Farmscape Wonder Moment: 1 February 2023

By Kendrick Fowler

While cataloging wasp specimens in FEP’s insect collection, I came across something I don’t often see. I was examining a wasp belonging to the family Scelionidae—specifically, a specimen of Calliscelio rubriclavus. In scelionid wasps, the the ovipositor (the egg-laying organ) is normally retracted inside the body and is not visible in preserved specimens. This one, however, happened to die with its ovipositor fully extended, revealing it to be longer than the rest of the wasp’s body. What a strange sight!

A yellowish-brown parasitoid wasp with a long, whitish, ribbon-like ovipositor set against a greenish gray background.

A specimen of Calliscelio rubriclavus. The ovipositor is visible as a long, whitish, ribbon-like structure trailing behind the wasp.

The Scelionidae is one of a handful of wasp families in which the ovipositor is controlled by hydrostatic pressure (in most wasps, it is controlled by muscles). The ovipositor is also telescoping, which goes part of the way to explaining how that of Calliscelio can fit inside the body despite its great length. Calliscelio—along with a number of related wasps—also creates extra room to fit its long ovipositor inside its body by growing a horn-like structure on the first segment of its metasoma (illustrated below).

Close-up of a yellowish-brown parasitoid wasp with a red arrow pointing to a horn-like structure on the body.

A close-up of the head, mesosoma, and anterior part of the metasoma of Calliscelio rubriclavus. The red arrow points to a horn-like structure on the first segment of the metasoma, which creates extra space for the ovipositor to retract inside the wasp’s body.

If you enjoyed this post and would like to see and learn about more strange wasps, then be sure to attend FEP’s next public talk, “Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The Incredible Diversity of Wasps,” at 7:00pm on Thursday, February 9. The talk will be held at Hawthorne Valley’s Place-based Learning Center; masks are required, and we can provide one if you do not have your own. For those wishing to tune in from the comfort of their homes, the talk will also be live-streamed via Zoom; please contact Josie Laing for details. We hope to see you there!

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Farmscape Wonder Wander: 25 January 2023

By Anna

Wandering around before and after the snow, brought many wonders into focus and new perspectives on familiar sights. You can view the photos and read the captions to follow along.

Was it a blizzard here? At least a “hemlock blizzard” which is what I’ve come to call the phenomenon of walking through the hemlock forest during a snowstorm, or just after. At any given moment, and often quite unexpectedly, the wind lifts the snow from the tops of the laden trees and redistributes it, creating temporary whiteout conditions.

It is only recently that I have come to notice this, and how different it makes the experience of being in a snowy hemlock forest versus a deciduous one.

This photo of a snowy maple forest was taken but minutes after the “hemlock blizzard” photo and a few hundred yards distant from the hemlock forest. All felt still and quiet, save for the occasional creak of a breaking branch.

Back in the hemlock forest, I have known this tall stump since its top broke off a few years ago, but it stood out anew amidst the snow and the wind, and I started to wonder—why did it spiral? There does not seem to be a clear answer to the question of why some trees spiral, though one theory is that the spiral form may be in response to the stress put on a tree with an asymmetrical crown from winds coming from a predominant direction.

A favorite snowy forest activity is to search for tracks, as I love wondering about the stories that recently unfolded. Alas, I can’t piece together these stories as a tracker might, but my guess is that this shows a coyote (near tracks) and squirrel (far tracks) having somewhat recently (but surely not simultaneously) passed by. Nearby were also what looked like mink tracks, ending right at the stream.

I have watched these hemlock varnish shelf mushrooms develop throughout the spring and summer on this tree, but today, in winter, I started to wonder—how long will they last? Apparently the hemlock varnish shelf mushroom is an annual mushroom, but does sometimes persist through winter. I plan to keep an eye on them…

One of the more enchanting parts of my snowy walk, was seeing moss spore capsules poking up above the snow. Moss are alive and well through the winter, and add a welcome touch of green to the forest.

A few days before the snow I began looking for wonders, and one of the first that caught my eye was this stick seemingly “glued” to a tree.

This seems to be in the Hydnoporia genus (perhaps the recently published Hydnoporia diffisa) also known as “glue crust” fungi for their propensity of gluing branches together. This quality appears to help them migrate from tree to tree by bringing different branches into contact.

The egg masses of the invasive spongy moths are very visible at this time of year. Each egg mass contains hundreds of eggs that will typically hatch sometime in late April or May, leading to the fluttering of moths that I remember in this forest last year. I try to destroy as many egg masses I see by pulling them off the tree, though this one particularly caught my eye because it seems to have already been partially damaged. This made me wonder—do any animals eat these egg masses? Apparently some, like the black-capped chickadee, do indeed feed on spongy moth egg masses, and the result of such predation may be what is seen here.

On my wander I was also drawn to examples of “beetle art” that seemed to stand out more prominently in the wintry woods. These tunnels are carved into the tree’s inner bark by female beetles (creating a place for mating) and their larvae (who create their own tunnels as they seek out sheltered spots for metamorphosing into pupae and adults).

It is not surprising that these tunnels exist alongside the excavations of woodpeckers, who feed on beetles and their larvae, among other wood-boring insects.

Leaving the forest for the overgrown meadow, I was captivated by the bright orange on this honeysuckle branch. I have seen this witch’s butter fungus before, but only on fallen logs, so I was startled to see it on a seemingly alive shrub—though perhaps the branch itself was dead.

I was curious to see if I could find any other evidence of witch’s butter in the field, and instead came across a different orangish jelly fungus growing on a broken branch at the edge of the field. Perhaps Exidia recisa?

And nearby yet another fungus drew my eye, this one forming a “beard” on a broken branch. I was surprised to find this spiky fungus is likely Radulomyces copelandii, a non-native species originally from Asia.

Coming across the broken and scraped branches on this willow at the edge of the meadow, my best guess is it was the site of a buck vigorously rubbing its antlers. While buck rubs are part of the way bucks mark territory during the mating season, apparently bucks will also rub their antlers later in winter to help shed them.

Standing near the willow, I noticed something a little unusual—a bulbous growth at the base of many branches. Apparently this is the work of the willow-beaked gall midge, the larvae of which form galls at the terminal buds of willows, that in turn often spur lateral shoots.

While many were reddish and seemed to be on healthy branches, others were blackened and seemed to be on dead branches—I’m not sure why.

As a parting shot, I was drawn to the patterns in this old knot at the base of a mossy tree at the edge of the field.

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Wonder Moment: 17 January 2023

By: Josie Laing

With the senescence of greenery in winter, it is the perfect time to observe the geology of our landscape and ponder the processes in which they formed over millions of years. Over the weekend, Claudia, Conrad, and I ventured south to the Dover Stone Church to attend a Winter Geology Walk put on by the Dutchess County Land Conservancy and led by geologist and science communicator, Becky Nesel. So for this Wonder Moment, we’re going to Church!

This monument is called a “stone church” because of how the rocks form a cathedral-like archway or door-opening, and once you step inside, a waterfall is in the place of an altar. 

All of the rock making up this monument is schist, a foliated, metamorphic rock that formed millions of years ago. It is made up of foliated, or plate-shaped minerals that have undergone intense, directional stress that caused the minerals to align and flatten, creating the layering you can see in this rock face. This differs from the layering in sedimentary rock, which forms by compaction rather than by heat and pressure in metamorphic rocks. 

The layering in schist creates planes of weakness where breakage can occur. Following the last ice age and the retreating of the 2-mile-high glacial sheet that covered much of North America around 20,000 years ago, there were torrential flows of glacial meltwater. The force of this water is what shaped many caverns and waterfalls in the Hudson Valley (including Bash Bish Falls in Copake). The meltwater found the weaknesses in this rock and you can see the smooth curvature where the fast-moving water eroded the fracture, forming this arched opening.

The stone church is hidden up in the hill, accessible by a path made of schist slabs. As you walk and look down at these steps, they are covered in dark speckles, burnished by the treads of visitors. Those speckles are actually tiny chunks of garnet, making this schist, a garnet-mica schist! They are formed when the original sedimentary rock containing a high concentration of aluminum is metamorphosed. 

Lots of plants utilize these splitting rocks as terraces, including an evergreen fern called Rock Polypody (Polypodium virginianum), which needs only the slightest bit of soil if any!

We even saw Canada Yew (Taxus canadensis), which we don’t find often in Columbia County, growing over the edge of a boulder. It is a sprawling shrub that, in our region, typically occurs only in cool, shaded, and moist microclimates, such as cool hemlock ravines. There it grows under a canopy of Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) and could easily be mistaken for a Hemlock seedling due to its very similar, flattened needles. However, the needles of Canada Yew lack the two parallel, white stripes on their underside, which are typical for those of Eastern Hemlock.

Here is a link to Becky’s youtube channel and Instagram for more info on the geology of the Hudson Valley! // Instagram

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Farmscape Wonder Wander: 11 January 2023

By Kendrick Fowler

Whenever I visit Columbia Land Conservancy’s Harris Conservation Area, some of my favorite things to see are clubmosses (Lycopodiopsida). Contrary to their name, these plants are not actually mosses—although, like some mosses, they grow in patches on the forest floor. Some species resemble tiny trees—indeed, many people unfamiliar with these plants mistake them for tree seedlings—but they are not trees, either. Instead, clubmosses represent a unique lineage of vascular plants that originated deep in the past—before the other modern groups of vascular plants, the ferns and the seed plants, appeared. Like ferns, clubmosses reproduce through spores, which many species bear on conspicuous, candelabra-like—or club-like—structures, called strobili, that give these plants their common name. The spores are flammable, and historically were burned to produce light in camera flashes, stage lighting, and fireworks.

A forest floor scene, with several clubmosses—resembling tiny pine trees—growing through leaf litter.

Clubmosses (Diphasiastrum sp.) on the forest floor at Harris Conservation Area

A number of clubmoss species occur in our area, and at Harris Conservation Area, at least three can be found in close proximity to one another. The most conspicuous of these is a species of tree clubmoss (Dendrolycopodium sp.), whose branched growth form causes it to resemble a tiny pine or spruce standing out from the leaf litter.

Portrait of a tree clubmoss; the plant is a dark green color with many long, drooping branches covered in numerous short, thick, pointed leaves.

Tree Clubmosses (Dendrolycopodium spp.) resemble tiny evergreen trees

A close look at the tree clubmoss reveals that its short, pointed leaves grow in whorls.

Close-up of the leaves of a tree clubmoss, which are short, thick, pointed, dark green in color, and grow in whorls.

Leaves of a tree clubmoss (Dendrolycopodium sp.)

Ground cedars (Diphasiastrum spp.) have a similar growth form to the tree clubmosses.

Ground cedar plants growing in a row through leaf litter; the plants are a medium green color with many flattened branches.

Ground cedar (Diphasiastrum sp.)

Look closely, however, and you’ll see that the leaves are pressed against each other to give the branches a flattened appearance.

Close-up of the leaves of a ground cedar; they are a medium green color, and are pressed together in such a way that the plant's branches appear flattened.

Leaves of ground cedar (Diphasiastrum sp.)

The third species, Bristly Clubmoss (Spinulum annotinum), differs from the other two in that it is not branched, causing it to appear more moss-like than tree-like.

Bristly Clubmosses growing upward through leaf litter; the plants have a single stem with the leaves growing off it in whorls, giving them an appearance similar to green pipe cleaners.

Bristly Clubmoss (Spinulum annotinum) is one of a number of clubmoss species that are unbranched

The whorled leaves stick out perpendicularly from the plant’s stem, and are sharply pointed—“bristly” is an apt epithet for this species!

Close-up of Bristly Clubmoss showing the plant's long, sharply-pointed leaves growing in whorls perpendicular to the stem.

Close-up view of Bristly Clubmoss (Spinulum annotinum)

Next time you’re out wandering in the woods, keep your eye out for clubmosses! How many species will you find?

Portrait of a tree clubmoss; the plant is dark green with many short branches, and is covered in short, thick, sharply-pointed leaves.

Tree clubmoss (Dendrolycopodium sp.)

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Farmscape Wonder Moment: 4 January 2023

Winter Botany Along the Agawamuck

By Kyle Bradford

This week I took a closer look at a few trees and shrubs growing alongside the Agawamuck Creek here at Hawthorne Valley. Winter is a fun time to look at woody plants. The absence of leaves reveals the details of tree and shrub buds, which are often distinctive, and very useful in identification. Of course, utilizing a variety of features (twigs, bark, habitat, leaves on the ground, etc.) is the best way to narrow down possibilities and get to the correct identification. For more information and resources on winter botany check out this page on our website.

Our first denizen of the stream edge is Willow (Salix sp.). Willows have buds with one bud scale and the buds hug the twig closely. Although the genus can be easily recognized by buds, getting to species-level identification is much harder.

Another image of the alternate Willow buds (i.e. buds staggered, not opposite each other on the twig).

Willows often have galls growing out of the ends of their twigs. The gall resembles a grey pine cone and hence is called the Willow Pine Cone Gall. This is formed by the Willow Pinecone Gall Midge (Rabdophaga strobiloides), a small fly. These midges overwinter as pupae inside the galls. For more information on galls see Elena’s Wonder Wander here.

Basswood (Tilia americana) has alternate, often red, bulbous buds, with 2-3 bud scales.

A closer look at a Basswood bud.

Alders (Alnus spp.) are shrubs of wetlands and stream edges.

Alders are monoecious meaning they have both female and male flowers on the same plant. The male catkins are much longer than the female catkins.

The leaf bud of Alder.

Last year’s Alder fruit “cones.”

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Farmscape Wonder Moment: 28 December 2022

By Claudia and Conrad

Impressions in Ice

A winter wonder wander yesterday up Phudd Hill and along Agawamuck Creek in Harlemville revealed a dazzling variety of ice formations. We’d like to share some of them without much commentary and invite you to go and find your own ice wonders. And we want to wish you all a Happy New Year!

Conrad and I will be making ourselves a little scarce from the Wonder Wanders while we retreat into a data analysis, writing, and planning sabbatical until the summer. But don’t worry, the enthusiastic and able team at the Farmscape Ecology Program will continue to share beautiful and informative postings with you!

Frozen waterfall on a rock face on top of Phudd Hill
View north across Hawthorne Valley Farm
Fisher tracks on a fallen log
Fox tracks on a fallen log
“Ice Bells” lining the creek shore
“Icing on the Moss Cake”
“Ice Eggs”
“Hall of the Ice Fairy”
“Ice Amber”
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Farmscape Wonder Wander: 22 December 2022

Weathering the End of the Year.

by Conrad.

This is a time of year when we are particularly sensitive to the weather. Whether we are hoping for a white Christmas, Hanukkah or other festival; for good skiing; and/or for safe holiday travels, many of us have our eyes on the weather forecast.

And so it seems an appropriate moment for a historical Wonder Wander back through our weather past. A ‘wander’ it will be as we visit not only nineteenth century weather records for the end of December, but also dip into personal diaries and accounts.

ornate title page of report

This ornate (and fire charred) title page was created to accompany the Hudson Academy’s report on 1845 meteorological observations.

However, let’s start with ‘kicking the tires’ so to speak by looking at some of the meteorological equipment local people used to make their measurements during the 19th century.

People have been trying to measure and predict the weather for centuries but when, for example, did it become common parlance to speak about the temperature going “up” or “down”, not terms one would innately associate with hot and cold? In other words, when did thermometers become more than the esoteric toys of a few?

face of Kendall barometer

John Kendall took over his father’s New Lebanon thermometer business. He also made mercury barometers, such as the one accompanying this thermometer. His brother Edwin pioneered the production of non-mercury (aneroid) barometers in the US.

For most people in North America, home weather monitoring, other than looking at the sky and the direction the weather vane was pointing (not to belittle those clues), probably became a reality during the 19th century,  and the Northeast, and Columbia County in particular, played a role in that popularization.

Let’s focus our express visit to the history of meteorological tools on the thermometer. The principle behind most thermometers is the fact that various materials expand or contract with temperature. If you can gauge that expansion in a practical, replicable way, then you have a method for indexing hot and cold. Mercury thermometers were relatively cheap and practical – mercury expands notably with temperature, freezes at a relatively low temperature (ca. -40F), can be handled fairly easily, and, when encased in glass, provides a convenient read out. (Of course, we now realize the health dangers of mercury, but these weren’t of wide concern at the time.)

Charles Wilder thermometer.

This 19th century mercury thermometer was made not by the Kendalls but by another pioneering thermometer manufacturer, Charles Wilder of New Hampshire.

The thinner the thermometer tube’s bore relative to the pool of mercury at its bottom, then the more dramatic the mercury’s movement within the tube. (Imagine attaching three water-filled balloons to a drain pipe, a drinking straw, and a syringe needle, from which tube will water first emerge with even the slightest squeeze of the balloon?) The trick was making a tiny glass tube of sufficient uniformity so that one could confidently fill it with mercury, attach it to a temperature scale, and have even a smidgen of hope that it might be accurate. Such glass-making precision seemed unattainable in the early 1800s, but the alternative was to vary the scale so as to account for the ‘individuality’ of each piece of glass tubing. Enter Thomas Kendall, Jr., first of Millbury MA and later of New Lebanon, NY. Around 1820, he invented a method to precisely graduate the scale based upon known points of reference. With this, he was able to more quickly and accurately manufacture thermometers. Thermometers had entered the mass market!

advertisement for Kendall instruments

This 1870 Kendall advertisement shows the different styles of thermometer and barometer that they were manufacturing at their New Lebanon factory (from the archives of the Wisconsin Historical Society).

Thomas Kendall’s innovation coincided with and facilitated the establishment of the New York State Regents’ meteorological and phenological network in 1826 (which we have profiled here). Academies – the high schools of their day – were given the newly available Kendall thermometers and instructions for record keeping. It is thanks to their records that we can now move our narrative out of world of instrumentation and into that of the weather itself.

In this posting, we will focus on conditions for the end of December, the time of year we are currently intimately familiar with. We’ll primarily consider the period from 1826, when the network began, to 1849, after which it entered another phase. Kendall thermometers were probably the primary tool during this period, although there are repeated references to their having broken and been replaced. One can well imagine that a schoolyard was not the safest place to set up a weather station!

table of meteorological observations

This table shows a summary of December observations for the first year of the academy’s network.

So what did late Decembers look like – or better, feel like – in the lower half of the Hudson Valley during this period? The chart below shows average temperatures for the second half of December as measured at several academies in and around our region. The dark line for the mean was calculated from more stations than shown, but lines for those were omitted so as to keep the graph legible. Erasmus Hall, in Brooklyn, is shown to provide a NYC perspective, but wasn’t included in the mean.

So that you can have a better understanding for what these means feel like, I’ve included a horizontal line indicating average modern temperatures for Albany International Airport and our little weather station at Hawthorne Valley Farm (HVF). These lines also illustrate how conditions have warmed since almost 200 years ago. So far during the second half of this December 2022 our temperatures have averaged around 24F at HVF– pretty much typical conditions for the historical period shown.

average second half of Dec temperatures

This chart shows average outdoor temperatures during the second half of December based on data from the Regents’ Academies weather network.

It would be an understatement to say that ‘conditions varied’ – mean temperatures fluctuated by more than 15F. Note how cold December of 1831 was, we’ll get to know that Winter better.

For reasons I don’t completely understand, academies were not asked to record snow depth. Perhaps it was too difficult to standardize. Instead, they were requested to melt and measure the snow that accumulated in their rain gauge, not a value easily converted to snow depth. However, they did record the number of days on which it rained or snowed. ‘Snow days’ in the second half of the month are illustrated below. For reference, at the Albany Airport since 2010, such snowy days have varied between 0 and 4.5, averaging two. This is apparently slightly below the norm for the earlier period when Albany averaged 5 snow days. Again, there is ample variation, but, of course, number of days of snow says little about total amount of snow – as we all know, a couple of days of blizzard can quickly amount to much more than a month of flurries!

Days of snow for second quarter 1800s

This graph shows the number of days when it snowed during the second half of December based on records from the academies indicated.

So what was it like to live through such Winters at the time? To round off our seasonal exploration, we’ll dip into some firsthand accounts.

As just mentioned, blizzards can hide in aseptic graphs. Indeed, in late December of 1839, our region received a substantial dollop, with one to two feet reported in Westchester and Putnam Counties. Reporting from New England, one observer noted, “16th [Dec 1839] continues snowing and blowing until the snow was two feet deep on a level, and so drifted and compact that shoveling was resorted to to move cattle – most snow falling at once that has been 40 years past; 27th and 28th, fell 12 inches of snow with rain; 30th 2 feet snow and very solid, bearing a man; no breaking without shoveling, and very cold.”

carriage in snow

As this image (from Picturesque Berkshire, 1893) suggests, these snowfalls had very practical consequences.

Whereas today we just tend to bemoan the travel challenges of snow and cold weather, one could almost say our predecessors celebrated them. Sledding was not just a chance to hear sleigh bells and cavort (although that certainly happened), it was also an efficient and smooth mode of travel, especially when compared to navigating muddy roads. People prized good sleigh weather as a time for visiting and transporting goods.

stage sleigh

This picture of the Pittsfield and Dalton Stage, also from Picturesque Berkshire, suggests that ‘public transport’ readily made the switch from wheels to runners when conditions allowed.

In his diary for Christmas Day 1826, George Holcomb of Stephentown dryly noted, “Today I took the cart and oxen and went in to our Rodgers swamp and I got a load of wood and Wm started to come home with it and got into Mr. Sylvanus Carpenter’s lot and the cart mire in the mud and the oxen broke the yoke and we came home and got another and we went, lifted it out and it came home.” [quoted from There is little doubt he would have preferred frozen ground and good sleighing snow. Similarly, around the same time, New Lebanon Shakers lamented the fate of brethren whose sleigh travels got stalled by warm weather.

Hudson River ice closure dates

Ooops, another sterile graph. But this one shows something exciting or at least important to think about when considering 19th century Winter logistics in our area – when ice closed the Hudson River at Albany to boat traffic each year. I have no modern statistic for comparison here, because 20th century dredging apparently so altered river dynamics that comparisons can’t easily be made. Today, steel-hulled ships and icebreakers usually keep a shipping lane open year-around.

While river closure may initially sound like a solely negative consequence of Winter weather, it wasn’t. The river now became a highway (not to mention an important source of ice). Writing in Stockport at the end of the 18th century, Alexander Coventry noted how the frozen Hudson was used for sleighing firewood to the City of Hudson. In this era before the Hudson was bridged, ice-up was also a time for crossing over the river to Albany without the ferry. As Coventry describes, sleighs weren’t your only option for the crossing – you could also skate!

sleighs on frozen Hudson River

This image shows both commerce and passengers taking advantage of the river crossing at Albany around 1850 (thanks to “Albany Muskrat” for originally posting this image on Twitter).

And what about that cold December of 1831 that we pointed out back at our temperature graph, did anybody notice at the time? They surely did, as our New England observer (quoted in the Farmer’s Almanack) noted, “28th & 29th[Dec], cold with snow – this month has been uncommonly cold from first to last, the earth covered with snow.”.

winter house with laundry

A slightly colorized 19th century Berkshire County snow scene and a reminder that Winter is a fine time to hang your laundry outside!

The Rev. Thomas Robbins, from his lodging in Connecticut described the end of December 1831 a bit more personally,

“15 [Dec]. Last night we had a considerable addition to our snow. Severe cold…… Have good accommodations in the cold season….”

17. It snowed considerably…

18. Extreme cold… Few at meeting and the weather so tedious that we concluded to dismiss at noon… I think the mercury must have been but little above zero through the day…..

19. The weather moderates a little….Rode out. The snow quite drifted….

20. Rode in a poor stage-sleigh to Plymouth. Clear and very cold. We went some of the way in fields on accounts of drifts in the highway…. The harbor here is hard frozen…

22. … The cold returns with all its severity. Attended the exercise in Mr. Kendall’s meeting house….The house was very cold…. Suffered much by the cold.

23. Last night the thermometer was 01; this morning, zero. Rode home in an open stage-sleigh. I think I have not taken cold, though I have been repeatedly much chilled….

24. Wet and a cold rain the most of the day….A great change in the atmosphere.

25. Colder…..The stove in the meeting house smoked very bad….

26. Cold. A small addition to the snow, so that sleighing continues….Have some additional cold, with cough.

27. Severe cold again…. Visited my uncle; considerably affected with the influenza. This is very prevalent….

28. …Afternoon and evening a hard snow-storm….

29. …. The new snow is ten or twelve inches deep…. The cold abates.

30. Very cold and blustering. Set out to ride to New Bedford … Found the weather so tedious and the drifts so deep that we returned… Walked out and visited sick persons.

31. Last night, I conclude, was as cold as any one of this winter we have yet had…. People are mostly shut up with the cold and snow. The bay appears to be wholly frozen over. A year of sever anxieties and trails, and of great mercies, is closed….”

From The Diary of Thomas Robbins, D.D., edited by I.N. Tarbox,1887.Beacon Press, Boston.

Silent Dawn by William Launt Palmer (1854-1932), an Albany-based impressionist known for his winter paintings. This one is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

May your home be warm, whatever the weather; and may the new year bring you clear sailing (or sleighing).

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Farmscape Wonder Moment: 14 December 2022

By Anna

The cold and bright of this morning, with newly fallen white snow and a blue sky, was a beautiful invitation to wander and wonder…

A Red-tailed Hawk perched on a branch looking out into the landscape.

I didn’t get far before seeing this Red-tailed Hawk intently eyeing the open snowy meadow between the pond and the stream.

A Red-tailed hawk leaning forward and opening its wings in preparation for departure.

It soon flew off to a perch on the far field. Both perches are ones where I have seen Red-tailed Hawks before, as the mix of trees and open meadow makes for a good hunting ground.

A nest of sticks and papery materials dangling from a forked branch.

With the hawk’s departure, there was an immediate bustling of small birds—Black-capped Chickadee, Bluebird, Carolina Wren, White-breasted Nuthatch, among others. All too quick for my lens, but all that looking did reveal a snow-topped hanging cup nest that seems to have been constructed from strips of bark and wasp paper; perhaps that of a Red-eyed Vireo.

A large nest made of sticks perched up in a tree on  a cluster of crowded branches.

This time of year is a good one for nest-hunting, as the bare branches and snowy caps make nests stand out from a distance. I came upon this one heading into the part of the forest where there’s been lots of Great-horned Owl activity over the years, so that would be my guess for who has made this large stick nest.

Overhead shot of a snow covered ground with bird tracks.

Small tracks that seemed to mysteriously start out of nowhere ended with a brush of wing tips in the snow. The snow is the perfect canvas to look for such short bird tracks that start and end abruptly.

A gathering of geese both swimming and laying on the icy surface of a pond.

There were many geese on the pond yesterday, but this morning all was silent…

A low point of view across a pond covered in ice and a thin layer of snow.

While it may not last, I always note the first freeze-over of the pond, and that was today, Dec. 14th.

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Wonder Wander: 7 December 2022

By: Josie Laing

Following these past few weeks of good work in the office, we set out to the Stockport Wildlife Management Area for a needed breath of fresh air and to key in on some details for our upcoming field guide, From the Hudson to the Taconics: An Ecological and Cultural Field Guide to the Habitats of Columbia County. The guide will feature a list of public areas in the county and what habitats you might find in them, so we set off to wander the land, and here are some happenings we came across.

We headed out on this path that bordered an old field habitat and a shrubby forest edge. Along the path on either side, we came across Silky Dogwood, Gray Dogwood, European (Common) Buckthorn, and Willow sp., while reintroducing ourselves to the buds of winter.

This evergreen ground cover was nestled underneath the shrubs on the edge of the forest. This is Vinca minor, which is called Lesser Periwinkle or Myrtle. This beautiful flower is unfortunately not native to this continent and is considered an invasive species. This flower was the only one we saw. It usually flowers in the spring but it is not unheard of to see it bloom late into fall. This was a teaser for the spring ephemeral season.

Delia also enjoyed winter botanizing with us. She was especially drawn to the Gray Dogwood, which is easily recognized at this time of year by its red twigs in the remnant panicles where the white berries used to be attached.

Yes, this is an Oak, and no, those are not acorns. These are galls formed by the Rough Oak Bulletgall Wasp, Disholcaspis quercusmamma. They are called “bullet galls” because the small, round hole that the wasps emerge from resembles a bullet hole. This species of bullet gall wasps lay their eggs on Oak species in the White Oak group such as Bur Oak and Swamp White Oak. These wasps have two generations in a year, forming two different galls. The spring generation of eggs is laid in the stems of the tree. The growing larvae stimulate the tree to begin replicating cells around it, forming a sphere of nutritional tissue for the growing wasp. These larvae emerge as a female-only generation in the fall which lay their eggs in the dormant buds of the oak before winter. These wasps develop within another gall and become the spring generation of males and females that lay the only-female generation. One interesting thing about this species of gall wasp is that their galls are also equipped with extrafloral nectaries, a sweet treat essentially, which attract biting insects like wasps and ants which indirectly protect the gall from being parasitized or predated on. For this species of Oak bullet gall wasps, in mature trees, a high density of galls can cause some branch dieoff but for the most part, they do not impact the overall integrity of the tree. However, in young trees with few branches like the ones we saw them on, the effects could be more severe.

This cherry tree is infected with a disease called “Black Knot,” which is caused by the fungal pathogen, Apiosporina morbosa. The spores of this fungus infect wounds in branches or trunks of trees in the genus, Prunus, but mostly wild and cultivated plum and cherry species. Once the fungus has established itself, it secretes chemicals that trigger the tree to start rapidly producing plant cells. This forms the mass, or gall in the branch or trunk with a portion of the tissue being the fungus itself. This pathogen is not a rotting fungus, so its damage is somewhat localized and mature trees can withstand its presence. However, for younger or weaker trees it can be crippling, plus it can make way for other wood-rotting pathogens to infect the plant. 

Leaving the shrubs and old fields, we entered the forest habitats that skirt the Hudson River. We found this standing conifer log covered with Dacrymyces plamatus, “Orange Jelly,” a jelly fungus that decomposes coniferous wood. Jelly mushrooms are often found in the wintertime, which doesn’t necessarily mean they tolerate the cold. Most often they are fruiting bodies from the late fall frozen in time, while the mycelium lives below the surface, awaiting the liberation of warmer temperatures. This jelly is often mistaken for Tremella mesenterica, “Witches’ Butter,” which decomposes deciduous wood instead.

As the rain has returned after a hiatus this summer, the moss and lichen communities are thriving once again. While most other greenery has disappeared at this time, these patches of life are growing slowly in the foreground. A seemingly homogenous, green patch of moss when looked at closely, usually contains multiple species with different kinds of leaves and stems. Similarly, a patch of lichen from far away looks like one continuous mat, but lichens often grow amongst each other taking the shape of a crumbly crust, or a more leafy cover, and some even branch like coral. Individual lichens are also a community within themselves. They are considered one organism, made of a photosynthetic partner, either algae or cyanobacteria, and a fungus. The photosynthetic partner provides the carbon it produces, and the fungus serves as the physical structure, including the mode of reproduction. Neither lichen nor moss obtains nutrients from the soil so they can form communities on all surfaces of the forest such as on rock faces and even on each other! Next time you see moss or lichen, take a closer look at the intricate neighborhoods of different species. 

As we got closer to the Hudson, we hiked up a clay bluff and found two evergreen perennials in the thin soil of a ridge. This is Round-Leaved Shinleaf, Pyrola americana. This plant spreads by rhizomes which makes its growth pattern very patchy. 

This is Spotted or Striped Wintergreen, Chimaphila maculata. Both of these plants are in the Heath family, Ericaceae, which houses lots of shrubs like rhododendrons, blueberries, and mountain-laurel. This family is characteristic of tolerating acidic soils, so the presence of these two species could be indicating a patch of acidic soil. 

Winter is a time of slowness in the natural world. It gives us the opportunity to see behind the blankets of foliage that build over the growing season. The quiet background and crisp surroundings allow you to observe the slightest movements. Woody plants stand as statues with buds waiting for their cues to burst. With the right amount of warm clothing, one can experience this slowness and tune into details near or far. 

If you are interested in learning some winter botany, we have some guides and cheat sheets on the website if you click here.

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Wonder Moment: 30 November 2022

By Kendrick Fowler

Portrait of a Toringo Crabapple: a small tree with hundreds of small, round, yellow-orange fruits dangling from its branches

With November coming to a close, we have entered “stick season”—that time of year when the leaves have fallen from the trees and the weather is cold, but snow does not yet blanket our landscape. The character of our landscape has changed dramatically over the past few months: the lush greens of summer gave way to brilliant reds and golds of autumn, and now that the leaves have fallen from the trees, the world is dominated by muted shades of brown. If one looks closely, however, one can still find bursts of color. Some of the brightest are the Toringo Crabapples (Malus sieboldii), whose tiny, round fruits are colored in a shade of yellow-orange so bright that it almost glows. Unfortunately, Toringo Crabapple is a non-native, invasive species, so I always feel a shade of guilt in admiring its brilliant colors. It is interesting to ponder: can a thing that is aesthetically pleasing, but unhealthy for our ecosystems be described as beautiful?

Close-up of the small, round, yellow-orange fruits of Toringo Crabapple

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