Sunday, May 30, 2010

Disappointments and Surprises at Pyramid Lake

Blue sky, still water: the morning beckons at Pyramid Lake in the Adirondacks.

In my last post I promised lots of flower photos from my weekend at Pyramid Lake. Every Memorial Day Weekend up there for at least 15 years I have found such interesting flowers as Purple Virgin's Bower, Rose Twisted Stalk, and Creeping Snowberry, but not this year. This year, because of our super mild spring, they had bloomed weeks before, so all I could find were their leaves and maybe some seeds. Here's a nice growth of Creeping Snowberry, shiny and pretty even without its tiny flowers, which are hard to see even when present.

At least Bunchberry still had its lovely white flowers, and it covered the rocks in profusion.

Was I disappointed when I couldn't find my old favorites? Well, sure, a little. But I still had a wonderful time, paddling a pristine wilderness lake and walking about in the Adirondack woods. And guess what? NO BLACK FLIES!!! Like the wildflowers whose blooms I could not find, they seemed to have come and gone.

There were lots of other bugs, however, including hordes of dragonflies zooming about the beach, gobbling up the mosquitoes before they could even land on us bathers. Here's a photo of one, a species I've never seen before and don't have a name for, either. Update: Tom Arbour left a comment suggesting this may be a Chalk-fronted Corporal, quite rare in his own state of Ohio, but abundant elsewhere. There certainly were a lot of them at Pyramid Lake.

I don't have a name for this cute little caterpillar, either, which was crawling across my pant-covered leg. Until I enlarged this photo on my computer, I had no idea it sprouted those bunches of white hairs. This creature was only about half an inch long.

Here are a couple of other unknowns, which I'm just too tired tonight to study my guide books to name. My weekend at camp wasn't just for fun: I vacuumed and dusted and scrubbed about 20 guest rooms and 10 bathrooms, for a start, so yes, I'm tired tonight. So maybe my readers will give us an ID on these pretty critters. First, a brown and orange butterfly:

Update: a commenter named Jules has ID'd this as an Arctic Skipper, which mostly strays into only our northernmost states.

And second, a furry brown moth. It actually stayed on the end of my finger while I took its photograph. I believe it is some kind of Sphinx Moth. Update: by searching the web, I found the Walnut Sphinx Moth looks very much like this one.

As I mentioned above, I did get out in my boat for a bit, heading out at dawn to paddle down into the marshy end of the lake where fallen logs form nursery beds for lots of interesting plants. Round-leaved Sundew is one of them. In this photo, the morning dew has added clear sparkly drops to the sundew's own red sticky ones.

Marsh Cinquefoil grows on the fallen logs, too, and its leaves were also sparkling with dew, one crystalline drop clinging to each serration of the leaves. Could a jeweler working with diamonds and jade create anything more beautiful?

Big, bright Yellow Pond Lily is always a busy spot for bugs.

Here's a log that sank a long time ago. I just loved the color and texture of the wood. There's often as much wonderful stuff to see underwater as there is on the surface or along the shore.

For example, look at these clusters of some critter's eggs, dangling and swaying beneath the water like tangles of light blue yarn. Whose do you think they are?

I paddled at sunset as well as at dawn, and last night I had a companion join me as my canoe rested against the dock that served as this spider's home.

Today I finished my work in time to head over to neighboring Eagle Lake, which empties into a stream that flows through a fen where some bog plants grow. And again, I missed the flowering period of most of the plants I seek here. I could find no sign of Bog Laurel, but I did find Bog Rosemary, whose new-formed berries are just as pretty and pink as its flowers were.

The Pitcher Plants were in their glory, their blooms plump as apples, with insides of gold and red. (Hmmm . . . Could a Pitcher Plant have served as a model for the Rolling Stones's "Forty Licks" album cover?)

Their water-filled pitchers, in various shades of green and yellow and red, are traps for enticing unwitting insects. But one dragonfly used this pitcher to launch its new air-borne life, leaving its nymph skin behind.

The stream's water level had fallen so low I had great difficulty approaching the boggy shore, so I headed out onto the lake. Eagle Lake has shores that are edged with steep rocky cliffs and monumental boulders topped with mosses, ferns, and in this case, a patch of Canada Mayflowers. And would you believe, still blooming?

If I hadn't decided to paddle the lake instead of the fen, I never would have seen these darling little Twinflowers, growing profusely -- and much earlier than ever before -- along the shore.

Bright clumps of Orange Hawkweed decorated the grass where I hauled my canoe ashore.

I still had time to stop off at Glen Lake on my way home this afternoon. My friend Sue had told me that One-flowered Cancerroot was blooming along the Warren County Bikeway, so I wanted to see if I could find it. On my first pass, I did not see it and so headed back, quite disappointed. And there it was. Hiding among the grasses.

So I did find some flowers, after all. Including a few surprises.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Beautiful Aliens

Home again, home again, and happy to be here -- even if just for part of a day before I head up to Pyramid Lake in the Adirondacks. We northern New Yorkers who love native wildflowers really should count our lucky stars that we have so many in our woods and along our waterways. My four-day stay in Westchester County was quite a demonstration of what our flora will look like when the aliens take over. Here's the scene at a nature preserve called Marsh Sancturary in Mt. Kisco, NY. Admittedly, it sure looks lovely.

And smells lovely, too, with masses of Multiflora Rose blooming everywhere. Only other tough alien plants, like the Japanese Barberry pictured here in the foreground, are able to resist its smothering advances.

Here's another tough alien that seems to compete with the Multiflora Rose for covering vast tracts of ground. Covered with claret-red prickles, Japanese Wineberry is a raspberry species native to Asia, but once it arrived on our shores it decided to stay. And multiply. At least its fruit is tasty, and it feeds the birds.

Another beautiful alien, Yellow Iris, crowds many stream banks, shouldering our native Blue Flags aside. I must admit that they are spectacular. These were blooming in masses alongside a parking lot in downtown Mt. Kisco.

At first glance, I thought this unfamiliar plant was some kind of nightshade, but checking my Newcomb's, I found it's actually a milkweed -- and a nasty invasive one at that. Called Black Swallowwort, its resemblance to our native milkweeds attracts butterflies, who lay their eggs on it but whose larvae cannot eat it and therefore starve. Its tiny flowers are indeed almost black.

Another imposter, Indian Strawberry, looks so luscious with its bright red fruits. But taste one and Pah! Their color tempts, but their flavor is just insipid. I wonder if the birds eat them, at least.

At last, a beautiful native: dear Blue-eyed Grass. These little inch-wide flowers, related to iris, were starring the grass near the pond.

A closer inspection revealed that this is Stout Blue-eyed Grass, distinguished by its winged stem and the leaflike bract from which the long flowering stems branch.

Close by were some of the biggest and brightest wood sorrels I had ever seen. They looked just enough different from the common garden weed Yellow Wood Sorrel that I checked my Newcomb's to see if I could find a look-alike. And sure enough, I did. These are Great Wood Sorrel, and wonder of wonders, a native species and a new one for my life list.

Rivaling that wood sorrel for find of the day, this mama Painted (?) Turtle was laying her eggs in a pit she had dug right in the middle of the sunny path.

Don't get up, Mrs. Turtle. I just peeked in to say hello. It looks like you're busy today.

Back at my daughter's house, that 95-degree day we had on Wednesday caused the tight buds of the Venus's Looking Glass to open yesterday, just in time for me to admire them before I packed up to head home. You can see why she would admire her own beauty, can't you?

Now I've got to repack for a weekend in the Adirondack Mountains. Stay tuned for lots of photos of the flowers that grow up there.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Millipedes Along the Mianus

While staying in Mt. Kisco this week, I had a chance to visit the Mianus River Gorge Preserve near the neighboring town of Bedford, NY. This preserve, founded over 50 years ago as The Nature Conservancy's first land project, contains over 760 acres of forest and wetlands along the Mianus River and includes a rare old-growth hemlock forest, with some trees over 400 years old. The privately owned preserve offers over 3.5 miles of trails, which are open to the public. Here's a section of the trail that passes close to the river. I was mighty glad for that deep shade and cooling water today, as the temperature climbed to the low 90s.

And here's one of those big old hemlocks. Because it stands at the top of the gorge where it has had access to abundant sunlight, this tree grew very tall, compared to some of the ancient trees in the deep forest whose small size belies their great age.

You can see how the roots of that tree have wrapped themselves around the rock and held on tight for hundreds of years. You can also see how steeply the gorge falls off, creating a landscape impossible to lumber and thus preserving these trees from the axe.

I visited this preserve a year ago, when I found a roiling mass of beautiful millipedes. My naturalist friend Ellen Rathbone later helped me locate a millipede expert who thinks that this might be a species for which no authentic specimen from New York state exists (Pleuroloma flavipes Rafinesque, 1820), and would I please send him a male specimen? Well, I hadn't collected one last year, so this year I determined to bring one home with me. But how do you tell the males from the females? And where the heck were they this year? Not where I found them last year, alas. After searching for some time, I despaired of finding them again and probably wouldn't have if I hadn't been a naughty hiker and stepped off the trail to examine some animal footprints in the soft mud by the river. And there they were, another roiling mass. They seem to really like mud.

Here's a closer picture of one, scooting away as fast as his multitude of legs would carry him. (Is it a him? How should I know?)

I grabbed him to try to keep him from disappearing, and he coiled up and pooped out a wet mess of muddy goo. Eeew!

Anyway, I popped this one and a couple more from different locations into a ziploc bag to send off to this millipede expert. I personally think these millipedes look more like the species Borania stricta (yes, I browsed the web for millipede images), but perhaps I will soon find out.

There were very few flowers growing in the shady woods, but I did find this pretty little clump of bright orange mushrooms.

Actually, there are very few native flowers growing anywhere in Westchester County, thanks to the overbrowsing by too many deer. Skunk Cabbage and Poison Ivy were about the only natives I could find among the alien invaders Oriental Bittersweet, Japanese Barberry, Garlic Mustard, and Multiflora Rose. The folks at this preserve are trying to do something about that, as this sign attests.

Here you can see the difference between what grows inside the fence, and what doesn't grow outside of it.

It was back at my daughter's home in Mt. Kisco that I found these two native wildflowers. But not in her well-tended gardens. No, they were growing in the sandy, stony soil next to the walk where not much else will grow and where her gardeners are sure to pull them out as untidy weeds. The first is Venus's Looking Glass. When it blooms it will have very pretty blue flowers, but the star-shaped buds in the axils of the scalloped leaves have their own kind of charm, don't you think?

And this, I believe, is Carolina Cranesbill, a tiny-flowered geranium that yes, I confess, looks pretty weedy. But hey, it's a native American wildflower, and a new one for my life list. So hurray!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Nature Walk at Bog Meadow

It was my birthday yesterday, and what better way to spend it than leading a nature walk along Bog Meadow Trail? We had a nice bunch of folks, including several children, my good buddy Sue, and naturalist Ed Miller, who is renowned among wildflower enthusiasts of Saratoga County and beyond. I was really glad to have Ed along, since he has much to teach me and spied a number of plants I might have missed. Here he sits on a shady bench as we rested up for our return to our cars. (I'm afraid that Ed and Sue and I may have got so wrapped up in our botanizing that everyone else had gone home long before.)

One of the great things about having kids along is that they tend to see the critters that we flower nerds often miss. Look at the beautiful snail this young man named Samuel found.

Since I was leading the walk, I couldn't take the time to take many photos, but I did case the trail the day before to locate some of the plants of interest along the trail. Here's a partial list of those I found.

Buckbean, which grows in standing water along the trail. I would have missed this if Sue hadn't called my attention to it.

Clintonia, with yellow-green lilylike flowers that are easy to miss among the general greenery. Another name for this plant is Bluebead Lily, because of the beautiful big blue berries it bears later on.

Common Fleabane, a sweet little daisy-like flower with eyelash-narrow petals. A related plant, Daisy Fleabane, blooms a little later in the summer.

Wild Geranium, also called Cranesbill because of the long beaked seeds that form from the pretty purple blooms.

Mayapple, whose large white flowers will later produce the velvety pale-yellow fruits that are the only non-poisonous part of this plant.

Wool Sower Gall, not a fruit, but a fuzzy pink-polka-dotted growth that is caused by the tiny wasp Callirhytis seminator injecting its eggs into the tissue of oak leaves.

Speaking of insects, I picked a few of these deer ticks off me after spending the morning crawling about in the woods. I hope everybody did a good body check when they got home.

I'm off to Mt. Kisco downstate tomorrow to stay with my grandkids the rest of the week, so I may not be able to post any blogs for a while. But don't give up on me, I'll be back. Maybe I can visit some of the nature preserves of Westchester County. For sure I'll have nature adventures next weekend up in the Adirondacks at Pyramid Lake.