Thursday, September 5: Willie Marsh with the Thursday Naturalists
Once again, my friends in the Thursday Naturalists introduced me to a new nature preserve, the Willie Wildlife Marsh near Gloversville. Several members of our group had visited this 1.5-mile trail a number of times since it was created by New York's Department of Environmental Conservation in the 1980s, after a wetlands was flooded by damming a creek to create a wildlife habitat. My friends' disappointment was evident when we discovered the system of boardwalks in such disrepair we could not cross the marsh to gain access to an island.
Despite our disappointment, we enjoyed a fine walk in a beautiful southern Adirondack forest on a bright but chilly morning. One of those forest beauties was the abundance of brilliant red Hobblebush berries studding the trailing branches of this ubiquitous shrub.
One of the more unusual plants to be found at this nature preserve is a shrub called Smooth Buckthorn (Rhamnus frangela). Although this shrub is an introduced species -- as is also the much more common species, R. cathartica -- this species is considered to be not nearly as invasive as that one.
After spending most of the chilly morning in the woods, the sunshine warming the grassy meadow on the top of the dam was quite welcome.
The sunshine's warmth had also coaxed into opening a group of Nodding Ladies' Tresses (Spiranthes cernua), one of our latest native orchids to bloom.
We may have been stopped from crossing the boardwalk, but that didn't stop us from enjoying a picnic lunch in the pleasure of one another's company.
Our marshland adventure over for the day, I was ready to climb into my car for the hour's drive back to Saratoga, when I noticed a patch of large, pale-purple asters right by the parking lot. They looked a bit different from the asters we'd been seeing all morning, so I went to investigate.
Oho! I found it at last! This was the Crooked-stem Aster (Symphyotrichum prenanthoides) I'd been looking for since last year, when a botanist with the New York Flora Asssociation had asked me to look for and obtain a specimen of this particular species, which had never been reported for Saratoga County. Turned out, it had not been reported for Fulton County, either. So I picked a few stems to bring home to press, making sure I included the distinctive leaves that narrow before clasping the diagnostic crooked stem.
This female Band-winged Meadowhawk seemed quite interested in this aster, too, for she landed first on the flower and then on my hand, and stayed there as long as it took me to take her portrait. I was happy my photo captured her pretty two-toned eyes and the splash of bright amber that decorated her clear lacy wings.
Friday, September 6: A "Berry" Good Day for Visiting Three Adirondack Ponds
Whenever my friend Evelyn Greene invites me on an adventure, I jump at the chance. This life-long Adirondack explorer knows of many isolated ponds I would never find on my own, and today we were going to visit three of them: Wakely Pond, Helldiver Pond, and Ice House Pond, all situated in a part of the Adirondack Park called the Moose River Plains, a vast area of state forest filled with primitive campsites and accessed by seriously rutted old logging roads and snowmobile trails. We actually paddled on only one of the ponds, Wakely Pond, which Evelyn had volunteered to monitor for the presence of aquatic invasives, and I had agreed to assist her. Here we are, setting off from a sheltered cove of the pond, Evelyn to paddle the shore in a counter-clockwise direction, I in the opposite direction.
I'm happy to report we found no invasive species, finding only those aquatic plants that are native to these northern ponds, such as this Floating Bur-reed (Sparganium fluctuans), with weak stems that lie flat on the water surface.
Many of the shoreline plants were long past blooming, but now were bearing very attractive fruit. This is Sheep Laurel (Kalmia angustifolia), with a cluster of pretty pink berries.
Neither a fruit nor a flower, the scaly pink tips at the top of Labrador Tea (Rhododendron groenlandicum) are the buds that hold next year's flowers.
Floating Hearts (Nymphoides cordata) were scattered across the surface of the dark quiet water. I keep hoping to someday find the small white flowers of this plant, but at least the leaves have a beauty all their own.
I had a brief moment of concern when I first mistook the underwater structures of Common Bladderwort (Utricularia vulgaris) to possibly be the very invasive Eurasian Milfoil. But as soon as I raised a piece of the plant above the water, I recognized the diagnostic sacs of this carnivorous native species that floats unrooted, consuming tiny animals by rapidly inflating those sacs and sucking the creatures in. The bulbous green ball is a "turion," a winter bud that will sink into the mud after the rest of the plant disintegrates from freezing. A new plant will sprout from the turion in the spring.
On every shore surrounding the pond were bushes of stunning beauty, heavy with clusters of bright pink berries. I guessed they were some kind of viburnum, but I wasn't sure if they were Witherod (Viburnum nudum var. cassinoides) or Nannyberry (V. lentago) until I was able to examine them more closely. Even then, I still wasn't sure. (See next day's account.)
Our next stop was Helldiver Pond, a small pretty pond that has the distinction of being wheelchair-accessible, thanks to a hard-surface trail from the parking area and a dock that leads gradually down to the surface of the water. As I stood on the dock and looked down into the deep, deep water that falls precipitously from the shore, I hoped that anyone rolling out here in a wheelchair would have good brakes! (Otherwise, they might take a helluva dive into Helldiver Pond. Sorry, I couldn't resist.)
The woods along the trail to Helldiver Pond was floored with the deepest, softest carpet of greenery I had ever seen.
We couldn't resist the urge to go off-trail and walk on this carpet, our feet sinking deep into the soft moss.
Interspersed with the moss were plush mats of the liverwort Bazzania trilobata, as well as large patches of Creeping Snowberry (Gaultheria hispidula), a tiny-leaved plant that was bearing numerous small white berries.
The low dwarf dogwood called Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) held clusters of berries that shone a startling red in the shady woods.
We found several Painted Trilliums (Trillium undulatum) that held the largest, reddest fruits we had ever seen on this plant.
The trail to our next stop, Ice House Pond, moved through a very different habitat, a dry sunny open area with viburnum bushes and other fruiting shrubs closing in on either side.
A closer view of viburnum berries. I was thinking Witherod, but a ranger had told Evelyn they were Nannyberries. I continued to be uncertain.
I had no doubts at all, however, that these ruby-red translucent fruits were those of Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana), although I was a little surprised to see them still unconsumed. Maybe they have to freeze to grow sweet enough to become palatable to wildlife.
Black Chokeberries (Photinia melanocarpa) are another beautiful fruit that can be very bitter, although when I tasted one today, I thought it seemed quite sweet. Evelyn didn't agree.
There were so many fruit-bearing shrubs along this trail, we were almost surprised we didn't see at least some sign of bears. I wonder if bears like to eat the orange fruits of Hawthorns (Crataegus ssp.). But any creature would have to be very hungry to brave those thorns!
Ice House Pond. Very calm, very quiet, very peaceful.
We soaked up the serenity here before setting off for home on some of the worst roads that either I or Evelyn had ever dared travel on. The speed limit for cars was 15 mph, but I doubt we ever even attempted 10.
Obviously, we made it home without breaking an axle or shredding a tire, a situation that would have been dire, considering that no cell phones work in that part of the Adirondacks. There wasn't a lot of traffic, either, from whom we could seek assistance. But would we do it again tomorrow? Do you really have to ask?
Saturday found me back home again in Saratoga County, paddling a familiar section of the Hudson at South Glens Falls, greeting familiar plants and creatures with as much delight as if all that I saw were brand new. Perhaps this Painted Turtle even recognized me, since it didn't budge as my boat slipped quietly along by its log, except to blink one shiny black eye at me.
This is a remarkable stretch of riverbank. Here I can explore both quiet backwaters where marsh plants thrive and turtles bask, as well as dramatic cliffs that steeply rise from the water's edge, the black shale watered by dripping springs and covered with many unusual lime-loving plants.
All my old botanical friends were here, including the rare Small Floating Bladderwort (Utricularia radiata), floating along on the its little pontoons, drifting with the slow current and collecting in the backwaters.
Buttonbush shrubs (Cephalanthus occidentalis) hung over the water, their little white trumpet-shaped flowers long shed to reveal perfect orbs of rosy bracts.
The tall stalks of Turtlehead (Chelone glabra) grow longer and longer as the season progresses, and some had bent down over the water, where I could closely admire the pink-tinged blooms that do indeed resemble a turtle's head.
The radiant blue of Closed Gentian (Gentiana clausa) was especially lovely, set off by the small white blooms of one of the many different asters that decorated the river bank.
I was truly surprised to find such a fruit-heavy shrub of Arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum var. lucidum) with its sharply crimped leaves still relatively unravaged. It appears to have escaped infestation by the Viburnum Leaf Beetle that in recent years has attacked almost all of our local Arrowwoods and a few other species of viburnums.
Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) was also heavily in fruit, with bright-red berries clustered tightly along the twigs. This native species of holly will hold those beautiful berries well into the winter, providing late-season food for non-migrating birds. As well as pretty boughs for Christmas decorations.
Now, HERE is the fruit I recognize as Nannyberry (Viburnum lentago), larger and hanging from longer stalks than the fruits of the viburnum shrubs we found in the Adirondacks on Friday.
As it happened, right next to the Nannyberry shrub was a shrub of that other viburnum, which I believe is the one called Witherod or Wild Raisin (V. nudum var. cassinoides). Note the smaller berries and shorter berry stalks. Also, the leaves of this shrub were so obscurely toothed as to be almost entire, while the leaves of the other viburnum were definitely toothed.
With the two berry clusters side by side, the differences appear obvious. But I am no botanist, and I am ready to stand corrected.
Ah, here they are, the beautiful and unusual Grass of Parnassus (Parnassia glauca) studding the cliffs amid such other lime-loving plants as Bulblet Fern. It was three years ago that my friend Sue first brought me here to this stretch of the river to see these flowers, and it has become a kind of pilgrimage for me to return each year to admire them anew. I know of nowhere else to find them, and they grow here at this site in great abundance.
Their green-striped white blooms are almost always visited by small flies sipping at the nectaries that circle the plump green pistil at the center. Surrounding this clump of Parnassia is the liverwort Preissia quadrata, which only grows on substrates containing lime.
Also growing from amid clumps of Preissia liverwort were these dainty blue blooms of Kalm's Lobelia (Lobelia kalmii), which, again, can only be found in springy areas rich with lime.
With its heavy clusters of berries, this Spikenard (Aralia racemosa) was dangling over the water, where I could detect the incense-like scent of its fruit. The even-more-aromatic root of this plant is the source for a fragrant oil that is used by herbalists to treat coughs and bronchial conditions.
As I approached the Feeder Dam and the point at which I would turn around, I found once again, as I have in years past, a group of young men enjoying the fun of soaring out over the river on the end of a rope. Oh, dear boys, how happy I was to find you here, reviving my own memories of fearlessly flinging myself from great heights, to safely splash in the water below. (If I'd only worn my bathing suit, I might have asked to join them.)