Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Running off to the River

Retirement is great.  I may be poorer, but I'm rich in opportunity.  A lovely summery morning?  I'm off to the Hudson instead of off to work.  How I love weekday mornings, when I have the river all to myself.  The stretch of river that runs between Spier Falls and Sherman Island dams is so pristine, with forested mountains that come straight down to the water and tumbled boulder banks where minks can hide.  If it weren't for the odd beer can and crumpled bait box (which I always throw in my boat), I could almost pretend I was the very first paddler to pass that way.

The banks were particularly lovely today, with mossy green patches strewn with Bluets (Houstonia caerulea).  Such pretty pale blue flowers, centered with yellow, they seem to float on invisible stems, holding their blooms horizontally, as if to reflect the sky.  They'll have their first full flush of bloom through May, when masses drift like stars above the grass, but I'll go on seeing a few all summer into fall, right up to frost.

The banks were also ablaze with Sweet Gale shrubs (Myrica gale).  Sweet Gale comes in male or female varieties, the male with golden pollen-bearing catkins, the female with vivid, fluffy pink pistils that looked quite radiant today in the morning sun.  Apparently, the shrubs can change their sexes from year to year.  Their leaves bear tiny dots of fragrant resin; it's delightful to crush a few leaves to inhale as you paddle by.  I've heard that these crushed leaves can also be used as an insect repellent.  Sure would smell better than DEET.  

Sweet Gale catkins (male)

Sweet Gale pistillate (female) flowers

Another fragrant plant in bloom today was Sweet Fern (Comptonia peregrina), not a fern at all but a flowering shrub related to Sweet-gale and with a similar scent when you crush the leaves.  These plants have both the male catkins and the female pistillate puff growing on the same stem.  I'd never noticed that female flower before, little bit of a thing and kind of pretty, so rosy red.

Sweet Fern, with male catkins and one red pistillate (female) puff.  Last year's leaves still curl on the stem.

Lots of birds were making music today, including two of the loveliest singers:  Winter Wren ("I sing so ch-e-e-e-e-rfully, cause I'm so ch-e-e-e-e-rful, and I'm so ch-e-e-e-e-rful that I just can't stop") and White-throated Sparrow ("Old Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody").  I also heard the bird that keeps saying, over and over again: "Pleased, pleased, pleased to meetcha."  My blog friend Nature Girl told me the name of this bird just yesterday, and I've already forgotten it.  I'll bet somebody out there knows what it is and will tell me in a comment.

Postscript:  I typed "bird song pleased, pleased, pleased to meetcha" into Google, and the answer came right away.  Chestnut-sided Warbler.  Isn't Google grand?


Candy Duell said...

What a nice ride you had today. You most certainly had a beautiful day for your ride. Tomorrow is suppost to be nice too, but much cooler. Your pictures are wonderful!

catharus said...

Hmmm....Sweet Gale....not too familiar with that one...I'll have to educate myself a bit more....thanks! Once more, lovely post and pics!

NatureGirl said...

With all the time I spent in the wetland yesterday, I'm surprised I didn't see those pink pistellate flowers on the sweet gale - they certainly are bright enough to stand out! I will have to wander back out there and look for them - I find it hard to believe that the male flowers would be scattering pollen if no females were around to benefit from it!

I'm glad you found the warbler song - I wrote you the answer this morning when I read your question at my blog - a day late and a dollar short, eh? :D

Woodswalker said...

Thanks for your comments, everyone! So glad to have you along with me on my adventures.

Regarding Sweet Gale: I noticed that there were many more male than female shrubs. I found the males last week before the females came into bloom. It's hard to find the girls until they put their fluffy red bonnets on. The one I photographed was backlit by the sun and really stood out.