One Hail of a Storm

July 12th was a typical hot summer day. Until late afternoon. Then black clouds billowed out of the northwest wiping out the sun and trailing thunder so loud it hurt the ears.

It was fury unleashed as the storm pounded the house and turned deck and driveway white with hail.

When the cacophony finally stopped about half an hour later we ventured outside. Nearly 4 cm of water — more than 1.5 inches — sat in the rain gauge. Flower and vegetable gardens resembled huge tossed salads.

In the woods we found the remains of a recently opened wood lily, one petal still clinging to the stem. Pockets of moss held handfuls of white stones (that were still there two days later).

A mossy bed of hailstones

In spite of the damage much of the gardens will recover. That’s the nature of plants.

As for the woods? They were transformed — filled suddenly with light, branches sparkling crystal-like with rain, mist floating in the air …

After the storm

… the wonder of a storm.

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Rotten to the Core

Our woods are old. Many of the spruce have celebrated more than 150 summers. Poplar don’t live nearly that long and many now are showing their age, like this balsam poplar sprouting a hefty load of fungi.

Fungi on dying balsam poplar

Unlike the hard, woody bracket fungi that also grow on tree trunks, these gilled mushrooms are soft and fleshy. By the time these spore-producing parts appear, the inside of the tree is well-rotted — the mushroom “roots” (mycelia) have spread through the trunk, digesting the wood.

Underside view

While the mushroom is feeding on the tree, insects begin feeding on the mushroom. Other insects feed on them. Cycles within cycles.

Many insects live among the gills

A wonderment of life in the woods.


Oyster mushroom (?)   Pleurotus ostreatus

 

 

Cock of the Walk

I spotted a female grouse ambling through the woods the other day. Not far away I heard a male drumming his come-hither-darling call to any females in the neighbourhood.

I decided to follow her. Creeping over dried leaves, twigs and branches is noisy business but the crunching and crackling didn’t seem to bother her. I wondered if she was the one who has been frequenting our yard.

Just then the drummer caught sight of her and he trotted after her in pursuit, his tail fanned out like a peacock, his gorgeous ruff fluffed to its fullest. This handsome lad had love on his mind.

She flew into a tree. He stopped and turned to give her the benefit of what he had to offer.

Showing off

Meanwhile I stumbled around for a better angle, sure that one or the other would leave. Nope. His feet were definitely planted on the road to love and she was quite happy several feet up the tree.

A come-hither look

After several minutes of his look-into-my-eyes-my-darling routine, she had enough. She leapt off the branch and flew further into the woods.

Undeterred he followed.

Walking grouse

The three of us were heading into more deadfall — the two with feathers were more adept than I at maneuvering the jumble of logs and limbs. I heard a flap of wings ahead and a blur through the trees. She was gone. Again.

This time when a branch snapped beneath my feet, the male turned to look. What expression did I read there? Fickle female? Better luck next time? How could she refuse my offer?

No luck this time

I discretely retreated.


Ruffed grouse   Bonasa umbellus

A Sign of Time

This is a clock. It is marking the slow demise of an old poplar.

Many of the trees in our woods sport visible signs of inner decay and rot — firm, bracket-shaped fungi growing on their trunks.

Some tree fungi live only one season. This one is a perennial, adding new “rings” each year. It will continue to do this even after the tree has died.

The “shelves” or brackets are the fruiting part of the plant, producing air-borne spores some of which may infect other trees. The main part of the fungus is invisible. The “roots” (mycelia) grow throughout the inside of the tree. Fungi can’t produce their own food but rely instead on the energy stored in plants that do, like trees.

Bracket fungus
Bracket or shelf fungus on poplar

These fungi are vital to a healthy forest. They break down dying and dead trees, recycling the nutrients and minerals back into the soil to be used, perhaps, by new trees. This dissolution may take decades or a century or more.

A sign of time.

Up, Up and Away

Our resident great gray owl paid us a visit today. We first spotted him sitting on the fence in the drizzle. He scanned the snow-covered garden then turned to study the tall tangle of wild grass on the other side of the fence listening for mice or voles.

Great gray owl

As we sat down to supper he swooped close past the kitchen window and deep into the woods. Of course I was too late with the camera.

Several minutes later he flew back again. With great slow sweeps of his wings he came straight toward the window where we sat eating supper — then, to our amazement, he hovered in front of the window for several seconds staring directly in at us. Finally, with several strong wingbeats, he was up and over the roof and lost to sight.

Unforgettable.

Take off


Great gray owl   Strix nebulosa

Rime and Reason

Rime — tiny ice crystals that form when supercooled water vapour freezes on contact with solid objects

Storms that pummelled the West Coast a few days ago sent moisture-laden clouds scudding over the rocks and into Alberta. When the water vapour landed here it grew into fog. Then freezing temperatures worked their magic, turning windward surfaces white with rime.

A misty grey fairyland …


Balsam poplar   Populus balsamifera
Canada thistle   Cirsium arvense
White spruce   Picea gluaca

Owed to Winter

Rosy cheeks
Runny nose
Chilly fingers
Frost-nipped toes.

Yup. Winter has launched a shot across autumn’s bow. The faint drizzle yesterday turned into several centimetres of the white stuff by morning.

But the temps will rise later this week and the panic to install snow tires, replace the weather stripping and buy new gloves will wane. After all, winter is months way.

Right?


Wild rose hip   Rosa acicularis

 

Stumped

Over the years numerous red squirrels have staked their claim to this large stump and the midden that surrounds it. Middens and squirrels are common in our woods but this arrangement is different from most.

I spotted the cone pile first, right on top. An odd choice as cones are usually stored underground.

Alongside the cones was another surprise — a nest of dried grass and moss. And sitting in the nest, the current owner, with a great view of the neighbourhood.

On rainy days, the owner is absent so perhaps he (or she) is tucked down in the midden, safe and dry.


Red squirrel   Tamiasciuris hudsonicus
White spruce   Picea glauca