I take a photo of some bark, bring home a leaf or two, and compare them with my books. Sometimes, I find them right away, and there is no doubt about them. At others, well, is this bark like that, or like that? Or maybe like this one from China? Do the leaves match? Almost? Not at all?
This evening I got out all my tree books and leafed through them, looking for the latest find. No luck, at all.
What is this? It's a deciduous tree, not terribly big. There were no catkins nor budding leaves yet.
The other side of the same trunk. Elephant skin. Are these younger branches, coming up from below?
In a couple of spots where the bark has separated from the trunk, this red mass shows up. Is it the inner bark, or some fungus or slime?
Far too many questions.
Inside the trunk, we found a mini-habitat:
At several points around the trunk, where it seems that a branch must have broken off some time ago, there are deep holes.
I blew my photos up to full size and took inventory. The wood at the top had a crumbly look to it; I could see worm tracks here and there. There may be a few woodpecker holes, but not many. (Compare it to Seabrooke's woodpecker tree.)
In the puddle at the bottom; dead leaves, a few twigs, some rectangular whitish things, and an earthworm (I think). Above that, in the damp; slimy green algae, looking uncannily like sea lettuce. Up at the top where it's dry; white slime (parchment, crust, dry rot?). And between the algae and the puddle; a few sowbug carcasses. They looked like spider frass; while we were at the tree, I looked for webs or spiders, but none were visible.
Not the same hole. This one is dryer, and full of dead sowbugs. The edges of the plates are white, making the bugs look striped, possibly because of a fungal growth.
Those are the first sowbugs, dead or alive, I've seen around here since the cold weather started. Under the bark, though, no matter how it snows and blows, there is a modicum of warmth and moisture for assorted insect, worm and spider life.
On a tree a few feet away, moss and lichen grew. Different chemistry, different organisms. But there are probably sowbugs in the crevices there, too. And spiders. There are always spiders.