Late Summer has been unbelievably cool. During the past week (first week of September) the temperature barely reached the 80s. With various happenings to attend at the end of summer, this weekend was the first available for a walk in a few weeks. New construction on the access roads to the park blocked some of the pedestrian walkways but people found a way in to enjoy the weekend trails.
The temperature was perfect for walking. Gentle cool air and sun. There were still signs of the heavy thunderstorms. There were still traces of cascading water on a steep bank of soil facing the trail. Here and there small mushrooms burst out from under the carpet of leaves or peeped out from between tree roots.
Trees have been forming seeds. A birch tree next to a small meadow had beechnuts just starting to open among the leaves. Ripening seed pods looked like strips of brown crinkled paper. Oak leaves and new acorns had fallen to the trail. Leaves were still green, but looking worn with browned edges or transformed by insect damage. Here and there just a few leaves have changed from green into various colors, and late cooling summer had scattered just a handful of green, red or yellow leaves onto the ground and graced the green undergrowth with golden yellow flowers. Bold red berries hung in clusters.
Trees that had fallen during the summer have been cut and removed from the trail. The tangles of brown branches and brown dead leaves look strikingly dark against a backdrop of living green leaves. One large tangle of dead branches and leaves had become the framework for beautiful silky spiderwebs. The webs created a spectacular show of shimmering geometric patterns as sunlight and playful breezes bounced off the delicate webs.
Chipmunks sprinted along logs and shuffled through the dead leaves, stopping to nibble on snacks and eye the trail.
The heavy rains during August had a significant impact on the woods. Visiting one week later, the impacts were visible along the trails. Down along the creek, where it had appeared after the latest storm that the creek had swept onto the trail, the creek bank had completely collapsed into the creek taking large sections of the trail with it. Metal culverts to carrying stream runoff underneath the trail were fully exposed and the sand and soil had eroded from around them. Many more exposed roots, rocks, and loose debris changed the formerly smooth well-trodden path into an obstacle course. The leafy carpet was looking ragged after so many months and so much rain. But mosses and small mushrooms appeared fresh.
Trimming the open trail were starry white flowers framed by three leaves, and sprays of pink flowers. Sunny yellow petals decorated a leafy plant growing in the understory. Tree pods continued to develop and round seed balls had fallen onto the trail.
There were no chipmunks in the woods at that time. Had their ground homes been flooded? Some songbirds could be heard, and of course the ever-present robins hopped and flew along the path.
Bursts of rain a week back carved deep channels into the trail, and formed neatly terraced patterns of debris where the torrents of water found paths of least resistance.
Muddy patches were stamped with foot and paw prints. The sandy trail along the creek was damp, and there were smoothed areas where either the creek had overflowed onto the trail or large amounts of water had washed across the trail into the creek. The creek water was brown and swiftly flowing.
New trees had split and splintered, brought down possibly due to rain or unstable soil.
After the downpours and through the mugginess industrious spiders attended to their webs.
A few weedy ground covers were decorated with tiny flowers.
New green items have appeared on the trees and bushes: nuts, acorns, green balloons, and seed pods. A beech tree had formed brown spiky beechnuts, and an oak had already dropped several green acorns along the path. On trail and branch other green seedy things could be found. The mimosa tree over the creek had lost its pink pompoms and was all green with copious bunches of wide green seed pods maturing among the leaf fronds.
The vines along the creek had traded clusters of tiny white flowers for small green berries transitioning into purple and blue. The berries identify the vine as porcelain-berry.
A few stray yellow and red leaves had dropped onto the trail.
On trail and branch other green seedy things could be found
Porcelain berry (Ampelopsis brevipedunculata) is described by the Virginia Native Plant Society online as an invasive exotic vine which can overgrow and block sunlight from other species. The berries on the porcelain berry vine stick upwards unlike native grape species on which the grape berries droop downward.
This week’s walk found the woods very damp and waterlogged after heavy rains. The summer has produced a series of surprise thunderstorms, with torrential rain, thunder and lightening. After the storms, the air outside may be cool and breezy, but within the woods the air was completely still, very humid and moldy smelling. These conditions were the delight of all kinds of mushrooms which sprouted and conjured themselves from beneath the leaf litter. This visitor had never seen so many mushrooms. The mushrooms stood tall and short, alone, in clusters, in pairs or trios, with caps of gleaming white, or yellow, red, orange, or purple. So many mushrooms, some appeared to be tiny lanterns colorfully lighting the woods while others arrived as guests for a mid-summer party.
The mushroom tops varied from circular caps to flat or rounded umbrellas. While some were new and round, others had ragged edges or holes chewed in. One set had pointy edges giving them the appearance of sunflowers. One type of mushroom had a puffy white patterned cap like a toasted marshmallow. One small orange capped mushroom appeared to have tiny white stars stamped into its cap. A set of round mushrooms with holes in their center looked like rounded jars nestled into the forest floor. Bright colonies of tiny orange disks crowded inside an old hollowed tree trunk. Along the trail there were also mushrooms which had turned green with mold and appeared to be overtaken by another fungus as the mushroom cap collapsed. Other larger fungus thrived on the damp conditions; a large leafy looking fungus was growing around the base of a tree. The yellow shelves of fungus found a few weeks ago had grown and matured. Tree trunks had populations of fungus growing on them, white scaley fungus growing on the bark, or a black slimy blob fungus clinging to a fallen trunk.
No mushrooms were touched, many varieties are poisonous and best left undisturbed.
The conditions so delightful to the mushroom are not the most comfortable for people, so a relatively short walk was enough to admire this summer fungus party.
Summer tempts us to enjoy life outdoors and to spend more time among nature, to marvel at the engineering of a spider web. It takes a rainy day at last to catch up on tasks indoors.
Mid-July is a beautiful summery time in the woods. There is a sound of fullness in the woods. The green canopy leaves sway and rustle against each other, and the floor of dead leaves sound out loudly when birds or chipmunks move among them. Even an old dead leaf on a branch scratched against a tree trunk to make an unusual whisper. Cicadas buzzed and murmured unseen.
The summer has settled into the forest. Fat leaves and food growing, varieties of insects and mushrooms, moss and ripening berries; the chipmunks and squirrels find odd things to eat – perhaps seeds or roots or insects. There are many chipmunks making their homes in the woods this year and actively snacking and running around. There are interesting things among the tree roots, including shelves of yellow fungus.
On this sunny day, the trail temperature changed dramatically between the cool green shaded sections where cool air drifted down the shaded slopes or drafted upwards from the creek, to the hot sunny sections of trail where it felt like walking through thick slabs of hot air. But cross back into a shaded section and the trail air became immediately cool again as incredibly cool air flowed around. From a simple trail walk it’s clearly demonstrated how well trees can provide protection from the sun and instantly cool the air.
The cool breeziness offered near-perfect conditions for a spider’s web. And many spider webs were delicately bouncing on the breeze waiting to trap insects passing through on the currents of air.
In fact it appeared to be the age of spiders. Spider webs were woven between plants, tree trunks, branches and leaves, with neatly spaced rings and segments of silky thread glinting in the sun; the master or mistress of the web always holding the central position. One web spanned an 8 foot space with one end anchored on gently swaying leaves and the other other end fixed to the trunk of a tree. The web orb itself was fairly small, but somehow the tiny spider was able to span this wide open space and spin a web in the center of the divide.
A pair of blue swallow-tailed birds took to the air currents and dove and swooped over the creek before disappearing underneath a bridge.
Bees and giant wasp-like insects were visiting some flowering vines thriving in full sun along the creek. The vines had small clusters of tiny white flowers and rounded green berries.
In this context of summer green, sun, and shadow, a thin stalk with multiple miniscule purple flowers caught the eye. At a different point on the trail a sole purple flower stood alone among green leafy ground covers.
The only other ground plants with flowers were a few clusters of very tiny clover-leafed plants with small yellow flowers. A set of plants with dried cones were an unusual sight.
A woodpecker flew and climbed high on a tree trunk, then disappeared into the leafy canopy.
Several small blue and grey birds sang and watched the trail and flitted from branch to branch.
Water is essential during these hotter months, and an energy snack too. It’s common to feel drowsier than normal and make a misstep or two. Even regular walkers must take care to watch their footing as rainstorms can wash out trails and expose rocks and roots which will easily catch on a shoe.
After several weeks away, it was time to visit the woods with a good long walk. Happy to be back on the trails, but not prepared for…summer!
Yes, summer has arrived, bringing a combination of high temperatures and humidity which gave this walk the first challenging conditions of the year. After a few weeks of relatively mild weather, a heat index of nearly 100 degrees was exhausting! Snacks and supplies to rehydrate and reenergize, while always welcome on walks, are more necessary now during the summer.
A few minutes into the walk, a low buzzing at first sounded like distant landscaping equipment, but it droned in and out. Cicadas! The sound of summer, and a sign to bring extra water. Robins accompanied us along the trail as usual. A couple of pieces of robin’s egg were visible near the trail.
The squirrels and chipmunks were busy running around collecting food and darting about in the corners of the woods. They scampered along logs and up tree trunks and dove through the leaves.
A portly chipmunk was too fast to photograph, but a couple of smaller chipmunks skillfully froze in place long enough for a few photos.
Along the trail, vines continue to stretch high and into the trail and grow around each other. New tree saplings were establishing themselves on the ground.
Other signs of summer were evident during the walk. The woods appeared in need of rain. Soil was dry and cracked on the trail, and some of the stream beds and gullies were dry.
Mayapplies were yellowed and flopped over.
At the end of thorny stalks raspberries were ripening into bright oranges and reds.
Large white Mushrooms had emerged from the soil with papery white scrolls hanging over pink frills underneath; and mosses and lichens spread over the ground and logs.
The wintergreen plants seemed to be past their flowering stage for this year. They are quite common on the hillside where we spotted the first flower buds a few weeks ago. Now their long flower stalks have round green berries on the ends.
There were signs of insect damage and webbing in several places. A tree trunk appeared damaged where patches of bark had been chewed at different heights on the tree. Other leaves showed tent like webbing and leaf damage.
At a bend in the trail descending toward the creek, along a dry streambed there was a fluttering sound as a black, orange and white bird preened its feathers. The bird perched in a bush on a low branch for a minute or two, fanning and fluttering his disheveled feathers. Across the streambed a female cardinal had also stopped to preen her feathers, and a bright red male alighted on her branch for just a moment before disappearing back into the green canopy.
A grey catbird hopped along over debris near the creek, posing for a moment to watch a visitor take its photo.
The main creek was actually quite clear and fish were lolling and basking in the sun or cruising in the shadows of the rocks. It was nice to sit and rest by the creek but there wasn’t much air moving. The creek and shade didn’t offer a cool enough location to retreat from the heat.
Next to the creek a mimosa tree was in bloom with white and pink brushy flowers. The tree fanned out over the creek with a slight flowery fragrance.
The heat began to take its toll on the trip home. Frequent breaks and a slower pace help prevent overheating. Unfortunately, the water in the creeks and streams are completely off-limits due to human pollution. Summer visitors must carry water and refreshments.
According to the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences online, mimosa tree (Albizia julibrissin) is native to Asia, and considered an invasive species due to its ability to grow in various soil types, to regenerate when cut back, and to reduce sunlight and nutrient availability for other species.
Eastern towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus) – According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology online, Eastern Towhees are birds of the undergrowth, where their rummaging makes far more noise than you would expect for their size.
In early June the woods were leafy, dark, and green! Back after a couple of weeks away in May, we walked the trails looking for what’s new. There was so much growth from the ground cover plants which had emerged just a few weeks prior. It seemed that these plants had set in for the summer, on cruise control to grow and deepen in color as the temperatures rise. The trail was dappled with sunlight.
Looking for anything new or unusual, we spotted many chipmunks, nearly half a dozen in just 30 minutes. They squeak and sprint through rustling leaves or along a log, then freeze and disappear from detection until they squeak and sprint again. Numerous, and apparently new, holes show that subterranean excavations have been underway in the woods. Could these plump chipmunks be any happier?
A large grey bird of prey lifted itself up from the ground and flew into the canopy. It may have been waiting for a chipmunk snack.
Scraggly thin vine tendrils reached and stretch into the air and out into the trail, just searching for something to grab onto.
There was a nice display of starry-shaped plants growing on a mossy embankment. A single sighting of a small, precious plant just a few inches high and two flower buds bowing towards the ground was a reassuring sign that wild flowers are still working their magic in the woods in this age of vines.
On the way home, we spotted a deer munching on the new leaves and saplings, casually turning its neck to observe the visitors. Slowly it walked on and then sprang into the luscious leaves.
A blue jay bounced between the ground and a low tree branch before flying off into the canopy.
A blue jay bounced between the ground and a low tree branch before flying off into the canopy.
Chimaphila maculata – striped wintergreen. According to Maryland Native Plant Society, striped wintergreen is a low-growing herbaceous plant with creamy-veined (or “striped”) forest-green leaves, frequently with flowers in pairs.
Third week of May. A trip to a higher latitude on the East Coast allowed for some walking in the White Mountains, gorgeous and green with the first wave of spring leaves. A local informed me that the leaves had just emerged within five days of my visit. These woods are distinguished with an embarrassment of riches among the ground plants spanning the unique window of sunny bare forest and shaded leafy forest. This was the perfect moment to see the elusive trillium. After noticing one trillium with a bright white star flower, it was easy to find them just about everywhere with maroon, white, or painted flowers.
Charming mountain streams twined through the woods and tumbled over full round mossy stones forming small waterfalls and cool rippling pools. New ferns swayed over the fresh mossy banks. The water there is crystal clear due to the type of bedrock and soils.
Birds sang bright warbly songs in loud voices, but hidden from sight. A female wild turkey strode swiftly through a stand of evergreens. A local pointed out a moosewood tree striped of its bark, and explained that moose like to gnaw on the bark of that tree. Another sign of moose in the area – moose droppings!
Gorgeous delicate wildflowers basked in the sun. Hobblebush was starting to grow in thickly everywhere with snowy white flowers just opening. Purple violets clustered together by the streams, and tiny white violets scattered around the ground.
The mix of trees on the mountains were leafing out in delicate variety of colors. From across a serene lake the woods on the opposite shore appeared to be as varied in color as a bouquet of flowers. I could only imagine these woods in their rich autumn colors and considered a return trip in the fall.
Trillium undulatum – or painted trillium; according to Michigan Natural Inventory this rare species is known by three showy, white petals with a dark pink, inverted V-shaped mark toward the base of each petal
Viburnum lantanoides – Hobblebush. According to Northern Woodlands online, hobblebush is a sprawling shrub that has beautiful, showy white flowers in spring, succeeds well at growing in deep shade, using several strategies that keep it from having to declare photosynthetic bankruptcy, despite having very little regular solar income. Hobblebush has an early leaf out, sometimes beginning when there is still snow on the ground.
Acer Pennsylvanicum – Moosewood tree. According to Plant Guide online, the Striped Maple, or Moosewood grows from a shrub to a tree 40 feet high, best always in the shade of taller trees and usually in rocky woods that cover mountain slopes. The bark appears striped.
Second week of May. New longitude and altitude. A trip to the West Coast afforded a few moments to explore the Sierra Nevada. The woods were still emerging from their snowy winter blanket. At the time of my visit, there was still a good amount of snow on the ground, and the higher altitude road and trails were not completely open. A local gave me directions to find a mountain rim trail. The steep mountain, snow pack, and underbrush made for interesting walking, a fresh change after the spring underway back east. It was important to keep aware in all directions to make sure not to get lost. Snow-melt was generating constant run-off into the streams and gullies, making it easy to stay along a very noisy river to my left.
The woods were thick with trees, evergreen tree branches, and snow, and the air was cool, clean, and pine-scented! Stopping atop a large sturdy mound of snow, I suddenly noticed the trail ran underneath and off in either direction. Lichen and mosses dotted the tree trunks, and a thick carpet of pine needles covered the trail. The trail was interrupted off and on by snow pack, and it took some exploring to keep following and pick it up again.
At some point the snow overtook my ability to follow the trail, so I retraced my steps back and down the mountain back to where I started, river to the right.
This may be Arctostaphylos patula
Arctostaphylos patula – known also as greenleaf manzanita. wildflower.org says it grows in open, coniferous, mt. forests; 2000-9000 ft.