Monday, August 31, 2009

Rare Finds on the Hudson Ice Meadows

What a fine day to be outdoors: sunny and cool with a gentle breeze. A great day to return to the Hudson Ice Meadows in Warren County, especially with such a guide as Evelyn Greene, a botanizer par excellence who not only knows her wildflowers, but mosses, grasses, sedges, and liverworts as well.

A couple of weeks ago, Evelyn came down to paddle "my" stretch of the Hudson at Moreau, and today she invited me to explore "her" stretch. And believe me, she knows that stretch like the back of her hand. She has observed these ice meadows -- a remarkable riverside grassland formed by masses of rolling ice each winter -- for many years in every season. In fact, it was she who first piqued my interest in this place when, maybe a dozen years ago, she gave a talk about "frazil" ice at the Adirondack Mountain Club. I just learned today that that speaker was she. I also learned that I had perpetuated an error about this ice when I wrote about it in my blog for August 13 (in addition to misspelling "frazil"). These masses of fluid ice, she explained, do not really "scour" the banks, as I had said, but rather "mash" them down with great weight, preventing trees and shrubs from attaining normal height and thus preserving the open grassland habitat.

And grasses certainly do abound here. Today the wind was moving in waves through tall stands of Turkey Foot (Andropogon gerardii) and Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans), grasses more common to prairie land than Adirondack river banks. Here and there we found these cotton-ball tufts of Tawny Cotton-grass (Eriophorum virginicum) shining in the sun.

We also found a plant called Slender Yellow-eyed Grass ((Xyris torta), but it's not really a grass. Nearly past its blooming season, but still bearing a bit of a petal, it's also not really supposed to grow around here, its normal habitat being more southerly. As I said before, a remarkable habitat here.

Various sedges thrive here, too, as expected for a wetland. Yes, this habitat is a wetland as well as a grassland, with numerous pools formed by depressions in the rocks, as well as little flowing streams and low marshy spots. Evelyn, of course, knew the names of all the sedges, but I neglected to take down notes, except for two. Growing everywhere, and easily confused with grass because of its long, fine, yellow-green stems with no fruits or flowers, was a sedge called Carex lasiocarpa. (My photo of this one was not successful.) I did get a useable photo of Brown Bog Sedge (Carex buxbaumii), and I'm awfully glad I did. This one, with its heads that look a bit like tiny greenish pine cones, is classified as "threatened" in New York State, as well as in many surrounding states. So we were lucky to find it. (Those greenish "cones" will soon turn brown, by the way.)

Another plant that is classified as threatened but grows profusely here is Dwarf Sand Cherry (Prunus pumila var. depressa), which sprawls all over the sandy areas. Evelyn told me the banks here are white with its blossoms each spring, but today we were lucky to find just a few red cherries.

Exploring the pools that form in the rocks, we found a number of water plants, including a couple of bladderworts (Utricularia), microbe-eating plants that capture tiny creatures with bladders attached to their underwater structures. At least, the floating ones do. Horned Bladderwort (U. cornuta) grows out of damp sand, so I don't know how its bladders could inflate to suck stuff in. (See its photo on my blog post for August 13.) Evelyn showed me these creeping leaves of Flat-leaved Bladderwort (U. intermedia), which I never would have identified, since its small yellow flowers have long since disappeared. (That woman knows her plants!)

Sharing those soggy spots with the bladderworts were these Spatulate-leaved Sundew (Drosera intermedia), another state-protected plant (classified "exploitably vulnerable"), also another meat eater. Those shining "nectar drops" tempt small flies to land, then the tentacles close over them, and digestion begins.

We, being fruit eaters, were happy to find abundant patches of Large Cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon) growing among the rocks. Pale ivory now, with some beginning to blush, the fruits should ripen to bright red by the end of September. I promised Evelyn she could have them all.

In fact, if I'd found buried treasure there, I would have given it all to her. Fair exchange for all the botanical treasures she showed me, including nine new plants to add to my life list. And an absolutely gorgeous afternoon, climbing on rocks and wandering the shores of our beloved Hudson River.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Pink Grass, Blue Stems, Spiky Sedge

As it happened, I didn't meet New York's chief botanist today. Due to pouring rain and Travers Stakes traffic, we decided to meet sometime next week instead. In the meantime, I'm saving up a few questions to ask the expert, including this: What's the name of the grass that spreads these clouds of pink mist along the roadsides and across the meadows now?

I have a few books about grasses, but the more I study them, the more confused I get. This may be Fall Witch Grass. Maybe I'll know for sure next week. Whatever its name, it's lovely. Especially early mornings, when sparkling with dew.

One grass I do know the name of is Little Bluestem, just starting to sprout its little feathery puffs on purplish stems. When later in autumn the wind moves across whole fields of this, it's quite a sight, the stems waving gracefully, the white down sailing away on the air.

I think this spiky stuff that grows on damp shores is Three-way Sedge. I'm curious to know how it got its name. Maybe I'll soon find out.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Goldenseal Search Yields Treasure

I'm supposed to meet up with New York's chief botanist tomorrow, to show him where a few patches of Goldenseal grow. This plant (Latin name, Hydrastis canadensis) is classified as "threatened" in New York (as well as in many surrounding states), so this botanist likes to maintain a record of where populations of Goldenseal can be found. Obsessive woods prowler that I am, I've come across a few patches that have not yet been documented, so that's what we're going to do tomorrow. If I can find them again.

I went out today to make sure I could. And darned if they were not where I thought they should be! I was sure of the general area, but hey, these plants grow low to the ground, the same color as the ubiquitous Virginia Creeper and Poison Ivy, and they're way past blooming time and looking a little worse for wear this time of year. Boy, was I going to be embarrassed if this important botanist showed up and I couldn't show him the goods. So I started a systematic search, and what do you know? I not only found my original patch (right where I left it), but I also found two other new patches as well. Maybe we'll even find some more tomorrow. In the meantime, I marked my finds with downed logs I leaned against standing trees.

While thrashing about in the woods, I came across another state-protected plant: Walking Fern (Asplenium rhizophyllum). This fern (classified as "exploitably vulnerable") doesn't look at all like what we usually think of as a fern. When I first saw the mossy boulder it was growing on, I thought somebody had cut up a bunch of leaves with scissors: little snips of green like a tumbled mass of clippings.

Its blades are narrow with long pointed tips that arch to the ground and form new plants where the tip touches -- hence the name "walking." It usually grows on limey rocks, preferring the same kind of habitat as Goldenseal does. Although seldom found, it is not as rare as Goldenseal, but it sure was a new find for me.

There's another unusual plant that grows near the Goldenseal. It's called Green Violet (Hybanthus concolor), and like that un-ferny fern, it is a most un-violety violet. The plant is nearly two feet tall with long-pointed elliptical leaves, and this time of year its small, hidden, green-yellow blooms are long gone, having turned into these bulbous, pale green, tripartite pods.

These pods are perhaps the most recognizably violet-like parts of the plant, especially when they split open. Then they look like the typical violet seed-pod, filled with tiny "pearls."

In the midst of all that green stuff, this bright orange coral fungus sure stood out. I'm confident that it's one of the coral fungi, but do I know its specific name? No, I don't. I find several photos in my mushroom guides that could be this, but I'm not certain. Maybe New York State's Chief Botanist will know. I'll ask him tomorrow.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Off to the Fair!

Is it fair to include a post about Washington County Fair in a blog about Saratoga County? Well, sure it is, when Saratogians go there. After my walk along Bog Meadow Trail this morning, the day was still young and as beautiful as a summer day can be. Hey Denis, I said to my hubby, let's go to the fair. So off we went across the Hudson to Washington County.

I hadn't been to a county fair for something like 45 years and the thing that struck me most was how exactly the same it all seemed. The same smells and sounds, the same rides, the same games of chance and skill (the prizes a little different), the same foot-long hot dogs and cotton candy, the same barns full of farm animals, all those proud 4-H kids like the kids I remember leading prize calves around show rings. Made me feel like a kid again.

We arrived as teams of giant horses -- Belgians and Percherons and Clydesdales -- were being put through their paces in a show ring next to a tent for draft animals.

That tent sheltered this huge pair of brother oxen. Oh my, but those gentle giants were ENORMOUS! And how calm they were, as the crowds milled around them, and how affectionate they were with one another, leaning against each other, rubbing heads. Enormous heads. With big horns. And big sweet eyes. Wow!

A big barn came next, with all kinds of dairy cattle: Holsteins, Jerseys, Brown Swiss, and breeds I'd never heard of. Another barn held cattle bred for beef, including this beautiful Charolais cow and her pretty white calf. (Gulp! I rarely eat beef, but wouldn't you know, I ate a burger just yesterday.)

And here is a pretty little girl and her pretty little calf.

I haven't moved among cows since I was a kid, and I marveled at how at ease young children seemed to be around these huge animals. I guess it helps to start young.

There weren't many hogs in the barn that said Swine. But there were these two sleepy piglets.

The poultry barn was filled with the din of roosters outdoing each others' crows. And such absolutely exquisite birds! So many colors and plumage styles, some chickens with fancy pantaloons, some with elaborate headdresses. If they had only held still, I could have taken more photos. I did manage to photograph two. This fluffy black blue-eared chicken . . .

. . . and this equally fluffy orange bird with the oddest red comb I have ever seen.

It's strange how powerfully moved I felt, just looking these creatures in the eye and they looking right back at me. When I was a kid and went to the fair, all I wanted to do was ride the rides and eat fair food and above all, flirt with the boys. I didn't give a hoot about the animals, unless I knew a cute boy who was showing one. How our priorities shift as we grow old! Those rides and that food now make me feel queasy, and the only boy I want to hold hands with has been my dear husband for nearly 47 years. And today I wanted nothing more than to walk through those barns, to stand close to those cows, those chickens, those sheep, those pigs. Usually I see these farm animals off in the distance, just dots on a faraway hill. But today I could touch them and talk to them and really sense our fellow creatureliness. And because each stall and pen had a sign above it, I could even call each one by name. Yes, I know many of these animals are raised to be killed for food. And no, I am not a vegetarian, I do eat a little meat. But it was good to see how serene and clean and cared-for these animals were: raised, not just humanely, but with love.

A Return to the Scene of the Crime

Oh my, did it feel like fall today: clear, dry, a bit of a nip in the air. A good day for a hike and I even had one all planned. I'd agreed to meet with Geoff Bornemann, the volunteer who has done such a marvelous job maintaining Bog Meadow Trail, just east of Saratoga Springs.

Geoff has laid boardwalk over mucky spots, dug channels to direct water flow away from the trail, terraced the trail where it crosses steep banks, and regularly keeps the brush mowed back. Yes, he's also the one who mistakenly mowed down that orchid I mourned in my August 7 post. Much to his, as well as my own, chagrin. But all is forgiven. How could I stay annoyed with the guy who works so hard to make that trail so pleasant to walk on?

Our project today was to walk the trail and mark off those spots where plants need to be protected. So that's what we did. I showed Geoff the place where Downy Rattlesnake Plantain grows vulnerably close to the trail, and he pounded sturdy stakes into the ground around it. The lopped-off spike of this little white orchid still lay on its bier of beautifully marked, elegantly curving leaves. And there, on almost exactly the spot where this flower had met its demise, was a fitting memorial: one tiny blood-red mushroom (Vermilion Waxcap?) poking up through the orchid's evergreen leaves.

We continued along the trail so I could show Geoff where Nodding Trillium grows (he staked a whole length of trail to remind himself to mow carefully here), and I also pointed out a single Poison Sumac tree. Despite this plant's noxious effect on human skin, it's a valuable wildlife resource and also not very common around these parts. It's not in any danger of being mowed, but we staked it to caution trail workers not to handle its branches without protection when trimming brush. Growing right next to this sumac tree was an elderberry bush in glorious fruit. Elderberries are relished by all kinds of birds, and I've heard they make a tasty jam if you add enough sugar. The rest of the plant, however, is poisonous to humans. I'm happy to leave it for the birds. Foxes love it, too.

Our common project completed, Geoff went off to continue building up a section of mucky trail, and I continued wandering the trail a bit. Lots of mushrooms are popping up this time of year, including this little clump of what I'm pretty sure is Spindle Coral (Clavulimopsis fusiformis).

And here's one that looks at first glance like that Spindle Coral, except that it's branched at the tip like tiny tuning forks. Perhaps this is the fungus called Yellow Tuning Fork (Calocera viscosa).

I also found these baby buds of what I believe are some kind of Pholiota. Many species of this genus have spiky little points all over their caps. This one has loose scales all over its stalks. It's really hard to ID mushroom species, especially immature specimens, unless you take them apart to analyze their structure. So mostly I just look and marvel -- so many lovely colors and intriguing shapes! (There's a really cool-looking moss in that photo, too.)

For the time being, I'll stick to trying to name the flowers. Here's a thistle I found along Bog Meadow Trail just a few weeks ago, a new one for my life list. It's called Swamp Thistle (Cirsium muticum), and I don't know how I missed seeing it all these years. Today it was blooming all over the swampy spots, its brilliant purple glowing like jewels. The bees seemed to really love it.

And so do I.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Shady Trail, Abundant Fungi

My friend Sue had never explored the Warren County trails of Moreau State Park, so I showed her one today. We had to trespass briefly across private property (Shhh! Don't tell!), but we soon found the state park trail, which follows a beautiful tumbling stream through a mossy dark woods until it empties into the Hudson River. The shady forest was pleasantly cool on a warm muggy day, and the pretty stream kept up a companionable chatter as we ambled along.

I knew we would not find many flowers along this trail (too dark, too late in the summer), and we didn't, except for a few White Wood Asters and lots of Wood Nettle going to seed. But boy, did we find fungi! So many shapes and sizes and colors! We took lots of photos (look for Sue's eventually on her blog Water-lily), but of course most of mine were awful. Without a tripod or an indirect flash -- equipment I refuse to be saddled with on a nature walk -- most of my images came out all shaky. As I said before, a dark woods. But a few shafts of sunlight managed to pierce the shadowy darkness at times, so I did get a few so-so shots. I wish I knew the names of these fungi. Maybe some of my readers will fill us in.

As intensely colored as they are minute, these tiny red mushrooms could be Vermilion Waxcaps (Hygrocybe miniata).

I'm guessing these are Spindle-shaped Coral (Clavulinopsis fusiformis), but I could be mistaken. There are similar-looking ones in my mushroom guides, and I'd have to taste them to be sure. Which I didn't. Because I'm not sure.

Here comes the sun! And it lit this mushroom beautifully. I'm calling it Apricot Ruffles because I don't know its real name.

Could these lovely striped fans of many colors be Birch Lenzites (Lenzites betulina)? I failed to look underneath to see if their undersides were whitish and gilled. Next time I will.

Ooh, what is this green slimy thing? Is it the moribund form of that pale yellow clump next to it? Could it be Jelly Baby (Laotia lubrica)? I can't find an exact match in my mushroom guides, but that one comes close.

Hmm. . . . Could this be a Rag-veil Amanita (Amanita cinereopannosa)? It certainly has a raggedy veil. I should have rooted around to see if it had a bulbous rooting stalk. To really ID a mushroom you have to take it apart, study its structure, do spore prints, etc. But I just like to look at them. This one looks kind of spooky, like a mummy in a shredded shroud.

Not everything pretty was fungal. These ripening berries of Hobblebush (Viburnum alnifolium) glowed like jewels in the shady woods. They will eventually turn all red.

Horse (and Goat) Country

The green, green hills of Saratoga horse country
Saratoga Springs is famous for horses, especially this week as the town gears up for the big race called The Travers Stakes this Saturday. That race will attract 30,000 to 40,000 really rowdy fans, making the town for us townies feel pretty crowded. Which it already is. So my husband and I headed out of town yesterday, to park the car on a country road and walk a mile or so under high blue skies among green hills and apple orchards and -- yes -- horse farms.

We saw many beautiful thoroughbred mares and foals. We would stand at the fence and mom would come right up for a pat, while baby kept a shy distance.

Maybe we should have picked one of these ripening apples to tempt the foals. But maybe green apples give horses stomach aches, too. Anyway, we didn't. The apples belonged to Stetkar's Orchard.

As we walked by one beautiful farm called River Run, we looked for a goat that usually stands on a cart in the middle of a pasture and found him instead on a bench near the fence.

Hello Billy, we said, how come you're not on your cart today?

Okay, said Billy, I'm on my way.

And up he went to stand on his cart. Isn't he a picture?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Super-high Water on the Hudson

Cardinal Flower and Turtlehead keep blooming despite high water levels.

A lovely Monday, clouds and sun, not too hot. Nice day for a paddle. I entered the river from the end of Potter Road, carrying my canoe through the woods to the water. And boy, what a lot of water! The river doesn't rise this high even in spring flood. I know we've had quite a bit of rain lately, but I think there's something else at work here. There's a huge Superfund clean-up site downstream at Fort Edward, dredging up the tons and tons of PCBs General Electric dumped in the river for decades. High water has been causing havoc at the site, so I bet they're holding the water back up here behind the Sherman Island Dam. Just a guess. But whatever the reason, high water sure has played havoc with the water's-edge wildflowers.

I was hoping to find Closed Gentians along the banks, but the sites where I've found them in years before are all way under water. I did find a couple of plants high up on the bank, but not yet in bloom. Next I paddled around a point to a marsh that runs behind Three Pine Island. The marsh was a lake today, with only an inch or two of the Pickerelweed spikes showing above the surface. All around this marsh stand dozens of beaver-damaged Black Tupelos, many of which still put forth leaves and fruit this year despite their trunks being girdled. Although this tree is known to turn red much earlier in autumn than other trees, the red leaves I saw today are likely a sign that these trees are under great stress.

Many of the tupelos are already dead. Here a clump of the little mint called Northern Bugleweed has found a niche in a cluster of the still-standing trunks.

The marsh is full of long-ago-fallen trunks, which serve as nursery beds for mosses and fungi. On one such trunk I found two different orange fungi: this bright-orange slippery-looking Orange Jelly (Dacrymyces palmatus) . . .

. . . and this much smaller coral fungus called Orange-yellow Ramariopsis (Ramariopsis crocea).

I puzzled and puzzled over this star-shaped seed-head I found growing along a bank. Then I found a blossom still clinging to one plant, which clinched the ID: Fringed Loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliata). So many wildflowers, like this one, have seed-heads that are just beautiful in their own right! I'm trying to learn to recognize these plants in every season.

On my way home, I stopped for a quick quarter-circuit of Mud Pond in Moreau State Park. I was startled to find this Frostweed (Helianthemum canadense) blooming again. Then I remembered my friend Sue told me that Thoreau comments on this plant as blooming three times: early and late in the summer, and then again after frost, when the frozen sap is extruded through the stems, creating ice curls that look like petals. That's how it got its common name.

Now here's a very common weed that's easily overlooked. A tall weedy plant with leaves like dandelions', Tall Blue Lettuce (Lactuca biennis) has tiny dandelion-like flowers that are indeed pale blue. And not particularly pretty. Unless you look at them up close. Those curving pistils, sugared with pollen, look just like the curving pistils of Chicory, a close relative.

Speaking of pollen, here's a busy pollinator at work among the minute blossoms of Lance-leaved Goldenrod (Solidago graminifolia). Although this insect is colored like a bee, it seems more like a wasp to me. And look at those eyes! It looks like it has four of them. I've appealed to for an answer and will add that information when I get it. (Probably momentarily. If you ever want to ID a bug, that's the place to go.)

What did I tell you!? No sooner had I finished publishing this post than the word came through via e-mail from A knowledgeable fellow named John R. Carr suggested this might be the sawfly Tenthredo basilaris. And to judge from all the Google Images I scanned, I do believe he is right. A sawfly is a wasp, but one without a waist. Nor a stinger, either. I learn something new every day. Thanks, Mr. Carr.