Nature pics from Lake Mohonk

Below are some recent photographs I took near Mohonk Mountain House near New Paltz, New York. All pics are linked to iNaturalist observations if you have a comment or would like to correct my identification (thanks in advance).

I think this is Dermatocarpon luridum (brook stippleback lichen). Apparently subaquatic, so one only finds it in locations that are always wet. This clump was growing on the vertical face of Shawangunk conglomerate. It’s sometimes called “brook stickleback lichen” but shouldn’t be (that’s just a typo). More details here.

Another lichen (species TBA) peeking though ice.

I liked the diversity of bryophytes in this clump so thought I’d try my hand at identifying them. The central puff is, perhaps, Leucobryum albidum. There’s another species in the genus, L. glaucum, but I think that has longer leaves. The ferny-looking one is possibly Hypnum imponens (brocade moss). And, finally, that wispy moss could be either Dicranum fuscescens (dusky fork-moss) or D. scoparium. Mosses are hard, and there are apparently 177 in the Shawagunk Mountains (Tessler et al. 2016).

Some sort of conifer that had been hit by lightning. I looked around for the bark that had been blown off but couldn’t find it. It’s interesting there are no scorch marks. I gather that the explosion can launch bark at bystanders, which is another good reason not to hide under trees during an electrical storm. Fun fact: I’ve been hit by lightning. Actually, that wasn’t fun.

I think the white areas on this Kalmia latifolia (mountain laurel) are where the waxy layers of the leaf have separated. Which doesn’t seem like a good idea so I’m curious why this was so common — every plant had dozens of leaves with similar spots. Frost damage, perhaps?

Just a fruit from Liquidambar styraciflua (American sweetgum). Very common, this one was more photogenic than usual because of the ice.

I’m pretty sure this is Dacrymyces chrysospermus (orange jelly spot) because it was growing on a dead conifer that had no bark. This saprobic species is often confused with the parasites Tremella aurantia and Tremella mesenterica, both equally colorful and gooey but which grow on (=eat) Stereum hirsutum and Peniophora spp., respectively (see Overall 2017). Identification of Tremella species can be tricky because their hosts are not always visible. And, sometimes, a jelly can be found near both Stereum hirsutum and Peniophora, in which case you’d need to examine spores to figure out which Tremella you have. If you want to read more, Thomas Roehl has a great post.

I think this is Trichaptum biforme (violet-toothed polypore) but I’m not confident because it’s the first time I’ve encountered the species. I’m fairly confident of the genus because of the toothy underside, but I guess it could be Trichaptum abietinum, instead, if the host is a conifer. I don’t think it’s Trametes versicolor (turkey-tail; has pores) or Stereum hirsutum (false turkey-tail; smooth underside) but those two were my first guesses.

I’ve eyed this sad-looking Salix matsudana (Chinese willow) for years and wondered what disease it might have. My current guess is Agrobacterium tumefaciens (crown gall) but fungi can cause cankers, too.

This took me forever to identify so I’ll be sad if I’m wrong: Callirhytis quercussimilis (Cynipidae). Here’s the BugGuide page. I know it’s not an amazing photograph but I just love these wasps. There were thousands in the area.

I think this is a wolf spider (Lycosidae), perhaps something in the genus Pardosa. That ID is based on overall look but especially on the eyes (I rely on this page heavily). In years of walking on the snow looking for something to photograph, spiders are far more common than insects so I tend to adjust my search image to look for spiders, not insects. There’s even a large literature that explores how spiders survive (e.g., Murphy et al. 2008).

This is an American black bear (Ursus americanus), the only bear species in the area and thus easy to identify. I used a 70-200 mm lens with an attached 1.4x extender, then heavily cropped the image. So not as close as it appears, which is really just as well. It didn’t look amused.

More photographs of Mohonk Mountain House (and nature) are here, if you’re interested.

Hildacy Preserve photographs (December 2, 2019)

Some recent nature photographs taken at nearby Hildacy Preserve in Media, PA. All images are hot-linked to iNaturalist observations if you’d like to correct my identification or make a comment.

Chinese mantis egg case on hawthorn tree
Tenodera sinensis

Ootheca of Chinese mantis (Tenodera sinensis), one of eight oothecae in the branches of a small hawthorn. Winter is a great time to remove this invasive species (they eat butterflies).

Multiclavula mucida growing on mat of Coccomyxa
Multiclavula mucida

I’ve seen these before but never bothered to photograph them. I’m fairly confident the fungus is Multiclavula mucida and that the green alga is Coccomyxa. They are symbiotic, just like lichen. If you’d like more information about this fungus, Gary Emberger at Messiah College has a page.

Trametes versicolor (turkey tail) on moss-covered log
Trametes versicolor

Just a common turkey tail (Trametes versicolor) but I liked the rain-covered moss that covered the log. The mushroom is eating the log, not the moss. Gary Emberger has more details.

Tremella encephala growing around Stereum sanguinolentum
Tremella encephala

This one took me a long time to identify and I’m still not positive: Tremella encephala. If I’m right, that would mean the shelf fungi (withered, papery fluffs along stem) are Stereum sanguinolentum, the host of the parasitic jelly. The shelf fungus is also visible inside the blobs as lighter, more opaque tissue. For great pics and natural history information, please see the Forest Floor Narrative’s post.

Gymnosporangium sp. on Crataegus phaenopyrum
Hildacy Preserve, Media, PA.

As with many of my photographs, I didn’t know what this was initially (I take photographs of unknowns hoping I might learn something interesting). I think the swelling is caused by a rust fungus (Gymnosporangium sp.). This fungus makes bizarre, orange, gooey structures on leaves and fruit during the warmer months and, oddly, alternates between rosaceous hosts and junipers. Given that the host here is a hawthorn (Crataegus phaenopyrum, I think) this could be Gymnosporangium globosum (hawthorn rust) but several other species in the genus (e.g., G. clavipes, G. nidus-avis) can also infect this tree. I’m hoping the shape of the twig swellings might be important for identification, but so far I’ve been unable to find a book or article that tells me more. For wonderful photographs and descriptions of this fungus, see Joe Boggs’ page.

If you don’t have an iNaturalist account, get one.

Help monarch butterflies by giving away milkweed plants

Like most monarch fans, I dutifully pack my yard with milkweed and hope the offering will somehow offset the effects of habitat loss and pesticide applications on population levels. But I’m not a complete idiot so I know that my contribution is probably rather inconsequential. Planting milkweeds for a few dozen monarchs is not really going to help population declines.

So this year I finally got around to something I’ve been meaning to do for years: give away lots of milkweed plants. My goal was to distribute free seedlings to several hundred people in my town (Swarthmore, Pennsylvania), ideally creating a concentration of milkweed that might make a difference. And because milkweeds are perennials and produce seeds that disperse with the wind, all of those initial milkweeds would do their reproductive duties for years, seeding vacant lots and such. Perhaps after a few years we will start seeing flocks of monarchs again (I’m an optimist).

This post summarizes how I grew the plants and gave them away, just in case anyone else might be nudged to do something similar. If one person in every town did this we might reverse the yearly declines in monarch populations.

Step one was to collect seeds. If you’ve never done it before it’s easy — just pick browning pods and let fully dry. Here’s a photograph from 2018 showing some swamp milkweed pods:

You don’t need to, but I decided to clean my seeds. Here’s the end product:

Milkweed seeds germinate best if they are exposed to a period of cold, ideally when moist. So all I did was scatter the seeds on a few large containers (actually, unused litterboxes). Come spring I had hundreds of seedlings emerge.

As seedlings emerged I’d transfer them to small Dixie cups. I soon covered almost every square inch of sunny space in my yard. (That’s my bee hotel, by the way.)

Then I started giving them away to people in town who had expressed an interest in growing milkweed. I put the seedlings into cheap paper cups and then delivered sets of threes to doorsteps. This used up about two dozen seedlings.

To get people to plant milkweed I thought it might be fun to leave pots around town along with, “please adopt us” notes. I gave away probably 100 this way. Usually the pots would be taken within an hour or so. It was fun leaving them in obscure spots around town, and I was hoping to build some curiosity about who was doing this and why.

Here’s the note I left with each set. I went with “rose milkweed” because I worried that “swamp milkweed” might be a turn-off for some. But same plant: Asclepias incarnata, my favorite milkweed. And it’s native.

The next phase was more public. I made a Facebook page called, Swarthmore Monarch Boosters and used it to promote Events where I’d give away milkweed seedlings. Here’s a screenshot of the page:

Here are seedlings bound for one of the giveaway events. There were even more pots in the front.

Here’s my display table. I held the events on days when large crowds would be expected, so probably 95% of takers were people who didn’t realize they even wanted milkweed plants.

In total, I probably gave away 500 milkweed plants this year. I’m not positive it was a success but I think I noticed more monarchs around town this year. As anecdotal evidence, I wasn’t even trying to photograph a monarch when taking this picture:

If you have milkweed plants and seed pods, give it a try in 2020. It would be especially good if garden clubs across the country made this a priority.

Contact me if you’re on the fence.