15-21 June 2004
Installment #227---Visitor #

(Back to Preceding Week; on to Next Week)


It's fulfilling to remember names of many plants and animals that occur at Hilton Pond Center, but the number of local organisms we CAN'T identify far exceeds those we can. Sometimes its just nice to sit back and enjoy looking at things without worrying about taxonomy, and that's the approach we tend to take when it comes to fungi--especially since some can't be positively identified without a microscope or chemical tests. Sure, we've given mushroom identification a shot, but we're honestly bewildered at the tremendous individual variation within a given fungal species--and we'd certainly never trust our skills enough to choose a wild mushroom to eat.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Considering the massive crop of fungi springing up around Hilton Pond, pleading benign ignorance about identifying mushrooms seems acceptable--even if it does sound like a cop-out. For this week, we've decided to just display photos of diverse, intriguing, and unnamed fungi that have appeared along the trails, undoubtedly as a result of three-inches-plus of precipitation we've had so far in June. Should you wish to send an E-mail with a common or scientific name for any of the fungi herein, please feel free; if our field guides agree, we'll add the species to our slowly growing--but not mushrooming--Checklist of Fungi at Hilton Pond.

One thing we were reminded of this week as we sought out fungi: It's almost impossible to take decent photos of mushrooms without getting wet and muddy--especially after several consecutive days of rain. About the only way to fully appreciate most fungi is to get down to their level and eyeball them through a camera lens, which means lying flat with either tripod or elbows in the dirt.

A beach towel is a permanent part of our photography gear, and we simply spread it out and plop down close to the fungus. Water from the wet ground soaks through, but at least the towel keeps our Operation RubyThroat T-shirts clean. (We suppose we could stay dryer by using plastic tarps, but they rustle and make too much noise while we're meditating with the mushrooms.) We also carry a can of insect repellent on our picture-taking jaunts to the woods; otherwise, lying still on the substrate in damp habitats makes the photographer easy pickings for every mosquito within buzzing distance.

Although there are many variations on the theme, typical mushrooms have several above-ground parts in common. The pileus (cap) can be concave, convex, flat, pointed, or even wavy. Beneath it are either randomly distributed pores, or paper-thin gills that radiate from the cap's center; either of these bear microscopic structures that produce the mushroom's spores.

The cap--which can be smooth, dry, rough, slimy, or almost any combination thereof--sits atop the stipe (or stalk), a stem-like structure that often is hollow. The stipe may have a ring (annulus) that was the point of attachment for the cap before it opened, umbrella-like. Stipes vary greatly. Some are so short the cap seems to sit directly on the ground, while others are long and willowy; a few mushrooms have stipes that are almost hairlike. Usually the stipe appears to erupt directly from the substrate, but some species have a volva (cup)--a structure that resembles an egg and bursts open as the stipe lengthens (see top photo).

As amazing as they are, ephemeral mushrooms are still just the reproductive apparatus for otherwise furtive fungi. For much of the year, the fungus remains hidden in the soil or--in some species--within a live tree or fallen log. It exists as a mycelium, a root-like structure that goes about its business either decomposing dead organic matter or parasitizing a living host. Only when conditions are right--typically wet weather that would help disperse spores--does the more obvious and familiar mushroom appear.

Many fungi, of course, look nothing like a traditional "mushroom" or "toadstool." In particular are those that have finger-like fruiting bodies (below right) rather than stipe and cap. There are also fungi that grow horizontally like shelves or brackets on the sides of trees. And many mature fungi are microscopic or so barely macroscopic that they're not likely to be encountered on a leisurely walk in the woods.

Sometimes it's easier to find mushrooms with your nose rather than your eyes. That's because lots of fungi emanate strong, pungent odors reminiscent of roadkills, which explains why photos of them so often include a fly or two. Mushrooms imitate the odor of carrion, attracting not only flies but also Carrion Beetles and even Turkey Vultures--all of which help fungi by transporting spores to new locales. (In addition to our beach towel, we also have a couple of spring clip clothespins in our photo gadget bag, one of which we sometimes use to clamp our nostrils shut as we take pictures of particularly stinky fungi.)

Flies aren't the only things we've seen dining on a fungus at Hilton Pond Center. In fact, so many organisms eat wild fungi that in our woods it's often hard to find a "perfect" mushroom--one that's unblemished by tooth marks from Eastern Chipmunks, White-footed Mice, or Eastern Gray Squirrels. Eastern Box Turtles also have a penchant for fungi; we frequently encounter one of these shelled reptiles along our trails while it's tearing into (albeit slowly) a mushroom--and with what appears to be a somewhat satiated look on its scaly little face.

Another animal group that munches down on mushrooms is the Pleasing Fungus Beetles, tiny insects that vary from 1/16" to 3/8" in length. Although brightly patterned--usually black with red, orange, or yellow highlights--these beetles are seldom seen except by inveterate mushroom or insect enthusiasts--especially since they often hide between gills beneath the mushroom cap. Each beetle species is believed to feed on a particular fungal genus; these insects have very fast life cycles that correspond with the short lives of specific mushrooms.

. .

And so, that's it for "This Week at Hilton Pond," where--thanks to a relative abundance of rainfall and high humidity--we were able to find all these magnificent mushrooms (or phenomenal fungi) on just ONE mid-June afternoon. It matters not that they all remain anonymous--to us.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

NOTE: Last week's poll, which focused on whether folks most liked available light or flash as a lighting source for our Flower Spider photos, has since the start been running 3:2 in favor of the former. We personally prefer natural lighting ourselves, which is what we used to take all of this week's fungus photos--even though the days have mostly been overcast.

Comments or questions about this week's installment?
Please send an E-mail message to INFO.

NOTE: Be sure to scroll down for an account of all birds banded or recaptured during the week, as well as some other interesting nature notes.

"This Week at Hilton Pond" is written & photographed
by Bill Hilton Jr., executive director of
Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History.

You may wish to consult our Index of all nature topics covered since February 2000. You can also use the on-line Search Engine at the bottom of this page.

For a free, non-fattening, on-line subscription to "This Week at Hilton Pond," just send us an E-mail with SUBSCRIBE in the Subject line. Please be sure to configure your spam filter to accept E-mails from

Catch the video version of "This Week" each Friday during
the 6 p.m. newscast on
CN2 cable network in Rock Hill SC.

If you enjoy This Week at Hilton Pond,
please help

Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History.
It's painless, and YOU can make a difference!

Just CLICK on one of the logos below.

Just CLICK on one of the logos below.

Make direct donations on-line through
Network for Good:
Donate a portion of your purchase price from 500+ top on-line stores via iGive:
Use your PayPal account
to make direct donations:

Please report your
sightings of
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds


15-21 June 2004

Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Young male with dark throat streaking and one red gorget feather

Ruby-throated Hummingbird--2

* = New species for 2004

1 species
2 individuals

44 species
1,396 individuals

(since 28 June 1982)
123 species
44,701 individuals

(with original banding date, sex, and current age)

Ruby-throated Hummingbird (1)
07/12/03--2nd year female

--Out-of-town travel and more wet weather at Hilton Pond Center again prevented us from running nets during the week, but we did manage to trap two new Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and a return after a rainstorm abated on the evening of 21 June. One of the new birds was a juvenile male (above left)--the fourth earliest fledgling in our 20 years of banding hummers at Hilton Pond. This bird was especially interesting because--in addition to his noticeable dark throat streaking--he already had one fully formed red gorget feather. Usually we do not see red feathering on young males until late July.

--21 June also brought the first sounds of Dog-day Cicadas (above) at the Center. Unlike the more famous Brood X of red-eyed Periodic Cicadas--none of which made it as far as York SC during this much-anticipated emergence year--Dog-day Cicadas are annual occurrences at Hilton Pond. We'll be hearing their buzzing on a regular basis from now through August.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

This Week at Hilton Pond
is part of the

(Back to Preceding Week; on to Next Week)

In 2004, informative and entertaining hummingbird banding presentations are already scheduled for North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia & Kentucky/Tennessee.
(Click on the logo at left for details.)
If your group would like to host Hummingbird Mornings anywhere in the U.S. or Canada in 2004 or later, contact
Bill Hilton Jr.

You can also
post questions for
The Piedmont Naturalist

Search Engine for
Hilton Pond Center

Up to Top of Page

Back to This Week at Hilton Pond Center

Current Weather Conditions at Hilton Pond Center

Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History is a non-profit research & education organization in York, South Carolina USA; phone (803) 684-5852. Directed by Bill Hilton Jr., aka The Piedmont Naturalist, it is the parent organization for Operation RubyThroat. Contents of this Web site--including articles and photos--may NOT be duplicated, modified, or used in any way except with the express written permission of Hilton Pond Center. All rights reserved worldwide. To obtain permission for use or for further assistance on accessing this Web site, contact the Webmaster.