Lichens: Pixie Cup

Photo of Pixie Cup Lichen

Part fungus and part alga, lichens defy simple classification, and are perhaps best thought of as dual citizens of two kingdoms of life. The fungal portion of a lichen transports water and soil nutrients, while the algal portion produces energy through photosynthesis.* Standing a mere inch tall, the common blue-gray Pixie Cup Lichen (Cladonia sp.) grows among mosses on the forest floor, on dry, exposed soil in sunny spots, on bricks or bare rock, or between planks of weathered wooden decking.

Photo of Pixie Cup Lichen

*This is certainly an oversimplification, but as an amateur lichenologist, I dare not get more specific. If you know more about the fascinating lives of lichens, I encourage you to leave a comment below.

17.49 | Nature Notes (Dec 3-9)

Photo of Snowy Owl
Snowy Owl | Biddeford Pool, ME | 3 Dec 2017

Highlights of the Week

Jenny and I saw a Snowy Owl hunting alertly from rooftops along Mile Stretch Road in Biddeford Pool.

At the Saco Heath, countless reddish-brown leafy clumps of Leatherleaf are ready for winter.

Our first significant snow (~6") fell on the second half of Saturday.

Wild Edible of the Week

Prior to dinner most days, I enjoyed a bitter cup of Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) leaf tea, often mixed with leaves of Stinging Nettle and Lemon-balm (Melissa officinalis), all of which were purchased dried.

Nature Challenge of the Week (for you, the reader)

Sketch the winter form of a familiar herbaceous plant (e.g., Common Mullein, Common Burdock, Common St. John’s-wort).


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Sorting Sparrows: Dark-eyed Junco

Photo of Dark-eyed Junco

Dark-eyed Juncos sport dark-above, light-below plumage and a light-pink bill, and, even when seen fleetingly as they flush, their flashing white outer tail feathers serve as useful field marks. They breed in forested parts of western and northern New England and during the white season spread throughout our area where they feed in weedy, seed-rich habitats including roadsides, thickets, and fields. Their countershading can make them challenging to spot on dark ground, but a fresh blanket of snow can bring a flock into view.

To learn more about these seed-loving sparrows who'd rather hop than walk, visit All About Birds. To view the following images in full-size, click here.