Snowy Trees in the Pennsylvania Mountains Bring 2007 to a Wintery Finish

Last night we were promised 2-4 inches of snow and by all accounts the weather forecasters were right on target. We did get about 3 inches of flaky, heavy snow.

Up before the sun, which is pretty easy to do now that the days are so short, I went outside with thermals on to snap a few pictures. The light was really dim, but getting so ever slightly brighter with each passing moment. Had I any foresight into the beautiful morning sunrise I would have set up the tripod and time-lapsed a few photos before the sun came up. The gray sky gently contrasted with the white snow perched on the tree limbs. Dark tree trunks stood out in the white and gray, winter woodland scene.

Snowy trees in the early morning light.

Snowy trees in the early morning light.

The snow is a bit like the ice we had a couple weeks ago as it is sticking to everything – at least until the wind picks up or until the sun starts shining.

Snow sticking to the tree limbs as seen from below.

Snow sticking to the tree limbs as seen from below.

It is a very still morning with only a crow silently drifting overhead. Its blackness moves in sharp contrast to the newly fallen snow on the tree limbs. Sometime in the night or early morning a fox had passed this way as told by the tracks it left behind.

I can’t describe the feeling one gets standing here in the middle of the woods, early in the morning before the sun is up, listening to the stillness…there is a feeling of being surrounded or closed in, but in a nice, warm hug kind of way…reverent, still, awesome.

A new day is dawning! To all our friends, far and wide, have a happy new year!

Imagine yourself standing in the center of this picture. No sound – the stillness is awesome. It gives you a feeling of being close to God.

Happy New Year! From our mountain home in the woods.

Happy New Year! From our mountain home in the woods.

Quisp says,

Quisp says, “How do you like my White Pine Christmas Tree? I think it’s just perfect for my long winter’s nap!”
Happy New Year to All!
May Your 2008 Be Full of Christmas Spirit All Year Long!

Icy Trees Sparkle in the Sunlight the Day After a Winter Storm

Winter is off to a great start here in Central Pennsylvania. Snow from last week is gone and has been replaced by ice…everywhere! I find it amazing that every branch, every tree trunk, every pine needle is coated with a thick layer of ice.

The boughs of white pine trees are bent to the ground with the weight of ice on every limb.

The boughs of white pine trees are bent to the ground with the weight of ice on every limb.

How did the ice manage to coat every square millimeter of these pine needles?

How did the ice manage to coat every square millimeter of these pine needles?

Icy hemlock needles and pinecones.

Icy hemlock needles and pinecones.

Star magnolia blooms and branches covered in ice.

Star magnolia blooms and branches covered in ice.

The evergreen leaves of this rhododendron look really unhappy with their new coat of ice.

The evergreen leaves of this rhododendron look really unhappy with their new coat of ice.

Every single tree limb has a coating of ice!
Every single tree limb has a coating of ice!

Every single tree limb has a coating of ice!

Sunlit icy trees.
Sunlit icy trees.
Sunlit icy trees.
Sunlit icy trees.

We’re giving thanks that we did not lose electricity with the cold winds that knocked off much of the pretty tree limb icicles. When the ice came down with the wind it was like very loud rain drops as the pieces of ice hit the icy snow below.

Just beautiful in the sunlight! The sunlight really shines on the icy tree limbs.
Just beautiful in the sunlight! The sunlight really shines on the icy tree limbs.

Winter Starts in the PA Mountains with a Little Snow

Second snow fall this season brought some cold artic air. At eight o’clock this morning the temperature was 11 degrees F and the wind chill was a mere 2 degrees. The kind of cold that you can feel in your nostrils.

Where were my gloves?? I could really have used them while I broomed off the walkways. No shoveling for me.

Anyway, here’s a couple pics for my southern friends who have yet to see any snow this year.

Crisp, snowy and cold morning in the PA mountains.

Crisp, snowy and cold morning in the PA mountains.

Snowy cones.

Snowy cones.

Can't believe the greenery hasn't died back on this butterfly bush!

Can’t believe the greenery hasn’t died back on this butterfly bush!

Snowy butterfly blossoms.

Snowy butterfly blossoms.

It’s so cold and dry that the snow squeaks underneath your feet. The powdery stuff is the can’t-make-a-snowball-wish-I-had-a-sled-kind-of-snow. But no matter how cold it feels while warming up the car, you can’t be as chilled as these Amish folk!

The doors are closed tight, but unless there's a hot potato under your frock you gotta be cold!

The doors are closed tight, but unless there’s a hot potato under your frock you gotta be cold!

This gal surely can't wait to get home to her kitchen fire!

This gal surely can’t wait to get home to her kitchen fire!

I think Shubert has the right idea - find a sunny spot and curl up!

I think Shubert has the right idea – find a sunny spot and curl up!

At least one flower pic today…the Christmas Cactus, or Easter Cactus depending on its time of blooming, is starting to open its showy blossoms.

glossy christmas cactus
glossy side christmas cactus

Canadian Juncos Herald the Arrival of Cold Weather – Winter Approaches!

This morning I saw my first Junco!

It’s a realization that cold weather is here to stay for a while when the juncos arrive in late autumn.

The Slate-Colored Junco, Junco hyemalis, is a cute little bird that flies down from Canada to spend the winter in the lower 48. Whitish chests, beaks and outer tail feathers are quite noticeable on this little sparrow-sized bird.

Males are dark, slate-colored and the females are a duller, brown color. The lack of eye rings or wing bars make them appear black and white or brown and white.

We usually see a group hopping around on the ground looking for food, but once in a while one will visit the bird feeders. I especially like their “junco shuffle”, the way they hop forward and scooch backward to move around the fallen leaves in search of a morsel.

The Juncos fly back north for their spring breeding season, and so, when the juncos disappear in the springtime we know our flowers will soon be blooming!

First Freezing Temperatures Last Night in Central Pennsylvania

The growing season has officially come to an end for 2007.

We had a hard frost last night. Lost a basil plant and a few pepper plants from the garden, but the lettuce was protected enough by the old storm windows we placed around the lettuce patch.

I think the bear was looking for something to munch when he/she visited us last night. Looking for food and eating it is about all they do this time of year. The hunters are out shooting up the small game, so the bears are probably moving around a bit more than they might without the hunters’ presence.

I’m sure the bear was here because a heavy planter, which is about a two foot cube, was knocked over on its side. On closer inspection we saw where a claw had punctured the plastic tub.

The dog went nuts this morning when he went out first thing and there’s no doubt he picked up some of that garbage-like bear purfume that was lingering. Not that I detected it, of course!

Without the windows open as it’s too cold now, I’m not sure when or how we’ll see that bear again but you can be assured that we stop and look out the windows every chance we get!

Caterpillars Eat Dogwood Leaves While White Wood Asters and False Solomon Seal Berries Brighten the Woods

Nearing the end of summer we can always find some neat-looking critters somewhere on the vegetation that surrounds us. Many times the bugs and insects are making a meal out of a carefully planted and nursed garden flower or plant. Sometimes we see cool-looking insects perched on the house or vehicles. If they’re different than ones we normally see, somebody runs to get the camera.

Today, looking out in the back yard I noticed from a distance that my small White Flowering Dogwood trees, Cornus florida, were really taking a beating. The leaves were obviously being eaten as the little trees looked almost stripped bare from where I stood on the porch. But what or who was eating the leaves?

Closer inspection revealed two small visitors to the dogwood trees and they were still munching away as I snapped these pics.

Brown caterpillar with white dashes on its head.

This brown caterpillar with four white head spots — dashes really — seemed very busy munching on a dogwood leaf.

I didn’t touch it with my bare hands because I saw long hairs, or setae, projecting from its body. Some of the caterpillars have what are called urticating spines which can really pack a wallop and sting ya’ good! I wasn’t taking any chances with getting stung so I carefully removed this critter from the tree before it ate the last leaf.

Brown caterpillar with white dashes on its head and a lighter brown streak down its back.

Brown caterpillar with white dashes on its head and a lighter brown streak down its back.

This little green fellow was on the underside of a dogwood leaf. Its back was rather dome-shaped and its belly did not have distinct feet or legs. The head end was definitely more rounded than the pointy tail end, but as it sat on the plant I couldn’t really see a head per se. As close as I can tell its the Yellow-shoulder Slug caterpillar, Lithacodes fasciola .

Undulating its Slug caterpillar with head on the right.

Undulating its “belly” allowed this little yellow-green fellow to move fairly quickly.

Lying on its side you can see the shadow of a wave of motion traveling down the length of its body.

Lying on its side — notice the shadow of a wave of motion that traveled down the length of its body as the slug caterpillar tried to upright itself.

This is the time of year that the asters and goldenrods are blooming profusely in open, fallow fields. At the edge of our woods, where the tree line meets what we call a backyard, a small group of White Wood Asters, Aster divaricatus, blooms every year.

A small patch of low-growing White Wood Asters lies in complete shade.

A small patch of low-growing White Wood Asters lies in the shade except for some filtered sunlight that reaches them in the early part of the day.

The white flower heads lose their short petals easily, so these flowers are not for picking. We just appreciate them being there.

The False Solomon Seal berries are now crimson red with white speckles.

The False Solomon Seal berries are now crimson red with white speckles. Their collective weight draws the tall stems almost down to the ground. Eventually, the berries will either be eaten or lay upon the ground to start the growing cycle all over again.

False Solomon Seal plants lend color to the area with their bright red berries that appear every autumn.

Underneath the shade of a White Oak several native False Solomon Seal plants lend color to the area with their bright red berries that appear every autumn.

False Solomon Seal berries form at the terminal ends of the two to three feet tall plants and mature to a bright red color with speckles of white.

False Solomon Seal berries form at the terminal ends of the two to three feet tall plants and mature to a bright red color with speckles of white.

Rudbeckia Dies by the Stylets of a Million Aphids

Extremely hot and dry weather produces visible changes in the landscape. Trees drop leaves too early for the autumn leaf drop. Hues of yellow and red can be seen among the dull greens of the forest.

Grass stops growing and sounds like crinkley paper when walked upon. Mushrooms hide in the sweet syrup of their fungal thread-like mats, waiting for a wet opportunity to assemble themselves and appear above ground.

Insects flourish in huge numbers as they drink the sap of their favorite plants. My Rudbeckia that I carefully transplanted this Spring all but withered to a crisp. Over the last week I saw the stems and blooms drying up, and counted the early death as another victim of this year’s drought and extreme heat.

A beautiful Rudbeckia plant sporting its bright yellow flowers in the middle of July.

A beautiful Rudbeckia plant sporting its bright yellow flowers in the middle of July.

I took my pruners and a bucket out to the once beautiful rudbeckia to clip off the dead stems. At once I saw hundreds upon hundreds of red aphids!

The same Rudbeckia plant a month later after attack by aphids.

The same Rudbeckia plant a month later after attack by aphids.

Aphids come in many colors and will attack many plants. Some aphid species are very particular about their host plant, others not so much. With literally thousands of species of aphid around the world, it would be surprising to not come across them at some point.

Aphids line up along plant stems with their heads pointed toward the stem so that their needle-like mouth parts, called stylets, can pierce into the plant. Here, they drink the plant’s juices to the demise of the plant.

Red aphids all along the stems of a rudbeckia plant.

Red aphids all along the stems of a rudbeckia plant.

When conditions are right for it, aphids breed without sex so many, many young can be produced in a short amount of time.

When conditions are right for it, aphids breed without sex so many, many young can be produced in a short amount of time. Note the small aphids next to the adults.

Aphids will drink the plant’s juices from stems and flowers. An identifying characteristic of aphids is the presence of two short projections, or cornicles, that extend from the posterior of the abdomen. A sweet honeydew liquid is released from the cornicles which is sometimes farmed by ants. Indeed, the presence of ants is sometimes a clue that aphids are nearby.

Note the abdominal cornicles on the shadow of an aphid.

Note the abdominal cornicles projecting out from the shadow of an aphid.

I filled a bucket with the stems that I pruned and dumped that in a compost heap. The remaining stems are about 10-12 inches tall. I’ll be watching to see if there will be more plant growth into the fall or if the aphids continue to consume this once beautiful plant.

Update on Downy Rattlesnake Plantain – It’s Starting to Bloom!

Nearly four weeks ago I snapped a picture of Downy Rattlesnake Plantain with a flower spike and flower head present, but not yet open. See earlier post on orchids – July 15th.

By now the blooms had started opening up to show the very small individual blossoms.

Downy rattlesnake plantain starting to open its blossoms held high on the flower stalk.

Downy rattlesnake plantain starting to open its blossoms held high on the flower stalk.

The flowers still compact in the head are not fully open so that they can be recognized as small orchids.

Close-up view of downy rattlesnake plantain orchids before the blooms fully open.

Close-up view of downy rattlesnake plantain orchids before the blooms fully open.