Thursday, June 19: Further Adventures with Evelyn
I have said before I would follow noted Adirondack explorer Evelyn Greene anywhere, but rest assured, I was not going to follow her over the huge beaver dam that her boat is resting on in the photo above. There was just enough of a woody barrier to keep us from plunging over one of the tallest critter-constructed dams I have ever seen, with a good 10-foot drop to the creek bottom below.
We had come to Austin Pond near North Creek this day to conduct some tests for water clarity and chemistry, a service provided by the Adirondack Lake Assessment Program, with major support from the environmental group Protect the Adirondacks. As an active member of Protect, Evelyn volunteers to conduct a number of such tests each summer, and today I had come along to help balance her boat while she wrestled with the testing apparatus.
Before we got down to the task of testing the water, we enjoyed a paddle around the small pond, and afterward, much of this gloriously sunny day still remained for further adventures. And of course, Evelyn had just such adventures in mind. She had located a cedar swamp she wanted to explore near Minerva, so off we drove up 28N to meet our friend Bob Duncan, who joined us to push through the clawing branches of this trackless wooded wetland. We were happy to let Evelyn proceed before us.
Cedar swamps are known to nurture some lime-loving botanical rarities, so we all were on the lookout for any surprises we might find. We did find lots of old favorites, such as more Water Avens plants than I have ever seen, and in various stages of maturity, from red--covered new flowers to wild-haired open seed heads.
Our native Blue Flags are always a spectacular treat to come upon in just such swampy spots.
We had sat on some stumps to eat lunch and were talking about whether any of us had ever seen a Northern Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum ssp. stewardsonii), when I happened to look at my feet and discover one of this species standing right by my shoe. What distinguishes this Jack from the more common ones is that the tube of the spathe is deeply furrowed on the outside, forming conspicuous white ridges. Yep, that sounds about right. So we did find a surprise, after all!
Evelyn and Bob had other plans for the afternoon, but Bob had told me about some unusual ragworts blooming in Putty Pond, up near Thirteenth Lake, which was not that far of a detour for me, so that's where I headed next. Putty Pond was once flooded to serve as a settling pond for nearby garnet mines. The mines are long closed and the dam that created the pond has fallen apart, but the area is still very saturated, providing the perfect home for many wetland plants, such as the Robbins' Ragwort (Packera schweinitziana) I had come to see.
Another wetland plant that thrives at Putty Pond is the Alpine Bulrush (Tricophorum alpinum), a snowy-haired little Sedge-family plant that from a distance appears like drifting snow. Up close, it looks like a host of gnomes in the grass.
The Robbins' Ragwort was indeed in full bloom, swaying on long tall stalks as the breeze blew across the wet meadow where they were thriving. This is a more northern species of ragwort than the more commonly found Golden Ragwort (P. aurea), but its flowers appear quite similar. Its leaves are quite different in shape, however, and I forgot to take a photo of them. Doh!
Another treat at Putty Pond this day were the tiny cones clinging to the soft-needled branches of American Larch. With the sunlight shining through them, they looked as red as cherry gumdrops.
Friday, June 20: Lily-hunting Along the Powerlines
1. The Spring Trail Powerline at Moreau Lake State Park
Each year around Summer Solstice, my friend Sue Pierce and I go looking for Wood Lilies along the powerlines that cut across areas of Moreau Lake State Park. When we first started this quest some five years ago, we found them by the dozens and dozens, big fat healthy bright-orange flowers on strong straight stalks. But since the power company sprayed herbicide under the lines two years ago, we have difficulty finding even one. And often the ones we do find do not look healthy. But we keep hoping that some year they will revive and reclaim their old habitat, these bright dry rocky thin-soiled areas under the open sky.
We began our hunt today by starting up the Spring trailhead of the Western Ridge Trail, accessed off of Spier Falls Road. When we reached the powerline, we searched and searched, and Sue managed to find one spindly little stalk with an as-yet-closed bud. Perhaps we might find more when their brilliant flowers open and become more visible. They just might be hiding still among the acres of Hay-scented fern that carpet sections of powerline up here.
Other plants appear to be recovering from being doused with poison. There was certainly no dearth of Whorled Loosestrife with its whorls of small yellow flowers circling the stems. The Sweet Fern was thriving, too, scenting the air with its delicious fragrance as the sun warmed its frond-like leaves.
We found lots of Bicknell's Cranesbill, too, a sprawling plant with little pale-purple flowers and pointy seed pods that resemble the beaks of cranes.
Recent road-building under the powerlines has introduced many of the non-native roadside plants that thrive is such disturbed soils. It's hard to begrudge the presence, though, of such pretty plants as these masses of red and white clovers. Some of the white clovers were the species called Alsike Clover, an extremely fragrant flower that was lending its sweet fragrance to the air.
One organism that seems to thrive despite the worst abuse is the tiny lichen called Pink Earth Lichen (Dibaesis baeomyces), which actually prefers sterile soil. It grows in dry mats in the middle of hard-packed trails, where it is walked on frequently. From eye level, it passes unnoticed because of its miniature size, but I always get down on my stomach to peer at it, because it is so charming.
2. The Powerline That Climbs the Heights
After our nearly fruitless search of that one stretch of powerline, I suggested we might explore the clear-cut that climbs a mountain on the other side of Spier Falls Road. I had climbed this area last fall and found unusual plants at that time, so perhaps we might find something interesting today, maybe even some healthy Wood Lilies. This powerline had not undergone the heavy traffic our first one had. Sue agreed, so up and up we went, clambering over boulders and pushing our way through low shrubs and thickets of Hay-scented Fern and Bracken Ferns. When we reached a certain height, we could turn around and enjoy a wonderful view of the Hudson below us.
Well, after all that effort, we found no Wood Lilies here, either. But we found another plant that neither of us had ever seen before, so that brought back a certain lightness to our step. Perhaps only fellow plant nerds will understand why we were so excited to find this Prostrate Tick-trefoil (Desmodium rotundifolium), especially since it wasn't even in bloom. Although not considered rare in New York, it is a relatively uncommon native and hey, a lifer is a lifer! Now we will have to come back to see it in bloom.
Here was another plant we had never seen in Saratoga County, and Sue never anywhere. It's Venus's Looking Glass (Triodanus perfoliata) and I'm afraid we will have to come back earlier next year to see its pretty purple flowers. Those look more like seed pods than buds that are nestling in those ruffly little heart-shaped leaves.
We did find some old favorites, too, such as this Pale Corydalis with its yellow-tipped rosy pink blooms and lacy foliage.
Almost lost among the tall grass was this little patch of Ragged Robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi)), an introduced species that commonly grows in masses in wet ditches along roads. It's kind of a mystery how just a few plants came to be established this far from any road.
Every time we climbed toward another height, we thought we might be reaching the top of our mountain. But every time we surmounted a crest, we discovered yet another height. We were growing a little tired and hot, and prickly too, from pushing through thick shrubbery. And we'd also acquired some Wood Ticks. So we started down, saving further exploration for another day. After all, we know we have to come back to see our new life-list flowers in bloom.
3. The Powerline That Parallels Spier Falls Road
There was one more stretch of powerline we could explore together today (Sue had already visited the line above Mud Pond before we met at the spring), and that was the stretch that parallels Spier Falls Road, starting just across the road from the dam. I love to hike this rolling-hilled part in the fall, when the grasses and trees are radiantly multicolored, and the colors on this mid-summer day were equally radiant.
Is there any flower more amazingly blue than Viper's Bugloss, especially when set among masses of Yellow Sweetclover, the yellow and blue amplifying one other? Yes, these are common roadside weeds, but they sure are beautiful roadside weeds.
A couple more beautiful roadside weeds, Oxeye Daisies and Cow Vetch, combined in splendid array.
Yet another pretty weed, the Maiden Pink. Who could begrudge its alien status when it possesses such astounding color? We were delighted to see it, even though we remained disappointed in our quest to discover Wood Lilies along this easement.
4. The Powerline Above Mud Pond
This is a powerline easement Sue and I visit frequently. Here we find Frostweed exuding its fragile curls of ice in autumn; here we find dozens of Pink Lady's Slippers peeking out from the pine woods each spring; and here we find the tiny bright-blue shed blooms of Blue Curls littering the sandy path on late-summer afternoons. And this is the place where we used to find dozens and dozens of vibrant Wood Lilies, always around the end of June, at the time of Summer Solstice. Sue had found just one when she stopped here this morning on her way to meet me at the Spring trailhead, and she told me I would find it too, if I came by here on my way home.
And she was right! Such a big bright bloom would be pretty hard to miss. But how sad that that this was the only one we could find along a stretch of path where we used to find almost a hundred.
Ah well, at least other plants seem to be thriving in this dry sandy area. I'm always amazed to see such lush patches of Haircap Moss and Running-pine Clubmoss here on this arid soil. Today they were both in fruit.
American Hazelnuts also abound at this location, and today I could see the little green nuts nestled in their ruffly nests.
Although only one little floret of this Blunt-leaved Milkweed was blooming, it filled the air with its heady scent. Imagine the fragrance when all the deep-pink florets are in bloom!
Usually, it's the guys of the dragonflies who sport the most vivid colors. But in the case of Eastern Pondhawks, the Kelly-green female is far more vibrantly colored than her pale-blue mate. Both sexes have big green eyes.
It is amazing how differently colored the different sexes of the same dragonfly species can be. This yellow-and-brown female Slaty Skimmer may be pretty enough, but she looks not at all like the deep-slate-blue male her species is named after. They both have clear wings with black stigmas and narrow dark tips.
What could cap off a day of delights more completely than finding a Painted Turtle in the act of laying her eggs? Let's hope she buries them well to keep them safe from predators -- safer than our lilies were when the herbicide sprayers came over.
Looking back over these posts about our powerline explorations, it strikes me what a different group of plants each section seems to support, despite the fact that all these clearcuts are contiguous. They all run the same west-east direction so all have a similar sunlight exposure, and except for evidence of some calcareous outcropping up on the heights, I would guess they overlie a similar geologic substrate. And yet, each one seems to exhibit a different habitat, hospitable to some plants that appear to thrive in one section but not in others. But then too, there are certain plants -- the Hay-scented Fern, the Sweet Fern, the Whorled Loosestrife -- that thrive in all of them. What fun to have all this plant diversity in a single stretch of land so close to my home!
Saturday, June 21: A Day for Lenses and Liverworts
What better way to celebrate the first glorious day of summer than spending the cool sunlit morning at a wonderful nature preserve with fellow nature lovers? Then add to this that one of those nature lovers was the fine nature photographer Linda Eastman, shown here offering an introduction to a photography workshop she led this day at the Orra Phelps Nature Preserve in Wilton. The workshop was offered free to the public by Saratoga PLAN (Preserving Land And Nature), the land-conservation organization that now owns this site, once the home territory of the noted Adirondack naturalist, the late Dr. Orra Phelps.
Home to some of Saratoga County's rarest plants (some of them planted by Orra Phelps herself), this forested preserve comprises some 18-plus acres of wetlands, streams, sandplain and woodland habitats. The rushing streams, in particular, offered workshop participants the chance to test some of our instructor's advice about capturing the water's beautiful interplay of light and motion.
The day was still young when the photography workshop ended, so my friend and fellow-participant Sue Pierce and I headed a few miles north to Moreau Lake State Park. There we enjoyed a picnic lunch sitting next to a quiet bay of the lake, before hiking the shore and then wending our way through the maze of forested campground roads.
Along one of those roads, we drew to a halt, struck by the sight of this carpet of tiny ruffly parasols spreading across the verge. What the heck is THIS? we pondered, not knowing even what category of organism it belonged to. Was this moss? Were they flowers? Was it lichen?
Nearby was another patch of fascinating growths, like a miniature forest of wee little palm trees, but this time we could see the underlying layer of stuff that couldn't be anything but liverwort.
A closer look at this second patch revealed the presence of some of those tiny parasols emerging from the same liverwort thallus that the tiny palm trees also occupied. It wasn't until I got home and searched for similar images on the internet that I learned that both structures belonged to the same species of liverwort, Marchantia polymorpha, whose very name suggests that it can assume several shapes. The little "parasols" (pictured below) are the male fruiting bodies of this quite common liverwort. (In my research I also learned that this liverwort is the bane of nursery growers for its habit of frequently growing on the soil of potted plants.)
The tiny "palm trees" are the female fruiting bodies, seen here bearing ripening spore packets beneath the spreading fronds.
While sprawling belly-down next to the liverwort patches (which alarmed some drivers passing by), my eyes happened upon another patch of interesting growth. Hmm, I thought, this miniature plant with the fine opposite leaves and bulbous seed pods sure looks familiar. And then I remembered where I had seen it before: in the parking lot atop Whiteface Mountain up in the Adirondacks. It had puzzled even the most knowledgeable botanists in our party at that time, but one of them (Steve Young of the New York Natural Heritage Program) eventually keyed it out to be Japanese Pearlwort (Sagina japonica), an introduced Asian species only recently reported to grow in New York State. He could then document its presence for Essex County. Now we can document its presence in Saratoga County.
I wish I could post some photographs of the many sweet-singing birds we saw and heard today, including the hyperactive Northern Water Thrush that scurried, tail pumping, along the banks of the stream at Orra Phelps. But birds almost always elude my camera lens, no matter how many photography skills I may learn. Bugs often elude me, too, but now and then some pretty little thing arrays itself for the picture-taking. Thank you, you big bright Milkweed Beetle, you, for halting your tracks across this milkweed leaf and letting me capture your image. You were like the cherry on the top of this wonderful sweet sundae of a perfect summer day.