Sunday, September 28, 2014

A Whole Week of Outdoor Adventures

One gorgeous day after another this past week.  And one fine nature adventure after another, as well.  I haven't posted about them each day because of an eye condition that makes it painful for me to look at a computer screen for more than a few minutes at a time.  But at last I have edited and organized some of my many photos, and now I can pull them all together for this digest.

A serene September morning at Moreau Lake

On Tuesday, September 23, I led a walk around the back bay of Moreau Lake for participants in the Ecological Clearing House of Schenectady, a nature-education organization.  Although I was supposed to keep the walk to no more than two hours, the day was so fine and the scenery so splendid, we did linger a bit longer than our allotted time.  I don't think anyone minded.  There was so much to see, including a large patch of the little orchid called Autumn Coralroot as well as a number of other pretty wildflowers still blooming along the shore.

When I lead a walk, I rarely take the time to take photos, but I did capture one of Kathie admiring the spectacular foliage of a Black Tupelo along the lakeshore.   Unfortunately, this may be the last autumn we have to enjoy this tree's scarlet leaves, since beavers have girdled the bark and the tree has begun to die as a consequence.  But it certainly continues to put on its annual spectacle of color, and we were lucky to witness it.

On Wednesday, September 24, I accompanied Ed Miller to the Landis Arboretum in Esperance, west of Albany, to help him tend to the native woody plant collection Ed has almost single-handedly created at this renowned arboretum.  Since establishing this wonderfully informative exhibit containing most of the trees, shrubs, and woody vines that are native to New York, Ed has spent many strenuous hours over the past 13 years planting, watering, fertilizing, and otherwise husbanding his extensive collection spread over many acres.  For most of those years, he carted all his supplies by hand and on foot, but recently the arboretum has provided him with the use of an electric cart to access the sites of his plantings.  As Ed approaches his 90th birthday next month, he has found that this cart has made performing his many chores enormously easier.  We had quite a jolly ride, bouncing over the uneven ground and holding on tight as we ascended and descended the hilly paths carved through meadow and woodland and wetland.

Ed has organized the exhibits in two ways:  by family and also by habitat.  At most of the sites along the trail, the trees and shrubs are exhibited by family groups (oaks, maples, sumacs, dogwoods, etc.) for easy comparison, and at other sites, the plantings are exhibited according to appropriate habitat, with a mixture of species sharing sites labeled Wetland, Dry Open, or Understory, for example.  At each site, a mailbox contains a map listing and showing location of all the species located there (some of which Ed was carrying water to on this day).

Here is the map and list of the more than 40 species located within the Understory Habitat.  A recent addition to each site is the display of a QR (Quick Response) code linked to audio recordings of Ed himself describing aspects of the exhibit.

Ed is currently in the process of establishing an exhibit of native ferns, to be called Nan's Ferns in honor of Ed's friend Nan Williams, who has provided many of the specimens from her own property.  On Wednesday, Ed had brought a number of new plants for planting in the exhibit, a task made quite difficult by the presence of rocks and roots in the soil.  But Ed made short work of them with his swinging mattock to loosen the soil, and then completing the job with his bare hands.  We had carted in many jugs of water to help the ferns become established in their new home.

With summer winding down, we did not expect to find many flowers blooming, aside from the abundant asters and goldenrods that still held their blooms.  But the long-lived Purple Milkwort (Polygala sanguinea) was still putting forth new layers of purple bracts encasing bouquets of tiny yellow flowers within.

Nearby we found a single spike of the little orchid called Ladies' Tresses, which we at first sight assumed was the most common species, the Nodding Ladies' Tresses (Spiranthes cernua).  But then I noticed the distinctly yellow undersides of each floret, in addition to the two upswept bracts on the side of each floret, and made the claim that this must be the species called Yellow Ladies' Tresses (S. ochroleuca).  Since ochroleuca was long considered by botanists to be a variety of S. cernua rather than a species in its own right, Ed was reluctant to recognize this plant as a separate species, no matter how insistently I pleaded.  But Ed has been at this plant business a lot longer than I, so I ceded to his judgment.  At the moment.  But I still say this is S. ochroleuca.  Just not out loud in Ed's presence.

Here was another surprise: the biggest, fuzziest gall either of us had ever seen on a rose.  Bigger than my fist, as this photo reveals.  There was just this one on the whole bush.  Amazing!  Just one of the many amazing aspects of this delight-filled day at Landis Arboretum.

Mostly, it was just fun hanging out with Ed, a truly remarkable guy.

On Thursday, September 25, I was delighted that the Thursday Naturalists had planned their weekly walk at a location close to my home in Saratoga Springs -- the creekside trail at Shenantaha Creek Park near Malta.  And I even got to see Ed again, shown here leading our friends along this beautiful wooded trail.

Shenantaha Creek (also called Ballston Creek) dances and tumbles and now and then slows to a glassy stillness as it runs between steep shale cliffs for much of its course through Shenantaha Creek Park.  As the trees on the banks take on their autumn colors, a golden glow illumines the otherwise deep green forest, appearing to shine from the depths of the dark still water.

It's the season now for fruits to replace flowers as sources of bright color along the trail.  This is White Baneberry, with its porcelain-white berries arrayed on bright-red pedicels.

We could spy the bright-blue seeds of Blue Cohosh even in the depth of the dark forest, their color is so distinctive from all that surrounds them.

Ah yes, here it is at last, one of the very last flowers to bloom, the spidery little yellow flowers of Witch Hazel.  On colder days, these ribbony petals will roll up tight, and then unfurl again and again as warmer days come and go.  I have seen this understory shrub still blooming away, even as late as December!

After following the creek until the passage grew impenetrable, we climbed a steep embankment to reach the Zim Smith trail, a wide paved path for bikers and walkers that connects several towns in central Saratoga County.  Here we could swing our legs freely without watching for ruts or roots or rocks,  while enjoying the open meadows alongside the trail as we made our way back to our cars.  At this open field abounding with asters, we waded out among the blooms to practice our aster-identification skills, as well as to watch as the visiting bees and beetles and other bugs loading up on pollen as the flower season draws to a close.

We were treated to the sight of this butterfly (I believe it is one of the Fritillaries) as it wafted over the asters, lighting here or there but never staying long enough for us to get a clear look at it.  We had just turned to continue on our way when the butterfly landed on my cap, and there it sat for the picture-taking.  Poor thing, its wings are so tattered, no wonder it wanted to rest a while.

Friday, September 26, continued the stretch of spectacularly pleasant weather, as temperatures returned to an almost summer-like warmth.  Although I had chores that should have kept me at home, I wasn't the least bit unhappy that one of my tasks required me to return to Moreau Lake State Park.  My task accomplished, I decided to linger under this radiant blue sky and along the shore of this pretty blue lake, keeping up a healthy brisk pace as I walked completely around it.

Our autumn colors are coming on fast, adding an extra element of beauty to scenery that is already spectacular.   Be sure to find the time to get outdoors and enjoy it.  And don't forget to look up.  I would have missed the rosy magnificence of this tall White Ash if I hadn't lifted my eyes to the heavens, alerted by an amber glow that spilled to the forest floor.  This is the stained glass of my favorite cathedral.

Saturday, September 27, brought the most summery day of the week, with temperatures rising into the 80s under a clear blue sky.  We couldn't have hoped for better weather for the annual Nature Fest at Moreau Lake State Park, a family-friendly day-long celebration of nature held on the beach at Moreau Lake. Offered to the public free of charge, the park holds this event each year to benefit the Friends of Moreau Lake State Park, a service organization whose members work in many ways to support this magnificent park.

One of the popular exhibitors at this year's Nature Fest was John Vanek, a graduate student in herpetology who brought a fascinating collection of snakes, turtles, toads, and lizards to introduce to interested attendees.  It was wonderful to watch him help children discover the pleasant texture, surprising strength, and sinuous beauty of snakes, allowing the children to touch the snakes and even to hold them in their arms.

Noted raptor expert Beth Bidwell was another highly popular presenter, as she displayed a number of large and beautiful birds of prey and conveyed a vast amount of fascinating information about them.

Sam Lanz is a very active member of the Friends of Moreau Lake State Park, and today he manned a craft table where he taught many people how to build simple birdhouses.

Park Naturalist Gary Hill demonstrated his skill at cleaning fish, which he then handed over to his wife Jean, who dusted the fillets with cornmeal before frying them in hot oil and serving them up to many eager consumers.  (Including me. I savored some delicious fried Bluegill.   Mmmm!)

There was lots of other great food: cookies and cakes at a bake sale,  chili and macaroni-and-cheese prepared by members of the Friends group, and grilled hot dogs prepared by none other than the manager of Moreau Lake State Park himself, Peter Iskenderian.  Thanks, Peter, for taking on this hot  all-day task on a day with summer-like heat.

A silent auction offered items donated by many businesses and organizations, as well as by members of the Friends of Moreau Lake State Park.  There was a remarkable mix of items, from garden tools and household goods, to children's books, to decorative wreaths and dried flower arrangements. These intricate intarsia designs were donated to the auction by talented Friends-member Jim Van Amerongen.

My friend Sue Pierce and I donated several large photographs of locations within the park, including the three you can see in this photo, representing the natural beauty found in all seasons.  I hope our photos found a home with folks who share our love for the many remarkable scenic wonders of this amazing park.


Uta said...

What a wonderful week you had, so much joy. Hope your eye is better.

wanderingaroundtheblock said...

Great post. Your site has helped me identify different flowers more than once. Thanks for sharing your productive week.

The Furry Gnome said...

Spectacularly pleasant weather here too, all week. Sounds like you had a great (and busy) time. And great photos you donated.