After my second Christmas Bird Count (I'll cover this in the next post) in a couple of weeks on January first, I was ready for some fast/sweat-inducing hiking on the the 2nd. So, we set out from home and did a hike that connected some local preserves. It was a bit gray, but the blanket of snow made for a nice backdrop for pops of red (and Eliot's new hunting safety hat). We need to keep working on our winter tree identification skills and animal prints for that matter, but there were a few old favorites we remembered. Below are some photos from the hike.
Beech leaves still clinging on.
A surprisingly active spider.
Yellow-bellied sapsuckers drill these wells on trees for the same reason that we drill holes to make maple syrup. Many hummingbird species feed from these sap wells and some even time their migration to align with Sapsuckers. They are the only woodpecker in North America that migrates.
American Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana), called winterbloom by some, has a showy flower in October and November. Quite the floral treat for winter eyes. The petals have fallen here and now only the calyx remains. Aside from being one of the only winter flowers, witch hazel also has medicinal and historical uses. Native Americans first taught European settlers about how to use it for inflammation and it is still commonly used as an astringent. Another use that I've heard my mother's side of the family talk about is it being the best species for divining rods to locate water (a skill my Grandfather had because, logically, he was the seventh son of the seventh son). That's a story for another day.
Clematis vitalba (Old man's beard or travelers joy): A plant that emulates the hairstyle I most wanted in 1987
Physalis alkekengi (Japanese lantern): cool, but nonnative
Oh, hey there December. You have arrived. I am at home today working on final wedding thank you cards, processing (hopefully) the last of the apples and working on some other projects. I knew it was going to be rainy today, but it has felt like dusk since about 1pm today. I have all the lights on in the living room and it still feels so dark. We knew that we were headed to Ithaca for a year before we actually moved here and everyone warned us about the GRA(E)Y. After so many years west of the 100th meridian and in the blue sky air of the west, I became someone who is very much solar powered. I am slightly worried about this gray experiment. So far so good, but I have a feeling things will change soon. What are some tips for surviving the cold and gray?
Last week I lucked upon a blue sky sunny day at Ringwood Natural area. The forest floor is now covered in fluffy beech leaves, the moss was bright, the fungus abundant and there is was one fern species green and bright that I have yet to identify.
I am feeling a lot of love for this spot. The trails area blazed with red.
Shelf fungus abounds on fallen logs. Then, there is some purple stuff and these golden orbs of fungus.
The confetti-like seeds of the Tuiliptree Lirodendron tulipifera were falling like crazy last week and spinning down to the forest floor. Tuliptrees, which I have generally called Tulip poplars (other names include Yellow-poplar and White-polar) are the only members of their genus in North America with the other being native to Asia. They are one of the largest hardwood trees in North America and grow to be very tall and straight (often 90' with a max of 200'!!!). They are limited to the eastern United States. We are at the northern limit of their range. I have missed these trees!
When I was getting ready to head into my big Kindergarten year, my parents informed the family that we would be moving to the big city of Bloomington, IN for my dad to get a Master's degree in Outdoor Education. It would be one year away from our home in rural Kentucky and we would live in a high rise apartment building named Tuliptree. It sounded like the best treehouse any 5 year old could hope for. I was only slightly dissapointed that the building wasn't ACTUALLY in a tree.
The seed cone below on a bed of Tulip poplar and oak leaves.
Seeds are called samaras, which drop in the winter. Samaras are winged seeds that are distributed by the wind. You are probably familiar with the helicoptering abilities of maple samaras. Good fun.
A samara stabbed into some moss by the wind.
A warm and cozy cocoon.
Last Sunday I was invited to go cranberry picking at a local bog. I had never been to a bog before and it knocked my sox off! All I knew was that I should bring a basket and my rubber boots. So, I loaded up my Costa Rican jungle boots and an old basket that once held clothes pins and headed out to meet some new friends. I didn't even remember my bog biology or maybe I never learned any. Part of this trail is boardwalk and THEN.....we stepped onto the cushion of the floating matt of bog vegetation and it was like a waterbed. A 1980's waterbed. I could almost hear Janet Jackson singing "Control."
Bogs aren't all that common in the Finger Lakes region. This particular bog is a kettle bog. Kettle bogs are closed systems, meaning that their water source is rainwater. Kettle ponds and bogs are glacial remnants. Chunks of the glacier broke off from the main glacier and were then covered by sand and gravel. These depressions left by their parent glacial chunks are quite good at holding water.
The sun was setting and we joined a few other friends to forage for cranberries. You have to get low to see them and once we had the search image down, we couldn't stop. I eventually just sat on my knees in the damp sponge-like Sphagnum moss (which can hold 16-26 times as much water as their dry weight) and chatted with lots of folks about finding work post-PhD, the trials of women in science and field work studying Australian birds. Flocks of birds flew over, Red-bellied woodpeckers called out, friends jumped in unison to make bog waves, Anouk (the dog) leapt around, and we talked about what we might do with our cranberry haul. It feels nice to pick beautiful fruit that will grace the tables of many a Friendsgivings and Thanksgivings in the next week straight from the bog to the basket. A holiday that celebrates foraging, friendship and gratitude should include a bit of those things in preparation.
We called these witches puffballs when we were little. Spores are released on impact from things like raindrops. For many species, the spores are poisonous, so the name worked well on us kids. We never actually touched them.They are abundant in the forest right now. Even Ari Shapiro noticed them last week.
Today we enjoyed another beautiful day in New York. We went birding with some new friends and they taught us quite a bit about good places to go and birds to see. We might have mistaken a Baltimore oriole for an American robin had they not been there to encourage a closer look. Here, you can see her frolicking in the waves of Lake Cayuga. I am not sure what the oriole was thinking or what might have been wrong to keep her in upstate New York until November, but I am worried about her tonight as I am cuddled up in a down comforter and the wood burning stove is keeping us warm. I get REALLY distracted when birding and not collecting data, so I spent some time skipping rocks and admiring milkweed going to seed. The lake was lovely with fall foliage atop crystal clear water.
Embarrassingly, I am a bit rusty on my gull identification and struggled a bit. So, tonight I am putting an old friend back on my nightstand: Peterson's Field Guide to Eastern Birds. There are many field guide options, but this is the one I learned on way back when I took ornithology at Earlham during my sophomore year and my life was forever changed. My mailbox number is chicken scratched on the first page next to a pressed and carefully taped 3 leaf (????) clover, a penciled in Medford, MA address, and one page of a very sweet letter from my Grandma Martha. My Grandmother was an avid birder, but this particular letter she wrote in the voice of the amish doll she was sending for my tenth birthday. How clever.
There was a carpet of floating fall foliage on the clear Cayuga water, which I could watch for hours. See video in my instagram account: sarahkatherinewagner