Friday found me walking around the back bay of Moreau Lake, where a blue sky drifting with puffy white clouds was perfectly reflected in the still water, and brilliant-yellow Goldenrod glowed along the banks. As I strode along the damp sand, keeping close to the water's edge, I was delighted to find my path littered with hundreds and hundreds of pretty pink Small-flowered Gerardia (Agalinis paupercula).
At the edge of the woods, where the oak leaves and pine needles yield to the sandy shore, clusters of Closed Gentian (Gentiana clausa) held blooms of the deepest blue.
As I rounded a sunny point on the far side of the bay, I was delighted to find dozens of the lovely white orchids called Nodding Ladies' Tresses (Spiranthes cernua) scattered along the shore.
Nearby, I found one of the prettiest of the fall mushrooms, the Painted Bolete (Suillus spraguei), which a Daddy Longlegs had found to be a pleasant resting place. (Those are tiny red mites on the Daddy, not shreds of red from the mushroom.)
With a houseful of welcome guests over the weekend, and then with rain all day on Sunday, I didn't get back to the woods until Monday afternoon, when I took a brief walk in the Skidmore Woods here in Saratoga Springs. One of the first flowers to greet me there in a sunny area near the parking lot was the gorgeous New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae), immediately recognizable by its big deep-purple blooms.
There are very few flowers blooming now in the deep woods, but White Wood Aster (Eurybia divaricata) is one of the notable exceptions. It is everywhere to be seen in the woods, these early weeks of September.
Zigzag Goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis) is one of the rare goldenrods that blooms in deep woods, adding its bright dash of yellow to the dim light under the still-leafy trees.
The bulbous seedpods of Green Violet (Hybanthus concolor) are now easier to see than its tiny green axillary flowers had been in the spring, especially the pods that are borne on the top of the plant.
The Green Violet's seed pods, each holding tiny pale pearls of round seeds, are about the only aspect of this plant that resembles other members of the Violet Family.
Even though colorful flowers are hard to find in the woods this month, there are other sources of color, such as the bright-blue fruits of Blue Cohosh (Caulophyllum giganteum). Although these fruits may resemble berries, they are really hard seeds covered with thin blue skins.
White Baneberry (Actaea pachypoda) has fruits that resemble doll's eyes, hence the source of one of this plant's other common names. The fruit-cluster's hot-pink pedicels present quite a contrast to the stark-white berries.
Orange-fruited Horse Gentian (Triosteum aurantiacum) is another plant I find at the Skidmore Woods that in late summer bears fruit far showier than its tiny flowers had ever been.
Although thunderstorms were predicted for Tuesday afternoon, I decided to take my chances on a paddle and loaded my canoe on my car. Since I had to drive over Mount McGregor to reach the Hudson River at Moreau, I made a quick stop at the Orra Phelps Nature Preserve in Wilton on my way. September is when Fringed Gentian (Gentianopsis crinita), one of our most glorious native wildflowers, comes into bloom, and the Orra Phelps Preserve is the only place in Saratoga County where I have found them growing. I did indeed find them blooming today, but only two plants in the old sandpit area where I used to find dozens. The encroaching pines and poplars we cleared a few years ago have come back with a vengeance. If we want to continue enjoying the sight of these beautiful flowers, we'd better get in there again with saws and axes. And this time with some herbicide to prevent the stumps from resprouting. How lucky I was today to find these radiant flowers opening their delicately fringed petals to the sun.
As at Skidmore, I didn't find many flowers blooming at Orra Phelps, but I was delighted to find these beautiful blue-black fruits crowning the top red-blushing leaves of Indian Cucumber Root.
Mushrooms, too, now add their flashes of color to the woods. One of the brightest of them all is the orange-gilled Mycena leaiana, which often grows in thick clusters on rotting logs.
Other showy fungi found in the woods now are the Coral fungi (Ramaria sp.), which sprout in thick colorful masses.
The Wooly Chanterelle (Gomphus floccosus) is another of the season's bright-colored fungi that was fruiting at Orra Phelps Preserve.
Rivaling those fungi for colorfulness was this beautiful little Marbled Orb-weaver Spider hanging in a web that was strung across the path at Orra Phelps. Lucky for both of us, a sunbeam pierced the tree canopy to light up its brilliant red cephalothorax and legs just before I walked through the web and destroyed the spider's handiwork.
When I reached the river, I found the water level was high, inundating the mud flats I had hoped to explore for the kind of tiny flowers that prefer just such habitat. I found a few blooms of Golden Pert (Gratiola aurea) still holding on, but the Marsh St. Johnswort and False Pimpernel appeared to have packed it in.
Sneezeweed (or as my friend Ed Miller prefers me to call it, Helenium autumnale) was as resplendent as ever, its golden blooms set off quite nicely by the burgundy leaves of Silky Dogwood.
Yellow Loosestrife (Lysimachia terrestris) is one of the earlier flowers to bloom along the river, but long after its spike of yellow flowers has faded, the plant sprouts these colorful little bulbils in the leaf axils. As they age, the bulbils will fall off into the mud, where they will develop into new plants come spring.
Perhaps you can see a brilliant red floret of Cardianal Flower (Lobelia cardenalis) still blooming in this quiet backwater, but the focus of my attention here was a swirling mass of Whirligig Beetles (Gyrinus substriatus) clustered in solid mats against the shore and spinning out across the water as I approached.
Here's a closer look at a swarm of those beetles. I witnessed this phenomenon a couple of weeks ago when I last paddled here in this same backwater, and I was surprised to see them clustered so tightly together still. I thought then that they might have been a recent hatch that had yet to dissipate, but here they all were still, packed together as tightly as ever. Unless, of course, this might be a second hatch. Very strange! But I know very little about these bugs, which I usually see swimming in circles on the surface of the water, not packed in a swarm like this. One thing I did learn about Whirligig Beetles is that they have two pairs of eyes, one pair to see below the surface, and the other pair to see what's above the water. Isn't Nature amazing?