Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Naturalist Niche

At times, I feel a little over whelmed by the number of plants that I can not recognize in our backyard.  It brings me back to my college days of spending hours studying herbarium specimens for the week's botany quiz.  I am unfamiliar with several genus of common trees in the area.  Throw in new bushes, shrubs, ferns, weedy plants, and non-native lawn plants, and you've got an entire woods of unknowns.  I recognize how valuable my college classes were in devoting time and energy to the study of plants and animals.  I also realize that I just need to learn a few new species everyday to get back on my naturalist feet.

The place where I have been studying Connecticut trees, mushrooms, invertebrates and the like is at the dining room table, and I have named it the Naturalist Niche!  Usually in the late afternoon while outside with the dogs, I find something a mushroom, a bunch of leaves, berries, a feather.  Then I bring the item inside and try to identify it.  The Naturalist Niche has a number of reference books, containers for specimens, a magnifying glass, a dissecting microscope, a notebook, pencil, and ipad for internet searches. The Niche has good lighting and windows, a storage area (that is traditionally used to store fine china!), and the table is a good working surface.  Everything I need to investigate what is outside inside the cozy  house.

In the Naturalist Niche, I work to identify mushrooms using Mushrooms Demystified, and make spore prints.  I find mushroom identification a real challenge, so far I have identified a giant puff ball, two little brown mushrooms to genus Pananeolus and Psathyrella, and a bolete.  I hope to improve to the level of identifying with enough confidence to eat the edible mushrooms from our backyard woods.  I have identified more than a dozen trees, but I am afraid some tree identifications will have to resume in the spring as many trees have lost their leaves.  I am making a collection of pressed leaves.  I use the area to study birds including a white-breasted nuthatch (Sunday's post), drawing birds from photos in field guides, and identifying dropped feathers (I found the FWS has a great online resource for Id'ing feathers.)  The Naturalist Niche is one of my favorite places in the house because it feels good to come out of the fog and gain knowledge of what is around me.

Puff ball

Norway spruce cone and needles with a mushroom

Spore Print

Fly maggots attack the old mushroom!

A large pressed Tulip Tree Leaf, Liriodendron tulipifera

Northern Red Oak, Quercus rubra, pressed in the
 Altas of North American Freshwater Fishes, a hefty book!