A Bog in Autumn

Recently, I decided to visit a small bog to search for colorful, detailed landscapes and perhaps bring closure to the fall foliage season. The field trip was a success. I found several species of plants that characterize bog sites in this region, and only went in over my 18-inch rubber boots once (my excuse: the small, bottomless pool of water near the edge of the bog was camouflaged by a layer of fallen leaves!).

Tamarack, a deciduous conifer found locally in swamps and at the edges of bogs, has peak color now. Characteristic of this tree, clusters of deciduous needles occur on spurs (stunted twigs), adding to its appeal.


Tamarack (American Larch)


Tamarack (American Larch)

Sphagnum moss, the dominant ground cover in the bog, absorbs and holds water like a sponge. Over time, Sphagnum forms peat, hence the term “peat bog”.


Sphagnum moss

More than two dozen species of Cottongrass are found in the acid bogs of the North. Actually sedges, these herbaceous perennials produce fluffy, cotton-like seed heads that really stand out, in sharp contrast with the more drab colors of a bog in October.


Cottongrass (Bog Cotton)


Cottongrass (Bog Cotton)

Typically found in peat bogs, Pitcher Plant is one of several insectivorous plant species that occupy these saturated, acidic, nutrient-poor habitats. The hollow, pitcher-like leaves have downward-pointing hairs and trapped rainwater in the base, adaptations for capturing small insects. Enzymes, tiny invertebrates and bacteria in the water-filled pitfall will aid in the digestion of the “prey” to provide essential nutrients for the plant.  


Pitcher Plant (the hollow, water-filled leaf)


Pitcher Plant (the hollow, water-filled leaf and downward-pointing hairs)

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Forest Gold – American Beech

Blog posts reveal passions. In my case, one such passion is the Fagaceae. This is a plant family of about 600 trees and shrubs that includes the oaks, beeches and chestnuts. My fondness for the family is rooted in personal experiences with many of the species, in the context of several disciplines, and the countless attributes which those species possess. Exceptional timber, wildlife, landscape and aesthetic values. for example, led the National Arbor Day Foundation to select Quercus, the oaks, as our national tree (based on a nationwide, popular vote). 

Typically, species in these plant groups leaf out late in the spring and are among the last to change color and drop in autumn. It is not unusual for Beech, as well as some of the Oaks, to retain leaves well into the winter.


Beech leaves after a Halloween (late October) snowfall

For this post, I’ve chosen a common, but threatened, species to illustrate the Fagaceae in autumn: American Beech (Fagus grandifolia).

Most of the colorful foliage in this photo is associated with small beech trees that have sprouted from the roots (root suckers) of larger trees  that are declining or dead. American Beech has been devastated throughout its geographic range by a disease complex called beech bark disease. When trees reach 8-10 inches or so in diameter, they are susceptible to a non-native beech scale insect which predisposes trees to the lethal effects of beech bark canker fungi. The large, overstory trees in the photo are mostly Sugar Maple and Eastern Hemlock.


Beech understory of root sucker origin in a mixed hardwood-hemlock woodland


Beech understory, in association with Red Oak, Eastern Hemlock and White Pine.

The bark of Beech is typically smooth and gray. The rough bark of this young tree is evidence of bark disease.


Young American Beech tree

Peak fall foliage colors of American Beech (2)


Fall foliage, American Beech


Fall foliage, American Beech

This is the soft-spiny bur and three-sided nut of American Beech, an uncommon sight, even when trees were healthy. Beech only produces significant crops at 2-8-year intervals, and not until about age 40. Now, many trees  decline and die before they can produce significant quantities of seed. Countless animal species consume this nutritious fruit, called hard mast, including deer, bear, elk, squirrels, grouse, turkeys and Blue Jays.


Beech fruit (on a Beech leaf); usually two, three-sided nuts in a soft-spiny bur

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Leaves and Landscapes

Recent wind, rain and falling temperatures have added a sense of urgency to my fall photography. The oaks and aspens are approaching peak foliage color, but many deciduous trees and shrubs now have a late fall, November look, i.e. bare or mostly so.

Chipmunk 023E

Eastern Chipmunk caching food in its den under a pile of rotting firewood in a woodlot

I’ve created this gallery of images, past and present, in an attempt to capture and share the splendor of autumn in the Northeast.

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Fencerows and Edges in Autumn

Forest edges, roadsides, swamp borders and fencerows are all ecotones, places where different communities come together. Ecotones may be large or small, with transitional areas that are gradual and extensive or abrupt and barely noticeable.

The transitional area between communities is often relatively rich and varied due to the presence of organisms that prefer edge habitats as well as cohorts from “each side of the fence”. This natural phenomenon, called “edge effect”, enhances visual resources as well as biodiversity. The variety of trees and shrubs and the good lighting associated with ecotones can result in several layers of colorful foliage capable of transforming a drab landscape scene into wall-hanger.

The rural countryside of central New York is a superb example of the nature and value of localized ecotones. The goal of this post was to capture ecotones in rural landscapes, beginning first with panoramic views, then zooming in to view foreground details. All of these images were taken in central New York within the last few days.


Dairy farm


Dairy farm and the headwaters of the Chenango River



A large, fencerow habitat adjacent to cultivated fields


A closer view of the fencerow in the previous image; the colorful, 5-10 foot tall shrub layer is Staghorn Sumac, a native, thicket-forming species.


The colorful, feathery leaves of Staghorn Sumac; see my “March Robins” post from March, 2013 for the fruit and wildlife value of this shrub.


The fall foliage and male flower buds of American Hazelnut, a native shrub


The ripened fruit of American Hazelnut, encased in bracts that look like dried leaves (the squirrels still find the nuts!)


Single fruit of American Hazelnut


Witch Hazel, a native shrub, has the unusual habit of flowering in the fall (the yellow, strap-like petals); see a recent post by “Naturally Curious with Mary Holland” for more photos and a detailed explanation


The harvested field next to the featured fencerow came alive in the 70-degree sun. At least three species of butterflies – Cabbage Whites, Sulphurs and Variegated Fritillaries – were nectaring on the flowers of residual weeds and legumes.

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Autumn Scenes

Peak fall foliage, fall foliage festivals and leaf-peeping tourists characterize the Northeast landscape in September and October. In reality, I rarely see an actual peak where all of the stars align and the foliage colors are all brilliant and in sync. This year, for example, many of the Sugar Maples lost their leaves early, without fanfare, or are more brownish yellow than golden yellow. A warm dry spell followed by wind and rain is their excuse.


I ventured forth to do some leaf-peeping myself, mostly concentrating on rural landscapes, and have a few images that escaped the delete button.








Photos by NB Hunter. ©  All Rights Reserved.

Bubbling Brook Macro

While walking the bank of a small, intermittent drainage swollen by rainwater, a plunge pool caught my eye. Water cascading over an abrupt drop in the stream bed had created a tiny pool about two feet across and a foot deep. The water was swirling slowly, clockwise, with fallen maple leaves and bubbles dancing along for the ride. I had to play with the ever-changing scene, and will share some of the shots.


Sugar Maple leaf swirling around in a small plunge pool (1 of 4)




Photos by NB Hunter. ©  All Rights Reserved.

Rainy Day Treat

Unusual weather often leads to unusual observations. Warm, rainy weather at a time when a good killing frost is more the norm resulted in a surprise encounter this morning with a species that the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation categorizes as “pool-breeding wildlife”. Walking in the rain, I discovered a Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) in a Goldenrod meadow. These are large salamanders and this one, a modest 6 inches or so in total length, was stretched out in full view on a clump of matted grass. By the time I returned with my camera, it had moved a few inches but, fortunately, was still cooperative!


Spotted Salamander

Considered a sign of spring due to their mass migrations to woodland pools and ponds to breed, Spotted Salamanders are rather common but rarely seen at other times of the year. They spend most of their time beneath the forest floor (sometimes logs, rocks, etc.) feeding on worms, insects, and other invertebrates. The current weather pattern, with 70-degree days and warm rains, is very spring-like and undoubtedly was a stimulus for the behavior I observed today.

I’m mindful of reptiles and amphibians when managing my property, leaving portions of fallen trees on the ground and maintaining intermittent streams and associated riparian habitats. This intermittent drainage, fed by the recent rains, lies about 200 feet from where the salamander was discovered and could well be the reason for its presence.


Intermittent stream

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

A Stream in Autumn

Regardless of the season, I’m drawn to surface waters. The smaller, readily accessible waters like vernal pools, ponds, swampy places and streams are favorites.


Sugar Maple leaves on the surface of a small spring hole.

One of the more popular and scenic streams in Central New York is Chittenango Creek. Classified as a medium-size, fast-flowing trout stream, it originates in a large cedar swamp, tumbles over a 167-foot waterfall and ends up in a large lake. I’ve taken numerous photos of this waterway, some as recently as today, and will share the results.


Chittenango Creek





Chittenango Creek


Chittenango Creek waterfalls in Chittenango Falls State Park


Chittenango Creek waterfalls in Chittenango Falls State park


A small tributary to Chittenango Creek in Chittenango Falls State park

Photos by NB Hunter. ©  All Rights Reserved.