Monday, July 11, 2016

The Special Islands of Lake Bonita

When I wandered out on the ice of Lake Bonita last winter, I was surprised to find the remnants of numerous bog-dwelling plants growing on the tiny islands that dot this pristine lake.  Bog or fen habitats are quite rare in Saratoga County, so I was delighted that this beautiful little lake had just become part of Moreau Lake State Park, adding to the park's already remarkable diversity of habitats.  Of course, I dreamed back then of when I'd be able to paddle out to these islands in high summer to see what flowers the warmer weather would bring. Maybe there would be orchids!

But when summer came, so did the park's directive that no boating would be allowed on Lake Bonita. None.  Not even lightweight car-top boats that a paddler would have to carry a long steep rocky trail before reaching the water.

 In many ways, I applauded the park's policy regarding boating, recalling the dismaying quantity of beer cans, bait boxes, and other trash I find whenever I paddle the Hudson, which is open to all kinds of boats. Yes, I concurred, keep the public from despoiling this remarkably pristine mountain lake. Also, keep them from bringing in invasive species along with their watercraft.  So yes, I strongly agree, in principle, with the park's stern policy regarding boating.  But was I disappointed for myself? Oh boy, you betcha!  Now all I could do was stand on shore and gaze at those little islands, knowing they held a treasure that would remain beyond this plant nerd's reach.

So what was I doing out in my boat on Lake Bonita last Thursday?

Conducting an official plant survey, that's what!  And boy, did I feel privileged!  I guess keeping this blog for almost eight years, documenting all the flowers I find as I wander the woods and waterways, gave me enough credibility with the New York State Park's Regional Natural Resource Steward, Casey Holzworth, that he issued me a "Scientific Research Permit." This permit grants me permission for a limited time to paddle on Lake Bonita in order to identify its flora and fauna.  Here's the document I must carry with me and show to anyone who questions my presence on the water.

And here's Casey Holzworth himself, who accompanied me on my first paddle on Lake Bonita last Thursday.  I am so very grateful to him for trusting my capabilities for this task. And I also enjoyed his good company!

And here are some of the fascinating flora we found on the islands.  First of all, there are the shrubs, low woody plants that thickly cover all of the islands on Lake Bonita.  This photo shows the impenetrable thicket of shrubs, in this case mostly Leatherleaf (Chamaedaphne calyculata) and, with a branch protruding above the rest, Sheep Laurel (Kalmia angustifolia). Both of these shrubs flowered earlier this year, the Leatherleaf with arching racemes of small white bells in spring, and the Sheep Laurel with whorls of bright-pink flowers just a week or so ago.

(P.S.  Here's how vivid those Sheep Laurel flowers were, just two weeks ago:)

Mixed in with the Leatherleaf and Sheep Laurel was the third of the most common shrubs throughout the islands, the fragrant-leaved shrub called Sweet Gale (Myrica gale), shown here with ripening seedpods.

Occasionally interrupting the almost complete dominance of the three above-mentioned shrubs were the graceful wand-like stems of Swamp Loosestrife (Decodon verticillatus).  It will have axillary clusters of bright-purple flowers later in the summer.

All of the islands were thickly carpeted with various species of sphagnum mosses, in colors of red and green and gold.  In this photo, nestled among the spongey sphagnum are a variety of plants found in the acidic, low-nutrient conditions of fens or bogs: the red-veined, vase-shaped leaves of Northern Pitcher Plants (Sarracenia purpurea); the tiny-leaved trailing stems of Small Cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccos); and the rosy-stemmed, opposite-leaved stalks of Marsh St. Johnswort (Hypericum virginicum), which soon will bear small pink flowers.  I also see a sprig of Sweet Gale,  and there in the center foreground, two tiny leaves of Round-leaved Sundew (Drosera rotundifolia)  are peeking out of the sphagnum.

Standing tall above the shrubs were the large rosy-capped flowers of those Northern Pitcher Plants.

Occurring frequently at the edges of the islands were mats of Spatulate-leaved Sundew (Drosera intermedia), their scarlet leaves sparkling with the sticky drops meant to trap insects, the leaves now surmounted by the sundew's tiny white flowers on spindly stems.   Sharing this space with the sundew were masses of another carnivorous plant called Horned Bladderwort (Utricularia cornuta), their bright-yellow hooked blooms held high on slender stalks.  While the sundew absorbs nutrients from insects trapped and dissolved within its sticky leaves, the bladderwort feeds on tiny organisms that it sucks into small sacs attached to its underwater structures.

Here's a closer view of that sparkling Spatulate-leaved Sundew and its pretty flowers.

I also found clumps of the Round-leaved Sundew (Drosera rotundifolia), which also grows sticky hairs on its leaves for trapping insects.

These tiny white flowers on arcing stems were growing out of another clump of Round-leaved Sundew.

And were there orchids?  Oh yes, there were!  Lots and lots of the pretty pink native orchid called Rose Pogonia (Pogonia ophioglossoides) growing on many of the islands.

Although most of the Rose Pogonias were starting to fade, I did find a few that still displayed the beauty this little orchid is famous for.

Scattered among the sphagnum and sundews were the small white dots of Pipewort (Eriocaulon aquaticum).

There were also a number of grasses and sedges I didn't feel qualified to identify, but this pretty sedge with its sprightly white tufts on top I do know the name of: it's White Beak Sedge (Rhynchospora alba), a common denizen of fairly acidic wetlands containing few plant nutrients.

Not, strictly speaking, ON the islands, but floating about the edges, were many of the pristine-white blooms of Fragrant Water Lily (Nymphea odorata).

Not as frequently found as the Fragrant Water Lily were the yellow globular blooms of Yellow Pond Lily (Nuphar variegata), held on thick stalks above their large flat floating leaves.

We were constantly investigated by curious dragonflies as we moved among the islands, but few would hold still for the picture-taking, aside from this vivid purple damselfly (I believe its a Variable Dancer), which landed to rest on my knee.

I'm sure I've not listed all the plants that grow on Lake Bonita's islands, so I hope to return later in summer or early autumn when other flowers might be in bloom.  I also do not feel confident to name the various mosses, grasses, sedges, and other plants, including the shiny green liverwort pictured here.

I have a friend who's an expert in mosses and liverworts, so I hope to bring her here in late summer to help me complete this plant survey. (My permit allows me to bring along research assistants.)  I also want to bring my friend Sue here, because her super-keen eye often spies things I miss, and her knowledge of birds and insects is astounding.  But that will be it, for paddling here.  I don't want the public to see me paddling on Lake Bonita very often.  I do hope my presence on the water will not inspire others to attempt the same, despite the difficulty of accessing the water from the parking area.  The "no boating" policy imposed by the park is important for preserving the quality of this mountain lake.  And of course, I do hope my blog readers will understand this prohibition and will help spread the word about its necessity.


The Furry Gnome said...

What a wonderful compliment to you, and what an opportunity! And your results sound almost identical to the plants I'd find in such places here in Ontario, almost all familiar to me. What a great project!

suep said...

you bet I am ready to go scouting for plants up there -- Thanks for including me as a Field Assistant !
Another reason of note for the boating prohibition is that Lake Bonita was the water supply for the former correctional facility, and the sale agreement for whatever new owner/developer will purchase the property is that they will also be granted use of Bonita as a water source.

Woody Meristem said...

Wow, what treasures those islands are -- great finds. Unfortunately, the only way to keep a place pristine is to keep people the h--- out and even then it's going to suffer from climate change and other human induced impacts.

catharus said...

Wow! What a privilege and opportunity that you do so well deserve! Wonderful! Congratulations! It's my own joy to share in your joy and discoveries of adventure!