Friday, November 30, 2012

Mystery Mud Piles at Mud Pond

While wandering the shore of Mud Pond earlier this week, I was curious to see what had been revealed when the water level dropped, exposing vast expanses of mud that would normally be under water.   I had previously discovered uncountable multitudes of the floating liverwort Ricciocarpus natans deposited on the shore (see my post for November 17),  but this day I made a new discovery:  curious piles of mud that appeared to have been shoved up from below.  There were no animal tracks in the soft mud surrounding the piles that would hint at what creature had created these mysterious structures.

Then I noticed that those piles of mud occurred  in a snaky line that led right up to the water's edge.  What a curious sight!

Well, the only creature I could imagine to have tunneled under the mud like this is the Star-nosed Mole.  This was certainly the right kind of habitat, a damp muddy spot rich with the worms and frogs and fish that make up this mole's typical diet.  How I would love to catch one at work, so that I could get a photograph of this amazing little animal.  I probably never will, since they live and feed underground (and also underwater), but at least there are lots of photos on the internet, including this one that I borrowed.

If I hadn't seen photographs from reliable sources, I would have a hard time believing this creature is real, with that fantastic proboscis featuring 11 pairs of pink tentacles centered in its furry little eyeless face.  As I learned from reading several sites on the internet (including this one), that astounding nose is considered the most sensitive organ in the entire animal kingdom, able to process information at near the limit at which nervous systems are capable of functioning.  Operating underground and completely in the dark, the mole uses those pink tentacles to locate and capture its prey at lightning speed, making it what researchers at Vanderbilt University have called "the fastest mammalian forager on earth."  It's also able to use that nose to smell out prey underwater.  Amazing!

Chances are, I'll probably never see one.  But at least I now know where one lives.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Brown Season

Dreary and cold today, with enough of a wind to worm its way down under my scarf.  If I hadn't been starving for outdoor activity throughout this long holiday weekend, I might have refused my friend Sue's invitation to join her for a walk at Moreau Lake.  But once I set out along the shore of the lake, with the surrounding mountains reflected in the new thin ice that covered the back bay, I was awfully glad to be there.  We saw not another soul while we ambled the shore, except for a pair of Bufflehead ducks that kept their distance in a patch of open water, too far away for us to photograph them.

I think of this late-autumn time as the "brown season,"  when the flowering plants have long lost their colors and the snow has not yet covered the naked earth with brilliant white.  It takes a bit more of an effort, now, to notice the many beauties the earth still has to offer.  In the case of this fluffy bunch of Phragmites, I had to overcome my grudging distaste for its invasive habits to appreciate its soft loveliness.

Brown-on-brown is the prevalent coloration now, from palest ecru to cinnamon to tobacco-leaf to Moroccan leather.   These dainty asters growing along the oak-leaf-strewn beach were as pretty as Baby's Breath.

 Sue found a whole cluster of Earth Star fungi on the sandy shore, adding their cadaverous hues to the late-fall color scheme.

She also spotted this handsome group of gilled fungi, aged to a rich rusty brown.

The Shadblow twigs were tipped with pointed buds, bright-brown and edged with gold, as if Mother Nature had draped the branches with Christmas lights.

We did find a few splashes of brilliant color, such as these red-tipped Evening Primrose basal rosettes.

These Green-capped Jelly Clubs were a bit of a surprise, since this fungus usually prefers damp mossy spots instead of dry sandy beaches.  Sue noticed the greenish caps first, a bit shriveled with age, and we didn't see the bright yellow stalks until we brushed away the sand

Friday, November 23, 2012

Scenes From a Feast

 For the beauty of the earth,
For the glory of the skies, 

For the love which from our birth 
Over and around us lies,

Lord of All, to Thee we raise
This our hymn of grateful praise.


For the  joy of human love,
Brother, sister, parent, child,

Friends on earth and friends above,
For all gentle thoughts and mild,

Lord of All, to Thee we raise
This our hymn of grateful praise.


For the beauty of each hour
Of the day and of the night,
Hill and vale and tree and flow'r
Sun and moon and stars of night

Lord of All, to Thee we raise
This our hymn of grateful praise.

West Dover, Vermont
Thanksgiving 2012
(Hymn by Folliott S. Pierpont (1835-1917)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

The pies are done, the kitchen's cleaned up, and we're ready to set off tomorrow morning to spend Thanksgiving with our daughter's in-laws in West Dover, Vermont, bringing the pies to share.  How lucky we are to have our large extended family to feast with, and everyone happy to be together.  I know there are many people who are not so fortunate, and I keep them in mind as I raise my own prayers of thankfulness.

To all my readers, I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving.  May your day be filled with blessings.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Busy Times

What with the holiday weekend of feasting and family visits approaching, I've been mighty busy with cooking and cleaning and haven't had much time to get outdoors.  But at least I have some resident wildlife sharing the kitchen with me.  They love the sunlight pouring in the south-facing windows, and I just can't seem to keep them from sunbathing on the table.  Oh well, since I kiss my kitties every time they will let me, I'm sure we're immune to each others' germs by now.

I did get outdoors for a walk at Bog Meadow Nature Trail yesterday, but not until late in the day, when the sun was already sinking behind the hills.   Look how dark it was, and it wasn't even 3:30!  There was a fringe of ice at the edge of the marsh, and the landscape itself, now clothed in pallorous hues,  presented a chilling image.  But I was well bundled up and enjoyed the fresh cold air and the stark November beauty.

When Canada Lilies bloom, they dangle their vivid orange and yellow bells face down.  But when they go to seed, the pods end up erect, like this.  I love the delicate stitching that holds the separating sections together.

In a landscape dominated by browns and grays, this log with its explosion of bright green moss and vivid orange fungus certainly stood out.   I always forget the name of this moss, but the fungus has the very descriptive name of Lemon Drops.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

My Own Woodland Wonderland

No exotic landscapes, no amazing animal antics, no adventures worth a write-up in National Geographic -- it was just a simple walk in the woods on a crisp and lovely late-autumn afternoon that filled me with joy today.  It sure doesn't take much to make me happy.  And happy, indeed, I was,  to abandon my pre-holiday preparations at home and set out for Mud Pond at Moreau Lake State Park, to walk the trail that circles the pond, which today lay serene and calm under a clear blue sky.

I could hear the Hooded Mergansers out on the pond, their low rumbling croaks, as two males, bobbing their heads and arching their necks,  showed off their splendid black-and-white headdresses to a pair of females floating on the mirror-like surface of the pond.  I could barely see them, however, nor could my camera capture them with its limited zoom capability, but I know they are there in the center of this photo, because their calls are unmistakeable.  Click HERE to hear that amazing sound and see this duck's beautiful plumage.

The water level of the pond was remarkably low today, revealing extensive mud flats on the western shore.  A wash of bright green overlying the dark mud made me wonder if some new plants were growing there so late in the season.

Oh my gosh, there sure were!  Here's the liverwort Ricciocarpus natans, masses of it almost completely covering the shore.  I found this liverwort at this same location two years ago, but it then disappeared, and I have been searching for it ever since.  There was not a trace of it here all summer and early fall this year, but here it was again, in multitudes.  It's considered to be a floating plant, so my question is:  Does it form in the water and then get stranded on the mud when the water level drops, or does it form first on the mud and then float away in the spring when the water levels rise?

Further back on the shore of the mud flats, it was easy to spot the rusty-orange clusters of Ditch Stonecrop among the pale blades of dead grass.

The plump five-parted seedheads deserve a closer look to enjoy their intricate beauty.

Along the powerline clearcut at the northern end of the pond, a number of American Hazelnut shrubs still held frilly clusters of ripe nuts.   How is it the squirrels haven't devoured these nuts or stored them away in their winter caches?  Perhaps they are wormy or moldy.  Even if they are, I thought they looked quite handsome.

The sandy trail along the powerline is perfect habitat for the Mint-family plant called Blue Curls, which, in season, bears pretty little royal-blue flowers.  After the flowers drop, I find delight in the dainty seed capsules, each little cup holding two round seeds, like tiny eggs in miniature baskets.  I was surprised to see a few seeds remaining.

The little asters are long past blooming, but many still hold their puffy white seed heads, which I find kind of adorable, like little furry creatures.

With November's palette of browns and grays dominating the landscape now, it's always a pleasant surprise to see a little jolt of color like this baby oak leaf, still holding on to autumn's more brilliant hues.

And here's a promise of spring:  the male catkins of Sweet Fern are already present, clustered at the ends of the shrubby stems.  They will stay tightly closed all winter,  waiting until spring's warmth to open their scales and shed their pollen on the air, to waft to waiting female flowers.

As the sun fell lower in the sky, it shed a golden light on the banks of Mud Pond and lit up the white breasts of a small flock of Canada Geese resting on the still surface of the water.

I took the river road home, stopping to stand on the banks and gaze on the beauty of my beloved Hudson as it meanders among the mountains.  There was not a whisper of wind to riffle the reflections of forested hills and rocky islands.

I could not tell if my photos were in focus, since my eyes kept blurring with tears of gratefulness and joy that a landscape of such transcendent  loveliness was mine to inhabit.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Nature Walks Here and There

How did we manage to escape Nature's wrath these past weeks?  While coastal New York has suffered flooding sea surges, tree-toppling wind blasts, and the insult of heavy snows, up here in the Saratoga Region we have enjoyed one lovely late-autumn day after another.  And, doubly blessed, we are also lucky to have an abundance of woodsy and watery places to spend those lovely days outdoors.  Here's a brief recap of just three of those places I've visited this past week.

Friday: The Hennig Preserve, Town of Providence, Saratoga County

Less than 15 miles west of downtown Saratoga Springs but more than a thousand feet higher in altitude lies the Hennig Preserve, one of the latest -- and certainly the largest -- nature preserve to be managed by Saratoga P.L.A.N.  A gift to this county-based land-conservation organization from members of the Hennig family, the preserve consists of over 600 acres of forested land, with about 9 miles of well-marked trails that wander through a beautiful mixed-conifer/hardwood forest.

I had the very best of guides when I visited the Hennig Preserve on Friday:  no less than one of the donors of the land, Barbara Hennig, whose intimacy with every aspect of these woods stems from her having spent more than 50 years carefully stewarding them.  Our other stellar companion, the noted botanist, author, and teacher Ruth Schottman, had invited my to join her and Barbara to walk a portion of the woods on this bright chilly day.   This photo shows Barbara and Ruth ascending one of the more interesting geological features of the preserve, a ridge-shaped ice-age remnant called an "esker" that rises to considerable height and runs for more than a quarter-mile through the woods.

The long winding ridges called eskers were created when sand and gravel was deposited within ice-walled tunnels in the glacier, which lay nearly a mile thick over these woods during the Ice Age.  When the glacier melted, these stream deposits remained.  To my knowledge, I had never encountered an esker in all my woods wanderings until I walked along this high ridge in the Hennig Preserve, enjoying the prospect of the woods falling steeply away on either side of our path.

I also enjoyed the little stream that we crossed at two points in our circuitous trail, its clear water sparkling and dancing along through the heart of the forest.

A clue that we were walking through a higher-altitude forest than those closer to my home was the presence of Stiff Clubmoss (Lycopodium annotinum), which still retained its yellow sporophylls at the tips of its bristly stalks, releasing little clouds of spores when I flicked a finger at them.  This is a species of clubmoss that prefers a colder climate than does a similar-looking clubmoss called Running Pine (Lycopodium clavatum), which is common in the woods around Saratoga Springs and which bears its spores on separate forked stalks, rather than at the ends of its leaf stalks.

Another clue to this forest's higher altitude was the presence of Red Spruce and Balsam Fir among its mix of conifers,  which also included the more familiar (to me) White Pine and Hemlock.  Black Cherry was numerous in the mix of deciduous trees, along with maples, beeches, poplars, and hickories.  As we walked along the trail, we could tell what trees we were passing under by observing what leaves lay underfoot.  At a glance, we knew we were under Red Maples by the purplish cast to their fallen leaves, intermixed with the pale tan ones of American Beech.

Now, here's a puzzle none of us had an answer to:  Why is almost every single one of the fallen leaves that litter the forest floor lying face-down?  Anybody have a clue?

Sunday:  Moreau Lake State Park, Moreau, Saratoga County

On Sunday afternoon, I quickly shed my jacket as I set off around Moreau Lake, the day was so soft and warm, with only the slightest breeze to riffle the sky-blue water.

Although the sky was nearly cloudless, there was a slight haze lying over the mountains and lake, which added a lovely misty quality to every vista.

Despite ample rainfall this autumn, the water level was still low enough to allow for walking completely around the lake on wide  beaches, golden ribbons of sunlight rippling across the underwater sand as the wavelets lapped on the shore.  Although this photo doesn't show another soul in the shot, there were many people enjoying the park on this mellow day, so I had many opportunities to pat the heads of very happy dogs.

Their petals have fallen, but the bright-yellow bracts of Witch Hazel still hold the sunlight as if they were still in bloom.

Monday:  Cole's Woods, Glens Falls, Warren County

The weather continued sunny and warm on Monday, when I met my friend Sue for a walk through Cole's Woods, a remarkably extensive forest tract right in the heart of Glens Falls, adjacent to Crandall Park.

Originally preserved in the 1970s as a cross-country ski area, the woods has miles of pine-needle-cushioned trails for very pleasant walking during the snowless months of the year.  When we visited this woods last spring, we were delighted to find a number of wildflowers we rarely find in other nearby forests, such as One-sided Pyrola and Rosy Twisted Stalk, which were growing here in abundance, along with many others of our favorites.   We found no wildflowers in bloom today, but there were many other signs of life on this balmy day, including a cluster of waterbugs skating across the surface of this pretty little creek.  Sue is patiently trying to get a photo of them.

In the damp mud along the creek, many sharp-pointed shoots of Skunk Cabbage were already protruding, offering us a promise of spring's first flowers even before the first of winter's snows have begun to fall.

 Foamflower leaves carpet the woods in low-lying spots.  Their purple-tinged evergreen leaves will stay fresh all winter long under the snow, along with the fronds of the Intermediate Wood Fern that intermingles with Foamflower here.

Although the leaves and petals of Starflower have long been shed, we found evidence of their presence in these tiny white ball-shaped seedheads still perched on the ends of twin flower stalks.