Monday, August 1, 2011

Paddling the Betar Backwaters

What a fine morning for a paddle: just cool enough to enjoy the bright sun on our backs. And what a fine friend is Sue to paddle with: she knows some great places to paddle, and her sharp eyes help me see lots of things I would otherwise miss. This morning, we met at the Betar Byway in South Glens Falls, a site that provides public access to the Hudson River and its quiet backwaters, where turtles bask and herons wade among Water Lilies and Pickerelweeds. Here we could inch along, looking and listening, sheltered from the wind of the open river and the wakes of passing powerboats.

I wonder if this Painted Turtle was listening to all the beautiful birdsong we were hearing. He seemed entranced by something, and never slid from his log as we drifted by.

The Pickerelweed was in its glory, radiant purple dotted with little dabs of yellow if you look close.

There were lots and lots of little dabs of yellow starring the water's surface, and I wondered what kind of bladderwort they might be. I'd found the rare Small Floating Bladderwort (Utricularia radiata) in these backwaters last September, but it was much too early for that to be in bloom, wasn't it?

Well blow me down! It was that Small Floating Bladderwort, bouyed up by its little pontoons! Judging by the numbers we saw today, it's hard to believe that this plant is considered a threatened species in New York State. There were hundreds!

Sharing that quiet water with the bladderwort was another floating plant called Water Shield. I'd many times seen its jelly-covered oval leaves drifting about on ruby stems, but I'd never seen its pretty little flowers, which were blooming profusely today.

If you click on that photo above, you'll see that the flower's red-anthered stamens are prominent. But I also found flowers where the pistils protruded far above the stamens, which were still tucked down in the nest of sepals. (I think they are sepals. This flower appears to be lacking petals.)

We next headed out to the open river to paddle upstream toward the Feeder Dam and the spectacular black shale cliffs that rise just below the dam. We stayed close to shore, both to remain sheltered from wind and also to enjoy the beautiful shrubs that line the banks, such as this Arrowwood with its navy-blue berries. (I was delighted to find Arrowwoods that hadn't been skeletonized by Viburnum-leaf Beetles.)

I confess I am stumped as to the identity of this shrub. The stems of its leaves are reddish and not winged (as those of Sweet Viburnum would be), and the pedicels of its berry cluster are vivid pink. These green berries will doubtless darken and soften as they ripen, but whether they will turn blue or black or purple remains unknown. Its opposite, finely serrated leaves say viburnum to me, but which one? The shape of the leaves most closely matches those of Black Haw in Symond's Shrub Identification Book, but I didn't think that species grew around here. I sure would welcome expert opinions on this.

The shale cliffs are damp and dark, black as coal and watered by tiny springs that made a small tinkly music as we eased along under them.

The constantly damp cool surface of the cliffs provides a hospitable spot for mats of liverwort and mosses, here studded by the tiny blue flowers of Kalm's Lobelia.

Here's a closer look at that Kalm's Lobelia, a dainty flower that is known to prefer limey habitats.

This little sprig of lobelia had taken shelter in a graceful cluster of Bulblet Fern, another lime-loving plant.

Our passage along the cliffs was shaded by overhanging branches of Mountain Maple, now dangling clusters of rosy keys as lovely as any Wisteria.

Time to head home, as thunder clouds threatened, but we couldn't help dawdling along this beautiful shore.

It was there that Sue first saw this Thing, this spooky football-sized underwater blob that looked like some kind of alien creature. Ooh, what is that thing?!

Turns out that it's not an alien at all, being native to freshwater rivers and ponds, but it's still a very weird creature. Or rather, creatures. This jelly-like glob is composed of many tiny "moss animals," or bryozoa, congealed into a colony, and its (their?) name is Pectinatella magnifica.

I read up a little about it, hoping to explain it all in my blog, but it got a bit complicated for digesting at this late hour of the night. If you click on this site from the University of Massachusetts, you can read all that information for yourself. I tell you, we sure do live in an interesting world.


john Greenwood said...

Enjoyed the morning float. Nice way to start my day.

Anonymous said...

Aquatic flowers, cliff clinging ferns, and ... magnificent jellies! The world is indeed a strange and wondrous place! Thanks for the paddle!

catharus said...

Thanks again for the escape from my office! 'Love the shot of the Small Floating Bladderwort!
'You sure that's a Mountain Maple and not a Striped Maple? As for the inflourescence, I know with the Mountain Maple it is upright, while with the Striped Maple it hangs down.
Backwaters are magical places!

Louise said...

Kalm's Lobelia is gorgeous. And, that jelly -- Wow!

squirrel said...

Thanks for the tour, I loved the Small Floating Bladderwort and that jelly like thing. Both very interesting and strange looking. Because of you I am getting more interested in plants. They are not as boreing as I once thought.

Ellen Rathbone said...

I've never seen the watershield flowers before, either. In fact, just this summer I was wondering if they actually had any flowers! How delightful to see them at last.

Good luck with the shrub!

Wayne said...

Thanks for telling us about this place. It's so close, but I have been passing by it to get to Adirondack waters. I had read that water shield blooms in the summer, but I have never noticed the flowers either!

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Thanks, John Greenwood. Happy to have you along.

You, too, hikeagiant. I'm glad you stopped by. And you're right about this strange and wondrous world.

catharus, I'm quite sure that's a Mountain Maple, since I saw them blooming along this same spot in June. (There's a photo of their upright flower clusters on one of my blog posts from that time.) Those upright clusters start to hang down as the seeds grow heavier and turn a lovely color of red. Striped Maple seeds remain green until they turn brown, I believe.

Hi Louise, I share your opinion about the lobelia and jelly. Everywhere we look, something to amaze and delight. Thanks for stopping by.

BORING?!! Did you say BORING, Squirrel? I beg your pardon. And I also offer my thanks for your comment, nevertheless. : )

Dear Ellen, so good to hear from you! I was so delighted to add those Water Shield flowers to my life list. Ed Miller thinks the shrub is Witherod, but I don't know. I always thought Witherod had longer narrower leaves. But Ed knows his woody plants, so he's most likely right.

Isn't it amazing, Wayne, how some of the most interesting things can be found right in our own neighborhoods? I was just astounded to discover this remarkable stretch of the Hudson last year, thanks to my friend Sue taking me there. Now, I can't wait to see what beautiful photos you will take of the Water Shield.

Johanna said...

Sure we do live in a very interesting , captivating world:)Loved the pictures,nature is the ultimate beauty I tell u .
And paddling , haven't done from a long time!
Can you speak the language of flowers?