Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Sky Show, 6/30/2015

Rain, rain, rain!  If I had to be laid up with a broken knee, this June has been a good month for it, with rain almost every day, including most of today.  But this evening it cleared as the sun went down, and I stepped outside to take the cool evening air, walking to the corner to gaze at the starry sky.  And there they were!  Venus and Jupiter, almost touching!  I'd heard about this planetary event some days ago and had quite forgotten about it until I raised my eyes to the brilliant glow of Venus in the western sky and noticed the dull red dot of Jupiter right above her, so close I could cover the sight of both planets with just one fingernail.

After checking several astronomy sites on the web, I learned that this is the closest -- and the last -- pairing of these two planets in the current 24-year cycle, appearing to us on Earth to be but one-third of a degree apart.  Although Venus is much smaller than Jupiter, because of their relative distance from earth, Venus appears much brighter than Jupiter, shining with a - 4.5 magnitude, compared with Jupiter's -1.8 magnitude.

I'm so glad I stepped outside and didn't miss the show!

A beautiful big round moon was also shining out of the eastern sky, playing hide-and-seek with wisps of clouds that moved across the moon's pearly face, but never completely obscuring its lovely light.  Although it looked very full to me, the moon will not officially be full until tomorrow night, July 1, at 10:20 pm.

Joy Returns

Yesterday was a breakthrough day for me:  Spurred by a need to keep a hairdresser's appointment, I managed to walk the three blocks from my home to downtown Saratoga, up and down hills included, using just a cane for support.  And back again. Hope returns!  Every day I feel a bit stronger, every day I go a bit longer between pain pills.   I can begin to imagine returning to my old active self, when my shattered kneecap finally heals and my leg can bend again.

I won't deny I've had some dark moments,  especially because I had to cancel my plans for a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the Bruce Peninsula in Ontario, one of the richest wildflower sites in all of North America.  And it wasn't just the site I missed out on, it was the pleasure of the company of five amazing guys, botanists all, who invited me to share a lovely cottage right on the shores of Lake Huron.  I couldn't believe my wonderful fortune, that I, an old lady and me only an amateur wildflower nut, would be asked to join these super knowledgable plant professionals in seeking out some of the rarest plants to be found on our continent.  Just the thought of that honor has gone a long way toward compensating me for the disappointment of not being able to go.

Here's a photo of the house we would have shared, and another of the shore the house adjoined.

I had another compensation, too, and one that speaks to the quality of the friends I was to spend the week with.  Almost everywhere my friends went, they sent me photos, but not just of the amazing landscapes and beautiful flowers.  As a sign of their friendship and of how they were keeping me in their thoughts, they spelled out my name in the natural materials at hand and posted photos on Facebook.  Can you imagine how deeply this touched me?  Every day I couldn't wait to see what medium they would use to spell my name.  I never want to lose these photos, so I'm sharing them here on my blog (Facebook posts do tend to disappear after a while).  I never want to forget the joy these dear fellows graced me with.  A million thanks, John and Andrew and Drew and Rob and Stefan.  I want you to know that this gesture brought me joy when I needed it most.

This was the first photo I received and I was moved to tears by such a kind gesture. (But also a bit disappointed in myself that I couldn't ID the leaves in the photo.  Anyone?)

How appropriate to spell my name with the limestone pebbles so abundant on the alvar shores that distinguish the Bruce Peninsula.

I can't help but wonder what marvelous wetland plants my friends found along this sandy shore.

My dear friend John Manion assured me that all these tiny flowers were those of the  super-abundant introduced species of Forget-me-not,  for he would never pick any native wildflower, not even for me.

John is renowned for his culinary skills, and he made my mouth water when he shared these ingredients for some marvelous dish he was concocting.

Drew Monthie created this assemblage using White Spruce sprigs and the leaves of a particular variety of Bush Honeysuckle native to Lake Huron shores.

Longtime readers of this blog may remember when my dear friend Andrew Gibson drove out from Ohio to botanize with me in both 2012 and 2013.  Andrew is one of the botanists I would have shared this week on the Bruce with, and he is not only a first-rate plant guy, he's also a spectacularly talented photographer as well.  Although he has already shared many photographs from this June's Bruce trip on Facebook, I'm hoping he will one day post his account of this trip on his beautiful blog, The Buckeye Botanist.  In the meantime, to get some idea of the botanical riches of the Bruce Peninsula, we can visit his post reporting on his July 2011 trip there.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Outdoors Again, At Last!

Hooray!  I'm back on my feet and feeling good dirt beneath my feet again!  A million thanks to my good pal Sue Pierce, who used up one of her vacation days Friday to come collect me and drive me up to Moreau Lake State Park for my first outdoor adventure since shattering my kneecap on May 31. Sue even lent me her mother's cane, which helped me keep my balance as we strolled the sandy trail under the powerlines that run along the top of Mud Pond.  After an hour or so glorying in the magnificent display of wildflowers along this sandy clearcut, we relaxed on the shore of Moreau Lake to enjoy a picnic lunch.  What an incredible mood-booster this whole day was (including the four-hour nap when I got home)!

At first glance, it looked as if not much was blooming here in the sandy scrub that only three years ago had been blasted with herbicides by the power company.

But just a few steps later we began to see the profusion of gorgeous Wood Lilies this stretch of clearcut has always been known for.  The first year following the poisoning of this land, we feared we would never see these magnificent native lilies here again, but every year we rejoice in further evidence of their comeback.

It's hard to believe that such a spectacular bloom could be that of a native wildflower.  It certainly rivals any horticultural species for showiness and beauty.

Another favorite plant that thrives in this sandy stretch is New Jersey Tea, a shrub that's not only a favorite of ours, but also of the zillions of buzzing beetles and bees and other bugs that were feasting among the starburst blooms today.

Rivaling the Wood Lilies for glorious color was this beautiful clump of Butterflyweed, one of our species of native milkweeds that's also a favorite of many pollinators.

Another milkweed that thrives in this hot sandy landscape is Blunt-leaved Milkweed, which today was releasing its exquisite fragrance from beautiful deep-rose flower clusters.

Clumps of Frostweed still held onto their cheerful yellow blooms to delight us today.

Sun-warmed patches of Sweet Fern released their intoxicating fragrance, intermixed with tall stalks of  sunny-yellow Hawkweed, bobbing in the breeze.

Previously, Sue had scouted out a patch of Green Pyrola on another stretch of powerline, and then led me right to them after she drove us a bit down the road.  This species of Pyrola is a bit less common than the white-flowered species called Shinleaf, so I was delighted to be able to greet it again this year.

Close by this Green Pyrola, we found a patch of the tiny-flowered Racemed Milkwort beautifully in bloom.

I was so excited to have a chance to greet my dear wildflower friends, especially since I had feared that I would not be seeing them this year.  And I was equally delighted to greet a few of the animal species that share the same habitat.  This beautiful green grasshopper looked so green and tender, I wonder if it was a juvenile instar, just recently molted.

Lots of baby toads were hopping about in the sand, so small they could have been mistaken for crickets.

Great Spangled Fritillaries were fluttering about the lilies and milkweeds.

Many different dragonflies were zooming about the sunny landscape, but none would land long enough for me to capture a photo.  This photo of a male Calico Pennant I took from my archives, just because I want to document that we saw these splendid creatures today, both the bright-red males and the equally bright-yellow females.

This lovely moth, however, gave us lots of time to capture its delicate beauty, since it was clinging to the windshield of Sue's car and was apparently reluctant to leave.  As was I, of course, having delighted in walking among the gorgeous wildflowers on a truly spectacular summer day.  But the knee was telling me it was time to rest, and so I went home to take my pain meds and a nap, encouraged to know that further outdoor adventures are well within my reach.  With a little help from my friends, of course.  Thanks, Sue.  This outing was the best medicine I could have had to speed my knee's healing.

Update:  Thanks, Catherine Klatt, for identifying this lovely moth as a Large Lace-Border (Scopula limboundata).  What an apt name for a moth with such a pretty, lacy border to its wings!

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Back in my Boat -- in My Dreams and On Screen

Me in my Hornbeck on the Hudson last summer.  Photo and poster design by Sue Pierce
Yeah, it's gonna be quite a while before I can hoist myself in or out of my Hornbeck canoe, what with this broken kneecap.  But I can still dream, can't I?  I'm dreaming both of places I'll paddle one day, and also of so many wonderful places I've paddled in the past.  I'm sharing my photos of some of those wonderful places this coming Tuesday evening, June 23, at 7 pm at the Hadley-Luzerne Public Library in the pretty little Adirondack town of Lake Luzerne.  The photo above is the poster advertising my talk/slide show. It sure would be great to greet some of my blog readers there, so come if you can.  Free show!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Celebrating a Plethora of Pollinators

What a wonderful thing the internet is!  How else would I know that this is National Pollinator Week (June 15-21), if I hadn't found out via Facebook?  Since I can't get outdoors right now to go party it up with the pollinators, I had a good excuse to go back through my many blog posts to revisit some of the critters who meet this definition.  Most folks probably think "honeybees" when they hear the word "pollinator," but of course these absolutely essential creatures come from many other parts of the animal kingdom besides the hives behind the barn.  Here are just a few of my favorites, gleaned from my photo archives.

Sure, honeybees are important pollinators, and our grocery shelves would be pretty empty without these workhorses of agribusiness, but even more important are the many other species of native bees, most of which do not live in hives but rather build solitary nests in the ground.  Here's one little ground bee resting at the mouth of her nest, which she has packed with pollen to feed the larvae that will hatch from the egg she has laid within.

And let's not forget the many species of bumblebees, which also nest in the ground, although some do live in colonies.  These musclemen of the apian world are the only pollinators strong enough to force their way into some of our flowers that guard their pollen within tightly closed petals.  The Pale Jewelweed flower pictured here offers its treasures openly to all, but other flowers, like Turtlehead and Closed Gentians, deny access to all but the strongest bees.

We have many different species of native bees and bumblebees, but this is not one of them.  This is rather a Bee Fly, a darling little fuzzy critter with a needle-thin proboscis for sipping the nectar from some of our earliest flowers to bloom in spring.  Those early bloomers depend on these little guys to help distribute their pollen when few other pollinators have emerged from winter hibernation.

How often do we think of flies as important pollinators?  Well, they sure are!  Not all flies dine on garbage and dung, but many are exclusively eaters of pollen and nectar.   This big fella (or gal?) pictured here is one of a group called "Hover Flies,"a group that does dine on pollen.  They do not sting, but perhaps their bee-like appearance wards off predators that would like to dine on them.

Here are two more species of Hover Flies, much smaller ones, busily feasting away on pollen-laden pistils and anthers.  What beautiful creatures they are, with ornamental abdomens and iridescent wings!

Another kind of pollen-eating fly is the Tachinid Fly, usually characterized by having bristles all over its abdomen.   I call them "bristly butts" when I see them on the first warm days of spring, often sipping nectar that has dripped from the trees above to the forest floor.

From bristly butts to feathery feet: yes, this is a Feather-footed Fly, named for the feathery fringes along its hind legs.  Not only does this nectar-eating fly help to pollinate native plants, it also parasitizes other insects that might prove to be pests to agricultural crops.  Let's hear it for these wonderfully useful creatures!

Oh my, what a looker this one is, with its bright orange thorax and jet-black wings!   This is the Argid Sawfly, and it probably does not deserve to be celebrated along with other pollinators, since its larvae are rather destructive of their plant hosts.  But the adults do eat nectar and pollen and thus help pollinate plants.  And it certainly is a gorgeous bug!  Despite being called a fly, it really belongs to the insect order that includes bees and wasps, although it does not have a stinger as those do.

Here are a couple of pollen-eating wasps, and although they DO have stingers, they rarely use them on us humans, because these wasps do not dwell in colonies that require defending.  And because they are so docile, we can safely move in close to observe how truly beautiful they are.  This first one is called a Great Golden Digger Wasp, shown here feeding on the pollen of Virgin's Bower.  Note the fine golden hairs that cover its head and thorax, and the vivid orange band on its abdomen that matches the color of its legs.

This next wasp, also dining on Virgin's Bower, is the Great Black Wasp.  Yes, its body is certainly jet black, but what we notice first are its cobalt-blue wings.  It's a big wasp, big enough to capture Katydids and drag them back to its ground nest, where its larvae feed on the paralyzed unfortunates.  But despite this wasp's size and predacious habit, we have little to fear from this otherwise vegetarian creature.  Only its larvae feed on meat.

Actually, almost all our flying insects would qualify as pollinators, since most at least land on flowering plants and shake their pollen into the air.  But of course, some insects are far more destructive than they are beneficial.  Nevertheless, here are a couple of bugs I chose to revisit just because they are so darned pretty.

This amorous couple are Locust Borer Beetles, and yes, they do bore holes in Black Locust leaves but so far have not caused that tree's widespread demise.  They do romp around in the goldenrod, that's for sure, and so help distribute that showy flower's heavy, sticky pollen. (Note to hay fever sufferers: goldenrod's heavy, sticky pollen is not what's wafting up your nose and itching your eyes, since it can't go far from its flowers without being carried away by bugs.  The culprit in your case is Ragweed pollen, which can waft for miles on no more of a breeze than that caused by the batting of a butterfly wing.)

There is absolutely nothing NOT to love about  this Twelve-spotted Lady Beetle. Not only does it help distribute pollen as it feasts from flower to flower, it also preys on on other insects that would be destructive to valuable plants.  Plus, it's just about as cute as any bug could be!

For sure, we can't celebrate National Pollinator Week without including butterflies and moths.  I have SO many photos of these lovely creatures I had a hard time choosing a sample selection.  But here goes (just a sampling):

The elegant Monarch.  Under great stress now, with widespread destruction of its larval host plants, thanks to the application of herbicides to genetically modified agricultural crops.  Obviously, adults can dine on nectar from many flowers, but its babies have to have milkweed.  Plant some, if you can.

The Tiger Swallowtail, dining on Wild Bergamot

A Great Spangled Fritillary, sailing away from a tuft of Joe-Pye Weed

We have several small blue butterflies that look quite a bit alike,  but this one happens to be the Eastern Tailed Blue. See its little tails?

Often confused with the Monarch, the Viceroy butterfly is a bit smaller and has a black bar across each hind wing.  Here, it is set off beautifully against a bloom of Queen Anne's Lace.

When I looked through my archives of moth photos, I discovered that many of the spectacular ones I have photographed (the Cecropia and the Luna, for example) emerge from the cocoon with no mouth parts at all, and thus cannot feed on either nectar or pollen.  But here's one, the Himmelman's Plume Moth, that does feed on flower nectar and so I suppose could be considered a pollinator.  It sure is a  very odd-looking moth, and so I couldn't resist reposting its photo here.

It's certainly obvious that this next moth came equipped with mouth parts, ones specifically designed to sip on flower nectar.  This is a Hummingbird Clear-winged Moth,  with a long proboscis it can uncurl for feeding, as it hovers with beating wings, just like a hummingbird.  Now, that's what I call  a pollinator worth celebrating!  But aren't they all?

Monday, June 15, 2015

My Convalescent-Couch Companion

This is Bebert, the only wildlife I will be encountering for quite some time -- not counting the birds and squirrels I can see through the windows from my convalescent couch.  He actually IS kind of wild, one of three kittens we snatched from a feral momcat when he was barely four weeks old, a couple of years ago.  He became tame and cuddly enough as a small kitten, but as he matured he became very skittish, running in fear even from those of us who have tenderly cared for him from the first.  But wonder of wonders, since I've come home from my knee-repair surgery last Friday afternoon, Bebert has spent much time curled on the back of the couch that has become my bed until I can navigate the stairs to my upstairs bedroom once more.  And even more wonderful, he has actively sought my caresses, pushing his lovely little face into my hand and begging for ever more lavish scratchings under his chin and around his ears, purring madly all the while.  I will never say that gaining his sweet affection was worth the agony that placed me here on this couch,  but I will admit that his furry companionship is helping to ease my confinement.

And believe me, I am grateful for all the comfort I can gather.  My surgery turned out to me more complicated than expected, with the kneecap shattered into more than four pieces, rather than the two pieces the X-rays revealed.  Some fragments could not be saved, but the others were drilled through and wired together to form a semblance of the original, and the knee sewed up with the expectation that healing could now begin, 10 days after the original accident.

Well, now that I am home and with adequate pain medication, I do believe that healing will progress.  But that first horrifying night in the hospital could only have set the healing process back, as I writhed in nauseating, throbbing agony that would not let me sleep or even rest my pain-tensed body.  The pain medication I was offered -- Hydrocodone -- is but one step up from aspirin, hardly adequate to relieve severe post-surgical pain, especially after I had been taking the much more effective Oxycodone for 10 days as I awaited the surgery.  I couldn't believe that the same surgeon who had prescribed the Oxycodone pre-surgery would now step DOWN the scale of pain relief following this operation.  But the nurses would not hear my arguments, assuring me that this was standard protocol,  nor would they seek further orders from the surgeon when the Hydrocodone obviously proved ineffective.  The most terrible night of my life ensued, especially since I had to climb out of bed every two hours to a bedside commode to empty my bladder of the liters of IV fluids pouring through me.  I have never felt so helpless in my life.  Or so furious, because I knew that this level of pain was completely treatable (I worked  as a Nursing Assistant with Hospice for 15 years and had witnessed the mercy of morphine many times.)

I expressed this fury toward my surgeon when he visited the next morning, only to hear him express his surprise that I had not been given the intravenous  Dilaudid he had ordered.  WHAT?!!!  Yes, the relief I had sought had been withheld from me, despite the surgeon's orders, despite my nightlong begging for relief.  The doctor quickly demanded that I be given the IV meds, and in less than 30 seconds I could feel the pain drain from my body and I could rest.

I recount this experience not just for the drama of it, but also to alert my friends to seek adequate advocacy should they ever be in similar situations.  There must have been SOMEONE who could have corrected this abuse,  for abuse it most certainly was.  I felt like screaming and throwing things, but I was brought up to be too polite to defend myself this way.  I wonder if any action would have been taken if I had pitched some hysterics other than my quiet moans and groans and tears.  I have written to the hospital demanding to know why I was left to suffer so.  I wonder if anyone will answer me.

Ah, but it's good to be home.  I have my dear husband to tend to my needs, my sweet Bebert to bring his furry comforts to my convalescent couch, and most important of all,  a nice big bottle of Oxycodone pills to ease my pain and help me get back up and moving again.  After a bit, perhaps I will start exploring some of the region's handicapped-accessible trails.  I do need to get outdoors.

Update, Wed., June 17: My dear friends, your words of support and commiseration (see comments) have done much to console me, and I thank you very much for reaching out to me.  I did get a phone call today from a Patient Care Advocate from Saratoga Hospital (after leaving a phone message as well as writing the letter), and I was assured that an investigation would take place to try to determine why my surgeon's orders had been overlooked or ignored.  And also, why no effort was made to obtain more effective medication when the prescribed meds proved inadequate.  The PCA promised that I would hear back from him regarding the results of this investigation.  Obviously, nothing the hospital does now can change the suffering I endured, but I certainly hope that safeguards may one day be put in place to ensure no one else has to suffer the way I did.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

A Good Day for Denizens of the Damp?

Seems like it's been raining for days, now.  If I could walk, I'd be running out to the woods to look for fungi and slime molds of all kinds, since this is the kind of weather they like best.  We haven't had a good fruiting season for these denizens of the damp for a couple of years, so I looked back to  mid-June of 2013 to see what was fruiting about that time, after a prolonged period of rain.  Oh boy, look what I found on just one day in just one woods!  Such amazing colors and textures!

I guess it's obvious how the Red-banded Polypore (Fomitopsis pinicola) got its common name!

The Lacquered Polypore (Ganoderma lucidum) is shiny even when it's not wet.  These are just emerging from a fallen hardwood truck.

These snowy-white Oyster Mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) look good enough to eat.  And they are!

The bright-orange Mycena leaiana is almost always found in tight clusters like this.

When I first saw this, I assumed it was a Tapioca Slime Mold, but a more knowledgable companion informed me it was more likely an Amoebozoa, which behaves like a slime mold, oozing along the forest floor until something prompts it to form fruiting bodies.  Which it is doing here.  It does look like tapioca, though, doesn't it?

This next one IS a slime mold, however:  Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa, in one of its two varieties, var. fruticulosa.    This variety forms tiny white columns only a few millimeters tall, while its other variety (C. fruticulosa var. porioides), pictured next, forms fruit bodies that are dome-shaped, honeycombed, and up to one centimeter across.

Slime molds are fascinating organisms, not fitting easily into our standard classification system.  In some ways, they behave like animals, moving and feeding independently, engulfing all kinds of organic particles in their paths, digesting what they can and ejecting what they don't want.  But then they also behave like fungi, planting themselves to produce fruit bodies containing spores that will be dispersed by the wind.  The forms these fruit bodies assume are amazingly varied in shape and color, including the shapes and colors of those in the next two photos.  I couldn't identify these as to species, but I sure could marvel at their fascinating appearance.

And of course, if it's wet enough for fungi and slime molds,  it's wet enough for Red-backed Salamanders, too!

So if you can, get out to the woods and let me know what you find!