Earth star fungus and Tar lichen

Earthstar Fungus

This is another interesting fungus discovered during my recent field trip with Pinelands Preservation Alliance, an Earth Star (Scleroderma geaster).  These unusual fungi apparently grow first out of the ground as a round, almost bulb-like fungus, then slowly split apart into the star-like shape.  The center ball structure holds the spores, much like a puff ball, and emits them when disturbed.   I found several of these on my return trip and, like so many others, it was the first time I had ever really noticed them.

Tar Lichen

I had this unusual lichen identified as Tar Lichen in my notes, though I haven’t been able to find it in my guides or during web searchs.  In this case, I actually remember seeing this before, but had no idea that it was a lichen!  It really looks like globs of tar that have somehow been poured into the sand.  If you have a better or more definitive identification, please send it along to me.  Thanks!

False Reindeer Lichen

False Reindeer Lichen

A I mentioned in earlier posts, the Pinelands Preservation Alliance guides took time to point out several lichen during our walk.  They referred to this as False Reindeer Lichen and it grew abundantly among, around, and under other plants like a beautiful blue-green carpet.  

False Reindeer Lichen

When I took a closer look I noticed that the lichen branches in several directions and develops small dark colored spore caps at the ends of each branch.  Unlike British Soldier, False Reindeer Lichen is difficult to overlook and at this particular location was pretty abundant.

British Soldier Lichens

British Soldier Lichen

Earlier this year I posted photographs of lichen I discovered while exploring the pine/oak forests around Whitesbog Village and learned that several of you have interest in them too.  Here is an example of a lichen pointed out during my field trip with the wonderful folks from Pineland Preservation Alliance , a British Soldier Lichen (Cladonia cristatella).   This attractive lichen is apparently pretty common in the pine barrens, though I must admit that before this field trip I had never once noticed it.  Perhaps the fact that this lichen only grows about 1 centimeter (about 1/2 inch) tall has something to do with my overlooking it, but you would think the bright red spore caps would have given it away.  This actually turned out to be a challenging subject to photograph.  I tried several shots hand-holding my camera, but was disappointed by the results.  I finally obtained reasonably focused results by spreading my tripod low to the ground like a giant spider and used a remote shutter release to minimize vibration to the camera.


Once home and reviewing my photos, I noticed an even smaller plant (maybe a lichen?) was growing among the British Soldier Lichen.  I’m still searching though my plant guide books in hopes of identifying this interesting little fellow.  Any thoughts?

Pine Barrens Botany Field Trip

Pinelands Preservation Alliance

A couple weeks ago I spent several hours on a beautiful Sunday exploring the unique flora of New Jersey’s pine barrens.  This was a total new experience for me, having never once gone along on a botany field trip.  The field trip was led by a group of wonderful folks from Pinelands Preservation Alliance and was their first of the year in search of spring flowers.  I was introduced to this group through entry’s in Steve’s blog.  He was finishing up with the Alliance’s summer-long botany course and had posted some very nice photos, piquing my interest in their group. 

So I signed up for a day-long expedition in search of Broom Crowberry (Corema conradii), an evergreen shrub that grows in the pine barrens’ low-nutrient soils.  Our guides led us to one of the very few New Jersey locations where Broom Crowberry is found, a small sandy patch in the southern part of the state.

Broom Crowberry We arrived at the field in late morning and I was at first a little surprised.  I knew that we were there to see flowering plants, and had built this expectation of a field with large flowers.  Instead, I was greeted by this scene, a large sandy field with low growing shrubs.  Most of the other participants, much more experienced that I, were down on hands and knees busily viewing the plants with loupes or their naked eyes.  

I walked into the field and bent down to see for myself.  The flowers were there, but much smaller than I imagined.  Still, they were bright red and complete.  I spent the next several hours photographing flowers and shrubs, and learning a bit more about the pinelands. 

Broom CrowberryHere is one of those photos, which captures the flowers of both male (on the left) and female (on the right) plants.  Though very small, no larger than a pencil eraser, these flowers were abundant and in full bloom.  My boots and camera were covered in pollen by day’s end.

It was a great first experience.  I’ve gone back to the area a couple times since and have taken photos of other interesting plants I found along the way.  More photos for another day! 


Spring is on the way!

Grassland Survey - Lakehurst NAS

I am so incredibly happy that this winter is finally coming to a close.  Unusual for me.  I typically enjoy all seasons and continue with my outdoor activities – hiking, birding, photography can be done anytime really.   This winter was challenging on several fronts with a combination of extraordinarily snowy weather and probably the worst cold I’ve had in years.   So I’m happy this year to kick February and the first part of March to the curb and start gearing up Spring.

 Good news arrived in the form of an e-mail a few days ago.  The New Jersey Audubon Society has begun planning for the grassland bird surveys and I’ve been selected to survey one of the very best grassland areas  in the state, Lakehurst NAS.   This photo of me was taken by one of the NJAS research scientist, Kristin Mylecraine, as I was walking out of the field after completing last year’s survey.   Because of the large open fields on either side of their runways, airports and military bases are considered some of the best remaining grassland areas in New Jersey and provides safe harbor for many species that have lost most of their habitat to development and changes in farming techniques. 

 Lakehurst is one of three surveys in which I take part.  I complete grassland surveys on several large farms in northwestern New Jersey and, along with my son, complete a nighttime survey of nightjars (whip-poor-wills, nighthawks) deep in the Pine Barrens.   And I’m planning other activities that’ll keep me outdoors and taking photos throughout the summer, including several guided walks through the pine barrens and a pinelands botany course run by another great organization, the Pineland Preservation Alliance.  

Finally, thanks to those of you in my new discussion group that have stopped by.  I’m going to spend some of this very rainy weekend catching up on your blogs and placing links on mine.  Happy Spring!!