Staghorn fungus

Fungi life of party on forest floor

A swarm of about 20 large dragonflies sped over my lawn and driveway Sunday morning in what always makes me think of a Harry Potter quidditch match. They were flying at high speed in a frantic manner around and around in all directions. I couldn’t help but to keep looking for the golden snitch. These dragonfly matches are well worth watching now if you come upon one. Dragonflies are ferocious predators with sharp mandibles. Their vision is nearly 360 degrees, and they can fly backward.

Even from shore these days, you may be able to see seals not far off. These mammals are curious and are known to come close to watch people watching them. A gray seal in local waters has a large head and a distinctive Roman nose. Its nickname is “horsehead” because of its resemblance to the head of a horse. Its genus is “halicherus,” meaning “hook nosed pig of the sea.”

The head of the harbor seal is much smaller and more doglike and resembles that of a cocker spaniel. The larger, gray seals are more at home on the remote islands and reefs. Harbor seals are more commonly seen on the shores of Mound Desert Island and nearby islands. Other seals come here in late winter and early spring to have their pups on outer islands.

Seals are curious and seem to enjoy staring at strangers. When they move on land, they heave themselves forward on their chests. If all goes well for them, they can live about 40 years in the wild. When seals are relaxing on offshore rocks and islands, they look like mermaids reclining gracefully. They are quite ungainly on land.

The floor of the woods now is quite impressive with an array of fungi of varying shapes, sizes and colors. One I like to find is quite narrow and resembles yellow fingers poking up through the soil. It is called “staghorn fungus.” The coral fungi always are fun to see, and they range in color from white to various shades of yellow. I saw some fringed white fungi on the side of a tree near Ship Harbor that I’m still trying to identify. It appeared like fluted paper on the tree trunk.

Fungi are not just attractive and colorful to see, they are vitally important to nature’s housekeeping, for they are waste disposer organisms whose silent and often invisible activities break down and recycle the organic debris of the world. Without them, the plants and animals would have buried themselves in their own waste eons ago. Since life began on Earth, fungi have been at work.

Kestrels, also known as sparrow hawks, are a common sight this month as they hover over fields or sit on wires along roads watching for mice, spiders and grasshoppers. This smallest relative of the falcons is not much bigger than a robin and usually sits in an upright position on a wire or post. It also has the habit of hovering over open country. Not many birds do this. If you should catch a glimpse of a falcon flying along, look at its rusty tail. The bird is quite colorful. Through the summer months, the kestrel or sparrow hawks hunt in open areas for grasshoppers and crickets. As the season advances, they eat mice and might even come to your feeder for a small bird. Whatever food is caught is taken back to a favorite perch, ripped apart and eaten.

If you walk the shores now, keep watch for a large plant with a bright yellow flower. It might suggest to you a giant dandelion, but it really is the sow thistle and is very prickly. The beautiful brown and orange painted lady butterfly likes to visit this plant.

Walking along the beaches and at the edge of the sea now gives you excellent opportunities to see migrating shore birds. On their long journeys to South America and beyond, the birds may feed where you can see them. Fall plumages may make bird identification difficult, but you could take a photo and send it to me. These migrants can be fascinating to see. The spotted sandpiper bobs and teeters along the shore.

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

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

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