Wednesday, August 5, 2020
Here and There, This and That
Almost every day I head out to one natural area or another, maybe just for an hour or less, especially when the weather is hot and muggy. I always find SOMEthing to fascinate or delight me. Here are a few of the more interesting things I found this past week at nearby nature preserves.
Woods Hollow Nature Preserve, Milton, NY
This preserve offers a wonderful variety of habitats, from wet meadow to sand plain to boggy pond shore to upland pine forest. My first stop today was the dry sandy area that supports only those plants that are suited to this low-nutrient habitat. Lots of Black Oaks and Pitch Pines and Bigtooth Aspens surround this area, which is dotted with tufts of Little Bluestem Grass. (There are Sand Burs, too, so I watch my step! It's no fun pulling those finger-stabbing stickers out of my shoelaces!)
Near the parking area for the Woods Hollow Preserve is a spring-fed wet meadow filled with Narrow-leaved Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum tenuifolium), which today was offering its nectar to this pretty Pearl Crescent Butterfly.
A frequent denizen of sandplain habitats is Dotted Horsemint (Monarda punctata var. punctata). Its large pinkish bracts are detected before a closer look reveals the small purple-dotted yellow flowers wreathing the stems.
The Blue Curls and Winged Pigweed I had hoped to find were not yet in bloom in the sandplain, so I moved on then to the pond that lies at the heart of this preserve. The pond once served as a reservoir for the surrounding community, and the small brick structure, now in disrepair, once served as a pumping station. It no longer pumps water but it does provide pictorial interest to photos of this pretty pond.
I find surprising little boggy patches along the pond's shore, where sphagnum mosses, Leatherleaf shrubs, and Round-leaved Sundews indicate an acidic habitat, and it's here that I sometimes find a few sprigs of Yellow Bartonia (Bartonia virginica). I had seen not trace of them a few weeks ago, but a search revealed that they were still here. They are very small and easy to overlook.
I did find quite a few mushrooms sprouting up in the surrounding woods, with this Yellow Spindle Coral being the most photogenic.
I never know what I will find along this trail. Eight years ago, the state's Department of Transportation completely denuded the formerly steep banks of the Kayaderosseras here, beveling them back in order to allow flood waters to flow out over a floodplain instead of charging full-force through a narrow channel and undermining a roadway further downstream. Many native trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants were planted, but alien invasive species were also introduced on the rootballs of the trees. The nasty weed Mugwort completely dominated the vegetation for a while, until our equally domineering Tall Goldenrod beat it back. For a while. Now the native sunflower-look-alike called Oxeye rules the banks, having pushed out our native asters and lobelias as well as the introduced Maximilian Sunflower that for three years burgeoned to near-invasive numbers until completely disappearing two years ago. So what will we find this summer? Lord only knows!
One thing's for sure, the round-spotted Leopard Frogs still frequent the mudflats, flashing their emerald-green brilliance as they leap away from our footfalls.
Walking the trail through a green-and-yellow tunnel that passes through a towering Oxeye jungle, we welcomed the pop of color many bright-fuschia Wild Bergamot flowers (Monarda fistulosa) provided. These tiny, shiny-black beetles were enjoying these Mint-family flowers, too. Probably for other reasons than their beautiful color.
These tiny red aphids were feeding on Oxeyes (Helianthus helianthoides), their favorite host species. To judge from the vigor and dominance here of these sunflower look-alikes, all the swarming and sucking away on their plant juices has not wrought enough damage to the plants to cause their numbers to decline.
Oh my gosh, has anyone ever seen a Joe Pye Weed this super-tall? Even if it were to be the extra-tall, hollow-stemmed Joe Pye species called Trumpetweed (Eutrochium fistulosum), I have never seen even that gigantic flower grow taller than maybe seven or eight feet! My friend Ruth Brooks is not a short woman, either. It's true that many creekside plants grow to humongous heights here in this rich alluvial soil, with Jerusalem Artichokes towering to eight feet and Giant Ragweed much higher than that. But WOW! And that inflorescence would fill a bushel basket! We could hardly believe our eyes.
When the creekbanks were replanted back in 2012, the DOT introduced many different species of oaks than we usually see around here, and since oaks are host to probably more galls than any other trees (except maybe willows), I always expect to find galls adhering to their leaves. Galls are caused by powerful chemicals produced by an insect that interact with the tree hormones to produce the gall, which provides protection and nutrients to the insect's larva within, and each gall-maker induces the growth of its own distinctive gall. I had never seen galls like these, so remarkably fuzzy, with red fuzz covering pebbled yellow spheres. Such an unusual gall was easy to Google (yellow gall covered with red fuzz), so now I know that this is the Hedgehog Gall, caused by the tiny wasp Acraspis erinacei. Happily, these galls do not cause serious damage to the trees, and are just part of the wonders to be found on a creekside trail that is planted with oaks.