Sunday, March 5, 2017




The Beauty of Winter


Finally!  I'm back.  There was a long string of months where computers were crashing and burning and life was crazy, but now I have images to post.  It's winter here in Pennsylvania, USA, and the season appears drab and lifeless if you only glance quickly.  I suggest you put on your walking shoes and  go outside.  I did this a couple times in the last week and was amazed at what I found.  

Winter is a time of sleep - I know that - but it also a time for renewal.  Many things are dormant until a warm day comes along then they stir to life.  Last week there were a few exceptionally warm days, and we even had Mourning Cloak butterflies flitting around the yard.  The last hatch of the year winters over, hiding under bark or finding another shelter, only to emerge during warm days.  They can be found flying in February, but at the first nip of cold they go back to shelter until another warm day comes along.



Mosses hunker down and look lifeless until a bit of moisture and warm sunshine hit them, then they green up and many begin "fruiting".  The moss makes spore packets that look like flower buds when you examine them closely.  The green is amazing against the browns of winter.



Shelf fungi are around, too, along with a few hearty mushrooms.  I found some as I walked the paths.

This called the Cedar Apple Rust Gall.  It's really a fungus, and this is how it over-winters.  The dots will grow into hanging tendrils that contain spores, and then it looks like a many-tentacled octopus.

Crust fungi look like a crust (DUH).

This is a shelf fungus long since dead.

I'm conflicted with the ID for these pretty shelf fungi.  It appears to be a turkey tail with the concentric bands, but it also could be the Mossy Maze Polypore because of the green algae.  The following two images are Mossy Maze Polypores and you'll note how different they look.

Mossy Maze Polypores

Mossy Maze Polypores

A rough, frilly kind of shelf fungi

These are Turkey Tail fungi.  Turkey Tails are so named because they resemble the tail of the wild turkey when spread open.  There are many colors you can find;  these happen to be brown.

Yet another type of shelf fungi

These tiny puffball mushrooms are growing on a dead log among the roots and mosses.  The holes in the tops are where the mushrooms popped open and released their spores.  The spores are like flowers seeds and they ride the wind to a new home where they settle and grow into the next generation of puffballs.

Spring is about five (5) weeks away at this point (when I walked the two open space areas), and there are signs that the natural world is preparing for the great awakening.  Birds are more active and vocal.  Some birds are traveling through the area on their way to nesting grounds;  others are showing signs of home building.  Some are in breeding colors, some are partly there, and some haven't even begun to change - quite a range!

We had a pair of Eastern Bluebirds come to one of our nest boxes (not on my walk but I'm including them here) and we were very surprised.  Bluebirds are creatures of open areas like fields and meadows, not woods.  Still we were hopeful they might set up housekeeping but, no, they were gone the next day.

Male Eastern Bluebird

Female Eastern Bluebird

Male Eastern Bluebird

Male Eastern Bluebird

Other birds that are usually around are making "nice" to their prospective mates.  Today a male cardinal was feeding his chosen one:>)  The picture didn't come out decent but I'll keep trying - very touching to see him gift her with food.

Woodpeckers are all through the woods, and they make a lot of noise!  Even tiny Downy Woodpeckers can be gossipy!

Female Downy Woodpecker - note the sort bill, unusual for a woodpecker

You have to look closely to see it, but there's a mockingbird standing on the upper end of the log.

Red-bellied Woodpecker.  This is a male with the full red cap.  Females have red but not all the way up to the forehead.

Yellow-shafted Flicker Woodpecker

There were quite a few birds' nests from last year.  Here are a couple showing how intricately they are woven from twigs and grasses.

Lichens are the most dependable of the woodland growing things.  They are everywhere - on rocks, on trees, on dead logs, even fences.  The colors are beautiful and so are the shapes.

Rocks are a favorite home for our lichens.  If you look at the tree in back of the highest part of the stone wall, you'll see the rectangular hole that Pileated Woodpeckers hammer out.

On these two walks here was plenty of water.  A good rain fell the day before and the ground was spongy;  the little pond and streams were full.  It's a good time for wetlands and I hope it stays that way!  So many things depend upon a healthy wetland environment.

For the second walk I pulled on my rubber boots.  My goal was to find and photograph some especially gorgeous examples of Skunk Cabbage plants in bloom.  These plant have a hood, called a spathe, which encloses and protects the mini-flowers on a spadix.  This is the bloom and it creates heat - enough heat to melt frozen earth and ice or snow to reach air and sun.  The plant gives off a fetid smell when bruised and when blooming.  Insects, like flies, come to feed on what they think is rotten meat and they are tricked into pollinating the plant.

Skunk Cabbage grows in rich damp locations, even directly in water, so I was walking in a little brook looking for the prize plants - found some!  After the blooms are done, the large, dark green leaves appear.  Everything about this plant is AWESOME!


Skunk Cabbage spathe and spadix

 The dried weeds and seed heads of wildflowers and grasses are lovely.  The details, if you stop and look, are amazing;  what a superb and fantastic world we live in!

Wetland Fern Spores Packets

Cattail - there are about 30 different types of cattails (who knew?).
Cattail - wetland plants

Dried Grass - graceful dancers

Dried Goldenrod

Maple Seeds - These maple wings didn't want to leave home, I guess!  This was at the end of February and here they are, still hanging around.

Queen Anne's Lace

Queen Anne's Lace

Multiflora Rose Hips - I played with this image, as you can see.

Multiflora Rose Hips and Goldenrod

Dried Seed Heads that look like a bouquet.

Same batch as above - slightly different angle

A single seed head from the same kind of plant (?) as above  I think it looks like an aster, but I'm not at all sure.

Mystery seed head - I need to go back when these are blooming so I can figure out what they are.  Pretty nice looking, though!

Teasels, Goldenrod, and grasses

Teasels are a type of thistle with wicked spines!

Yarrow Seed Heads

Yarrow Seed Heads

Ground Cherry Seed Pod

Wandering through the landscape is soothing and refreshing.  The world is a beautiful place to roam.

American Holly

A new set of leaves for this plant so nicely tucked under fallen tree branches

An old pine tree

A dead tree still has life as sculpture

Winter Woods

A baby cedar tree grows within the protective roots of this large, old tree at the edge of the creek.  It found the perfect nursery to grow in.

It's twilight and time to head home.  This is a good way to say good-bye for now and to thank you, as always, for visiting my blog!  Happy MARCH - it's a great month!