Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Out on the Ice to the Islands

All that snow to the south of us, and not a flake up here! Where the heck is our winter?  Ah well, at least it has been below freezing here for over a week.  Until today, that is, when we had rain and temperatures near 40.  But at least I was sure that the ice would be good and thick on Lake Bonita when I returned there yesterday, eager to get out to the little islands that stud its surface. Since Sue and I found some bog plants near shore last week, I've been hoping to explore what botanical treasures those little patches of vegetation might contain, and a hard-frozen surface would allow me to do just that.

When I reached Bonita's shores, I could see that many different animals had been traversing the frozen surface, where the snow was much thinner than it was in the woods, making for easier traveling.  My question was:  is that ice safe enough for ME to traverse? I weigh a heck of a lot more than a coyote.

I walked around shore until I found areas where the lake's surface was free from snow, and I could see through the clear black ice the thickness of the cracks. Six or eight inches thick, it appeared.  Strong enough to hold me.  But smooth and slippery, too, so I pulled on my micro-spikes before setting out.

As I approached the islands, I wondered what shrubs were lending them such ruddy hues.

A closer inspection revealed that most of the shrubbery out here was Leatherleaf, whose sturdy leaves did seem to glow with a rosy light.  There was Sheep Laurel, too, and a few Speckled Alders, but the bulk of the ruddiest shrubbery was Leatherleaf.

But also mixed in with the Leatherleaf were numerous shrubs of Sweet Gale, immediately identifiable by the clusters of dried fruits still clinging to the twigs.

Many of the Sweet Gale shrubs also held the tight little cone-shaped buds of next spring's flowers.

Of special interest to me were the various species of Sphagnum Moss, usually (although not always) a sign of acidic, bog-like conditions. I'm not sure if each color signified a different species, but I did find a number of different colors of sphagnum, including this brownish one.

And here's a golden-hued one.

Another sphagnum patch was this shaggy green.

Yet another was vibrant red.

There was even a patch made up of all these colors at once.  Perhaps some of my bryophyte-expert friends could ID all these for us.

These deep-red Pitcher Plant leaves were definitely a sign that these islands are home to what we normally think of as bog plants.  I wonder what other bog plants we might find if we search these islands in summer. I searched and searched for leftover orchid pods and didn't find any.  But that doesn't mean we might not find some Rose Pogonia here, or Green Wood Orchis. The habitat seems right.

Update:  As a friend has recently reminded me, bog habitats are not only rather rare in Saratoga County, but they are also quite fragile and need to be approached with great care.  I want to point out that I was careful not to trample any of these bog plants, but limited my investigations to what I could see while walking around the edges on the ice.  Although boating will be discouraged on Lake Bonita, it is crucial that no boats land on these tiny islands, should any canoers or kayakers find their way to these waters.

Here's the shriveled flower head of a Pitcher Plant.  Many of them grow on these little islands.

Ooh, look what else I found out here!  At first glance, I thought there was an egg in the nest, however unlikely.  But of course, it was just a  little puff of snow.  Does anyone know whose nest it is, low to the ground among Sweet Gale shrubs on an island far from shore?

As the afternoon wore on, the sky brightened a bit, and sunlight warmed the boulders along the shore.  I might have basked in that warming sun for a while, but the day was growing late.  Time to head home.

To return to where I'd parked my car, I chose to follow the lake's inlet stream as I bushwhacked through the woods, where a low ray of sunshine rendered this bough of American Beech incandescent.

I followed the stream-bed as it angled up through the woods.  For most of its course it was completely dry, but then as I ascended a steeper slope, I discovered the stream's water frozen in place where it had tumbled in terraced falls.  This will be such a pretty little brook in a warmer season.

But then, it was already pretty.  Especially where ice had formed in little side pools, creating such beautiful patterns.


The Furry Gnome said...

Very interesting little islands you found! And that branch of Beech leaves looks great!

threecollie said...

Lovely, you are so bold! I like your ice creeper thingies.

Anonymous said...

Where do u start the hike up,last week,parked on Spiers fall rd,on east side south of the dam,and hiked up a dirt road? Then trail,under power lines for 45 min. No luck,thank you,Jay breslin

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Thanks, Furry and threecollie, for your comments. I like knowing you come along with me on my adventures. I thoroughly recommend the microspikes if you want to walk on ice, or even icy snow. Even more secure against slipping than Yaktrax.

Jay, there is no park-approved access as yet to Lake Bonita. I looked at a Google map and located the lake, then followed an old gated road off of the Corinth Mountain Road. Parking along the road is risky, due to no shoulders. It would be a very long bushwhack of a hike to reach Lake Bonita from Spier Falls Rd. There is no trail or road from there, either. If you do try to hike in to the lake, make sure you have a GPS or a map and compass. It's easy to get lost in those trackless woods. Better to wait until Moreau Lake State Park has created a safe parking area and clearly marked trails.