Monday, April 25, 2016

Weekly Wildflower Report

Whoa!  The wildflower rush is happening so fast, I can hardly keep up with it!  Just a week ago I reported my first sighting of Bloodroot and Trout Lily, and today I found that most are already fading.  I came upon my first blooming Red Trillium today, and not ten yards away, the first Large-flowered White, two trilliums that normally bloom at least a week apart.  The same could be said for Sessile and Large-flowered Bellworts.  A very strange wildflower year!  Many flowers seem to be blooming quite out of normal sequence.  So just for the record, I'm documenting here in my blog the flowers that are blooming now.  In future years, it will be interesting to look back and see if these patterns persist.

My wildflower searches began this week with a visit to Orra Phelps Nature Preserve in Wilton, where I finally found the Round-leaved Violets just starting to open their lemon-yellow blooms from their bed of moss on the stream bank.  In other years, I have found these early violets blooming at the same time as the Snow Trilliums, which bloomed more than two weeks ago and now are fading. This little violet opens wide its flowers even before its leaves have completely unfurled.

I also found the dainty Sessile-leaved Bellworts dangling their pale-yellow blooms along the stream.

Continuing along a high ridge, I discovered several clumps of Dutchman's Breeches hung with shimmering pantaloons.

In a muddy swale, mats of Golden Saxifrage were sporting their tiny circlets of red dots.

Later in the week I visited the Bog Meadow Nature Trail just east of Saratoga Springs, where I found many fertile stalks of Field Horsetail Reed just pushing up from the earth.  After these stalks have matured and shed their spores, they will wither and disappear.

The sterile stalks of Field Horsetail were also abundant, creating a miniature forest of bright-green whorls.  These stalks will persist throughout the growing season, photosynthesizing with their green branches that will grow much longer as the season progresses.

A few patches of Wood Anemone held the first open blooms of dazzling white.

In the swamp, bright-green clumps of Marsh Marigold leaves were studded with blazing-yellow flowers.

Near a tiny stream, I surprised this plump Green Frog, who hopped into the water and pretended to be hiding from me and my camera.

Exploring some mountainous trails along Spier Falls Road, I was delighted to find masses of Bluets decorating the rocks.

Along the same trails, the Shadblow trees bore flowers as white as drifting snow.

On a quick visit to a bog-shored lake, I found the ubiquitous Leatherleaf dangling its small white bells.

On Sunday, my friend Sue and I took a long hike through the Denton Wildlife Preserve in Washington County just across the Hudson River from Schuylerville.  Among the first woodland flowers we encountered were the pretty yellow blooms of Barren Strawberry.

We also admired these flowering stalks of grass, species unknown to us.  How adorable are those tiny fuzzy curls!

Update:  Many thanks to Don Butler, who in his comment to this post suggests that this could be Mountain Rice (Oryzopsis asperifolia), a native grass widespread in New York State.  Thanks, Don!

Here are the flowers we specifically came to the Denton Preserve to see:  Carolina Spring Beauties, and there were THOUSANDS of them spreading across just one limited section of the woodland.

We encountered several Garter Snakes basking along the path at Denton.  Most hurried away before we could say hello, but I managed to get one to stop for his picture-taking.

I'm counting this photo something of a miracle, because most of the time when the tiny Spring Azure butterflies alight, the startling blue of their wings disappears within the dull gray of their underwings.  We were treated to their beautiful presence for the entire duration of our hike, and it was as if little flakes of clear blue sky had fallen to earth to flutter about the woods.

Today I returned to the Skidmore Woods, expecting to find that most of the Sharp-lobed Hepaticas there had passed their prime.  But here and there, I found a few as lovely as ever.  I love how the sun has transformed this clump's fading leaves to glowing embers.

What?!!  How could Large-flowered Bellwort be blooming already, when its Sessile-leaved cousin had only just opened its blooms three days ago?  Guess there's no arguing with Mother Nature. She makes up her own schedule.

And here they are at last!  The Long-spurred Violets!  My backyard Common Blue Violets have been blooming for days, but these woodland violets sure were taking their time.

The Wild Ginger seemed to have arisen overnight.  Just a couple of days ago I could find no trace of it in the Skidmore woods, but it certainly was burgeoning today!

I'd been waiting for days to see the beautiful flowers of Red Trillium, and today their buds had opened at last.  Such a lovely deep rich red!

Oh man, was THIS a surprise!  As I mentioned above, the Red Trillium and the Large-flowered White Trillium usually bloom at least a week apart, with the reds coming first.  But there they were!  Seeing is believing!  Only a few, so far, of what will be a veritable sea of them in time.

If the White Trillium seems to be flowering a bit early, this Early Meadow Rue seems a bit late.  But here they are at last, the male flowers dangling their anthers to shimmy in the slightest breeze, carrying their pollen to nearby female plants.

Well, it was no surprise to see the fully-open, pollen-dropping flowers on the Giant Blue Cohosh (Caulophyllum giganteum), since they have been blooming for nearly two weeks, their purple flowers opening wide even before their greenish-purple leaves had fully unfurled.

And the appearance of the Yellow-flowered Blue Cohosh was no surprise, either, since I usually find it in bloom about a week or 10 days after the purple-flowering species.  This species of Blue Cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides) waits to produce its flowers until its leaves have fully opened.  It's also a somewhat daintier plant than its sturdy purple-flowering cousin, and with paler green leaves.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

A Sad Contrast

Here's what the Red Maple tree (Acer rubrum) in front of my house looked like a year ago:  full of brilliantly colored pistillate flowers that blazed against a springtime sky.

And here's what that same tree looks like today, gray against that springtime blue sky, the sidewalk beneath littered with dropping flowers that have been blackened by the hard freeze we had a week or so ago.

There will be no rosy-red seeds produced this year, since all the flowers have died.  I wonder if this is how climate change will drive our maples north.  It wasn't the cold that killed those flowers, but rather the early and unseasonable warmth this year that caused those flowers to emerge too soon, making the tender blossoms vulnerable when sub-freezing temperatures returned.  So sad!  I do love that rosy bloom on the hillsides this time of year.

Ah well, to console myself, I went out and found some beautiful signs of new life among the maples.

The newly opening leaves of Red Maple looked like a flock of colorful birds perched on the twigs.

Late in the day, as the sun declined, it lit up these baby Red Maple leaves like stained glass.

The plump velvety buds of Striped Maple caught the light and glowed like pearls in the woods.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Documenting Spring's Progress

What a marvelous stretch of bright balmy days we have had!  It's wonderful to just step out the door and move freely through the day without numbed hands when I want to take a picture, or to plunge into any puddle or stream and not worry that my wet socks would freeze to my feet.  So yes, I've been out each day, surveying all my usual nature haunts to check on signs of advancing spring.

On Friday, I walked around Mud Pond at Moreau, noting that the low water had risen slightly, but that it was low enough still that I could keep close to the water almost all the way around.  The first thing I noticed was that the beavers were building a new lodge further out from shore, in order to have an entrance below water level.

The pond was vibrating with many different kinds of insect life:  tiny spiders that scooted across the water so fast you really couldn't see them get from here to there; Predacious Diving Beetles rapidly paddling beneath the water, kicking their hind legs while grasping air bubbles that allowed them to breath underwater; and the whirling, spinning Whirligig Beetles setting the surface in motion with circling ripples.

At the south end of the pond, where low water uncovered a series of muddy ridges, it looked as if every Painted Turtle in the pond was basking in the day's sunny warmth.

Rounding the back end of the pond, I noticed mats of green growth on the water's surface near the shore.  I assumed at first that they must be rafts of Common Duckweed.

But a closer inspection (resulting in wet socks) revealed that these mats were instead made up of masses of the chubby little floating liverwort called Ricciocarpus natans.

When I moved up into the woods to complete my circuit, I kept noticing flashes of bright orange on the air.  Aha!  I thought:  that must be an Eastern Comma Butterfly, one of our native butterflies that winters over as an adult and emerges in early spring.  What a tease it was! I would just see that flash of orange out of the corner of my eye, but when I turned to follow its wafting flight, it would just disappear.  That's because when the Eastern Comma lands, it closes those bright-orange wings and turns the color of a brown dead leaf. (But then you can see the white curving mark that gives this butterfly its common name.)

Here's a photo from my files that reveals that lovely color.

On Sunday, my friend Sue came down and we went to the Skidmore Woods.  Sue lives less than 20 miles north, but she swears that our spring is weeks more advanced down here in the tropics of Saratoga Springs.  I wasn't too sure we'd find much in the woods as yet, but we hadn't gone far before we spied a beautiful patch of Bloodroot, its shimmering white petals centered with bright-yellow sunbursts.

The Red-necked False Blister Beetles had also discovered the Bloodroots' ripening anthers and were feasting away on the pollen.  Soon, they will also find their way to the thousands of Trout Lilies that will soon carpet the forest floor out here, and then the Trout Lillies' anthers will be stripped of their pretty red pollen.  On Sunday, we found very few Trout Lillies had come into bloom, but the ones we did find were gorgeous!

Yes, indeed, the spring-wildflower floodgates are pushing open!  The Wood Anemones were already bearing some pinkish buds that will open very soon to pristine white blooms.

The Mayapple parasols were already pushing up through the leaf litter, the two-leaved plants bearing green flower buds, which were peeking out from between the unfolding leaves. As the plant matures, the leaves will surmount the single large white flower, which will bloom beneath the shade of the large flat leaves.

An oh, the Hepaticas!  We saw them almost everywhere we looked.  Most were white, or such a pale shade of blue or pink that they appeared to be white from a distance.  But here and there we found a few in unmistakably vibrant color.

Even with all these purple sepals (Hepaticas have no petals), this wee little flower was even smaller that its bracts. Hepaticas come in quite a variety of colors and numbers of sepals.

I had always assumed, because of the limey substrate of the Skidmore woods, that all the Hepaticas that bloom out here were of the sharp-lobed variety.  But count on Sue to find the fascinating!  Exploring the woods beyond the edge of the path, she found a whole section of forest floor where all the Hepaticas were of the round-lobed variety.  This is not the variety we usually associate with calcareous soils. But there they were!

Here's a plant of the sharp-lobed kind.  The differences between the leaves are subtle, but better detected when placed side-by-side.

Accompanying us on our walk through the woods was another of our early spring butterflies that winters over as an adult:  the gorgeous Mourning Cloak.  We never had a chance on Sunday to photograph this butterfly, since it would not land, but one year we did have a wonderful chance to take its portrait.  And I found its photo in my files.  So lovely!

On our way home, we stopped by a roadside patch of English Violets and picked a little nosegay.  I don't feel too guilty about picking violets, since the more you pick them, the more blooms they produce.  And would you believe that a tiny little bouquet like this will perfume a whole room?  They sure do live up to their scientific name of Viola odorata!

Friday, April 15, 2016

Sad News, Happy News

 Alas, this nest that an Osprey pair built larger every year was toppled last week, along with the snag that held it.

Longtime readers of this blog will recall how for years each spring we've enjoyed observing a pair of Ospreys rear their young in a huge nest at Ballston Creek.  But sad to report, when we went to observe them yesterday, we discovered not only that their nest was gone, but the tree-snag that had held it was also gone, blown down by that huge wind that roared through the county last week.  So sad!  I hope their young had not yet hatched.  Lets hope that the pair can build a new nest somewhere else, in time to yet rear a brood this year. A number of the Great Blue Heron nests had also been blown apart, but many still remained, guarded by long-legged sentries, and the nest where we last saw the Great Horned Owl was still intact and now occupied by two fuzzy owlets as well as the parent owl. So not all the news was sad.

Other happier news is that the long stretch of sub-freezing weather appears to be over, replaced this week with beautiful blue-sky days and warm sunshine.  A number of our favorite early-spring wildflowers have responded to this warmth by bursting into bloom, including the Carolina Spring Beauties that yesterday carpeted the woods at the Ballston Creek Preserve. Hundreds and hundreds of them! This is a flower that truly lives up to its name!

Less numerous, but equally stunning in their beauty were the Bloodroot blooms scattered along the roadside near the entrance to the Ballston Creek Preserve.  Can any flower announce "Spring is here!" more stunningly than these radiant blossoms?  So sparkling white they are, with a yellow center that seems to mirror the very sun whose warmth has called them into rising.

Before visiting the Ballston Creek Preserve,  I had spent the morning with my friends in the Thursday Naturalists across the road at Shenantaha Creek Park. There, we walked the beautiful trail that follows this dancing, splashing creek through the woods.

Our destination was a section of trail where a small brook trickles down from shale cliffs, delivering the nutrients needed by some of our earliest blooming wildflowers.

Here we found one of our very few native honeysuckle shrubs, the American Fly Honeysuckle.  Although most of the shrubs we found held still-unopened buds, we did find a couple that dangled the little pairs of yellow trumpets.

There were many other spring flowers not yet in bloom but with swelling buds -- Red Trillium, Early Meadow Rue, Dutchman's Breeches, Toothwort -- and we thought at first that that was true for the many purple stems of Giant Blue Cohosh thrusting up from the forest floor.  But a closer look revealed that some of these stems already held flowers that were open and producing pollen, even though their leaves had not yet unfurled.

Hurray, there were Trout Lilies blooming too!  Although this flower appears to be shy, hiding its face beneath dangling blooms, those yellow trumpets could truly be blaring the happy news that Ta Da!  the wildflower year has begun in earnest!