This is a tough time of year to find new things to blog about. The autumn color is all but gone, the woods are basically asleep, but we don’t have any snow yet – it’s a gray, in-between sort of time. Here are three cool things I found on this afternoon’s ramble in the woods, none of which is really enough for a whole blog post of its own.

1. The world’s biggest shelf fungus. It had just fallen off of a dead yellow birch. Note the size comparison with my feet. (Yup, another photo with my feet randomly stuck in it for scale. I do this a lot.)

2. A giant hollow maple tree with evidence of habitation. Note the pile of porcupine scat in the second photo.

3. A really impressive patch of orange jelly fungus. At first I thought this was a slime mold, but apparently it’s a fungus, Dacrymyces palmatus. In any case, this is just about the biggest, best blob of it I’ve yet to see. (This was growing on a dead hemlock log, which apparently is a pretty typical substrate for this species. Witch’s butter looks very similar but usually grows on live trees.)

Stay safe if you’re in the path of Sandy, Eid Mubarak if you’re celebrating, and have a good weekend regardless.

Fairy Tale Mushrooms

Went for a walk in the woods on Saturday and was delighted to find a big patch of Amanita mushrooms of various shapes and sizes pushing their way up through the leaf litter. (Perhaps Amanita muscaria, but there are several similar-looking species, and my mushroom ID skills are very limited.) These mushrooms, with their red/orange/yellow caps and white polka dots, are the ones that feature prominently in fairy tales and Mario video games.

The polka dots are actually called “warts,” and according to this glossary of fungus terms are fragments of the ball of tissue that enclosed the immature button mushroom before it sprouted. They can come off – for example, they can be washed off by rain. Additionally, as the mushroom ages, the cap shrinks and flattens, further exposing the gills underneath. Here’s a photo I took recently of what is probably another Amanita mushroom, but an older one (and maybe also a different species).

Have a good week, fellow fungus lovers!

Life in the Dead of Winter (Part 1)

Dead snags always seem to catch my eyes lately – probably because they always harbor signs of life, even on the coldest, snowiest days. (When I got up this morning it was -26ºF. Even after noon, when it finally made it into double digits above zero, walking in the snowy woods for half an hour was enough to make my face and feet very cold.)

Pileated Woodpeckers continue to rip apart the dead wood in search of food.

Lichens and fungus add contrasting texture.

Now I’m back inside drinking hot chocolate by the fire. Man, -26ºF. This has been a cold couple days.

More Macros

Bleargh. I know, I’ve been falling down on the job, going this many days without posting. Last week I was in downtown St. Paul for a couple days, and while getting to have Thai food for the first time in months was marvelous (green curry, mmmm!), being in an urban area felt really odd after all this time in the North Woods. Then I was trying to get caught up on work here when I got back, and now I have a cold and am spending the day watching TV in bed and eating bagels with nutella and struggling to get more of my homework done.

SO, anyway, I thought I’d share these macro photos I took last Monday before I left for the big city, and hopefully soon I will have something new and exciting to post about.

A Fairy-Tale Mushroom

My camera battery died just after we found the dragonfly, so when I found a really cool mushroom on the hike out, I had to beg my coworker Pete to take a photo of it and email it to me. Thanks, Pete! (The mushroom had already been kicked over, thus why I am holding it. I never would have broken it off myself.)

I believe this is either Amanita muscaria or Amanita flavoniconia. Amanita muscaria, commonly known as fly amanita or fly agaric, is the classic fairy-tale toadstool, red with yellow-white spots. Another coworker who saw me looking at it warned, “Don’t eat that!”, as though I needed told – obviously it’s a bad idea to put a strange, brightly-colored wild mushroom in your mouth! According to Wikipedia, though, deaths from A. muscaria are rare, and it actually used to be eaten as food in some parts of the world after being parboiled from water. It is, however, hallucinogenic.

I feel like I know far less about mushrooms than I do, say, plants or insects or birds, but I’d like to remedy that. In the meantime, you can amuse yourself by picturing a gnome sitting on the one above…