Friday, July 26, 2013

A Berry Good Day at Lake Desolation

 The breeze you see riffling the surface of Lake Desolation was actually quite chilly yesterday, and  I wished I had worn a jacket as I waited onshore for my friends from the Thursday Naturalists to join me here at this small quiet lake that lies between Greenfield Center and the Sacandaga Reservoir.  We've had a pronounced change in the weather of late, from temperatures over 100 degrees last week to nighttime chills in the low 50s the past few nights.  I was certainly glad for the cooler weather,  though, especially since we had planned to explore a bog on the shore of the lake, the kind of habitat that can really be stifling in hot humid weather.

I had never visited the bog our group was to visit, and so I was quite surprised to find it was more of a forested tract than I had expected.  There was dampness and sphagnum underfoot, to be sure, but over our heads soared large White Pines and Red Maples.  The going was often impeded by understory thickets of Highbush Blueberry and Mountain Holly, but we managed to push our way through  -- although at a botanist's pace.  Which means, a very slow progress, since every few feet we were bending over to examine one botanical find after another.

Further slowing our pace was the abundance of ripe blueberries.  Of course, we had to stop to gather and eat large quantities of the sweet fruit, which easily dropped right into our hands, large clusters at a time.

There were other berries, too -- not palatable,  unfortunately, although they did offer a feast for the eyes.  Abundant bunches of Chokecherries dangled their ruby-red fruits.

Mountain Holly berries glowed like Christmas lights amid the thick branches right over our heads.

The botanical find of the day, my friend Ed Miller assured me,  was a fern that has not been recorded yet in Saratoga County.  This is the Virginia Chain Fern (Woodwardia virginica),  and we found quite a few of its graceful solitary fronds.  This fern is notable for growing not in multi-frond clumps but rather as single fronds that sprout in a line from a ropelike underground rhizome.

We also found some of the fronds displaying the pattern of sori (spore packets) distinctive for this particular fern.

We were delighted to find quite a few stems of Green Wood Orchis (Habenaria clavellata) in a part of the bog that was more open to sunlight,  where numerous Pitcher Plants and abundant shrubs of the wonderfully aromatic Labrador Tea were growing, as well.

As we climbed our way out of the bog and up an embankment to the road, we were met with the wonderful fragrance of a large patch of Common Milkweed.   As evidenced by the presence of this Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly, we weren't the only ones to find this fragrance attractive.

I don't know if the Red Milkweed Beetles find the fragrance of Common Milkweed attractive.  They certainly find everything else about it to their liking, spending their entire life cycles on its plants, laying eggs at the base of its stems, where the larvae burrow into the roots and then emerge to consume the leaves and flowers, mate, and resume the cycle all over again.  They have no reason to develop cryptic coloration to hide from predators, but rather advertise their toxicity (gained by absorbing toxins from the milkweed leaves they eat) by their brilliant red color.

 On a wonderfully informative site put up by the University of Wisconsin, I learned that this beetle has learned how to control the flow of the milky latex by severing leaf veins upstream from their feeding site.  Although they want to absorb some of the milkweed's fluids, apparently, too much of the sticky stuff can actually  glue their mouthparts shut.  To learn more about this beautiful and fascinating creature, you can click here.

Happily, all our mouthparts were working fine as we sat to enjoy a picnic on the shore of Lake Desolation.


threecollie said...

Lovely! I thought of you when we were at camp surrounded by all the wonderful mountain vegetation. We didn't find any blueberries though. color me jealous. lol

The Furry Gnome said...

Boy, you have some neat adventures! The fern is a great find; I've only seen it once here in Ontario, up near Tobermory. And your pictures are spectacular, especially that bug!

catharus said...

Those mountain holly berries are a new one for me...pretty cool how they dangle.
Yeh, high bush blueberry season is in full force here in central PA; 'good picking in some nice fens.

unmowed said...

What gorgeous photographs! This beauty is all around us every day, but somehow it takes a photographer's lens to make us see it. Thanks!

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Thank you, threecollie, for your kind comment. Sorry you couldn't find blueberries at the lake, but how about raspberries? Thanks to your wonderful blog (Northview Diary), I think of you every time I pass a pasture with cows serenely grazing and know how much work it takes to maintain that appearance of serenity.

Thanks, Furry Gnome. I've never seen that fern before, either, and probably wouldn't have seen it this time, either, if not for my wonderfully knowledgeable friends pointing it out to me.

Hi catharus, always good to hear from you. Enjoy your blueberries while they last!

Thank you, unmowed. You are right about beauty being all around us, and I know I missed a whole lot of it before I started peering through my camera's viewfinder.