A year like none other…

This past year has been a hard one for us all. We have had to step away from family and friends, isolating ourselves in an effort to not spread Covid further than it already has been. Isolation can be one of the cruelest forms of punishment, and unfortunately this has happened to us all.

But I continue to believe that we must seek a positive outlook, regardless of circumstances. Please don’t get me wrong. My life has had plenty of sadness, death and discouragement; I’ve not led a charmed life. Nor I believe does anyone…not really. We all have our crosses to bear in one form or another. But I believe it’s extremely important to our well-being to step back from our worries and find things that make us happy. Things that bring a smile to the face. Things to be grateful for. Appreciation of what is.

For me, that’s my escape to nature.

Earlier this year I started this nature blog you’re reading, Nature Views. And it’s been a true blessing for me. Because it’s let me explore nature more diligently, taking a camera with me wherever I go. Looking at things up close. Researching things I don’t know much about. Continually learning. And sharing what I’ve learned with you. Something I hope you’ve enjoyed.

Nature offers so much to us all. Research has shown that a walk in the woods can improve our physiological well-being. It can lower blood pressure. Decrease stress. And in some countries is even being written as a prescription. For me, I find I can breathe easier. Sounds strange I know. But there’s just something about being in a woods that restores me.

The peace, quiet and essence of just “being” surrounds you. You slow down to really listen to the birds. Hear a squirrel up on tree branch gnawing on a walnut. See the Tufted Titmouse rustling in the leaves on the ground. Hear the Blue Jay calling overhead. Notice the striking color of a Northern Cardinal amongst snow-covered branches – almost like a Christmas card. Or perhaps find a group of wild turkeys eating peacefully in a meadow. And if you’re extremely lucky, you get to see the very rare occurrence of a visiting Snowy Owl.

Nature offers us so much more than we can even imagine. It costs us nothing, yet provides a wealth beyond measure. If we only reach out to embrace it.

I hope you take some time to explore nature soon. Go to a local park. Visit a lake. Take a walk in the woods. Explore something new. You’ll be happy you did.

Until next time, keep exploring nature up close.

The colors of my world…

The colors of nature never fail to amaze me. Sometimes it’s as if someone had a 128-pack of crayons and went a bit wild. That’s especially true when you’re talking about the color of macrofungi which have large fruiting bodies, such as the ones you will see in this blog post.

Fungi (also commonly known by many as simply “mushrooms”) provide a valuable service in decomposition on the forest floor. Some fungi have a symbiotic relationship with trees or plants, while others cause disease and the ultimate death of a tree. Usually this is as a result of some kind of stress to the tree which blocks its defensive responses and allows insects and/or fungi to attack. Fungi are also a food source for wildlife. I once observed a slug eating one – not the most fascinating thing to watch, but it was something I had never seen before. And by the way, this slug was not a fastidious eater.

A large part of fungi are actually found underground in very dense threadlike hyphae found in the soil. When there are multiple interconnecting hyphae, it’s called mycelium. This is what allows fungi and trees or plants to develop a symbiotic relationship – one that is good for them both.

BRACKET FUNGI – PERHAPS A CINNABAR POLYPORE NEXT TO LICHEN

I discovered a new-found fascination with fungi a few years ago when I took a class that not only taught about the various types, but also had us exploring the woods to find them. Unfortunately I’m still not adept at good identification, but I certainly enjoy photographing them and I am continually learning. The colors, shapes and sizes are as amazing as the common names…names such as Bleeding fairy helmet, Eggs in a nest, Northern tooth, Witches butter, Turkey tail and Chicken of the Woods.

Speaking of which, here is what I believe to be Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus sulphureus), although I typically see these much more brightly colored with shades of coral and orange. It could be this is drying as it loses some of its color at that time. Chicken of the Woods attacks the heartwood of the tree, so when you see this fungi, the poor tree is a goner.

CHICKEN OF THE WOODS

Turkey tail (Trametes versicolor) fungi is very prevalent in almost any woods with hardwood trees. The colors vary greatly – brown, gray, green, tan, rusty brown, even purple. It’s a very delicate looking fungi that reminds me of ruffles on clothing. The underside of this fungi has white to yellowish pores.

And of course, there’s also False turkey tail (Stereum ostrea) which can appear somewhat similar. It’s found mostly on dead hardwood species. Colors vary from tan to rust to greenish gray. The underside is generally light tan and smooth without gills, teeth or pores.

FALSE TURKEY TAIL

There are times when hiking in a woods that the fungi is so prominent it almost jumps out to grab you like this Northern Tooth (Climacodon septentrione) which prefers to grow on standing maple trees and is usually high above the ground. It’s pretty unmistakable. I’ve read that it enters the tree through some kind of wound and causes heartwood rot. It’s a parasitic fungus and is rather disheartening to see.

And then there’s these little guys which I almost walked on as they were growing directly on the trail – Ringless honey mushrooms (Armillaria tabescens). They’re an orange-brown color and usually like to grow on wood, such as oak and maple, so perhaps there was decayed wood beneath them just below the trail’s surface

RINGLESS HONEY MUSHROOMS

Sometimes mother nature throws a spotlight on something I believe you’re meant to see and observe, like this Bleeding fairy helmet or also called Bleeding Mycena (Mycena haematopus) which I found at a local park. The name refers to the red-like fluid that oozes from the fungi when it is cut. I didn’t test that fact, as I don’t like to disturb creatures in nature.

And this little orange guy I’m not sure what it is (perhaps witch’s hat?), but it reminds me of something that should have elves nearby. It’s the kind of thing you just can’t look at and not smile. Sometimes names just aren’t important.

And speaking of elves, how about a fairy ring like these? I’ve only seen fairy rings a couple of times. The photo below on the left shows a small one with the one on the right much larger. The fungi in the photos are the fruiting bodies with the mycelium beneath the soil. The mycelium is multiple threadlike hyphae that interconnect and grow throughout the soil – sort of like the roots of a plant. As the mycelium utilizes the nutrients in the soil at the center of the ring, the mycelium continues to expand outward, thereby making the ring larger each year, while the mycelium in the center of the ring dies, returning nutrients to the soil.

Sometimes you’ll stumble upon something that will truly amaze you, like these Ghost pipes, also known as Indian pipe (Monotropa uniflora). So delicate and practically translucent. They’re usually found in deep shady woods and can be up to about 8″ tall. They are not fungi, but rather a parasitic plant that gets its nutrients from trees, plants and decaying matter. They’re sometimes found near decaying trees and/or beech trees. But their color and shape was so interesting I just felt compelled to include them in this blog post.

I’m not sure of the identification of this colorful orange fungi. It was a little on the thin side and I didn’t get a good look at the underside of it. The color combination contrasting with the green plants, tree bark and moss is what made this one so dramatic for me. Like artwork in the woods.

And sometimes that artwork is rather unusual and reminiscent of something else in nature, like this Bird’s nest fungi (Family┬áNidulariaceae). It’s easy to see how it got its common name. Little miniature cups filled with tiny eggs, or so it appears. Those “eggs” are actually spore packets that will bounce out of their cup when hit by something as simple as raindrops. Nature’s pretty amazing at methods of reproduction.

And then there are these colorful translucent fungi known as Witches butter (Tremella mesenterica), a yellowy-orange type of jelly fungi. I’m not sure whether I love it because of its color or its common name. Both are appealing.

And finally, one last photo that had mother nature shining her light down on a particular spot again – my guess is this is a bracket fungi of some kind. But again, the contrast of colors made this particular photo one that stands out, at least to me.

So there you have it, some of the colors of my world as I continue to explore nature. With each new adventure there’s always something new. And always something new to learn.

Until next time, keep exploring nature up close.

Hiking down a different path

We’re probably like a lot of people right now, trying to find outdoor activities to keep us active in cold weather yet still keep away from crowded parks. That can be a challenge. The Ohio state nature preserves usually work quite well, and we’ve been visiting quite a few of these lately. But today our destination was to walk part of the bike trail west of Gambier. It’s a pretty trail. Quite scenic. But that’s not what we actually explored…

Just off the trail, past the first bridge over the Kokosing River, was a dirt path leading through the woods and beside the river. Interesting. Thankfully it was an invitation we did not ignore. And that was an excellent decision, as this was our introduction to the 500-acre Brown Family Environmental Center. Until now, I’d never heard of it.

The trail followed the river and offered benches that would have been inviting on warmer days. Huge Sycamores lined a portion of the waterway, no doubt loving the wet low ground.

Along the way we saw a few trees that still had green leaves, which was surprising. It’s December. Leaves should have already fallen or at least be brown and dried by now, like on Red Oaks or Beech trees which retain their leaves. These were green. What’s up?

These were not the leaves of a tree. It was Oriental Bittersweet vines (an invasive) that had wrapped around the tree and was prolific enough to resemble tree leaves at first glance. Luckily someone had recently cut the 3″ thick vine near the base of the tree. Hopefully this tree will live to see another year because an environmentally conscious person recognized the destruction vines pose to trees.

The Kokosing River is 57 miles long. It’s watershed is 435 square miles covering a good portion of Knox county as well as parts of Morrow, Richland, Ashland and Coshocton counties. If you’re near in the summer, you’ll undoubtedly see kayakers floating peacefully along this State scenic waterway. The trail we were on continued along this river and then made a turn to cross the Kokosing bike path and lead upward into the woods.

The woods was moss-covered with varying shades of green throughout the area. At this time of year, one might think it’s pretty gray outside, but this woods proves different. Like the colors found on this decaying log and at the base of the beech tree. What I believe are puff balls are at the tree’s base, though they have undoubtedly seen their better days.

Ferns covered the north-facing hillsides which are typically more shaded and provide moisture for these plants which grow in colonies. In the fall, ferns reproduce via spores which are so small they can’t be seen by the naked eye. However, some spores are encapsulated within something called “sori” which can be seen on the underside of the frond. I’m not sure how many species of fern call Ohio home, although I’ve read Wakeena state nature preserve in Fairfield county is home to 29 of them.

There was an interesting building at the Brown Family Environmental Center closer to the administrative building. It appeared to be used for storage. It had a stone base with some type of concrete or stucco wall. There were tiny cylindrical windows which were oddly shaped and not flat. Upon closer inspection these turned out to be bottles that had been incorporated into the walls. Pretty creative!

Within the woods is a pine plantation which was planted in 1991 by the biology faculty at Kenyon College. The area was used for student research to look at relationships between growth rates and tree spacing. The trails were softly carpeted with pine needles and you could hear the gentle breeze in the branches overhead.

But the trails were not all within the forest. A huge prairie meadow was in the lowland and was home to many types of wildflowers and native grasses. The prairie is maintained by annual spring burns which discourage tree growth – a necessary thing to do to maintain prairie.

On the return to the parking lot we took one last look at the Kokosing River beneath the bridge and found what we believe is a type of liverwort growing on the wet stone abutment. I believe it’s in the genus Conocephalum, but am unsure of species. Regardless, it’s an interesting looking plant when viewed up close. I’ve read that this plant is reproduced by spores and is somewhat similar to mosses as it is non-vascular.

From here we took the car to a parking area on the northside of the Environmental Center just off New Gambier Road. The trails here were quite different from what we had encountered so far. The forest area embraced Wolf Run stream and contained beautiful large White Oaks. The trails climbed ridges and followed the stream in the low land. Some of the wetter areas had recently had boardwalks installed. It was so new the boards didn’t show signs of weathering as yet.

The trails were quite pleasant with footbridges over Wolf Run which meandered through the area. As we walked, we encountered not a single soul unless you count the squirrels. It was like having our own private park.

One spur trail climbed a hillside and descended to a small pond. On the way up we encountered this huge White oak which overlooked the pasture. Quite stately looking and regal. Much larger than any tree in the vicinity. Not sure how old this tree must be but you can estimate it’s size by comparing it to the metal gates beside it. It was impressive.

We didn’t hike all the trails on this day but we easily had about 8 miles that we explored. I would imagine this area would offer great wildflowers and migrating birds in the spring. The terrain would suggest so. If you’re looking for a good area to hike that offers diversity and very few people, this is it!

A copy of the trail map is below. Additional information can be found at: https://www.kenyon.edu/campus-life/sustainability-green-initiatives/brown-family-environmental-center/ Go exploring. It’s well worth the drive.

BROWN FAMILY ENVIRONMENTAL CENTER at Kenyon College

Until next time, keep exploring nature up close.