Thursday, August 9: Mud Pond walk with the Thursday Naturalists
What a great gang to go for a walk with! And it's not just that everyone in the Thursday Naturalists is an expert in some aspect of nature -- although that, of course, is a big plus. But they're also just wonderful fun to be with, alert to the wonders around us, eager to learn, and just as eager to share what they know with each other. I felt tremendously pleased when they asked me to lead the group on a walk around Mud Pond in Moreau Lake State Park, primarily to explore the mud flats along one shore, where a marvelous variety of plants uniquely suited to this habitat can be found. (We were also treated to a Bald Eagle soaring over the pond and landing several times in spots where we could all get a clear view.)
Of course, it took us a while to get there, moving as we did at a botanical pace, which means lots of stopping to examine all kinds of plants along the way. We started our walk in a dry sandy part of the trail, where Blue Curls were in their glory, demanding that we all bend down to peer more closely at their tiny exquisite blooms with the curving stamens.
Nearby, at the edge of the pond, we found lots of Humped Bladderworts, little bright-yellow flowers standing straight up on thin naked stalks, the inflatable bladders with which they capture tiny organisms for food splayed beneath them in the wet mud.
When we finally reached our destination mud flats, we found more tiny yellow flowers growing out of damp ground, the sweet little Dwarf St. Johnsworts.
Another shoreline denizen is Wild Mint, strongly scented and adorned with puffs of tiny lavender flowers.
The green carpet visible in the photo above is made up almost exclusively of masses of Water Purslane, which bears tiny 4-parted flowers in its leaf axils. One of our group, Ruth Schottman, noted how the box-like structure of the flower resembled that of Seedbox, which is not surprising, since both plants are members of the Evening Primrose Family.
Common Smartweed is rather a scrawny, homely flower by itself, but masses of it heaped on a hummock and punctuated by the vivid blue sprays of Blue Vervain made quite a lovely sight.
The chubby little blooms of Ditch Stonecrop looked quite striking, set among leaves with dark-red stems.
Saturday, August 11: Exploring the Ice Meadows with two new friends
The world of internet connections is amazing indeed. Because I am Facebook friends with one botanist from Ohio, I also became a Facebook friend of John Manion, a botanist from Alabama. It also happens that John studied at SUNY Cobleskill where Anne Donnelly (no relation) is a professor, and they became friends there. Anne is also on the board at Landis Arboretum where Ed Miller is curator of native woody plants. So Anne is also a friend of Ed, who is also a friend of mine. Small world! And all of us got together this week because John is visiting here in New York and wanted to explore the Ice Meadows north of Warrensburg, and he wanted his friend Anne to join us, and both of them wanted Ed and me to be their guides. And it was wonderful fun!
This particular stretch of Hudson River bank has a distinctive habitat influenced by masses of ice that pile up on the shores each winter, creating what is one of the richest botanical sites in the state. Although the full flush of summer flowers has mostly gone by, we were treated to many just-opening spikes of the lovely little native orchid, Nodding Ladies' Tresses.
In other summers, we would not expect to see this species of Ladies' Tresses until several weeks later than this. But almost all of our native wildflowers have bloomed about two weeks early this year. It is difficult to distinguish the Nodding Ladies' Tresses from the very similar Hooded Ladies' Tresses, and one of the ways we tell them apart is by bloom time, with the Hooded species blooming earlier in the summer. But this year their bloom time is almost overlapping, since it was only last week that I went up to Thirteenth Lake to see the Hooded ones, which were just starting to fade.
Another way to distinguish this Nodding species is by the shape of the lower petal, which does NOT narrow into a fiddle shape as does that of the Hooded. But these distinctions are often difficult to discern.
We were presented with another puzzle when we found these bladderworts blooming in the little pools that lie among the rocks. We could plainly see the bottle-brush leaves of the species called Flat-leaved Bladderwort, and since the little yellow flowers were protruding from these leaves, we would ordinarily assume that these were the flowers of those leaves. Problem is, Flat-leaved Bladderworts bloom early in the summer and have larger flowers than these. The species of bladderwort we would expect to find this late in the summer is the Humped Bladderwort, which has a flower that is very small. Like these.
I was able to extract one plant carefully from the mass of Flat-leaved Bladderwort leaves, and it appeared to have no leaves at all. I suppose they could have broken off, but I'm going to surmise that this is actually a Humped Bladderwort that just happened to share the same little puddle as the Flat-leaved kind. I would, however, be happy to stand corrected if I am wrong.
At least I had no doubt at all that these were Pipeworts protruding from the foamy water at the river's edge.
This stand of Canadian Burnet made a good hiding spot for this similarly colored moth.
The vividly colored Monarch Butterfly doesn't need to hide, since its orange color is a warning sign to predators that it is poisonous to eat. Happily, the butterfly did not find ME poisonous to eat, and it sat on my hand for quite a while, apparently licking the salt from my skin with its long thin proboscis.
One of my goals for visiting this site, called the Old Gick Farm parcel, was to see if a particular aster was blooming again this year. This is the Late Purple Aster (Symphyotrichum patens), a species that is considered far out of its range in Saratoga County. I found one plant blooming last August, and this year I discovered there were two, so it not only survived, but it also appears to be spreading. This photo is of a single stem with two flowers in bloom. This aster has a very stiff wiry dark stem with leaves that completely clasp the stem. Nobody knows how it got here, but it will be interesting to see if it continues to survive and establish a population.
I suppose it's possible the aster's seed arrived with grass seed that's being used to restore native grasses to the Wilton site. This is a wonderful time to visit this preserve and see the various grasses in flower and in seed. Some of them are quite lovely, like this fluffy bunch.
Or this tall stately cluster.
The goldenrods are coming into their glory, too.
I wonder if this grasshopper was the victim of a Jagged Ambush Bug, a predatory insect that likes to lurk in flowers. This is the deadest-looking grasshopper I could imagine. I don't think the yellow striped beetle had anything to do with the 'hopper's demise, since this is a Locust Borer Beetle that eats only pollen.
Here's that same kind of beetle feeding on Boneset. This spectacular creature with the glossy red legs is a native beetle that is considered a pest of Black Locust trees because its larvae bore into the tree's wood. Looking at this photo now, I'm noticing that the antennae appear to be coming right out of the insect's eyes. Yikes!
Here's another pollen eater, a Feather-legged Fly, quite an interesting-looking critter with that orange-and-black abdomen, giant-sized eyes, and feathery hind legs. I love that ombre edge to its wings, as well.
On my way home I noticed a large patch of tall sunflower-like plants in a ditch by the side of the road. They didn't look exactly like any flowers I recognized, so I promptly pulled over and went to take a closer look. Wow, these are really odd, I thought, with their flopped-back petals and distinctively winged stems. Sort of like Sneezeweed on steroids.