Fall is officially here... Sunday was the autumnal equinox and the woods are definitely looking and feeling more like fall everyday. Many of the late summer Asters are still holding on strong, but on Sunday's hike I saw so many colonies of Beech Aphids I was actually shocked. And then, while walking down the creek near the end of my hike, I actually came across two Crayfish locked claw to claw in a shallow pool along the stream's edge. It was very cool to see.
Calico and White Wood Asters (Eurybia divaricata) look very similar to me but I've read that the most distinguishing characteristic between the two is the size of their leaves. Typically Calico Asters have much smaller leaves whereas White Wood Aster have larger leaves, about the size of a small child's hand. The woods are full of both right now and their small white and purple flowers are an especially pretty late season wildflower.
As I said above, White Wood Aster and Calico Aster (Symphyotrichum lateriflorum) are very similar and I've been seeing a lot of both in the last few weeks. As a matter of fact, I see a lot of them both, so much so that I wonder why some species are so prevalent where others are scarce...
I found these little Scarlet Elf Caps on a "wash" in the forest where the leaves and debris has been cleared by water rushing down the hillside. I typically follow these washes, keeping a close eye for arrowheads or whatever else I may find and this time I found this cluster of Scarlet Elf Caps. Also known as the "Eyelash Cup," named for the brown eyelash-like hairs that ring the cups, Scarlet Elf Caps are one of the many types of "cup fungus" that are in our woods and in my experience, they are all very small; the largest of these Elf Cups were no larger than a dime.
There are so many small white (and yellow) flowers around, that I have a hard time identifying them all, even with the pictures I take. But I've been seeing more and more White Snakeroot lately and figured it was time to identify it. I don't know much about White Snakeroot, but I did read that when Europeans were settling the midwest US they were unfamiliar with the plant and allowed their cattle to graze on the plants. However, the plants are poisonous and the toxins were passed to humans consuming the milk of affected cows during the early 1800s, causing what was known as "milk sickness," which was fatal in some cases.
I haven't seen too many Great Blue Lobelia plants this year, not like I did last year at least, so I am starting to think it was a bad year for them. Either way, I did find this one nestled among the grasses lining the stream bank. The deep blue of their blossoms is especially striking in my opinion.
Beech Aphids, also known as Beech Blight Aphids, must be peaking right now... that or this year has been an exceptional year for them because I've seen so many Beech Aphids in the last few months. And while out hiking on Sunday I saw more clumps of their poop, which as I've said before is a basic sugar or honeydew exudate, than I've ever come across before. And interestingly, most of these clumps were just starting to show evidence of Beech Aphid Poop Eater fungus (Scorias spongiosa), so they were part brownish-white of the raw sugars and part black where the fungus has taken hold.
As I said above, I saw more of these clumps of Beech Aphid poop in the woods on Sunday than I've ever seen before. And I find it especially interesting that even though the Beech Aphids poop is a basic form of sugar, when the clumps form, they form in crystal like structures. I don't know that much about sugar crystals and how they form, but I think it's strange that thousands of bugs pooping small bits of sugar will actually pile up and form into a crystal structure.
There are a handful of crayfish species in Pennsylvania so I'm not 100% confident in this identification, but it seems to correct based on where I found them and their color patterns. I was walking down the creek when I noticed these two wrestling in a small pool that was only a few inches deep. After watching them wrestle locked claw to claw for a few minutes, the one seemed to finally notice me and my camera and shot away quickly.
While Yellow Ironweed is nearly done blooming for the year, I was able to find one blossom hanging on (first picture in "More Pictures" below), but more interestingly I was able to get this close-up picture of its stem and the reason why it is commonly known as "wingstem." The wing-like protrusions run the length of the stem and do in fact look like wings, if you use your imagination.