Nature bummin’ with Kirk Gentalen
In some circles, June 20 is considered the longest day of the year even though technically the day in the fall when clocks “fall back” is the longest (25-ish hours). In any event, this year June 20 started out wet in St. George. It came complete with a duck swimming in a pond that had been in our yard since a couple of days prior. Things changed (a little) around midday as the rain let up and the skies opened (kinda). My responsibilities for the afternoon were focused on a son getting healthy and waiting for a phone call from the bike store letting me know I could pick up my bike. So staying close to home was a no-brainer. And besides, there’s always plenty to see in the neighborhood.
With the rains this spring, searching for mushrooms has been fun and productive. On this solstice afternoon several species of Jelly mushrooms, such as Tree Ear and Orange Jelly, looked “extra gelatinous” and full of rainwater. And there was an Oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus) down the road that has been particularly fun to watch this June. Oyster mushrooms are a tasty, “choice” edible, much appreciated and sought after. But as with any mushroom, there is more to Oysters than edibility. The fungus that creates the Oyster mushroom is mainly a decomposer —living in logs and helping to turn them into soil. The fungus, however, can also be carnivorous. As they decompose the substrate they reside in, the fungus makes tiny lassos with their hyphae and “capture” nematodes (roundworms) that cruise by. After securing the nematode, the fungi kills and digests it, obtaining essential nutrients, i.e. nitrogen, that may not be plentiful in the surrounding environment. And as if that weren’t cool enough, the Oyster mushroom fungus is also a major player in mycoremediation, where fungi-based technology is used to decontaminate an environment. Mats variolated with Oyster mushroom have been used to clean up oil spills with much success and fanfare. It was a no-brainer to let this Oyster release it spores into the neighborhood. The more oysters the merrier.
There is a meadow out back that used to be a chunk of the back yard. That was the next destination this particular afternoon. Northern flag irises were thriving and being downright distracting. Steady winds and a noticeable lack of sunshine didn’t stop the buttercups, daisies and chickweeds from attracting butterflies such as Silver-bordered Fritillaries, Northern Crescents and Common Ringlets. Butterflies, in fact, were a central reason for having this former chunk of lawn “go meadow.” And spiders were everywhere. A crab spider on a daisy had snatched (and was feasting on) a fly that came in for nectar or pollen. Visit flowers at your own risk.
On that solstice day there was also bird activity, of course, with one American robin fledgling making a racket. Twice it approached me begging for food as I was looking at insects. I didn’t have earthworms in my mouth or a reddish colored shirt on. I honestly had never seen that bird before. At one point it took to the air and tried to land on me! Not aggressive-like, just hungry. On another approach it came so close I had to back up to take photos of it. The male parent showed up a few times to feed this youngster some huge worms that were flooded out of their homes. Apparently, though, any dad would do for this robin.
A few hours later, after my wife came home from work, I was free to go further afield and take a crepuscular visit to the marsh, hoping to see a sunset—and was not disappointed. But more importantly I found a fish head at my fourth favorite otter latrine above the beaver dam which made me happy. Telltale whiskers identified this head as formerly being a part of a Hornpout or Brown Bullhead. The bull’s head, literally. They are native to Maine and can weigh up to a pound or so. A nice treat for Larry, the local female otter. Or maybe one of the others. Either way, it was fun to learn about these Hornpouts and learn that they live in the marsh. So a bullhead head and sunset rounded off what turned out to be a pleasant solstice.
My destination was set for the next few days—any animal head is worth repeat visits. And the butterflies, flowers and oyster mushrooms too. Fun to watch flowers go to seed and yummy edible mushrooms decompose. I ended up missing the bike store call, but saw a Luna Moth the next day directly because of missing it. So things worked out alright in the end.
Hope you had a good solstice, too!
PHOTOS: Kirk Gentalen