Tuesday, February 27, 2018

February Thaw

 Thanks to a whole string of above-freezing days this past week, it feels as if winter is losing its grip and spring is on the way.  When I walked along the Hudson River above the Spier Falls Dam last Sunday, I was pleased to see that the ice was breaking up even in the long-frozen bays.  Then, as I walked along Spier Falls Road where the mountains rise sharply from the road's edge, the music of splashing water greeted me from tumbling creeks and many tiny spring-fed rills.

Just across from the dam, where a creek comes bounding and crashing down the mountainside, the lower part of the waterfall was still encased in ice.  But higher up, where the sunshine has had more opportunity to warm the rocks, the water was freely flowing over moss-covered boulders.

Many people think of the shrill calls of Spring Peeper frogs as the first music of spring, but the sounds of splashing water, dancing as if in celebration of its liberation from enprisoning ice, sure sings of springtime to me.

Today, Tuesday, the air was warm and the sun brightly shining, tempting me out to take a walk along Bog Meadow Brook Trail near Saratoga.  Although most of our roadsides and open fields are now bare of snow, the woods are still deep with it, and the well-trodden trails remain quite icy.  Ice grippers on my boots, I set off along the trail that leads through wooded wetlands.

I had searched several muddy swales this week, finding the Skunk Cabbage shoots still tightly swathed by the pale-green bracts that had protected the undeveloped spathes all winter.  But here in the tiny brook that runs by the Bog Meadow trail, some spathes had swollen to burst free of those enveloping bracts and had already turned their gorgeous Morocco-leather red.  Some of the spathes had opened a little, so I could peer inside to see the developing spadices, which were still smooth and bald and not yet producing pollen.  So I can't yet call these the first flowers to bloom in spring.  But it won't be long before I can!

I continued along the trail to where it leads to a boardwalk over an open marsh, the boardwalk lined with willows and alders and red-twigged dogwoods.

I could see the willow catkins were just beginning to emerge from their buds, the "pussies" almost ready to fluff out their silken "fur."  A sure sign of spring!

I noticed that almost all of the willows were sporting at least one of two kinds of galls.  The Shoot-tip Rose Gall looks like a dried flower at the tip of each branch, and is caused by a tiny fly (Rhabdophaga rosaria) laying its egg in a slit in the branch.  The tree then produces this flower-shaped rosette of tissue surrounding the egg, to protect the larva as it matures.

Other small willows were bearing multiple hard, brown, spindle-shaped swellings on their twigs, each one with a bud protruding out of the top of the gall.  

These Willow Beaked Galls are caused by another tiny fly called Mayetiola rigidae.  The larva is wintering over within the gall and will emerge in the spring.  Willows play host to more kinds of galls than any other woody plant,  and now is the best time to find them, since once spring comes, they will be hidden among the leaves.


Anonymous said...

Coastal storm on Friday. Rain or snow.
We turn the clocks ahead soon.

Ron Gamble said...

What resource(s?) do you use to learn about these sorts of galls?

threecollie said...

Pussy Willows! I love them. Used to have one, but one of the guys backed a tractor over it.

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Thanks, friends, for stopping by to leave your comments. I'm don't believe the willow I pictured, threecollie, is officially the species called Pussy Willow, but all the willow species appear to have these silken catkins, some of them puffier than others. To answer Ron Gamble's question: mostly I google a simple question, like "what galls grow on willows?" Then I explore the sites that Google suggests. I know there are guides that deal with galls, but rather than clutter my overstuffed house with more books, I usually rely on Google. What an incredible resource!