Thursday, October 8, 2015

Friends in the Woods

Another gorgeous autumn day, with a cobalt blue sky set off by blazing foliage.  What better way to spend it than walking through a pretty woods with many good friends?  Lucky for me, the Thursday Naturalists chose to come up my way this Thursday to explore a preserve called Hundred Acre Woods in the town of Malta, one town south of where I live in Saratoga Springs, and I was able to join them.

The Hundred Acre Woods is indeed about a hundred acres of mixed hardwood/conifer forest, with clearly marked trails, boardwalks over wetlands, staircases to ease our way up and down steep embankments, and -- especially welcome for me with my injured knee -- commodious stone benches installed at intervals along the trails.

Our trip leader Ed Miller always has much to teach us about woodland plants, having now lived 91 years on earth, most of them spent wandering the woods and waterways as often as he can.  How wonderful he still has the strength and passion of many much younger than he.

Not very many flowers still bloom in the woods this time of year, but we amused ourselves by puzzling out the species of ferns and trees and fungi.  And yes, we did find a Witch Hazel bloom or two!  We'd been wondering when we were going to see flowers on this late-blooming shrub, and today was the day!

This little patch of Indian Cucumber Root was especially pretty, now that the leaves have turned yellow, the better to display the splash of red at the center of the top tier of leaves and the shining blue-black berries.

What looked at first to be some kind of puffball turned out to be a slime mold instead, an organism quite distinct from fungi.  These pebbled peach-colored squishy balls are sometimes called Wolf's Milk, but I usually call them Toothpaste Slime.  When crushed, they exude a pink paste with the texture of toothpaste.  I'm not sure how they came by the name of Wolf's Milk. They will turn gray with age.

The most common of the fungi fruiting in this woods today was a butter-yellow bolete called Suillus placidus, distinguished by its yellow pores and non-staining white flesh.  I later learned that this species is edible, although the specimens we found today were past the point of freshness.  When newly emerged, the caps would have been much whiter.  This species of mushroom grows only in the presence of White Pine.

And here is the BIG surprise of the day!  This beautifully marked snake was curled by the side of the path, but when we drew near to examine it, it never moved.  How odd! Wondering if it was simply chilled by the rather cold temperature of the morning, we attempted to lift it into the sunlight with our walking poles.  But it was stiff as a frozen garden hose.

Yes, poor thing, it sure looked dead to us!

What a lovely creature it was, but none of us had ever seen such a snake in the wild before.  One of our friends, Barbara Connor, searched Google images and found a match with Ball Python, a tropical snake native to Africa that is commonly kept as a pet.  Whether it had been released by its owner or escaped on its own, it would never survive in our northern woodlands.  One site I read advised that the temperature of its cage must never fall below 75 degrees.  Our 40-degree nights of late must have been just too cold for it.

For another account of our walk at Hundred Acre Woods, check out Barbara Connor's delightful and informative blog, Bee Balm Gal.


The Furry Gnome said...

Great to have a local naturalists group to share the exploring. Too bad about the snake though.

Woody Meristem said...

You just never know what interesting things you might find in the woods.