Monday, June 27, 2016

Nature Week in Review

Just because I haven't posted a blog for a week, it doesn't mean I wasn't out wandering the woods and the waterways.  On the contrary, I was out so often and to so many places, I ran out of steam each day, too tired to spend the hours it takes to edit my photos and create a post.  So here's a digest of my nature week in review, my way of reminding myself of how lucky I am to have so many wonderful places to wander.

Wednesday, June 22: Out to the Hudson islands

Just off a boat launch site on Spier Falls Road lies a cluster of three little islands, home to many of summer's most beautiful flowers.  That flood of flowers is just beginning, as masses of Pale St. Johnswort open their sunny-yellow blooms along the watery Hudson River shoreline.

Equally as sunny, tall spikes of Yellow Loosestrife (also called Swamp Candles) brighten the shade where they grow higher up on the shore.

On my way home from the river, I stopped off at the powerline clearcut that runs along the top of Mud Pond at Moreau, hoping to find the Blunt-leaved Milkweed now in bloom.  And I wasn't disappointed. (Neither, it appears, was the bee there homing in on a pollen-filled floret.)

Another beauty along this clearcut is the gorgeous Wood Lily, which grows here abundantly.  I found just a few fully open, but I also found many in fat orange bud, so the spectacle is only now about to begin.

Thursday, June 23: Oakwood Cemetery in Troy

I joined my friends in the Thursday Naturalists this week to visit this cemetery that lies on an escarpment high over the Hudson Valley.  Due to the presence of limestone in the shale here, we often find many unusual plants that we rarely find elsewhere.  One of these plants is the Dwarf Chinkapin Oak (Quercus prinoides), pictured below, a shrubby species that rarely grows more than 10 feet tall, and considerably shorter than that on this high open cliffside, where it forms solid thickets, together with another small species of oak called Bear Oak (Q. ilicifolia).

Also abundant on this escarpment are thickets of Deerberry (Vaccinium stamineum), and the shrubs on Thursday were heavy with ripening pale-aqua fruit. A close look revealed that the berries appeared somewhat shriveled, not surprising, considering the scarcity of rainfall we've had this summer.

After exploring the sun-baked escarpment, it was delightful to enter the cool shady woods, accompanied by the musical sounds of a waterfall tumbling and splashing down through the forested gorge.  Here, my friends are examining many of the lime-loving plants, such as Wild Ginger, Sweet Cicely, Bulblet Fern, and Maidenhair Spleenwort, that have found a foothold in the cool damp shale.

One of our more exciting insect finds this day was this lovely Edward's Hairstreak butterfly, feasting on nectar from the flowers of Spreading Dogbane.

Friday, June 24: Hudson River backwaters above the Feeder Dam

My friend Sue always takes vacation the week of Summer Solstice, which allows us some mornings  to paddle together, and on Friday we visited a stretch of the Hudson containing several quiet backwaters.  Carved out of the shoreline as log-sorting areas during the era when logs were floated downriver from the Adirondacks each spring, these shallow bays are delightful retreats, where birds sing from the thickets and flowering shrubs like Silky Dogwood and Maleberry hang over the dark still water.  On this day, the Winterberry shrubs were dropping their tiny waxy-white florets, which floated on the surface of the water like miniature Water Lilies.

Out in the sunnier center of the bays, Water Shield leaves formed vivid-green mats, punctuated this day with its pretty pink flowers held upright above the water.

I cannot believe how Sue spotted this single specimen of Small Floating Bladderwort (Utricularia radiata), a rare species in New York but one which burgeons abundantly on this particular stretch of the Hudson River.  We expect to find it by the hundreds later in summer, but we were quite surprised to find it already making an appearance, even if only in bud.  And this was the only one we saw, in acres and acres of water we surveyed.

The shoreline of these backwaters was lined with masses of Pickerelweed leaves, and here and there we found the beautiful purple flowers starting to open their buds.

We sat and watched this Great Blue Heron for the longest while, as it seemed to struggle to swallow the fish or frog it had just recently caught. Here's hoping it finally did!

Saturday, June 25: Climbing the Spring Overlook Trail

Saturday promised to be hot and muggy, so Sue and I started our climb relatively early, hiking to a spectacular overlook in the Palmertown Mountains of Moreau Lake State Park.  I hadn't tried climbing this rather steep trail all last year, since breaking my kneecap a year ago on May 31.  But Sue encouraged me to take it slow, and so we did, stopping to explore the powerline that cuts across the trail about half way to the top.

When we reached the powerline, we were dismayed to find the area left in a shambles, where the power company had cut many trees on both sides of the line, leaving the fallen trunks and the slash where they lay.

At least they had not sprayed herbicide along the lines, so we felt reassured that we might find the plants that we always hoped to find here in this sunny open area that mimics the kind of clearing that forest fires used to create.

At least lichens seem impervious to most forms of abuse, especially the tiny Pink Earth Lichens that grow in the hard-packed dirt of the service road that runs directly under the power lines.  They almost seem to prefer being trod upon.    And I always stop to admire them when I visit this site, searching among the pale green thallus for the tiny, pin-head-sized, bubblegum-pink little lollipops.

Here was a surprise:  A cluster of three healthy-looking plants of Poke Milkweed (Asclepias exaltata). Neither of us could recall ever finding them here before.  And this open area is not their typical habitat, for this is one of the very few milkweeds that usually grows in the shade of the woods.  And chances are, they may not be here next year.  In the past, they have disappeared from sites where I remembered them growing before, so I was delighted to find them again.  While not considered rare, they are certainly not as abundant as the Common Milkweed now blooming along every country road and vacant city lot.

We were not surprised, but certainly delighted, to find several brilliant Wood Lilies blooming up here on this open mountainside, surrounded by masses of Hay-scented Fern.

When we reached our destination, the rocky clearing overlooking the Hudson valley and the mountains beyond (as pictured in the photo that heads this section), we rested a while and enjoyed the view as well as the cooling breezes.  We were truly dismayed, however, to find every single Shadblow tree in the vicinity being attacked by some kind of disease that was causing the leaves to turn brown and shrivel.  The twigs were marred by bulbous swellings that were sprouting these white tube-like structures.  What on earth is happening to these lovely trees?  I hope whatever it is runs its course, and the trees can recover in years to come.

This odd little one-spotted creature was crawling on a blueberry leaf.  I wonder whose larva it is?

I did recognize this creature at least.  Its bright-gold body and large size indicate this is a Golden Robber Fly, resting on a Red Maple leaf lit up by the sun.

Sunday, June 26: The Hudson River at Lake Luzerne

Oh, it was just too hot and muggy on Sunday to want to go hiking or paddling out under the sun. But it did seem a perfect day to go up to Lake Luzerne and have lunch on the breeze-cooled porch of Upriver Cafe.  And so it was.  The food here is delicious and the view sure can't be beat! The restaurant is situated just above Rockwell Falls, so the sounds of many birds singing in the Silver Maple trees are accompanied by the music of rushing water.  Just lovely!

While enjoying my Reuben sandwich and lemon-blueberry cheesecake, I noticed that the water level above Rockwell Falls was very low, revealing stretches of stony river-bottom that were covered with green plants.  Of course, I had to go exploring after lunch!

I recalled several flowers known to bloom here on these bottomlands only when exposed to light and air, and sure enough, as soon as I stepped out on the damp sand, I was greeted by the sight of masses of Creeping Spearwort.  These tiny buttercups are barely a quarter-inch across, but with their shiny yellow petals, they seemed to twinkle like stars.

And here were other bright-yellow blooms, the little trumpets of Golden Pert, another plant that can thrive without blooming for years underwater, only to burst into bloom when left high and dry (well, damp) by low water levels.

And here was yet a third one of such plants.  This is Slender Milfoil, a plant that few botanists, even those who specialize in aquatic species, have ever seen in bloom.  Or so I learned four years ago, when I first discovered these plants blooming above Rockwell Falls in a similar low-water situation. Well, they are blooming again this year.  Sure, I was happy to find them again, but I am not happy at all that our weather has continued so dry that the river bottom is exposed to the air once more.

Still, the river continued to plunge through the gorge at Rockwell Falls, the water sparkling in the bright sun and the breeze ruffling the leaves of the trees as we sat in their shade and enjoyed this exquisite view.

Monday, June 27:  A rainy day on the river

Well, actually, the rain had stopped by the time I took this photo. But I had gotten thoroughly drenched during the two hours before, when I climbed back up the Spring Overlook Trail to obtain a specimen of Poke Milkweed, a species not recorded yet for Saratoga County. It was just a drizzle when I started up, but it soon became a downpour that saturated my old raincoat that seems to have lost its waterproofing.  At least my camera somehow stayed dry, so I could take the photo above (oh how serene the river looked!), as well as this photo of a female Painted Turtle laying her eggs along the sandy trail.

But you won't hear me complain about the rain.  I only wish we had had a lot more.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Floral Finds at Lake Bonita

 We just KNEW there had to be orchids out there, on the islands of Lake Bonita!  And what better way to spend the first official day of summer than walking the shore of this beautiful mountain lake in search for them?  Newly added to the extensive wild lands of Moreau Lake State Park, this lake is studded with small islands I was able to explore last winter by walking out to them on the ice, and it was then I discovered the presence there of many bog plants like pitcher plants, sphagnum mosses, and wild cranberries.  Such a habitat, I thought, should surely be home to some of our native bog orchids.  I would love to explore those islands in summer by canoe, but the park has forbidden any boating on the lake, in the hopes of preserving its pristine waters from invasive species and other pollutants.  So my friend Sue and I set out on foot to circle the lake on newly cleared trails, hoping to spy any interesting island flowers from what we could see from shore.  Luckily, one of those little islands lies close enough to shore that we could see spots of color out there, with only our naked eyes.

Ah, but a search through binoculars revealed the sought-after orchids!  Dozens of pretty pink Rose Pogonias (Pogonia ophioglossoides) peeked out from beneath the multitude of Leatherleaf shrubs and alongside the large reddish flowers of pitcher plants, standing tall on long stems.

I wish the zoom function of my camera could have revealed those island flowers in clearer detail, but luckily Sue spied a single Rose Pogonia growing on shore, where we could take a photo that better revealed this orchid's delicate beauty.

At the base of that Rose Pogonia lay several large clumps of another bog plant, the carnivorous  Spatulate-leaved Sundew (Drosera intermedia), glittering with the sticky drops that tempt insects to their death.

There were many other colorful plants along the shore, the showiest of which were the masses of Sheep Laurel (Kalmia angustifolia) in full rosy bloom.

In quiet bays of the lake, the surface was studded with the snowy blooms of Fragrant Water Lilies (Nymphaea odorata).

Winterberry bushes (Ilex verticillata) hung over the water, their branches adorned with small waxy white flowers.

Where rocky outcroppings protruded into the lake, we found the delicate lacy foliage and pretty pink-and-yellow flowers of Pale Corydalis (Corydalis sempervirens).

Back in the dark shade of the conifer woods, the forest floor was spangled with the small white trumpets of Partridgeberry flowers (Mitchella repens).

We were quite surprised to find an abundant patch of Yellow Foxglove (Digitalis grandiflora) blooming in an open area.  This showy flower, originally native to Europe and Asia, has escaped from gardens to become naturalized in mountainous woodlands and stony habitats here in North America.

Continuing our complete circuit of the lake,  a distance of about three miles, we continued to search the islands with binoculars, finding occasional clues that other intriguing plants could be hiding out there, unreachable to us and our camera lenses.  Perhaps some day the state will want a complete inventory of what might be growing out there.  Maybe they'll even call on us to help with the search. Wouldn't that be grand?

Strawberry Moon

When the longest day of summer coincides with the full moon, it's a rare event that hasn't happened for 70 years, or so claims The Farmer's Almanac.  (Other sources say this event occurred less than 50 years ago, but who's counting?) The Native Americans called this full moon of June the Strawberry Moon, which adds a touch of sweetness to this already remarkable event, for the June moon signaled the time when strawberries ripen.  I can attest to the truth of that, since I have been enjoying the sweetest wild strawberries I have ever eaten this week.

Whatever this moon is called, and however rare it might be for the full moon to rise on the night of Summer Solstice, it sure was a beautiful moon that rose over the woods and meadows on Sunday evening, when I took this photo.  It sure looked full to me, but officially, the real full moon won't happen until 6:34 pm EDT on Monday, June 20.  If I miss Monday's moon, I would have to wait another 46 years before I could see the full moon again coinciding with Summer Solstice on June 21, 2062.  But I won't be around for that one.  I hope this year's Solstice/Strawberry Moon is as lovely as this one was on Sunday night.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Orchids, Revisited

Do any of my blog readers remember my report of an unseasonably hot day in March when my friend Sue spotted some unknown seed pods along Bog Meadow Nature Trail near Saratoga?

Well, our friend the orchid enthusiast Andrew Lane Gibson recognized my photo of it right away, and he informed us that this was most likely the remains of a little orchid called Loesel's Twayblade (Liparis loeselii).  This is not a rare orchid in New York, but it's one I had never seen before, so I determined to return in mid-June to see if I could find it in bloom.  I knew it would be hard to spot by summer, what with tall grasses and other plants grown up around it, so I tied red trail tape on the tree at whose base it was growing.  And this week, hearing from friends that Loesel's Twayblade was blooming at other sites in the area, I returned to Bog Meadow Trail.  And wonder of wonders, I found it in bloom, right in the spot I had marked!

I guess you can see how difficult this tiny orchid would have been to find without that trail tape, hiding among many much bigger plants.

Here's a little closer view, the newly blooming orchid right next to the seed pod from last year's bloom.  I found just two plants.

Granted, this is not the showiest orchid among New York's 60-some native orchids, but it is kind of interesting, in that it holds its flowers facing upwards.  Andrew told us that this is in order for raindrops to splash out its pollen bundles, perhaps to land on other Loesel's Twayblades growing nearby.  The flower's lack of color or scent are not exactly inviting to visiting pollinators, so it has devised this alternative strategy.

Here's a much showier native New York orchid blooming now, the beautiful Rose Pogonia (Pogonia ophioglossoides).  This orchid does attract pollinators with its vivid pink color and raspberry-like perfume.

Rose Pogonia is among the showiest of our native orchids, as well as one of our most common. We found it abundantly scattered along the shore of the Hudson River north of Warrensburg this week, when I and my friends in the Thursday Naturalists group visited a remarkably rich botanical site called the Ice Meadows.

The Ice Meadows is notable for the huge heaps of a particular kind of ice (called frazil) that pile up here in the winter, creating a distinctive habitat that promotes the growth of rare plants while suppressing the growth of woody plants and discouraging the incursion of invasive species.  Some of the plants that grow here are among the rarest in New York State. One of those, called Sticky Tofieldia (Triantha glutinosa), although listed as an endangered species, was blooming abundantly last Thursday. Abundant, but also quite small!  If you peer closely at this photo, you might see the tiny red dots of sticky hairs on the stem, the inspiration for this flower's common name.

Not yet in flower, but vividly colored nonetheless, was the Spatulate-leaved Sundew (Drosera intermedia) that clung to the rocks around little spring-fed pools.

If the flowers of Creeping Spearwort (Ranunculus reptans) were not so shiny and bright-yellow, we would probably never notice them, tiny as they are, only about a quarter-inch across and sprawling across the rocks and sand at the water's edge.

We had no trouble at all noticing the big red blooms of Northern Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia purpurea) protruding above the masses of green plants crowding a fen-like area.

The wild roses were also easy to spot.  They obviously had no trouble at all attracting pollinators,  with their large showy blooms and heady fragrance that filled the warm June air.

The rose's leaves had also attracted another insect, the Spiny Rose Gall Wasp (Diplolepis bicolor), whose larvae are residing within each of these spiny red spheres.

There would probably be many more insects inhabiting this area, if not for the ample population of frogs, including this emerald-green Leopard Frog, patrolling the Ice Meadows and consuming the flying creatures.