Friday, October 30, 2020

BOO! Some Scary Stuff

  Halloween won’t be the same this year.  The usual Halloween activities, mostly sponsored by churches in our town, have been cancelled because of Covid so we don’t know what to expect.  We will put wrapped candy on a table in the driveway, wear masks, and wave at the little trick-or-treaters from the porch if any come.  

  Downtown merchants and some of the historic houses downtown have some fun spooky Halloween displays up.  

Oops!  Dang fence! 

Really spooky at night, I bet, as this is all lit up.

Witch flying on a leaf blower pulling a skateboarding skeleton and his cat, officer clocking her speed with a radar gun.  Or is the skeleton surfing, hence the jumping fish??  
And, is she the same witch (above) who  crashed into the fence up the block?

Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse 


Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Red-Cockaded Woodpecker

  Since the weather has gotten somewhat cooler here and the biting bugs have backed off a bit, we’ve been enjoying a return to the Great Outdoors.  One morning last week we meandered along the Alligator Pond Trail in a longleaf pine forest, a tree that once covered 90 million acres of forest from Virginia to Florida. The longleaf was gradually replaced by the growing lumber industry with the faster-growing and more profitable yellow pine.  In the name of progress, the robin-sized Red-cockaded woodpecker that depended on the longleaf nearly became extinct by the 1970s. 

 In some protected forests the longleaf pines have been reintroduced.  They are beautiful trees with soft, fragrant needles up to 18 inches long! 


 We have been curious about the trees we see that have a wide band of white paint around them. We recently learned that the Forest Service marks trees to indicate evidence of Red-cockaded woodpecker activity.  

  On this hike we were rewarded with the close-up sight of not only a white-banded tree, but the presence of an artificial nesting box inserted into the tree trunk.


 You see, before 1989 the Francis Marion National Forest (where we spend a lot of time enjoying the woods) had the densest naturally increasing population of red-cockaded woodpeckers in the country, about 475 of the endangered birds. Then, in 1989 Hurricane Hugo flattened the pine forests of coastal South Carolina and killed more than half the birds.  

As the trees have been replanted, the Forest Service has worked to bring the birds back.  A tree has to reach 80 feet tall before it is suitable for nesting, and then it takes the birds two to six years to make a nesting cavity in the heartwood. They are what is called “cooperative breeders,” meaning that the birds in a group work together to support a nesting pair. The parents, plus other non-breeding birds, work together to feed the young and maintain one nest cavity.  Each group has a territory of about 125 acres of forest. 

  The artificial nesting boxes, about 10x25x6 cm, are made of cedar and placed in a manmade hole carved out in a live tree.  

  Several thousand boxes have been placed in the forests here and have allowed the birds to make a comeback, from approximately 200 in 1989 to  515 family clusters counted in August of this year.

  You’re probably wondering what the birds look like that this fuss is all about.  I wish I had a photo of my own to show you but, despite spending lots of time looking for them, we have not been able to see a single one let alone photograph it.  

  This is a photo from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  You might be wondering where its “red cockade” is.  Well, the female doesn’t have one at all and the male’s is seldom visible.  If we ever manage to see one, you’ll be the first to know!  

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Fungus Among Us

    Note: This is not meant to be an identification guide for mushrooms. 
It goes without saying, but I will anyway:
Don’t eat wild mushrooms unless you know what you are doing!  

  We’ve been spending lots of time out in the woods enjoying the fall bird migration, the abundant wildflowers, the crisp air — all the wonderful changes that come with autumn.  So far our best fall colors aren’t up there where most would expect them.  Rather, they are down near your feet and you have to be alert so you don’t step on them.

  There’s fungus among us!

Here are a few specimens from our walks this weekend.

Russula emetic, aka the sickener,      
 vomiting Russula.  

  Pretty, but beware!  


Chanterelles (right), 
trumpet-shaped beauties
 that the adventurous prize for their taste 



Amanita flavocconiaaka Yellow Patches,     shiny yellow like an egg yolk

Beige mushrooms with warts

  Black trumpet mushroom, 
  aka black chanterelle 




  Ephemeral, often associated with fairies and elves and other magic, forest mushrooms are fascinating.  If you haven’t seen my North Carolina neighbor Henny Penny’s yardful of beauties, click here: