Wednesday, September 28, 2011

More Moreau Mushrooms

The rain that started last night kept going this morning, but not hard enough to spoil plans for a walk around Moreau Lake with Sue today.  I'll be off to Mt. Kisco tomorrow to babysit grandkids until early next week, and I knew I had to have a good dose of Saratoga County nature to carry me through.  Moreau Lake lay still and lovely under a soft gray sky, the misty light only emphasizing the radiant colors of the trees along the far shore.  Every year, I notice that ruby-red tree, and every year, I neglect to find out what kind of tree has leaves that turn such a striking color.  And I didn't find out today, either, since Sue and I stayed on the opposite side of the lake the entire morning.

My original plan was to walk all around the lake, work up some speed, get a little aerobic exercise and all, but of course we hadn't gone 20 yards from the parking lot before we screeched to a halt to examine these mushrooms.  Such a lovely celadon green, tipped with yellow, and underneath, its gills were brownish gray.  But I can't find any mushrooms this color in any of my books.  So I don't know its name, alas.

Update: Thanks go to mycologist Sue Van Hook, who has identified this mushroom as Bulbitius vitellinus.  This mushroom is all yellow when young, but turns pale and sometimes greenish as it ages, while keeping its yellow center.

While kneeling down to photograph the mushrooms above, we noticed these itsy-bitsy stripey brown cups covering much of the nearby bank.  A closer look revealed that each cup had tiny greenish-gray "eggs" inside (as well as holding water from the rain).  I wish my photo was better focused to better show those "eggs,"  but at least the image was clear enough that I could locate their look-alikes in my mushroom guides.  This is called Striate Bird's Nest (Cyanthus striatus).

A quick look around revealed another species of bird's nest fungus, White Bird's Nest (Crucibulum laeve), with tiny whitish "eggs."  Those eggs are actually spore capsules, called peridioles, which are released when rain or drip water splashes them out of their cups.  These cups were very small, as my fingernail demonstrates.  I wonder if those really tiny orange balls nearby will grow up to be splash cups.  We found some cups that had single orange balls inside, instead of whitish eggs.

More itsy-bitsies .  I'm pretty sure these are Marasmius, possibly M. capillaris.  These tiny fungi on wiry stems will disappear in dry weather and reappear overnight when we have a good rain.  They were everywhere in the woods today.  Sue Van Hook suggests that these are M. rotula instead of M. capillaris.

Another fungus just everywhere in the woods was this hair-fine cream-colored stuff, which I never would have seen without Sue's eagle eyes to point it out to me.  With my bad eyes, they just blended in with the pine needles at my feet.  My camera could see them better than I could, although not perfectly.  But well-enough to allow me to find their match in my guides.  These have the wonderfully apt name of Fairy Thread (Macrotyphula juncea).

From tiny fungi to one of the whopping biggest:  this is Hen of the Woods, which can grow to  bushel-basket size and many pounds.  This particular clump was much more diminutive than that, not much more than a handful.  There were bigger clumps around, though, enough for me to make a delicious mushroom soup, redolent of the fragrance of the forest.

A few of the fungi had knock-your-eye-out colors, including this brilliant yellow clump.  It's possible these are Yellow Wax Caps, but I don't know for sure.  There are several species of bright yellow mushrooms that grow around here, and I haven't figured out how to tell them apart.

I don't know what this one is, either.  Its top is flaming orange, but its true beauty lies in the marvelous ruffled gills of its underside.  I wonder if this could be a Chanterelle, perhaps Cantharellus cinnabarinus?

Another ruffly 'shroom that resembles a Chanterelle, but I couldn't say for sure.  Sue Van Hook thinks this is Clitopitus prunulus.

I am pretty sure, though, that this one is Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor), a particularly striking one with beautiful contrast between its rich brown stripes and creamy-white ruffled edges.

Fungi sure can take all kinds of different forms.  Did this white mold spread from the tree to the ground, or the other way around?

Here was another puzzle.  How could this leaf just hang in mid-air, turning around in the breeze?  It didn't take long to discover the spider silk from which it dangled, but it sure caught our attention at first sight.

As did so many other fascinating things in the woods and along the shore.  No wonder we didn't make it all the way around the lake.  Ah well, another day. . . .

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Summery Day, Early Autumn

 Summer came back for a few balmy days.  We reopened the windows, unpacked the shorts and tees, and I took my canoe to the Hudson for the first time in many weeks.  With, first, the spring floods and then, the summer hurricanes filling the river with roiling mud and rampaging flotsam this year, I think I got out on the river fewer than a dozen times this summer.  But as these calm-water photos show, it was safe to go back on the water today, and I jumped at the chance.  What bliss it was, to glide across these glassy waters, the sun warm on my back, the water sweet and cool to my trailing fingers.

The autumn foliage color is quite late this year, with just a tinge in some of the beeches and maples.  But Black Tupelos always put on a brilliant show, starting as early as August.  By now, their lipstick-red and emerald-green glossy leaves are joined by blue-black berries on hot-pink stems.

Winterberry is also in full display now, with fat red berries that will cling to the branches long after the leaves have withered and dropped and the berries are capped with snow.

I was afraid that I'd missed the Closed Gentians.  Because they grow so low on the banks, just inches above the water,  I thought they might have been swept away by the late-summer floods.  But there they were, right where I've found them for years, some of the flowers a little bruised, but as radiantly blue as ever.

How amazing to still find Cardinal Flower blazing away on the banks!

In the woods where I walked to get down to the river, mushrooms were still as abundant as the mosquitoes.  Some were so beautiful, I just had to stop to enjoy their colors and shapes.

This charming little clump of mosses, lichen, and polypody also caught my eye and caused me to linger long enough to take a photo.  How I love these miniature gardens!

Heading home, I pulled over to the side of the road to gaze at this majestic thunderhead. A burgeoning mass of snowy white against that blue sky, it looked, at first, like a huge cauliflower until its upper reaches began to spread out to make the anvil shape so typical of this kind of cloud.

As I sit to post this blog about 9pm, the thunder is rumbling outside and rain has begun.  I'm glad I took the opportunity to enjoy this sunny, summery day in my little canoe.  It may be a while before I can do it again.

Friday, September 23, 2011

A Seaside Holiday

I had quite a pleasant change of scene this week, spending a few days in the charming seaside village of Rockport, Massachusetts.  My friend Sue, who has vacationed there for many years, convinced my husband and me to join her there for a few days this year, and she made a wonderful well-informed guide, introducing us to a sampling of the area's many attractions.

We were blessed with warm weather and still waters the entire four days, plus one whole brilliantly sunny day for enjoying the stunning azure hues of sea and sky.

Our hotel overlooked a small sandy beach where the breakers rolled in, so we could fall asleep each night to the sound of a gentle surf.  Here's the view from our balcony.

Sue took me to Halibut Point State Park, just a short drive up the coast from the village, where we walked around an old granite quarry filled with fresh water as clear and blue as sapphires.

We then followed trails that took us down to the surf-pounded shore, where colorful seaweeds and limpets clung to the rocks.

At low tide, we spied these Eider Ducks resting on the seaweed-covered rocks.

Of course, we had to botanize wherever we walked.  The coastal rocks were home to several flower species we don't find at home, including Downy and Seaside goldenrods.  We do find Stiff Asters occasionally in Saratoga Coumty, but here on the coast they were the most common species, generously adorning the granite boulders with their lovely lavender blooms.

The driest areas with the thinnest soils were covered with masses of Orange Grass, a tiny species of St. Johnswort that thrives in just such harsh conditions.

One evening, we drove over to nearby Gloucester for dinner, allowing ourselves extra time to stroll around the harbor, where these colorful dories were docked.

We had a little rain and we had a little fog, not enough to spoil our brief vacation, but just enough to add to the misty seaside atmospherics.


Monday, September 19, 2011

Sammy, How We Loved You!

 Sampson was my daughter's Bernese Mountain Dog, but I loved him as if he were my own.  He would have been ten years old next month if he hadn't died today, too short a life for such a wonderful companion.  Even my cats didn't mind him when he came to visit; he had such impeccable manners around them, always averting his gaze and yielding ground to them.  He was nothing but sweet, happy, well-behaved.  I've had several dogs in my life and loved them all, but they could be pains sometimes, barking too much or peeing on the rugs or rummaging in garbage, all those bad-doggy behaviors.  Not Sammy.  The worst thing he ever did was nearly knock me down with his joyous greetings every time I came to see him.  Followers of this blog will know that I love cats.  But I have to admit that no animal loves you back quite like a dog.  Especially this one.  I will miss him dearly.

 Bye bye, Sammy.  I hope you are on your way to doggy heaven.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Paddling Clean Waters

 The temperature was still in the 30s this morning when Ruth Schottman and I headed up to Newcomb in Essex County, where we joined our friend Evelyn Greene and others to paddle the pristine waters of Rich Lake.  Evelyn had organized the paddle as part of the 9th Annual Clean Waters Benefit put on by the environmental group Protect the Adirondacks.  We were lucky to have such a gorgeous blue-sky day, with a bright sun that soon warmed us as we slipped along the lake's wooded shoreline.

A good part of the pleasure of our paddle was examining the water plants that flourished in these clean waters, unsullied by the presence of motor boats or lakeside buildings.  My favorite was the Small Floating Heart (Nymphoides cordata), whose dainty leaves floated prettily in the still waters close to shore.  We didn't find any of its small white flowers today, but we did find the clusters of slender tubers from which the flowers sprout when in bloom.

We were also intrigued by the flower stalks of Pickerelweed, the flowers gone to seed and the stalks curving downward to bury the seedheads in the mud.  Some of the underwater flowerheads had snagged the occasional uprooted Quillwort, a spiky fern ally that normally grows rooted in shallow water.

One of the most fascinating finds of the day was this freshwater sponge, found growing on some underwater branches.  Actually a colony of animals, freshwater sponges are often mistaken for aquatic plants or algae, and their green color comes from algae embedded in their tissues.  They are found only in waters that are clear and well oxygenated, which makes them a most appropriate find on a paddling trip to benefit the protection of clean waters.  

On our way home from Newcomb, Ruth and I decided to stop off for a walk at the Ice Meadows along the Hudson River north of Warrensburg.  After spending several hours cramped up in our canoes, we felt the need to stretch our legs, and the Ice Meadows seemed like a fine place to do just that.  We did have to watch our steps a bit, though, as we picked our way across these beautiful marble outcroppings.

We were surprised to find a bridal party, who also apparently believed this location to be a very special place.

Called the Ice Meadows because of the massive accumulations of fluid ice that are deposited on these banks each winter, this stretch of the Hudson is home to a number of rare plants that have evolved to tolerate these harsh conditions.  One of those plants is Dwarf Sand Cherry, which today looked especially lovely, with its reddening leaves arrayed against the white marble underneath.

Another plant that grows here proves that a plant doesn't have to be especially beautiful to be considered remarkable.  This is Whip Nut Rush (Scleria triglomerata), a threatened species in New York State, but one that thrives at this site.  This time of year its flower head looks like a disheveled bird's nest, with the tiny green or white BB-shaped seeds tucked in among the chaff.

Woodland Sunflower (Helianthus divaricatus) is hardly a rare plant, but it looked especially charming today, with the textured marble setting off the sunny-yellow blooms to fine advantage.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Yes, We Have Gentians

 With dire predictions for a killing frost tonight, I thought I'd better go pick a Fringed Gentian to press for the state herbarium before they shrivel.  After my friend Sue and I enjoyed the sight of masses of these beautiful flowers growing along the bike trail in Queensbury, Sue checked their distribution status and discovered there was no record of them growing in either Warren or Saratoga County.  Well, we'd better remedy that, we agreed, and obtained permission from the New York Natural Heritage Program to obtain vouchered specimens of this state-protected wildflower.

Sue will collect her specimen in Warren County, and I went to Orra Phelps Nature Preserve in Wilton to collect mine.  Legend has it that Orra planted the ones on her preserve, but even if true, they have certainly naturalized there, blooming in great profusion every September.  Two years ago I participated in efforts to restore the site where they grow, cutting down dozens of young pines and poplars that threatened to overshadow these sun-loving flowers.  Our efforts have been rewarded with a wonderful expansion in the number of plants growing there, I am happy to report.  I'm also happy that now there will be an official botanical record of their presence in Saratoga and Warren counties.

While walking the trails at Orra Phelps, I saw many Indian Cucumber Root plants in fruit, their glossy blue-black berries beautifully set off by their colorful trefoils of terminal leaves.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

OK, I Give!

 What's a couple more cats?  We found a home for Helen, the pretty little calico, but Cleo and Bebert can stay with us for keeps.  They are such wonderful companions for one another, and we've grown too attached to let them go now.  Even Uncle Finn has begun to love them a little.  (I can't say the same for our two adult females, Penny and Selene, who still growl at them, but they'll learn to cope in time.)  The kitten's feral mom still eludes the trap we keep setting, hoping to capture her and have her spayed.  Maybe as the weather grows colder and she grows hungrier we will have more luck.  But then, she will probably be pregnant again.  Sigh!  Ah well, we are doing the best we can.

In the meantime, what fun we are having!  Little balls of fluff bouncing, leaping, climbing, scattering across the floor like windblown dust bunnies, skootching up our legs with needle-sharp claws to reach our laps, then collapsing in soft warm rumbling heaps of sleepy sweetness in our arms, silky and fragrant as only babies can be, their hair-fine whiskers tickling our cheeks as they vibrate with whole-body purrs.  God, what a sap I am when it comes to kittens!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Blaze of Glory

Did I hear that right?  We might have a FROST this week?!  I sure hope not, since some of the most brilliant of the season's flowers are blooming now, and I haven't yet had my fill of their beauty.  So when my friend Sue invited me to join her on a walk through a goldenrod meadow in Queensbury today, I didn't have to think twice.  There may not be many more chances to see what's in bloom.

This meadow has wide mowed paths through acres and acres of goldenrods and asters alive with the hopping and flying and fluttering and buzzing and trilling of thousands of insects, including the exquisite Monarch Butterfly, whose lovely orange wings are a perfect complement to the blooms of New England Asters.

The air was filled with the long drawn-out trills of Tree Crickets, which I never expected to lay my eyes on, since their jade-green bodies are well camouflaged among all the fading leaves of the trailside plants.  But of course, I was with Sue, who has the most incredible eyesight, and she found this one.  It was quite a task to keep the cricket in focus, since it kept crawling around to the underside of the leaf.

Sue also spied this gorgeous Argiope spider suspended on its web.   You'd think this spider would be easy to see, with that brilliant yellow and black pattern on her back, but it only helped to hide her from view among all the goldenrods.

I had no trouble at all discerning this emerald Leopard Frog, who leapt from the path to a puddle, then turned to look at us with those incredible golden eyes.

At the back of the meadow, a trail led into a dark damp woods, where we encountered billowing clouds of hungry mosquitoes.  Their tortures kept us moving through the woods at a faster pace than we normally keep, despite the temptations of many colorful fungi just begging to have their pictures taken.  I did stop long enough to photograph this unusual arrangement of Blue Stain and Lemon Drop fungi sharing a rotting log.  Of course, my camera refused to focus again and again, as the mosquitoes made their way down my ears and onto my eyelids.  Oh bag it, I said as I clicked one last shot that turned out to be almost OK.   Part of the challenge, in addition to it being very dark and shady, was that the smallest of those Lemon Drops were about as big as the head of a pin.

Fleeing our tormenters, we hurried back to our car and drove to another wonderful spot not far away, along the Warren County Bike Path.  Here in a weedy ditch by a busy road we found the first Fringed Gentians of the season.  One of the last flowers to bloom before frost, they represent the flower season coming to a close in a blaze of glory.  It's hard to imagine a more radiant blue, or a flower head more generous in its display of gorgeous color.

The asters are doing their bit to add to the season's final glory, with colors ranging from deepest purple to lavender to palest blue to snowy white.  While many of the white-flowered asters are a bit scraggly in appearance, the Heath Aster tightly clusters its small white flowers into quite showy bunches.

Many Bidens species have flowers that are quite inconspicuous, some having no petals at all, or very small ones.  We often know we've encountered them only because of the barbed seeds ("beggar ticks") embedded in our clothing after we've passed unknowing through a patch of them.   A notable exception is Bidens cernua, or Nodding Bur Marigold, which is just now coming into bloom in many roadside ditches and other low damp spots, where it puts on quite a show.

I know that when the Gentians and Bidens come into bloom, I have turned to the final page of my annual flower journal.  There won't be many species left to go hunting for.  I haven't yet found Oxeye or Jerusalem Artichoke, but it won't be long.  Witch Hazel will be unfurling its yellow ribbons along the river soon, but I won't see the brilliant blue Monkshood in my garden until October.  Then that will be it for the flowers.  Aren't we blessed that Mother Nature saves some of her best for last?