Monday, July 25, 2016

Sunday on the River With Sue

I used to have many days a week to play with Sue, my equally besotted nature-nut pal.  But then her work schedule changed to daytimes, so now we have only weekends for nature adventures together. So this Sunday, we planned a day-long paddle exploring the banks and islands of the Hudson River at Moreau.  Here we are, setting off in the morning to paddle upstream toward Spier Falls Dam.

We actually didn't get far upstream, since the first island we came to held so much enchantment for us, we dallied there most of the morning.

This island is surrounded by a low saturated area just exploding with a myriad flowers that thrive in this kind of wetland.  Carpeting most of the muddy verge were thousands and thousands of these colorful St. Johnsworts.  The rosy-leaved ones dotted with pink flower buds are Marsh St. Johnsworts, and the spring-green ones capped with ruby-red seedpods are Pale St. Johnsworts.

Popping up amid the St. Johnswort carpet were a number of Grass-leaved Arrowheads, their dazzling-white petals touched with pink and speckled with tiny flies, who had come to dine on the nectar and pollen.

Here was another St. Johnswort thriving all over this saturated shore, its tiny flowers and foliage suggesting its common name of Dwarf St. Johnswort.

Here is a closer look at the ruby-red achenes of Pale St. Johnswort.  This is a species that certainly belies its common name by being extremely colorful, whether in vivid-orange bud, in bright-yellow bloom, or bearing seedpods as vibrant as any flower.

Edging this wet area were a number of shrubs, including Common Elder, Red Osier and Silky Dogwood, and this Buttonbush shrub, almost unrecognizable due to its being overwhelmed by the clasping orange strings of Dodder.

Dodder prickles can pierce the stems of the plants it parasitizes, sucking its nutrients from the plants it clambers over.  A close look reveals the tiny white flowers of Dodder in bloom.

Exploring the higher and dryer areas of the island, we found many other flowers, including a large patch of Narrow-leaved Mountain Mint, its tiny white flowers dotted with purple and its leaves emitting a refreshing scent of mint.

We were surprised to see Sneezeweed already, since this common riverside flower rarely blooms before August, but a closer look revealed that this is a different species of Sneezeweed than we usually find along this stretch of the Hudson.  This is Purple-headed Sneezeweed (Helenium flexuosum), native to more southern parts of the U.S. but considered to be an introduced species in northern New York.  I have seen it in other years along this part of the river, but it never seems to persist in the places I first find it.

Unfortunately, we also found the very invasive Purple Loosestrife gaining a foothold out on this island.  For the more than 20 years I've been paddling this catchment between the Spier Falls and Sherman Island dams, I've been pulling Purple Loosestrife whenever I found it.  I hardly ever see it along these banks anymore, and after what Sue and I did to it this day, I hope we will never see it again on this river island.  Yes, it's pretty, but still, it's gotta go!

We did continue upstream a while, looking for a small stand of Wild Senna we'd found in other years. Yes, we found it, but still in tight bud, so we didn't linger there, but turned back downstream. We were drawing too close to the dam by then, and the stronger current there was impeding our progress.  We then pulled into a tiny tree-shaded cove to relax and eat our lunches, observing the constant swirling dance of hundreds of Whirligig Beetles that inhabited the quiet waters of the cove.

After our picnic, we continued downstream, finding relief from the midday sun by paddling under the overhanging trees and feeling cool air tumble down the banks from the depths of the dark green forest.


Where sunlight reached the banks, we were delighted by the beauty of such riverside flowers as these Blue Vervains, rosy-pink Swamp Milkweeds, and brilliant-scarlet Cardinal Flowers.  Unfortunately, we also found patches of the pale-lavender Canada Thistle, an invasive species not so easily extirpated by hand, since it comes armed with sharp thorns.

I don't know of many other places, aside from this section of the Hudson, where I could find American Chestnut trees grown mature enough to bear fruit.  But a few do grow here, although not close enough for cross-pollination, so the prickly burs do not contain viable seed.  But still, it's quite a rare opportunity, finding these nearly extirpated trees bearing flowers and fruit.

Our destination downstream was an island where the rare and beautiful Great St. Johnswort is known to grow.  I'm happy to report we did find it, but I'm also sorry to report that we found many fewer plants than in years past. It certainly is a spectacular native wildflower, and I would surely grieve if it died out from this place I know where to find it.

Growing a bit weary after five hours of paddling, and knowing we'd have to push against both wind and current to return to our launch site, we headed for home upstream.  My shoulders and rear were aching by now, but still I delighted in such a glorious vista of mountains, river, and sky.  The sunlight sparkled on dancing wavelets, and high in the sky, a glowing rainbow-like iridescence appeared in the clouds.

According to a site called EarthSky, when we see a cloud with colors like this, we should know that there are especially tiny ice crystals or water droplets in the clouds, causing the light to be diffracted and creating this rainbow effect. The phenomenon is called cloud iridescence or irisation.  Here's a blow-up of this irisation from my photo, with color enhanced.  Whatever this phenomenon is called, to us it just seemed like a cherry on top of our wonderful day on the river.


Kathryn Grace said...

As always, your pictorial adventures soothe the soul, and your care for preserving the native plants soothes the spirit and mind, ever jangled by humanity's seeming carelessness. Your faithfulness restores my faith in humankind.

The Furry Gnome said...

What a wonderful paddling exploration! Neat to see a mature Chestnut. I've only ever seen one in Ontario.

Woody Meristem said...

Beautiful scenery and flowers -- it's great to be on the water.

threecollie said...

It makes my heart happy just to read your lovely posts. Such soul filling vistas, such amazing plant life, such beautiful water, and cool clouds to boot.