Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Splendid Day, Two Wonderful Friends

Talk about blessings! I have made two of the most wonderful nature friends through this blogging business, and both of them joined me today for a paddle. And the day was like one that was made in Paradise: clear and sunny, just a light breeze but calm among the coves, and not a trace of rain or thunder. Not one. Just perfect.

Ellen Rathbone, who writes the blog Adirondack Naturalist as well as nature and gardening columns for Adirondack Almanack, and Sue Pierce, who writes the blog Water Lily, both joined me today on the river. Having these two along was like having a whole library of nature knowledge along for the ride. Any question I had about birds or bugs or plants or trees, all I had to do was holler. And I was so pleased to show them my haunts of the Hudson, a remarkable habitat that supports more varieties of flora and fauna in a concentrated area than any I've ever known. And it's also astoundingly beautiful.

Here's a frieze of reeds, standing tall amid masses of Pickerelweed, and standing out against the shadowy forest.

And here's a stand of Steeplebush, the rosy spires so splendid against the dark smooth water, with mossy rocks aglow across the bay.

The pristine white of Arrowhead was peppered with tiny black flies, who were relishing the abundance of its pollen. Or is it something else they're after? I should have asked my companions.

A quick revisit to "my" Purple Fringed Orchis proved that the blooms had fully opened. And that no one had trampled or picked it.

Blooming along the banks today was Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum), a not-particularly-beautiful flower that has a distinctive leaf structure. The lower leaves, which grow opposite each other, are joined into one, which is pierced by the stem in the middle. This appearance suggested to folks in the past that these leaves might have power as a poultice for broken bones, causing them to knit faster. Hence the name Boneset. Too bad it doesn't really work.

Ellen looks pretty happy here. Why shouldn't she? She's on vacation!

Sue had to leave by noon to go to work, but Ellen had the whole afternoon to spend with me on the river, since she's on vacation this week and next from her job as a naturalist/educator with the Adirondack Visitors' Interpretive Center in Newcomb. She has also turned over her Adirondack Almanack columns to me for the duration. Aaargh! Having to write to a deadline has brought back stressful memories of the years I worked editing periodicals. And just when I need to head to the river to relieve that stress, deadlines are calling me home to my computer. And away from my own blog. If you wonder where I went, come look for me Sundays and Wednesday and Saturday over at the Almanack. Just click on that link above. It's a great site. Go there and you can find Ellen's columns about all kinds of fascinating stuff, from porcupines to good garden poo. Plus lots of other Adirondack news.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Defying the Storm

Hazy, hot, and humid. Real summer heat came at last this week, and it's almost August. And I couldn't get to the river all week until today. And just as soon as I got there, what did I hear? Yeah, you guessed it, THUNDER! Oh no, not again! I probably should have turned right around and gone home, but I had such a hunger to get out on that water I decided to risk it. After a week, there had to be new flowers in bloom, and I just had to find them. And you know what? The storms held off anyway, until I was ready to leave.

Here's what the river banks look like now, with such a variety of flowers all crowding together. Let's see, what do we have here? I see Cardinal Flower and Golden Hedge Hyssop, Marsh St. Johnswort and Monkey Flower. Oops! Missed one. There's also one straggly stalk of Blue Vervain. (Click on the photo to see it.)

That's just at first glance. If you could see what I saw by peering closer, there you'd find tiny Clammy Hedge Hyssop (Gratiola neglecta) hiding among the stems of the larger plants.

And here's one you wouldn't have to look hard to find. Bright showy Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale) was stealing the spotlight a little further down the bank.

Just a few were blooming today, but within a week or so the river banks will be teeming with them. Before you start popping Benadryl, this flower, despite its name, does not produce allergenic pollen. Like that other showy beauty, Goldenrod, Sneezeweed gets a bum rap. It probably got its name because it blooms the same time as Ragweed, a barely noticeable flower that doesn't need to attract pollinaters because its pollen is tiny and wafts on the air (and up your nose). Sneezeweed's pollen is heavy and needs to be carried away by the bees and other insects its showy flowers attract.

The Black Huckleberry shrubs (Gaylussacia baccata) are pretty showy now, too, with all shades of ripening fruit from green to yellow to pink to dark, dark blue.

And here's some kind of gall on Swamp White Oak. (Or is this Scrub Oak?) It was growing near those huckleberries and almost seemed to mimic their color scheme. At first I thought some kid had spilled Trix on the leaves.

The thunder rumblings were coming close and the wind picked up, so I started back toward the boat launch. But I stopped to save this dragonfly that the wind had knocked to the water. I thrust my paddle under it, and it promptly clambered up. What a handsome striped jacket and jade green tail it has!

The dragonfly held its wings vertically, instead of spreading them out to the sides as they usually do. I wonder if that was because they were wet. I was struck by how iridescent they were. Will they still be so when dry?

It started to rain pretty hard, so I pulled close to shore where the overhanging trees provided shelter. After a bit, the dragonfly shook and fluttered its wings and spread them out to the side. I placed my finger near and it climbed aboard. Then I parked the dragonfly on shore, on a still-dry rock. It then flew off into the storm.

I hurried back to my car and threw my canoe on top, struggling to keep it from blowing off in the wind. That's when I discovered some jerk had stolen my tie-downs. Drat! And I'd just bought new ones! Luckily, the old ones were still in the trunk. I mean, really! Some blankety-blank #!*@#! would strand me like that, with a storm coming on, and just for a couple of straps? I guess when I spend so much time among woodland and riverbank critters, I forget what creeps human animals can be.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Grandma's Back, with Photos

I just got back from visiting my son Peter and his family in New Jersey near Philadelphia. I'm so swamped right now with household duties I can't get out to the woods or the river. So I'm going to be like the doting grandma I am and post pictures of my grandkids. I'll pretend they're some kind of wildlife. I only wish I saw them more often near Saratoga's woods and waterways, and not traffic-jammed hours and hours on the New Jersey Turnpike away.

My son Peter Donnelly is a founding member of the rock band The Figgs and also plays bass in the Terry Adams Rock and Roll Quartet. He's also a doting dad and a loving husband to beautiful Sharla St. Rose. A native of St. Lucia who grew up in Brooklyn, Sharla holds the job with the family's health insurance. Every rocker should be so lucky.

Maya Elizabeth is now 3, a smart and lively bundle of cuteness who never stops. Except to eat cherries. That's a cherry pit between her teeth.

Sean Pierre is now 1 and about as adorable as a baby boy can be. He's as calm as his sister is lively and as sweet as the watermelon he loves to eat.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Quick Trip to the River

Just a quick trip to the Hudson today, to explore the banks on foot. I'm off to Philadelphia for the weekend tomorrow, to visit my son and his family, and I wanted to check on that Purple Fringed Orchis I found last week. Some folks were illegally camping near by it last Sunday, and I was hoping it hadn't been picked or trampled. Oh happy day, it was fine!

A few more tiers of blossoms have opened, so it's getting pretty showy. Dangerously so. The more eyes that see a beautiful flower, the more fingers itch to pick it. Or even worse, dig it up to plant in gardens at home. Certain death, of course, for an orchid. By the way, I revisited that island today, where all those orchids were mowed a few years back, and wonder of wonders, I counted five of them making a comeback. Hooray!

In a week, the river banks will teem with glorious bloom. A few Cardinal Flowers show their blazing red even now, but soon masses of them will follow. Spotted Joe-Pye Weed (Eupatorium maculatum) is just about to open its buds. And its buds are just as pink and pretty as its flowers.

This gooseberry bush bloomed long ago, but its reddening leaves looked striking against the lichen on this rock.

And how about this slime mold! Glowing like a lamp in the dark woods, it was, or so it seemed, with its brilliant yellow. (Sorry, but I can't identify it by its scientific name.)

Here's a close-up of that slime mold. Maybe someone out in webland knows its name. In the meantime, I think I'll file this photo under "slime mold, scrambled egg."

I'll be off the web for a couple of days, as well as out of the woods. I'll be getting my nature fixes from such wildlife as my grandkids: Tayla, 12; Maya, 3; Sean, 1. And maybe a little rock and roll, since rock and roll is what my son does for a living. Rock on!

Update (8/06): As the comments to this post reveal, an informed reader has ID'd this slime mold as Fuligo septica. When I sought more information about it, I discovered that its common name is "Scrambled Eggs Slime Mold." Well, of course! I also learned that slime molds are not fungi at all, and that they are so distinctive they've earned a kingdom all their own. How about that?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

What's Blooming at Skidmore Today?

A whole afternoon without rain! Whatever shall we do!? Well, I scooted out to Skidmore to check out some plants that my journal told me should be in bloom. And indeed they were. Wish I could show them to you. You'll have to take my word that Lopseed (Phryma leptostachya) and Pointed-leaved Tick Trefoil (Desmodium glutinosum) are blooming today, because my camera just would not focus on them in the dim light of the woods.

However, another tick trefoil, one called Large-bracted Tick Trefoil (D. cuspidatum), was blooming away in the sunlight, so I was able to take its picture. We have lots of different tick trefoils in Saratoga County, most of which have pink flowers. This one has flowers more purple than all the others.

Speaking of purple, just look at this sunflower stem!

As close as I can determine, it belongs to the Pale-leaved Sunflower (Helianthus strumosus), one of several woodland sunflowers now blooming at Skidmore Woods.

Their flowers all look pretty much alike, so it's quite a puzzle to tell them apart. The leaves of this one are indeed pale on the back, and rough on both sides, but no guide book ever mentions the vivid purple of its stem. They mention a "bloom," but hey, this color is more remarkable than that.

Here are some more sunflowers, these called Woodland Sunflower (Helianthus divaricatus). Their tapering, very short-stalked leaves are diagnostic, but otherwise, they look much like any other sunflower from any distance. Cheerful. Sunny.

Sharing that sunlit space was lots and lots of Wild Marjoram (Origanum vulgare). Its fragrant leaves taste and smell much like the variety that grows in herb gardens, which is probably where this non-native Mint Family plant escaped from.

What do you think this grass is called? You guessed it, Bottlebrush Grass! I don't know its Latin name, but its common name is certainly right on.

And here's another St. Johnswort: Hypericum punctatum. See all the little black dots on its leaves? (Click on the photo to see them.) Its common name is Spotted St. Johnswort, another common name that seems just right.

I'm afraid this may be the last time I find this plant, which in past years grew abundantly in a sunny, rocky area under a power line. Here near the Skidmore Woods but nowhere else in my searches around the county. But surrounding vegetation is now encroaching, and this year I found just this one plant. Guess I'll have to widen my search horizons. If anyone knows where else it grows in Saratoga County, please let me know.

Through the Woods to the Beach

Although it was sprinkling when I climbed into my car, the weatherman promised the sky would clear by midday. So off to Moreau Lake State Park I went, to see what might be in bloom in the woods and along the sandy shore of the quiet side of the lake.

I have never seen so many Indian Pipes in all my life. Everywhere I looked in the woods there were bunches and bunches of these ghostly little plants that look like they're carved out of wax. They've been blooming for weeks now and look like they'll never stop. They must really love this rainy cool summer. Makes sense, since they depend upon fungus to thrive, and fungus usually loves it damp.

Not quite as numerous as the Indian Pipe, but still abundant in the dark woods today was Striped Wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata). Its flower looks very much like its cousin Pipsissewa's, but its leaves are beautifully patterned dark green and cream.

The sun did indeed peek through the clouds as I stepped from the woods to the sandy shore of the lake. There I found Indian Tobacco (Lobelia inflata), a pretty little pale-blue lobelia. I don't know if Indians smoked this plant. I've read that its leaves are toxic. Perhaps it got its name from the way its calyxes become inflated as the seeds ripen, looking like little tobacco pouches.

And here's another of our native St. Johnsworts, this one called Canada St. Johnswort (Hypericum canadense). I put my hand in the photo to show how small it is, almost as small as Dwarf St. Johnswort, but this one is distinguished by its much more slender leaves. Those are its leaves sticking up between my fingers on the left. Also note its dark red seedpods, another distinctive feature.

Pretty Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea) is now in bloom. Its staminate yellow tufts are surrounded by dry, pearly-white petal-like bracts that resemble miniature Peonies. Its foliage has a pearly cast as well, pale green leaves with a whitish bloom. These flowers can be dried for winter bouquets.

I love the spiky little seedpods of Wild Licorice (Galium circaezans). These tiny Sputniks are far more interesting to look at than this plant's almost invisible four-petaled flowers. I wonder how this plant got its name. It's a bedstraw, a member of the Madder Family, and not related to the licorice-tasting anise plants, which are members of the Parsley Family.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Hidden Jewels

Some days I just can't get out to the woods or off to the river. Household duties kept me homebound today, but I still got my nature fix by revisiting my old photo files for this date. Here are some of the beauties I might have found today if I'd gone out. Better to put them up on view as have them stay hidden in computer files.

A few posts back, I posted a photo of a fungus I thought looked just like a baby's bottom. This one looks even more so. Or maybe Rubens's babes' bottoms.

It's not just flowers that are beautiful out there. How about these cherry-red strawberry stems?

Or these of Red Maple, glowing in the light?

The Swamp White Oak is still sprouting baby leaves this late in summer. Aren't they adorable?

This looks like a big red berry, but it's really a gall, with some little larvae inside. It's called a Blueberry Stem Gall, and it's growing on Low Blueberry.

Clintonia's bright blue berries show why this plant is also called Bluebead Lily. They're sharing the frame with Sensitive Fern and Wild Geranium leaves. I see a little Virginia Creeper and maybe some Dewberry, too.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

A Fine Day, a Good Friend, Wonderful Finds

A sweet lazy day on the river, made for just kicking back

A fine sunny day today, so back to the Hudson I went, this time with my canoe and my friend Sue and her kayak. We hauled our boats through the woods to put in near Bear's Bathtub, a sheltered area away from the open river where the banks are blooming now with all kinds of wildflowers. I wanted to check on the Smaller Purple Fringed Orchis I found in bud a few days ago, so we paddled over to a nearby bay where we found the first two blossoms just opening. I was really happy to have my suspicions confirmed. I'll come back to see it again when this lovely orchid is in full bloom.

Why am I making these pilgrimages to visit one only slightly showy flower? Well, just because I found this orchid here this year, doesn't mean it will grow here next year. Orchids are notorious for appearing and disappearing, and for reasons botanists don't yet understand. They guard their reproductive secrets well.

Sue is a devoted follower of Henry David Thoreau, who had a special love for Sweet Flag (Acorus calamus), so of course I wanted to show her the patch that grows in a quiet bay just above Sherman Island Dam. A widespread but not very common plant of shallow water, Sweet Flag has been sought after by people all over the world for various medicinal, as well as confectionary, reasons. Some folks have claimed it has aphrodisiac powers, a use suggested by its spadix's resemblance to . . . well, just look at it!

Supposedly, it's the rhizomes of Sweet Flag that contain all the medicinal and aromatic compounds, but I wasn't going to dig them up to find out. I did pop a spadix in two, just to look at its structure, which reminded me a bit of corn on the cob. I tasted a kernel or two and was surprised by the pungent piney flavor.

We were paddling around an island when Sue pointed to large yellow flowers and asked, "Could those be Jerusalem Artichokes?" Well, I didn't think they could be, since that's a flower that blooms pretty late in summer. And they weren't Tall Coneflowers, either, which also don't bloom until later. So I hauled ashore and hopped out of my boat to take a closer look. Holy mackerel! (I said) Look what we have here! They were Great St. Johnswort (Hypericum pyramidatum), a flower that's endangered or threatened or believed extirpated in many northeastern states, and one I found around here just once maybe ten years ago and never again since. What a find! Thanks, Sue, for pointing them out. I probably would have paddled right on by.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Through Dark Woods to a Sunlit Marsh

Cardinal Flowers love this damp sunny spot on the banks of the Hudson River

Whadda ya know? It didn't rain this afternoon. So I headed up to the Hudson River, but not to put in my canoe. Today I decided to walk through the woods to a marsh, tracing the same path I took many times last winter on my snowshoes. And let me tell you, two or three feet of snow on the ground make for much easier going (on snowshoes) than scrambling over downed trees and mossy rocks and scratching my shins on twigs. And oh, was it dark in there! Lots of hemlock trees, plus the closed-in canopy, and dark earth instead of white snow. There were dozens of colorful mushrooms, but not one could I photograph in the dim light, until a pinpoint of sun pierced through and lit up this little Amanita Muscaria like a glowing lamp.

The goal of my trek through the woods was to find a Green Wood Orchis (Habenaria clavellata). I had found one a year ago, but my hopes today weren't high, since this is a very small orchid the same color as the moss it grows out of, and I hadn't noted exactly the spot where I'd found it. Plus, my eyesight is far worse this year than last. But lo and behold! There it was! And not one, but at least nine of them! They were growing close to a woodland stream where a log fell across the water and a huge root mass from a fallen tree loomed a dozen or so feet away. (This time I'm noting exactly where I found them.) This photo is the best my stubborn little camera would do in dim light (Darn! but it would not focus!), but at least you can see its distinctive spur, long and slender and curved.

My path through the dark woods led to an open, sunny area close to the river, where brilliant Cardinal Flowers shared their damp turf with Meadowsweet, Steeplebush, Boneset, Monkey Flower, and Buttonbush. Here I also found Marsh St. Johnswort (Hypericum virginicum) in bloom -- a seemingly rare event. I find these plants all over the Hudson banks, their leaves often startlingly pink or coral or burgundy red, but only now and then do I find them in bloom. A real treat when I do, they are so beautiful. Our only pink St. Johnswort.

The next flower I found is not rare at all, but I'll bet it is rarely seen. It's called Water Purslane (Ludwigia palustris), and its pretty green leaves and reddish stems sprawl wherever the ground is damp and sunny. But its flowers are really, really tiny and hidden among its leaves, where they grow, two at a time, from the leaf axils. Not particularly beautiful, but still, I rejoiced the first time I found them, hidden treasure that they are.

Now, Larger Blue Flag (Iris versicolor) is abundant along these shores in late May. But what's it doing still in bloom in July? Delighting my eyes, for one thing, and granting a little surprise.

As I pushed through the waist-high sedges here, all kinds of critters hopped and scurried and slithered away down around my invisible feet. Frogs and snakes, I imagine, and I think I caught a glimpse of a shrew. How frustrating that they hurried away, so I couldn't take their pictures. But one critter landed in view, on a Buttonbush leaf, and I'd never seen a fly (?) so beautiful. Its whole body was bright orange, with shiny, coal-black head and wings. It stayed just long enough for one quick shot. Anyone know its name? (See postscript below.)

Then a crowning touch for a wonderful afternoon: this beautiful Little Wood Satyr (Euptychia cymela) lit long enough for me to enjoy every shade of its soft lovely colors. Thank you, dear butterfly.

Postscript: I submitted that orange bug's photo to a website called "Bug Guide" and received a very prompt response from a gentleman named John R. Maxwell. He identified it as an Argid Sawfly (Arge humeralis). Sawflies are members of the Hymenoptera, which includes wasps and bees, so this is a sort of wasp, not fly, but one without a narrow waist, nor a stinger. Female sawflies have saw-like ovipositors, which they use to cut slits in leaves where they lay their eggs. Thank you, Mr. Maxwell.