Monday, September 15, 2014

One Park, So Many Pleasures

Again and again, I thank my lucky stars that Moreau Lake State Park is just an easy drive up the road from my home in Saratoga Springs.  Whatever natural habitat I'm craving -- mountain trails, sandy shores, river islands, quiet ponds, deep dark forest -- I can find it at this wonderful park, and in abundance.  I took full advantage of that these past few days, visiting the park on three separate occasions, and immersing myself in a different kind of paradise each time.

 Last Friday found me short on time for a full-day nature walk, but I still had time for a brisk stroll around the southern end of Moreau Lake.  The day was fine, with puffy white clouds floating across a radiant blue sky, with just the slightest breeze to riffle the equally blue water of the lake.  The water is low enough now that I could stride along on the sand right next to the water's edge, watching the minnows dart away, while also scanning the sandy shore to see what flowers might still be blooming in the mild late-summer sunlight.

I was happy to see that the pretty pink Small-flowered Gerardia was still abundantly in bloom.

There were asters, too, of several species, white ones and others tinged with violet, but this little sedge outshone them all for beauty, with its golden color and dainty herringbone pattern.  My friend Andrew Gibson has suggested that this pretty sedge is Cyperus dentatus, also known as Toothed Flatsedge.

Where Speckled Alder shrubs hung over the water, I noticed fluffy white clusters of Wooly Alder Aphids feeding on some of the twigs.  When I see these clusters of tiny insects covered with waxy white fuzz, I peer closely to see if I might discover any predatory Lacewing nymphs slyly moving among them.  Lacewing nymphs are known to disguise their own bodies by covering themselves with some of that white fluff  and thus move undetected among their prey -- exactly like wolves in sheep's clothing!  (I did not find any Lacewing nymphs this day, so these "sheep" could safely graze.)

This Red Admiral Butterfly must also have felt it could safely graze, since it was so busy sipping from a patch of onshore mud I could creep very close and take a photo that captured every beautiful spot of color on its outspread wings.

When Sunday promised to bring fine weather after a rainy Saturday, my friend Sue and I met at Moreau to hike up the Red Oak Ridge Trail, one of the many miles of trails in this park that extends over 5,000 acres in two counties.  Unlike some of the steeper trails in the mountains within the park, the Red Oak Ridge Trail requires only a few stretches of rigorous climbing before it levels off to a gentle up-and-down through a gorgeous forest studded with huge boulders and watered by tumbling streams.

Since we had had rain the day before, we were hoping to find abundant fungi sprouting all over the woods.  Well, we did find abundant masses of this tiny Marasmius capillaris, a species of fungus that appears very quickly after rain and then disappears just as quickly when dry weather returns.  But that was just about IT.  I was hoping to forage for some delicious Honey Tooth or Bear's Head, but they were biding their time.

It looks to be a good year for Chestnut Oak acorns, for they were littering the forest floor like tiny yellow Easter eggs.

If this wee little Wood Frog had just held still, we would never have seen it, so perfectly camouflaged it was among the brown leaf litter.  But it hopped and then we saw it.  I love its golden eyeliner and dark bandit's mask.

Aside from just enjoying the sheer beauty of the Red Oak Ridge Trail, Sue and I had chosen to hike it now because we hoped to find the tiny late-season orchid called Autumn Coralroot.  As it turned out, we did find a few rather faded specimens along the ridge, but our big surprise was finding a huge patch of Autumn Coralroot right by the parking lot, even before we had started up the trail.  I doubt very much you can see the flower that Sue is photographing here, since this little orchid is just about exactly the color and texture of fallen leaves.  But Sue managed to see them, and when we counted them, we found at least three dozen right here beneath these trees.

Autumn Coralroot is easier to see when silhouetted against a dark background, which this big tree most handily provided.

When Monday turned out to be so exquisitely clear and calm, I could feel the cool blue waters of the Hudson River calling to me.  And I promptly answered.  I have discovered that many people are quite surprised to learn that this stretch of the river above and below the Spier Falls Dam is also part of Moreau Lake State Park.  Indeed it is, and not just the Saratoga County side.  Those forested mountains along the Warren County shore are also part of the park.  What an amazing treasure!

As summer draws to a close, many of the riverside flowers have completed their bloomtime,  so I was delighted to see that the golden-yellow Helenium was still in its glory.

And here and there, a solitary spike or two of fiery-red Cardinal Flower still blazed away at the edge of the riverside woods.

As the flowers fade, various fruits assume their role as providers of gorgeous color along the shore.  And what fruit could play that role any better than the dazzling red Winterberry?  Especially when viewed against such a sapphire sky.

Of course, the true extravaganza of color is yet to come, when the trees acquire their wondrous autumn foliage, and oh my, is that spectacular when reflected in the river's still water! I could already see touches of red and gold in some of the maples and poplars, but the champion of all when it comes to scarlet foliage is the glossy-leaved Black Tupelo.  Not only does this tree produce the brightest red autumn leaves of all, it produces them much earlier than any other tree.  See?  Ruby-red and emerald-green, all at the same time.  And studded with dark blue berries.  How could anyone desire more treasure than this?  And all of it free to enjoy, thanks to its preservation at Moreau Lake State Park.


The Furry Gnome said...

Sounds like wonderful walks, and great pictures as always. Looking forward to some fall colour here too - almost cold enough for frost here this morning.

Woody Meristem said...

Beautiful photos of a beautiful place.

Wayne said...

Thanks for the lovely views, including so many subtle natural wonders that often go unnoticed. I agree with you that the Park is a treasure. Even though the campground and beach make Moreau Lake one of the most heavily-used state parks, the trails are still uncrowded. A couple of weeks ago, I took my grandchildren to see the magnificent view of Moreau Lake and the mountains of Vermont from the Moreau Overlook (uphill from the Red Oak Ridge Trail.) They really enjoyed the whole experience.