Monday, November 24, 2014

One Warm Day

What strange weather we're having!  A week ago, I was freezing my fingers while taking photos of Frostweed curls,  while today I was walking around in the woods in a tee shirt.  If I hadn't already stowed my canoe for the winter, I might have considered a paddle on the Hudson, but I did head to the river anyway, thinking to walk along the banks close to the water.  But as I was driving along on Spier Falls Road, the sight of this waterfall splashing and bounding down the mountainside inspired me to stop and climb up its course through the forest.  With the sound of the rushing water, the exuberant green of the mossy rocks, and the soft balmy air that must have been close to 70 degrees, it felt more like spring today than just a few days before Thanksgiving.

The boulders that tumble down this mountainside are home to an amazing variety of beautiful ferns and mosses, especially along the course of the stream where mist often dampens the rocks.  I have a hard time remembering the names of different mosses, but I believe this bright green clump in the photo below is that of the aptly named Fountain Moss, which thrives in damp habitats like this.

I'm often surprised to find Sphagnum Moss so far away from its more expected bog habitat, but here it was growing abundantly up on the mountainside.  A few tufts of Tree Moss were sprouting out of the clump.

Starbursts of spiky  Haircap Moss decorated this patch of Delicate Fern Moss.

Another patch of Delicate Fern Moss was ornamented by a plume of evergreen Wood Fern and a tangled cluster of gray-green Reindeer Lichen.

On this rock grew Broom Moss, Rock Polypody ferns, and a foliose pale-green lichen I do not know the name of.

One of the wonderful things about all these mosses, ferns, and lichens is that they stay fresh and green all winter, bringing much beauty and texture to a woods walk at any time of year.  I have felt that way about Winterberry shrubs, too, which usually hold onto their blazing-red fruits until winter is almost over.  That's why I was so surprised and disappointed today when I stopped by a swamp where I knowWinterberry abounds, and found just these gray bare branches.

Compare what this very same patch of swamp looked like almost exactly one year ago.  I know that it's often the case that a year of abundant fruiting  can be followed by a subsequent year of scarcity, but I hadn't expected to find such a contrast as this.


Uta said...

I also do not have any Winterberry this year. The migrating birds that come by my property will not have food next spring.

The Furry Gnome said...

I would so like to learn the names of mosses and ferns. Can you recommend any guides? I've found them very hard to come by here.

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Uta, I think the Winterberry outdid itself last year, rebounding from a dearth in 2012 that saw not a single berry on most shrubs in Saratoga County. There are a few berries on those gray branches I photographed this year, just not the explosion of fruiting we saw last year. At least there are viburnum berries this year, whereas I found hardly any last year.

Yes, Furry, I'd also like to learn the mosses and ferns. I know a few but most I still have to search through my guides for their IDs. For mosses, the Princeton Field Guide Common Mosses of the Northeast and Appalachians (Karl McKnight, is a good reference. For ferns, my friend Ed Miller has just put together a really nice handbook covering most of the ones we're likely to see. It's called Ferns of the Capital Region of New York and you can download it at
(note that Ed Miller is spelled with one L in the link)

Virginia said...

Oh dear, my mother and I will have a hard time finding winterberry this year, I see. It was amazing last year. It is always a treat to go for a walk here with you.