The weather was a huge influence on the natural environment this year, beginning with deep snows and bitter cold that started last January. Although the snow came late (not until after Christmas), it came fast and deep and persistent, lasting until way into April on many wooded trails. This photo of my friend Sue Pierce was taken on the banks of the Hudson in mid-January, when the snow was so deep and soft our snowshoes hardly helped us. Not that we let that keep us out of the woods!
Here's another friend, Evelyn Greene, who is an expert on the qualities of "frazil" ice, a special kind of fluid ice that here fills the Hudson north of Warrensburg. This photo was taken in mid-March, when dams of frazil blocked the river and caused record high flooding above this stretch of the river.
On March 19, we had the biggest and brightest full moon since 1993, a "super perigee moon," when the moon became full just at the closest point to earth in its orbit. And it just so happened that Moreau Lake State Park had scheduled a full-moon hike that night, a night that was clear and cold, so many of us got to watch this beautiful moon rise over the frozen lake.
April came, and with it torrential rains that, combined with rapid snow-melt in the mountains, filled the rivers to record levels, flooding riverside homes and washing out many roads and bridges in low-lying areas. These houses are along the Hudson at Lake Luzerne.
Here's another view of that raging Hudson where it roars through -- and completely fills -- a gorge just upstream from the flooded homes.
The rains weren't ALL bad news, especially for the frogs and toads and other amphibians that were on the move in mid-April, heading toward their mating pools. The Wilton Wildlife Preserve and Park conducted an amphibian-assistance program, where volunteers helped these little critters safely across the roads one rainy night. One of the naturalists directing the program located this pair of Spade-foot Toads by their distinctive mating calls, and he restrained them briefly so that we could see them -- a rare treat, since the toads will use their spade-equipped hind feet to dig into the sand, remaining underground for the rest of the year. What a couple of cuties!
Warm weather arrived in May, along with the annual explosion of spring wildflowers. Day after day I filled page after page of my notebooks with flower finds, but the highlight of the month was a trip to Dorset Mountain in Vermont, organized by fellow plant lovers Ed Miller and Nan Williams. This mountain is the site of long-defunct marble quarries, which enrich the surrounding forest with lime, creating a rich habitat for such beauties as these Small Yellow Lady Slippers, so numerous we could hardly move without stepping on them.
June was a month of many amazing adventures, beginning with a trip to Concord, Massachusetts, with my friends Sue Pierce, Ed Miller, Ruth Schottman, and Nan Williams, plant enthusiasts all. Thanks to Sue's long association with things Thoreauvian, she was able to find us all lodging at a charming B&B right on the shores of Walden Pond. The focus of our trip was a visit to the New England Wildflower Society's Garden in the Woods in nearby Framingham, but we also enjoyed exploring the woods around Walden Pond.
Hardly more than two weeks later, I joined Ruth, Ed, Nan, and a fourth botanist, Frank Knight (second from left), on a 5-day trip to Ithaca to attend a meeting of the American Botanical Society, filled with field trips to many different habitats. Of course, the botanizing was educational and great fun, but the best part of the trip was spending time with these wonderful folks, who are as knowledgeable about plants as they are delightful to be with.
If not for my blog, I doubt I would have come to know such wonderful folks as these, as well as other members of the Thursday Naturalists, a friendly group of very well-informed nature enthusiasts who have graciously invited me to join them on their weekly excursions to interesting nature sites.
Another friend I've made through my blog is Evelyn Greene, a life-long explorer of the Adirondacks who knows lots of secret places where very rare plants grow, and she is kind enough to share those secrets with me from time to time. Of course, I am also sworn to secrecy about these locations, but Evelyn does allow me to show some of the treasures we find, such as this exquisite Dragon's Mouth Orchid (Arethusa bulbosa), one of New York's rarest and most beautiful wildflowers.
Evelyn also took me to another site where the stunning Showy Lady's Slipper was growing abundantly, its rosy and rotund blooms popping up everywhere we looked. This is another of the more than 50 species of orchids native to New York State; in fact, more orchids grow here than in either Florida or Hawaii, and many of them prefer cold northern bogs.
July brought several excursions to Pyramid Lake in Essex County, in the Adirondacks. Except for the retreat center that occupies one shore of the lake, this is a pristine wilderness lake, surrounded by the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness Area and accessible to autos only by way of the retreat center. A number of rare species of plants can be found along these shores, and I was pleased to conduct a field trip here open to members of the newly formed Adirondack Botanical Society. I also returned later in the month to attend a retreat.
In August, we had a little wildlife adventure right in our own backyard, where I captured three wild four-week-old kittens when their feral mother left them alone for a while. It's hard to believe that such tiny furballs could be so fierce, but they sure put up a fight, hissing and spitting and scratching and biting, but I got them home and we managed to gentle them with love and food. We eventually found a home for the pretty calico one pictured here, but we kept the little gray-and-white, as well as her tiger brother, who now keep us laughing with their kittenish antics and our laps warmed by their furry and purry snuggles.
Another August adventure was following my intrepid friends Evelyn and Bonnie as we bushwhacked our boats through trackless forest to isolated Little Rankin Pond. To get there, we first paddled across a larger pond and traversed an extensive sphagnum bog, where Evelyn spotted an abundant growth of an increasingly rare plant called Podgrass. Plus lots of orchids, too. And we found our way back again, no problem at all. Evelyn knows her way around the woods.
Our summer was the rainiest I can remember, so that when September arrived, the forest simply exploded with more mushrooms than I have ever seen, in amazing varieties of shape and color.
September also brought Hurricane Irene, which then became Tropical Storm Irene, dumping unprecedented amounts of rainfall in the rivers and mountain valleys, causing devastating floods in the Adirondacks and Catskills, along the Mohawk, and in valley towns in Vermont. Shortly after came another storm, Lee, which dumped more flooding rains on the same communities. We were lucky not to suffer much damage in Saratoga County, but this photo of the Mohawk River at Waterford/Cohoes shows something of the force of that water.
We were lucky, too, that the charming coastal village of Rockport, Massachusetts, was spared from hurricane damage, for that's where my husband and I planned to spend a few days in late September. My friend Sue has come to this place for years, and because she was vacationing here at the same time we were, she could show us the best features of both the village and the surrounding area. Our hotel balcony looked right over the water, and we slept each night with the sound of the sea in our ears. Lovely!
Snow in October! This sure has been a year of very strange weather. Also, the autumn foliage colors were quite muted this year, except for occasional trees that blazed as if lit from within. Our snow was just a dusting, though, not like the heaps and heaps that fell so destructively downstate, and rain soon washed it away. We've not had any significant snowfall since.
Come November, the flowers and fungi no longer add their colors to the woods, so a nature enthusiast has to find something else to capture her interest. Happily, another of the friends I've made through my blog is Nancy Slack, a biology professor and bryologist who is kindly trying to teach me the names of the mosses and lichens and liverworts that decorate nearly every tree and fallen log in the forest. Most have no common names, so I find them a little hard to memorize, but little by little, I will learn some. For example, I do know that that little green puff of moss is Ulota crispa, and the lacy brown stuff behind is some species of Frullania liverwort. I don't know that greenish-gray lichen.
And now it's the very last day of December. Christmas has come and gone with no snow, but ice has started to cover the quiet back bays of the lakes and rivers, and icicles form where water splashes up from rushing creeks. Who knows what the rest of the winter will bring? It's been quite a year for surprises.
So here we start again, another year of keeping this nature blog. Without it, would I have ventured out as much as I did, even on days that were 30 below? Or 95 above? Maybe not. But I'm happy to have that spur to boot me out the door. I'm always glad when I'm out there. I found nearly 40 new plants this year to add to my life list, and I collected a number of specimens of plants for which there was no record in Saratoga County. How many more are out there, just waiting for me to find them?
I can't end the year without a special thanks to my dear friend and fellow student of nature, Sue. It's a wonderful thing to find a companion so perfectly in tune with the way I like to walk through the woods or move on the water, who doesn't grow impatient as I struggle to make my camera focus or while I thumb through my field guides to try to identify my find. And what would I do without her sharp eyes that see so much that I would overlook? Plus her knowledge of birdsong and woodland lore. Thanks, Sue, for being such a wonderful nature buddy. Here's to another year of adventuring.