Saturday, January 12, 2008

Battle of the Suet

All Photographs: D. Browne

It warmed up today. And still not a bird in the yard. I had housebound work to do therefore I wasn't able to track hawks. At 3:30 I'd completely had it with another birdless day. So I called Marian, the country hawk watching driver, and asked to come over to her place and check out the birds. She said fine, "Come on over! But you'd better hurry it will be dark soon." I grabbed my coat and fled the house.

And who was first up on the suet? A beautiful Red-bellied Woodpecker.

She was calling as she ate, then looked over and gave me a look at her beautiful face.

BAM! Red-belly is gone. White-breasted Nuthatch is now in control of the suet and dare I say it with a rather smug look on his face.

BAM! That look was wiped right off Nuthatch's face by Mrs. Downy. She gave me a look and must have decided I was safe enough.

She takes a bite.

And while chewing, she pointedly looks left. Though come to think of it, Woodpecker looks do tend to give the impression of pointedness.

Now she looks at me, yes, pointedly. See?

Once again, she looks at whatever the focus is left.

BAM! It's Mr. Downy. Look at how solid and firm his feet are upon landing while his body is still moving with the impact.

Does he take a bite right off? No, he does not. There is a Battle of the Suet going on and one must be vigilant. He peers first around the holder, snags a quick bite and looks again.

Then goes for another bite.

Then once again he looks to right. There is definitely somebody over there.

He starts for a third bite...

AND BAM! Guess who? White-breasted Nuthatch is back. But not for long...

BAM! Mrs. Downy is here for revenge and gets a quickie snack before suddenly all the birds take to the air and head for cover.
And this is where they go. Though Marian lives on a main street, behind her house the city has a piece of property where run-off water collects in a small pond, most likely a kettle. An "untended" wood surrounds the tiny body of water and the wildlife population far exceeds what one might expect for such a small piece of land. It isn't only the small body of water, part of the reason is the "untended" part. Dead trees are left to stand or fall naturally. It is a spot rampant with cavities for nesting and dead fall for dens. I've seen Red Fox loping across the fire house parking lot heading for this spot.
The Black-capped Chickadees which had been working the feeders while the bigger birds trounced each other over the suet, now true to their cheeky natures, come for their share. Seemingly ignoring whatever caused the other birds to disperse.
Another waits in line.
Then decides a sunflower seed will do very nicely.
And another smaller bird, the Red-breasted Nuthatch gets a share.
A third species of small bird, a Dark-eyed Junco, sees his chance and comes out of the brush to ground feed under the seed feeder.
Chickadee goes for another seed, then vacates the spot...
and eats it in a less exposed perch in a bush. Then a squirrel begins to whine in the neighbor's yard.

And a small flock of little birds head for the treetops. A raptor is hunting near by and it's time to find refuges for the night.
Donegal Browne

Friday, January 11, 2008

A Blue Day and an Orange Night

And here's Fluffy once again chewing that bird seed. Good thing, birds are still few and far between at the feeders. Somebody has to do it. And Fluffy is the marsupial for the job.

I realized that I was secretly hoping that Fluffy was a female or in correct parlance, a Jill. Yes folks, females are Jills and males are Jacks. (Sounds rather like an Australian named them doesn't it?) At any rate, the reason I was secretly hoping Fluffy was a girl is that I'd really like to see baby possums hanging off her tail from this distance. And just what would be your guess as to the correct name for baby possums? It's the same name that is given to baby kangaroos. They're Joey's.

Told you it had an Aussie ring to it. They must have gotten to name all the marsupials.

And while looking for the correct specific name for possums, I came across a rather astounding fact. Desert Rabbits can copulate up to 120 times an hour. Random yes, but how could I pass that up?

I went outside to get my car last night after visiting my mom and what should I see. Orange snow.

It's those strange lights they insist on putting in parking lots. And let me tell you it was Snowing with a capital S. Some flakes were more than an inch across.

Therefore today was blue. Much better than tornadoes though.
When I got up there wasn't a bird in sight but there were nine squirrels doing the day shift for Fluffy. And there are going to be more squirrels without a doubt. Squirrel copulation was the order of the day.
No lichen in sight either. It's now for the most part covered in snow.

Finally I spied a bird. Yes, it's a Crow. And even he didn't stay long. All tolled there was one House Finch who ate stealthily from the back of the feeder, and a pair of Juncos that stayed for about 20 seconds before fleeing to the evergreens.

I wasn't sure if previously the Juncos had moved quarters because of the Cooper's Hawk or because the snow had melted making the Spruce not nearly as cozy or as good a hiding place as it had been before. But at least two of them are back.
And though I looked, and I looked, and I looked,

I couldn't find the raptor that was keeping the smaller birds under cover. Though the evidence of large numbers of cavorting squirrels does point to today's taloned one not being a Red-tail. Indeed, it's looking like the Cooper's Hawk is still haunting the area.
Another report came in of a Rough-legged Hawk not far from town. John Blakeman had told me there was an influx of them in Ohio, and I should keep an eye peeled. I have, but no luck for me so far. Though I heard from the local Bird Lady that she'd seen a real beauty a few days ago.
The good thing about birding? There is always hope because you just never know what tomorrow may bring.

So keep your eyes open.
Donegal Browne

Witch's Butter and other Gooey Fungi

Earlier today I was looking very carefully at this photograph and I began to wonder if the right specimen didn't have at it's base a piece of field corn. So I went outside and poked at it. It certainly could have been a piece of seed corn, a little difficult to recognize at this point. That and it's color deepened my suspicion that these might not be lichen at all but rather a fungus. Then John of the comments section asked if they might not be Witch's Butter. Ta Da! Thank you John, that was just the tip I needed not having much in the way of fungi expertise.

Witch's Butter it is.
Tremella mesenterica, does come in rather assorted shapes, sizes, and different butterish and pinkish hues. And yes it most assuredly is a fungus. Fungi are parasitic. And this particular form is usually parasitic on other fungi or upon wood. Therefore the kernel of corn if it is there may or may not have anything to do with fungus brunch.
(Correction some are also parasitic on mosses, there is moss under my specimens, ferns or seeds. Ah ha)

All the literature says that the best time to find them is either in Spring or Fall under melting snowbanks. Okay, we had a melting snowbank on the glider but January in Wisconsin isn't Spring or Fall by a long shot. We just must be lucky.

Upon looking around I noted that these were a touch on the yellowish pinkish side , still Tremella mesenterica though. But once it goes pinkish it tends to be referred to as yellow or pink Brain Fungus but not always. Now brain fungus, that's a term that could keep one up at night.
Courtesy of

This specimen was the clincher in my making sure that what I had was also lumped in with what is called Witch's Butter. It turns out that Witch's Butter is the name commonly assigned to most collections of yellowish-orange jelly fungi and some black ones as well but those are most always another species.
Witch's Butter as we can see, come in yellow and pink, but also rose, brown, or black. The ones on the glider having just become visible due to snow melt are plump. In dry air they will shrivel up a bit but when the wet factor goes up again so does the surface tension of the "jelly".
As if you couldn't tell that these guys are different from other mushrooms, there are also differences in their spore making cells, the basidia. On your basic toad stool, the spores are found lining the ridges under the cap. The basidia of jelly fungi either have walls or are forked and they are on the upper surface.
And that attractive rubbery flesh may actually help keep them from drying out or freezing.
The jelly fungus Auricularia aricula, or Wood's ear is the only species normally sold in stores. It's used in soup. Not only do some people like the slippery sensation but they're crunchy at the same time.

Then there is Black Witch's Butter, Exidia glandulosa. This example looks rather like brain tar.
And somehow I don't think I'd want it in my soup. .
Donegal Browne

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Wednesday Miscellany

Running errands in downtown Milton, I looked down the street and a hawk was flying down the sidewalk in the opposite direction approximately three feet off the ground. She then arched up into a tree. I hot-footed it down the sidewalk and grabbed a photo before she flew away.

This is the immature Cooper's Hawk that hangs out in the back yards off Rainbow Drive.

Are the two birds above, the same species?

It was raining and when I looked outside the five squirrels gorging on seed all had their tails in exactly the same position. The tails were tight against their backs following their spines with a little curl back on the end. They were using their multi-purpose tails for umbrellas. And why the curl back at the tip? It keeps the gathered rain from dripping in their eyes.

The old glider on the patio is a hot bed of lichen.

Just look at the variety of foliose forms in varied colors. I never really noticed that before.

Here's a piece of bark that was lying nearby covered with apothecia, fruiting bodies. Inside the apothecia is the brown layer of asci, the part of the apothocium that contains the fungal spores.

Look center at the left, large apothocium. There are brown spores that have tipped out of the torn "cup".

Another example of lichen that has creeping color. In this case rose into white. Look at the upper right corner. I'd been looking for something like this but these are yellow and not green.

They are gelatinous and I mean downright squishy. There is a form of lichen that have cyanobacteria as their photosynthetic partner, the photobiont, and they have a gelatinous texture. In that form of lichen the symbiotic partners are all mixed up together instead of being in layers as many of the forms have. In the stratified forms the outside layer is fungal with the algae layered inside and/or a lump of cynobacteria inside.
But the gelatinous lichen I've been able to find have been one or the other shade of green so I'm not sure that these are actually lichen as opposed to something else. I'll keep an eye on them and see what happens as they grow. Some of these symbiotics change radically with age.

And then a visit to Emmie the Emu, who strutted behind his house, peered out and then---

Turned his back and determinedly ignored me. There was some thought earlier in the winter that some other beastie had moved into Emmie's house. He refused to go inside and hunkered down in the snow to sleep in frigid weather, in blizzards, in hail, whatever. Even though Emmie's intense body heat melted an area down to the ground there was still worry that Emmie couldn't be all that comfortable out there unsheltered. So the shed was searched. The straw bales were investigated, the loose straw shuffled and stomped. Nothing. Then one day Emmie simply went in and has been going in ever since. Just one more mystery.
Donegal Browne

A Central Park LEO and Wisconsin Lichen

Photograph by Eleanor Tauber
The Long Eared Owls, or LEOs as they're called by many, are back in Central Park and so is Eleanor Tauber after a bit of a sabbatical. So once again we'll be treated to her photographs and reports from Central Park.

For those attempting to find the owls, just look for the group with binoculars all looking in the same spot. If they're looking at something else it will be worth looking anyway so do it too and if you have your binoculars, on request the birders will tell you where these guys were last seen.

And now it's back to the weird and wonderful world of lichen.

First off what is a lichen? It is a composite organism, that works symbiotically and is made up of members of as many as three Kingdoms.

The dominant main partner is fungus. But fungus has a problem because it can't make it's own food so it needs to do a little agriculture.. Many times they cultivate an algae and at others cyanobacteria and sometimes both.

And you thought lichen were just simple little guys that grew on things that didn't move much.

Above is a gray-green lichen that has been munched by a squirrel. It's much greener inside where the chlorophyll resides.

All sorts of creatures use Lichen for a variety of purposes, including humans who have used it as dye and in a pinch have eaten it, or that's what I'm told.

Photograph courtesy of Bureau of Land Management, Idaho
Many hummingbirds use it in nest building as do 50 other species of birds.
Spruce Grouse and Wild Turkeys eat it as do numerous mammal herbivores like Reindeer.

Lichen grows in a variety of patterns. This lobed, layered pattern above is called foliose. And oh, by the way the brighter green on the top edge is moss.

Speaking of moss, Spanish Moss that drapes over trees down south isn't moss at all it's a form of Frutitose pattern lichen. The fruititose pattern is the most three dimensional, it grows up like tiny shrubs, it grows in strands, it drapes down like Spanish Moss.

Whereas the brighter green in this lichen looks to be a different kind of lichen growing with the foliose gray-green model.

Lichen also comes in crustose that look rather like flat well connected crusts. In fact they are so well connected that in order to get a sample of a lichen that grows in crustose form off a rock, you have to chip part of the rock off.

Lichen because of it's varying partners has a variety of ways to reproduce. The above case is an Ascomycete and therefore it has round fruiting bodies or apothecia which produce spores. In this model they look a bit like miniature octopus suckers.

Take a look at this lichen. There is a brighter green which isn't moss and also a purple.

At first I thought perhaps these varying colors were other species of lichen but look how the edge of the purple-pink colored lichen lobe merges into gray-green.
Actually not only is lichen weird it's also quite mysterious.
Lichenologist Trevor Goward, tried this statement to simplify things. "Lichens are fungi that have discovered agriculture."
Donegal Browne