ordinary… mostly

"We have nothing to offer each other, except a haven." — K. Nafziger



This week in the forest… March 4, 2014

It’s time to tap the sugar maples!

Forecast - 3/4/2014We have a week of daytime highs above freezing and nighttime lows below freezing. Perfect!

Actually, we have already tapped one maple…¬†a red maple. And Ordinary Spouse boiled down the first batch of sap today…

Syrup from a red maple

We had heard that red maples make perfectly fine syrup, but that the sugar concentration in the sap isn’t as high. (In other words, the sap has to be boiled longer.) Since there is an easily accessible red maple right outside our back door, we decided that a little experiment was in order. Based on the initial taste test, this syrup will work out just fine… ūüôā

Ordinary Spouse and I were out for a hike today. We noticed quite a bit of clubmoss poking through the snow.

ClubmossI was hoping that this was a sign of spring, but it turns out (as far as I can tell) that clubmoss is evergreen. So, yes – this qualifies for ‘this week in the forest’, but it also qualifies for many other weeks.

We also saw some evidence of the severity of this winter, while we were hiking today…

Eaten to deer heightMany of the rhododendron near our house have had their leaves chewed off to deer height. I’ve read that rhododendron aren’t the favorite food of deer, but evidently they’ll eat them if the need is great enough. I’m not used to being able to see underneath them (as in the last photo).



This week in the forest… Fall Equinox 2013

My wife and father recently showed me an interesting plant growing around the Laurelville grounds…

Beech dropsBeech dropsActually, it’s a¬†parasitic plant called ‘beech drops‘. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen such a thing before. It grows on the roots of beech trees (the scientific name Epifagus means ‘upon beech’), and since it lacks chlorophyll, it steals nutrition from the tree. However, beech drops are annual plants – dying each year – so they don’t threaten the health of the tree. On some of the plants, there are very tiny, easy-to-miss pink flowers.

Speaking of beech trees, they are leading the way into fall. The large, iconic tree in the center of camp has begun to change colors. The timing is roughly in line with last year’s change.


Ringneck snake

We rescued this ringneck snake from a corner of our house, where it was cowering from our cats. This is the third time we’ve had a ringneck, but so far, it’s the only kind of snake that’s graced the inside of our house with its presence.

Ringneck in a pot

We practice catch-and-release around here.

Back to the woods

This week in the forest… ferns

"Tree Finder" by May T. Watts

The people in my family are big fans of the Finders pocket field guides. My dad introduced them to me when I was a boy, and now Ordinary Spouse and I enjoy using them with our girls. Perhaps the best known book is the Tree Finder by May Theilgaard Watts, but there are other books in the series. We have the ones on animal tracks, wildflowers, trees in winter, and ferns.

Recently, Ordinary Spouse and I started thinking that it was time to pull out the Fern Finder (by Anne C. Hallowell and Barbara G. Hallowell). It was clear that ferns could be quite prolific at Laurelville, but we really had no sense of the diversity. So about a week ago on my day off, I spent an afternoon in the woods.

I had lingering memories of working on fern identification with Dad and only achieving mixed results. After only a little while in the woods, I remembered why. If you can’t find the reproductive structures on the fern, you’ll likely have some difficulty with the identification – at least using the guidebook that we have. By the end of the afternoon, I was getting more adept at identifying those parts.

Here are the ferns I found…

(For those of you reading this in email, I apologize if you aren’t able to see the slideshows.)

Christmas fern

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Note the sori (spore-producing structures) on the back of the blade in two of the close-ups.

Intermediate woodfern

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The sori are obvious on the back of these woodferns, as well.

New York fern

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I haven’t found examples of “fertile fronds” for New York ferns (fronds with spores, as opposed to the “sterile fronds” without), but the ferns are prolific around here, and fairly distinctive.

Ostrich Fern

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Named for the resemblance of the blade to ostrich feathers. The fertile fronds are smaller, stiff, and woody.

Interrupted fern

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Note how the reproductive parts (the dried and brown portion) “interrupts” the rest of the blade.

It’s interesting to me how the fertile portion of many of these ferns actually looks less remarkable and lush than the sterile portion. Maybe someone with more fern knowledge will provide some insight.

Broad beech fern

Broad beech frondI noticed this fern because of the odd angle of the two lowest pinnae. Also, the rachis (the stem within the blade) has “wings”.

Sensitive fern

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Those are all my fern pictures (for now – there are others yet to be identified). Here are a few more sights in the forest from the last week:

Polyphemus moth

This polyphemus moth was hanging outside my bedroom window.

Fishing spider with egg sac

Mama fishing spider was inside our house. I’m glad we got her out before that egg sac revealed its contents.

Mountain laurel in bloom

The mountain laurel are in bloom right now.

(I had to include that picture. We’re at Laurelville, after all.)

This week in the forest… Memorial Day 2013

Variety! Lots is happening in the forest this week. (Or should that be ‘Lots are…’?) The highlight of the last few days has been seeing three new warblers – birds I didn’t even know existed, but here they are in the woods around Laurelville. On Monday, just hanging out around the house…

And then last night on a walk with Ordinary Spouse…

My camera is such that I would never get good pictures of these birds, but others have generously provided images available for use:

L to R: Chestnut-sided warbler, northern waterthrush, black-and-white warbler
Image credits: Mdf, Kelly Colgan Azar, William H. Majoros

The rhododendron are pushing out new leaves now – interesting, since other trees were sending out leaves a month ago.

And here’s an eight-spotted forester for your viewing pleasure.

Eight-spotted forester

This week in the forest… 7 May 2013

What Shat That?

After Monday night’s excitement (Ursus americanus in the yard), I set out yesterday morning to look¬†for more signs of our visitor: scat, tracks, claw marks on trees, whatever. Before heading out, I consulted two books that we have for such¬†occasions: What Shat That? and Scats and Tracks of North America.

Scats and Tracks(I know… you’re wishing you had these books, too.)

Alas, no other signs were to be found (by me). The good news is that it rained yesterday and last night. I’ll go out again today to look for tracks in the mud.

Nevertheless, a walk in the woods isn’t wasted, even if you don’t find what you’re looking for. Yesterday’s highlights included…

Jack-in-the-pulpitJack-in-the-pulpit is a gem of a wildflower.

The forest floorThe forest floor is rich in diversity.

GreenRight now, the forest is so green it hurts my eyes.

Update #1 –

I forgot! We also have a red-headed woodpecker at our feeder right now. This bird is unbelievably beautiful. Unfortunately, this picture won’t do it justice.

Red-headed woodpecker

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