Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Botanizing and Bug-watching and Other Pleasures

Whenever I lead a flower walk, I never have time to take good photos.  That was the case yesterday (Tuesday) when I led a group from the Environmental Clearing House of Schenectady on a hot and steamy hike around Woods Hollow Nature Preserve in Ballston Spa.  But perhaps it's best I didn't get a photo of the disappointed faces when we found the Wild Lupine and Pink Lady's Slippers long past their prime.  Those were exactly the two flowers we'd hoped to see when, sometime last winter, we set the date for this walk.  But how were we to know that almost every flower would bloom weeks early this spring?  At least we did get to see the lovely Sheep Laurel, a flower that normally doesn't bloom until well into June.

 Because the laurel was leaning way over the bank of a pond,  members of our group were not able to get close enough to look into the heart of the flowers and see their very interesting method of ensuring pollination.  So I violated my personal prohibition against picking any wildflowers and I scrambled down and plucked a single bloom to pass around, showing the group how the stamens were curved back to tuck the pollen-bearing anthers into little pits in the petals.  When a potential pollinator lands on the flower, those anthers pop out of their pits and bop the pollinator on the back.  After a while, the stamens curve back again and recock their springs in preparation for the next opportunity.  If you click on this photo, you may be able to see the single stamen that has already sprung on this central flower.

We were lucky to have scheduled our Woods Hollow walk early yesterday, before the heat became suffocating, as it did by late morning.  Then a huge thunderstorm came raging through the region in the afternoon, ripping branches and toppling trees, but also bringing cooler weather after it.  So it was perfectly delightful this morning (Wednesday) when my friend Sue and I visited the Warren County Bike Path to see what we could see.

One of the first things we saw was this very friendly Catbird, who followed after us for a while, flitting from shrub to shrub, as if it were as delighted to see us as we were to see it.

While I was leaning on a bridge over one of the little streams that run along the bike path, this black and white Bald-faced Hornet landed on the wooden railing and proceeded to chew away, gathering material for its big papery nest, paying not the slightest attention to me poking my camera at it.  Thankfully!

We had hardly started our walk along the bike path when we came to a patch of Blackberries in bloom, the white flowers throbbing with the traffic of many different flying creatures -- bees, flies, butterflies, and moths, all busily sipping nectar and gathering pollen.  One of those creatures was this little Skipper (species unknown to me), the only butterfly that sat still long enough to have its picture taken.

I felt very fortunate when this Beefly stopped to rest from its constant activity, so I could get a good look at its little furry body and long proboscis.

Here's that fly again, sipping nectar from the Blackberry blossom that also attracted a beautiful Eight-spotted Forester Moth.

Creeping carefully up on the moth, trying to get a clear shot, I got closer and closer until I nearly touched it, then, surprised that it did not fly away, I discovered its rather mangled appearance and saw that it was in the clutches of some other creature.

Aha!  What other culprit could it be but a Goldenrod Crab Spider, who adjusts its coloring to lurk undetected among the flowers?

Well, I suppose it could have been one these predaceous critters, too, although I'm not sure that Brown Crab Spiders can change their coloration the way the Goldenrod species can.

Searching the internet, I could not find a name for this crab spider, with its beautiful vivid coloration.

Speaking of vivid coloration, the Purple-flowered Raspberry was just opening its brilliant pink rose-like flowers.

The River Grape is about as far from vivid showiness as a flower can get, although its fragrance tops the chart for deliciousness.  As we walked along the trail, we would enter zones of perfume on the air that nearly made us swoon with pleasure.  Or maybe we were just hyperventilating from drawing such deep breaths to savor that fragrance.

But then we would enter zones of odor that nearly made us gag, and we knew that Carrion Flower must be blooming somewhere.  As the grape flower with its perfume, the Carrion Flower releases its stench from some of the most insignificant flowers imaginable, so it took some searching to find it.

Sue found the Carrion Flower cluster above, while I followed my nose (and a couple of carrion-seeking flies) under an overhanging shrub to discover this green globe of flowers that looked quite different from that white-tufted one.  Well, of course!  Those white-tufted ones are the staminate flowers and this green globe is made up of pistillate ones that will later turn into blue-black berries.  I had not known that this plant bore male and female flowers on separate  plants,  so I learned something new today.  (I also learned, in my google search about Carrion Flower's sex life, that the berries are quite edible and make a tasty jam.  Hard to believe that something edible could come from this stinking plant!)

We could have spent the rest of the day just sitting in a Blackberry patch watching the buzzing busyness going on in there, but Sue had to go to work, so after stopping for lunch, we parted ways.  On my way home I took a detour to Spier Falls Road in Moreau to walk the powerline clearcut in search of Frostweed and Wood Lilies.  The Frostweed had shed its petals for the day, and the lilies were nowhere to be found, not even a stem, but I did come across a puddle filled with these little bright-orange fingers.

Ooh, I remember finding these a couple of weeks ago on a hike to Round Pond with Evelyn Greene.  These are Swamp Beacons, a little fungus that likes to grow in puddles. A nice find to top off a wonderful day's adventures.


Elizabeth said...

So many wonderful finds! "Swamp Beacons" -- ha! I love it! Thanks for sharing. :)

"Auntie" sezzzzzz... said...

Marvelous post. Again, thank you so much, for sharing all which you see, with us. Thank you so much!!!

"To read a writer
is for me
not merely to get an idea of what he says,
but to go off with him
and travel in his company."

~~Andre Gide

Ellen Rathbone said...

Some terrific finds! I love beeflies - they fascinate me. And the Swamp Beacons - what a wonderful name.

Raining Iguanas said...

I'm with "Auntie" sezzzz and Andre Gide. My visits here always a pleasure.

Woodswalker said...

Dear readers, I do so appreciate your very kind comments. Thanks for coming along with me.

threecollie said...

The scent of the riverbank grape is my favorite in the world. I await it eagerly and am sorry when the wild rose blooms overpower it early each June. Thanks for a great post.

hikeagiant2 said...

Everything is so glorious - thanks for taking us along!