After that snow pounding, sure feels like winter.

So, a piece on winter’s wonders.

Unfortunately, since I still haven’t been able to tame the way multiple photos appear in a post, only one.  Working on it, working on it.

By Bob Quarteroni

‘Winter banishes man, woman and child,” William Shakespeare wrote.

And he didn’t live in Pennsylvania or he might have been even more eloquent in his description of the harsh days of winter, when the promise of spring seems impossibly far away and the warmth of summer seems like an improbable dream.

While it may not be the friendliest season, with its snow, ice, sleet, gray days and feeble sunshine, it is also a season of delicate beauty, of ethereal scenes, of lovely sights to gladden the heart of even a chilled observer.

Here, a few such winter scenes, and a sampling of winter wisdom.

  1. Waterfall

“Leisure is a form of silence, not noiselessness. It is the silence of contemplation such as occurs when we let our mind’s rest on a rose bud, a child at play, a Divine mystery, or a waterfall.” Bishop Fulton J. Sheen.

  1. Low winter sun.

Rays from a wan sun sparkle on the pristine ice of the lake at Frances Slocum State Park.

“Every winter, when the great sun has turned his face away, The earth goes down into a vale of grief, and fasts, and weeps, and shrouds herself in sables, leaving her wedding-garlands to decay — then leaps in spring to his returning kisses.” Charles Kingsley

  1. Larch trees

Geometrical precision come to life can be found in the larch trees on the Larch Hill Trail in Frances Slocum State Park in the northeastern part of the state.

“God! is the experience of looking at a tree and saying, “Ah!” Joseph Campbell

  1. Mountain winterberry.

The sparkling red berries of this deciduous holly brighten a somber winter landscape.

On the motionless branches of some trees, berries hung like clusters of coral beads, as in those fabled orchards where the fruits were jewels.” Charles Dickens

  1. Skunk cabbage.

Spring is here! The calendar may say otherwise but this hardy specimen poked its head out of the soil on Jan. 30. The heat resulting from its rapid growth actually melts ice and snow around the burgeoning plant.

“Spring is sooner recognized by plants than by men.” Chinese proverb

 

larch

 

Feeding chickadees by hand a one-ounce serving of magic

My article on hand-feeding chickadees for Harrisburg. Internet Explorer wouldn’t let me post yesterday….so it goes.

Bob Quarteroni

Colored spots of fluff with the hearts of lions and the courage of giants.Chickadees.

Brave, adventurous, curious, daring; small bodies and big attitudes; and simply delightful.

The black-capped chickadee has fascinated people as long as birds and people have shared the outdoors.

 

Its distinctive black cap and bib, white cheeks, gray back, wings and tail and whitish underside with buffy sides may first attract people’s notice.

What keeps their attention is the chickadee’s habit of investigating and examining closely everything, especially people, in its home territory.

And what makes them truly unforgettable is their sheer daring, an ounce of feathers with the mindset of an amiable dinosaur, their devil-may care bravado and sheer fun: They are happy to be alive and proud of it.

As naturalist and author Tom Brown Jr. so presciently wrote, “We learned to be patient observers like the owl. We learned cleverness from the crow, and courage from the jay, who will attack an owl ten times its size to drive it off its territory. But above all of them ranked the chickadee because of its indomitable spirit.”

I first became enamored of chickadees when, soon after I got my master’s degree in journalism from Penn State, I made a giant leap backward on the normal career track and became a bartender at the Phyrst (pronounced first), one of State College’s true cheap beer and peanut ambience bars.

I was living in a one-room cabin at Whipple’s Dam State Park ($45 a month) and installed a tray feeder outside one of my windows.

I filled it with mixed seed and the usual suspects of titmice, juncos and sparrows showed up.

When the chickadees found it they made their presence known: When they had eaten all the black oil sunflower seeds they actually started pecking on my window to get my attention: Hey, buddy, let’s get the good stuff out here and now!

To check that this was the fact I put a whole cup of sunflower seeds out and the pecking stopped. But as soon as the seeds were gone, the pecking started again: They’d hover in mid-air – which they are not able to do, learned folk say – and tap, tap, tap with their sturdy little beaks.

I remember laughing out loud in delight and then heading to the hardware store for a 25-pound bag of sunflower seed to keep them happy all winter.

My love affair with these little guys – a group is called a banditry of chickadees.; almost as good as a murder of crows, a congress of owls or a convocation of eagles – resumed after decades away, in Florida, upstate New York, northern New Jersey and other strange climes.

Buying a house. 0.7 of a mile from where I grew up, I had the free time and ability to crank up my love of nature and time spent afield, trying to slightly lift nature’s mysterious skirts.

My center of operations became Frances Slocum State Park, as it apparently did for the local chickadees, so a rendezvous was inevitable.

Some kind soul regularly patrolled the lake’s perimeter and left a scoop of sunflower seeds on top of every other wooden guard rail and would do this regularly all winter long, bless his generous soul.

Always one to take advantage of anyone’s kindness, I knew this regular feeding would saddle the banditry with a serious sunflower Jones, and an aching emptiness when the guard rails stood barren, between visits.

An emptiness I was only too happy to fill.

So armed with a Ziploc bag of sunflower seeds I went to the first bramble patch — where they were apparently having a loud family feud — filled my hand with seed and stuck it out.

A moment of silence. Then the aerial dance began as they started darting around, up, down, sideways, trying to figure out why the seeds weren’t on the guardrails where they were supposed to be and instead were in what could be a pink trap.

This went on for a couple of minutes and just as I was about to move, one brave little lad zoomed over, clasped a finger, grabbed a seed, let out a cry and took off.

It was magic. The strength of his little claws, the feeling of a living thing crossing an invisible barrier to accept my offer, the wonder of the moment. I was beyond moved.

What a gift, what a treasure was handed me. I still thrill thinking about that first brave little soul.

After that, as they got more and more used to me, more would come rocketing over to get the seeds, at times two almost colliding in mid-air to get there first.

Not all, of course, not even most, but the bravest, the least fearful would come back again and again, and every time I would feel such an intense joy, a happiness that only the unexpected grace of the natural world can provide.

And feeding time is just about here again. Time to go hang with the bandits, and feel that rush when a brave little bundle of improbability takes a chance and accepts what I offer.

I may feed their little tummies but they return that a thousand-fold by filling my soul with their priceless food of a gift magically offered and gratefully accepted.

A divine gift freely given. As Emily Dickinson said, “I hope you love birds too. It is economical. It saves going to heaven.”

 

chickadee-800x4631

Burning Bush: Fall’s best colorist

 

I love the way euonymus looks in the fall, in an otherwise drear landscape. As you walk along you can see them beckoning from a long way away, especially when the pink leaves are at their achingly lovely best.

And the bi-colored fruit looks like the tree was shot with a candy gun, especially when they are as numerous as they were on this tree.

And the corky, winged branches never fail to fascinate. Always wonder what the evolutionary advantage of that is.

Bright fruit of winged euonymus.

winged euonymus Celastraceae Euonymusalatus (Thunb.)
Leaf: Opposite (or partly sub-opposite), simple, elliptical to obovate, 1 1/2 to 3 inches long, finely serrated margin, green above, slightly paler beneath, turns bright red in the fall.

Flower: Perfect, inconspicuous, pale, yellow-green, 1/2 inch across, occur in clusters of three, appear in late spring.

Fruit: A 1/4 to 1/3 inch capsule, dark red outside, splitting open to reveal a bright orange-red aril, ripen in early fall.

Twig: Moderate, greenish brown with several conspicuous corky wings on each stem; buds sharp pointed and reddish brown.

Bark: Gray to gray-brown, splitting revealing a lighter inner bark causing it to look faintly striped.

Form: A multi-stemmed shrub rising to 10 feet, rounded crown unless trimmed. winged

 

 

‘Old man’s beard’ rubs a lot of plants the wrong way; and a grouse with issues

clematisThe “old man’s beard” or “traveler’s joy” of clematis, still pretty in it’s dotage.
You do learn something every day. I just found out this was considered invasive. When I think of how widespread it is it makes sense, just never occurred to me.

This was photographed at Frances Slocum. In the continuing weird saga of wild animals seeming to forget to be afraid of me — following the Kirby Park woodchuck and the duck under my bench at Frances Slocum, a grouse sat not five feet away while I shot this, and I was there for a couple of minutes at least, and it never appeared ruffled. Something weird is going on here.
Old man’s beard

Botanical Name

Clematis vitalba

Family

Ranunculaceae (buttercup) family

Also known as

travellers’ joy, wild clematis

Where is it originally from?

Europe, South West Asia

What does it look like?
Deciduous, climbing, layering vine to 20 m tall with very long, woody stems with six prominent ribs (appear as furrows in older vines) and pale, easily rubbed-off bark. Leaves are arranged in opposite pairs on the stems, and are made up of five (rarely three) widely spaced leaflets that fall in autumn. Thin, papery leaftlets are sparsely hairy and have bluntly toothed or smooth edges. Creamy white, fragrant flowers (2-3 cm diameter) produced from December to May, followed by grey, hairy seeds (2-3 mm long) with distinctive white plumes (3-4 cm long) in dense, fluffy clusters persisting over winter (hence the ‘old man’s beard’). Native clematis usually has 3 leaflets per stem, smooth stems, and is evergreen.
Are there any similar species?
Native Clematis species, C. paniculata is a hardy climber with large white flowers, C. marata scrambles through shrubs with small yellow flowers, C. foetida has strong lemon-scented flowers. The native jasmine, Parsonsia capularis, is also lovely. Note all native clematis species are evergreen, have 3 leaflets (except the leafless C. afoliata), unfurrowed stems, and flower from August to December. All exotic species that are found in the wild are deciduous and flower from December to May (except the occasionally weedy, pink-flowered C. montana which flowers from October to December).
Why is it weedy?
Grows rapidly, forming dense, heavy, masses that dominate canopy of any height. Stems layer profusely, and it produces many long-lived seeds if exposed to frost. Tolerant of cold, moderate shade, damp, wind, salt, most soil types, and damage.
How does it spread?
Seed is spread by water or wind, and both seed and stem fragments are spread in dumped vegetation. Common sources are forests, roadsides, hedgerows, vacant land, and willow swamps.
What damage does it do?
Smothers and kills all plants to the highest canopy, and prevents the establishment of native plant seedlings. Moves readily into established forest over canopy and by layering.
Which habitats is it likely to invade?
Disturbed and open forest and forest margins, shrublands, riverbeds, cliffs, bush tracks, fernland, and tussockland.
What can I do to get rid of it?

Turkey tail: May be last lonely photo

Hurrah.  Just got my Word Press: The Missing Manual from Amazon and maybe now, finally, I can find out how to stop those stupid headline breaks and how to place photos where I want them in a post.

That would mean yesterday’s jaunt, where I got photos of winged euonymus fruit and dainty pink leaves, tussock sedge, common greenshield lichen, etc. would all be included

(If I try it now the pics and text keeps flying all over the place and it’s a mess).

So our single photo today is of a small, petite turkey tail fungus.

Small — but pretty — turkey tail fungus.

Trametes versicolor, often called the “turkey tail,” has the dubious distinction of being the only member of the forest fungal fowl community not named for the full bird, but a feathery fraction. However, the chicken of the woods and the hen of the woods look nothing at all like chickens or hens, while the turkey tail does look (vaguely) like a turkey’s tail. Who started this clucking menagerie of mushroom monikers, anyway? Was Old MacDonald a mycologist?

  1. Trametes versicolor is one of the most comturkey tail fungusmon mushrooms in North American woods, found virtually anywhere there are dead hardwood logs and stumps to decompose—and, occasionally, on conifer wood too. Its cap colors are extremely variable, but tend to stay in the buff, brown, cinnamon, and reddish brown range. The mushrooms are strikingly “zonate” with sharply contrasting concentric zones of color, and the surface of the cap is finely fuzzy or velvety. Often the zones represent contrasts in texture as well as color, so that fuzzy zones alternate with smoother ones.

A number of similar polypores, and even a few species of crust fungi, look more or less identical to the casual eye, and a whole host of mushrooms are thus lumped together as “turkey tails” by collectors who are more interested in gilled mushrooms and boletes. But if you are one of those folks, like

 

 

 

Wild Bergamot in winter

Wild Bergamot — or wild bee-balm — in winter. In the back of Frances Slocum, off Green Road, there is a pasture alive with these.

 

Round cluster 1 to 2 inches across of tubular flowers, solitary at the end of branching stems arising from leaf axils. Color ranges from purple to lavender to pink, rarely white. Individual flowers have a ¼-inch wide curved lower lip and a thin straight upper lip. The upper lip has a tuft of white hairs at the tip, the lower is hairy on the underside and lobed with a short rectangular extension at the tip that is notched in 2 parts. 2 brown-tipped stamens extend beyond the tip of the upper lip. A tubular calyx holds each flower.

Leaves and stem: Leaf attachment: opposite Leaf type: simple

Leaves are coarsely toothed, 1 tobergamot 4 inches long and up to 1½ inches wide, rounded at the leaf base and tapering to a point at the tip, on leaf stalks up to 5/8 inch long. Leaves are hairy underneath and smooth or hairy on the upper surface. Attachment is opposite. The stem is a reddish brown color, square, and hairy to varying degrees.

Fruit: Fruit type: seed without plume

The flowers drop off leaving the calyxes behind. Seed develops inside the calyx. The head turns dark brown as the seed ripens.

Seed is smooth, brown, oval, and just over 1 millimeter long.

Notes:
There are 2 varieties of Wild Bergamot, var. fistulosa, very common throughout the state, and var. menthaefolia, a more western species found in only a few counties. The latter is a shorter, little branched plant with leaf stalks that are rarely over 3/8 inch long, but is otherwise very similar. Wild Bergamot is one of my favorite flowers. In full bloom, the flower head looks like a little fireworks display. It is an excellent garden plant. The dried leaves and flower heads are wonderfully aromatic; Bergamot oils have been used in natural healing for centuries

Common Buckthorn seems to be expanding along the Susquehanna River

If you go down by the Susquehanna River you can see just how extensive the buckthorn invasion is, since most other trees have dropped their leaves but buckthorn hasn’t, so you can see the extent of their hold.  They look harmless  but they are not. Here’s a nice summary from Wisconsin:

Common buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica)

Tall understory shrub or small tree up to 20-25’ tall, often with several stems arising from the base, and spreading crown. Gray to brown bark with prominent light-colored lenticels. (Caution: native plums and cherries have a similar bark). Plants are either male or female. Cut bark exposes yellow sapwood and orange heartwood. Twigs often end in stout thorns.

Overview

Regulated areas of common buckthorn
Common buckthorn is Restricted (Orange counties)

Other names for this plant include:

  • Common names: Carolina buckthorn, European buckthorn

Ecological threat:

  • Invades oak forests, riparian woods, savannas, prairies, old fields, and roadsides. It thrives particularly on well-drained soils.
  • Common buckthorn has a broad environmental tolerance. It leafs out very early and retains its leaves late into the growing season, giving them a longer growing season than native plants.
  • Creates dense shade, eliminating regeneration of tree seedlings and understory species.
  • Allelopathic; produces chemical compounds that inhibit the growth of other vegetation.

Classification in Wisconsin: Restrictedbuckthorn