Saturday, June 23, 2018

Backwater Browsing

Boy, is it pouring today!  Kind of chilly, too.  And I am glad of it.  We have not had enough rainfall these past weeks, and our greenery is looking limp and thirsty.  But I'm glad this rainy weather held off so my pal Sue and I could have a lovely paddle yesterday, the last day of my friend's vacation.  My favorite stretch of the Hudson, between the Spier Falls and Sherman Island dams, is inaccessible this week while the water is lowered for dam repairs, but downstream, some beautiful backwaters beckoned us, with access off Big Boom Road in Glens Falls.

The name Big Boom refers not to some mythic explosion, but rather to the cables (booms) that during the 19th Century stretched across the Hudson to corral the logs that once floated down the river from logging operations in the Adirondacks.  To sort out which logs belonged to which logging operators, backwater ponds were carved from the river banks at various sites along this stretch of the river.  The logs no longer roar down the river, but the backwater ponds are still here, shallow pools filled with aquatic and riparian plants, and alive with the songs of birds and the signs of beaver and muskrat.

Not a lot of flowers are blooming yet along the banks, except for the blooms on rampant stands of Silky Dogwood, Black Elderberry, and Maleberry shrubs.  The Maleberry branches (Lyonia ligustrina) hung low over the water, allowing us a close look at their thick clusters of globular flowers.

We could also see many Winterberry shrubs (Ilex verticillata) leaning over the banks, although most of their tiny, waxy-white flowers had shed, to float prettily among the Yellow Pond Lily pads close to shore.

We saw lots of underwater aquatic plants as well, swaying gently with the almost imperceptible current.  This narrow-leaved brownish one, called Robbins Pondweed (Potamogeton robbinsii) was holding flower stalks stiffly above the water, the buds not yet quite open.

I saw no flower buds on this Large-leaved Pondweed (Potamogeton amplifolius), but its curvaceous brown leaves had an elegant beauty all their own.

Late in the summer, Wild Celery (Vallisneria americana) will hold tiny white flowers exactly at the water's surface on coiling retractable stems, but as yet we could see only the long slender leaves suspended in the shallow, tannin-tinted water.  Their sinuous waving in the gentle current made it evident how this plant earned its other common name of Eelgrass.   We also saw floating among the Eelgrass leaves a fine webwork of the underwater structures of some species of bladderwort.

Here's a closer view of that bladderwort, revealing the tiny sacs that this carnivorous plant uses to suck in and digest other, even tinier organisms.  It's possible this underwater structure belongs to the species Small Floating Bladderwort (Utricularia radiata), a state-ranked Threatened species that actually abounds in these Hudson River waters.  Later in the summer, it will bloom with yellow flowers held afloat on inflated radiating "pontoons."

We also saw a second species of bladderwort, a very large and sturdy underwater structure containing black sacs.  Since this bladderwort had not yet produced any flowers, we can only guess, judging from its size, that it belongs to the Common Bladderwort (Utricularia vulgaris), another bladderwort species we have found before in these same waters.

This next water plant is one that almost mesmerizes me with its flowing beauty, its generous mats of almost hair-fine leaves gently swaying just below the water's surface.  Before I knew its official name of Water Bulrush (Schoenoplectus subterminalis), I gave it my personal name of Mermaid Hair.  One of its other common names, Swaying Bulrush, is also quite descriptive.

As to forms of life aside from the botanical, we did see this regal Great Blue Heron perched on a fallen log.  We also saw several Painted Turtles scurrying away underwater from our canoes' shadows and one magnificent Osprey winging its way over the pond.  We were constantly serenaded by a Warbling Vireo and accused of trespassing by very indignant Red-winged Blackbirds guarding their nests. There were moths and dragonflies and damselflies as well, but none would come to rest on our knees so that we could make their acquaintance.

As the photo above reveals, many Yellow Pond Lilies (Nuphar variegata) dotted the surface of the water, and many bugs dotted the surface of the lilies' pads.  I could recognize the larger Water Lily Leaf Beetle (Galerucella nymphaeae), but I haven't discovered the name of the tiny black flies that, despite their wings, appeared to be hopping, rather than flying across the surface of the leaf. I know they are not the Water Lily Planthopper (Megamelus davisi) because that insect has no wings and these do.  I'm afraid my photo is not clear enough to request an ID from  So this mystery must remain for the time being.  Maybe one of my readers can inform us of the species.

I mentioned at the start of my post that our rainfall has been scant.  The river is also being held back upstream above the Spier Falls Dam, so consequently, the water in these backwaters was low as well. The water in this particular pond would probably be even lower, if not for this beaver dam holding some of it back.  It also held Sue and me back as well, for we could no longer proceed this way to another pond.  Probably just as well, though.  Because of shin-deep mud along every bank, for several hours we never had an opportunity to climb out of our canoes, and my backside was starting to grow numb. I'm very glad we had this chance to explore these fascinating ponds, but now it was time to call it a day.

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