Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Birdsong and Blooms and a Big-bellied Snake

Oh, what a beautiful morning! Too beautiful to waste it lying in bed, so I was up and out early today to meet my friends Sue and Paul for a hike to Lake Ann way up in the mountains of Moreau Lake State Park -- with a stop at the rocky cliffs overlooking the Hudson along the way.

I don't know if it had rained during the night or we'd had a heavy dew, but the trail was wet, with tiny Red Efts scurrying across the damp sand. Aren't they just the most adorable creatures? Cute enough to want to pick up and kiss. But please don't. The skin of our hands is acid and will hurt the sensitive skin of these dear little efts, the juvenile form of the olive-green-yellow-bellied Spotted Newts we see underwater when they reach adulthood.

All kinds of violets decorated our path as we climbed, the Common Blue, of course, and some Wooly Blue, too, but we were especially enchanted with the tiny Sweet White Violets that grew in damp spots. These violets are fragrant, but the scent is elusive. I couldn't detect any fragrance at first, but then a burst of it hit my nose for a second and just as quickly disappeared. Paul said he could smell it with one nostril but not the other.

The deep purple blooms of Ovate-leaved Violets stood out among the masses of Bluets that floated like mist above the ground. This is a remarkably furry violet, with leaves and stems covered with fuzz. And yes, its leaves are kind of oval-shaped.

We puzzled and pondered over this next one, because it was growing in dry ground along the path, as well as in the marshy spots where one usually finds Marsh Blue Violet. It carries its blooms on tall slender stems well above its leaves, and its pale purple petals seem to have drained their color to its deeper purple center.

My Newcomb's guide tells me that a distinctive feature of the Marsh Blue Violet is "the hairs on the inside of the side petals, which are short and thick (actually swollen at the tip, which can be seen with a magnifying glass)." I think that if you click on this photo, you can see those swollen hairs.

As we scrambled over the rocky boulders that dominate the landscape high up on the trail, we discovered one lonely little plant of Pale Corydalis, its yellow-tipped pink blossoms glowing in the sunlight like tiny Japanese lanterns.

Beautiful carpets of Haircap Moss and Reindeer Lichen spread across those boulders, as well. I just love the contrasting colors and textures.

Lots of different lichens grow on those rocks, and I was especially taken by this marvelous mix of foliose lichens. Could that warty looking stuff be the lichen called Toad Skin? Are those blistery bumps and green-edged dark-brown disks the same species? I think I see a few patches of Rock Tripe.

Here's a closer view of that lichenous mix. Looks like whole-wheat English muffins and squashed raisins growing rings of green mold. I'm guessing this photo covers an area less than an inch across. I really need to carry a ruler to provide scale for my photographs.

We continued on through a beautiful sunlit woods resounding with birdsong on all sides. Thanks to Paul's and Sue's excellent eyesight, ears, and birding knowledge, we were able to identify most of what we heard: Black-throated Blue Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Black and White Warbler, Red-eyed Vireo, Winter Wren, Golden-crowned Kinglet, and Hermit Thrush, as well as our regular friends, the nuthatches and chickadees. Sue's camera has a good zoom lens, so we're hoping her photos of some of these birds came out. If they did, we can be sure she will post them on her blog Water Lily.

Sue also has a macro lens on her camera, and here she is crouched in the Sphagnum Moss, getting her feet soaked as she tries to focus it on some cranberry fruits that survived the winter intact. Those cranberries are among a number of bog plants that grow along the shore of Lake Ann, a small lake with a boggy shoreline that lies near the top of the Palmertown Mountains.

In the shady woods around the lake we found lots of Painted Trillium.

Lake Ann is edged with masses of Highbush Cranberry bushes all blooming now, and we found Low Blueberries blooming in many areas along the trail. On sunny exposed rock ledges we found this Black Huckleberry hung with its dark pink flowers. A distinctive feature of this huckleberry is the stickiness of its leaves, which are covered with shiny resinous dots.

Some days I just can't believe my good fortune to have such friends who enjoy a walk in the woods at the same pace as I do. The hike to Lake Ann can't be more than two miles (if that), but we took seven hours to go there and back. There's just so much to see and hear and smell and even taste: Indian Cucumber Root and hemlock buds supplemented the lunches we carried. Many times we halted our progress just to stand and listen, trying to find the source of the birdsong, then trying to follow the elusive flight of the singer through the treetops.

I can't really tell you how long we stood to watch this brightly colored, big-bellied garter snake, its slender sinuous body swollen around its swallowed-whole prey. As the saying goes, time flies when you're having fun.


Paul said...

Thanks Sue and Jackie for sharing a wonderful day.

Bird said...

Hello Jackie, I think I just started reading here when your comment came through on my blog - it's fun to think we are reading each other's blogs together :)

That eft really is a beauty and you captured it perfectly. Our UK newts are quite plain in comparison, that colour is amazing and something we definitely don't see.

I have never ever been able to smell a sweet violet properly. I have a crummy sense of smell and I think they are too elusive for me. Such a disappointment, as I do love to smell flowers - I will persevere as there seem to be a lot out at the moment.

It's lovely to be back and reading here again - always such a fascinating variety of things to see, so interesting, and always fun to read.

Allan Stellar said...

I'm always amazed at your photos...incredible! How do you do it?

Diesel said...

Yep, that one looks like my snake I saw the other day. Very hard not to chase those. That's a beautiful place.

You know, a lot of my blog readers comment to me that they enjoy your blog a great deal.

Your friend in fur,

THe big D

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

To Paul and Bird and Allan and Diesel -- thanks for all your kind comments. I like to think of all my readers coming along with me on my adventures, and your interest makes it worth the work to keep posting. As for how I get such photos, I have to give praise to my Canon PowerShot G7, with its amazing macro optics. When it focusses on what I want it to, that is. For each shot I keep, I probably throw away a couple of dozen.

Gretchen M. said...

You ladies climbed my family's 'rocky cliff!' (we call it 'the ledges) - that is my ancestral home below you in that photo, a.k.a. 'Clothier Hollow.' I grew up in the A-frame right next to one of the trail entrances. Bird - I am sure you would be able to smell my Violet Botanical Perfume made with organic violet leaf absolute :)