Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Just a Quick Walk

I let too much of the day go by yesterday, so I just had time for a quick outing before dinner duties kept me tied to the house.  Where could I go that was close to home and likely to yield some mid-summer floral finds?  The Bog Meadow Brook Nature Trail was just the ticket!  This two-mile trail through various wetlands lies only a couple of miles from my home and offers lots of wet meadow that can be easily accessed via boardwalk over the wet spots.  And I didn't have to walk the whole length.

I entered Bog Meadow Trail from the new trailhead off Meadowbrook Road and immediately noticed that much work had been done to thwart the beavers' attempt to swamp this section as they had other parts of the trail.  And I also noticed that the water level had lowered considerably from where it had been a few weeks ago in this open marsh.  Must be, one of their dams has been breached.  I wonder how long it will take for them to build it up again. And fill this marsh once more.

There was actually dry land -- well, kind of damp land -- on sections of the trail that had been well under water earlier in the summer.  That's when volunteers built this most helpful boardwalk to allow us to pass this way without wearing knee-high boots.  The trailside plants didn't seem to have minded being swamped, since they were as lush and green as ever.  Even lusher and greener!

One of the first beauties I found was Monkeyflower (Mimulus ringens),  a wetland denizen with  bright-blue flowers that somebody once upon a time thought resembled the face of a monkey.  What an imagination! And what a pretty flower!

Here's another wetland flower that somebody once upon a time named an odd name: Skullcap.  Marsh Skullcap, to be exact (Scutellaria galericulata), distinguished from other local skullcaps by the pairs of humped flowers that grow from the leaf axils.

What flower would be more at home in a swamp than Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)?  And there were many of them in beautiful bloom on this dayl

And look what I found on that Swamp Milkweed! A big fat Monarch caterpillar!  From the look of the carved-out leaf this pretty creature was resting on, it looked as if it had already finished its dinner.
 And that was my signal it was time to head home to begin fixing mine.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

A Perfect Day on Archer Vly

How would I define a "perfect" summer day? Well, the weather would be sunny and calm but not too hot.  Check!  I'd spend the morning in my little canoe, paddling a secluded Adirondack pond.  Check! The pond would be ringed with a wide variety of interesting native plants.  Check! The birds and butterflies and other pretty bugs would be winging about, adding their beauty to the already lovely air.  Check! And best of all, I'd have as my companions dear friends who loved nature as much as I do and also had lots of knowledge to share. Check!  Lucky lady that I am, this was my Friday this past week, a perfectly wonderful time with friends Sue Pierce, Nancy Slack, and Ruth Brooks, paddling the perfectly beautiful pond called Archer Vly, up in the northwestern heights of Saratoga County.

Archer Vly is a small pond surrounded by vast tracts of the New York State Forest Preserve, just a mile or so north of the village of Lake Desolation.  It's a narrow pond with a basically east-west orientation, with a mossy, shady, steeply bouldered north-facing shore, and a flatter, muddier, sun-warmed south-facing shore that is edged with emergent reeds and other water plants.

We started our paddle around the pond by sidling up close to the north-facing shore, marveling at all the shade-loving plants nestled among the mossy boulders.  I had told my friends that we would find lots of the small native orchid called Little Club Spur Orchid (Platanthera clavellata), and we were not disappointed.  We must have seen at least a hundred, and all in perfect bloom.

There were so many of the Little Club Spurs that I quickly lost count, especially when so many occurred in clusters tight and numerous enough to make it hard to distinguish where one plant ended and another began.

These rocky north-facing banks were covered with wonderful mixtures of plants that defined the flora of the northeastern forest.  In this photo alone we have Bunchberry, Hobblebush, Lowbush Blueberry, and Goldthread, just to name the obvious ones.

Here's a closer look at the aptly named Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) with its cluster of brilliant red berries and wreath of deeply veined leaves.

A bit further along, masses of Dalibarda (Rubus repens) carpeted the banks.  This pretty plant also has the common name of Dewdrops.

This glossy-leaved, low-growing plant called Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) was dangling waxy, white, bell-shaped blooms.

So tiny as to be almost invisible, this wee little bloom of Canada St. Johnswort (Hypericum canadense) would have escaped my notice if Ruth had not called my attention to it. The slender, blood-red achenes next to it are what the tiny yellow flower will produce when it goes to seed.

A number of shrubs -- Sweet Gale, Witherod, Arrowwood, and more -- hung over the water, but we were especially struck by the beautiful vibrant-red fruits of the Mountain Hollies (Ilex mucronata).

When we reached a stretch of shore where the shallow sunlit water was filled with the slender green spears of Branching Burreed leaves (Sparganium sp.), the very air around us glittered with the sparkling wings of uncountable numbers of tiny spreadwing damselflies.  If I had a frustrating moment on this otherwise perfect day, it was trying to photograph these tiny gossamer beings as they flitted in constant motion, alighting for only microseconds as I struggled to focus my camera on them.  Luckily, this male must have grown weary of hauling his egg-laden lady around and decided to take a rest long enough for me to snap this photo.

While the damselflies were flitting around us down near the water's surface, the air above was filled with the fluttering wings of Cedar Waxwings, darting and soaring here and there in pursuit of insects flying over the pond.  Those I could NOT get a photo of!

Oval pads of Watershield (Brasenia schreberi) covered the water surface in some of the quiet bays, and a few of its flowers protruded from the water.  Watershield flowers are fascinating.  They bloom over the course of two days, with the pisitillate parts emerging first to expose receptive stigmas, and after the stigmas are pollinated with wind-borne pollen from other plants, the petals close over the pistils and the flower submerges.  The next day, the flower emerges from the water again, this time as a staminate flower ringed with anthers.  After the anthers release their pollen, the flower is again withdrawn below the water, where the fruit develops.

White dots of Pipewort (Eriocaulon aquaticum) decorated the dark still waters of a shallow cove.

We were thrilled by all the beauty we found on this lovely day in July, but after seeing all the Narrow-leaved Gentians (Gentiana linearis) crowding the shore, we knew we would have to come back in a couple of weeks to see the thousands of bright-blue flowers that then will be leaning over the water.

Here's a photo I took on August 20 last year of this very same cluster of Narrow-leaved Gentians. I'm sure you will understand why I want to return to see this glorious display once more.

After paddling for several hours, we then took a short walk on the trail that surrounds the pond.  That gave us a chance to see up close some of the plants we could only get a glimpse of from the water.  Since many of those plants were mosses and liverworts, we were fortunate to have our expert bryologist, Nancy Slack, to school us in some of their names. Here, Nancy (seated) is showing a moss to Ruth, an avid student of all things botanical.


Mosses and liverworts can be gorgeous indeed, as these neighboring clumps of Bazzania trilobata liverwort (left) and Leucobryum glaucum reveal.  The Leucobryum has the very apt common name of Pincushion Moss.

We even found a few bright-colored fungi nestled among the green mosses.

The abundance of Painted Trillium (Trillium undulatum) in these woods convinced us we need to come back next spring to see many rose-splashed white flowers when they are blooming.  Now, the plants are bearing small ovoid fruits that will turn bright red in late summer.

Before heading off to Tinney's Tiptop Tavern for lunch in the nearby village of Lake Desolation, we spent some time admiring fragrant stands of Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) that were perfuming the sun-warmed air.  All that fragrance had attracted a veritable swarm of Tiger Swallowtail Butterflies to come and feast on the flowers' nectar.  At one point, I counted 14 of these brilliant-yellow butterflies working their way among the florets.

And here was another creature we found feasting on the milkweeds. But unlike the butterflies that can sip nectar from any number of blooming plants, the Red Milkweed Beetle (Tetraopes tetrophthalmus) eats only milkweed leaves and nothing but.  They are hatched from eggs laid on milkweed stems and spend their whole lives feeding on this plant. In addition to being very colorful, these beetles are also very smart. If they were to get too much of the milky sap in their mouths, the sticky stuff would glue their jaws shut and they would starve. To prevent this, they nip the veins upstream from the leaf-edges they feed on, so then they can chew away on the leaves to their hearts' content.  As the ragged leaf in this photo reveals, the beetles have had their dinner and now are enjoying a little post-prandial romp.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Along the Riverbanks, Up the Mountain

Along the Riverbanks

The weekend's terrible heat was gone, with temps today (Tuesday) in the comfortable high 70s.  Monday's all-day rain and chill had moved along, and today was sunny and pleasant.  A perfect day to paddle the beautiful Hudson River at Moreau.

As I moseyed along close to the forested banks, pink puffy clusters of Meadowsweet (Spiraea alba) hung over the water.

Higher up on the banks I could see the yellow flowers of Spotted St. Johnswort (Hypericum punctatum), but it required the zoom lens of my camera to let me see the spotted petals of this native wildflower.

The gracefully arching dark-green leaves of Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea) were even more lovely than the wooly tight nubs of its flowers.

I was hoping to maybe find the elusive Small Purple Fringed Orchid (Platanthera psycodes) along these banks today, but not really counting on it, since this orchid seldom appears in the same place I'd found it before.   But there it was!  And not to be missed, with that huge inflorescence, fully in flower, each floret wide open, from the bottom to the top! What a regal looking orchid!  Spectacular!

This orchid's flowering stalk was so much larger than any P. psycodes I'd ever seen, I wondered if it might be instead the Large Purple Fringed Orchid (Platanthera grandiflora). I beached my canoe to take a closer look at its florets.

I had been told that the easiest way to tell these two orchids apart is to compare the opening to the spur. In the case of P. grandiflora, the opening will be round.  But the opening in this orchid was horizontally rectangular, which means that this orchid really IS P. psycodes, the Small Purple Fringed Orchid -- albeit a very large Small Purple Fringed Orchid.

Just a little further along the bank, I came upon two more Small Purple Fringed Orchids, with inflorescences quite a bit smaller than that of the first one I had found, and with only the lower florets fully open, with buds still closed toward the top. These two were the size and shape I was used to seeing for this species.

Here was another treat that awaited me on these riverbanks today.  This little Waterthrush came running along the shore, hopping over fallen branches and constantly tipping its pale-colored rump up and down as it ran.

At first (because of all that tail bobbing) I thought it might be a Spotted Sandpiper, but it seemed much too short and chubby for that. Luckily, my camera zoom can see much better than my eyes can, so I was able to detect the stripe above the eye and the streaky breast and sides that convinced me it must be a Waterthrush.  Unfortunately, I didn't get a clear-enough photo to help me determine whether it was a Northern Waterthrush or a Louisiana Waterthrush.  UPDATE: I have since heard from two birders who told me that this is more likely the Louisiana Waterthrush.  They cited the habitat (moving water rather than marsh or bog) and markings (widely spaced stripes and lack of buff coloring) as reasons to eliminate the other possibility.

The day was still young, so I still had time to check out some plants on a nearby high powerline before going home.  I headed to shore, but the serene loveliness of the river, with forested banks and mountains rising on both sides, made it hard to leave. I rested my paddle and let the slow current carry me back to the launch site.

Up a Mountainous Powerline

I hope soon there will be well-groomed trails up to this mountain height, for the powerline clearcut I climbed today bisects some new lands acquired by Moreau Lake State Park this past year. I've seen photos of beautiful overlooks that the new trails are promised to lead us to, but today I was content to enjoy a glimpse of the river's blue water off in the distance, and the long view of the powerline as it snaked across the riverside hills.

Turning around, I could see the powerline climbing, climbing, climbing, and then disappearing over the top.  I've never attempted to reach the summit of this clearcut, since in about 3 sets of pylons further up, the rocks become steep and precipitous, too risky for me with my feeble damaged knee to attempt.

Today I was happy to wander a lower meadow, especially since it was made astoundingly beautiful by the huge vivid-purple blooms of Pasture Thistle (Cirsium pumilum) and the more slender spikes of rosy-pink Steeplebush (Spiraea tomentosa).

The Pasture Thistle bears fragrant flowers nearly as big as my fist.  Also, it seldom grows more than hip high, so it is easy to contemplate its beauty from above.

The spiky-looking hemispheres that contain the bracts of Wild Basil (Clinopodium vulgare) look as prickly as thistle leaves, but they're really not prickly at all.  They persist long after the the pinky-purple florets have dropped, looking like interesting blooms in their own right.

There are sheets of exposed bedrock up here on this mountainside, just the kind of habitat Pale Corydalis (Capnoides sempervirens) thrives on.  I was happy to see a few of its yellow-tipped, bright-pink flowers still in bloom today.

As its name suggests, Deptford Pink (Dianthus armeria) possibly came to North America from the town of Deptford in England, so it can't be called a native American wildflower. But it sure is a pretty little thing, and it's hardly invasive, since I always find it surrounded by native plants like Bushclovers and Black-eyed Susans, as it is on this mountainside.

Well, darn! Missed it again!  I keep trying to catch this tiny Orange Grass St. Johnswort (Hypericum gentianoides) in bloom, and I always come looking either too early or too late.  I could see the green grass-fine stems were tipped with tiny yellow buds, but no sign yet of a flower.  The buds look as if they might open any day, so I guess I should try to come back next week and see if they flower then.  But hey, it's not an easy stroll to make it up here to visit them.  Unfortunately, this clearcut is the only place I have found this plant in all of the places I prowl in Saratoga County.

My  disappointment regarding the Orange Grass, however, was quickly dispelled by the appearance of this beautiful American Lady butterfly.  Happily, it found lots of what it was looking for in the flowers of this Wild Marjoram (Origanum vulgare), so I could snap photo after photo after photo, hoping to capture one of the microseconds it held its wings open for the picture-taking.  I'm happy I was able to photograph the open wings, for that allowed me to see the tiny white dot on the forewings and the blue-centered eyespots on the rear ones, features that distinguish this butterfly from its almost-identical look-alike, the Painted Lady.

I believe these amorous butterflies are Eastern Tailed Blues, even though I can't see the "tails" extending from the wings.  But I sure can see the orange dots that distinguish this butterfly from other small blues like the Spring Azure or Summer Azure or Karner Blue.

There were many insects soaring or flitting about on this sunny day, but most were too active for me to get clear photos of them. But this female Calico Pennant dragonfly kept returning again and again to the same twig of Sweet Fern, so I bided my time, creeping ever closer with camera focussed and HAH!   I got the shot!  Isn't she lovely, decorated with brilliant yellow in all the same places her mate is colored red, including the lacy veins of her wings!

Here's another couple -- a pair of Long-horned Flower Beetles -- who ignored my intrusive camera lens, occupied as they were with other important matters.  What a beautiful love nest they had, on top of a flower of Queen Anne's Lace.

Time to go home.  I found it harder to climb down this mountainside than I did climbing up it. My injured knee gets tired climbing up, but it positively wobbles when it has to lower me down. This pretty patch of Steeplebush, so nicely set off by the shade of the bordering woods, reveals the steepness of the descent.  I am eager for the park to lay some new trails through this property, hopefully ones that will make this mountain a bit more comfortable to climb. There are many more beautiful native wildflowers up here that have yet to come into bloom, so I'm planning to return.