Sunday, August 18, 2013

Strolling the Old Canal

What a day for a streamside walk!  The day was warm, the air was light and dry, the sun was bright, the sky was blue, and my friend Sue knew just the place for a wonderful stroll along an old canal.  And a quite dramatic canal, it was, with water plunging through what remains of a series of old locks  called "The Five Combines" on the Feeder Canal in Hudson Falls, in Washington County.

The Feeder Canal was first constructed in 1822 to conduct water from the nearby Hudson River to the Champlain Canal, an important shipping route in the 19th Century.  The locks -- or "combines" -- were built about ten years later when the Feeder Canal was widened to allow for boat traffic.  All together, the locks allowed boats to descend a total of 55 vertical feet until they reached the  level portions of the canal that flowed quietly south toward Ft. Edward, where they entered the Champlain Canal.

The Feeder Canal is no longer used for commercial boat traffic, but the old tow paths are maintained as walking and biking trails that stretch for several miles all the way from Glens Falls to Ft. Edward to the south.

Sue and I were content to stroll just a mile or so along the canal, at times creeping  quietly up to the edge to observe a number of Green Herons hunting for fish in the quiet waters.  Here, a heron shares a log with several Painted Turtles.

My little pocket camera has a very limited zoom capability, so this was about the best I could do to capture an image of this colorful Green Heron.

There were other hunters, too,  along the shore, and we inadvertently frightened this Water Snake into the water from where it was basking on the bank.

I didn't know what this caterpillar was, until I learned that the Yellow Bear (the caterpillar of the Virginian Tiger Moth) can come with orange fur as well as yellow. The long hairs that extend far beyond the rest of the fuzz are a distinguishing feature of this caterpillar.

We could smell the fragrance of this patch of Garden Phlox (Phlox paniculata) before we even saw it, although its intense color would have been hard to miss.  What WAS easy to miss was the spectacular Giant Swallowtail Butterfly that came flitting and wafting through this patch of garden escapees.  Try as we might, we could not capture its beauty in a photo, it moved so quickly among the blooms and then soared away out of sight.  This is a more southerly species of butterfly than we're used to seeing, although we did see one last summer, too.  That time, it was puddling in mud and stood very still for the picture taking.  Click here and you can see how big and beautiful it is.

The Northern Prickly Ash (Zanthoxylum americanum) was in spectacular color, too, especially when the sunlight picked out the clusters of bright red berries that were just beginning to spit open to reveal its shiny black seeds.  When I picked one of these clusters to take a closer look, I was struck by the strong citrus odor of the fruit, reminding me that our friend Ed Miller had told us that this small tree is our only example of citrus that grows this far north.  Do take a sniff if you find this tree in fruit.  The smell reminded me of fresh-squeezed limeade.  But don't try to taste it, or your mouth will go numb for a while.  Another common name for this species is Toothache Tree.

There were many other beautiful berries along the trail, and I found the fruit clusters of this Alternate-leaved Dogwood (Cornus alternifolia) particularly colorful, with deep-blue berries on bright-red pedicels.

The frothy cream-colored blooms of Wild Cucumber (Echinocystis lobata) were climbing over many trailside shrubs.

A second Gourd-family vine was thriving along the canal, and although the leaves of One-seeded Bur Cucumber (Sicyos angulatus) resemble those of Wild Cucumber, its flowers appear quite different.

A close-up view of the One-seeded Bur Cucumber's flower.  I read in my Newcomb's Wildflower Guide that this species' staminate flowers grow in long-stalked clusters, its pistillate flowers in short-stalked clusters.  I wish I had sought out some of each to compare them.

I was surprised that we found only a few plants of Turtlehead (Chelone glabra) along the canal.  The few we did see, though, were prettily tinged with pink.


Salty Pumpkin Studio said...

Beautiful photographs and post
I'm glad I found your blog. Your Tiger Swallowtail butterfly photos are spectacular.

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Thank you, Maywyn, I'm glad you found my blog, too. Especially because your comment gave me access to your own blog full of lovely photos and fascinating commentary.