Saturday, November 29, 2014

Behold, I tell you a mystery...

I first noticed a little scrubby group of Norway maples on October 18th: many leaves had black splotches, and some of these black splotches had holes in the middle.  "Huh," I thought, "some sort of fungal disease."  It looked as though it was an infection spread by spores: one would land on a leaf, invade its tissues, and then proceed to spread outward in a widening circle.  I looked for it elsewhere, but found it only on a few leaves of the big Norway maple in my own backyard.  Since it seemed to be very local, and since I'm not very fond of alien invasives anyway, I gave it little further thought.  

What's this?  (11/18)

A few spots on our own tree.

The scrubby patch consists of perhaps a dozen saplings (the largest a dozen 
or so feet tall) on a neglected property line, along with one tree about a foot 
in diameter that still has its lower leaves.  (11/23)

But a few weeks ago I realized that, as the rest of the local Norway maples finished dropping their leaves, this little cluster still had most of its leaves; but, these leaves, though still green, had died, dried out and shrivelled up right on the twigs.  As I wondered whether this was caused by the fungal disease, I noticed that a lot of the dead leaves were unmarked by the fungus. 

Some leaves are infected, many are not, but all are dried out and dead.

A few minutes with a search engine brings up Tar Leaf Spot of Maple, which this resembles, except that tar leaf spot causes premature leaf drop--the opposite of the situation here.  Also, it seems to be a local infection--limited to individual spots on individual leaves--rather than the sort of systemic infection that might affect leaves elsewhere on the tree.  And none of the diseases I saw online mention leaves failing to drop.  Weird.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Where are all the migrating birds?

Ever since reading about fruit "strategies" in the Peterson Field Guide to Eastern Forests (John C. Kricher & Roger Tory Peterson, 1998), I have been preparing to watch for the coming of migrating birds.  I searched for the species that bear the fat-rich fruit they prize: flowering dogwood, Virginia creeper, spicebush, sassafras.   A casual census of the neighborhood revealed a pretty big population of flowering dogwood--a popular small, yard tree--if no other high-quality fruit-bearers.  Flowering dogwoods it is, then.  

I watched in anticipatory delight as a large crop of berries ripened to blood-red.  I and the neighborhood dogwoods all waited for the thrushes, catbirds and waxwings that--catching sight of the "foliar flags" of their bronze leaves--would descend on us in search of the high-fat fruit that would fuel their southward migration.  We waited some more.  By late October the bronze leaves--signals to birds-in-the-know that HERE they could eat their fill of the very best to be had--had almost all fallen.  The trees, still bearing laden platters, were forlornly waiting for guests who would never arrive.  One nearby tree in particular I looked in on often and hopefully, as it gradually lost berries, but then I discovered many of them in the grass beneath, untouched. 

 Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) is not found much nearer than the Blue Hill Reservation,
in Milton/Canton.  And it doesn't seem to be fruiting here this year.

Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) is more common, but I haven't seen any with fruit.

Flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) was already turning on September 20th.

 Rich pickin's!  Come and get it!

All dressed up, and no one's coming.

From my journal of October 8th:

"Flowering dogwood in front of red house losing fruit, but a good deal of this is on the ground.  Another Cornus florida on corner of N Belcher has a lot of bare seeds on ground underneath--not exactly dispersal, but better than just falling off.  This same promised to show me one of the culprits: moving leaves & twigs and a harsh call sent me carefully adjusting my camera sight angles [in hope of catching sight of a migratory bird]--only to discover a squirrel calling for all the world like a blue jay.  (I even saw him move his head as he began each call.0   This went on for some time."

I don't think the problem is fruit scarcity, since I can't imagine there would be a much greater density of flowering dogwood in most forests.  My only hypothesis at the moment is that migrating birds simply avoid landing here in the city for any of a variety of reasons.  There may be more limitations to studying nature here than I'd imagined.  

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Miniature Landscape

A street tree around the block from us was cut a few years ago.  The stump now hosts a verdant garden of mosses, fungi and lichens, and its elven beauty has captured my attention more than once.  With the leaves nearly all gone, I took a few minutes to capture some of its aspects, while trying not to stay long enough to draw the stares of passersby.

I will have to come back some time with a little tripod or something, so I can do this less haphazardly.

 Quite an ordinary-looking old stump, from a little distance.  (10/25)

These photos were taken October 25th.

The photos below were taken this morning--November 15th.

Another valley in the little kingdom.  (I thought about removing the fallen leaves 
to enhance the effect, but decided that was cheating.)  (11/29)

Tuesday, November 4, 2014


I have a love-hate relationship with daylight savings time.  I am attached to the notion that what my clock tells me should be on speaking terms with the motion of earth and sun.  On the other hand, I really like having more daylight in the evening--especially late in the year.  Right now, back on Eastern Standard Time, it is very hard for me to get outdoors with my camera during the week.  By the time I get home, the light is going, and my little camera is struggling to get exposures shorter than a tenth of a second.   These are generally blurred messes.  A tripod would help, but slow me down a lot--and draw even more attention from the neighbors!

On the other hand, the sun is up in the morning before I leave for work.  I wonder if I can squeeze some outdoor time from my morning routine?

Between the end of daylight savings, and poor weekend weather, I have few photos from the last week or so.  But maybe its time for a little retrospective.

For the big white ash in back, drought-induced leaf-loss graded
 imperceptibly into fall.  Most of the neighborhood ashes kept pace.
Photos 10/3, 9/26, 10/8, 10/12, 10/20

A majestic white ash down the street put on its show latest of all in the neighborhood.
Photos 10/5, 10/7, 10/18, 10/21, 10/25

Big Daddy, a red maple street tree, began turning pretty early. (9/29)

The big red maple in the yard next door began turning a bit later than its fellows.
Photos 9/29, 10/2, 10/12, 10/18, 10/21

Little Mama, a red maple street tree I watch for Nature's Notebook, and
Big Daddy's neighbor, held on to her leaves to the last.  Photos 9/19, 10/2, 10/4,
10/7, 10/12, 10/12, 10/14, 10/18, 10/21, 10/21,10/25, 11/1, 11/5, 11/5, 11/8.