Saturday, April 21, 2012

Woods Walks and Tree Counts

Where did this week go?  Every day was filled with one nature adventure after another, and the week to come looks to be just as busy.  Let me just touch on some of the highlights of the week just past before future events push them back into the dim regions of my memory.

Wednesday morning found me up in Glens Falls with my friend Sue, walking in Cole's Woods, a delightfully woodsy forest right in the middle of the city.

While we followed a pretty creek that wound through the woods, we were serenaded by a Winter Wren flitting about the creek bank and Pine Warblers chattering high in the pines.  There were many wildflowers blooming in the woods, including Red Trilliums, Dog and Northern WhiteViolets, Wood Anemones, and more Dwarf Ginseng than I have ever seen in all my life, starring the ground like a firmament between clouds of Skunk Cabbage leaves.

Thursday brought further woodsy adventures with the botanically inclined group of friends who call themselves the Thursday Naturalists, this week to explore the North Woods of Skidmore College.

 Among the unexpected delights we found were the pristine white flowers of the Large-flowered White Trillium, which will carpet large areas of the Skidmore woods with masses of bloom in the coming weeks.  We were quite surprised to see these this week, since their bloom time is usually later than that of the Red Trillium, which is also just coming into bloom itself.

That was also the case with Large-flowered Bellwort.  We found this showy yellow bellwort beginning to bloom this week at the same time as the Sessile Bellwort, the two usually blooming several weeks apart, with the Sessile Bellwort opening first. 

My friend Sue was the first to spot these fluffy tufts of bloom, so vividly yellow against the clear blue sky.  I would probably have assumed they were just clusters of opening leaves, but Sue has very sharp vision (aided by binoculars) and could see from quite some distance away that these were indeed flowers and not leaves.

A closer inspection revealed the pretty yellow staminate flowers of Sassafras. I wish I had a magnifying lens on my camera to show what one of the botanists in our group, Ruth Schottman, showed to me, the tiny caps on the ends of the stamens that had opened to release the pollen.

I don't know which one of our group spotted this Grey Tree Frog, which looked like a licheny stone lying on the forest floor.   It was quite a surprise to find one down on the ground, since these frogs spend most of their lives in the treetops, rarely descending except to find mates.  It was remarkably docile, allowing us to  poke our cameras at it from very close as well as from all angles.  It even allowed us to pick it up and place it on a green leaf to see if it would green-up to match its background, as these frogs are known to do.  But we detected no change in coloration.  I have read that the change happens quite slowly, compared with chameleons.

We did, however, notice this startling flash of orange under the rear leg of the frog, a color signal that is visible only when the frog is hopping.

We found many other things of interest in the woods that day, but I would say that this dear little frog was definitely the highlight.

Friday, another lovely spring day with temperatures climbing into the 70s, found me picnicking on the sandy shore of Lake Moreau with my friends Sue and Lindsey.  Lindsey is an expert birder who will be leaving next week to do ornithological research for the summer in Mississippi, so Sue planned this picnic to give Lindsey a good dose of northern woodlands before she departed for the steamy south.

Nature certainly cooperated to make the day memorable, for in addition to providing an exquisitely fine day, she sent several critters to entertain us as we sat on the beach.  The first surprise was a muskrat swimming out from shore and when it got directly before our line of sight, it arched its back, poked its nose upwards, and stuck its skinny little tail straight up and proceeded to swim back and forth in that odd posture.  What do you suppose this display could mean?  Is it possibly a part of mating behavior?

Other entertainers included hawks and vultures soaring overhead and a beautiful loon swimming on the lake right before our eyes.  Too bad my camera can't capture birds as far away as these were, but I did manage to get a shot of this lovely American Painted Lady, who landed on the sand beside our blanket.  And posed quite nicely, wasn't that considerate of it?

After our picnic, we walked around the lake, admiring the many beauties that were set before us, such as these baby Red Maple seeds colored a vivid red . . .

. . . and this tiny little Ovate-leaved Violet, as vividly purple as it was adorably diminutive.

We didn't make it completely around the lake because we spent quite a while lingering along the shore of the back bay, listening to the shrill trills of mating American Toads, as well as sitting by a still woodland pool, watching the round eyeballs of toads emerge from the murky water, sometimes in tandem from mating pairs.  My shots of the toads were too blurry to post here, but I did manage to capture the sound of their mating calls in this brief video.  (I couldn't photograph the Snapping Turtle, either, the one Sue tells us about in this video.)

 Saturday was supposed to rain, and so it did, but not until this afternoon, after this group of tree-loving volunteers had completed much of their assignments surveying the street trees of Saratoga Springs.  After gathering for a group photo in the shade of one of Saratoga's few remaining American Elms, we fanned out two-by-two across the city, clipboards, measuring tapes, and GPS devices in hand to conduct a street tree inventory as part of the Saratoga Springs Urban Forestry Project.  This is a project designed to promote awareness of the desirability of large trees in the urban landscape, as well as to argue for the use of native versus introduced, often invasive, species of trees.

My assignment completed, I was walking home when I stopped to admire the flowering crabapple trees lining the front walk of the public library in downtown Saratoga Springs.  I was curious to see if I could find the multiple pistils that distinguish the multi-seeded fruits such as apples and pears from the single-pistillate blossoms of stone fruits like cherries and plums, and sure enough, there they were, those three little green stalks surrounded by the yellow anthers.

Compared to those showy apple blossoms, these tiny Thyme-leaved Sandworts, growing against a stone gutter on a city street, are virtually invisible.  Most folks would never see these little weeds, but then, most folks aren't wildflower nerds like me, who doubtless startled some bystanders when I dropped to my knees to peer closely at these minute little bits of floral prettyness.

I took a brief detour into Congress Park before I got home, eager to see if other of my favorite lawn weeds had come into bloom, to catch sight of them and admire them before the mowers came along to "tidy up" the patches of damp ground where they grow abundantly.  Oh yes, yes, yes!  Some of my most favorite of the mustard-family flowers were blooming today, the dainty white Cuckoo Flowers, so exquisitely lovely with their pink buds, especially when set among masses of beautifully blue Ground Ivy.

And again, yes, yes, yes!   Clustered prettily against the trunk of a tree and protected from the mowers by the tree's roots, was the showiest of our native chickweeds, the Field Chickweed, with flowers nearly an inch across.


hikeagiant2 said...

Love the toad - grey to the outside - keepin' the flashy parts for the discerning! :-)

catharus said...

An awesome week indeed!

Elizabeth said...

Oh, oh I've been dreaming about finding a Gray Treefrog someday, and yours is just precious. So many wonderful sights in such a busy week! Thanks for sharing!

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

What a wonderful week you have had, seems more like a holiday, infact you did more in this week of yours than I would have managed on a holiday!
SO loved as always those fantastic shots, just awinspiring, I feel like i am begining to feel like a local, of your neck of the woods.

Northern Lights Blueberry Skunk said...

I like this blog website due to the quality of a description about nature.