Friday, October 27, 2017

Scenes from a Battlefield Walk

After a cold rainy day on Thursday, Friday dawned bright and sunny, with a cobalt sky swept with high, diaphanous wisps of cloud.  This was the kind of day that called for a walk under open skies, and what better place for just that kind of walk than the Saratoga Battlefield in nearby Stillwater?

Now a national historical park, this many-acred site preserves the location of the first significant American military victory of the Revolutionary War in 1777, a victory that encouraged the French to enter the war as a decisive ally of the American forces, leading to the eventual defeat of the British and the founding of the American republic. Observing these quiet rolling hills today, it's hard to believe they once resounded with the roar of cannons and the screams of the wounded, for the only sound today was the gentle whispering of a breeze through the grasses and the soft plodding of our own footsteps on the mown path.

Some scenes from our walk:  A solitary apple tree on the slope of a hill, the tree stripped of all the fruit that grew within reach of the many deer that take refuge in this preserve.

The remaining apples, high in the tree, glowed ruby red against the sky.

While most of the meadow-side maples had already lost their leaves, the oaks were only now just turning their vivid autumn colors.

The park annually mows most of these fields to retain the appearance of the farmlands that would have been cultivated here back in the late 18th Century.   But I was glad we found a few acres that still retained wide swaths of tawny unmowed Little Bluestem Grass and dark-red thickets of Blackberry bushes.

Despite being mowed again and again, purple tufts of Brown Knapweed still poke up through the tall grass along the path.  I know this plant is considered invasive, but there's no denying its flower's  colorful beauty, and this syrphid fly, a drone-bee look-alike called Eristalis tenax, certainly seemed glad to find a source of nectar and pollen this late in the year.  This fly is a very beneficial insect, an important pollinator of flowers, and its larvae are avid devourers of aphids and other plant pests.

Here came a Wooly Bear caterpillar creeping across a paved path, making a diligent bee-line for who knows where?  Where did it come from, way out here in the open amid vast meadows?  And where is it headed to find a cozy spot to spend the winter?  I have no idea.  I just greeted it and watched it go on its way.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Moreau Shores

 I hurried over to Moreau Lake on Wednesday afternoon, hoping to join some friends of Moreau Lake State Park as we celebrated the raising of a nesting platform for ospreys.  I'd been told that the platform would be located in the cove opposite the swimming beach, so that's where I went, coming down through the woods to the back shore of the cove.  And I waited.  Hmm. . . .  Nothing happening here, except for one Black Duck swimming back and forth across the reflection of shoreline trees in the water.  And a beautiful clump of caramel-colored mushrooms adorning a fallen log.

But then I heard voices over on the shore around the bend of the cove, and I followed that sound.  Sure enough, here was that osprey nesting platform, and here were my friends, happy to have seen that the deed was done.  Well, it would be grand if an osprey pair found this platform to their liking.  To me, it seemed a spot too heavily trafficked by lakeshore walkers and their dogs, but who knows?  I've seen these raptors nesting in other heavily trafficked areas before.  So we shall see.

It certainly was a lovely day to visit Moreau Lake, especially now that the trees have come into their autumn glory at last.  This fisherman would have the entire quiet lake all to himself.

Many people don't realize that both banks of the Hudson River are now part of Moreau Lake State Park, a fact I celebrate every time I drive home along Spier Falls Road and stop to gaze on this beautiful scene that will remain unchanged, under park protection.

As I stepped from my car to admire the river view, the sunlight poured through the branches of this  young White Oak and lit the leaves aflame.

As I rounded the bend of the river, I stopped again to gasp at the glory of this mountainside ablaze with autumn colors.

I wasn't the only one there to admire this spectacular view.  This pair of artists were doing their best to capture that glory with colored crayons on paper.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Some Finds (Good and Bad) on a Sunday Walk

 Sunday was another great day for a walk around Mud Pond at Moreau, made even more fun because my pal Sue was with me.

The pond resounded with the constant musical hooting of Canada Geese, and I would have assumed there were no other waterfowl out there on the shallow water.  But sure enough, eagle-eyed Sue soon spotted some ducks way out on the pond, preening their feathers while perched on some floating Water Lily roots.  And what feathers they were! The gloriously colored feathers of male Wood Ducks, our fanciest native wild ducks!  I wish I could show their photo here, but sadly, my camera's zoom wouldn't reach any farther than this cluster of Canada Geese.   (Do google images of Wood Ducks, to see how beautiful they are.)

When Sue and I walk around this pond, we always look for the beautifully patterned evergreen leaves of Checkered Rattlesnake Plantain.  Being smaller and flatter to the ground than the leaves of the Downy Rattlesnake Plantain, they are much harder to find hiding out beneath the pine needles.  But thanks to our diligent searching, we did find quite a few.  So pretty, even when not in bloom!

Here was a nice surprise!  I had bent to enjoy the variety of colors contained in these juvenile oak leaves, when what I had thought was a fallen twig began to crawl away.  This is our Northern Walking Stick insect (Diapheromera femorata), and it shouldn't have been surprising to find it on an oak leaf, since oak leaves are its favorite food.  Hazelnut leaves are, too, and many Hazelnut shrubs also thrive in the same open sandy area as these baby oaks.

Oh, but here was a very sad find!  A baby Eastern Hognose Snake, dead on the path, where it looks as if someone had tried to chop it in two.  I don't know how else it could have been injured in just this way. Any animal predator would have consumed it instead of leaving its little body to lie in the sand.  How terrible that some folks respond so violently toward snakes, especially such a harmless snake as the Eastern Hognose, who couldn't bite you even if it tried, since it has no teeth in the front of its mouth.

Such a sweet little baby face!  How could anyone be afraid of a dear little critter like this?  Poor thing!

Sunday, October 22, 2017

A Whole Week of Wonderful Wanderings!

Day after day after day after day . . . ! One warm and sunny blue-sky day after another this past week! And lucky for me, I have so many beautiful places to spend them in right here in Saratoga County, from woodland ponds to rolling hills to quiet rivers to mountain trails to tree-lined lakeshores. (Not to mention that Adirondack pond I posted about last time, which is also in Saratoga County.)  Here's just a sampling of some of the lovely places I've wandered and some of the fascinating things I've seen in just this past week.

Mud Pond at Moreau Lake State Park

The trail around Mud Pond makes for an easy hike with no huffing and puffing up hills or scrambling over rocky ascents, just a pleasant leaf-kicking stroll through a mixed hardwood/conifer forest with glimpses of the quiet pond through the trees.  Well, not such a quiet pond these days, with flocks of migrating waterfowl in constant motion and noisy conversation as they come skidding in or flapping away. There's even a great bird blind on the shore, where birders can search among the flocks of Canada Geese for the possibility of rarer waterfowl.

Compared to other years, the autumn foliage around the pond is not as vivid as we've seen it before, but Maple-leaved Viburnum never disappoints, with its pinky-coral, purple-tinged leaves just as intensely colored as ever.

The Witch Hazel, though, seems a little more stingy with flowers this year. Branches normally thickly clustered with yellow flowers were offering only a few isolated blooms.

There are patches of Downy Rattlesnake Plantain along the trail, their spikes of little white orchids long spent but their clusters of vividly patterned curvaceous green leaves as lovely as ever.

The Hudson River above the Sherman Island Dam

I'm glad I haven't stored my canoe in the cellar quite yet, for the Hudson now offers some of the prettiest paddles of the year.  I come down through the woods to launch my boat where the river runs behind a small island, with forested mountains rising from the far banks of the open river beyond.

This section of the Hudson features quiet coves where the still water offers rippling reflections of sunlit trees in their autumn colors.

Here where the river's humidity tempers our northern climate somewhat, a few Flowering Dogwood trees decorate the shore, offering big snowy-white blooms in the spring and lipstick-red leaves and berries in autumn.

Even if our With Hazel shrubs aren't offering as many flowers this fall, they certainly aren't holding back on their beautiful lemon-yellow leaves, their splendor doubled by shimmering reflections where they lean over the dark water.

The rolling hills above Spier Falls Road

I pretend I don't see the "No Trespassing" sign when I climb up to witness these rolling hills that lie beneath a power line fed by the hydroelectric dam across the road.  I find this billowing landscape so dramatically beautiful, I gladly risk potential reprimand as I squeeze around the gate that attempts to prevent me from wandering here.

Every year, these hills and valleys and the woods that surround them take on different colors.  In other years (click here to see one example), the meadows of Little Bluestem Grass have appeared more pink than the apricot hue they've assumed this year, and the patches of Hay-scented Fern have appeared more lime-green than this year's cinnamon-brown.  Our autumn colors overall are more muted this year, but there's no denying they still display a beauty all their own.  Even these spent flower heads of Wild Bergamot add their own charm to the landscape.

The trail that leads to this splendid vista is littered now with the yellow leaves of Quaking Aspen, almost every one of which displays the green patches caused by a small moth larva that resides within the leaves.  This tiny larva exudes a chemical that preserves the chlorophyll in the otherwise dying leaf, which allows the larva to continue feeding on living leaf tissue until it is ready to pupate.

I have seen these "undead" Aspen leaves referred to as "zombie" leaves, so it almost seemed appropriate to come upon this deer skull lying nearby in the grass.  It's much more likely, of course, that a coyote, not a zombie, has eaten this poor deer's brains, but that alternative would make for a good Halloween story, wouldn't it?

The Red Oak Ridge Trail at Moreau Lake State Park

It's called the Red Oak Ridge Trail, but I've always thought a better name would be the Golden Glow Trail, especially this time of year, when the leaves of Hickories and Sugar Maples turn their vibrant yellow and cast a golden light throughout the woods.  My pal Sue joined me for a hike there this week, and I was very glad to have her eagle eyes along.  We were on the hunt for any sign of the little orchid called Late Coralroot, and I'm sure that, left to my own devices (meaning my very poor eyesight), I never would have seen these golden pods dangling from ruddy stems along the bank of a tiny creek.  This orchid's flowers are past blooming, but even when newly in bloom, they don't look much different, except for a single tiny frill of a spotted white petal peeking out at the bottom of each pod.

These Broad Beech Ferns were much easier to see.  As their fronds had faded from bright green to ghostly white, they really stood out against the colorful mosaic of fallen leaves.

Here was a sight neither Sue nor I had ever seen before!  We expect to see the leaves of Maple-leaved Viburnum turn a vivid pinky-coral each fall, but never had we seen them with bright-pink polka dots scattered across the still-green leaves.  Pretty!

The tree-lined shore of Moreau Lake

That Red Oak Ridge Trail eventually descends to the back bay of Moreau Lake, where we found many trees in their splendid autumn colors reflected in the water.  We enjoyed the warmth of the bright sun as we made our way along the sandy shore.

As we continued on around the bay, we eventually could look across the water to see the mountain we had just descended, backed by a pure blue sky.

This tree-lined trail that separates the back bay from the lake's main body is one of the prettiest walks in the park, especially when bathed in the stained-glass colors of autumn.

Truly, a glorious day for a lakeside walk!

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Beautiful Day, Beautiful Pond

Wednesday this week was as close to perfect an autumn day as one could ever hope for: bright and clear, with just enough snap in the air to call for a sweater in the morning, but offering the promise of warmth as the sun climbed high in a sapphire-blue sky.  And what better way to spend such a day than with good pals paddling a perfectly lovely Adirondack pond?  I'm so glad my pals Nancy and Kathy thought that way, too, and so we met on the shore of Archer Vly near the hamlet of Lake Desolation in northern Saratoga County, each of us with our own little boat.

Since the shadows still held the chill of the night before, we were drawn toward the warmth of the sunny side of the lake, where emergent bur-reeds glowed in a golden fringe beneath a mixed forest of colorful hardwoods and conifers.  The vivid red of Red Maples was punctuated by the deep green of Balsam Fir, White Pine, and Red Spruce.

Archer Vly is a narrow pond with a basically east-west orientation, so as we rounded the eastern end of the pond and continued along the north-facing southern shore, we entered the shade of seldom-sunlit Hemlocks.  Standing out from the dark of that Hemlock shore were stands of a grass-fine sedge called Carex lasiocarpa, with fine, arching stems that caught and held the sunlight, glittering gold as they swayed in a gentle breeze.

The north-facing shore is much rockier than the south-facing shore, with large boulders rising directly from the water's edge, providing a home for many beautiful mosses and other shade-loving plants.

One of those shade-loving plants is Stiff Clubmoss  (Lycopodium annotinum), which was holding its golden sporangia stiffly above its spiky evergreen leaves.  This particular clubmoss is found only in the colder regions of North America, and at higher altitudes, designations that certainly fit the mountainous area around Archer Vly, where winter temperatures can plunge to 30 below.

Here was another moss we found, a really lovely one with very fine leaves.  I am not familiar with its name, but Nancy, who is an expert bryologist, took samples home to investigate, so I'm hoping she can identify it for us.  I will try to come back to add an update when I know.

The shoreline here was carpeted with many of the forest-floor species that thrive in a northern woodland.  The heart-shaped leaves of Dalibarda are here intermingled with the three-lobed ones of Goldthread on this mossy bank.

Where the water lapped against the banks, we found abundant stands of Narrow-leaved Gentian, their beautiful blue flowers now replaced by golden seed-pods.

Those Gentian seed-pods readily spilled their multitudinous seeds with just a touch of the pods.

The last time I paddled here, in late July, the southern shoreline was abloom with more Small Green  Wood Orchids (Platanthera clavellata) than I had ever seen in my life.  So I was sure I would find at least some of their seed pods now.  But, boy, it wasn't easy to spot them, so thin and brown they were now.  But I did find a few. (If you click the link highlighted above, you can see what they looked like in bloom.)

As we neared our put-in spot, we were sad to reach the end of our paddling adventure, but glad to get up to stretch our legs once more and then find a sunny spot to enjoy our picnic lunches.

How's this for a sunny spot to enjoy our picnic lunches?

What a beautiful view we had of this pretty pond, rendered especially exquisite by that radiant blue sky and the vivid colors of shoreline trees!

Here's one more spot of exquisite beauty that I found today,  while waiting to meet my friends near a garden that still offered nectar-filled blooms to a visiting Painted Lady.