Saturday, December 6, 2014

The High Lonesome

This expression has several meanings, all derived from the North American west, at least the areas within view of the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains.

In one context, it refers to a drunken bender by a lonely cowboy.  In another, it refers to the music cowboys might like,  a Country and Bluegrass sound, perhaps with lyrics like "I'm a lonesome cowboy in the field of liffffffffffe".  Mooo. Louis L' Amour used the expression in one of his novels.

It is also a motion picture title from both 1950 (John Barrymore!) and 1995.

As poignant and endearing as these usages may be,  one other attracted me to the term.  Ken Spicer, a local colleague in the Macnamara Field Naturalists' Club, told me that he, and his brother Barry, heard the term while they worked out west in Alberta (the winds sure blow cold way out there). For them, it is broader than the "bender" or "drunken spree".  It refers to going off into the mountains to be alone in nature for a time, to straighten ones thoughts or to take a breather from everyday life.

It was with this in mind that the Spicers called their 200 acre property in the Pakenham Hills "High Lonesome".  With Barry's passing a few years ago, the family donated the property to the Mississippi Madawaska Land Trust:

which conserves the property and makes it available for natural history education, appreciation and research.

It is with this background in mind that I made my long anticipated first visit to High Lonesome with my colleague Joel.  It was the morning of Friday, September 5th, and the weather was splendid. recent rains had freshened the wetlands and varied forests of this granitic spine of rock which emanates from the Canadian Shield, piercing the surrounding alluvial plains.

Meeting in Pakenham, Joel and I made the short drive to High Lonesome.  Greeted warmly by Ken, we set out to walk the kilometres of trails through the property.  An above average summer rainfall has created excellent conditions for fungi.

One of the most beautiful fungi in the Americas is "Yellow Patches", Amanita flavoconia. Mushroom aficionados know to leave any Amanita alone, as most of them are toxic, and some deadly. Personally, I leave all wild mushrooms in place, since I enjoy the super market supply of the best flavourful mushrooms: cremini and shitake.

The distinctive slightly enlarged base is not seen in this photo.  This does show the yellow patches at their very best. Powdery yellow remnants at the base are the remainder of a veil, common to the Amanitas.  This species is found in rich woods and the Boreal Forest east of the Rockies , and extends into the Colombian Andes in South America.

The following species (get ready for this, people, extra points for spelling and pronunciation) is either Buchwaldoboletus sphaerocephalus (and is therefore also found in Australia and Europe) or a distinct North American species, Buchwaldoboletus hemichrysus or these two names are synonyms!  Anyone who can clarify this is welcome to do so.

Some of the Buchwaldoboletus species may be super ugly! This one isn't too bad, in my super judgmental opinion. I have only recently become more interested in fungi, thanks to friend Suzanne and her mentor Richard Aaron:

Above is the underside of the same mushroom.  Note, like all Boletes mushrooms, there are pores instead of gills.

Unlike the last mushroom, this one both looks good AND smells good.  This makes it popular for photographers.  Unlike B. Sphaerocephalus, this 'shroom, Clitocybe odora, abounds in web-based photos.  Its stunning blue-green flesh combines with the Anise-like aromas to make identification fairly easy. One common name I found was Aniseed Cap Mushroom.  It is most commonly found under Birch and Beech trees in Asia, Europe and North America.

The above attractive orange-coloured umbrella shaped mushroom, Entoloma  salmoneum is usually found where I photographed this one: in mossy humid places under trees.  It is small,  usually 5 cms. or less, gilled and poisonous.  The one common name I found is Salmon Pinkgill.  And, yes, the gills/spores have a pinkish hue. Take a photo rather than a bite!

Don't bite the above caterpillar either. If you have been looking at Milkweed leaves in search of Monarch Butterfly caterpillars, you might be finding more of these Milkweed Tussock Moth caterpillars, Euchaetes egle. The moth is a plain slate gray moth with a golden abdomen with dark spots along the spine.  The caterpillar, on the other hand, is very colourful and spiny!  Although the tussocks themselves aren't a problem, the colour pattern tells birds to back off, as, like Monarchs, the Tussock Moth caterpillars are poisonous...the milkweed sap providing the basic ingredients.

Above is a Russula mushroom species. There are so many red-capped mushrooms in the Russula genus, only experts are able to identify them.

Strawberry Blight, an uncommon and deeply coloured flower, not very often seen. Ken, and others, have gone to great lengths to ensure this flower thrives.

The clover does provide some contrast to the flower on the right.  One of our later-blooming orchids, and common in High Lonesome-the Nodding Ladies Tresses, Spiranthes cernua.

Sometimes a collection of plants, like those in this wetland, provides a visual feast. The large leaved plants are cattails,

Jack O'Lantern mushroom, Omphalotus illudens (on the right side of the above photograph). This common mushroom grow in clusters on roots of deciduous trees.  It is always orangish.  The mushroom on the left is more difficult to identify. It is conical and possibly knobbed. My best guess is it is an Entoloma, a genus with many species.  If the spore print is pink (mature mushroom brought home, placed on top of a white piece of paper, spores fall onto paper for ID), then we can narrow it down to several species.

Note that mushroom identification requires much more than just a top photo. I have just begun studying these plants, and have consulted with experts who always advise caution and study when identifying. Therefore, my identifications here, even those corroborated by experts, are best guesses, based on insufficient information!

Mushrooms are just the "tip of the iceberg" of a fungus, most of which is composed of Mycelia. What we call "mushrooms" are only the fruiting bodies, containing the spores, of a much more complex plant.  Fungi may make up as much as 90% of all the world's biomass.  Many of these are micro fungi, which, as the name suggests, require a microscope to see.

Note the teeth on the above mushroom revealed, possibly, by rodents, which eat many of the ground mushrooms in our forests. I have not been able to ID the above mushroom, but possibly an expert will help me out. if I do find any more information, I will post it. My intention is to develop my ability to identify fungi through further work next year.

The Fly Agaric, Amanita muscaria var. Formosa, above is another of the widely distributed genus, of which many species are highly toxic.  Fly Agaric comes in many shades and forms.  This one above looks similar to the "Yellow Patches" pictured earlier in this blog.  Another common form of Fly Agaric is red with white warts.

Mushroom above is possibly Painted Bolete,  Suillus pictus.

This is White Snakeroot, Eupatorium rugosum,  a common late summer flower of pond or lake sides, and borders of rich woods. Nearby, pictured below, was another Eupatorium...

Eupatorium maculatum, Spotted Joe Pye weed, another plant common beside ponds and lakes.  This one was hosting one of my favourite dragonflies, the Common Green Darner, Anax junius. This is a female. The male has a blue abdomen at maturity. Green Darners are one of the few migratory dragonflies.  If you are lucky enough to visit South Florida and see a few flying, possibly they are also Canadians.

Common Polypody Fern

The above plant stymied me, in terms of ID for quite a while.  It is one of the Viburnums, a genus of shrubs which abound in our forests and include the High Bush Cranberry, Wild Raisin, and Nannyberry. I had never seen one with these small terminal clusters of yellowish fruits.  Only one species has these characteristics, Viburnum edule, or Mooseberry. it is a common plant in the boreal forest. It is not common in our area. High Lonesome is part of the Pakenham Hills, a granitic spine emanating form the Canadian Shield.  As such, it does include boreal characteristics and some boreal species. 

I haven't featured any animals in this edition.  They were most uncooperative during our walk through High Lonesome.  This one was not any more compliant, though I did manage a quick photo.  Many will guess Garter Snake,  A good guess, but incorrect.  This is a less common cousin of the Garter Snake - the Eastern Ribbon Snake, Thamnophis sauritus. You may tell a Ribbon Snake from a Garter Snake by: 1. a whitish spot in front of the eye (I managed to see the head on  this one) 2. long tail 3. narrow head 4. side stripes on third and fourth row of scales.