Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Back to My Woods and Waterways

For the past three days, the only outdoor activity I've been engaged in was playing with my grandkids in my own backyard. Lots of fun. Maya and Sean are cute and smart and funny and adorable, and so is their baby brother Alex and their teen-age sister Tayla, all of them here for the long weekend with their mom and dad. So I was busy. Delighted to be with my family. But busy. So I'm not going to pretend I wasn't happy to have this absolutely gorgeous day today all to myself, just me and my little canoe, taking our first paddle this spring on my beloved stretch of the Hudson River between the Spier Falls and Sherman Island dams.

The river's been so rowdy this spring, with floods and torrential downpours roiling the waters and drowning the islands, I haven't been out to survey what damage was done to "my" little island just off the Sherman Island boat launch along Spier Falls Road. The river was still plenty high and the current strong, so I really had to paddle hard to make it out to the island, which only a couple of weeks ago was completely under raging torrents of water.

Well, the shrubbery looked a bit battered, a few trees were toppled, and every bush was festooned with flotsam, most of it shreds of plastic that I unwound from branches and gathered into bags, restoring my pretty island to its natural beauty. And oh, it was beautiful! Just look at this splendid Early Azalea, as fragrant as it is lovely. And tough. A real survivor. The island was covered with it, looking only a little worse for wear.

The masses of Black Huckleberry also survived the floods, putting forth their pretty rosy-red flowers right on schedule.

The island's trees were alive with birds, mostly Tree Swallows but also Song Sparrows and some bird that must have been a warbler because it warbled its loud sweet song over and over again. And always out of sight. This mother American Merganser could also have stayed out of sight, hiding among the coves. I would never have seen her and her plentiful brood if they hadn't torn off in a flurry and much commotion, the little ones actually running on the surface of the water as fast as their little webbed feet could carry them. Of course, by the time I could open my camera, the family was far across the river, and my camera's zoom only stretches so far.

The current was strong and my paddling muscles not yet conditioned, so I didn't paddle far from the boat launch, and soon I decided to continue my nature adventures today on dry land. Well, damp land, anyway. With so much rain this season, the vernal pools are now summer ponds, producing clouds of mosquitoes. But the woodland plants are loving it. Indian Cucumber Root was looking lush and lovely today. I was entranced by how this bit of sunlight lit up the ruby-red styles of its pendant, spidery flowers.

The humid air was heavy with the delicious fragrance of grape flowers. It really amazes me how such minute and inconspicuous flowers can put out so much scent. (Carrion Flower does the same, but not such a pleasant odor!)

I crossed the road from the boat launch site to visit a flat open area I'd last explored in autumn, when I'd discovered willow shrubs heavily infested with pine-cone galls. The galls were still there. I wonder if the larvae (or the metamorphosed insects) pushed their way out through the overlapping scales.

I don't know what kind of willows these are, but I have never seen such fluffy catkins on any other willows. If this were a Pussy Willow, I'd have to call it an Angora Pussy Willow.

Almost every blade of grass or stem of clover in this sandy, rocky field bore the tell-tale froth that indicated a Spittlebug had taken up residence.

Yup. There he is. Running away as fast as his tiny legs could carry him. I put him back on the stem, hoping he could manage to create a new frothy abode. I wonder how he does that?

That Spittlebug was yellow. Most of the time they are green. Like this one. Is this not the cutest bug you have ever seen?

Update: I read up a little about Spittlebugs and learned that they are the nymph form of Froghoppers, an insect similar to Leafhoppers. They create that froth by piercing the stem of the plant so that it releases liquid, which the Spittlebug mixes with glandular secretions of its own, and then whips the mix into a froth by blowing air from the sides of its body. The froth provides protection from predators (it hides the bug and it also tastes bad), insulation from heat and cold, and keeps the bug's body from drying out. Some species of Spittlebugs are harmful to trees or crops, but most do minimal damage and are easily controlled in the home garden by spraying with a hose. If you absolutely HAVE to.

On my way home I stopped off at the Lake Lonely Nature Trail just east of Saratoga Springs, only to find a sign announcing the trail was closed. Of course, I had to investigate, and I soon discovered a bridge had been dislocated by the spring floods. But the damage wasn't so dire that I couldn't make my way across and proceed down the trail. Due to the lack of foot traffic or mowing, the trail was delightfully overgrown with greenery.

I stopped here specifically to see if the Water Buttercups were blooming in the water-filled ditches some distance from the trail's entrance. It was clear that other buttercups were fully in bloom, including this Tall Buttercup, so bright and shiny against the dark green of its foliage.

Sure enough, the Water Buttercup had started to bloom. Just a few, so far. Lucky for me, one was blooming close to the edge. I would not have wanted to wade out into the muck it was growing in.

With the bridge out, mowers have not been able to reach the far stretches of the trail, so flowers like this Ragged Robin can grow right out into the middle of the trail. It was full of butterflies, some kind of orange Skipper, but I could not get a photo. This is an introduced species and not a native. But it sure is pretty, and butterflies really love it.

Another raggedy plant whose homely name belies the beauty of its flower is Golden Ragwort, which was also blooming right in the middle of the trail. This wildflower is a native.

Common Fleabane is also a native plant, and a pretty little weed, with its pale lavender eyelashes.

This species of Forget-me-nots is an introduced garden plant, with flowers quite a bit larger than our very small native species. But it still grows wild in damp spots like the Lake Lonely Trail.

Wild Geranium and Blunt-leaved Sandwort made for a very pretty combination.

These starry spikes of some kind of sedge made me think of sparklers.

There were many Ebony Jewelwing Damselflies fluttering about the shrubbery on coal-black wings, the sunlight glinting off their iridescent blue-green bodies. They torment me as I try to capture their beauty with my camera, never staying in one place long enough for me to get them in focus. This female (her wing has one white dot) did stop to stare at me, but darted away when I tried to get her in profile.


June said...

I love those pictures.
I have had, for years, one of those azaleas growing in the hedgerow along the driveway. This spring there are TWO.
My blessings multiply! :-P

Anonymous said...

The azaleas are stunning, as is the Indian Cucumber Root! I smile to think how we 'take ownership' of those special places we love..."your" island, "my" Giant...

Hilary said...

Love your blog....just happily came across it. I am in my mid 60's......retired from nursing...live in GF......kayak on the Hudson.......always have my camera with me......we have much in common.

Wayne said...

Another chapter in the beautiful story you tell of our seasons. Love the light on the Indian Cucumber Root! I was at Sherman Island today, but this time it was the wind that was pushing the waves and my Hornbeck. Felt like over 20 mph funneling from the north, but it was still a pleasure to be there.