Saturday, February 27, 2010

Secret world made visible

When there's been moisture, either in the form of rain or fog, an otherwise secret world becomes visible at Howarth Park in Santa Rosa CA. Thousands of spider webs catch the droplets of water and show themselves. Amazingly, they're everywhere! I'd heard these webs called Cup and Saucer webs but an online search showed that they seem to be more commonly called Bowl and Doily webs and are woven by Frontinella communis spiders. I've seen the spider lurking in the "doily" but an article at Wikipedia says they hang from the bottom of the "bowl" and bite the insect that falls into the "bowl". Perhaps the "doily" is a resting place in between meals.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Miner's lettuce in Sebastopol

Last week I visited Luther Burbank's Gold Ridge Experimental Farm in Sebastopol, a town about 20 miles west of Santa Rosa CA. It's a small property with many interesting plants and trees, which will probably be much more interesting in the spring and summer. However, I found that the miner's lettuce was much better developed than what I find at Howarth Park in Santa Rosa, so I decided to study it. Every year I intend to do some sketches of it but it tends to grow along trails at Howarth and, since so many dogs travel those trail I find myself a bit reluctant. There was a nice patch of it in a pleasantly shaded spot, which worked out well as the temperature was 72° F (22° C) and the sun was quite hot!
Miner's lettuce or Claytonia perfoliata  is an annual that begins to emerge in late winter and seems to be everywhere. I like it because you can eat it -- the leaves are quite tasty -- and it's a really pretty little plant. Surprisingly, it grows in dry areas. Once the rain stops, it's gone, unless you cultivate it in your garden. According to Calflora it grows in most of California.

As often happens, sketching the plants allowed me to see the fascinating structure of the plant. I was especially interested in the way water was held in the depression of the leaf after midday.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Tiny goblets

While admiring some earth tongues I noticed a small twig covered with these charming cup fungi from the family Sarcosomateaceae which consists of an amazing variety of cup-shaped fungi that aren't often seen because of their ability to blend into their surroundings and small size. The last time we had a good, wet winter I found a few and had been hoping to see some again this year, what with all the rain we've been getting. These are much smaller than those I saw before. the largest is 9mm across! I've seen some references to these as fairy goblets.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

More birds at the feeder

Sketching at the bird feeder again. Now that I'm a bit more comfortable drawing little bird bodies, this reminds me a bit of my figure drawing classes back in college. I find myself paying more attention to postures and movements that the birds make. The big difference being that I can't say, "Hold that pose for five minutes, please!"

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Helvellas in the cemetery: Part 2

Helvella lacunosa, a relative of Helvella crispa, which I wrote about at the end of January, has been popping up like a weed this year. Actually, it seems to pop up like a weed most every year at Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery. That would probably be because of the old coast live oaks (Quercus agrifolia) scattered about the property. They come in an interesting variety of colors, everything from midnight black to nearly white. Mykoweb lists it as being most common in our area under pine, but in the places I frequent, oak is where it's at. Live oak. I mostly don't see pine on my walks though and this year, when I have, I've seen some Helvella lacunosa. These are sometimes called Black Elfin Saddle, but I pity the poor elf who uses this lumpy bumpy fungus for a saddle. Ouch!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Mystery solved

This pretty little Thelephora terrestris was fruiting in a large troop under an old three-needle pine in someone's yard in a neighborhood that I don't usually walk in. I thought I'd have a tough time identifying it but found it almost as soon as I opened David Arora's book, Mushrooms Demystified. Oddly, I saw one fruiting on a tree a block from my house, about two months ago. I was unable to identify it that time and the photos I took were lost during an unfortunate error while backing up my computer, so I'm not completely positive that it's the same fungus. Then, this weekend I saw several fruiting in another yard.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The beginning of spring

Okay, I admit it. I've been a bit obsessed with earth tongues lately. It was exciting to see Microglossum viride for the first time, and then to discover that hunting with my nose close to the ground yielded earth tongues in many more locations than I'd originally thought they'd be. Finding earth tongues is a bittersweet pleasure for me. I'm crazy about them and look forward to finding them every year but their appearance also tells me that, before long, there won't be any mushrooms to be found for many months.

Wildflowers have begun to bloom in earnest and today I noticed leaf buds swelling on a black oak. Many male songbirds are looking and sounding very dapper. I know that, in the coming months, there are going to be other interesting things to capture my interest and pique my curiosity. I might even be able to forget about fungi for a moment or two as I watch the wildflowers come and go, and the trees leaf out. A passing moth or butterfly might capture my attention and I'll enjoy spending time sketching and getting to know birds, ground squirrels and other creatures. I'll enjoy the warm weather and long days but there will be a part of me waiting. Waiting for the days to shorten and the rain to come and bring more mushrooms.

The earth tongues on the upper left are Trichoglossum hirsutum, easily identified by their hairy stipe and velvety pileus or cap. On the right are more of the Geoglossum sp. that I described here, recognizable by their sticky, viscid stipes or stems.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Destroying angel

About two miles from my house is an old cemetery. Actually, it's three old cemeteries placed on one piece of property. Seventeen years ago, when we first moved to this neighborhood, it was a terrifying place to walk, not because it's a cemetery but because of a lawless attitude among the people who walked their dogs there. I had several bad experiences with self-righteous people and aggressive dogs on the loose, so I found other places to walk. According to the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery website a group of volunteers had just begun to care for and restore the neglected property. While I walked in local parks and in my neighborhood, they worked hard to bring order back to the cemetery, so that it's now a favorite destination for many people and dogs in the neighborhood.

A few years ago I found my way back to the cemetery and discovered that the very old Coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia) trees that are the majority of the trees in the cemetery have attracted many fungi.

Two of the most deadly poisonous mushrooms of our area both fruit in the cemetery. In the fall and early winter Amanita phalloides, also known as the Death Cap can be found, sometimes in large numbers. Last weekend I found the first of the Amanita ocreata, or (Western) Destroying Angel. So far, only a few have shown themselves, but in past years they've been quite plentiful at the beginning of spring and I hope to see more before the end of mushroom season!

Monday, February 8, 2010

A few more bird sketches

Did you think I'd stopped sketching birds? Actually, I did skip a few days because I was so excited about earth tongues. In fact I have more on those for the next post.

But back to the birds. It rained heavily on Saturday and I watched and sketched as the birds visited the feeder. The California towhee(Pipilo crissalis) seems to be better waterproofed than the House finches (Carpodacus mexicanus) who were bedraggled and seemed much more aware of the the rain pouring down.

There's a lame White-crowned sparrow that visits regularly. He flies well, but is clumsy on the ground and perching. I watched him tip right off of a branch once. He's more puffed out than the other White-crowned sparrows (Zonotrichia leucophrys) and the markings on his wings are less distinct than on the others. He uses his tail as a crutch so it's always spread when he's on the ground. The feathers are worn and shabby at the ends. He often stays in the yard after the larger group has moved on. Today he rested in our persimmon tree for a while, giving me an opportunity to draw him holding still. I've found that he could be a she. Male and female White-crowned sparrows look the same.

Friday, February 5, 2010

More earth tongues

My mission, since finding the Geoglossums on February 2, has been to find earth tongues. I first found earth tongues on a trail at Howarth Park several years ago and have seen them in the same area each year since. It never occurred to me to look for them in other places, although I did stumble upon a group along another trail a few years back. Since I began to actively seek them out I've discovered that the earth has many tongues and they're sticking out everywhere. The only thing that makes them seem rare is that they're very hard to find, even if you're looking for them. Yesterday my eyes were feeling the strain after spending two hours peering at the ground watching for tiny black protrusions. These fungi blend into their surroundings very well. Once I became more proficient at spotting them I found them everywhere. Most that I've found are in small groups or solitary, unlike the first group that I discovered, which fruits prolifically along the trail for several yards. While on my mission I had the great good fortune to find a small patch of an earth tongue I've seen pictures of but never seen in real life. While admiring a patch of Trichoglossum hirsutum, I spotted a differently shaped green protrusion nearby. I inched in for a closer look and was delighted to discover several Microglossum viride, in two shades of green that made them blend into their surroundings so well that, when I looked away for a moment, I had difficulty finding them again. I made a quick sketch to capture the color and, after determining that there were plenty left behind, I brought one home with me to paint and went back today to do a complete sketch.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The first mushroom I ever loved

Several years ago my husband and I bought our first digital camera. It had a whopping 3.2 megapixels and I started carrying it with me when I walked at Howarth Park. I hadn't really figured out what to photograph or how. One morning the sun was shining after a day of rain. The woods were breathtakingly beautiful and I walked more slowly than usual. Out of the corner of my eye I saw something bright orange. Moving closer to see what it was I discovered a slimy, shiny bright orange yellow mushroom pushing up through the leaf litter. I discovered that these mushrooms were scattered throughout the woods and began snapping pictures. Every mushroom entranced me. It was love at first sight.

I'm still amazed to think that I walked those trails (and other trails in other places) for ten or fifteen years and never noticed one mushroom before that day. At first I took pictures. I got a camera with a few more megapixels and I learned to take notes to help with identification. The notes began to include schematic sketches and, in time, the camera stayed at home and I found myself sitting or laying on the ground sketching mushrooms in the woods. It had been a long time since I'd had that kind of fun drawing anything and the honeymoon isn't over yet!

I still feel great fondness for the mushroom that I eventually learned to call Hygrocybe nigrescens. Surprisingly, the bright orange color wasn't enough to identify the mushroom. Was the stem slimy or dry? What kind of trees were in the area around it? Did the stem and/or cap blacken when bruised? This particular mushroom had already begun to blacken when I found it and it was fruiting among oak trees. The stem or stipe was dry. If it survives the rain of the next few days, it'll eventually turn completely black.
I wanted to try painting it without inking the outlines first. I began the painting and then lost faith in it, so I put it aside and quickly drew it in black and white. When I got home I took out the first painting and felt remorse that I'd stopped, because time and some distance gave me the ability to really see it and I liked what I saw. I colored the ink drawing but hope to get a chance to try, once again, to paint a mushroom in situ and let the paint tell the story without help from lines.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Earth tongues, oh my!

These fungi are commonly called earth tongues, which, in itself, makes them utterly fascinating. How can you not love an organism called an earth tongue? These particular earth tongues, Geoglossum sp. took me by surprise, fruiting in a fairly busy part of Howarth Park. I'm constantly amazed at what I find in this little city park, practically underfoot, and no one else seems to notice. I stopped to check a spot that produces lots of pretty mushrooms earlier in the season and found a small group of these strange but lovable fungi. I've actually been looking for another earth tongue, Trichoglossum hirsutum, which was the first earth tongue that I discovered. I thought I saw some last week, but now they're gone.
It has a velvety stem that's covered with minute hairs, while the Geoglossum that I found today has a scaly, sticky stem. According to Michael Kuo at :
The little black "Earth Tongues" of the Geoglossaceae family are a nightmare to identify--but if you are a microscope geek, they often reward you with fascinating and funky microscopic features.
I've been meaning to dust off Greg's college microscope and start looking at the big box of spores I've collected in the past year. Perhaps I ought to start with earth tongues!