Saturday, February 1, 2020

A Winter Walk at Bog Meadow

In a couple of weeks, it will be my turn to lead my friends in the Thursday Naturalists on a nature walk somewhere near Saratoga.   But where should we go?  My first thought was the Bog Meadow Brook Nature Trail, starting from the new trailhead off Meadowbrook Road.  This new entrance takes us immediately into a wide open marsh, a habitat thriving with plant and animal life, even though winter is not the best time to look for the beavers or herons or waterfowl that make their homes here in the warmer months.  Right now, the marsh is solidly frozen over, but it's still an interesting habitat to explore.

One of the plants that thrives here is Swamp Dock (Rumex verticillatus), and I keep hoping to collect a specimen of it to document its presence in Saratoga County. To date, there is no official record of it growing in this county, although its presence here is obvious, even in winter. I could easily walk out on the ice to obtain a specimen, but it has no leaves right now, and I know the remnants of its flowers will shed as soon as I disturb the plant. If the water in the marsh stays high come spring, I will return with my canoe to collect it when it's in bloom.

As I proceeded along the trail, I began to question the wisdom of leading my friends on a long walk here, unless trail conditions change.  Since our last snowfall, the snow and slush have been pitted by hiker's boots and are now frozen into rock-hard ruts that are miserable to walk on.  After only a half hour of struggling along the trail, my ankles began to ache from constant twisting. But who knows what the weather will bring in the next two weeks? Either a thaw or a nice deep snowfall could make the trail much more passable.  In the meantime, I continued just a bit farther, making my way along a boardwalk that crosses a frozen pond.

The boardwalk at this location is lined with small willows, all of which were ornamented by various galls that are best observed in the winter, when leaves do not obscure them.  This photo shows the most common of these galls, the Shoot-tip Rose Gall, which resembles a dried-up rose atop the twigs, and the Willow Beaked Gall, a hard, ruddy-colored gall that creates a spindle-shaped swelling on the twigs.

Here's a closer look at the Shoot-tip Rose Gall, which results when a tiny fly (Rhabdophaga rosaria) lays its egg in a slit of the twig.  The tree then is chemically induced to produce this flower-shaped rosette of tissue surrounding the egg, protecting the larva until it matures.

The reddish, spindle-shaped Willow Beaked Galls are caused by another tiny fly, called Mayetiola rigidae.  The larva is wintering over within the gall and will emerge in the spring.  While reading up on these galls, I also learned that willows play host to more kinds of galls than any other woody plant.

Those galls might be of interest to my naturalist friends, but I confess I did not find much more to amaze me along the trail today, aside from enjoying the beautiful blast of bright red from the many Red Osier shrubs (Cornus sericea) that line the banks of the marsh.  The similarly red-twigged Silky Dogwood also thrives along these banks, but the pin-dot lenticels pictured here are distinctive to Red Osier. The Silky Dogwood has lenticels that look like stripes instead of dots.

Another nice find was the wintering-over seedpods of the Loesel's Twayblade Orchid (Liparis loeselii), one of New York's native orchids that prefers a muddy habitat like that along the Bog Meadow Trail.

Since Loesel's Twayblade is a tiny, greenish-flowered orchid that blooms in summer, it is much easier to spot in winter, when its pale-tan pods stand out against the dark background, rather than when its blooms are hidden among surrounding greenery.

This is probably a fern, but I'm not sure which one.  Obviously, not one of our evergreen ferns.  But I didn't need to know its name to enjoy the beauty of its coiling stems, like a graceful ink drawing, dark against the white snow.

1 comment:

Woody Meristem said...

Galls are such interesting features of the winter landscape, especially since they're often easy to find.