Walden West ~ January 1

On January 1, as I returned to the small, wet depression I’d dubbed Walden West, I’d made some assumptions about what I would find on a cool, dim New Year’s Day. I fully expected seed pods and fallen leaves, bare branches, and a mixture of yaupon and palmetto, but in only a few hours I discovered a far richer and more varied world: a world splashed with color and teeming with life.

The first clue that I wouldn’t be alone came as I crossed a boardwalk on my way to the less-traveled path that leads to the pond. An iridescent fly with the amusing name of Secondary Screwworm (Cochliomyia macellaria) was lolling about, ready for a photo session. While the larvae feed on carrion and decomposing tissue, they only enter existing wounds: a practice which gave rise to the ‘secondary’ in their name.

(Click any image for more details; I imagined this one’s eyes held together by a zipper.)

At the edge of a clearing beyond the boardwalk, a few eastern annual Saltmarsh Asters (Symphyotrichum subulatum) still bloomed, while patches of Crow Poison (Nothoscordum bivalve) hosted hoverflies, ants, and at least one metallic sweat bee.

One of our earliest-blooming spring wildflowers, Crow Poison can put on quite a show even in early winter when conditions are right.

Moving more deeply into the woods, I found innumerable trees sporting lichen covered trunks. Judging by color alone, the blue-green example shown here might be a powdery medallion lichen, or a lobed cotton lichen. For that matter, it could be salted shell lichen; I really haven’t a clue.

But this website, filled with lichen photos and more amusing lichen names than I could have imagined — yellow cobblestone, sunken button, golden moonglow, pebbled pixie cup — will be helpful in future attempts to identify fungi of all sorts.

It is, of course, seed season, and an abundance of Clematis pitcheri seed pods dangled, spider-like, from red-berried Yaupon trees (Ilex vomitoria): a reminder to watch in spring for the deep blue, urn-shaped flowers that produced them.

In some places, Seaside Goldenrod continues to produce a few blooms, but other species, like this Tall Goldenrod (Solidago altissima), have bid a final farewell to summer.

Other farewells are more colorful. Gardeners no doubt are familiar with leaf spots like these, which can be caused by bacteria as well as by fungi. Bacterial infections often form a yellow ‘halo’ around infected areas; fungal diseases more typically produce spores within the leaf spot, aiding identification.

Just above this leaf, another bit of color hung swaying in the breeze. An Orchard Orb Weaver (Leucauge venusta) had positioned itself beneath its horizontal web, presumably awaiting the arrival of prey. Its name certainly suits: Leucauge comes from Greek roots that mean ‘with a bright gleam,’ while the specific epithet venusta means ‘charming,’ or ‘attractive.’

Deep in the dim, damp shade, more fungi appeared. At first, I assumed this smooth, round ‘something’ to be a puffball. Then, I realized larger examples nearby had taken on the appearance of rising bread. I’ve yet to find a similar photo online, so identification will have to wait.  

Despite my inability to identify this six-inch wide mushroom, I found its serrated edge interesting, and the symmetry of its gills especially attractive.

As I worked my way back to the edge of the grove, a few more flowers appeared, like this perfectly named Hairypod Cowpea (Vigna luteola). Coaxed into additional bloom by sunlight and warmth, it already was producing seed.

Nearby, I thought I’d found a mutated hoverfly with four wings, until I took a closer look and realized two hoverflies had chosen to dally on a petal of Whitemouth Dayflower (Commelina erecta ).

Looking at the photos, I noticed for the first time the small bulb-like appendages extending from the hoverflies’ bodies. They’re known as halteres: a second pair of wings reduced to flexible, vibrating, club-shaped rods. They function like miniscule gyroscopes, constantly feeding information to the insect about its position and providing for the instant, precise flight adjustment that allows hoverflies to hover or quickly change direction.

As a final treat, I found this Four-spotted Aphid Fly (Dioprosopa clavata) visiting a late-blooming Texas Vervain (Verbena halei). The only Dioprosopa species in North America, this member of the Syrphidae lays its eggs on vegetation near aphid colonies. Newly hatched larvae feed on the aphids, making this hoverfly an important biological control agent in citrus growing areas where Brown Citrus Aphids are common.

It’s sometimes confused with a wasp because of its narrow ‘waist,’ but its two wings and the presence of halteres confirm it as a true fly.

Given what January already has offered, I’m eager to see what February will bring at ‘Walden West.’

“The day is an epitome of the year. The night is the winter, the morning and evening are the spring and fall, and the noon is the summer.”
Walden ~ Henry David Thoreau

 

Comments always are welcome.

A New Year, a New Pond, and New Possibilities

My New Year’s Day destination

Whether this water-filled depression truly is a pond, I can’t say. It may be akin to a vernal pool, filling and drying as conditions change. Whatever its nature, I’ve passed the spot for years without being aware of its existence, until autumn helped to open the view and a pathway to its edge became visible.

Of course I named it immediately, and if the name ‘Walden West’ seems too obvious, it felt appropriate. I’ve never seen a New England pond, let alone Walden itself, but certain characteristics of this watery depression and the woods surrounding it — isolated, self-contained, unpublicized — suggested it as the basis for a year-long project dedicated to documenting the nature of a single place and its seasonal changes.

Vibrant poison ivy at the water’s edge

When I discovered the spot last Sunday, frustration limited my explorations somewhat. I’d been distracted, and set off for the day without putting a card in my camera — a fact I discovered only after attempting to capture the view shown in the photo at the top of the page. Two hours from home and an hour away from being able to purchase another card, it seemed that photos of my new spot would have to wait.

Then, I remembered my camera phone, and Sunshine came to the rescue. Once I’d learned to keep my fingers away from the lens and queried the search engine a dozen or so times, all was well.

Lichen (possibly Usnea spp.) on a fallen limb

Today, I’ll be returning to my ‘new’ pond; it seems a perfect destination for a new year. With a card already in my camera and an open path awaiting, new discoveries are inevitable: a truth that Thoreau, that other Walden-lover, knew so well.

“It is remarkable how easily and insensibly we fall into a particular route, and make a beaten track for ourselves. I had not lived there a week before my feet wore a path from my door to the pond-side; and though it is five or six years since I trod it, it is still quite distinct.
It is true, I fear, that others may have fallen into it, and so helped to keep it open. The surface of the earth is soft and impressible by the feet of men; and so with the paths which the mind travels. How worn and dusty, then, must be the highways of the world, how deep the ruts of tradition and conformity!
I did not wish to take a cabin passage, but rather to go before the mast and on the deck of the world, for there I could best see the moonlight amid the mountains. I do not wish to go below now.

 

Comments always are welcome.

Nearer the Shore

 

“Is not January the hardest month to get through?
When you have weathered that, you get into the gulf stream of winter,
nearer the shore of spring.”
~ Henry David Thoreau, February 2, 1854

 

Comments always are welcome.
Quotation from Winter: The Writings of Henry David Thoreau, Volume 8.