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.


Anonymous said...

quite a week
Thanks for the pictures

Uta said...

Wonderful pictures as usual. I'm glad you don't have the dreaded red lily leaf beetle as yet. Here in Connecticut it is just awful, to the point that I had to pull all my wild and hybrid lilies. I don't use pesticides and the beetles are disgusting.