Sunday, October 31, 2010

Bog Hopping on Halloween

Happy Halloween!

When you're not afraid of snakes or spiders, and you find dead critters or piles of poop more fascinating than icky, it's hard to think of anything really creepy to photograph for a Halloween greeting. That's why Sue and I went to a bog this afternoon.

A bog should be kind of creepy, right? With all that oozy muck underfoot and the skeletons of dead trees standing stark against a leaden sky? But despite a truly leaden sky and even some spitting snow showers today, the bog was as cheerful as Christmas, with Leatherleaf shrubs all bright red and green,

and the Tamarack needles turning bright gold before they drop.

I guess this Russula mushroom might look a little bit Halloweeny, round as it is and colored Jack-o-lantern orange.

And this other THING, all damp and brown and hairy-looking, does look more like a creepy crawly than the mushroom I'm guessing it is. (It was like an upside-down mushroom, with its undersides smooth and its top sides textured like fur. Anybody know what it is?)

Aha! HERE's something that at least fits the Halloween color scheme of orange and black: an unusual inky lichen covering the twigs of this Tamarack tree.

And here's another lichen, a shaggy one that does look a little bit creepy. Or are there two lichens covering this branch of a dead Black Spruce, the flat grey one a foliose lichen and the beard-like green lichen a fruticose one? I should know this, but I have forgotten.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Blueberries Brighten the Day

Damp and dark and chilly today, but not too inclement for a walk along the river. Many of the trees are leafless and bare, but blueberry bushes still explode with color along the banks. Pretty.

One bush was even in bloom.

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!

Monday, October 25, 2010

I'll Take the High Road

Such a balmy day today, I just had to take a long walk. But where? With the start of rifle hunting season this week, I wanted to avoid the deep woods. So I chose an old maintenance road that runs under the power lines that lead from the Spier Falls Dam, a wide, open trail that traverses the hills along the Hudson River at Moreau. I figured that if hunters could see me coming, they'd be much less likely to mistake me for fair game.

Pulling a blaze-orange cap over my deerhide-colored hair, I set out from the parking area directly across from the dam.

While the trail stayed mostly level, the terrain on either side promptly fell away, so I soon found myself on a high open ridge, surrounded by rolling meadow and forest and mountains.

Hidden from view below me, the Hudson River ran parallel to this ridge, while off to the north, the Luzerne Mountains rose beyond the river.

To the south of the ridge, a deep-valleyed forest glowed with the golden leaves of American Beech trees. Although I rejoice in their beauty today, I'm aware that many of these trees will eventually die of a fungus that now infects them. Knowing this, I doubly cherish their presence.

The trail moved up and down over rolling terrain, the hillsides a patchwork of many different textures and colors.

Russet ferns, cottony goldenrods, and yellow-bronze beeches made for a gorgeous layer-cake of colors.

A patch of snowy marble was crossed by the ruby leaves and stem of a Dewberry vine.

Update: Got a note from my friend Ed Miller suggesting that this white rock could be quartzite rather than marble. He's probably right, since this rock does seem a bit glassier than marble usually is.

What a surprise to find pretty Yarrow, blossoms freshly in bloom.

There were still a few Red Raspberries ripe for the picking.

This Wooly Bear caterpillar curled up at my touch. What do its colored bands predict for the coming winter? Any guesses?

Eventually, this high wide trail descended the hills and led down to Spier Falls Road. Crossing the road, I followed a tiny stream under Hop Hornbeam boughs to where it emptied into the Hudson.

Ah, yes! This beautiful river! Is there any sight more lovely than trees reflected in still water?

Heading home along Spier Falls Road, I stopped where the river takes a sharp bend to enjoy the view downstream.

As I said before, is there any sight more lovely than trees reflected in still water?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Cold Day, Warm Colors

Brrr! It barely got above 40 today, with a brisk wind and reluctant sun. I was tempted to pile my lap with pussycats and curl up for a day on the couch. But I needed some exercise and a nature fix, so I headed to Moreau Lake State Park for a walk along Mud Pond, then through the woods to the lake. As these photos show, the air may have been cold, but the colors in the woods were so bright they seemed to give off heat.

Despite the chill, the Witch Hazel blooms were fully unfurled, shining like little suns against the dark shade of the woods.

Even though we've had lots of rain the last few weeks, Mud Pond is still so low I could walk all around it right down by the water. Normally, the water would come right up to the steeply rising banks. There were lots of beaver tracks in the soft mud and newly dug holes in the banks. I wonder if the pond is so low that the beaver lodge is unusable so the beavers are making their homes in the banks.

There's always a nice sandy beach along the north shore of Moreau Lake, and lucky for me, the sun came out to warm me nicely as I walked along this stretch.

Phragmites is a nasty invasive plant, but it does have its charms. This stand of its tassel-topped canes shows just how briskly the wind was blowing.

This lonely Canada Goose startled me as much as I startled it. I didn't even notice it resting on shore beside a beached log until I came abreast of it, when it awkwardly limped into the lake and swam crookedly away. It was obviously injured and probably not long for this world. Sadly, I was reminded of the dead Osprey I found along this same shore just a year ago that had died from injuries inflicted by another raptor.

There were lots of geese and other waterfowl on both Mud Pond and Moreau Lake. I should have brought my binoculars, for as this sign shows, the whole watershed here is considered a wonderful area for birding. (If you click twice on this photo, you might be able to read it.)

Except for the Pied-billed Grebe, I've actually seen or heard every one of these birds along these shores or within these woods. Plus many more not pictured here, including Bald Eagles and Hooded Mergansers. And I saw a Belted Kingfisher dive down toward the water today. I would have thought the kingfishers might have headed south by now. But then, why should they? The fish they eat are still here, and the water, though cold, is not frozen.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Bog Meadow, Mid-autumn

Most of the maples that line the Bog Meadow Nature Trail have long ago lost their leaves. But there's still some foliage color to enjoy, especially now that the Red Oaks are coming into their glory. I took a quick walk on that trail today, and I took a few photos, too. No spectacular calendar-picture scenes, no exotic species of plant or animal, just a pleasant walk on a pleasant day along a pleasant trail. We don't have to have Christmas every day to still rejoice in the many gifts that surround us.

A boardwalk covers the soggy ground on the spur that leads to Meadowbrook Estates.

Maidenhair Ferns, still holding on to a bit of their green,
cover a trailside hill with their gracefully curving fronds.

My camera kept stubbornly focusing on the swamp beyond these Red Oak leaves, but I saved the photo anyway. The essence of these leaves is their color, after all.

Okay, here's one in-focus shot of those Red Oak leaves.

While most of the flowering plants are withered and dry, a few have produced fresh green rosettes that will winter over under the snow to get a head start on growth next spring.
I think this is some kind of Mustard Family plant.

Another boardwalk crosses a swamp and provides a sitting area
to observe the many birds that frequent this open wetland.

Cattails still hold their own against the encroaching Purple Loosestrife.
Both looked pretty lit up by the late afternoon sun.