Sunday, October 20, 2019

A Perfect Fall Day, Moreau Lake

Fall days don't come any finer than this one: crisp cool air, a radiant warm sun, vibrant foliage, and a beautiful lake lying quiet beneath a brilliant blue sky. This was Moreau Lake on Saturday afternoon, when I walked the narrow strip of shoreline now revealed along the south and east sides of the lake.  All summer long, these shores had lain submerged beneath high water levels, but now, just enough of the pebbled sand has emerged to allow foot traffic beneath the overhanging boughs of the lakeside trees.

Sassafras saplings glowed golden in the shade of the nearby forest.

Hop Hornbeam trees dangled their papery seedpods that danced and swayed in the breeze.

Spiraling tufts of slender green leaves revealed the presence of Small-flowered Dwarf Bulrush, a tiny flatsedge that thrives on the sandy shores of Moreau Lake, despite its status as one of New York State's most endangered species. Its chubby brown spikelets are another of its distinguishing features.

This wee little Pickerel Frog tried to hide beneath a floating leaf, then froze when I lifted the leaf, allowing me plenty of time to take its picture.

The sun was so strong today, I welcomed the shade of the trail that divides the main part of Moreau Lake from its back bay.

Maple-leaved Viburnum added its distinctive rosy-purple foliage to the forest floor along this trail.

A ray of sunlight caused this tuft of Witch Hazel flowers to glow within the dark shade of the woods.

Through the trees that lined this part of the trail, I could glimpse brilliant foliage reflected on the still surface of the back bay.

Ruddy Black Huckleberry shrubs form a colorful hedge between the forested trail and the sandy shore of the lake's south end.

Maple-leaved Viburnum leaves glowed as if they were afire, backlit by the late-afternoon sun.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Autumn's Beauty, Here and There

I've been traveling around New York's north country this past week, delighting in the beauty that autumn grants us around this region. Here's just a digest of some of the splendor I beheld.

Pyramid Lake and Paradox Creek, Essex County:

Pyramid Lake, at dawn

Waterfall on Paradox Creek, with morning mist

Mud Pond at Moreau Lake State Park, Saratoga County:

Back bay shoreline

Shining Sumac thicket, Little Bluestem Grass meadow

Autumn's vivid colors in a single oak leaf

Another colorful oak leaf rests on a bed of Haircap Moss

Red Oak Ridge Trail, Moreau Lake State Park, Saratoga County:

Lake shore and mountain, morning light

White Baneberry with "doll's eyes" fruit

Striped Maple leaf with a colorful fungal spot

Saratoga National Historical Park (the Saratoga Battlefield), Saratoga County:

Colorful hardwoods, Round-headed Bushclover stalks in a rolling meadow of Little Bluestem Grass

The Hudson River and Washington County mountains, viewed from a battlefield height

Another view of the Hudson River, with farm fields beyond and a passing boat

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Paddling a Paradise of Vibrant Color on Lens Lake

As of yet, the fall foliage around my home in Saratoga Springs is looking rather muted. Growing impatient to be wowed by this annual spectacle of vibrant color, I headed north up to Lens Lake in Warren County on Wednesday afternoon, in search of where the season might be more advanced.  And when I got to this secluded Adirondack lake, was I wowed by autumn color?  Oh yeah! You betcha!

The mountains that surround the lake were covered in a crazy quilt of vibrant color.

In addition to its beauty, a remarkable feature of Lens Lake is the amount of floating bog mat that covers its waters. These bog mats are like vast meadows composed of Sphagnum Moss, with acres of Cottongrass blowing in the breeze, each cottony tuft bobbing and swaying as if to a music it alone could hear.

The Sphagnum grows in multiple shades of gold and red, as colorful as any Persian carpet.

Here, a patch of golden moss was "peopled" by baby Northern Pitcher Plants of a deep, rich scarlet .

This quartet of orange mushrooms had sprung from a solid carpet of red moss.

I've been paddling on Lens Lake every year since 2011, and each year I have to find a different route to reach the far end of the lake, since the bog mats are not grounded and slowly move into new positions every year. When I reached a place where my passage was blocked unless I took a wide detour, I decided to head back toward my launch site and explore some quiet backwaters near where I'd put in.

Here in these quiet bays, the water is very shallow, with many old tree stumps and fallen logs serving as nursery beds for abundant numbers of beautiful plants.

The tree that produced this ancient stump must surely have been a giant!

Another old stump was now overgrown with Leatherleaf shrubs, Large Cranberry vines, and one magnificent Northern Pitcher Plant.

This fallen log was now home to a multi-colored garden of Large Cranberry, Marsh St. Johnswort, Northern Pitcher Plants, some Red Maple saplings, a few Leatherleaf shrubs and one juvenile White Pine. (I think there's a little Spotted Alder in there, too.)

The cranberries that grew on this log were covered with a bloom that turned the brilliant red berries a distinctive shade of purple.

A few shrubs of Labrador Tea have found their niche among the general thickets of Leatherleaf, Sweet Gale, and Sheep Laurel that populate the shores of Lens Lake.  And this time of year, the Labrador Tea produces terminal buds of the prettiest pink.  Tucked inside these scaled buds are  clusters of flowers, safely protected from winter's cold until spring's warmth beckons them into bloom.

Tall White Pines reach for the sky along the shore, with thickets of now-scarlet blueberry bushes clustered at their feet.

The ride back home continued to delight me with scenes like this, from Roaring Brook Road as it descends toward the village of Stony Creek.

And I also had to stop to admire the beauty of this historic bow bridge where it crosses the turbulent Sacandaga River at Hadley, near where the Sacandaga joins the Hudson River at Lake Luzerne.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Meadows, Mosses, Fruits, and Flowers

There's a high ridge of rolling hills I like to walk this time of year, where the Palmertown mountains make their way down to the shores of the Hudson River.   Here, a power line follows the voluptuous curves of the land, and the grasses, flowers, ferns, and forest take on the gorgeous colors of autumn.  These colors will doubtless intensify in the week or so to come, but they already glowed green and gold and rose and cinnamon when I walked there yesterday afternoon, under a soft gray sky.

Acres and acres of Grass-leaved Goldenrod (Euthamia graminifolia) spread across the hillsides, interrupted by patches of ruddy Little Bluestem Grass (Schizachyrium scoparium), and masses of Hay-scented Ferns (Dennstaedtia punctilobula) glowed ochre and green and burnt sienna against the deep shade of the surrounding woods.

While Little Bluestem makes up the preponderance of meadow grasses along this ridge, occasional bursts of Big Bluestem Grass (Andropogon gerardii) reach for the sky in towering tufts.

The Palmertown ridge is mostly composed of granitic rock, with occasional outcroppings of marble or quartzite.  When I noticed a patch of bare bedrock here on the powerline, I promptly examined it for clues to its origin.

A translucent, almost glassy quality of this outcropping led me to believe that it must be quartzite, a very hard rock that is formed when quartz sandstone is metamorphosed by heat and pressure. Much of the surface of this outcropping was covered by a pretty variety of mosses and lichens that had taken root in the quartzite's cracks and crevices.

A nearby ledge of rock that was striped with shades of gray and ivory appeared more typical of the granitic gneiss that forms the bulk of these mountain ridges.  A little stream tumbled over parts of this ledge, watering the various mosses that spread across the surface.

Where water actually flowed on the rock, patches of vivid-green Fountain Moss (Philonotis fontana) had found a happy home.

One pillowy patch of Fountain Moss appeared to be competing with an incursion of Haircap Moss (Polytrichum sp.) for its spot on the rock. I wonder which moss got there first.

A feathery patch of Big Red-stem Moss (Pleuozium schreberi) was draped over a drier spot on this ledge, with only a tiny tuft of what looks to be a species of Broom Moss (Dicranum sp.) for possible competition.

There were a number of Hawthorn trees (Crataegus sp.) standing out away from the forest edge, which I could see were hung with fruit, despite being nearly swamped by invading Oriental Bittersweet vines.

The Hawthorn fruits are a brilliant red and serve as a valuable food source for birds and other wildlife.  I have read that the fruits of some species of Hawthorn are palatable to humans as well, but since we have dozens of species of this circumpolar genus, I would not be able to tell you the species of this particular Hawthorn tree.  Whether or not the fruits were tasty, they sure were a feast for the eyes!

To judge from all the seedheads protruding above the meadow grasses,  abundant numbers of Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) must also have presented a feast for the eyes up here, when all these flowers were in beautiful lavender bloom.  I can just imagine, too, the throngs of hummingbirds and clearwing moths that would have been sipping their nectar.

And lo!  Here were some flowers that looked as fresh and pretty as others of their kind had appeared last spring!  Dear little Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum), such a faithful flower that starts blooming early and stays with us right to the end of the growing season! I have even seen it blooming away, well after frost, in sheltered nooks of a sun-warmed stone wall. And its lacy green foliage is almost as pretty as its perky little purple flowers.

And Lo, once again! Just LOOK at the gorgeous colors on this beautiful Marbled Orb Weaver!  She looks as if she's covered her pumpkin-shaped abdomen with Jack-o'-lantern markings for Halloween. Or is that a black cat I see etched on her back?

I know she's a she because of her globular shape -- her mate's abdomen, while equally colorful, is more ovate than globular.  Since she normally weaves an orb web for catching prey, I'm wondering why she is wrapping this milkweed leaf with web.  Is she making a snug nest to house herself over the winter? Or a safe place to leave an egg sac that will yield tiny spiderlings in spring?  I guess I'd better read up on the  Marbled Orb Weaver's life cycle. But in the meantime, other suggestions are welcome.

UPDATE:  I have now learned that this species of spider does not rest on its orb web, but rather it retreats to an adjacent lair it constructs nearby, either made completely of web or of a folded leaf.  A thread leads from the lair to the orb web, so the resting spider can detect when a prey insect has been trapped.