Friday, October 28, 2011

October Snow

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas, with towering conifers laden with snow and needles of ice underfoot, where frost has thrust up from the sand.

 The leaves of Shining Sumac were Santa-suit red, trimmed with glistening snow.

And yet, the foliage colors of autumn still glowed along the edge of Mud Pond in Moreau Lake State Park this morning, where Sue and I met to walk around the pond.

We were hoping to find some Frostweed exuding its frothy curls of ice, but instead found it buried under a thick coat of snow.

The warm glowing gold of Beech leaves presented quite a contrast to the icy blue of the snow.

On the western bank of the pond, all traces of snow had melted away in the warmth of the rising sun. That sun had just cleared the hills behind us and was only beginning to cast its rays on the beaver lodge, which still bore a dusting of snow.  Although we found many freshly felled trees, we did not see any beavers moving around this morning.  We did, however, enjoy the antics of a solitary otter cutting through the still water, teasing us into trying to take its photo, only to dive each time we raised our cameras.

While we stood there watching for the otter, a small flock of Canada Geese came sailing in.  We could hear their musical calls long before they circled the pond and then splashed down for a landing.

A killing frost has finally shriveled most of the flowering plants, but the leaves of Checkered Rattlesnake Plantain (Goodyera tesselata) remain fresh and green all winter.  Sue was eager to show me a patch of this native orchid that she had only recently discovered.

Sue thought these fruits might be those of a Hackberry tree.  That's a tree with which I am not at all familiar, so I couldn't say.  I would have guessed they were some kind of viburnum, maybe Nannyberry, although the leaves are more like those of Witherod.  The berries are certainly attractive, dark-blue clusters dangling from rosy-red pedicels.

At least I had no doubt about the Maple-leaved Viburnum that spread its rosy leaves all over the forest floor.

Sue got right down on that forest floor to capture a shot of viburnum leaves backlit by the rising sun.

I was intrigued by this pebbly growth  on the trunk of a beech tree.  I have no idea what it could be, whether fungus or slime mold.  We've had an amazing year for such organisms, which are stimulated to fruit during years of abundant rainfall.  I wonder if we will have abundant snowfall this winter.  The snowfall certainly started early enough, and I heard we are likely to get much more tomorrow.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Not a Fit Night Out for Man Nor Beast

Wet and cold and snowy tonight.  I think our Bebert and Cleo are lucky to have a warm dry bed indoors. (Even if this bed is getting kind of small for them, they still want to share it together).  Their feral mom and dad come by to eat and they sure look cold and damp.  But they still run and hide when we bring the food bowls out to the porch.  Too bad.  We'd be glad to welcome them indoors.

I haven't been outdoors for a hike all week.  Tomorrow the sun is supposed to shine, and the day should dawn below freezing.  I'm meeting Sue at Mud Pond in the morning to look for Frostweed curls.  I'm really looking forward to getting outside in the open air, no matter how chilly.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Up the Mountain, Along the Ridge

The weather forecast for Sunday was for sunshine and clear blue skies all day.  Well, the forecast was wrong.  It was cloudy and cool until late in the day.  It didn't matter, though, as I hiked up the Western Ridge Trail in Moreau Lake State Park, where the golden leaves overhead shed a glow that seemed as warm and bright as the missing sunshine.

I was actually grateful for the cool temperature, since the trail starting up the mountain was steep enough to have me huffing and puffing and sweating by the time I reached the first overlook.  Most of the time, the fully-leaved trees obscured the view of the Hudson valley below, but at one point the view opened up to reveal the Spier Falls Dam in the distance and the Luzerne Mountains rising to the north.

I followed the Western Ridge Trail to where it intersected with the Ridge Run Trail, then turned to follow that second trail as it led to the highest point in the park, an open area where the bedrock emerges in massive  outcroppings.

These boulders are populated by many different mosses and lichens, and I was hoping to once again find the tiny attractive lichen called Orange Rock Posy, which I had found here several times in the past.  Here's a photo of a patch of it I found two years ago come December.

 Well, I searched and I searched, but I could not find a trace of Orange Rock Posy.  What a disappointment!  One of the great pleasures of lichen-hunting is that most lichens look pretty much the same in every season and from year to year.  Perhaps I just can't see them anymore, with my failing eyesight, and they are very small, after all.  For sure, I will keep looking.

In the meantime, I did find another interesting growth, most likely a lichen, that looked like a pinkish stain studded with tiny red bumps.  Maybe some of my more knowledgeable friends will tell me what it is.

My disappointment at not finding my lichen was soon assuaged when I raised my eyes to enjoy the beauty all around me, where Low Blueberry spread a scarlet carpet across the rocks.

Standing on top of one of the largest outcroppings, I could see through the trees to tier upon tier of mountains rising across the river.

A pair of small brown birds kept flitting just out of range of my camera's zoom lens.  Since they made not a sound and sang not a note, I couldn't identify them by ear, and my photo is not clear enough to show me much detail.  My guess is some kind of thrush.  But shouldn't they have migrated long ago?  Perhaps this prolonged warm weather is keeping them here.

I found this miniature clump of Polypody adorable, especially with that tiny hemlock cone nestled in among the little fronds.

Now, how did that get there?!   It looks like a chunk of rock detached from an overhanging  cliff and hurtled down to embed itself in the bedrock.  Except that there is no looming cliff nearby.  Very mysterious!

Wow!  I guess you could definitely say that this Maple-leaved Viburnum was "shocking" pink.   The day was growing late and the forest was starting to darken when I came upon this arrangement of rock, ferns, moss, and leaves, just seeming to glow in the gloom.  Such a perfect final note to my walk through this beautiful woods.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

A Quick Walk Along the Creek

Some days I don't have time for a multi-hour excursion to a nature site,  but I still crave the sounds of rushing water and the rustling of leaves underfoot when I go for just a quick walk.  That's when I head out to Spa State Park right here in Saratoga Springs and walk along Geyser Creek.  One of the prominent features of this creek is an actual geyser, seen here spouting out of its dome of accumulated mineral deposits.

I follow the path along this creek to where it spills from a culvert in the steep bank.  There's something enchanting to me about creeks and rivers, always flowing relentlessly along on their journey toward the sea.  Geyser Creek will flow into the Kayaderosseras Creek a mile or so away, and the Kayaderosseras will then convey this water into Saratoga Lake, which has its outlet in Fish Creek, which then empties into the Hudson River near Schuylerville, and the water continues all the way to New York City, where it joins the Atlantic Ocean.  I wonder how long that journey would take?

When I turn from the culvert and look downstream, I can see another white dome of mineral deposit, formed by a spring trickling down the bank, leaving massive accumulations of minerals behind.

Here's a closer view of those mineral deposits.

Spa Park contains many mineral springs where a thirsty hiker can stop to take a refreshing taste.  Not everybody enjoys that taste, but I find it interesting.  Each of the springs tastes a little different, some with more iron or calcium or carbon or salt than others, but none contain sulfur, I've heard.  It's obvious that this spring contains plenty of iron, as evidenced by the rust that lines the basin.

Despite the continued warm weather with no frost as yet, very few flowers are still in bloom.  This pretty bunch of asters was the exception.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Seed-hunting for Ed

My friend Ed Miller is the creator and curator of a remarkable collection of woody plants at the famous Landis Arboretum in Esperance, New York.  Ed's goal for his collection is to have it contain every tree and shrub and woody vine that is native to New York State, and I guess he must be missing a couple, since he asked me if I would collect some seeds from the Black Tupelo and Sassafras trees that grow in the places I regularly paddle.  Of course, I was happy to oblige, both because I would love to do Ed a favor, and also because I'm glad for any excuse to revisit the lovely banks of the Hudson River at Moreau.  Especially on such a beautiful day as it was yesterday.

On foot instead of afloat, my first destination was a rocky promontory I call Bear's Bathtub, where I remembered a number of Sassafras trees in beautiful bloom last spring.  Surely, with all of those flowers then, there would now be fruits.  Right?

Well, there were lots of Sassafras trees out there, dressed in their splendid autumn colors, but not a single fruit could I find on any of their branches.  Had the birds consumed them all, or had they already fallen from the trees because it was so late in the season?

I went back into my photo files to retrieve this photo of a Sassafras fruit I took almost exactly a year ago on October 17.  The trees were full of these fruits last year at this time, but for some reason they did not produce fruit this year.  I've heard that Sassafras can be like that.  I'll have to keep looking elsewhere.

My next destination was a second promontory I call Rippled Rocks Point, where a number of Black Tupelos grow in a marshy area nearby.

Approaching the site through the woods, I could, from some distance away,  see the red glow of the Tupelo branches backlit by the sun, where they hung down low over the water.

These trees had been laden with fruits when Ed and I paddled under them just ten days ago, but by now the birds had nearly stripped the trees bare of them.  I did manage to find a few, however,  and I collected all I could reach for Ed.

My seeds collected, I was happy to wander around on the promontory,  where blueberry bushes had found a foothold among the rocks.  Does any shrub turn a more exquisite color of red than Highbush Blueberry?

Even the stems and the buds for next year's growth take on this vivid color.

 There is one little blueberry bush out there that, every year,  produces flowers as late as November.  I scrambled out onto the rocks at the very end of the point and, sure enough, there they were!  I wonder why a plant would do that, blooming too late to ever produce a fruit.

Heading back through the woods, I was dazzled by the sight of this fallen Red Maple leaf caught on a twig,  lit up like a magic lantern by a ray of sun that penetrated the gloom of a stand of Hemlocks.

This yellow leaf (maybe a Hornbeam?) also caught my eye, first, because it was dangling in midair from a strand of spider silk, and second, because its yellow color was so beautifully set off by the lichen-covered bark behind it, its color like that of verdigris on bronze.

More Adventures at Pyramid Lake

Ever since noted botanist Ruth Schottman joined me for a botanical adventure at Pyramid Lake last July, we've been meaning to return to further explore together this beautiful wilderness lake in the Adirondacks.  We finally got there on Monday morning and found we had the whole lake to ourselves, with not another human soul around.  Although the day proved too windy for comfortable paddling in our tandem canoe, we were happy enough to leave our boat on shore and set off on a couple of hikes through the woods and around the lake.

Not only is Ruth a delightful hiking companion, she is also a walking encyclopedia of botanical knowledge.  We hadn't walked far before she spotted this interesting anomalous clump in an alder along the shore and didn't even have to check a guide to give it a name.  This is Taphrina, she promptly told me, an alder gall caused by a fungus that affects just the female flowers.

I knew right away this was going to be fun and that I would learn a lot from my companion.   There are so many fascinating phenomena in the woods in every season, adding interest to every walk, even long after the flowering plants have shriveled and died.  Most mosses, for example, stay fresh and green all year, including this Bartramia pomiformis, with its long silky leaves and little brown "pomiform" (apple-shaped) fruiting bodies.

On the other hand, most mushrooms are really ephemeral, disappearing almost as fast as they arise.  We were lucky to spot this handsomely studded, somewhat slimy Pholiota clump, sharing its cut-log surface with several other (unidentified) fungi.

Our morning hike took us along a trail that was bordered by huge boulders that were covered with many different kinds of lichens.  This aptly named foliose lichen called Toadskin Rock Tripe (Lasallia papulosa) was sharing its boulder with smooth-skinned rock tripes not visible in this photo.

Although this Dog Lichen (Peltigera polydactyla) often grows on woody substrates, it can sometimes be found on boulders, too.   I have read that it gets its name from having once been used as a (futile!) treatment for rabies in dogs, but I remember its name from the little brown fruiting bodies folded over like dogs' ears.  Its dark, almost black, thallus is a clue that this lichen associates with cyanobacteria as well as the fungi and algae that typically constitute all lichens.

I'm going to have to get back to Ruth to see if she can name this red-brown liverwort.  It looks similar to the Frullania liverworts that grow on trees, but this was growing on the face of a boulder.

Another liverwort I don't know the name of, this one growing on tree bark and of a bright green color.

As our trail climbed higher and higher above the lake, we soon came to lookout point where we could see the majestic Pharaoh Mountain rising to the south.

Our trail reached its summit in a rocky outcropping where we stood and gazed out at the beauty of the lake and surrounding forests and mountains, all part of the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness Area.  How lucky I am to have access to such splendid wilderness, just an hour's drive from my home!

We retraced our steps back to Pyramid Life Center, where we had left our car and our lunch bags.  One of the structures that make up the retreat center at Pyramid Lake is this charming little meditation hut right on the water.  Here, we could take shelter from the wind and eat our midday meal in comfort while enjoying the view.

After lunch, we set off in another direction, choosing a trail that leads toward Eagle Lake just a mile or so to the east.

Our trail crossed several woodland streams still rushing with water as if it were springtime snowmelt, instead of autumn.  I could stand and gaze at such miniature musical waterfalls for a long, long time.

This woodland trail offered abundant sightings of fungi, including whole logs full of Angel's Wings (Pleurocybella porrigens), a good edible if we had found it a day or so earlier.

Another good edible is Late Fall Oyster Mushroom (Panellus serotinus), which was still fresh and firm when we found it.  I hadn't planned on cooking dinner that night (it takes a long slow stewing), or I might have collected a mess to bring home.

We were struck by the beautiful rich red-brown tops of these shelf fungi, possibly Artist's Conk (Ganoderma applanatum).

Here's the smooth, white underside of that Artist's Conk, with a flesh that is easily bruised.   Detailed drawings can be etched into that flesh, which will retain those drawings permanently after drying.

Boy, I don't know what this one is!  At first I thought it was Ochre Spreading Tooth, but on closer inspection that orange stuff doesn't look like teeth, and I can't find anything in my mushroom books that fits that description.  Whatever it is, it was quite colorful.

I remember finding Ravenel's Stinkhorn (Phallus ravenelii) along this same trail last year, so I wasn't surprised to find it again, surrounded by flies attracted to its fetid odor.

Such a lush bright-green patch of feathery moss!  It looked familiar, but I couldn't remember its name, although Ruth knew it right away.  This is Stair-step Moss (Hylocomium splendens), a boreal species so named for its habit of growing a single layer every year, the new growth sprouting from the middle of the old.

Yet another liverwort, this one decorating a rotting log with its pretty bright-green branchings.  At first I thought it was a moss, but Ruth corrected me.  A closer inspection with a magnifier revealed it to be the leafy liverwort Lophocolea bidentata.

Here's a view as close as I could get with my camera.  If you click on this photo, you might see the two-teethed leaves that give this liverwort its specific name of bidentata.