Sunday, September 13, 2015

Floating Free!

Saturday, September 12:
How amazing it felt to push off in my boat to explore the Hudson banks today!  After limping about all summer, inching along with a cane to support my broken kneecap and wincing in pain with every step, it was a transporting experience to glide sleekly and swiftly (and painlessly!) over the silk-smooth water of the river at South Glens Falls.  This section of the Hudson between the Feeder Dam and the dam at Glens Falls has for several years been an annual late-summer destination for me, and I hoped I might find some of my old favorite riverside flowers still blooming today, despite my late-season arrival.

I launched my canoe into the quiet backwaters out of the river's current, ponds carved out of the riverbank by loggers many years ago to serve as sorting areas for logs floated down from the Adirondacks.  No longer used for these commercial purposes, these backwaters are a lovely place to start a paddle, a refuge alive with singing birds and stalking herons and turtles basking on fallen logs, the shoreline thick with dogwoods and alders and all kinds of waterside wildflowers.

Lucky for me, since I'm so late arriving this year, many of the prettiest wildflowers here are also late-season bloomers, such as these bright-yellow Nodding Bur Marigolds, sharing their shallow-water  alcove with a few baby-blue Forget-me-nots.

Although most of the Pickerelweed patches were long past blooming, here and there I found a single stem bursting with sprightly purple florets.  It's rare to see these summertime flowers still blooming at the same time as the Winterberry bushes are growing heavy with reddening fruits.

Another hanger-on from summer was this lovely cluster of  Sneezeweed.

I was surprised to find Water Smartweed grown so tall and on high ground.  I usually see it floating in water with smaller flower clusters.  It sure must like the habitat here along the Hudson River.

On later reflection, I think this lovely pink-flowered plant is another smartweed altogether:  the Scarlet Smartweed (Persicaria coccinea), which tends to grow on wetland shores instead of out floating on the water, and it also has leaves that are more sharply tapered than those of Water Smartweed (P. amphibia) and with longer and more slender flower clusters.

I was NOT surprised to find Closed Gentian, since this is the season for this early-fall bloomer.  But no matter how many times I come upon this royal-blue flower, I'm always delighted to see it again.  Gorgeous!

I was also delighted to see this little cluster of Turtlehead so perfectly reflected in the still water.

Wonder of wonders, I DID find one single specimen of Small Floating Bladderwort,  a rare species in New York but abundant in these waters earlier in the summer.  Not abundant today, that's for sure, since this was the only one I found, and in an area usually teeming with them.  I'm going to indulge a fantasy that it was waiting for me to get back in my boat and come visit it before it faded away.  It's obviously on its way out.

This sleepy Painted Turtle also indulged me, continuing to nap on its floating log as I drew ever nearer and nearer, and it never slipped off into the water, as turtles ALWAYS do.  Hello, dear turtle, I'm so very happy to share your river with you again.

After thoroughly exploring the backwaters' banks, I set off upstream on the open river until I approached the steep shale cliffs that lie just below the Feeder Dam. It's here that I find abundant numbers of Grass of Parnassus sprouting directly out of the shale, and sure enough, I found them there today.

These little flies have probably come to partake of the sweets in this Grass of Parnassus flower's nectaries, but they'd better watch out for the spider lurking there.

These shale cliffs, watered by dripping springs, are home to a rich array of plants.  Here we have a green alga (Trentepohlia aurea, the orange fuzzy stuff on the far left), a flat-leaved liverwort (or two) spreading across the center (Preissia quadrata, maybe?), and the gracefully curving fronds of Bulblet Fern on the right.  It's my understanding that all three of these organisms are indicators of the presence of lime in the substrate.

Another lime-lover that grows on these cliffs is Spikenard, and today I found many Spikenard plants with heavy clusters of ripening berries hanging over the water.

I also found many Bittersweet Nightshade vines sprouting from the dark shale, dangling their beautiful translucent red fruits.

In other years, I've found many more mosses and liverworts clinging to these steep shale walls, but our lack of rainfall this summer appears to have dried up the springs that normally water these cliffs, and the mosses and liverworts have dried up as well.  See how dry and pale, almost white, the rock appears, whereas in other years, these cliffs have been dripping wet and as black as coal.

Here's a photo of these same cliffs taken four years ago, which shows their normal appearance, damp and black with mats of green mosses and liverworts and ferns.

 Paddling back to my launching site, I passed under an overhanging Speckled Alder with a twig that bore a colony of Wooly Alder Aphids.  How odd, that the colony seems to be shedding some of its members, which are individual tiny wingless aphids that exude a waxy substance through their skin that resembles fur. The water below this colony was littered with fluffy white blobs.  Were they dead aphids that had completed their life cycle?  I don't know.

A fascinating fact about these aphids is that all the members of a colony are wingless clones of a winged female aphid that landed here some time ago.  When the colony has depleted the resources at their site, they will produce winged clones that can fly off to establish  new colonies at different sites.  Looking closely at this wooly mass, I noticed that certain members of it were crawling away, and an even closer inspection revealed (thanks to my camera's macro function) that these were indeed winged individuals.  No doubt they will shed some of that wooly waxy fluff before taking flight.

Well now, that was something new I had never witnessed before!  This experience certainly made up for missing some of my favorite riverside plants that were no longer blooming.  I'm so glad my knee's progress toward healing made it possible for me to be out on the river to witness this marvel today.


Uta said...

So glad that I could enjoy the river with you, always an adventure. Feel even better real soon.

Raining Iguanas said...

So glad you're back on the Hudson! You did a wonderful job keeping your blog informative and enjoyable throughout your recovery.

The Furry Gnome said...

Wonderful to be back on the water, and looks like a great place to paddle. Nice collection of interesting plants too.

threecollie said...

How wonderful that you are so delightfully mobile again! Good for you and just wonderful for your readers. I love learning, and I believe that I learn something new every time I visit...this time the thing about the aphids. Thanks

Lisa at lil fish studios said...

Thank you for taking us on this lovely little trip full of serene beauty.