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Over the last couple of years a few of us in town have gradually discovered just what a great birding patch Rowan Oak can be during migration. The first eBird list for Rowan Oak was submitted in January of 2006 and comprised a whopping six species. The next checklist wasn't submitted until April 2013 by our own Jason Hoeksema. His twenty-four species included five warblers and was apparently good enough to suggest returning. In early May 2013, I stopped by one afternoon and caught a glimpse of a relatively rare Black-billed Cuckoo. Jason saw my eBird report and managed to relocate the cuckoo the next day (verifying my identification in the process). I think that cuckoo put Rowan Oak on the birding map. Since then, about 160 checklists have been submitted accounting for 123 species.
More than a quarter of those 123 species are from a single family of birds: the Wood Warblers (Parulidae). In its short eBird history, Rowan Oak has posted 32 species of warbler. Since the Black-billed Cuckoo was only spotted in May of 2013, Rowan Oak really has had only two full spring seasons to generate those numbers. Already in 2015 we have logged 29 warbler species and have a good chance to hit 31 or 32. This includes local breeding birds such as Hooded and Kentucky Warblers, Common Yellowthroats, and Northern Parulas. Common migrant species that show up only in passing to more northerly breeding grounds include the Ovenbird, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, as well as less commonly encountered Golden-winged, Bay-breasted, and Cape May Warblers.
Warblers truly are the special pleasure of birding at Rowan Oak, and I think word is getting out that Rowan Oak is more than holding its own as a birding patch during migration. It is difficult to predict the timing of a good contingent of migrants dropping in on Rowan Oak, but when they do it can be an unforgettable experience with 20 species, or maybe more, present in a single morning.
So, where do you find all these warblers at Rowan Oak? There seem to be a few spots that are consistently good places to look. In general, something good can show up anywhere along the edges of the grounds around the house. I generally walk the perimeter of the grounds on each visit. That said, the west lawn, the western edge of the north lawn, and the patio area on the east side tend to be where the best activity occurs. Keep in mind that warblers can be found at all heights. Ovenbirds will typically be on the ground and, as one of the larger warblers, their olive back and white breast with dark spots could easily fool you into thinking you got a glance of a thrush. Look for the rusty crown stripe. Common Yellowthroats, Hooded, and Kentucky Warblers all forage near the ground and in thick brush. Many of the warblers can be seen at any height from about eye-level to the top of the canopy, and a few (such as Ceruleans) seem to prefer the top of the canopy. So, be sure to scan the full vertical range. I find it helps, particularly later in spring as the leaves come out, to scan by fixing my gaze on a point for 1 to 3 seconds at a time before moving a little further on and repeating. That brief stop gives a hidden warbler time to create a tell-tale rustle in the leaves. Often a continuous scan of the area will miss this.
In addition to the grounds, Bailey's Woods Trail can be very good. It is almost never good at all points on the trail. One seems to encounter the birds in one of three or four typical locations. By far the most consistent is at the foot of the steps leading up to the University Museum and the privet-lined walk at the top of the steps (the most distant point from the Rowan Oak grounds along the trail). The next best is probably near the bridge over the creek bed, usually on the side nearest the baseball stadium. And then occasionally there will be a few (like the Blackpoll I saw today) in or around the large white oak tree at the top of the ridge just before you turn to go down to the creek when coming from the house. Along the trail the warblers tend to be much higher and harder to see than around the edges of the grounds, but they're there.
The best time of day to bird Rowan Oak for warblers is in the morning. Typically the warblers don't reach peak activity until after 8am and continue until near midday, and sometimes the best birding is around 10-11am. It drops off fairly dramatically in the afternoon and, despite many trips, I'm not sure I have ever had a great afternoon or evening looking for warblers at Rowan Oak.
Typically, if someone posts a stellar list of warblers one morning, most or all of the species will be present for a day or more, particularly if the wind is out of the north. If, on the other hand, the overnight wind is a strong southerly breeze, the next morning may find Rowan Oak bereft of virtually all migrants as the diversity of the day before was carried north in the night.
I found lots (25+) of large MORELSat a reliable spot in a privet hedge in Oxford on April 3, and it seemed like exactly the right time to pick them. The following day, I checked a couple of spots in bottomland forest (near young sweetgums) where I had found them occasionally in previous years, and only found 1 small one at one site. Today, April 15, I received a report from a friend who found 5 medium-sized morels in a forest site in Oxford (at the Whirlpool or Thacker Mountain Trails area). So, they are still out there!
On November 18th, the Ole Miss mycology class learned about various types of edible wild and cultivated mushrooms. Cultivated mushrooms that one may find at the grocery store typically belong to the AGARICUS BISPORUS species, commonly known as white buttons. baby bellas, and the portobello. Hence, today's food demonstration involves a basic recipe that one can repeat with various mushroom varieties. Dr. H. sauteed portobello mushrooms with good quality olive oil, salt, black pepper, and crumbled blue cheese. Top a cracker with this sizzling, cheesy mushroom mixture and we have a delicious bite of mushroom goodness!
BUT wait, that's not all! There is much more out there than what hides among the shelves at the grocery stores. In class, we discussed various wild mushrooms that would serve as a neat treat. Some common ones are chanterelles, king boletes, and fresh puffballs. If you're lucky, you'll run across a delectable Perigord black truffle. While you may find these in stores at a remarkably high price, it may be worth your while to take a leisure walk over to the Whirlpool Trails to find dinner instead.
There are also many uses of fungus that make other food around you. Some prime examples would be Saccharomyces (yeast), Penicillium (soft cheeses), and Aspergillus (soy sauce). Most of these are commonly found on the shelves and you didn't even know it!
All in all, be sure that the mushroom you are eating is edible! Try to consult a knowledgeable mycologist. "If you're UNSURE, throw it away for SURE."
-Post by Barbara Van and Michelle Ha.
On October 15th, the Ole Miss Mycology class took a field trip to a fellow student's house. There was plenty to collect. A large number of LACCARIA were found throughout the yard. These mushrooms can be easily seen because of their bright purple caps. SUILLUS was abundant. These mushroom caps are often viscous on top and have a jelly like annulus left over from the immature mushroom's partial veil. The most exciting find was the very young AMANITA MUSCARIA. We found this beautiful mushroom emerging from its amanita egg. Our hostess and fellow student, Pat, followed its development and updated us on the process.
Younger A. muscaria -http://i62.tinypic.com/x6h44n.jpg
Older A. muscaria - http://tinypic.com/r/2colx8o/8
On September 30th, the Ole Miss Mycology class hiked through whirlpool trails in search of possible mycorrhizal mushrooms to cultivate. Everyone was able to spot and collect fleshy amanitas that scattered under the pines. One particular AMANITA we collected has a distinct minty-cheesy smell, and it was covered with white bits like a powdered donut. Also obvious was the large size of the mushroom having a stem of 18 cm long! Still a mystery, we are in the process of keying its identity.
Another good find was the HYDNUM species known for teeth underside its cap and its edibility! A LACTARIUS INDIGO stood out in the leaves with its unique blue color, and it is also edible if you're into the spice! Lastly, a SUILLUS species characterized by granules on its stem and viscid cap was an exciting find!
PICTURED: LACTARIUS INDIGO
To end our field trip on a satisfying note, Jason found delectable persimmons for the ride back!
PICTURED: Jason shaking off persimmons!
On different note, plenty of edible mushrooms were found last week including the CANDY CAP, BLACK TRUMPET, and CHANTERELLES. There are simple methods to make a meal out of these mushrooms. I sauteed the mushrooms in butter, olive oil, pinch of salt, pepper, garlic powder, and creole spice. The most dutily part is washing the mushrooms. The trick is to soak them for five minutes and rinse until the water runs clear. Not washing the mushrooms properly will leave gritty texture of dirt and sand after its sauteed (an experience I unlucky had in the past). The CANDY CAP had a distinct nutty taste. The BLACK TRUMPETS and CHANTERELLES were both equally savory.
PICTURED: Upper left: CANDY CAPS, Upper right: BLACK TRUMPETS, Lower left: CHANTERELLES
On September 23rd, the Ole Miss Mycology class ventured out to Bailey's Woods! Today, we were focused on finding evidence of white rot and brown rot fungi. We were definitely not disappointed! In the picture below, you will see evidence of a brown rot fungi. If you look closely, the log looks blocky and is dark brown. This means that most of the cellulose has been decomposed and the lignin has been left behind.
In contrast, we also found some evidence of white rot fungi! In this image, the log looks brittle and white due to the lack of lignin.
We also found other great examples of fungi today such as the Candy caps (Lactarius camphoratus) and a plethora of Black Trumpets (Craterellus cornucopioides).
The Candy caps were small and they had a faint smell of maple syrup. When they are dried, the smells becomes much more apparent. The Black Trumpets grew in small clumps however, due to blending in with the forest floor they could be hard to spot.
If you want to get a glimpse into what our class does on our daily field trips, you can click on the link below!
On Sept 16th, the Ole Miss mycology class explored the grounds of Rowan Oak and the fungi of Faulkner's homestead did not disappoint. Our first stop was a huge patch of nidulariales, or BIRD'S NEST FUNGI, that our prof, Jason Hoeksema, had discovered on a prior visit. These saprobic Basidiomycetes produce spores in small 'egg'-like cases called peridioles, that are eventually washed out of the 'nest' by rain. Next, we investigated a large branch with BROWN JELLY FUNGI and some FAIRY CLUBS (Clavaria vermicularis) growing beneath a magnolia tree before we dispersed into the woods to see what we could discover on our own. Barbara found a neat Pulveroboletus with it's powdery veil still intact and Michelle collected a couple young specimens of Amanita rubescens. Pat found the first Cortinarius we've seen this semester and my interesting find was a cluster of Craterellus cornucopioides. Meanwhile, Jason was having fun with a blue-staining Boletus!
We also encountered a large skink and a minute box turtle, along with the rare find of a PURSEWEB SPIDER (Sphodros rufipes). These arachnids reside inside a unique tunnel-shaped web that the weave along the base of a tree or standing upright attached to vegetation. As insects such as ants crawl up the outside of the web, the spider reaches through the web to capture it's prey.
But the greatest fungal find of the foray was a patch of stinkhhorn eggs that we stumbled upon. The picture below shows one cut in half. Come to find out, they stink even before they hatch!
Leotia lubrica), beautiful Amanita jacksonii seen below, OLD MAN OF THE WOODS (Strobilomyces floccupus), and a large quantity of CHANTERELLES, which Barbara and Michelle later enjoyed for dinner.
Back on campus, we investigated a large cluster of Agaricus pocillator growing in the mulch outside Carrier Hall, and a couple mysterious, blob-like polypores growing in the Circle.
Today was a great day to hunt for fungal fruiting bodies among decomposing matter in the Whirlpool Trails of Oxford, MS. As students of the Mycology 504 course at Ole Miss, we went out today in the rain (which soon cleared) to search for mushrooms. We turned onto Golden Bush Trail to immediately find Russula and a CHANTERELLE species. The golden trumpet mushroom pictured here is one of the CHANTERELLES we found. Moving on past the initial jackpot of mushrooms, we observed and collected saprophytic fungi on fallen trees also seen in the images. The best find of the day went to Mariah Hornby, a biology Master's student. She identified a parasitic fungus, Elaphocordyceps sp., by the above ground structure protruding through a mat of moss. The parasite had colonized a TRUFFLE, another fungus belonging to the class Ascomycetes. Finding a TRUFFLE is rare enough due to the fruiting body developing underground but to find one being parasitized is a extremely difficult. In the images posted, you can see a red and yellow aboveground structure that belongs to the parasitic fungus belonging to the genus and within the dirt ball is the TRUFFLE. Back in class, Jason Hoeksema opened the truffle and found hyphae from the parasite. It was a good day for our class!
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