We are in the second week of November as this is written, and we are getting the first really significant snowfall of the month. The walks through the woods with the crunchy sounds of leaves underfoot are going to change. If the snowfall is deep enough and if the cold weather holds, we will be starting to prepare the trails for skiing. It’s rather early for that but some years find mid-November snowfalls that don’t melt before March. In the last few weeks the little creatures that call the woods home have been very busy. Squirrels have made their nests of leaves high in the tree tops. They have been actively seeking and storing hickory nuts at the north end of the school forest. Chipmunks were busy until the weather turned cold. I watched one chipmunk that had dug a hole for its winter quarters under a log near the trail. It watched me as I walked past. Near the entrance to the school forest near the tennis courts, two trees have been laid wide open with a hole several inches wide, several feet long, and as deep as the middle of a ten inch tree. The work was done by Pileated Woodpeckers. These large (about 18 inches long) birds can really chip holes in dead wood as they seek some of their favorite food, carpenter ants. I have seen a Pileated Woodpecker working the trees, but it left before I could get a picture. Beneath the leaves on the forest floor, life goes on. Mice will appreciate the snow cover because they will be safer from some of the predators that hunt visually. However, mink, weasels, fox as well as some types of owls will hunt mice by sound as well as by sight. I have sat on a log while deer hunting several years ago and watched a vole (meadow mouse) moving back and forth beneath the leaves. I saw something smaller than a mouse moving between the leaves and then a commotion that disturbed the leaves about ten feet away. I believe a shrew caught the mouse. These little killers are half the size of a mouse, but will kill and eat mice. Much of the time the shrew will be finding insects, worms, spiders, and other smaller fare beneath the snow. Last of all, I saw a cottontail rabbit near a brush pile-winter quarters. Soon the woods floor will have an unbroken carpet of white. Beneath that white–life goes on.
Colorful- That’s the way to describe the woods of the Edgar High School Forest and the Scotch Creek Preserve as October arrives. This year the more than average rainfall and the delay of a killing frost has created a colorful display in the woods. Although the tree tops are ablaze with yellows, oranges, reds, and green one sees mainly the understory of the woods while walking the trails. The various plants at ground level are yellowing and thinning out. The stands of nettles that lined the trails are lying down and visibility through the woods is improving. The cool nights and days of October create one of my favorite times to walk the trails. I like to study the various leaves now creating a multi-colored footpath and I try to identify all the trees from their leaves. Although there signs in the school forest area pointing out various trees, many types of trees there have no identifying markers. I found Ironwood trees and leaves but no sign marking Ironwood. There are markers for Green Ash and White Ash, but no marker for Black Ash–there are Black Ash in these woods. I have found the leaves of the Black Ash. The leaves of an Ash are compound. That is, they are composed of a main stem and multiple leaflets in pairs on both sides of the stem. On the leaves of the White Ash and the Green Ash, the side leaflets have stems. That is, the side leaflets are attached to the main stem of the leave by a stem that is perhaps 3/8 to 1/2 inch long. On the Black Ash the leaflets are sessile. that is, all the leaflets except the end one are attached directly to the main stem. See if you can find the leaves of the Black Ash. The different types of maple and oak leaves are also interesting to identify. While you are looking at leaves on the ground, keep studying the various fungi. There are interesting types appearing all the time now. And last of all, keep looking for deer. I am seeing them more often now in the woods of the preserve. They are worth the walk. Enjoy the trails of the autumn season.
On August 30th I saw the first deer I have seen in the school forest since early spring. Two does stood watching as my grandson and I walked up the trail. They seemed unafraid and only moved away when we angled quite close to them. I have mostly walked the school forest trails lately, mostly because I am walking my little dog and she prefers to walk trails she has walked before. Deer seem to abandon the school forest area in the summer. Perhaps there is just too much vegetation on field edges, just too much cover outside the woods. But as fall approaches, the deer will change their patterns and in a month or two, they will be commonly seen, not only in the school forest, but more so in the Scotch Creek Preserve.
The dampness of the woods lately, with rainfall every few days, has produced a plentiful variety of mushrooms in the woods. My grandson is quite expert on identifying mushrooms and the varieties he pointed out made for a real learning experience. I am familiar with puffballs. They are probably the easiest to correctly identify as an edible mushroom. Morels are easy to identify as well, but they are present only in spring. Here’s some of the lesson I listened to–” See those fungi on that maple tree? They are edible. See this mushroom. It doesn’t have gills under its cap. It isn’t a bolete mushroom either, they have pores under the cap, this has like little teeth extending down from the cap. It is good to eat. See these on this log. They are called turkey tails. People don’t eat them because of their texture. See these? They are called Indian pipes. See this? It’s a type of amanita. It’s poisonous.” I looked at the white mushroom called the “death angel.” After my grandson gave details on ten or fifteen varieties of various fungi, I came to the conclusion that really learning about mushrooms would take more time than I care to spend. I’ll stick to looking for morels in spring, and maybe picking and eating a few puffballs now and then. The last thing my grandson mentioned was that he could hardly wait until after the first frost. When I asked him why, he said that boletus edulis, a type of tube fungi, or bolete, is one of the tastiest mushrooms you can find and though it occurs in August and September, usually it is worm ridden shortly after appearing. The frost must be the reason that later boletes are more worm free. They grow under coniferous trees so there are many places in the preserve that they may occur. I’ll leave most edible mushrooms to the experts, but I will never look at a damp, fungi laden woods again in the same way. Enjoy our trails! Much to see.
August is one of the months that sees little change in the woodlands of the Scotch Creek Preserve. Unlike the rapid changes from week to week in spring and fall, the months of July and August seem quite alike in the woods. There are, however, some happenings if you pay attention. Summer plants are now reaching maturity and this is most evident in what is happening to the raspberries. These plants, mostly along the old railroad right of way on the south end of the preserve and north of the trees on the north side of the preserve have just about ended their fruiting. Some of the berries have been picked by people, me included, but when I found a large patch of raspberry brush, a somewhat circular thirty foot diameter area crushed quite flat with relatively few berries on the plants, I could only think that a bear had done some berry picking also. There are a number of animals that will feast on berries. Fox and raccoon come to mind, but they are not the culprit in this case. Milkweed pods are formed and if you wonder why some of them have been depleted of a lot of the fluff, perhaps you can blame the goldfinches. They nest somewhat later than most other birds and they line their nests with fine fibers like thistledown and milkweed fluff. I have seen several goldfinch nests found in the fall and those little finches must have appreciated a most comfortable “crib.” Many of the flowering meadow plants are beautiful right now. If you walk the trails on the north side of the school forest you will notice hickory nuts on the trails now. These are nuts from the bitternut hickory and there are a number of hickory trees in these woods. The squirrels are already harvesting hickory nuts. Walk the trails. Enjoy! Revised 8/9/14
During the summer months I do not walk the trails as often as I do during spring and fall. It is not because there are mosquitoes and deer flies at times in the summer, instead it is because during the summer I find myself busy with garden and yard. My walks in the woods hold different attractions now. Today I walked through the school forest area and east into the Scotch Creek Preserve itself. The only color in the woods, it seems, other than the various greens and browns of the leaves and tree trunks, was the splash of red from the berries of the red elder bushes. Just a month age the red elder bushes were covered with bunches of white blossoms. Now the BB size berries are attracting robins. Unlike the dark, purplish berries of the elderberry of wine and pie fame, the red berries of the red elder probably aren’t on anyone’s menu, unless you are a robin. Red elders are shade plants and usually are located under trees in shaded areas. The American Elder producing the late summer and early fall berries some of us love is usually found in sunnier locations at the edge of woods, on wet, even swampy ground. They are in blossom right now-some along the old railroad path on the south side of the preserve.Take a walk in the preserve this summer. Enjoy the woods! Updated 7/21/14