Sunday, February 15, 2015

Say No to Winter Blues

The ground has been covered in layers of snow and ice for several weeks now. There have been warnings of blizzard and wind chill and we’ve been grumbling. Longing for winter to ease off. But the true survivors turn up at the bird feeder every day and by observing them and other wildlife visitors, I feel better able to think ahead to spring. Here is my census: red-bellied woodpecker, downy woodpecker, white-breasted nuthatch, Carolina wren, black-capped chickadee, tufted titmouse, blue jays, northern cardinals, American goldfinch, song sparrow, white-throated sparrow, dark-eyed junco, grey squirrel and white-tailed deer. Fortunately, the deer stay beyond the fence!

Trees and shrubs aid my mood as well. The ailing dogwood tree provides a strategic perch. Its hollows provide shelter and a pounding board for birds to crack open sunflower husks. Bare branches show off the true architecture of a tree and they are also places to monitor the swelling buds of spring. Tree trunks reflect the glow of the setting sun, which I notice goes down later every evening. 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Winter Garden Secrets

Fine Hair Moss (Dicranella heteromalla)

The winter garden reveals many secrets. The absence of green leafiness uncovers nests made in warmer times. From my kitchen window I view winter denizens, bird and squirrel, as they come out of shelter to visit the birdfeeder. Mosses stand out along the woodland path. I took a few strands inside and placed them in a saucer of water as an attempt to identify their species. Fine hair moss (Dicranella heteromalla) resembles a tiny tree with needle-like leaves. A bright pink spore capsule is held high above as a beacon. The ovate leaves of another moss (I could not positively identify) form dense whorls for a thick emerald carpet. Mosses hold many more secrets for which I will need a stronger lens.

On raking fallen leaves off the gravel driveway I uncovered some star earthball fungi (Scleroderma polyrhizum). Another common name for this basidiomycete is Dead Man’s Hand. The fruiting body forms underground before being thrust up through the soil to expose a star of five leathery, yellow lobes surrounding a spore mass. It is sinister-looking plant with an otherwordly look about it. 

On New Years Eve I looked upward towards heavenly stars. We were out trying to view a glowing green comet, named Lovejoy, which is reported to be visible near the Orion constellation in this first week of January. As we stood, our necks craned in the frosty air, we heard the haunting sound of great horned owls making themselves known to all. Perhaps it was their nuptial calls that echoed back and forth loudly across the neighborhood. Finding no comet, I scanned bare branches in the hope of locating the owls at least. But their exact whereabouts remains a secret. 

Star Earthball (Scleroderma polyrhizum)