Saturday, May 12, 2012

Time to Catch Up on a Busy Nature Week

Oh lovely Spring!  She offers so many wonders to a naturalist, it's hard to keep up with all she has to display.  I've been so busy with woodswalks this past week or so, I haven't found time to post blogs about my adventures.  And today, another beautiful day is beckoning me to set forth once again, so I want to quickly put up this brief survey of some of the past week's activities, just for the record. 

Amazing Boulders Near Snowy Mountain

 Evelyn Greene (blue backpack, below) not only knows some of the most wondrous spots in the mountains, but she's also eager to share her discoveries with her friends.  On May 3 she led a group of us up the trails of Snowy Mountain near Indian Lake to lay our eyes on some really strange and amazing boulders.

We didn't have to climb all the way to the top of the mountain, because these huge, hollowed-out boulders had likely tumbled down from cliffs above to rest on the lower slopes, more easily accessible on an afternoon's hike.

 Composed of granitic gneiss, the boulders -- called tafoni, a word meaning "windows" in Corsican -- were hollowed out with typical honeycombed pits by various processes, including chemical weathering and mineral hydration.  Typically, these kinds of boulders are found near seashores or deserts, where salt spray or high winds contribute greatly to the weatherization process. Finding these boulders in the middle of an Adirondack forest adds to their mystery.

Acres and acres of blooming Trout Lilies certainly added to the pleasure of our hike up to see those boulders.

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A Wooded Trail Along the Hudson

Evelyn next invited me to join her on a woodland trail that starts near the Thurman Bridge outside Warrensburg.  It was a beautiful blue-sky day this Wednesday to walk along a blue and beautiful Hudson.

We had once walked this trail in early winter to explore its possibilities for cross-country skiing, but today we walked in search of what spring ephemerals might be blooming.  We found the usual denizens of a mixed-hardwood forest like this, while enjoying the extraordinary beauty of sunlight filtering through translucent early green leaves.

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Thursday Group Explores Moreau Shores

 The group of wonderfully knowledgeable folks called the Thursday Naturalists invited my friend Sue and me to lead them around the shores of Moreau Lake this week.   At first, we worried a bit that our friends might find little to fascinate them in this lakeside habitat,  but after it took at least a half-hour to walk a hundred yards, we realized how baseless were our fears.  Every five minutes found us down on our knees or pulling down branches to peer at  one plant or shrub after another, with lively discussions concerning the distinguishing features of each specimen.

Not all of our wondrous discoveries were botanical, however.  Thanks to Sue's eagle eyes, we were witness to the emergence of many dragonflies from their nymphs that were clinging to shoreside plants.

And this mama spider came scurrying by, hauling her teal-blue egg sac.  Wow!

We had all seen Trailing Arbutus many times, but few of us had ever seen the plant's tiny fur-covered fruits.  They reminded me of the coconut-covered candy apples I used to see at county fairs.

The blooming Pitch Pines along the beach gave us the opportunity to learn more about this tree's reproduction process, thanks to Ruth Schottman's expert explication.   She pointed out the knot of male (pollen-bearing) flowers here clustered around the base of a new-needle spike.

We next searched and searched through the boughs and finally found a few tiny red-tipped female flowers.  After pollination from the male flowers, these female structures are what will produce the cones.

We also found little developing cones, which Ruth informed us were yearling cones, having been formed a year ago.  Pitch Pines, she explained, will hold onto even mature cones for many years.

So I sure leaned something new about Pitch Pines on our excursion.  I also found something new that day.  As I crossed the parking lot toward my car to go home, I noticed a patch of flowering grass that looked just a little different than any I had seen before.   I passed a piece around to the members of our group, and none of them had seen it before, either.  But then, none of us pretends to be an expert on graminoids.

 So I sent a photo to Steve Young, chief botanist for the New York Natural Heritage Program, and he told me this is Poa bulbosa, an introduced bulbous bluegrass that had not yet been reported as far north as Saratoga County.  He also told me that it was considered invasive and that I should pull it up wherever I find it.  Now, if I can only find it again!

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 Garden Club Tours Skidmore Woods

 Friday morning dawned bright and beautiful, perfect for leading a group of garden-club members through the North Woods of Skidmore College.  Organized by Martha Van Patten of Saratoga Springs, the outing attracted garden-club members from as far away as Indian Lake.  I was also delighted to have noted botanist Ruth Schottman (red coat) and her husband Tom along, to bolster me wherever my botanical knowledge might be wanting.

The Skidmore woods, with its limestone substrate, never fails to deliver many plants of remarkable interest, so I was able to show these lively and interested participants some flowers they had never or seldom seen before, such as Green Violet, Orange-fruited Horse Gentian, and Wood Betony.   I also took the opportunity to encourage these expert gardeners to consider replacing exotics in their gardens with some of the many native plants available at wildflower nurseries.  Happily, the Canada Mayflower was coming into bloom, to demonstrate what a lovely groundcover it could provide in any home garden.

Fringed Polygala was also putting on quite a display, carpeting areas of woods with amazingly intense color.

No doubt the star of the show, however, was the exquisite Yellow Lady's Slipper.  We found several isolated specimens along our walk, thanks to the acute eyesight of some of our group, who spied them blooming off in the woods far from the path. 

 Ruth told us about a botanist who had painstakingly pollinated a group of these lady's slippers in order to have them produce seed heads, which they then did.  But after producing those seed heads, the plants did not bloom again, sometimes not even growing leaves, for several years.  So maybe it's a good thing that we found these lovely flowers so isolated from one another.

I had hoped to show our group the Squaw Root that I always found sprouting beneath a certain oak tree, but it wasn't yet to be seen.  And then I turned around and discovered this intriguing plant sprouting up in a different site.  I had never before seen it in this cute "button" stage.

We were also treated to many animal presences along the way, including a number of butterflies, much exquisite birdsong, and several Garter Snakes, so sinuously lovely among the leaves.

Some of the rarest plants in the Skidmore woods I did not show to my visitors, because they are so sought-after by herbalists that they are in danger of being extirpated.  So I keep their locations a secret.  Goldenseal is one of these plants, and after I said good-bye to the group, I sneaked off to check on the state of one patch that I knew of.  I was happy to find it in very good health, possibly because I have weeded out the Garlic Mustard that several years ago threatened to overwhelm the site where it grows.

Returning to my car along a rocky, moss-covered ledge, I found many plants of Herb Robert, a wild geranium with a beautifully lacy foliage and pretty pink flowers.  Too bad I didn't have a chance to show these plants to the garden-club ladies.  But I'll bet many of them already grow them in their rock gardens.  I sure would, if I had a rock garden.  But hey, come to think of it, I do.  And I don't have to lift a finger to cultivate it.


June said...

Well, now you've done it.
You have well and truly put me away with the dragonfly emergence.
It is MAGIC.

Woodswalker said...

Thanks, June. I agree. No matter how many times I witness it, I am amazed and struck with awe.