Wednesday, August 24, 2011

August 24: The Little Things

>My naturalist friend Kirk is particularly fond of mushrooms, slime molds, and things in-between. His Vinalhaven Sightings Reportwhich features wildlife of all kinds seen on that Penobscot Bay island, is heavy on the fungus among us. His interest (and interesting photos) has made me take a closer look at the mushrooms around me when I walk in the woods--especially in late summer when the birds are quieter so I'm not looking up all the time.

Today while hiking off-trail on Ragged Mountain I was paying more attention to the ground in front of me just to see where I was going. I was surprised by how many mushrooms dotted the forest floor, especially a tiny, bright orange mushroom that looks like something you'd see in the garden of a gnome house. It's so cute that I've photographed it on several different occasions, including today. I thought to share my photo with Kirk, who quickly responded: "The cute little orange guys are so cute that they are the cover species on George Barron's 'Mushrooms of Northeast north America' book. They are Chanterelle Waxy Caps, which are in no way chanterelles at all. They are an adorable find, and as you already know, have a solid presence in the woods this time of year. One of my favorites to find." Now that I know what they are, I'll probably photograph them more than ever.
Chanterelle Waxy Caps
I noticed other intriguing mushrooms, including a pretty lavender one that Kirk says is from the Cortinarus genus, some turkey tails (the fungus, not the bird parts), some ruffly orange ones that might have actually been chanterelles, and a big puffy white one being eaten by a slug. The "Corts," says Kirk, have a mycorrhizal relationship with trees, which is complex enough that I'm just going to send you to Wikipedia to read about it, but basically means that the mushroom and tree mutually benefit one another.Not only did I have fun spotting all these various fungi, but I learned something too.

Besides mushrooms, I also discovered other little things: quite a few Indian pipes poking up through the leaf litter here and there, bunchberry berries, a teeny yellow flower that I haven't been able to ID (some kind of dwarf aster?), spectacular patches of reindeer lichen, deer scat, a couple of turkey tail feathers (bird parts this time, not the fungus), wide, spongy beds of sphagnum moss, and, in one place, scattered clusters of black and white feathers pointing to the demise of what was once probably a black-and-white warbler.

Trees, yes, and forest,
but also, tiny mushrooms,
berries, slugs, feathers.

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