Fall is creeping in slowly and dramatically with its brilliant colors and late blooming flowers. Take time to enjoy it and get out on the trails or drive along the roads to find something interesting.
Some friends out on a hike recently found an odd looking plant which they later discovered to be beech drops. You had to be very observant to even notice them. A closer inspection and some searching through field guides showed that they were beech drops, Epifagus virginiana. This strange plant is a parasitic plant that gets its nutrients exclusively from beech, Fagus grandifolia.
Look for a fairly inconspicuous brown stem coming up out of the ground in the woods. Two flowers are reproduced on this stem and strangely enough they can reproduce without ever opening into a flower. To see what it looks like you should consult a good plant book or look it up on your computer. The flower color may be green to brown, pink to red or white. The edges of the blades have no teeth or lobes. You will usually find this plant in the forest or on the forest edges.
Interestingly enough there are also false beech drops, named pinesap. Pinesap has no chlorophyll and summer blooming plants are often yellowish and in the fall they are pinkish or reddish. They have odd color patterns. Blooming time is from June to October. The leaves are often hairy or fuzzy and clasp the stem. They are similar is some ways to Indian pipe but Indian pipes are whitish, sometimes pinkish, and Indian pipes have a single flower per stem.
They do actually look like tiny pipes. This plant lacks chlorophyll and cannot generate its own food. Its roots connect then with fungi in the soil. The pinesap parasitically absorbs nutrients from the host fungus, which in turn, acquires its nutrients through a mutually beneficial association with tree roots. Interesting things are going on with this strange plant. Look for them on your walks this week.
Walking on the beach always gives you an opportunity to see something special. On Sunday I received a phone call from a friend asking me to identify a dead specimen she had found at Wonderland. I couldn’t get to the location but another friend went and took photos.
The bird turned out to be a dead gannet that had killed itself while fishing by getting a hook in its chest. These large sea birds dive into the water like a feathered arrow at high speed from a considerable height above the water. With success they usually emerge in a few moments with a fish in their bill. This time the fish got caught and died.
Gannets nest in the outer islands north of us at Bonaventure Island in the Gaspé Peninsula and farther north in Newfoundland. I suspect that this bird washed in at Wonderland was probably hatched in one of these northern colonies. The young spread out once they have left the nest and fly far afield to feed.
There have been times that I have sat and watched flocks of them fishing off the causeway at Seawall. It was a grand show to see them dive from up high, into the water with a splash and to come up with a fish. It was great entertainment!
I have also had the thrill of seeing thousands of these large, beautiful birds on their nesting islands in Newfoundland. They nest close together and there are birds constantly flying in and out to feed their young and care for them. It’s noisy and sometimes smelly because of all the fish being brought to the young birds.
Blue jays are particularly active this month for they have finished their nesting duties and roam freely about through the woods feeding on the bountiful food supplies available. They are particularly fond of acorns. The cap is jerked off and the rest either eaten or stored in some tree bark crevice for winter use. Other food on the blue jay’s menu includes large insects such as caterpillars, beetles, and grasshoppers. Occasionally during the breeding season they will capture a frog or mouse. If you walk through the woods blue jays may greet you with a raucous chorus or just fly through the woods screaming. As hunting season gets underway they serve as a warning system for other woodland creatures.
Warm days and nights now prompt springtime behavior in many creatures. A few peepers may call and eagles sometimes do courtship antics. A friend watched two bald eagles one morning engaging in a courtship ritual as one eagle flew upside down under the other eagle. On the ground they strutted and spread their large wings and quivered in front of each other. The length of day now is like that in the spring and it gives them warm weather “loving” thoughts.
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