Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Quiet Lake, Shoreline Beauty

We are having rain today at last, and predictions are for heavy rains all night.  This is rain we desperately need, and I'm glad to have it.  Nevertheless, it sure has been lovely to have one gorgeous blue-sky day after another this entire month.  I went for a walk around Moreau Lake last Friday, and I loved the serene quiet of the place before the bustle of Nature Fest the next day.  There was not a single boat on the water, and the only people I saw  on the shore were an elderly couple sitting on a bench, holding hands.  So nice!

As the riotous summer days on the lake wind down, so too does the riot of colorful flowers blooming along the shore.  At least, that's how it appears from a distance.  But walking along where the sand meets the vegetation,  I'm amazed by how many beautiful plants are still blooming away, or else have just as colorfully gone to seed.

The asters, of course, are still in their glory, and probably the most numerous species of aster here on the open sand is the thickly blossomed Heath Aster.

Up a little higher, where the sand meets the trees of the woods, I find some lovely clusters of Smooth Aster, a pretty pale-purple species with smooth heart-shaped leaves that clasp the stem.  Sharing this shady part of the shore with the aster were curving stems of Bluestem Goldenrod.

Although many of the Boneset plants are now past their prime, a few still hold some blooms that are fresh enough to offer their nectar and pollen to bees and other insects.

The same goes for the goldenrods, most of them spent by now, except for a surprising cluster of pretty bloom like this on a patch of Grass-leaved Goldenrod.

Almost hidden by the tangle of taller plants, the pretty little flowers of Small-flowered Gerardia can still be found blooming on the sandy shore.

The stems of Lady's Thumb have turned even pinker now than their spikes of pink seeds, adding quite a bit of color to the floral mix along the shore.

Where I found the sunny little blooms of Nodding Bur Marigold a week ago, I now find their flower heads gone to seed and living up to what their name describes by nodding downward.

I think Wild Mint is among the most persistent bloomers of all, still producing whorls of tiny pale-purple flowers in the axils, even after their very minty smelling leaves have begun to tatter.

I had to peer REALLY close to discern that these tiny yellow flowers were those of Canada St. Johnswort  and not those of Dwarf St. Johnswort , which also can be found on these shores. The fine leaves and the dark-red seed capsules helped to clinch the identification.  Such an exquisite little flower!

How exquisite, too, were these ruby-red Bittersweet Nightshade berries, glowing like tiny Christmas-tree lights amid a tangle of multiple blooms.

Not exactly a flower, but just as pretty as one is this Toothed Flatsedge, which thrives on the sandy shores of Moreau Lake.  I love its green and gold colors and the fine herringbone pattern of its seedheads.

There is only a single Black Tupelo tree along the entire shore of Moreau Lake, back bay included, and that single specimen has been gnawed and girdled by beavers.  The tree still stands, and it still produces glossy green leaves in summer, but those leaves turn color much earlier now than they would on a healthy tree.  And when Black Tupelo leaves turn color,  they have no rival for the brilliance of their autumn foliage.

The quiet of this day extended to the lake's animal inhabitants, too, for I never heard a single goose nor saw a single dragonfly or butterfly, either.  But I did see this Pickerel Frog leaping along the shore and counted myself very lucky when the frog decided to sit very still for its portrait.

Probably the most exciting moment of my walk came when I saw this fuzzy cluster of Wooly Alder Aphids on a bough of a Speckled Alder shrub.  OK, you say, big deal.  You see those all the time, don't you?  Yes, I do see clusters of Wooly Alder Aphids quite often, but never have I found a cluster where the majority of the aphids were winged.

Look closely:  almost all of these have wings.  That means that these aphids are nearing the end of their  life cycle, which started last summer when a single winged female  hatched from an egg laid on a Silver Maple tree.  That winged aphid landed on this alder twig and began to produce wingless clones of herself.  These clones, all females, in turn produced more female clones.  Etc., etc. Their season of feeding on alder sap now nearing its close, these wingless female clones now begin producing winged aphids, including some males, which can fly away to find another Silver Maple tree, where they will mate and lay eggs that will winter over on the maple bark to produce a new generation next spring.  Here is a great site with even more information about this fascinating and virtually harmless creature.

I think this whole process is just amazing!  And I feel really lucky that I got to see this part of the aphids' lifecycle.  I just never know what I'm going to find on a walk around the lake.

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