Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Sunday in the Park at Lake George

Most days, my husband Denis and I go our separate ways, I to some woods or waterway, he to his rocker to read.  But this past Sunday was such a gorgeous blue-sky day, we decided to take a drive together to enjoy the autumn foliage in its last blaze of glory.  So off we set, driving north along the Northway (I-87) toward our destination, Lake George.  As the miles went by, our disappointment grew as we noticed that the roadside trees sure looked faded, well past their prime of beauty. But then we arrived at Lake George.  Wow!  The colors here were spectacular!

We ambled through the lakeside Battlefield Park, where back in the mid-18th Century the English and French were battling over control of Lake George, then called Lac du Saint Sacrement by the French, who had originally settled the area. After the English won the French-Indian War, they re-named the lake in honor of the English king, George III.  As we wandered the lovely green hills beneath glowing Sugar Maples, it was hard to imagine the roar of cannons and the screams of the wounded that long ago had echoed from the surrounding mountains.

The remnants of an old English fort, plus a number of monuments and statues, reminded us that blood had once been spilled on these now-quiet rolling hills.

I always prefer to look for native plants than to study war monuments, so I was delighted to find a few plants of Herb Robert still putting forth their pretty pink blooms.

As we headed back to where our car was parked near the edge of a marsh, we slowed our steps to gaze at the forested mountain that rose on the other side, adorned with spectacular colors.

Friday, October 16, 2020

A Short Walk At Moreau Lake

 Some days I'm late getting my act together to get outdoors, even on the kind of gorgeous fall day it was this past Wednesday.  Luckily, I have truly wonder-filled destinations that feed my nature needs promptly and close to home.  Moreau Lake State Park is one of the best of those destinations.  I didn't have time to walk ALL the way around Moreau Lake that afternoon, but the distance I did walk offered many delights.

After parking near the beach and stepping out onto the shore, I was dazzled by the intense blueness of that radiant sapphire sky reflected by the still water.

Crossing the bridge that separates the main lake from its back bay, I walked on a sun-dappled golden-leaved trail that offered glimpses of blue from both bodies of water. This trail is lined with maples, pines, and oaks, and I wish my photo could somehow convey the sun-warmed fragrance of all this mingled foliage.

This blueberry bush along the trail offered all the colors of autumn in a single shrub.

I stepped through the woods to get a better view of the brilliant foliage across the back bay.

A group of Red Maples that line the marshy eastern shore of the back bay always turn a remarkable super-saturated red.

For much of the summer, the lake's water level was so high it reached all the way up into the woods.  But now, the water has fallen low enough to reveal a shoreline ample enough to walk along under the colorful trees. So I set off to see how far I could walk on dry land.

There are Sassafras saplings along this shore with colors so vivid I could almost taste them!

The leaves on this Red Maple bough were so drenched with color, my camera strained to take a believable photo of them.  I actually reduced the saturation a bit, but they still came out so vivid, they hardly seem real.  I assure you, though, they really were this knock-your-eye-out red!

These next two photos of berry-laden Maple-leaved Viburnum reveal how the very same plant, either partially shaded or in full sun, appear very differently colored, at least to my camera.  It's as if the full sun obliterated the blue cast of the leaves, which was dominant in the filtered light.

I managed to find enough dry shore to reach the cove where some really rare Whorled Mountain Mint used to thrive in abundant numbers. The area where this Endangered species once grew has been under water for about two years, so it's not surprising that the numbers have been reduced.  I sure hope they revive, now that the water has fallen. The only remnant I found this day was this one single dried-up plant, probably left from last year, since this year's plants would still have green leaves even after the flowers had gone to seed.  I do have high hopes for this plant's return, since Moreau Lake, a true kettle lake,  has a history of periodic rising and falling, according to rainfall and snowmelt amounts.

After finding that Mountain Mint, the shore turned too muddy for me to proceed on foot, so I turned around and retraced my steps along this pebbled shore.

As I passed the north shore of Moreau Lake, I noticed this hedge of Black Huckleberry had turned more of a burgundy red this year, instead of the brilliant ruby red it had turned in past years.  Perhaps it is just on its way to reaching that brilliance.  When I look at my old photos of these shrubs, I note that I photographed the truly brilliant foliage in November.  So there's still time for it to put on its annual show! Not that it's not beautiful already.

As I once again crossed the bridge that divides the two parts of Moreau Lake, I stopped to admire this view of the mountain that rises beyond the far shore of the back bay.  The foliage colors are beautiful already, but there's still plenty of green in this forest. I expect that the beauty of this scene will only intensify in the days to come.

Here's another kind of beauty, but in miniature. There were many of these wee little pale-blue creatures wafting about, sporting such tutu-like wisps of fluff.  This is a winged specimen of a Woolly Alder Aphid, newly emerged from a clonal clump of wingless sisters who've been feeding on alder twigs from late summer until now.  At this stage, a Woolly Alder Aphid acquires another name along with its wings.  Now we call it a Fairy Fly.  Just one more of the wonderful things we only see in autumn.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Autumn Beauty Everywhere!

This was a strange week, with me feeling quite ill after receiving the quadruple-strength flu shot recommended for old people like me (I'm 78).  The feverish feeling came and went, with me feeling terrible one day, then fine the next, then crappy the next, etc., etc.  Luckily, the feeling-better days corresponded with some nice-weather days, so I did get out to enjoy this gorgeous season. I am grateful beyond words that I live in such a beautiful part of the world, made even more spectacular when our surrounding fields and forests take on all the colors of a chrysanthemum garden.  Here are just some of the wonders that awaited me outdoors this past week.

Some Rolling Hills Above the Hudson River

A powerline follows the curves of the Palmertown foothills along the northern boundary of Saratoga County. There's no real footpath here, but I pretend to be a deer and follow their trails up and down the rolling hills. I love the open sky over my head and the changing kaleidoscope colors beneath my feet.  
Massive patches of Hay-scented Fern glow butter-yellow and cinnamon-brown against the deep shade of the surrounding forest. Late-blooming goldenrods add their sunny blooms to the scene.

No other native wildflower can add a punch of vivid color to a meadow the way that New England Aster can.

The super-ripe fruits of Solomon's Plume become translucent and glow like rubies clustered on the forest floor.

I love how the sun lights up the silvery wisps on the Little Bluestem Grass.

Eventually, a service road leads down to the shore of the Hudson, the river's quiet waters flowing blue beneath a radiant sky.

A cloud that had shaded this rocky islet moves on, and suddenly vivid colors emerge on the rock, as well as the mountainsides.

On my way home along Parkhurst Road in Wilton, I noticed this roadside meadow ablaze with the bright-yellow foliage of Spreading Dogbane.  I am so glad I stopped to take in this spectacular site, since the next time I passed by this meadow, a frost must have kissed these vibrant leaves good-bye!

Lake Bonita in Moreau Lake State Park

I've avoided the trails around Lake Bonita this summer and early fall, since the overflowing parking area has almost every day indicated overflow crowds on the trail that circles this pretty little lake atop Mount McGregor. But my friends Sue Pierce and Ruth Brooks and I chose a Wednesday to venture a walk around its shore, and we mostly had many quiet moments to ourselves.

Well, quiet except for the constant muttering, occasional honking, and often quite vigorous splashing of Canada Geese that had congregated on the lake.  A small group of the geese followed us to the eastern end of the lake, where they climbed up on a rock to preen their feathers and gossip quietly among themselves.

Did I mention that Lake Bonita is as pretty as its name suggests?

There were pretty sights on the forest floor as well as across the water. This patch of Wintergreen looked very comfy atop its bed of Pincushion Moss.

Was it Christmas already, with a tree strung with shining lights?  No, something even better: a tree strung with clusters of Witch Hazel flowers that almost appeared to twinkle when the sun picked them out against the dark shade of the woods.

The Hudson River Ice Meadows, West Bank

I never would have thought to visit the Ice Meadows up north of Warrensburg this late in the year.  Sure, this stretch of upper Hudson River shoreline is renowned as one of the richest sites in the state for rare plants, but heck, I've already been there several times this year to witness them in bloom.  But then, a Facebook friend and fellow wildflower enthusiast from Brooklyn contacted me, telling me he would be visiting the area near here this past week, and would I know of any interesting botanical sites we might visit together?  "Well, sure I do," I told him.  So that's how I finally met Chris Kreussling,  fellow member of the Facebook group "Flora of New York,"  consultant on urban gardening with native plants, and author of the related blog "Flatbush Gardener." That's Chris in the orange-plaid shirt in the photo above, clambering over the riverside rocks with my pal Sue Pierce, who joined us for our explorations this past Saturday.

Of course, the rarest wildflowers that grow here are long past blooming, but most display persistent remnants that can still be identified.  And indeed, we found many of the persistent seedpods of Sticky False Asphodel (Triantha glutinosa), a plant that is ranked as an Endangered species in New York State.

An even rarer plant, found on these Ice Meadows and reported from no other site in the state, is the New England Violet (Viola novae-angliae).  Sheltered among cracks in the riverside rocks, the leaves of this Endangered species of violet looked as green as they did last spring, when we found them in bloom with vivid-purple flowers.  And we found even more basal clusters of this violet's leaves than we did last spring, and in many more places.  Some of the plants still bore their split-open three-parted seed pods.

Not every plant that thrives here is rare, of course.  For example, the two species of St. John's Wort mingling here -- Marsh St. John's Wort (orangish) and Dwarf St. John's Wort (greenish yellow) -- are common denizens of wetlands nearly everywhere in the state.  This mix of species here on the shore looked wonderfully colorful.

But wow!  Talk about COLOR! It's hard to imagine any flower or fruit or seedpod or leaf more colorful than these Winterberries, the gray of the rock providing a perfect foil for the vivid red of the fruit.

Only slightly less vivid were the hips and leaves of the many Smooth Roses we found today.  I loved the shadow this specimen cast on the golden-hued rock behind it.

There are spring-watered pools at this site, and some have edges lined with sphagnum mosses and abundant patches of both Large and Small Cranberries, ripe now and glowing a deep rich red among the greenery.

An early-blooming bladderwort called Flat-leaved Bladderwort thrives in many of these shallow pools, and their leaves are still very evident this time of year.  What was also evident now on the ends of their leafy stems were globular buds called turions.  These will fall off and persist underwater over the winter, ready to produce clones of the original plants during the next growing season.

As we gazed upstream, we felt we could go on exploring forever, as ever more rocky shoreline and grasslands beckoned us.  But our feet and knees were growing weary from scrambling and leaping and teetering among the rocks, and the thickening clouds to the north reminded us that thunderstorms were predicted for the afternoon. Perhaps we should call it a day.  But a wonderful day it was, meeting a great new friend who was just as nuts about plants as we were,  and granted such an amazing place to botanize to our hearts' content.  We will have to do this again!

On my way home along the west bank, I had to pull over for one more photo. What spectacular cliffs, rising so high and so steeply along the east shore of the Hudson!  And their grandeur was certainly amplified by the trees in their autumn splendor.

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Autumn's Glory, Lower Level

After you've sated your senses on the gorgeous color in the treetops and across the mountainsides, be sure to lower your vision a bit and notice the autumn beauty surrounding us at eye level or even lower. Here are just a few of the lower-level beauties that caught my eye this week.

While walking beneath a stand of Bigtooth Aspens (Populus grandidentata), I noticed the leaves that littered the trail came in a marvelous variety of colors.  I gathered some in every shade and arranged them so that I could include all shades in a single photograph.

Out on a low muddy flat on the shore of a pond, the chubby seedpods of Ditch Stonecrop (Penthorum sedoides) had begun to turn from pale tan to a rich deep rose.

In the woods, the low shrubs of Maple-leaved Viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) are glowing in gorgeous tones of hot pink and purple, vibrant hues unlike any others in the autumn woods.

Leaning over the waters of an Adirondack pond, the smooth green leaves of Witherod (Viburnum nudum) are assuming their autumn colors of purple and rose.

Winterberry shrubs (Ilex verticillata) are thick now with bright-red fruits, which appear even more brilliant than ever against the deep blue of a clear October sky.

Although the nonnative Bittersweet Nightshade (Solanum dulcamara) is often unwelcome in manicured gardens, how could I not delight in finding clusters of its glossy multicolored fruits?

Ah, here it is -- the very last flower of summer!  Or rather, the very first flower of autumn, since I never find Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) blooming until well after the Autumnal Equinox. The seedpods from last year's flowers are just ripening now on the same twigs as this year's blooms.

Clematis virginiana is called Virgin's Bower in the summer, when its trailing vines are starred with demure white blooms.  Late in the fall, when the silken threads of its early-fall seed-heads fluff out into puffs of gray filaments, we change its name to Old Man's Beard. What shall we call it now, when its clusters of ruddy seeds have sprouted these arching tresses of golden silk? I think that "Simply Beautiful" will do.