Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Another Year of Wonders in the Woods and on the Waters

Another wonderful year of nature adventures!   When I started this blog on January 1, 2009, I intended to keep a one-year journal of my hikes and paddles in and around Saratoga County.  Here it is, four years later, and I'm still discovering new amazements almost every time I go out.  I guess I will continue to document them in the coming year.

Looking back over the year just ended, I tried to pick out events from each month that stood out in significance for me.  Starting with last January's posts, I especially remember a very cold and windy afternoon Sue and I went to the Ft. Edward grasslands to see Short-eared Owls.  This rare visitor from the north comes down to this Important Birding Area each winter to feed here in an extensive protected grasslands preserve.  This is one of the very few owls we are likely to see hunting while it is daylight, and we were not disappointed, thanks to some fellow birders who had spotting scopes and let us look through them.  As this photo reveals, there was no snow on the ground in mid-January, and the ground remained bare throughout most of the winter.

February came, and still hardly any snow.  My friend Laurie Williams took me up into the Palmertown Mountains at Moreau Lake State Park to see some very large and old Black Tupelo trees.  We did not need snowshoes to go off the trail to explore the swamp where these craggy old trees could be found.  I hope this coming year I can interest some dendrologist to core-sample and date these old giants.  I don't believe they are quite as old as the 600-year-old tupelos growing in a nearby state forest, but they could be very, very old indeed.

Spring came early, with excessively warm weather in March, causing many of our spring ephemerals to really rush the season.   Never in other years had I found Bloodroot blooming before April, but this photo was taken during the last week of March.   Throughout the summer, most flowers bloomed at least two weeks earlier than I or other botanical friends had ever recorded.

April was an exciting month for our friends at Moreau Lake State Park, for the beautiful new Nature Center was finally completed and opened to the public.  Sue and I attended the dedication ceremonies, where we met other nature enthusiasts who joined us for a walk around the lake.  We all remember that walk because we surprised a litter of tiny Red Fox kits, who quickly scrambled to hide in their den among the roots of a tree.  They were unbelievably cute!

May is my birthday month, and I got a wonderful birthday surprise when the Cecropia Moth, whose cocoon I had hung on my porch all winter, emerged to spread her big beautiful wings while clinging to my porch screens.  I placed her outdoors in a Mountain Laurel bush, and when I looked the next morning, not only was she was still there, but a mate had flown in to find her, using those huge feathery antennae to detect her by her scent. (He's the one on the left in this photo.)

Well, I can't let May go by without noting the thrill of laying eyes on one of New York's rarest orchids, the Hooker's Orchis.  I believe that at last count, there were fewer than five plants known as to location in all of New York State, and here were three of them.  And another plant grew a few yards away.  I was led to this marvelous find by one of my newest naturalist friends, Bob Duncan, who very generously led me to other treasures throughout the summer.

In June, Bob Duncan also escorted me to a site where dozens and dozens of Showy Lady's Slippers were in their glory.   When these native orchids find a spot they like, they thrive in great number, but unfortunately, the kind of spots they like -- open calcareous wetlands -- are rapidly disappearing.  I am so grateful to friends like Bob, who gladly share with me their knowledge of where to find such spectacular wildflowers.

In July, it was my pleasure to share my wildflower finds with Andrew Gibson, a young botanist who drove straight through from his home in Ohio in order to catch the spectacular White Fringed Orchis blooming in a secret bog.  Andrew and I spent three whole days in botanical heaven, traveling from bog to ice meadow to river islands to old-growth forest to Adirondack wilderness lakes.  We had so much fun and found so many treasures, Andrew is planning to return this coming May to catch more of New York's orchids in bloom, many species of which can no longer be found in Ohio.  Andrew really loves orchids!

 July was also the month when I was introduced to many species of alpine flora atop Whiteface Mountain in the Adirondacks.  Steve Young, chief botanist for the New York Flora Association, led an excursion to document the fragile plant species that can only grow in this harsh habitat.  The other members of our little group recognized these plants as if they were old friends, but oh my, every one of them was brand new to me!  I was introduced to 10 new "lifers" in one afternoon and can't wait to go back and find more.

In August, I got my first-ever photographic assignment:  to photograph a sheep farm for an art exhibit that raised money toward a conservation easement that would preserve this beautiful river-valley acreage as agricultural land forever.   The exhibit was held at the Spring Street Gallery in Saratoga Springs, and the gallery made exquisite professional-quality prints of my photos, framed them handsomely, and actually sold a few!  I was glad to contribute my photos for such a good cause, and I especially loved tramping about the farm and its fields and getting to know the people who live and work on this land.

August was also the month that my dear friend Sue purchased her very own Hornbeck canoe, a carbon fiber BlackJack that weighs just 12 pounds, which means that we can now explore together more ponds and rivers that would be too remote for her to carry her old kayak to.  One of our first excursions (although not a remote one)  was a paddle on Lens Lake in the Adirondacks, where we were joined by our friend Nancy Slack, fellow Hornbecker and a well-known ecologist who could tell us the names of all the different sphagnum mosses populating the extensive bog mats on the lake.

September brought many pleasant nature adventures, but perhaps the highlight of them all was joining Bob Duncan once again on a hunt for a flower I'd never seen (or wouldn't have recognized if I had ever seen it).  This was the Yellow Ladies' Tresses, a Spiranthes species that looks so much like the Nodding Ladies' Tresses I doubt I could tell them apart even if I could see them side-by-side.  A big clue to its identity though, is that it blooms a few weeks later and in a drier habitat than its look-alike sister.  This was my second new Ladies' Tresses species this summer, since my friend Evelyn Greene had taken me to see Hooded Ladies' Tresses in an old granite quarry in July.  I am so grateful to have such experienced friends helping me deepen my own botanical knowledge.

In October, my husband and I spent a brief seaside vacation in Montauk, on the very eastern tip of Long Island, where I had a wonderful time botanizing the sand dunes and salt marshes, encountering plants I would never find at home.  It's a good thing I brought my Newcomb's along.  Three of the plants I found out there -- Maryland Golden Aster, Sickle-leaved Golden Aster, and Hyssop-leaf Boneset --  grow nowhere else in New York but on Long Island.

National Trails Day came in November, and what better way to mark it than helping to create a new trail in Moreau Lake State Park?  I am always delighted to donate time, talent, or energy to this park,  with its over 4,000 acres of forest, mountains, lake, ponds, streams, river, marshes, islands -- whatever a nature lover is looking for, Moreau Lake State Park has it in abundance!  The park even crosses the Hudson now, with extensive wooded holdings on the Warren County side of the river, and that's where we focused our energies one chilly November day, clearing and grooming a new trail that runs along the banks of the Hudson, offering beautiful views of the river.

December arrived, along with our first dusting of snow.  The snow promptly melted, but a huge flock of Snow Geese that had landed on Loughberry Lake in the heart of Saratoga Springs stuck around for a week or more.

Although their presence in such numbers was a welcome event that attracted birders from miles around to witness this unusual sight,  their presence here was also a sign that things were not right along the geese's regular migration routes.  Extended drought and withering heat this past summer wiped out crops in the central states that in other years would offer feeding sites for migrating waterfowl.  Many birds were also blown off course by the largest storm ever recorded in the Northeast, a combination of Hurricane Sandy and a huge Nor'easter that caused the sea to rise up and swamp many coastal communities, including the whole southern part of Manhattan.  Unusual and destructive weather was one of the biggest stories of the whole year across the U.S. continent, and my hope is that my fellow citizens will at last wake up and address the crucial issue of global warming.

So here we are now, in January 2013, and at least the winter seems to be setting off on the right foot, with more snow in the first couple of days than we had on the ground at any time all last winter.  Frigid temperatures are setting up good hard ice on the lakes and ponds and river bays.   The woods will soon be filled with animal tracks for us to follow,  and the eagles will soon be down from Canada to feed in our local rivers.  Winter adventures await!  Time to get out and have fun.

* * *

I can't let my year-end report conclude without celebrating the many folks who shared my nature adventures, introducing me to wonders I'd never discovered and just being grand companions.  I've already mentioned knowledgeable friends like Nancy Slack and Bob Duncan, but here's a whole bunch of others all together in one group,  a mix of professional naturalists and passionate amateur nature lovers who call themselves the Thursday Naturalists.  I don't manage to join them every Thursday, but every Thursday I do, I have a wonderful time and learn many things.

I want to single out Ruth Schottman (in the center of the front row of the folks above) and Ed Miller (above to Ruth's right and also in the photo below) as delightful friends and hiking companions.  Both have made extra efforts to advance my nature education, inviting me along on many excursions to wonderful places, as well as being always available to reliably answer my many questions.  Best of all, they are just good fun to be with.  

Another star in my firmament of nature friends is Evelyn Greene, who knows where every rare plant or trackless bog can be found in the Adirondacks and is always delighted to escort me and others there in person.  To get a sense of the variety of nature adventures I've shared with Evelyn, just type "Evelyn Greene" into my blog's search bar and see how many posts come up.  This lady is like the Energizer Bunny, and I just love trying to keep up with her.

Thanks to an introduction through Evelyn, a new friend I made this year is Carol Gracie, shown here photographing a White Fringed Orchis while her husband Scott Mori holds the light-filtering umbrella.  Carol is an acclaimed naturalist, photographer and author of books on wildflowers, and it was thanks to her knowledge and professional connections that I was able to identify an unusual water plant I found in the Hudson.  This plant, called Slender Milfoil, is hardly ever found blooming, but because of low water levels in the river this past summer,  there was such an abundance of blooming plants that I could obtain numerous specimens for various state plant collections.  (I suppose only wildflower nuts like me will understand what a thrill this was!  Thanks for helping, Carol.)

And then, of course, there's Sue.   Frequent readers of this blog will immediately recognize my dear friend and constant nature companion Sue Pierce, who stars in so many of my nature adventures throughout the year.  Every nature lover should be blessed with such a companion, one who knows how to take an hour to walk a hundred yards,  one who never grows impatient while I struggle to focus my macro on some fascinating tiny bit of flora.  That's because she's doing the same thing too.  Younger and sharper of senses than I, Sue often serves as my eyes and ears, seeing and hearing so much that I would miss if she were not with me.   Thank you, dear friend, for your passion, your joy, and your patience.  Here's to another year of wandering the woods and waters with you.


catharus said...

Simply wonderful! Thanks for reminding us (your readers) of the year's highlights. Blessings for the New Year!

squirrel said...

I am go glad you continued to blog another year, I would miss your input if you did not. I so enjoy seeing what you and Sue find and am amazed at you attention to detail and dedication to blog all the time. I know it can be like job at times. Belssing for the coming year.

Anonymous said...

THANK YOU for another year of sharing your discoveries and wonderous observations of nature. I look forward to those awaiting you (and us!) in the New Year!

Raining Iguanas said...

I am truly grateful for having discovered your blog last year. It has lead me to some great trails and experiences that were right under my nose. You have created a beneficial learning tool and you have done it with beautiful photographs and well written stories. I look forward to another year of nature class. Keep up the fantastic work. I think everyone who visits here will agree.

Steve Young said...

We will be going back to Whiteface again the last Saturday in July. More ADK trips planned and will be posted at Adkbotsoc.org. See you in the field!