Sunday, September 1, 2013
Old Friends and Favorite Haunts
In my last post, I celebrated the wonderful new friends and new nature sites I have gained because of my blog. Then on Saturday, a rambling walk with my dear friend Sue along the familiar shores of Moreau Lake reminded me to also celebrate old friends and favorite haunts. After all, it was these very friends and these very places that inspired me to start my nature blog in the first place. Our adventure this day, which took us around the back bay of the lake, proved once again that even the most familiar settings will almost always yield many delightful surprises.
A forecast of rain could not dissuade us from starting around the shore. If anything, the gray skies and misty atmosphere only added to the beauty of the scene -- as did the presence of one very picturesque paddler. These inclement conditions also assured we would have the lake almost completely to ourselves this last very busy Saturday before Labor Day.
As I expected, the sandy shore was decorated with the dainty pink flowers of thousands of Gerardias.
It was this very shore, after all, where I first came to know one of our latest flowers to bloom each year, the Small-flowered Gerardia (Agalinus paupercula), distinguished from other Gerardias by its smallish flower and very short flower stalks.
But then Sue spied this other species of Gerardia, called Slender Gerardia (Agalinus tenuifolia), with its much longer flower stalks. This is a flower I usually find in much drier locales, so its presence here was quite a surprise. I'm sure I must have overlooked it many times, assuming it was the other species I had come to expect. With both species growing so close to each other, I wonder if they will eventually hybridize. This is a situation that could bear watching.
We were not at all surprised to find the beautiful blue blooms of Closed Gentians (Gentiana clausa), growing right at the very spot we look for them every year. Not surprised, but certainly delighted. What consolation these lovely late-bloomers offer us, as we prepare to bid farewell to summer.
A big surprise was yet to greet us as we made our way around the back bay. In fact, we could hardly believe our eyes when we spied this abundant patch of Nodding Ladies' Tresses (Spiranthes cernua) sprawling along a stretch of shore we had walked many times over several years and never spied so much as a single spike of this small native orchid growing here.
Our whoops of delight drew several paddlers over to see what our fuss was about, allowing us to surprise these paddlers with the news (to them!) that New York has more native orchids than even Hawaii or Florida.
Granted, the Ladies' Tresses are not as showy as some of the tropical species, but a close examination reveals a flower of delicate beauty.
With almost every footfall along the shore, we sent off a flurry of leaping frogs and toads. Most of the frogs were Pickerel Frogs, so I was quite surprised when I looked at this photo on my computer screen and discovered this little creature resting on a fern frond was instead a quite unexpected Spring Peeper.
Another unexpected creature revealed by enlarging my photo was this tiny but vivid red mite, hitching a ride on the back of a Daddy Long-legs. What a perfect touch of accent color to this already colorful study in yellow and green! Although I'm sure the Daddy Long-legs did not appreciate this aesthetic effect.
This Milkweed Tiger Moth caterpillar didn't need the addition of mites or of anything at all to complete its vivid coloration, being pretty vivid in its own right. In fact, that bright orange and black and white make up a warning flag to any bird that might want to eat it, signaling the presence of toxins the caterpillar has absorbed by eating Milkweed.
As we left the lake to go have lunch together, Sue and I decided to stop along the park road where a year ago we had found a nice patch of another native orchid, Autumn Coralroot (Corallorhiza odontorhiza). We weren't sure we could find them again, since the plants are tiny and colored about the same as the forest floor. Talk about UNshowy orchids! In fact, this particular orchid, being a self-pollinator, usually doesn't even bother to open its flowers and looks as if it's in bud when it's actually fully in bloom. So we were really surprised and delighted to find them.
And then, we found one last surprise of the day: one of the Coralroots defied our expectations and actually produced open flowers, with teensy tiny petals spotted with purple. Hey, you never know!