Growing along the sprawling branches of this shrub that can grow up to fifteen feet tall are small flowers with thin, crinkly petals reminiscent of one-inch strips of yellow tinsel arranged haphazardly around a center point—as if a spider were frozen mid-gallop, legs splayed in every direction in an effort to move fast despite an excess of legs. Its blooming time coinciding with Halloween and its spider-like yellow flowers make “witch hazel” an appropriate name for this unique plant.
I once heard someone say, “my favorite color is October.” Here in New England, that attitude is quite understandable this time of year. The color palette of October can be a sight to see, but concealed under all that color is the thick, brown, spongy, and delicious flesh of an often-missed mushroom: the birch bolete.
Cranberries are a perfectly accurate representation of a New Englander. Rather crunchy, quite sour, and perhaps even a bit bitter at times. But if you take the time to get to know them—perhaps in the good company of a bit of maple syrup and some time by a woodstove—they will easily win you over! And so here I am, a New Englander through and through, out in my iconic shin-high rubber-footed leather boots kneeling in my canoe and meandering lazily from low island to low island across a stunning autumn lake in pursuit of a perfectly New England berry.
Beech trees can be readily identified by their smooth gray bark. I recall the many hikes I went on with my parents as a young child and how my mom would teach me my trees. She would always tell me that the trunks of beech trees looked like elephants legs. When I came upon a great beech tree, I would place my hand on its smooth bark and imagine that the forest would transform into a wandering herd of docile elephants when no one was around. The husks of the beech nuts, however, are anything but smooth. Instead, the small nuts are covered in a husk with countless soft hooked spines.
An unusual plant caught my eye as it climbed, twined, and draped across the rough forest edge while dangling its kiwi-sized fruits covered in weak spines. I cut a sample and brought it to my professor’s office. “What’s this?” I asked while tossing the cut specimen limply upon her desk. I’m not sure if her answer was truthfully ignorant or if she was feigning naïveté to encourage my own self-discovered learning, but with an air of certainty she said, “I have no idea, but it is certainly a cucurbit!”
Here in Maine, the peak of moose rut is at the beginning of October, but individuals may begin displaying some rut behaviors towards the beginning of September. Spoiler alert: if you’re one of those people who think of moose as resplendent, calm animals full of gawky charm and patience, what I’m about to tell you about what they’re up to right now might spoil your adoring impression of them.
Cluster flies are a non-native member of the blow fly family who, contrary to their persistence indoors, will not actually reproduce in home or office, but rather are simply looking for a warm sunny window upon which they can persist through the cold winter months of the New World. They are larger than houseflies, hairier, slower, much less coordinated in flight, and of course amass in their iconic numbers. In fact, cluster flies are their very own species called Pollenia rudis and they certainly are the rudest guests I have ever hosted!
Flickers are the nonconformists of the woodpecker world. While they share some characteristics with our other local woodpeckers, such as long bills and tongues with barbed tips for accessing hard-to-reach prey, a preference for nesting in cavities, and the classic woodpecker flying habit of making a few heavy wing flaps, gliding and falling a bit, then flapping heavily again, flickers do their thing a little differently.
The Nature of Phenology started as a weekly radio show and complementary blog called "Mainely Phenology" on WERU-FM in January 2018. Realizing that the content we covered was reaching beyond the political borders of the state of Maine, we decided to update the title in August 2018. To listen to or read past episodes of this weekly outdoor feature, click here. We will slowly be moving all Mainely Phenology content over to this site soon.