A Northwoods Almanac for 9/16 – 29, 2016
“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.”- Albert Camus
Rain Rain = Mushrooms Mushrooms
We’ve had so much rain that the Manitowish River below our house is currently in full flood stage with water levels equal to the height of snowmelt in April. There’s nowhere for the water to go when the DNR begins lowering the Manitowish Chain of Lakes in October to protect people’s docks, so I don’t know what they’ll be able to do. Meanwhile, Ironwood, MI, has had 39” of rain as of early September, compared to the long-term average of 22”. All of this moisture, of course, adds up to mushroom heaven. It’s so wet that mold is growing on lots of mushrooms – see the photo by Rod Sharka.
The easiest way to learn the mushrooms in our area is to join the mushroom club in St. Germain headed by Cora Mollen and her daughter Anne Small (see http://www.northstatemycologicalclub.org). If that isn’t possible, get Cora’s book Fascinating Fungi of the North Woods.
One mushroom we always look forward to finding, and which is easy to identify, is the hemlock varnish shelf (Ganoderma tsugae).
As the name implies, the mushroom appears polished as if someone had varnished it. It’s typically found on dead or dying hemlock trees and is quite large and usually maroon in color. I was surprised to learn that numerous studies have looked at the hemlock varnish shelf for its antioxidant properties, its ability to heal skin wounds, and its potential use in therapy for cervical cancer. A closely related species, lacquered polypore (Ganoderma lucidum) but also known as “Ling Chih” in China and “Reishi” in Japan), has been used extensively to treat a variety of conditions from insomnia and arthritis to hepatitis and cancer.
Turkey tails are another type of shelf fungi, but these form thin, leather-like or leaf-like structures in concentric circles. The upper surface of a turkey tail provides its name – the concentric rings of brown, orange, maroon, blue, and green look like the tail feathers on a wild turkey. Turkey tails also have been used to treat various maladies in Asia, Europe, and by indigenous peoples in North America.
|photo by Mary Burns|
The annual hawk migration festival held at the Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory in Duluth, MN, takes place this weekend, 9/16-18. Sharp-shinned hawks have already been moving in good numbers with 1,088 tallied on 9/8 and 1,353 counted on 9/10. The broad-winged hawk migration is just starting to heat up with 3,653 cruising over the ridge on 9/10.
September 10th was also a busy day for blue jays with 6,205 winging by. The counters also tallied 30 Tennessee warblers, an amazing number to me given that I can barely identify a fall plumage Tennessee warbler when it’s three feet away from me much less as it’s flying by. But that’s why the Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory pays for truly expert birders to do its count and why I simply write about it.
If you’ve never visited Hawk Ridge to see the hawk migration, make a point of it. It’s one of the best spots in American to see hawks. Watch for a day soon when the winds are out of the west or north, and get up there! See www.hawkridge.org for more information.
After reading my last column where I mentioned how uncommon red-headed woodpeckers are, Gale Fisher wrote last week, “We also have a red-headed woodpecker coming to our suet feeder this summer in Hazelhurst. Sometimes we hear his/her call before it arrives and sometimes we just happen to see it. We even had the pleasure of watching it feed an immature.”
Tony Waisbrot sent me a photo of a large albino buck he observed near St. Germain.
Bev Engstrom sent an exceptional photograph she took of a nighthawk as it was migrating through our area.
Mark Westphal and Bev Engstrom shared beautiful photos of great egrets that have recently been seen in our area.
|photo by Bev Engstrom|
|photo by Mark Westphal|
Jim Swartout emailed several fine photos of a young black bear in a field near his home in the Minocqua area.
How Do Birds Tell One Another Apart?
Have you ever wondered how birds know which gender is which when both genders look exactly alike? It turns out that many birds can see ultraviolet light and that’s the key. In one study, researchers analyzed 139 species of birds that we humans cannot identify as male or female by their colors. More than 90% of birds in the study had ultraviolet-reflecting feathers and were visually different from one another through avian eyes.
Black-capped chickadees are an example. Under ultraviolet light, the males are brighter white and deeper black than females. Females apparently prefer males with the sharpest contrast between white and black patches and those with bigger black bibs.
The full moon, aka the “harvest” or “acorn” or “leaves changing color” moon, occurs tonight, 9/16.
Every full moon rises around sunset, and on average each successive moonrise comes daily about 50 minutes later. But because of the unusually narrow angle of the sun (the “ecliptic”) to the horizon in September and October, the moon rises much sooner than the average. So, at mid-northern latitudes, instead of rising 50 minutes later in the days after full moon, the waning moon will rise only 35 minutes later, or thereabouts, for several days in a row. At far northern latitudes, the moon rises about 15 minutes later for days on end.
This wasn’t lost on farmers bringing in the harvest before the days of tractor lights. With no long period of darkness between sunset and moonrise for several days after full moon, farmers could continue working in the field by moonlight. Hence the name “Harvest Moon.”
The official autumn equinox takes place on 9/22, although our days and nights in the Northwoods won’t become equal until 9/25. The following day, 9/26, will mark the first time the night will be longer than the day since March 16.
As of 9/13, we still haven’t had our first fall frost, as has become the norm. This is good for ripening tomatoes, but also a continuing indicator of a warming climate.