Red Hat Lichen

It’s been a cold, gray, rainy week. I’m not complaining – we need the rain. It was hard to talk myself into going out for a walk this afternoon, but I was glad I did.

I took a lot of random photos and pished at some birds, and on my way back I came across an old stump with some eye-catching lichen growing on it.

Beyond a basic understanding of what lichen is (a symbiotic relationship between fungus and algae or bacteria), I know almost nothing about it, but I’m assuming the red bits are some sort of fruiting bodies. Am I right? I tried to look up information on the life cycle of lichen and ended up just confusing myself, mostly.

At some point I’d really like to learn more about identifying lichens (and mosses and lycopods). I think there’s a lichen field guide in the school library – maybe it’s time to check it out. In the meantime, I’m dubbing this one “red hat lichen.”

UPDATE: Ah ha! Cladonia! Maybe. At least there are lichens in this genus that look very similar to mine with the red hats.

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Budding Birders?

It has been raining on and off for the last two days, which leads to interesting times leading hikes with fifth graders.  The rain brings out the greenness and freshness of everything, and some interesting connections get made in the kids’ heads: this afternoon I heard our woods compared to both Harry Potter and the Lion King.  Apparently in a fifth grader’s imagination, Scotland, Africa, and Ohio all look similar.

My students this week all brought cheap little pairs of binoculars to camp with them.  Sometimes this can be frustrating when I’m trying to teach them about, say, decomposition, and all they want to do is use their binoculars to spy on another passing trail group.  However, it also leads to some fun discoveries.  This afternoon two kids who were walking a little ways ahead suddenly stopped, looked very intently at something, and said “What kind of bird is that???”  I looked, expecting something conspicuous like a cardinal or maybe (if we were lucky) a Pileated Woodpecker, but I didn’t see anything at first.

“Where?  I don’t see–”

“Right there!”

Oh.  A tiny brown bird with a white eyeline, bobbing up and down as it foraged on the ground at the edge of the muddy trail.  I had been keeping an eye for Louisiana Waterthrushes all spring, ever since someone told me they nest along our stream, and now my fifth graders had found one for me!  I tried to convey to them that this was actually an interesting find despite the fact that it was just a little brown bird, and they seemed to get it.  I need to remember to show them a picture in a field guide tomorrow.

The photos in the post have nothing to do with Louisiana Waterthrushes.  They’re photos I’ve taken recently of three of our spectacular native wildflowers, Ohio spiderwort, shooting star, and wild columbine.

April Showers

I took a brief walk in the rain this afternoon (in completely inappropriate footwear, as when I left the house I didn’t intend to end up on the hiking trails).  Somehow the rain really brings out the greenness of everything.  Hard to believe now that this was all buried under snow a couple months ago.

As I walked along, small inflorescences of white flowers that I didn’t recognize caught my eye, and I was delighted to realize that our ubiquitous and charming native succulent, stonecrop, is starting to flower.

The mayapples have burst into bloom this week, too; apparently no one told them that mayapples are supposed to bloom in May.

Rain means that the streams may be high this week, making the waterfalls even more impressive than usual but the stepping stones treacherous.  Ah well.  Our showers are bringing us plenty of flowers, so I’m not about to complain!