Sunday, December 11, 2011

Small Treasures Along a Wintry Trail

Outdoors at last!  And what a pretty day for hiking!  Household duties and holiday preparations have kept me indoors all week, but today's bright blue sky and crisp cold air was too tempting to resist any longer.  Besides, I'd arranged to have my friend Sue meet me for a walk at Bog Meadow Nature Trail this morning, so that's where we went, longjohns underneath, boots on our feet, cameras and binoculars in our bags.

In flower season, I travel this wooded wetland trail quite often,  seeking the wide variety of native plants that grow here.  I've made a mental map of where some of the most interesting species grow, so I can look for them in every season and try to recognize them at every stage.  This abundant patch of Downy Rattlesnake Plantain is always easy to find, since it's marked off with wooden stakes to prevent the trail maintenance folks from mowing it down.  The beautiful evergreen leaves are now buried under the snow, but its spent flower stalks still hold their heads high.

Since most of the flowers and leaves are now withered and faded, any spots of pretty color stand out against the browns and grays of the landscape, such as this patch of rich green lichen adorned with a little cluster of coppery fungus.

The trunk of this tree was almost completely covered with a dusty pale-green lichenous growth, spotted with patches of rosy pink.  Its subtle colors reminded me of old-fashioned faded wallpaper.

 The rich-red pedicels of Panicled Dogwood certainly stood out from the rest of the underbrush.

But nothing is more vividly red than beautiful Winterberry, so striking against the blue sky and water.

Deep-blue ice has newly formed in the little trailside streams, creating patterns of needles and stars.

How reassuring to see these protruding shoots of Skunk Cabbage,  reminding us of the promise of spring, just as the new-formed ice announces the arrival of winter.

We hiked to this marsh with the hope of observing waterfowl, but found its surface completely covered with ice, no open water even around the edges.   So, no waterfowl.  We did see Goldfinches, Bluebirds, Cardinals, and Chickadees feeding among grapevine-festooned trees, one Red-tailed Hawk sailing in circles over the marsh, and Sue kept hearing what she thought was the cry of a Flicker, although she allowed as it could have been the Hairy Woodpecker she did manage to lay her eyes on.

Anyone know what kind of bird made this mud-daubed nest in the crotch of a Poison Sumac?   I suppose the young birds would long have fledged before the grapes ripened, but I imagine the large leaves of the grapevine twining among the sumac branches would have provided great cover.

We were able to recognize the shrub as a Poison Sumac because of the clusters of white berries that still dangled from some of the branches.  This variety of sumac, despised by humans but extremely valuable to wild birds,  is not that common this far north, but we do find it now and then in swampy areas such as this.

All along the trail we found the fluffy seed heads of Virgin's Bower, a native clematis that bears clusters of small white flowers in summer.  I love how the sunlight glinted on the silken filaments surrounding the curvaceous wiry structures that remain.


catharus said...

Lovely winter's day walk! Wouldn't it be especially fun to skate on that bog in a few weeks? Isn't there something almost magical to be out in the same woods and waters, in all seasons, and experience them in new ways?

Carolyn H said...

What a lovely blue sky to go with your photos today! I love all those close-ups!

The Cranky Crone, she lives alone! said...

lovely walk today! and I agree to re walk the same place in different weather and different seasons is a delight of newness and familiarity!
A friend was looking through my pictures yesterday, when i aw them through her eyes noticed so many tree's, branches she skipped through those quite quickly, i realised I recognised every single one and could say where they were on what walks, i didn't! im not a total anorak....well lets just say my anorak is still in the closet.