Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Creekside Beauties

The tree-lined creek that runs through the new lands soon to become part of Moreau Lake State Park looked a lot different this week from when I explored here late last November.  Back then, the trees were leafless, the ground frozen, and the creekside grasses were brown and flattened, much easier to move through than the hip-high weeds and sharp-edged sedges I had to push through this time of year.  But the treasure I was here to find was well worth the scratched shins, wet feet, and muck-caked shoes.

When I explored here last November, I had found a large patch of the withered remains of Great St. John's Wort (Hypericum ascyron ssp. pyramidatum), which I recognized then by its dark-brown tulip-shaped seed pods.  This gorgeous wildflower with its large yellow blooms is classified as Rare in New York State, so I was excited to have found what looked to be a thriving population.  Now, I couldn't wait to see these flowers in full bloom.

And there they were!  Dozens of big, beautiful open flowers were flourishing atop stems that reached more than four feet high.  I had arrived rather late in the afternoon, so some of the petals were starting to curl, but the impressive size of the blooms was still quite evident.

A few of the dozens of plants were near the end of their bloom time, their swollen ovaries starting to produce the large distinctive seedpods these flowers are noted for.

But even more of the plants were holding multiple swelling yellow buds that held the promise of many more blooms to come.  For a plant that is classified as Rare, this is certainly a healthy population.  I will report its location to the New York Flora Association, the organization that documents the presence of rare, threatened, and endangered plants in our state.

There were other, less rare but equally beautiful plants along the creek, especially where the water was held back by a beaver dam to form a large shallow pool filled with Yellow Pond Lilies and edged with the large purple spikes of Pickerel Weed (Pontederia cordata).


Intrigued by a yellowish dot on that Pickerel Weed's flower, I peered in close and discovered a small Goldenrod Crab Spider lurking among the florets.  This predacious spider can change its color from white to yellow in order to camouflage itself in similarly colored blooms, but it can't match itself to the purple of these florets.  I wonder how much prey it can capture, with its cover blown like this?

This bright-red Meadowhawk dragonfly does not need to camouflage itself and wait for prey, since it is very adept at catching its food on the wing.  Here, it rested on a twig and raised its abdomen in what is called the "obelisk" position, a posture dragonflies assume to minimize sun exposure on hot days.

I found a few stems of Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) just starting to open its bright-pink blooms.

I stopped to examine the stems of this milkweed, wondering if I might find it to be the subspecies pulchra, a hairy-stemmed subspecies of Swamp Milkweed missing from the Saratoga County plant atlas.  It wasn't, but when I bent to look at the stem, I found these shiny orange eggs stuck on the underside of a leaf.  I did not recognize them, but when I got home, a quick Google search for "shiny orange insect eggs on milkweed" promptly yielded the answer: these are the eggs of the Swamp Milkweed Leaf Beetle (Labidomera clivicollis).  Of course!

The Swamp Milkweed Leaf Beetle also eats the leaves of Common Milkweed, which is where I found this one a couple of weeks ago in a park in downtown Saratoga Springs. 

Note that no white sap is oozing from the cut edge of the leaf, for the beetle has previously nipped an upstream vein to cut off the flow of sticky sap that could glue its jaws shut.  This is just one of the many insects that feed on milkweeds, their bright coloration advertising their toxicity to predators. Unlike many other species that feed exclusively on members of the Asclepias genus, the Swamp Milkweed Leaf Beetle will also consume the leaves of Swallowwort (Cynachum spp.), an invasive non-native species.