Friday, April 22, 2011

Earth Day Total Immersion

Oh, what a beautiful morning to celebrate Earth Day! And what better way to celebrate it than with my best nature buddy Sue at our favorite place on earth, Moreau Lake State Park, and a full day of nature adventures? We'd both signed up to help clean up the shoreline today, and the lake was as pretty as a picture this morning as we set out to police the back bay, trash bags and grab sticks in hand.

It only looks like Sue is kissing the earth here, but then again, why not? We all should love our mother, especially on her special day. But Sue is actually rubbing noses with Trailing Arbutus, hoping to get a whiff of its marvelous fragrance.

The earth was dressed in festive attire, with even last fall's acorns adorned for the occasion with rosy pink.

The female flowers of alder shrubs were a dazzling ruby red.

Slanting sunlight lit up these pink leaves, setting them aglow like Christmas lights.

Red Maple boughs, fully in flower now and as pretty as cherry blossoms, hung over the water.

Of course, no celebration of the cycle of life on earth would be complete without a reminder of death. This underwater skeleton is all that's left of a road-kill deer that park staff put out on the ice last winter to attract eagles and other carnivores.

About half way around our allotted trail assignment, we became aware of the pitter-patter of liquid drops falling on dry leaves. With not a single cloud in the sky, we knew it couldn't be rain. Sue identified the twittering of goldfinches high in the trees, and we then surmised that the birds were up there busily nipping off buds, and from each broken twig the sap was dripping down. That sap was attracting a lively assortment of insects, which Sue is here attempting to photograph.

This leaf shows a big wet splotch where the sap has dripped on it.

We spent a long happy rest break here, blissfully lying among the leaves observing the wildlife right under our noses. Along came this spider and sat down beside me, wearing a charming red hat.

Update: I believe this is a Phidippus whitmani jumping spider, which likes to crawl about in the leaf litter, looking for insects to eat. This is probably a female, since the males of this species are usually much redder.

And ooh, just look at this fuzzy fly with the big brown eyes and yellow nose!

Update: Sue has identified this as a Tachinid fly, a nectar-eating fly that parasitizes other insects by laying its eggs in their larvae. After perusing lots of photos and descriptions on the web, I'm guessing this fly is one of the genus Juriniopsis.

And here's another fuzzy fly, which we saw flitting about some Coltsfoot we found blooming out on the beach. Sue told me that this is a Large Bee Fly with a wonderful Latin name: Bombylius major. Isn't that a fun name to say? And isn't this an adorable bug, with its long proboscis just made for sipping nectar?

Of course, we took far longer than anyone would have imagined to cover our clean-up assignment, but we did get the job done, filling two big trash bags with bottles and cans and candy wrappers. And the day was still young! So off to Orra Phelps Nature Preserve we went for our next installment of Earth Day adventures. We still had our rubber Wellies on, which came in handy for wading the creeks that run through the Phelps preserve.

The stream banks here are festooned with lots of Plantain-leaved Sedge, which today was furred with little white hairs along the stalks, the pistillate flowers of the sedge. Soon these flowers will be fertilized with pollen from the yellow staminate parts still enclosed within the dark brown tips of the stalks.

Well, we know that Orra Phelps was known to have planted some species of wildflowers in her woods, but we sure weren't expecting to find a garden flower like Siberian Squill growing wild here. But there it was, just one plant that must have escaped from a neighbor's garden, radiant blue against the deep green moss. Even its pollen was blue!

Another surprise was this False Morel, a fungus I've known about but never found. Since this mushroom is poisonous, it is very important not to confuse it with the deliciously edible Morel.

I was excited to show Sue the Snow Trillium and Round-leaved Violet that grow at Orra Phelps, but, aside from some Common Chickweed, we didn't find much else in bloom today. Lots of great green stuff, though, which is most appropriate for Earth Day, anyway. Here's Dwarf Horsetail, a miniature Equisetum that's as fine as grass and marvelously squiggly.

False Hellebore was opening its tightly pleated shoots, assuming its voluptuous curvaceousness and living up to its Latin name, which, translated, means "true green."

I sure would miss a lot if Sue and her fabulous eyesight weren't with me. She spied this patch of Downy Rattlesnake Plantain leaves on a bank I have explored many times but never noticed these beautifully patterned leaves. Seems like they would be hard to miss, don't they? I'll certainly be watching now for the stalks of tiny white orchids that will rise from the basal leaves about mid-summer.


Andrew Lane Gibson said...

Glad to see strong signs of Spring hitting your neck of the woods! Enjoy the warming weather and plentiful wildflowers. I too adore the fragrance of Trailing Arbutus, it's always worth the bending down to treat the olfactories :)

Anonymous said...

Marvelous! It's amazing how time disappears when out in the woods. Each time I read your blog, I'm inspired to search out new treats, and to notice more detail. The fellow who leads our Wildflower Hikes says he has not seen Trailing Arbutus on the Giant in years. :-(
We saw the big furry bee fly the other day, but he would not sit still for my camera - and yes, Big Bombylius is a great name!

Wayne said...

Wonderful photos as always, especially the two flies. Those Bombyliids never want to sit still for me!

I stopped by Orra Phelps for a few minutes on Earth Day, too (also shot those pink acorns). I was just about to send you an E-mail asking what what those strange blue lilies are! Thanks for the super-fast answer. ;^)

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Thanks, A.L., hike//giant, and Wayne, for stopping by to leave your comments. Wish I could have you all come along with me on my hikes. I'm always really glad to have Sue along, too, because she can fill in some of my knowledge gaps, like what the heck that blue flower was. She told me the name was Squill. Odd name for such a pretty flower.