Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Back Outdoors!

It's been a while. Way too long since I'd ventured outdoors this month.  First came snow too deep and fluffy for this old woman with arthritic knees and bad lungs to snowshoe through. Then came the pouring rain and melting temps that turned the snow to boot-soaking soggy mush.  Then freezing cold turned the snow crust to shin-bashing slabs.  Add to this intemperate weather a lonely Christmas, dismay for our nation, fear about Corona . . . . No wonder I've been in a funk!  But then, Sue called:  "The sun's out, Moreau Lake has frozen over, let's go look for frozen bubbles!"  So out I went.

Moreau Lake had yet to freeze completely over when we got those 30-plus inches of snow two weeks ago, so most of the lake froze clear and black when the temperature dropped to the single digits the following week. This made for great conditions for methane bubbles to be captured in the ice as it gradually froze.

This is not the best year for frozen bubbles (see my blog post for 1/4/2015 for that spectacular year), but we found enough of their crystalline beauty to make us glad we had ventured out today.

Except for the echoing croaks of ravens and this muskrat domicile, we encountered few signs of animal life today. The crusted snow in the woods yielded no tracks of otters or foxes or coyotes, either.

A blustery wind had us shivering under our winter coats, but when we reached the broad swimming beach, a late-morning sun blazed out of a clear blue sky, enticing Sue to lie back on the snow-covered sand to bathe in those warming rays.

When we reached the south-facing shore of Moreau Lake, we found that most of the snow had retreated, leaving a wide swath of sun-warmed sand and a narrow band of open water next to the shore.

We rested a while at a picnic table here, enjoying the warmth of the sun while we marveled at the sounds emanating from the frozen lake.  Such eerie ice-music! It reminded us of whale songs or the pew! pew! sounds of light sabres on a space-movie soundtrack. At one point, Sue noticed that when the ice-sounds occurred, the open water next to the shore vibrated in response. Here she is, watching the water with her camera, hoping to capture in a video both the sounds of the ice and the sights of that vibrating water.

I tried, too, with my still camera, to capture those vibrations of the open water. They came and went so quickly, this was the best I could do.   Sorry I couldn't better recreate this amazing phenomenon of dancing ripples in response to those eerie sounds.  At least I was able to experience this, and I will never forget it!

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Winter for REAL!!!

 Wow! The weatherman really MEANT it this time! Usually, when snow is forecast, I sigh and say "Promises, promises!" But it looks like we got nearly 3 feet. Luckily, we have only 40 feet of sidewalk to shovel. (Rest assured, Denis didn't have to do it alone! I joined him at the task.)

But my car has been plowed in where it's parked at the curb, the packed snow heaped to the windows. I'm getting too old for this!

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

My Winter Wanderland

Oh look!  There was ice on the lake today! 

Ah, but it was just a thin sheet of it, on the back bay of Moreau Lake.  The rest of the lake still lay wide open, under a cloudless blue sky this Tuesday, with a bright sun warming the growing expanse of sandy shore at the north end of the lake.  Every time I've visited the lake this last month, I've found the water receded yet more, from where it nearly reached into the woods at the beginning of this past summer.

Because Moreau Lake is a kettle lake, with no significant inlet or outlet, the water level fluctuates considerably, depending on rainfall and snowmelt.  But the rapid changes in water levels over the last few years are quite puzzling, and are being investigated by hydrologists from the US Geological Survey. One of the possible causes under investigation might be the expansive development of housing in the adjacent area, where residential wells could be drawing down the water table that underlies the lake. To date, no conclusive evidence has been found to explain these puzzling changes in the lake's water levels.

It seems odd that we've had so little wintry weather so far this December, although forecasts predict we will have much colder weather starting tomorrow, perhaps even with some snow.  This milder weather has made for easy woods-walking, anyway, and I have been wandering some of our nature preserves close to home this early winter, enjoying what natural pleasures are still to be found this otherwise un-eventful, in-between time of year.

December 1, The Skidmore Woods, Saratoga Springs
The many limestone boulders that litter this forest floor are home to much of the only greenery still to be found in December, namely, the mosses, lichens, and liverworts, as well as some evergreen ferns.

I'm not sure of which species of mosses cover the boulder pictured above (Anomodon attenuatus could be one of them), but I do recognize the unusual fern that has made its home among them.  It's called Walking Fern (Asplenium rhizophyllum), because of the way its elongated fronds "walk" across the calcareous surface, establishing new plants wherever the tips of its fronds touch down on the moss-covered rock.

Other boulders here offer a home to some lush green Broom Moss (Dicranum scoparium), as well as a patch of some pink-rimmed, trumpet-shaped Cladonia lichen.

A thick patch of this very lacy-looking Delicate Fern Moss (Thuidium delicatulum) has crowned a rock that is also home to a close-growing, dark-colored moss I don't recognize.

What looks like a fluffy green moss covering one side of this limestone rock is actually not a moss, but rather a liverwort called Porella.

It's easy to see how this flower-shaped moss acquired the name Rose Moss. Its scientific name is Rhodobryum ontariense, and it is usually found on calcareous substrates like the limestone rocks found all over the woods at Skidmore College.

Here's a little more "greenery" still to be found in a winter woods, only this is a fungus instead of a plant, and as its name, Blue-stain Fungus (Chlorociboria aeruginascens), indicates, its color is just as much blue as it is green.

December 3, Lake Lonely Trail, Saratoga Springs
It was late in the day when I visited this short trail that leads from a busy Union Avenue to the shore of the quiet Lake Lonely. A low sun cast long shadows across this wooden bridge that spans a creek.

The very dimness of the afternoon had me seeking the brightest spots of color I could find, and this thicket of Red Osier Dogwood (Cornus sericea) certainly fit that distinction.

So did the dangling male catkins of a Speckled Alder tree (Alnus incana).

I doubt there are any redder berries than those of the Winterberry shrubs (Ilex verticillata) that thrive in the swamp that lines both sides of this trail.

You would have to look hard (and brave some sharp thorns) to detect the small red winter bud of a Prickly Ash (Zanthoxylum americanum), one of the many different native shrubs to be found in the wetlands that surround the Lake Lonely Trail.  Both the compound leaves and the petal-less flowers emerge from this single small bud.

December 6 and 7, Moreau Lake State Park
The day was cold and the wind was brisk when I took a short walk along the shore of Moreau Lake one afternoon.  A pair of ducks came winging in to rest on the wind-riffled water.

I'd neglected to wear a scarf to cover my ears, so I didn't walk long on this frigid day. A bright sun didn't add much warmth, but it did light up the empty flower bracts on this American Witch Hazel shrub (Hamamelis virginiana), so it looked as if the twigs were blooming with small yellow flowers.

It was still quite cold the next day, when I returned to Moreau Lake State Park to walk the Red Oak Ridge Trail with my friend Sue Pierce. But we stayed in the woods, where we remained sheltered from the wind during most of our visit.

We didn't always stick to the trail, but we wandered up and down ravines and searched along rocky ledges, seeking to find plants that stay green all winter. I was delighted to find three of our winter-green native ferns all growing in close proximity, so I could include all three in a single photo. At the top is Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides), with its individual leaflets shaped like tiny Christmas stockings; winging out from the middle are the arching fronds of Marginal Wood Fern (Dryopteris marginalis); and dangling down toward the bottom are the lacy-looking fronds of Intermediate Wood Fern (Dropteris intermedia).

We also found numerous Dissected Grape Ferns (Botrychium dissectum) protruding from the leaf litter, some still as green as in summer, others either partially or completely purple.  I believe this is our only winter-green grape fern.

We found several different species of evergreen clubmosses throughout the woods, but this curving cluster of Fan Clubmoss (Diphasiastrum digitatum) was especially photogenic.

Many of our summer-flowering plants have evergreen leaves, and as we wandered around the forest, we found so many of their leaves still intact, we decided we needed to return in summer to find them all in bloom. This red-stemmed Striped Wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata) looked quite pretty, snuggled up against the roots of a Yellow Birch.

The bright-green leaves of Pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata) looked as fresh as they had last summer.

Both Sue and I were quite sure these round green leaves belonged to a species of Pyrola, most likely the Greenish-flowered Pyrola (Pyrola chlorantha), since they didn't seem shiny or large enough to be those of American Pyrola (P. americana).

We had no trouble at all identifying these beautifully patterned curvaceous leaves as those belonging to Downy Rattlesnake Plantain (Goodyera pubescens), since none of our other species of Goodyera display such a distinctively white stripe along the leaf's midvein.

That ID was confirmed when we found a well-preserved flower stalk ascending from a rosette of Goodyera pubescens leaves.  The Downy Rattlesnake Plantain bears a spike of small white flowers, and it is one of 15 species of native orchids that can be found in Moreau Lake State Park.

December 10, Bog Meadow Brook Nature Trail, Saratoga Springs

As I walked along the familiar wooded trail of this nature preserve near my home, I was startled to see that what I had always known as a wooded swamp was now an ice-covered pond, and it appeared to be close to encroaching upon the trail.

It was odd to see the spiky winter-shoots of Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) -- not normally an emergent aquatic species -- protruding above the thin ice that now covered this flooded wetland.  Where has all this water come from?  We haven't had that much rain.

Aha!  Mystery solved!  Beavers have dammed the normally small stream that flows through this swamp, which of course has caused the water behind the dam to accumulate and spread out into a pond.  I suppose the trail stewards will have to dismantle this dam before the trail becomes impassable to hikers.

Other parts of this wooded wetland remained unchanged, with fallen logs covered with emerald-green mosses that seemed to glow in the dim light of the woods.

A closer look at those logs revealed a marvelous mix of different mosses, including this tight carpet of velvety Broom Moss (Dicranum scoparium [or fulvum?]) punctuated with individual plumes of Brocade Moss (Hypnum imponens).

This section of rotting log was ornamented with quite a varied mix of organisms: a gray cluster of spent puffball fungus, the thready reddish webs of Nowellia curvifolia liverwort, the flat-leaved shiny green liverwort called Lophocolea heterophylla, and what looks to be the beginning of a population of Delicate Fern Moss (Thuidium delicatulum).  All of these organisms play a role in returning this rotting log's elements to the soil.

At least five different species of Horsetail Rush (Equisetum spp.) inhabit this wooded wetland, but the only one I can reliably find this time of year is the miniature Dwarf Horsetail (E. scirpoides) with its tangled masses of wiry evergreen stems.

What a pretty sight to end my early-winter walk at Bog Meadow: a lovely cluster of pinky-purple Foamflower leaves (Tiarella cordifolia) resting atop a carpet of emerald-green Delicate Fern Moss.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

A Celebration of Trees

 New York's Department of Environmental Conservation has announced an "Annual Arbor Day Original Artwork Poster Contest," inviting the public to submit original artwork (including photos) relating to New York's native trees. From what I can gather from their announcement, the only prize would be for the artwork to be used in a poster celebrating the trees of New York State. I happen to have several nice photos of trees just lying unseen, deep in my computer files, so I have submitted them to the contest, not expecting a prize, but just to dredge them up from the dark and share them with others, even if only the contest judges. I also share them here with my blog readers. And for those who also would like to participate, here's the link to information about this contest:

I came upon this solitary young American Beech (Fagus grandifolia) one early spring, glowing as if it were lit from within in the dark of the woods, surrounded by towering White Pines (Pinus strobus).  Woods Hollow Nature Preserve, Milton, Saratoga County.

I love how the stark white of the trunks these small Paper Birches (Betula papyrifera) was reflected in the smooth ice of the lake, which was lightly dusted with snow. Moreau Lake State Park, Saratoga County.

The Black Tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica) is almost a sacred tree to me, since my need to know the name of this spectacular tree inspired a consuming desire to know the names of all the plants that surrounded it, here on the banks of the Hudson River at Moreau (Saratoga County). And of course, my obsession with knowing the names of plants didn't stop there!  No tree can rival the Black Tupelo for the magnificence of its autumn color.

These young oaks (Quercus sp.) were certainly lovely enough, sporting their copper-colored late-autumn leaves.  But oh, how that beauty was magnified when reflected in the shimmering water of the Hudson River at Moreau! Saratoga County.

Of all our native conifers, the bog-dwelling Tamarack (Larix laricina) is the only one to turn gold in the fall, before dropping all of its needles before winter.  How spectacular did these golden boughs appear, backed by a deep-green Adirondack forest of spruces and pines, so perfectly reflected in the still waters of Lens Lake! Warren County.

Monday, November 23, 2020

November Wanderings

Yep.  It's November, all right.  One day the temps are down in the teens, then two days later they reach the mid-70s (see my last two blog posts).  And after that, mostly gray has prevailed.  Maybe the sun breaks through for a bit, but low clouds soon cancel out that bit of blue in the sky. Next day, some rain, a few flakes of snow.  A sunny day dawns promising, but a chill wind drives the cold inside the winter coat.  It hasn't been very inviting out there, for this aging old lady with an arthritic knee.  But I have ventured out since I posted here last, just for an hour or so here and there.  And I'm always glad I did. Nature always has something delightful to offer. Even in November.

November 10, Bog Meadow Brook Nature Preserve

There's lovely color still to be found on this trail, even after the vivid autumn foliage fell many days ago.  The Winterberry shrubs that line this pond are thick with scarlet berries (above), and Red Osier twigs (below) glow lipstick red along the bank. The curling siliques of Northern Willowherb shine golden in the late-fall sunlight.

What once were the small white flowers of a trailside aster have turned into fluffy white tufts.

The pale-gold seedpods of Loesel's Twayblade Orchid are much easier to find this time of year than were their tiny greenish-yellow flowers hiding among summer's grasses.

How wonderful to still see dragonflies darting about on the autumn air!  Especially dragonflies as colorful as this Autumn Meadowhawk basking in the sun.

The sun goes down early these late-fall afternoons, and it cast a warm golden light on this small flock of Canada Geese floating calmly on a trailside pond.

November 18, Evergreen Plants at Mud Pond

I didn't get out until afternoon on this freezing-cold day. On my way to a powerline clearcut near Mud Pond at Moreau Lake State Park, I was surprised to see how thickly icicles hung from the spring-watered boulders along Spier Falls Road, despite their exposure to hours of sunshine this day.

The powerline clearcut above Mud Pond passes beside a pine woods, and the open area next to the woods is carpeted with thick mosses, this carpet studded with small seedling conifers and other evergreen plants.

I had come here on this Wednesday to prepare for leading some friends on an "Evergreen Plants Walk" the following Friday. But before I even began to catalog the many green plants that grow here, I was startled to see how the stems of many Frostweed plants (Crocanthemum canadense) were still surrounded with icy curls of frozen sap, even this late in the day (it was now 3pm).  Usually, these delicate curls melt or evaporate as soon as the morning sun touches them.  But the freezing cold had persisted all day long.

As I walked near the edge of the woods, my feet sank deep into thick carpets of moss. The predominant moss here is one called Big Red-stem Moss (Pleurozium schreberi).

Many other mosses thrive in this sandy soil, including this lime-green one with fern-like leaves called Brocade Moss (Hypnum imponens).

Among all the green mosses were several mounds of Sphagnum moss that was colored a surprising pink! This mound was studded with tiny White Pine seedlings (Pinus strobus).

There were at least two species of Reindeer lichens (Cladonia spp.) sprouting up from amid the pine needles, both a pale-green one and this one, colored a beautiful gray.

Fallen logs lay at the edge of the woods, most of them covered with many different lichens, mosses, and liverworts, including this curly-leaved liverwort called Lovely Fuzzwort (Ptilidium pulcherimum).

Several clubmosses, too, are part of this evergreen community, including this Tree Clubmoss (Dendrolycopodium obscurum) with its golden pollen stalks.

Fan Clubmoss (Diphasiastrum digitatum) is another evergreen denizen of this powerline clearcut.

Running Clubmoss (Lycopodium clavatum) also thrives here.  Another vernacular name for this sprawling, ground-hugging plant is Wolf's Claw, suggested by the pointed tufts of white hairs at the end of each branch.

And of course, there are several different kinds of baby evergreen trees, including at least two species of pine. I believe this one is a Red Pine seedling (Pinus resinosa), with its fascicles (needle bundles) containing two stiff needles.  White Pine seedlings, with fascicles containing five more-slender needles of a bluer shade of green, were even more numerous at this site.

An occasional Spruce seedling (Picea sp.), with its short sharp needles, could also be found among the other baby conifers.

I found only one Juniper sapling (Juniperus sp.) among all the other conifers, and it was abundantly studded with berries of the most beautiful blue.

I assert that we can call these British Soldier lichens (Cladonia cristatella) another evergreen plant, since its leafy thallus is definitely greenish, even when its fruiting bodies are a brilliant red.

November 19, Moreau Lake Shore

This Thursday afternoon was breezy and cold, but breaks in the clouds let a few rays of warming sun cast a golden light on the north shore of the lake.  My friend Sue had joined me to see how far we could walk on dry land around the lake.  But first we had to cross the brand-new bridge that spans the narrow waterway between the main lake and the back bay.  Thanks go to The Friends of Moreau Lake State Park for providing the funds to replace the old bridge, which had been much in need of repair. 

For the past month or so, I've been celebrating the emergence of the lake's walkable shore, as lake levels had started to fall from the highs that found the water risen well into the woods.  But wow! It looked as if just overnight the levels had fallen precipitously, as the still-damp sand along the north shore appeared to indicate.

Sure enough, we were able to easily stride along the shore, with ample amounts of dry footing between the woods and the water's edge.

We made it all the way to the cove along the eastern shore, where seven years ago I had discovered a large population of one of New York's rarest plants, the Endangered species called Whorled Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum verticillatum var. verticillatum). At that time, the population included nearly 300 blooming plants, many of which had been submerged now for nearly two years by remarkably high water levels.  Would we find any at all remaining today?  Sadly, only a few.  But the specimens we did find bore seed heads that had dropped their seeds, so we can hope that many more of this super-rare plant will once again find a happy home on the shore of Moreau Lake.