Thursday, August 11, 2011

Two Trails, Little Toads, a New Flower

A wooded section of the Nature Trail at Moreau Lake State Park

Sunny and breezy today, just a little cool but warm in the sun: a perfect day to report for duty as a trail steward at Moreau Lake State Park. The duties are simple: choose a trail, walk it at least once a month, pick up trash, make sure trail markers are intact and visible, and report any issues to park staff. I chose to monitor the Nature Trail, which circles the back bay of Moreau Lake, mostly through the woods, but with a spur that runs for quite a ways right along the water. Nice! Especially when walked with my good nature buddy Sue.

Of course, we brought along our cameras, which means it took us at least four times longer to complete the circuit than most folks could walk it in. There's always something to stop and pay attention to. We didn't find many colorful flowers today, but we sure found colorful dragonflies down by the water, such as this bright red Meadow Skimmer.

Equally vivid in its purpley way was this damselfly. I believe it is called Violet Dancer (Argia fumipennis), a most appropriate name.

As we passed under the solitary Black Tupelo tree that stands along the far shore of the bay, we were struck by the brilliant red of a few of its leaves. This tree is noted for turning red much earlier than other trees.

There were small frogs and toads leaping this way and that. I would not have see this little fellow if Sue had not spied him first, since he's almost exactly the color of the sand he was crouching in.

We thought we may have found some Fowler's Toads, since Sue said she has heard that toad's very distinctive call in this area, and these toads did look a little different than the far more common American Toad. But then when we looked at sources on line, all mentioned that Fowler's Toads have at least three warts within each dark skin spot, and our toad has mostly one wart per spot, two at most. Must be American Toad, after all. Very cute!

We were pleased that there wasn't a whole lot of trash along the trail, just enough to fill a plastic grocery sack to overflowing (along with some Purple Loosestrife we didn't want to leave to sprout again where we pulled it out). Shame on those who would pollute our beautiful park!

Sue had to go to work soon after lunch, but I still had time to swing by the Wilton Wildlife Preserve on my way home. I stopped at the Old Gick Farm parcel and walked a bit on this area's sandy trails.

Canada Goldenrod was in its glory, and I also found some plants of Blue Curls along the path, their daily allotment of tiny blue flowers already shed and littering the ground like scattered sapphires.

I thought it odd to see this bee's abdomen hanging straight down from a goldenrod bloom, and a closer inspection proved that this Goldenrod Crab Spider had struck down that bee.

Are this butterfly's tattered wings a sign of having been attacked by some predator, or do their wings just fray and wear out as they age?

Hey, what's that really tall plant that butterfly is foraging in? Looks like a brighter purple, overgrown Spotted Knapweed interbred with Joe Pye-weed. Could that be Ironweed? I'd never seen Ironweed growing around Saratoga County before. There's a program to restore native grasses at this parcel of land in the Wilton Wildlife Preserve. Could Ironweed seeds have sneaked in here with those grasses?

Well, if it IS Ironweed, which one could it be: Tall Ironweed (Vernonia gigantea) or New York Ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis)? My Newcomb's says that the New York Ironweed has bracts with long threadlike tips covering the base of the flowerhead, while the Tall Ironweed has bracts that are blunt or short-pointed. So which are these? I don't see any threadlike tips, but those bract-points are hardly blunt.

The clincher turned out to be the number of florets in each flower bundle. According to Newcomb, New York Ironweed's bundles contain between 30 and 50, while the Tall species has bundles that contain between 13 and 30. I took a flower bundle apart and arrayed the florets to count them: 22 in all. So this must be V. gigantea. A new flower for my life list. And it could be a first one recorded for Saratoga County.

Update: I got a note from Steve Young, chief botanist for the New York Natural Heritage Progam, agreeing with my suspicion that Tall Ironweed is not native to Saratoga County and probably sneaked in on some grass seed imported from elsewhere. The only known existing native colony of Tall Ironweed, Steve told me, is way out in western New York in Cattaraugus County. Botanists did find this plant once in recent years in a grassland restoration area on Long Island, but it did not persist there. It, too, probably arrived at that location on imported grass seed. I shall have to keep my eye on "my" Ironweed, to see if it persists from year to year in Wilton. Isn't it interesting that a plant so abundant as to be invasive in some parts of the country, will be rare or nonexistent in others?


Andrew Lane Gibson said...

The Vernonia's are known to hybridize often naturally. It looks more V. gigantea to me but those phyllaries are longer and more pointed than I'm used to seeing. Tall Ironweed is a just that, a tall weed here in Ohio. It grows literally everywhere it can find the right conditions. New York Ironweed was collected once in the SE over 100 years ago and that's it. I've never seen it in person but the phyllaries are the best and easiest way to tell it apart with ease.

The color of the pappus can be used as well as number of flowers but I've read where they both average the same amount in some literature. I just did a post on the difference between Tall Ironweed and Prairie Ironweed. Take a look at the detailed pictures of my Tall Ironweed and let me know what you think.

Louise said...

I'm fascinated by all the crab spiders everyone is seeing this year. Never noticed so many before. But then, maybe I wasn't looking.

Anonymous said...

When I saw your red dragonfly and the bright yellow spider I thought immediately of my kindergarten teacher, and how she would have frowned if I had colored the insects on my work page thusly. Little did she know ;-> They really are amazing! (and just a BTW, my word verification is 'beckhog' - I immediately got a picture of a groundhog that would come when called. Had to

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Thanks, A.L., for your input on the Ironweed question. I immediately went to look at your blogpost on Ironweed as soon as I found my plant, and found it very helpful. The thing is, Ironweed of any species has never existed in Saratoga County, so who knows where it came from?

Hi Louise, thanks for your comment. I think those spiders have been there all the time, but they can camouflage themselves very well.

Oh, hikeagiant, your comment brought back stressful memories of art class in second grade, when I got a D on my coloring page because I colored a squirrel with rainbow colors. I had just that morning noticed how a squirrel's fur had refracted the sunlight into all its colors, so that each hair looked like a tiny rainbow. My teacher wasn't interested. Squirrels are brown, she insisted. And she was wrong. We had Fox Squirrels where I grew up, and they were reddish, like Red Foxes.