Happily, Tuesday dawned bright and clear and stayed that way the whole time our group was enjoying our walk around the lake. When I lead a group on a nature walk, I rarely take the time to take photographs, but I did manage to snap this one, showing the lovely autumn colors reflected in the still blue water. Our group was small, and not everyone completed the circuit around the lake, but those who participated expressed their delight in discovering that such a pretty little unspoiled mountain lake was now accessible to the public.
I did take photos on my preview walk, stopping often to enjoy the scenic shoreline, where trees hung over the water and little islands stood just off-shore. The pouring rain added a misty quality to the scene.
In my write-up for the ECOS program, I described the trail as somewhat "rugged," narrow and rocky in places, mostly level but with occasional ups and downs and one long hill leading from the parking lot down to the trail that looped around the lake. If I lead this trip again, I think I will emphasize the steepness and ruggedness more, for some of our group found the trail hard going, and one turned back quite shortly after we had begun our descent downhill over rocks and roots and a few muddy spots. The complete circuit runs about two miles, a distance I covered in under two hours on my preview run (stopping often to take photographs), but which took us closer to four to complete on Tuesday, what with our stopping to discuss our finds along the way.
I advised our group that we would see few flowers this time of year, especially in the nearly pure hemlock woods of the north-facing slope where we began our walk. But we certainly saw lots of pretty mosses. This one with the graceful leaves that all look as if they had been swept in one direction is a Dicranum species called Broom Moss.
Here are two more: the little green starbursts are Haircap Moss (Polytrichum commune), and the one that looks like tiny Christmas trees is called Brocade Moss (Hypnum imponens).
Here's more of that Haircap Moss curving atop a patch of Sphagnum Moss.
We saw lots of Sphagnum, including large patches of it along the banks and spreading into wetlands that reached back into the woods. I explained that the Sphagnum had played a vitally important role in creating Lake Bonita's acidic habitat, which supports a large variety of special plants that thrive in acidic soils. Most of those acid-loving plants grow out on the scattered islands that dot the lake, but a few can also be found on Sphagnum banks along the shore. Sphagnum is the moss that forms the basis of what we call "peatlands," whether they are bogs or fens.
At first glance, this glossy green stuff that was covering many boulders sure looks like a moss. But instead, it is a liverwort, called Bazzania trilobata. It happens to be a very common liverwort with a name that is fun to say, so I had fun shouting out "Bazzania!" each time I saw it adorning many of the trailside rocks. Which was quite often.
When we first began our walk through a nearly-pure hemlock woods, I pointed out the dearth of understory trees and shrubs that would otherwise be found if this were a mixed hardwood/conifer woods. This dearth could be caused by the darkness beneath the hemlock canopy, as well as by the tannin in the soil from all the hemlock needles. But as we approached the edge of the lake, where more light entered the woods, we began to find shrubs like this Hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides), with leaves turned a beautiful shade of autumn gold.
And right at the water's edge was where we could find many of the shrubs that typically grow in peatlands. These twigs on the branches of Leatherleaf shrubs (Chamaedaphne calyculata) contain both seedpods from this year's flowers as well as buds that will develop into next spring's flowers.
Here is another common denizen of peatlands, a glossy-leaved shrub called Sheep Laurel (Kalmia angustifolia). It will have lovely pink flowers in the spring.
From the shore, we could see some of the little islands that dot the lake, islands that are covered with Sphagnum, which supports the growth of such peatland plants as Pitcher Plants, Sundews, and many others, including the lovely native orchid called Rose Pogonia. In order to protect the water quality of this long-isolated lake, Moreau Lake State Park has banned all boating from the lake, but I was granted a permit to paddle out to these islands last summer to conduct a plant survey. To see some of the beautiful flowers and blooming shrubs I found, click here to visit my blog post about that survey.
Because of a patch of Sphagnum that cushions a trailside bank, we found the distinctive vase-shaped leaves of several Pitcher Plants along the shore. This plant obtains some of its nutrients by digesting insects that become trapped within the water-filled leaves.
Compared to the north-facing hemlock woods where our trail began, we found more Red Maples and White Pines as we rounded the lake and proceeded along the south-facing shore, which receives much more direct sunlight.
Probably the most remarkable tree we found was a full-grown American Chestnut. Although we found no bristly nuts growing on its branches or littering the ground beneath, just last year I found this same tree producing those nuts. It's rare to find such mature chestnut trees, and it's likely that this one will also succumb to the blight that has basically eliminated this native tree from our northeastern forests. At least we got to see it in its glorious autumn foliage.
Now our American Beech trees are beginning to succumb to a blight of their own. Although we found numerous beech trees along our trail -- some healthy but many not -- we also found the strange little flower called Beech Drops even when we could locate no standing beeches nearby. Since this flower is parasitic on the roots of beeches, they must still be feeding on the roots of beech trees that remain in the ground even after the original tree has fallen and rotted away.
It was obvious, however, that many American Beeches in this woods were healthy enough to produce an ample crop of nuts, since we found many of the bristly hulls littering the forest floor.
I was surprised we found so few mushrooms on Tuesday, considering the day-long rain we'd had the day before. But we did find a few, including this Orange Jelly Fungus, vivid on the damp wood of a mossy fallen log.
Another fungus we found adorning fallen logs was this colorful Purple-toothed Polypore, with its rims of purple edging the brown-striped caps. Green Algae added its own color to the caps.
Most abundant of all were the tiny Marasmius mushrooms scattered by the hundreds across the forest floor, their minute white caps topping dark wiry stalks. This is a fungus that will disappear when the leaf litter dries, and will then sprout up again after the next drenching rain.
I was truly happy to lead a few folks from ECOS around Lake Bonita, a wonderful addition to the miles of woodland and lakeside trails offered within Moreau Lake State Park. Perhaps a few of the folks I met on Tuesday will return to enjoy this natural treasure on some other beautiful day.