Thursday, October 28, 2010

An Easy Walk with Grand Companions

A cloudless sky, a beautiful trail, and shirtsleeve temperatures: I couldn't have asked for better conditions for a walk today . . . nor a grander group of folks to go walking with. The Thursday Naturalists is a group of friends who share not only an interest in nature, but also a vast storehouse of knowledge about it. Some are professional botanists, others are passionate amateurs, and all are eager to get outdoors and experience nature up close. And they do it often, meeting nearly every week to explore the wealth of natural areas that exist around the Capital District of New York State. I first met this group about a month ago for a trek to Woodlawn Preserve in Schenectady, and today they invited me to join them on a new section of a multi-use trail that runs through the center of Saratoga County.

The Zim Smith Trail was created through the efforts of many community and county groups to provide off-road biking and hiking opportunities. Following an old railway roadbed, the trail currently runs about nine miles from the village of Mechanicville north to the eastern edge of the village of Ballston Spa. Future plans are to have the trail continue on to connect with existing trails in the city of Saratoga Springs. The section we walked today was a recently completed stretch of about two miles that ends in Ballston Spa.

The trail got off to a beautiful start as it passed over this rushing woodland stream called Mourningkill.

Straight and wide and newly paved, the trail is safe and pleasant for bikers and runners and families with children in strollers. As well as for ambling botanizers, who like to take their time exploring the wayside. Just my kind of walking companions.

Of course, our group had to stop frequently to closely examine the flora that grew by the trail. The two women in the center of this photo, Ruth Schottman (l) and Nancy Slack, are botanists renowned throughout New York's Capital District, so walking with them is like having a whole library of botanical wisdom along. But even they were puzzled by some plants we found today. Often, when plants regrow after being mowed, they don't always grow true to type.

I was somewhat surprised to see so many flowers still in bloom, including several patches of Brown Knapweed. Larger and showier than its dreaded cousin, Spotted Knapweed, this plant is not nearly so invasive as that one is.

I had knelt down to photograph this Common Mullein leaf sparkling with dew when this beautiful dragonfly landed right before my lens. Because of its yellowish colored legs and the fact that it was flying about so late in the season, I believe that this is an Autumn Meadowhawk.

We almost stepped on this wee little garter snake, warming itself on the sunny asphalt trail. It was hardly bigger than an earthworm, so it must be very young. We were careful to place it off to the side, safely away from bicycle tires, when we released it.

We probably should have been dismayed to discover this fruit-laden Autumn Olive, alien invasive that it is, but instead our dismay was tempered by our pleasure in tasting its sweet-tart berries. Not to mention its stunning beauty.

We saved our utter dismay for this single specimen of Burning Bush, one of the worst invasives we have around here. Since we found only one, though, its threat to the native flora could be easily remedied by cutting it down. Unfortunately, nobody had a saw or an ax along.

After our walk, we all sat down to enjoy a picnic lunch, and somebody nearly sat on this Walking Stick. It promptly got passed around for all to marvel at, as it scurried from hand to hand.

How appropriate, to find a Walking Stick on this newly opened walking trail!


Louise said...

Love the walking stick. I have never seen one. Maybe next year?

Ellen Rathbone said...

Wow! What a great walking stick! A lovely day. We had an equally lovely one here, and I did go for a great walk, but left the camera in the car.

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Hi Louise and Ellen. Thanks for your comments. Walking Sticks are indeed amazing critters, so well-camouflaged that this is only the third one I have seen in all my 68-plus years, the last one just about exactly one year ago.