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Hunters of the Hen of the Woods

APPRECIATING ENDLESS FORMS – September 24, 2023 – By D. Randy Weidner

Like many things in the natural world, the fruiting of mushrooms have a season. Lest you think that now you will learn exactly when to go out and find a particular species of wild mushroom, I am sorry to disappoint. I have long been interested in the fruiting phenology of fungi, and for some time kept careful logs of when I found what mushrooms. I did this with the half selfish idea that it would help make my mushroom foraging easier in my dotage. What actually happened was that the timing of when I found certain species has changed significantly over time.

Morels in our area always fruited in later May, with the 18th being the most productive day. Lately, I find some significantly earlier. August and September were the traditional months for finding the greatest variety of species, and that may still be so, but the range is now clearly July through October. Chanterelles that used to be best around August 1, now fruit in June. Many fall fruiting fungi are still dependably found later in the season; but the dates of ‘later’ are changing.

It is easy to say that climate change is the factor; but there was always much more than temperature involved. The one factor I felt supremely confident about was the effect of rainfall. Many years ago, I read an article in the bulletin of the Boston Mycological Club, one of the oldest amateur mycological associations in the country, that stated if an area received 4 inches of rain over a short period, followed by an inch of rain per week over three successive weeks, there should be good continuous fruiting of mushrooms in summer and fall. I had always found that to be true, until this year. Now I am not so sure.

Given this unpredictability of mushroom fruiting, I am more often disappointed visiting my best spots at the times I expect to find mushrooms. I did well this year with chanterelles, but missed many summer mushrooms and some late summer species, disappointedly finding Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus sulfureus), and Herricium species like Lion’s Mane and Bears Tooth, too old and dry for eating. So, as the season for Hen of the Woods (aka Maitake, Grifola frondosa) drew near, I visited my old spots more often. Less than a week after checking a known productive oak stump and finding nothing, I returned and harvested a two pound pristine specimen.

With Hen of the Woods, finding a fruiting specimen is worth remembering the location. Conditions being right, whatever that now means, the fungus will fruit yearly in that location for a few years before the mycelium producing the fruiting body exhausts the supply of nutrients it was getting from the host, and dies out. Not only is this a delicious mushroom, it often fruits in good quantity, from the same place for a while, and is a very distinctive fungus, not likely confused with anything toxic.

In harvesting my Hen of the Woods, I carefully cut across the base of the large fungus and placed it in a paper bag. I noticed the cut thick stem of compact mycelium had a few holes about the diameter of a pencil. At home, removing the fungus from the bag, an attractive black and red Cross- toothed Rove Beetle (Oxyporus rufipennis) fell out. Anyone who harvests wild mushrooms often finds invertebrates living on and in the mushrooms, something to cut out or brush off, along with other forest debris, before eating. No surprise there. Cutting up the fungus revealed those holes were tubular tunnels and a few more beetles were hiding inside.

These Cross-toothed Rove Beetles are one of several beetle species living exclusively in fungi. The tunnels are made by the adults as they eat their way through. Adults construct brood chambers in which to mate and lay eggs, which rapidly hatch into beetle grubs that also eat the fungus. These beetles have several very characteristic anatomical features including bead-like antennae, large jagged mandibles for cutting through fungal tissue, and a distinctive labial palpomere, a sensing organ they use to locate fungi.

I have been hunting and eating wild fungi for over 50 years, an old, but not bold, mushroom eater. My time at this activity may seem fairly long, but fossilized in amber from Myanmar, are rove beetles with nearly identical anatomy to present-day Oxyporus species, dating from about 100 million years ago, around the same time mushrooms are assumed to have arisen. So, with competition this long and successful, I am happy for every good mushroom I can get before those other hunters find them.

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D. Randy Weidner

     March 19, 2023 –  Tomorrow is the vernal equinox, the first day of spring astronomically.  Ecologically, we are still pretty solidly in winter.  We moderns use calendars to mark our way through the year.  Primitive peoples, and those few humans still living indigenous lifestyles, undoubtedly relied on seasonal natural events as well as astronomical observations.  Migrating birds are a natural phenomenon which is readily noticeable, and reflects seasonal change.  With that in mind, I examined one group, the ubiquitous native sparrows, to see what they could tell me about the coming of spring.

     Emberizidae is the scientific term for the family of New World Sparrows, and does not include the introduced House Sparrow (Passer domesticus).  Emberizidae are those little brown birds that are the bane of amateur birders because they are small and blend into brushy backgrounds.  They occupy varied habitats, consuming mainly seeds and insects.  All have the interesting behavior of scratching and hopping backward as they search for food.  Each has a distinctive song.     

     Here in the Finger Lakes, if you just consider sparrows that come to feeders, there are eight common Emberizidae which are not too difficult to identify visually.  First look at the breast.  If it is streaked, the bird is either a Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia), or a Fox Sparrow (Passerella iliaca).  Much commoner Song Sparrows usually have a noticeable mid-breast dark spot; while Fox Sparrows are large, distinctly reddish, with gray around the face and head.  If the belly is white, and the rest of the bird gray to black, it is a Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hymenalis).  If the breast is not streaked, but does have a dark central spot, and the upper beak is dark but the lower beak is yellow, it is an American Tree Sparrow (Spizelloides arborea).  If the breast is totally without markings, turn your attention to the head.  If there is a reddish cap, below which is a prominent white streak, and below that a black streak going through the bird’s eye, it is a Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerine).  If the breast is plain, or even has a tinge of color but not streaked, the head has a reddish cap but the face is gray, and the bill all yellow, it is a Field Sparrow (Spizella pusilla).  If the breast is plain, and there is a white patch beneath the beak, and a spot of yellow between the beak and eye, you have a White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis).  Finally, if the breast is plain, and the head has a thin white cap, bordered by a black streak, below which is a prominent white streak, it is the White-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys).

     Searching 13 years of my Project Feederwatch data, I found that certain native sparrows reliably reveal spring dates; but others were not helpful.  Dark-eyed Juncos are here all year, so not helpful.  American Tree Sparrows are only around in winter, mostly January and February.  White-throated Sparrows could be here all through feeder season (mid-November through April), and sadly, were more reliably so in the past, but their presence is spottier in the past 3 years.  And Fox Sparrows seem to stop only on migration, either in November or in March, with a rare sighting in January and February.

     However, some other sparrows can signal the month by their arrival.  Song Sparrows only show up at my feeder in March, as they did last week.  The average date was March 14, with the range March 4 to March 28.  Chipping Sparrows arrive in April, the average date being April 10.  That said, I had the very rare sighting of a Chipper in January.  The other April Sparrow is the Field Sparrow, the average arrival date being April 16.  And finally, the White-crowneds always arrive the first week of May; and when they move on, I take down the seed feeders.

     I wonder why these Emberizidae, closely related evolutionarily and in habits, vary in their appearance at my feeders.  Obviously, some have adapted better to winter.  As stated above, these birds eat either seeds or insects.  Regarding those migrators, it would be interesting to discover if the later arrivals are more dependent on insects, which should be more numerous when they arrive.  I would be interested to hear if other feeder watchers had similar observations concerning native sparrows.  Happy birding.   

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Upcoming Spring 2021 Events

Last Sunday, I received information from Wendy and Gene concerning upcoming events.

The Allegany Nature Pilgrimage 2021 is the 69th pilgrimage to Allegany State Park to enjoy and learn about the outdoors.

The Canandaigua Lake Watershed Association is sponsoring three Gypsy Moth Scrapes to provide information about this pest, and to remove egg masses in three parks around Canandaigua Lake. 

I have added these events to the Springwater Trails calendar, and I hope you will help these organizations to spread information about their events.

March 3 – 7 – The Folk Art Guild  – Winter Pottery Show

April 17 – CLWA Gypsy Moth Scout & Scrape-a-thon at Bare Hill.

April 23 – CLWA Gypsy Moth Scout & Scrape-a-thon at Ontario County Park

May 1 – CLWA Gypsy Moth Scout & Scrape-a-thon at Stid Hill WMA

June 4 – 6 – 63rd Allegany Nature Pilgrimage 

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Spotted Lanternfly and Other Invasive Landscape Tree Pests

Webinar: Tuesday July 16 2019 at 12:00 Noon

Register here 

Speaker: Dr. Lori Spears, USU Assistant Professor
Date: Tuesday, July 16, 12:00 pm (MDT) – Please ignore the date in the title; it is an unavoidable posting date and NOT the date of the webinar!


The spotted lanternfly has been identified as a nasty invasive insect that is busy killing trees in Pennsylvania. The forestry and university authorities in PA have launched a series of webinars aimed at educating hikers such as ourselves in identifying and reporting these marauders. There’s is one coming up on 16th July; you are invited to join in from the comfort of your own home – we may be able to help limit this beast in New York.

Spotted lanternfly is an invasive planthopper that is native to parts of Asia and was first detected in the U.S. in Pennsylvania in 2014. Spotted lanternflies feed on a wide range of host plants, including grapes, fruit trees, hops, and hardwood ornamental trees. This presentation will cover the biology, identification, and possible control options for spotted lanternfly and other invasive landscape tree pests, such as emerald ash borer and Asian longhorned beetle.

Lori is the Cooperative Agricultural Pest Survey (CAPS) Program Coordinator at Utah State University.  The CAPS Program is a federal program coordinated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Plant Protection and Quarantine (PPQ), and whose goal is to protect U.S. agriculture from introductions of high risk invasive pests by conducting early detection surveys and providing outreach and education programs that support and enhance efforts to prevent new exotic pest entry and establishment. Her research and outreach programs have focused on the ecology and management of invasive insects and using bycatch from early detection surveys to learn more about beneficial insects, such as pollinators and lady beetles. Lori received a PhD in Ecology from Utah State University in 2012. 

Co-sponsored by Utah State University Integrated Pest Management Group




Megan Dettenmaier
Extension Educator, Forestry
Wildland Resources, Utah State University
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