Quiz #150: Bird

Identify this pair of ducks. (Photographed in Kennebunkport, ME on March 31, 2015.)

Photo of Quiz #150: Bird

I’ll reveal the answer on Monday. For now, leave your guess in the comments below.

Not Just Any Goose: Brant

Photo of Brant

Brant are small geese (closer in size to Mallards than Canada Geese) who breed on the arctic tundra. Some Brant winter along the eastern seaboard, primarily south of Maine. Birders in Maine typically see them in small numbers in late winter or spring as they migrate north to their breeding grounds. Notice the white neck patch or "collar" on the Brant's otherwise black head and neck.

Photo of Brant

Fern ID: Sensitive Fern

Photo of Sensitive Fern sterile frond

Once you've stored a few search images in your mind's eye, Sensitive Fern (Onoclea sensibilis) can be spotted nearly year-round, the exception being if there is deep snow pack, like we had the winter of 2014-15. During the green season, look for this fern's distinctly lobed blades. After a frost kills back these sterile fronds, looks for the thin, brown-topped fertile fronds, which stand as convenient flags for fern observers. The fertile fronds persist throughout the white season to release their spores in spring. Sensitive Fern is often found in wetlands, like swamps, and on the edges of ponds and streams. (To view the following images in full-size, click here.)

Quiz #149: Plant

Before this week's quiz, I have two announcements:

1. I'm leading a free nature walk in Wells on May 1st. Check the events page for details.

2. Deb Soule, a Maine herbalist and founder of Avena Botanicals is in need of help. Check out Herbal Medicine Matters on Kickstarter.

Name the plant species who produced these brown-topped stalks. (Photographed on April 15, 2015 in Kennebunkport, ME.)

Photo of Quiz #149: Plant

Click here for the answer.

Shorebirds: Wilson’s Snipe

Photo of Wilson's Snipe

April showers bring Wilson's Snipe, or so it seems to me. A grassy flooded field near my home has proven a reliable spot for these secretive shorebirds. Their plumage allows them to hide in plain sight (except when a spring snowfall coats the ground, see above) while they use their sizable bill to probe soft ground for edibles.

Photo of Wilson's Snipe in flight

Wilson's Snipe give a distinctive alarm call, which can be useful for identifying birds in flight. Listen to this a audio sample:

The following photo (click for a larger version) shows eight birds foraging together in a wet field. To learn more about Wilson's Snipe, visit All About Birds.

Photo of Wilson's Snipe flock

Washed Ashore: Horse Mussel

Photo of Horse Mussel close-up

Empty shells of Horse Mussels (Modiolus modiolus) are commonly found on southern Maine beaches, often attached to washed ashore seaweeds (including Irish Moss and Atlantic Kombu). Shells are typically black on the outside and white on the inside, but wear and staining result in a diversity of appearances. Technical terms aside, notice the characteristic double-bump at the narrow end of a Horse Mussel shell -- Blue Mussels (Mytilus edulis) lack this feature.

Considered inedible to humans, Horse Mussels are eaten by many other coastal creatures, including Herring Gulls who can be seen dropping them repeatedly from the air in an effort to crack the mussels open. I recently watched a Herring Gull crack one open in this way and consume the flesh in short order. (To view the following images in full-size, click here.)

Medicinal Mushrooms: Birch Polypore

Photo of Birch Polypore

If you live near birch trees, chances are you live near the conspicuous wood-eating fungus known as Birch Polypore (Piptoporus betulinus). Whereas Tinder Conk fruiting bodies are perennial (capable of growing for multiple years), the fruiting bodies of Birch Polypore are annuals, growing for just a few months (typically in late summer and fall), though spent shelves may linger on trunks or fallen branches for years. Trees may host dozens of decaying specimens. Living mushrooms can be recognized by their smooth white or light brown pore surface, which is unlike the weathered, winter specimens shown here.

Greg Marley* writes that immunomodulating tinctures, teas and decoctions can be made from fresh fruiting bodies, though he forewarns that decoctions and teas are strongly bitter.

Flat slices of Birch Polypore can be used as a leather-like strop to refine a knife's edge. And, as if the flammable bark of the host (Birch) trees was not enough of a gift, Birch Polypore mushrooms, when dried and shredded, make excellent fire-making tinder. (To view the following images in full-size, click here.)

*For a more detailed profile of Birch Polypore, consult Greg Marley's book Mushrooms for Health: Medicinal Secrets of Northeastern Fungi (2009, pages 108-111).

Note: All trees pictured are Gray Birch (Betula populifolia).