Tuesday, September 6, 2011

    Out and About: Round Lake Nature Notes August 2011
                By Diane Shapiro

    My husband, Dan, has been a mushroom hunter for almost thirty years.  Most likely, Tom and Linda Peterson will remember his early attempts at mushroom identification.  We were all spending a weekend at the  Petersons’ Adirondack camp.  Dan thought he had discovered morel mushrooms growing in the woods by the cabin.  He told us how morels are considered prize mushrooms, with a nutty flavor when cooked.  We picked them, brought them back to camp, and got out the cast iron frying pan.  Dan did a review of the mushrooms using his new identification guide.  There was a skull and crossbones next to what looked like the mushroom’s picture, saying it was a false morel.  (As you might imagine, a skull and crossbones label is not good.)  We tossed the mushrooms out of the cabin, washed our hands, and came up with another dinner plan.  Today, Dan is still not sure whether they were false morels.  I think he’d like to find the ones we tossed and do a further identification.  He hates missing a meal. 
In any event, we will never know and I think that’s a good thing!  Years later, Dan has gotten much better at identifying mushrooms, especially the local ones.  Many mushrooms are poisonous.  If eaten they can make you sick and some may even kill you. But many of the edible ones, when cooked, are absolutely delicious.
    Tropical Storm Irene set up perfect conditions for mushroom growth.    Ninety-five to a hundred percent humidity and fifty to seventy-five percent ground saturation, which the storm provided, enables mushrooms to thrive.  The week following the storm, mushrooms popped up all over the village, in the woods, and especially at Shenentaha Park. Dan had a field day finding puffballs the size of baby heads and gem-studded puffballs, the size of thumbs.  He discovered amanita mushrooms in red and yellow and an indigo milk mushroom that he had never seen before.  The indigo mushroom stained his skin blue.  It was edible – firm but not particularly mushroomy. 
As much as Dan likes to find and identify mushrooms, he likes to cook them even more.  He has made puffball parmesan, lobster-infused polenta with wild and domestic mushrooms and mushroom risotto.  If you are interested in mushroom hunting, grab Dan along with his many identification guides and go foraging.  Make sure your life insurance policy is paid up.

Many Many Mushrooms- Thanks Irene!

An Hour's Window

        Out and About: Round Lake Nature Notes July 2011
            “An Hour’s Window” By Diane Shapiro

    Yards and gardens keep us busy.  Weeding, watering, planting, pruning, mulching, mowing, deadheading- repeat!  One day I decided I would just sit in my garden and watch what was going on there.  I forced myself to sit still and not jump up to pluck a weed or two or three.  I soon saw a couple of Cabbage White Butterflies fly into the garden zigging and zagging over the flowers.  They are white with one black dot on each wing for males and two black dots on each wing for females.  They quickly spiraled up in the air and were gone.  Cabbage Whites are one of the most numerous species of butterflies in the country.  The day before I had seen a Monarch butterfly calmly floating through the yard and drifting from one Milkweed plant to the next.  The Monarch’s flight pattern was in direct contrast to the frantic flight of the Cabbage Whites.  It turns out that each species of butterfly has a unique and instinctive flight pattern.  A butterfly, the size of my thumb, landed on the Meadow Rue a foot away from me.  It took off so fast I couldn’t get a good look at its markings.  One the size of my hand had been on the purple Coneflower a few days before.  Gazing around the garden I saw the thumb-sized butterfly now on the Coreopsis.  It stayed there for about five minutes giving me enough time to get pictures with my digital camera.  I later matched the pictures to a butterfly from an identification guide and believe it was a Variegated Fritillary!  It was orange with numerous black lines, spots and “ V” shapes.
    Back sitting on the porch of my garden shed, I realized the Butterfly bushes in the garden were beginning to flower.  They’re a great nectar source for butterflies, bees and hummingbirds.  The one we planted at the Library, on Earth Day, is already in full bloom with beautiful purple flowers.  A Ruby-throated Hummingbird came to drink the sugar water from the tube feeder hanging from the garden shed porch.  I could hear its wings humming as it drank for about twenty seconds.   It then flew to a dead tree limb and perched for a few minutes.  I saw a Dragonfly land on a dead flower head.  I quietly and slowly walked towards it hoping to get a close-up picture.  It cooperated and really had a fierce look when I zoomed in on it.  Later on, I read up on Dragonfly behavior.  It turns out that they catch a variety of insects and chew them into pieces with their strong jaws.  Wow!  I didn’t know that was happening in the garden.   I have to say I really enjoyed the time spent in the garden and I didn’t even pull a single weed.

An Hour's Window