Out & About: cool stuff I find outside


Cactus Spines

I got a chance to travel to the desert this winter, thrilled for a break from our prolonged below-zero temps. Once there, I discovered Moorten Botanical Garden near Palm Springs, which has a spectacular collection of desert plants.


red succ

There were succulents of all shapes and sizes . . .


lettucey

Some of which looked like they came from a Dr. Seuss Book.


wavy

Right?


totem

The cacti—like the Totem Cactus, above, and the Golden Barrel Cactus, below—were also extraordinary.


barrels


spotty

I started noticing the spines, and how they were all different.


starburst


prickly

But all similarly serious-looking. 


hairy

(Well, maybe not ALL of them . . . )


blobs

When it comes to protection, desert plants have it all figured out. After all, there are so few of them in that dry, desolate expanse, and so many hungry animals. I’d think twice before taking a bite, wouldn’t you?

An Abundance of Ladies

crowd


This September has brought an abundance of Painted Lady butterflies to our yard. When I am out weeding or raking, an enchantment of orange wings swirls around me—sometimes up to thirty butterflies.


on finger


The object of their desire is my “Autumn Joy” sedum, which is in full bloom. Sometimes these butterflies are so intent on collecting nectar that I can coax one onto my finger, which it will gently explore with its proboscis, seeking sweetness.


b + b


They must share these late blooms with other pollinators, such as busy honeybees . . .


honeybee


skipper


red admiral


 . . . and other butterflies like Skippers and Red Admirals.


treefrog


Even the treefrogs join the party, although they are in it for sunbathing rather than nectar.


migrating


I know Painted Ladies are gearing up for their fall migration to southwestern United States and northern Mexico, where they will overwinter.



But I thrill to have them even for a week or so. Last summer, I carefully raised a dozen Ladies from caterpillars. Perhaps a some of these hardy, beautiful insects are their offspring? Either way, their presence is an autumn sweetness.

Round

Because of my recent book Round, I have been noticing round things in nature, both circular and spherical. While researching my book, I rambled around with my camera, asking myself: why are bubbles round? Fruit? Pebbles? Planets? I discovered some very interesting reasons, but . . . to find out, you’ll have to read the book!


FullSizeRender 7

Horsetail fern


FullSizeRender 5

Bromeliad wih a circular pool 


 1160178

Daisies


FullSizeRender 8

Chipping sparrow nest


FullSizeRender 9

Giant puffball mushroom


 1100587

Insect gall on goldenrod.


 1150257

Zinnia bud


 1070217

Dandelion seedhead


FullSizeRender 6 copy

Barrel cactus


 1070336

Meyer lemon


IMG 3731

Frozen bubbles


FullSizeRender 6 copy 2

Tumbled stones




Stark Beauty

Winter has been too gloomy and/or extreme to bring my camera out walking lately. But today I was heartened by that special low winter light, pastel and luminous. 


Also, my niece had given me a hand-knitted pair of fingerless gloves, which would warm my hands while allowing me to manipulate the camera in five degree temps:


IMG 3767 2


As usual, I like getting up close to things. 

frost ferns

The stream had just frozen a few days before, and frost ferns bloomed at its edges.


fox track

Out on the lake, the snow squealed beneath my feet. I followed some fox tracks. 


And investigated the beaver lodge.

beaver lodge


Wind had sculpted the lake surface . . .

 1150985


 . . . and blown snow into cracks. 

ice cracks


The lake boomed as thick plates of ice shifted somewhere beneath me. 


leaf

On the way back, I found two things. A stray leaf . . .


deer hoof

. . . and a deer hoof buried in the snowbank. A stark and beautiful time, winter.

Winding Down

Summer has come and gone in a whirl of dappled sunlight. I have planted, traveled, paddled, swum, collected, read, and investigated. I even raised Painted Lady caterpillars . . .


caterpillar


. . . and watched them transform.


eclosing


Now, suddenly the autumnal equinox is upon us. The mornings are dark and the evenings do not linger. The natural world is winding down.


bee


The bees work busily, gathering nectar for the winter ahead.


tree frog


Treefrogs soak up every bit of warmth before they burrow into the leaf litter.


crab spider


Crab spiders catch their last few bugs.


dill seeds


The dill has gone to seed . . .

 

milkweed


. . . and the swamp milkweed sends forth gossamer parachutes.


zinnia


Even the zinnias have lost a bit of luster. Still, they drink in the September sunshine as greedily as I do. 


Ducks in Trees

I love walking in the woods this time of year when the leaves aren’t quite out. You can see the slope of the land and the gracefully twisted oak limbs reaching to the sky; as well as objects closer at hand like mosses which are sending up their spore capsules now:


mosses


Certain heart-lifting birds are returning, such as this bluebird scouting out my neighbor’s birdhouses:


bluebirds


And this tundra swan pair, which I glimpsed from the farther shore . . .


swans


. . . then visited more closely on the other side of the lake. 


swans2


They were totally unafraid of both me and the black-footed swamp monster, below.


wats


This morning, I also heard a pair of wood ducks, looked up, and saw them perching on a branch. While I know that wood ducks nest in trees, and that their many chicks jump fearlessly out of a 30-foot-high nest hole, it was astounding to see a duck in a tree for the first time. I did not have my camera, of course! But here is a photo from the web by Gerald D. Tang to give you the idea:


Ducks-Wood-Pair-605894Gerald D. Tang


Apparently wood ducks have extra claws on their webbed feet to be able to grasp bark and branches. Such an interesting adaptation to provide a safe spot for eggs and chicks.


Spring is a wonderous time indeed.

Early Thaw

Hard to believe it’s only the end of February and not the end of March. On this beautiful, sunny, 50-ish afternoon, signs of thaw were everywhere. 


chickadee


The chickadees were out in force, chattering to each other excitedly and uttering an occasional territorial fee-bee call.


tree mouth


There were also signs of housing excavation (or tree crooning?).


wild cucumber


And the prickly remains of a wild cucumber vine.


Wats on ice


Watson ventured out onto the ice,


spongy ice


. . .  but it was a little too spongy for my taste.


rivulets

 

Especially since elsewhere, rivulets had sprung up.


puddles

 

And, best of all, puddles! 


They will ice over again soon enough, but for now I am enjoying this time of light and reflection.

Winter Camouflage

We’ve had a mild, gray winter here so far, but there have been some interesting patterns and colors to be discovered, like these frost lines on the porch window . . . 


frost



. . . and the occasional flash of a pileated woodpecker:


plieated


 The surprising beauty of a paper wasp nest . . .


wasp nest2


. . . and the loveliness of a blue winter dusk:


Watson loves following deer tracks and just generally sticking his nose into the snow:


Wats in cattails



But this time of year, the whole forest is brown and white, just like he is—so I often lose track of him, and can’t spot him until he moves. Can you find him in the photo below?


watswoods


Another slick piece of camouflage I found the other day was this cecropia moth cocoon on a buckthorn tree:


cocoon


Looks just like a dead leaf, doesn’t it? But I can tell by the little hole on its left side that last spring, a gorgeous moth (like the one below, from my Cecropia Watch blog)) crawled out of it and flew away:


cecropia2


Amazing to think what else might be out there in the winter woods, hiding in plain sight. Who knows what I’ll find tomorrow?

A Restless Wind

In a restless mood this gray afternoon, I headed out with my camera to look for wild grapes—or anything else of interest. It’s been a mild fall, and I imagined big, plump grapes to photograph (and maybe eat). The leaves are mostly gone, but I did find some beautiful color in small doses, like these poplars:


poplars


And a spray of some shrub I never notice until it turns a lovely pink:


pink shrub


And this small yellow filigree:


tiny yellow leaves


I did find the grape vines, but they looked like this:


 1100013


So much for plump purple grapes! The birds had already found them. It’s November, after all, I realized. And no sooner had that thought occurred to me than the wind began to pick up, and everything I tried to photograph began to bend and thrash. Like this goldenrod:


goldenrod


And these grasses:


grasses


And even the dried, curled leaves:


weed curl


The wind sharpened and chilled, and I made tracks for home, Watson galloping behind me. In the space of a ramble, the season had turned. November had arrived.

The Mushrooms Come

In fall, the woods smells of . . . well, mold. Organic matter droops and falls, becoming earth. Recycling itself, so to speak. And what helps this process more than anything else? Fungus, of course! Yes, in fall, there is a fungus amongus . . . many, many fungi, actually, doing their slow, steady job of decomposition.


 1090101

The first and most startling fungus I notice is the moon-like Giant Puffball (Calvatia gigantea—such a great name), the size of a soccer ball at the edge of the forest. Apparently one can eat this mushroom, and they say it tastes like tofu or melted cheese when cooked. It would be a big (gigantic) meal. I, myself, have not yet been brave enough to try it.


 1080404

Equally startling but much, much smaller, are these tiny orange mushrooms (Red Chanterelle, I think?) that sprout among the green moss like jewels.


P1040614

Smaller versions of puffballs dot many logs and even trees . . . and I always take the opportunity to gently swat them, eliciting a sulfurous cloud of spores.


 1040763

Some fungi have a gift for placing themselves dramatically, like this yin-yang-centered fungus, which I haven’t yet identified.


IMG 1534

Some people (I’m not naming any names) wander through parks in major European cities (like Madrid), and take photos of . . . mushrooms? Growing sideways out of trees?


P1040422

A wonderful russet shelf fungus.


 1090380

On this drizzly day, here are some half-inch-sized white stalagtite fungus (just made up this name) on a dead sumac, amidst the green dripping trees . . .


 1090381

. . . and also up close. 


Fairytale fungus. Just doing its job. But looking mysteriously spectacular at the same time.


  Copyright © Joyce Sidman 2006-2018.  All rights reserved.