Saturday, August 14, 2010

Turtle Counting, Flower Finding

My friend Sue is counting turtles this summer, as part of a study conducted by the Lake George Association. Her survey area is the huge and beautiful marsh surrounding a stream that runs into the south end of Lake George at Dunham's Bay. Today she asked me along for a paddle, and I jumped at the chance. Not that I, with my bad eyesight, am likely to spot any turtles, but I figured we'd likely find something of interest along that meandering stream, and I sure was right.

First off, we did find some turtles: all of them smallish Painted Turtles who, with outstretched yellow-striped necks, saw us coming from afar and quickly slipped from their sun-bathing spots to hide beneath lily-pads in the dark shallow water. The Snapping Turtles we often find here completely eluded us.

We had a constant companion in this Great Blue Heron. He looks like he's hiding here among the cattails and pickerelweed, but as soon as our boats drew near, he lifted those long, long wings and whumped away, trailing his stilt-long legs behind. We would come upon him again and again, and every time he would take again to the air. I wondered why he didn't circle back and land behind us, where he could continue to hunt in peace.

We almost missed this Black Swallowtail Caterpillar clinging to a stalk of Bulb-bearing Water Hemlock and looking from a distance like the seedhead of Tussock Sedge. Every part of the plant this caterpillar was eating is deadly poisonous to humans. How come caterpillars can eat it with impunity? I wonder if that makes the caterpillar poisonous to its predators.

Here's another view of this creature with its spectacular coloration. I love those pointy little front feet that look like they're painted with black nail polish. In fact, every part of this caterpillar is wonderful to behold, including those circular padded side feet that look like hairy eyeballs.

We kept seeing these bright yellow daisy-like plants sticking out of the water, just one or two at first, and further upstream, masses of them. At first, I couldn't figure out how to key them out, since the number of petals was quite irregular. But a search of my Newcomb's finally revealed their identity. These are Water-marigolds (Bidens beckii, formerly known asMegalodonta beckii).

These fine, multibranched leaves that encircle the underwater stems were what clinched the identification.

This photo reveals that the above-water leaves are entirely different than those that grow underwater.

Here's a closer look at the individual florets that make up the flower's composite center, the stamens protruding from tiny tulip-shaped cups.

On one plant, a leaf held this cluster of tiny rice-shaped forms. My guess is that these are eggs, of what creature I have no idea. Anybody?

When I got home tonight, I looked on the internet for further information about Water-marigold. The USDA shows this plant as endangered, threatened, or extirpated from many surrounding states, and if this is the right variety, it is listed as "Threatened" in New York State as well. It certainly seemed to be thriving along the stream that runs into Dunham's Bay, Lake George.

Update: I asked NY State's chief botanist Steve Young about this Water-marigold's status, and he told me that it is no longer considered threatened in New York, thanks to its abundant populations in the Lake George area and several other counties around the state.


Louise said...

You know, I tend to stick to meadows, but you are inspiring me to make the trek through the woods behind my house, and go down to the bay. There is so much to be seen in the still water. I just have to figure out a way to get through the poison ivy.

squirrel said...

I love your description of the caterpillar. In fact I always enjoy your writing. Thank you for the nice trip.

-S said...

Love the caterpillar

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Thanks to Louise, squirrel, and -S for your kind comments. It pleases me to learn that you enjoy my accounts of my adventures.