What You Can See on Feb. 13

From Audubon’s Earth Almanac by Ted Williams and compiled in “Wild Moments,” edited by Connie Isbell, Illustrations by John Burgoyne, Storey Publishing, 174 pages. Winter Mushrooms You don’t eat bracket fungi unless you’re starving, but what they lack in palatability they make up for in beauty and durability. The semicircular brackets, found all over temperate North America, don’t rot away like other mushrooms and usually remain above the snow line because they grow on stumps and trees. Don’t feel guilty about taking a few home for decorations; what you are picking is just the spore-producing part of the fungus that has burst through an opening in the tree. Most of the organism is still within—a tangle of enzyme-secreting, wood-dissolving tentacles called the mycelium. Watch for two species of mazegill. Thin mazegill is corky, speckled light brown on top, and occurs in spectacular clusters, often on willow, yellow birch, and oak. Thick mazegill, found mostly on oaks, has a thicker maze. Then there is tinder fungus, which is shaped like a horse’s hoof and good for starting campfires. Birch polypore, the gray mushroom that grows on old birches, was used to sharpen razors. The lovely and aptly named turkey tail, often found in profuse whorls at the ends of logs, has concentric rings of gray, tan, brown, red, and green. Artist’s fungus can measure two feet across; use a sharp stick to sketch the best thing you saw on your winter outing on its soft undersurface. When the mushroom dries and hardens on your mantel, the rendering will endure for decades. Planter of the Western Woods The Clark’s nutcracker is a big part of the spirit of the western evergreen forest. Sometimes he is brash and loud, dipping out of the canopy with a nasal kra-a-a as the day’s first light slashes through the spires of conifers. Sometimes he is sedate and stately, sculling crowlike over the alpine forest, sun flashing on the white patches on his black wings and tail. Around your camp he may be a beggar and a thief. On otherwise still winter days he raucously patrols south-facing slopes, recovering the pine seeds he tapped into the earth with his long, sharp bill during late summer and fall. There may be only 4 to 5 seeds per cache, but his total store may contain as many as 33,000, and he can tote 95 at a time in a special pouch under his tongue. Recent experiments have demonstrated that nutcrackers use forest features to help them remember the locations of their seed caches. If a feature—a log, for instance—is moved 10 feet north, a bird will look for its seeds 10 feet north of where they really are. Because Clark’s nutcrackers never recover all their seeds, they help plant the forest that sustains them.