Thursday, January 20, 2022

Taking Pity on a Poor Opossum

Earlier this week, when I saw this young opossum feeding on the cat food we put out on our back porch for feral cats, I noticed its ears and the tip of its tail were bloody stumps from having been frozen off. Poor thing, it must have been feeling great pain! (Opossums are relatively recent residents of the frozen north and have not truly evolved to endure our sub-zero winters.)  After eating its fill, the opossum took refuge from a bitter wind in an insulated cat shelter we had constructed out of plastic bins and placed on this same porch.  

The population of our local feral cat colony has diminished greatly in recent years, and the remaining few cats appear to have taken up residence elsewhere, only occasionally visiting our backyard to drink from our heated birdbath and eat the food we still put out for them. Because of this, I hadn't bothered to replenish the bedding material in the shelter. But when I saw this poor shivering creature trying to get warm, I felt I needed to create a better place for it to do so. So yesterday I lined the shelter with a heat-reflecting mylar sheet and piled in heaps of sweet-scented timothy hay.   And today, I see that my efforts have paid off for this opossum.  Hope you are cozier now, dear one!

Monday, January 17, 2022

So Much For Our Winter Wonderland!

Woke up today to that Winter Wonderland we've been waiting for!  Hurray!  About 5 inches of soft fluffy snow, easy to shovel and clear from my car, and it wasn't very cold out, either.  I hurried through breakfast and jumped in my car to head out to Saratoga Spa State Park.  There's a long allee of tall pines there that hold the snow most picturesquely, and I hoped to capture that loveliness in a photo.

Sadly, though, the temperature was now above freezing, and much of the snow had dropped from the limbs of the trees.

Even worse, the air now was filled with droplets of rain instead of big fluffy snowflakes.  I noticed the sledders were still reluctant to leave their hill, after waiting so long to use their sleds this winter.  But I bet they were soaking wet when they got home.

I sat in my car, feeling glum. Here's all that snow I'd been hoping for, now soaking up rain like a sponge.  I didn't cry or anything as dramatic as that.  But the view through my windshield looked as if it had been dimmed by tears.

Friday, January 14, 2022

Good Ice on the Lake, At Last!

I do believe this is the crummiest winter I've experienced since moving to Saratoga Springs in the fall of  1970.  Granted, that winter of '71 would be a hard one to top, with record cold and snowfall that haven't been matched since (28-below each night for several January weeks and 120 inches of snow over the course of the winter). Luckily, we then were living in Skidmore faculty housing, where we didn't have to pay for heat or shovel the walks or repair the damage when a roof caved in from the weight of wet snow on it. So I  thought all that snow and the consistent cold were truly great. As were the persistently sunny days that set all that fresh clean snow to sparkling.  REAL winter, man!  Not like this one, with freezing rain one day and single-digit temps the next, then back to rain, followed by too-cold-to-tolerate days that have been keeping me indoors. And one gray day after another. It was really getting me down.

Well, it was still pretty gray yesterday, too, but several close-to-zero nights had frozen-up Moreau Lake really well.  And with daytime temps approaching a balmy 30 degrees, it was a perfect day for getting out on that iced-over lake to see what was happening at Moreau Lake State Park.

I wasn't the only person celebrating those strong six-inches of ice from shore to shore.  Many fishermen had wasted no time getting out there with their tip-ups and tents to try their luck.  I have  noticed that they are almost always fisherMEN, too.  Why is it, I wonder, that so few women choose to spend the day sitting for hours on the ice? Hmmm.

See the smiles of the faces of this pair of fellows?  That's Ben on the left and Bob on the right, and they had a very good day.

Three beautiful big Rainbow Trout (14-16 inches).  And they weren't done fishing yet!

Both Ben and Bob were happy to show me their bountiful catch, and Ben was eager to chat with me when we started talking about foraging for wild food. As it turned out, Ben's a skilled and enthusiastic  mushroom hunter, so we spent lots of happy chatter as he showed me many of the amazing finds he keeps photos of on his cellphone. I think he was a bit surprised that I knew the name of nearly all of them.  Such a happy encounter, indeed! It's so much fun to meet by chance someone who shares your passions.

As I continued my walk around the lake, I spied  these tiny mushrooms growing on a shoreline shrub, and I almost ran back out on the ice to tell Ben about them.  But maybe he wouldn't have been that excited about Split-gill Fungi, since they're not edible.

How did I know what species they were?  All I had to do was turn them over, to see the split gills that suggested this mushroom's name.  (Schizophyllum communis, its scientific name, also refers to its distinctive split gills.)  I was impressed by how furry these specimens were, as if they had grown a winter coat to make it through the winter.  This is indeed a species of fungus we can find intact all winter long.

Here was another furry find, this one faunal instead of fungal.  And quite a surprise, too, since I would never expect to see a colony of Woolly Alder Aphids this far into the winter. But then, we did have a very warm fall and a very late frost, followed by days of unseasonable warmth that even brought some spring wildflowers into bloom in October and even November.  So maybe this clonal group just kept on cloning more and more generations of aphids, a species that exudes waxy threads that look like fur.  This waxy fur protects the tender insects from predators as well as inclement weather.  But it could not protect them from temps as bitterly cold as the cold that froze this lake solid in just a few days.  These aphids were frozen solid and definitely dead.

My particular destination today was to check on the skating rink I'd learned was being created near the swimming beach.  I'd been wondering for years why the park did not offer this winter activity, so I was delighted to see this work in progress.  Park staff are now smoothing the ice with makeshift "zambonis", hoping to open the rink for skating by Saturday, January 15.  I've heard there will be benches set near, as well as some fire rings kept burning to help skaters keep warm.  What a great addition to winter activities at this already wonderful state park!

I'd been hoping all day that the sun would break through the clouds to add some sparkle to the afternoon. Ah well, the sun did manage to cast a golden path on the ice just before it descended behind the mountains. Knowing that darkness would very soon follow, I hurried across the ice toward where my car waited at the opposite end of the lake.  I noted that none of the fishermen were yet packing up their gear.  Very persistent fellows, those fishermen! So full of hope!  And as I left the lake much happier than when I'd arrived, I think some of their hope had rubbed off on me.

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

One (Just ONE!) Cold Day

OK, we had one really cold day this week. Temps down into the single digits.  That was yesterday (Tuesday), and since that one cold day had been preceded by a week of warmish rainy days, my friend Sue and I got all excited about the prospect of clear ice on Moreau Lake and hurried there in the morning.  Well darn it!  The lake froze, yes, but a dusting of snow fell on it, too. Guess we won't see any stacks of ice bubbles in crystal-clear ice this year.  (If you're curious why we two get so excited about lake ice, check out my blogpost from one of the most spectacular years of it.)

We did get to see some hoarfrost though, atop the ridge along the western shore of the lake.   Had it been just enough colder higher up on the ridge, or had a cloud of mist settled there to coat every twig and leaf with frost? I was amazed by how sharp was the line of demarcation between the hoary trees and the lower ones just dusted with snow.

A flock of Canada Geese still occupied the lake, but they were strangely quiet. Were they stunned to find their stretch of water suddenly closed over?

Since the lake held little of wintry interest today, we headed over to what Sue has named Zen Brook, a lovely little stream that tumbles down the steep slope of the western ridge. This stream's water seldom reaches the lake before it sinks into underground channels, but today -- thanks to the previous week of occasional rain -- the water was dancing and tumbling amid the rocky banks all the way to the lake shore.

We weren't going to find any lovely lake ice today,  but the stream would offer plenty to delight us. Thin plates of crinkly ice lined the banks where the stream flowed through level ground.

But as we climbed higher, the ice took on thicker and glassier shapes, formed as the rushing water tossed up droplets into the sub-freezing air.

The exertion of climbing up the steep rocky streambed kept us warm for a while, and we kept hoping the promised clear skies would deliver some warming sunshine.  But the skies never cleared enough to warm our cold-stiffened cheeks, so we soon headed home. Just as we left the lake shore, a stray sun beam broke through the clouds to light up this distant peak. This peak forms the "brow" of what we think of a "the lady of the lake."  Go back to the first photo of this post and note how her reclining body, hip and bosom swelling, rests along the western shore of the lake.

Temps climbed back up close to 40 today (Wednesday).  So much for winter.  But we sure had a spectacular sunset tonight.  I can't see much of the western sky from my downtown Saratoga kitchen window, but what I could see was truly astounding!

Friday, December 31, 2021

Time for Some Woodsy Watery Therapy

So much for a white Christmas this year.  More like a soggy and gray one. But that gray sogginess actually mirrored my mood, since once again as it did last year, Covid caused the cancellation of our plans for a festive gathering with family and friends. Oh well, at least those who fell ill were fully vaxed and boosted, so their symptoms were relatively mild.  And so far, I have escaped it.   But my mood stayed glum for so long, I finally decided I needed some woodsy, watery therapy to lift my spirits.  So despite yet another gloomily-gray day,  off I went yesterday to the Hudson River side of Moreau Lake State Park. And all I had to do was step from my car on the shore of the river to begin to feel peace and joy infuse my heart. Who wouldn't be soothed by such serene beauty as this?

Since the river's too cold to risk paddling now, I chose to walk a portion of the Cottage Park Trail, with its trailhead just across the road from the river. This trail takes its name from the remnants of now fallen buildings that once housed the workers who constructed the Spier Falls Dam on the nearby Hudson near the close of the 19th Century.  

The buildings are long gone, but their stone foundations remain.

As Nature gradually repossesses these old stone foundations, the mosses that thrive on the rock are startling in their vibrant green beauty.

Some of the mosses still possess their spore capsules standing tall above their green leaves, impervious to winter's snowy cold.

As I set off through woods, I can glimpse the mountain range rising in the distance.  This trail will eventually climb to the mountain heights, but I will confine my exertions today to the lowland woods, still colorful with the ruddy leaves of sapling American Beeches (Fagus grandifolia), which won't shed the old leaves until new ones sprout in the spring.

Other evidence of the beech trees' presence is scattered across the forest floor,  with multitudes of spiky Beechdrops (Epifagus virginiana), a leafless flowering plant that obtains its nutrients from the roots of American Beech.

These small fleur-de-lys-shaped seed scales scattered across the snow are evidence of another tree species here in this woods, the Gray Birch (Betula populifolia).

 I was surprised to see in this woods Gray Birches of a truly grand scale, since this birch species is rather short-lived and usually topples before it grows as large as a few I found growing here. The dark inverted Vs of the bark are one of the distinguishing marks of this species of birch, which often has bark as white as that of Paper Birch.

When I saw these small tan discs crowding together on a de-barked small treetrunk, I recognized them as the fungus called Hophornbeam Disc Fungus (Aleurodiscus oaksii).  But since the bark was mostly shed, I could not distinguish the host tree as either a Hop Hornbeam or a species of oak.  This fungus is known to grow on either tree species.

I found other fungi occupying fallen limbs that were lying about the forest floor, including this colorful patch of orange Stereum sharing its woody habitat with some beautifully green foliose lichens.

Another fallen limb held an abundant patch of the fungus called Tree Ear (Auricularia auricula). I believe it is obvious how this species obtained such a descriptive name.

Before the Cottage Park Trail starts to ascend the mountainous heights, it crosses an open area beneath the power lines that carry electricity produced by the hydroelectric Spier Falls Dam on the nearby river.  The area under the powerlines is kept mowed to prevent trees growing into the wires, and this open area is home to many sun-loving native meadow flowers during the warmer months.

Round-headed Bush Clover (Lespedeza capitata) is among those sun-loving plants, and its brown spiky seedheads are easily identifiable even in the winter.

I continued on until the trail began to ascend, and the level terrain of the woods began to change to a steeper, rockier terrain. I recalled exploring this particular area last spring, when small creeks were tumbling down the mountainsides and the forest floor was covered with lovely wildflowers. (To see what this woods looks like in May, you can click here. )

One of the plants I did NOT see last spring was the species that now dangled abundantly over the face of this gigantic rocky outcropping. What plant could that be?

I could not reach the dangling vines on foot, so I  had to rely on my camera's zoom to show me a closer look at the still-green leaves sprouting from rosy-pink vines.  The scallop-edged heart-shaped leaves do resemble those of Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia), but I have never seen cascading vines of Foamflower draping across the face of a boulder like this.  For sure, I must return next spring to see if I can confidently put a name to this interesting plant.

UPDATE:  I have heard from a reader named Erik Danielsen, who assured me that this plant is indeed Foamflower, but he also argued that it is more likely the species called Tiarella stolonifera, which botanists now are arguing should be split off from the species T. cordifolia, due to its habit of regularly producing long stolons like those illustrated in my photo.

Other evergreen plants were abundant at this site, including the aptly-named Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides), which I recognized despite its distinctive Christmas-stocking-shaped pinnae being partially obscured. I was captivated by the curvaceous frond, with the points of the pinnae so sharply protruding from the snow.

I was surprised by how many people I met on this trail today, including several people who witnessed me down on my hands and knees peering at the underside of some fungi.  And surprise of all surprises, these people recognized me from this blog, and were kind enough to tell me how eagerly they followed it and learned so much from it.  My spirits were already high from simply having walked in this marvelous woods, but now they truly soared.  I continue to keep this blog, if only for my own documentary purposes, but knowing that others learn from it is truly rewarding to me. Walking back to my car, I felt I was drifting along on Cloud Nine!

Back on the riverside, I lingered a while, feeling blissed-out by the serene beauty I beheld, even on this darkish day, growing darker now as the afternoon grew late.

I even found a few flower friends I could greet, including these still-lovely stalks of Meadowsweet (Spiraea alba), their residual beauty enhanced by the riverside setting.

I was especially pleased to find these sturdy seed pods of Great St. John's Wort (Hypericum ascyron), rated a Rare species in New York but happy to grow in several sites along this stretch of the Hudson.

I stood for quite a while taking in this scene,  of small rocky islands perfectly reflected in the still water and steeply forested banks receding in the distance, their dark shapes growing more misty with each bend of the river.  Elated by the power of such serene beauty, I found it hard to leave. 

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Cold At Last: Winter Transformations at Moreau Lake

Whoa!  Big change from just a few days ago when temps approached 60 degrees! But when I woke up Monday morning after a clear cold windless night, I was startled to read the thermometer: SEVEN DEGREES ABOVE ZERO!!! I'm so glad my pal Sue Pierce and I had agreed to meet at Moreau Lake this day.  We'd bet we'd find new ice on the lake, and we were not disappointed.

Although the lake was still open in areas out toward the middle, along the north-facing shore the ice had formed crystal clear and hugging the shore.  Not quite thick enough to walk on though, as my tentative step revealed: CRACK!

This is exactly the kind of ice that thrills Sue and me: clear as glass and prone to capture stacks of silvery bubbles as organic material on the bottom releases gases.  No bubbles as yet had been caught within this thin-as-crystal coating, but this ruddy oak leaf sure looked pretty captured beneath a finely etched glaze.

Here was an ice formation neither Sue nor I had ever noticed before.  Where tiny twigs protruded above the thin ice, frosty disks with spiky edges had formed around each twig. And what were those spidery lines that were swirling around that middle twig?

A closer look revealed that feathery threads of waterfowl down had caught in the twigs and been captured and held within the thin layer of ice.  So pretty!

A large flock of Canada Geese had congregated on patches of open water, and they sent up quite a cacophony of cackles and hoots as they visited with one another.

It was fun to see some of the flock waddling about on the ice sheet that rimmed the open water. Sometimes they'd slip just as you or I would on that slick water-covered ice.

Sue noticed that some of the waterfowl at the edge of this flock were quite a bit smaller and whiter of head than the geese, and they also would disappear suddenly beneath the surface from time to time.  I'm glad my camera's zoom could see these diving ducks better than my eyes could, or I would never have known that a few Buffleheads were sharing Moreau's open water with all those geese today.

Here's the snow-covered trail we took as we walked part-way around the lake. A sleety wintry mix followed by snow two days before had whitened the evergreen boughs and caused them to sparkle in the sunlight that made it through the trees today.

A snow-covered fern. I believe it's a Marginal Wood Fern.  Sue and I like to test our knowledge of plants in their winter guises, but this fern doesn't look much different in winter than it does the rest of the year.

The dried seedpods of Spotted Coralroot, one of our native orchids. I doubt I would have been able to ID this plant from these remnants alone.  But we found it right where we'd seen a large patch of Spotted Coralroot last fall.

Same goes for these pods of Pyrola.  No doubt it is Shinleaf Pyrola,  since that was the species we'd found growing here along this trail last summer.

When we reached the building that houses the locker rooms for the swimming beach, I was struck by this pattern of icicles dangling from the eaves.

As we walked across the bridge that divides the main lake from the back bay, we noted that the main lake remained wide open at this south-facing end of the lake, while the bay just beyond the bridge was completely frozen over from shore to shore.

I  was fascinated by the ice formations along the railings of the bridge, lacy half-melted snow remnants above and crystalline needles below.

It was barely noon, but a low Solstice sun cast a golden glow on the steep forested banks that line the back bay, the smooth ice below the banks capturing that glow in a shimmering reflection.

Despite that golden sunlight and because clouds were moving in and the wind picked up, we were beginning to feel the bitter cold that hadn't climbed much into the double digits.  Time to pick up the pace and hurry back to the warmth of our cars.  But we drew to a halt when we found some patches of pretty frozen bubbles close to the shore.  They weren't the stacks of silvery disks we had hoped to find in this glassy ice, but they were pretty enough to cause us to pause to enjoy them.