Thursday, January 30, 2014

Winter's Colors

Wow!  Just look at how BLUE that sky is!   I think it can be this blue only in winter, when below-zero temperatures drive all humidity out of the air.   But it got well above zero today, in fact it felt balmy enough to unzip my coat and loosen my scarf as I walked around Moreau Lake, enjoying this beautiful afternoon and celebrating how lucky I am to have this splendid Moreau Lake State Park to enjoy it in.

The day was dazzling in more ways than one, for today the snow sparkles were glittering all of the colors of the rainbow.  I'm not sure what the conditions must be to achieve this prismatic effect, whether it's temperature or shape of the snow crystals or what.  When I went out on Sunday, the snow was sparkly but colorless, while today those sparkles were colorful as confetti.   Click on this photo and see if you can detect the colorful sparkles.

Here are a couple of photos I've enhanced to amplify that colorful effect.

Compared to that snow, the shriveled lakeside flowers looked pretty dull, but my eyes sure lit up when I found this intact specimen of Whorled Mountain Mint along the shore.  Although this plant is one of the rarest plants in New York, I was able to count nearly 30 plants standing above the snow today, still holding the leaves that distinguish this species from our much more common Narrow-leaved Mountain Mint. 

Since this rare plant has such a distinctive profile, more easily detectable against the white snow than when mixed in with other green foliage,  I continued to search for more of it as I made my way around the shore.    I was surprised how many different species of plants I managed to recognize: asters of several species, bush clover, vervain, Evening Primrose, and several different kinds of mints, all of which bore their bushy little flower clusters in the leaf axils, rather than at the top of the stem.  I did not find any more of the Mountain Mint.

Here's a plant I did not recognize at all, although now that I look at it again, I suspect it could be the remnants of Butter-and-eggs (Linaria vulgaris),  which bears its bright yellow-and-orange spurred flowers in tight racemes like these, and also has very narrow leaves growing opposite all along the stem.

Nearby grew some very robust Pitch Pines, still holding tight to their cones, including some that had opened their scales wide to release their seeds.  I was once told that Pitch Pine cones only opened when heated by forest fires, but obviously, I was misinformed.

I discovered today that this handsome --  and heated! -- restroom was open and available for hikers and skiers and fishermen to use all winter.  It's located in camping loop A, not far from the parking lot near the entrance to the park.  A really nice amenity, with warm toilet seats (especially welcome for those of us who have to sit down for this purpose). There's a second restroom near the warming hut on the other side of the lake, but that one is an unheated facility with a composting toilet.  It's very nice for an outhouse, actually, but still, it's very cold.

Another great thing about this nice heated restroom is that the walls are adorned with scenic photographs.  Longtime readers of my blog and also the blog Water-lily might recognize that these photos were taken by my friend Sue Pierce, as well as by yours truly.

Another view of Moreau Lake State Park being beautifully colorful.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A Frozen Riverbay Ramble

Another sub-zero night last night.  That should freeze up the river bays solid, I thought.  And so it did.  There's a section of the Hudson River at Moreau where the water flows back behind an island and in and around rocky coves and into a marsh, and it's here that I love to explore when the ice grows thick enough to walk on.  So that's where I went today.  I felt reassured that the ice would support my weight when I saw the trail of a fisherman's sled heading straight across the bay.  Now that I think of it, I never did see any sign of that fisherman, nor a trail indicating his safe return.  Gulp!  Hope he didn't fall through!   At any rate, I stayed away from the main flow of the river, as well as from areas where I knew little creeks entered the bays, places where the ice might be thin.

I especially love walking back into the marsh, where in summer the water's too shallow to paddle and the ground too mucky to walk on.  Today I could wander around to my heart's content.

There were lots of animal tracks, both on the ice and also in the woods, and I could make a good guess about who had been traveling through, even though blowing snow had filled in the footprints, obscuring any fine details.   Just from the length of the stride or the depth of the track I could tell that coyote and fox and fisher and deer had been out here before me, many of them coming down to drink from a section of creek that was still open water.

Some little critter actually went right in.  What else could it be but a mink?

Were a bunch of mice having a subnivean party, or are these the tracks of just one mouse going and coming from its cozy home under the snow?

However many mice made those tracks, they'd better watch out for this Red-tail Hawk, who flew up in a tree when I disturbed it at its squirrel dinner.

As the afternoon grew late, some slanting rays of the lowering sun struck the buds of a young American Beech and they shone with a coppery glow.

These Striped Maple trees didn't need any sunbeams to make them glow, since the brilliant red of their twigs and buds appeared almost incandescent.

There were several cattail stands in the marsh, and I couldn't resist squeezing one and watching the seeds come exploding out.  Some people might say that I'm way too easily amused, but it really is quite amazing.  Watch!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Paying a Call on the Porkies

Hey!  I thought it was supposed to be WARMER today!  It was still barely above zero when I pulled on my snowpants this morning and headed up to Moreau Lake State Park to meet my friend Sue.  We had planned on a walk to the porcupine caves in the mountains that rise above the lake, but the windchill out on the open expanse of the frozen lake almost convinced us we were nuts.  But we talked ourselves into continuing, assuring ourselves there would be no wind in the woods, and that as soon as we started climbing those mountain trails we would warm right up.  And so we did.

Our climb would have been much easier if we'd had Yaktraks over our boots, since the layer of frozen snow under the new fluffy stuff was quite slippery.  But we hauled ourselves along, grasping tree trunks and leaning on our poles, until we reached the area of hemlocks and caves, where we always find porcupine sign.  And so we did again today.

Porcupines don't waste their energy wandering all over the woods.  They find a hemlock to feed in, and that's where they go every day (or more likely, night), following the same route.  As the winter wears on, the trail from den to tree will be packed down to a trough, a trough that is littered with shed quills and little nuggets of poo and a continuous stream of yellow pee. 

Since first discovering these porcupine signs several years ago, Sue and I have returned each winter, always hoping we might actually lay eyes on the creature who made them.  So far, we have yet to find one.  They can be awfully hard to see when stationed high in the treetops, but the hemlock treetops up here have now grown so bare from constant porcupine dining, it seems that that bristly profile would be quite visible.  At some point, Porkie will no doubt have to find another grove, as these pickings grow slimmer and slimmer.

Ah well, there are always other amusements in a snowy woods, especially when there is fresh sparkly snow.  Here Sue is trying to capture a photograph of that sparkle.  The flakes were very large and glittery, but my attempts to capture an image were futile.

As this cheerful fisherman duo of father and son could attest,  capturing the prize is not always the best aspect of the adventure.  They had been tending their tip-ups for hours out on the frozen lake without many nibbles, but that certainly hadn't spoiled their day.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Frazil Report

It's been snowing and blowing all day today, but such a fine dry snow, there's only an inch or two or three to show for it. But I'll take whatever we can get and be glad for it.  At least the temperatures are growing more bearable, so I'm hoping for a splendid hike in the mountains at Moreau tomorrow.  It was still very bitter cold yesterday when I drove up along the Hudson north of Warrensburg to check on the frazil ice now jamming the river.  I could hardly stand to take my hand out of my mitten to take these photographs, but I do like to have a record of how the ice is behaving each year.  Because frazil ice is formed when droplets of super-cooled water are tossed into sub-freezing air, the colder the air, the more the frazil.

As this photo taken along Golf Course Road shows, the river valley is filling up fast, although the ice is still below the height it reached last year, when it pressed against the guardrail here and threatened to spill onto the road.  I have scrambled down this steep bank in summer to explore the flora along the shore, and I can attest that those ice heaps are now at least 12 feet above the normal course of the river.

As I drove north, the river disappeared from my view for a while, and by the time I could see it again from the road, I saw it was open and running swiftly, although sloshing noisily with slushy mats of frazil ice.  Eventually, this slushy ice will be stalled by the jammed-up ice downstream.  If it stalls long enough, the ice will grow downward, eventually reaching the river bottom and damming the flow completely.  That's when the ice will rise and be deposited on the shore.

When I reached the Rte. 28 bridge across the Hudson at The Glen, I could actually watch the frazil being formed in the turbulent rapids just upstream.

To my surprise and delight, I found my friend Evelyn Greene also there on the bridge, and despite our shivers, we had a grand time observing the behavior of this particular form of ice.  Evelyn has studied this phenomenon for many years and certainly knows more about it than anyone else I know.  On this occasion, she pointed out to me how the ice was being pushed together through a narrow channel to form large mats, like the one photographed here.

As the river widened, we noted how the large mats always broke up into smaller pieces as they coursed rapidly downstream.

There they go!

On my return home, I took the road that follows the opposite bank, stopping at a point we call Snake Rock to observe the piles of frazil towering over the side of the road.  Last year, the ice completely covered the road to a height of over 12 feet, requiring several weeks of work to make the road passable once again.

I could see that the frazil had crossed the road this year as well, to the point where the river appears to have flooded this low area. So far, anyway, the plows have managed to keep the road clear of frazil ice.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Just Dress For It!

 Yeah, we got a little chilled, standing still watching the frazil ice push down the Hudson up north of Warrensburg today.  It might have been 5 above zero, after all, which is pretty cold.  But we were dressed for it, in longjohns and snowpants and parkas and facemasks and mittens and scarves and hoods, and Ruth even had some handwarmer packs she shared with us.  But most of all, we were happy to be there, Ruth and Jean and Evelyn and I, glad to have such good company for an afternoon's adventure outdoors.

Ruth and Jean and I had come north to join Evelyn, who would serve as our guide, first to show us the phenomenon of ice forming and damming the river's flow, then to lead us along old logging roads until we came to state forest preserve that had not been logged for over a hundred years.  That's enough time for some of the pines to grow pretty tall and very big around.

The snow in the woods was firm enough we could walk right on top without snowshoes, keeping up a pace fast enough that we soon grew toasty warm under all our winter garb.   It was almost too cold to take photos, though, with the camera's mechanism jamming at times and the battery stuttering some. Not to mention, my fingers nearly froze when I tried to take a picture.  I was glad, though, that  I captured this otter trail, which led along a frozen creek until it disappeared into some open water.

Brrrr!  Just the THOUGHT of diving into that icy water!  But then I remember that otters are perfectly dressed for that, with one of the densest furs imaginable, with an undercoat that never lets water touch their skin.

Friday, January 17, 2014

No Eagles, No Fish, But Who Cares?

I'd heard so many recent reports of Bald Eagle sightings at Moreau Lake State Park, I thought I'd head over there today (Friday) to see if I might catch a glimpse of these majestic birds.  The most likely place to see them was along the Hudson River, especially since long stretches of open water now give the eagles access to good fishing.

Well, I didn't see any eagles along the river today, but oh, it sure was worth the trip to see the river so splendid, flowing serenely under a bright blue sky.

Next stop was Moreau Lake itself, still solidly frozen over with more than a foot of ice, despite several days of rain and above-freezing temperatures.   A dusting of new snow covered the ice, and a few ice fishermen were dotting the vast expanse of the lake's white surface.  I stopped to chat with a few of them, including my friend Dave, shown here enjoying the sun on his back and dipping his line in the water.

"Any luck today, Dave?" I asked, and Dave answered, "Sure, lots of luck!  A beautiful day to sit out here on this beautiful lake, and I never once had to get my hands cold and slimy by unhooking a fish."

I heard about the same story from Jim and Ed, two native New Jersey guys who just couldn't believe how lucky they were to be sitting out here on this beautiful lake surrounded by gorgeous scenic mountains and the kind of serene silence very hard to come by back in their own home state.   Did they catch any fish today?  No, but that didn't seem to bother them one bit.  I thought about folks who willingly spend big bucks to find silence and solitude at some yoga spa,  but all these fellows had found those treasures here, free of charge.

While chatting with Jim and Ed, I noticed an atmospheric phenomenon I had never witnessed before: clouds of vapor were rising from the sun-warmed surface of the lake and surrounding us with fog.

Within minutes, as the sun dipped behind the mountains and a chill fell over the lake,  the whole surface was covered with a dense layer of fog, as if a cloud had come down to rest on the snowy ice.

Another way this wondrous lake has of being amazing and beautiful.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Pretty as a Picture Out There

It's my hope and habit to try to find something of beauty or interest every time I go out, no matter how dreary the weather.  Today I didn't even have to try.  I just looked out my window.


 Wonderful snow!  Tree-twig-sticky snow!  The kind of snow we sing about when we sing "Winter Wonderland!"  And it stayed in the trees and covered the shrubs all day long.

Other duties kept me out of the woods today, but a quick walk around the block yielded many wonders close to home.  In my own backyard, the Flowering Dogwood buds were bonneted with snow as high as Marge Simpson's hairdo.

The common weeds were transformed into things of beauty, like these gracefully arching stems of spent Motherwort.

I cheated a little and used my camera's flash to light up these Sycamore fruits, dangling like Christmas balls in little fur caps.