Sunday, May 31, 2009

A Windswept Walk along the River

Whitecaps and wind-whipped branches:  not a good day for a paddle

The sun came out today after lunch, so I hastened up to the Hudson to enjoy a paddle.  Yes, I knew the wind was heaving the trees around, but I thought the sheltered area around Bear's Bathtub would be OK.  Well, it wasn't.  Limbs were crashing down all around me, and I knew if I left my canoe on shore, the wind would blow it away.  So I just walked around a bit, avoiding widowmakers in the woods, and scrambling out on the windswept rocks along the river.  I found a few pretty flowers, but not the abundance of shore-hugging beauties I expect this time of year. The river is so high, the Small Sundrops and Tall Buttercups and Blue-eyed Grass and masses of Blue Flag have no place to grow. Let's hope the river settles down soon, before these flowers give up for the year.

I did find one splendid Blue Flag, but not the masses and masses I usually find all up and down the shady banks.  They don't mind having their feet wet but don't like water up to their necks.

One solitary Blue Flag, beautiful enough all by itself to make the trip worthwhile 

High and dry, in a crack in the rocks, I found  pretty Pale Corydalis.  This flower is a relative of Bleeding Heart, so I nick-named it Pissing Kidney.  What disrespect for such a lovely bloom! But you get the picture.

Pale Corydalis also has soft green lacy leaves, but I couldn't fit them in the photo.

I wasn't expecting to find it here, so I almost stepped on little Bicknell's Cranesbill (Geranium bicknellii), a much smaller cousin of the much more common Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum).  This is only the second place I've found this plant in Saratoga County.  It's possible it grows abundantly in other spots, but I just haven't seen it.

Bicknell's Cranesbill bears a family resemblance to its cousins Wild Geranium and Herb Robert.

On the way home I spotted these masses of Birdsfoot Trefoil, a very common alien clover, but such a gorgeous yellow and they grow where almost nothing else will, like dry sandy roadsides.  They made a lovely foil for the spikes of Wild Lupine crowning the bank above them.  The wind was whipping these flowers around, so I couldn't get the kind of photo I wanted, but I thought they were so pretty I wanted to post their photo here.

Bright yellow Birdsfoot Trefoil sets off Wild Lupine's lovely blue.

Sue's Photos from Turtle Hunting

My friend Sue Pierce sent me these photos from our turtle-survey paddle at Dunham's Bay yesterday.  I think my readers will all agree she's a fabulous photographer.  But please don't copy any of her pictures without permission.  Just enjoy!

A quiet stream runs from Lake George into acres and acres of lovely wetland at Dunham's Bay.

Sue caught me struggling to focus on the snapper under the water.  No luck!  My boat kept drifting away beyond the focal length.

Sue had better luck.  And a better camera with polarizing lens.  And better eyes than mine to spot this turtle in the first place.  This one was oh, nine or ten inches long (its shell), but she shot another one later at least twice this big.  With her camera, she shot it.  Funny, several folks asked us what we were doing, and when we responded "turtle hunting" they thought we meant to catch and eat them.   Which I did as a kid, but wouldn't now, since turtles of all kinds are under great stress.  This one seemed pretty cool, anyway, not seeming to mind our poking our cameras at him.

Red-winged Blackbirds swooped and called all around us as we paddled.  This one just caught a dragonfly as Sue caught his picture in mid-grab.  I love how his color is reflected in the water. We also saw quite a few Kingbirds and one Osprey soaring high above us on bent wings.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Turtle Hunting, Bug Finding

My friend Sue leads the way on a turtle hunt near Lake George.
A beautiful sunlit day after several with rain.  And what a wonderful way to spend it!  My friend Sue Pierce invited me along on a turtle survey she's participating in,  and of course I jumped at the chance.  We went to Dunham's Bay at the south end of Lake George and entered a beautiful wetland via a meandering stream bordered by acres and acres of Sweet Gale, Tussock Sedge, Leatherleaf, Cattails, Yellow Pond Lily and one solitary Pitcher Plant, glowing red among the sea of green.   The afternoon wind swept in from the lake, but close to the banks the water was smooth, reflecting a sky of radiant blue with cottony cumulous clouds and sweeping mare's tails.

Tussock Sedge waving in the breeze

In all those acres of wetland, we saw one pair of Pitcher Plants.

Polaroid sunglasses might have helped me see under the water, but Sue did all of the turtle finding, pointing out one little Painted that I never saw and a nice-sized (maybe 10-inch) Snapper lazing just a few inches below the surface.  That Snapper just sat there for the longest time, craned his neck a little to take a peek at us peering at him, came up for air, then settled back down in the oozy mud, as if we were no concern to him.  What a cool fellow!  I tried to take his picture, but my boat kept drifting away when I laid my paddle down to pick my camera up. 

I did manage to get some bug photos.  One was a dragonfly nymph skin, still clinging to the lily pad where the adult had emerged and flown away. 

Another was a Giant Stonefly, running, running, running along a bike path we visited on our way home.  This bug is BIG (more than 2 inches), but for all the wing this critter carries, it rarely takes to the air, preferring to escape on foot if it can.  We managed to stop it in its tracks for just a second to take its photo.  Click on this photo and check out that magnificent thorax!  It looks like metal embossed with fleur-de-lis, like a royal prince's armor.  I had never seen a Giant Stonefly before, and let me tell you, I was impressed!  That's some bug!  But despite its size, it's nothing to be afraid of.  It can't bite.  In fact, it has no mouth.  It doesn't eat.  Hatches, mates, lays eggs, and dies.  No wonder it was running, running, running. For this guy, life is really short.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Bad News, Good News

That bad news about viburnums yesterday sent me off to the Skidmore Woods today, to check on three viburnums that grow out there.  (I wore different shoes than those I wore to dig out my Highbush Cranberries this morning.  Didn't want to carry infested soil to a new area.)  Alas, the Arrowwood (Viburnum recognitum) was crawling with Viburnum Leaf Beetle larvae.  Leaves full of  holes, many totally skeletonized, flowers stunted, the whole shrub a mess.  I didn't have the heart to take a photo.
But I'm happy to say that, just ten feet away, the Maple-leaved Viburnum (V. acerifolium) was as lovely as ever.  I checked on it several places in the woods, and found no signs of VLB.  

Maple-leaved Viburnum

I next went to find several Nannyberry shrubs (V. lentago), and they, too, seemed to have escaped infestation.  For now.  The berries of all these viburnums serve as important food sources for birds and other wild creatures.   Let's hope other fruit-bearing shrubs and trees are having a better year.

Sweet Viburnum, also called Nannyberry

We had some much-needed rain these last few days -- enough to flood many low-lying spots in the woods.  I had to get my feet wet to photograph this Tufted Loosestrife (Lysimachia thyrsiflora), the first of the loosestrifes to bloom around here, and one that doesn't mind having its own feet wet.  This plant is a native and not in the same family as Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria), the dreaded alien invasive that swarms over meadows and fills roadside ditches, crowding out native plants.  

I love the puffy yellow tufts of Tufted Loosestrife.

In fact, none of our native loosestrifes -- Tufted, Fringed, Whorled, or Yellow --  are even in the Loosestrife Family.  They are all in the Primrose Family.  Makes me wonder who comes up with these common names.  Something else I wonder about:  Why can't these invasive alien beetles go after the invasive alien plants?  

Dream on!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Bye-bye Viburnums

Sigh.  Best laid plans, and all that.   My plan to create a backyard wildlife preserve, complete with all-native food-bearing plants, has hit another snag.  Last winter, it was a rabbit eating the new Red Chokeberry and Sweet Pepperbush shrubs down to the ground.  This spring, it was squirrels snipping off all the Flowering Dogwood buds.  And now it's Viburnum Leaf Beetle larvae (Pyrrhalta viburni) infesting my Highbush Cranberry (Viburnum trilobum) shrubs.  

Small larva, big appetite!  This is what's left of my Viburnum trilobum leaves.

I saw the tiny dark larvae on the backs of some pin-holed leaves a couple of weeks ago and I naively thought, Oh good, here are some wormy-like critters for mama and papa birds to feed their babies.  Little did I know that birds don't like these larvae.  Or at least, they don't recognize them as food.  These insects (as I learned by Googling "viburnum insect pests") are twentieth-century immigrants from Europe, not arriving in New York State until 1996.  But by now they've spread all across the country, and their favorite foods are our native viburnum species:  Arrowwood, Maple-leaved, Nannyberry, and others, especially Highbush Cranberry.  And boy, did they eat mine up!  Most of the leaves are completely skeletonized, with just a few nibbled ones left on top: a little something for the adults to snack on after these larvae pupate in a couple of weeks.  The larvae are now bigger and fatter, yellowish spotted with black, and of course with bigger mouthparts.

I called the nursery where I purchased these shrubs last year, and they said I could use a systemic insecticide that would kill not only these larvae but also the emerging adults.  And what about ants and bees and native beetles who visit the shrubs?  Oh, well, yes, those too.  So that's out.  The whole point of planting these native species was to avoid pesticides.  There are other, less effective, strategies for battling this beetle, ones that require several years of vigilance and buying bags of ladybugs, but I'm just going to bag up these bushes and pull them out of my garden.  Phooey!  Darn it all!  Dang!

Black Cohosh is also called Bugbane.  Let's hope no bugs find it tasty, too.

Happily, my friend at Wildthings Rescue Nursery has provided me some consolation: two Black Cohosh plants (Cimicifuga racemosa), which will grow to be nearly eight feet high at maturity and fill in where I pulled the viburnums out.  Their tall snaky flower stalks are fleecy and white and seem to glow in the shadows, earning them the nickname "Fairy Candles." They're also called "Bugbane," producing an unpleasant odor (up close) that's supposed to ward off bugs.  Let's hope!!!  Let's also hope they don't stink too much, although these ones I photographed at Yaddo last summer didn't seem to smell so bad.

Pretty Canada Anemones will help fill in where I pulled the viburnums out.

I also bought some Canada Anemones, some Celandine Poppies, two darling Birdsfoot Violets, and the nursery threw in one Great Willow Herb, for which I will have to find a sunny spot.  And so we move on.  Bye-bye viburnums.  Let's hope you evolve some immunity to these awful bugs someday.  Or some predators discover how tasty Viburnum Leaf Beetles are.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Green Days

Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum pedatum) thrives in the Skidmore Woods and sets the color scheme for late May.

Just a few weeks ago, the forest was flooded with light, and the flowers that burst into bloom in that light were mostly highly colored:  Hepatica, Trout Lily, Columbine, Purple Trillium, Violets blue and yellow, and stunning white Bloodroot with its sunny yellow center.  By now, though, there's just one hue that dominates, and that is GREEN.  

With the canopy now closed in, even the sunlight filtering through has taken on the color of leaves, creating a soft green glow and dark green shade. May Apple parasols, Wild Sarsaparilla, and ferns of every kind now cover the dry brown leaves left over from winter.  Even the flowers that are blooming now are mostly green.  As I entered the Skidmore Woods the other day, I met a walker coming out who noticed my wildflower book and said, "Oh there's nothing in bloom right now."  Well, yes, there are flowers in bloom.  But you have to really look to see them.  Here are just a few.

The spidery little greenish flower of Indian Cucumber Root (Medeola virginiana) dangles beneath the top tier of whorled leaves of this woodland plant.  It's easily missed if you don't bend down to find it.  I've read that its root tastes like cucumber, but please don't pull it up if you find it.  It's not a rare plant, but it's not that abundant, either.

Sanicle Snakeroot (Sanicula marilandica) seems to like the shadiest parts of Skidmore Woods.  I was lucky a little sun peeked in to give me ample light to take its picture.  There's another Sanicula species that grows nearby, Long-fruited Snakeroot (S. trifoliata), but I've never been able to get a clear photo, the shade is so dark where it grows.

Here's one you won't see very often, Green Violet (Hybanthus concolor).  I think the Skidmore Woods may be the only place it can be found in Saratoga County.   It certainly seems to like it here: hundreds and hundreds of these plants carpet a section of woods.  The flowers grow in the axils underneath the leaves, so you can't see them unless you lift up a leaf.  They don't look very much like violets, do they?  

From rarely seen (Green Violets) to ubiquitous:  Wild Sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) grows just about everywhere.  Everywhere there's light shade in the woods, that is.  It's greenish-white flowers are borne in (typically) three umbels on a naked stalk separate from the leaf stalk.  I have seen more than three umbels to a stalk, once as many as six.  This plant is related to Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius), an endangered plant that also grows in the Skidmore Woods, but which blooms a little later.  (And I keep its whereabouts a deep dark secret.)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Dead Millipede Mystery

All these pictures of pretty flowers are getting kind of boring.  Nature is not always pretty, as evidenced by last winter's photos of what eagles and coyotes could do to one dead deer.  Or these pictures of one dead millipede (Narceus americanus), which appears to have been parasitized by something that laid eggs inside it.   At least I think those shiny little pearls spilling out of the millipede's guts are eggs.  My grandkids found it broken open like this, and knowing their grandma well, called out:  "Ooh, Grandma!  Come look at this!"  I wonder if some critter was about to eat it and threw it away in disgust.  Or did the eggs expand and burst the millipede's seams?  As always, if any reader knows what's happening here, I hope a comment will inform us all.

Click on this photo.  Looks like a little spider has joined the feast.

Here's a photo of the same kind of millipede, alive and healthy, taken a few weeks ago.

Okay, here's a little sex to balance the gore.  I'm afraid I spoiled these Six-spotted Tiger Beetles' good time when I poked my camera at them.  They flew away before I could get them in focus. But you get the idea.

Monday, May 25, 2009

An Odd Lot of Flowers

Here's an odd lot of flowers I found this week but didn't have room for in other posts.  What a lovely variety of shapes and colors!

Painted Trillium (Trillium undulatum).  I found it near Lake Ann in the Palmertown Mountains of Moreau Lake State Park.  It likes a cooler climate than its cousins the Purple and Large-flowered trilliums.

This is an extreme close-up of one blossom of Orange-Fruited Horse Gentian (Triosteum aurantiacum).  Lots of these plants grow in a sunny area near the Skidmore Woods.  Their fruits look like little orange tomatoes circling the stem.

Pale (or Bog) Laurel (Kalmia polafolia) grows by a boggy-shored stream near Eagle Lake in Essex County.  Click on the photo to see how some of the stamens are tucked into little niches of the petals.  When a pollinator lands, the stamens pop free and shake pollen on the visiting insect.  The stamens later curve down and re-cock their springs.

Golden Ragwort (Senecio aureus) lights up shady damp areas of the woods. I found these along a stream at Orra Phelps Nature Preserve.

No, I know this isn't a flower.  It's some kind of crust that covers a bush (raspberry? blackberry?) on Woodcock Island in the Hudson River below Spier Falls Dam.  I wonder if it's related to the orange yeasty slime that I showed covering a birch stump a few posts back?  But this was dry, while that one was kind of slimy.  Colorful, anyway.

Postscript:  I got an email from a reader who suspects this orange crusty stuff is Gymnoconia nitens, a fungal plant pathogen.  This reader should know.  She has a wonderful blog, Swamp Things, so go check out the cool stuff she finds down south in North Carolina.

Memorial Day

My daughter (white hat) and her family enjoy the view after climbing to a Hudson River overlook.

Memorial Day weekend:  the traditional start of summer here in upstate New York.  And it was lovely -- warm, sunny, just a threat of a little rain Saturday night.  My daughter and her family drove up from Westchester County to spend my birthday with me (I'm now 67), and we hiked in Moreau Lake State Park, climbing to a rocky outcrop that overlooks the Hudson River.  A real treat for me, since my granddaughters -- nine, twelve, and almost sixteen -- are so busy with sports and school and friends they seldom have time to come hiking with me anymore.  We saw some cool stuff:  teensy-tiny brilliant red mites scooting around on the rocks, and a couple of shiny green tiger beetles doing "the deed," which made the younger girls blush and say "Oh, Grandma!" when I photographed the beetles in flagrante.  (Don't worry, girls, the photo didn't come out.)

Mountain Azalea has blooms as lovely as their fragrance.

By Monday afternoon my hostess duties were over, so off to the river I went in my newly repaired canoe.  My destination was Woodcock Island, which beckoned with the scent of cloves wafting on the breeze as I approached.  This island is covered with pink-flowered azalea shrubs, as fragrant as they are beautiful.  I call them Mountain Azalea (Rhododendron roseum), but they're also called Hoary Azalea because the undersides of their leaves are covered with downy hairs. They also have another scientific name -- R. prinophyllum -- which is what you have to call them if you look them up on the USDA plant information site.  Well, who cares what the scientists call them?  I call them gorgeous, and I call myself lucky to know where they grow and to have a way to get to them.

How lucky I am to find such beauty around me.

I was thinking, too, how lucky I am that I never had to fight in a war (it's Memorial Day, after all).  Or I never had to flee from bombs or witness my daughter's rape by marauding warriors.  Or I never had to send my sons to kill or die or be maimed beyond the help of therapy or the mercy of amnesia.  All day I kept hearing or reading tributes to fallen soldiers.  I, too, honor them and pray, oh dear God, that they are at last at peace.  But where are the tributes to the ones they killed?  And I don't mean just enemy soldiers.  I mean the "collaterally damaged," the noncombatants, who outnumber the warrior dead in every war by at least ten to one. Where are the speeches in honor of slaughtered wildlife or livestock or family pets? Where the tears for the devastated land?  Where the outrage toward stupid, misguided leaders who pour our children and treasure down the endless black hole of war?  For no good reasons.  Since it's Memorial Day, let's really remember the terrible acts war asks our children -- and all of us -- to do and endure.  Then let us say NO MORE WAR.  War, never again.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Joys and Sorrows of Spring in the Adirondacks

It's enough to make me really believe in the power of Original Sin.  Here I was, in Paradise -- meaning Pyramid Lake, a pristine wilderness lake surrounded by mountains and forest (see photos, previous post), gorgeous weather, clear starry nights, and I had the place all to myself.  Except for the damned black flies.  One foot out the door, and a ravenous cloud surrounded my head, chewing chunks from my neck, my ears, my temples, flying up my nose, getting stuck in my eyes, keeping me awake all night with the terrible, burning itch.  Bug dope only seemed to make me tastier to them.  AAARGH!!!

But did that keep me out of the woods?  Just take a guess!  There were boreal forest and cold bog plants to be found and this was my only opportunity to find them.  And I was richly rewarded for my (literal!) pains.  On the rocky banks along the dirt road leading into camp I found Purple Virgin's Bower (Clematis verticillaris) twining along a boulder, set off nicely by white clouds of Early Saxifrage.  This is a native clematis, more demure than its showy garden counterpart, threatened or endangered in many neighboring states, and not so easy to find in New York either.  I couldn't find it the last two years, and I knew where to look.  On the same stretch of road I also found Skunk Currant (Ribes glandulosum), another seldom encountered plant, but not so photogenic.  A little bit stinky, too.  But still, a first for my life list.

The purple sepals of Purple Virgin's Bower are almost transparent, like organdy.

I next went in search of Creeping Snowberry (Gaultheria hispidula), another plant that's having a hard time finding a place to live in surrounding states.  But I knew where to find it, same place I look every year.  I always find the tiny, tiny creeping leaves covering an old stump in a springy area, but hardly ever the flowers.  They're so tiny and hidden beneath the leaves, it's easy to overlook them, no matter how hard I search.  This time I found them.  Aren't they cute?

Creeping Snowberry blooms are tiny (1/8 inch) and hide beneath the leaves.

Along that same damp trail I always find a flower that USDA says doesn't exist in New York State.  But Rosybells (Streptopus roseus) certainly thrives near Pyramid Lake.  You may pass by it, thinking it's Solomon's Seal; the little pink bells dangling beneath the leaf stalk are very easy to miss.  I only found them this week because I've found them here before.

Rosybells are also called Rose Twisted Stalk.  You have to twist up the stalk to see them. 

The black flies were not quite as bad out on the water, but the wind was blowing so hard I couldn't take many photos.  I'd just get a shot in focus, and my boat and I would go flying away beyond the focal length.  I managed to wedge my canoe between fallen logs in a swampy end of the lake to get this photo of Round-Leaved Sundew (Drosera rotundifolia) glistening on a stump.  These sodden and decaying logs are colonized by an amazing variety of plants.  On just one log I counted Sundew, Marsh St. Johnswort, blueberries, cranberries, Purple Cinquefoil, Rose Pogonia, Green Wood Orchis, Marsh Speedwell, and mosses, grasses, and ferns I don't know the names of.  Not all are in bloom this week, but I could see by their leaves they were coming.

Round-leaved Sundew lures bugs by its dewy beads, then closes its spines over the bug and eats it.

As soon as I spotted Mama Loon, I quickly backpaddled before she spooked and tore away with whumping wingbeats from her nest.  Loons lay only two eggs at a time, and if Mom leaves her nest for too long a time, the eggs won't hatch.  Sorry I got so close, Mrs. Loon.  (I wasn't actually as close as this photo makes it appear: I used my zoom. And then I cropped.)

This symbol of northern lakes finds fewer and fewer places to rear its young.

Pyramid Lake offers fine nesting sites for this water bird whose haunting call is the signature sound of the northern forest.  The lake is surrounded by the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness Area, with the only automobile access through Pyramid Life Center, a spiritual retreat center committed to maintaining the wilderness environment.  No motor boats (whose wakes can swamp nests) are allowed on the lake, and once a nest has been sighted, all paddlers are warned to keep away.  Then we all wait and watch for those two downy dumpling-chicks, sometimes riding along on Mother's back.  Mom and Dad both dive down and catch fish and then feed them to the young, even after the young are as big as their parents. 

Too bad they don't eat black flies.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Off to Pyramid Lake

Here are some photos of where I am going today.

Dawn at Pyramid Lake in the Adirondacks

Sweet White Violets cover a rock along the shore of Pyramid Lake

I'll also visit neighboring Eagle Lake, where a boggy shore supports Pitcher Plants and Bog Laurel and other acid-loving wetland plants, as well as these ferns unfurling in gorgeous red. 

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Wading Through the Watery Woods

My canoe has a leak in it.  Not enough to swamp it, but enough to keep me mopping it out with a terry rag.  Darn!  I wanted to paddle to Juniper Point, the only place I know of where Bastard Toadflax (Comandra umbellata) grows. (What a strange name!  I wonder if it's a contraction of "be-starred," since the calyx looks like a  tiny five-pointed star).  It was too cold today to sit on a soggy bottom, so I hiked through the woods instead.

The river was way up into the woods.  The Saratoga County bank of the Hudson between Rippled Rocks and Juniper points (two promontories about a half mile apart) is scalloped with coves and bays, the back of each leading into springy seeps and outright streams, all of them well flooded today.  Kind of hard going.  I don't mind wading through knee-deep water, but slogging through ankle-deep muck is really unpleasant.  And all for Bastard Toadflax?!!  It's not really much to look at, small (1/4 inch), kind of greenish (no petals, just five pointed sepals), and wouldn't you know, not even in bloom today!  But close enough, with well-formed buds, to add to this year's flower journal.  I'm sure some of my readers must think I'm nuts, wading through muck to find some flower that's not even very pretty.  But hey!  It's a native plant, and I've never found it anywhere else but Juniper Point.

Bastard Toadflax was only in bud today, but I caught it in bloom last year.

Besides, there was other neat stuff along the way.  The neatest was this gorgeous Eastern Garter Snake, bigger and more yellow and more checkered than any garter snake I've ever seen. And boy, was he bold!  Instead of zipping away the way snakes usually do, he coiled up in strike position and stood his ground.  Which gave me lots of time to take his picture.  Thanks, dear snake. Happy to have met you.

This is one big gorgeous garter snake!
If you click on this photo, you can see another critter in the left coil.

Another neat thing was a whole bunch of Marsh Blue Violet (Viola cucullata), which lives up to its name by growing in soggy places.  Like where I had to walk today.  So how do I know this is not your ordinary Common Blue Violet?  Well, if you have a magnifying glass, you can tell by the thickness of the hairs on the inside of the side petals.  But it was too mucky today to get that close (I used my zoom to get the photo).  You can also tell by how tall the flowers are in relation to the leaves.  They really stand right up there.

Marsh Blue Violet stands tall above its leaves.

If I'd paddled to Juniper Point, I'd never have seen the snake or the violets.  But I'd still rather go by canoe.  I'm taking it Tuesday to Hornbeck Boats in Olmsteadville.  They'll fix the leak while I wait, then I'm heading up to Pyramid Lake in the Adirondacks for several days.  No computers there.  So I won't be blogging for a while.  But I'll be back.  I hope with lots of great photos.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Birds and Bellworts and Other Woodland Beauties

Oh, what a beautiful morning!  And afternoon and evening, too.  Clear and sunny and warm after a dark rainy yesterday.  The forest seemed so clean and refreshed and sparkling, with a Wood Thrush singing its sweet, sweet song in the Skidmore woods.   It brought to mind some lines of a poem called "Spring" by Gerard Manley Hopkins:

Nothing is so beautiful as spring --
  When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
  Thrush's eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing . . .

Perfoliate Bellwort.  See how the stems seem to perforate the leaves?

I went to Skidmore to look for Perfoliate Bellwort (Uvularia perfoliata),  the last of the bellworts to flower around here, after Sessile and Large-flowered have dropped their blooms.  And yes, I did find a nice big patch of it, even more than I found last year.  It's nice to know not all my old friends are disappearing.  Like Yellow Lady's Slippers seemed to have, the last two years.  So you can imagine my joy when I found that beautiful native orchid (Cypripedium calceolus var. pubescens), blooming way off the path in the woods, surrounded by Canada Violet and Maidenhair Fern.  A happy reunion, indeed!

Yellow Lady's Slipper is much less common than its pink sister.

If Yellow's in bloom, then Pink must be too, I thought as I tooled on over to Ballston Spa to Woods Hollow Nature Preserve.  These two lady's slippers like different soils, and Woods Hollow has the acidy soil the Pink Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium acaule) loves.   And I mean REALLY loves, to judge by the numbers coming into bloom today over there.  Dozens and dozens.  Only a few were as yet fully colored, but I managed to find a really pretty one.

Pink Lady's Slipper, or Moccasin Flower, grows abundantly in Woods Hollow Nature Preserve.

There was something else pretty along the road between Ballston and Saratoga:  a glorious patch of Wild Lupine (Lupinus perennis), its spikes of blue blossoms the favorite food of the endangered Karner Blue Butterfly.  I didn't see any butterflies, but I did see a big, big Bumblebee, busy, busy, busy among the blooms.  Too busy to sit for his picture.

Wild Lupine likes sandy soil, and Blue Karner Butterflies love it.

One last stop on this flower-filled day:  I swung by the wildflower garden at Yaddo to see what had come into bloom:  Lots of Columbine and Bleeding Heart, Solomon's Seal, Blue Phlox, and Celandine Poppy.  Masses of tiny Crested Iris and dark-leaved Labrador Violet.  One little mound of lacy-leaved Squirrel Corn.  Large-flowered Trillium still going strong, and Lily-of-the-Valley just coming on. 

I discovered Cream Violet growing at Yaddo today, where I had never found it before.

How I love the fragrance of Lily-of-the-Valley, so I knelt down to breathe it in.  Wait a minute, what's this?  A creamy white violet, very well camouflaged in the lily patch.  Much larger than Northern or Sweet White, growing on a stem with its leaves,  no purple back like Canada Violet, its stipules long and sharply toothed, almost like Dog Violet's.  Out comes the Newcomb's Wildflower Guide, and sure enough, on page 56, I learned its name: Pale or Cream Violet (Viola striata).  Another new flower for me this year.

Note the sharply-toothed stipules that sheathe the stems of Cream Violet

So it wasn't just the weather today that made it a very good day.  I made a new flower friend.