Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Photographing a River-Valley Farm

Boy, was I glad to wake up to a chilly morning today!  Not that I'm eager for summer to go, but I was hoping for thick morning fog along the Hudson River in Northumberland, where I had an assignment to take some photographs of an old family farm that lies in that beautiful valley.  Well, if I'd gotten up an hour earlier, I'll bet there were marvelous billows of fog, thick as whipped cream,  lying low over the river.  As it was, there were still a few wisps rising into the sky to show where the river flows between Saratoga County farmland and the mountains of Washington County.

I'd come to this eastern edge of the county, an area of rolling hills and expansive farmland, to visit the sheep farm of Tom and Carole Foster.  Tom was born and reared on this land and now hopes to preserve this pastoral acreage as agricultural land forever, with a conservation easement made possible by Saratoga P.L.A.N., an organization dedicated to preserving farmland and natural areas.  I'd been asked by some of the folks in that organization to provide them with some photographs to be used in their fund-raising efforts.   To be sure, I'm always glad to tramp about barnyards and meadows, especially on such a splendid morning as it was today, with the early sunlight illuminating the barns and silos so beautifully.

Although this was once a dairy farm, the Fosters now raise only sheep, which are sheared to provide much of the wool that Carole spins and dyes to sell in her yarn shop, now occupying the original Foster farmhouse. Although most of the sheep kept a careful distance away from me, a few ventured close enough to the fence for me to say hello.  I was amused to see that a number of sheep bore birds upon their backs.

And what would a sheep farm do without a Border Collie to herd them?  This is Meg, and I would have loved to photograph her racing out to the meadow to bring in the flock, but she was way too fast for my camera to track her.  Good dog!  You should have seen her GO!

The yarn shop, run by Carole and her daughter Abbey, occupies the original farmstead, welcoming knitters and spinners to its homey rooms for conversation around the fireside in winter, or to an outdoor patio under the old shade trees in warmer weather.

I'm not a knitter, myself, but walking through these rooms full of gorgeous colors and textures sure made me think it would be a wonderful craft to take up.  While I was admiring these handsome bins containing the yarns, Carole explained that a neighbor had handcrafted them, each one constructed from a different kind of wood, using trees that grew on the neighbor's land.  Each bin was labeled on the underside with the kind of wood it was made from.

Since the Fosters operate a farm whose product is fiber, it's fitting that a fund-raiser to benefit the conservation of their farm would be called "A Thousand Fibers: an exhibition of fine art in fiber," to be held at the Spring Street Gallery in Saratoga Springs from September 22 until October 18.  I've been told that my photographs of the farm, as well as those of several other photographers, will be displayed in the halls leading into the exhibition, and will also be available for purchase, with proceeds to benefit the farm.  In addition, there will be an artists' reception on September 20, with $25 tickets available through Saratoga P.L.A.N.'s website,

 What a pleasure it was to wander this landscape and think that what I was doing might go to support such a cause.    How sad it would be to see such evocative structures as this handsome old barn torn down to make room for mini-mansions.

Or to see these expansive acres of cornfields that spread out beneath a broad blue sky chopped up into half-acre building lots with garages and asphalt driveways.

Some of the fields were fallow, their contoured hillsides left to be taken over by acres of glorious goldenrods.

A few New England Asters had opened among that goldenrod sea, and it didn't take long for the Monarch Butterflies to find their vivid purple blooms.

Other fields were fringed with Queen Anne's Lace, a favorite of the Viceroy Butterfly, a Monarch look-alike that can be distinguished by the black stripe that crosses the hindwings.

The early-morning meadows were festooned with diamond-drop cobwebs, and this one held a very large Striped Garden Spider (Argiope trifasciata), a species of Argiope I had never seen before.

A spider this large is almost certain to be a female,  and I was enchanted to see how her multi-striped back and furry underside were spangled with dew.

After wandering the fields and the barnyards, I got in my car and drove down the boundary road that led to the river.   This quiet, tree-shaded lane reminded me of the rural roads of my country childhood, where every tree held singing birds and the dew-cooled grass proved a comfort to bare feet achy from walking on gravel.

Perhaps it was those memories of childhood that compelled me to squeeze around a padlocked gate and make my way down to a dam, exactly the kind of benign trespass I assumed was my right as a child.   I can see, though, that parents would probably not want their kids to have easy access to such a dangerous site as this hydroelectric dam, constructed by the Washington County village of Ft. Miller across the river.

Even more intriguing, and equally as dangerous, I suppose, were these slippery rocks and fast-moving rapids that lie below the dam.

Dangerous, yes, but oh so beautiful!  The Hudson here is so lovely, it's understandable that the land that borders the river would be eagerly sought for real-estate development.  Thanks to the efforts of organizations like Saratoga P.L.A.N.,  we can hope that at least some of this valley will continue to farmed as it has for generations before.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

A Colorful Day on Lens Lake

Good friends, a gorgeous day, and three sweet little Hornbeck canoes for paddling an Adirondack lake full of colorful wonders --  what could be better!  Here Sue (in hat) and Nancy ready their boats for exploring the convoluted shoreline of Lens Lake, a quiet and lovely lake about 5 miles west of Stony Creek, in Warren County.

Lens Lake is remarkable for the acres and acres of bog-mat islands that stud its pristine waters, all accessible for exploring from the comfort of our canoes.

With our little Hornbeck boats, we could squeeze into the narrow channels and shallow waters that would defy passage to larger and heavier craft.   Although very few flowers were still blooming on these bog mats, they were vividly colored by carpets of sphagnum moss and the still-bright leaves of plants like the Pitcher Plant in the foreground of this photo.

I think these pitchers were the deepest red of any I have ever seen.

The moss-covered hummocks seemed to vie with each other for which was the most colorful.  This hummock, carpeted with green and gold sphagnum, was spiked with the radiant leaves and stems of Marsh St. Johnswort and sprinkled with the white confetti of White Beaksedge

This sundew-studded mat held a Marsh St. Johnswort plant with buds that glowed like rubies.

The red and yellow sphagnums mingled together to form a carpet as vivid and intricate as any Persian rug.

This little islet, crowned with yellow sphagnum and studded with Beaksedge, was ringed with a ruby-colored fringe of Spatulate-leaved Sundew.

Here's a really tiny islet of the same sundew.

The small white puffs of Pipewort stood out against the vivid red of the sundew leaves.

A close-up view of the sundew reveals the wing of an unlucky insect caught in the sticky tentacles of this carnivorous plant.

Cranberries were starting to ripen to glorious red.  There should be plenty of ripe ones in time for Thanksgiving.

Bog Lycopodium looked like green fuzzy caterpillars crawling across a fallen log.

Bog Rosemary held clusters of pretty pink berries.

After exploring the edges of the bog mats, we then pulled our canoes up onto one mat and got out to explore on foot, sinking deeply into the squishy sphagnum.  All around us, fluffy white heads of Cottongrass waved and bobbed in the breeze.

As soon as I stepped on the mat, I spied this little Striped Garden Caterpillar (the larva of the moth Trichordestra legitima) curled on the sphagnum.

This little Leopard Frog wore golden stripes to match the gold of the surrounding moss (Sphagnum papillosum).

When exploring bog mats, it's very helpful to have a bryologist along, as we did with Nancy Slack, who pointed out another bright red sphagnum, differentiated from the other red sphagnum we had been seeing by its smaller size.  This is called, appropriately, Little Red Sphagnum (S. rubellum), while the larger red one is called Big Red Sphagnum (S. magellanicum).

Nancy also pointed out a small patch of bright green sphagnum (S. cuspidatum) in a very wet spot, and she told us this one has the very descriptive common name of Wet Kittens.  Yes, I see the resemblance.

I don't know the name of this tiny red mushroom.  It was only about a half inch across, but its vivid color announced its presence from some distance away.

Heading back to our launch spot, we took our time exploring some quiet pine-shadowed coves.

In the dark shallow water of one of these coves, we found these enormous convoluted blobs of transparent greenish jelly floating along the bottom, like some very creepy creatures from the Black Lagoon.  You can get an idea of the size of this blob by the Water Lily leaf floating above it.

I tried to pick one end of this "thing" out of the water, but my hand passed through it as if through a ghost.  I did manage to obtain some of its matter, which resembled clear jelly flecked with brown specks.  The closest I've been able to come to an answer regarding these blobs is that they could be formed by a colonial microscopic single-celled protozoan called Ophrydium versatile.

According to the "Ask the Naturalist" blog that I found on-line, these colonies "can be found all over the world in fresh water.  The individual cells line up side-by-side in the 'blob' and attach themselves to a jelly-like substance they secrete.  They are symbiotic with microscopic Chlorella algae that live inside the Ophrydium cells and give the blob its green color."

One last look at a lake that provided us with a day of wonderful adventures.  Next stop was for ice cream at Upriver Cafe in Lake Luzerne, sitting on a deck overlooking the Hudson River.  Lucky us!

Update:  One of our goals while exploring the Lens Lake sphagnum mats was to find a patch of rare moss, called Pennsylvania Dung Moss (Splachnum pensylvanicum), that we found here last November while paddling this lake with Evelyn Greene.  Although we couldn't find it this time, Evelyn assures me we could probably still find it if we looked in the right place.  Until I have a chance to return and search for it again, here are two photos of what this lush green moss looks like, as well as a link to last November's post about paddling this beautiful lake in late autumn, when abundant cranberries were ripe for the picking.

A patch of Pennsylvania Dung Moss on otter feces.  This moss is very particular about which feces or rotting carcasses it will grow on, and otter poop is one of its favorites.  Moose bones are another favorite site, but otter feces are much more common at Lens Lake than moose bones are.

A really close look at this Dung Moss reveals the tiny stars at the tops of its fruiting bodies.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Another Day, Another Stretch of River

Where the Hudson River forms the northern boundary of Saratoga County, its plummeting waters are caught and controlled by a number of dams, creating a series of catchments perfectly suited for flatwater canoeing.  On Friday I put my little Hornbeck in the section that lies above the dam at Glens Falls, entering the river at a quiet backwater that can be accessed via the Betar Byway in South Glens Falls.

Only a few miles downstream from my regular haunts above the Sherman Island Dam, this section of river is home to a number of quite unusual plants that I never find in my home waters, including some that are listed as threatened species in New York State.  Water Marigold is one of these, and I was a bit disappointed to find only one rather scraggly specimen in bloom.

Perhaps I had come looking for them too early, since I saw plenty of their emergent leaves in one section of the backwater.   This plant is remarkable in that the lance-shaped leaves that protrude above the water are quite different from the very fine hair-like leaves that form whorls along the underwater stem.

A second rare plant that thrives in this catchment is Small Floating Bladderwort, which was blooming in great numbers a month ago.  Even now, a few stragglers still lifted their chubby yellow blooms above their inflated pontoons.

I next paddled upstream toward the Feeder Dam, approaching the shale cliffs that rise steeply from the water's edge.  Black as coal, the shale is constantly watered by springs that provide a rich environment for a number of interesting plants that make their home in this bare rock.

Grass of Parnassus is one of the plants that thrive on these cliffs, sharing its niche with Bulblet Fern and Coltsfoot in this particular spot.

I believe that the ring of yellow dots circling the pistil are nectaries, which would explain why I often see lots of little flies visiting Grass of Parnassus flowers.

A number of different mosses and liverworts also cling to the dampened shale.

Dainty blue Kalm's Lobelia also prefers this lime-rich environment, clinging to the cliff face at just the right height for enjoying a close-up eye-level view of their pretty blooms.

Other parts of the riverbank were also decorated with some of the season's prettiest blooms, including this trio of radiantly blue Closed Gentians.

A Winterberry shrub graced a fallen log with a bough full of abundant red fruit.

A Great Blue Heron would let me get only so close before lifting off with those enormous wings, long legs trailing behind.

I couldn't believe how close this Painted Turtle let me approach.  I could see that it had me fixed with its gaze, but it never did slip from its sunlit perch.

There were other creatures enjoying this beautiful day on the river, and if I'd been wearing my bathing suit, I would have been tempted to join them.