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Posts Tagged ‘Winter Moth’

It has gotten cold enough now to start freezing up our ponds and rivers.  I’ve seen pancake ice on rivers many times and I’d expect to see it there; it’s the current that constantly moves circles of river foam or slush and makes them bump into each other and form rims, so that they start to look like pancakes. Most are about the size of a honeydew melon but they can be bigger or smaller. From what I’ve read pancake ice is rare outside of the arctic but I see it on the Ashuelot River almost every winter. What is strange about the ice pancakes in the above photo is that they were in a pond, not a river. Normally there is no current in a pond but we had very strong winds and I think they were what made the current that formed the ice pancakes.

In this photo you can see the ice ridge caused by the wind blowing across the pond. It blew all the slushy ice that had formed on part of the pond to this end and then spun some of it into pancakes.

On shore the ice kept piling up into higher ridges. In the arctic these frozen “pancakes” can pile on top of one another and in some areas 60 foot thick ridges of them have formed. In two days after it warmed up a little all of this ice had disappeared.

A milkweed seed was stuck on a very hairy branch of an American hazelnut (Corylus americana.) A good way to tell that you have an American hazelnut and not its cousin the beaked hazelnut is by the very hairy stem seen here. Only American hazelnut has hairy stems.

The male catkins of an American hazelnut are bigger in diameter and longer than those of the beaked hazelnut, from what I’ve seen. In spring they’ll slowly grow even bigger until finally turning golden yellow and bursting with pollen. I wait impatiently for it to happen.

If the male hazelnut pollen reaches a female ovary then there’s a good chance that hazelnuts like those seen here will be the result. In 1995 a large shallow pit in Scotland was found to be full of the remains of thousands of burned hazelnut shells and was estimated to be 9,000 years old, so man has been eating this nut for a very long time. In this country Native Americans used them to flavor soups, and also ground them into flour, most likely for thousands of years as well.

Here is a common sight in winter: milk white toothed polypore (Irpex lacteus) is a resupinate fungus, which means it looks like it grows upside down, and that’s what many crust fungi appear to do. This is a very common winter fungus that grows on the undersides of limbs. The “teeth” are actually ragged bits of spore producing tissue which start life as pores or tubes and then break apart and turn brown as they age.

If you pick up a fallen limb and touch something that feels cold and rubbery, it might be milk white, toothed polypore. They are very tough and can stand all the snow and cold that winter can throw at them. I’ve never seen the interesting patterns that this one displayed.

If two trees or parts of trees like limbs of the same species grow close enough together the wind can make them rub against each other, wearing the outer bark away. Once the outer bark wears away and the cambium or inner bark touches, the trees can become naturally grafted together. The process is called inosculation and isn’t as rare as we might think. I see at least a couple of self or naturally grafted trees each year.

If you thought you saw scratches on the bark of the maples in the previous photo you weren’t imagining it. Squirrels leave claw marks all over smooth barked trees and sometimes if you look closely you can see trails up the tree that they use over and over again. On those kinds of trails the scratches will appear thickly like those in the photo. I’ve known for a longtime that squirrels will nip off buds to make tree branches easier to travel on, but this is another of those bits of nature that I have never understood until just recently.

The beautiful color of a maple branch healing itself held me rapt for a time, and I remembered all of the times I’ve felt down when I walked into a forest, only to return having forgotten what it was that bothered me. The forest is such a loving place; a place full of miracles and one that reveals the secrets of creation, and it pains me to know that some people think it is a dark, forbidding place to be feared. Given a chance it will change you, and even heal you. If you spend enough time there first will come joy, and then a deep sense of gratitude and finally, after a time that might be weeks, months, or even years, a great love will well up inside of you. It is the love of all things; of creation, and at times it is so powerful it can bring tears to your eyes and make you want to kneel; not because someone tells you should but because of the love, gratitude and joy that you feel inside. You’ll begin to understand that you aren’t separate from all of this and you never have been. You are as much a part of nature as the birds that sing overhead and the leaf mold you might one day find yourself kneeling on.

Wild cucumber (Echinocystis lobata,) seed pods dry as thin and weightless as a sheet of paper, so though their spines are sharp at this point you can’t throw them at your friends. In the lower right quadrant of this example you can see a bit of the netting that is inside these seed pods. A man wrote to me once and told me that he decorated pens that he makes with that same netting. For me these plants are like a time machine that always takes me back to my boyhood, when we used to throw the soft spined fruits at each other before they dried out.

Wild cucumbers have two large seeds that look like cucumber seeds but they’re at least 10 times bigger. The cavities seen here are where they grew. I’m seeing fewer and fewer of these vines each year and I can’t understand why. When I was a boy they were everywhere but now I have to search, often for days or even weeks, to find them.

Last year I saw a very strange pouch like cocoon on a tree. It wasn’t very big; about the diameter of a pencil or maybe a little bigger. I hadn’t ever seen anything like it and couldn’t find anything that looked like it online so I wrote to a local insect expert who explained that it was a tussock moth cocoon, probably made by the white marked tussock moth. The caterpillar constructed it incorporating its own hairs into the design. Now here was another one, almost exactly a year later.

All of the gypsy moth egg cases I’ve seen have been smooth and hard, like this one. European gypsy moths were first brought to the U.S. in 1869 from Europe to start a silkworm business but they escaped and have been in the wild ever since. In the 1970s and 80s gypsy moth outbreaks caused many millions of dollars of damage across the northeast by defoliating and killing huge swaths of forest. I remember seeing, in just about every yard, black stripes of tar painted around tree trunks or silvery strips of aluminum foil wrapped around trunks. The theory was that when the caterpillars crawled up the trunk of a tree to feed they would either get stuck in the tar or slip on the aluminum foil and fall back to the ground. Today, decades later, you can still see the black stripes of tar around some trees. Another gypsy moth population explosion happened in Massachusetts recently and that’s why foresters say that gypsy moth egg cases should be destroyed whenever they’re found.

This little moth was on the door of the maintenance shop where I work one morning and it stayed there all day. Since it was about 30 degrees that day I thought it was odd behavior, but then I looked it up and found its name is the Winter Moth. It is a European species that was first noticed in Nova Scotia in the 1930s and now is found coast to coast in the U.S. It’s a very destructive insect, especially to apple and blueberry crops because its caterpillars eat the emerging buds in spring just as the bud scales open. They also feed on maple, oak, ash, crabapple, cherry, and many deciduous shrubs. According to the University of Massachusetts “The eggs are green at first, but turn red-orange soon thereafter. In March, prior to hatching, the eggs turn a bright blue and then a very dark blue-black just before hatching.” They sound very pretty but I think I’d rather not find any.  

Smooth sumac (Rhus glabra) berries are ripe and red. These berries don’t get anywhere near as hairy as staghorn sumac berries do but the plants still look alike and are easy to confuse if you don’t look closely for the hairy stems of staghorn sumac. Smooth sumac leaves turn bright red in the fall and produce a rich brown dye. Birds supposedly love them but the berries are usually still there in spring until the migratory birds come through.

Staghorn sumac berries, like the rest of the plant, are very hairy. They are said to be an important winter emergency food for many types of birds including Robins, Evening Grosbeaks, Bluebirds, Cardinals, and Scarlet Tanagers in other parts of the country but like the smooth sumac berries seen in the previous photos, staghorn sumac berries aren’t usually eaten until spring here. That could be because we have so many other native fruits and berries for them to eat. After a thorough soaking and washing, the berries were made into a drink resembling pink lemonade by Native Americans. In the Middle East they are dried and ground into a lemon flavored spice.

Even on a cloudy day the stems of staghorn sumac glow, and they really do resemble deer antlers. (Antlers are not horns, by the way, and a stag has antlers.) If this were a smooth sumac this branch would be as smooth as a maple branch.

Many things in nature will turn blue when it gets cold enough. Ice can be blue and so can the sap of the white pine tree. I’ve also seen the white striations that give striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) its name turn blue. This is the only maple tree in New England that has bark that is striped like this. Other names for the tree are snake bark maple, moosewood maple, goosefoot maple, Pennsylvania maple, and whistle wood, because the soft pith makes the wood easy to hollow out and make whistles from. Native Americans used the bark of the tree to treat many ailments including coughs and colds.

I like the flowers of thimbleweed but I never see many of them. Until recently, anyway; I stumbled into a forest of them and for the first time, saw them going to seed. The plant gets its name from the seed head that grows to look like a thimble and I’ve seen those, but until now I’ve never seen one actually producing seed. The seeds are on the sticky side and before I was through trying to get a photo I was covered with them, so I might find them growing in my own yard one day.  

Here is a beautiful turkey tail fungus (Trametes versicolor) for your Thanksgiving. If you walk off that big meal on a wooded trail you might see some in person. They’ll be far more beautiful there than they are here.

I thought I’d end this post with one of the things I’m thankful for; this view of Mount Monadnock I see every morning on my way to work. If you click on it you’ll see a larger version and then you might be able to see the snow on the summit.

If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself. ~Tecumseh, Shawnee

I hope all of you have a safe and happy Thanksgiving day. Thanks for coming by.

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I had some time off for the Thanksgiving holiday so I thought I’d go and see 40 foot falls in Surry. It’s relatively quick and easy to get to and I like to visit it when the leaves are off the trees. The falls are in a heavily wooded area and before the leaves fall it’s dark enough in the forest that photography with my camera just doesn’t work there. Even at this time the pines and hemlocks cast a lot of shade but it was a bright sunny day so I thought I’d give it a try. The above photo shows what you can see of the falls from the road.

Before you get to the falls on Merriam Brook you have to cross a small stream that flows into it. You have to walk the banks to find a good place to cross. In some places it was narrow enough to step across on this day, but more often than not you have to cross on slippery stones.

Many of the stones along the stream are moss covered but not this one; I believe that’s a liverwort called greater featherwort (Plagiochila asplenioides) on that stone.

Greater featherwort likes lots of water and grows on rocks in streams and rivers, and on wet soil in the open or in shade. This was the first time I had seen this pretty little liverwort which, as liverworts go, is considered one of the largest. I think that’s because it forms large colonies, not because each plant is large. The plants themselves seem quite small to me compared to other liverworts I know.

A two inch hole through a boulder told the story of the blasting that must have gone on here, probably when the road was built.  Holes were drilled into the offending ledge, filled with black powder or dynamite, and away went the ledge. I can tell that the drilling was done by machine because if the holes had been made by hand with star drills and sledge hammers they’d be five sided, not round. They might have been made with a compressed air powered drill, which was also what railroads used after the invention of the wind hammer in 1844.

Once you cross the stream it’s easy to get to the base of the falls because the Merriam brook takes a hard 90 degree left turn at this spot. 40 foot falls has a lower, middle and upper falls along this stretch of stream. Here we see the lower falls and a hint of the middle. The climb to the upper falls is steep in places but doesn’t take long.

Two things make the climb to the upper falls a little hazardous; slippery oak leaves and old bridge cables like this one that a hemlock tree has grown around. I’ve tripped over that cable and slipped on the oak leaves and have taken a couple of spills up here, but luckily nothing serious has come of it. I watched my step and picked my way up the hill this time and had no problems, but those oak leaves sure were slippery.

I’ve read that a snowmobile bridge made out of steel cables and wooden planks  was washed away in severe flooding in August of 2003.  Apparently this cable and a plank or two that I’ve seen is all that’s left of it. Merriam brook raged and also washed away large parts of the road and flooded houses. Several other towns had similar problems at the time.

A look back downstream reveals how strong the forces at play are, with grown trees torn up and tossed around like first year saplings. I can say for sure that I don’t want to be here when this brook floods.

Many of the scattered boulders had lichens on them so of course I had to have a look. This one was covered with rock disk lichens (Lecidella stigmatea.) These common lichens like sunshine so they’ll point you to the sunniest spots in a forest like this. They are tan or dirty gray crustose lichens that form a crust like body (thallus) that clings to the stone substrate so strongly that it becomes impossible to remove them without damaging what they grow on.

Rock disk lichens look a lot like tile lichens (Lecidea tessellate,) but tile lichens have black fruiting bodies (apothecia) that are sunken or concave and rock disk lichens have black fruiting bodies that are raised or flat. This extreme close-up of the rock disk apothecia shows how they stand proud of the body of the lichen. This is an important identifying feature so it’s a good idea to carry a loupe or a macro lens when looking at lichens.

I was surprised to see a moth fly by and hang from a twig on such a cold day; it must have been at or below freezing. I thought it must be an owlet moth, which is a winter moth that creates its own heat by shivering. Owlet moths are what pollinate late flowering witch hazel shrubs.

I was right about one thing;  it is a winter moth but not an owlet moth. It is called the “winter moth” (Operophtera brumata) because it doesn’t mind the cold. The fringes on its wing edges help identify it. It was imported from Europe and is considered an invasive pest that can defoliate trees and shrubs. Adults emerge from the ground in November and December to mate, and the flightless female lays about 150 eggs under tree bark. The eggs hatch in March or April and the larvae begin to feed.

Before you know it you’ve reached the middle falls. You don’t have to work too hard photographically to blur the water here because the light is often dim enough to blur it anyway. I had to boost the light gathering ability of my camera to ISO 1600 for a few of these shots, and that’s something I rarely have to do.  I was glad I had a monopod.

The deep gorge that the brook has cut through the hillside above the middle falls is a very rugged and beautiful place. I think it would be a great place to visit on a hot summer day because it’s probably always a good 10 degrees cooler here. It was certainly cool on this day.

Icicles formed wherever the water splashed.

This is where you get your first glimpse of the upper falls, tucked way back into the gorge. I don’t know if the falls actually fall 40 feet, but that wall over on the left would crush a house if it fell on one. It is easily  more than 40 feet high.

I doubt you could get to the upper falls this way without getting your feet wet but even if you could you would have to climb through things like this to get there. The falls is over on the right, unseen in this photo. It looks like that tree will be one of the next to fall and be washed downstream.

You can get an okay shot of the upper falls without getting your feet wet or crawling over boulders, so that’s what I settle for. What I’d really like to do someday is get up above the falls to see what’s up there. It would be a steep slippery climb but worthwhile, I think.

A look back at some of what we came through to get here. Raging waters have stripped the stream bed right down to bedrock in places and tossed car size boulders around in others, bowling over trees. It’s amazing what water can do.

This unlucky tree had its bark stripped completely off and will most likely be carried downstream in a future flood.

Fall oyster mushrooms grew on a fallen oak. Scientists have discovered that oyster mushrooms exude “extracellular toxins” that stun fungi eating nematodes. Once the nematode has been stunned mycelium invades its body through its orifices. The mushrooms also consume bacteria in order to get nitrogen and protein, and all of this means that oyster mushrooms are a truly carnivorous mushroom.

I love it when I find things like this. This painted stone sat on top of a boulder near the upper falls. Seeing that a child loved a place enough to leave a gift behind is good for the soul, and gives me hope for the future.

There’s no better place to find yourself than sitting by a waterfall and listening to its music.
~Roland R. Kemler

Thanks for stopping in.

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