Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Sand Plain Abloom, The Creek Bed A Mess

The sun smiled down so kindly today, the sky was such an innocent blue, and the breeze was nothing but tenderly carressing. It's hard to believe, now that it's calm, that Nature's fury thrashed our region so terribly just three days ago.  Today I drove over to Woods Hollow Nature Preserve in Ballston Spa to check on any storm damage there.  Yes, I found a few trees toppled, but otherwise all that rain had done nothing but spur the Spiranthes into blooming -- and boy, were they in bloom!  There were more than I could count of these sturdy spikes of tiny white orchids, studding a meadow that's part of an oak/pine sand plain.

Nodding Ladies' Tresses is the common name for Spiranthes cernua, although it has never seemed to me that the flowers are really nodding.  They look pretty perky to me.

Another common inhabitant of such sand plains as Woods Hollow is Sand Jointweed (Polyganella articulata), whose wiry jointed stems were bursting with tiny white blooms today.

Those minute white blooms are almost invisible against the bare sand, but if you look close, you might see that some of the blooms are just touched with a tinge of pink.

There's no question about the pinkness of Pinkweed (Persicaria pensylvanica).  This species of knotweed, a cousin to Lady's Thumb, usually inhabits damp places, but here at Woods Hollow it shares the dry sand with Blue Curls.  Don't they look pretty together?

Here's another kind of plant I usually associate with damp spots but which seems to be thriving here in the sand.  It sure looks like some kind of moss to me.  Those red spikes must be diagnostic for this species, wouldn't you think?  I've searched my (very limited) moss guides and can find nothing like it that prefers a sterile dry habitat. Anybody know?

The season of colorful grasses is now upon us, and none is lovelier than Little Bluestem, which fills this sandy field at Woods Hollow.  It's a bit of mystery how it got that name, since its stems look more rosy than blue to me.

This grass will be at its loveliest in a few weeks, when it will be fully in bloom with these fluffy white tufts up and down its rosy stems.

The recent heavy rains have brought us a wealth of fungi of every color and shape.  This very large brown bolete looked like a big Kaiser roll left on the sand by a forgetful picnicker.

Maybe this cricket landed here to take a bite.

This Jagged Ambush Bug was having a bite, that's certain.  But wait a minute, is that one bug or two?

A closer look from another angle reveals a smaller darker bug on top of the larger yellow one.  Are they mating?  Or is the weaker male hitching a ride on the stronger female, who is more adept at snagging prey?  That's what one of the experts at suggests.

*  *  *

My next stop today was to see how the storm had affected the Kayaderosseras Creek near Ballston Spa, so I headed over to the canoe launch site at Gray's Crossing, off of Northline Road.  It was obvious at a glance that the creek had flooded well over its banks, toppling trees, flattening all the creekside vegetation, and filling the path with heaps of sand.

I managed to make out the Burl Trail that follows the creek, but it took some doing to pick my way through the blowdown wreckage.

When I last walked here just over a week ago, the Great Ragweed and Pokeweed and Jewelweed towered over my head, but the force of the rushing water knocked them all down.

Large swaths of the creekside were covered with a thick layer of mud, smothering all that was growing there before.  It will be interesting to see what plants will take advantage of this altered terrain.  Will the ones that were there recover?  Or will other species take advantage of the opportunity to move in?  I'll have to keep coming back to watch the progression.


Andrew Lane Gibson said...

Lovely! I was in one of my favorite fen complexes in Ohio today and saw Spiranthes cernua by the hundreds! Such a gorgeous plant. Have you ever taken the time to smell them? If not give it a try, you will be rewarded :)

Elizabeth said...

Wow, those are some amazing pictures of the ambush bugs! So much detail, and I've never seen them actually in the process of eating before! And the little orchids are lovely. :)

Ian said...

great photos of the ambush bugs and victim and the orchids. We have Spiranthes sinensis on our property so interesting to see an American species in the wild.

catharus said...

Yes, it will be interesting to see what sort of ecological succession takes place in those very local areas so quickly pertubed by Irene. I look forward to your future updates!