Sunday, October 4, 2009
A Mud Pond Meander
Well, summer came back for a visit today: bright sun, warm soft air, no wind at all. It was so nice, in fact, that I got my husband Denis to come along for a walk around Mud Pond. Normally, my stop-and-go, drop-to-my-knees, just-one-more-photo-please style of walking drives him crazy. But today was so gorgeous he couldn't resist. Plus, I told him we just might see that moose. We didn't, of course, but who cares? We saw lots of other cool stuff, including about a hundred Canada Geese on the pond, most of them floating serenely, a few honking wildly, flapping their wings and raising a spray of water all around.
Another really cool thing was this Walking Stick. I felt something tickling the back of my neck and asked Denis to see if a spider or ant was crawling around back there. (I felt a bit reluctant to grab at a bug unseen.) Luckily, Denis was very brave and gently disentangled the critter from my hair. Nope, not a spider or ant. Just this guy. Wow! I haven't seen one of these since Girl Scout camp back in the 1950s. I wonder how he got on the back of my neck. Maybe he hitched a ride as I pushed my way through some hazelnut shrubs.
The next cool thing was this lovely Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus sulphureus). These large bracket fungi are hard to miss, because of their bright orange-yellow color. Aptly named, they really do taste like chicken (as in "it tastes kind of like chicken"), even down to the texture. Sort of like dry chicken breast meat. Needs gravy to get it down. It looks prettier than it tastes, so we left it growing for other passers-by to enjoy.
Next was this big wavy white mushroom (I don't know what kind), remarkable mostly for its size. I love how the mushroom's flesh formed right around those twigs that appear to be piercing its cap.
The closest match I could find in my mushroom guides to these rough-textured pinkish blobs was a slime mould called Wolf's Milk Slime (Lycogala epidendrum). I'll have to go back and examine them further to be sure. If they are that species, they'll contain a substance that oozes out when squeezed, like pink toothpaste. Another common name is Toothpaste Slime.
Slime moulds are really quite amazing. In their early stages they can move and feed more like animals than plants, engulfing substances in their path, digesting what they can use and ejecting what they can't. Usually included in mushroom guides, they're not fungi, although they feed on rotting wood as fungi do and often assume shapes that resemble fungi. Most of their fruiting bodies are not slimy, either, but can look like lollypops or hedgehogs or Cheetos or scrambled eggs or BBs or, like our Wolf's Milk Slime above, little puffballs.
Sassafras leaves turn the loveliest colors in autumn. They really stand out from the other understory trees. Like the Black Tupelo, the Sassafras usually grows further south, but a microclimate that tempers the winters here in the Hudson-Champlain Valley allows them to grow as far north as Saratoga County. I know, I know, it's hard to think of our 20-below-zero winters as being tempered, but that's what the scientists claim. And both trees seem to thrive here.
For vivid autumn color, no shrub can rival the Shining Sumac (Rhus copallina). Masses of this shrub line the sandy path near Spier Falls Road, but I noticed that most of the leaves on these shrubs are misshapen this year and few have any fruits. Since this is a very hardy native shrub, it's hard to imagine what disease might be ailing them. I hate to see them fail, since they provide winter food for birds and other animals. This photo, which shows the distinctive wings along the stems, was taken a few years ago, when the shrub was in perfect health.
Here's another sight I hate to see, although as I often tell myself: All God's critters gotta eat. In several places along that sandy path near Spier Falls Road, we found these holes dug into the bank, with the openings strewn with the shells of turtle eggs. Near one hole was some smallish black scat with some grape seeds in it. A fox, I would guess. Or could it be a raccoon? No visible footprints confirmed the identity of the digger (I was going to say "culprit" but it's hard for me -- a meat-eater -- to condemn any other creature's search for food).
We didn't find any moose footprints, either. But we sure did have a wonderful walk.