Friday, June 29, 2012

Buds, Mud-lovers, and Bugs

Oof!  That heat outside sure was stifling today.  But lucky for me, I had chores to do inside my cool house, and I was happy for once to resist the call of the great outdoors.  Besides, I got my nature fix going over more of yesterday's photos, taken after I left the river and stopped off at Moreau Lake State Park to circle Mud Pond on the trail that runs through the woods.

My friend Sue had found a large patch of Checkered Rattlesnake Plantain (Goodyera tesselata) along the east side of the pond, and I was eager to check on the state of their buds.  A fellow nature enthusiast is coming all the way from Ohio the second week of July specifically to see some of New York's native orchids, so I'm hoping these tight green buds will be ready by then to show him their little white flowers.  This is not one of our showiest orchids, but hey, it's still an orchid!

Yes, I think that at least a few will be open ten days from now.

For quite a while now, there haven't been many flowers blooming in the deep shade of the woods,  but yesterday I saw the first pretty pink blooms of Pointed-leaf Tick Trefoil.

When the trail reached the western side of the pond, I followed a stream bed out to the shore, where a muddy flat lay baking under the sun.

This flat was covered with many different kinds of plants well-suited to this habitat.  The tiny white flowers here are Clammy Hedge-hyssop and the little blue ones are False Pimpernel,  both poking up from a solid groundcover of Water Purslane.

Here's a little clearer shot of that Clammy Hedge-hyssop, and it also shows the reddish sprawling stems of the Water Purslane, which will have flowers later on in the season, but such tiny ones you can barely see them.

Poking up from the almost uniform green of the mudflat plant carpet were these silvery tufts of Low Cudweed, a mud-loving relative of Pearly Everlasting that never grows any bigger than this little clump.

Back further from the shore, amid the tall growth of sedges and rushes, I found a patch of Bur Reeds, with fluffy white staminate flower heads riding higher on the crooked stalk than the lower-growing pistillate heads that look like spiky burs.   It will be easier to tell what species of Bur Reed this is, after the pistillate heads develop into clusters of nutlets whose shape is distinctive for each species.  This might be Lesser Bur Reed (Sparganium americanum), since the whole plant was only about 18 inches high.

The place was a-whirr with the constant zipping-about of dragonflies, and I noticed one Twelve-spotted Skimmer always returned to this perch each time it flew off.  Let me see if I can sneak up on it.

Success!  After at least a dozen tries,  I finally inched close enough to get a clear shot the next time the dragonfly landed.  I guess when they named this dragonfly, they only counted black spots.

Here was another dragonfly with a chalky-white tail, this one called, aptly enough, the Common Whitetail.  Note the distinctive dark-brown patterns on the wings. Those shapes remind me of skates' egg cases (Mermaids' Purses).

A third dragonfly with chalky-white markings was kind enough to sit for a photo.  This one is called Chalk-fronted Corporal, for the markings on its thorax that look like an army corporal's stripes.

One more bug, a big green grasshopper, species unknown.  It kept trying to hide on the underside of this leaf, but always kept at least one brown eye peering out at me.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Paddling the Betar Backwater

Today was a triple treat:  a perfect day for a paddle, a perfect place to go paddling, and a fine friend to paddle with.  And that was just the beginning.  It got even better than that.

To begin with, the day dawned clear and still, a welcome turn of events, since I'd agreed to meet my friend Sue at the Betar Byway in South Glens Falls to paddle the Hudson River backwater there, then explore the open river upstream to a section of sheer shale cliffs.  Our route was probably no more than a mile, but we like to take our time, poking about in little bays,  creeping quietly up on turtles basking on fallen logs, and waiting patiently for clouds of coupling damselflies to resettle on overhanging snags so we just might get a photo.  (No such luck!)

I did have a goal for today, and that was to find again the jelly-like colony of "moss animals" called Pectinatella that accumulates on underwater branches in quiet backwaters like this.  This is a photo I took last year and looked up again today, wanting to get a search image fresh in my mind.  Unfortunately, it didn't help, for search though we did, we did not find another colony today.

In such a beautiful spot as this, it's impossible to stay disappointed for long.  Everywhere we looked was a treat for our eyes, including this Watershield with pads a stunning ruby red.

Then, Ho!  What's that, poking up from the surface, floating on little pontoons among the Watershield?  Sue spied it first, and she, like me, could hardly believe her eyes.

Well, I'll be darned!  It's Small Inflated Bladderwort (Utricularia radiata), blooming a whole month earlier that I've ever seen it before.  But then, I've never come looking for it this early before, since the first time I ever saw this little rare bladderwort was in September, two years ago. 

There were only a few of the bladderwort's chubby yellow flowers in full bloom today; most were still in bud or only partly open.  But come back in a month, and there will be hundreds bobbing about on their radiating air-filled pontoons, making it very hard to believe that this plant is listed as "Threatened" in New York State.

When we finally left the shelter of the backwater, we were pleased to see that the open river was still quite calm, making for an easy passage upstream.

Of course, it still took us quite a while to reach the area of steep shale cliffs,  since we had many fascinating distractions along the way.  But finally we felt the sheer black walls looming over us.  This particular sheer black wall was brightened by the brilliant orange of a green algae called Trentepohlia aurea.  I know it seems odd to call this orange fuzzy stuff a green algae, but that is indeed what it is, although it contains certain chemicals that mask its chlorophyll.

Other bright spots of color on these dark, dank walls were provided by Purple-flowering Raspberry.   The pretty ferns next to the raspberry vine are Bulblet Fern, a species that usually indicates the presence of lime.  Many little springs drip down these dampened cliffs, carrying minerals from the substrate above and dissolving the lime in the shale, which crumbles at a touch.

The beauty of Water Pennywort lies in its glossy green scalloped leaves, here clinging enmasse to the walls of the cliff.   It may very well have been in flower, but its tiny translucent green flowers would be almost invisible even if they weren't hidden under the leaves.

Looking almost as leafy as that Pennywort was this liverwort (species unknown) of the prettiest glossy green.  There were several kinds of liverworts clinging to these cliffs, and this year I'm going to make it my project to learn their names.

When we reach the cliffs with the row of rectangular blocks, we know we are nearing the Feeder Dam and it's time to turn around. 

As it was, it took us over an hour to return to our launching site, even with the current pushing behind us.   Not because we had gone so far, but because there was so much more to see.  What a beautiful stretch of river!

PS:  Just for the record, I want to add that we found a single plant of Golden Pert (Gratiola aurea) growing out of a floating log here in the Betar backwater. 

Also known as Golden Hedge Hyssop, this is a plant I find growing profusely upstream, in the catchment above the Sherman Island Dam, where it carpets the muddy shores and fills every crack in the riverside rocks, despite the fact that botanical atlases show no record of its existence in Saratoga County.  I have queried many of my botanical friends, who tell me they have never seen this plant anywhere else in their area explorations, other than the catchment I mentioned.  It certainly makes sense that Golden Pert would show up downstream from that area, as the Betar backwater is, lying below the Feeder Dam in South Glens Falls.  I wonder if it will find a home here and spread as profusely as it has done upstream.    It will be interesting to watch its progress.  Or lack of it.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Ice Meadows Once Again!

Don't I ever get tired of visiting the Ice Meadows again and again?  Nope, not a bit, there's so much to see in a spectacularly beautiful setting, and besides, today some of my favorite flower friends were also going to go there.  Would I like to join them?   Well, I guess!

We met at our usual meeting place, the "seepy area" on the west side of the Hudson River north of Warrensburg, and clambered about on the rocks and around the pools, looking for some of the rarities that are known to grow there and generally enjoying this beautiful, if extremely windy, day.

Many of the flowers that had been in full bloom a week ago were starting to go to seed.  In the case of Sticky Tofieldia, the rosy-red seeds are just as pretty as the flowers, but what struck us as odd today was the way new flower growth was sprouting down lower on the stems beneath the seed heads.  I guess it decided it hadn't yet had enough of the growing season.

Here's a plant, Horned Bladderwort, that was barely in bloom last week, but which today had fully opened its flowers, displaying its distinctive long spur.  Unlike most of the bladderworts common around here, this one does not float on the water but stands attached to the damp sand, its bladders buried beneath.  I don't know how they can use their bladders to suck in nutrients down there, but I guess they must manage somehow.

Another plant that likes it damp is pretty Pickerelweed, raising its purple spikes in the little pools among the rocks.

Another denizen of damp sand is Monkey Flower, showing its bright blue face to us today.

Not yet in bloom but just as pretty in bud is Joe-Pye Weed.  Actually, even prettier when in bud.

When I saw this tiny St. Johnswort today, I realized I had made a mistake identifying it last week, when I was here with the Thursday Naturalists.  I had called it Dwarf St. Johnswort, when it's actually Canada St. Johnswort, distinguished by its very narrow leaves as well as by blood-red buds.

 Here's the Dwarf St. Johnswort, even tinier of flower and much rounder of leaf, and with green buds.
This one was also in bloom on the Ice Meadows today, right next to the Canada.

I don't know the name of this sedge, I just thought it looked interesting.  This riverside site is well known for its many species of sedge, some of them quite rare.

Those fluffy-caterpillar-like things sharing a shallow pool with this frog (Mink or Green?) are the underwater leaves of Flat-leaved Bladderwort, which I have yet to find in bloom.  I think I would have to look earlier in spring for the flowers of this one.

In the course of the day we visited three other sites along the west bank of the river, each one as beautiful as the others, with rushing water tumbling over rocks and thick green woods along the banks.  From this site we can see upstream to where Rte. 28 crosses the river at The Glen.


It was while visiting this site that we discovered this pink-and-white Goldenrod Crab Spider perfectly camouflaged to match the pink-and-white flowers of Spreading Dogbane.  If this very same spider were hiding in Butterflyweed, it would change its coloration to bright yellow with orange stripes.

Aha!  I've been looking for this Eyelash Cup Fungus  (Scutellinia scutellata) for several years, and I found it today here in the woods leading down to the river.  It's always close to a miracle to find this tiny fungus, since the largest of these pictured was hardly bigger than the head of a pin.

More than a year ago I received a letter from a French scientist doing research on the genus Scutellinia asking me if I would send him specimens of Eyelash Cup from my part of the world.  Well sure I would, IF I could ever find it again.  And today I did.  I wonder if he still wants it?

It surely astounded me to be sought out by a scientist that far away.  He said he had seen my blog, with its photo of this Eyelash Cup Fungus in the right-hand photo column, and he hoped I might be able to provide him with some specimens from northeastern North America.  I must say, this internet is amazing!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Orchids in Their Glory

Kind of chilly and damp today.  A good day to check out the bog where hundreds of Grass Pink orchids grow, now that friends have been reporting them from other sites.  I won't say exactly where this bog is, since I have to cross private property without permission to get to it.  But aside from making me feel a bit sneaky while trespassing, it's the easiest bog I've ever accessed or walked on.   You just slip through  a hedge, and there before you lie orchids as far as the eye can see.

I just couldn't stop taking photos.

I'd hoped to find at least some budding stalks of another orchid, the White Fringed Orchis, that also blooms profusely in this same bog.  Not a trace of them yet.  But then I remembered I'd found them before when the Highbush Blueberries were ripe enough to fall into my hands at a touch.  The blueberries today were a long way from being that ripe.  Oh, how I love the colors of unripe blueberries, those pale aqua spheres topped with rose and lime ruffles.

There were Lowbush Blueberries and Black Huckleberries, too, with only a few ripe fruits here and there.  While hunting for at least a small handful, I noticed these odd little velvety puffs on many of the leaves. (I can't recall now if the growths occurred on the blueberry or huckleberry shrubs or both.)

I've seen blueberry stem galls before that look like red berries, but these growths were only on the leaves, and rather than being solid hard berry-like galls, they were hollow underneath, as I could see when I turned the leaf over.

How odd!  Almost all the low berry shrubs were affected.  I hope it doesn't affect the quality of the fruit, which I hope to enjoy when I return in two weeks or so to find those White Fringed Orchids.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Greenest Dragonfly I've Ever Seen

While out for a walk along Bog Meadow Nature Trail today, I spotted the greenest dragonfly I have ever seen, and I actually got a pretty good photo of it.  How lucky, too, that I found it perching over brown sand instead of hidden among green leaves.  Over the phone, my friend Sue talked me through the pages of the Stokes Beginners Guide to Dragonflies, and we decided this either a female or an immature male Eastern Pondhawk (Erithemis simplicicollis).

This blog's readers may remember that I posted a photo of an adult male Eastern Pondhawk not too long ago, and I'm reposting that photo so we can have a complete set here.  Note that both sexes have bright green faces and white appendages at the ends of their abdomens.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Happy Paddling on Pyramid Lake

A big storm came through Saratoga this afternoon, bringing a wonderfully refreshing change in the weather, chasing that horrible heat wave right on out.  It was probably still horribly hot yesterday, but Sue and I couldn't really tell, since both of us were out on the cooling waters of Pyramid Lake up in the Adirondacks.  Although we were only an hour's drive north, we felt we had come a world away from the bustle of Saratoga or Queensbury,  here in the heart of the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness Area.

When we first arrived, the wind was blowing so fiercely we almost scrapped our plans for a paddle, but I was sure we would find quiet water in a swamp at the far east end of the lake. And so we did.

The Sheep Laurel growing there was the biggest and brightest I've ever seen.

Every fallen log in this shallow end of the lake was populated with a marvelous variety of plants.

Among those plants was the insect-eating Round-leaved Sundew, which bit off more than it could chew when its sticky tentacles trapped this bright-blue damselfly.  Poor thing!

Although the damselfly was still alive when I freed its wings from the sticky trap,  I'm afraid its wings were too crumpled to allow it to ever fly again.

Another insect-eating plant in the swamp was Common Bladderwort,  whose underwater bladders can suck in passing mini-creatures that live in the water.

The Fragrant Water Lilies were at their peak of absolute perfection.

If you click on this photo and gaze at it for a while, I think you might find it easier to believe, as I do, that there is some kind of Great Goodness that lies at the heart of creation.

Some of the swamp plants required a closer look to appreciate their intriguing structure, such as this Water Bulrush with its curling white tendrils clasping the stem.

This little rush with gracefully slender underwater leaves that sway like mermaid's hair in the currents used to be identified with the scientific name Scirpus subterminalis, but it now goes by the new name of Schoenoplectus subterminalis.

A real surprise was this fluffy little water plant called Small Bur-reed (Sparganium natans), since I have never found it blooming this early in Pyramid Lake.  The fact that I have ever seen it at all is something of a miracle, since it is threatened, endangered, or outright extirpated in almost all states surrounding New York.  It is ranked as "Threatened" in New York, but it grows by the hundreds in this shallow end of Pyramid Lake.

After an hour or so of prowling the swamp's quiet shallows, it seemed the wind had lost some of its force out on the open water, so we thought we would try to circle the lake, still clinging close to the shore where the gusts were less likely to buffet us.  By staying this close to shore, we also had a better chance of spying the shy little flowers along the forested banks.  Even so, I would have missed these dainty little Twinflowers if Sue had not pointed them out to me.

I did see a patch of the pretty Wood Sorrel in bloom, and I even managed to get close enough to take a photo of one of its candy-striped flowers, set amid its equally pretty heart-shaped leaves.

After stopping back on shore to have lunch, we set out in our boats again, this time to explore the swamp at the opposite end of the lake.  In this photo, we are trying to paddle as quietly as possible to the site where Sue saw a grazing deer.

Here, as in the opposite swamp, every grassy and ferny hummock was peppered with bright-pink Rose Pogonias,  still at the peak of their beauty.

I probably have dozens of Rose Pogonia photos in my files, but every time I find one as exquisite as this, I have to take another.

We pulled our boats up onto the shore of a cedar thicket and pushed through the prickly boughs, determined to find the rare Pink Pyrola  (Pyrola asarifolia) I'd seen in there two years ago.  Alas, they were not to found, for the second year in a row.  The place was full of pyrolas, however: Shinleaf, of course, and also this lime-jello-colored one, called Greenish-flowered Pyrola (Pyrola chlorantha).

We also found a single specimen of this little plant, still called One-sided Pyrola although recent taxonomic research has placed it in another genus, Orthilia secunda.

Both of the pyrolas we did find are considered very rare in many surrounding states, but lucky for us here in New York, it's only the Pink Pyrola that's considered a threatened species.

Paddling back to camp at the end of the day, we had many insect visitors as we moseyed along close to shore.  When I plucked this odd insect mess out of the water with my paddle, I thought at first it was a drowning moth struggling at the surface.  On closer examination,  I wondered if it was one insect being devoured by a second.  But now that my computerized image offers me a really close look, it appears to be an adult insect emerging from its nymph pupa, the remainder of its crumpled wings and green segmented abdomen still captured within the being-cast-off skin.  Anybody have any idea what this insect is?  Guess I'd better go ask

Update:  Hurray for, they always come through!  A prompt responder to my query suggested this is most likely a Caddisfly emerging from its pupa.  Well, of course! Just look at that skinny head, those big bulgy dark eyes, and the super-long antennae.

As I sat in my canoe, my outstretched, nearly sunburnt legs seemed to be a magnet for a number of dragonflies and damselflies.  Although Sue had given me a Stokes Guide to Dragonflies, I still have a hard time telling one from the other.  I'm guessing that this blue-eyed, green-marked percher belongs to the group called clubtails, due to that swollen section at the end of its abdomen.  Since, according to my guide, even experts have difficulty with this group, "clubtail" is as far as I will venture to give it a name.

After the clubtail had perched on my sun-baked leg for a few moments, it began to lift its abdomen to an almost completely vertical position.  Sue told me this posture is called "obelisking," by which the overheating dragonfly attempts to expose as little of its body to the sun as possible.

A few damselflies found my legs irresistible, too, which gave me a chance to take nice clear photos of them, a rare opportunity when it comes to damselflies.  Even so, I'm still not sure what the name of this dusty-blue one is.  Perhaps it's a "Powdered Dancer."

At least I'm pretty sure that this is a Variable Dancer.  I sure couldn't find any other damselfly in my book with a purple abdomen tipped with a bright-blue terminal segment.  Pretty!