax) landed on the damp sand in front of me and let me take a few photos. The white admiral and red spotted purple are essentially different forms of the same butterfly. I think the deep coloration of this one suffered some in this shot because of the harsh sunlight.

I see pale beauty moths fairly regularly but they are usually resting on leaves, not sand as this one was. it was actually on a beach at a pond. Their wings and body are pale greenish to grayish white and the female, which I think this example is, is said to be much larger than the male. The caterpillars are said to feed on the leaves of 65 species of trees and shrubs including alder, ash, basswood, beech, birch, blueberry, cherry, fir, elm, hemlock, maple, oak, pine, poplar, rose, spruce, larch, and willow. They’re supposed to be nocturnal but I often see them in daylight. Usually in the evening or early morning though. I’m not sure I could think of a name any more beautiful than pale beauty moth.

I felt something hit me in the back and when I saw what it was I could hardly believe my eyes, because it had really big eyes. Actually the eyed click beetle’s (Alaus oculatus) “eyes” are really just eye spots, there to mesmerize and confound predators. They certainly had me mesmerized for a bit. This unusual insect can snap a spine hidden under its thorax and make a clicking sound. It can also use that spine to launch itself into the air, which is apparently what it did before it hit me in the back. In this photo it has hidden its legs and antennae under its body. At about an inch and a half long it may be a mid-size beetle but it has quite a big bag of tricks.

Here we are looking at the eyed click beetle’s eye spots. If I was a predator I’d think twice, and by the time I had made a decision this bug would have most likely clicked its spine and would be sailing through the air, getting away. What a great gift is this life we live; from dust to dust nothing but wonders and miracles. How sad I feel sometimes for those who don’t see them.  

Though I think this was a calico pennant dragonfly it’s a little hard to tell because of the way the sky was reflected in its wings early on this morning. Its wings could have been wet but what interests me more than the dragonfly is the dry husk, called an exoskeleton, on the stem just above it. I’m seeing a lot of them lately and they signal dragonfly emergence from the water. A dragonfly crawls up a leaf or stick as a nymph and once the exoskeleton has dried a bit the dragonfly emerges from it to unfold and dry its wings. When its wings are dry it simply flies away and leaves the exoskeleton behind, and that’s what the strange husks are. 

But my question, since I actually measured one of the husks, is how do you pack all that dragonfly into a 3/4 inch long exoskeleton? As it turns out it isn’t all that much dragonfly; after searching for the length of a calico pennant I find that their maximum length seems to be 1-3 to 1.5 inches. Still, that’s twice the length of the exoskeleton that I measured. I’ve read that, though the dragonfly is fully formed when it emerges from the husk, it is not fully shaped.

The dragonfly is all folded up in its exoskeleton and that’s how so much dragonfly can fit inside what seems such a small package. Once it comes out of its exoskeleton it unfolds itself, begins pumping bodily fluids to all its parts, and warms itself in the sunshine. Finally, it is ready to fly and it reminds me of a quote by Jodi Livon: Fill yourself up with light and fly! Now if I could only get a shot of a dragonfly actually emerging from its exoskeleton. I’d be very thankful to have seen such a wonder.

Just a feather hanging on a stalk of grass. I’m guessing most people would think “big deal” and walk on, if they even noticed it. But this feather was special. First it was quite big; easily as big as a hen’s egg. And second I’ve never seen one like it, and third it was pretty and I thought the bird it came from would be even prettier. I wondered about hawks. Owls? Eagles? The brown banding must be a good clue, so I tried to match this photo with something I might find online. Identifying feathers is not easy when they aren’t from common birds, and I gave up after a few hours of searching. The closest I could come was a great horned owl, but it wasn’t quite right. In the end all I can do is show you its beauty and hope that is enough. Maybe it will take you on the same wonder filled journey it has taken me on. I learned many things I didn’t know about birds, all because of this feather.

He who has experienced the mystery of nature is full of life, full of love, full of joy. Radiance emanates from the whole existence itself; it does not know the meaning of holding back. ~ Maitreya Rudrabhayananda

Once again I have to apologize for the length of this post but I do like you to see all of the wonders that I’ve seen. Thanks for stopping in, and have a safe and happy 4th.

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1. 12 Spotted Skimmer

When I first started trying to get photos of dragonflies it seemed like they just never sat still, but after a while I found that they do, and sometimes for quite a long time. This male twelve spotted skimmer stayed still for a while so I was able to get close enough for a useable shot. He gets his name from the 12 brown spots on his wings, but some people (and many books) count the white spots and call him the 10 spotted skimmer. Only mature males have these white spots. Females and immature males have the twelve brown wing spots but not the white spots.

2. Widow Skimmer Dragonfly

I think this is another skimmer; the widow skimmer. Bothe males and females have the dark wing spots but only mature males have the white ones. Adult males also have the powdery blueish white color on their abdomen. The name skimmer comes from the way that they fly low over the water, but some are also called perchers. I’m always happy to see the perchers, the skimmers are a little too fast when they’re skimming.

3. Possible Eastern Amberwing

I saw a dragonfly land one day but because of the distance, the bright sunlight, and my colorblindness it instantly disappeared among the cattail leaves. I thought I knew where it was though so I just shot blindly a few times, hoping the lens had caught sight of it. The above photo is the result, proving that yes, dumb luck plays a part in being a nature photographer. I’ve had a hard time identifying this one but I think it might be an eastern amber wing.

NOTE: Several blogging friends have said that this is a male calico pennant and after a little research I agree with them. Thank you all very much for the help, I appreciate it.

4. Cattail Blossom

While I was watching the dragonflies I was also looking for flowering cattails. Out of many hundreds this was the only one that had flowered up to that point but it won’t be long before they all have flowers. Native Americans used the roots of cattails to make flour and also wove the leaves into matting. Cattails produce more edible starch per acre than potatoes, rice, taros or yams, and during World War II plans were being made to feed American soldiers with that starch in the form of cattail flour. Studies showed that an acre of cattails would produce an average of 6,475 pounds of flour per year, but thankfully the war ended before the flour making could begin.

5. Viceroy Butterfly

It was a hot but very windy day when I found this viceroy butterfly clinging to a leaf for dear life. I must have stood there for 20 minutes waiting for it to open its wings and it did every time I looked away or fiddled with the camera’s controls, so I ended up with one blurry shot of it with its flaps down. This shot shows how the strong wind was curling the tops of  its wings toward the camera. I was surprised that it could hang on at all. Those legs are small, but very strong.

6. Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

There wasn’t any wind when I saw this eastern tiger swallowtail drinking from a vetch blossom but it was tilted in an unusual way so I never did get a really good shot of it. Now that I look at the photo I see that I could have gotten down lower and shot up at it, but then I probably would have been shooting into the sun. It’s amazing how birds, animals and insects use sunlight to their advantage and will often position themselves so the sun is behind them, meaning it is shining directly in your eyes if you try to see them. Fighter jet pilots use the same strategy to blind the enemy.

7. Luna Moth

Since I work outside all day every day I always carry a small pocket camera, because as anyone who spends time outside knows, you just never know what you might see. One day I saw this Luna moth in the grass. At first I thought it was dead but it was just crawling through the grass rather than flying and I don’t know enough about them to know if this is normal behavior or not. Luna moths are one of the largest moths in North America, sometimes having a wingspan of as much as 4 1/2 inches. They are beautiful, with a white body, pinkish legs, and pale lime green wings. In northern regions the moth lives for only 7 days and produces only one generation, while in the south they can live for as long as 11 weeks and produce three generations.

8. Beetle

We have a small yellow buggy that we use to get around the 760 acres where I work and one day this beetle landed on it. I haven’t been able to identify it but I think it’s one of the longhorn beetles. They are also called wood worms because of the way that many of them bore into wood. Some, like the invasive Asian longhorn beetle, can do serious damage to forests.

9. Queen Anne's Lace

Along the Ashuelot River Queen Anne’s lace buds were just beginning to unfurl themselves in the sunshine.

10. Sedge

Porcupine sedge (Carex hystericina) blossomed a few feet upriver. You can just see the tiny, almost microscopic wisps of whitish flowers at the pointed ends of some of the upper spiky protrusions (perigynia.) This plant is also called bottlebrush sedge, for obvious reasons. It’s very common near water and waterfowl and some songbirds love its seeds.

11. Ashuelot in June

The stones showing in the river tell the story of how dry it has been. You don’t usually see this many until August but the water level is low enough in this spot right now to walk across without getting your knees wet, and we’re still in June. I suppose I shouldn’t complain; we’ve seen some damaging floods in recent years.

12. Flowering Grass

What I think might be bluejoint reedgrass (Calamagrostis canadensis) sparkles and shimmers in the breeze along the edges of the forests.

13. Flowering Grass

The closer you get, the more interesting it becomes. It’s a beautiful tall grass with very large seed heads.

14. Flowering Grass

It’s only when you take a real close look that you discover why it sparkles and shimmers so. Yellow pollen bearing male (staminate) flowers hang down, waiting for the wind will carry their pollen to waiting feathery white female (pistillate) flowers. Usually the pollen bearing male flowers will bloom and release pollen before the female flowers appear. In that way the pollen of one plant reaches and fertilizes nearby plants and the grass avoids fertilizing itself.

15. Orchard Grass

Orchard grass (Dactylis glomerata) is another tall, beautiful grass that seems to be having an extended blooming period this year. I wish more people would take a look at grass flowers because they can be very beautiful. And they’re easy to see because they’re virtually everywhere, even in vacant city lots.

16. Hay Bales

Orchard grass is especially good for baling and it and most of the other pasture grasses grown on local farms will end up in hay bales. The lack of rain is working in the farmer’s favor and the first cutting of hay has dried well, but if the dryness lasts much longer it will start to work against them.

17. White Pine Pollen Cones

The male flowers of eastern white pine trees (Pinus strobus) are called pollen cones because that’s what they produce. Pine trees are wind pollinated and great clouds of pollen make it look like the trees are burning and releasing yellow green smoke each spring. Virtually everything gets dusted with pollen; cars, buildings, and even entire lakes and ponds. If you live near pine trees it’s impossible not to breathe some of it in and if you leave your windows open you’ll be doing some house dusting in the near future. Pine pollen is a strong antioxidant and it has been used medicinally around the world for thousands of years. Its health benefits were first written of in China nearly 5000 years ago and they are said to be numerous.

18. White Pine Pollen Cones

When the white pine’s pollen cones have shed all of their pollen they fall from the trees in the many millions and cover the ground for a short time. Here they’re suspended in a spider’s web.

19. Cornfield

Here in this part of the country our corn is supposed to be knee high by the fourth of July but it looks like the dryness might keep it shin high instead. When I was a boy cornfields stretched to the south as far as I could see, growing on rich bottomland along the Ashuelot River, built up by annual spring flooding over thousands of years. This land has been farmed for at least as long as I’ve been alive.

20. Bracket Fungus

You might find a conspicuous lack of fungi and slime molds here this year but again, that’s because it has been so dry.  I did see a bracket fungus that was a little sad but it still had a blush of pinkish orange on it. Since orange is such a hard color to find in nature I thought I’d show it here.

I think we are bound to, and by, nature. We may want to deny this connection and try to believe we control the external world, but every time there’s a snowstorm or drought, we know our fate is tied to the world around us.  ~Alice Hoffman

Thanks for coming by.

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