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.

Monday, November 9, 2020

Summery Day For a Late-Fall Paddle

Glance down at my last blog entry, posted just one week ago.  The temperature then was down in the teens, and frost was everywhere!  Then look at the photos I'm posting today, while paddling on Lens Lake in the southern Adirondacks.  The temperature was up into the 70s, and it felt like a summer day!

Oh what a day it was today, so warm and still, with the lake like glass, reflecting a clear blue sky. I sure was glad I hadn't stored my canoe away yet for the winter!

I also was glad to have my pal Sue with me, a perfect paddling companion and the only other human I saw on the lake today.

The last time we paddled Lens Lake together, the forest and mountains surrounding this lake displayed the spectacular crazy-quilt colors of trees in their autumn glory.  Those colorful leaves have fallen now, but shades of gold and scarlet still glow on the sphagnum- and shrub-covered bog mats that dot the surface of this quiet lake.

The sphagnum moss that covered this ancient stump was a greenish yellow, crowned by a crowded cluster of purple-hued Pitcher Plants (Sarracenia purpurea).

Here's a closer look at those glossy Pitcher Plants, their lime-green interiors webbed with dark-purple veins.

This hummock was covered with moss of a more golden yellow, and its Pitcher Plants were more of a scarlet red.

Many of the bog mats supported thick stands of the grass-like Slender Sedge (Carex lasiocarpa), its fine, arching, pale-gold stems shining in the sunlight as they swayed with the gentle breeze.

Leatherleaf (Chamaedaphne calyculata) was the predominant shrub on most of the bog mats and along the shore. When the sun lit their leaves from behind, they glowed with the color of fire.

Here and there on the sphagnum-carpeted mats, we found occasional ruby-red Large Cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon) remaining among their vining purple-leaved stems.

This ancient lichen-covered stump served as a nursery bed for a tiny spruce seedling.

Acres and acres of bogmat were home to multitudes of Cottongrass (species unknown), each snowy tuft bobbing and swaying on long slender stems above the carpets of colorful sphagnum.

Paddling among the narrow channels that snaked through the bogmats, Sue was happy to find the remains of some Yellow-eyed Grass (Xyris montana), a flower she had found in bloom on a previous paddle here.

Here's a closer look at those Xyris plants, identifiable even now by their solitary cone-like seedheads atop long slender stalks arising from thick clusters of short, narrow, sharply-pointed leaves.

The essence of Adirondack beauty surrounded us here on every side.

As we rested our paddles and drifted along in our boats, breathing the pristine air and awed by the beauty of our surroundings, we were struck by the absolute silence we found here, a silence almost impossible to experience elsewhere in our lives.  We also became aware of silvery streaks of light in the air all around us, the sunlight glinting off myriad threads of spider silk soaring through the air. Each thread most likely carried along a tiny baby spider, lofted by the barest of breezes as the young dispersed from their nests. There was no way my camera could capture an image of all those glinting silken threads as they wafted on the air,  but here and there I found some of these delicate strands that had caught on waterside plants.

Too soon, it was time to head home. As I paddled back to our launch site, I knew I might not experience this kind of awesome beauty again this year.  I'm so glad my camera can record at least minimal images of it  for me until I can return.

Monday, November 2, 2020

Today Was the Day! Frostweed Was the Find!

We never know if we'll get that day: the perfect Frostweed morning.  The parameters are exacting.  Saturday morning, the requirements were perfect: it was well below freezing (about 18 degrees F.), a clear sky had provided for optimal radiational cooling overnight, and not a breath of wind was moving to disturb the crystals forming in the sap escaping from the slender Frostweed stems that had split as they froze. My friend Sue Pierce and I met at the powerline above Mud Pond at Moreau Lake State Park, a site where we've always found Frostweed (Crocanthemum canadense) without fail.  The clearcut under the powerlines was all aglitter with sparkling frost.

Every seedling oak leaf was edged with icy needles.

Every seedling pine needle sparkled with frost.

  Each green needle of this wee little spruce was tufted with white.

The ruby-red blueberry leaves looked as if they'd been dipped in sugar crystals.

The curving branches of Sweet Fern bent from the weight of the frost edging every leaf.

Starry tufts of Haircap Moss twinkled with glittering frost.

Even these tiny orange fungi decorating a sapling stump were edged with ice.

The very ground was transformed by the cold, with needle ice pushing up from the sand in the path.

All this icy evidence assured us that we would surely find those frothy curls of ice surrounding the Frostweed stems.  And so we did.

It took some searching to find the Frostweed, since grass and shrubbery had grown up around where we used to find abundant plants of it.  As it happened, we found much more of it in a place we rarely looked before, where the ground was sandier and the surrounding vegetation scarcer.  The ice curls were not as large this year as we'd found in years past, but it's possible the plants had grown more desiccated than in other years, because first frost came so late.  I can't recall any recent year when a hard frost hadn't occurred before October 31.  The size of the ice curls would depend, I assume, on the amount of fluid remaining in the flower stalks.  But at least we did find some, which made getting up and out early on this cold morning well worth the effort and shivers.

Soon, though, the sun cleared the hills and woods to the east, and the frosty curls quickly began to melt.  They are very diaphanous, more like frozen vapor than frozen fluid. And also quite beautiful.

I took myself home along the Hudson River, where the riverside trees bore muted but still lovely leaves the color of ochre and cinnamon.  Mist swirled on the mirror-like surface of the water, since the river water remained warmer than the air on this freezing-cold morning.

The mist was rising, but clouds of it still shrouded the tops of the mountains in the distance, even as the sun was breaking through and gilding them with its light.

Yes, the mountainside trees now wear their November colors,  but I still believe there's no denying their beauty.