Hawks and Geese

Have you ever been so focused on something that the rest of the world disappeared?  Time evaporated.  Your surroundings ceased to exist.  Nothing else mattered.

Two Geese and a Red-tailed hawkSo it must be for predators stalking prey.  Rodent on the roadside means food.  Food means survival.  Focus on it.  Ignore the oncoming cars.

Yesterday, Tom brought a Red-tailed Hawk to the center for release.  It had been hit by a car on Sunday and remained under Tom’s fatherly observation and care overnight.  In the morning, the vet checked it out and pronounced it ready for release.

The hawk disagreed.  It attempted flight a couple of times, but eventually succumbed to re-capture.  Tom will keep an eye on it, offer more food, and try again on another day.  Or perhaps he will have to find a rehabilitator who will take another hawk.

At Audubon, we often hear of raptors getting injured along the roads.  Roadways are pretty good habitat for hawks to hunt.  Mowed medians and roadsides provide food and shelter for rodents which make up a high percentage of the Red-tailed’s diet.  It’s no wonder that we see so many hawks in trees as we drive.  Take a short trip on the New York State Thruway and you will think there’s a hawk convention going on!

Two GeeseCompare the single-minded focus of a bird of prey with the seemingly random behavior of an herbivore… a Canada Goose for example.  Of course the two geese who have taken up residence in Audubon’s backyard are nearly domesticated I suppose.  Still, they retain some element of their wild relatives.  (Neither can fly.  One is overwintering a second time, the other is a new arrival – as of fall.)  When it comes to food, these two seem to expend little effort.  They dive for pond plants, nibble grasses when the snow melts, and clean up spilled seed under the bird feeders.  Then they seem to take joy in swimming, diving, splashing…  There must be joy in rising on a thermal, too…  but it doesn’t seem as playful as splashing.

I suppose metaphors are to be made.  No, I’m not implying that vegetarians are more playful than meat-eaters.  I was thinking that sometimes my approach to a task is hawk-like, and other times I’m quite the goose.  Four hours disappeared in the blink of an eye the other day when I was working on my winter fungus book… and I got a lot done!  I never have that kind of focus on… say… house cleaning.  It goes more like this:  “A magazine belongs in the magazine rack.  Wait, I haven’t read this one yet.  Oh let’s just take a few minutes to flip through it…  or read it cover-to-cover…”  An hour is gone in the blink of an eye and not one bit of house cleaning is done.  What a goose!

Some people I know are mostly hawks… serious, single-minded.  Others are geese, dabbling here, dabbling there.  Some can ease between modes seamlessly.

Today, right this moment:  are you a hawk or a goose?

Why I Love Flickr – Revisited

Orange Fungi on ElmI wrote a couple of days ago (or was it only yesterday?) about how Jayne got me started working on a book.  In doing research for it… cuz I wanted to list the names of all the species… I found myself stumped by one of the fungi.  Once again, I turned to Flickr.com’s ID Please group.

It wasn’t long before “Rhizopogon” answered my question:

Velvet Stem Flammulina velutipes

I was skeptical at first.  None of the websites I visited seemed to have pictures at all resembling my specimen.  The more I read, though, the more convinced I became.

Orange Fungi on Elm CloseupTom Volk lists Winter Mushroom and Velvet Foot as additional common names.  Michael Kuo must have been feeling a little punchy when he listed my favorite common name:  “At Least Something’s Out in January Mushroom.”

It seems this ‘shroom can be either saprobic or parasitic:  it can be found on dead wood or living trees.  It is particulary fond of elm, which is where I found it.

Enoki Mushrooms - borrowed from Michael Kuo's Article... Click me to read it.Get ready for the most fascinating thing I learned:  I’ve eaten this ‘shroom, though it looked NOTHING like the above pictures when I did.  Have you ever had a Japanese dish, such as Sukiyaki, that has clusters of long-stemmed white mushrooms with small button caps on top?  Cooks call them Enoki mushrooms.  Well… it’s the same species!

When cultivated in jars in the dark, the stems continue to elongate as the organism tries to find a way out into the open where spores can be released.

Flammulina velutipes by Tom Volk - Click on me to go to his article...I borrowed the Enoki photo above from Michael Kuo’s site.  Be sure to click on it and read Michael’s article – especially the part about attempting to cultivate Enoki in space.  I love a fellow cynic.  The photo at left from Tom Volk’s site shows a colony where the bark is peeled away.  Notice the enoki-like, long-stemmed, pale mushrooms growing below the orange fruits that have found their way out into the world.

WARNING:  It is VERY important that if you decide you want to eat this mushroom you get the cultivated variety from the grocery store!  There is another species (Galerina autumnalis) that is very like this and has been reported growing side by side with this.  Galerina autumnalis is highly toxic!!!!

People ask me all the time how I know so much about nature.  It’s really quite simple.  This is how it happens… I snap a picture.  I ask a question.  The answer leads me to read and surf the ‘net… Suddenly, I know something I didn’t know before.

Thanks to Rhizopogon for pointing me in the right direction for this identification!

Ain’t life fascinating?

Cross Country Skiing

Two SkiersI don’t think I went skiing even once last year.  I had fallen in love with the snow shoes so my poor skis sat lonely in the garage.  Today, I ended the skiing hiatus with a lovely outing at Camp Timbercrest with my eldest daughter.

Lolli was quite delighted to be asked to join us.  I think for every mile we travelled, she travelled three.  Take a look at my shadow…  Emily Took This Picture of MeActually… take a look at all the doggie footprints ahead of me in the trail…  Those are all Lolli’s.  She absolutely BOUNDS through the snow… she loves it.

Here’s a little opportunity to have a laugh at Emily’s expense:

I've Fallen and I Can't Get Up 1

I've Fallen and I Can't Get Up 2

I've Fallen and I Can't Get Up 3

It was such a pretty day.  We had a blast skiing on pristine snow.  This weekend, the camp will be FULL of Girl Scouts trampling the snow everywhere: sliding, hiking, skiing, and generally having a great time.  I think we timed our ski trip well.

It’s all Jayne’s Fault

Jayne's BookcoverJayne posted a picture of the cover of the book she recently self-published.  The picture had a link to where we can buy her book, which also tells how you, too, can download software and make your own book.

So I did it.  And now, it consumes me!  I’m making a book, too.  Mine will be about all these winter fungi I’ve been obsessed by.

The software is pretty intuitive and easy to use.  Pick a size and design.  Click inside text boxes and type.  Drag your photos into “containers.”  You are limited to the templates provided by Blurb and Blurb retains copyright to the layout and design.  You retain copyright to the content.  Once you are done, you publish it onto the Blurb site where you can direct your friends to buy your book (or where you can order copies of your own book to give away or keep…)

Booksmart Screen Print

I’m sure there are other book publishing tools out there.  This is the first one I’ve tried and so far, I like it.  I’ll let you know if I ever finish this project…  There are a couple of fungi I have yet to identify and I’d like to before I go to print!

I “blame” you, Jayne.  But I thank you, too.  This is an awful lot of fun!

Photoshop Tip

My friend Dave Cooney has given me several good tips for making better winter shots.  Once is to set the camera to overexpose a bit to make the snow whiter.  (Digital cameras have a tendency to make choices that turn the snow gray…)  He also gave me a good Photoshop tip that I used to fix a winter shot from last year… before I knew to set the exposure compensation.

 Here is the original:
Dark Dances with Turkeys

And here is the correction:
Turkey Prints and Snowshoes

Make the correction under “Image->Adjustment->Shadow/Highlights”…  Photoshop makes a guess at what it thinks you want… but there are sliders you can mess with to fine-tune it.

Where in the Blue Blazes Have You Been?

So, what do you do when the thermometer says 18 and the weatherman is crying, “Lake Effect Snow Warning!”  I go hiking, of course!  My friend Terry and I took the dogs to the Red House entrance at Allegany State Park yesterday.  Just inside the entrance, we scooted off to the right up Bay State Road.  When you get past the village of Red House, this road is closed in winter (read “used by snowmobiles and people with 4-wheel drive trucks”).  We drove up to the bridge, parked, and started walking.  After hiking about a mile, the snow started.  There was already a bit of snow on the ground in the park:

Lake Effect - Finally

The mile of hiking along the road to this open field is through woods, mostly, with a beaver dam or two off to the right.  Once you get to this field, there is a road that leads up a very steep hill and connects to the Eastwood Meadows trail (#17 on the official park trail map).  We hiked partway up this hill, then stopped to rest.  When we turned we saw one of the most beautiful vistas of the rolling Allegany hills I’ve about ever seen.  Unfortunately… I was feeling too winded and lazy to get my camera out of my backpack knowing more of the hill was ahead of us.  Plus, I figured we would head down this mountain later and I could snap a photo then…  Wrong!  We came back a different route…

Speaking of vistas, just so you know…  The steepest part of the road up to trail #17 goes through a stand of fairly young trees.  The part on the official trail map that says you will have an incredible view is a lie… because the trees now block that view.  Darn that Nature… always changing on you!

Terry - Coffee Break TimeAt the top of the hill, we decided it was coffee break time.  Here’s Terry, reaching in his backpack for the thermos.  Notice the perfectly lovely tree against which he is leaning.

As we sipped coffee and rested, we kept hearing loud creaking and cracking.  Here’s why:

Creakin' Crackin' Branches


I suspect that right branch, all rotted and cracked, will not be there the next time I hike this trail…  I’m glad it didn’t come crashing down while we rested.  It might have broken my camera, or Terry’s thermos…

Subtle Shadows

IMG_0201The official hiking trails at Allegany are marked with blue blazes and/or blue hiker tags.  Once when we momentarily lost sight of the blue blazes, Terry asked, “Where in the blue blazes are we?”  which prompted us to wonder about the origin of that phrase.

The Free Dictionary just says that if you use “blazes” in a question like that, it shows surprise or anger.  It also says if someone does something “like blue blazes” they do it a lot.  Apparently we are not the only ones who wondered if it came from a hiker:  <Click here>.

The best explanation, however, is at Word-Detective dot com!

Dear Word Detective: While on a hike the other day, I began to wonder whether there was any connection between the “blazes” used to mark hiking trails (which are sometime blue) and the term “blue blazes” as used in the expression “Where in the blue blazes have you been?” I stopped wondering only when I found I had ignored the blazes for too long and wandered off the trail. Perhaps you could steer me in the right direction. It seems the two “blazes” should be connected, which based on the columns of yours I’ve read almost certainly means they are not. — Steve Bromley, via the internet.

Yeah, that’s me, the Grinch Who Stole Intuitive Insights. Actually, my motto is “Not Necessarily” rather than “Probably Not,” and in this case there may well be a connection.

There are three kinds of “blaze” in English. The “fire” sense of “blaze” comes from the very old Germanic word “blason,” meaning “torch,” and was known in English by 1000 A.D., although it was spelled “blase” for several hundred years. “Blazes” as a slang expression derives from this sense and originally referred to the flames of Hell. The “blue” in “blue blazes” is just an alliterative intensifier and has no real meaning. Thus, “Where in blue blazes have you been?” is just a euphemistic way of saying “Where the hell….”

This enormous tree had a blue paint blaze, rather than a metal sign... I do not have a blue blaze on my shoulder.  That is my backpack.  Aren't Mozart and Lolli cute?The second sense of “blaze” comes from an old Dutch word “blasen,” meaning “to blow,” and is, in fact, based on the same Indo-European root as “blow.” This sense of “blaze” is now obsolete, but until the 19th century it meant “to trumpet,” either literally by blowing a trumpet or bugle, or figuratively, by loudly proclaiming or boasting.

Meanwhile, back in the woods, we have the third sense of “blaze,” which comes from the Old Norse word “blesi,” meaning a spot or patch of white on the face of a horse or other animal. To “blaze” a trail originally meant to strip a patch of bark from trees along one’s route, exposing the lighter wood underneath and thus marking the trail for those who follow. It is possible, since the underlying sense of this “blaze” is “bright or shining,” that it is related to the “fire” sense of blaze, which would make “blue blazes” a distant cousin of “blazing a trail.”

(Are you still reading this?)

Not a Coyote... It's Mozart!After our coffee break, we took the downhill side of loop #17 back toward the trailhead.  Not on the official park map there is a horse/snowmobile trail that leads down to Lockto Hollow and to Bay State Road.  We took that back to the truck.

It was a very beautiful walk through a variety of habitats.  Our favorite was where we found Very Old Trees!  Tom, if you’re still reading, where is the Old Growth part that you take people to?  Were we in it?

Also… Dear Allegany State Park:  I think it is time to make new trail maps.  Love, Jennifer

Waterfowl Count

It was mighty nippy out today… so Jeff and I decided to take a quick walk out to the tower to count ducks for the Waterfowl (and Eagle) Count.  It didn’t take long.  Here’s what we saw:  exactly zero geese, zero ducks, and zero eagles.  It was a pretty day, though and we enjoyed the fresh air.

Big Pond from the Tower

Some of you with sharp eyes will want to see some birds on the right near the bottom of the open water…  Sorry to disappoint you… they were logs.

Forest Floor in Winter: Sans Snow – Part V – Greenery

Here are the last of the pictures from Sunday…  I really hope we get some snow over the weekend…

This moss was so interesting… long and different from the Frosty Moss I posted under Textures.  I have never tried identifying mosses.  Do they have common names?

Christmas Fern
Christmas Fern stays green all winter.  Each little leaflet looks like a tiny Christmas stocking, doesn’t it?

Intermediate Woodfern
Intermediate Woodfern is also an evergreen fern.

Foam Flower Leaves
Foamflower is one of my favorite spring ephemerals.  I was surprised to see so many leaves up…  Are they always there, under the snow?  Or did the 60-70 degree days bring them out prematurely.  Last year, we had many beautiful blooms.  I will be curious to see if this spring brings as many.

But I don’t want to find out until I’ve had at least one chance to use my snowshoes!

Forest Floor in Winter: Sans Snow – Part IV – Animal Signs

All around us, folks are getting snow… Still just a dusting here.  Do I sound like a broken record?  Here are more photos from last Sunday:

Hickory Nut Snack
Somewhere I have a book that helps you know who ate a nut based on what the shell looks like.  Can’t find it… nor could I figure out what to type into a search engine on line to find a suitable website…  So maybe one of my readers has tips?

Hickory Nut Cache
I’m guessing Red Squirrel.  Unlike Gray Squirrels, who tend to hide their nuts singly, one here, another there, Red Squirrels will create a cache containing a great deal of food.  Or, could it be remains of a Chipmunk Feast?  Hmmm….

What the heck is that?...
This photo represents a bit of an embarassment to me.  I originally posted it on Flicker with the title “Scat and a Hole.”  Gavatron, a visitor to the picture, posted this comment:  “Is that scat? They look like brown dead caterpillars to me. Weird.”  I looked more closely at the photo and realized he was right!  I’m puzzled by this…  the hole is very small – it was a tight fit for my thumb – and it seems to go quite deep and away…  Odd…  Any ideas?

Bottle and Scat
Believe it or not, I first noticed the rather old scat on the log at right before I noticed the bottle.  There were plenty of beverage containers in the woods, sad to say.  It is something I just cannot understand.

Dear Anheiser-Busch:  I challenge you to launch an effective campaign that will keep your customers from doing this.  Sincerely, The Woods.

Tomorrow:  Greenery  (This will be the last in this series!  I’ll have to go take more pictures!  Poor me… ha ha…)