Sunday, June 17, 2012

High Summer on the Hudson

Paddle the Hudson on a sunny summer Saturday?  No way, no thanks -- too many motorboats roiling the waters,  and rowdy loud partiers throwing their beer cans around.  But oh, it was such a lovely day, and the river has so many high-summer charms, I couldn't resist.  And best of all, my good friend Sue was set to go paddling with me.  So yes, we said yes, let's meet at the boat launch parking lot and spend the day on the river.

When we got to the parking lot, we almost changed our plans, since the lot was full to overflowing  with trucks hauling boat trailers.  Surely, we thought, the river will be ruined for paddlers by all this motorboat traffic.  But amazing as it may seem, the river was as quiet as if we had it all to ourselves, this three-mile stretch of catchment between the Spier Falls and Sherman Island dams.  Most of the time, there was not another boat to be seen.  And most of those we did see were quietly sitting still, with friendly fishermen casting their lines or drawing in their catches.

Rather than paddling the wide open waters, we like to slip closely along the banks, watching the dragonflies flitting among the sedges and frogs disappearing -- eep! eep! -- as we draw abreast of their sunning spots on the banks of tiny streams that flow into the river.

After paddling downstream for a half-hour or so, we entered a section of river where it flows around islands and into quiet bays.  We searched the banks of one of those bays for some sign of the Purple  Fringed Orchids we've found there in other years.  Although we didn't find the orchids, there were many other beauties that caught our eyes, such as this lovely pink rose that Sue is photographing.

Many underwater plants have their own kind of beauty, such as the lacy green foliage of this Water Starwort, holding the sunlight in its needle-fine leaves.

I'm sure Sue will later regale her friends with the story of me leaping out of my boat with a squeal of delight:  "Ooh!  Ooh!  Ooh!   Look!  Look!  It's CREEPING SPEARWORT!!!"  Just one single bloom, how on earth did I ever see it?  In all my excitement (and efforts to get an in-focus photo), I tumbled backwards right into the river, but luckily saved my camera from inundation.  This tiny creeping buttercup is not really rare in Saratoga County (although it is, in several surrounding states), but I never know when or where I might find it, and years may go by without seeing it at all.

Another favorite spot on the river is a wide open marsh that will later be purple with Pickerelweed, but which now is populated with exuberant green islands of Arrow Arum.

Hummocks of sedge also dotted the sunlit expanse, as did several floating mats that were peppered with little red-leaved spikes of baby Marsh St. Johnswort.

One of those mats held a single stalk of Marsh Speedwell, so pretty with its tiny stripey blue blooms.

All around the marsh, the banks were brightened by masses of Pale St. Johnswort.

I find the name "Pale" St. Johnsort something of a misnomer, since everything about this plant is vividly colorful, from its bright-yellow flowers to its orange-tipped buds to the red of its forming seed packets (called achenes).  (Oh look, there's some kind of tiny cocoon [?] attached to one of those flower buds.  I wonder what it could be.)

There's another species of St. Johnswort that grows on an island in this part of the river and nowhere else that I know of.  This is Great St. Johnswort, and I'm happy to report that on Saturday we found more plants here than we've ever found before, although many of them have had their tops lopped off, probably from being browsed by deer.   Happily, the plants are responding by putting out side shoots, some of which were already in flower bud.  Let's hope the increased summer traffic on the river will now scare the deer away from the island where these relatively rare plants have found a happy home.

Nothing ever seems to bother the water's-edge loosestrife called Swamp Candles, abundant numbers of which were just beginning to open their spikes of yellow blooms.

Hiding down in the grass near the edge of the water were these very tiny blue flowers, the blooms of our native (and miniature) version of Forget-me-nots.

We passed under many blooming shrubs, including Maleberry bushes heavy with little greenish-white globular flowers.  They look quite a bit like blueberry flowers, but the fruit they produce is hard and inedible.

Elderberry, too, was in bright white bloom, its flattened flower clusters alive with buzzing and crawling critters.

There were hundreds of dragonflies zooming about, all of them teasing us to try to take their photos, to no avail.  At last one landed and sat for a while, just long enough for me to zoom in on it before it tore off again.   What a pretty opalescent green-blue it is!  I'm still studying my dragonfly books to try to identify it.

Update:  In a comment, Steve Young has kindly identified this dragonfly as a male Eastern Pondhawk  (Erythemis simplicicollis), distinguished from the female of this species by his blue abdomen, green face, and blue and green thorax.  Thanks, Steve.

Here's another insect that sat still long enough for a portrait.  Unfortunately, this individual does not show the red spots on its wings that give it its common name of Red-spotted Purple Butterfly.

My previous blogpost (Massachusetts Woods and Waters and Roadways) shows this same species adorned with its eponymous red spots.  I also recounted in that post how this butterfly and the White Admiral are actually color variants of the same "polytipic" species of brush-footed butterfly.  Seems hard to believe, doesn't it?  Just google the species name, Limenitis arthemis, to learn all about it.


Auntie sezzzzzz... said...

Oh what a magnificent photo of a lovely opalescent green-blue dragonfly!

Here in city, I only see rather gray ones. Naturally, out in more natural settings, you see lovely ones.

Not that the plain ones, are not lovely too! I love 'em all. :-)

Steve Young said...

The dragonfly is a male Eastern Pondhawk, Erythemis simplicicollis. And a shed skin of a damselfly as a bonus! This was identified by Erin White, our dragonfly expert at the NY Natural Heritage Program.

suep said...

we are going to have to make you wear Floatees if you insist on leaping in and out of your boat like that !
just kidding - how DID you espy that spearwort? and you managed to capture the speedwell's beauty quite nicely !

Dave said...

Is that Eastern or Stout Blue-eyed Grass in the lower right corner of your photo of Great St. Johnswort that was browsed by deer?

Do tell!

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Well, Dave, I really couldn't tell you which kind of Blue-eyed Grass that is, because I only had eyes for the Great St. Johnswort at the time, and I can't see the stems well enough in the photo to hazard a guess. I do know that the river banks around this site are loaded with Eastern BEG, so we could probably assume that's what this is.