Surviving Winter

Leaves, seeds, and ice – January 1, 2015, Dedham Town Forest
Leaves in ice

I have a lot of Top 10 lists in my head and I think my new year’s resolution is to start writing them down, so everyone can enjoy the crazy thoughts that bounce around inside my head.

Some Top 10 lists that you can look forward to reading are:

  • The top 10 songs that get stuck in my head when I am outdoors
  • The 10 coolest things I have found in Dedham
  • My 10 favorite field guides
  • 10 things that help me get through winter
  • Top 10 cool nature factoids

I’ll start with a list of things that help me survive winter in New England. I’ve been thinking about this list for years, but I haven’t been able to pull it all together into something coherent. In fact, I started this post last January, and it’s still not done. A couple weeks ago, while walking in the Blue Hills on the December Urban Nature Walk, I told some friends about my list, and they encouraged me to write it down (they even said I should write a book and they would buy it, but that’s far too ambitious for me). So, here is my winter survival list, in no particular order:

1. Lichen
2. Ice
3. Moss
4. Fungi
5. Tracks
6. Seeds
7. Bark
8. Nests
9. Twigs & buds
10. Counting minutes of sunshine as the days grow longer

Starting with #10 … January 31 is 48 minutes and 53 seconds longer than January 1.

When the leaves have fallen, the landscape opens up revealing many things that we don’t notice during the rest of the year. If I train my eyes to filter out the most familiar shades of brown and gray, I begin to notice little bits of color and interesting textures and patterns all around me. This oak leaf caught my eye because it was propped up on its side and the late afternoon sunlight was shining through the translucent patches of decay.

Sun shining through oak leaf

A closer look reveals the mottled pattern of decay, which was probably caused by insect feeding. I may know more about Tracks & Sign of Insects and Other Invertebrates than most people, but my knowledge pales in comparison to people who literally wrote the book on the subject, Charley Eiseman and Noah Charney. [See below for my tangent about my cool friends who know lots of stuff. I don’t know how to create an anchor link so you’ll just have to scroll down if you are interested]. Anyway, I may know a bit about insect damage on leaves, but I have to admit, I don’t usually spend a lot of time analyzing a single leaf, so I’m making some guesses here when I say this damage might have been caused by oak lace bugs (Corythuca arcuata). The top of the leaf is “speckled” with patches of discoloration which cover most of the leaf, consistent with the description of lace bug damage in the Tracks & Sign book. But, I didn’t look at the underside of the leaf (rookie mistake) to see if it was “characteristically peppered with brown excrement” so I am left making a guess here. Next time, I’ll turn the leaf over to look for poop.

oak leaf damage detail

It hasn’t been cold enough for large ponds and lakes to freeze, and many vernal pools have only a thin covering of ice on the surface, but small puddles and pools from recent rain have frozen and the patterns in the ice are amazing. I took dozens of photos, here is one of them.
DSC09374_cropHere is a zoomed in view of the photo from the top of the post. The fleur-de-lis shaped seeds are from sweet birch trees (Betula lenta, also called black or cherry birch).

DSC09386 crop zoom

Last, but not least, is this photo of the underside of a fungus growing on a fallen branch from a birch tree. I know it grew after the branch fell because the spore producing pores were facing downward along the entire length of the branch. Fungi drop their spores, so the pores or gills are usually facing downward. I’m out of time, so I’ll leave my ID at birch polypore (growing on birch with lots of pores). See below for more detail of the pores, as well as sign of invertebrate damage.birch polyporebirch polypore detail

Happy New Year to everyone. May 2015 be filled with slugs and bugs and flowers and seeds and anything else that makes you happy.

I have a few good friends who have taught me how to look at things differently. I remember the first time I visited the Town Forest with Jef Taylor who was like a kid in a candy shop when he saw the amount of “undisturbed leaf litter” providing an ideal habitat for fungi. Jef’s blog, The Urban Pantheist, is an excellent source of information about all kinds of things that live in cities and suburbs. My “go to” friend/expert for all bug-related questions is Jenn Forman Orth. Check out her Bug of the Day photo set on Flickr which has thousands of amazing images, most of which were taken in Massachusetts. Jenn is humble about her bug expertise, and that’s what makes her my favorite “expert” (she never posts snarky comments about bugs being “very common and easy to identify” … at least not public comments). I also have vernal pool friends (Ale Echandi, that is you!!!) and herp friends (Gabe, Kurt) and wetlands friends (Carly).   In the words of Roger Clyne, it’s like “rescuing the sacred from the jaws of the mundane.”