Friday was my day to check the salamander traps at Flag Ponds. (Citizen science for the win!) But, I arrived to discover that they’d already been checked by a teacher and school group. (Educating kids about nature for the championship!)
So, what’s a woman with a free hour to do on a mild autumn day with cerulean skies and golden leaves? Hit the trails, of course!
The best shots from the South Ridge and North Ridge trails on this particular day were of weaving ladies and fun-guys. (Fungi! Get it?! Nerdy science puns rule.)
A tiny “trail miracle” – I stopped for no reason and found myself eye-level with and six inches from this female Marbled Orb Weaver (Araneus marmoreus), busy making threads of sticky silk to complete the spiral of her orb web.
Efficient and capable from the underside, but absolutely stunning from the topside! Her abdomen was sunflower yellow marbled with chocolate brown, contrasting nicely with her eight flame red, cream, and black legs. Don’t let the bright colors scare you, though – this lady is completely harmless. She was too busy with her creation to notice me, but if I’d scared her, she likely would have dropped to the ground or run to hide.
Watching the Marbled Orb weaver was mesmerizing. She used one of her back legs to stretch the silk out from her spinnerets as she crawled to the next radial strand, then tucked her abdomen under to secure the thread to the radial strand with a dot of spider glue. Her movements were efficient and economical, looking more like Monday office work than Saturday night fever. I captured two short videos of her skills; check them out in the video links below.
Marbled Orb Weaver 11-3-17 1
Marbled Orb Weaver 11-3-17 2
Now, on to the fun-guys.
After some light research in my National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms, I have tentatively identified these as Pear-Shaped Puffballs (Lycoperdon pyriforme). Apparently they’re among the “choice” finds for expert mushroom hunters in terms of edibility. Being a novice mushroom hunter, however, I’m smart enough to not put any wild fungus in my mouth; there are too many look-alikes that turn a great meal into a deadly dish.
My Audubon guide (and some image searches on Google) lead me to believe that these convoluted, jelly-like masses are a fungus known as Pale Jelly Roll (Exidia alba). The Exidia fungi are found on deciduous trees such as oak, willow, and alder. How I wish I’d stayed to check what kind of tree this log had been!
Thinking about how many times I say “I wish I’d taken the time to . . .” about something on the trail. The trouble with hiking is that I’m always trying to make it double as a workout, so I go too fast. (My idea of heaven necessarily includes an eternity to study nature in minute detail, unnoticed by all of the earthbound fauna.) This particular section of the North Ridge trail definitely burns the calories, though. Forty-five-ish steps climb from the bottom of the ridge to the top. It’s. No. Joke.
Sure, I stopped half way up the steps just for the awesome view of the marsh and the Chesapeake Bay beyond. Not because I was dying or anything.
I just love the curving, twisting contortions of the wood grain in this decaying log. The beginnings of a moss colony – green flecks at center left – and the Clinker Polypore fungus (Inonotus obliquus) – black swaths that look like charred wood – highlight the complex landscape of decay.
One of my all time favorite trail views. This flat portion of the North Ridge trail is my dream of a magical woodland. I sense surprises hiding all around, but it feels as safe and friendly as my own bed. It will be a feast of sun rays in winter.