Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Getting to Know You

We still have those little kittens who need good homes.  But it's going to be very hard to say good bye, we've come to love them so.  They now come running to greet us with mews and purrs.  It's amazing how each one's personality is so evident at such a young age.  For example, this little tiger (we've named him Bebert) has a very bold and outgoing way about him.  Doesn't he look like a little rascal?

Our three adult cats will be glad to see the babies go.  Selene and Penny, our two adult females, cannot bear to be in the same room with them, but Finn, our big Maine Coon tom, has come to at least tolerate their presence.  Bebert just cannot keep away from Finn and follows him everywhere.

Sometimes I think Finn rather enjoys Bebert's attentions.

But enough is enough.  Get lost, little pest, is what Finn seems to say with a gentle swat at Bebert.

The Sand Plain Abloom, The Creek Bed A Mess

The sun smiled down so kindly today, the sky was such an innocent blue, and the breeze was nothing but tenderly carressing. It's hard to believe, now that it's calm, that Nature's fury thrashed our region so terribly just three days ago.  Today I drove over to Woods Hollow Nature Preserve in Ballston Spa to check on any storm damage there.  Yes, I found a few trees toppled, but otherwise all that rain had done nothing but spur the Spiranthes into blooming -- and boy, were they in bloom!  There were more than I could count of these sturdy spikes of tiny white orchids, studding a meadow that's part of an oak/pine sand plain.

Nodding Ladies' Tresses is the common name for Spiranthes cernua, although it has never seemed to me that the flowers are really nodding.  They look pretty perky to me.

Another common inhabitant of such sand plains as Woods Hollow is Sand Jointweed (Polyganella articulata), whose wiry jointed stems were bursting with tiny white blooms today.

Those minute white blooms are almost invisible against the bare sand, but if you look close, you might see that some of the blooms are just touched with a tinge of pink.

There's no question about the pinkness of Pinkweed (Persicaria pensylvanica).  This species of knotweed, a cousin to Lady's Thumb, usually inhabits damp places, but here at Woods Hollow it shares the dry sand with Blue Curls.  Don't they look pretty together?

Here's another kind of plant I usually associate with damp spots but which seems to be thriving here in the sand.  It sure looks like some kind of moss to me.  Those red spikes must be diagnostic for this species, wouldn't you think?  I've searched my (very limited) moss guides and can find nothing like it that prefers a sterile dry habitat. Anybody know?

UPDATE, 11/10/2022: I chanced to return to this blog post 11 years after posting it, and by now I do recognize this species of Haircap Moss.  I can see the fine white "hairs" that project from each leaf, which indicates this is the Bristly Haircap Moss (Polytrichum piliferum), a species that actually prefers the sandy, dry, acidic habitat that this was growing in.

The season of colorful grasses is now upon us, and none is lovelier than Little Bluestem, which fills this sandy field at Woods Hollow.  It's a bit of mystery how it got that name, since its stems look more rosy than blue to me.

This grass will be at its loveliest in a few weeks, when it will be fully in bloom with these fluffy white tufts up and down its rosy stems.

The recent heavy rains have brought us a wealth of fungi of every color and shape.  This very large brown bolete looked like a big Kaiser roll left on the sand by a forgetful picnicker.

Maybe this cricket landed here to take a bite.

This Jagged Ambush Bug was having a bite, that's certain.  But wait a minute, is that one bug or two?

A closer look from another angle reveals a smaller darker bug on top of the larger yellow one.  Are they mating?  Or is the weaker male hitching a ride on the stronger female, who is more adept at snagging prey?  That's what one of the experts at suggests.

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My next stop today was to see how the storm had affected the Kayaderosseras Creek near Ballston Spa, so I headed over to the canoe launch site at Gray's Crossing, off of Northline Road.  It was obvious at a glance that the creek had flooded well over its banks, toppling trees, flattening all the creekside vegetation, and filling the path with heaps of sand.

I managed to make out the Burl Trail that follows the creek, but it took some doing to pick my way through the blowdown wreckage.

When I last walked here just over a week ago, the Great Ragweed and Pokeweed and Jewelweed towered over my head, but the force of the rushing water knocked them all down.

Large swaths of the creekside were covered with a thick layer of mud, smothering all that was growing there before.  It will be interesting to see what plants will take advantage of this altered terrain.  Will the ones that were there recover?  Or will other species take advantage of the opportunity to move in?  I'll have to keep coming back to watch the progression.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

After Irene

We lost a few trees.  Parts of the county lost power when trees fell across lines.    That was about all the damage Hurricane Irene brought to us hereabouts.  Wow, what a bunch of hurricane hype, I was thinking.  But that was before I heard about what happened up north in the Adirondacks.   And down in the Catskills and along the Mohawk.  And over in the valley towns of Vermont.  Roads and bridges washed out, houses collapsed and swept away,  folks caught in their cars as the waters rose, a woman drowned where she'd taken refuge inside her creekside cottage.  I could hardly believe what I was hearing.  Aren't hurricanes supposed to lose power as they move this far inland?  Ah, but it wasn't the wind that did the damage, it was the rain.  And it was the mountains themselves.  The colder air at high elevations kept condensing all the moisture the far-flung arms of this enormous storm were gathering from the ocean far away.  The unrelenting rain poured down from the mountainsides and filled the valleys, more than all the creeks and streams and lakes and ponds and rivers could hold.  It will be a long, long time before these valleys recover.  If ever.  God help the folks who live there and have lost so much.

We had not heard of these disasters, Sue and I, when we met at Moreau Lake State Park on Monday morning, rejoicing in a cool clear day, with sparkling sunlight dancing on a world washed clean by rain and swept by the rushing winds of the day before.  We have both volunteered as trail stewards at the park, and we thought we should walk our trails to see if any downed trees needed to be cleared.  Well, apparently a downed tree somewhere had cut the power to the park headquarters, for the park was closed that day.

No problem for us.  We just drove around to Spier Falls Road and accessed the trails we were there to police from Mud Pond.  Walking the trails around the pond, we were surprised to find no trees down at all, just limbs and branches we could easily lift from the trails by hand.  Or kick away with our feet.  The pond lay sweetly calm under that innocent blue sky, stirred only by Whirligig bugs and herons' wingbeats and a pair of snorkeling beavers.  All was so serene, it was hard to imagine the driving wind and rain that had whipped it just the day before.

We next cut through the woods to Moreau Lake and walked around the back bay.  Here too, we found little wind damage, but only basking turtles and scurrying flocks of ducks that seemed annoyed by our arrival.  The park had been closed to all campers and boaters in advance of the hurricane, so all was very quiet.  No beer cans or candy wrappers or bait boxes, either.    This day turned out to be an easy one for trail stewarding.

On my way home from Moreau yesterday, I took Spier Falls Road along the Hudson.  The river was big and brown and full of flotsam and foam, but not over its banks at all, nor even near to being so.  Wondering how it looked upstream, I drove up to Lake Luzerne today to observe the Hudson where it falls through a gorge at Rockwell Falls.  Well, as this photo taken from the Hadley-Luzerne bridge shows, the river was rowdy and roiling, but still within its banks, even here where the Sacandaga pours its waters into the Hudson.

The stream that carries the overflow from Lake Luzerne to the Hudson was also rowdy and roiling, tumbling wildly over boulders on its steep descent from lake to river.  But again, well within its banks, except for a little sloshing around the base of this tree.  We were very, very lucky to have survived this hurricane with so little damage.

To read reports and see photos of the devastation caused by Irene not too many miles north of Lake Luzerne,  visit the Adirondack Almanack by clicking here.

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Trailside Distractions

As I'm sure most of my regular readers know, neither Sue nor I can walk a trail without stopping again and again to marvel at what we see.  And take lots of photos.  In no particular order, here's a catalog of some of the fascinating things we found yesterday and today, including an incredible variety of colorful fungi stirred to fruiting by inches and inches of drenching rain.

Pinesap, in its beautiful red coloration

The bright pink pedicels of Elderberries

Nodding Ladies' Tresses (Spiranthes cernua), one of our latest orchids to bloom

A big, bright-yellow mushroom, possibly an Amanita, but I'm not sure

This, too, is likely an Amanita of some species, emerging from its cup.

I know that this is an Amanita, called American Caesar.  Most Amanitas are poisonous, but this one is supposed to be quite edible.  I would rather look at it than eat it.

I don't know the official name of this fungus, so I'll call it Fortune Cookie.  Or Brown Baby's Bottom.

This is an orange coral fungus, species unknown (to me).

Frost's Boletus, the richest, reddest mushroom I've ever seen.  Unmistakeable.  

The velvety red underside of the Frost's Boletus cap.  If you break the cap open, the inside flesh is butter yellow that quickly turns blue when exposed to air.

The fuzziest mushroom I've ever seen.  Shall I call it Teddy Bear Shelf Fungus?  
Or can somebody tell me its official name?

The bright orange color of this Lobster Mushroom is caused 
by a parasite embedded in the flesh of a Lactarius mushroom.

I suspect that the yellow color coating this mushroom is also some kind of parasite.

This Parasol Mushroom is the tallest-stalked member of the Lepiotas, and edible, too.

What a cute little pixie cap this is.  Pretty color, too. Wish I knew its name.

I believe this is a Gemmed Puffball, so-called for the pretty pattern of bumps that adorn it.

This is obviously a Boletus species with a distinctive-looking stalk, but nothing in my mushroom books is a match.  Update:  Ruth Schottman has suggested that this is Russell's Bolete (Boletellus russellii), and after checking my mushroom guides again, I tend to agree.  Thanks, Ruth.

Sue pointed out to me this iridescent bright-green fly, and we both tried to get photos that displayed its brilliant iridescence.  We were surprised that the fly didn't fly away when we poked our camera lenses at it.  Then we saw the Crab Spider beneath, perfectly camouflaged by the White Snakeroot blooms, clasping the fly in a death grip.  Aha, that's why it didn't move! But I still couldn't capture that brilliant green.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Calm River, Grand Companions

Between last Tuesday's earthquake and this coming Sunday's projected hurricane, today was a day of extraordinary calm.  Clear blue sky with only a few puffy white clouds, no wind, pleasantly warm:  a perfect day for a paddle, especially with such friendly and knowledgeable companions as Sherrie and Nancy and Sue.

Our destination was the Hudson River at South Glens Falls, a stretch that Sue and I have paddled many times, sharing our photos of rare and unusual plants we have found there on our respective blogs.   When biologist and author Nancy Slack learned about our finds, she asked if we would take her there, and of course we were delighted to do so.  And we were even more delighted that Nancy brought her friend Sherrie along, another accomplished biologist and author.

We were especially excited to show our two biologist friends the Small Floating Bladderwort (Utricularia radiata), which grows so abundantly along this stretch of the river, it's hard to believe it could be listed by New York State as a threatened species.  There were many of the bright yellow flowers floating in the quiet backwaters near where we put in, the flowering stalks held above the surface by little radiating pontoons.

Nancy is known to be an expert at identifying liverworts and mosses, so we couldn't wait to show her the steep limestone shale cliffs upstream, which are covered with many of these plants.  Here,  she examines the cliff face, where she found an unusual liverwort, Preissia quadrata, which is known to prefer exactly this kind of habitat.  That patch of orange stuff is Trentepohlia aurea, a green alga that appears orange because it contains a chemical that masks its chlorophyll.  It, too, is a limestone lover.

These cliffs are constantly watered by seepy springs, which provide nourishment and moisture to the patches of mosses and liverworts that cling to the cliffs.

Another unusual plant that has found a happy home on these cliffs is Grass of Parnassus, with bright white flowers that stand out against the black shale and the big green Coltsfoot leaves.

And here's a little spider that has found a happy home in one of the Grass of Parnassus blooms.  I wonder if it feeds on those little yellow nectaries that surround the flower's center.  It's perhaps more likely that it feeds on the insects that come to feed on the nectaries.

Another lime-loving plant, Spikenard grows abundantly on these cliffs, its berries still green today and not yet the deep purple they will soon become.

Mountain Maple is another plant that thrives in this habitat.  Sue called my attention to the deep dimples in the seeds.  Is this a sign of something gone wrong, or is this typical of all Mountain Maple seeds?  I have no idea.

After exploring the cliffs, we paddled into a quiet backwater where many emergent flowers were beautifully in bloom.  Here, Nancy looks through her Newcomb's Wildflower Guide to determine which species of Arrowhead she has found along shore.  It was Common Arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia), with leaves that can vary enormously from broadly to very narrowly arrow-shaped.  The ones we found had broad leaves.

Pickerelweed also has broad arrow-shaped leaves.  Here, purple Pickerelweed and white Arrowhead commingle, making it a little difficult to tell whose leaves are whose, at first glance.

Water Marigold (Bidens beckii) has two different kinds of leaves on the same plant.  The ones you can see above water are lance-shaped and toothed, while the underwater ones are finely divided and hair thin, growing in whorls around the stalk.

We were treated to the occasional sight of an elusive Green Heron, who would not remain within camera range, but this Great Blue Heron stood his ground until we were nearly abreast.