Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Morning Dew

Yesterday morning I took Kodi for a walk to a nearby conservation area that has a trail through a field full of wildflowers. The grasses and flowers were covered in morning dew. Kodi sniffed the air, not liking the strong smell of coyote, I assume, that he sensed. While he wavered, I wandered around admiring the delicate spider webs covered in dew and lit by the rising sun.

This one I think is a marbled orbweaver (Araneus marmoreus) and a female given its large size (her body is about the size of my thumbnail). She has woven her web between several common milkweed plants. She too was covered in dew.

And here, I think, are a couple banded garden spiders (Argiope trifasciata).

Here are a couple non-orbweavers, although which spider lives here I do not know.

A field covered in morning dew is a great place and time to see spiders, such cool creatures that they are. Kodi was uninterested in the spider webs and less keen on the general feel of the place this morning, so we lingered only long enough for me to check out a few of these spiders.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Doubleheads Then Table Mountain

Despite a not-so-promising weather forecast we headed north to our friend's cabin off Bear Notch Road near The Kanc for the weekend. Since our hiking legs had rested for a few months we opted for relatively short trails that promised excellent views. On Saturday we drove to Jackson, up Black Mountain Road and then Dundee Road to the small parking lot for the Doubleheads. Here is a view of North and South Doublehead from Black Mountain Road on our way out, after the valley fog had cleared.

The Doubleheads are around 3,000 feet in elevation; a set of peaks that we had never climbed so we weren't sure of the trails. We arrived late morning to an empty parking lot and set off on the Ski Trail - a wide swath that winds its way to the top of North Doublehead after 1.8 miles. We entered fog near the summit, which offered a welcome coolness after a steady climb through warm, humid air. Old man's beard lichen hung from the trees.

We reached the summit (3,053 feet) just in time for a quiet lunch beneath a patch of sun. A couple large rocks provided a nice bench, next to the renovated cabin first built in 1932.

We pushed on through fog to South Doublehead (2,939'). With limited views we quickly began the roughly 1.2 mile descent down New Path. This route back to Dundee Road was steep with loose rock in places.  Although views were non-existent atop both peaks, the limited visibility lent a quiet, remote feeling to our hike, especially since we passed only one party -- 4 people and 4 dogs -- as we were nearing the end. We finished the loop after a 1/2 mile hike along Dundee Road back to the parking lot, which was now full (6 cars). This is not a hike that we will hurry back to as the trails and the surrounding forest were not all that interesting, except near the summit. Better views might have altered our opinion.

Sunday dawned brighter and more promising. For this day we chose another new hike - a 3.8 mile round trip hike to Table Mountain off Bear Notch Road.

This turned out to be a leisurely climb along Louisville Brook and through an older northern hardwood forest with big yellow birch and sugar maple. Mushrooms had sprouted on the forest floor and on the trunks of any dead or dying tree. The hobblebush leaves had turned shades of purple, red, and yellow. Clusters of red mountain ash berries stole some of the fall color show.

The trail opens out onto several ledges that offer great views to the south and west. Red maples seemed particularly bright in their fall colors among the dark green of fir and spruce on the upper slopes.

The trail doesn't quite go to the tippy-top of Table Mountain; a young stand of birch, fir, and spruce impede the way. Instead the trail (known as the Attitash Trail) continues on to Big Attitash Mountain. As the book says, this trail is heavily traveled by moose. We saw piles of droppings beneath balsam fir saplings, the preferred winter food of moose.

This hike is well worth another future visit. The views are terrific from the exposed ledges and the woods are beautiful. John over at 1happyhiker has a nice post from June of a loop hike that he did to Table Mountain, which included a bushwhack. He has nice photos and commentary about that option. We returned to the small parking lot off Bear Notch Road the same way we came; Kodi our canine hiking companion was anxious for another dip back in Louisville Brook. We finished this leisurely hike in about 3 hours, just in time for lunch back at the cabin before heading home.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Snake Eats Frog

If you are a little squeamish with the natural order of things, such as something eating something else, you might want to skip this one.

I switched up a field day from Friday to today given the rain predictions for week's end and a glorious day today. I drove north on Route 16 to Effingham; Mt. Chorcorua's rugged top was crystal clear while fog hung in the valleys. Red maples have turned red along the Ossipee River. I stepped out of the car to a surprisingly warm sun. Mosquitoes were out but not in force and not too pesky.

I set off into the woods gathering information about habitats and property boundaries. Part of preparing a wildlife habitat stewardship plan for a landowner. Seeing and hearing signs of wildlife is actually a bonus for my work. I take note of what creatures I encounter to reinforce my maps and notes about the habitats. Today I walked a woodland trail that the landowner calls "Moose Highway." It is rightly named as I saw fresh moose tracks in the soft mud along a stretch of this trail. There were smaller deer tracks too. And a spectacularly clear set of black bear tracks in the mud. All of these big mammals must have passed through just hours before me. After these sightings I made a little more noise as I walked, just in case they were still nearby. No need to startle a big animal.

When I walked back on this trail to a main woods road I stopped to listen to a soft, but piercing cry. It was nearby, and low, close to or on the ground. I waited and heard the sound again, but saw nothing. I peered under a small tree and heard a slight rustle and then I saw it. Click to enlarge the photo below and you will see what I saw.

A wood frog was half inside the mouth of a garter snake. Neither was moving much. It is a slow (painful for the frog I assume) process as the snake inches the frog backwards into its mouth. The wood frog (note its black mask below the eye and light brown body) emits a piercing cry supposedly to startle a predator into releasing it. Not sure how often that strategy works. This snake wasn't about to release this frog.

I didn't stay long to watch this predator-prey interaction unfold. The snake must eat and so goes life in the wild. And I had more habitats to map.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

A Yellow Bear

Today was a day to be outdoors. One of those superb fall days that started slow with clouds and dampness -- but rallied by afternoon into a blue sky day. I watched a yellow bear crawl across our retaining wall. Can you tell which way it is going?

This is a small yellow bear, barely two inches long with long hairs that hide its legs and mouth. It is more formally known as a Virginian tiger moth (Spilosoma virginica). It is common, perhaps even more common that its better known cousin, the woolly bear. So which way is it going? To the right.

Cabbage butterflies are also about in the yard on these early fall days. I took note of them earlier in summer when the caterpillar stage was chewing away on our cabbages. I wasn't too fond of them then, but I like the butterflies with their pure white wings and black spots. They kept alighting on the kale, striking a nice pose.

As the days grow shorter and the sun rises lower in the sky, I absorb as much daylight as possible. The insects will soon be gone or hibernating as pupa, so even the pesky ones I take delight in seeing on these waning days of summer. The nasturtium and morning glory days are numbered too, but they carry on in their brilliance until the first frost. The morning glory flowers were 40 in number today!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

A Fall Morning Full of Color

A hat, pair of gloves, and fleece jacket. We needed these for our walk this morning; the thermometer read 39 F. Not cold enough for a frost, but we could see our breath and watched mist rising off a nearby wetland. I love these fall mornings.

Late blooming asters, goldenrods, and other wildflowers seem so vibrant following nights of cool temperatures. Wild shrubs too are laden with richly-colored fruits. My favorite, the winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata), is especially brilliant now.

Perched at the edge of wetlands or other wet places, winterberry is always a cheery sight in fall. It is the female shrubs that are covered in red berries. Winterberry is dioecious, meaning male and female flowers are borne on separate plants. They hold their fruits after the leaves fall, making their small, round, red fruits even more conspicuous for birds and small mammals that like to eat them. Apparently they are poisonous to humans.

One fall sight that may disappoint this year are the sugar maples. At least in our area. We've noticed that the sugar maple foliage along our roads looks curled and dry and spotted. I just read that it is suffering from two fungal infections, resulting from the heavy spring rains -- black tar spot and anthracnose. Not to worry though, as there is always plenty of color, among the flowers, the shrubs, and the trees. Even the mushrooms this year are a riot of color on the forest floor.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Rattlesnake Plantain

On my wanderings with Kodi today, I came upon one of my favorite woodland plants -- downy rattlesnake plantain (Goodyera pubescens). This plant is apparently fairly common in our oak-pine woodlands, although you don't see it very often.The flower spike is nondescript once flowering is past; however, the basal rosette of evergreen leaves with their white stripe down the middle and network of thin white veins are what catch your eye.

This plant is so named for a few reasons.The shape of the leaves slightly resemble the common plantain in your lawn. And the white vein pattern looks a bit like a shed snake skin. Regardless, it is not a plantain at all but an orchid. There are other less common rattlesnake plantains around. The downy rattlesnake plantain is distinct with its broad white strip down the center of the leaf and its densely packed flower spike that is symmetrical on the stalk (not one-sided or spiral). Keep an eye out for the common the not so common rattlesnake plantains when walking through an oak woodland.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Black Trumpets and Flying Squirrels

The coyotes howled from the Mitchell field before dawn this morning. Yesterday it was the raspy call of a fox that caught my ear as I lay in bed. Cold air wafted in our bedroom windows this morning; the thermometer read 48F at 6:00 am. A pair of pileated woodpeckers called from the top of a dead tree over our heads as we walked with Kodi up Bald Hill Road at sunrise. The sun's rays streamed through the fog rising off the wetland. This was a bluebird day in New England - blue sky, no wind, temperature in the 70s, a hint of fall color in the trees.

We spent the day canning tomatoes and peaches and making a big dutch apple pie. Processing your own food is a lot of work, but it feels good as we enter fall, with the garden fading, and winter really not that far away. A bit of summer in the cupboard will taste delicious come February.

Yesterday Kodi and I enjoyed a leisurely walk in the woods, taking a break from what has seemed like a much too busy August and September so far. The hemlock-oak-beech-pine woodland where we walked was full of interesting sights and sounds. I heard a peeper and a pewee, saw a small toad and scads of mushrooms. I found, unexpectedly, my first black trumpets. These wild mushrooms are apparently quite tasty and with no poisonous lookalikes are safe for eating.

Since this group of trumpets was small and along the trail I did not gather them. They were growing not far from a small stream, near a large moss-covered boulder.

Farther along the trail Kodi sniffed at something just off-trail among the leaf litter. I rushed over thinking he was teasing a frog, but to my surprise it was a baby flying squirrel. Its eyes were barely open, its head and eyes large compared to the rest of the body, it cried and squirmed. This young squirrel fell or was pushed out of its nest cavity much too soon. I saw no evidence of a cavity overhead, nor saw any evidence of a predator that might be on the prowl for the baby squirrel. Kodi and I left it behind.

Later, when we retraced our steps along the same stretch of trail, Kodi again tried to grab something off-trail. He had found a second baby flying squirrel. There is not much one can do in such situations. I had no nest to put them back into. And taking them home to raise was not a good option. I left them to their fate, despite their incredibly cute and helpless nature. Here is one of the small flying squirrels. It is still alive, but I can't say I was optimistic about its future.

There is so much to see and hear and smell this time of year. One must take time in between harvesting and preserving food, among other routine work and play, to spend time just wandering in the woods. I've missed these walkabouts and intend to resume more regular treks in the woods with Kodi. He helps me find such interesting things, even things that make me stop and ponder what to do, as with the baby flying squirrels.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Rain Induced Events

We fared okay in the recent spate of storms, including Hurricane-Tropical Storm Irene. We lost power only for 26 hours or so and the total rain was less than four inches. I have noticed a few happenings that resulted from all the rain due to Irene and other more minor storms since.

Just yesterday I checked our shiitake log crib and there on the back side was a flush of mushrooms, some ready for picking. Tonights menu is a shiitake-corn frittata (the corn and eggs are from local farms) with garlic green beans (from our own garden). Maybe a garden fresh sliced tomato on the side.

What made me check the shiitake logs was all the fungi I've seen in the woods lately. Red, white, yellow and other colorful mushrooms are pushing up through the forest soil all over. Last week some farmer friends mentioned their recent success with wild mushroom foraging, specifically black trumpets and chanterelles. I'll have to scout for those.

One casualty of the storm in our yard was the old peach tree. It was already weighted down heavily by fruit that ripen in mid-September. We should have propped its old, tired limbs. Two large limbs snapped and now lie partly on the ground. Our second mistake was not thinning the fruits more heavily. Many are touching each other which is probably causing the brown rot now forming on some of the peaches.

As recommended we are removing the infected fruits in hopes that the others will be spared. There are still many beautiful, but still hard, peaches on the tree.

So much happens in the garden in August and September that I've been preoccupied and hence had little time to blog. As the garden season slows my blogging should pick up again. In the meantime, I have some shiitakes to saute.

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