Thursday, May 31, 2012

Perfect Day on a Perfect Pond

Today was sunny but cool, with just a slight breeze:  a perfect day for a paddle.  And oh, did I have the perfect pond to paddle on!  I wish I could tell you where it was, but I'm sworn to secrecy by my friend Evelyn, who introduced me to this pond two years ago at just this time of year, when the rare and beautiful orchid, Arethusa bulbosa, comes into bloom.  It has become a place of pilgrimage for me ever since.  I can never pass up a chance to lay eyes on this vivid magenta orchid, one that is threatened in New York State, and either threatened, endangered, or outright extirpated in most surrounding states.

But here on this pond, with its floating and grounded bog mats, we saw Arethusa everywhere!

Of course, there were other attractions, as well, including Pitcher Plants of the brightest red I had ever seen.

At one point we pulled our canoes up onto the bogmat and walked about on the spongey sphagnum moss, sinking up to our ankles in seeping cold water.

The Bog Buckbean was long past blooming, but the soft green leaves made a lovely backdrop for the vivid  Pitcher Plant blooms.

Blue Flag bloomed at the edges of the mat.

Tufted Loosestrife had found a tiny island to bloom on in the middle of a channel.

 Is there any flower so perfect in its loveliness as a White Water Lily?  I learned today that the reason we never see withered or browning Water Lilies is that, as soon as the flower is fertilized, it closes up tight and its stem retracts to pull it down to the bottom, where its seed ripens in the mud.

A final gift of beauty today was this pretty butterfly.  I think it's a Fritillary, but smaller than the Great Spangled Fritillaries  I usually see. Does it seem that many species of butterflies are smaller this year?

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Botanizing and Bug-watching and Other Pleasures

Whenever I lead a flower walk, I never have time to take good photos.  That was the case yesterday (Tuesday) when I led a group from the Environmental Clearing House of Schenectady on a hot and steamy hike around Woods Hollow Nature Preserve in Ballston Spa.  But perhaps it's best I didn't get a photo of the disappointed faces when we found the Wild Lupine and Pink Lady's Slippers long past their prime.  Those were exactly the two flowers we'd hoped to see when, sometime last winter, we set the date for this walk.  But how were we to know that almost every flower would bloom weeks early this spring?  At least we did get to see the lovely Sheep Laurel, a flower that normally doesn't bloom until well into June.

 Because the laurel was leaning way over the bank of a pond,  members of our group were not able to get close enough to look into the heart of the flowers and see their very interesting method of ensuring pollination.  So I violated my personal prohibition against picking any wildflowers and I scrambled down and plucked a single bloom to pass around, showing the group how the stamens were curved back to tuck the pollen-bearing anthers into little pits in the petals.  When a potential pollinator lands on the flower, those anthers pop out of their pits and bop the pollinator on the back.  After a while, the stamens curve back again and recock their springs in preparation for the next opportunity.  If you click on this photo, you may be able to see the single stamen that has already sprung on this central flower.

We were lucky to have scheduled our Woods Hollow walk early yesterday, before the heat became suffocating, as it did by late morning.  Then a huge thunderstorm came raging through the region in the afternoon, ripping branches and toppling trees, but also bringing cooler weather after it.  So it was perfectly delightful this morning (Wednesday) when my friend Sue and I visited the Warren County Bike Path to see what we could see.

One of the first things we saw was this very friendly Catbird, who followed after us for a while, flitting from shrub to shrub, as if it were as delighted to see us as we were to see it.

While I was leaning on a bridge over one of the little streams that run along the bike path, this black and white Bald-faced Hornet landed on the wooden railing and proceeded to chew away, gathering material for its big papery nest, paying not the slightest attention to me poking my camera at it.  Thankfully!

We had hardly started our walk along the bike path when we came to a patch of Blackberries in bloom, the white flowers throbbing with the traffic of many different flying creatures -- bees, flies, butterflies, and moths, all busily sipping nectar and gathering pollen.  One of those creatures was this little Skipper (species unknown to me), the only butterfly that sat still long enough to have its picture taken.

I felt very fortunate when this Beefly stopped to rest from its constant activity, so I could get a good look at its little furry body and long proboscis.

Here's that fly again, sipping nectar from the Blackberry blossom that also attracted a beautiful Eight-spotted Forester Moth.

Creeping carefully up on the moth, trying to get a clear shot, I got closer and closer until I nearly touched it, then, surprised that it did not fly away, I discovered its rather mangled appearance and saw that it was in the clutches of some other creature.

Aha!  What other culprit could it be but a Goldenrod Crab Spider, who adjusts its coloring to lurk undetected among the flowers?

Well, I suppose it could have been one these predaceous critters, too, although I'm not sure that Brown Crab Spiders can change their coloration the way the Goldenrod species can.

Searching the internet, I could not find a name for this crab spider, with its beautiful vivid coloration.

Speaking of vivid coloration, the Purple-flowered Raspberry was just opening its brilliant pink rose-like flowers.

The River Grape is about as far from vivid showiness as a flower can get, although its fragrance tops the chart for deliciousness.  As we walked along the trail, we would enter zones of perfume on the air that nearly made us swoon with pleasure.  Or maybe we were just hyperventilating from drawing such deep breaths to savor that fragrance.

But then we would enter zones of odor that nearly made us gag, and we knew that Carrion Flower must be blooming somewhere.  As the grape flower with its perfume, the Carrion Flower releases its stench from some of the most insignificant flowers imaginable, so it took some searching to find it.

Sue found the Carrion Flower cluster above, while I followed my nose (and a couple of carrion-seeking flies) under an overhanging shrub to discover this green globe of flowers that looked quite different from that white-tufted one.  Well, of course!  Those white-tufted ones are the staminate flowers and this green globe is made up of pistillate ones that will later turn into blue-black berries.  I had not known that this plant bore male and female flowers on separate  plants,  so I learned something new today.  (I also learned, in my google search about Carrion Flower's sex life, that the berries are quite edible and make a tasty jam.  Hard to believe that something edible could come from this stinking plant!)

We could have spent the rest of the day just sitting in a Blackberry patch watching the buzzing busyness going on in there, but Sue had to go to work, so after stopping for lunch, we parted ways.  On my way home I took a detour to Spier Falls Road in Moreau to walk the powerline clearcut in search of Frostweed and Wood Lilies.  The Frostweed had shed its petals for the day, and the lilies were nowhere to be found, not even a stem, but I did come across a puddle filled with these little bright-orange fingers.

Ooh, I remember finding these a couple of weeks ago on a hike to Round Pond with Evelyn Greene.  These are Swamp Beacons, a little fungus that likes to grow in puddles. A nice find to top off a wonderful day's adventures.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Two Days in Eden

If it weren't for the fact that I worked so hard I nearly dropped, I might have thought I'd been transported back to Eden this weekend.  Pyramid Lake always has that effect on me.

A pristine wilderness lake where the call of the loon echoes from encircling mountains and every breeze carries the fragrance of pine, this beautiful piece of Adirondack heaven is home to Pyramid Life Center, a place of spiritual retreat that is open to all.  But first we have to sweep up the mouse dirt and fix leaking pipes and put out the swimming dock and repair Adirondack chairs and carry the kayaks down to the shore and a thousand other tasks to ready the center for summer.

 I've been helping out every opening weekend for over 20 years, and this weekend we were blessed with perfect weather.  Yes, I worked many hours each day, but I still found time to slip out for a paddle around the lake, rising at dawn to do so.  This is the most beautiful time of day, before the wind rises to riffle that serene expanse.  I took a few photos.

 Saturday morning's few puffy clouds lent a marbled appearance to lake and sky.

 Bunchberry and ferns decorated the base of a tree at the water's edge.

 In the marshy end of the lake, dewy webs were arrayed among the Sweet Gale and blueberry shrubs.

 This orb-weaver's web captured the light of the early morning sun.

 The bright-green mouth, yellow throat, and oversize tympanum suggest that this is a Mink Frog.
Update:  Ah, but the stripes, rather than splotches, encircling the legs 
indicate that this is a Green Frog.  Very hard to tell these two frogs apart.

 Since I found no droplets on any other surrounding plants, I'm guessing these 
Marsh Cinquefoil leaves are undergoing the process of "guttation,"  whereby 
internal root pressure forces fluid out of the pores at the edges of the leaves. 

 Perhaps a similar process is what causes Round-leaved Sundew to exude 
sticky fluid from the tips of its fine hairs, attracting insects who mistake 
that fluid for nectar and are caught and devoured by the plant.
Update:  Nope, no guttation going on here.  Those
drops are produced by glands at the tips of the hairs.

 Sunday morning dawned bright and clear, with not a breath of wind to stir that mirroring surface.

 What looks like mist on the water is actually a fine coating of pine pollen.

 While I sat to gaze at this peaceful scene,  a loon swam across the little island's dark reflection.

 Each morning, from the tallest tree in the swampy end of the lake, this bird sent his clear whistled
call, "Pee Pe-e-e-w," over and over again.  I couldn't get a clear enough photo to attempt an ID.
Any guesses?

I am grateful that this Yellow Swallowtail was so busy among the Dame's 
Rocket that I could get close enough to take a clear photo.  Lovely!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Adirondack Retreat

I'm off this morning to spend the Memorial Day weekend at Pyramid Lake in Essex County.  As a volunteer for Pyramid Life Center,  I'll be readying guest rooms for a busy season of programs at this place of peaceful retreat on one of the most beautiful mountain lakes in the Adirondacks.  While sweeping up mouse dirt and making up beds, I'll be thinking of all those who suffer through wars:  the soldiers, of course, who bravely serve the bidding of their leaders, right or wrong, but also the millions and millions and millions of innocent noncombatants for whom no monuments are raised nor parades are held.  May God grant us leaders wise enough to understand the terrible sinfulness and futility of war.

Moonworts and Orchids and So Much More!

If there were a Hall of Fame for extra-special botanical sites, the old marble quarries on Dorset Mountain near Manchester, Vermont, would certainly qualify.  I visited there for the first time a year ago with my friends in the Thursday Naturalists, and we returned there again this Thursday, only to be amazed once again at the incredible riches this site has to offer plant lovers.

These quarries are remarkable not only for their natural beauty and botanical treasures, but also for a road that enables us to drive much of the way to the top,  allowing us to save our energy for searching the trails for such pretty flowers as Showy Orchis.  We found them again this year right where we'd found them in other years, and we were delighted to see that the plants had extended their range considerably.

You have to get down very low to really appreciate how lovely this orchid is.

Another find along the trail was this beautiful patch of Round-leaved Ragwort, which glowed as if incandescent in the dark shade of the woods.

I have found Foamflower in many other locations, but I've never seen it blooming in such masses as we found on Dorset Mountain.

The group of Thursday Naturalists has members who are expert in just about every category of plants, so we were able to ascertain immediately that this was, indeed, the rare Goldie's Fern.

When we reached the old quarries, we sat for a while to eat our lunches while enjoying the view of these moss-covered walls, which were echoing with the sweet songs of Hermit Thrushes, Scarlet Tanagers, Veerys, and many other birds.

We then continued our explorations, picking our way carefully along the marble ledges.

We had to watch where we placed our feet, not only to avoid slipping on  the moss-covered rocks, but also to avoid stepping on the incredible abundance of Small Yellow Lady's Slippers that covered the forest floor.

This year, I made sure to bend down to take in the fragrance of these elegant little orchids.

The bryologists in our company had a field day examining the marble for unusual mosses and liverworts.  This one small area of rock contained a marvelous mix:  the liverwort Preissia quadrata at top (with several fruiting bodies); Slender Cliff Brake, a rare fern, in the middle; and the lime-loving leafy moss, Encalypta vulgaris, at the bottom-left.

Our friend Nan once again was able to spot the almost-invisible, teensy-tiny green orchid, Early Coral Root, hiding among the mosses. 

Some of us (ahem!) almost dismissed this little white mustard-family plant as a common weed, until one of our group (Thank you, Ruth!) noticed its twisted seed pods and alerted us that this was Rock Draba (Draba arabisans), a rare plant that is threatened in New York and many other states. 

Here's a closer look at those twisted seed pods that are diagnostic for this species.

The REAL rarities of today's quest were the two moonworts recently discovered on the top of the mountain, one of the very few places they are known to grow in eastern North America.  Their presence is marked with yellow flags, which not only helped us locate the minute little sprouts, but also helped prevent us from stepping on them.  They were so tiny they were almost invisible.

Some botanists lump these moonworts together as Botrychium luneria, but others would divide them into two species:  B. ascendens and B. campestre.  They were so tiny, I felt I was lucky to see them at all, let alone be able to detect the differences that would indicate separate species.

We found lots of other interesting plants, but I ran out of time to edit their photos for posting here.  I'll just close with this shot of some kind of Crane Fly.  Too bad my photo isn't perfectly in focus, because I believe those bright red dots on the fly's thorax are actually Red Spider Mites hitching a ride.