Thursday, June 28, 2012

Paddling the Betar Backwater

Today was a triple treat:  a perfect day for a paddle, a perfect place to go paddling, and a fine friend to paddle with.  And that was just the beginning.  It got even better than that.

To begin with, the day dawned clear and still, a welcome turn of events, since I'd agreed to meet my friend Sue at the Betar Byway in South Glens Falls to paddle the Hudson River backwater there, then explore the open river upstream to a section of sheer shale cliffs.  Our route was probably no more than a mile, but we like to take our time, poking about in little bays,  creeping quietly up on turtles basking on fallen logs, and waiting patiently for clouds of coupling damselflies to resettle on overhanging snags so we just might get a photo.  (No such luck!)

I did have a goal for today, and that was to find again the jelly-like colony of "moss animals" called Pectinatella that accumulates on underwater branches in quiet backwaters like this.  This is a photo I took last year and looked up again today, wanting to get a search image fresh in my mind.  Unfortunately, it didn't help, for search though we did, we did not find another colony today.

In such a beautiful spot as this, it's impossible to stay disappointed for long.  Everywhere we looked was a treat for our eyes, including this Watershield with pads a stunning ruby red.

Then, Ho!  What's that, poking up from the surface, floating on little pontoons among the Watershield?  Sue spied it first, and she, like me, could hardly believe her eyes.

Well, I'll be darned!  It's Small Inflated Bladderwort (Utricularia radiata), blooming a whole month earlier that I've ever seen it before.  But then, I've never come looking for it this early before, since the first time I ever saw this little rare bladderwort was in September, two years ago. 

There were only a few of the bladderwort's chubby yellow flowers in full bloom today; most were still in bud or only partly open.  But come back in a month, and there will be hundreds bobbing about on their radiating air-filled pontoons, making it very hard to believe that this plant is listed as "Threatened" in New York State.

When we finally left the shelter of the backwater, we were pleased to see that the open river was still quite calm, making for an easy passage upstream.

Of course, it still took us quite a while to reach the area of steep shale cliffs,  since we had many fascinating distractions along the way.  But finally we felt the sheer black walls looming over us.  This particular sheer black wall was brightened by the brilliant orange of a green algae called Trentepohlia aurea.  I know it seems odd to call this orange fuzzy stuff a green algae, but that is indeed what it is, although it contains certain chemicals that mask its chlorophyll.

Other bright spots of color on these dark, dank walls were provided by Purple-flowering Raspberry.   The pretty ferns next to the raspberry vine are Bulblet Fern, a species that usually indicates the presence of lime.  Many little springs drip down these dampened cliffs, carrying minerals from the substrate above and dissolving the lime in the shale, which crumbles at a touch.

The beauty of Water Pennywort lies in its glossy green scalloped leaves, here clinging enmasse to the walls of the cliff.   It may very well have been in flower, but its tiny translucent green flowers would be almost invisible even if they weren't hidden under the leaves.

Looking almost as leafy as that Pennywort was this liverwort (species unknown) of the prettiest glossy green.  There were several kinds of liverworts clinging to these cliffs, and this year I'm going to make it my project to learn their names.

When we reach the cliffs with the row of rectangular blocks, we know we are nearing the Feeder Dam and it's time to turn around. 

As it was, it took us over an hour to return to our launching site, even with the current pushing behind us.   Not because we had gone so far, but because there was so much more to see.  What a beautiful stretch of river!

PS:  Just for the record, I want to add that we found a single plant of Golden Pert (Gratiola aurea) growing out of a floating log here in the Betar backwater. 

Also known as Golden Hedge Hyssop, this is a plant I find growing profusely upstream, in the catchment above the Sherman Island Dam, where it carpets the muddy shores and fills every crack in the riverside rocks, despite the fact that botanical atlases show no record of its existence in Saratoga County.  I have queried many of my botanical friends, who tell me they have never seen this plant anywhere else in their area explorations, other than the catchment I mentioned.  It certainly makes sense that Golden Pert would show up downstream from that area, as the Betar backwater is, lying below the Feeder Dam in South Glens Falls.  I wonder if it will find a home here and spread as profusely as it has done upstream.    It will be interesting to watch its progress.  Or lack of it.


suep said...

It was nice to take a cue from those Bladderworts and just drift along ...
Have you ever seen them above the Feeder Dam?

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Yes, indeed, nice to drift, especially with a friend as amiable as you. No, I haven't seen this bladderwort above the Feeder Dam, but then I haven't paddled up there between the Feeder and Sherman Island Dams.

lamcgrew said...

Beautiful photos! What camera do you use?

Anonymous said...

Always wondered about this flora and fauna...thanks :)

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Thanks for stopping by to comment, Iamcgrew and Anon. Glad you enjoyed your visits. The camera I use is a Canon PowerShot S95, a sweet little autofocus with a nice big sensor that takes pretty great photos and also fits in my pocket and lets me take photos with one hand while holding my boat still with the other.