Tuesday, October 1, 2019

A Whole Week of Woods and Waters and Meadows and Mountains!

Just in case any of my readers might wonder where I've been, well, I've been wandering many different woods and waters and meadows and mountains with my nephew Tim, who was visiting from Michigan.  We had a whole week together to explore some of my favorite regional haunts, starting a week ago last Sunday, when we hiked around Lake Bonita in Moreau Lake State Park.  That's Tim, pictured below, on the shore of this little pristine lake that's nestled in the woods atop Mount McGregor. 

I thought it too bad we didn't as yet have more of the gorgeous autumn color our region is famous for.  But at least this little Red Maple was doing its best to add to the beauty of the scene.

Last Monday, my son Philip joined Tim and me to hike the Wilkinson Trail at the Saratoga National Historical Park near Stillwater, site of one of the most significant battles of the American Revolution.

The Wilkinson Trail traces the route over which supplies were delivered to the American troops as they battled to defeat the British in what has been called the significant turning point of the war. The thunderous sounds of war are silent now, so all we could hear were the calls of Bluebirds and Goldfinches as we set off across the curving hills, with the Green Mountains of Vermont rising on the horizon.

The trees may not yet have donned their most spectacular autumn foliage, but the meadow plants certainly provided magnificent color.  Acres and acres of different species of goldenrod glowed yellow across the hills, and a few apple trees were heavy with scarlet fruit.

Little Bluestem Grass provided patches of rosy pink, with hues that shifted as the wind moved in waves across them.

Other grasses raised stiff spikes of pale gold against the dark green of the pines.

Masses of several species of ferns intermingled their glorious shades of copper and burgundy and gold.

The brilliant purple of New England Asters punctuated the vast meadows of golds and greens and russets.

One of our most delightful finds along this trail was this tiny brown snake, hardly bigger than an earthworm.  My friend Alvin Breisch has identified it as a Northern Brown Snake (also called a Dekay's Snake), and he told me that this is about as big as this species grows.  So cute!

Tuesday of last week was cool and pleasant, perfect for a climb up the Western Ridge Trail at Moreau Lake State Park to an overlook offering spectacular views of the Hudson River below. But before we started our climb from the Spring Trailhead, we enjoyed a picnic lunch on the bouldered shore of the river.

My friend Sue Pierce joined Tim and me for this hike, as did my son Philip once more.

After climbing and climbing through the close-pressing woods, it's always a thrill to step out onto a rocky ledge and experience your vision expanding for miles and miles, taking in the vast forest and curving river below, with the Adirondack Mountains rising in the distance.

We were treated to an extra-special experience on this occasion, for as we perched on the rocks of this overlook, we spied a pair of Bald Eagles soaring over the river far below us.  Tim, an accomplished wildlife photographer,  had brought his powerful camera along on our hike and was able to capture this magnificent bird in flight, admitting that he had never before been able to photograph a Bald Eagle from above.

Photo by Tim Donnelly

There's no denying that watching eagles soar below us as we perched on that height was a pretty exciting experience.  But it was also delightful to move through a beautiful woods on our way up and down the mountain.  This particular tree added a glow like that of permanent sunshine to the bouldered slope it grew out of.

On a hard-trodden part of the trail that runs under a powerline, we knelt to peer at the teeny-tiny, bubble-gum pink fruiting bodies of Pink Earth Lichen growing out of their gray-green thallus.

We didn't even have to look close to spy the brilliant-red tops of this miniature trailside lichen, which has the common name of British Soldiers.

This wee little  American Toad, however, was nearly invisible on the forest floor.  If it hadn't hopped, landing between a green oak leaf and a coppery-husked fallen Beechnut, I doubt we ever would have been able to see it.

I was pretty excited, myself, to find not just one, but TWO of our beautiful autumn-blooming native orchids along this trail.  I know that taxonomists have recently expanded into several new species this flower that was once called simply the Nodding Lady's Tresses (Spiranthes cernua).  But I haven't yet learned how to distinguish these new species.  I still call this Nodding Lady's Tresses, and it was growing in an open wet meadow where I had always found it in years past.

But THIS pretty orchid, the Yellow Lady's Tresses (Spiranthes ochroleuca), is one I had never before discovered along this trail.  Although similar in appearance to the Nodding Lady's Tresses, it can be distinguished by its yellow throat, as well as its floret's abruptly curving lower petal and the sharply upturned and curled white bracts at the side of each floret. It also prefers a drier habitat than does the Nodding Lady's Tresses, and that's the sort of place I found it along the trail.

Last Wednesday was a perfectly beautiful day for a paddle, so Tim and I drove an hour up to Pyramid Lake in Essex County to do just that.  This is an absolute jewel of an Adirondack lake, set in the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness Area, surrounded by forested mountains and rugged cliffs, dotted with little pine-studded islands, and inhabited by a pair of American Loons whose plaintive calls sounded across the waters.

We soon set off to explore the lake, heading first toward a shallow swamp at the eastern end of the lake.

Many fallen logs lie in this shallow water, where the rotting wood supports a wide variety of native mosses and wildflowers.

A pair of Marsh St. Johnsworts had sprouted out of a clump of thick green moss, and the light passing through their rosy leaves made them glow as if made from stained glass.

This late in the year, I always find many thousands of tiny Nostoc balls floating in the cold water at this end of the lake, and I was not disappointed to find them once again.  Masses of them could be seen suspended within the dark water, with concentrations of them clustered against the fallen logs. These jelly-like balls contain colonies of cyanobacteria enclosed within a spherical membrane, and I have never found them anywhere but here in Pyramid Lake, with its crystal-clear water.  Unlike several other species of cyanobacteria (also known as blue-green algae) that can be toxic to humans and animals, Nostoc balls are not toxic.  In fact, they can actually be dried and then reconstituted as an ingredient in soups.  (I confess I have not tasted them!)

After exploring the swamp, we next paddled around the lake, moving beneath soaring jagged cliffs that rose directly from the lakeshore.

We soon became aware of a remarkable loon that seemed to be attracted to Tim's red kayak. The young bird, full-sized but still in its juvenile plumage, kept circling his boat, stopping to preen and flap its wings, but always continuing to approach very near.  Of course, Tim could not believe his luck, as he pulled up his camera and shot photo after photo.

Neither of us had ever experienced such fearless behavior in a loon.  We began to wonder if the young bird had not yet learned to dive, even though it would dip its head in the water from time to time, "snorkeling" as it swam, as if it were searching for underwater fish.  Eventually, Tim had his fill of loon shots and placed his camera down.  At that point, the loon swam quickly toward shore and then just as quickly dived. And we never saw it again!  It COULD dive, after all! What a remarkable experience!

Here's one of the amazing photos that Tim got of this remarkable young loon.

Photo by Tim Donnelly

We had many other adventures together during Tim's stay -- visits to other local trails as well as a tasting tour of Saratoga's mineral waters and a terrific show from our son Peter's band The Figgs at the renowned local music venue called Caffe Lena, to name just a few. But I imagine that for a bird photographer like Tim, this adventure with a young loon at Pyramid Lake was hard to top.

Postscript: When Tim was staying with us, he several times rose early to go birding at two wetland trails right in Saratoga, the Spring Run Trail and the Bog Meadow Brook Nature Trail.  He has since sent me a number of the amazing photos he took at these locations, and I am very happy to share some of those photos here. Tim can see things with his camera that I could never be able to see with my eyes.

All of the following photos are by Tim Donnelly.

Solitary Sandpiper (standing on its own reflection)

Magnolia Warbler

Swamp Sparrow

Eastern Phoebe

Snapping Turtle

White-tail Deer, with new antlers


Bill and dogs said...

Another post of great beauty and informative descriptions. Thank you.

Momo said...

Thank you for the beautiful record of your wanderings with Tim. What spectacular bird photos to augment your well-created shots and informative narrative. I love the tiny snake! It was good to see you and to meet Tim.

suep said...

I was happy to join you on one of those glorious days -! Would love to see more of Tim's photos, esp. of the loon. It can be difficult to tell a juvenile from an adult in non-breeding plumage; you have to check the eye color & back feathers, but there is some overlap especially in viewing from a distance. One clue is, the adults tend to migrate first, leaving the young ones to figure it out for themselves !

TimD said...

What a beautiful series of images and stories behind them. It was such an amazing experience to spend time with you hiking many of your beautiful spots and I thank you so much for that. The Pyramid lake experience with the juvenile loon suddenly showing up out of no where and fearlessly displaying itself for us was truly a gift.

The Furry Gnome said...

What a wonderful week!

Woody Meristem said...

Looks like you had a dandy time.