Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Braving the Soggy Cold at Ballston Creek

When the heck is it gonna warm UP?  I've been hunkered down inside all week, keeping out of the sleet and snow and miserably cold rain.  It wasn't that much better this Tuesday-- cold and dark and damp -- but I felt like I just HAD to get outdoors.  So I headed down to the Ballston Creek Preserve south of Ballston Spa.  Maybe this site was far enough south of Saratoga for spring to have progressed a bit more along its forested trails. 

It sure didn't look that promising in the soggy woods, aside from the fact that all the snow was gone.

At least the vernal pools were free of ice down here, but not a peep nor a croak from any sex-crazed Spring Peepers or Wood Frogs emerged from these silent waters.

I did see lots of Carolina Spring Beauty leaves poking up from among the leaf litter.

And some of those plants were sporting buds that had opened just a wee bit.  When warm weather finally hits, this forest floor will be carpeted with thousands of these beautiful pink-striped flowers.

Lots of Round-leaved Hepatica will be blooming here, too, with the first warm days.  I ran to examine this plant when I saw a glimpse of purple, only to be disappointed when I found that purple was just the underside of a leaf.  Not even a furry bud was hiding down at the base of those stems.

I was happy to find some interesting patches of green in the woods, like this burgeoning clump of Porella liverwort at the base of a tree.  Gotta love those liverworts.  At least they stay green all year.

I was quite amused by this moss-covered rock, which looked like a green-furred hedgehog.

A Red Maple twig with swelling buds had fallen to the ground, contributing a punch of color to the forest floor.  But see how tight those buds are still.  Most years by this date, they would be open and wafting their pollen on the warm spring winds.

Oh wow!  Talk about a punch of color!  Here was a fallen limb just covered with an amazing mix of colorful fungi and lichens.  The fungi are Red Tree Brain (Peniophora rufa), Black Jelly (Exidia nigricans), and Lemon Drops (Bisporella citrina), and the pale gray-green lichens are possibly a species of Physcia.

A tiny tuft of the moss Ulota crispa was sprouting from the other side, as was a lovely greenish clump of lichen, possibly a species of Phaeophyscia.  I do believe this is the most beautiful mix of lichens, fungi, and moss I have ever seen!  And bless their pretty little hearts, all of these organisms can be found throughout the year. Even in the dead of winter or in dark, cold springs.

In addition to searching for plants, I had come to the Ballston Creek Preserve to observe the heron nests in the marsh that lies at the end of the trail.  Sure enough, when I reached the marsh I could see some of the huge rough nests out in the standing snags, although many fewer this year than in some years past.

At first, I could see only one Great Blue Heron standing on a nest and I wondered where all the others might be.  Then my camera zoom showed me what looked like birds settled down in the nests.  No doubt there were eggs in those nests that needed a parent bird's warmth and protection from the rain on this drizzly day.

This little bird I was able to observe more closely, since it kept hopping on the forest floor and fluttering up into the shrubs only a few feet away from me.  Since it had a rather ruddy coloration and spent much time on the ground, I was thinking it might be a Veery.  But my photo revealed features like white eye rings and a darkly striped breast that seem more consistent with a Hermit Thrush.  I have a hard time telling thrushes apart, so I'm hoping some more expert birders might weigh in on this ID.  I could certainly tell the thrushes apart by their songs, but this little thrush was quiet as a mouse.

I ended my outdoor adventures today with a visit to the Orra Phelps Preserve up in Wilton.  I was scheduled to lead a wildflower walk there this coming Thursday, but except for this one Snow Trillium in bloom, not a single other wildflower (not counting Skunk Cabbage) has yet even broken the ground.  And with more cold temperatures predicted, along with the possibility of snow,  nothing much will change in the next few days.  So I canceled the walk, hoping to return when warmer weather releases the floral floodgates.  I was glad, anyway, to have seen this darling little trillium, a very rare find this far out of its natural range.


threecollie said...

Not by any means an expert here, but that looks like a Hermit Thrush to me. Nice find! I love the way you are able to find beauty on the nastiest of days in the humblest of things. What a world we live in, if we only take time to notice!

Woody Meristem said...

Yes, hermit thrush; the ruddy tail is somewhat visible in the photo.