Monday, September 25, 2017

Sharing Fall Hiking

By Beth Sullivan
We are coming into a beautiful time of year. I guess every time has a special beauty, but the changing colors of late summer into early fall are inspiring. Meadows are showing golds and pinks of the taller meadow flowers; grasses wave. The woodlands are beginning to show different hues of green, more varied, deeper.

Expanses of salt marsh are absolutely the most beautiful as the salt marsh grasses settle into swirls and swaths of colors as seeds form. Soon the edges, the coastal woodlands, will begin to show the first colors in the Black Gum trees whose leaves go red early in the season.
An artist’s eye does not always go just to the large view of the landscape. It is also a time to look closely. Insects are phenomenal at this time of year. They may not sit still for portraits, but a camera can catch them in an instant.
Birds have fledged; many are gathering in large flocks, preparing for the changing season. Many young are still learning the ropes from parents, and many osprey are still returning to nest sites. Soon they will leave.

Time to get outside

It is also a time of renewed energy after the heat of the summer. Time to get out and hike. Kids, especially, have been confined all week at school; they need to stretch, to run, to use different muscles. We all know, though, that being in nature stimulates different thought processes, different senses and enhances so many educational processes.
I invite you all to re-investigate Avalonia’s Hike and Seek program. It is more than a game, it is not a competition, but an enjoyable educational challenge for kids of all ages. Each of Avalonia’s trailed preserves has something special to offer, different features, different vistas. Hike and Seek gives the visitor some guidelines for walking a trail, goals for observations, targets to find, making the journey more enjoyable and meaningful. And it is free.
As Avalonia moves into our next 50 years we need to build a conservation ethic in our next generation (Yes, we will be fifty next year. More about that in another post.). It is our mission. That generation will replace us. What better way than to make the outdoors fun and safe and inspiring.
In order to highlight different preserves, I will re-run a few past blogs of some of the special ones. I will get out hiking too and look with new eyes. Also, please take a look at the web site Preserves pages to find a hike that suits you. There are so very many places to enjoy.
Capture someone really making a connection with nature. Photograph by Kent Fuller 

Find the beauty in all seasons.

Get real close to see the details.

You never know when a pattern in nature will catch your eye.

Share what you find

But, we do have a favor to ask: show us what you find. We have added a special link on our website just for this purpose. Please send your high resolution photos via the on-line form located herePlease include your name, date and location of the picture. Also, add any pertinent information you might like to share. We will review all submissions. Some may go on our members’ photo page, and we may use some for Avalonia social media and publications. Won’t that be fun to see.
You can also post to Facebook yourself using the #avalonialandconservancy or #avaloniahikeandseek hashtags.
We are also starting a video archive. It really isn’t scary or hard to push the video button on your camera or phone and take some wonderful videos while out on the preserves. Send those too! Just hold the camera steady on one subject; don’t pan. Take several clips. It really is fun.
So now, while the light is clear and crisp, the colors are brightest in the angles of the sun, get outdoors. Take a child with you if possible and pass on your knowledge and enthusiasm.
Take your camera. Get up close or take the distant view. Pay attention to what you see. Get into the story of the scene before you whether it is a far horizon, a single standing tree, or the center of a flower and-when you have something special-share it!
Somethings can be hard to find.

But maybe you will find a gem.

Step back to take a long view and tell a story.

You may be in the right place at the right time.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan, unless otherwise indicated.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Fall Fungi Finds

by Beth Sullivan
As we wind down summer and gardens are going to fruit and seeds, it is also the season of the Mushroom. Fungi fans are overjoyed with recent rains and humidity which are the perfect conditions for the explosion of mushrooms we are seeing now.
As most people know, there are mushrooms that are considered edible and very desirable delicacies. There are also a huge number that are inedible and many that are actually deadly. Mushroom hunting for food is to be undertaken only by the knowledgeable. The rest of us can hunt with our cameras.
Look around your yard; there are numerous small capped mushrooms that pop up after a rain. In the darker, damper woods, they are present on the forest floor and on dead wood stumps throughout the late summer and early fall.
A Kid's favorite- Puffball mushroom

A prized beauty, the Chicken of the Woods.

Members of the Amanita family are all deadly.

A kingdom to itself

Fungi are in a Kingdom of their own. They are not plants at all, and surely they are not animals, but you would be surprised at some of their characteristics. They do not have true roots, or a vascular system, or flowers and seeds. They contain no chlorophyll so are unable to make their own food utilizing nutrients and sunlight. Have you noticed there are no real GREEN mushrooms? They rely on obtaining their nutrients from the decay process that they are part of on the forest floor, within all the dead plant material that is present there. They absorb their food through this process, rather than eating it or making it. Mushrooms are actually the visible, spore producing bodies of a largely underground network of rhizome threads that comprise a fungus. The spread of the rhizomes extends great distances but only one or two mushrooms may emerge. In other cases, many will pop up in the same area.
Some are very specific, dependent for their survival on certain species of living trees, dead trees, or in soil with very narrow ranges of pH (soil acidity). But here’s a fun fact: the outer tough skin of many mushrooms is made of chitin, which is the same material as the shells of lobsters and crabs. Strange organisms.
Along with a wide variation in color, they also take many forms: the familiar umbrella, ruffles, shelves, “turkey tails” and puffballs. If you have ever come upon a solid white ball on your lawn and think “golf ball”, experiment a little. A firm young puffball will be white all the way through and have a pleasing earthy smell. But wait a few weeks and you will find a puffball that has become browner with age. A touch with your toe or a flick of the finger will make it puff -explode with fine black dust-which is all the spores contained within. All mushrooms reproduce by releasing dusty spores.
It's easy to see why these are called Turkey Tails.

These are very strange and slimy looking. 

My Giant Hen of the Woods.

What's in your backyard?

On a recent wander around my yard, I was astounded to find a huge mound of a ruffled looking mushroom. Closer inspection and research confirmed it to be a Hen of the Woods, a very sought after, edible mushroom. I was confident in its identification, so I harvested it, cleaned it, and ended up with over 15 pounds of useable edible mushroom pieces. I discarded at least four pounds of stump, stem and soiled material. This was a HUGE find. The going price for such a mushroom could be up to $30 a pound or more. Instead I shared it, froze it and ate it. Maybe it will resprout in the same area next year.
Please keep your eyes open for some beautiful, colorful and very interesting inhabitants of the forest floor. Avoid having children touch them and instruct on proper caution. But a good idea would be to use your camera or a sketch pad to enjoy them.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Weather, Water and Changes

By Beth Sullivan
I am a weather geek.I watch the Weather Channel even when there is nothing exciting going on. But I would imagine with everything that has been happening in the last several weeks, even the most un-interested, non-weather watcher would be engaged and impressed. I am somewhat depressed.
In addition to sending thoughts and prayers to all the people in harm’s way and suffering as a result of such devastating storms, I can’t help but hope it opens the eyes of those who do not believe that things are changing. Even if there is disbelief about the cause of the change, it is impossible to deny that more and more people are being affected by the increased severity of storms, the rising surging water, and the after-effects of disease and displacement. There are too many people living in places that are seriously threatened.
I also tend to think about the effects on wildlife and natural resources. We are so caught up in the trauma to human populations, but what about those species that have lived along the coast forever? Certainly some of them are devastated, but some adapt. For millions of years the sea-land interface has been buffeted by hurricanes and the native wildlife has managed to survive. They hunker down, dig in, swim deep, fly away, but somehow they managed. With hardscapes and highways covering so much coastal territory now, how do many of them survive in this era?
When tons of debris-plastic, metal and chemical-float down and off the land and end up in the ocean, how will the creatures understand how to avoid the dangers? My guess is they won’t. They have a hard enough time with balloons and plastic bags already. What about the petroleum products , household chemicals, and industrial chemicals that are leaching into the waters and may settle in marshes and mud or keep being suspended in the water. In a situation like this, human life will come first, and attention to clean up in wild places will certainly take a back seat.
I walked a few preserves today in the lovely sun of September, feeling almost guilty for enjoying it so much. I enjoyed the Monarchs and birds that will be migrating south in the next weeks. But I began to think about elevations and relationship to storm surge like they are predicting in so many places. In Knox Preserve, there are already places that get flooded when the seasonal storm and full moon tides occur. Much of the preserve is only a few feet above the water. A surge of 5 feet would bring water up and over the walls and across the paths and out to the fields. Ten feet would bring it over the railroad tracks. This is a surge, like a tidal wave, not just a rogue tall wave. It would not retreat quickly.
Most of Knox Preserve is only a few feet above sea level and all the land beyond is of similar elevation. Photograph by Roger Wolfe.

During Sandy, this water was only a few feet higher than a usual high tide.

Imagine a storm surge fifteen feet above the height of the dry land- that's close to the top of these trees.

Even fro the safety of ten feet above sea level, it's easy to see how the railroad will be affected.

Superstorm Sandy

We had a taste of the power of water during Super storm Sandy in 2012. Not even close to a category 4 or 5 hurricane. But at Dodge Paddock, the water surged over the rocks , broke down solid sea walls, deposited debris over the entire area and changed the water dynamics and plant life forever. We are still dealing with the effects.
Natural, expansive salt marshes, like Woolworth Porter and Cottrell Marshes and those at Barn Island, are nature’s shock absorbers. When the waters pile in high and deep, the plants adapt. They buffer the surge and in that way protect those homes and structures that are higher and beyond them. When waters recede, there will be debris, clean-up will be needed, but the natural marshes absorb, detoxify, and gradually revive without too much intervention.

The power of water cannot be underestimated.  Photograph by Binti Ackley. 

When the water recedes and the sun comes out, there is the aftermath to deal with. Photograph by Binti Ackley.
This aerial photo of Woolworth Porter Marsh illustrates where the water can flow and how the marsh can be a buffer for the water. Photograph by David Young.

The landscape in places like Florida has been altered so much already, and the water levels have risen under the ground, that flooding water has no place to go.
I pray these storms make a lot of people think. Things are truly getting worse. The storms are more intense, the sea levels are higher, ocean temperatures are warmer, the populations along the shore are more dense. More people are at risk, and they are displacing the very habitats and ecosystems that are best able to withstand the changes. The long-term effects will be wide reaching.
Go outside today and think about what 10 or 15 feet of water would look like against your home, or against some trees and shrubs in your favorite coastal preserve. Think of the wildlife that calls these places home. Maybe give some thought to how we as communities and as individuals can think to the future to protect what we have and plan for the future.
This is just my opinion. Beth

Photographs by Beth Sullivan, unless otherwise indicated.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Looking Closely

By Beth Sullivan
Having spent the last several days with my almost 3 year old grandson, I really haven’t had time to think of a new topic for a blog, never mind write and get photographs. But when I thought about it more, he was the one who inspired this. Everything is new and special and exciting. He gets up CLOSE to everything. Being shorter he can peek under leaves and get nearer to the ground. Having better eyesight he spies things that I could miss. As we roamed around this weekend, we explored several areas that I frequent. Taking him with me allowed me to see things through his eyes, and it was a joy!
It is a challenge to all, to look at things differently: look under, around and close.
So here are some photos of what we found, and maybe some observations and questions that maybe only a three year old can think of!
Hopping on the rocks is like a puzzle to find the best way.

How come grown ups don't climb the trees to get the real red ones?

The little shrimp inside this clam is going to hop out. Can we eat the shrimp?

There are a million little things in here and a lot of them are moving.

This bug's wings are a maze but you can see through them.

What are they doing grammie?  "Umm, mating so she can lay more eggs."

What is the lump in that web? "The spider caught an insect and wrapped it up so she can eat it later."

Which end is the head? It looks the same. "The end with the long antennae has the head, mouth and six real legs."

Photographs by Beth Sullivan.