Saturday, October 20, 2018

Muted Colors, Quiet Coves

The sky was blue, the sun was warm, the Hudson beckoned.  It should have been a perfect day for a paddle on Friday, except for a wind that was whipping up whitecaps out on the open river.  Ah, but I know a quiet place behind a river island where the wind hardly ever intrudes, so that's where I headed, carrying my lightweight canoe down through the woods to launch on water still enough to mirror the surrounding forested mountains.

I had hoped our autumn foliage would have grown more vivid by now.  Perhaps it will yet come into its glory before the leaves shrivel and fall, but in the meantime I still found much foliar beauty here along the river banks. This low-hanging Witch Hazel shrub never disappoints, even though its leaves had only begun to achieve their maximum golden glow.

Most importantly, the Witch Hazel boughs were abloom with abundant flowers, the clusters of ribbon-like petals hanging low enough over the water that I could bury my nose in them and breathe in their subtle fragrance.  I can only describe this fragrance as similar to the smell of clean laundry hung to dry in the sunshine and fresh air.  Heavenly!

There are several deep coves along this section of the Hudson above the Sherman Island Dam, and here where the water lies dark and still, the muted colors of the surrounding trees were intensified in the reflections.

In the dark recesses of one of these coves, the bright-yellow leaves of Wild Sarsaparilla shone out from this boulder like beacons.

I did brave the gusts on the open river to reach a swamp that lies upstream behind this island pictured below.   I've called  this little island Three Pine for the tall White Pines that tower over its bouldered foundation.  This swamp used to be ringed with mature Black Tupelo trees, before beavers managed to girdle their bark and kill most of them.  The two reddish Black Tupelos pictured at the right side of this photo still remain, although the beavers have started gnawing away on their bark by now.

Compared to other years, when the tupelos' foliage has turned a glorious flaming red, the color of the leaves appeared darker than usual.  But when I paddled beneath the boughs and observed the leaves from below, they glowed like stained glass against the bright-blue sky.

I was struck by how that bright sunlight lit up the wind-swept leaves of the Tussock Sedge  that abounds in this riverside swamp. The dancing, swaying leaves seemed to just glitter against the dark shade of the background forest.

There's no better place than a swamp like this for finding Winterberry shrubs loaded with scarlet fruit, and I was not disappointed.  Sure, the muted colors of our trees this year is kind of disappointing, but much else remains to startle us with beauty along the river.

Friday, October 19, 2018

A Little Help From My Fungus Friends

While walking with my Thursday Naturalist friends in Thacher Park this past frosty-cold Thursday morning, I saw this chrome-yellow mushroom along a wooded trail. When I picked it up to examine it, I was amazed to find these blood-red gills. What a beauty!  I had never seen a mushroom quite like it.

I have since discovered its name to be the Red-gilled Cort (Cortinarius semisanguineus), thanks to some expert members of a Facebook site I belong to dedicated to Lichens, Mosses, Ferns, and Fungi. Their ID led me to my Audubon mushroom guide, where I also learned that the remnants of a yellow cobwebby veil were another distinguishing feature of this species.

Isn't it wonderful how the internet helps expand our knowledge?

These next two photos are of another mushroom I saw on this same walk.  How the heck did those pine needles get stuck in the middle of this mushroom's cap?  Sometimes I see grass or twigs growing right through the flesh of a mushroom, and I always wonder how that happens.  My best guess is that the fungal tissue forms around the piercing object, rather than the object piercing the already-formed fungal tissue.  So far, all my Google searches have turned up no information about this.  Guess I will post these photos on that Lichens, Mosses, Ferns, and Fungi site, and see if anyone knows the answer to this.

Perhaps my friends also will tell me the species of this mushroom (the bottom side of the pine-pierced mushroom pictured above).  I would think such a variety of sizes of its coral-colored free gills would be a distinguishing feature.  If I ever get an answer, I will come back to add an update.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Mushroom Time Along Bonita's Trails

Hurray!  The sun came out yesterday!  And I was really eager to get outdoors.  Rain never used to stop me from venturing out, but since I broke my knee three years ago, it hurts every time it rains, especially now that arthritis has settled into that joint, and bursitis now pains my hip. So a sunny day is not to be wasted indoors.  I still look for more-or-less level places to walk, however, which is why I made Lake Bonita my destination. 

Lake Bonita looked lovely, surrounded by trees beginning to turn their autumn colors, its quiet surface reflecting a beautiful sky.  But instead of making a circuit around the lake as I usually do, I chose to take a trail that leads into the forest, starting at one end of the dam and following a splashing stream for the first hundred yards or so. 

Called the Waterfall Trail, the path promptly veers away from the stream and off into the woods, providing a gently up-and-down hike before it intersects with the Western Ridge Trail, just about a mile away.

One of the pleasures of this particular trail is the presence of rocky ledges and outcrops along the way, the spring-dampened boulders covered with an amazing variety of mosses, lichens, liverworts, and ferns.  These are all organisms that provide trailside interest in every season of the year.

One boulder provided a home for this beautiful emerald-green liverwort called Handsome Woollywort  (Trichocolea tomentella), distinguished by its branching lobes.  Peeking out from amid those branching lobes were a couple of itty-bitty mushrooms of the Galerina genus, a group of tiny fragile fungi that can only be identified as to species by microscopic examination.

Now that most of this year's flowers have faded, it's the fungi that provide the most interest along a woodland trail. This one, with its cascading teeth that resemble the icicles formed in a frozen waterfall, has the interesting common name of Bear's Head.  Its scientific name is Hericium americanum, and I can attest that it is quite a good edible.  I took it home for supper.

I'm not sure what this chrome-yellow, minutely hairy mushroom is, but the closest I can find to it in my mushroom guides is Gymnopilus sapineus.  The common name for this species is Scaly Rustgill, suggested by a variation that is rusty-orange and scaly instead of chrome-yellow and hairy.  Go figure.  Whatever its species, it was remarkably yellow enough to catch my eye from some distance off the trail.

I was sure this pretty pink mushroom would be easy to ID.  With its snowy-white gills and stalk and colored top, could it be anything BUT a Russula species?  Ah, but which one?  After pondering the many choices in my guides, I guess I will settle on R. emetica, the Sickening Russula, even though I usually associate that species with a bright-red top.  But some guides suggest that the top can be a rosy pink.  Other, more expert opinions than mine, would be welcome.

It occurred to me that these infant mushrooms, with their pink tops and white stalks, could be baby Russula emeticas, except I have never seen any Russula species growing in tight clusters like this.  Whatever they are, I thought they were adorably cute.

UPDATE:  A Facebook friend has ID'd these as Brick Caps (Hypholoma sublateritium) and claims they are a good fall edible.  A search of images on Google confirms my confidence in this ID.  This species is distinguished by its caps having a brick-red coloration in the center and a paler margin.  They are said to have a nutty flavor when cooked and to be especially delicious when sauteed in olive oil.

And talk about CUTE!  I found these tiny greenish fungi growing in considerable numbers at the base of a pine tree, and I was struck by their long skinny stalks as well as the lime-green color of those stalks and their fragile caps.

My best guess regarding this species is Mycena epipterygia var. lignicola.  I have yet to discover any common name for this miniature mushroom that is said to be quite common under conifers.  Let's make one up.  Any suggestions?

I only walked about half-way on the Waterfall Trail before my painful hip and knee urged me to start home, so I was disappointed I never reached the spot on this trail where my friend Sue and I found this spectacular cataract a couple of winters ago. I would be curious to see what this looked like flowing with water instead of ice.  Guess I will have to take more Ibuprofen next time and attempt to  find this place again.

Here I am, back on the shore of Lake Bonita, taking the lakeside trail that leads back to my car.

The presence of many American Beech trees along here could be guessed at by the presence on the ground of many plants of Beechdrops (Epifagus virginiana) throughout the woods.  Many of our Beeches are dying from a two-pronged attack by beetles and a fungus, but I imagine the Beechdrops will persist as long as the trees' roots are in the ground, for this plant is parasitic on those roots.

I saw a group of Amanita mushrooms growing here on the lakeshore, but I could not determine which species they were.  They were the palest yellow in color and without any of the flecks of veil atop the cap I usually associate with this genus.  The volva and stem ring were very much in evidence, however.

I enjoyed one last look at this pretty lake before climbing the wooded trail to the road.  A small flock of Canada Geese was serenely floating near the little shrub-covered islands.

One more interesting mushroom greeted me before I left the trail.  This is the Elfin Saddle, a sac fungus distinctive for its convoluted cap and fluted stalk.  Whether this is Helvella crispa or Helvella lactea I cannot now say,  since my photo does not show the underside, and I neglected to observe the mushroom carefully at the time.  If the underside were densely fuzzy, this would be H. crispa. If smooth, it would be H. lactea.  Otherwise, the two species look much alike. Which is to say, very odd-looking, indeed.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

A Feast of Fall Color at Lens Lake

Hey, I thought Tuesday was supposed to be sunny! Some friends and I had arranged to meet Tuesday morning for a paddle on Lens Lake up in Warren County, but when I arrived the air was still misty from a brief shower, and the sky was completely overcast.  Oh well, even better for enhancing autumn color, I thought.  And so it was.  The fall colors seemed to just glow in the humid air, without the distracting contrast of sunlight and shadow.   There's no better place for experiencing this gloriously colorful season than Lens Lake, with its shoreline and surrounding mountains densely forested with mixed hardwoods and conifers, and the surface of the lake dotted with bog mats carpeted with sphagnum in colors that echoed the reds and golds and greens of the trees. 

I arrived later than my friends, who were already out on the bog mats harvesting cranberries.  There was quite a brisk wind rippling the lake at this hour, and since I did not intend to harvest cranberries for myself, I avoided paddling out to the bog mats just then, and instead I made my way into some shoreline coves where the wind didn't reach and the water lay still and dark.

I love the colorful mix of plants that inhabit the mossy banks, ancient tree stumps, and fallen logs back here in these quiet backwaters. Here was a beautifully curving Cinnamon Fern living up to its name by turning a toasty cinnamon brown.

Here's a long-ago-fallen log that now serves as the base for a splendid garden of plants of many colors, including a couple of small Red Maple saplings and a miniature White Pine tree.

A multitude of tiny-leaved Large Cranberry vines were growing out of the thick sphagnum moss that covered the log, and those vines were hung with some of the biggest, reddest cranberries I had ever seen.

This ancient stump was completely covered with lichens of several species, including one lichen that bore fruiting bodies of a startling orange color.

I know of several species of Cladonia lichens that are tipped with bright red, but I had never yet encountered one that was colored this deep orange.

Update:  A very knowledgeable acquaintance named Tom Walker has informed me that this lichen is Cladonia incrassata.  Thanks, Tom!

Another fallen log had become the home of this Northern Pitcher Plant, which was colored a deep ruby red.  I love how the tiny green cranberry leaves adorned the base of the pitcher plant.

Here was another stump playing host to a number of plants, including this mass of shaggy red sphagnum moss, the shaggiest sphagnum I had ever seen.

Another side of that same stump bore a beautiful mix of mosses, a hemlock bough, and a single stem of Sheep Laurel.

There were masses of Sheep Laurel shrubs along the banks, and some of the shrubs were actually bearing flowers. This species of shrub normally blooms in May, but occasionally it will bloom again in fall, when the length of day is the same as it was last spring.

Here's a closer look at those beautiful deep-pink blooms.

Labrador Tea also lined these banks, each orange-fuzzed stalk tipped with a little pink cone-like bud  that contains next spring's flowers.

White Pines were the dominant conifers along this shoreline, growing out of small bouldered islands that sheltered the quiet backwaters. The red-leaved shrubs growing around the base of the pines were probably Black Huckleberry, but I did not get out of my boat to examine the shrubs more closely.  It's possible the shrubs were some species of blueberry, too.

After a while, the wind died down, and I set out onto the open lake to look for my friends. I feared they might be difficult to find. The shoreline of Lens Lake is very convoluted, and the bog mats are criss-crossed with passages where a canoeist could remain unseen.  I did meet my friend Evelyn as she paddled back to the launch site, having to leave early to keep an appointment.  But Bonnie was still out there somewhere.  So off I paddled to find her.

On my way out to the bog mats, I passed this gathering of Mergansers resting atop a boulder.  Perhaps that's a mom Merganser and part of this year's brood, still in their juvenile plumage?

As I approached the bog mats, the rich colors of the sphagnum mosses became more evident.

I love how the different colors of sphagnum intermix, resembling the wonderful patterns in a Persian carpet.

These miniature orange mushrooms added their own jaunty spots of color to the rich red of the sphagnum they were growing out of.

White tufts of Cottongrass danced and bobbed atop their slender stems, each tuft seeming to dance to its own music, for they never moved in unison.

As I paddled along this glassy surface, I simply marveled at the glorious colors all around me.

Each bend of the shoreline revealed another breathtaking vista, with the still water mirroring the beauty.

Because of the brightness of the sky behind the mountains,  it was difficult to capture in a photograph the incredible crazy-quilt of colors covering the high slopes. I discovered that if I shut my camera's exposure way down and zoomed in on the mountainside, and then used my computer program to lighten up the photo later, I could achieve some approximation of how glorious these mountains appeared.  This technique also enhanced the brilliance of the row of white cottongrass at the bottom of this photo.

The rippling water made these bleached-white branches do a little shimmy in the reflection.

I loved how the mirror-still water reflected these curving stems of Leatherleaf at the edge of this little hummock of golden sphagnum.

Baby Tamaracks were starting to turn their golden color out on the sphagnum mats.  This is our only conifer tree that loses all its needles in the fall.

Marsh St. John's Worts grow nearly everywhere on this lake, but most had shed their leaves by now.  I was pleased to find this one with its orangey-coral leaves still attached and shimmering with beads of water.

Baby Northern Pitcher Plants, their ruby-red color enhanced by the lemon-yellow of this sphagnum. I thought the little shoots looked like small hooded figures gathered for some occasion and having a chat with one another.  Cute!

Yes, I did find my friend Bonnie!  And we had a lovely time together, finding lots more wondrous and fascinating stuff and just rejoicing in being here in this beautiful place at this beautiful time of year. And also grateful to have our little Hornbeck canoes, the perfect watercraft for winding our way through the narrow channels of the bog mats on Lens Lake.