Friday, January 18, 2019

Rest in peace, as so you lived, Mary Oliver

I learned the sad news yesterday that the poet Mary Oliver had died. No other poet has sung my heart so perfectly, has celebrated with me so profoundly my sense of the sacred in nature. I have frequently quoted poets here on my blog when appropriate, and no one but Mary Oliver have I quoted so frequently.  Here are links to five posts where her writings have appeared,  accompanied by the photographs that opened my posts.  Click on each colored link to enjoy Mary's beautiful writings.

Prayer, March 7, 2014
with Mary's poem "Praying"

An Earth Day Celebration, April 22, 2018
with a passage from Mary's essay, "Attention is the Beginning of Devotion," from Upstream:Selected Essays

A Poet Sings of Autumn, September 22, 2018
with the poem "Song for Autumn"

Snow!, November 26, 2014
with the poem "Walking Home from Oak-Head"

with the poem "When I Am Among the Trees"

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

For Plant Nerds Only

I'd guess most of this blog's readers already know I'm a wildflower-obsessed plant nerd. For more than two decades, I've been keeping a life-list that approaches a thousand plants by now, and every year I keep finding a few more to add to it. Of course, the number of new finds dwindles with each passing year, but this past year (2018) included a few remarkable ones that -- just for my personal record --  I want to document here on my blog.

A truly exciting find was the Two-colored Fringed Orchid (Platanthera x bicolor), a hybrid of the White Fringed Orchid (P. blephariglottis) and the Orange Fringed Orchid (P. ciliaris).  The New York Flora Association Plant Atlas shows this  hybrid as having been reported from only one other New York county (Suffolk, way out on Long Island), so the mystery remains as to how it came to emerge in the Warren County bog where we found it this past July. Plenty of White Fringed Orchids grow in this bog, but the Orange Fringed hasn't been found anywhere near here for years and years.

Truth be told, I never would have found this lovely yellow hybrid -- or at least, been able to distinguish it as such -- if my friend Dan Wall had not alerted me to its presence in a Lake-George-area bog I often visit just to see the White Fringed Orchids that thrive there.   In this photo below, Dan is holding the stem of the hybrid orchid.  A second yellowish hybrid can be seen a few feet beyond, with the definitely more purely white White Fringed Orchid growing between the two.  I have probably passed right by these hybrids on my annual visits to this bog, not noting the slight variation in color that distinguishes them. Thanks, Dan, for helping me see what was probably right before my eyes.

Here's a link to my post recounting the day Dan showed me these remarkable orchids.

A second exciting find this past year was the Small-flowered Dwarf Bulrush (Cyperus subsquarrosus), a tiny Endangered flatsedge that we discovered flourishing by the thousands along the sandy and pebbly shores of Moreau Lake.

Back in early September, I had invited one of New York State's rare-plant monitors, Rich Ring, to walk these shores with me to assess the population of another plant (Small-flowered Gerardia), which had recently been moved to the "Watch" list from the "Rare" list.  While we were walking, Rich had suggested we might also look for this little flatsedge (not really a bulrush), which hadn't been reported from Moreau Lake since way back in 1961.  Turns out, we had been walking right over hundreds of them without seeing them, so tiny they are, and as disguised as they were, hiding among other teeming species of much-more-common flatsedges.   As it happens, we may never see them again in our lifetimes, since the sandy beaches where we found them last September are now under water, due to abundant rainfall all autumn and into the winter.  A lucky find!  Here's a link to my post recounting the day we found this truly rare little plant.

It was quite a good year for me and flatsedges, for I found a couple more that were new to me, while paddling Carter's Pond over in Washington County.   It was interesting to me that both are designated as flatsedges, even though they look quite different from each other.  The Umbrella Flatsedge (Cyperus diandrus) has flat spikelets that are patterned a pretty red and tan:

The Redroot Flatsedge (Cyperus erythrorhizos) has clusters of spikelets that look like yellowish fuzzy caterpillars.  Neither of these flatsedges is considered to be uncommon in our state, although the Redroot Fladsedge is classified as rare in some surrounding states and was recently moved from the Rare to the Watch list in New York.

While paddling that same Carter's Pond in Washington County, I came upon two plants of the Persicaria genus that I had seen before, but which I had always mis-identified.  My paddling companion on that pond was my friend Bonnie Vicki, who helped me find the correct name for these flowers.  First was this dainty, pale-pink flower called Mild Water Pepper (Persicaria hydropiperoides), whose little florets are larger and prettier than those of the Pennsylvania Smartweed I had been calling it before I learned to distinguish it.

Pictured below is the second Persicaria species, P. coccinea or Scarlet Smartweed, that I finally learned the true name of.  I formerly had mis-identified it as Water Smartweed (P. amphibia) when I had found it floating on the surface of a lake.  But here at Carter's Pond it stood tall, its gorgeous  big flower spikes reaching far above the thickets of Swamp Loosestrife that form a virtual shrubby monoculture around the pond.  So even though I had seen these two plants before, I could still add them to this year's "New for 2018" list. And I also learned that I still have a lot to learn about plants!

As long as we're on the subject of my ignorance, here's yet another flower I discovered the true name of this year, having probably long mis-identified it in the past.  This is the Fraser's Marsh St. John's Wort (Hypericum fraseri).

I found these pretty pink flowers growing on the banks of a little island in Lake Desolation and at first assumed they were the same-old Marsh St. John's Worts I see in many other wet places I paddle. But gosh, they seemed a bit smaller than the ones I usually find.  Looking closer, I noted that the sepals seemed rounder and shorter, too. Could they be a different species, I wondered? A bit of research when I got home convinced me that yes, indeed they were!  I wonder how many times I have seen them and called them by the wrong name.  Another new plant for my life list!

One of the floral "hot spots" my botanizing friends and I like to visit is Canal Park, on the Rensselaer County side of the Hudson River, where the Hoosic River flows into the Hudson. A combination of mixed hardwood forest, steep rocky banks, and alluvial floodplain occur there, providing habitat for lots of interesting plants. And just when we think we have listed them all, some new ones come to our attention.  It's certainly understandable that we might overlook the tiny Whorled Milkwort (Polygala verticillata ), it being so very small and not very colorful.  But my shoelace became untied and when I stooped to retie it, look what appeared before my eyes:

At first, we were stymied by what to call it, because it possessed both alternate and whorled leaves and didn't accurately fit the descriptions in any of our wildflower guides. Later, after a few Google searches, I discovered that Polygala verticillata is sometimes known to have alternate leaves and is then called  P. verticillata var. ambigua.  That's the name I used to record it in my life list.

Canal Park is also known to be home to several species of Bushclover, including one that is classified as Rare in New York State, the Creeping Bushclover (Lespedeza repens).  

Since I had never seen this plant before, I had to compare descriptions in several guides before I became confident enough to assert that this really was the rare Bushclover, an assessment that botanists more expert than I am later confirmed.

Well, the verdict is still out on whether an aquatic plant I found in the Hudson River at South Glens Falls is the Endangered species called Cutleaf Milfoil (Myriophyllum pinnatum) or a similar milfoil that's not nearly so rare. It was growing in only about an inch of water when I found it close to the shore.  "Hmmm," I pondered,  "What's this weird plant?  Don't think I've ever seen it before."

When I looked more closely, I could see both pistillate and staminate flowers in the axils of the spiky leaves, and they reminded me of another milfoil I had found some years ago. So I sent a specimen off to Steve Young, chief botanist with the NY Natural Heritage Program, asking his help to ID it.

Steve informed me that this looked very much like the Endangered Cutleaf Milfoil, but that molecular analysis would be needed to distinguish it from another one very similar in appearance. That analysis has not yet been done, so I'm not quite sure how to record this plant in my wildflower journal.  Unknown Milfoil will have to do for now.

I'm not sure of the exact species of this next aquatic plant, either, although I have a general idea.  I found it attached to the river bottom in the same stretch of Hudson where I found the unknown milfoil.  The water was shallow enough I could reach down from my canoe and pull one cluster up to examine it more closely.  It felt quite gritty, and what amazed me is that it smelled very garlicky!  Some folks who are familiar with aquatic species have told me that this is most likely a multi-cellular macro-alga called Muskgrass (possibly Chara vulgaris).  That smell is the clincher, they told me.  Once you smell it, you won't forget it.

According to information I found on the web, Muskgrass has no true leaves, but it does have branches and branchlets, which occur in whorls at intervals along the main branches. These branches and branchlets are made of single, column-shaped cells that often are surrounded by spine-shaped cells.  These spiny cells and the lime deposits that collect on them are what make the plant rough to the touch.  These branchlets also are the sites for the alga's reproductive sporangia, the dark, ball-like organs that appear seed-like along the branchlets.  No part of the Muskgrass is more than three cells thick.  Wow!  I learn something new all the time!

Whew!  Here's a plant I DO know the name of, and I figured it out all by myself (with Newcomb's Wildflower Guide, that is).  This is the Sessile-fruited Arrowhead (Sagittaria rigida), and it, too, was growing along that same stretch of the Hudson at South Glens Falls as the two plants mentioned above.  According to the New York Flora Association, this is not a rare plant, but I had never seen it before. Or maybe I just never noticed it as different from other Arrowheads, since its flowers look very much like those of the other species.  There's much variation in leaf shape among the Arrowheads, even among plants of the same species.  But this plant had leaves and fruit clusters that were distinctive enough to distinguish it as S. rigida, a new species for my life list.

I haven't been listing trees in my wildflower journal, but maybe I should.  After all, it was puzzling over the magnificent Black Tupelo trees that flourish along the Hudson River that first inspired my passion to know the name of everything that grows. And it was fun this year to puzzle out that the  leaves pictured below belonged to a Yellow Oak (Quercus muehlenbergii) growing along a trail in the Skidmore Woods.

Another common name for Q. muehlenbergii is Chinkapin Oak, and that name could be a useful mnemonic, for a distinguishing feature of the Chinkapin Oak's leaves is a tiny pin-point projection at the tip of each leaf lobe.  Some tree guides mention the number of leaf lobes as distinctive for this species, but as this photo shows, that number can vary.  A close look, however, reveals that every lobe is tipped with that tiny point.

My friend Ed Miller deserves the credit for alerting me to the presence of this tree in the Skidmore woods, a calcareous habitat that this species prefers.  If I noticed it at all, I probably dismissed it as one of the Chestnut Oaks that also abound in this woods, until Ed took a closer look and alerted us that he had found something unusual.  Even though the NYFA Plant Atlas indicates that this tree has not been vouchered for Saratoga County, that doesn't mean it doesn't grow here.  Because of Ed's pointing it out and demonstrating its distinctive features, I can now defend this tree as present in the county.  And I can also add it to my life list.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Wintry Cold Arrives

OK, I asked for it.  Wintry cold, that is.  It just didn't seem right to have wide open water and bare ground in mid-January.  Well, we got the cold all right:  temps hovering near zero for several nights  in a row.  No snow yet, but hey, you can't always have everything.  Trouble is, I'm finding the cold less bearable in my old age, so I've been out for only brief stretches these past few days, starting last Friday with a short walk on the shore of Moreau Lake.

Even though the temperature never rose above 15 degrees on Friday, despite a clear blue sky all day, there was still a large area of open water on the lake.  There were THIN ICE signs along the shore warning folks not to venture out on the lake, but visible cracks in the ice close to shore revealed  it was thick enough to walk on, as long as I stayed near the shore.

It was obvious from all these tracks that other creatures had ventured out on the ice, most likely coyotes drawn to feed on a bloody carcass I could see the remains of out there. I know the park staff often place the remains of road-killed deer on the ice for wildlife to feed on, but I was later informed that no staffer had dragged this carcass out on the ice.  Coyotes are known to chase deer out onto the slippery surface, where the deer lose traction, their legs splay apart, and the coyotes are able to make short work of them.  There wasn't much left of this one by now.

I was surprised to find no waterfowl occupying that open water on this afternoon, but this downy feather caught on an alder twig and blowing in the stiff wind was evidence that they had certainly been here previously.

What a lovely thing, this oak leaf emblazoned on an escutcheon of frosty ice!

It seemed I had only arrived at the lake before the sun began to sink behind the trees. But three weeks earlier, it would have been dark already by now.  Every day, a little more sunlight!

By the time I started home, a crescent moon was high in a dark-blue sky, a very clear sky that signaled the start of another very cold night, as the temperatures started to plunge down toward zero.

It was still very cold on Saturday afternoon, when I stopped by Yaddo, the famous artists' retreat on the outskirts of Saratoga Springs.  I walked by this little stream that flows under a pretty stone bridge, admiring the beautiful crystalline transformations that bitter cold creates in splashing water.

I had stopped by this stream to check on some American Bladdernut shrubs (Staphlea trifolia) that grow on the banks.  A few years ago, groundskeepers had cut these shrubs down to the ground, but I pleaded with them to let these native shrubs regrow from their butchered stumps.  And so they have! There were more of the distinctive hollow pods on the shrubs than I'd ever seen before.

The native American Bladdernuts grow wild along a woodland stream, but back in the cultivated gardens that Yaddo is famous for, I find another woody tree that also bears hollow papery pods.  Only a few of these distinctive pods remained on the branches by now, but I found enough to prove that this was indeed the Carolina Silverbell Tree (Halesia carolina).  This tree is native to the warmer climes of our more southern states, but it manages to survive our cold winters somehow where it grows in cultivation.  Perhaps as our climate warms, we will begin to see this lovely flowering tree in the wild.

Here's a photo of the pretty flowers of the Carolina Silverbell.   If you visit Yaddo around the third week of May, you might find both the Silverbell Tree and the Bladdernut shrubs in bloom.

The gardens at Yaddo are known for their fountains and statuary, as well as a gorgeous rose garden and a shade garden where many native wildflowers grow.  I was surprised to see these fountain nymphs exposed to the winter weather.  In previous years, I was sure they had been protected by covering boxes.  That standing nymph looks like she could be hollering, "Bring me some clothes! Don't you know how cold it is to stand around naked in winter?"

I was certainly bundled up on a cold Sunday afternoon, when I stopped by the Bog Meadow Trail outside Saratoga, entering the trail by the new trailhead off Meadowbrook Road.  This new section of trail runs along an open marsh that I had been waiting to freeze over solid, so I could safely venture out on the ice.

Over the past two years, I have been collecting specimens of plants that are missing from the botanical record for Saratoga County, and one of those missing plants is Swamp Dock (Rumex verticillatus), which grows abundantly in this particular swamp.  (As well as in many other swamps, I'm sure. It is not a rare plant.)   I see it frequently during warmer months, but it grows in mucky areas where I can neither walk nor paddle.  At last, it was within my grasp, for I could walk right up to it on the frozen surface.  I just hope it will be acceptable as a vouchered specimen, with its shriveled leaves and shedding seeds!

I didn't stop to collect the plant in this next photo, although I later discovered that this plant, too, is missing from the botanical record for Saratoga County, despite its actual ubiquity.  I instead stopped to delight in this Northern Willow Herb (Epilobium ciliatum) because it was so cute, with its seed pods (siliques) curled back to give the plant the appearance of tousled blond curls.  I won't go back now to obtain a specimen, for I would rather collect it when it is blooming with tiny pink flowers.  It's even cuter, then! And I won't even have to wade through muck to collect it.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Ten Years of Uncountable Blessings!

My little Hornbeck canoe has carried me on years of nature adventures.
 The amazing things I saw while paddling inspired me to start this blog.
Oh my gosh, can it really be?  It was ten years ago, on January 1, 2009, that I first sat down to compose my first entry in this blog. As a wildflower-obsessed nature nut, my intention was to post a single year's worth of outdoor adventures, focusing on the plants and animals to be found in the many amazing preserves and parks right here near my home in Saratoga Springs, New York.  I never could have known then how much this venture would enlarge and enrich my life. Or that I would keep on posting it for all these many years. I had only just acquired my first iMac computer and as yet had no experience of the reach of the world wide web.  I'd had my lightweight solo canoe for nearly two decades, and then I'd acquired a compact digital camera, which allowed me to document the marvels I encountered wherever my canoe could carry me. But it wasn't until I acquired that computer that I could share what I loved with other nature lovers all over the world.  Oh, what joy that has brought me! I have learned so much, and best of all, I have made so many new friends who share my passion for nature.

Thanks to my blog, I have come to know some of the most important naturalists in the state, professional botanists, entomologists, mycologists and more, who have generously helped me identify plants, insects, and fungi I couldn't figure out on my own. I am particularly grateful to Steve Young, chief botanist with the New York Natural Heritage Program and my go-to guy for knowledge about any of our state's native plants.  Here's Steve atop Whiteface Mountain, leading one of the field trips he conducts each year to important botanical sites. How wonderful to have had such a guide, whether up to a mountaintop to document alpine species, or out to a limestone island in Lake Champlain, home to some of our region's rarest plants.

Steve became an early follower of my blog, and from time to time he would alert me of the rarity of some of the plants I posted photos of.  Under his guidance, I have been able to document the locations of some of our state's rarest species, and also to contribute hundreds of both photos and specimens to update the New York Flora Association's Plant Atlas.  It sure feels good that my personal wildflower pursuits have proven to be useful to other interested parties!

Equally important for my nature education (as well as my pleasure!) have been my friends in The Thursday Naturalists, a group of both professional and passionately committed amateur naturalists who venture out each week to explore area parks and preserves. They were kind enough to ask me to join them about eight years ago, and I felt highly honored, like some little neighborhood nobody, invited out to play with the big kids.  Since then, we have ventured widely to some of the richest botanical sites in the region, from Thacher and Joralemon parks and the Landis Arboretum south and west of Albany all the way up to the Ice Meadows and the Pack Forest north of Warrensburg, and many other parks and preserves in between, including old marble quarries in Vermont.  I have to mention in particular these two members, Ruth Schottman and Ed Miller (pictured here), both of whom possess astounding depths of knowledge and are also wonderful companions on the trail, sharing their delight in all they find.  Despite their advancing years (they are both in their 90s now!), they still bring a youthful enthusiasm and sense of adventure to all our expeditions.  I am so grateful to them for taking me under their wings and sharing their knowledge with me, and I hope to treasure their companionship for years to come!

All members of The Thursday Naturalists contribute their unique gifts to our group, but I am particularly grateful to Nancy Slack, an ecology professor and expert bryologist who has opened my mind to the wonders of mosses, lichens, and liverworts.  It's easy to fall in love with showy bright flowers, but it takes careful attention (and a good magnifier!) to marvel over the intricate structures of tiny greenish things growing on rotting wood or creekside boulders. I also have to admire Nancy's energy, her willingness to clamber up rocky slopes or paddle deep into bogs to seek out the objects of her passion.  In this photo, she is climbing the course of a mountainside waterfall, delighting in the wonderful variety of bryophytes that thrive on the spray-watered rocks.

Here's one more of my wonderful teachers (and delightful friends!) whom I never would have met if not for my blog: the irrepressible Evelyn Greene, Adirondack explorer extraordinaire and so-called Queen of the Ice Meadows.  Having been forced by mountaineering parents to climb all the High Peaks while still a young teen (whether she wanted to or not), she was not the least bit interested in bagging peaks by the time I met her, but rather preferred to paddle the region's isolated ponds and bogs or wander the swamps and woodlands in search of plants -- which made her my perfect companion!  And Evelyn also had other friends -- I'm thinking of Bonny Vicki and Bob Duncan especially -- who eventually became my most welcome companions as well, accompanying me to amazing sites I never would have found on my own.

In this photo, Evelyn is standing before heaps of frazil ice that are encroaching onto the road that follows the west bank of the Hudson River north of Warrensburg.  Frazil is a particular kind of ice that forms in turbulent stretches of the river, and in some years this frothy white ice is known to pile up to astonishing heights of 12 feet or more along the banks.  I do believe that Evelyn knows more about this phenomenon than anyone else, and she has escorted me and other friends to witness this dramatic occurrence on many occasions.  Even better, she introduced me during the warmer months to the habitat that lies beneath this mass of ice, a miles-long stretch of riverbank called the Ice Meadows that is renowned among botanists as one of the richest sites for rare plants in all the state.  And that's not all!  I would need a whole book to relate the many marvelous adventures Evelyn has led me on, by boat or on foot.  In a way, I have already written that book right here on my blog, which a search of her name would reveal.  To get just a taste of the fun we have had together, check out this blog post from 2011:  Boghopping, Bushwhacking:  Three Old Broads and Their Boats.

When I first started this blog, I really never could have imagined how writing it would win me such dear friends -- folks like the ones I have mentioned above, and also like the amazing young man pictured here. Andrew Gibson, who works as a field botanist and monitor of rare plants for the state of Ohio, first became known to me when I found his blog "Natural Treasures of Ohio" back in 2011, and we soon became mutual admirers of each other's posts.  But I then came to admire more than his vivid prose and spectacular photos, for his posts revealed a deep goodness of spirit and a profound integrity that shone through everything he did.  Because of that, I felt no qualms whatsoever about inviting him out to botanize with me in New York when I learned that he longed to see and photograph the White Fringed Orchids that are no longer found in Ohio but which thrive in uncountable numbers in New York.  (I remember that one of my sons was aghast that I had invited "someone you met on the internet!" to stay at our home.  Needless to say, my son's fears disappeared as soon as he met dear Andrew in person.) 

That first visit back in mid-July of 2012 was just the beginning of our happy personal friendship, a friendship cemented by his return visit in early June of 2013, and yet another visit in mid-August of 2016, after he'd taught a course on wildflowers up in the Adirondacks with another mutual friend and accomplished botanist, John Manion.  If you click on these links, you may get some sense of the marvelous good times we have had botanizing together and the joy we have found in our companionship. And it all started because of our blogs.

Well, longtime readers of this blog will already know who has been my most constant companion on my nature adventures:  who else but my fellow nature nut Sue Pierce!  

Sue and I actually met before I started my blog, for we were both frequent explorers of the many wonders of Moreau Lake State Park, and that's where we found one another.  Now, most folks don't really want to go walking with me, since I drop to my knees every few feet to peer at a plant or stand statue-still for minutes on end as I wait for that dragonfly to return to its perch.  So can you imagine my joy when I found a friend who is also happy to take an hour to cover a hundred yards?  Especially a friend with excellent eyesight who can ID a juvenile eagle half a mile up in the sky?   Or espy a spider hiding away in a flower that matched the color of its carapace?  Oh man, I would have missed so much without my seeing-eye pal on the trail with me!  What fun we have had, and how much Sue has taught me, for Sue is well-versed in the lore of the woods and knows all kinds of information I would never read in my guidebooks. Sue is also well-versed in the writings of Henry David Thoreau, whose nature observations form the inspiration for Sue's own beautiful blog, Waterlily.  Although it has been some time since she has updated her blog, it remains a marvelous  and timeless document, illustrated with Sue's spectacular photos and rendered profound by passages she has chosen from Thoreau's works.

When Sue worked an evening shift we often met two or three mornings a week to walk together.  Since her shift was cut and she's had to work days, we're lucky to meet twice a month.  But one of these days, Sue plans to retire, and then we'll resume our more frequent nature adventures.   And boy, will we have new places to wander, now that Moreau Lake State Park is about to acquire extensive new lands, including an 890-acre parcel that will adjoin existing park lands and add around two more miles of riverfront to the park's holdings.

Blue sky, blue water: a quiet afternoon at Moreau Lake State Park
Speaking of Moreau Lake State Park, what a gift this park has been to me as a nature blogger!  As for habitats, this park has them all:  Mountains and meadows. Lakes and ponds.   Streams and waterfalls.   Acidic pinewoods and calcareous forest.  Sandplain and wetland, even some bogs.  The majestic Hudson River!  How rewarding it has been to explore them all!

To date, I have documented over 400 species of flowering plants within this park, including three Endangered species (Whorled Mountain Mint, Large-leaved Avens, and Small-flowered Dwarf Bulrush), one Threatened species (Small Floating Bladderwort), and one Rare (Great St. John's Wort).  Also, I can count at least 12 species of orchids within the park, 11 of them native and thus protected by law.  I want to especially acknowledge park manager Peter Iskenderian (at right in the photo below) for his enthusiastic support for protecting and documenting the remarkable botanical diversity of the park.  In this photo, he has joined Rich Ring (left), rare-plant monitor for the state's Department of Environmental Conservation,  and Maranda Welch, a nature educator with the park,  to ascertain the extent of an abundant population of that endangered Avens mentioned above.  (We found more than we could count -- over a hundred! -- thriving under those powerlines.)

Due to its diversity of habitats that support avian life and breeding, Moreau Lake State Park has also been named as one of the state's important Bird Conservation Areas. Among the many species of birds that visit or reside at Moreau are bald eagles and ospreys, great blue herons and the occasional egret, barred owls and great-horned owls,  crows and ravens, hawks of several kinds, and many, many species of resident and migrating waterfowl and songbirds.  

As for other critters, a walk in the snowy woods reveals the tracks  of whitetail deer, coyotes, foxes, otters, opossums, porcupines, raccoons, fishers, bobcats, minks, several weasels, gray and red and flying squirrels, cottontail rabbits, shrews and voles and mice.  And doubtless more that I haven't yet seen or identified the tracks of.   Oh, and one year we even found the tracks and poop of a moose!

We have green frogs, bullfrogs, pickerel frogs, leopard frogs and a couple of species of toads.  Garter snakes and hognose snakes are frequently found, as are newts and salamanders of several species.  Snapping and painted turtles are common.

Marvelous bunches of bugs: bees, wasps, butterflies, spiders, moths, dragonflies, damselflies, beetles, hoverflies, snowfleas, bee flies, etc., etc., etc., too many to mention, including their larvae.

And dozens and dozens of fungi!  And don't forget the slime molds.

All of these plants and most of these critters have shown up on my blog, some of them many times over. But before I posted them there, I had to find out what they were and what might be interesting about them.  What an education for me this blogging has been!  Guidebooks and Google were among my teachers, plus a number of Facebook sites and internet web pages.  But best of all were my go-to pals that I listed above, whom I count as treasured friends as well as reliable sources of accurate information.

I know I am leaving many friends out of this account, simply for the sake of brevity. So many people have accompanied me along the way, including my readers who have loyally added their appreciative comments, as well as my fellow bloggers, whose own accounts and reflections have enlarged my own experience.  (Be sure to check out the Blog List on the right side of this page.)  But how could I close without especially thanking the folks at Saratoga PLAN (Preserving Land and Nature), the land conservation organization that has preserved vast acreage of unspoiled woodlands and productive farmlands throughout Saratoga County? 

The Foster Sheep Farm is only one of the Saratoga County farms whose lands will be forever 
reserved for agricultural use, thanks to a conservation easement supported by Saratoga PLAN.

Many of my most interesting blog posts have recounted explorations of  PLAN's wonderful nature preserves (I'm recalling the rare plants along the Bog Meadow Brook Nature Trail, or the herons and osprey that nest near the Ballston Creek Preserve).  Under the current executive director Maria Trabka, this organization continues to protect, preserve and expand our green spaces for many years to come. 

I also want to mention Margo Bloom Olson, executive director of the Wilton Wildlife Preserve and Park, a geologically significant sandplain, woodland, and wetland preserve with acres of Wild Lupine and other flowers that support a huge population of the federally endangered Karner Blue Butterfly. 

Acres and acres of Wild Lupine bloom in the oak/pine savanna areas of the Wilton Wildlife Preserve and Park.

Male (blue) and female (brown) Karner Blue Butterflies can feed on any nectar-producing
 flowers, but their larvae can survive only on the leaves of the Wild Lupine pictured above.

And where would I ever have seen a Spadefoot Toad if its specialized habitat had not been protected at the Wilton Wildlife Preserve and Park?

So thank you, thank you, thank you, all you have come along with me, supporting and encouraging me on this blogging journey.  What a journey this has been!  And it's not over yet.