Saturday, February 23, 2013

New Finds on the Tupelo Trail

We sure were a grumpy pair, Sue and I, when we met at the Spring Overlook Trailhead on Spier Falls Road today.  Tiny pellets of ice were pattering all around us from a leaden sky, and visions of slick steep curving roads that stood between us and our safe warm houses were giving us second thoughts about hiking up to the overlook today.  But it wasn't just that.  It was just February.  Who doesn't start to feel grumpy in February, especially when the winter has been so snowless and drear?  Oh well.  Let's hike, we decided.  We're already here. 

We hadn't been able to climb this trail all summer and fall, because of heavy construction work on the powerline that cuts across the access to the overlook from Spier Falls Road.  But work is halted now for the winter, so we were free to ascend.  We also wanted to hike even further today, to a swamp way up in the mountain where some big old Black Tupelos grow, and if we didn't go now while the swamp was frozen, we wouldn't be able to get close to the trees without sinking into the muck.  So up we went.

As soon as we left the blasted powerline area behind us, we began to feel more cheerful.  Our dear familiar forested mountain trail was as lovely as ever, and the climbing was very easy today, with just enough snow to provide better footing over the slippery ice, but not enough to require the added weight of snowhoes.  It felt good to force our lungs to take in the sweet cold air, and as we ascended we warmed up enough to unzip several layers of garments, despite our faces being pelted with icy pellets.

Cascades of blue ice decorated the rocky outcroppings near the summit of the mountain.

In every season and every weather, the view from the overlook is ample reward for the effort it takes to reach it.

We didn't linger long at the overlook but pushed on toward the tupelo swamp that lay a good deal further along and at an even higher elevation.

On every hike I take with Sue, I find reason to feel grateful for her remarkable eyesight, and this hike was no exception.  The tiny bug in this photo was maybe a quarter inch long and walking across a snow surface littered with beechnut husks and birch seeds.  But Sue spied it easily, and of course we had to kneel down in the snow to get a better look.  It isn't everyday you see little bugs abroad on the snow.  Other than Snow Fleas, that is, and this was certainly not a Snow Flea, with those long legs and little hook at the end of its abdomen.

Thanks to, Sue has since identified this remarkable little creature as a Snow Fly of the genus Chinoea, which doesn't emerge as an adult insect until after snow covers the ground and because of a unique biochemistry survives in subfreezing temperatures.   Sue also linked me to a site called "The Backyard Arthropod Project" that provided further fascinating information about Snow Flies as well as other intriguing bugs.  Check it out.

We continued on along the trail for longer than we thought we should have, wondering if we had missed our turnoff to the swamp.  But then we spied the landmarks we were looking for:  a long low ridge of rocks and a fallen tree pointing downward to our swamp.

Despite our feet punching through the swamp's ice cover in spots, we were able to penetrate the area far enough to at last lay eyes on one of the trees we were looking for.  Although we find many Black Tupelos growing in swampy areas along the Hudson, it's quite unusual to find them growing at this elevation, and these trees up here show signs of being much older than the specimens we find along the river. Sue and I don't think they are as old as the 600-800-year-old tupelos that have been found and core-sampled in a mountainous swamp just a few miles away from these, but we do think they might be quite old indeed.

The best way to pick them out from their neighbors is to search the sky for the tupelo's distinctive gnarly and twiggy crown that rises above the surrounding forest.

We brought along a GPS device to record the coordinates of the three trees we found today, hoping to interest some old-tree enthusiasts in visiting these trees and attempting to ascertain their age.  We also measured the diameter of each tupelo we found.  This particular tree measured 58.5 inches at breast height.

As we turned to make our way to another tupelo we had spotted off in the distance, we almost ran into this giant specimen hiding out among surrounding hemlocks at the outer edge of the swamp.

We measured the diameter of this tree at 73 inches, and we also noted the texture of the bark as a sign of its great age.  As tupelos age, the bark on one side of the tree becomes smoother than the normal deeply furrowed bark.  This photo shows the smoothed-out bark on the left, the deeper furrows on the right.


We found yet another tupelo, which we also measured and recorded coordinates for, before heading back down the mountain, feeling in much higher spirits than when we started up.  It could be it was just the exercise of climbing that infused us with better cheer, but I do believe it was also the fun of finding really cool stuff in the woods, from tiny bugs with antifreeze blood to ancient, impressive trees.


Jens Zorn said...

A graceful blend of photos and text. What a treat to see the world through your eyes!

Virginia said...

Wow, I didn't know there were tupelo trees there! Just a week ago, I finally led my ADK snowshoe across the Palmertown Mts., spotting cars. We actually were able to snowshoe which was such a treat. What a great outing. What trail are the tupelo trees on?

hikeagiant2 said...

A walk in the woods never fails to lift the spirits! We finally got out this past Sunday ... here in CT, the snow has just been too much! Love the snow flea ... nature is amazing@ Happy hiking!

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Thanks for taking the time to leave your comments, Jens and Virginia and hikeagiant. Good to hear from you.

Virginia, the tupelos are quite a ways off the trail. We start at the Spring Overlook Trail, but instead of following the yellow markers out to the overlook, we continue on a trail with dark blue markers until we find the landmarks we mentioned in this post.