Monday, June 30, 2014

The Lilies LIVE!

I'm happy to report that my despair for the future of Wood Lilies was premature.  Ever since the power company sprayed herbicide under the lines in 2012, this beautiful denizen of such open areas had showed severe decline.  Over the past two years, in places we used to find dozens and dozens of large healthy specimens, we began to see only one or two, and these rather spindly and small.  My friend Sue and I went looking again on the first day of summer this year, and again found very few.  We began to doubt that one of our favorite native wildflowers would ever recover from being doused with poison.  But when we went back to re-explore their powerline habitat this past Sunday, oh my, were we happily surprised! There they were, in all their brilliant orange splendor, and in numbers almost approaching the numbers we used to find.  In the stretch included in the above photograph, we counted nearly 60!

Their recovery appears to be assured!

The Wood Lily (Lilium philadelphicum) is one of our most spectacular native wildflowers, and what a loss it would be to have them permanently destroyed in the very habitat where they used to thrive.  Very few forest fires are allowed to burn long enough to create the open sunlit areas they require, but the clearcuts under powerlines have suited them quite happily, until herbicides began to be used to keep down woody growth beneath the lines.  I sure wish there were some other method to achieve the same results.  Wouldn't it be great to see herds of goats brought in to browse woody plants after frost, after the herbaceous ones have completed their lifecycles?

After exploring the powerline stretch at the top of Mud Pond at Moreau, Sue and I crossed Spier Falls Road to continue our search on the powerline that headed east from there.  Perhaps our chances would be improved by the fact that Sue was wearing her lucky orange T-shirt.

Sure enough, there were more to be found along this stretch, including a double-flowered pair protruding from a vivid green patch of Hay-scented Fern that provided a perfect foil for these spectacular blooms.

The Wood Lilies were not as abundant along this section, but both of the specimens we found here had double-flowered stalks.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Rockwell Falls, After Heavy Rains

When my husband and I drove up to Lake Luzerne on Friday evening, we could see the Hudson River was running full from recent torrential rains.  After enjoying a very pleasant supper on the porch at Upriver Cafe, we walked down to the rocks above Rockwell Falls. Due to the rain-swollen river, the falls were almost obliterated by the roiling, thundering water as it plunged through the gorge and under a bridge, where a lone Great Blue Heron hunted the swirling backwash for its evening meal.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Flower-hunting With Friends On the Ice Meadows

Every year, some time past mid-June, my friends in the Thursday Naturalists plan a field trip to the Ice Meadows, a botanical wonderland of many rare plants along the Hudson River north of Warrensburg.  This year, we were lucky the torrential rains stopped by dawn and the sun came up to grant us a perfectly wonderful day along this stretch of riverbank kept clear of forestation by massive heaps of frazil ice that mount up along the shore each winter.

This site is such a remarkable habitat that the Nature Conservancy has set aside a good stretch of it for permanent protection, and it was at this preserve on the west side of the river that we started our explorations this past Thursday.  Here we could find both arid stretches of rocky sand as well a series of small pools and swampy ground kept constantly watered by running springs.

We can always count on finding a number of orchids thriving here, and the first one we found today was the wee little Shining Ladies' Tresses (Spiranthes lucida).  This is the earliest of the Spiranthes species to bloom, and its tiny white flowers are distinguished by the bright yellow of its lower lip.

The most populous orchid species to thrive along these shores is the dainty Rose Pogonia (Pogonia ophioglossoides), which, despite its diminutive size, is easy to find among the tall grasses because of its bright pink color.

Rose Pogonia is such a pretty little thing, it always deserves a closer look.

The Tubercled Orchid (Platanthera flava) also deserves a closer look, less because of its beauty, but rather to notice the tiny bump on the flower's lower lip -- the "tubercle" that is the reason for this greenish-yellow orchid's common name.

Possibly the rarest plant we would find today was Sticky Tofieldia (Triantha glutinosa), classified as "Endangered" in New York State and "Threatened" in many surrounding states. And yet there were many of these fluffy clusters of tiny white flowers scattered around the damp sand.  The stems of this flower are covered with short black hairs that exude a sticky substance.

I did not photograph every fascinating plant we found today, but I did try to capture the beauty of some of them, such as this deep-rose Racemed Milkwort (Polygala polygama), a small flower that would be easily overlooked if not for the vibrancy of its color.

The lovely Harebells (Campanula rotundifolia) have such a delicate beauty, it's hard to believe they could withstand the harsh conditions of crushing ice, roaring floods, and scorching sun of this challenging habitat.  And yet, here they thrive, finding a foothold among the cracks in the rocks.

The clear-yellow short-lived blooms of Frostweed (Helianthemum canadense) are always a pleasure to find, and we found many here, on both sides of the river.  I often notice that the bright-orange anthers are frequently asymmetrically arrayed to one side of the pistil, but I have never noticed this feature mentioned in any description of this plant.

Many bright-pink wild roses were adding their fragrance to the air.  A close examination of the leaves and stems revealed the narrow stipules and slender thorns that distinguish the Pasture Rose (Rosa carolina).

On rocks surrounding the spring-fed pools we found both species of Sundew native to this part of New York.  Both species use the sticky drops that bejewel their spiky leaves to trap insects, which the leaves then enclose in order for the plant to digest them.  This one with the oblong leaves is called Spatulate Sundew (Drosera intermedia).

This one, with larger and rounder leaves, is called Round-leaved Sundew (Drosera rotundifolia).

After a picnic lunch in the welcome breezy shade of Snake Rock, a huge wooded boulder on the west side of the river,  some members of our group made our way across the Hudson to a stretch of shoreline remarkable for its impressive outcropping of marble.

Here, Ruth Schottman points out certain features of this remarkable geology, which appears as if the molten rocks had congealed in their pattern of flow.

This cluster of vibrant Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa var. interior) has made itself at home among the large crystals of the exposed marble.

The Butterfly Weed is one of the plants we found today that appeared to inhabit the east side of the Ice Meadows only, for we did not find any across the river during our morning explorations. Another plant that seems to prefer the east side to the west is Rock Sandwort (Minuartia michauxii), which spread its starry clumps across the rocks high up near the edge of the woods.

Quite likely the rarest plant that inhabits this marble-shored section of Ice Meadows is the sedge-like plant called Whip Nutrush (Scleria triglomerata), an endangered species very much at home along this stretch of the Hudson.  Today it was already producing its little spherical seeds, some of which had matured to pearly white while others were still glossy green.

We were accompanied along our path through the woods by a seemingly friendly White Admiral Butterfly, which kept fluttering all around us and landing right at our feet.  This gave us many opportunities to capture its beauty in photographs.  I am glad to have this photograph that displays the red spots along the edge of the hindwings, which I had never noticed while the butterfly was in the air.

The presence of these red spots is a clue to a fact that has often mystified me, that the White Admiral Butterfly is the same species (Limenitis arthemis) as the Red-spotted Purple Butterfly.  Here's a photo of the Red-spotted Purple I took some time ago.  Yes, I can see some similarities, but they obviously look quite different.  And yet, all the butterfly guidebooks tell me that these are just two color variations of the same species.  Amazing!  (By the way, this second butterfly's red spots would be visible on the underside of its wings.)

I don't know what kind of creature created this bumpy little packet we found today suspended from a flower stem.  I imagine it is an egg case that will soon break open to release whatever baby creatures are packed tightly within.  I've sent a photo to and have yet to receive an ID.  My guess is that these will be spiders.  Anybody?

Monday, June 23, 2014

Summertime . . . and the livin' is BUSY!

Just one beautiful day after another this week, as we officially entered the season of Summer. Those blue skies, dry air, and sweet sunlit mornings drew me outdoors almost every day, and all day, too.  By the time I would get home and catch up on my household duties, I was far too tired to post any blogs, so I'll try to catch up by posting this multi-adventure digest.

Thursday, June 19:  Further Adventures with Evelyn

I have said before I would follow noted Adirondack explorer Evelyn Greene anywhere, but rest assured, I was not going to follow her over the huge beaver dam that her boat is resting on in the photo above.  There was just enough of a woody barrier to keep us from plunging over one of the tallest critter-constructed dams I have ever seen, with a good 10-foot drop to the creek bottom below.

We had come to Austin Pond near North Creek this day to conduct some tests for water clarity and chemistry, a service provided by the Adirondack Lake Assessment Program, with major support from the environmental group Protect the Adirondacks.  As an active member of Protect, Evelyn volunteers to conduct a number of such tests each summer, and today I had come along to help balance her boat while she wrestled with the testing apparatus.

Before we got down to the task of testing the water, we enjoyed a paddle around the small pond, and afterward, much of this gloriously sunny day still remained for further adventures.  And of course, Evelyn had just such adventures in mind.  She had located a cedar swamp she wanted to explore near Minerva, so off we drove up 28N to meet our friend Bob Duncan, who joined us to push through the clawing branches of this trackless wooded wetland.  We were happy to let Evelyn proceed before us.

Cedar swamps are known to nurture some lime-loving botanical rarities, so we all were on the lookout for any surprises we might find.  We did find lots of old favorites, such as more Water Avens plants than I have ever seen, and in various stages of maturity, from red--covered new flowers to wild-haired open seed heads.

Our native Blue Flags are always a spectacular treat to come upon in just such swampy spots.

We had sat on some stumps to eat lunch and were talking about whether any of us had ever seen a Northern Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum ssp. stewardsonii), when I happened to look at my feet and discover one of this species standing right by my shoe.  What distinguishes this Jack from the more common ones is that the tube of the spathe is deeply furrowed on the outside, forming conspicuous white ridges.  Yep, that sounds about right.  So we did find a surprise, after all!

Evelyn and Bob had other plans for the afternoon, but Bob had told me about some unusual ragworts blooming in Putty Pond, up near Thirteenth Lake, which was not that far of a detour for me, so that's where I headed next.  Putty Pond was once flooded to serve as a settling pond for nearby garnet mines.  The mines are long closed and the dam that created the pond has fallen apart, but the area is still very saturated, providing the perfect home for many wetland plants, such as the Robbins' Ragwort (Packera schweinitziana) I had come to see.

Another wetland plant that thrives at Putty Pond is the Alpine Bulrush (Tricophorum alpinum), a snowy-haired little Sedge-family plant that from a distance appears like drifting snow.  Up close, it looks like a host of gnomes in the grass.

The Robbins' Ragwort was indeed in full bloom, swaying on long tall stalks as the breeze blew across the wet meadow where they were thriving.  This is a more northern species of ragwort than the more commonly found Golden Ragwort (P. aurea), but its flowers appear quite similar.  Its leaves are quite different in shape, however, and I forgot to take a photo of them. Doh!

Another treat at Putty Pond this day were the tiny cones clinging to the soft-needled branches of American Larch.  With the sunlight shining through them, they looked as red as cherry gumdrops.

Friday, June 20:  Lily-hunting Along the Powerlines

1. The Spring Trail Powerline at Moreau Lake State Park

Each year around Summer Solstice, my friend Sue Pierce and I go looking for Wood Lilies along the powerlines that cut across areas of Moreau Lake State Park.  When we first started this quest some five years ago, we found them by the dozens and dozens, big fat healthy bright-orange flowers on strong straight stalks.  But since the power company sprayed herbicide under the lines two years ago, we have difficulty finding even one.  And often the ones we do find do not look healthy.  But we keep hoping that some year they will revive and reclaim their old habitat, these bright dry rocky thin-soiled areas under the open sky.

We began our hunt today by starting up the Spring trailhead of the Western Ridge Trail, accessed off of Spier Falls Road.  When we reached the powerline, we searched and searched, and Sue managed to find one spindly little stalk with an as-yet-closed bud.  Perhaps we might find more when their brilliant flowers open and become more visible.  They just might be hiding still among the acres of Hay-scented fern that carpet sections of powerline up here.

Other plants appear to be recovering from being doused with poison.  There was certainly no dearth of Whorled Loosestrife with its whorls of small yellow flowers circling the stems.  The Sweet Fern was thriving, too, scenting the air with its delicious fragrance as the sun warmed its frond-like leaves.

We found lots of Bicknell's Cranesbill, too, a sprawling plant with little pale-purple flowers and pointy seed pods that resemble the beaks of cranes.

Recent road-building under the powerlines has introduced many of the non-native roadside plants that thrive is such disturbed soils.  It's hard to begrudge the presence, though, of such pretty plants as these masses of red and white clovers.  Some of the white clovers were the species called Alsike Clover, an extremely fragrant flower that was lending its sweet fragrance to the air.

One organism that seems to thrive despite the worst abuse is the tiny lichen called Pink Earth Lichen (Dibaesis baeomyces), which actually prefers sterile soil.  It grows in dry mats in the middle of hard-packed trails, where it is walked on frequently.  From eye level, it passes unnoticed because of its miniature size, but I always get down on my stomach to peer at it, because it is so charming.

2. The  Powerline That Climbs the Heights

After our nearly fruitless search of that one stretch of powerline, I suggested we might explore the clear-cut that climbs a mountain on the other side of Spier Falls Road.  I had climbed this area last fall and found unusual plants at that time, so perhaps we might find something interesting today, maybe even some healthy Wood Lilies.  This powerline had not undergone the heavy traffic our first one had.  Sue agreed, so up and up we went, clambering over boulders and pushing our way through low shrubs and thickets of Hay-scented Fern and Bracken Ferns.  When we reached a certain height, we could turn around and enjoy a wonderful view of the Hudson below us.

Well, after all that effort, we found no Wood Lilies here, either.  But we found another plant that neither of us had ever seen before, so that brought back a certain lightness to our step.  Perhaps only fellow plant nerds will understand why we were so excited to find this Prostrate Tick-trefoil (Desmodium rotundifolium), especially since it wasn't even in bloom.  Although not considered rare in New York, it is a relatively uncommon native and hey, a lifer is a lifer!  Now we will have to come back to see it in bloom.

Here was another plant we had never seen in Saratoga County, and Sue never anywhere.  It's Venus's Looking Glass (Triodanus perfoliata) and I'm afraid we will have to come back earlier next year to see its pretty purple flowers.  Those look more like seed pods than buds that are nestling in those ruffly little heart-shaped leaves.

We did find some old favorites, too, such as this Pale Corydalis with its yellow-tipped rosy pink blooms and lacy foliage.

Almost lost among the tall grass was this little patch of Ragged Robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi)), an introduced species that commonly grows in masses in wet ditches along roads.  It's kind of a mystery how just a few plants came to be established this far from any road.

Every time we climbed toward another height, we thought we might be reaching the top of our mountain. But every time we surmounted a crest, we discovered yet another height.  We were growing a little tired and hot, and prickly too, from pushing through thick shrubbery.  And we'd also acquired some Wood Ticks. So we started down, saving further exploration for another day.  After all, we know we have to come back to see our new life-list flowers in bloom.

3. The Powerline That Parallels Spier Falls Road

There was one more stretch of powerline we could explore together today (Sue had already visited the line above Mud Pond before we met at the spring), and that was the stretch that parallels Spier Falls Road, starting just across the road from the dam.  I love to hike this rolling-hilled part in the fall, when the grasses and trees are radiantly multicolored, and the colors on this mid-summer day were equally radiant.

Is there any flower more amazingly blue than Viper's Bugloss, especially when set among masses of Yellow Sweetclover, the yellow and blue amplifying one other?  Yes, these are common roadside weeds, but they sure are beautiful roadside weeds.

A couple more beautiful roadside weeds, Oxeye Daisies and Cow Vetch, combined in splendid array.

Yet another pretty weed, the Maiden Pink.  Who could begrudge its alien status when it possesses such astounding color?  We were delighted to see it, even though we remained disappointed in our quest to discover Wood Lilies along this easement.

4. The Powerline Above Mud Pond

This is a powerline easement Sue and I visit frequently.  Here we find Frostweed exuding its fragile curls of ice in autumn; here we find dozens of Pink Lady's Slippers peeking out from the pine woods each spring; and here we find the tiny bright-blue shed blooms of Blue Curls littering the sandy path on late-summer afternoons.  And this is the place where we used to find dozens and dozens of vibrant Wood Lilies, always around the end of June, at the time of Summer Solstice.  Sue had found just one when she stopped here this morning on her way to meet me at the Spring trailhead, and she told me I would find it too, if I came by here on my way home.

And she was right!  Such a big bright bloom would be pretty hard to miss.  But how sad that that this was the only one we could find along a stretch of path where we used to find almost a hundred.

Ah well, at least other plants seem to be thriving in this dry sandy area.  I'm always amazed to see such lush patches of Haircap Moss and Running-pine Clubmoss here on this arid soil.  Today they were both in fruit.

American Hazelnuts also abound at this location, and today I could see the little green nuts nestled in their ruffly nests.

Although only one little floret of this Blunt-leaved Milkweed was blooming, it filled the air with its heady scent.  Imagine the fragrance when all the deep-pink florets are in bloom!

 Yes, a wonderful day filled with flowers, despite our futile search for elusive Wood Lilies.  And it was also a good day for dragonflies here above Mud Pond, where I could feel the wind from their wings, there were so many who flew so close.  And bless my lucky stars, a few even perched and sat still for the picture-taking!  Here's a male Calico Pennant in all his glorious red garb. Some folks are said to wear their hearts on their sleeves. This fellow has a whole string of hearts on his abdomen!

Usually, it's the guys of the dragonflies who sport the most vivid colors.  But in the case of Eastern Pondhawks, the Kelly-green female is far more vibrantly colored than her pale-blue mate.  Both sexes have big green eyes.

It is amazing how differently colored the different sexes of the same dragonfly species can be.  This yellow-and-brown female Slaty Skimmer may be pretty enough, but she looks not at all like the deep-slate-blue male her species is named after.  They both have clear wings with black stigmas and narrow dark tips.

What could cap off a day of delights more completely than finding a Painted Turtle in the act of laying her eggs?  Let's hope she buries them well to keep them safe from predators -- safer than our lilies were when the herbicide sprayers came over.

Looking back over these posts about our powerline explorations, it strikes me what a different group of plants each section seems to support, despite the fact that all these clearcuts are contiguous.  They all run the same west-east direction so all have a similar sunlight exposure, and except for evidence of some calcareous outcropping up on the heights, I would  guess they overlie a similar geologic substrate.  And yet, each one seems to exhibit a different habitat, hospitable to some plants that appear to thrive in one section but not in others.  But then too, there are certain plants -- the Hay-scented Fern, the Sweet Fern, the Whorled Loosestrife -- that thrive in all of them.  What fun to have all this plant diversity in a single stretch of land so close to my home!

Saturday, June 21:  A Day for Lenses and Liverworts

What better way to celebrate the first glorious day of summer than spending the cool sunlit morning at a wonderful nature preserve with fellow nature lovers?  Then add to this that one of those nature lovers was the fine nature photographer Linda Eastman, shown here offering an introduction to a photography workshop she led this day at the Orra Phelps Nature Preserve in Wilton.  The workshop was offered free to the public by Saratoga PLAN (Preserving Land And Nature), the land-conservation organization that now owns this site, once the home territory of the noted Adirondack naturalist, the late Dr. Orra Phelps.

Home to some of Saratoga County's rarest plants (some of them planted by Orra Phelps herself), this forested preserve comprises some 18-plus acres of wetlands, streams, sandplain and woodland habitats.  The rushing streams, in particular, offered workshop participants the chance to test some of our instructor's advice about capturing the water's beautiful interplay of light and motion.

The day was still young when the photography workshop ended, so my friend and fellow-participant Sue Pierce and I headed a few miles north to Moreau Lake State Park.  There we enjoyed a picnic lunch sitting next to a quiet bay of the lake, before hiking the shore and then wending our way through the maze of forested campground roads.

Along one of those roads, we drew to a halt, struck by the sight of this carpet of tiny ruffly parasols spreading across the verge.  What the heck is THIS? we pondered, not knowing even what category of organism it belonged to.  Was this moss?  Were they flowers? Was it lichen?

Nearby was another patch of fascinating growths, like a miniature forest of wee little palm trees, but this time we could see the underlying layer of stuff that couldn't be anything but liverwort.

A closer look at this second patch revealed the presence of some of those tiny parasols emerging from the same liverwort thallus that the tiny palm trees also occupied.  It wasn't until I got home and searched for similar images on the internet that I learned that both structures belonged to the same species of liverwort, Marchantia polymorpha, whose very name suggests that it can assume several shapes.  The little "parasols" (pictured below) are the male fruiting bodies of this quite common liverwort. (In my research I also learned that this liverwort is the bane of nursery growers for its habit of frequently growing on the soil of potted plants.)

The tiny "palm trees" are the female fruiting bodies, seen here bearing ripening spore packets beneath the spreading fronds.

While sprawling belly-down next to the liverwort patches (which alarmed some drivers passing by), my eyes happened upon another patch of interesting growth.  Hmm, I thought, this miniature plant with the fine opposite leaves and bulbous seed pods sure looks familiar.  And then I remembered where I had seen it before: in the parking lot atop Whiteface Mountain up in the Adirondacks.  It had puzzled even the most knowledgeable botanists in our party at that time, but one of them (Steve Young of the New York Natural Heritage Program) eventually keyed it out to be Japanese Pearlwort (Sagina japonica), an introduced Asian species only recently reported to grow in New York State.  He could then document its presence for Essex County. Now we can document its presence in Saratoga County.

I wish I could post some photographs of the many sweet-singing birds we saw and heard today, including the hyperactive Northern Water Thrush that scurried, tail pumping, along the banks of the stream at Orra Phelps. But birds almost always elude my camera lens, no matter how many photography skills I may learn.  Bugs often elude me, too, but now and then some pretty little thing arrays itself for the picture-taking.  Thank you, you big bright Milkweed Beetle, you, for halting your tracks across this milkweed leaf and letting me capture your image.  You were like the cherry on the top of this wonderful sweet sundae of a perfect summer day.