Nature’s Newspaper, Snow Section

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Snow creates a wonderful Nature Newspaper! Identifying tracks in the snow can be more difficult than one would expect. Google showed me that rabbit tracks and squirrel tracks look sort of similar. There was only one set of tracks in the road so I couldn’t analyze a repeating pattern. My final decision was ‘rabbit’.  But I will look again this afternoon to see if there are more clues.

Per Google: Rabbit tracks are one of the most commonly seen after a snow. Look for the repeating bound patterns. (Based on the pictures on Google, the tracks above were not made by a bounding rabbit.) Each group of 4 tracks tends to form a tall, thin rectangle. Squirrel bound patterns tend to be much more blocky. Rabbits also have small round toes and fur covered feet while squirrels have long fingers. (I could not see ‘fingers’.)

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Meanwhile back at the piliated woodpecker’s favorite tree there is more news about its feeding activity. It snowed Saturday. I didn’t walk Sunday. This morning there were lots of new wood chips on the snow. So we can conclude that the piliated had a meal here sometime between Saturday evening and Monday morning.

Another ‘newspaper’ article to watch for is bird nest locations, easy to spot in bare trees. Now if I could just learn to identify the nests…

Also please sign up for my blog so you don’t miss any of them and help me find a ‘proper’ name for my blog. Someone suggested “Who the heck is Carrie Staples.wordpress.com”…

What do moths do in the bathroom?

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Anavitrinella pampinaria – Common Gray Moth. I don’t know if that is the correct name for the moth hanging out in my bathroom. But after 2 hours of searching the internet, it is my best guess.

Moths are in the insect Order Lepidoptera, and share this Order with Butterflies. There are some 160,000 species of moths in the world, compared to 17,500 species of butterflies. In the United States, there are nearly 11,000 species of moths. Actually 11,000 is the number of moths that have been identified in the US. If you are looking for a new career, there are a lot more moths still to be discovered/identified. If you discover one, it might be named after you.

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Enlargement doesn’t help show the incredible patterns created by the varying colors of their scales. But it does give a clearer view of the fabulously fuzzy edges of the wings. Made me think of the silencing edges of owl feathers. And there are wide-spread “eye” spots, normally said to make insects appear much larger to predators. Butterfly and moth wings are made of thin layers of  chitin, the same hardened protein that makes up their outside body. They are also covered with thousands of tiny scales that lend color to the wings. The wings are strengthened by a system of veins. It is amazing to watch a recently hatched butterfly or moth’s veins fill with fluid, creating a support system for their wings.

If anyone knows what this moth really is, please let me know. Also please sign up for my blog so you don’t miss any of them and help me find a ‘proper’ name for my blog. Someone suggested “Who the heck is Carrie Staples.wordpress.com”…

 

Mosses and Lichens create forest fairy gardens!

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Deep in Chapman Forest, Charles County, MD among the Virginia Pine needles  Pincushion moss and Cladonia lichen grow together. Lichens are not a plant, while mosses are! Mosses are defined as simple plants with the most basic of root structures, leaves, and stems. Lichens are a very different type of creature, called a composite organism. Not just a plant, lichens are actually a single entity created from a joining of algae and fungus.

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Out of focus but you can see the perfect pincushion shape.

 

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Cladonia looks and feels like something you’d use to scrub a pan! Cladonia is a genus of moss-like lichens in the family Cladoniaceae. They are the primary food source for reindeer and caribou.

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This is Hair Cap moss,(Polytrichum commune/Polytrichum juniperinumi).  I thought it was called Star Moss and the pictures I Googled looked similar. But its Latin name is Tortula ruralis. Fortunatey I was with Rod Simmons who knows mosses. I can see that moss identification will be a challenge.

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Hair Cap is on the left. I think the lighter moss is also Pincushion but not sure.

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The celadon-colored, flute-shaped lichen are British Soldiers. Cladonia cristatella, commonly known as the British soldiers lichen, is a fruticose lichen belonging to the family Cladoniaceae. They were favorites of mine as a child. These are missing their definitive, very noticeable red hats.

 

 

Mushrooms! Someday I hope to identify them…But they’re amazing to look at!

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Continuing with photos from my 1/1/17 walk in Chapman Forest in Charles County, MD, here is some sort of shelf mushroom growing on a waterlogged tree trunk on tidal river’s shore. Smaller mushrooms are growing from it like petals!

More of same.

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This was growing on same log. People who knew about mushrooms said it is not a younger version of the red ones.

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These tiny ones were also on same log…

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Another log along the river bank had a puffball! We tapped it and a cloud of brown spores filled the air! Here’s what Wikipedia says about puffballs:

“The distinguishing feature of all puffballs is that they do not have an open cap with spore-bearing gills. Instead, spores are produced internally, in a spheroidal fruitbody called a gasterothecium (gasteroid (‘stomach-like’) basidiocarp). As the spores mature, they form a mass called a gleba in the centre of the fruitbody that is often of a distinctive color and texture. The basidiocarp remains closed until after the spores have been released from the basidia. Eventually, it develops an aperture, or dries, becomes brittle, and splits, and the spores escape. The spores of puffballs are statismospores rather than ballistospores, meaning they are not actively shot off the basidium. The fungi are called puffballs because clouds of brown dust-like spores are emitted when the mature fruitbody bursts, or in response to impacts such as those of falling raindrops.”

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Another ‘puffy’ mushroom was growing from the bottom of the same log.

These mushrooms are also growing from dead logs. The gray ‘oyster’? mushroom is on a fallen log. The yellowish mushrooms and the white ones are growing from dead trees that haven’t fallen yet.

Last fall I started watching mushrooms more carefully. It will be hard for me to keep up with my 1/1/17 mushroom count! Please let me know what you find and share my blog with friends!

We call them Groundhugs…Meet the largest member of the squirrel family!

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We prefer to call groundhogs groundhugs because they are so cute, unless you have a garden… They are also called woodchucks, as in “How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?” They actually are the largest members of the squirrel family, though they would prefer that squirrels be called a smaller member of the groundhug family. Like squirrels, they really do climb trees. We had one who spent the summer snoozing and enjoying the “air conditioning” in the branches of our male white mulberry tree on a cliff over the river. She hung out there until the last leaves were no longer tasty. It was amazing how she managed not to fall as she clung precariously at the very tips of the branches, seeking the last edible leaves.

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(Drawing when she was still quite little, watching us watch her. Ears way too big)

We think she has a burrow hidden in the dense thorn bushes below the tree. A few days ago she ran across our deck, frantically trying to figure out what to do when heavy equipment started putting a new septic system near her winter burrow located under the neighbor’s garage.

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Here’s a close up of the entrance to the den. It is just below the top of a riverside cliff, about 10 feet above the beach.

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Close-up of tracks. Possibly hind feet.

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Another close-up of tracks. Possibly front feet toward the top of photo. Next time you’re walking along a beach lined with eroding cliffs, watch for groundhug holes just below the cliff tops.

What animals you have been tracking recently?  Please send me suggestions for a better blog name and don’t forget to share my blog with friends!

Beetle-hunting in 2017!

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Some of you may recognize the first beetle I saw 1/1/2017. It’s a Firefly enjoying the sun on a beech tree!  (Possibly a Winter Firefly, Ellychnia corrusca, per Warren Steiner.) Please note: For the next several days I will share photos of my New Year’s Day hike through Chapman Forest in Charles County, MD. I never dreamed I’d be beetle-hunting. But I had the great good fortune of hiking with Warren Steiner, one of the Smithsonian’s beetle experts. He was determined to find beetles and he did! He searched through bark, logs, mushrooms and mullein roots, sandy beaches and cliffs. He even shook branches full of leaves to see who might fall out. He found lots of tiny holes where beetle larvae had emerged earlier in 2016.beetle-click-beetle-1-1-17

Included in Warren’s many other beetle finds was a click beetle. Per Steiner, “the click beetle with orange-sided thorax is Lacon discoideus http://bugguide.net/node/view/45171/bgimage found under bark of pine stump.”

Interesting how similar the two appear at first. But if you look carefully you start to see differences. I’ve only seen black click beetles before.

Shared by Jim Long from Charles Darwin’s autobiography about another beetle walk long ago:

“I will give a proof of my zeal: one day on tearing off some old bark, I saw two rare beetles and seized one in each hand; then I saw a third and new kind, which I could not bear to lose, so that I popped the one which I held in my right hand into my mouth. Alas it ejected some intensely acrid fluid, which burnt my tongue so that I was forced to spit the beetle out, which was lost, as well as the third one”.

Hope you had a wonderful 1/1/17. Can you top beetle-hunting as the most unusual way to start the new year? Please let me know and please share my blog with your friends.

PS. http://www.thisiscolossal.com/2016/12/diy-paper-beetle-sculpture-kits-by-assembli/?mc_cid=d89a49a2e7&mc_eid=9fdd3a2e5b

Dog-haired Thicket! Not even found on Google! A first for me and you!

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Per Rod Simmons,  Alexandria Natural Resources Division of the Dept. Recreation, Parks, and Cultural Activities (RPCA), Natural Resource Manager and Plant Ecologist,  that is a good photo of a dog-haired thicket. It is a sweet gum tree stand in a succession area. We have been noticing that sweet gums are the first trees to fill an unplowed field here in southern MD (with emphasis on ‘FILL’).  When I googled “dog-haired thicket” all that came up was ‘dog hair thicker’. So I tried “sweet gum thicket” and was taken to examples of interweaving of sweet gum saplings by Patrick Dougherty who creates tree ‘houses’ at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham, NC.

Here are photos from exhibit of his works at the Renwick. Would have taken better photos if I had realized what I was seeing.

Here’s a quick refresher on sweet gum trees, Above are photos of sweet gum balls (seed cases often used in nature craft projects) and star-shaped leaves that I’ve included in earlier blogs showing leaf colors ranging from yellow to orange to red to purple, all on one tree.

Notice the odd bark on the branch and trunk above. Rod said it is called Indian Chewing Gum and that it is only on young trees and sloughs off eventually.

We found trees with both rough and smooth bark next to each other in the Dog-haired Thicket so they must both be same age. We plan to check the thicket at different times next year to see what happens.  Will report!  Meanwhile, Happy New Year!!!!

Pileated Woodpecker’s ‘snowflakes’

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The Pileated Woodpecker is our largest local woodpecker. He was the inspiration for the cartoon drawing AND extremely loud voice of Woody Woodpecker. If you think you’re hearing Woody Woodpecker in the forest or even in a suburban backyard, it’s a Pileated. If you see a crow-size black bird with big white stripes and a dramatic bright red crest, it’s her. If it also has a red stripe on its cheek, it’s him.  They loudly whack and drum away with their mighty beaks on dead trees and logs in search of yummy insects. Carpenter ants are their favorite meal. pileated-1

The awesome pile of rectangular chips at the base of this dead maple is the closest thing we’ve seen this winter to remind us of snow. They are the work of a hungry pileated. The chips are easily identified because of their unique rectangular shape. (Sorry about the trash in the photo. I didn’t notice it this morning but I’ll pick it up this afternoon.)

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I will also try to remember to take a photo of a chip next to my ‘measuring’ pocket knife. Many of these chips are 1.5 inches or longer.

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This photo shows one of several locations where he or she chopped away at the dead maple to create the impressive’ snowfall’ at the base.

The pileated is easy to identify even if you don’t see it. Listen for its loud drumming and its crazy loud whinnying , laughing “Woody Woodpecker” voice. Watch for piles of rectangular chips at the base of dead trees. They are really obvious! Rectangular holes in trees indicate that a pileated has nested there. Once you find a nest hole, keep an eye on it. Even if you don’t see a piliated occupying it next Spring, you might discover other birds like swifts, owls, ducks or bats using it.

Please share this information with your friends!