Saturday, August 20, 2011
Mountain Trails Yesterday, Sand Plains and Creek Beds Today
Looking over the Hudson River from a mountain ledge in Moreau Lake State Park
How lucky I am to have so many nature sites to choose from! Last Thursday, Sue and I sat on that Moreau mountain ledge and shared ideas about where to meet next: A paddle on river or pond or fen? A hike through calcareous woodlands or a slog through a bog? Shall we wander an oak-pine savannah or climb to a height where limestone boulders are riddled with caves? The Ice Meadows beckon with lots of rare plants, as well as a great place to swim. How about those shale cliffs where Grass of Parnassus should just be starting to bloom? Truly, an embarrassment of riches, and all within a short drive away.
Just yesterday, I managed to explore two very different habitats hardly a mile apart, fitting both in between lunch and dinner, with time to spare to run errands.
The Woods Hollow Sand Plains
My first stop was the Woods Hollow Nature Preserve in Ballston Spa, a site that offers both wooded wetlands and open sand plains. I chose to spend my time there exploring the open sands.
While much of that open area is barren and dry, some damper parts are now lush with meadow flowers, including these handsome Black-eyed Susans.
Although the invasive Purple Loosestrife has found a too-comfortable niche in this meadow, it sure looks like many of our native wildflowers, like Boneset and Tall Goldenrod, have managed to keep that botanical bully in its place. There's no denying that those purple spires sure look lovely as part of the mix. (Many butterflies also added their colorful notes to this scene, but none would sit still for the picture-taking.)
A much smaller, low-growing native wildflower also thrives here in this sandy soil. This is Slender Gerardia (Agalinis tenuifolia), which bears its half-inch blooms on slender stalks.
I was happy to have caught a few blooms still remaining on the Blue Curls plants (Trichostema dichotumum). They usually shed their flowers by noon, but because the day was overcast, with occasional showers, some of the flowers had hung on into the afternoon. This plant is very happily at home in barren sands where little else will grow.
Here's a closer view of those long curling stamens that give this flower its common name.
Here's another plant that occupies barren sands where little else will grow. It's called Winged Pigweed (Cycloloma atriplicifolium), and don't bother to look in Newcomb's for it, because it's only a recent resident of the northeastern states. Originally a native of the central plains, it has expanded its range so successfully that the USDA distribution map shows it now inhabiting most of the U.S. and Canada. But not Saratoga County, oddly enough.
Ouch! Oh yeah, Sandbur grows here, too. Prolifically. Be careful where you walk. It's no fun pulling those burs from your tangled shoelaces.
Now, this was quite a surprise! Sue and I couldn't find Nodding Ladies' Tresses (Spiranthes cernua) on our climb up the mountain on Thursday, but here it was growing abundantly among the horsetail reeds in a sandy meadow. It wasn't yet in bloom to confirm the species, but what other Spiranthes could it be this late in summer?
In the shady woods at the edge of the meadow, Virgin's Bower (Clematis virginiana) was now fully in bloom, winding its leaf stalks around the neighboring shrubs' supporting branches.
While no butterflies would hold still long enough for their portraits, these Goldenrod Soldier Beetles were so occupied with their own affairs they completely ignored my camera.
This Locust Borer Beetle was also occupied, exploring every floret for food, but I did have to chase it around the top of the Boneset bloom. This is one big handsome bug, with its tiger stripes and bright red legs.
Another big handsome critter, this Argiope garden spider was also occupied with eating, its mouth parts busily working over that silk-wrapped bundle caught in its signature zig-zag web.
The Kayaderosseras Creek Bed
A few drops of rain were wetting the sand and thunder was rumbling overhead, but I took a chance I could still explore a very different kind of site just a short drive away from Woods Hollow. From the Northline Road parking lot at Woods Hollow, I travelled east no more than a mile to the Gray's Crossing Canoe Access site along the Kayaderosseras Creek. Here is a habitat as lush and green as the sand plains were barren and dry.
Most of the plants along this creek bottom seem super-sized, especially the Great Ragweed (Ambrosia trifida) that thrives here. These six-foot shade-growing plants were less than half the size of others that were towering over the creek in open sun, their stalks as big around as my wrist.
Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) is a big plant everywhere it is found, but here along the creek it reaches giant proportions. The plant as a whole is kind of sprawling and homely, but its berries sure are beautiful. Lime-green now, the berries will turn a deep purple later, while the pedicels remain this vivid hot pink.
Wild Cucumber (Echinocystis lobata) sprawls across acres of shrubbery here, its starry flowers on upright stalks spilling a heavenly fragrance as I walked among its vines.
Here's a closer look at the Wild Cucumber's flowers and leaves, plus the tightly coiled tendrils by which it grabs and overwhelms every obstacle in its unrelenting progress. By autumn, plum-sized hollow fruits that look like little green hedgehogs will dangle from those vines.
A second surprise today! I hardly ever come across Butternut trees, but here was one standing tall along the creek, laden with nuts.
The Butternut resembles its close relative, the Black Walnut, in having thick, green, lemony-scented husks, but the Butternut fruits are ovate, rather than round like the walnut's.
There were heaps and heaps of Jewelweed, both Spotted and Pale, growing along the creek. I tried about 50 shots before I captured this big bee disappearing into the throat of a bloom. The bee was in and out in a flash, before my camera could focus. I can't believe my lucky stars that one photo came out.
The trail that takes you along the creek eventually turns to pass through a meadow before returning to the parking area. The goldenrod species towering overhead sure lives up to its common name of Tall Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis var. scabra), especially along this trail.
Joining the goldenrod to signal approaching autumn was this coral-colored willow branch.
Whoa! Did I say autumn? Come on, it's still high summer, isn't it? So what's this New England Aster doing in bloom? I think it's New England Aster, anyway, since I know of no other aster that blooms around here whose flowers are such a rich purple. But hey, this species isn't supposed to bloom until late September.
I wish this Yellow-collared Scape Moth would have opened its wings a bit more for the picture-taking. When it flew, its abdomen flashed a beautiful blue, but then when it landed it closed those chocolate wings. There were dozens of these colorful creatures feeding in the Joe Pye-weed, and I snapped lots and lots of photos. They were too fast for my camera, though, so none were perfectly in focus. At least you can see the colors in this shot.