Sunday, October 31, 2021

October Farewell

Here it is already, the last day of October, and it feels as if I'm still waiting for fall: those frosty mornings and crisp, clear, blue-sky afternoons amid blazing autumn foliage. But we haven't yet had a real frost, and our tree leaves have mostly turned from fungus-spotted, insect-damaged yellowing green to withered brown. It's rainy and gray today, but last Friday was a crisp, clear, blue-sky day, perfect for a walk around Moreau Lake, where some of the trees, anyway, offered some of the brilliance we hope for each fall.

This sapling Red Maple was doing its best to remind us of what fall foliage used to look like, having somehow managed to escape some of the Gypsy Moth and fungal damage that attacked most of our mature maples this past over-heated and soggy summer.

And these gorgeous American Beech boughs offered plenty of the flaming colors we have long come to expect in October.

A whole row of maples along the shore of Moreau Lake's back bay reminded me of what fall used to look like.

The Black Huckleberry hedge along the lake's north shore were rather muted, though: more of a ruddy wine color this year, instead of the blazing scarlet I have marveled at in other years.

I wonder if the continued warmth of our weather has been a factor, too, in muting the color of our fall foliage.  We have not yet had a killing frost, so even a few flowers still offer their blooms to a few insect foragers, like this tiny bee in a blooming Philadelphia Fleabane.   As in the case of several other spring-blooming flowers I have found recently (Bunchberry and Dog Violet, for example),  this species of fleabane has started blooming again, long after its early-summer flowers had gone to seed. 

While walking along the stone-cobbled eastern shore of the lake, I was delighted by these underwater stones, their multiple colors enhanced by the crystal-clear water close to shore.

I was even more delighted to find this wee little flatsedge tucked in among the dry stones higher up on the shore.  For this is one of New York's rarest species, the Small-flowered Dwarf Bulrush (Cyperus subsquarrosus), only recently re-discovered to exist on Moreau Lake's shores in uncountable numbers.

Here was another great find: A male Snow Bunting, only recently arrived from its arctic breeding grounds to spend the winter here "down south." 

I was able to recognize this unfamiliar bird, because exactly to the day 12 years ago, on October 29, 2009, I photographed this same species here on the shore of Moreau Lake, in almost the very same spot.  (Luckily, I was able to approach the Snow Bunting much closer, back then, and got a much better photo.)

As the afternoon shadows began to lengthen, I passed this grandpa and grandson fishing by the bridge, a scene that somehow made me feel that, here in this small sun-warmed spot on the planet, all was right with the world. Maybe it just reminded me of how much I had adored my own grandpa.

While I passed through the woods on my way to my car, I came upon a fallen log populated by a long stretch of small caramel-colored fungi.  They were so small and plain,  I almost passed them by without more than a glance.  But something about them urged me to take a closer look.

Aha! I knew I remembered something interesting about this fungus! When I turned this little cluster of them over, there were the crinkly, wrinkly gills that are diagnostic for the Crimped Gill Fungus (Plicaturopsis crispa). One of the remarkable things about this common fall-fruiting fungus is that it is also a truly functional winter fungus. Even after it has become thoroughly dried or solidly frozen, it can be brought indoors, moistened and kept in a humid container, and it will produce many spores throughout the winter. It is also really cute!

Now, here was a really colorful fungus, its lovely red cap set off beautifully by the bright-green moss behind it. Called Painted Suillus (Suillus spraguei), this mushroom has a mutually beneficial relationship with Eastern White Pines. In return for the sugars the photosynthesizing pine provides to the fungus,  the Painted Suillus provides water and minerals to the tree through its underground mycorrhizal network.  

The more I learn about how fungal mycorrhizae operate to connect and communicate with other organisms, the more my mind is blown! Read Merlin Sheldrake's fascinating book on mycology called Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds, and Shape Our Futures, and you will never walk through a woods the same way again.

Not only are fungi fascinating, some are astoundingly beautiful.  And Turkey Tail Fungus is one of the most beautiful of all.  I have found its thin and flexible caps adorned with stripes of many different color combinations, including royal blue and school-bus yellow or chocolate fudge and creamy vanilla.  But never have I found a population colored with such a vivid and velvety moss-green, as I did this day.   Wow!

Here's a bit closer look at those beautiful colored stripes. I am thinking that the green color comes from a  green alga taking up residence on the fungus.  Whatever the source, it certainly added to the beauty of this already lovely fungus.  The autumn leaves may have let us down this year, but the mushrooms certainly haven't!


The Furry Gnome said...

No frost here yet, but lots of bright red and orange fall colours. That Turkey Tail fungus is amazing when you look closely.

Woody Meristem said...

Not much color down here in PA either, but an abundance of fungi many of which are beautiful -- and that I can't identify.