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June 2007

More on mushrooms


    My post of two days ago, which talked about finding two mystery mushrooms in my front yard and how someone had thoughtlessly kicked them over, brought several helpful responses from mushroominators.

     Writes Fred Weber:

    The mushroom looks like a Shaggy Mane.  They come up along paths, sidewalks, hedgerows, etc. 

    Writes fellow blogger Tom Burr:

    Sorry to hear that someone has sabotaged your sporophores (applied a foot to your fungi).

    After doing extensive research flipping through the color plates in "Field Guide to the Mushrooms") I came up almost empty with regard to identification.

    So much of mushroom ID depends on seeing the thing at different stages, examining the gills (or pores) under the cap, the annulus (ring) around the stem, even the spores.

   Did your 'shrooms always have that color combination (white cap, dark stem)? Sometimes a moldy down will grow on the cap, disguising the true color. 

    Are those patches of tissue I see on the cap? Makes me think of an Amanita of some sort.

   I like your description of mushrooms as an "underground plant cult," for that is really what they are.

    Here's a great mushroom ID site-very good photos:    
  As you can see, there is a lot of variability within each species.
     The mushroom that emerges above ground is just a fruiting body that produces spores for reproduction, analogous to the flower of a flowering plant.
    The main part of the fungus is a spreading mass of fibers -- the mycelium -- underground, growing and absorbing nutrients from the soil or from other organisms.
    In fact, one of the largest plants -- indeed, one of the largest organisms -- in the world is the mycelium of a fungus growing underground in Michigan  (see:
    DNA analysis has shown that it grew from a single microscopic spore.
   Anyway, I hope you won't be too hard on the mushroom abusers if you find them.
   I must admit to kicking a few puffballs in my earlier years -= and would probably do so again, but I haven't seen any lately.
    After all, I was just aiding the reproductive process by spreading their spores.



   Now that the owlets have left the nest, I am slowing paying more attention to other aspects of nature.

   My wife's lavender has been attracting cabbage whites constantly for quite a bit, and I finally stopped and watched them long enough to appreciate their delicate grace and beauty.

  I know that cabbage whites are "common" butterflies, but I also know that I am still at the beginning of the learning curve about all sorts of flora and fauna, and things that more-accomplished observers may tend to ignore remain wondrous to me.

  It's a great feeling, being too "green" about a subject to take anything for granted yet.

   Ignorance is bliss -- especially when it is accompanied by a sense of anticipation about finding out more.


The case of the murdered mushrooms


   This month, we had a couple of real nice white mushrooms growing near our sidewalk.   

   Last week, I found them knocked over and was a bit perturbed.

   People know enough (usually) not to pick someone else's flowers. So why do they have no compunction about kicking over someone else's mushrooms? 

   I am hoping it was a child.

   I have always wished I knew more about mushrooms, but in my ignorance I have always think of them as an underground plant cult.

  Although many people hate to see them sprout up on their lawns, they are often beneficial. Best to leave them be, right?

  If anyone can share information on this type of mushroom, please do!


Happy Father's Day



   I thought this little video might be nice for Father's Day, though I can't swear that it's the dad downy woodpecker feeding his youngster.

    The short video, taken from the window late last week, reminded me of how much our parents nurture us all -- and how, when we were little, we were probably too young to appreciate what they did.

   According to a book I have on downy woodpeckers, a week after fledging, the young ones "begin to follow their parents in an attempt to increase the chances of being fed."

   A popular strategy with many of nature's little ones.

   Download MVI_1621a.avi

Feeder birds


   While the screech owls had eggs of nestlings in the owlbox, I stopped putting out seed and suet for our yard birds, in hopes that the owls wouldn't get mobbed every time they stuck their heads out of the opening.

   The plan worked great, but it had some unexpected results as well.

   Without the inducements of suet and seeds, the only birds we saw in the backyard on a regular basis were robins and hummingbirds.

   Thursday morning was cool, and when I opened the blinds I noticed something unusual: Some feeder birds were back.

   A red-bellied woodpecker was perched on the empty suet feeder, and a male cardinal was perched on the seed feeder. Both were looking at the house.

   Maybe it was my imagination, but it was as though they were saying "Feed us."

   Since the baby owls had been gone from the nesting box for a week now, I thought it might be time to start feeding the other birds again.

   In no time, I had dozens of birds -- nuthatches, chicadees, sparrows, grackles, starlings, mourning doves, downy woodpeckers, redbellies, a blue jay. Blue_jay

     All the old usual suspects.

    With the owls and wood ducks gone, it's great to have them back.

    There are those who say you should only feed the birds in winter, when they have trouble finding food.

    I think that it's OK to feed the birds year-round, so long as you are not in bear country, and so long as you do not feed the ducks or geese.

   I am not sure whether there is a right or wrong answer. In the meantime, the birds add life, color and motion to the backyard.