Snowbank Mushrooms

Snowbank Mushrooms to the right of retreating snow
© 2008 Don Johnston, Intermountain Herbarium

Hiding beneath and fruiting near the retreating snow banks here in the western mountains of North America are legions of mushrooms. Collectively known as snowbank fungi, this diverse group of fungal species is found only in the high elevation forests of our mountains were snow lingers into the summer months. These species are found mostly in the spruce-fir zone in mature forests were there is abundant litter and woody material on the forest floor and the snow pack is deep and lingers in the deep shade the trees provide. Many of the species found in such conditions are found no where else, while others are found elsewhere in the world, but not under these unique conditions.

This diverse group of fungi was first reported by Wm, Bridge Cooke in 1944 from Mt. Shasta, California. Here along the Wasatch Mountains of Utah the snowbank fungi are a predictable lot, and diverse and often abundant enough to wow even the experienced mushroomer. Some species are strictly decomposers that break down the forest litter and woody debris that carpets the forest floor while others are mycorrhizal forming those ecologically important beneficial relationships with the area plants.

The species found range from silver-gray gilled species to colorful cup and jelly fungi. At an otherwise drab time in the forest blue-stained orange cub fungi litter areas were squirrels have cached conifer seeds and cones, pale orange jelly-like poor man’s gumdrops drops dot woody debris on the forest floor. Large logs and stumps play hot to the deep orange sponge polypore with its deep ragged teeth, hidden on the forest floor is the black champagne glass-shaped Plectannia nannfeldtii, while the pale-brown, gilled Clitocybe albirhiza is rather widely scattered on the forest floor it is easily distinguished by the copious white root-like projections at the base of the stem just below the soil surface. Slime molds are found fruiting as is the edible wood ear, beneath the soil are several false truffles attracting the squirrels with enticing (to them) aromas.

So why wait for the snow to melt to enjoy the high forest? These and many more wait discovering just under the melting snow.

This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.

Credits:

Photo: Lentinus montana.; by Don Johnston, © 2009 Intermountain Herbarium

Text: Michael Piep, Intermountain Herbarium, Utah State University
Resources:

Intermountain Herbarium: http://herbarium.usu.edu/

Bridgerland Mushroom Society: http://herbarium.usu.edu/#Bridgerland

Mushroom Society of Utah: http://www.utahmushrooms.com/
References:

Arora, David. 1986. Mushrooms Demystified (2nd Ed.). 10 Speed Press. Berkeley.

Johnston, Don. Ongoing. Mushrooms of Utah. Mushroom Society of Utah. Salt Lake City.

Cooke, W.B. 1944. Notes on the ecology of the fungi of Mt. Shasta. American Midland Naturalist 31: 237-49.

Cripps, C. 2009. Snowbank Fungi Revisited. FUNGI 2(1); 47-53.

Orr, R.T. & D.B. Orr. 1979. Mushrooms of Western North America. University of California Press. Berkeley, Los Angeles, London.

Smith, A.H. 1975. A Field Guide to Western Mushrooms. The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor.

Tylutki, E. E. 1987. Mushrooms of Idaho and the Pacific Northwest: Vol. 2 Non-gilled Hymenomycetes. University of Idaho Press. Moscow, Idaho.

Tylutki, E.E. 1993. Mushrooms of Idaho and the Pacific Northwest: Vol. 1 Discomycetes. University of Idaho Press. Moscow, Idaho.

 

Spring Migration

Bobolink
Dolichonyx oryzivorus
Courtesy: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Steve Maslowski, Photographer

Hi, I’m Holly Strand from Stokes Nature Center in beautiful Logan Canyon.

As temperatures warm and spring flowers appear, Utahns will hear an increasingly diverse choir of twitters, whistles, chatters and coos filling the air. Continuing over the next few weeks, thousands of migratory songbirds will mingle with our year-round avian residents in fields, forests, and wetlands.

No road maps or GPS units guide these migrants to their desired destinations. Scientists continue to marvel at how the birds know exactly where to go. There is evidence that magnetic fields of the Earth, landmarks, the Moon and stars—even specific  odors– may guide their flight.

Most songbirds migrate during the night. Cooler air helps keep the birds from overheating.    Also, night air tends to be less turbulent, so birds are less likely to be blown off course.  Just like humans stuck in an airport, birds can be grounded for hours or days during bad weather.  Birds may die of hunger, fly into objects, or be eaten en route.  Obviously the benefits of the destination must outweigh the risk of travel or birds simply wouldn’t bother.

So where are these migrant birds coming from?  Well, not unlike some Utahns, many birds spend the colder months in Arizona or New Mexico.  Others overwinter south of the border in Mexico or Central America.

Bobolinks have one of the longest annual migrations of any North American songbird. These Neotropical migrants travel over 12,000 miles from their North American breeding grounds to their “wintering” grounds in Argentina or Paraguay. This means they spend about half of each year in migration. They typically arrive in Utah in early to mid May..  Even after such a long flight, there’s no time for rest.  The weary, soon-to-be- parents must busily prepare for the arrival of hungry offspring.   Then  around mid August or September it’s time for the long flight back to the southern hemisphere.

No longer common, bobolinks are now  spotted in isolated patches primarily in the northern half of the state.  Look for them nesting or  foraging in wet meadow and  grasslands, and irrigated agricultural fields.

Frank Howe and Mary-Ann Muffoletto provided text and background information for this piece.

Thanks to the Rocky Mountain Power Foundation and the  USU College of Natural Resources for supporting research and development of Wild About Utah topics.

For Wild About Utah and Stokes Nature Center, I’m Holly Strand.

Credits:

Text: Stokes Nature Center: Holly Strand with text from Mary-Ann Muffoletto, Frank Howe

 

A Bird for All Seasons, The American Dipper

American Dipper or Cinclus mexicanus
Courtesy: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Dave Menke, Photographer

You are walking along side a swiftly-flowing mountain stream when you notice a slate-gray bird, tail cocked up jauntily like a wren’s, but a bird of a size nearer to that of a robin or large thrush. He is doing continual knee bends: bobbing up and down unceasingly. He (or is it she?) is perched on a rock drenched with spray from rapids. Your attention is arrested.

Suddenly the bird plunges into the foaming water as it rushes over rocks. Surely you will next see it (if at all) a bedraggled wreck surfacing way down stream, swept along to destruction by the raging torrent.

American Dipper by a stream
Courtesy: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Dave Menke, Photographer

But no, he surfaces in a bit of calm water between rapids and swims nonchalantly to shore where he goes back to his bobbing routine, singing joyously all the while. What is this phenomenon you have stumbled upon?

You page through your field guide. Ah, here he is, the American dipper, also sometimes called a water ouzel. Yep, the bobbing is mentioned, along with the likelihood of his being found near rapidly flowing mountain streams in the American West. You also learn that he swims––no web feet but he swims––and better under water than on the surface, his wings assisting.

This bird was born almost literally of these waters. His parents built a mossy nest on a ledge of rock in the spray of the stream. His mother laid eggs looking like bubbles of foam. From one of these he emerged like Venus coming forth out of the sea.

American Dipper Nest
Courtesy: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

He never strays far from these waters and seems impervious to the vicissitudes of weather––undaunted by snow and ice (after all his habitat flows too swiftly to freeze in the coldest weather), undeterred by heat (he has continual mist and frequent bathing to keep him cool).

So, the next time you are out––in summer’s heat or snowshoeing in coldest winter––keep an eye out for a nondescript little bird bobbing on a slippery or ice-coated rock beside a fast-moving mountain stream. You can report that you have sighted an American dipper.

This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
http://digitalrepository.fws.gov/cdm4/item_viewer.php?CISOROOT=/natdiglib&CISOPTR=5349&CISOBOX=1&REC=5

Audio: Courtesy and Copyright 2008 Dr. Kevin Colver, Songbirds of Yellowstone, http://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/

Text: Norman Davis, with thanks to Dorothy Egan, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

The Water Ouzel from The Mountains of California as quoted in The Wilderness World of John Muir, http://www.amazon.com/Wilderness-World-John-Muir/dp/0618127518/ref=sr_1_1?

American Dipper-Cinclus mexicanus, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, http://dwrcdc.nr.utah.gov/rsgis2/Search/Display.asp?FlNm=cincmexi

May Swenson: A Utah poet and observer of nature

May Swenson, 1965 in Tucson
Copyright © L.H. Clark
Courtesy Utah State University Press

Hi, I’m Holly Strand from Stokes Nature Center in beautiful Logan Canyon.

In Logan Cemetery a granite bench marks the grave of May Swenson, a native Utahn and eminent poet. She was born in Logan in 1913 and attended Utah State University where she published her first poem. She moved east in 1936, and eventually, she became one of America’s most inventive and recognized poets, She won many awards including Guggenheim and Rockefeller grants, the Yale Bollingen Prize, and the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship. Utah State University conferred an honorary doctorate on Swenson in 1987. Despite her many achievements and her years living away from Utah, Swenson never forgot her Mormon heritage or her identity as a Westerner.

Nature played a prominent role in Swenson’s work. In fact, she published a collection of poetry called Nature: Poems Old and New which is brimming with imagery that evokes the beauty and complexity of the natural world.

Here’s an example: a poem called April Light read by Paul Crumbley, a professor of English at Utah State University who specializes in Swenson’s work.

April light

Lined with light
the twigs are stubby arrows.
A gilded trunk writhes
Upward from the roots,
from the pit of the black tentacles.
In the book of spring
a bare-limbed torso
is the first illustration.
Light teaches the tree
to beget leaves,
to embroider itself all over
with green reality,
until summer becomes
its steady portrait
and birds bring their lifetime
to the boughs.
Then even the corpse
light copies from below
may shimmer, dreaming it feels
the cheeks of blossom.

Another of Swenson’s poems describes a well-known natural feature in Utah.

Listen to this excerpt of Above Bear Lake:

A breeze, and the filtered light makes shine
A million bristling quills of spruce and fir
Downslope, where slashes of sky and lake
Hang blue—windows of intense stain. We take
The rim trail, crushing bloom of sage,
Sniffing resinous wind, our boots in the wild,
Small, everycolored Rocky Mountain flowers.
Suddenly, a steep drop-off: below we see the whole,
the whale of it—deep, enormous blue—
that widens, while the sky slants back to pale
behind a watercolored mountain.

Listening to this makes me feel like I’m standing on the scenic outlook at the summit of Logan Canyon. That is, of course, where Swenson wrote it.

For more on the Utah poet May Swenson, see our website www.wildaboututah.org
Thanks to Paul Crumbley and Maria Melendez of the English Dept. at Utah State University.
And thanks to the Rocky Mountain Power Foundation for supporting the research and development for today’s program.

For Wild About Utah and Stokes Nature Center, I’m Holly Strand.

Credits:

Readings: Paul Crumbley and Maria Melendez of the English Dept, Utah State University

Text: Stokes Nature Center: Holly Strand

Sources & Additional Reading

Knudson, R.R. and Suzzanne Bigelow. 1996. May Swenson: A Poet’s Life in Photos. Logan, UT: Utah State University Press.

Swenson, May. 2000. Nature: Poems Old and New. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.