Sunday, December 29, 2019

A Springlike Day Along Spring Run Trail

I know that for many folks, Christmas is over by now.  But for me, the best part of the Christmas Season has just begun.  The work part -- shopping, wrapping, cooking, decorating, traveling, etc. -- is all done, but the fun part is all still here.  Since we don't put up our Christmas tree or deck our halls until Advent draws to a close, the tree is still fresh and the creches and colorful lights still delight us, and now we can just relax and enjoy the festivities.  We still are singing our favorite carols in church, and in just a few days our son and his family will arrive to celebrate the New Year with us.  It's all fun from here on out!

Even though it's still the Christmas season, the weather sure hasn't felt very wintry of late.  Most of our snow is gone, and temperatures have stayed above freezing most afternoons.  In fact, it felt more like spring than winter when I walked on the Spring Run Trail yesterday, starting from the east end, where a very convenient boardwalk crosses an open marsh.

This Saratoga city trail runs from East Avenue to where it ends at the interstate highway, following an old railroad bed that is wooded on either side.  The trail crosses a rushing creek at several bridges, and the walkway is plowed to allow easy access for bikers and walkers all winter long. In this photo below, the walkway passes under a bridge that allows city traffic to pass unimpeded overhead.

The woodlands and marshes that line both sides of the trail provide a perfect habitat for many bird species and other wildlife.  Although the invasive Phragmites fills more of the wetlands than I would like, this introduced graminoid does provide food and shelter to many creatures, and on this sunlit day, it looked quite beautiful as its waving plumes caught the light.

Despite the abundance of non-native and invasive plant species that dominate this habitat, some native plants hold their own along the trail.  The native viburnum called Highbush Cranberry is one that does, and its translucent ruby-red fruits are at their most beautiful this time of year.

Our native Staghorn Sumac also thrives here, providing food for flocks of American Robins, who see no reason to migrate south when such sustenance is so readily available.

Aside from a couple of robins in a sumac thicket and a single Brown Creeper inching its way up and down a White Pine's trunk, I saw few birds on this late afternoon walk.  But I did hear crows making a racket off in the woods, alerting me that a hawk could be near.  Sure enough, this Cooper's Hawk soon came winging in to take up its perch atop a standing snag.

Although I had intended to keep up an aerobic pace as I walked on the pavement, this foot trail leading off into the trailside woods lured me into following it.  What might be the attraction here, I wondered.

The trail led right to what looked like a campsite right on the bank of the creek.  But I doubt anyone has been sleeping here that recently.  I didn't look too carefully to see what might be under that tarp. Whatever it was, I wish the former occupant had been more tidy and not left all this trash behind.

But I was happy to be back in the woods and along the creek.  What better place could there be to poke about on a spring-like day, with the water rushing and tumbling along?

At one point, I became mesmerized by the shapes and colors of reflected trees and sky where the creekwater swirled and plunged over some mid-stream rocks. (Do click on these next two photos for full effect.)

Here was a creekside boulder covered with the speckled evergreen leaves of Creeping Buttercup. Such a welcome pop of green in the otherwise brown landscape.

I was intrigued by this cluster of tiny globules attached to a spent flower stalk.  At first I wondered if it might be some kind of gall, but then I noticed the slender vining stem that twisted around the flower stalk.  Aha!  This must be what Dodder looks like when it has gone to seed!

Here was one more punch of bright color, this example on one of the many fallen logs that lay across the forest floor back here along the creek.  These translucent globs of vivid orange are called Orange Jelly (Dacrymyces palmatus),  a gelatinous fungus that is common on decaying pine logs. It often persists throughout the winter.

Orange Jelly Fungus (Dacrymyces palmatus) is often mis-identified as Witch's Butter (Tremella mesenterica), another member of the group called the Jelly Fungi (Basidiomycota) that is less commonly found in our eastern regions. Although quite similar in appearance, the two can be easily distinguished by microscopic examination of their basidia (the spore-producing structures of members of the Jelly Fungi group), for Orange Jelly has basidia shaped like tuning forks.  Also, Orange Jelly is found only on rotting conifer logs, while Witch's Butter grows on hardwoods.


Unknown said...

Very nice. I've just sent a Christmas email to Pete. Hope you are all well and happy too....

Woody Meristem said...

Even though the woods are drab in gray and brown if there's no snow at this time of year, there's still some color to be found.

The Furry Gnome said...

Always nice to get out exploring!

Bonnie Vicki said...

I clicked on the water photos as you suggested. Wow! They really pop. The coloring and the distortion of tree branches are fantastic.