Monday, June 29, 2009

A Free Ride for a Walk in Moreau State Park

The sunlit shore of a quiet pond at Moreau Lake State Park
Oh what the heck! I'll pay the six bucks. Or whatever it costs to get into a state park these days. That's what I said to myself today as I drove to Moreau Lake State Park. I can access the park for free any day by parking along the Hudson River and hiking in. But I wanted to visit the trail I helped clear on Trails Day this year, and I didn't feel like climbing a mountain to get there. So I drove up to the gate prepared to pay the entry fee, but the gatekeeper took one look at me and guessed I would qualify for the "golden-ager pass" -- free entry for us oldies except on weekends and holidays. Well, that was a pleasant surprise! Our New York taxes at work, and on something I'm happy to pay them for, for a change.

The trail in question is in a less-trafficked part of the park, away from the summer crowds of swimmers and campers. It runs through the woods and down to the edge of a quiet pond, with stretches of easy walking along the pond's sandy shore. And oh! it was dragonfly heaven there today! But kind of hell for someone who wanted to photograph these perpetual-motion zoomers. They'd taunt me by landing on blades of grass, and I'd just get the shot all framed and focused and zip! off they'd go. So, boy, was I delighted to get these two: almost a matching set, with similar dark spots and splashes on their wings, wings veined and paned in the same color as their body stripes. But one is bright yellow, the other bright red. Are they different sexes of the same species? Or two different dragonflies altogether? I'll bet somebody out there knows.

Note that this dragonfly's wings are mullioned and paned
with the same bright yellow as its body.

And this one's wings are made of the same bright red.

Lots of other insects were buzzing about today, too. My hands got covered with deerfly bites as I held real still to focus on these amorous long-horned flower beetles enjoying their rose-scented lovers' nest. I wonder if they ever get their antennae tangled up?

A rose-scented bower for these two love bugs

The sunlit edge of the pond was abloom with lots of flowers, including one I've been searching for for years: Racemed Milkwort (Polygala polygama). If you look real close, you can see that its small (1/4 inch) flowers, clustered at the top of its leafy stem, are like miniature versions of its much larger milkwort cousin, Fringed Polygala (P. paucifolia), also known as Gaywings. These pretty magenta flowers, which I last found in Massachusetts at least six years ago and never in New York State, were blooming all over the sandy shore.

Racemed Milkwort, with flowers like tiny Gaywings mounting the stem

The trail also passes through deep dark woods, where very few flowers manage to bloom this time of year. I did find some Striped Wintergreen and Pipsissewa just setting buds, but it will still be a week or more before they bloom. And then I found this splendid patch of Indian Pipe (Monitropa uniflora), pale and translucent, a ghostly presence in the forest. Also called Corpse Plant, this plant does not produce its own food with green leaves, but feeds indirectly off the roots of surrounding green plants, with the aid of fungi that live in the soil. John Eastman, author of The Book of Forest and Thicket, writes that "Botanists of an earlier generation, convinced that nature had made a bad mistake, deplored this strange little perennial for its 'degenerate morals.' How dare a seed plant give up being green and become a parasite!"

A sunbeam pierced the dark of the woods to light up this Indian Pipe.

Gosh, I hope no one feels that way about us freeloading old ladies who get into state parks for nothing. But only on weekdays.

8 comments:

ss said...

I've really been enjoying your blog. I admire native plant knowledge and feel a bit envious of it as I read here.

You truly startled me the other day at the Hudson Boat Launch. To date, you're the only person I've met to have immediately identified a Lapstrake canoe. Later that day, I did some research on your Black Jack - what a beauty!

My partner and I are planning on a one to two night overnight downriver (camping) trip this coming weekend. Given the holiday weekend, we're looking for something class I - II and remote enough to escape the crowds. Any ideas? Scott (syrynga@gmail.com)

Woodswalker said...

Great to hear from you, Scott! The reason I knew about lapstrake boats is that I was born in a boatyard where my dad sold Boston Whalers. I had never seen a lapstrake canoe like the one you had built. I imagine it handles whitewater well. I only take my Black Jack on flatwater, where my thrills come from moving very slowly and seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting the stuff I find along the banks. So I have no personal experience with rapids and can't advise about them. Adirondack Mountain Club publishes guides for paddlers; you might look at some of them.

Tom said...

Jackie- Looks like you've got female and male calico pennants, the male is the bright red one.

Tom

Kristine said...

so happy to be part of the elder generation, where in eastern philosophies are revered for their wiseness! unlike the Alaskans who put theirs on an iceflow in the spring!

Ellen Rathbone said...

Dang - beat me again! Yes, the red is a male and the yellow either female or juvenile Calico Pennent dragonflies (Celithemis elisa) - Skimmer Family.

Bird said...

Those dragonflies are spectacular! I commiserate with you on trying to photograph them, they are SUCH teases, but you got some real beauties there.

The Indian Pipes are truly fascinating, and I love the little story about them being considered "degenerate!"

Lindsey said...

You helped clear a trail on Trails Day at Moreau Lake?! With the group of Boy Scouts?! I did too!

Anonymous said...

Love your BLOG, it is wonderful to read and your knowledge of botany is astounding, and the images area amazing. Amateur Botanist here, will be following you and learning so much! Not even sure how I landed on your page, but it has been a pleasure to read and learn.

Wannabe from Ottawa, Canada ;)