Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A Week's Worth of Woodland Adventures

What a week of wonderful weather for being outdoors!  This is the very best time of year, with cooler mornings and fewer bugs, and I made sure to take advantage of it this week, filling each day with visits to various nature sites around the region.  Most days have found me too tired at night to file any daily reports, so this post will just touch on the week's nature visits, in my attempt to catch up.

Thursday, September 4:  A Creekside Walk with the Thursday Naturalists

 It's always a treat to walk with my botanically expert friends in the Thursday Naturalists, especially when Ed Miller is along to solve the riddle of naming the ferns.  We did find many ferns this week at Boice Family Park near Rock City Falls, walking a wooded path that followed closely along the Kayaderosseras Creek. Lots of ferns, but very few flowers along this shady woodland trail: White Wood Aster, Bluestem and Zigzag Goldenrods, and the beautiful blue Closed Gentians topped our brief list of those in bloom.

On the other hand, mushrooms love the cool damp woods, and one of the interesting fungi we found was this Gemmed Puffball, covered with little nubs.

This Jelly Tooth Fungus has a liking for well-rotted conifer logs, which were abundant here in this woods along the creek.

Friday, September 5: Meadowbrook Preserve in Queensbury

My friend Bob Duncan wanted to examine some odd growths he had seen on some goldenrods, and what better place to find goldenrods than the many-acred meadow set aside as a nature preserve along Meadowbrook Road in Queensbury?  We couldn't have had a lovelier day on Friday to walk the mown paths that follow a loop through head-high Tall Goldenrods and Joe-Pye Weed.  We didn't have to walk but a few steps to encounter the growth Bob had come to examine, the bushy rosettes at the tip of many goldenrod stems, looking rather like large green Chrysanthemums.

I remembered reading about these galls in John Eastman's wonderfully informative The Book of Field and Roadside, so I could share that knowledge with Bob.  Eastman identifies the source of this bushy growth as the larval Goldenrod Gall Gnat (Rhopalomyia solidaginis), which attacks goldenrod buds and transforms them into bunchy masses of deformed leaves by preventing node elongation.

Although goldenrods and Joe-Pye Weeds constituted the preponderance of flowers that filled this meadow, we did find many asters mixed in, including the pale-lavender-flowered Panicled Aster, which we were able to identify by its narrowly lance-shaped leaves that clasp the stem.

Not all Purple-stemmed Asters have so brightly colored a stem as this one had.  But the large purple flowers and hairy stem are also distinguishing features of this showy plant.

Who would argue that the New England Aster is not the showiest aster of them all?  No other of our native asters have flowers of such intense color, which can be either purple or rosy pink, as this one was.

Oh! Oh! Oh! Look what we saw!  A MONARCH Butterfly!  This butterfly has seen severe decline in its populations lately, so we were quite excited to see this beautiful creature feeding on Joe-Pye Weed.

In fact, we saw quite a few Monarchs flitting about the pink tufts of the Joe-Pye Weed, so I'm posting a second photo in celebration. Yay!

Another lovely creature we saw was this Leopard Frog, as green as green can be, and with gold-rimmed eyes.

Saturday, September 6:  The Kayaderosseras Creek at Gray's Crossing

Saturday was the muggiest day of this week, and I might have taken a nature-day off, but I wanted to clock the mileage to a trail that follows the Kayaderosseras Creek at Gray's Crossing near Ballston Spa.  I'm leading a nature walk here later this month, and I need to tell folks exactly how to get here.    I find this site quite fascinating, botanically speaking, because the banks were cleared and reshaped a few years ago as a strategy to prevent flooding, and I've been curious to see what plants are moving in to repopulate the site.

Many native trees and flowering plants were planted here following excavation, and I'm happy to see that many of those plants continue to thrive.  Could there be a prettier mix of flowers than Boneset, a rosy variety of New England Aster, and Tall Coneflower?

Tall Goldenrod and the purple-flowered variety of New England Aster have long co-existed here, and they continue to thrive, I am very happy to report.

Down close to the water, I found a nice patch of the bright-yellow Nodding Bur Marigold.

I sure hope that this beautiful blue Great Lobelia continues to thrive.  I found but a single stem, growing where I have never seen it before.

In many ways, this trail along the creek is a study in the aggressive nature of invasive species, for here I find some of the most robust populations of such alien species as Japanese Knotweed and Wild Chervil I have ever found.  But I also find some of the sturdiest of native plants that do their best to force the invasives to keep their distance.  I don't know how it does it, since Pale Jewelweed is an annual that must grow from seed each year, but vast thickets of this beautiful native flower still hold their own against the encroaching Japanese Knotweed that also lines this path.

Ever since the soil along these banks was denuded and new plantings were brought in, I keep discovering new and disjunct species of flowering plants that were never here before.  Not all of them persist.  Last year I found Partridge Pea and Sawtooth Sunflower, but not a trace of either could I find this year.  This year, another disjunct species of sunflower has emerged, and it seems to be gaining quite a foothold.

I recognized this odd plant as a species of sunflower, but I could find nothing like it, with such deeply folded toothless leaves, in any of my wildflower guides, which cover only those plants that normally occur in the northeastern United States.  So I searched the internet for images of "sunflowers with sickle-like leaves" and there I found its look-alike in Maximilian's Sunflower, a native of the central plains.  So how the heck did it find its way to the banks of the Kayaderosseras Creek?  Most likely it arrived with the root balls of the young trees that were planted here, which could have come from nurseries across the U.S., I suppose.  At any rate, it's surprises like this that keep me coming back to the banks of the Kayaderosseras at Gray's Crossing.  I never know what I will find.

Sunday, September 7: A Mountain Trail at Moreau Lake State Park

 Oh, what a perfect day for climbing a mountain was Sunday!  Fresh and cool in the morning, with bright sun and dry air.  I was so happy I had arranged to meet my friend Sue Pierce to climb up the Spring Trail at Moreau Lake State Park, with our destination a splendid overlook providing breathtaking views of the Hudson River below and foothills of the Adirondacks beyond.  (We happened to come across a mutual friend, Ray Bouchard, along the way, and had the pleasure of his company as well.)

We had a second destination, too, midway along the trail to the top.  Here lies a wet meadow that used to be home to dozens of Nodding Ladies' Tresses before encroaching trees began to shade them out.  But just this past spring, volunteer trail workers had cleared those trees from this site, and Sue and I were delighted to find that these little white autumn-blooming orchids were back as robustly as ever.

Except for the Ladies' Tresses, we found few flowers blooming this time of year (aside from some woodland species of aster), but we did see some beautiful fungi, such as this speckled yellow Amanita species.

Following our climb and picnic lunch overlooking that gorgeous river/mountains view, Sue and I visited a nearby stretch of powerline right-of-way that was new to us, and there we found the most amazing population of Orange Peel Fungus that extended at least a hundred yards along a damp stretch of trail.

Monday, September 8: Climbing a Powerline Up a Mountain Slope

Gosh, it was almost chilly this morning, while also sunny and clear.  That clinched my decision to go for the top of a mountainous powerline right-of-way that has been calling to me for some time.  I've gone part way up before, but always turned back before ascending this last rise of rocky terrain.  Today I was going to DO it!

And do it I did, as far as my eye could see from down below on Spier Falls Road.  But then, as soon as I rounded the top, I could see that other ascents still lay ahead.  And now the rocks were steeper and higher, and my better judgement convinced me that I had gone high enough.  I was alone, with no one to go for help if I should fall, and my bones take longer to heal now that I am in my 70s than they did when I was younger.

At least I managed to accomplish another task I had set for myself, which was to obtain GPS coordinates for two plants I had found up here on these rocky thin soils, neither of which have yet been recorded in the floral atlas for Saratoga County.  I had collected specimens on a previous climb, but today I brought my GPS recorder along.  One of those plants was Round-leaved Tick-trefoil, which today I found with many pretty flowers.

The other plant was Orange-grass St. Johnswort, a wiry little native wildflower that has tiny yellow flowers when in bloom and dark red seed pods when it has finished blooming.  Sad to say, I found not a single flower in bloom today, so I guess it has gone to seed for the year.  But it was still kind of pretty.  And I did get its coordinates.

Acres of blooming goldenrods were studded with numerous clusters of pretty purple asters.  After examining their leaves and the bracts of their flowerheads, I decided that this was most likely the species called Smooth Aster.

The stalkless clasping leaves were indeed quite smooth to the touch, and almost completely entire, with only a few small teeth along the edges.

Before descending, I sat for a while, a gentle breeze cooling the sweat I had worked up on the climb, and enjoyed the exhilarating view of the clearcut stretching for miles along the Hudson Valley.

When I moved to the edge of the clearcut, I could see the river shining in the distance.  A beautiful view!  I will have to come back up here again.  Maybe next year I will catch that Orange-grass St. Johnswort in full bloom.  Or if somebody else comes with me, I might summon up the courage to brave those last big boulders.

1 comment:

The Furry Gnome said...

Boy, what a wonderful week you've had! Inspiring collection of outings!