Fine Day for a Walk

The only bad thing about a day like today is knowing how to dress. Highs predicted to be in the upper thirties with the “real feel” the same. When in doubt – go with layers.  I picked well.  The extra layers I carried in my pack were never needed.  Go me.

We had to pick a section of the park north of France Brook Road to avoid the hunters.  The Park used to always be “no hunting” on Sundays.  This year, though, hunting IS allowed on the Quaker side, south of France Brook.

We parked at a new (or at least new to me) marker commemorating the location of the first capture and release program of turkeys in the park.

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According to the plaque, this is the site of the first trap and transfer program.  The sign reads, “Allegany State Park – Founding site for the N.Y.S. Conservation Dept. Wild Turkey Transfer Program. Birds trapped at this site helped reintroduce the Eastern Wild Turkey to the northeastern U.S. & southeastern Canada. 1959.”

DSC03058 Roads.jpg

We walked France Brook to the Horse/”Jeep” trail, then headed uphill.  After getting tired of walking roads, we headed toward the sound of a gurgling creek and followed that all the way down to Horse Trail 11 up above Camps 10 and 12, then followed it to Camp 12, and roads back to the truck.

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There was no snow down at France Brook.  But as we climbed, the hills were covered.  Saw lots of colorful fungi, as well as some deer and coyote tracks.  But my favorite was the bear:

DSC03064 Bear Footprint.jpg

The walk was about 5 and 1/2 miles.  It was a good day.

And my new thermos worked!  Hot soup for lunch.

DSC03068 Lunch.jpg

(No, the color isn’t off.  It’s vegetarian borscht!)

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P.S.  I love the new GPS I bought myself for my birthday last month.  It’s fun to turn it on and track my hikes.

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Foxfire

I had worked overtime for 3 weeks in a row.  I needed a break.  I was determined to go to the woods for as long as possible.  I managed to carve out one full day, two nights, and two half days.  I took no camera, no journal, no book.  I just needed to unwind, to take in some natural beauty, to feel no obligation – not even the obligation to blog about it…  After all, I’ve been in the gorge a million times in every season of the year.  It was unlikely I would see anything I haven’t seen before, right?

Wrong.

It rained Saturday afternoon.  Perhaps that helped provide the perfect conditions for Saturday night.  I half-woke when an adjustment of the sleeping bag was required.  Through half-opened eyes, I noticed the forest floor was dappled with light.  My half-alert mind turned my eyes to the sky to search out the moon, which I figured must be the source.

Wrong.

The moon was obscured by clouds.  Logs, stumps, and even clumps of leaves were glowing.  All by themselves.  All around me.  Even under me – shining through the translucent ground cloth.   I had heard about glow-in-the-dark fungi, but this was my first time seeing it!

Now, remember, I had no camera… so I borrowed this photo from Flickr:

glowing fungus

Photo by Luke T. on Flickr

Searching around the internet, I found a website from the University of Georgia (link below) that said this:

Armillaria mellea and a closely related relative are common root rot and wood decay fungi found across North America, Europe and Asia. Armillaria grows in (and on) old stumps, dead trees, buried roots, and downed logs. The fruiting body of Armillaria is a small golden-colored, stalked mushroom. This fruiting body is not luminescent. Armillaria’s mycelium and rhizomorphs are luminous. The root-like dark rhizomorphs, when they stop growing or when entering a resting period loose luminosity.

Rhizomorphs of Armillaria mellea

Rhizomorphs of Armillaria mellea

Now that name – Amillaria mellea – that sounded familiar to me.  I searched MY OWN pictures and blog and found, sure enough, I had encountered it before.  Somehow, it never came out in my previous research that parts of this fungus are bio-luminescent under the right conditions.  The University of Georgia website lists the following ideal conditions for observing this phenomenon sometimes called foxfire or more fancifully faery fire:

Food — The cell wall components and remains of sugars, starch, and proteins in the wood are the desired food-stock of Armillaria. The luminescence can last in one piece of wood for up to 8 weeks until essential resources are consumed. It usually takes at least 4 weeks to build to maximum luminescence.

H2O — The rotting wood must be kept moist — too dry and the fungal growth stops — too wet and the fungal growth is suffocated. Moisture is an important feature of luminescent wood because the process of light generation produces water as a by-product. Luminescent wood feels saturated. If you are collecting luminescent wood, the glowing, rotting pieces of wood need to be kept moist, not soaked. Do not let the wood become dry even for a short time.

O2 — Oxygen is critical to keep the fungi healthy and growing. Too much water can make oxygen movement more difficult, and light generation will decline and be extinguished. With small pieces of collected luminescent wood, try limiting oxygen and watch as the light fades. You can then quickly let oxygen back to the wood and, under the right conditions, you will be rewarded with a “flash” of light. Do this in complete darkness.

Temperature – The optimum temperature for Armillaria bioluminescence is 77°F (25°C). Light generation is noticeable as low as 34°F (1°C). Light generation declines rapidly and stops above 86°F (30°C)

I also really liked this simple explanation:

One way to understand bioluminescence is by comparison with photosynthesis. Bioluminescence is the reverse of photosynthesis. In photosynthesis, a living organism captures light and carbon-dioxide (CO2) to make organic materials and release oxygen. In bioluminescence, light and carbon-dioxide (CO2) are released by breaking apart organic materials using oxygen.

The whole article is great.  Click the link below to go read it!

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An Escape…

Fire Tower Trail

Fire Tower Trail, Allegany State Park

Sometimes when the world is weighing down heavily on your shoulders, the only thing that helps is a little escape… a chance to walk, explore, breathe crisp Autumn air.  A chance to surround yourself with the familiar, yet be open to the novel.

The Art Roscoe Ski area at Allegany State Park is a wonderful place for cross-country skiing in winter.  Turns out, it is also a wonderful place for hiking when there is no snow.

Fire Tower

Fire Tower at the Art Roscoe Ski Area, Allegany State Park

A side trail runs parallel to the main trail and takes you to a Fire Tower.  I pushed my fear deep down into my boots and climbed the stairs, hoping for a glorious vista from the top.  There were hand rails and the stairs were sturdy.  Still, my heart pounded hard and my breath came in short, shallow fits.

It was indeed worth it!  The view from the top was spectacular and very much justified the climb.

The Allegany “Mountains” are really a big old ocean bed that was carved out over time by melting glacier water and various other forms of erosion.  When you climb up for a view from the top, you can see that all the “peaks” are the same height.

View from the Top

View from the Top

It was helpful to have my hiking buddy in front of me on the descent… much easier looking at his backpack than at the steep stairs that went on and on.  Back on the ground, it took a while before the adrenaline left my muscles and I could relax again… and turn my attention from big sweeping views to the forest’s minutiae.

Moth

A tiny moth kept trying to hide from me under the leaves...

Most of the Sweetwater trail is wide and in winter two trails for skiing are groomed making for fast, easy skiing. Along the way we found a narrower trail that crossed Sweetwater. Always favoring the road less travelled, we took a right hand turn.

Peeling Bark

Loose and peeling bark is back-lit by the Autumn rays.

It was late afternoon and the long, slanting rays of the sun were golden, creating vibrant, colorful mini-landscapes.

Icicle Fungus - Teeth you can Eat

The log we chose to rest on was decorated with a familiar "Icicle Fungus"

A bit further down the trail, there was an opening and the combination of “plant” life was simply delightful… Some I recognized and knew the names of… Others I recognized, but have no names for…  And one brand new!  (I put the word plant in quotes… because back when I studied biology the first time, there were only two kingdoms:  Plants and Animals.  And under that scheme… all these things would have been classified as plants…)

Lichens and Mosses

Lichens and Mosses

The first thing I noticed was a thick carpet of lichens – some 6 or 8 inches tall, punctuated with mosses competing for space.  Tucked in here and there were mushrooms… so bitty it would have been easy to miss them altogether…

Mushroom

A tiny mushroom manages to pop up through the thick mat of moss and lichen.

A little trail nibble was provided by a patch of Wintergreen that was sharing the soil with the others.

Wintergreen

Wintergreen... not the juiciest of berries... but a very pleasant flavor.

Very near the bushy-shrubby type lichens were stalks that resembled small cups on stems, decorated with a bit of red.  I’m not sure if they are a structure of the the shrubby type, or a whole separate species…

Cup Lichen

This seems to match other photos I have found labeled "Lesser Sulpher Cup Lichen."

And then there were the Lycopodium…

Ground Pine

These little "club mosses" or "ground pines" are considered "exploitatively vulnerable" in New York State. They have been over-harvested for wreath-making.

If I have seen the next one before, it was never in such abundance and so easy to investigate… It warrants several pictures…

Running Club Moss

Running Club Moss

Oh dear… this post is getting very long and there is still so much more to tell… I guess I’ll click “publish” and tell you more later…

Orange!

Lolli attempts conversation with Beaver while Mozart surveys the frozen pond.

I wasn’t out “naturalizing”. I was just out for a walk. I needed the exercise… so did the dogs. I needed to fill my lungs with fresh air. I wasn’t looking to learn anything new or to see anything all that different…

Then orange caught my eye, squeezing out from the bark of an Eastern Hemlock tree on the side of the beaver pond.

I photographed it (with both cameras)… assumed I knew what it was – Witch’s Butter – duh… and moved on.

Then I sat down to write a post about Witch’s Butter.  I dug out books and surfed the ‘net…  and got confused.

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Witch's Butter?

First of all, the common name “witch’s butter” can be applied to more than one species of fungus.  So, I was right!  But the question is… what species do I have here?  I dug through other pictures of orange goo I have taken over the years.  I had assigned Latin names to many of these at the time I took the pictures… but now, reviewing the resources, I’m no longer sure…

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Witch's Butter

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Witch's Butter

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Witch's Butter

I’m no mycologist and to be honest, I’m not all that dedicated to identifying these to the species level… But as I read about the different jelly fungi, I became fascinated at the inter-relationships with other living and dead things.  Some fungi feast on dead organic material, some on living (non-fungal) tissues, and still others parasitize other fungi.

I’ll give you some of the clues here, and maybe we can try to puzzle out which species is which from my photographs together!

Tremella mesenterica is found on decaying hardwood.  Peniophora rufaAccording to Michael Kuo at MushroomExpert.com, T. mesenterica is parasitic on the mycelium of another fungus in the genus Peniophora which might be hiding under the bark even when you see no fruiting bodies. Peniophora are resupinate crust fungi. (I just learned that word, too – resupinate means “seemingly turned upside down”.) I don’t know what species T. mesenterica likes to parasitize… but I happened to have a picture of P. rufa, so I’m including it here.  Hmm…   #3 above was on a dead hardwood… Maybe that one is T. mesenterica?  I didn’t see any Peniophora on that trunk, but I suppose it could be there hiding beneath the bark…

Tremella aurentia is “gregarious on downed hardwood” and parasitic on Stereum hirsutum (false turkey tail) and is described as “yellow-orange, shiny when wet, otherwise dull.”  Hmm… in picture #1 above, the description is right.  Those grayish/green mini-shelves could be old S. hirsutum as the normally orange stripes are reported to fade over time – and while it usually grows on hardwoods, is occasionally found on conifers.  The tree was definitely still standing, however… and I THOUGHT it was still alive…  Hmm…  I’d still go with T. aurentia for picture #1 based on my sloppy naturalizing.  (UPDATE 2/13/2010:  I went back yesterday in an attempt to correct at least a bit of my sloppy naturalizing… the trees with orange goo were indeed hemlock, but they were also indeed quite dead… still standing, but dead.)

Here’s an awesome photo posted on Flickr by John Davis, which I think fits the bill for T. aurentia:

Dacrymyces palmatus is the only one of the three that is reported to live on conifers.  I think my #2 and #4 above are probably this species… both were found on downed Eastern Hemlock.  The intensely different shapes/textures confuse me… but then, these fungi are shape-shifters as they age, and depending on the weather conditions.

Mycologists are amazing.  With over 70,000 species identified and named, they believe there could be in excess of a million more to be discovered.  I suppose if I really really really cared, I’d be out there collecting spore prints, testing the fruits with various chemicals, examining bits of tissue and spores under the microscope…

But really, I was just out for a walk…

Get confused:

Black Knot

I received more than one comment or email on my Foam in the Creeks post which armed readers with information that could make them nature Smarty Pants when hiking with friends…

Well, here’s another one that may help you when someone asks, “What is that black stuff on the branches of that tree?”

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The black, warty galls appear on trees in the Prunus genus. In this case it is Black Cherry (Prunus serotina), but it often affects wild and cultivated prune and plum trees as well.  Because all these trees have commercial value, you can find plenty of information about Black Knot (Apiosporina morbosa) and how to control it online!

The Cornell site listed below includes this diagram explaining the “disease cycle” of Black Knot:

While there are fungicidal treatments that can be used, most of the articles first recommend pruning in winter and removal from the site and/or burning of the galls.

Img_01Michael Kuo, author of many of the articles at MushroomExpert.com, has a great sense of humor.  First, he describes Black Knot as looking like “dried cat poop on a stick.”  Each article at the Mushroom Expert site includes information about whether or not the species is edible.  Regarding Black Knot, he had this to say:

As far as the edibility of Apiosporina morbosa is concerned, I have four words for you: Look at the picture.

He cracks me up.

Sources:

What IS That?

Do you ever walk by stuff and wonder, “What IS that?”  The first time I saw this stuff, that is exactly what I wondered:

Wooly Alder Aphids

Stand of Alder Near PondAt this time of year, they are particularly easy to see because many of the leaves have fallen from the trees… specifically from the Speckled Alder (Alnus incana ssp. rugosa).  A shrubby tree that loves wet places, we have plenty of these at Audubon.  And somebody loves it!

Wooly Alder Aphids (Paraprociphilus tessellatus) can actually be found on one of two host plants – Alder or Silver Maple.  At this time of year, though, you will probably see colonies like this only on Alders.  I pulled a few off and put them on the palm of my hand.  At the bottom left of the mass, you can see a pretty good image of one critter, legs down, facing toward the right, her back covered with the “wool” that gives her the name.

 

 

Aphids in my hand

Her?  How do I know it’s a female?  Well, I think I’m right on this… though the various accounts I find online don’t always jive with one another.

If I’m I’m comprehending what I read, the wingless ones are always female.  They can stay on their Alder host all summer and sometimes even through the winter reproducing parthenogenetically.  That means females produce eggs which produce more females, with no male needed for fertilization of the egg.  The eggs are held inside the body until they hatch, so young emerge from their mothers live.  Look at this cute little girl, also in the palm of my hand:

Young One
She has only a little “wool” so far!

Now here comes the wild part:  When there is an environmental stressor, such as the onset of winter, some eggs will miraculously produce winged individuals that may be either male or female.  (OK, there’s probably a scientific explanation… but to me it’s miraculous.)  These will fly to Silver Maples where they will mate.  Each female will produce one fertilzed egg which will be “glued” to the bark of the tree for overwintering.

Come spring these eggs produce female aphids which find their way to the newly emerging Silver Maple leaves, whose plant juices they eat.  They reproduce parthenogenetically building up large numbers of mostly wingless females.  Periodically, though, some or all of the offspring manifest wings and fly back to Alders.  The generations that live on the Alders don’t target leaves for their meals.  Instead, they pierce through the bark on the trunks and branches to access the alder sap.

As if that weren’t fascinating enough, beneath colonies of aphids, you will often find black, sooty spots on the branches. And from these will grow strange, sometimes golden, sometimes black fungi.

Sooty Mold   Sooty Mold Fungus

These fungi are not attacking the tree – they are purely superficial.  They thrive on honeydew – the sweet, concentrated plant sap that is produced by the aphids while they eat.

Which brings us to ants who protect the aphids in exchange for the honeydew… and ladybugs and lacewings that like to eat aphids… and…  Oh, what’s that quote about everything’s connected?  It’s all so intriguing, isn’t it?

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