Showing posts from 2016
Nature News: Tar spot fungus showing up on maple leavesBy Sue Pike York Weekly/Portsmouth Herald/Exeter Weekly/Fosters Dailly Democrat
There are mushrooms and then there are fungi, essentially the same thing (mushrooms are the reproductive parts of fungi), but while we humans think mushrooms are cute and give them fanciful names like toadstools or pixie rings, a large number of fungi go unnoticed or unrecognized. Or even worse (if you are a fungi who takes umbrage at human misunderstandings) many fungi are considered to be diseases. Athlete’s foot for example - a fungi just trying to survive on human feet. Or the tar spot fungus that is showing up on many of the brilliant yellow maple leaves this fall.
Most of the sugar maple leaves in my neighborhood are dotted with these tar spots; my neighbors were wondering just how concerned they should be by this. According to the Cornell University Plant Disease Diagnostic Clinic: “Several different fungi in th…
Nature News: Red squirrels love to stash away pine conesBy Susan Pike  published the week of Nov 14 2016 in a variety of local newspapers
I was out hiking with a friend when a red squirrel accosted us on the trail, clearly wanting something to eat. It sat up on a rock, its tail quivering, it jumped down and moved closer.  I took out my phone and snapped some photos before disappointing it and walking away.  I feel like I’ve known red squirrels my entire life. They lived in the big spruce trees behind my childhood house and left little piles of picked-over pine cones among the mossy stumps. When I was little, my father would read to us from the Burgess Animal Book. What I remember most about that book is a random line: “Chatterer the Red Squirrel had been scolding because there was no excitement.” This character - Chatterer - was always getting into trouble with Old Mother West Wind because he never seemed able to keep his thoughts to himself. My backyard red squirrels were just like …
Tamaracks are rebels in the tree worldBy Sue Pike and local papers  November 7, 2016 I drove out to Cooperstown, N.Y., to visit my son this weekend. It was beautiful driving through the Berkshires into northern New York. The trees were mostly bare except for brilliant stands of red maple and deep orange oak and then, every once in a while, blazes of almost fluorescent yellow tamarack. Tamaracks are rebels in the tree world. We all easily categorize trees as either evergreen or deciduous. The evergreens are mostly conifers; needle-leaved, cone-bearing trees like pines, firs and hemlocks. The deciduous trees are the ones that draw the leaf peepers to New England - scarlet maples, orange and brown oaks, yellow birches, beech and poplar; broad-leaved trees that turn color and then drop their leaves in winter. Tamaracks are nonconformists to this dichotomy because they are conifers that turn color and drop their needles every winter. I knew that tamaracks gre…
Nature News: Sea pickle thrives in salt marshBy Susan Pike

I live just down the road from a salt marsh. The salt marsh hay is yellowish brown now and lying over in those distinctive cowlicks. Walking on it, I always feel like a flea walking on the back of a dog. Here and there bright red sea pickles poke through, adding some lively color to an otherwise monochrome scene. I learned about sea pickles when I first moved to Maine. My kids and I liked to eat them (they taste like tiny pickles) during our ramblings through the marsh. While working at the Wells National Estuarine Reserve, I discovered their importance as a salt marsh indicator species. Sea pickles (also called glasswort, samphire, saltwort, or, scientifically, as Salicornia species) and Spartina grasses (salt marsh hay and cord grass) are the most common salt marsh plants and have worldwide distributions. These plants are halophytes (plants adapted to salty conditions) and are also pioneer species, meaning they are usually t…
Blue Mussels in Decline
by Sue Pike October 15 2016  The York Weekly/York County Coast Star/Portsmouth Herald/Fosters Daily/Exeter News
My neighbor’s brother lives along the coast in Ipswich Massachusetts.  All of his life he has gathered oysters, clams and mussels from the mudflats and rocky shoreline near his house.  He had noticed their population declining over the past couple of years but as of this summer all of his mussels were gone. 
I like to mussel, it’s easy and I love those chewy orange nuggets, especially steamed with garlic and butter and wine.  Like my neighbor’s brother, I too have been having to search farther and farther afield for these tasty morsels, but I didn’t really think about it being a widespread problem until my neighbor called and asked about what was happening at her brothers.   I had missed a report that came out back in July; researchers (Sorte et al., Global Change Biology) compared modern population sizes of blue mussels (Mytilus edulis) in the Gulf…

Nature News: Witch Hazel

Nature News: Witch-hazel a very late bloomerBy Susan Pike
I was up in the White Mountains last weekend and found witch-hazel blooming along the riverside trails. I was excited to see the flowers so early because witch-hazel flowers are a harbinger of winter. Witch-hazel is probably my favorite shrub, primarily because witch-hazel is such a rebel in the way it stands up to the elements. It waits until the surrounding trees have dropped their leaves, when most other plants have battened down the hatches and begun to seriously prepare for winter to burst into bloom. Things happen earlier up north than they do down here — you won’t be seeing witch-hazel bloom around here until late October or early November, perhaps even later. But, it is something to seek out now so that you can watch for its spectacular late-fall display; a bloom of bright yellow at a time when the forest is turning gray and monotone as winter approaches. It is thought that witch-hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) evolved thi…
Nature News: Beach rose invasive, but seems so nativeBy Susan PikeOct 29 2016   A quintessential image associated with the rocky coast of Maine south to the long sandy beaches of the Cape is the beach rose. Long hedgerows of this prickly shrub guard the backs of beaches and nestle into the glacier-dropped stones that litter the coast. The scientific name for beach rose (also called scrub rose) is Rosa rugosa. Rugosa is Latin for “wrinkled,” referring to the wrinkled surfaces of the dark green leaves. The stems are covered with thin sharp spines and the flowers are fairly big (as wild roses go), up to 5 inches across and range in color from white to dark pink. Most notable, to my mind, are the huge fruit — the rose-hips — shiny, orange-red, fleshy rose-hips, which are ripe and at their peak right now. Like so many of us who call ourselves New Englanders but weren’t actually born here, beach roses are not native to this area. They are native to China, Japan and Korea and were first intr…
Nature News Whale feeding research important to understanding ocean October 8 2016 by Sue Pike  Portsmouth Herald/Fosters Daily Democrat/York Weekly

A recently published scientific paper titled “Kinematic Diversity in Rorqual Whale Feeding Mechanisms” (in Current Biology, Sept. 2016, Cade et al) caught my eye for a number of reasons. I had just been on my first whale watch in more than 20 years and had watched humpbacks feeding off of Stellwagen Bank. This article made me realize I didn’t know much about how whales feed or what they eat; I didn’t even know what a rorqual whale was.
The easiest question first: Rorqual whales are a family of baleen whales that includes the blue, humpback, minke and fin whales. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word rorqual comes from an Old Norwegian word, “røyrkval” that means furrow. Members of this family have longitudinal grooves (furrows) of skin running from their mouths down their bodies towards their naval which allow their mouths a…
Nature News
Catch shearwaters before they migrate southby Sue Pike the York Weekly/Portsmouth Herald/Foster's Daily While in college in the early 1980s, I spent a summer out a the Isles of Shoals taking the Field Marine Research class. It was a great course, we helped band birds, studied tide pools, scuba-dived in the cold Atlantic water and learned about the raucous gull colonies that made walking on some parts of the island a perilous venture. One of my favorite things was a whale watch - I had never been on one. This was a long time ago, but two things stand out crystal clear in my memory of that trip: the humpback whales feeding, breaching and diving right next to the boat and the shearwaters flying low over the waves.
The whales were certainly awe-inspiring, but I have to say that the shearwaters captured my imagination more than any animal I have ever seen. I love the way they fly. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary the term “shearwater” refers to “any of numerous oc…
Nature NewsHow a pitcherplant catches its dinnerby Sue Pike The York Weekly/Portsmouth Herald/Foster's Daily Democrat
I experienced the exhalation of nature last week.  I was in a bog in  Farmington NH, crouched down low over a patch of brilliant scarlet and chartreuse pitcherplants, trying to take photos into their water-filled orifices (yes we had just had rain for the first time in a long time!) in the hopes of catching one of these carnivorous plants slowly consuming some luckless insect.   My camera lens kept fogging up and I realized it was caused by condensation of the water vapor evaporating out of the pitcherplant---not a true exhalation, but something close.

Because of the drought I was able to walk out into the bog, much further than I normally would have without hip waders. While the soil still held enough water for the ground to be damp, it lacked its normal squishiness-the water level should be near the surface in most bogs, in the midst of a drought it is not (the ter…
Nature NewsPuffballs: Mushrooms that house powdery sporesBy Sue Pike I really like puffballs, not the huge football-sized ones that are starting to show up in the lawns around my house (those are very cool) but rather the smaller, ping-pong sized ones that grow in the woods. The ones that ask you to touch them and shoot a puff of spores up and out into the world. Puffballs are an interesting group of mushrooms (the Gasteromycetes) that instead of exposing their gills and forcibly expelling spores into the wind, rely upon external forces to release and disperse the spores from the mushroom. Puffballs, as the name suggests, are typically spherical, ball-shaped or often pear-shaped mushroom that houses a mass of powdery spores inside. Most fungi that we typically call mushrooms are the reproductive part of a much larger underground network of cells (the mycelium), long strands of branching, thread-like hyphae that inhabit the soil or rotting logs (they’re in…
NATURE NEWS Ripple marks tell quite a storySeptember 7 2016
I was at the beach this past Labor Day weekend enjoying the sun and wind before Hurricane Hermine hit. As the tide receded, it exposed a nicely rippled beach that was fun to walk on – it felt like a massage of sorts. I had recently read parts of an old paper by a Mrs. Hertha Ayrton published in 1910 in the "Proceedings of the Royal Society of London" entitled “The Origin and Growth of Ripple-mark.” I love old scientific papers. They often reflect a delightful, old-school sense of wonder and curiosity.
According to Mrs. Ayrton, “To anyone who, for the first time, sees a great stretch of sandy shore covered with innumerable ridges and furrows, as if combed with a giant comb, a dozen questions must immediately present themselves. How do these ripples form? Are they made and wiped out with every tide, or do they take a long time to grow, and last for many tides? What is the relation between the ripple and the waves to w…
NATURE NEWSSoon hummingbirds will migrate thousands of miles southSeptember 1 2016
When I lived in California, I always worried
about hummingbird identification. There were at least four different species, and they were all so little, moved so fast, and the females were indistinguishable to the untrained eye. We have it easy here in New England. There is only one species of hummingbird you are likely to see here (aside from the rare sightings of black-chinned, rufous and Allen’s hummingbirds): our only breeding hummingbird, the ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris). They zoom into my garden at least a couple times a day to check out the flower offerings, ignoring the zinnias and cone flowers, preferring the more tubular flowers like bee balm and jewelweed. My co-teacher wanted to know where ruby-throated hummingbirds go in winter. As usual, I had no idea, just the vague notion that they must go somewhere south. I knew they followed the sapsuckers north in the spring, drinki…