Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Coping Without Winter

Well, at least the sun was shining yesterday when I took the above photo of muddy trails in the Saratoga Spa State Park.  But the rest of last week was mostly gray and sodden, not very conducive to tempting this amateur naturalist outdoors.  We have no snow for skiing or snowshoeing or animal tracking, and rising temperatures are melting the ice on the lakes and streams.  I really had to push myself to get outdoors this past week, and once I got out, I really had to search to find anything of interest to photograph.  But Nature always rises to the occasion, doesn't she?

On the last cold day we had, I revisited Lake Bonita, stopping by the outlet stream to marvel at the as-yet-unmelted ice formations that hung over the rushing water.

Walking across the still-hard ice to visit the boggy islands offshore, I delighted in the tiny seedpods of the Leatherleaf shrubs, as dainty and pretty as when the flowers were blooming.

Carefully picking my way across slippery ice-hard remnants of snow in the woods, I stooped to admire this tiny baby fern peeking out from a hollow moss-covered log.

I also stopped to ponder how such a convoluted tree trunk could have formed.

On a warmer day, I made my way over to the Hudson River at Moreau, where the now ice-free water lay still as glass, reflecting the forested mountains along the shore.

Wearing microspikes to keep me from slipping on the hard icy snow, I clambered out onto some rocky promontories along the river, examining the bryophyte-covered boulders to see what mosses, lichens, and liverworts were wintering there, as green and fresh-looking as ever.

Here's a feathery moss (sorry, I don't know its name) overlying a nice patch of the shiny green liverwort called Bazzania trilobata.

This nice clump of Cladonia lichen stood out from the other greenery covering the boulder it grew on.

Here and there, some fungi still held onto their summer colors,  even though coated with icy snow.

In the woods near the Spier Falls Dam, the old quarries that once provided the rocks for building the dam were spectacular with cascading blue-tinged icicles.

After what seemed a long stretch of oppressively gray days, the sun finally came out yesterday, and the temperature rose into the 50s.  It seemed like a good day for a walk through the Ferndell Ravine at Saratoga Spa State Park.

A Pileated Woodpecker kept hooting at me as it flew from tree to tree, much too quickly for my camera to capture it.

Aha, it landed at last!  But much too far away for my little camera's inadequate zoom to get a clear photo, alas.  But at least it could capture the startling red of the woodpecker's crest.  What a gorgeous and sizable bird!

When I reached the brook that runs past the Island Spouter  and the stone structure housing the Hayes Spring, I stopped to chat with a mineral water enthusiast who showed me how I could sniff the vapors, in addition to drinking the waters of this extremely mineral-rich water. And boy, does that gas give a kick!  If you try this, be careful not to snort the vapors too deeply. My friend here told me that breathing the vapors was good for treating her sinusitis.  It does clear the pipes, I'll attest to that!

This enormous build-up of mineral accretions (called a "tufa") is the most spectacular feature of a walk through the Valley of Springs at the Saratoga Spa State Park.

Here's the spring that's the source of all those minerals that created the giant tufa that lies below it along the creek.  The blood-red accretions covering the ground here are a sign that this water contains significant amounts of iron.  It tastes quite salty and effervescent, too.  Some people like it, some people don't.  I'd call it an "interesting" taste.  Try it sometime.  Supposed to be good for you.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Out on the Ice to the Islands

All that snow to the south of us, and not a flake up here! Where the heck is our winter?  Ah well, at least it has been below freezing here for over a week.  Until today, that is, when we had rain and temperatures near 40.  But at least I was sure that the ice would be good and thick on Lake Bonita when I returned there yesterday, eager to get out to the little islands that stud its surface. Since Sue and I found some bog plants near shore last week, I've been hoping to explore what botanical treasures those little patches of vegetation might contain, and a hard-frozen surface would allow me to do just that.

When I reached Bonita's shores, I could see that many different animals had been traversing the frozen surface, where the snow was much thinner than it was in the woods, making for easier traveling.  My question was:  is that ice safe enough for ME to traverse? I weigh a heck of a lot more than a coyote.

I walked around shore until I found areas where the lake's surface was free from snow, and I could see through the clear black ice the thickness of the cracks. Six or eight inches thick, it appeared.  Strong enough to hold me.  But smooth and slippery, too, so I pulled on my micro-spikes before setting out.

As I approached the islands, I wondered what shrubs were lending them such ruddy hues.

A closer inspection revealed that most of the shrubbery out here was Leatherleaf, whose sturdy leaves did seem to glow with a rosy light.  There was Sheep Laurel, too, and a few Speckled Alders, but the bulk of the ruddiest shrubbery was Leatherleaf.

But also mixed in with the Leatherleaf were numerous shrubs of Sweet Gale, immediately identifiable by the clusters of dried fruits still clinging to the twigs.

Many of the Sweet Gale shrubs also held the tight little cone-shaped buds of next spring's flowers.

Of special interest to me were the various species of Sphagnum Moss, usually (although not always) a sign of acidic, bog-like conditions. I'm not sure if each color signified a different species, but I did find a number of different colors of sphagnum, including this brownish one.

And here's a golden-hued one.

Another sphagnum patch was this shaggy green.

Yet another was vibrant red.

There was even a patch made up of all these colors at once.  Perhaps some of my bryophyte-expert friends could ID all these for us.

These deep-red Pitcher Plant leaves were definitely a sign that these islands are home to what we normally think of as bog plants.  I wonder what other bog plants we might find if we search these islands in summer. I searched and searched for leftover orchid pods and didn't find any.  But that doesn't mean we might not find some Rose Pogonia here, or Green Wood Orchis. The habitat seems right.

Update:  As a friend has recently reminded me, bog habitats are not only rather rare in Saratoga County, but they are also quite fragile and need to be approached with great care.  I want to point out that I was careful not to trample any of these bog plants, but limited my investigations to what I could see while walking around the edges on the ice.  Although boating will be discouraged on Lake Bonita, it is crucial that no boats land on these tiny islands, should any canoers or kayakers find their way to these waters.

Here's the shriveled flower head of a Pitcher Plant.  Many of them grow on these little islands.

Ooh, look what else I found out here!  At first glance, I thought there was an egg in the nest, however unlikely.  But of course, it was just a  little puff of snow.  Does anyone know whose nest it is, low to the ground among Sweet Gale shrubs on an island far from shore?

As the afternoon wore on, the sky brightened a bit, and sunlight warmed the boulders along the shore.  I might have basked in that warming sun for a while, but the day was growing late.  Time to head home.

To return to where I'd parked my car, I chose to follow the lake's inlet stream as I bushwhacked through the woods, where a low ray of sunshine rendered this bough of American Beech incandescent.

I followed the stream-bed as it angled up through the woods.  For most of its course it was completely dry, but then as I ascended a steeper slope, I discovered the stream's water frozen in place where it had tumbled in terraced falls.  This will be such a pretty little brook in a warmer season.

But then, it was already pretty.  Especially where ice had formed in little side pools, creating such beautiful patterns.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Up a Cold Creek

Oh dear, my poor Mom would sure have a fit if she could see my cats sitting on my breakfast table!  But hey, they already sleep in my bed and I bury my face in their fur when I kiss them, so what's the problem?  Also, I put a clean cloth on the table when company comes. And how could I deny my kitties the only place in the house to bask in the sun on this bright blue-sky day?  I almost felt like joining them to doze in warm puddles of sunshine, but I also felt an equal pull to get myself out to Orra Phelps Nature Preserve on this freezing-cold day and see what ice might be up to on the little creeks out there.

For one thing, the creeks were running briskly, making a lively music under sparkling layers of ice.  Happily, I had found an old camera that, although damaged, still works in some of its modes, so I could capture some of the beautiful things water does when it meets up with freezing cold.

It was obvious from the several layers of ice that the water levels had been up and down the past week or so.

In some spots, paper-thin sheets of ice displayed delicate lacy patterns.  So pretty!

Where the water tumbled with extra vigor, splashed-up drops formed crystal icicles that dangled from protruding ice shelves.

Out in the middle of the rushing dark water, it looked like some fairy princess had dropped her diamond tiara.

Thursday, January 21, 2016


I was SO looking forward yesterday to a lovely walk at Moreau Lake.  The lake is now frozen over solidly from shore to shore, so I could walk directly across it to visit a brook I expected to be decorated with all kinds of crystalline ice sculptures.  Also, the sky was blue and the wind was relatively quiet for a change.

Wearing ice grippers on my feet to prevent me from slipping, I made a beeline across the lake, noting the ice's thickness by the size of the prodigious cracks visible through the clear black ice.

I marveled at the size of some of the bubbles that had been captured in the clear ice.

Before long, I reached the shore where the brook runs into the lake, carefully skirting the area where its turbulent running water might thin out the ice.  But I needn't have worried about running water in the brook on this day.  To all appearances, it was now quite dry.

Teetering from rock to rock along the streambed, though, I could see that water had coursed through here not long before, leaving its evidence in the icicles descending from overhanging banks.  I clambered on, hoping to find still-coursing water and more elaborate ice structures higher up on the mountain side.  But then I dropped my camera.  Lens open, it bounced from rock to rock with a sickening crack.

When I picked my camera up, part of the lens apparatus came off in my hand, and when I pushed the off button, the display revealed this image of purple and green blurs. Uh oh!

After repeated tries to replace the parts and restart my camera, I realized all was lost.  Yes, it would still take pictures, but the images looked like this.  This was supposed to be a photo of the treeline along the lake shore.  Kind of interesting, I admit, but not what I use my camera for.  Unfortunately, it's time to get a new one.