Monday, August 24, 2009

Super-high Water on the Hudson

Cardinal Flower and Turtlehead keep blooming despite high water levels.

A lovely Monday, clouds and sun, not too hot. Nice day for a paddle. I entered the river from the end of Potter Road, carrying my canoe through the woods to the water. And boy, what a lot of water! The river doesn't rise this high even in spring flood. I know we've had quite a bit of rain lately, but I think there's something else at work here. There's a huge Superfund clean-up site downstream at Fort Edward, dredging up the tons and tons of PCBs General Electric dumped in the river for decades. High water has been causing havoc at the site, so I bet they're holding the water back up here behind the Sherman Island Dam. Just a guess. But whatever the reason, high water sure has played havoc with the water's-edge wildflowers.

I was hoping to find Closed Gentians along the banks, but the sites where I've found them in years before are all way under water. I did find a couple of plants high up on the bank, but not yet in bloom. Next I paddled around a point to a marsh that runs behind Three Pine Island. The marsh was a lake today, with only an inch or two of the Pickerelweed spikes showing above the surface. All around this marsh stand dozens of beaver-damaged Black Tupelos, many of which still put forth leaves and fruit this year despite their trunks being girdled. Although this tree is known to turn red much earlier in autumn than other trees, the red leaves I saw today are likely a sign that these trees are under great stress.

Many of the tupelos are already dead. Here a clump of the little mint called Northern Bugleweed has found a niche in a cluster of the still-standing trunks.

The marsh is full of long-ago-fallen trunks, which serve as nursery beds for mosses and fungi. On one such trunk I found two different orange fungi: this bright-orange slippery-looking Orange Jelly (Dacrymyces palmatus) . . .

. . . and this much smaller coral fungus called Orange-yellow Ramariopsis (Ramariopsis crocea).

I puzzled and puzzled over this star-shaped seed-head I found growing along a bank. Then I found a blossom still clinging to one plant, which clinched the ID: Fringed Loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliata). So many wildflowers, like this one, have seed-heads that are just beautiful in their own right! I'm trying to learn to recognize these plants in every season.

On my way home, I stopped for a quick quarter-circuit of Mud Pond in Moreau State Park. I was startled to find this Frostweed (Helianthemum canadense) blooming again. Then I remembered my friend Sue told me that Thoreau comments on this plant as blooming three times: early and late in the summer, and then again after frost, when the frozen sap is extruded through the stems, creating ice curls that look like petals. That's how it got its common name.

Now here's a very common weed that's easily overlooked. A tall weedy plant with leaves like dandelions', Tall Blue Lettuce (Lactuca biennis) has tiny dandelion-like flowers that are indeed pale blue. And not particularly pretty. Unless you look at them up close. Those curving pistils, sugared with pollen, look just like the curving pistils of Chicory, a close relative.

Speaking of pollen, here's a busy pollinator at work among the minute blossoms of Lance-leaved Goldenrod (Solidago graminifolia). Although this insect is colored like a bee, it seems more like a wasp to me. And look at those eyes! It looks like it has four of them. I've appealed to for an answer and will add that information when I get it. (Probably momentarily. If you ever want to ID a bug, that's the place to go.)

What did I tell you!? No sooner had I finished publishing this post than the word came through via e-mail from A knowledgeable fellow named John R. Carr suggested this might be the sawfly Tenthredo basilaris. And to judge from all the Google Images I scanned, I do believe he is right. A sawfly is a wasp, but one without a waist. Nor a stinger, either. I learn something new every day. Thanks, Mr. Carr.


Squirrel said...

I love BugGuide! It is awesome. This morning on my subway ride into DC I read from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, "…beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there." It reminded me of you and how your are there appreciating the beauty all around.

Woodswalker said...

Your comment, Squirrel, brought tears to my eyes. Annie Dillard is one of my heroes, a profoundly spiritual and observant nature writer, and a powerful influence on me. I felt very honored to be recalled in reference to her.

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