science

Green Elfcup Fungus

Green Elfcup Fungus

Tiny Turquoise Mushrooms!

Identified for the CFC by instagram photographer @fungiwoman, Chlorociboria aeruginascens, a/k/a green elfcup, is the fungus behind that gorgeous turquoise wood you’ll find on Pennsylvania trails.

While the stained wood is common, spotting the tiny, 2-5 mm diameter fruitbodies is a rarity.  They occur in summer and fall in the Northeast – these were found on 2 Sept 2020, on Cook Trail in Cook Forest State Park, Pennsylvania.  Green elfcup prefers hardwoods, particularly oak, and little shards of the fallen wood that has hosted it can be found on trails and amongst the fairy moss, which seems fitting.

Etymology: aeruginascens is Latin meaning “becoming blue-green”

Learn more:

  • https://www.mushroomexpert.com/chlorociboria_aeruginascens.html
  • https://www.first-nature.com/fungi/chlorociboria-aeruginascens.php
Green-stained wood
the result of the little fungi: green-stained wood, or blue-stained wood, which we call turquoise wood...

Chlorociboria aeruginascens

Phylum: Ascomycota
Order: Helotiales
Family: Helotiaceae

“Fourteenth and 15th century Renaissance Italian craftsmen used the wood to provide the green colors in their intricate inlaid intarsia designs” – to see some examples, and read some heavy-duty science, visit this link to a botany page of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Shagbark Jones before he fled
Shagbark Jones found the fungus, then disappeared into the forest at a wild gallop. He is in big trouble.

Acorns: Science & Mysteries

Penn State Forest Stewards series article – written by Jim Finley, Professor Emeritus, Forest Resources Management, Center for Private Forests at Penn State.

Oaks are economically important tree species in Pennsylvania and across the East. Acorns, or mast – a word derived from old English which means “forest food,” are important to wildlife. Oak-borne mast production varies from year to year. Much research has sought to predict masting years, when big acorn crops occur, and shed light on what leads to poor years – or early acorn abscission (detachment) – like you may have seen this season.

Science and Mysteries of Acorns - Pennsylvania Forest Stewards article

Oaks separate into two groups, popularly referred to as red and white, and learning to identify the difference between the two groups is easy.

Red oaks – e.g. Northern red oak, pin oak, scarlet oak, and black oak – have small “bristles” on the lobes and tips of their leaves. White oaks – e.g. white oak and rock, or chestnut, oak – lack these bristles, and have rounded leaf lobes.  (CFC note: the image above is of a white oak.)  There are other differences that are more difficult to recognize, such as acorn structure and wood anatomy.

The Process of Creating an Acorn –
and the Trials of 2020

Both red and white oaks produce female and male flowers on the same tree, unlike ash which has male and female trees. The process of producing an acorn starts late in the growing year when the male flowers form as the tree’s growth slows toward the end of summer. That is the end of the first year (year 1) in the process. Then, in the second year (year 2), as the tree comes out of dormancy, female flowers form in the axil of the leaf stem and the twig and remain dormant. As the spring leaves begin to unfold, the male flowers emerge and are very apparent as rather-long, drooping, greenish-yellow catkins. These appear about two weeks before the much smaller female flowers emerge.

White Oak Acorn Production

For the white oaks, as the male and female flowers emerge in year 2 as described above, pollination and fertilization should happen. The pollen from the male flower, which is wind-disseminated, lands on the style, which is part of the female flower. When this happens, the pollen initiates the development of a pollen tube that transfers male cells into the ovule to complete fertilization and the process of acorn formation should start in earnest. For this to happen, it is ideal to have warm days and cool nights. 

If temperatures are not right, fertilization may fail, and the female flowers will abort, which results in low acorn initiation. Alternatively, if temperatures become too hot or drought conditions occur, white oak acorns may abort, which is likely apparent in mid-June to mid- to late-July; perhaps that is the reason for reported early acorn drop this year. The other big threat to white oak acorns is late spring frosts, which also happened this year, and would again remove the fertilized flowers.

Bats & Moths & Synchronous Fireflies!

Bats Moths & Fireflies CFC 2020

UPDATE:  Please bear with us 🙂 – the event is now limited to 25 attendees, per PA guidelines on COVID-19 – – RSVP is req’d via 814-744-8407 or cookforestsp@pa.gov, & please bring your masks & respect social distancing ** Please DISREGARD Facebook attendance indicators, as we’re not using that system **
Our apologies, but as this is the first event in the park following its reopening, and as several state entities are cooperating in its production, we just got the word that we need to collect registrations for the event. We appreciate your understanding!

Wielding microphones and sheets and wearing headlamps, bat biologist Amber Nolder and entomologist Tim Tomon will survey bats and moths, educating onlookers as they monitor this aspect of forest health. We’ll begin with some presentations, move into the field, and learn about these important Cook Forest residents.  Here’s a recap & gallery from last year’s stellar bat & moth event – but, this year, it’s

Bats & Moths – and then Synchronous Fireflies!

Our annual program has happily added a (hopeful) appearance by the rare and elusive synchronous fireflies!  Once the Photinus carolinus & friends have emerged (probably around 10 pm), we’ll walk up nearby Tom’s Run Road a short distance into the darkness, and enjoy their silent light show. Allegheny National Forest & Cook Forest State Park are among the only places to see these little fellows in America – they’re so famous in the Smoky Mountains there’s a lottery to see them!

Since the primary threats to fireflies are habitat loss and light pollution, the “lightning bug” portion of the program will be pitch black, so they can communicate.  The dirt road is somewhat uneven – if you have a headlamp or flashlight with a red lamp function, please bring it along for the trek in toward the firefly swamp.

Friday, 19 June 2020 – 8:30 pm – 10:30 pm >>
add event to your google calendar

We’ll be at Shelter #2 off Forest Road in Cook Forest, approx. coordinates: 41.346609, -79.218915, and the google maps code is 8QWJ+JC Cooksburg, Pennsylvania.

This event is free – no registration required. Please bring a coronavirus mask, a light (headlamps with a red or green night-vision filter are best) and a refillable water bottle – we’ll have bat & moth eyemasks for the kids to color.  NB re CORONAVIRUS: By attending, participants assume responsibility for any and all risk due to possible exposure to COVID-19. Please DO NOT attend if you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 in the last 2 weeks.

This annual event is a collaboration of the Cook Forest Conservancy, the PA Game Commission, the PA Bureau of Forestry, and the DCNR of Cook Forest State Park

Forest Resilience in a Changing Climate

Penn State Forest Stewards series article – written by Jim Finley, Professor Emeritus, Forest Resources Management, Center for Private Forests at Penn State.

So far for most Pennsylvanians, Winter 2020 has been a non-event. Depending on where you live, temperatures are considerably above normal and snowfall below normal. Individual perspectives might lead to interpreting these two statistics as either positive or negative. No snow equals no shoveling. Warm temperatures equal more time outside. Or, no snow equals no sledding or skiing. Warm temperatures equal more ticks.

Thinking more broadly than personal values or needs; Is this winter’s weather a harbinger of a future driven by climate change? If so, how will Pennsylvania’s forests respond?

PA Forest Stewards - Jim Finley on Climate Change 2020

For sure, weather is fickle. Mark Twain purportedly said, “Climate is what we expect, weather is what we get.” It seems something is happening to the climate and, whether you attribute it to human activities or just unexplainable variation, Pennsylvania’s forests are facing challenges.

Forest Resilience in a Changing Climate

Aldo Leopold, a 20th century mid-western conservationist, and author of The Sand County Almanac and many other writings about our relationships to the land and natural systems, was a keen observer of change that others seemed to miss. He wrote, “One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on the land is quite invisible to laymen . . . in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.” Simply, he was saying that the more one knows about ecology, the more apparent change is and that many will neither see nor believe that it matters. Many resource professionals as well as laypeople are seeing change in many areas of our environment. As Leopold suggests though, many of these changes and linkages may not be obvious to less than “keen observers.”

Disturbance and change are part of natural systems. Resilience is the ability of a system to recover after disturbance, which determines its ability to persist and function over time. The degree and extent of a disturbance logically affects the capacity of a natural system to recover. For example, in a typical winter, forests often experience damage from wind and ice. Most commonly this is local damage and a few trees experience broken limbs and some trees tip over. The ability of the forest to function across a larger landscape continues unabated – some trees benefit from increased light and growing space from the loss of their neighbors – the forest almost ignores the event.

Woods not Lawns for Water Quality

Penn State Forest Stewards series article – written by Jim Finley, Professor Emeritus, Forest Resources Management, Center for Private Forests at Penn State.

It’s January and perhaps your thoughts are already turning toward summer activities. For many Pennsylvanians, mowing and maintaining lawns is either a larger or small part of their summer routine. Lawns, as we know them, are part of American culture and history(1). An Internet search on lawn maintenance suggests creating the perfect lawn is a major industry very dependent on labor and chemical inputs.

Annually we spread millions of tons of insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, and fertilizer around our homes to have the envy of the neighborhood – a perfectly green lawn(2). Interestingly, as interest in organic foods increases, there is a disconnect about using despised chemicals where our children and pets spend quality time. At the same time, water quality suffers as excess nutrients from lawns and agricultural fields are one of the largest sources of non-point pollutants impacting water quality in our streams, rivers, lakes, and the Chesapeake Bay.

Penn State’s Center for Turfgrass Science estimates that Pennsylvanians maintain about 2 million acres of grass (about 7% of the state’s surface area), and 1.4 million acres of this are home lawns (about 5% of the state). About two-thirds of Pennsylvania is in the Chesapeake Bay watershed and contains an estimated one million acres of lawns. 

Pennsylvania has set a goal of converting 10,000 acres of these lawns to woodlands or meadows. This seems like a small target and maybe you can help by learning how to convert lawns to woodlands and meadows by participating in a Penn State Extension Winter Workshop series entitled “The Woods in Your Backyard: Learning to Create and Enhance Natural Areas Around Your Home.” This webinar-based education program will use a full-color, 108-page publication by the same title to guide you through the process of developing and implementing projects to enhance your land’s natural resources. Register by Saturday, 18 January 2020 via the link above, or call 877-345-0691.

A principle focus of the workshop series is to learn about what happens to the rain and snow that falls on your land. There is a very strong link between land use and our water resources. Buildings, pavement, lawns, fields – human changes to the landscape – have affected natural water movement and water cycles Water now moves across the land and into streams in different ways and carries with it nutrients and pollutants.

Interestingly, most lawns are very poor at absorbing water – in fact, they are only a little better than pavement! Your lawn, because of grass root structure and soil compaction, can only absorb about 2 inches of water per hour compared to a forest that can handle 14 inches or more in the same time frame. In the ideal scenario, water does not move across the land – instead, it should move into the soil.

Some Litter Is Necessary

Penn State Forest Stewards series article – written by Jim Finley, Professor Emeritus, Forest Resources Management, Center for Private Forests at Penn State.

Well once again, Pennsylvania’s forests are a mess – full of litter. Following the annual spectacular display of colors, fallen leaves, twigs, and branches “litter-ly” despoil our forest floors with layers of brown discarded leaves. What a mess!

2019-11 PAFS article Jim Finley on leaf litter

Depending on your awareness of litter’s value and your aesthetic sensibilities it can result in different appreciation levels. If you are a gardener, you would welcome, collect, compost, and hoard tree leaves. If your taste leans toward green grass lawns, you may abhor fallen leaves. Either way, you will likely gather them up; however, there are some who want to leave them in situ and mow them into increasingly smaller pieces to foster quicker decay hoping they will benefit that lawn.

Forests full of fallen leaves are a gift trees give to themselves. No one rakes or mulches them; nonetheless, they do slowly disappear. Estimates are that a mature hardwood forests produce an estimated 2,000 and 3,000 pounds per acre of litter annually. While most of this (about 70%) is leaves, it also contains twigs and branches, which may be partially decomposed prior to falling. It is amazing that through natural decomposition processes, tons of leaves contribute to forest vitality and health in so many ways.

 

Betsy the Bat

Betsy is an ambassador for Centre Wildlife Care – she’s non-releasable because she cannot fly, so she educates folks about the wonders and benefits of bats.  Bats, the only mammals capable of continued flight, help us humans by consuming their body weight in insects every night. Unfortunately, the little brown bat, previously Pennsylvania’s most populous, was decimated by white nose syndrome, a deadly fungal disease. They’re slowing coming back, but only have one pup per year — so it’s crucial to help every bat you can. Keep neighborhood skies dark, and consider installing a bat house.
Betsy the bat - Centre Wildlife Care

If you find a bat this time of year (late fall to winter), please don’t release them; they will die in this type of weather. They should be hibernating in caves. Those that aren’t in caves hibernating are at risk. Centre Wildlife Care can care for them until spring when it is warm.

If you’re in the State College area, call Centre Wildlife Care at 814-692-0004 – or call Wildlife in Need Emergency Response, which operates a state-wide network of trained wildlife capture and transport volunteers, at 877-239-2097.

Please remember to never touch them with your bare hands; use thick gloves and pick them up gently with a towel. Place the bat in a box with soft cloth or paper towels with a lid, and air holes no bigger than a pencil. Keep them in a warm, quiet, dark room away from pets and people until they can be transported to a licensed wildlife rehabilitation centre.  And, don’t assume that they can’t escape…if you don’t put a lid on the box and weight or tape it down…they will leave. It happens all the time 🙂

HWA Hemlock Seminar Recap 2019

2019 HWA Seminar recap

A solid group attended this year’s Bureau of Forestry seminar on Hemlock Woolly Adelgid – its life cycle, the dangers it poses and the importance of Eastern (Canadian) Hemlock to our biodiversity, and the currently available treatment options – at the Cook Forest State Park office.  Following the classroom session, we trekked a short distance along beautiful Birch Trail, where Forestry scientists illustrated the soil injection method of tree inoculation, which will protect the treated trees for an estimated seven years. 

Jim Altemus explaining the soil treatment procedure to an attendee

As you may know, many of our ecosystems depend upon hemlock to filter our water and contain our streambanks, shade these streams for trout and the aquatic insects they feed upon, clean our air, and create the singular micro-climate that no other tree can reproduce, and on which many species depend.

You can protect your hemlocks at home:

  • minimize stressors by keeping them watered in droughts and not compacting their soil, and 
  • monitoring them closely for health – watch the crown for thinning, and always check wind-blown limbs for evidence of HWA infestation, as they tend to colonize the top half of the tree.   

View the entire photo gallery here – and please join us next year, as we hope to make the HWA Treatment Seminar an annual event!  The Cook Forest area hemlock are relatively healthy now, and by keeping Pennsylvanians aware and proactive, we can ensure their survival for the good of the woods, waters, and people of the coming decades 🙂

Shagbark Jones admires some hemlocks

Bats & Moths 2019 Recap

Bats & Moths 2019 - Recap

The turnout at Tom’s Run – seventy people and six bats – is a happy increase over last year for both groups, and it’s important to track bat densities to determine whether they’re rebounding following the decimation caused by White Nose Syndrome.  PA Game Commission scientist Amber Nolder said that, “after the devastating losses due to white-nose, there does seem to be some stabilization of affected bat populations. However, it could take over 100 years for complete population recovery (assuming enough bats can continue to survive white-nose and other threats), because of the low reproductive rate of most of these cave hibernating species, which have only one pup per year.

Moths, which, along with butterflies, make up one of the most diverse orders of insects, also are a large proportion of the diet of birds and bats.  Tim Tomon, scientist with the Bureau of Forestry, noted that they can also be useful indicators of plant presence.

You can help bat & moth populations at home:

View the entire photo gallery here – and please join us next year, as we’re planning to make Bats & Moths night an annual event! 

Small-eyed Sphinx Moth

small-eyed sphinx moth - paonias myops

The small-eyed sphinx moth is “especially nocturnal” and prefers birches, poplars, hawthorns, and willow trees. And white sheets.  

And also cherry, serviceberry, and grapes, according to insectidentification.org, which names this fellow a member of the Hawk Moth category.  Moths are important pollinators, and are under threat from habitat loss – especially the decline of native plant species – and increasing light pollution

Learn more about these moths, present from April through October, at bugguide.net.  Even more info available at butterfliesandmoths.org – learn about all the Lepidoptera! 

  • Order – Butterflies / Moths – Lepidoptera
  • Family – Sphinx Moths – Sphingidae
  • Species – Small-eyed Sphinx Moth – Paonias myops

This fellow was spotted at the 2019 CFC Bats & Moths spectacular, along Tom’s Run at CCC shelter #2, in Cook Forest State Park.  

Bats & Moths of Cook Forest

Bats & Moths of Cook Forest

Please meet at twilight (8:30) at Shelter #2 to help bat biologist Amber Nolder and insect specialist Tim Tomon during an evening survey of bats and moths along the picturesque Tom’s Run valley. Following an educational presentation, we’ll be catching bats and moths in nets for research purposes.

Bring your flashlights – there will be supplies to make a custom, removable red-light filter, so you can see better at night and disturb wildlife less. We’ll also have bat-mask coloring for the kids. 

This event is FREE and open to all – donations will support the CFC and the installation of bat boxes in Cook Forest State Park.

Much thanks to the Pennsylvania Game Commission and DCNR Bureau of Forestry and their scientists, and to the management and rangers of Cook Forest State Park for their accommodation and support!

>> 8:30 – 10:30 pm, Tuesday, 2 July 2019, at Pavilion #2 in beautiful Cook Forest State Park, Pennsylvania.  Approx. GPS coordinates = 41°20’50.0″N  79°13’11.2″W — follow Forest Road to near Breezemont – Shelter #2 is across from the Log Cabin

What is Forest Fragmentation & Why is it a Problem?

by Michael Snyder, forester & Commissioner of the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation. 
Generously permitted for re-publication by Northern Woodlands magazine – original article here

forest fragmentation photo by Pok Rie from Pexels

Forest fragmentation is the breaking of large, contiguous, forested areas into smaller pieces of forest; typically these pieces are separated by roads, agriculture, utility corridors, subdivisions, or other human development. It usually occurs incrementally, beginning with cleared patches here and there – think Swiss cheese – within an otherwise unbroken expanse of tree cover.

Over time, those non-forest patches tend to multiply and expand until eventually the forest is reduced to scattered, disconnected forest islands. The surrounding non-forest lands and land uses seriously threaten the health, function, and value of the remaining forest.

Any large-scale canopy disturbance affects a forest, but it is important to distinguish between a forest fragmented by human infrastructure development and a forest of mixed ages and varied canopy closure that results from good forest management. The former is typically much more damaging to forest health and habitat quality, usually with permanent negative effects, whereas the latter may cause only temporary change in the forest.

The effects of fragmentation are well documented in all forested regions of the planet. In general, by reducing forest health and degrading habitat, fragmentation leads to loss of biodiversity, increases in invasive plants, pests, and pathogens, and reduction in water quality. These wide-ranging effects all stem from two basic problems: fragmentation increases isolation between forest communities and it increases so-called edge effects.

When a forest becomes isolated, the movement of plants and animals is inhibited. This restricts breeding and gene flow and results in long-term population decline. Fragmentation is a threat to natural resilience, and connectivity of forest habitats may be a key component of forest adaptation and response to climate change.

Edge effects are even more complicated. They alter growing conditions within the interior of forests through drastic changes in temperature, moisture, light, and wind. Put simply, the environment of the adjacent non-forest land determines the environment of the forest fragment, particularly on its edges. This triggers a cascade of ill effects on the health, growth, and survivability of trees, flowers, ferns, and lichens and an array of secondary effects on the animals that depend on them. Ecologists suggest that true interior forest conditions – you know, where it’s hard to hear cars and lawnmowers and it remains cool, shady, and downright damp even during a three-week drought – only occur at least 200-300 feet inside the non-forest edge.

And so a circular forest island in a sea of non-forest would have to be more than 14 acres in size to include just one acre of such interior forest condition. Put differently, reports indicate that the negative habitat effects of each residential building pocket within a forest radiate outward, affecting up to 30 additional acres with increased disturbance, predation, and competition from edge-dwellers. This may not matter to generalist species like deer, raccoons, and blue jays, which may actually benefit from fragmentation, but it is hell on interior-dependent species like salamanders, goshawks, bats, and flying squirrels. The smaller the remnant the greater the influence of external factors and edge effects. A wise person once likened it to ice cubes: the smaller ones melt faster.

Moreover, as forest fragments become ever smaller, practicing forestry in them becomes operationally impractical, economically nonviable, and culturally unacceptable. In turn, we lose the corresponding and important contributions that forestry makes to our economy and culture. The result is a rapid acceleration of further fragmentation and then permanent loss.

Here is the tricky part: when fragmentation occurs in a heavily forested region like ours, at least in the early going we are still left with a largely pleasant condition. We sense that we still have lots of woods where we can work, hunt, ski, and walk the dogs. And to most of us, this seems good enough, even when the perforations expand and those woods are the scattered remains of a fragmented forest.

But is it enough? At some point when the larger forest is highly fragmented, the size, integrity, and connectivity of those wooded remnants deteriorate beyond recovery and they are no longer adequate for native forest plants and wildlife. After all, when the Swiss cheese has more holes than cheese, the whole sandwich suffers.

aerial forest fragmentation - Tom Fisk on Pexels

Apheloria virginiensis milipede

orange & black milipede

This fellow was spotted on Camp Trail in May of 2019. He’s a member of the Xystodesmidae is a family of millipedes, which was named by O. F. Cook (no relation!) in 1895.

According to Wikipedia, this orange & black millipede has been “reported to secrete cyanide compounds as a defense” – so don’t touch it! If you have touched it, make sure to wash your hands since “the toxic compounds it secretes are poisonous and can cause extreme irritation if rubbed in the eyes.”