Saturday, July 30, 2011
Hot Walking, Cool Wading
Okay. I have to admit it, even if grudgingly: Purple Loosestrife is a gorgeous wildflower. It made quite a beautiful sight, nearly filling a field at the Woods Hollow Nature Preserve in Ballston Spa. The trouble is, I'd come here to this oak/pine sandplain habitat to try to find a native flower called Seedbox, which, by all rights, should be filling this field with its yellow primrose-like blooms. But no such luck. Quite likely, the alien invasive loosestrife has supplanted the Seedbox , if, indeed, it ever did grow here.
It was rather too hot a day to be trudging around a sunny sandplain, filling my shoes with loose grit and getting prickly sandburs stuck in the laces. And then getting disappointed not to find the flower I was seeking.
I was kind of surprised to find Horsemint in full bloom. I've found it as late as September in other years, but never earlier than the second week of August. But oh, gosh, August starts the day after tomorrow! Where did the summer go?
The pinky-purple bracts of Horsemint are showier than its actual flowers, but those flowers also have a charm of their own, so buttery yellow with purple polka-dots.
The royal-blue blooms of Blue Vervain were making their way up the wand-like spikes arrayed like candelabra.
Scurrying across the hot noontime sand was this Tiger Beetle, Cicindela formosa generosa (thanks, Bug.Guide.net), a large handsome species that likes to hang out in sandpits. I thought that its boldly patterned elytra were striking enough, but then I noticed the iridescence of its antennae and legs. When I flipped it over, I saw that the whole of its underside was beautifully iridescent.
Well, this little scene had me scratching my head, puzzling over the odd juxtaposition of its elements. To see a mushroom sprouting out of dry sand was unusual in itself. But where did that tiny broken toy car come from? Or those little chunks of blue glass? It would be fun to make up a story to explain their happenstance.
A couple more mushrooms, pretty and pink, like a matched pair of . . . um . . . headlights! Obviously, these were not growing out in the hot dry sand, but back in the woods on a damp mossy bank, where I'd sought refuge from the midday glaring sun.
I soon had enough of walking around in that heat and headed next to Kelly Park, a nice little municipal park in downtown Ballston Spa that offers a shady nature trail along the Kayaderosseras Creek. It was very cool and pleasant here, especially when I left the trail to wade right out into the water.
Lining the trail in the deepest shade were tall stalks of American Germander, a Mint Family plant with typical mint-family-plant-looking flowers, but distinguished by their lack of an upper lip.
Out on the sun-lit banks, Joe-Pye Weed was a popular landing spot for lots of Skipper butterflies.
I was startled to find one flowerhead of Joe-Pye Weed almost completely covered by this enormous spider. I believe it's a fishing spider, who catches its prey by dropping right down into the water, although it had wound its resident flowerhead round and round with its web.
Ooh! Looking close, I spy something small and red in there around its mouth. Could this spider have red fangs? Does that up its creepiness factor? (Perhaps, but only to those who find spiders creepy in the first place. I think they are beautiful!)
I think that everyone would agree that Groundnut flowers are beautiful, especially when viewed from this angle. From other angles, they can appear brownish and dull. There might be disagreement, too, about whether their fragrance is delightful or cloying. I often can detect their odor before I see them hiding among the stalks of the host plants their vines have climbed up on.
Even along the shadiest sections of trail, Pale-leaved Sunflowers caught the sun and glowed like lamps.
The insignificant green flowers of Great Ragweed are easily ignored (except for allergy sufferers when the flowers mature), but their leaves have a very distinctive shape and their stalks will astound when they grow to 15 feet tall or more, with a correspondingly impressive girth.