Posts Tagged ‘Whitetail Deer’

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

A deer had come this way not too long ago.

I could see where they crossed the stream.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And it had started to rain again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for stopping in.



Read Full Post »


After a cold December and the eighth warmest January on record, February is doing it again; we’ve had so many storms in the first two weeks I’ve lost track. This view is of my back yard after one of them; a light one, by the looks.


We’ve also had cold, but not much of the bitter below zero kind. Still, as this view of the Ashuelot River in Swanzey shows, temperatures in the teens for a few days are enough to get rivers freezing.


We’ve had plenty of wind too, and below zero wind chills one day. Because it has been so cold when the snow falls it falls as light powder which blows and drifts easily. In one spot it had been blown into a snow wave; curled just like an ocean wave.


I tried to be clever and get a photo through the curl of the snow wave but all I had was my cell phone so it didn’t work out very well. I was trying not to get snow all over the phone while kneeling and bending in the snow.


Unfortunately the river is on the low side and calm, so I couldn’t get any photos of waves at my favorite spot for wave watching. With the drought last summer cancelling most of the wave action I’m starting to feel wave deprived. I love to see if I can tune in to the rhythm of the river and click the shutter at just the right moment.


This earlier photo of river waves shows what I was hoping to see, but we need more rain or snow melt to make this happen again. And then we’ll need some sunshine too.


I love the beautiful rich, warm orange brown of oak leaves in winter. They and beech always add a little color to the winter woods. And quite often add sound as well, when the wind blows.


I’m not the only one who appreciates oaks in winter; a deer came along and ate buds from this branch. They’re having a rough time of it this winter I think, with lots of snow on top of ice it’s very hard to get around. I tried to wade through knee deep snow the other day without snowshoes on and was quickly turned back. I’m not young enough for that anymore. It’s exhausting.


I saw what looked like a bundle high up in the top of a tree one day.


A closer look showed it to be a bundle of leaves; a gray squirrel nest. Leaf nests start with a floor woven from twigs with damp leaves and moss packed on top. A spherical framework is woven around the base and leaves, moss, and twigs are stuffed into it until a hollow shell of about 6 to 8 inches across has been created. Gray Squirrels can have nests that are up to 2 feet wide. This one was quite big; at least the size of a soccer ball. Squirrels will also use hollow trees as nests when they can find them. Last spring I saw a hollow tree with three baby gray squirrel heads poking out of a crack, but of course I didn’t have a camera ready.


Gray squirrels have 4 toes on their front feet and 5 on their rear feet, and when they’re bounding along at speed the tracks have the smaller front feet behind the rear feet, as this photo shows. Gray squirrels don’t hibernate. I see them every day when it is warm enough, out foraging for nuts and seeds. Like deer they can have a hard time of it in the winter. Only 25% of gray squirrels survive their first year but those that do might live 4 or 5 years, and can have 2 litters of young per year. They were a favorite food of Native Americans. Some tribes considered the squirrel to be a messenger who often alerted them to danger.


This birch tree seemed to be keeping an eye on things.


And so did this woodpile.


Even the lichens seemed to be watching with their many different colored eye like fruiting bodies (apothecia.) They were really vying for space on this tree that grows beside a pond, so they must all be moisture lovers. There are at least 6 different lichens in this photo. I think the large one in the center is a rosy saucer lichen (Ochrolechia trochophora.) The color of its apothecia can range from pink to orange but these looked more red than pink or orange.


Most of the grapes have been eaten by the birds except for a few unappetizing examples. We have quite a lot of wild fruit growing in this area and I keep hoping that it will attract Baltimore orioles, but I never see them. There used to be lots of them when I was a boy and I used to like seeing their hanging basket nests in the trees. I haven’t seen one in probably 50 years, since they cut down the last American elm on the street I grew up on.


Galls are much easier to see in winter than they are in summer and some can be really interesting so I usually watch for them. This is a stem gall which was formed when willow gall midges (Rhabdophaga) burrowed into the willow’s stem last year. These galls are usually red and are very hard and tough. I’m not sure if the holes in this example were made when midges burrowed out, or if birds burrowed in. Many bids including wood peckers rob different galls of their larva.


The small cups found on native witch hazel shrubs (Hamamelis virginiana) at this time of year are formed by four bracts that curve back. The strap like flower petals unfurl from these cups on warm fall days. Soon the spring blooming vernal witch hazels (Hamamelis vernalis) will be unfurling their petals on warm days.


I wanted to get a photo of the way the windblown snow sparkled in the sunlight but instead it came out looking like white stone.


This is what my approach to work looked like early one recent morning after another snowstorm. It’s very beautiful but I’m ready for the kind of beauty that is found in spring. The outlook is good; the weather people say we’ll see above freezing temperatures from now well into March, so that means that our maple syrup season will start any day now.

Snow was falling
so much like stars
filling the dark trees
that one could easily imagine
its reason for being was nothing more
than prettiness.
~Mary Oliver

Thanks for stopping in.



Read Full Post »

1. Trail

Last weekend we had a beautiful (and rare) sunny day so I thought I’d hit the trail in Walpole and climb High Blue. Finding places to climb in the winter can be difficult because snowbanks block access to the normal parking spots, but High Blue has one of those few parking areas that are kept plowed.

2. Meadow View

You don’t have to walk too far before you come to a large open meadow. Deer love to come here and browse the shrubs along the edges of the meadow so there are game trails everywhere up here.

3. Deer Print

This track was about as fresh as it could be. I took the photo of it on the way back because it wasn’t there on the way in. I know that because I was thinking how strange it was that I wasn’t seeing any deer tracks. As usual the deer were seeing me but I wasn’t seeing them.

4. Deer Browse

I knew they were there though, even if I didn’t see them or their tracks because they had been browsing the tips of the oaks along the meadow edge. They often tear rather than bite cleanly through a branch and that’s because they have incisors on only their bottom jaw that meets a cartilage pad on the front of the upper jaw. This causes them to pull rather than shear and for this reason they eat mostly tender shoots. Theoretically anyhow; the oak shoot in the photo doesn’t look like it was very tender to me. They might have gotten their back top and bottom molars around it to tear it like that.

5. Orange Crust Fungus

Usually when I see a bright orange crust fungus it has an easily identifiable margin which is usually white as in steccherinum ochraceum, and on closer inspection reveals itself to actually be a toothed crust fungus. The example in this photo has no white margin or teeth but it does have bracket fungus like fruiting bodies, so I’m baffled. I haven’t seen anything like it on line or in books and I’m wondering if it might be an alga like Trentepohlia aurea growing over both the log and the bracket fungi on it. Those algae can be orange and many other colors and do grow on logs.

6. Gray Lichen

Naturalist John Burroughs said “To learn something new, take the path that you took yesterday,” and I couldn’t think of better advice to give a nature lover. I’ve walked by this lichen too many times to count and never saw it, but this time I got a little closer to the tree it grew on and there it was. From a distance I thought it might be a common button lichen (Buellia stillingiana) but it isn’t.

7. Gray Lichen Apothecia

I’ve never seen another lichen like this one and I’m having trouble identifying it. It had interesting cup shaped apothecia (fruiting bodies) but unfortunately there are many lichens that have them and they all look a lot alike. I think this one might be Tephromela atra but I can’t be certain.

8. Natural Graft

These young maple trees showed a fine example of natural grafting. The wind made these two trees rub together enough to wear away the outer bark down to the cambium layer. The cambium layer lies between the inner bark and the wood and is where cells divide and grow. When the cambium layer of one tree meets the cambium layer of another tree of the same species (or of another closely related species), if the conditions are right they can grow together. It is thought that man learned the art of grafting by observing natural grafting.

9. Lichens on Maple

There was a large colony of shield lichens growing on the self-grafted trees. They were slightly darker colored than the tree bark and had prominent black rhizines, which are root like structures that some lichens use to hang onto whatever they grow on. I haven’t been able to identify it but I think it might be one of the Parmelia lichens, of which there are 34 or more species.

10. Sign

It looked like someone had repainted the lettering on the sign.

11. View

I didn’t realize it at the time but every photo that I took while zooming in on the distant hills was hazy and looked out of focus. I’m not sure what happened but it left me with one useable shot of the view and this is it. You can just barely make out Stratton Mountain in Vermont off in the clouds, just to the left of center. At least this photo shows how blue the hills are from up here. The view is always very blue and that’s what gives this place its name.

12. Pond

The small pond on the summit was frozen solid and I wondered how the animals and birds were finding any water to drink.

13. Pileated Woodpecker Chips

I see signs of pileated woodpeckers every time I come here and this day was no different. A large pile of wood chips at the base of a dead tree means only one thing–you should look up.

14. Pileated Woodpecker Hole

Sure enough, there was the woodpecker’s hole about fifteen feet off the ground. Pileated woodpeckers excavate a new nest hole each year and this looked more like a nesting hole than a feeding hole. Abandoned holes are also used by owls, wood ducks and many other birds, and even bats and pine martens. This tree looked to be hollow.

15. Stream Ice

I was glad to see that a small stream was covered only by paper thin ice. The ice had been broken in several places, so the birds and animals would be able to get a drink after all.

You must have the bird in your heart before you can find it in the bush. ~John Burroughs.

Thanks for stopping in.


Read Full Post »