Where the Wild Things Are- Stickers

There is a time, between when the woods is full of blossoms and color and when the fall color begins. It is a short time when green dominates and summer seems to last forever. Then the first leaves start to turn. It must just be a diseased plant, a weak one that is just turning because of that. It can't really be fall yet? But the colors creep out, a bush here, a few leaves there. The berries go from green to brilliant reds, blues and purples. The fungi do their thing, adding oranges, yellows, pinks, everything from almost microscopic to dinnerplate sized. The goldenrod are in full bloom. The thistles add purple blossoms. Fall is suddenly surrounding us, regardless of what a calendar may say.

The final sign, to me, is the most annoying one. Stickers. Thousands of them, dangling over the path, sitting just to one side, waiting. Now, stickers do have a purpose. The seeds contained within them are necessary. Either they fulfill their destiny and become a new plant next year after having been borne along on so animal or human to a prime location, or they feed hungry mouths for the winter. Nothing goes to waste in the woods.

I haven't really mentioned most of the wildlife that lives among us, but they rely on the seeds and berries produced by the plants, or eat the plants themselves. Insects of all kinds, mice, voles, moles and shrews, rabbits and squirrels, frogs, toads and salamanders. They all eat and need to find the food in the area in which they live. Most never travel out of a few hundred yards of where they are born. So I will forgive the woods for the work of having to remove stickers each time I leave. I actually remove them as I go, so as not to contaminate another plot with a plant it may not have yet. So as I drop them, I am more than likely feeding something that will just come along and find an unexpected snack. 

So, stickers. Not so much fun, but just a necessity of life.

Where the Wild Things Are- Scientific Measures

It is time for some numbers. My wanderings around the village, are, after all, a scientific endeavor, and has a purpose. It is to record the biodiversity of the area. In that recording comes counting species seen. I am only half way through the year. August totals have yet to be determined, so we will deal with March through July for now. 

I have broken the areas I am looking at into seven different areas. This enables me to keep a general idea of where and how widespread species are. So each time I walk an area, there is a list of things seen. Each of those lists gets a page, which are then used to create a master list for the area. Actually several master lists. I keep plants, trees and shrubs, Ferns and allies, Fungi, butterflies, dragonflies and other insects, all on separate master lists. Then all the master lists are combined into Total masterlists. Then I have numbers of species seen in the village. 

So how many species have I seen? At this point I am only including the ones that I have positively identified. There are more that will eventually get id'd, but for now they are not counted. So, talking plants, Vascular plants...140. Yep. 140 species so far. That's a lot of flowers that I never knew existed. That doesn't include the 25 trees and shrubs. Or 10+ ferns and allies (horsetails, rushes, moonworts, etc.) Then there is the 30+ species of butterflies, moths, dragonflies, and assorted insects. Fungi...most of them unidentified as yet and may never be, but just counting the ones I can tell are different, over 30. I won't even mention the grasses, sedges and reeds.

So we are at 235 different things that I know make their home in the village. That doesn't count animals and bird species. I am amazed, and awed by the wide diversity of life that thrives when we just leave places be. 

The other numbers I would like to bring up deal with size. The size of the biggest things that live along side of us. Trees. Since the area has been subjected to logging in the last 100 years, the trees here have had limited time to achieve greatness. That being said, they have done quite well tucked away. The biggest I have seen so far is a Bur Oak. 129" girth. It would take two people just to reach around it. Other oaks are a Red Oak at 82", a White Oak at 81", and a Pin Oak at 59.5", all good sizes for their species. There is a Basswood at 122", and an Elm at 111". Trees that are not, by nature, large, have grown well here also. I've seen Birch that is 62" and  a Willow that is 93". The one that surprised me the most was an Ironwood that measured 45.5 inches, quite a bit larger than the normal. Surrounded by "Normal" sized Ironwood, it is the grandfather of the forest. 

So that is enough numbers for now. I am content to know that I saw a White Elfin Saddle Mushroom and Highbush Cranberries today. Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

Where the Wild Things Are- American Hog Peanut

When your day in August begins with mud boots and rain pants, because it is too cold out to just get wet, you know things are strange weatherwise. At least it wasn't raining, just really wet grass that was waist deep in places. So off to the deep woods I went. 

The Joe Pye Weed is blooming, along with the white flowers of Common Boneset. While looking at those, and getting a photo or two, I found Mad Dog Skullcap at a second location! The newest plant I saw was a vine that was growing up and around the thick brush and grasses. Tiny purple flowers, almost lost in the foliage. American Hog Peanut! I don't know that I had ever heard of it before this year. I saw it in my books and wondered if I would find it. It is a strange name. And there it was! And in several more places. It seems like if I find a plant in one spot, then I suddenly notice it in other places. I suppose that it is because it comes up and blooms at the same time.

Jewelweed is abundant along the wet areas. Soon the little pods will be ripe and will if you touch them they will explode at your touch. Who can resist?

There are lots of fungi popping up out there. The constant rains have provided the perfect habitat for them. Tiny orange ones, frilly tan ones in the pine needles, ones growing on the branches on the trees.

Cabbage White Butterflies are flitting in the open areas, monarchs circle the milkweed. Clay colored Sparrows and Dickcissels fill the air with song and action. 

We are in full summer mode. Heat and sunshine, rain and dew. But what is that I see? An Aster. A fall flower already in bloom, reminding us that this is summer business is fleeting. Enjoy it while you can!

Where the Wild Things Are- Hogworts

Mad Dog Skull Cap, Bulbet Bearing Water Hemlock, Touch-me-not, Lobster Fungi. It sounds like a recipe out of Harry Potter! These and many more plants are still amazing me as I find and document them. The name of the Marsh Bellflower eluded me for a couple weeks before I found out what that tiny plant was. The bright colors of ripening berries tempts me to look all around, instead of keeping my face to the ground. But I might miss something! If I hadn't been bent, almost to my hands and knees, manuvering through thick brush, following what may or may not have been a deer trail, I would have missed a wonderful fungi. I still don't have a name for that one, but because I was sitting down, I saw the Indian Pipe plants.

If you have never seen them, you wouldn't believe such a thing exists! An all white plant, about 4 inches tall, growing in groups of 6-8. Their head hang down until they are fertilized, then they stand straight. They have no chlorophyll and rely on the plants around them for food. They do not connect directly with the other plants, but need mycorrhizal fungi to pass carbohydrates from other plants to them. This relationship is called mycotropism. If the plants are transplanted where the fungi are not available, they will not survive. I have only found one area of Camphill where these plants are growing. It was actually a mystery to me since spring, because I found the dried remains of them and didn't know what they were. Since there is no field guide out there that shows you the dried up remains of plants (hmm, perhaps I should...) I had to keep checking back in that area to see what was growing. Until I got home after seeing the Indian pipes, and looking them up, I finally realizes that it was what I had been looking for all along! 

Speaking of finding things that were there all along, I found an area that shall now be called Hogworts. Yes, I know that is not how the famous school spells it, but a wort is a flower...and you get it, right? Anyway, I was out in an area that I had been to many times, trying to locate a spot that I knew had to be right there. It wasn't. And I was sure that I had never been where I was. So just like the Hogwarts school, the terrain had shifted, and I wasn't where I thought I was. Confused yet? So was I. I finally figured out that between the east side of the pond and the west side of the pond, both of which I had explored, was actually another strip of land, making two ponds. Because the land was so similiar I didn't realize that there was two ponds. So I had the delight of unexplored territory to wander through. Now I must start the task of identifying the types of goldenrod. Two are blooming now with seven more possible types in Todd County. I will miss this in January. Unless I am still trying to identify things...

Indian Pipe

Indian Pipe

Where the Wild Things Are- Berry Abundance

Another week of strange weather! Intense heat, rain, cold and windy, wait a minute and it will change! It seems that every evening at dark it has been either too cold, too windy, or raining, so Mothing has been delayed. On the bright side, I finally got to walk on land I have been waiting to get to since I started this project. Jay and I got the canoe out and I got to land on the "island" on the west side of the river, south of Cedar Lake Road. With rolling hills, pushed up between river and low wetlands, it is a beautiful place to be. About one third of it is open woodlands, shaded without too much underbrush. The rest is steep hills, covered in brush, grass and prickly ash or lower areas covered in cedar. I need more time to explore, so I hope the river goes down some. The vegetation I found mostly was in line with other Camphill land along the river, the largest trees not huge, showing that someone logged it off at some point in the last 100 years. 

Berries are abundant now, chokecherries, currants, gooseberries, raspberries. Did you know that Prickly Ash has berries? I guess most people don't push through them in July and August to see, but they do exist. The hazelnuts are forming. I have found shelled and nibbled ones littering the ground. 

I took advantage of the cooler weather and wandered around the edges of a couple ponds. Still water breeds mosquitos so I was leery. With long sleeves they really weren't a problem, but the biting flies are really annoying when you are focusing the camera and they decide to chew on you. 

It was worth it to see the Arrowheads blooming, along with the bladderwort. Later I found Northern Water Plaintain in bloom in a small pond, where I thought nothing would be. I also found a white slime mold, which sounds disgusting, but is quite beautiful. It reminded me of something from a Dr. Suess book. The goldenrods and Cinquefoil are starting, yellow spots in the green vegetation. There is always something I can't ID, and this weeks is a small purple flower. More time spent in the books, but then, I need something to do when it is really hot outside!

Where the Wild Things Are- National Moth Week

Another wild weather week. It must be summer in Minnesota. Between the high temps and humidity, and heavy rains, opportunities to get out were few. The woods don't care, the summer rolls on with early plants fading and summer ones just blooming. The August/September blossoms are yet to come. Yellow Loosestrifes are common, the fine differences still eluding me. Harebell spreads across the forest floor, almost hidden in the greenery. Berries are popping out all over. Bunch berries in thewetlands. Currants well guarded by spiny branches. Solomons Seal, real and false, Starry and otherswise lurk in the undergrowth.

Turk's Cap Lily, Evening Primrose, and the early thistles, Flodmans and Canadian are in bloom. All of these flowers attract the pollinators. Bees, flies, butterflies and moths fly up at every step. We are all used to the beauty of butterflies. Monarchs and Viceroys, Fritillarys and Commas, tiny Azures. The moths we tend to dismiss as boring and bland, not worth a second glance. Hopefully I can persuade  you to give them another look. In the last two weeks I have seen moths that are almost 4 inches across, tiny ones that blend so well with the foliage you wouldn't know they are there, and everything in between. I saw a bright yellow one that I was sure was a butterfly, until I blew up the photo and saw the antenna. By the end of the summer I will have seen twice as many types of moths as butterflies, keeping in number with the amount of species in each family. And I will be lucky to see 10% of the species that live out there. Many fly only at night, and those that fly in daylight love the underside of the leaves. 

The end of the month brings us to National Moth Week! There will be events around the country, that most people will never know happened, focusing on moths and learning about them. So what can I do, but do my part to spread the joy? I will be mothing (yes, that is a word) in the evenings. Moths love warm, dark nights. Mothing involves spreading out a sheet and turning on a light. Like a moth to a flame is more than just a saying. Moths come to light. No one really knows why. So you go out there in the dark, not at dusk when the mosquitos are vicious, and see what appears before you. It will not only be moths, other insects will also appear from the darkness. If anyone wants to join me, just let me know. I will be setting up around the village with a sheet and a light and seeing what is out there. It is an adventure close to home...

Le Conte's Hapola Moth

Le Conte's Hapola Moth

Where the Wild Things Are- Heating Up

I have been spoiled by the cooler temps. The heat is becoming oppressive, the humidity just another thing to deal with. With the need for actual shoes, long pants, long sleeved shirt, and bug repellent, the heat only increases. I pick my time carefully. Not to early in the day or too close to evening, both times when the bugs are worse. Not when the sun is at it's worst, overcast is my friend. The nineties mean more time to sort out what I have already recorded, go through old photos to confirm plants seen. But the itch to be out there intensifies.

Over cast at noon and not yet 80 degrees was too good to pass up, even with the 100% humidity. I knew I would have a limit, that everything would reach a point where it wasn't working anymore. I started in the worst spot, lowland covered in ferns and buzzing with mosquitos. The deer have been moving through regularly, leaving a trail for me. There was little new there, the dense foliage not allowing for new growth. A few fungi popping up. Canada Moonseed finally id'ed as the vine grows.

Then up the hill to the upper woods. There are few blossoms of any size in the woods these days. Most are a quarter inch or less, hard to see in the green. I found the Enchanters Nightshade again, for the first time in this woods. It makes me smile, thinking of Harry Potter. I blow out inhaled mosquitos and continue on. 

When I reach an open area, the breeze is a blessing. Hairy hedgenettle and Giant blue Hyssop wave above the tall grasses. Blackeyed Susans and Oxeye provide a burst of yellow, crowned by the sight of Greater Canadian St. John's Wort. A native with blossoms 2-3 inches across, it is stunning.

Walking back to the van along tractor paths, I have time to see the Swamp Milkweed blooming and take note of the Flodman's Thistle. Soon it will be goldenrod time. Still so much to see.

Where the Wild Things Are- Through Prickly Ash

Do you sometimes imagine what it is like out in the woods where I walk? Do stickers and mosquitos cross your mind? Trudging through prickly ash, tripping over vines? I thought you might wonder so I thought I would see if I could make things clearer for you. There are many places in the woods where I can walk unhampered by brush and bugs. The heavy canopy shades out the lower levels and provides almost park like places. There are deer trails through most of the village. I have discovered that I am not the same size as a deer. They duck down and go through brush, which in order to follow I would have to crawl on my hands and knees. I follow them when I can, but I also need to be off them to see plants, because deer eat as they walk. 

There are times that I think a machete would help, but realistically it isn't worth the effort. The plants would just grow back in before I passed that way again.

There is a lot of up and down in the margins of the land. That is one of the reasons that is has been left unfarmed. Sometimes I walk along the bottoms, between the wooded hills and the bogs. Sometimes I stick to the high ground. My choice is made by where I need to check on things, and how the bugs are. This year has been rather chilly and wet. The mosquitos are surprisingly few, the biting flies have just started up. Some days I walk where the wind can cool me off or keep bugs away, other days I duck down into the cover, seeking protection from the elements. 

Checking out the wet lands can be a challenge. There are deeper places out there (maybe three feet deep, I haven't had the pleasure of sinking in that deep!) and many places where the only way to see what is out there is to either put on boots or not care if my feet, shoes, pants get wet. I generally just go in shoes and try to stay out of the deepest spots. Slow and careful, one step at a time, and being willing to backtrack is the way to go. I have made some of my best "discoveries" while crouched down, trying to get a photo and not get too wet. I will glance around and there will be another plant I hadn't seen before.

In all I walk slowly. I try and keep an eye on the ground, looking for leaves that I don't recognize. In the spring I made the effort to ID all of the trees that I could, so I wouldn't be trying to look up and down at the same time. I am not really trying to be quiet, but I step carefully and it makes me that way. I have seen deer beds so fresh that the deer was still in them. I have looked up from the ground to see deer staring at me, trying to figure out what I am.

Sometimes I come upon things that were up high but have fallen to the ground. The other day it was a stick. The fungi on it was amazing. It formed shapes that looked like a labyrinth. Irpex lactus...Milkwhite toothed polypore. There is no end to the woods....

 Milkwhite toothed Polypore

 Milkwhite toothed Polypore

Where the Wild Things Are- Fishers

Another once is a lifetime moment in the woods...I was walking in the northeast corner of the property. I was looking down, since plants are why I am out there, when I realized I was hearing a noise. It is strange that when you focus on one thing, like seeing plants, the rest of your senses fade away, until you really don't notice them. But this was strident enough that it pierced my veil of concentration and I looked up. There was a pileated woodpecker who was really upset (I thought at me) and calling out from a few trees away. I swung up the binoculars to get a look, and then I realized that there was noises coming from the tree over my head. So I am standing there, trying to get a good look at the bird, trying to correlate the other sound to something I have heard before...Nope, not a squirrel, not a bird, I finally swung the binoculars up and looked. There was a furry face staring back at me!

I grabbed my camera and struggled to get it to focus through the branches and leaves. I got a good look at the face and my first thoughts were "baby Bear! Is there an angry Momma about to get me?" when it moved and i realized the long body shape was definitely not a bear. Long and thick, short legs, full of attitude. At that point I didn't know if it was a Marten or a Fisher, but I knew it was special to see!

I managed to get several good photos, as it was up in the tree, and going higher, not coming my way. Fishers (which I figured out later it was) are about the size of otters, in the same family. But they have the personality of a weasel or wolverine...all teeth and no backing down. They eat small animals, like rabbits, even baby deer, but also nuts and berries and carrion. Most active at dawn and dusk, most people will never see one in the wild. The fact that I not only got to see one, but get photos at 9:30 in the morning was rare indeed. You might hear them at night, if you are listening. They have a call that sounds much like a woman screaming. It doesn't sound like anything else around here! So there are many things in the woods that most people don't notice...I am fortunate indeed to have seen a fisher, up close and personal!


Where the Wild Things Are- Lady Slippers

The long evenings are perfect for walks. Cool breezes keep the bugs at bay, and the temps are favorable to wandering. If you have been out at all, you know the Showy Lady-slippers are blooming. There are several clusters just off the road south of the woodshed. Perfect for anyone to view.

If you are up for a bit more adventure, there is one to be had at the South end of the Village. Wander down past the barns and gardens, river on one side, field on the other. The Sedge Wrens and Common Yellowthroats are continuously calling from the willow thickets. Osprey circle overhead. Follow the tractor path and just before you reach the pines, duck under the fence into the pasture that curls along between the river and the pines. A tractor has left paths through the tall grasses for your walking pleasure. I would recommend staying on the left hand tracks, until you reach the trees. From that point on keep to the right hand side track, it will lead you on to a bit of paradise. The Southern Blueflag Iris are forcing their way up through the tall grasses and are blooming in force. Continue further to the far fence corner, and you will see even more. According to the books, they should be Northern Blueflag Iris in Todd County. But they are not. So, when you live on the edge of biomes, things live there that aren't recorded as being there, and things that should be there, aren't. All the more reason to get out there and record and document the bidiversity of your own back yard!

Everything I document, that I find on the Village land, adds to the base of knowledge for everyone. It tells a tale of changing weather patterns, shifting temperatures, and nature doing what it can to continue, one species at a time.