Change is in the air. Stepping out the door this morning, I was immediately treated to the sight of wet mammal tracks on the deck.
The hand-like shape was hardly a surprise since at least two raccoons visit the bird feeders on their nightly rounds.
My next source of delight–frost embracing wintergreen berries and leaves.
And then I paid my respects to the vernal pool. While there, I spent some time reflecting on Bridie McGreavy, who celebrates her birth this day, and many moons ago introduced me to the sacredness of place–especially this delicate space.
Feather ice formed after yesterday’s melt and last night’s cooler temps.
As I did last year, I intend to document the pool on a regular basis–noting its evolution over time. This year’s big question: Will Big Night happen earlier than normal? I’m already receiving reports from others of spring peepers singing their songs.
And then I was off to the GLLT’s Back Pond Reserve in Stoneham. My friend, Parker, and I were on a quest to locate species that would be good indicators of rich soils. He’s much better at knowing about this than I am, so I tagged along–thankful for the opportunity to bushwhack beside the stream that eventually flows into Back Pond while learning from him.
We found a dead tree that stymied us for a few minutes, but though it has some ash-like tendencies, we came to the conclusion that it was a basswood–one of those indicators we were seeking.
Only thing–during our entire search, we only found two.
But that’s OK because there was so much more to see. Though I’ve spotted other bear trees in these woods, this one features the best sign. My guy will be jealous that he wasn’t with us to find this one.
For many of us, Parker is our fungi guru. He and his brother became interested in mushrooms at a young age and have studied them extensively. They know only Latin, I speak only common. And so, I present to you crowded parchment (Stereum rameale).
Hemlock varnish shelf (Ganoderma tsugae) grows prolifically in these woods. These old fruiting bodies are still beautiful in their offering.
And though it didn’t get dark while we were there, Parker found Panellus stipticus, a bioluminescent species. Check out those gills on the underside. According to Lawrence Millman in his book Fascinating Fungi of New England, ” . . . specimens in the Northeast glow more obviously than specimens in other parts of North America.” So if you are ever in these woods late at night, don’t be freaked out by a light greenish glow. It just might be nature’s night light.
The fun thing about exploring with Parker is that he’s not afraid to say, “I don’t know.” Such was the case with this magenta fungus we found on the inner bark of a rotting stump.
I don’t know why I’m surprised every time I see two trees sharing a space,but I am–this time hemlock and hop hornbeam.
We continued beside the stream for most of our climb and eventually came upon the trail that connects Ron’s Loop to The Mountain.
A few things stopped us along the way, including this lichen that neither of us could conclusively identify,
what I believe is peppered rock tripe,
and the glorious bright green state of lungwort. The thing that gave us pause about the lungwort wasn’t so much the lungwort as the lichen and moss garden that also decorated this tree.
And then we were literally stopped by water. Our intention to reach the scenic view over the Five Kezars was prevented by this boggy area. A vernal pool?
Certainly a wetland. We explored for a few minutes and wondered about the species that will appear here in the next few months.
Then we returned to the stream, crossed over and paid a visit to the boulder field for a closer examination.
Like the lungwort, much of the rock tripe was also green today–a testimony to recent rain and yesterday’s hail.
Two things to note–how it grows from the center umbilicus, like an umbilical cord, thus its Latin name: Umbilicaria mammulata; and the fact that it’s creating a garden on the up-rock side, where mosses and humus and seeds gather.
I found a drier brown specimen that had captured several drops of water and held them still.
Upon our decent, we stumbled upon a redback salamander–the first of the season for both of us. It seemed rather lethargic so we covered it with leaves and wished it a safe life. Redbacks are terrestrial and don’t have an association with vernal pools, though they are sometimes spotted on Big Night as we help the salamanders cross the road.
A mossy display on several rocks in a seepage meant we had to pause again.
We believe this is rose moss (Rhodobryum ontariense), but our ID was quick.
Based on the description in Common Mosses of the Northeast and Appalachians, “the shield-shaped leaves are widest above mid leaf and end in needle point.” Yup.
And then we realized we have to get our wildflower eyes back on. The wood sorrel (Oxalis montana) leaves stumped us initially, but what else could it be?
Other than a luna moth, that is! Doesn’t it remind you of one?
Without a flower, it’s difficult to ID a plant. My first choice: Foamflower or False Miterwort (Tiarella cordifolia), but my second choice based on the blunt-toothed leaves: Naked Miterwort (Mitella nuda). Time . . . and blossoms will tell.
Our final find of the day left us with differing opinions. I said shinleaf (Pyrola elliptic). Parker said Corallorhiza maculate, which is a coralroot. A friend of his who is an orchid expert agreed. I guess we’ll have to revisit this place to confirm.
We’re on the verge of change and the seasons may collide with a Nor’easter in the offing.