Sunday, October 22, 2017

A Whole Week of Wonderful Wanderings!

Day after day after day after day . . . ! One warm and sunny blue-sky day after another this past week! And lucky for me, I have so many beautiful places to spend them in right here in Saratoga County, from woodland ponds to rolling hills to quiet rivers to mountain trails to tree-lined lakeshores. (Not to mention that Adirondack pond I posted about last time, which is also in Saratoga County.)  Here's just a sampling of some of the lovely places I've wandered and some of the fascinating things I've seen in just this past week.

Mud Pond at Moreau Lake State Park

The trail around Mud Pond makes for an easy hike with no huffing and puffing up hills or scrambling over rocky ascents, just a pleasant leaf-kicking stroll through a mixed hardwood/conifer forest with glimpses of the quiet pond through the trees.  Well, not such a quiet pond these days, with flocks of migrating waterfowl in constant motion and noisy conversation as they come skidding in or flapping away. There's even a great bird blind on the shore, where birders can search among the flocks of Canada Geese for the possibility of rarer waterfowl.

Compared to other years, the autumn foliage around the pond is not as vivid as we've seen it before, but Maple-leaved Viburnum never disappoints, with its pinky-coral, purple-tinged leaves just as intensely colored as ever.

The Witch Hazel, though, seems a little more stingy with flowers this year. Branches normally thickly clustered with yellow flowers were offering only a few isolated blooms.

There are patches of Downy Rattlesnake Plantain along the trail, their spikes of little white orchids long spent but their clusters of vividly patterned curvaceous green leaves as lovely as ever.

The Hudson River above the Sherman Island Dam

I'm glad I haven't stored my canoe in the cellar quite yet, for the Hudson now offers some of the prettiest paddles of the year.  I come down through the woods to launch my boat where the river runs behind a small island, with forested mountains rising from the far banks of the open river beyond.

This section of the Hudson features quiet coves where the still water offers rippling reflections of sunlit trees in their autumn colors.

Here where the river's humidity tempers our northern climate somewhat, a few Flowering Dogwood trees decorate the shore, offering big snowy-white blooms in the spring and lipstick-red leaves and berries in autumn.

Even if our With Hazel shrubs aren't offering as many flowers this fall, they certainly aren't holding back on their beautiful lemon-yellow leaves, their splendor doubled by shimmering reflections where they lean over the dark water.

The rolling hills above Spier Falls Road

I pretend I don't see the "No Trespassing" sign when I climb up to witness these rolling hills that lie beneath a power line fed by the hydroelectric dam across the road.  I find this billowing landscape so dramatically beautiful, I gladly risk potential reprimand as I squeeze around the gate that attempts to prevent me from wandering here.

Every year, these hills and valleys and the woods that surround them take on different colors.  In other years (click here to see one example), the meadows of Little Bluestem Grass have appeared more pink than the apricot hue they've assumed this year, and the patches of Hay-scented Fern have appeared more lime-green than this year's cinnamon-brown.  Our autumn colors overall are more muted this year, but there's no denying they still display a beauty all their own.  Even these spent flower heads of Wild Bergamot add their own charm to the landscape.

The trail that leads to this splendid vista is littered now with the yellow leaves of Quaking Aspen, almost every one of which displays the green patches caused by a small moth larva that resides within the leaves.  This tiny larva exudes a chemical that preserves the chlorophyll in the otherwise dying leaf, which allows the larva to continue feeding on living leaf tissue until it is ready to pupate.

I have seen these "undead" Aspen leaves referred to as "zombie" leaves, so it almost seemed appropriate to come upon this deer skull lying nearby in the grass.  It's much more likely, of course, that a coyote, not a zombie, has eaten this poor deer's brains, but that alternative would make for a good Halloween story, wouldn't it?

The Red Oak Ridge Trail at Moreau Lake State Park

It's called the Red Oak Ridge Trail, but I've always thought a better name would be the Golden Glow Trail, especially this time of year, when the leaves of Hickories and Sugar Maples turn their vibrant yellow and cast a golden light throughout the woods.  My pal Sue joined me for a hike there this week, and I was very glad to have her eagle eyes along.  We were on the hunt for any sign of the little orchid called Late Coralroot, and I'm sure that, left to my own devices (meaning my very poor eyesight), I never would have seen these golden pods dangling from ruddy stems along the bank of a tiny creek.  This orchid's flowers are past blooming, but even when newly in bloom, they don't look much different, except for a single tiny frill of a spotted white petal peeking out at the bottom of each pod.

These Broad Beech Ferns were much easier to see.  As their fronds had faded from bright green to ghostly white, they really stood out against the colorful mosaic of fallen leaves.

Here was a sight neither Sue nor I had ever seen before!  We expect to see the leaves of Maple-leaved Viburnum turn a vivid pinky-coral each fall, but never had we seen them with bright-pink polka dots scattered across the still-green leaves.  Pretty!

The tree-lined shore of Moreau Lake

That Red Oak Ridge Trail eventually descends to the back bay of Moreau Lake, where we found many trees in their splendid autumn colors reflected in the water.  We enjoyed the warmth of the bright sun as we made our way along the sandy shore.

As we continued on around the bay, we eventually could look across the water to see the mountain we had just descended, backed by a pure blue sky.

This tree-lined trail that separates the back bay from the lake's main body is one of the prettiest walks in the park, especially when bathed in the stained-glass colors of autumn.

Truly, a glorious day for a lakeside walk!

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Beautiful Day, Beautiful Pond

Wednesday this week was as close to perfect an autumn day as one could ever hope for: bright and clear, with just enough snap in the air to call for a sweater in the morning, but offering the promise of warmth as the sun climbed high in a sapphire-blue sky.  And what better way to spend such a day than with good pals paddling a perfectly lovely Adirondack pond?  I'm so glad my pals Nancy and Kathy thought that way, too, and so we met on the shore of Archer Vly near the hamlet of Lake Desolation in northern Saratoga County, each of us with our own little boat.

Since the shadows still held the chill of the night before, we were drawn toward the warmth of the sunny side of the lake, where emergent bur-reeds glowed in a golden fringe beneath a mixed forest of colorful hardwoods and conifers.  The vivid red of Red Maples was punctuated by the deep green of Balsam Fir, White Pine, and Red Spruce.

Archer Vly is a narrow pond with a basically east-west orientation, so as we rounded the eastern end of the pond and continued along the north-facing southern shore, we entered the shade of seldom-sunlit Hemlocks.  Standing out from the dark of that Hemlock shore were stands of a grass-fine sedge called Carex lasiocarpa, with fine, arching stems that caught and held the sunlight, glittering gold as they swayed in a gentle breeze.

The north-facing shore is much rockier than the south-facing shore, with large boulders rising directly from the water's edge, providing a home for many beautiful mosses and other shade-loving plants.

One of those shade-loving plants is Stiff Clubmoss  (Lycopodium annotinum), which was holding its golden sporangia stiffly above its spiky evergreen leaves.  This particular clubmoss is found only in the colder regions of North America, and at higher altitudes, designations that certainly fit the mountainous area around Archer Vly, where winter temperatures can plunge to 30 below.

Here was another moss we found, a really lovely one with very fine leaves.  I am not familiar with its name, but Nancy, who is an expert bryologist, took samples home to investigate, so I'm hoping she can identify it for us.  I will try to come back to add an update when I know.

The shoreline here was carpeted with many of the forest-floor species that thrive in a northern woodland.  The heart-shaped leaves of Dalibarda are here intermingled with the three-lobed ones of Goldthread on this mossy bank.

Where the water lapped against the banks, we found abundant stands of Narrow-leaved Gentian, their beautiful blue flowers now replaced by golden seed-pods.

Those Gentian seed-pods readily spilled their multitudinous seeds with just a touch of the pods.

The last time I paddled here, in late July, the southern shoreline was abloom with more Small Green  Wood Orchids (Platanthera clavellata) than I had ever seen in my life.  So I was sure I would find at least some of their seed pods now.  But, boy, it wasn't easy to spot them, so thin and brown they were now.  But I did find a few. (If you click the link highlighted above, you can see what they looked like in bloom.)

As we neared our put-in spot, we were sad to reach the end of our paddling adventure, but glad to get up to stretch our legs once more and then find a sunny spot to enjoy our picnic lunches.

How's this for a sunny spot to enjoy our picnic lunches?

What a beautiful view we had of this pretty pond, rendered especially exquisite by that radiant blue sky and the vivid colors of shoreline trees!

Here's one more spot of exquisite beauty that I found today,  while waiting to meet my friends near a garden that still offered nectar-filled blooms to a visiting Painted Lady.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Sunday Lunch on the River

Sunday was such a summery day, with a  bright blue sky and lots of brilliant sunshine -- a perfect day for lunch on the porch of Upriver Cafe in Lake Luzerne.  It was warm enough to relax in shirtsleeves out on the porch, never needing to avail ourselves of the warm shawls the restaurant provides for diners eating outdoors this time of year.

Not only is the food terrific at this riverside restaurant, the spacious porch offers spectacular views of the Hudson River at one of its most dazzling sections, where the entire river plunges through a rocky gorge at Rockwell Falls.  After lunch, my husband and I made our way down to the rocks to experience close-up the power of the waterfall.

The gorge must be no more than 20 feet across where the entire volume of the river plunges with an impressive roar, sending plumes of mist into the air.

My husband, being a physicist, is also fascinated by the fluid dynamics evident in the swirling, rippling currents of the water  above the falls.

Both of us marveled at the perfectly round kettle holes the power of that water,  swirling loose stones that act like drills, has created in the rocks that line the shore here.  Some are as capacious as bathtubs, while others are as small as a soup pot.

This large, green-eyed dragonfly was also enjoying this summery day, loathe to leave the leaf he was basking on, even when I moved in close to take a photo.  I guessed from the wide-spaced eyes and the bulge at the end of his abdomen that this was a clubtail dragonfly, but I needed the experts at to inform me that this was a male Arrow Clubtail (Stylurus spiniceps).  This species is common in northern New York, but it prefers rivers to lakes as its usual habitat.  So this dragonfly, my husband, and I were all where we wanted to be on a lovely autumn afternoon along the Hudson.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Lake Bonita, Rain and Shine

This past Monday was not the nicest day for a walk around Lake Bonita at Moreau Lake State Park: it poured rain the whole way around.  But I was due to lead a group of nature lovers from the Ecological Clearing House of Schenectady (ECOS) the following day, so I wanted to check the trail for what there was to see.  So I donned my rain gear and sloshed along muddy trails around the lake, which was lovely even through the pouring rain.

Happily, Tuesday dawned bright and clear and stayed that way the whole time our group was enjoying our walk around the lake.  When I lead a group on a nature walk, I rarely take the time to take photographs, but I did manage to snap this one, showing the lovely autumn colors reflected in the still blue water.  Our group was small, and not everyone completed the circuit around the lake, but those who participated expressed their delight in discovering that such a pretty little unspoiled mountain lake was now accessible to the public.

I did take photos on my preview walk, stopping often to enjoy the scenic shoreline, where trees hung over the water and little islands stood just off-shore.  The pouring rain added a misty quality to the scene.

In my write-up for the ECOS program, I described the trail as somewhat "rugged," narrow and rocky in places, mostly level but with occasional ups and downs and one long hill leading from the parking lot down to the trail that looped around the lake.  If I lead this trip again, I think I will emphasize the steepness and ruggedness more, for some of our group found the trail hard going, and one turned back quite shortly after we had begun our descent downhill over rocks and roots and a few muddy spots.  The complete circuit runs about two miles, a distance I covered in under two hours on my preview run (stopping often to take photographs), but which took us closer to four to complete on Tuesday, what with our stopping to discuss our finds along the way.

I advised our group that we would see few flowers this time of year, especially in the nearly pure hemlock woods of the north-facing slope where we began our walk.  But we certainly saw lots of pretty mosses.  This one with the graceful leaves that all look as if they had been swept in one direction is a Dicranum species called Broom Moss.

Here are two more:  the little green starbursts are Haircap Moss (Polytrichum commune), and the one that looks like tiny Christmas trees is called Brocade Moss (Hypnum imponens).

Here's more of that Haircap Moss curving atop a patch of Sphagnum Moss.

We saw lots of Sphagnum, including large patches of it along the banks and spreading into wetlands that reached back into the woods.  I explained that the Sphagnum had played a vitally important role in creating Lake Bonita's acidic habitat, which supports a large variety of special plants that thrive in acidic soils.  Most of those acid-loving plants grow out on the scattered islands that dot the lake, but a few can also be found on Sphagnum banks along the shore.  Sphagnum is the moss that forms the basis of what we call "peatlands," whether they are bogs or fens.

At first glance, this glossy green stuff that was covering many boulders sure looks like a moss.  But instead, it is a liverwort, called Bazzania trilobata.  It happens to be a very common liverwort with a name that is fun to say, so I had fun shouting out "Bazzania!" each time I saw it adorning many of the trailside rocks.  Which was quite often.

When we first began our walk through a nearly-pure hemlock woods, I pointed out the dearth of understory trees and shrubs that would otherwise be found if this were a mixed hardwood/conifer woods.  This dearth could be caused by the darkness beneath the hemlock canopy, as well as by the tannin in the soil from all the hemlock needles.  But as we approached the edge of the lake, where more light entered the woods, we began to find shrubs like this Hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides), with leaves turned a beautiful shade of autumn gold.

And right at the water's edge was where we could find many of the shrubs that typically grow in peatlands.  These twigs on the branches of Leatherleaf shrubs (Chamaedaphne calyculata) contain both seedpods from this year's flowers as well as buds that will develop into next spring's flowers.

Here is another common denizen of peatlands, a glossy-leaved shrub called Sheep Laurel (Kalmia angustifolia).  It will have lovely pink flowers in the spring.

From the shore, we could see some of the little islands that dot the lake, islands that are covered with Sphagnum, which supports the growth of such peatland plants as Pitcher Plants, Sundews, and many others, including the lovely native orchid called Rose Pogonia.  In order to protect the water quality of this long-isolated lake, Moreau Lake State Park has banned all boating from the lake, but I was granted a permit to paddle out to these islands last summer to conduct a plant survey.  To see some of the beautiful flowers and blooming shrubs I found, click here to visit my blog post about that survey.

Because of a patch of Sphagnum that cushions a trailside bank, we found the distinctive vase-shaped leaves of several Pitcher Plants along the shore.  This plant obtains some of its nutrients by digesting insects that become trapped within the water-filled leaves.

Compared to the north-facing hemlock woods where our trail began, we found more Red Maples and White Pines as we rounded the lake and proceeded along the south-facing shore, which receives much more direct sunlight.

Probably the most remarkable tree we found was a full-grown American Chestnut.  Although we found no bristly nuts growing on its branches or littering the ground beneath, just last year I found this same tree producing those nuts.  It's rare to find such mature chestnut trees, and it's likely that this one will also succumb to the blight that has basically eliminated this native tree from our northeastern forests.  At least we got to see it in its glorious autumn foliage.

Now our American Beech trees are beginning to succumb to a blight of their own.   Although we found numerous beech trees along our trail -- some healthy but many not -- we also found the strange little flower called  Beech Drops even when we could locate no standing beeches nearby.  Since this flower is parasitic on the roots of beeches, they must still be feeding on the roots of beech trees that remain in the ground even after the original tree has fallen and rotted away.

It was obvious, however, that many American Beeches in this woods were healthy enough to produce an ample crop of nuts, since we found many of the bristly hulls littering the forest floor.

I was surprised we found so few mushrooms on Tuesday, considering the day-long rain we'd had the day before.  But we did find a few, including this Orange Jelly Fungus, vivid on the damp wood of a mossy fallen log.

Another fungus we found adorning fallen logs was this colorful Purple-toothed Polypore, with its rims of purple edging the brown-striped caps.  Green Algae added its own color to the caps.

Most abundant of all were the tiny Marasmius mushrooms scattered by the hundreds across the forest floor, their minute white caps topping dark wiry stalks.  This is a fungus that will disappear when the leaf litter dries, and will then sprout up again after the next drenching rain.

I was truly happy to lead a few folks from ECOS around Lake Bonita, a wonderful addition to the miles of woodland and lakeside trails offered within Moreau Lake State Park.  Perhaps a few of the folks I met on Tuesday will return to enjoy this natural treasure on some other beautiful day.