Thursday, January 29, 2015

Across the Lake, Up the Mountain

Oh man, it was COLD this morning! When I stepped out on my porch to pick up the papers, my breath caught in my throat from the cold.  Or maybe it was because of this strange pink vertical cloud that appeared in the dawn sky.  Whether a cloud, a smoke plume or a contrail, I hoped it was a good omen for the walk I had agreed to lead today for my friends in the Thursday Naturalists at Moreau Lake State Park.

I actually wondered if the walk would be canceled because of the cold, but I should never forget what a dedicated bunch this is.  Ten hearty souls showed up right on time and well bundled up for our trek across the frozen lake and then a climb up a mountain to visit some porcupine caves.

We crossed the lake to the warming hut, then accessed the Red Oak Ridge Trail that took us about halfway up the mountain, where we turned off on a spur that led us to an area of marble boulders riddled with caves.

 It's here in these caves that a population of porcupines make their homes, as evidenced by the well trodden trails that lead from the dens to a grove of hemlock trees.

As their trough-like trails reveal, porcupines don't waste their energy wandering all over the woods looking for food, but make a daily bee-line to their favorite hemlock, where they will return again and again until the tree is so depleted of bark there is nothing left for porky to feed on.  It was obvious that many of the hemlocks up on this ridge had been well-pruned by porkies feeding on them.

The trails we found today had been refreshed with a new layer of snow, so we did not find the quills and hairs, nor the porky pee and poop that usually litter the trails.  Many of today's group had visited this same spot almost exactly two years ago and remembered well the sign we found then, which I recorded in my blog post for January 31, 2013, which can be revisited HERE.  That older post also provides a link to where you can hear the gruntings of porcupines down in their dens. In all the years I've been visiting these caves, I have yet to lay my eyes on a porcupine either on the trail or in a tree.  But they certainly leave lots of sign to prove that they are here.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Blizzard That Fizzled

Well, we were supposed to be hip-deep in snow by now, according to those who predicted a blizzard of "historic" proportions.  Yes, those poor folks on the New England coast got hit really hard, but we here in Saratoga County got oh, maybe 4 or 5 inches of fluffy white stuff. Just enough to transform our landscape to a dazzling beauty.  I got out my snowshoes today and headed on over to the Hudson River to walk along its snow-covered banks and even venture out onto its frozen surface.

Ordinarily, I would not dare to walk out onto the frozen river, where  currents can undermine even the thickest ice, and the daily rise and fall of water levels often brings water onto the surface, which weakens the ice.  But today I saw the trail of a fisherman's sled traversing the snow-covered surface, so I figured that I might safely go wherever that fisherman had gone, since I didn't see his trail end suddenly among broken shards of ice.

It was sweet to stride along under that wide blue sky, breathing air as cold and tingly as iced ginger ale, and delighting in the dazzle of twinkling sparkles from the snow that lay lofty as feathers around my feet.

I was intrigued by these tracks on the bank, which came and went from an opening in the side of an old beaver lodge.

The tracks were much too small to be those of a beaver.  The size and the "inch-worming"  stride indicated they were most likely those of a mink, who might have been using the beaver lodge to gain access to the water under the ice, especially if the lodge had been abandoned by the beavers.

The same animal left a long trail of tracks heading upstream, so I followed them to where they led back into a creek-fed swamp . . .

. . . and saw where the mink had found another way to get into the water and hunt for its fishy food.

Back here in the swamp I found many tracks of some tiny creature (most likely a mouse) scurrying back and forth from the safety of its hidey-holes.

Here is where one tiny creature's trail came to an abrupt end, right where the trail of a fox came loping by.  Gulp!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Spring Walk on a Winter Day

It was bitter cold and windy on Sunday, and neither Sue nor I really felt like braving the out-of-doors for any long or strenuous adventures.  So we chose an easy walk to explore the famous mineral springs at Saratoga Spa State Park, the only naturally carbonated springs east of the Rockies, long celebrated by native peoples and European arrivals alike for their healing powers.  Perhaps a dose of Saratoga's powerful waters would perk us up from our winter blahs.

The majority of the park's mineral springs cluster along Geyser Creek, which we approached through the Ferndell Ravine, a pretty trail that follows a tumbling brook between steep wooded banks.

We might have missed the first spring we came to, which was hidden well off the trail among stands of tall grass.  But its iron-rich waters had carved out a blood-red path through the snow, leading back to where the water spouted forth from the earth.

The water flows crystal-clear from the earth, but the dissolved iron in its make-up soon oxidizes as the waters spread across the ground, leaving deposits of the deepest rusty red.

We soon approached the Vale of Springs along Geyser Creek, where a path follows closely along the creek and a large sign indicates the location of several springs.

The most immediately noticeable feature here is the Island Spouter Spring, a large dome of mineral accretions, called a "tufa," out of the center of which leaps a tall spout of mineral-rich water.  Although this spring is commonly called "The Geyser," the same name as the creek it inhabits, this spring is not technically a geyser, but rather a spouter.  Geysers are features of hot springs, and they gain their energy for spouting from the build-up of heat below ground.  The Island Spouter's waters are cold and highly carbonated, and it gains its energy for spouting from the pressure of built-up gasses.

Close by is the Hayes Spring, a highly mineralized water that constantly flows from taps set within a squat stone edifice.  This is a spring from which it is easy to obtain a sample of the water, so I encouraged Sue to try its salty effervescence.

Which she did.

Yes, the taste can at first be rather startling!

                                                                                      There.  That wasn't so bad, was it?

We continued along Geyser Creek until we reached the enormous tufa created by generations upon generations of flow from the Orenda Spring, which springs from the earth high up on the bank.

The dissolved lime in Orenda's waters crystallizes to create a fascinating and beautifully patterned deposit along the banks of the creek.

We next climbed the banks to approach the Orenda Spring itself, flowing freely from this picturesque stone structure and coloring the earth with red oxides from the dissolved iron in its water.

We were entranced by these calcareous crystals that formed at the edges of where the spring water flowed out across the ground, coating the fallen leaves and grasses with what looked like a tawny fur.

The crystals may have looked soft as fur, but a touch revealed that they were as hard as stone.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

What's Not to Love About Squirrels? Well . . . .

I just learned that today is National Squirrel Appreciation Day.  WHAT?!!  I wonder who came up with that one!  Well, it was the National Wildlife Federation, and you can read what they have to say about it here.

Luckily, I've never suffered the kind of damage squirrels can wreak in an attic, so I'm better able to appreciate squirrels for their entertainment value (when they're not nipping off my Flowering Dogwood buds).  It's hard not to admire their resourcefulness, even if they do manage to hog more than their share of seed from the supposedly squirrel-proof birdfeeder.  And yeah, they are cute and fluffy.

Sometimes they are even brave, like this squirrel challenging a Cooper's Hawk for its Mourning Dove meal.

And they do have that dear appealing way of pleading with us for food, like this poor pitiful rain-soaked mama squirrel begging at our back door.

We have a lot of squirrels around our yard, as well as a family of feral cats, which we feed on our back porch.  Cats and squirrels often interact, sometimes even playfully.  In honor of National Squirrel Appreciation Day, here's a sequence of photos of one of those not-so-playful but nevertheless amusing interactions.

Feral kitten arrives at the feeding station to find squirrel got there first.

Squirrel continues to feed despite baleful stares from kitten.

Whoa!  When kitten tried to approach the bowl, squirrel wheeled around and charged at kitten, driving it away.

But not too far.  A stand-off ensued.

"Nyaa, nyaa, nyaa!  You can't scare me, " squirrel seems to be saying to kitten.  I wonder if squirrel would be so bold toward kitten's mom or dad.

I guess little kitten would not be a willing participant in National Squirrel Appreciation Day.

Friday, January 16, 2015

A Cure for the Blues

Are you turning blue from the cold?  Do you have the wintertime blues?  Well, the Spring Street Gallery in Saratoga Springs has a cure for that, with their imaginative exhibition planned for the evening of January 24, featuring all kinds of works from all kinds of creative people -- artists, writers, photographers, musicians, performance artists, creators of works of any genre relating to the word "blue," however understood.  It should be a great party, with fascinating art works, good music and food, and will serve a great cause, as well.  The show is free, but a collection will be taken up to support Code Blue, the shelter in downtown Saratoga Springs that provides the homeless a warm place to spend these coldest winter nights.

Believe me, I was really flattered when I received a direct invitation to contribute one of my photos! Blue?  Oh yes, I have lots of photos that fall within that category.  This one I call "Blue Birches" is what I chose to submit to the gallery today and which will be in the show a week from Saturday.

Before I settled on  "Blue Birches,"though,  I had a wonderful time going through my photo files to find ones that might fit the "blue" category, enjoying not only the photographs but also the memories of so many beautiful places I have been and sights I have seen.  Since I had all these photos gathered together, it was easy to post them here on my blog and share them with all my readers.  Perhaps you might enjoy revisiting them, too.  (They are even more enjoyable if you click to enlarge them!)

October dawn on Elk Lake in the Adirondacks

A Bufflehead pair on the first day of spring, Lake George

Departing storm clouds over Pyramid Lake in the Adirondacks

A campfire glows on the shore of Pyramid Lake.  I hear the loons' haunting calls every time I look at this photo.

Dawn mist rises from Pyramid Lake in October

A brilliant Venus shines from both the sky and the water at Pyramid Lake.

Narrow-leaved Gentians glow like Japanese lanterns when lit by the sun.

No flower on earth is bluer than the beautiful Fringed Gentian.

The Chicory flower is certainly blue, while the iridescent wings of this tiny hoverfly contain all the colors of the rainbow.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Cold Weather Friends

I can tell it's cold outside each day by just a glance at my frosty window panes.  But what the heck, I've got the clothes to keep me warm, and even better, I've got good friends who wouldn't dream of letting a below-zero morning keep them indoors -- especially when the wind is still and a bright sun coaxes that temperature up into the teens as the day goes on.   Perfect for an easy walk with Evelyn and Bonnie around the North Creek Ski Bowl this past Wednesday afternoon.

The historic North Creek Ski Bowl was one of the first ski areas in the country to offer a ride-up, ski-down experience back in the 1930s, and today a chair-lift still carries skiers to the top of the town slopes, where they can access the many ski trails of the Gore Mountain ski resort on the far side of the mountain.  On this weekday, the Ski Bowl chair-lift was not operating, but we could still walk the series of trails that make the Ski Bowl an attractive destinations for hikers and snowshoers as well as downhill skiers.

Evelyn's uncle, Carl Schaefer, was the man who first introduced a tow system to these slopes back in 1935, so it was appropriate that Evelyn should lead us along a series of trails that in some areas wound through wooded sections, where we would often pause to study the many animal trails that crisscrossed the snow.

At other times, the trail opened up to reveal splendid views of the mountains across the valley.  We could also enjoy that expanse of radiant sky, of a blue we only get to see in the coldest days of winter.