Fungi Fanatic

I only set out to find the varieties mentioned in Donald Stokes’ A Guide to Nature in Winter.  I found most of those.  And now I keep finding more!  Yesterday, I spent most of the daylight hours in Chautauqua Gorge.  While my eye was drawn by many things, most of my photos were of fungi… again…

Witch's ButterThis one is called “Witch’s Butter.”  It is a jelly fungus, which is strange because even though it looks gelatinous, it is hard to the touch.  I was really excited when I found some at Audubon a few days ago because I had never seen it before.  (Or at least, never noticed it before…)  At the gorge, it was everywhere!

FungusIn a couple of places I found colonies like this.  They look like mini puffballs.  I have no idea what they actually are.

Fungus Closeup

One of my favorite finds was a Tinder Polypore pair.  I had reported in a previous post that because the bracket fungi orient themselves according to gravity, you can sometimes find individuals that are positioned at right angles to one another.  One appeared when the tree was upright, the other after the tree fell.  Well, I found one!  And here it is:

Fomes Fomentarius

I’m just so fascinated at the wide variety of fungi you can find… IN WINTER!  Why did I never notice it before? 

Tomorrow, I’ll post some of the amazing ice pictures I took.  (And I only got a little damp taking them… )

P.S.  Have a safe and fun New Year’s Eve Celebration!

Colors of Winter

We haven’t had a lot of snow yet… We get a bunch, then it melts, then a dusting, then it melts…  That’s OK…  Lets me enjoy the incredible colors of winter before the snow comes and buries them…

Some bold…

Colorful Fungus on Log

Bright Orange Bracket Fungus

Some even bolder…

Orange Fungi on Elm

Orange Fungi on Elm Closeup

Some more subtle…

Yellow-Orange Bracket Fungus on Branch

Bracket Fungus - Closeup

And to think… all this color because one organism dies to give life to another…


Daedelus was an Athenian architect who built a labyrinth for King Minos to imprison the offspring of his wife and a white bull – the Minotaur (half human, half bull).  It’s a complicated story.  You can read it here.  I mention Daedelus for the sake of two fungus species that are named in his honor – two whose undersides are labyrinthal.  (And as long as we’re talking about religion, imagine my surprise when I googled “labyrinthal” to see (a) if it is a real word and (b) if so, how to spell it… and I found an ad for a religion!  I don’t know how often the ads change on the Free Dictionary… the ad I’m talking about is gone now.  But when I put this link here, one of the ads for the word labyrinthal was the UUA.  Go UUs!  They seem to be advertising everywhere these days!  Did you see them in Time Magazine?)  OK… Back to Fungi:

Daedalia confragosaDisclaimer:  I’m no mycologist.  I’m basing my identification on a couple of line drawings and word descriptions in Donald Stokes’ A Guide to Nature in Winter.  So please!!!  If you see I’ve misidentified something here, tell me!  But I think I have the two common species of Daedalia mentioned in his book.  See if you agree.

Daedalia confragosa undersideDaedalia confragosa is “fairly thin, corky, and speckled brown on top.”  The underside is “partly gilled and partly mazelike, or all mazelike” with partitions that are “as thin as paper, presenting a delicate and intricate pattern.”  I found mine on a fallen tree.  You might think that would have made the underside easy to photograph… but no!  The tree fell right over a puddle, which on this particular day was not completely frozen.  I had to stand in water over my ankles to get the picture you see here.  Oh the sacrifices I make for you, my reader…  hahahaha

Daedalia quercinaI’m guessing this one is Daedalia quercina.  Stokes reports that this variety is “heavier-set” and that when young, it is stark white turning brown or black with age.  The partitions underneath are thicker than paper and the pattern is “less intricate and more simple and bold.”

Daedalia quercina underside

I also found this information from Stokes’ guide interesting:  Bracket fungi are sometimes divided into to two groups depending on which parts of the wood they “digest”.  D. confragosa is in the group that produces “White Rot” by dissolving mainly the lignin from the cell walls.  This leaves the wood white, spongy, and fibrous.  D. quercina produces “Brown Rot,” also known as “Dry Rot,” by dissolving only the cellulose, leaving the wood brown and crumbly, often breaking into small cubes.

I know what you’re thinking:  you’ve seen trees in both states of decomposition, haven’t you?  Now you know why!

And hey, by the way… if you were going to advertise in the Free Dictionary, next to what word would you want your ad to appear?

Crystalline Morning

I went out yesterday with the intention of taking more photos of fungi.  I got sidetracked.  (That happens often… I’ve written of this before.)

hoar·frost (hôrfrôst) n. Frozen dew that forms a white coating on a surface. Also called white frost.  (source)

Frosty WeedsThe sun played hide and seek through a broken bank of clouds in the southern sky.  Breakthrough moments when the sun hit crystals of ice were breathtaking.

Frosty Fruits

The thermometer claimed it was colder than my last walk in these woods.  There was some proof:  Puddles were frozen all the way to the bottom.  The snow was powdery, not melty.  And, of course, the rime.

Still… I felt warmer.  There was no wind.  The warmth of intermittant rays from a distant sun may have been purely psychological.  Still… my gloves stayed in my pockets most of the time.  Even the chickadees were fooled into making their springtime fee-bee song.

Frosty RushesI took a lot of photos near these frosty rushes while Lolli dug a hole.  She’d still be digging now if I hadn’t finally gotten my fill of ice covered everything in and around the puddle.

A woodpecker drummed nearby… but never let us have a glimpse.  Crows mobbed a hawk or owl in the distance.

Frosty HipsMy friend Norbert blogged about what great weather he had for Christmas in sunny southern California.  A crystalline morning like this I wouldn’t trade for the world!

Frosty Fungus

Kingdom of the ‘Shroom

Bracket Fungi ColonyWhen I took Biology in the 1970s, there were only two kingdoms:  Plants and Animals.  When my daughters took biology only a few years back, there were five.  My nephew’s biology class was more recent and he claims there are six.  Tune in tomorrow:  there may be more!

Back in the Plant/Animal days, fungi were a conundrum. In some ways they act like plants.  Spores are similar to seeds, carrying the DNA that will produce new organisms, sending out root-like hyphae that eventually sprout a fruiting body that produces more spores.  Very plantlike, yet they lack chlorophyll.  They cannot make their own food, rather they rely on organic material – living and/or dead – to provide energy and nutrients – rather like an animal that eats other organisms for the same reason.  I guess that conundrum is why Fungi is now a kingdom of its own.

Bright Orange Bracket FungusRegardless of what box you put it in, fungi plays an important role in our world.  Without it, organic matter in the forest would pile up endlessly.  Fungi produce enzymes that digest organic material releasing the stored up nutrients, recycling the dead back to soil.  Trees die, but are teaming with life until the nutrients are released.  From the new soil life springs forth and the cycle begins again.

When you walk the woods in winter, you can see many species of fungi – mostly bracket fungi attached to branches and trunks.  Unlike the mushrooms that sprout on the forest floor in summer and fall whose delicate tissues last only a day or two, bracket fungi tend to have tougher surfaces that last long and can withstand the cold.  Some are perennial and put on growth rings like their tree hosts.  I spent a couple of hours in the woods behind Bergman Park on a wintery day in late December and was astounded by the number of species I found.  Most of them I could not identify… I haven’t delved into mycology.  Yet.  However… the more I read, the more interested I become.

Camouflaged FungusI almost walked right past a Tinder Polypore, so camouflaged against birch bark it was.  There were a couple of yellow birch neighbors, both sporting several hoof-shaped fungi.   The underside of these hard, woody structures are chocolate brown and covered with small pores from which spores are released.

Fomes fomentarius Underside

Tinder Polypore (Fomes fomentarius) deserves a whole website of its own.  Luckily, someone else has already written it!  Check out some of the information on Tom Volk’s site… including use of this fungus for tinder (by The Iceman!), crafts, and a variety of medicinal purposes.  Fascinating.

Some Bracket Fungi have gills underneathThe undersides of the bracket fungi are quite interesting.  (So were the postures I had to assume while photographing them, since I opted not to remove them from the trunks, branches and logs on which I found them.)  Many, like the Tinder Polypore, have tiny pores.  Others are smooth.  Some have gills or teeth.

Polyporus tulipiferae 1Polyporus tulipiferae is a pretty, creamy-white fungus with bristle-like teeth below.  By the way, most of the fungi have no common names.  Also by the way, there is another Latin name for this one: Irpex lacteus.  Some websites say “Polyporus tulipferae (formerly Irpex lacteus)” while others say “Irpex lacteus (formerly Polyporus tulipferae)”.  I don’t know the current accepted name.  Either way, you’ll notice in my photo that the “teeth” are pointing toward the left side of the frame.  Normally, the “underside” of bracket fungus are parallel with the ground.  I found this colony on a trunk that had fallen recently.  Since bracket fungi orient themselves according to gravitational pull, I’m looking forward to going back to this log to observe a reorientation of the fruiting bodies.  I suspect, these, having soft bodies, will disappear and new “fruits” will appear that are oriented toward the ground.  (If you go to Tom Volk’s website (referenced above), you’ll see a photo of two Tinder Polypores, side-by-side, at right angles to each other.)

Bracket Fungi on Log

I got Bernd Heinrich’s The Trees in my Forest for Christmas.  In a chapter called “Of Birds, Trees, and Fungi” he notes his observation that on any individual tree, he never sees more than one type of fungus.  I found two individuals that seemed to contradict his observation… But then, maybe the fungus changes over time to look different…  So much to learn…

OK… this post is getting altogether too long.  I can’t believe you are still reading it.  I have more ‘shrooms to tell you about…  But I’ll save them for another day!  Besides, there’s good light out there right now.  I think I’ll grab my camera and head for the woods.  You should, too!

What IS this stuff?

Cherry GooI often find gooey blobs of stuff oozing out of the trunk of Black Cherry (Prunus serotina).  Usually, there is just one blob here or there.  Yesterday, I found a couple of trees that were oozing all over the place!  Very strange.  I’m not sure if they were living trees or dead.

When I got closer, I found one glob that had visitors – a seed on its parachute, and a bug… or maybe must the exoskeleton of a bug…  You must click on this photo and go look at the larger version.  It’s pretty cool.  Reminded me of amber with ancient critters locked inside…  But this one had escaped!


Visitors to Cherry GooIf anybody has any clues about why cherry trees do this and is the tree alive or dead? and… well… any information… I’d appreciate it!


Last Day of Autumn

I just felt like a needed a long walk on this, the last day of Autumn 2007.  I put the 500mm lens on the camera – the one Norm Karp loaned me.  I hadn’t gone but a few yards down the trail when a hawk flew by and landed in a tree.  I snapped a few shots… then it took off.  I followed it and snapped a few more.  None of the shots came out particularly well…  but good enough that I think it’s a Cooper’s Hawk.  What do you think?

Hawk2 Hawk1

Winterberry HollyI also took a picture of this Winterberry Holly using the long lens.  I’m afraid I just can’t get very consistent results with it.  I don’t think I’ll be looking for one like this!  I switched back to my kit lens and sometimes added the 10X closeup lens and had a lot more fun.

Forever Bridge


Here is the “Forever Bridge”.  That’s what my daughters dubbed it once when they were very young and I made them cross-country ski across it on a windy, cold day.

And here’s a harvestman that was actually crawling on top of the snow:

Harvestman on Ice

It was a very pretty day for a walk.  Tomorrow is officially winter… and the daylight returns.  Whatever holiday you celebrate at this time of year, may yours be joyous and nature-filled!  Blessings to you!

Nature Conspires…

(All of the pictures for this post come from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website.  If you click on one of the pictures, you will go to the source.)

I’ve written many times before about what a reluctant birder I am.  In particular, I’ve mentioned that I don’t know my hawks very well.  It seems this past week, nature is conspiring to help me learn a few…  We’ve had several visitors – right in the backyard perfectly visible from our office windows.

Red-shouldered Hawk - CornellPatrick called me to his office, handed me a pair of binoculars and began describing the location of a hawk.  Red-shouldered.  So pretty.  This picture from Cornell really doesn’t do the bird justice – at least not the one I saw!  The breast was so rusty red – the colors actually resembled those of an American Robin.

I don’t keep a life list, but I believe this is the first time I ever saw a red-shouldered hawk.  At least it is the first time I was aware that was what I was seeing!

Yesterday, after taking Dennis Webster on a walk-about (our interview will be on WJTN AM1240 later this month), I was at the back of the building where our bird feeders are.  As I stood close to the big picture window, I was buzzed by a Sharp-shinned Hawk.  Sharp-shinned Hawk - CornellNow mind you… I was still outside.  This hawk was literally almost in my face!

Whenever you put out birdfeeders, you feed seed-eating birds, of course… but you also feed birds of prey.  This Sharpie was trying to catch a snack…  He missed this time, but there have been plenty of times when the visiting hawks snag a poor unsuspecting jay or dove.

A similar, but larger hawk visited this week, too…  A Cooper’s Hawk, immature.

Cooper's Hawk Immature - Cornell



This fellow (well… one that looked like this) sat for a good long time in a tree outside our office window.  My co-workers, who are all better birders than I, were patient with me.  They didn’t tell me what I was seeing, but asked leading questions that helped me figure it out on my own using my trusty Sibley’s guide.  (Thanks guys!  This is my favorite way to learn… through coaching!)

Red-tailed Hawk Juvenile - CornellA fourth hawk was added to the list this morning.  When I drove into the driveway, two large birds were just above me.  One headed east and disappeared, but the other circled around the driveway and landed in a tree just above where I would eventually park my car.

Sarah and I had both arrived at about the same time.  We sat in our cars for some time watching this bird.  It is often hard to tell a species when you are looking at a juvenile, but with Red-tailed hawks, the belly-band is a key mark.  The individual we watched didn’t seem concerned with our presence and sat quite comfortably on the branch for a long time.  It even tucked one of its feet up, fluffed up its feathers, and seemed to settle in.  I grew impatient, though, and the slam of my car door sent it flying.

Four hawks in four days…  One more day of work tomorrow… Will I see a fifth hawk?  If so, what will it be, do you suppose?

P.S.  Am I becoming a birder?