Saturday, February 28, 2009

Gathering Day

After a couple of warm days, gray skies and icy winds moved in, presaging the coming snowstorm. This afternoon I explored new as well as familiar locales. Mosses, lichen, icy shorelines, birch habit, and more coming this week.

This evening I'll be processing today's work and experimenting with laptop control of the camera.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Another Moss

Here's another kind of moss I found growing along with the previous specie shown a couple of days ago. It's too soon for me to try identification but I'm finding out that mosses don't have common names. Doesn't seem quite right...

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Paper Birch

Paper Birch, Betula papyrifera, is also known as White or Canoe Birch.

I found this piece of bark near the shore at the back of the lake. It had already been through at least one winter on the ground. Then it went through weeks of alternating cold and blasting heat on the floor of my car. After all that, it's still quite pliable!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Moss in House

The book Gathering Moss has inspired me to look closely at the local mosses. Yesterday, while walking by the stone wall and heading up the stairs to my house, I stopped to cut loose this little patch of bryophyte.

The photo below is about 3x life size, while the one above is something like 10x and kind of reminds me of a jungle scene...

To sit alone in the lamplight with a book spread out before you, and hold intimate converse with men of unseen generations - such is a pleasure beyond compare.
~Kenko Yoshida

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Little Catalpa Is Growing!

The last time we looked, this little Catalpa was all budded up. I'd been imagining that a single leaf would appear but there's a whole branch taking shape! How cool is that?

Monday, February 23, 2009


Wisteria behaves around here in a terribly invasive fashion. It bothers me to see a tree thickly girdled, losing health, and probably heading for death.

Last summer I stepped in and severed a huge vine that was attacking a red oak. You can count the growth rings to see how long this vine was at its work. I do consider letting nature have its own way (who am I to judge the merits of one creature over another?) but the wisteria does seem like such a bully.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Swamp Maple

Here is the Red, or Swamp, Maple in a common clumping habit. A sign of forest history can be had from clumping trees--those that grow up in place of a downed (whether by harvest, fire, disease, or pest) solitary tree. This insight courtesy of Reading the Forested Landscape (mentioned in the Catalpa post).

Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read.
~Groucho Marx

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Moss in Snow

The Chinese use the term moss in snow to describe a grade of Jadeite that is mixed white and green coloration. Come spring, this hummock will be surrounded by water. For now, it looks like the captured warmth of lengthening sunrays provided for a bit of local melting.

A few books came in today. Among them is Gathering Moss, A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses by Robin Wall Kimmerer. The pen and ink line drawings were in part created by her father, Robert L. Wall, with the remainder by Howard Crum from his Mosses of the Great Lakes Forest. I'm hoping to pick up some identification tips and I suspect I am in for a whole lot more than that.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Cottonelle, I Mean Cottontail...

See those little dots on the ice and snow? They did have me perplexed for a while. Rabbit pellets!

I don't know enough about the Cottontail to say if this is the designated latrine, but I only found bunny poo in one little area during my trek through my frozen backyard swamp.

What I noticed is that this spot is covered over with Greenbriar. In an earlier post, this thorny vine was described as a safe haven. Perhaps the bunnies are hanging out here? I don't know, but I will be watching.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

What Can a Feather Tell?

Once again we are looking at indications of animal activity. Coming upon this caught up feather, I didn't right off notice the broken branch of Sweet Pepperbush.

I wonder if the little bird that left this behind was simply careless? Was this a territorial dispute? Or, was this a hurried escape from a bird of prey?

No other feathers were found in the area so I suppose our little friend did survive the encounter, whatever it may have been.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Wood Work

For the first peek into my backyard swamp, we are looking into the local birds' activities with standing dead wood.

These first shots detail the enormous amount of excavating that can go on in the food search for creatures eking out a living in rotted wood. I was so surprised by the amount and the size of the wood chips laying at the base of this, I think, maple tree and I suspect that the Red-bellied Woodpecker is primarily responsible.

This next photo shows another tree that has been quite well picked over. Here the wood is not so spongy. This might be a red cedar or pine, and I'll need to pay more attention on my next visit. What is unique with this tree are the holes drilled in various locations around the length of the tree. I need more information but my guess at this time is that this hole leads to a Chickadee nest. (I was surprised to read that they had this pecking/drilling ability.) My knowledge and research abilities--and my time--are being sorely tested here!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Backyard Swamp

My backyard rapidly slopes off into this little piece of swampland. There's an old saying that goes, "You can't have winter until the swamps are full." It's been quite often right, and indeed, this swamp is, and has been, full and is now solid ice. There's a good deal of Red Maple, also fittingly know as Swamp Maple. I have just placed a branch in water, looking for another sprouter like yesterday's Catalpa, which by the way is continuing to blossom.

There is a high frequency of blowdown here. During windstorms in warmer weather, I can hear the crack and fall as they snap off or most often tip over, roots and all.

Today's slipping and sliding through the swamp has left me with a few interesting shots that I will share during the week--more traces of Cottontail, moss in snow, works of the woodpecker, and more...

Today included a chipmunk sighting. I ran for the camera but the little guy high-tailed it across the road. I think it's a bit unusual for chipmunks to be out so soon. They hibernate but do on occasion wake to take some seeds from their underground caches.

Monday, February 16, 2009


Not that all trees aren't beautiful but the Catalpa is somehow special to me. Maybe it's because I remember as a little boy picking its flowers for my mother and being disappointed because they spoiled so quickly. Within a day they were all withered and browned.

The leaves are so huge, the flowers so beautiful, and the long seed pods so eye catching.

I recently harvested a bunch of buds and twigs, some known and others mysteries. I placed them all in water, hoping I'd get lucky with a sprout or two. Just yesterday I noticed the Catalpa twig was pushing a leaf bud. This year's first burst of green! I must say that I'd expect to see just one leaf rather that a bunch of hairy little somethings... More later as this little one matures...

I recently received a wonderful book recommendation from a coworker, friend, and fellow photographer. Reading the Forested Landscape, A Natural History of New England by Tom Wessels and illustrated by Brian D. Cohen.

Each chapter begins with an etching of a wooded scene. From that the reader is taught to deduce the history of change. It's so fascinating! I can only handle a chapter at a time, as the author encompasses so much history to explain his analysis. I hope to have more to say as I work my way into the multi-dimensional world of forest shaping that this author creates.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

It's a Light Night

Or a night light.

An icy shot from the back of the lake.
More tomorrow...

Saturday, February 14, 2009

White Pine

Later this afternoon I made the rounds by car around the lake. The sun was fiercely bright and the wind steady and crisp. There is a bit of shore melting going on, but with more seasonable temperatures returning that will all freeze up again.

I'm breaking in a new wide angle lens and will drop in a shot every once in a while with a regular specimen post--just a bit of creative experimentation going on here...

Cute, isn't it? Hard to believe this little one can become a towering White Pine.

Often times the pines will have many dead branches holding on below the live growth in the tree tops. If you're ever in need of dry firewood to get your fire started, the very best material is these dead branches. They stay quite dry right down to the little twigs and make great kindling.

Notice the deeply furrowed bark that indicates that this is an old timer. The pines seem to group in bunches around the lake. When the weather warms and I can make the longer trek around the lake on foot, I promise to illustrate the grouping nature.

Although not that easy to pick out, needles always form in groups of five. The set at five o'clock is somewhat easy to count. (Click on the photo for a larger image.)

Here is the smooth bark of a young pine. Notice the whorled nature of the branching.

Friday, February 13, 2009


There have been numerous comments on the birds--they really are quite the stars here. So, here's another showing of the Goldfinches.

That little bit of yellow on one is really just winter coloration.

When their spring plumage comes in, it will be quite nearly fluorescent.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Black Cherry

The bark on the Black Cherry, Prunus serotina, has always caught my attention. It often takes on a darkened or shadowed appearance, perhaps due to the overlapping nature of the scaled bark. Not until this evening did I come up with an identification.

There are quite a few scattered around the lake and I'll be getting some shots of them, probably when they start to leaf in. They seem to all have a habit of twisting growth, perhaps as they seek out the light? More research will be needed here, just like most specie posts.

Note that bit of Wisteria vine in this bark shot. That stuff really gets around.

And lastly, a Happy Birthday #200 to Charles Darwin. Here's a very cool site on this incredible man. And for those who, as I do, like to download to my Kindle, check this out. Matthew McClintock provides all this as a free service and really does appreciate donations to keep it all running.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

What's Everyone Talking About?

It's the Great Backyard Bird Count!

From their web site:

The GBBC provides an invaluable real-time snapshot of bird distribution across North America. Each year we see changes in where the birds are located, based on factors that include climate change, weather patterns, food supplies, diseases, and breeding success. With all of the data online, anyone with an interest in birds may explore what could be the first indicators of real trends and changes in bird numbers and distribution. In-depth studies are necessary to confirm the GBBC trends and to further test the reasons for the changes we see.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Yellow Birch Catkin (Updated)

Yellow birch is monoecious--male and female catkins are borne separately on the same branch.

Here are the male pollen catkins. They look this way through the winter and are expected to lengthen and mature come spring. The female fruiting catkins have yet to form.

Here is another example of specimens that I collect and photograph without knowing anything about them. We looked at a rather large Yellow Birch some time ago and I didn't notice any catkins at that time. (I'll have to check on that.) This ID was about two weeks in the making. What confused me was that these catkins were collected from bushes only six feet high, meaning that sexual maturity must come early with this species.

Update: 11 Jul 2009. These are the male catkins of the Hazelnut.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Poison Ivy

Here's a Poison Ivy vine, Toxicodendron radicans. Feeling itchy yet? Although we're usually cautious around those shiny leaves that appear to be dripping with urushiol, this vine will also give a good dose of irritant.

Many of my plant identification guides begin with warnings and good descriptions of poison ivy, oak, and sumac. For those without these books, here are a couple of helpful rhymes:

Leaves of three,
let it be.

Hairy vine,
no friend of mine.

And here's our full moon. I'm not ready to call this a tradition. After all, it's only two lunar cycles in a row. But, you never know...

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Out for a Stroll

The weather's improving. Temperatures into the 40's F yesterday and possible 50's today. In other words, great weather to get out and photograph specimens. Yesterday's stroll with camera in hand was so pleasurable that I thought I'd try to share a bit of that here by drawing from new photos of mostly previously identified specimens. There are a couple of new entries as well, but only as traces from the past.

Here are the Wisteria vines working their way up and around an Eastern Pine. It's curious how the vines are numerous and delicate.

Here's another Wisteria of a differing habit--with a real stranglehold on an unknown tree.

A little hemlock is nestled under some larger trees, waiting for an opportunity to shoot up if and when a surrounding tree dies off.

An old Baltimore Oriole nest. The Orioles migrate up each spring and always build a nest close by to this location. That is, except for the year that a blackbird tormented the poor nest builder. That blackbird would tear apart the Oriole's nest as fast as it could be built. After three days, the Oriole gave up and relocated for that year.

An lastly, here are the tracks of a Cottontail Rabbit. The bunnies will come up into the yard this spring once the lawn and weeds green in.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Titmouse in Flight

I particularly enjoy working these birds in flight photos and I'm tooling up for quality and consistency. A solid tripod and head came in this week and now I'm looking into controlling the camera via my laptop. Gotta love the toys!

Friday, February 6, 2009


Here are a couple of close ups of a Sassafras tree, Sassafras albidum--a bud and a branch. Leaves are either three or one lobed, or no lobes at all. They're very colorful in the fall. I read that young leaves make a good thickener for soups and gumbo.

Years ago a friend taught me to identify Sassafras and dig up roots for their great flavor. I think I'll look for some sassafras tea...

Sassafras sends up cloned trees from its extensive root system. I'll be on the lookout for more specimens. Most that I've noticed in the area aren't any taller than twelve feet but they are found up to sixty feet.

I'm looking forward to photographing Sassafras throughout the seasons. Actually, I guess I feel that way about everything here.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Northern Cardinal

The Northern Cardinal, Cardinalis cardinalis, is another regular at the feeders, preferring to pick seed off the ground. A pair will always be seen together--one keeping watch while the other feeds. It's surprising how hard I have look to spot the mate on watch, even when it's the brilliant red male.

They are probably the shiest of my locals around the feeders.

On another note, a recent and thoughtful book recommendation pointed me to The Trees in My Forest by Bernd Heinrich. Wonderful descriptions of trees on his Maine property. I'm now reading his Winter World: The Ingenuity of Animal Survival on my Kindle. If you have ever wondered how the birds and mammals in the New England area survive and thrive through our harsh winters, you will be entertained and amazed. Coming soon--this spring--look for a new one: Summer World: A Season of Bounty.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Evening Primrose

It's always so rewarding to complete a new identification, especially one that has been in the works for weeks. While browsing through Wildflowers In Winter last night, I came upon a wonderful pen and ink drawing of Evening Primrose, Oenothera biennis, presented as a dried plant.

Here we see the second and final year's growth. First year is for some basal leaves and a stalk. Second year is when flowers and seed pods come about.

It gets its name from the behavior of only fully opening yellow flowers in the evening.

Finding the seed pods open, it's unclear just how many seeds there are. I found quite a few in my workspace before realizing that I was probably dumping them out! That's when I peeled back a pod for a shot of a few seeds nestled in the base of a pod.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

White-breasted Nuthatch

I can't remember ever seeing more than one White-breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis, at the feeders. This little bird can be found creeping, often upside down, along a tree's bark searching for bugs. Often in the company of the chickadees and titmice, I sometimes mistake them for their pals, especially when they're swooping down to the feeder and then back into the trees to work their seeds open.

Although I can't seem to now find supporting confirmation, I think I've read that this Nuthatch is the only bird with the ability to climb head-first down the trunk of a tree.