Friday, June 8, 2018

Working My Way to Valcour Island

Well, it happened again.  I'd planned for an amazing botanical adventure -- a boat trip to Valcour Island in Lake Champlain to witness some of New York's rarest flowers -- and once again, the trip got canceled due to bad weather, just as it had last year.  I was too embarrassed to cancel my nearby motel reservations, since I'd already canceled them twice before, so I drove the 130 miles up to Peru, NY, anyway. I'd contacted some local folks who told me about other nature preserves nearby that were also worthy of exploring.   But when I got there, I couldn't help standing on the shore, sadly gazing out at Valcour Island across the wave-tossed water.  So near, but yet so far!  Even if I'd had my own canoe, those waves would swamp me before I could reach the island.

Valcour Island is remarkable for its limestone substrate, which provides the nutrients to support a notable variety of rare native plants.  But it's also known for some human artifacts, including this picturesque old lighthouse.

Resigned that I wasn't going to get out to Valcour, I drove over to the nearby Ausable Marsh Wildlife Management Area to explore the wetlands and enjoy some views of distant cloud-shrouded mountains.  I couldn't help thinking that the weather didn't look bad enough to have canceled our boat trip, but who knew what the weather would be the following day?

As it turned out, the weather was calm the following day, pleasantly cool with only a sprinkling of rain now and then.  And also, as it turned out, I got out to Valcour after all, thanks to the crew pictured here. I'm especially grateful to Emily Tyner  (hidden here) for inviting me to join her and two folks from the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program (Zach Simek in red and his assistant Jim) on a trip to assess and address a growing infestation of Garlic Mustard that is threatening the island's rare plants.  We were carried out to the island by Haley, who works for New York's Department of Environmental Conservation to monitor campsites on Lake Champlain's islands. She returned to ferry us back to shore later in the afternoon.

While I was most grateful to Emily (who works for the Adirondack Park Agency) for finding a way to get me out to the island, I think that she was grateful to me for helping her tackle an extensive patch of Garlic Mustard that had sprung up close to the shore.  No other volunteers had answered her plea for help with this project today, so the two of us had a lot of work to do, pulling this nasty invasive plant up by the roots and carefully bagging the plants so they could not drop any seeds.  Zach and Jim were working on other patches, as well as touring the island to map other areas of infestation.

After several hours of manicure-destroying stoop labor, Emily and I walked the perimeter of the island, stopping by shoreline campsites to note the presence or absence of Garlic Mustard.  Occasionally, toppled trees obliterated our trail, so we had to stop now and then to check our map to ascertain our location.  We needed to reach Campsite #18 by a certain time to meet Haley and the boat that would carry us back to shore.

Valcour is certainly a beautiful island to camp on, at some locations offering broad sandy beaches in quiet coves.

I was delighted to find a new "life plant" for me, out on those sandy shores.  This plant with the pretty yellow flowers and lacy silver-backed leaves is called Silverweed (Potentilla anserina ssp. anserina).  According to state records, this plant is far from rare in New York, but I had never seen it before. I guess I need to visit more sandy, shoal-y beaches to see it again.

Other parts of Valcour's shoreline were steep and rocky, with conifers clinging to those rocks right down to the water.

It was on one of those rocky shores that I found these bright beautiful flowers of Glaucous Honeysuckle (Lonicera dioica), one of our few native honeysuckle species.  Although this is not a rare plant in New York, I don't see it that often, and I was delighted to see it here.

Of course, I was most delighted to also find some of the rare plants this island is noted for, such as this modest-looking Pea-family plant called Pale Vetchling (Lathyrus ochroleucus). 

An even rarer plant we found was Northern Wild Comfrey (Andersonglossum boreale), classified as an Endangered species, with only two other known populations in the state.  When I last visited Valcour Island four years ago, I remember finding only a few of these plants with their bright-blue flowers glowing through the murk of the dark woods.  I'm happy to report that we found dozens of them, widely spread across the higher, densely wooded areas of the island.  I'm also happy to report that we found no Garlic Mustard in these higher, densely wooded areas, at least not along the trail we hiked as we made our way to where we would meet  Zach and Jim and Haley and our boat ride home.

By the way, if your overnight travels should take you close to the area near Valcour Island, I can recommend the Shamrock Motel on U.S. Route 9 near Peru.  It was clean and comfortable and very reasonably priced, with a delightfully helpful and friendly owner named Janis.  I truly enjoyed my stay here, and I do thank Janis for her hospitality.  She let me pet her adorable cats and she even tried to pull a tick out of my back.  Be warned, though, that Deer Ticks have found their way north to the Adirondacks now.


Unknown said...

Always an adventure Mom! So glad you got out to the island after all. XOXO

Nancy Peterson said...

What a great adventure. You are amazing !!!