Monday, October 11, 2021

Inching Along the Hudson Banks

The weather forecast said "clear and mild," so my friend Ruth and I agreed to meet for a paddle on the Hudson River at Moreau last week.  As we prepared to launch at mid-morning, however, that clear sky still remained obscured by fog.  No matter.  We were there to inch along the banks looking for mosses, not scan the skies nor bask in the sun.

UPDATE:  I DO wish I had scanned the trees with binoculars, though! As some folks in the comments have pointed out,  there's a Bald Eagle perching atop the tallest tree.

Soon, we began to glimpse blue sky, as the fog lifted off to reveal some autumn colors among the shoreline forest.

Before long, we were grateful for the leafy overhanging branches offering shade.

Right off, I was delighted to find these plants of Great St. John's Wort (Hypericum ascyron),  now bearing their distinctive fat seed pods.  This plant is rated as Rare in New York, but it does seem to like these unspoiled banks of the Hudson River.

Forested mountains fall directly down to the shore along this stretch of river, and in places, the rocky banks are thickly carpeted with many mosses.


This particular rocky bank was home to masses of Apple Moss (Bartramia pomiformis), a lovely green moss that bears spore capsules as round as apples.

Here was a moss that was covering the wood of a tree root instead of rock, but since it is a known calciphile (lime-lover), the surrounding rocks undoubtedly contributed the nutrients if prefers.

A closer look at this moss revealed stems as ropy as dreadlocks, along with sharply pointed spore capsules.  Called Entodon seductrix, it has no descriptive common name that I could find, although with a sexy scientific specific name like seductrix, it might be fun to make one up. Maybe "Rapunzel's Hair" or "Medusa's Head"?

My attention was drawn first to these brilliant orange fungi (small as baby peas), but then I noticed the fern-frond-like leaves of Pocket Moss (Fissidens osmundioides) covering the rock face beneath them.

I just this year learned to ID Pocket Moss, and now I seem to find it all over the place.  I picked up a rock to examine the flat-leaved liverwort covering it and discovered many tiny fronds of Pocket Moss poking up through it.  But then I neglected to ascertain the name of the liverwort!

UPDATE: Ruth has since reminded me that this liverwort is most likely a species of Pellia.

I did not get a liverwort name, either, for this green stuff covering a wave-wetted rock right at the waterline.  And I never will, either, since Ruth has since told me that this is a LICHEN, not a liverwort. (She found its name and description on a site posted by The Ohio Moss & Lichen Association.)  Called Dermatocarpon luridum, this lichen grows on wet rocks exclusively, with its typical habitat being rocks often washed by water.  Like these rocks at the waterline of the Hudson River.

Here's a closer look at this water-washed lichen, Dermatocarpon luridum.

Another lichen we found was this patch of cup-shaped Cladonia lichens, sharing a niche in an exposed tree root with a patch of green moss.  A much drier habitat than the previous lichen prefers.

When lunch-time arrived, we found a tiny quiet cove out of the river's current where we could rest our paddles and stretch our legs.

This beautiful Flowering Dogwood tree (Cornus florida) towered over the cove, its leaves well on their way to the bright-red color they usually turn in the fall.

Lining the shore of this little cove were a number of Leatherwood shrubs, a rather unusual find along these banks.  Leatherwood (Dircus palustris) is known to prefer a lime-rich habitat, and most of the riverbank rocks along this stretch are basic granitic rocks.  But marble outcroppings occur, and marble is also rich in lime.

An interesting fungal find was this Leafy Jelly Fungus (Tremella foliacea) growing on a fallen tree trunk.

At the base of this same trunk, but right at the water's edge, I discovered this jelly-like mass and did not recognize it.  I wonder if it's the same as the Leafy Jelly Fungus above, but with the leafy parts swollen from being constantly wet. UPDATE: Some mushroom expert friends have confirmed that my guess about this water-swollen fungus was correct!

Some sections of the shoreline here are ruggedly rocky, great chunks of boulders having toppled down from steep cliffs above.  Rosy-leaved Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) twined amid the boulders.

Overhead, American Basswood branches (Tilia americana) dangled clusters of seeds, their golden leaves brilliant against the clear blue sky.

These trailing leaves of Groundnut (Apios americana) had achieved a beautiful variegated pattern as their chlorophyll retreated. (Note the large sharply-toothed leaves of American Elm [Ulmus americana] on the right.)

Such a lovely surprise, to find the dainty pink flowers of Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum) still vigorously blooming above their beautiful lacy leaves!

Well, we had spent nearly four hours moseying along the banks, and maybe we had traveled half a mile. As we turned our canoes around to head for home, we spied this young woman vigorously paddling down the middle of the river, her dog so handsomely standing in the prow.  She would certainly go much further and faster than we had paddled today! But I bet she wouldn't see nearly as much of the treasures these riverbanks offer.  As they say, "different strokes for different folks."

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

A High Road to Autumn's Glory

I was beginning to despair that we would have a gorgeous autumn this year in Saratoga County.  Here it was, October, and most of our deciduous trees were still stubbornly green, with maybe just a touch of gold or rust.   So I headed north, up to Warren County, wondering when I would start to see the foliage colors our region of New York is famous for.  I was all the way up to Stony Creek ten miles north of Lake Luzerne and hadn't yet seen much to amaze me. But then I started up a mountain, and within two turns of the road I found the kind of brilliance I'd been hoping for. Wow!

Up and up I drove, finally reaching a quiet lake ringed by mountainsides. It was raining a little, and the clouds were resting atop the lakeside mountains, veiling the crazy-quilt of colors I could discern  through the mist. 

I continued slowly along a narrow dirt road,  rejoicing in all the vivid trees that pressed close to the road.

I pulled over when I reached the end of the lake, where a gold and red sphagnum-carpeted bog mat stretched between forested banks, the mountains rising beyond and disappearing into the clouds.

Just gorgeous!

This gift of autumn's glory is one of our consolations for enduring our long cold winters.  Few other places throughout the whole world offer such seasonal beauty.

My canoe was atop my car, but I chose to walk the roadside instead of paddling in the light rain that was falling now.  The leafy plants sharing this sphagnum patch were bejeweled with sparkling raindrops.

I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw this Bunchberry blooming now.  And looking around, I saw quite a few of these normally spring-blooming flowers dotting the forest floor. An autumn surprise, for sure!

Many of the woodland mushrooms were just as colorful as the trees.  I did not know the names of most of them, since to accurately determine their species I would have had to dismember them. I was content to simply enjoy their beauty in situ, enhanced by their surroundings.  The Partridgeberry leaves and fruits did indeed provide a lovely foil for these caramel-colored disks.

A single yellow Sugar Maple leaf provided a lovely companion for this solitary pink-capped, white-stalked Russula.

These buttery-yellow caps were topped by a single Bunchberry plant.

A nearby stump was completely encircled by an abundant mass of similar butter-colored mushrooms.

This snowy-white button poked up from a lush green patch of Brocade Moss, where a golden Silver Maple leaf and a scarlet Red Maple leaf rested nearby.

I was drawn to peer more closely at this cluster of rain-wet tawny caps when I noticed them speckled by dozens of teeny-tiny Snow Fleas.

A single pink-capped mushroom had emerged from a bed of red sphagnum moss, edged by a patch of glossy-green, red-berried Wintergreen plants.

I ventured a few steps onto the bog mat and found lush mounds of this shaggy green sphagnum.

Here were Northern Pitcher Plants, too, still bearing the remains of their summer flowers.

As is usual in much of the Adirondack forest, Hobblebush shrubs predominated. Most bore yellow or wine-red leaves, but this shrub stood out for its leaves of brilliant ruby.

After a while, the rain stopped and the clouds began to lift, allowing me full view of the forested mountains as I descended the road home. As this photo reveals, the full spectacle of autumn's glory awaits in the week or so to come.  The show has just begun! 

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

No Need to Carry Water on This Walk

The leader of our group of friends called The Thursday Naturalists put out a call for walk leaders this month, so I pondered what kind of walk I might offer.  Most of our flowering plants are now in decline, and not everyone is all that excited by bryophytes or tree barks.  Then it struck me: How about a walk where we could taste many of the mineral waters that made Saratoga Springs famous? So I went out to the Saratoga Spa State Park this week to preview a walk (now scheduled for 10/21) that could be both beautifully woodsy as well as refreshing.

I always like to begin my walk at the Spa by heading down the Ferndell Ravine, a delightfully woodsy walk that follows a tiny tumbling creek.

Spa Park is better known for its Performing Arts Center, golf courses, and swimming pools than it is for its nature trails. But when I need a quick fix of woodsy wonderfulness, the Ferndell Ravine delivers!

We could even find some native plants growing along this trail, and some are just as lovely in fruit as they were in flower.  This White Baneberry certainly proves my point.

The berries of Jack-in-the-pulpit are also pretty spectacular this time of year.

Chances are good that these Heart-leaved Asters won't still be blooming two weeks from now, but I delighted in seeing them right now.

If we have a frost before our walk, these Ostrich Ferns will have promptly collapsed, but their beautiful spore stalks persist even through the winter.

And these gracefully curving leaves of Plantain-leaved Sedge remain green all winter, so we will be sure to see them along the Ferndell trail.  Another name for this native sedge is Seersucker Sedge, due to those puckery leaves.

There were masses of these tiny tawny mushrooms growing on an old tree stump. There's not a chance we will see this same patch on 10/21, but there's no reason to think we wouldn't find others just as amazing. Even if we don't have rain that week, springs trickle down the sides of this ravine, creating a damp shady habitat just perfect for fungi to fruit.

The trail down the Ferndell Ravine leads out to a grassy picnic area along the Geyser Creek.  This carved stone basin was installed only recently (last year?) and piped to deliver spring water to thirsty picnickers.  The mineral deposits from the spring water have contributed to accretions on the stone that make the basin appear to have stood at this site for years.

As we walk along the road, the first spring we will approach is Tallulah Spring, well back from the road through a stand of Phragmites. I can see a dog back there tasting these mineral-rich waters.

"Tallulah" is a Native American word that means "leaps from the earth," and that is exactly what the waters of the Tallulah Spring do.  As the color of that deep-red rock indicates, this water is rich in iron.

The waters of the next spring we approach must also contain some iron,  to judge from how red the stones that line the Polaris Spring's basin have become.  These springs erupt from the ground all winter, propelled by the carbon dioxide dissolved in their cold water that builds up enough pressure to force them up from deep underground.

We can hear the rushing water of Geyser Creek as we approach the creekside trail that will lead us along its course.

The Hayes Spring stands at the start of this creekside trail, and to my taste, this is one of the most flavorsome waters in the park.  Not everyone who sips a sample shares my enthusiasm for this water, though, and it's fun to stand off to the side and watch the faces of folks as they try it.  I'm hoping all my friends in the Thursday Naturalists will be brave enough to sample it. 

As we pass by this Island Spouter, flinging its spray of water skyward atop its enormous mound of mineral accretions,  I'll stop to explain that, despite the mis-named Geyser Creek that flows past it, this is not, in fact, a geyser at all.  Geysers depend on a build-up of heat for their energetic spouting.  This spouter gets its energy from the force of built-up gasses.  Its waters are cold, not hot.

The creekside trees have just begun to acquire their autumn colors, and I hope that by the time my friends walk here, the foliage will be at peak brilliance.

This creekside trail attracts many weekend visitors, and many of them stop to gaze with astonishment at this huge mound of mineral accretions, called a "tufa",  which has developed over years and years from deposits left by the mineral water flowing from a spring high up on the bluff.

When we reach the end of this trail, where the falling creek roars through a culvert, we will climb a stairway that will take us up to another trail that will lead us back to our starting point.

It's up here that we will encounter the spring whose waters flow over the bank to create that enormous tufa. The name of this spring, Orenda, is a word that means a divine force believed by the Iroquois people to be the source of all positive human accomplishment.  Wouldn't it be wonderful if all the peoples of the world could be so transformed by drinking the waters of this spring?  One could only hope!  This is actually my favorite spring of all, its cold waters delightfully tingly with carbonation, and with a refreshingly mild flavor. My friend Sue Pierce has offered to bring enough little plastic glasses so that all our friends can partake, if they so wish.

Again, the presence of iron in Orenda's water is evident from the rusty-red oxides that form when the water is exposed to the oxygen in the air.

The last spring we'll visit, Karista, is renowned as much for its mud as its crystalline waters. If you click on this photo, you might be able to read the story of why its mud is so famous.  But here's part of what the sign says: 
"Karista is the Iroquois word for 'iron.'  This naturally carbonated spring is considered one of the strongest ferruginous, or iron-rich, waters in the world. . . .  In the 1930s, the Spa was looking for mud to use as treatment for arthritis.  Geologists studied many areas in search of a rich humus that could only be found in a valley where leaves were allowed to decompose for thousands of years.  They found this special, iron-infused mud near Karista Spring.  The Spa began offering mud pack therapy to arthritis patients in 1937."

As we make our way along this trail, we will once again pass the Island Spouter, observed from above.

There are several signs along this trail that teach of the history of these springs.  I hope my photo is clear enough to read this very informative one. Click on it to make it larger.

I'm hoping that the day my friends come to visit will be one that is pleasant for picnicking.  Many tables are situated along this lovely creek, and relaxing here by the sound of its rushing water would provide a wonderful way to conclude our outing.