Nature Oddities


Winter dawn

I please myself with the graces of the winter scenery, and believe that we are as much touched by it as by the genial influences of summer.

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Winter can be a wearisome time for people who really enjoy the sights and sounds of the outdoors. That said, you never know what you may stumble upon on that may be interesting on any given day as you wander around. During this time of year, some things may actually be more interesting. Trees are interesting in a different way as they are bereft of their leafy canopies which normally hide branches, trunks and growth forms. Bird and wasp nests are visible, and so are growth anomalies caused by outside forces such as entwining bittersweet vines. It is a good time to learn tree identification using features such as leaf bud forms, branching patterns and bark on branches or trunks.

Weeping Higan cherry Prunus subhirtella in fog in January on the UConn campus
This trunk had been constricted by bittersweet that has been cut down
Gingko leaf buds are stout and upright, alternating on twigs and branches like askew, miniature ladder rungs

Skies get very interesting color-wise at dawn and dusk, or even during the day. Atmospheric temperatures are colder and less polluted than in the summer, and the angle of the sun’s rays are different now and make for brilliant reds and oranges just before dawn and sunset. When gray skies are to the east, just before sunset there can be an ethereal orange glow that lights up the landscape.

Orange glow minutes before sunset January 2023

On Horsebarn Hill on the Storrs UConn campus, there are vast open pastures and fields that are home to northern harriers, bluebirds, kestrels and stopping grounds for migrating horned larks. Recently my colleague and I saw a large flock of these larks as well as a male kestrel. Kestrels are small robin-sized falcon and they are a species of concern in Connecticut due to the loss of their habit, which is large open farmland. Look for these birds perching on telephone wires along roadsides where they have access to prey on acres of open fields.  

American kestrel on a treetop on Horsebarn Hill UConn
Male horned lark. These birds can appear in winter in open fields and grassy areas where snow has melted and seeds can be found

Barred owls can be active both at night or during the day in the winter. They often rest close to the trunk of trees on lower tree branches where they blend in.  They will go after fish if streams remain open in the winter, but their main diet is rodents, small animals and other birds. Often the larger owl species are mobbed by screaming crows, so if you hear that, head for the ruckus. They might be after a great horned or a barred owl.

Barred owl waking up on a late January morning

Mushrooms have mostly come and gone, but the cinnabar polypore will stand out against the rather monochromatic winter scenery. This shelf fungus can be found on fallen dead tree branches. Against the snow, their brilliant deep orange caps and spores are a standout.

Cinnabar polypore pores on the underside of the cap live up to their description

Earlier this month temperatures were higher than normal before dropping well below freezing for a couple of days. Thin ice formed on algae colored water and then partially cracked, which made an interesting, angular, tessellated pattern. That day temperatures went well above the 40’s and by the next day, these patterns were gone. What a difference a day makes!

Green edged crack patterns on thin ice in January 2023

Besides birds, some fungi, morning and evening skies, and maybe a visit to a greenhouse, there can be other means to escape the winter doldrums. Sometimes the best winter color comes from the sun shining through a window in your own home…

Elephant ear in a sunny window in winter

Pamm Cooper

“The leaves fall, the wind blows, and the farm country slowly changes from the summer cotton into its winter wools” 

– Henry Beston

Travelling around the Connecticut landscape in the fall is full of colors, interesting buildings, signs that the growing season is coming to a close and, quite often, little surprises that can make crabapples smile. For instance, driving along country roads, you may see example of a whimsical trend where dead branches and tree trunks are used as “sculptures”.  One is even incorporated into use as a mailbox holder.

Leaves are turning and oaks are just about the only trees with leaves now. While perhaps not as colorful as maples, aspens, birch and other tree leaves, oak leaves offer a last look at autumn leaf color. Gingko trees also hold their bright yellow, fan-shaped leaves into November.

Oak leaves over a woodland pond
Fall color of a gingko on the UConn Campus

A local sand and gravel company is the home to bank swallows, who excavate holes in the exposed sand banks to use as nesting chambers. Every year the bank is dug into by machinery, leaving a fresh canvas for these birds. Holes resemble New Mexican pueblo structures, in a way.

Barn swallow excavations in a sand bank

Fields are mostly harvested by now, with some winter squash and pumpkins left behind until needed. As long as the stems are left intact, they can last a while longer in the cold before they rot or become deer chow.

This summer was one of drought and heat conditions that extended into early September. In late October parts of the state had heavy rainfalls of 3-5 inches, though, so some relief came. Two days after those rains, the Housatonic River was raging, as were the waterfalls at Kent Falls, and the waters shooting through the gorge near Bull’s Bridge. Both of these places are along Route 7 in Kent.

Covered bridge in West Cornwall
Triple waterfalls at Kent Falls
Raging water through the gorge just above Bull’s Bridge

Beavers are active all year, and my sister and I recently found a lot of small river and sweet birch felled by one of theses animals along the Scantic River. Birch and aspen are favorites of beavers because they can easily gnaw off the thin bark on saplings and young trees and eat it.

Beaver has gnawed bark off this small birch tree

A visit to Diana’s Pool in Chaplin was a first for me, and, like General MacArthur,  I will return. The trail along the Natchaug River is not hard to hike, and the pool formed by large boulders that trap the water is quite large. There are two sets of waterfalls along the trail.

View along the Natchaug River- Diana’s Pool- in Chaplin
Diana’s Pool

A large, stacked tooth fungus has interested me enough to revisit the old sugar maple where this large parasitic fungus has made its home in recent years. It takes a full season for it to reach its mature size, pushing its fruiting bodies outside the cavity where the fungal body makes its living. By fall, the teeth of this fungus are ready to release their spores.

Stacked tooth fungus fills a hole in a sugar maple where it originates from

Around East Windsor, Broad Brook and Enfield there are many farms, tobacco barns, old tree nurseries and horse stables. There is a place where old trains seem to be collected and left right on old tracks in a boneyard of sorts near a small grain elevator that still receives deliveries from newer trains. An old, retired engine has a spiffy rounded roof over the cab.

Old train in the boneyard

Weathervane on the roof of Coventry Library is the replica of the library
Barn on the way to the Cornwall Covered bridge

Autumn will gradually fade away into the sunset and winter will arrive with all that cold and snow that defines its season. Until then, I am looking forward to getting the most out of my November ramblings. I am of the same mind as whoever said this (credited to Unknown, so it could be any of us!)

“A September to remember. An October full of splendor. A November to treasure”

 

Pamm Cooper

This spicebush swallowtail caterpillar needs to hurry up and pupate before leaves are all gone

Full moon maples over 111 years old at Harkness Memorial State Park

“I cannot endure to waste anything so precious as autumnal sunshine by staying in the house.” – Nathaniel Hawthorne

The end of September is here- today marks the autumnal equinox- so we are past the point of no return as far as summer goes. To be sure, this summer was excessively hot and dry, and I am not going to miss it too much, but I do love the colors of flowers, foliage textures and bird and animal activity that make summer an especially lively time. A favorite place to visit for me is Harkness Memorial State Park- shoreline, marshes, gardens and interesting buildings and plants can be found here.

Salt marsh fleabane – a late summer bloomer in the salt marshes of Harkness memorial State Park

Recent rains have brought on the appearance of wild mushrooms and other fungi. On a recent hike in the deep woods, may sister and I came across several trees that had their trunks covered with icicle-like new fruiting bodies of some sort of toothed fungi. Perhaps they are the bear’s head tooth fungus Hericium americanum or the Hericium coralloides, also known as comb tooth or coral tooth fungus. Time will tell which ones they are when these fruiting bodies reach maturity. We will check on them periodically.

Hericium ssp. toothed fungus mass not yet mature on a living tree
Close-up of Hericium ssp. mushroom showing developing teeth

Boletes, that have pores rather than gills, and puffballs, which have neither structures, are good finds now. I bring a small mirror that I can slide under caps to see if the mushrooms have gills, pores or teeth. This is helpful when trying to identify most capped fungi.

Bolete showing yellow pores under cap and reticulated stalk where it joins the cap.

Tobacco is being harvested now, and the tobacco barns have opened boards on their sides that help the leaves to dry slowly. As the leaves dry and turn yellow, the smell of unlit cigars fills the air surrounding these barns, and it is actually not a pungent but rather a sweet aroma that almost makes me like cigars- long as they are not lit up.

Tobacco barn and water tower

While checking out one of my gardens last week, there was a not so sweet smell that led to the discovery of a stinkhorn fungus among some perennials. While they are distinctive looking and colorful those attributes cannot overcome the fetid aroma of these fungi.

One species of an aptly named stinkhorn fungus

In the same garden was a monarch chrysalis that should have a its butterfly emerge any day now. This is the first chrysalis I have found in any of my gardens although many monarch caterpillars have been  here. They just pupate somewhere else, except for this fellow.

Monarch butterfly chrysalis

On a trip to Milford, there were quite a few yellow-crowned night herons, most of which were juveniles. Normally denizens of the Southern areas of the Atlantic coast, they do stray north as far as Minnesota. Also in the area was a Jetson- era- like apartment complex for purple martins, which by now have flown the coop.

Jetson era- like purple martin houses in Milford

Apples are abundant at farm and fruit stands, as are pumpkins, winter squash and other wonderful things. The peanut pumpkin (Cucurbita maxima ‘Galeux d’Eysine’) is an heirloom pumpkin easily identified by its outward appearance that looks as if peanuts have been glued on its pink-toned rind. These growths are caused by the excess sugar that has built up in its flesh. The peanut pumpkin is believed to be a cross between the Hubbard squash and an unknown variety.

Galeux d’Eysine peanut pumpkin

Dragonflies that migrate will be gone as temperatures start to permanently drop. Day trips like going on the Chester ferry across the Connecticut River and seeing Gillette Castle on the hillside are fun. As foliage starts to change, hiking and country drives can get a little more interesting. Migrating birds give a little action to the landscape, especially where fruits and seeds are abundant. Soon it will be time for slowing down a little bit, but not yet.

Native Virginia creeper berries are a favorite of migrating birds
Dragonfly, perhaps Aeshna species
Gillette castle as seen from the Chester-Hadlyme ferry looks similar to a soupy sand castle

If you visit farms and farm stands, there may be some interesting signs- sometimes painted on an old pick-up truck.

Pamm Cooper

Tobacco barn

“Keep calm because August is here.” – Unknown

This may be remembered as the year of drought and oppressive heat. Trees and shrubs are showing signs of stress in parts of the state that missed isolated rainfall events, and many fern species in shaded woods have turned brown. Animals are having a full-time job looking for water and birds are at my bird baths all day long getting a drink. Even though it has been a dismal year weather-wise, there are still a lot of interesting things to see when we are out and about.

Common buckeye butterfly on a wild Rudbeckia flower

The native trailing wild bean, Strophostyles helvola, may be common but easily overlooked as populations can be sparse in their habitat. Flowers are pink and the lower keel has a dark purple projection that curls upward like the raised trunk of an elephant. Leaflets are in threes, with bluntly lobed leaves.

Groundnut, Apias americana is another native pea family vine that blooms in August. The flowers of this plant are clustered and very fragrant and they are visited by many of the smaller native bees that can climb inside.

Groundnut flower cluster

In a field with mowed paths I recently observed a good number of the non- native wool carder bees on the flowers of birdsfoot trefoil. This plant is also member of the pea family and has yellow, puffy, slipper-like flowers.

Wool carder bee with head inside birdsfoot trefoil flower

This same field had thousands of grasshoppers that took flight as I walked along the path. Most seemed to be what I have nicknamed the ‘plus and minus” grasshopper, for the tiny patterns on the wings. There was also a seed bug on Queen Anne’s lace that had interesting vein patterns on its wing tips.

Wing tip vein patterns on seed bug

A little eft of the red spotted newt put in an appearance in a golf course fairway a couple of days after a heavy rain, as is their habit. They come out of the woods looking for food, seem to lose their way getting back to the safety of leaf litter and often need a rescue from mowers.

Eft returned to the safety of the woods

Katydids are another late summer insect that may be heard rather than seen. Their loud rasping ‘night music’ begins in late July and is joined by crickets by August.  

 Common true katydid

This morning I was out just before sunup and heard odd noises on the siding of the garage. I saw two dark forms moving up the siding and needed a flashlight to discover that they were gray tree frogs. Must have been some insects there they were hunting, I guess.

Gray tree frog climbing up the house

Tobacco is being harvested and hung in barns now. Any barn is something of interest to me, and tobacco barns in use are just one type I like. Any barn with a flag, too, for some reason. I am also a fan of playful or interestingly creative farm signs.

Something bad must have happened

I am hoping we come to the end of this drought in time for water supplies and plants to recover before winter. Just saw a monarch laying an egg on milkweed that hadn’t succumbed to aphid damage or drought, so that is something good. As you travel about outdoors, at any time of year, do not forget to look up. You may miss something…

Pamm Cooper

“Nature is not a place to visit, it is home.”   
–  Gary Snyder

July is just the beginning of what I consider the most interesting part of the year, nature-wise. Birds have fledged a first brood, insects are abounding and plants are showing off their colorful flowers and fruits. Many turtles have laid their eggs, the majority of tadpole species have become frogs and brush foot butterflies are heading into a second breeding phase. AT my property. there are so many tiny toads and wood frogs, I could win a dance contest trying not to step on them.

Day old leaf-footed bug

Canada lilies, Lilium canadense, a native wildflower pollinated by ruby-throated hummingbirds, blooms at the same time as the native wood lilies Lilium philadelphicum. Both species can be found near woodland edges. Swamp candles are wetland plants with whorled panicles of yellow star-like flowers with red centers. Often they form large stands on wetland edges.

Canada Lily
Swamp Candle Flowers

Eastern wood pewees are medium sized flycatchers related to phoebes. They sit and wait for insects to fly, and then catch them in the air. One was recently following me as I mowed, swooping out to catch whatever moths were stirred up by the mower. Barn swallows will follow mowing equipment as well.

Eastern Wood Pewee

One insect that always is fun to find is the tiny partridge scolops planthopper Scolops sulcipes. In all stages, it has a protuberance on its head that looks like a horn. In adults, it is curved upward. Found in grassy areas with goldenrods, not a lot is known about this insect. Wing venation in adults has striking patterning.

Partridge Scolops Nymph

Blueberries are ripening, and there are plenty of them on many power line right-of-ways, along with native huckleberries. Recently, a female calico pennant dragonfly took a break and rested on some blueberries.

There is always something unusual to find- the excitement never ends, as my nephew once said- and this July has been no different. There was a mass of some type of insect eggs, perhaps a tree hopper, that had perfect little exit holes where the insects had hatched.

Egg Mass Perhaps of a Tree Hopper

Cleft-headed loopers are named for their cleft head, and they always remind me of kitty cat ears. Its moth is the famous peppered moth, which has been written about in textbooks throughout the world due to color variations that enable it to camouflage itself by day.

Cleft-headed Looper- Head on Left
Head of the Cleft-headed Looper

Butterflies have not been especially abundant so far, but the diminutive American coppers seem to be everywhere. The caterpillars are seldom seen, but may be found by looking carefully on their host plants- sheep sorrel or curled dock near where the adults are spotted..

American Copper on a Grass Seed Head

The slender long- horned flower beetle, Strangalia famelica can be seen on flowers obtaining pollen and nectar throughout the summer. There are many other species of flower beetles that look similar and also use flowers as a food source.

Strangalia famelica beetle

This year there have been quite a few walking sticks in varied habitats. Usually found on woody plants, two were in grassy areas with lots of forbs but no woody plants. Wonder what they were eating…

Early Instar Walking Stick

There are a lot more things of interest to discover as the summer progresses. Caterpillars tend to be larger and more colorful and interesting as foliage becomes mature. Fruits and seeds will attract lots of birds, sunrises and sunsets provide more color and interest than most television shows and perhaps all of us will be delighted by something new that we find that is not in a store. As Helen Keller noted “To me a lush carpet of pine needles or spongy grass is more welcome than the most luxurious Persian rug.”

Pamm Cooper

July Sunrise
Woodland Stream in January

“January brings the snow, makes our feet and fingers glow.”

 – Sara Coleridge

Living here in Connecticut offers a lot of variety in interesting places to go outdoors in the winter. From the shoreline to the hills and farmlands, to the forests and major rivers, there are always things to pique one’s interest. The main thing as I see it is to dress for the elements and then to enjoy the crisp, invigorating winter air and anything you happen to venture upon.

Underside of a polypore fungi showing partially broken down pore structure

Crepidula fornicata, the American slipper limpet- like snail, is native to the Atlantic coast of the U.S. Females can lay anywhere from 10- 20,000 eggs four times a year. After winter storms, thousands of these creatures can be washed up on beaches, sometimes in piles that are over two feet deep. Winter visiting shore birds like ruddy turnstones and sanderlings can be found feeding on these creatures where shells have washed up recently. Any mollusks or crustaceans washed on shore are discovered by flipping rocks, seaweed or other shells out of the way. They can easily pull out the snail- like animals from the slipper shells. Both the ruddy turnstone and sanderlings will dodge among small waves as they search for prey. Sanderlings are often in large groups that seem like synchronized surf runner formations, and I give them a 10…. Both species breed as far north as the tundra.

Ruddy turnstones
Sanderlings on piles of American slipper shells

Knobbed whelks (Busycon carica) are edible marine snails that are carnivorous scavengers and predators of shellfish. Their native range is from Massachusetts to Florida. Large casings are released in strings by the female whelks and are then anchored to the sediment. The tiny whelks hatch nine months later. If you find a sting of these egg cases washed up on the beach, shake them and see if any tiny whelks are inside. There is a hole in the egg case top where the little whelks would have exited through, hopefully before the whole string was deposited on the shore.

Stringed whelk egg cases are full of tiny whelks
Knobbed whelk with barnacles

While walking through the woods after a recent snowfall, I came across a hermit thrush, a native thrush that has a rusty red tail, brownish olive body and a white chest speckled with dark brown. Normally, they migrate south for the winter, but I can usually find one every year near woodland steams and boggy areas that do not freeze over.

Very hardy hermit thrush

In mixed deciduous woods, especially where oaks are found, there is often evidence of deer in the neighborhood. Deer will scrape off snow with their hooves to find acorns to eat. Later, the deer may bed down nearby. Look for small areas where the snow has melted- that is where the body heat of the sleeping or resting deer has melted the snow.

Melted snow where three deer had rested or slept

On a yellow birch tree deep in some woods, there was a new burl being formed by abnormal cell enlargement from an unknown cause. This rounded, woody swelling has an interesting surface pattern and grain, and may have been caused by a wound or pathogen as there is a gummy excretion surrounding the base of the burl. In the same area of the woods there was a tree with a fist-sized rock growing into two forked trunks.

Burl
Rock with tree trunks growing around it

In a small brook nearby there was a waterfall that had partially iced over. The patterns in the ice struck me as similar to lines in a topographic map, tiny lightning bolts. Natural designs are often temporal, so I take pictures of things like this as tomorrow, or even in a few hours, it could be gone.

Interesting patterns on small waterfall ice

Every winter day will have its own surprises.  For instance, I wonder if a young white-tailed deer made this tiny snow deer along a woodland trail…

Tiny snow deer

Pamm Cooper

Fox in the backyard seen through a screened window

“January is the quietest month in the garden. But just because it looks quiet, doesn’t mean that nothing is happening.” – Rosalie Muller Wright

Beautiful gills

Nature alone is antique, and the oldest art a mushroom.
– Thomas Carlyle

This fall while I was hiking through woods and woodland trails, for some reason a little light seemed to go off in my consciousness that directed my eyes toward the mushrooms that seemed to be growing everywhere. Because of the rains and warm temperatures, mushrooms seemed to have popped up all at once – in lawns, leaf litter on and around trees, on logs and stumps, and on bare soils. I was never terribly interested in fungi before, but that has all changed now. I bought a good mushroom field guide (Peterson’s Field Guide to Mushrooms of North America) and I have been on a tear ever since.

Cauliflower ruffles Sparassis spathulata mushroom

I had no idea that mushrooms can have pores or teeth rather than gills, so that is now the first focus when trying to narrow down the field in identification. Now the first thing I look for is if the cap has gills, pores, teeth or is just a capsule with spores inside, as with puffballs.  I have a little mirror that I can slide under the caps to see the reproductive structures without having to damage the fruiting body in the process. I learned that boletes have pores, Amanitas and fly agarics have gills,  and if a mushroom has gills, for instance, it cannot be a bolete. It narrows the field right away for identification purposes.

Pepper Bolete Has Pores
Distinctive gills of the viscid violet cort

There are several gill types- decurrent, attached, open, in relationship to the stalk and widely spaced or tightly spaced. Some can be waved at the edges of the cap. Pores can be small, large, rounded or angular, and both gills and pores can have distinctive colors, both of the tissue itself and the spores.  

Cantharellus cinnabarinus cinnabar chantertelle has decurrent gills that run down the stalk

Amanita mushroom with typical membranous veil on the stipe

Toothed mushrooms are least common, I think, and they are very interesting as well. Teeth can be flattened, pointed, or somewhere in between. The stacked tooth fungus Climacodon septentrionalis, is a parasitic fungus that can grow quite large in the space of a few months. They form a tight stack like pancakes on trunks of living trees like maples.

Stacked tooth mushroom on a sugar maple
Yellow teeth of the stacked tooth mushroom with brown spores on left

Some mushrooms have strong associations with particular tree species, such as the Leccinum scabrum– birch scaber stalk. Stems of the birch scaber stalk bolete have wooly scales and base can have blue- green stains. Pores are white, then age to gray-brown and the cap is brown. The chunky false tinder conk Phellinus tremulae is associated with aspens and resembles a horse’s hoof.

False tinder conks have killed this aspen

The most spectacular mushroom, which I saw for the first time, was the bear’s head tooth fungus, which looked like a mass of tiny icicles dripping down the side of a living tree.

Hericium americanum bear’s head tooth fungus

Another first find for me were the diminutive Calostoma cinnabarineum puffballs, which have a cap like an acorn atop a thick stalk. The whole fruiting body is covered with a cinnamon-red gel which slowly slides off. Inside the capsule is a mass of dust-like white spores.

Calostoma cinnabarineum puffball is on a gel covered stalk

Lycoperdon perlatum puffball

Coral mushrooms do not have caps, but they have branches or a clublike form. Spores form on the surface of these clubs or branches and fall off. Cup mushroom have concave caps which may be curled or wavy

Orange Ascomycete Cup Fungus

Coral fungi

Stinkhorns are often smelled before they are seen. They usually have a stinky slime on the top that contains the spores. Flies are attracted to this offensive mess and spread the spores when they leave. Ravenel’s and the dog stinkhorn Mutinus caninus have a definite phallic form and stalks with a styrofoam or spongy texture.

Ravenel’s stinkhorn
Stinky squid

There are so many mushrooms yet to encounter, and I can’t wait until warmer weather arrives again next year. In the meantime I will dream of finding fairy inkcap crumble mushrooms and red and white fly agarics.

Pamm Cooper

False turkey tail bracket fungi
November sunrise on Horsebarn Hill UConn

November comes and November goes with the last red berries
and the first white snows.
With night coming early, and dawn coming late, and ice in the bucket
and frost by the gate.

-Elizabeth Coatsworth

While driving along country roads, walking in the woods, or simply getting up early in the morning and stepping outside, any day can offer an opportunity to come across interesting or unusual sights. Fall is the time of bird migrations, splashes of leaf color and beautiful sunrises and sunsets. November seems like a last hurrah with some lingering warm days before the cold settles in for the winter. On a recent morning bare treetops in the pre-sunrise light looked like they were full of leaves, but it was actually thousands of blackbirds. One bird must have started something because the whole lot of them began at once to make a terrific noise, and then they took off in unison. I remeber the day when it could take several minutes for these flocks of blackbirds to pass over the morning sky.

Blackbirds taking flight just before sunrise

This November has been unusually warm, but leaves have finally fallen or changed color as in the case of our dawdling oaks and dawn redwoods. Fallen leaves can cover the ground for a while to restyle a scene with winsome texture and color. Things hidden by foliage in the summer are now revealed- wasp and bird’s nests, fruits and other things.

Dawn redwood fall color before needle drop

Sometimes something that was dull can suddenly get interesting when light and visibility change in what seems like an instant. This happened when a dingy looking shelf fungus growing on a sugar maple had the sun strike it just as I was driving by. Getting my attention, I got out and took a closer look. It turned out to be a stacked tooth fungus, a mushroom new to my experience. They form a tight stack like pancakes and instead of pores or gills, they have fine teeth from which spores are released.

Climacodon septentrionalis stacked toorh fungus
Underside showing the teeth, or spines, of the stacked tooth fungus

On the same ride where I saw the amazing tooth fungus, there was an old Lincoln Zephyr on display in someone’s front yard. Down the same street was an old farmhouse with an impressive front porch and a remarkable sugar maple whose leaves covered the ground around it. In the same area was a grain storage building with old trains and their cars cluttering the tracks, perhaps some still used for transport, and some obviously no longer in service.

Lincoln Zephyr
Old Lincoln Zephyr

Old Farmhouse
Trains at a grain storage facility
November is also the time of final hay cutting and baling operations

There is a home in Glastonbury or Portland that has the most bee hives I ever saw in one place in Connecticut. According to the owner, the hives near the house were requeened this summer and will form a new colony. When queens no longer produce enough eggs, a new queen is introduced and the old is, sadly, released from her earthly duties. Some of these hives are used at a local orchard in the spring, while a majority are placed along the Connecticut River where food is very abundant.

On hike through a nature preserve woods early this month there was the remains of an old car which was probably from the 1930’s and dragged here when the area was a field. This car was almost 20 feet long and had a folding luggage rack on the trunk. Headlamps must have been the size of dinner plates.

On the trunk of a dead aspen along the side of a country road, it was clear what had killed this tree. On the trunk were false tinder conks Phellinus  termulae shelf fungi . No other fungi with this characteristic fruiting body are found on aspen. The woody conks are hoof-like, brown to black, and have a cracked upper surface. Pores are tan or white. The spores of P. tremulae are blown through the air and can enter fresh wounds on aspens, where the fungus attacks the heartwood and causes white trunk rot.

False tinder conks Phellinus  termulae shelf fungi

Still out and about are praying mantids and some dragonflies and bees. This female mantid was on a sidewalk near a flower garden. Her eggs have been laid, so she will perish shortly.

t is the time of warmer jackets, bleaker vistas, perhaps, and chilly days. I am not by nature a puddleglum, so all this is not a deterrent to enjoying the shorter days and the coming cold. There will still be spectacular sunsets and sunrises, snowy landscape coverings and bluer skies that will cheer my heart on occasion. Now is a also good time to read all those books that there was little time for when the outdoors beckoned strongly for all the attention. Maybe I’ll put on a colorful scarf or something…

The morns are meeker than they were,
The nuts are getting brown;
The berry’s cheek is plumper,
The rose is out of town.
The maple wears a gayer scarf,
The field a scarlet gown.
Lest I should be old-fashioned,
I’ll put a trinket on.

-Emily Dickinson

Maybe I’ll just light a sparkler.

Pamm Cooper

“Every leaf speaks bliss to me, fluttering from the autumn tree.” – Emily Brontë

Late September and early October signal the end of summer, but the weather has been warm enough for pleasant excursions that do not require a heavy coat. Lots of insects and flowers are still around, and not too many migrating birds are coming through so far. I am not a big fan of pumpkin spice anything, but I do enjoy leaf colors and cool, crisp mornings with a clear blue sky backdrop.

Light streams early in the morning in autumn 2021

Keep your eye on cedar trees with an abundant amount of berries on them for yellow-rumped warblers passing through, and other year-round birds as well. Crabapples, viburnums and hawthorns are also good food sources for birds late in the year. Today there were bluebirds, phoebes, white-throated sparrows, cardinals, mockingbirds and blue jays on a Cornus florida in my backyard.

Yellow-rumped warbler eating a cedar berry

Ludwigia alternifolia, also known as alternate leaved seedbox is a North American perennial wildflower found in wet areas- swamps, stream banks, edges of ponds and other places with damp soils.  Leaves resemble willow- slender and alternate along the stems. Yellow flowers resemble those of moth mullein and appear in summer for 2-3 months only blooming for a day. Seed capsules are a quarter of an inch square and rattle when they are shaken. Flowers of rattlebox are pollinated primarily by bees. 

Rattlebox seed pod flanked with sepals.
Tiny seed box of Ludwegia alternifolia

Wolf Eyes Kousa dogwoods are included as specimen plantings in many landscapes for good reason. These small trees have a nice form and attractive variegated foliage that is an outstanding backdrop for the strawberry- like fruit that appear in late summer.

Wolf eyes Kousa dogwood

Chickweed geometer moths are small, yellow with pink bands and markings. Caterpillars are inchworms and host plants include chickweed, smartweed. Because lawns may contain some of these plants, the small moths are often spotted resting on blades of grass.

Chickweed geometer moth

Stacked kites look like a lot of fun to launch and enjoy. Recently someone had several kite stacks flying at Harkness Memorial State Park, where the offshore winds are ideal for this hobby. This park has many things of interest including a cutting flower garden, 111 year old full moon maples, gardens, buildings and expansive grounds. There also is a very fragrant heliotrope garden that is worth a visit just past the main building.

Water tower and cutting garden

Stacked kites

This weekend along a forest trail, I was delighted to find two diminutive puffball species that were new to me. Both had stalks, and were on bare soil, and the stems had a gelatinous film covering them. From directly above, the caps looked like acorns with the tip side up. The aspic puffball Calostoma cinnabarinum had a red cap and the ghoul’s eyes puffball, Calostoma lutescens had a yellow- ochre cap with a red apical mouth resembling, I guess, the eyes of a ghoul.

Aspic puffball
Ghoul’s eyes puffball
Hericium americanum bear’s head tooth fungus looks like a tight cluster of tiny icicles

Some late blooming plants are providing food sources for pollinators that are still active. Lespedeza bush clovers, asters, some goldenrods and lots of annuals like lantana and salvias are important nectar and pollen sources for native and non-native beetles and bees.

Bumblebee on an aster flower
Pink flowered Lespedeza bush clover

Recently the gardener at the golf course and I were delighted to find an eft of the red spotted newt and a very small spotted salamander under some bushes being removed from a neglected landscape. After making sure they were okay, they were returned to a safe place. The excitement never ends…

Juvenile spotted salamander

We also discovered a small spicebush along a cart path that had 5 spicebush caterpillars on it. By the time all had left to pupate, there were only two leaves left uneaten.

Checking a small spicebush
Spicebush swallowtail caterpillar

As the weather cools and leaves begin to drop, many of the little creatures that brightened our day will soon head for a protected spot to overwinter. Although gray treefrogs are still hanging out on leaves, they will retire under leaf litter or other places until next spring. Hardy insects are slowing down to do the same. Sunsets may be more spectacular in cooler weather, but I will miss those surprise encounters with living things in the garden and the wild landscape.

Besides the autumn poets sing, a few prosaic days, a little this side of the snow, and that side of the haze.

Emily Dickinson

Path in the autumn woods

Pamm Cooper

Sunflowers along the edge of a field

“By all these lovely tokens, September days are here. With summer’s best of weather and autumn’s best of cheer.” – Helen Hunt Jackson

September arrived with a splash this year, and a big one at that. Hurricane Ida may have spared us her winds, but not the heavy rains and the flooding that came with it. Temperatures at least have dropped and people  have a reprieve from watering gardens and lawns.  

Saturated soils resulted in the standing water on this turf area.
Flooding and strong currents here at the Glastonbury ferry entrance ramp on the Connecticut River has stopped ferry service temporarily

The extended hot, humid weather has led to a burst of stinkhorn fungi in mulched areas and woodlands. These fungi have spores in a slimy material that is visited by flies attracted by the putrid odor. After visiting this stinky slime and getting nothing for their trouble, the flies move on, dispersing the spores as they go. The stinky squid fungi are small, orange and have three or four fingerlike “arms”. Spores are often in mulch that was added to gardens earlier in the year.

Stinky squid fungi in images above

I found a little 4-toed salamander far from its woodland domain the day after a rain- just missed it with a mower. This is Connecticut’s smallest salamander being only 2- 3 ½ inches long.  These salamanders are found found in both moist and dry woodlands and in wooded swamps. Sphagnum moss is usually present nearby and is often used by the female for nesting.

4-toed salamander

On a woodland trail, a female American pelecinid wasp flew by and landed on a leaf. They have a long ovipositor that they use to inserts eggs with especially where grubs are in the soil. These black wasps diet consists primarily of nectar, perhaps supplemented by some pollen and water.

Female American pelecinid wasp

Three weeks ago I came across an elm sphinx caterpillar on slippery elm. This caterpillar has four horns on the thorax and one on the rear, like most sphinx caterpillars. it can be green or brown, but this one started off green and then just turned brown this week. Food is exclusively elm.

Travelling through tobacco farmland this past week, there was a lot of harvesting activity. Drying barns are filling up with sun grown broadleaf tobacco leaves. Tobacco sheds are vanishing as the land is bought up for development and houses..

Drying shed with hanging tobacco leaves
Hay bales in a barn with green doors

There are so many native plants that have fruits now- viburnums, filberts, shrub and tree dogwoods, black cherry, winterberry and spicebush just to name a few. Along with many herbaceous plants like pokeweed and goldenrods, these fruits are valuable to all kinds of wildlife including migrating birds.

Arrowwood viburnum
Red osier dogwood fruit

Tansy, an introduced member of the aster family, is blooming now. Its yellow, button- like flowers have a striking pattern. The plans has a long history of cultivation for its medicinal qualities.

Of September, who can say it better than this?

“…there is a clarity about September. On clear days, the sun seems brighter, the sky more blue, the white clouds take on marvelous shapes; the moon is a wonderful apparition, rising gold, cooling to silver; and the stars are so big. The September storms… are exhilarating…”
— Faith Baldwin, 

Pamm Cooper

Waning Moon in September

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