For the Birds: Efts and mushrooms make for a very orange walk

Photo by Chris Bosak An eft works its way across a path in New England, fall 2021.

Orange was the color of the day during a recent morning walk in the woods.

It had rained overnight and the trails were damp in most places and puddled in others. I got a flash of excitement when I saw my first eft. Then I saw another. Then another. Efts were underfoot on every fifth or sixth step.

Efts are eastern newts in the terrestrial stage. Some are brownish but most are bright orange and, despite their small size, very visible on paths in the woods. They can be found any day from late spring into fall, but damp weather is when you are most likely to find them, even if you aren’t looking for them.

Newts have four distinct stages, or life cycles. Females lay eggs on aquatic vegetation in the spring. A month to five weeks later, the eggs hatch and the newts live in water for a few months. At this larval stage, they are less than 1 inch long and have feathery gills. In the fall, they shed their gills, crawl onto land and live as efts for about three or four years. They spend New England’s harsh winters hibernating under logs or rocks.

They are relatively slow-footed, brightly colored and highly conspicuous when crossing trails or other areas void of vegetation. It would seem to be a recipe for disaster with all the predators lurking in the woods, but remember, bright colors in nature are often a warning to stay away. Efts also have black spots, further warning would-be predators of their toxicity. Indeed, efts secrete a poison from their skin and are most toxic during this terrestrial stage.

Speaking of predators in the woods, efts themselves are carnivorous hunters. They wander the floor of the woods looking for insects, small worms, snails and other small prey.

Finally, the eft returns to the water as a mature newt and lives out its days in an aquatic world. Its tail is flattened and they are tannish or olive green. They range in size from just under 3 inches to a bit over 5 inches.

I watched my steps carefully on this day as the efts were out in force. This particular park is popular with mountain bikers, and I tried not to think of the toll that activity plays on the eft population on damp days.

I continued my walk and noticed a few leaves changing, mostly to orange. Swampy areas tend to change color earliest, and several maples in the swamp were showing off already.

On previous days, I had noticed clumps of shiny, bright orange mushrooms. As I continued this current walk, I saw these fungi from time to time. Then I came across a huge jumble of these mushrooms. The orange cluster in the woods caught my eye from dozens of yards away.

I photographed the clumping from different angles with my phone. From below the mushroom heads, the thick forest of stems seemed to be home to a magical world. What was in this magical world, I have no idea, but a poet or children’s book author certainly could have drawn inspiration from it.

From what I could tell based on an Internet search, they looked like jack-o’-lantern mushrooms. I’m not a mushroom expert (not even close), so I’m not positive of that ID and would never offer advice on whether they, or any mushroom, are edible. One of my pandemic hobbies was to expand my knowledge of edible plants and nuts in New England, but I steer clear of mushrooms. I’m sure mushroom harvesting is a fulfilling and exciting hobby, but given the potential consequences of being wrong, I’ll continue to get my mushrooms from the grocery store.

Greens, browns, grays and blues dominate the New England landscape. Splashes of orange were a welcomed change of pace on this day.

Photo by Chris Bosak Orange mushrooms grow in New England, fall 2021.
Photo by Chris Bosak Orange mushrooms grow in New England, fall 2021.

Palm warblers out in force

Photo by Chris Bosak A palm warbler stands on a stone wall in New England, October 2021.

Three species dominated the count total on my morning bird walk today. White-throated sparrows were plentiful and it was great to hear their song again. Yellow-rumped warblers were plentiful, as they often are this time of year. Palm warblers were numerous as well and a flock of five kept me company near a stone wall at Huntington State Park. The fall warbler migration is bittersweet. It’s great to see them, of course, but the crisp air reminds me they will be gone soon and a long winter looms. At least winter is good for birdwatching too.

Photo by Chris Bosak A palm warbler stands on a stone wall in New England, October 2021.

A few different birds showed up

Photo by Chris Bosak A red-breasted nuthatch grabs a seed from a feeding station in New England last week. (October 2020)

Yesterday’s rain did not deter the birds from coming to my homemade feeder, which I worked so hard on. Actually, I found a log in the backyard and placed it on my deck railing. Anyway Continue reading

Feeder birds with New England fall backdrop

Photo by Chris Bosak A red-bellied woodpecker perches on a log and grabs a peanut in New England, October 2020.

There’s nothing like a New England fall, especially when it provides a colorful backdrop for bird photos. I found a rotted log in my backyard, positioned it on my deck railing in front of a small sassafras tree, sprinkled some sunflower seeds and peanuts on the log and enjoyed the show. It was nonstop action for hours. I hope to make a video soon as well.

Photo by Chris Bosak A tufted titmouse perches on a log in New England, October 2020.
Photo by Chris Bosak A blue jay perches on a log in New England, October 2020.
Photo by Chris Bosak A blue jay perches on a log and grabs a peanut in New England, October 2020.

Fall scenics on a dreary day

Photo by Chris Bosak
Fall colors of New England, fall 2019.

There’s nothing like fall in New England. No argument there, I’m sure. So, even though today is rainy and dreary, here are a few shots to celebrate the season.

Photo by Chris Bosak
Fall colors of New England, fall 2019.
Photo by Chris Bosak Fall colors of New England, fall 2019.

For the Birds: Not so colorless afterall

Here is the latest For the Birds column, which runs in several New England newspapers.

Photo by Chris Bosak A male Northern Cardinal in Stamford, Conn., March 2015.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A male Northern Cardinal in Stamford, Conn., March 2015.

Oak leaves, at least the ones in my yard, turned directly from green to brown and fell in droves during the windy days of the past week.

The trees are largely bare, most of the flowers that survived the fall have now perished in the year’s first frost and big, brown oak leaves cover many of the open spaces in the region.

There’s not a lot of color to be seen these days, except for evergreens and the occasional blue sky.

But, there are always the birds. Late fall and throughout the winter is when we need the birds the most to brighten our fading landscape. Luckily, plenty of colorful birds remain with us while the fair-weathered New England creatures — including migrant birds, butterflies and dragonflies — have taken their cheerful hues south.

Chickadees, titmice, nuthatches and downy woodpeckers may not be the most dynamic birds in terms of color but fall and winter is their time to shine. The subtle oranges on the titmice and chickadees, the gray-blue backs of the nuthatches, and the red on the heads of male downeys seem to be noticed more as the number of bird species we see at our feeders dwindles.

Even the white throat and yellow lore – the region between the eyes and nostrils — of a white-throated sparrow appears to glow brighter during these days.

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