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Posts Tagged ‘Winter Crane Fly’

There I was last Saturday before I climbed Hewe’s Hill in Swanzey, admiring some daffodil shoots. I was surprised to see them because it’s very early for daffodils here. These bulbs made the same mistake last year and paid for it with heavily frost bitten (and killed) leaves. Since bulbs rely on their foliage to make enough energy for the following year’s bloom I’m guessing that they must be in a weakened state.

I even saw green grass.

Insects were flying about. I think this one was a winter crane fly. They look like a large mosquito but don’t have the blood sucking beak that mosquitos do. I’ve read that females spend most of their time in the leaf litter of the forest floor where they live, so I’m guessing this one was a male.

You might have been fooled into thinking it was spring until you woke up Sunday morning. This is what I saw in my backyard on Sunday; 3 or 4 inches of fresh snow. Parts of the state got 7-8 inches, so we were lucky to get what we did. Just another nuisance snow storm and more a conversational snow than anything, but it still had to be shoveled and plowed.

The weather people said we would see temperatures in the mid-40s F later that afternoon so I got out early and walked around the neighborhood. It was pretty enough but I find that I’m getting tired of snow and cold and ice. We had a sunny 70 degree day on Wednesday, and after that small taste of summer snow is even harder to take.

I like the colors in this shot of the local wetland; what I call the swamp.

The forest was, as William Sharp once said, “Clothed to its very hollows in snow.”

William Sharp also said scenes like this were “the still ecstasy of nature, wherein every spray, every blade of grass, every spire of reed, every intricacy of twig, is clad with radiance.” And it was, but the sun was shining brightly and was warm on my face, and as I walked a breeze began to pick up, so I didn’t think the still ecstasy would last long.

It had gotten down into the 20s the night before so the fluff factor came into play. The colder it is the fluffier the snow, so if this was a heavy wet snow instead of dry powder we probably wouldn’t have gotten more than an inch.

Red always seems to look redder alongside white, as these staghorn sumac berries show.

I started to walk down the old road but the breeze picked up and I could see the snow starting to fall from the trees up ahead. It’s what I call snow smoke, and it was coming at me.

Before I knew it I was in the midst of the blowing, falling snow and, though it was only falling from the trees it was like being in a blizzard, and I got a good soaking.

By noon the snow was melting fast and what didn’t melt this day fell to the record 70 degree warmth we had on Wednesday. By Thursday afternoon the ground was nearly bare, but then it snowed again and we got another 1-3 inches. Between Wednesday and Thursday we saw a 40 degree temperature change and we’re still on a weather roller coaster. All the rain and snow has kept the Ashuelot River very high for far longer than I’ve ever seen. It will often rise and then fall within a few days but it has been as it is in this photo for weeks now. Getting heavy rain now wouldn’t be good.

Beaver ponds are also filled to bank-full and these beavers will have their work cut out for them when it warms up. Their dam was breached and water was flowing out much faster than they would have allowed if they’d been able to do something about it. There will be plenty of work for us all in spring, I think.

Winter lies too long in country towns; hangs on until it is stale and shabby, old and sullen. ~Willa Cather

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1. Deep Cut

Each year at about this time I start wondering if the ice is forming in the deep cut rail trail that I visit up a ways north of Keene. This place gets very little direct sunlight so usually once the nights get cold enough the ice starts to grow, and our nights have been in the 20s lately. The ice grows steadily through January and February to the size of tree trunks. On this day though the temperature had soared into the 60s so there was little ice to be seen.

2. Ice

I saw that a few icicles had formed on the cliff walls but had quickly melted and fallen. Usually on a hot summer day breezes blow through here and cool it off to about 10 degrees cooler than the temperature at ground level. On this day though, for the first time, I felt a warm breeze blowing. I was dressed for two days before December but before I left I was sweating as if it were tax time in April. I should have paid more attention to the forecast.

3. Drilled Hole

Railroad workers used steam drills and black powder to crack this rail bed out of the bedrock about 150 years ago. You can still see many of the holes they drilled.

4. Ties

Signs of the railroad are still seen here and there. Here two railroad ties have been placed against the cliff face. Why I don’t know; possibly as help for climbing these walls. The New Hampshire branch of the Appalachian Mountain Club holds ice climbing clinics here and seeing them climb on winter weekends is common.

5. Bolt Hanger

They call this place the “ice box” and come here to train and get used to ice climbing before they go out and tackle the really big ice falls. You can see signs that people have been climbing on the higher parts of the wall, which I’d guess must reach 40-50 feet.

6. Mossy Wall

On this day the ice climbers would have been disappointed; there was more greenery than ice to be found. In places these walls are completely covered by all kinds of plants, mosses, lichens and liverworts and are very beautiful. It often makes me think of the Shangri-La that James Hilton wrote of in his novel Lost Horizon.

7. Possible Wall Rue Spleenwort

Some of the plants that I see here are ones that I don’t see anywhere else. I’ve been trying to identify this one for close to three years with no luck, so if you know it I’d love to hear from you. I have a feeling it’s a spleenwort (Asplenium) but I don’t know which one. It’s similar to wall rue (Asplenium ruta-muraria) but I don’t know if that’s it. Since there are close to 700 species of Asplenium it might be a while before longer I uncover its name. It grows right out of the cliff faces and is evergreen. It reminds me of flat leaf Italian parsley.

8. Built Wall-2

The railroad engineers used the stone from blasting to build massive retaining walls along parts of the rail bed. Drainage ditches run all along the base of the walls on both sides and still keep the rail bed dry after a century and a half.

9. Coltsfoot

Coltsfoot plants (Tussilago farfara) still had their leaves and reminded me of spring. Their hoof shapes give this plant its common names. It has been used to treat coughs for centuries.

10. Insects on Branch

What I think were a type of winter crane flies (Trichocera) swarmed all over the cut surface of a branch and appeared to be drinking the sap. Others flew back and forth along the trail. Without too much effort I could imagine that it was almost April instead of almost December.

11. Water

In places small streams pour out of and over the rocks and there is always the sound of splashing and dripping water here. It’s like being near a public fountain.

12. Ice

There was some ice on a rock but it was rotten and probably fell soon after I took this photo.

13. Liverworts

I’ve seen many amazing things here and some of the most amazing are the large mats of liverworts that grow here in the many thousands. They’ve probably been growing here for the century and a half that these stone cliffs have been here. They grow on the rocks just above the drainage ditches where the humidity must be high, and to get close to them you have to wade through the ditches with high rubber boots on, but it’s worth the effort.

14. Great Scented Liverwort

One of my favorite liverworts is the great scented liverwort (Conocephalum conicum.) I like its reptilian appearance and the fresh, clean scent that gives it its common name. It likes water but will die if it is submerged so it needs a place where it can be moist but not touching water. The groundwater that constantly runs down over the stones makes this the perfect spot.

15. Overleaf Pellia aka Pellia epiphylla

Another liverwort called overleaf pellia (Pellia epiphylla) also grows here but in nowhere near the numbers that the great scented liverworts do. I’ve noticed the overleaf pellia grows on the sunnier side of the cut and the great scented grows on the shaded side. When it gets cold this liverwort starts to turn purple as is seen in the photo. Though not even one tenth the size of a slice of bacon this one always reminds me of fried bacon because of the way its wavy edges curl.

16. Lineman's Shack

The old lineman’s shack’s walls seem to bulge and its roof sags just a bit more each time I see it. I wonder how many more winters it can stand before it can stand no more. Since there is graffiti dated to 1925 it I know that it has seen a few. What I don’t know is if my father, who was 18 years old in 1925, might have been one of the people who wrote on the walls. He didn’t live too far from here and might have once walked the tracks.

17. Antenna Rotor Control

The old 1940s bakelite television rotor controller still sat where it did the last time I was here. It seems so big and cumbersome now but it never did when I had to use one on our antenna years ago. It seemed like a marvel of modern engineering then.

18. Trail in February

This photo is from February of last year and is for those who might not have seen previous posts I’ve done about this place. The ice grows into massive columns and comes in many colors, including green, blue, black, and orange. I believe the many colors come from minerals, algae, soil and other contaminates, as well as the density of the ice and how it reflects and refracts light. It’s very beautiful and I look forward to seeing it each winter, but with the forecast calling for above average temperatures this winter ice like this might be hard to find.

Nature is shy and noncommittal in a crowd. To learn her secrets, visit her alone or with a single friend, at most. Everything evades you, everything hides, even your thoughts escape you, when you walk in a crowd.  ~Edwin Way Teale

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Regular readers might be getting tired of seeing this part of the New Hampshire rail trail system north of Keene but I never get tired of exploring here because I never know what I’m going to find. There are mosses, lichens, and liverworts here that I don’t see anywhere else so last week, after a nuisance snowstorm of 2 or 3 inches, I decided to see what I could find. The ice formations alone make this a worthwhile trip.

 1. Rail Trail

I think the reason all of the unusual plants grow so well here is because of the all of the groundwater that constantly seeps from the stone cliff faces. Mosses, lichens and liverworts don’t have roots so they depend on rain, snowmelt, and groundwater for their nutrients. In the winter the groundwater that helps them survive also freezes into huge, interesting ice formations and there are many people who come here to climb them.

 2. Ice Climber

I happened to meet up with a solitary ice climber here this day, and I took his picture so you could get an idea of the scale of this man made canyon that was blasted out of the bedrock. He looked to be 6 feet tall or so-maybe a little taller.

3. Green Ice

The ice climber had gotten there before me and I followed his footprints in the fresh snow, noting that he went from ice column to ice column, finally settling on a large column of green ice much like the one in the above photo. He was climbing alone so there was no safety rope and I didn’t want to take a photo of him climbing because I didn’t want to do anything to break his concentration. I was wishing that I could have talked to him about the ice and why he climbed it.

I haven’t been able to answer the question of why the ice is green so I don’t know if it is being stained by minerals or vegetation.  My gut feeling says it’s probably a little of both.

4. Fan Pocket Moss aka Fissidens dubius

Ice wasn’t the only reason I came here. These old walls are covered in mosses, lichens and liverworts. I think the moss shown here growing out of a crack in the stone is fan pocket moss (Fissidens dubius.)  It was very small-no bigger than a quarter. Fissidens mosses always appear flat and have two leaves directly across from one another along the stem.

5. Green Algae

I also came here to see something I was only recently able to identify. Though it is bright orange, this is called green algae (Trentepohlia aurea.) The orange color comes from the carotenoid pigment in the alga cells called hematochrome or beta- carotene, which is the same pigment that gives carrots their orange color. One of the reasons I wanted to visit this place again was to try to get better photos of it.

6. Green Algae 2

I found that getting a better photo was easier said than done, but at least you can see the hairiness of what is described as “filamentous green chlorophyte algae.” The pigment masks the green chlorophyll and can also be yellow or red.  In 2001 airborne spores from these algae were in high enough concentrations in India to cause a “red rain” that actually stained clothes pink. Yellow, green, and black rain was also reported. You can read more about that by clicking here.

7. Fallen Tree

I know from previous visits that this fallen tree means I should start watching for liverworts growing on the walls. With all the fresh snow, I wasn’t sure that I’d see any.

 8. Fountain Smoothcap Moss aka Atrichum crispum

It would probably take a lifetime to identify all the different mosses growing here. I think this one might be fountain smoothcap moss (Atrichum crispum), but to be honest I can’t be certain. There are many mosses that look very much like this one and often only a microscope will reveal their true identity. The fact that it was growing in such a wet environment and the way the dry lower leaves had a crisp look is what leads me to believe it is Atrichum crispum. In any case, I thought it was a very pretty moss. Since most moss leaves are only one cell thick they look translucent in certain kinds of light.

9. Running Water

Speaking of wet environments, this is not the place to come if you want silence, because the sound of dripping water is constant. Winter, summer, spring and fall it, and the sounds of birds chirping, are all that you hear in this place. Sometimes the drip turns to a gush, as can be seen in this photo. Luckily the railroad engineers designed drainage ditches along each side of the road bed that still keep it nice and dry close to 200 years after they were dug.

10. Sun on Ice-2 

The canyon walls are high enough and the sun low enough in the sky so very little sunlight is seen here in winter.  A few shafts fall here and there, but they do little to warm things up. Also, the ice seems to create its own micro climate so you need to dress warmly if you plan to explore this area. On this day the temperature must have been a good 10 degrees colder in the canyon than on the more open parts of the trail that get sunshine.

11. Winter Crane Fly aka Trichocera

On the more open parts of the trail winter crane flies (Trichocera) could be seen soaking up the sun.

12. Liverwort in Snow

I finally saw some liverworts that had been protected from the snow but the drainage ditch full of water kept me from getting close. I’ve decided that I’m going to get some knee high wading boots to overcome the drainage ditch problem. That way I’ll be able to get closer to all of the unusual plants growing here. A ladder would also be useful but I hate to think of carrying one all the way out here.

 13. Preissia quadrata Liverwort

Every time I come here I see something I’ve never seen before. Today’s find was this liverwort that reminded me a little of cooked bacon. Or maybe I was just hungry.  Anyhow, I think this one is called narrow mushroom-headed liverwort (Preissia quadrata,) but since it can sometimes take a team of botanists to identify a liverwort, don’t bet the farm on my identification. Fresh plants are said to have a disagreeable odor, but I was able to get quite close to this one thanks to the frozen over drainage ditch, and I don’t remember smelling much of anything. Plants are also said to have a very hot taste when nibbled, but I think I’ll leave the nibbling to the botanists. I’m anxious to come back in June to see the mushroom shaped fruiting bodies.

 14. Conocephalum conicum Liverwort

Sometimes we see things so beautiful that we just want to sit and gaze at them, and when we do we find that when we’ve finished we have no idea how much time has passed, because the thing has taken us outside of ourselves. It can happen with a view from a mountain top, or a sunset, or a liverwort. This one is called the great scented liverwort (Conocephalum conicum) and it is another reason I come here.

The woods were made for the hunters of dreams. ~ S.W. Foss

Thanks for stopping in. Happy New Year!

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