Weather conditions on the island have been perfect for mushroom explosions. PHOTO COURTESY OF SHEILA COCHRAN

Nature: Why are mushrooms the life of the party?



July ends and August begins with mushrooms taking the spotlight in our local woods. The weather conditions have been perfect for their growth.

I had a wonderful experience this past week on a private carriage ride in the gorgeous old growth woods of this island. The trees in the old woods were not touched by the big fire and are magnificent! It was a magical ride. Looking out through the forest from the high vantage point of the handsome carriage, we could see hundreds of mushrooms of all sizes and colors. It was an amazing sight. An old forest is very special and we’re fortunate on this island to still be able to see it in a few places. I’ll long remember the sound and sights of this ride and being pulled by two handsome horses proudly doing what they do so well.

PHOTO COURTESY OF SHEILA COCHRAN

Mushrooms are very abundant right now so wherever you walk you will find them in all colors and shapes. Keep your camera readily available. Column readers have sent me many photographs – in red, white, black, shades of brown, yellow and spotted, very large and very tiny. For trying to recognize what you have found, I suggest any of the many excellent mushroom books with photographs or to go online and see the many photos on various sites there. You may not find the one YOU found, but you’ll get an appreciation of the possibilities out there. Don’t eat any of them UNLESS YOU are an EXPERT or an expert has identified them for you. Mistakes can be fatal. Many are quite delicious and much sought after for human food, but you HAVE to know how to recognize them.

The many mushrooms come in extravagant shapes and colors and they live on dead or dying plant material. They have an important job to do in the woodland scene in breaking down this material. Squirrels can eat many that we cannot eat. I saw a wonderful sight once in a little outbuilding at an old farm. Lined up on the window ledge were several colorful mushrooms left to dry and be eaten later by squirrels. Don’t miss the mushroom explosion right now in our woods!

August sometimes is called ‘the moon when the berries are ripe’ for there are many natural berries ripe for the picking. Blueberries, blackberries and cranberries are delicious. It was a favorite activity of mine in the Connecticut woods to go ‘blueberrying’ with my parents. I can still hear my mother’s voice calling in the thick bushes, “Charlie, are you still there?” and “Ruth, do you have many berries?” I was known to eat a few as I picked.

Picking bog cranberries on this island from a canoe or kayak was memorable too, for we once saw a mother muskrat carrying her baby out of our watery path in front of us. Mothers are very protective of their young.

Bogs are pretty much inaccessible to most humans and it’s probably just as well for they are special places not to be disturbed. The Big Heath, on this island in Manset, is seen from the road as you pass by Seawall, Radio Beach and approach Wonderland. These bogs are pockets filled with leftovers from the glaciers melting some 10,000 to 12,000 years ago. The cold water below the vegetation sits unstirred and is covered with a layer of plants varying in thickness. Along the edges of these mats grow the spruce and tamarack trees. Left long enough and undisturbed, a bog forest may slowly change into a northern cedar forest.

The sphagnum moss at your feet in a bog is quite interesting. If you squeeze some, emptying the air cells, and then put the clump back in the water, you can then see the cells fill back up with water. This is how the moss becomes a living mat supporting other plants and providing a place for creatures to move about in the bog. Often it does not support a human and in you go! It’s not a good place for humans to go exploring and it can be destructive to bog life.

Eastern garter snake. GETTY IMAGES PHOTO

Garter snakes are busy eating slugs in your garden. They are one of the six snakes that share the island with us. None are poisonous and all are good neighbors. The snakes found here are the red-bellied snake, the garter snake, ring-necked snake, smooth green snake and the (largest of all here) beautiful milk snake. You often encounter the green snake when picking blueberries. A garter snake probably lives in your garden. Welcome them for they eat slugs, among other things.

Birds are finished, for the most part, with nesting duties and with raising baby birds. Goldfinches are an exception for they are late nesters and build their nests in July, August and September. Their nests are lined with thistledown and usually hold from three to six eggs. Their young are fed largely semi-digested seeds, which their parents regurgitate directly into their mouths. Earlier in the season, there would not be enough seeds for them to do this.

This is such a busy time of year for wildlife and so much for us to see in the out of doors. Enjoy it all wherever you live!

Send any questions or observations to [email protected].

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

Columnist
Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.

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