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Posts Tagged ‘Wild Mushrooms’

November on average is the cloudiest month, but we’ve seen quite a lot of sunshine so far. Unfortunately the sunshine hasn’t warmed us up much and we’ve had a string of several cold days and below freezing (32º F) nights. This week we’re to see January type cold that could break records that have stood for 150 years. Historically the colder the November the snowier the winter, but we’ll see. In spite of all the cold this dandelion struggled to come into full bloom.

And this chicory blossom did the same. I was very surprised to see it.

We’re at the stage where the grass is coated by frost overnight but then it melts off as soon as the sunlight reaches it.

Leaves that have gone unraked get covered by frost and then become wet when it melts off.

Ice baubles formed in the Ashuelot River one cold night.

The waves in the river splash up on twigs or anything else that the water touches and it freezes there in the cold air. Much like dipping a candle in molten wax the waves splash again and again and ice baubles like the one in this photo form. It was about an inch across but I’ve seen them get bigger. Just as a side note: that small starburst over on the right hasn’t been added. This is just the way it came out of the camera. The ice is very clear and will act as a prism in the right light.

There was hoar frost on the fallen pine needles on the river bank. Hoarfrost grows whenever it’s cold and there is a source of water vapor nearby. When it is below freezing the water vapor from unfrozen rivers and streams often condenses on the plants and even trees all along their banks and covers them in hoarfrost. It looks so very delicate that I often have to remind myself to breathe while I’m taking its photo.  One touch of a warm finger, a ray of sunshine, or a warm breath and they’re gone.

I’m guessing there was plenty of water vapor coming from the river. The river wasn’t really raging but I did get to practice my wave catching skills on this day. At a certain time of morning the sun hits the river just right for a wave photo at this spot and the colors are ofen very beautiful. I love the how the colors of the water change as the light changes. The river taught me that if you want blue water in your photo you should have the sun more or less behind you, and it taught me that right in this very spot.  

This photo changed my mind about what I thought were oyster mushrooms because of the brownish cast I saw, which I couldn’t see in person. They might have been flat creps (Crepidotus applanatus,) which start out white and then shade to brown. Flat creps resemble oyster mushrooms but without a microscope to study the spores with it’s hard to be sure. I could have done a spore print; crepidotus species have brown spore prints and oysters have a white to lilac spore print, but I didn’t bring one home.

I’ve said a lot about turkey tail fungi (Trametes versicolor) over the years, including how they are showing value in cancer research and how they have been used medicinally by the Chinese, Japanese, and Native Americans for thousands of years, but I keep coming back to their multitude of color combinations and their beauty. For me, that’s enough to keep me interested.  

I had been looking for scarlet elf cup fungi (Sarcoscypha coccinea) for a very long time and then a friend showed me a photo of something growing in the gravel of his driveway and I thought I’d found them. I went there and took the photos that you see here, shocked that they grew where they were, with just sand and gravel around them. That’s especially surprising when you consider that this fugus typically grows on moist, rotting branches. I would have guessed that there might be a branch or root buried under the gravel but they grew in groups over a wide area, so that theory didn’t work. That fact leads me to believe that they are instead the orange peel fungus (Aleuria aurantia.) It likes to grow in clay soil or disturbed ground, often in landscaped areas.

The clincher is, my color finding software sees shades of orange, but no scarlet. I was surprised by how small they were. Some were as big as a penny at about 3/4 of an inch, but a pea would have nestled perfectly in this example. Orange peel fungi get their common name from the way they look like orange peels strewn on the ground.

I always look for juniper berries at this time of year because I love that shade of blue. A waxy coating called bloom reflects the light in a way that makes them that color. I always wonder how many gin drinkers know that the unique flavor in their drink comes from this plant’s fruits. Though they’re called berries, botanically speaking juniper fruits are actually fleshy seed cones. Unripe green berries are used to flavor gin and the ripe, deep purple-black berries are the only part of a conifer known to be used as a spice, often used on game like venison, moose and bear meat. Birds also love them.

The golden sunlight on the blueberry bushes in the foreground was lighting up the trees on the far side of Half Moon Pond in the same way and it was beautiful, but I wasn’t fast enough to catch it. It disappeared in just seconds and before I could turn my camera on it was gone.

Here is that same golden light caught in the tops of these bare trees. Sometimes I see it in the morning on my way to work and it’s very beautiful. On this morning I had to stop and watch.

I like lake sedge (Carex lacustris) because of the way it seems to flow like the waves of the pond and lake shores it grows on. It is really the wind and its own weak stems that make it bend so, but I think it makes a pretty display. Lake sedge is native to Canada and the northern U.S. and can at times be found growing in water. Waterfowl and songbirds eat its seeds. Even when it isn’t blowing in the wind it seems to have movement.

Henry David Thoreau said about polypody fern (Polypodium virginianum) “Fresh and cheerful communities of the polypody form a lustrous mantle over rocky surfaces in the early spring.” I would add that, since they are tough evergreen ferns they are there in the winter too, and that’s what cheers me most about them. They are also called rock cap fern or rock polypody because they love to grow on top of rocks, as the above photo shows. There were hundreds of them on a large boulder.

Turn over a polypody fern leaf and you’re apt to see tiny mounds called sori, which are made up of clusters of sporangia (receptacles in which spores are formed) and are naked, meaning they lack the protective cap (indusium) that is found on many fern sori.

Once they ripen polypody fern sori are very pretty and look like tiny baskets of flowers; in this case yellow and orange flowers. They always make me wonder why so many ferns, lichens, fungi and mosses produce spores in winter. There must be some benefit but I’ve never been able to find out what it is.

Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens) is one of the lowest growing evergreen plants on the forest floor, hardly growing more than 3 or 4 inches high. Plants have a vining habit but do not climb. Instead they form dense mats by spreading their trailing stems out to about a foot from the crown. Roots will often form at leaf nodes along the stems and start new plants. The 4 petaled, pinkish, fringed, fragrant, half inch long flowers appear in June and July. The berries shown here will remain on the plant for long periods unless eaten, and can often still be found the following spring. The berries are edible, but fairly tasteless and eaten mostly by birds. If I was going to spend my time in the forest looking for small red berries to feed on I’d be looking for American wintergreen, (teaberry) which are delicious.

Partridgeberry flowers always appear in twos as twins fused at the base. Once pollinated, the ovaries of these flowers will join and form one berry with 8 seeds. Partridgeberry plants can always be easily identified by the two indentations on the berries that show where the flowers were. Other names for this plant include twinberry and two-eyed berry. I like the hand hammered look of the leaves.

A big beech tree fell where I work and damaged one of the buildings, so it had to be cut up. When we cut it down to the stump we found it was spalted, and spalted wood is evidence of fungal damage. Sometimes woods affected by fungi can become very desirable to woodworkers, and spalted wood is one of them. Spalting is essentially any form of wood coloration caused by fungi but there are 3 major types; pigmentation, white rot and zone lines. Sometimes all 3 can be present as they are on the end grain of the beech stump in the above photo. Pigmentation is the blue gray color, which is probably caused by bluestain or sapstain. The white rot is in the areas that look soft or pulpy, and the zone lines are the dark, narrow lines found radiating randomly throughout the log. Zone lines often form where 2 or more types of fungi meet.

There is beauty everywhere in this world, even in an old tree stump. The question is, will we let ourselves first be drawn into it and then actively seek it out or will we ignore it? I choose to seek it out, and now I see it wherever I go.

Life can be rich and rewarding and full of beauty, if a person would only pause to look and to listen. ~Rod Serling

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I planned last weekend to show you the last of the fall foliage colors but a freeze the night before finished that plan and all the leaves had fallen by the time I was able to get to one of my favorite rail trails. But, and this is a big but; just because all the leaves have fallen doesn’t mean you can’t still see colors. They’re always there, but in some months you just have to look a little closer to see them.

When I set out the fallen leaves were edged in frost. It had been a cold night.

These little red mushrooms didn’t seem to mind the cold. I don’t know what their name is but that doesn’t matter. I can admire and enjoy them without knowing it.

Little bluestem grass (Schizachyrium scoparium) glowed a luminous pink in the sunshine.

It is the seed heads on little bluestem that catch the light as they ripen. This grass is a native prairie grass which grows in every U.S. state except Nevada and Washington. According to the USDA its appearance can vary in height, color, length of leaves, flowering, and clump diameter from location to location. It is also grown in many gardens.

When you’re on a rail trail and you see a stream running under it, that’s the time to climb down the embankment to see what kind of culvert it runs through.

As I expected, this one was an old box culvert built by the railroad about 150 years ago, and still working just fine.

Down by the culvert a boulder was covered by moss.

Most of it was brocade moss (Hypnum imponens.)  This pretty moss  is very shiny and sometimes has an orange brown color. Its common name comes from the way it looks as if it has been embroidered on whatever it happens to be growing on.  It is easily confused with knight’s plume moss (Ptilium crista-castrensis,) but the spore capsules on knights plume moss are elbow macaroni shaped and horizontal, while those of brocade moss are cylindrical and stand vertically.

I saw quite a few small tree stumps with beaver teeth marks in them, meaning they came quite a way from the river to get them.

Winterberries (Ilex verticillata) also told me there was water nearby. I often see this native holly growing in standing water but I’ve heard that it will grow in drier soil. Birds love its bright red berries. These shrubs are dioecious, meaning they need both a male and female plant present to produce seed. If you have a yard with wet spots winterberry is a great, easy to grow native plant that won’t mind wet feet and will attract birds as well.

I think every time I’ve seen lemon drop fungi (Bisporella citrina) they were growing on a smooth surface; often the cut end of a log or the smooth debarked surface, but here they were growing on a craggy old stump. Lemon drop fungi start life as a tiny bright yellow disc and look as if they lie flat on the log, but they actually hover just above the surface on a short stalk. As they age each disc becomes cup shaped. The Citrina part of the scientific name comes from the Latin Citrin, which means “lemon yellow.” They are very small, so you’ll need a loupe or a macro lens to see them properly.

You might see dark green or purple spots on the bark of smooth barked trees like maple and beech and think you are seeing moss but this is a liverwort. There are about 800 species of frullania liverworts and many grow as epiphytes on the bark of trees and shrubs where the humidity is high. Epiphytic plants take nothing from the host plants they grow on, so this liverwort does no harm to trees. As it gets colder they turn color until they become a dark purple; almost black, so they are much more noticeable in winter than in summer when they’re green. Some can get fairly large but this example was about an inch across.

The tiny leaves of frullania liverworts are strung together like beads. Some frullania liverworts are said to be very fragrant but the few that I have remembered to smell didn’t seem to have any scent at all. This liverwort can cause something called woodcutter’s eczema. This eczema, called phytodermatitis (basically an itchy rash,) has been seen on loggers and others who regularly handle logs or cord wood with it on them. It doesn’t sound like anything serious and usually disappears in two or three weeks once the person stops handling logs with liverworts on them.

If you see a flat, whitish bracket fungus on an oak or other hardwood you might think it wasn’t very interesting but you could be seeing a thick walled maze polypore (Daedalea quercina,) which is actually quite interesting.

The Daedalea part of the scientific name comes from the Daedalus of Greek myth who designed the labyrinth that hid the Minotaur, so it makes sense that you’d find a maze on the underside of this polypore. Of course the maze is simply this mushroom’s way of increasing its spore bearing surfaces. The more spores it produces the better its chance of continuing the survival of the species, and the survival of the species is of prime importance. The quercina part of its scientific name refers to the oaks it prefers but it will also grow on other hardwoods. It appears in the colder months and causes brown rot in the tree. Fresh example are white and older examples more grayish brown, or even black.

There were fence posts along an old stone wall, and that told me that animals were probably kept here at one time.

The fence posts were strung with barbed wire as I suspected. You can leave a trail at any time and just walk into the woods, but you had better know what you’re doing and you had better watch where you’re going because much of what is now forest was once pasture and there is barbed wire everywhere. I still shudder when I think of the book I read once by a man in Massachusetts who said one of his favorite pastimes was running through the woods at night. Good luck to him is about all I can say.

This oak seedling was wearing its fall best and I thought it was a beautiful thing.

A wasp nest was somehow damaged and part of it had blown into the trail. It was a fascinating thing to see, with its multicolored ribbons of paper.  According to what I’ve read “paper wasps gather fibers from dead wood and plant stems, which they mix with saliva, and use to construct water-resistant nests made of gray or brown papery material.” Usually the ones I see show swirls of various shades of gray but this one was quite colorful.

There are people who seem to think that a plant’s buds magically appear in spring but the buds are there now, just waiting for spring. This photo shows the male catkins of the American hazelnut (Corylus americana.) A hazelnut catkin more or less, is a string of flowers which will open in a spiral pattern around a central stem. The pollen these flower produce will be carried by the wind to the sticky female flowers and we’ll have another crop of hazelnuts.

Before I knew it I was at one of the many old railroad trestles that cross the Ashuelot River. I stopped for a while and admired the view of the river that I’d probably never see if this rail trail wasn’t here. I’m very thankful for these trails. They get me quite far out into the woods without having to do a lot of work bushwhacking my way through.

So in the end we’ve seen quite a lot of color even though it wasn’t in the form of flowers or leaves. All seasons have their own beauty; who can deny the blue of the river, always seemingly darker than the blue of the sky? My hope is that readers will get outside in all of their seasons, whether they have two or four, and enjoy the beauty that will be there waiting.

Nature conceals her secrets because she is sublime, not because she is a trickster. ~Albert Einstein

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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

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We’re still very dry here and I haven’t seen hardly any of the mushrooms I’d expect to see but here was a dead birch tree full of golden pholiota mushrooms (Pholiota limonella) just like it was last year. I thought that’s what they were until I smelled them but these examples had no citrus scent, so I’d say they must be Pholiota aurivella which, except for its smaller spores and the lack of a lemon scent, appears identical.

The frustrating thing about mushroom identification is how for most of them you can never be sure without a microscope, and that’s why I never eat them. There are some that don’t have many lookalikes and though I’m usually fairly confident of a good identification for them I still don’t eat them. It’s just too risky.

One of my favorite fungal finds is called the tiger’s eye mushroom (Coltricia perennis.) One reason it’s unusual is because it’s one of the only polypores with a central stem. Most polypores are bracket or shelf fungi. The concentric rings of color are also unusual and sometimes make it look like a turkey tail fungus with a stem. The cap is very thin and flat like a table, and another name for it is the fairy stool. They are very tough and leathery and can persist for quite a long time.

I found it this hen of the woods fungus (Grifola frondosa,) growing at the base of an old oak tree. This edible polypore often grows in the same spot year after year and that makes it quite easy to find. 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 see green.

I saw a young fly agaric (Amanita muscaria v. formosa) in a lawn recently. I love the metallic yellow color of these mushrooms when they’re young. They’re common where pine trees grow and this one was under a pine. The name fly agaric comes from the practice of putting pieces of the mushroom in a dish of milk. The story says that when flies drank the milk they died, but it’s something I’ve never tried. Fly agaric is said to have the ability to “turn off” fear in humans and is considered toxic. Vikings are said to have used it for that very reason.

I don’t see many stinkhorn fungi but I hit the stinkhorn jackpot this year; there must have been 20 or more of them growing out of some well rotted wood chips. I think they’re the common stinkhorn (Phallus impudicus) and I have to say that for the first time I smelled odor like rotting meat coming from them because these example were passing on.  

Here was a fresher example. The green conical cap is also said to be slimy but it didn’t look it. This mushroom uses its carrion like odor to attracts insects, which are said to disperse its sticky spores. I saw quite a few small gnat like insects around the dying ones.

At this time of year I always roll logs over hoping to find the beautiful but rare cobalt crust fungus (Terana caerulea,) but usually I find this lighter shade of blue instead. I think it is Byssocorticium atrovirens. Apparently its common name is simply blue crust fungus. Crust fungi are called resupinate fungi and have flat, crust like fruiting bodies which usually appear on the undersides of fallen branches and logs. Resupinate means upside down, and that’s what many crust fungi appear to be. Their spore bearing surface can be wrinkled, smooth, warty, toothed, or porous and though they appear on the undersides of logs the main body of the fungus is in the wood, slowly decomposing it. They seem to be the least understood of all the fungi.

Some slime molds can be very small and others quite large. This one in its plasmodium stage was wasn’t very big at all, probably due to the dryness. When slime molds are in this state they are usually moving-very slowly. Slime molds are very sensitive to drying out so they usually move at night, but they can be found on cloudy, humid days as well. I think this one might be spreading yellow tooth slime (Phanerochaete chrysorhiza.) Slime molds, even though sometimes covering a large area, are actually made up of hundreds or thousands of single entities. These entities move through the forest looking for food or a suitable place to fruit and eventually come together in a mass.

Jack in the pulpit berries (Arisaema triphyllum) are ripe and red, waiting for a deer to come along and eat them. Deer must love them because they usually disappear almost as soon as they turn red. All parts of the Jack in the pulpit plant contain calcium oxalate crystals that cause painful irritation of the mouth and throat if eaten, but Native Americans knew how to cook the fleshy roots to remove any danger. They used them as a vegetable, and that’s why another name for the plant is “Indian turnip.”

False Solomon’s seal (Smilacina racemosa) berries are fully ripe and are now bright red instead of speckled. Native American’s used all parts of this plant including its roots, which contain lye and must be boiled and rinsed several times before they can be used. Birds, mice, grouse, and other forest critters eat the ripe berries that grow at the end of the drooping stem. They are said to taste like molasses and another common name for the plant is treacle berry.

American mountain ash (Sorbus americana) is a native tree but you’re more likely to find them growing naturally north of this part of the state. I do see them in the wild, but rarely. Their red orange fruit in fall and white flowers in spring have made them a gardener’s favorite and that’s where you’ll see most of them here though they prefer cool, humid air like that found in the 3000 foot elevation range. The berries are said to be low in fat and very acidic, so birds leave them for last. For some reason early settlers thought the tree would keep witches away so they called it witch wood. Native Americans used both the bark and berries medicinally. The Ojibwe tribe made both bows and arrows from its wood, which is unusual. Usually they used wood from different species, or wood from both shrubs and trees.

Kousa dogwood fruit looks a little different but it’s the edible part of a Kousa Dogwood (Cornus kousa.) This dogwood is on the small side and is native to Asia. I don’t see it too often. It is also called Japanese or Korean Dogwood. Kousa Dogwood fruit is made up of 20-40 fleshy carpels. In botany one definition of a carpel is a dry fruit that splits open, into seed-bearing sections. Kousa dogwood fruits are said by some to taste like papaya.  

In my own experience I find it best to leave plants with white berries alone because they are usually poisonous, and no native plant illustrates this better than poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans.) Though many birds can eat its berries without suffering, when most humans so much as brush against the plant they can itch for weeks afterward, and those who are particularly sensitive could end up in the hospital. I had a friend who had to be hospitalized when his eyes became swollen shut because of it. Eating any part of the plant or even breathing the smoke when it is burned can be very dangerous.

All parts of the yew tree (Taxus) are poisonous except (it is said) the red flesh of the berry, which is actually a modified seed cone. The seed within the seed cone is the most toxic part of the plant and eating as few as 3 of them can cause death in just a few hours. In February of 2014 a man named Ben Hines died in Brockdish, Norfolk, England after ingesting parts of yew trees. Nobody has ever been able to figure out why he did such a thing but the incident illustrated how extremely toxic yews are.

Beavers are trying to make a pond in a river and they had dammed it up from bank to bank. It wasn’t the biggest beaver dam I’ve seen but it was quite big. The largest beaver dam ever found is in Canada’s Wood Buffalo National Park and spans about 2,800 feet. It has taken several generations of beavers since 1970 to build and it can be seen from space. Imagine how much water it is holding back!

Eastern or Virginia carpenter bees (Xylocopa virginica) are huge; at least as big as half my thumb. They also look very different than the bumblebees that I’m used to. These bees nest in wood and eat pollen and nectar. They don’t eat wood but they will excavate tunnels through rotten wood. The adults nest through winter and emerge in spring. Though it is said to be common in the eastern part of the country I I see very few. I’ve read that they can be up to an inch long and this one was all of that. Females can sting but they do so only when bothered. Males don’t have a stinger.

Folklore says that the wider the orangey brown band on a wooly bear caterpillar is, the milder the winter will be. If we’re to believe it then this winter will not be very mild because this wooly bear has more black than brown on it. In any event this caterpillar won’t care, because it produces its own antifreeze and can freeze solid in winter. Once the temperatures rise into the 40s F in spring it thaws out and begins feeding on dandelion and other early spring greens. Eventually it will spin a cocoon and emerge as a beautiful tiger moth. From that point on it has only two weeks to live.

The upper surface of a painted lady’s wings look very different than the stained glass look of the undersides but unfortunately I can’t show that to you because the photos didn’t come out. This painted lady was kind enough to land just in front of me on a zinnia. It’s the only one I’ve seen this year.

There is little that is more appropriate than a bee sleeping on a flower, in my opinion. Here in southwestern New Hampshire we don’t see many wildflowers in October, but every now and then you can find a stray something or other still hanging on. The bumblebee I saw on this aster early one morning was moving but very slowly, and looked more like it was hanging on to the flower head rather than harvesting pollen. Bumblebees I’ve heard, sleep on flowers, so maybe it was just napping. I suppose if it has to die in winter like bumblebees do, a flower is the perfect place to do that as well. Only queen bumblebees hibernate through winter; the rest of the colony dies. In spring the queen will make a new nest and actually sit on the eggs she lays to keep them warm, just like birds do.

It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see. ~Henry David Thoreau

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I’d been almost everywhere I knew of where coltsfoot plants (Tussilago farfara) grow and hadn’t seen a single one, so last Sunday I decided to visit the last place I knew of to find them; the deep cut rail trail up in Westmoreland. I don’t like going there at this time of year because this is when all the ice that has accumulated through winter starts melting, and when it starts melting it starts falling, and this can be a dangerous place to be when tree size pieces of ice come crashing down.

There was a lot more ice than I expected and it was rotten, which means it has probably released its hold on the stone and could come down at any time.

3. Falling Water

Melt water ran off the stone walls in gushing streams.

4. Trail

I decided to get out of the deepest, northern part of the canyon and head south where the coltsfoot plants grow.

5. Columbine Seedlings

This rail trail includes the ledges where the wild columbines (Aquilegia canadensis) and blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides) grow, so I thought I’d see what was happening there as well. I saw lots of columbine seedlings but still no blue cohosh shoots.

6. Red Elderberry Buds

I also got to see some red elderberry buds (Sambucus racemosa) opening. They always open with tiny purple fingers like those seen here. It won’t be long before this plant is covered with bright red berries. The birds love them so much and eat them so fast it’s almost impossible to get a photo of them. I think I’ve gotten just one photo of red elderberry fruit in the 8 years I’ve done this blog.

7. Turkey Tail

I saw a turkey tail fungus (Trametes versicolor) wearing colors that I don’t often see. I’ve been seeing a lot of blue ones this year so this one was a pleasant surprise.

8. Unknown

I also found this chunk of blue something. It’s light and feels like plastic but it also crumbles so I doubt it is. I don’t know what it is or where it came from but I love its color; almost the same as the blue of cohosh fruit.

9. Unknown Stems

And then I saw these strange little trumpet shaped stems. They easily pulled right out of the wet soil and had a tap root.

10. Unknown Stem

The stems were thin and hollow and felt like paper. I don’t know what plant they’re from but there is a huge selection of plants growing here. I’ll have to see if I can figure it out in the summer when they’re growing.

11. Drainage Ditch

The drainage ditches had so much water in them in places it looked like they would wash up over the trail. I moved some bunches of wet leaves that were holding back the flow in a couple of places.

12. Fallen Ice

And this is where I had to stop. If you look closely you can see ice columns that have fallen completely across the trail. These columns are huge, easily as big as trees, and if one ever fell on you it wouldn’t be good.

13. Fallen Ice

This “small piece” was about two feet square. I can’t imagine what it must have weighed but I wouldn’t want to feel it falling on me.

14. Green Ice

The ice here is often colored, I think because of the various minerals in the groundwater, and there was some green ice left. It was very rotten and I didn’t get near it. Rotten ice has a matte, opaque “sick” look and the dull thud it makes when you tap it gives it away. It should sound like a sharp crack. Ice becomes rotten when air and / or dirt get in between the grains of ice and it becomes honeycombed and loses its strength.

15. Great Scented Liverwort

The beautiful great scented liverworts (Conocephalum conicum) made it through the winter just fine despite many of them being completely encased in ice. They like to grow in places where they are constantly splashed by or dripped on by very clean ground water but of course in winter that means ice. They show that the groundwater here is very clean and most likely drinkable.

16. Great Scented Liverwort

This is the only place I’ve ever seen this beautiful plant and they are one of the things that make this place so very special. Their amazing scent is where their common name comes from; if you squeeze a piece and smell it you smell something so clean and fresh scented you’ll wish it came in a spray bottle. I didn’t have my rubber boots with me to walk through the drainage ditches so I had to take this shot from about 6 feet away, but at least you can see the pores and air chambers outlined on the many leaf surfaces. It makes them look very reptilian and leads to the name snakeskin liverwort.

17. Algae

The green algae called Trentepohlia aurea looks to be spreading some. Though it is called green algae the same pigment that colors carrots orange makes it orange as well. It’s also very hairy, but I couldn’t get close enough to show you. Algae produce millions of spores and colored rain has fallen all over the world because of the wind taking the spores up into the sky. If you ever hear of red rain chances are it’s algae spores coloring it.

18. Mosses

It was so nice to see so much green for a change. It was also nice and warm here, which was a surprise with all the ice.

19. Ostrich Fern Frond

I was surprised to find the fertile frond of an ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) because I’ve never seen one growing here. Now I want to come back to get photos of the fiddleheads, which are pretty and very hard to find in this area. There are thousands of ostrich ferns growing along the Connecticut River but most of the land along it is privately owned.

20. Unknown Leaf

Well, in the end I never did find coltsfoot plants in bloom but I certainly found lots of mysteries along the trail on this day. Here’s another one that maybe one of you can solve. I know I’ve seen this plant and I should know its name, but I can’t think of it. The leaves are large at about an inch and a half across, and I think the bronze color is just what they do in winter. They sprawl on the ground in all directions from a central crown like a violet, but the leaves are too big to be a violet. It’s a pretty thing but without flowers it’s hard to identify.

A day spent without the sight or sound of beauty, the contemplation of mystery, or the search of truth or perfection is a poverty-stricken day; and a succession of such days is fatal to human life. ~Lewis Mumford

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Last Saturday was a beautiful warm spring day and though there was plenty of snow left, it was melting fast. The “plenty of snow” part of things is what dictates where I can go in winter because many parking areas have been plowed in or not plowed at all. Not only that but many places don’t see much foot traffic in winter so the snow hasn’t been packed down. This rail trail in Keene solves all of those problems and that’s why I chose it. There is plenty of parking space and the snow has been packed down by snowmobiles, making it easy to walk on. If you step off that packed trail though, you could find yourself knee deep in snow, so you have to keep that in mind.

I admired the branch structure of the trees against the beautiful blue of the sky. This one is a white poplar (Populus alba,) which is a weak tree that often loses large limbs. In ancient Rome this tree was called Arbour populi, which means tree of the people. These days it is also called silver leaved poplar. It originally came to the U.S. from Europe in 1748 and obviously liked it here because now it can be found in almost every state. It is very common here in New Hampshire and is considered a weed tree.

One of the easiest ways of identifying white poplar is by its diamond shaped lenticels, which are dark against the whitish bark. Another way is by its leaves, which are green on top and white and wooly underneath. The tree has a shallow root system and suckers aggressively from the roots, so it is best not to use it as an ornamental.

The native tree population in the area is mostly maple, pine, birch, and black cherry. This forest is young; I can remember when it was a cornfield, and knowing I’m older than the trees makes me feel a little strange. I can’t remember exactly when they stopped farming this land but if I go by the size of the tree trunks it couldn’t have been more than 25 or 30 years ago.

I finally saw birds eating birch seeds. This gray birch had a whole flock of them in it and they let me stand 5 feet away and watch them feed until a snowmobile came along and scared them away. These aren’t good photos at all but I wanted to show that I wasn’t imagining things when I say that birds eat birch seeds.

I tried looking these small birds up and the closest I could come was the black and white warbler, because of the stripes you can see in this  poor shot.  There was a resounding chorus of birdsong all along this trail on this day and now I know who was singing at least part of it. How could someone not be happy when so many birds are?

The whole of both sides of this trail are lined with American hazelnut bushes (Corylus americana) and I like the way the green-gold catkins shine in the spring sun. I looked several time for signs of them opening, but not yet. When they open there will be a single bright, yellow-green, male flower peeking out from under those diamond shaped bud scales.

As I was taking photos of these sapsucker holes I could hear a woodpecker drilling off in the distance. Yellow bellied sapsuckers are in the woodpecker family but unlike other woodpeckers they feed on sap instead of insects. They drill a series of holes in a line across the bark and then move up or down and drill another series of holes before moving again, and the end result is usually a rectangular pattern of holes in the bark. They’ll return to these holes again and again to feed on the dripping sap. Many small animals, bats, birds and insects also drink from them, so these little birds helps out a lot of their forest companions.

I was admiring the sunshine on black cherry branches (Prunus serotina) when a plane flew by. A single engine Cessna practicing stalls, I think. It flew in a nose up attitude and was surprisingly quiet.

This black cherry had a bad case of black knot disease, which is what caused the growth seen here. Though it looks like a burl it is not; it’s caused by a fungus called Apiosporina morbosa. When it rains the fungus releases spores that are carried by the wind to other trees and almost every cherry along this trail had the disease, which is always fatal if it isn’t cut out of the tree when it’s young. It also infects plum and other ornamental cherry trees. It’s often mistaken for the chaga mushroom but that fungus doesn’t grow on cherry trees. Note the tree’s platy, dark gray bark with horizontal lenticels. Black cherries can grow to 80 feet tall and 2 to 3 feet in diameter if they aren’t attacked by black knot.

I saw what I thought was snow on a fallen branch but it was a bracket fungus that had degraded so badly it had become paper thin and the purest white.

I reached the point where ash swamp brook meets the Ashuelot River and there were two small black and white ducks here, splashing across the water very fast; so fast I couldn’t get a shot of them. They were probably half the size of a mallard with dark and light colored bodies and they could really move.

I used to come here as a boy and watch the bank swallows that lived in this embankment. That’s all soil, probably 10 feet deep, from the brook to the top, all deposited as river silt over who knows how many thousands of years and soft enough for the birds to dig in. It’s no wonder farmers have farmed this land for centuries. “Rich bottom land” I believe they call it.

The brook and river still flood to this day, and you can usually see huge plates of ice all around the trees in this area in winter, but I didn’t see any on this day.

I was able to climb / slide down the hill into the forest to get a shot of the trestle I stood on to take the previous 3 shots. This trestle is known as a “double intersection Warren pony truss bridge” and was probably built around 1900. It is also described as a lattice truss. Metal truss bridges were used as early as 1866 but railroads didn’t begin using them until around 1870. By 1900 they were common and replaced wooden bridges, which occasionally burned and often were washed away in flooding. I’ve seen water almost up to the bottom of this one and that’s a scary sight.

Some of these old Boston and Maine Railroad trestles have been here for 150 years and if man leaves them alone I’d bet that they’ll be here for another 150 years. I wish I knew if they were built here or built off site and shipped here. I do know that the abutments were built here from local granite, all without a drop of mortar.

Ash swamp brook was very low but since it hasn’t rained and no snow had melted for a week or so I wasn’t surprised. This brook meanders through parts of Keene and Swanzey and originates to the north of Keene. Hurricane brook starts it all near a place called Stearn’s hill. It becomes white brook for a while before emptying into black brook.  Black brook in turn empties into Ash Swamp, and the outflow from the swamp is called ash swamp brook. It finally meets the Ashuelot river at this spot after changing names at least 4 and maybe more times. I’m guessing all the different names are from the early settlers, who most likely didn’t know they were looking at the same brook. It’s quite long and I doubt anyone has ever followed it from here to its source.

I saw a small oak branch that was full of split gill fungi (Schizophyllum commune.) These are winter fungi that in late fall and I was happy to see them because I’ve been looking for them all winter but hadn’t seen any. They are about the size of a penny and are very tough and leathery.

Split gill fungi wear a wooly fur coat and this makes then easy to identify. Split gills grow on every continent except Antarctica and are said to be the most studied mushroom on earth. Scientists have isolated a compound in them that is said to inhibit the HIV-1 virus.

The “gills” on the split gill fungus are actually folds of tissue on its underside that split lengthwise when the mushroom dries out. The splits close over the fertile spore producing surfaces in dry weather and open to release the spores when they’re rehydrated by rain. It’s a pretty little mushroom, in my opinion.

It’s spring fever, that’s what the name of it is. And when you’ve got it, you want — oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so! ~Mark Twain

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I hope everyone can stand seeing more ice covered water because we have an awful lot of it here right now. This is a little pond I visit often in summer but I don’t think I’ve done so in winter, so I thought I’d give it a go. In summer it is full of fragrant white water lilies, and great blue heron, Canada geese, and ducks visit it often. I’ve seen mink and beaver here as well, so it seems to be a popular place with wildlife of all kinds. The pond ice was very shiny because we had a day of rain and warmth and then everything re-froze.

The rain washed a lot of the snow away again. It’s been going this way since November, with cold and snow one week and warmth and rain the next.

Not all the snow had disappeared but the top layer of this snow had and the tunnels of a mouse or vole became visible. There is a lot more activity under snow than a lot of people realize.

Near the shore the ice was thin and full of lacy patterns.

There are a lot of alders around the pond. You can often tell an alder from quite a distance because of all the tongue gall that grows on the female seed cones, called strobiles. They are what make these large dark bunches on the branches.

The male alder catkins (On the right) are starting to show some color. It will be a while before the much smaller female catkins on the left show any. Once they bloom tiny scarlet threads, which are the female flowers, will poke out from between the scales on the catkins. I watch for the male catkin’s release of pollen to know when to look for the almost microscopic female flowers.

Though I don’t know if this is one of their nests red winged blackbirds nest here in great numbers, and they aren’t afraid to protect their nests by flying all around your head.

They’ll use the downy seeds from the many cattails around the pond to line their nests with. This is where I first saw a female red winged blackbird grab a big white grub out of a dead cattail stem. I’ve seen them do the same in other places since. I had no idea that grubs were in cattail stems and I still don’t know what insect they turn into.

I could see a lot of plant growth under the ice.

I could also see thousands of bubbles in the ice and I wondered if they were coming from the plants.

Here was something I’ve never seen on a pond; the huge slab of ice on the right had broken away from that on the left and had fallen about 3 or 4 inches. That tells me there must be quite an air space under the ice. This happens regularly on rivers but not on ponds that I’ve seen. The ice was noisy on this day and was cracking, creaking, groaning, and grinding. If you’ve never heard the eerie sounds that ice can make you really should walk by a frozen pond or lake. You’ll hear things you’ve never heard.

You could have knocked me over with a feather when I saw these pussy willows. In January!

Much of January was warm but I didn’t think it was warm enough to coax plants into bloom. Since we’re supposed to drop below zero again this week spring might be a little different this year. I would think that extreme cold would kill off these buds, but maybe not. They do have nice fur coats.

I saw a very strange pouch like web or cocoon on a tree. It wasn’t very big; about the diameter of a pencil or maybe a little bigger. I’ve never seen anything like it and couldn’t find anything that looked like it online so I wrote to insect expert Charley Eiseman and sent him the photo. In about 5 minutes he had written back and explained that this is a tussock moth cocoon, probably made by the white marked tussock moth. The caterpillar constructed it incorporating its own hairs into the design. Tussock moth caterpillars are very hairy and their hairs can cause a rash when touched, so I’m glad I didn’t touch it. Thanks very much to Charley for the help.

If you like seeing and reading about insects Charley’s blog is the place for you. It can be found at bugtracks.wordpress.com

That isn’t water. It’s ice and yes, it was as slippery as it looks. I didn’t think I’d need my micro spikes out here so I was bare soled and sliding.

I went off the road into the brush to look at something and got snagged on these, the sharp, ripping thorns of the multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora,) which is an invasive plant from China that seems bent on taking over the world. The raspberry plant-like blossoms appear in June by the hundreds and are extremely fragrant.

Of course each blossom turns into a rose hip and birds (and squirrels) love them. That’s why and how the plants spread like they do. They crawl up and over native shrubs and take up most of the available sunlight. The native shrub, deprived of light, eventually dies.

Overhead were thousands of red maple buds. It won’t be much longer before they start to open. It usually happens sometime in mid-March.

Milk white toothed polypores (Irpex lacteus) are resupinate fungi, which means they look like they grow upside down, and that’s what many crust fungi seem to do. This is a common winter mushroom with “teeth” that are actually ragged bits of spore producing tissue which start life as pores or tubes and break apart and turn brown as they age. This fungus can often be found on the undersides of hardwood branches but these examples grew on a stump. They seem to thrive in the cold but also seem to shun direct sunlight, because I often find them on the shaded side of whatever they’re growing on.

Geum urbanum is also called herb Bennet or wood avens, and it’s originally from Europe and the Middle East. The flowers are yellow with 5 petals and have the “look” of the avens family like our native white or yellow avens. But the seed heads are very different and that’s why I think this must be the seen head of Geum urbanum. According to what I’ve read the plant’s roots have the same compounds as the clove plant and are used as a spice in soups and for flavoring ale. Modern herbalists use the plant medicinally as it has been used for many centuries. The idea for Velcro came from a plant with barbed seeds much like this example.

I think the seeds of curly dock (Rumex crispus) are very pretty but I never thought I’d see them in January. There were quite a few plants here, all full of seeds. Though the leaves of curly dock are poisonous to sheep and cattle humans can eat it. The leaves are high in beta carotene, vitamin C, and zinc and the seeds are rich in calcium. Curly dock was an important vegetable during the great depression and the humble plant kept many people alive. They are said to have a lemony flavor.

The cold of winter does things to people and it also does things to plants. Sap from conifers like the white pine and certain spruces like that seen here is usually a honey, amber color but in winter the cold can turn it blue. The deeper the blue, the colder it’s been. It’s quite a beautiful cornflower blue on this tree at the moment and that might be because we’ve seen below zero cold.

All in all I found the pond to be the same quiet, serene place in winter that it is in summer. That should be surprising because this little pond is actually a man-made retention pond that holds water for firefighting, because there is a large mall just off the edge of some of these photos. It just goes to show once again that you don’t have to go very far to enjoy nature. It’s just outside.

Looking at the pond all I could think was that it is an incredible thing how a whole world can rise from what seems like nothing at all. ~Sarah Dressen

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