Friday, October 30, 2009

Late-fall Finds Around Mud Pond

The clouds today were low and dark, and the wind was whipping the last of the autumn leaves off the trees on my city block. Not such a nice day to be outdoors, you might think. And you would be wrong. It wasn't raining, it wasn't cold, so a nice brisk walk around Mud Pond at Moreau Lake State Park was really very pleasant. The beeches and oaks were still ablaze along the sandy trail, and down by the water where beavers had worn their trails between the woods and the pond, the wind was moving in waves through the silvery grass.

In the sandy open areas where Bear Oaks grow, the ruby-red leaves of Dewberry covered the ground. Here and there, late-blooming asters presented puffs of lavender flowers.

I have no idea what to call these pewter-grey little mushrooms. Other than "lovely," that is.

The fuzzy green tufts of Running Cedar (Lycopodium clavatum) stood out against the tobacco-brown oak leaves littering the ground.

I love this stump. With its decorations of moss and mushrooms and scattered oak leaves. it reminds me of a birthday cake. Like one that was made for woodland elves and fairies. Or chipmunks and little red squirrels.

Hazelnut shrubs abound in the sandy areas under the power lines, and a few dried nut clusters still cling to the twigs. I gathered a pocketful, brought them home, and tossed them out to where I feed the birds and squirrels. I wondered if my city squirrels would know what to do with them.

And of course, they did.

More of Moreau

I had a surplus of photos from my walk around Moreau Lake yesterday and was just about to file them away in computer storage where they would be lost to the ages. So I thought, why not just throw them up on my blog? I hardly know what to do with all my photos, since everywhere I look this time of year I find something lovely or just kind of curious. But then again, when do we not?

Just as most flowering plants have gone to seed, a few respond to the same length of day as when they bloomed in the spring by setting a few late blooms. Here, Fleabane and Peppergrass add a little note of surprise to an autumn walk.

Here's a kind of creepy antidote to all that autumn prettiness above. I almost grabbed this tree trunk to help pull myself up a bank, when I noticed the tell-tale wormy tentacles of a Poison Ivy vine. Ooooooo! Or is this instead the vine of Virginia Creeper? Poison Ivy has finer, hairier roots. Either way, I thought it an appropriately squirmy image for Halloween, don't you think?

More About Birds

Here are two more views of that bird I saw on the beach at Moreau today. I hope this will help somebody tell me what bird this is.

Also, here's another photo of that Osprey my friends and I found dead along the shore of Moreau Lake last Friday. It's enough to make you weep, is it not? Why would anyone want to kill an Osprey? Unfortunately, some people just get a kick out of shooting and killing anything that flies.

When I visited Moreau State Park today, I talked with park naturalist Gary Hill, who told me there would probably be an investigation into how this legally protected raptor was killed. Gary had reported the bird's death to Peter Nye, head of the endangered species unit of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. The bird is being stored in a freezer awaiting examination by state wildlife pathologists.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Walk Around the Lake

After too many days that were windy and cold, and others when it rained and rained, today seemed like a pure gift: balmy, no wind, a light that was soft and shadowless. Perfect for a walk all the way around Moreau Lake. Except for spots where fallen trees impeded my path, or mud sucked at my shoes, I kept very close to the water's edge, enjoying the feel of soft sand beneath my feet and the splendid vistas of forested mountains reflected in the still water of the lake.

Yes, the autumn leaves are "past peak," but gorgeous color still abounds. All the oaks are now coming into their glory, and though most are some variation on the color brown, some are as vivid as a radiant sunset

and others as deeply scarlet as any Red Maple.

Maple-leaved Viburnum still glows with its unique shade of coral, its berries now such a deep shade of blue they look black.

The poplars may have shed their leaves, but their beauty remains, scattered about on the ground among evergreen leaves of Periwinkle.

I saw Mallard ducks and Canada Geese on the lake today, and even if I hadn't actually seen any waterfowl, I could have surmised their presence here by the feathers floating among the lily pads.

Other evidence of the lake's resident creatures included this downed willow log, arrayed like a beavers' buffet. Can't you just see them gnawing away, positioned shoulder to shoulder? It's kind of a mystery to me why they do this. I thought they ate only bark and young twigs. In fact, all the wood chips remain in piles beneath the log. Are the beavers just chewing for fun?

I saw this small finch-like bird flitting about the beach, and I couldn't identify it. After searching through my bird books at home, I still don't know what it is. I wonder if it's in the process of changing its plumage and so doesn't match any pictures in the book. I'll bet my friend Lindsey will know.

Speaking of small flitting things, how about this furry little baby-blue fly? Park staffer Dave Alfred snatched it out of the air so I could take a photo. Not a very good one, I'm afraid, since this fly is very tiny -- less than a quarter inch -- and didn't exactly hold still for its portrait. I posted the photo on and await an identification. One responder thought it might be a Wooly Aphid, but then had second thoughts. Whatever it is, it's pretty cute.

Another thing Dave showed me was this Ravenel's Stinkhorn mushroom that had sprouted near the park headquarters. And stink it certainly did! Phew! It has a Latin name (Phallus ravenelii) that's pretty descriptive of its shape and size. (Be sure to check the comments to this post, where SueP tells us what Thoreau had to say about this fungus, and I quote an entomologist enamored of Wooly Alder Aphids.)

A much tinier fungus is Multiclavula mucida, less than a centimeter tall and very slender. Its common name is Green-algae Coral, and a very descriptive name it is, since I found it growing on a dead log that was covered with moss and green algae. My mushroom guides tell me this fungus is always associated with green algae.

Speaking of green, there were lots of pretty green things growing around the lake today. Because it is still green, I'm guessing this is a Wood Fern, which, along with Christmas Fern, is a fern that stays green all winter.

And because of the placement of its fruit dots (called Sori) along the margins of the fern's pinnae, I'm guessing this is a Marginal Wood Fern. But I'm no expert at IDing ferns. If somebody knows for sure, please let us know.

Pitch Pine is, of course, an evergreen. But today, some of its needles were turning yellow and falling off. Nothing's wrong, that's just what it does as it replaces old needles with new. Its cones are closed up tight and they'll stay that way unless a fire comes along and scorches them. Only then do they spill their seeds on the burned-over ground. I wonder if Red Squirrels can pry them out of the tight-closed cones.

Here's another evergreen tree and its cones: White Cedar. Also called Arbor Vitae. I always pinch its branches as I pass by, releasing its wonderful fragrance.

Pearly Everlasting has flowers that remind me of some kind of evergreen cones. Even when they are newly opened, they feel like they're made of dry husks. And now that their leaves are all dried and shriveled, the blossoms still look the way they did many weeks ago. I guess that's why they're called "everlasting."

That rich red color behind the Everlasting blooms comes from masses of Low Blueberry lining the shore. When I set out for Moreau, I almost didn't bring my camera with me, thinking there might not be anything very colorful to photograph today. Silly me.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Strolling the Old Tow Path

Ellen wanted some Northern Spies and I wanted Ida Reds. So we went together today to Saratoga Orchards in Schuylerville, and what a day it was to be outside! The sky was a clear radiant blue, and a bright sun warmed the cool air of late October. Our apple purchases stowed in the car, neither one of us wanted to go back home, so we continued our outdoor adventures along the Old Champlain Canal Towpath that parallels the Hudson River at Schuylerville.

The Champlain Canal was built in the 1830s to connect the Erie Canal at Waterford with Lake Champlain 60 miles to the north. Although the southern portion of this canal is now re-routed to the Hudson River, the original hand-dug portion, where mules once pulled barges along a towpath, still follows the course of the river and makes for a beautiful walk in any season.

At one point along the old canal, we found the crumbling ruins of one of the original locks.

Out on the Hudson, the modern locks still assist commercial barges and pleasure craft to navigate around the many falls and rapids of this part of the river.

We passed through a lovely little park, with shelters for picnic tables and a remarkably pretty playground for children, with a stepping-stoned path consisting of colorful mosaics.

An old iron bridge, now closed to all traffic, crosses the river near Lock C-5. We walked out on the bridge to gaze upstream to where flocks of geese gathered around the rapids.

This brave little aster had found its niche among the open decking of that bridge.

Sharp-eyed Ellen saw this tiny crab spider clinging to a strand of silk just before I plowed through it, unseeing. She managed to find the spider scrabbling about on the ground and raised it -- now clasping a blade of grass -- to eye-level where we could study it.

This is the smallest crab spider I've ever seen, its body maybe a quarter inch across, not counting the legs. Is it a baby, or are the males this tiny? These spiders don't capture prey in a web, but lurk among the petals of flowers and pounce on passing flies and wasps and bees, chomping down with sharp fangs and sucking out their fluids. (If you want to see a crab spider in action, look at my blog post for June 13). This little guy will have to grow some before he (she?) can capture wasp-size prey.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A Good Day for Loons (and Staying Dry)

Well, yesterday was a good day for loons: dark and cold and rain, rain, rain. But not such a good day for photographing them, nor for any other adventures outdoors, for that matter. I was disappointed I could not show my visiting friends Tom and Dave more of the beautiful woods and waterways of Saratoga County, but no matter. It made for a good day to drive north fifty miles in a warm dry car to Olmstedville. Dave, an avid outdoorsman with a lively appreciation for first-rate gear, was intrigued by my light little Hornbeck canoe and wanted to see other models of Hornbecks and meet the man who makes them. Pete Hornbeck couldn't have been more hospitable, showing us every model he makes as well as how he makes them. He even invited us to join with him and his staff for some lunchtime pizza. Thanks for the generous offer, Pete, but I wanted to take my friends a bit farther north to Pyramid Lake, and we'd planned to stop off in Schroon Lake for lunch.

It was still pouring when we arrived at Pyramid Life Center, a classically Adirondack-style rustic retreat center in the middle of protected wilderness on the shores of Pyramid Lake -- which today was ours alone. This time of year all the cabins are closed for the winter, but we made our way to the sheltered porch of one, where we watched the rain move across the lake and the mist drift along the contours of the mountains.
While standing there in the rain-pattered silence, I heard a twig crack in the woods below. Looking down I was startled to meet the eyes of a doe and her nearly-grown fawn, looking at us as if to say, "What are you folks doing here in our woods on such a rainy day?" I wonder if deer know how safe they are at a place like Pyramid Life Center, even on the first day of rifle hunting season. At any rate, we were able to watch the pair ambling serenely around for quite some time. Then I tried to take a photo of them, and they promptly took off, white tails flagging. One other critter accommodated us, a solitary loon (the one in the grainy photo above) making a beeline across the rain-dimpled water. We watched it dive and surface, dive and surface, then disappear completely, while we stood there getting drenched. Time to head home.

Instead of heading back to the Interstate, we drove east to Ticonderoga and then south through the mountain-rimmed Lord Howe Valley to continue down the shore of Lake George, with a detour through historic Silver Bay. The scenic route.

Today, the guys went their separate ways, Tom to a professional meeting in Baltimore and Dave returning home to Michigan. It was so much fun for me to show them around the woods and the waters I love, and to renew a friendship from so many years ago. One thing that amazed me was how, despite all the years and the circumstances that have passed since our youth on that Michigan lake, these men remain essentially the same lovable guys I had fun with fifty years ago. I'm glad that they still get together each year to do outdoor adventuresome "guy stuff." And I'm really glad that, this year, they asked this other old friend along. Even if she is a girl.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Old Friends, New Adventures

Nothing can make you feel more like a kid again than having fun with friends you were kids with once. I'm experiencing that great pleasure this weekend with two friends from my long-ago youth: Tom and Dave. I knew these two guys when we were all teenagers back in the 1950s, running around a lake in southern Michigan where we all grew up. Despite living hundreds of miles apart now, they've stayed in touch with each other all these years, going on many outdoor adventures together all over the country. And this year they decided to have an outdoor adventure in the Adirondacks that included me. And I couldn't wait to show them "my" Saratoga woods and waterways.

Yesterday we climbed to a Hudson River overlook in Moreau Lake State Park, wearing just jeans and T-shirts in the unseasonable warmth. So we were looking forward to a pleasant paddle on the river this morning. Except that the temperature plummeted to around 35 degrees overnight. And a brisk wind was riffling the water. Undaunted, we bundled up and set forth downstream toward the Sherman Island Dam, the two guys in a tandem canoe, I in my little Hornbeck.

And it was cold! But never mind. We were tough. Besides, the glowing autumn colors along the riverbank helped us to feel a bit warmer. As did the exertion of paddling against the wind.

When we reached Rippled Rocks Point we slipped back into the marsh and behind Three Pine Island, well out of the wind. The sun even brightened to glow a bit warmer through the general cloud cover. We landed our boats to walk about on the rocks and stretch our cold-stiffened hips and legs. Although much of the autumn color is fading by now, the blueberry bushes poking up among the rocks were as red as red could be.

One tiny blueberry bush even had new blossoms. Now, why would a bush do that, with no hope this late in the season of ever producing fruit? Mysteries abound.

Our paddle back to the boat launch was aided by the wind at our backs, so we still had energy to spare for further adventures. So off we went to the lake part of Moreau Lake State Park, this time for a walk, not a paddle. I was oh, so hoping we might spy that moose that's been visiting the park of late, and send the guys home with an experience to remember. Well, we didn't see any moose, nor any sign of it, but we did find something that stopped us dead in our tracks: an Osprey, dead, sprawled on it belly in the sand.

An experienced bird hunter who knows what shot birds look like, Dave examined the Osprey and surmised that it had been shot through the belly while flying, the bullet passing through and piercing one of its legs as well. What a travesty! We all shook our heads in sadness over the senseless killing of this magnificent, legally protected, bird. I couldn't help but marvel, though, over this chance to really look up close at a bird I've only seen soaring way up high over my head.

We were pondering whether to leave the Osprey lying where it was or carry it back to the park headquarters, when Peter, the park manager, came driving along the trail, looking for stragglers like us who were supposed to have left the parking lot by 3:30 p.m. We were glad to be able to tell him about the dead bird before we were seen carrying it and possibly suspected of causing its death (which could lead to substantial fines). Peter forgave us our parking violation and asked us to carry the Osprey to the park's nature center. Which we did. Or rather, Dave did. What a game guy! (That bird was beginning to reek.)

Tomorrow, new adventures await. You never know what you might find.