Sunday, June 14, 2020

A Week of Wandering the Woods and Waters With Sue

For years, my pal Sue Pierce and I dreamed of when she would be free to spend any day of the week wandering the woods and waterways together with me.  Well, that dream came true this past year when Sue retired.  And just this past week, we exercised that freedom for sure, together visiting four different marvelous sites in a three-county area.

Monday, June 8: Canal Park (Rensselaer County), where the Hudson and Hoosic Rivers come together. 

Canal Park is located at Lock 4 of the Champlain Canal, the canal that diverts both commercial and casual boat traffic from areas of the Hudson River too turbulent for safe passage.  The park offers woodland and waterside trails along both the canal and the banks of the Hoosic River, which enters the Hudson just downstream from the lock.  Since the lock will not be open to boat traffic until July 4 this year, we had to park outside the gate that provides access to an ample parking area near the park's nature trail.  While our walk from the gate to the trailhead added considerable distance to our hike today, it also offered us an opportunity to observe some interesting avian behavior.  As we passed beneath an occupied Osprey nest along the driveway, our presence caused the mother bird to display several different diversionary tactics and unusual distress calls. I regret that we caused her such alarm, but it certainly was an amazing experience to witness this magnificent bird at close range.

We had chosen this destination this week because we expected to find an abundant population of Green Dragon (Arisaema dracontium) in perfect bloom in a flat alluvial area along the Hoosic River. Well, we found the Green Dragons, all right, as vigorous and prolific as ever.  But to see them in "perfect bloom," we should have arrived some days ago. The spathes were already turning yellow, and the long, slender, tail-like tips of the spadices that normally extend far above the hood were already limp and collapsing.   Nevertheless, these gigantic hip-high plants were impressive for their size and abundance.

As we walked along the trails on wooded banks high above the Hoosic, we found many shrubs of Deerberry (Vaccinium stamineum) dangling their distinctive flowers, wide-open white bells from which protruded long brownish stamens.

On sunnier banks near the water's edge, we found our native Canada Onion (Allium canadense) in bloom, with tiny pink flowers protruding from clusters of clonal bulblets.

Amid the grasses that lined the sun-warmed banks, a number of White Beardtongue plants (Penstemon digitalis) stood tall, their greenish buds just beginning to open to release their large white flowers.

On a shadier bank, we had to search among low blueberry bushes to find some rather small plants of Sheep Laurel (Kalmia angustifolia).  The flowers were as brightly colored and unscathed as ever, but something had definitely been attacking the leaves.

Wednesday, June 10:  Some Hudson River backwaters at Moreau (Saratoga County)

 Back in the 19th-century logging era in the Adirondacks, before hydroelectric dams obstructed the flow of the Hudson River, logs were floated downriver to be held by big booms just upstream from Glens Falls.  Different lumber companies would divert their company's logs into separate holding areas, either existing backwaters or new ponds that had been carved out of the river's banks.  Although huge logging trucks now carry those logs from the Adirondack forests to the lumberyards, the holding ponds still remain as quiet backwaters, providing fascinating places for paddlers to explore, sheltered from the often more wind-whipped waters of the open river.  It was one of these backwater ponds that Sue an I edged our canoes into on a hot and humid day this week. We were accompanied part of our way by a family of Canada Geese.

The quiet surface was decorated by the golden globes of Yellow Pond Lily (Nuphar lutea). Later in the summer, the beautiful white Fragrant Water Lilies will also float on these waters. We could already see their round reddish pads.

UPDATE:  An interested reader, Sara Rall, has informed me that this Yellow Pond Lily is "Nuphar variegata, as the notch at the base of the leaf is so closed the lobes almost overlap and the leaves are flat on the water. N. lutea is now considered the European species only. (All my old guidebooks call both this and spatterdock, N. advena, with wider notches and mostly upright leaves, N. lutea)."  I truly appreciate when readers share their knowledge with us.  Thank you, Sara!

The banks of this pond were abloom with white-flowered shrubs -- dogwoods, viburnums, and elderberry -- but very few herbaceous flowers bloomed along the shore. There were many different aquatic plants inhabiting the muddy bottom of the shallows, and I obtained a few specimens to attempt identifying later, after I obtain a guide to aquatic plants.  If any of my readers know the names of these three plants, your input would be most welcome. (I think the broader-leaved brownish one may be Water Purslane [Ludwigia palustris], but I'm not sure.)

We did see both Great Blue Herons and Green Herons stalking for fish in these quiet waters, and birdsong from many species filled the surrounding forest  Here was more evidence of animal occupancy, an obvious den that was lined with what looked like the leaves of Eelgrass or some other aquatic plant.  Our first guess was Muskrat, a plant-eating mammal, but what else could it be?

We were hoping to find at least a few of the bright-pink flowers of Early Azalea (Rhododendron prinophyllum) that proliferates along the banks of these ponds, but no, all blooms were spent. Even more interesting, though, was this firm white gall with a texture like that of Styrofoam that had formed around an azalea bloom. Neither of us had ever seen such a growth, not on azaleas nor any other blooming shrubs. Anybody recognize it?

UPDATE:  Thanks go to Susan C., who has informed us that this is "a nice picture of a mature Azalea gall, the fungus Exobasidium vaccinii, on Rhododendron prinophyllum. The surface of the gall is white, meaning it is covered with spores. Unripe galls are green. At least in eastern Massachusetts the galls are having a fine year." I am truly grateful when readers like Susan take the time to add to or correct original information I provide.

Friday, June 12: Bog Meadow Brook Nature Preserve, Saratoga Springs (Saratoga County)

Friday was a perfect day -- sunny but neither hot or humid -- for wandering this wooded wetland and open marsh just outside of Saratoga Springs. We came in from the Meadowbrook Road entrance, where the sunlit trail along an open marsh is lined with dogwoods and viburnums of several species and also with many different sedges, grasses, and reeds. We both agreed we need a good teacher of graminoids to help us distinguish members of this group of plants.

But we didn't stress ourselves about our ignorance today, because we were on a mission to find a little orchid that hides from view very well amid the surrounding greenery.  Tiny, green-leaved, and greenish-flowered, Loesel's Twayblade (Liparis loeselii) is not only very hard to see, it is also hard to photograph. Out of over 20 shots I took of it, this somewhat blurry photo was the closest to being in focus.  Somehow, green-on-green truly stymies my camera's macro function!  Those last-year's tan pods protruding above and beyond the flowering plant are much easier to see and to photograph than this year's blooming flowers.

The greenish-yellow seedpods of Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris) were much easier to find, mostly because they grow in the open, right at the edge of the water,  but also because the leaves are large and immediately identifiable.  When this plant is in bloom, of course, it knocks your eye out with its gorgeous bright-yellow blooms.  But these split-open seedpods are also quite visible, and just as pretty, in their own way, as any blooming flower.

Some of the Marsh Marigold seed pods held seeds that still were green.

Other pods held riper seeds that had turned black and ready to shed.

I find the rather whimsical seedheads of Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum) as amusing as they are distinctive. They also suggest how this and other members of its genus came to acquire another common name, that of Cranesbill.

I find the ripe fruits of Dwarf Raspberry as delicious as they are beautiful, so shiny and ruby red.

Saturday, June 13: The Pack Forest Nature Trail, Warrensburg, NY (Warren County)

The Charles Lathrop Pack Demonstration Forest just north of Warrensburg comprises around 2,500 acres of woodlands, including an 85-acre lake and miles of trails leading to mountain vistas,  marshes, and the banks of the Hudson River.  Donated by Mr. Pack to the State University of New York's College of Environmental Science and Forestry to be used as a teaching and demonstration forest,  this forest also includes a mile-long, mostly flat Nature Trail that is handicap-accessible, thanks to its well-groomed hard-surface walkways and boardwalks across wet areas. This is the trail Sue and I chose to follow today.

This Nature Trail leads us into the heart of a section of forest containing some of the oldest and tallest White Pines in all of the Adirondacks.  One of the oldest and largest pines in this woods, called Grandmother's Tree, is nearly 350 years old and stands at over 165 feet tall. It seemed to us that many of the other pines surrounding the Grandmother's Tree looked just as big and tall.

We specifically made the trip this week because we expected to find abundant numbers of Twinflower (Linnea borealis) blooming along the trail.  And we were not disappointed.  Just look at this charming little pink flower!  No wonder the great 18th-century Swedish naturalist Carolus Linnaeus chose to name this native North American flower after himself. He also carried a specimen of it in his hand when he sat for his official portrait.

Because the Twinflower's pretty pink blooms dangle downward, we rarely get to glimpse its furry interior, striped with a deeper pink.

Every year in mid-June, the forest floor along this Nature Trail is carpeted with uncountable numbers of Twinflower's lovely pink blooms and dainty green leaves.  As beautiful as this flower is as an individual specimen, it is even more breathtaking when it occurs en masse.

Here's another pretty, pink-striped flower we found along the trail, the White Wood Sorrel (Oxalis montana).  Even when not in bloom, this plant's patches of bright-green heart-shaped leaves are beautiful in their own right.

Since the little orchid called Dwarf Rattlesnake Plantain (Goodyera repens) won't bloom for many weeks yet, I never expected we would find its leafy rosettes today, even though it is known to thrive in this woods. As this photo reveals, the plant is really, really tiny.  How would we ever see it without its spike of little white florets?  But Sue with her super-sharp eyesight was with me today, and I remembered a particular place where many had been found before, so we set to searching a pine-needle-carpeted hillside.  And of course, Sue spotted a whole bunch of them!

Even ones as teensy-tiny as this one!

What else did we find in this remarkable Adirondack woods? Oh, lots and lots of different mosses, ferns, and liverworts, plus one odd, kind of blue-white slime mold. And WOW, did we find FUNGI!  Not numbers of different species, but rather, numbers of one particular species, the Hemlock Varnish Shelf (Ganoderma tsugae).  Almost every fallen log or standing snag was bursting with this shiny, mahogany-red, ivory-trimmed shelf fungus in varying states of maturity, from bird's-egg-sized blobs to enormous specimens the size of dinner plates.

Here's Sue on one of the logs that was decorated with Hemlock Varnish Shelf Fungi,  which resembled halves of big pumpkin pies. See that big smile on Sue's face?  Yeah, we sure had fun together this week.  I bet it won't be long before we do it again!


Susan C. said...

You have a nice picture of a mature Azalea gall, the fungus Exobasidium vaccine, on Rhododendron prinophyllum. The surface of the gall is white, meaning it is covered with spores. Unripe galls are green. At least in eastern Massachusetts the galls are having a fine year.

Susan C. said...

Damn autocorrect which changed the gall's specific name from vaccinii. Grumble.

Sara Rall said...

Shoot, Susan beat me to the gall ID: I agree Exobasidum vaccinii.

Your yellow pond lily is Nuphar variegata as the notch at the base of the leaf is so closed the lobes almost overlap and the leaves are flat on the water. N. lutea is now considered the European species only. (All my old guidebooks call both this and spaterdock, N. advena, with wider notches and mostly upright leaves, N. lutea).

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Thanks so much, Susan C. and Sara Rall, for your excellent additions and corrections to my original copy. I have added updates to the relevant photos. I truly appreciate that you both took the time to add this information. I keep learning something new every day!