Sunday, May 22, 2016

A Great Way to Spend My Birthday!

I couldn't have asked for a better way to spend my birthday: with my best nature buddy Sue, walking a beautiful flower-bedecked trail, and finding treasured plants we thought had been lost forever.

Sue and I have been walking the Warren County Bike Trail between Glens Falls and Lake George for a number of years, congratulating ourselves that here was a trail where we could count on always finding Nodding Trillium (Trillium cernua).  Except that over the past couple of years, they had disappeared (or seriously diminished) from where we had found them before.  So imagine our delight today when we found lots and lots of them, in places we'd never thought to look before.  We now call them "the traveling plants!"  Ants are very instrumental in dispersing these lovely native wildflowers, carrying off their seeds and depositing them in their nests. It seems as if those ants have been very busy along the Warren County Bike Trail.  Thanks a lot, ants!

Another wonderful find today was this Early Azalea bush in full glorious bloom!

Earlier this month, Sue had visited the site where we always find this gorgeous native azalea (Rhododendron prinophyllum), and she had despaired when she saw what looked like nothing but bare dead branches at the site.  The power company had sprayed herbicides along a nearby powerline, so we had assumed that our treasured azalea shrubs were gone forever.  But today our spirits soared when we glimpsed that vivid pink high on the bank and smelled the delicious fragrance today's gentle breeze carried our way from these heavenly scented blossoms.  That herbicide had somehow missed these treasures!

Here's a closer view of those beautiful blooms, and if you look very carefully at the flower tubes, you can just make out the glandular hairs that carry the exquisite fragrance this wild azalea is famous for.

Of course, there were many other beautiful flowers along the trail on this balmy late-May day, warmed by afternoon sunshine after a soft morning rain.  The most abundant shrub of all was Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana), dangling its chubby clusters of snowy white blooms.

We thought we had come too early to catch the vivid confetti-colored flowers of Glaucous Honeysuckle (Lonicera dioica), but then we found one vine that was just beginning to burst into bloom.

Certain grassy sections along the trail were carpeted with masses of the pretty purple blooms of Dog Violet (Viola labradorica).

And not far away, along the road we had driven here on, was a generous grouping of this spectacular native orchid, the Yellow Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium parviflorum).

I have to share this fabulously funny card my friend Sue gave me today.  Longtime readers of this blog will certainly get the joke!

Saturday, May 21, 2016

OH NO! MORE Feral Kittens!

Aaargh!!!  I thought we had captured and neutered ALL the feral cats that hang out in our garden.  We were down to just two, who came to our porch to feed and take shelter in a hutch my husband made for them.  They were welcome, although they would never be pets -- too wild, too frightened of humans (although my husband has the magic touch, and manages occasionally to caress the female of the pair).  But then this little tiger female showed up, wild as a squirrel and obviously pregnant, and before we could manage to trap her and confine her until she gave birth, she DID give birth, somewhere in parts unknown. Then we could not trap her while her babies needed her hourly.  And now she has brought her babies, all five of them, to our back steps.  (The fifth, a little dark tiger, had just fallen off the porch.) Skittish as sparrows they are; one hand on the doorknob and off they fly!  Hard to believe such weak little scraps of fur could fly so fast!  I'll bet they can scratch and bite, too, if I were to manage to grab one.  

Since the babies are obviously old enough to eat solid food, I guess I can now try to trap and neuter their mom.  Then see if one by one I can trap the little ones.  Perhaps they are young enough to be fostered and gentled into pets.  There's an organization called Hope for Orphaned Pets Exists (HOPE) that will neuter feral cats for a greatly reduced fee.  Let's see how my plan works out.  Wish me luck!

(In the meantime, oh Lord, are these tumbling, pouncing, scrapping, climbing little ones fun to watch!)

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Weekend's Wildflower Finds (Just a Few Critters, Too)

It wasn't the best weather for woodswalking, but between the showers and despite Sunday's chill, I did get out to four of my favorite wildflower haunts this weekend.

Cole's Woods
I started the weekend Saturday morning meeting my friend Sue at Cole's Woods in Glens Falls, a remarkably woodsy site right in the middle of a bustling city.  The overnight rain had moved away and the sun was peeking through remaining clouds to make for a quite pleasant morning walking these extensive trails.

Because of heavy rains during the night before, many of the flowers looked rather weather-beaten, but these pretty little Goldthread blooms, bruised just a bit, still shone like stars from the damp-darkened forest floor.  Partridgeberry fruits, of course, looked just as shiny, red, and plump as they had all winter. If ice and snow and subzero cold don't phase them, a little rain won't, either.

Persisting raindrops beaded up on the leaves only added to the diamond-sparkle charm of these Jewelweed seedlings lining the brook, revealing one of the possible sources for their common name.

The sprightly little orbs of Dwarf Ginseng also survived the storm, their dainty beauty here enhanced by the presence of a few Dog Violets.  I recently learned that the scientific name of Dog Violet is no longer Viola conspersa, but rather V. labradorica.  Still called Dog Violet, though.  I remember this common name because of the sharply toothed stipules that wrap the leaf nodes.  Sharp teeth make me think "canine," which reminds me of "dog."

Here below is a violet that absolutely loves it wet, as its name -- Marsh Blue Violet -- certainly implies.  Its most instantly recognizable feature (aside from its damp habitat) is the way it holds its large purple flowers well above its leaves on long leafless stems.

Definite confirmation of Marsh Blue Violet's species is the shape of the hairs on its two side petals. Unlike the fine tapered tips of most violet species' hairs, these are club-shaped, with blunt tips.

We were delighted to find the Striped Maples in bloom, with dangling clusters of dainty green flowers.

Quite a few of the wildflowers we'd hoped to find in Cole's Woods were not yet in bloom.  I'd say we need at least a week to 10 days before we will find Clintonia, Rosybells, Pink Lady's Slippers, or Sassafras flowers bursting their tight buds.  It might even be a bit longer before the One-sided Pyrola or Shinleaf Pyrola blooms, but we were delighted to once again discover the patch of forest floor where the One-sided Pyrola grows.  This flower (now scientifically called Orthilia instead of Pyrola) is not that common a find.  Here, it shares its space with the glossy green umbellate leaves of Pipsissewa.

Teasing us with its flighty refusal to land and stay still so we could take its photo, was this tiny black-and-white flutterer we assumed was a miniature butterfly.  Turns out (thanks, Google Images!) it's a moth, not a butterfly, called Trichodezia albovittata, the White-striped Black Moth.  My photo of it was so blurry I couldn't use it, so I lifted this image off the internet.  Look at how fringed are the edges of its wings!

The highlight of our morning at Cole's Woods was actually avian instead of floral.  We kept hearing Ovenbirds all around us, but miracle of miracles, we even got to SEE one!  That was amazing enough, for this little warbler is one of the most elusive birds of the forest. You can hear its loud, persistent calls all around, but the cryptically colored bird itself most often remains quite hidden from view.  But even more amazing was actually seeing this Ovenbird's little ground nest, shaped like the mud ovens that suggest the bird's name, and just about impossible to make out on the forest floor.  I think I have mentioned many times my friend Sue's excellent vision.  So guess who saw this first?  I NEVER would have found it, without my friend along!  We were overjoyed!  If we hadn't been so hungry for lunch, we might have parked ourselves in a hidden spot for several hours to possibly see the bird come and go.  I doubt very much we will ever be able to find this nest again.

Woods Hollow Nature Preserve

It didn't rain on Sunday, but it sure was windy and cold. Not very pleasant, but thanks to my Polarfleece pullover and warm wooly socks, I didn't feel anything but happy to get outdoors, heading first to Wood Hollow Nature Preserve near Ballston Spa.  Wild Lupine thrives there in a wide sandy oak/pine area, and I was wondering if it had started to bloom.  Not quite, but close, as I discovered.  Come back in a week or so.  There'll be masses of gorgeous blue.

In a week, I bet the Pink Lady's Slippers that thrive by the hundreds in Woods Hollow's piney woods will be in gorgeous bloom.  So far, just green buds.

At least I wasn't disappointed to find a Painted Trillium in the same dark shady spot where I've found it in past years. Isn't this a gorgeous wildflower?

Sometimes we forget that trees also have pretty flowers.  I thought the ripening male flowers of Scotch Pine were beautifully colorful.  Allergy sufferers might want to stay away, though.

The Red Oaks were also in bloom, their baby leaves more colorful than their gracefully dangling flower clusters.

Woods Hollow is near Ballston Spa, just far enough south of Glens Falls (about 25 miles) that its wildflowers bloom and fade a bit earlier down here.  While the Dwarf Ginseng was in its youthful glory up in Glens Falls, down here it was already going to seed.  I had never seen its seedheads before, so I'm glad I caught this stage of this flower in time.  Before long, every bit of Dwarf Ginseng will disappear until next spring.  Truly a "spring ephemeral!"

Well, this is one of those early small and fragrant white violets: could be Northern White, could be Sweet White. I can't tell them apart unless I ponder every part of them and cross-reference all my wildflower guides.  But today I was more interested in the little critters swarming across its leaves:  Snowfleas!  I usually find them swarming across the snow on sunny days in February, not green leaves in spring!

Here's a little closer view of these cute little bugs, unlike any other six-legged critters because of the tiny undercarriage spring that can fling them great distances.  Snowfleas are also called Springtails, and for good reason.  Do google a search for them and learn about this fascinating creature.  They do no harm to anything or anybody, except maybe the tiny bits of stuff they eat.  Here's a good site to peruse:

Do Garter Snakes eat Snowfleas?  Probably not.  At any rate, this snake would have had to have eaten an awful lot of tiny bugs to cause this big lump inside it.  More likely a frog.  Or might this be a female laden with eggs?  Do I have any herpetologists among my readers who might answer this question?

Bog Meadow Nature Trail

After realizing that many of Woods Hollow's wildflower treasures were yet to be revealed this spring, I hurried north to Saratoga and the Bog Meadow Nature Trail just east of the city.  A friend had reported that the Nodding Trillium there were already blooming, and this is a special flower I just can't miss!  And I didn't!

My super-knowledgeable botanist friend Andrew Gibson has informed me that a distinctive feature of this trillium (Trillium cernua) is the long length of the anthers' filaments, which can be seen in this closer view of this flower.  I have heard reports of this trillium disappearing from many of its previously reported sites, but I'm happy to report that it seems to be thriving along this trail.  It's possible that it could be overlooked, because of its habit of hiding its flower beneath its three broad leaves.  It also likes to grow beneath the branches of thick shrubs.

Blunt-leaved Sandwort is another flower that could be overlooked along Bog Meadow Trail, but just because it is so small.  Its bright-white flowers certainly stand out, though, against its dark-green leaves, and it tends to grow in masses, spangling the trailside.  This used to be called Arenaria lateriflora, but its scientific genus name was recently change to Moehringia.  Another common name is Grove Sandwort.

Another wee flower easily overlooked, this is Dwarf Raspberry, which also thrives along Bog Meadow Trail.  It will later have a sweet red berry.

More hidden flowers.  This one is Rose Twisted Stalk, also called Rosybells, and it hides its pretty pink bells beneath its arching stalk.  This flower grows abundantly in Cole's Woods (where it should bloom next week), but here on this trail I could only find a single specimen, no matter how hard I searched.  I hope I find it spreading over the years.

One more wee little no-count flower that most folks don't even notice -- unless they're on one of my nature walks where I urge them to pay attention!  This is Hooked Crowfoot, one of our native Buttercups.  They may be small, but see how those starry little blooms stand out against its attractive green foliage.  A common denizen of damp areas.

This same damp area where the Hooked Crowfoot thrives was a place of wondrous beauty on Sunday, with masses of Maidenhair Fern just spreading their delicate trembling fronds along a tiny creek.  One of the greatest glories of spring!

The North Woods at Skidmore College

Actually, I must confess:  I never made it to Skidmore on Sunday.  I meant to, but my aching knee was begging me to call it a day after running around for miles at Woods Hollow and Bog Meadow.  Cold damp days seem to make the pain worse.  But I know that both Wild Columbine and Miterwort are blooming everywhere now, and nowhere more gloriously than I saw them on this date last year at Skidmore.  That's when I took this photo, and that's how I bet this same site looks today.  Unless the college has continued its mania for creating more parking lots where wildflowers used to thrive.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Another Wonderful Wildflower Week!

Wow, what a week of wonderful sunny warm weather! It's chilly and rainy today (Friday), so I'm glad I got out almost every day this past week, returning home each day so tired and with so many photos to edit, I just couldn't get up the energy to post daily blogs.  But that's what cold rainy days are for, so here goes:  some highlights of where I've been wandering this week and what I found there.

Bog Meadow Nature Trail

I like to access this wooded wetland trail through a spur that enters about midway along the trail's two-mile length.  Hiking down through an upland woods, I cross a swampy area on a convenient boardwalk crowded with many wetland plants.

Sprouting now amid the Skunk Cabbage and False Hellebore leaves are the graceful uncurling fronds of Cinnamon Fern and other wetland ferns.

Two species of Equisetum (Horsetail) thrive in this swampy ground, and the Woodland Horsetail (E. sylvaticum) is distinguished by its forking branches and the crowning strobilus that grows atop some of the plants.

What a surprise to find a few Carolina Spring Beauties still in beautiful bloom! I had expected that they would be long gone, since it was several weeks ago that I spotted its first pretty pink blooms.

Finding such masses of Trout Lilies still in gorgeous bloom was another amazing discovery.  In other nearby locations, these yellow lilies had faded more than a week ago.  Obviously, this lily sure loves this place!

As one flower fades, others come into their glory.  Masses of the pale lavender Dog Violet have just begun to bloom along several sections of Bog Meadow Trail.  This species can be distinguished from the common backyard violet by the presence of stem leaves and the sharply toothed stipules that surround the leaf junctures.

I love how the dainty, snowflake-like flowers of Miterwort stand out against the dark water of the trailside brook.

I can't think of a lovelier spring wildflower than Starflower, most of which were still in tight bud, except for this marvelous example.

Whoa!  I pulled to a halt when I spied this white-flowered trillium, thinking at first that it must be the ever-more-elusive Nodding Trillium (Trillium cernua), the only white-flowered trillium I know to grow at Bog Meadow.  But when I turned it over, the red ovary and anthers distinguished it as a white variant of the Red Trillium (T. erectum), a very common species at this location.  It could also be a hybrid of the above-mentioned two species, as one of my botanist friends has suggested, since these petals are a much purer white than T. erectum usually produces.

Moreau Lake State Park

Many people are surprised to learn that Moreau Lake State Park extends all the way over the Palmertown Mountains and even across the Hudson River to include sections of the Warren County riverbank.  This week I visited the Saratoga County riverbank that belongs to the park, where I walked through the woods and along the banks, wondering if I might find some Lance-leaved Violets in their regular spot, just across the water from where I stood to take this photo.

And so I did!  As their name implies, the leaves of this species of white violet are much narrower than those of most other violets.

As I made my way around the cove to reach those violets, I found the brilliant-white blooms of Goldthread starring the darkest patches of forest floor.

Another of my favorite parts of Moreau Lake State Park is the powerline clearcut that runs along Spier Falls Road.  This open area provides the sun-warmed rocky habitat that Ovate-leaved Violets prefer, and my search for them was rewarded with several just-emerging blooms.  See how large the flower is, compared to the leaves, the whole plant hardly bigger around than a silver dollar.  One of this species' distinguishing features is the overall hairiness of its stems and leaves, pretty obvious in this photo.

I found another species of violet nearby, one of the tiny fragrant white ones.  My guess is that this is the Sweet White Violet (Viola blanda), although it might be its look-alike cousin, the Northern White (V. pallens).  Opinions invited, here.

At least I can be sure that these pretty white flowers belong to Susquehanna Sand Cherry, since I called on several botanical experts to help me identify them when I discovered this patch of them in this powerline clearcut a couple of years ago.  Not so evident from this photo, but the leaves of this species, unlike other cherries, narrow toward the base, and they are not toothed below the middle. As I approached their site, I could smell their fragrance even before I saw them, and I could hear them too, with all the loud buzzing of visiting bees.

Shenantaha Creek Park
This past Tuesday, I led a large group of interested folks from the Ecological Clearing House of Schenectady on a nature walk along the Shenantaha Creek near Malta.  We had the most exquisite spring day, soft and warm, with a lovely light falling on us through the translucent baby leaves of the forest trees. We were accompanied on our way by the music of many singing birds and the sounds of rushing water from the creek.

In places along the trail, the forest floor was almost completely carpeted with masses of Barren Strawberry.

Another abundant denizen of this woods was the dainty Solomon's Seal, whose tiny dangling green florets were just beginning to open.

Many of our participants were astounded at the abundance of Red Trillium that grow here, especially in the areas after our trail descended toward the creek banks.  And these trilliums were still in glorious colorful bloom, unlike those that have already faded in other nearby woods.

Shenantaha Creek Park is the only place I have visited in Saratoga County where we can find both common species of Toothwort growing side-by-side.    The species pictured here is Common Toothwort (Cardamine diphylla), which has shallowly toothed leaves.

Quite near to the species of Toothwort pictured above, we found abundant patches of the Cut-leaved Toothwort (C. concatenata), with its leaves very obviously more deeply lobed.  The flowers of both species are similar.

I was happy to find one of my favorite spring wildflowers, the aptly named Foamflower.

We found many other species of wildflowers, too many to include in this digest.  But I can't fail to mention the  Jack-in-the-pulpits, most of them quite a bit larger than this adorable miniature specimen.

Usher's Road Preserve

I am always eager to join my friends in the Thursday Naturalists, especially when they plan a hike north of their typical haunts around the Capital District.  I was delighted this week when they announced their plan to visit a nature preserve off Usher's Road near Clifton Park, not so far from my home in Saratoga Springs.  What a great group of wildflower enthusiasts they are, a walking library of botanical knowledge and lore, and so much fun to be with!  I can't remember what joke my friends were sharing here, but I don't think it had much to do with that green patch of Clintonia leaves on the ground in front of them.

One of our favorite finds on this outing was a splendid patch of the fungus called Dryad's Saddle.  We can find the remains of this sturdy fungus throughout the year, but this was a fresh new growth in perfect shape and color.

Along the wooded trail, we found many wildflowers in burgeoning bud, but only a few in open bloom.  The lovely Goldthread was one of those few in bloom.

The vividly pinky-purple Fringed Polygala was another wildflower we found in bloom.  On many of the nature walks I have led, participants have often commented that they had never seen this flower before, and I wonder how they could have missed it, with its vivid coloration and its tendency to grow in masses.  But then, it's also very small, each flower only about an inch long.  Another common name for this flower is Gaywings, a name I love.  I think each flower looks like a miniature airplane, propellors spinning.

In all the acres of forest we explored, we found only one or two Red Baneberry plants in bloom.  We could distinguish this flower from that of the almost identical White Baneberry by the nearly spherical shape of the inflorescence and the relatively slender pedicels.  White Baneberry has a more oblong shape to its flowerhead, and its pedicels are quite a bit chunkier.  But it sure helps to see the two species side-by-side to detect these differences.  Or have a bunch of plant experts along, as I do when I go walking with the Thursday Naturalists.

Sometimes I contribute a little something I know on these walks.  I had just commented on the fact that almost nothing grows beneath pure stands of Hemlock, and how odd it was that this is where I often find the beautiful Painted Trillium.   It was just then that one of our group spotted this  perfect example, well off the trail.  And sure enough, growing beneath a pure stand of Hemlock!  She said she probably wouldn't even have been looking for it, except for what I had told her.  Nice of her to say so!

Secret Location

I'm not going to say where I found this Goldenseal in bloom this past week.  Goldenseal supposedly has some magical medicinal quality that inspires poachers to dig it up and sell it for good money.  For this reason, the plant has been virtually extirpated from the wild across much of its range, which is tragic, especially since it's a plant that is easily cultivated.  From what I have read, there is only one place in all of Saratoga County where this plant still grows, and I visit this site each spring to make sure it is still intact.  I've also been weeding back the Garlic Mustard that has been encroaching and threatening to overwhelm it.  I'm happy to report that the Goldenseal is looking better than ever, its patch unpillaged and now expanding well into the territory once dominated by Garlic Mustard.