Sunday, July 5, 2015

My Own Independence Days

While our nation was celebrating Independence Day this weekend, I was enjoying a bit of independence of my own, walking with just the support of a cane along some of the prettiest trails in Saratoga County.

Actually, my independence was only made possible with a little help from my friends, since I cannot yet fit my injured leg beneath the steering wheel of my car, and so must depend on others to drive me to these places.  Once again, my friend Sue Pierce devoted one of her precious vacation days last Friday to accompany me  along the Burl Trail that follows the Kayaderosseras Creek near Ballston Spa.

I had actually visited this same trail the day before with my husband Denis (pictured here), but I was very glad to return to the site the following day with a friend whose trail-walking style is more in tune with mine.  (Meaning, we both might be willing to stand still for intolerable lengths of time if a photo opportunity presents itself.)  But I think Denis did enjoy this trail for its beauty, if not for its population of biting mosquitoes.

I think the truly best time to visit the Burl Trail is in aster season, late summer/early fall, when multicolored asters vie with brilliant sunflowers to contribute the most vivid colors to the scene, but at least the Blue Vervain was making a splendid effort to beautify the banks this week.

Also, the pretty striped blooms of White Beardtongue were certainly worth a closer look.

Some of the most magnificent sights along the Burl Trail are the  limbs of huge old Silver Maples arching over the creek bank, dwarfing those who pass beneath them in the cool green shade.

When Sue and I walked the trail the next day, we continued on to where the trail loops back toward the start, passing through a sunny open meadow burgeoning with wildflowers and buzzing with many different kinds of insects.

Almost hidden among a hedge of dogwood shrubs were these vivid Canada Lilies, the first we had seen this year.

Knowing that Canada Lilies were now blooming, I asked my husband to drive me today to the Bog Meadow Brook Nature Trail just outside of Saratoga.  This is a wet habitat where I've always found many plants of these gorgeous native lilies, and I didn't want to miss their blooming season.

I recalled from previous years a particularly vigorous lily plant, super tall with multiple blooms, right by the entrance to the trail.  Ah, but unfortunately, somebody found this lily before I did.  I wonder if it was browsed by a deer, or if a human picked  it to take home.

Disappointed but not daunted, we continued along the trail for a hundred yards or so, searching for other lilies in bloom.  I was almost ready to give up when we spied this lovely stalk of lilies, glowing from deep off the trail in the middle of the woods.  A beam of sunlight lit the flowers up like lamps.

Nearby, this little patch of Orange Jelly fungus matched those lilies for vivid color.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Imagine This!

Imagine this!  I was feeling sorry for myself today, tired of the pain and impairment my injury has visited upon me, when my husband sent me this poem that was read on NPR's The Writer's Almanac this morning.  It was just what I needed to ponder to lift me out of my funk, reminding me that, despite my own narrowed choices,  I may still dedicate my heart to such wonders as "red . . . berries in the snow."  And other wonderful things.

Imagine This

When you’re young, and in good health,
you can imagine living in New York City,
or Nepal, or in a tree beyond the moon,
and who knows who you’ll marry: a millionaire,
a monkey, a sea captain, a clown.
But the best imaginers are the old and wounded,
who swim through ever narrowing choices,
dedicating their hearts to peace, a stray cat,
a bowl of homemade vegetable soup,
or red Mountain Ash berries in the snow.
Imagine this: only one leg and lucky to have it,
a jig-jagged jaunt with a cane along the shore,
leaning on a walker to get from grocery to car,
smoothing down the sidewalk on a magic moving chair,
teaching every child you meet the true story
of this sad, sweet, tragic, Fourth of July world.
“Imagine This” by Freya Manfred from Speak, Mother. © Red Dragonfly Press, 2015. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Sky Show, 6/30/2015

Rain, rain, rain!  If I had to be laid up with a broken knee, this June has been a good month for it, with rain almost every day, including most of today.  But this evening it cleared as the sun went down, and I stepped outside to take the cool evening air, walking to the corner to gaze at the starry sky.  And there they were!  Venus and Jupiter, almost touching!  I'd heard about this planetary event some days ago and had quite forgotten about it until I raised my eyes to the brilliant glow of Venus in the western sky and noticed the dull red dot of Jupiter right above her, so close I could cover the sight of both planets with just one fingernail.

After checking several astronomy sites on the web, I learned that this is the closest -- and the last -- pairing of these two planets in the current 24-year cycle, appearing to us on Earth to be but one-third of a degree apart.  Although Venus is much smaller than Jupiter, because of their relative distance from earth, Venus appears much brighter than Jupiter, shining with a - 4.5 magnitude, compared with Jupiter's -1.8 magnitude.

I'm so glad I stepped outside and didn't miss the show!

A beautiful big round moon was also shining out of the eastern sky, playing hide-and-seek with wisps of clouds that moved across the moon's pearly face, but never completely obscuring its lovely light.  Although it looked very full to me, the moon will not officially be full until tomorrow night, July 1, at 10:20 pm.

Joy Returns

Yesterday was a breakthrough day for me:  Spurred by a need to keep a hairdresser's appointment, I managed to walk the three blocks from my home to downtown Saratoga, up and down hills included, using just a cane for support.  And back again. Hope returns!  Every day I feel a bit stronger, every day I go a bit longer between pain pills.   I can begin to imagine returning to my old active self, when my shattered kneecap finally heals and my leg can bend again.

I won't deny I've had some dark moments,  especially because I had to cancel my plans for a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the Bruce Peninsula in Ontario, one of the richest wildflower sites in all of North America.  And it wasn't just the site I missed out on, it was the pleasure of the company of five amazing guys, botanists all, who invited me to share a lovely cottage right on the shores of Lake Huron.  I couldn't believe my wonderful fortune, that I, an old lady and me only an amateur wildflower nut, would be asked to join these super knowledgable plant professionals in seeking out some of the rarest plants to be found on our continent.  Just the thought of that honor has gone a long way toward compensating me for the disappointment of not being able to go.

Here's a photo of the house we would have shared, and another of the shore the house adjoined.

I had another compensation, too, and one that speaks to the quality of the friends I was to spend the week with.  Almost everywhere my friends went, they sent me photos, but not just of the amazing landscapes and beautiful flowers.  As a sign of their friendship and of how they were keeping me in their thoughts, they spelled out my name in the natural materials at hand and posted photos on Facebook.  Can you imagine how deeply this touched me?  Every day I couldn't wait to see what medium they would use to spell my name.  I never want to lose these photos, so I'm sharing them here on my blog (Facebook posts do tend to disappear after a while).  I never want to forget the joy these dear fellows graced me with.  A million thanks, John and Andrew and Drew and Rob and Stefan.  I want you to know that this gesture brought me joy when I needed it most.

This was the first photo I received and I was moved to tears by such a kind gesture. (But also a bit disappointed in myself that I couldn't ID the leaves in the photo.  Anyone?)

How appropriate to spell my name with the limestone pebbles so abundant on the alvar shores that distinguish the Bruce Peninsula.

I can't help but wonder what marvelous wetland plants my friends found along this sandy shore.

My dear friend John Manion assured me that all these tiny flowers were those of the  super-abundant introduced species of Forget-me-not,  for he would never pick any native wildflower, not even for me.

John is renowned for his culinary skills, and he made my mouth water when he shared these ingredients for some marvelous dish he was concocting.

Drew Monthie created this assemblage using White Spruce sprigs and the leaves of a particular variety of Bush Honeysuckle native to Lake Huron shores.

Longtime readers of this blog may remember when my dear friend Andrew Gibson drove out from Ohio to botanize with me in both 2012 and 2013.  Andrew is one of the botanists I would have shared this week on the Bruce with, and he is not only a first-rate plant guy, he's also a spectacularly talented photographer as well.  Although he has already shared many photographs from this June's Bruce trip on Facebook, I'm hoping he will one day post his account of this trip on his beautiful blog, The Buckeye Botanist.  In the meantime, to get some idea of the botanical riches of the Bruce Peninsula, we can visit his post reporting on his July 2011 trip there.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Outdoors Again, At Last!

Hooray!  I'm back on my feet and feeling good dirt beneath my feet again!  A million thanks to my good pal Sue Pierce, who used up one of her vacation days Friday to come collect me and drive me up to Moreau Lake State Park for my first outdoor adventure since shattering my kneecap on May 31. Sue even lent me her mother's cane, which helped me keep my balance as we strolled the sandy trail under the powerlines that run along the top of Mud Pond.  After an hour or so glorying in the magnificent display of wildflowers along this sandy clearcut, we relaxed on the shore of Moreau Lake to enjoy a picnic lunch.  What an incredible mood-booster this whole day was (including the four-hour nap when I got home)!

At first glance, it looked as if not much was blooming here in the sandy scrub that only three years ago had been blasted with herbicides by the power company.

But just a few steps later we began to see the profusion of gorgeous Wood Lilies this stretch of clearcut has always been known for.  The first year following the poisoning of this land, we feared we would never see these magnificent native lilies here again, but every year we rejoice in further evidence of their comeback.

It's hard to believe that such a spectacular bloom could be that of a native wildflower.  It certainly rivals any horticultural species for showiness and beauty.

Another favorite plant that thrives in this sandy stretch is New Jersey Tea, a shrub that's not only a favorite of ours, but also of the zillions of buzzing beetles and bees and other bugs that were feasting among the starburst blooms today.

Rivaling the Wood Lilies for glorious color was this beautiful clump of Butterflyweed, one of our species of native milkweeds that's also a favorite of many pollinators.

Another milkweed that thrives in this hot sandy landscape is Blunt-leaved Milkweed, which today was releasing its exquisite fragrance from beautiful deep-rose flower clusters.

Clumps of Frostweed still held onto their cheerful yellow blooms to delight us today.

Sun-warmed patches of Sweet Fern released their intoxicating fragrance, intermixed with tall stalks of  sunny-yellow Hawkweed, bobbing in the breeze.

Previously, Sue had scouted out a patch of Green Pyrola on another stretch of powerline, and then led me right to them after she drove us a bit down the road.  This species of Pyrola is a bit less common than the white-flowered species called Shinleaf, so I was delighted to be able to greet it again this year.

Close by this Green Pyrola, we found a patch of the tiny-flowered Racemed Milkwort beautifully in bloom.

I was so excited to have a chance to greet my dear wildflower friends, especially since I had feared that I would not be seeing them this year.  And I was equally delighted to greet a few of the animal species that share the same habitat.  This beautiful green grasshopper looked so green and tender, I wonder if it was a juvenile instar, just recently molted.

Lots of baby toads were hopping about in the sand, so small they could have been mistaken for crickets.

Great Spangled Fritillaries were fluttering about the lilies and milkweeds.

Many different dragonflies were zooming about the sunny landscape, but none would land long enough for me to capture a photo.  This photo of a male Calico Pennant I took from my archives, just because I want to document that we saw these splendid creatures today, both the bright-red males and the equally bright-yellow females.

This lovely moth, however, gave us lots of time to capture its delicate beauty, since it was clinging to the windshield of Sue's car and was apparently reluctant to leave.  As was I, of course, having delighted in walking among the gorgeous wildflowers on a truly spectacular summer day.  But the knee was telling me it was time to rest, and so I went home to take my pain meds and a nap, encouraged to know that further outdoor adventures are well within my reach.  With a little help from my friends, of course.  Thanks, Sue.  This outing was the best medicine I could have had to speed my knee's healing.

Update:  Thanks, Catherine Klatt, for identifying this lovely moth as a Large Lace-Border (Scopula limboundata).  What an apt name for a moth with such a pretty, lacy border to its wings!

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Back in my Boat -- in My Dreams and On Screen

Me in my Hornbeck on the Hudson last summer.  Photo and poster design by Sue Pierce
Yeah, it's gonna be quite a while before I can hoist myself in or out of my Hornbeck canoe, what with this broken kneecap.  But I can still dream, can't I?  I'm dreaming both of places I'll paddle one day, and also of so many wonderful places I've paddled in the past.  I'm sharing my photos of some of those wonderful places this coming Tuesday evening, June 23, at 7 pm at the Hadley-Luzerne Public Library in the pretty little Adirondack town of Lake Luzerne.  The photo above is the poster advertising my talk/slide show. It sure would be great to greet some of my blog readers there, so come if you can.  Free show!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Celebrating a Plethora of Pollinators

What a wonderful thing the internet is!  How else would I know that this is National Pollinator Week (June 15-21), if I hadn't found out via Facebook?  Since I can't get outdoors right now to go party it up with the pollinators, I had a good excuse to go back through my many blog posts to revisit some of the critters who meet this definition.  Most folks probably think "honeybees" when they hear the word "pollinator," but of course these absolutely essential creatures come from many other parts of the animal kingdom besides the hives behind the barn.  Here are just a few of my favorites, gleaned from my photo archives.

Sure, honeybees are important pollinators, and our grocery shelves would be pretty empty without these workhorses of agribusiness, but even more important are the many other species of native bees, most of which do not live in hives but rather build solitary nests in the ground.  Here's one little ground bee resting at the mouth of her nest, which she has packed with pollen to feed the larva that will hatch from the egg she has laid within.

And let's not forget the many species of bumblebees, which also nest in the ground, although some do live in colonies.  These musclemen of the apian world are the only pollinators strong enough to force their way into some of our flowers that guard their pollen within tightly closed petals.  The Pale Jewelweed flower pictured here offers its treasures openly to all, but other flowers, like Turtlehead and Closed Gentians, deny access to all but the strongest bees.

We have many different species of native bees and bumblebees, but this is not one of them.  This is rather a Bee Fly, a darling little fuzzy critter with a needle-thin proboscis for sipping the nectar from some of our earliest flowers to bloom in spring.  Those early bloomers depend on these little guys to help distribute their pollen when few other pollinators have emerged from winter hibernation.

How often do we think of flies as important pollinators?  Well, they sure are!  Not all flies dine on garbage and dung, but many are exclusively eaters of pollen and nectar.   This big fella (or gal?) pictured here is one of a group called "Hover Flies,"a group that does dine on pollen.  They do not sting, but perhaps their bee-like appearance wards off predators that would like to dine on them.

Here are two more species of Hover Flies, much smaller ones, busily feasting away on pollen-laden pistils and anthers.  What beautiful creatures they are, with ornamental abdomens and iridescent wings!

Another kind of pollen-eating fly is the Tachinid Fly, usually characterized by having bristles all over its abdomen.   I call them "bristly butts" when I see them on the first warm days of spring, often sipping nectar that has dripped from the trees above to the forest floor.

From bristly butts to feathery feet: yes, this is a Feather-footed Fly, named for the feathery fringes along its hind legs.  Not only does this nectar-eating fly help to pollinate native plants, it also parasitizes other insects that might prove to be pests to agricultural crops.  Let's hear it for these wonderfully useful creatures!

Oh my, what a looker this one is, with its bright orange thorax and jet-black wings!   This is the Argid Sawfly, and it probably does not deserve to be celebrated along with other pollinators, since its larvae are rather destructive of their plant hosts.  But the adults do eat nectar and pollen and thus help pollinate plants.  And it certainly is a gorgeous bug!  Despite being called a fly, it really belongs to the insect order that includes bees and wasps, although it does not have a stinger as those do.

Here are a couple of pollen-eating wasps, and although they DO have stingers, they rarely use them on us humans, because these wasps do not dwell in colonies that require defending.  And because they are so docile, we can safely move in close to observe how truly beautiful they are.  This first one is called a Great Golden Digger Wasp, shown here feeding on the pollen of Virgin's Bower.  Note the fine golden hairs that cover its head and thorax, and the vivid orange band on its abdomen that matches the color of its legs.

This next wasp, also dining on Virgin's Bower, is the Great Black Wasp.  Yes, its body is certainly jet black, but what we notice first are its cobalt-blue wings.  It's a big wasp, big enough to capture Katydids and drag them back to its ground nest, where its larvae feed on the paralyzed unfortunates.  But despite this wasp's size and predacious habit, we have little to fear from this otherwise vegetarian creature.  Only its larvae feed on meat.

Actually, almost all our flying insects would qualify as pollinators, since most at least land on flowering plants and shake their pollen into the air.  But of course, some insects are far more destructive than they are beneficial.  Nevertheless, here are a couple of bugs I chose to revisit just because they are so darned pretty.

This amorous couple are Locust Borer Beetles, and yes, they do bore holes in Black Locust leaves but so far have not caused that tree's widespread demise.  They do romp around in the goldenrod, that's for sure, and so help distribute that showy flower's heavy, sticky pollen. (Note to hay fever sufferers: goldenrod's heavy, sticky pollen is not what's wafting up your nose and itching your eyes, since it can't go far from its flowers without being carried away by bugs.  The culprit in your case is Ragweed pollen, which can waft for miles on no more of a breeze than that caused by the batting of a butterfly wing.)

There is absolutely nothing NOT to love about  this Twelve-spotted Lady Beetle. Not only does it help distribute pollen as it feasts from flower to flower, it also preys on on other insects that would be destructive to valuable plants.  Plus, it's just about as cute as any bug could be!

For sure, we can't celebrate National Pollinator Week without including butterflies and moths.  I have SO many photos of these lovely creatures I had a hard time choosing a sample selection.  But here goes (just a sampling):

The elegant Monarch.  Under great stress now, with widespread destruction of its larval host plants, thanks to the application of herbicides to genetically modified agricultural crops.  Obviously, adults can dine on nectar from many flowers, but its babies have to have milkweed.  Plant some, if you can.

The Tiger Swallowtail, dining on Wild Bergamot

A Great Spangled Fritillary, sailing away from a tuft of Joe-Pye Weed

We have several small blue butterflies that look quite a bit alike,  but this one happens to be the Eastern Tailed Blue. See its little tails?

Often confused with the Monarch, the Viceroy butterfly is a bit smaller and has a black bar across each hind wing.  Here, it is set off beautifully against a bloom of Queen Anne's Lace.

When I looked through my archives of moth photos, I discovered that many of the spectacular ones I have photographed (the Cecropia and the Luna, for example) emerge from the cocoon with no mouth parts at all, and thus cannot feed on either nectar or pollen.  But here's one, the Himmelman's Plume Moth, that does feed on flower nectar and so I suppose could be considered a pollinator.  It sure is a  very odd-looking moth, and so I couldn't resist reposting its photo here.

It's certainly obvious that this next moth came equipped with mouth parts, ones specifically designed to sip on flower nectar.  This is a Hummingbird Clear-winged Moth,  with a long proboscis it can uncurl for feeding, as it hovers with beating wings, just like a hummingbird.  Now, that's what I call  a pollinator worth celebrating!  But aren't they all?