Thursday, November 25, 2021

Giving Thanks

i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky: and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
e. e. cummings
YES!
May all my friends and family have a blessed Thanksgiving Day, filled with love and joy and thankfulness -- and if you are lucky, a walk outdoors among the "leaping greenly spirits of trees" and beneath a "blue true dream of sky."
This photo is of Moreau Lake on a late November afternoon, as a lowering sun gilds the top of the far mountain before slipping behind the mountains in the west. Each time I gaze at this scene I feel a deep peace, as well as deep  thankfulness that I live surrounded by such natural beauty. 

I also feel grateful that, even in my 80th year, I still have sufficient health and strength to walk these shores and climb these hills and paddle these waters, adventures made even more delightful when shared with beloved friends and family members.
And I also thank YOU, my loyal blog readers, for accompanying me here when I post reports of my wanderings and the marvelous natural wonders I encounter. We may never have met in person, but I keep you with me each time I set out, hoping I will find something fascinating to share with you.  And I am thankful for the blogs that many of you also post, expanding my own experience and letting me learn from what you know and share. You give me hope, in this era of climate catastrophe, that there is yet a community of folks who care for our precious planet. I thank you for the work you do to encourage others to care for it too.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Catching Up on Lost Time

Where did the last 10 days go? I sure wasn't here on my blog!  And it all seems a blur of various appointments that busied my days, plus several days spent reacting to a Covid booster shot that had me napping under heaps of blankets three afternoons in a row and not spending much time outdoors.  I did manage to get out here and there and take a few photos, so I'll post some now, just to catch up.

November 7, Bend of the Hudson River, Moreau:  This was such a beautiful Sunday afternoon, my husband wanted to join me for a walk. And we did have a lovely walk through an old abandoned cemetery back in the woods.  Usually, when I walk with my husband, I don't stop to take any photos. But driving home along Spier Falls Road, which follows the Hudson River, we both were struck by the beauty of the river banks made golden by the low afternoon sun, so perfectly reflected in the still water. So I did stop and take some photos.

The Warren County bank of the Hudson, right where the river bends sharply to the northeast:




Looking upstream, north toward Corinth, when the lowering sun cast dark shadows on both riverbanks.




One sunny day last week, the Ice Meadows, Warrensburg:  I can't remember which day last week that my friend Sue and I scooted up to a stretch of the Hudson River called the Ice Meadows, north of Warrensburg. We had both found Canada Frostweed (Crocanthemum canadense) doing its frosty thing closer to home, so we hoped to find a related species called Hoary Frostweed (Crocanthemum bicknellii) doing the same thing up north where we'd first learned of this species last summer.  But the morning turned out to be too warm for frost of any kind. Oh well, the day was lovely, and so was the river bank. Due to recent heavy rains, though, the Hudson was so high that most of the other plants we'd hoped to find remnants of were well under water. In this photo, I think Sue was searching beneath the wavelets for the basal leaves of New England Violet near where we'd found some last summer. She didn't find them.




High up on the banks, though, we did find some beautiful evergreen Early Saxifrage leaves (Micranthes virginiensis) tucked in among mounds of green moss.




And the leaves of Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) were as glossy and green and lovely as ever.



November 13, the Saratoga County banks of the Hudson at Moreau: I wanted to show my friend Amy Godine the stretch of the Hudson that had inspired this blog back in 2009.  Amy, a loyal reader of my blog, is also a marvelous writer and frequent contributor to the magazine Adirondack Life, and she told me she plans to write an article about my blog for this wonderful magazine. Oh my gosh, what an honor! Of course, I'd hoped for a beautiful day, but we got a rainy one instead. No matter. We had a great walk and talk together, and I do believe Amy was truly impressed by the wild natural beauty of this stretch of the Hudson, where forested mountains fall straight to the water's edge and wooded islands dot the quiet bays. And we will have other occasions to walk together, in nicer weather.




As the rain started falling harder, we did not linger long in the woods, but we did pause to note the remarkable color of this fungus. It sure looked like Turkey Tail Fungus (Trametes versicolor) to me, a fungus that comes in many different color combinations. But I had never seen it wearing such Halloween hues as this black and orange!




At least this Violet-toothed Polypore (Trichaptum biforme) lived up to its vernacular name!



November 14, Stark's Knob, Schuylerville: I had been slated to lead my friends in The Thursday Naturalists on a visit to this remarkable geologic site this week.  And it is an amazing experience, to stand beneath this huge mound of Pillow Basalt, and imagine being here some 460 million years ago when this site was well beneath the sea and lava poured through a crack in Earth's crust to immediately congeal to solid rock in the water. Just looking at this huge mound of black bulbous rock, I could certainly imagine that lava boiling up from below the sea!




A number of interesting calciphile plants grow from cracks in this calcareous Pillow Basalt.  The most interesting of these plants is a fern called Purple Cliffbrake (Pellaea atropurpurea), and quite a bit of it has found a home here.  I was able to clamber up the rock and reach a small patch of it, in order to obtain some photos of both its fertile and sterile fronds.  This photo shows the spores that line the undersides of the fertile fronds. 



And this photo shows the shorter, more rounded leaflets of the sterile fronds, lacking any spores.  Both photos show the dark purple stem that suggested this fern's specific name.


I imagine my friends would be interested in observing this unusual fern in situ. But the problem is, I can't imagine some of my friends (those who are elderly and less agile than others) clambering up a steep, unstable, and now overgrown path to observe this or other plants that might grow on the Pillow Basalt. And this time of year, few other plants of botanical interest can be found at this site.  So I have decided to escort my friends to another interesting site instead, one that is quite near by: the Hudson Crossing Park.


November 15, The Hudson Crossing Park, Schuylerville: This park is not just a scenic walk along the Champlain Canal and the Hudson River,  although it certainly is that, with about two miles of easily walkable trails offering lovely views of these waterways. It is also an educational destination featuring signage describing the historical significance of the site for both native people and later arrivals, as well as descriptions of its natural history. There is also a children's play park and a covered pavilion for picnickers. This photo shows a historic iron bridge, no longer used by autos but now converted to a walkway for pedestrians and a lane for snowmobiles.




Here is one of the informational signs along the trail, this one describing the importance of this site to the original human inhabitants of this area. Other signs describe its importance to soldiers during America's War of Independence. (Click on the photo for easier reading.) 



Picturesque remnants of old bridges attest to how people of other eras found their way across the Hudson River from this site.




My friend Sue Pierce joined me to preview the walk I'll be leading here later this week. Here, she admires one of the animals sculpted in metal that stand along the trail.



Here's another metal sculpture, this one of a Great Blue Heron.  It is so life-like, we are often startled that it does not fly away at our approach.



As for botanical finds, there are many American Bladdernut shrubs (Staphylea trifolia) along the riverbanks.  The hollow bladders holding the seeds still remain on many shrubs.




We don't find Northern Hackberry trees (Celtis occidentalis) in most of our woodsy wanderings around this region, but many giant specimens tower over this trail, all displaying the deeply ridged bark that is so distinctive to this native tree.




If any of our bryologist friends join our walk here this week, they will find plenty to interest them. What a contrast of color and texture between these two moss species on the same rock!



Ah, but the FUNGI stole the show today! We sure found lots of different kinds and colors.  These Split-gill Fungi (Schizophyllum commune) were very small, but also quite visible against the dark wood of a rotting tree limb.




Who could miss seeing the brilliant red of this fungus, especially as it contrasted with the velvety green of the moss that covered the fallen branch it had sprouted on?  The flat wrinkled shape and rubbery texture certainly said Wrinkled Crust Fungus (Phlebia radiata) to me, although I had never before seen this bracket fungus so vividly red.




Here was another deep-red fungus sprouting on a fallen twig.  I wasn't quite sure, but could these be the first little growths of Red Tree Brain Fungus (Peniophora rufa)?





In a planter mulched with wood chips, we found dozens and dozens of the tiny fungus called Dung-loving Bird's Nest (Cyathus stercoreus), many still retaining their tiny "eggs" (spore capsules) as well as the crunchy-brown exterior coating that many of the more-mature specimens had already shed.




And here was the genuine fungal bonanza: a single tree stump colonized by lots of different fungi, all fruiting at once! The following photos are my best guesses as to the names of the individual fungi inhabiting this one stump.




The tan wrinkly ones plastered tight to the wood but topped by a rubbery fur-covered flap is Phlebia tremellosa.  A known decomposer of fallen logs, this fungus is also called Jelly Rot.




The tiny, teal-blue, ear-shaped discs are the fruiting bodies of Blue-stain Fungus (Chlorociboria aeruginascens), a fungus we usually see as a blue-green stain on rotting debarked wood. Finding it in fruit is always a cause for celebration.




I have found many coppery or purplish, disc-shaped fungi lately, and I'm still not sure what to call them.  I am going to go with Ascocoryne cylichnium this time, the scientific name of a small sac fungus sometimes called Purple Jelly Drops (although that name is also used by another Ascocoryne species that looks quite similar). In this same photo, the itty-bitty orange discs intermixed with the moss are a tiny species of Eyelash Cup Fungus called Scutellinia setosa.


All of the fungi we found on this visit are known to be persistent instead of ephemeral. So I am eager to show them all to my friends when we visit this Hudson Crossing Park later this week.

Saturday, November 6, 2021

Finally! A Fine Frosty Morning!

Friday, November 5. Could this be the latest day recorded for first hard frost in Saratoga County? It's the latest I can remember, anyway, and it dawned a perfect day to go look for Frostweed doing the very thing that suggested this native wildflower's vernacular name. (Crocanthemum canadense is its scientific name.) The clear sky overnight, quiet wind, and plunging temperatures had provided for optimal radiational cooling, causing the Frostweed's slender stems to freeze and split, allowing the plants' internal moisture to extrude in frothy curls of ice. But that clear sky also meant the bright morning sun would soon be rapidly melting those fragile curls, so I promptly headed over to Moreau Lake State Park.  When I arrived at a powerline clearcut there that I knew to be home to many Frostweed plants, I was relieved to see stands of Sweet Fern still whitened by glittering crystals, a sight that suggested my search for Frostweed curls would not be in vain. 

Frost-covered Sweet Fern (Comptonia peregrina)

If I needed further reassurance, the brittle needles of frost heaving up from the sandy powerline path convinced me that freezing cold still reigned down close to the ground, despite a morning sun warming my shoulders by now.



Even the fine-textured hoarfrost that coated these baby oak leaves was still intact, muting the colors of the leaves and outlining their shapes in sparkling crystals.

Baby oak leaves (Querqus species)


And there it was! Frostweed doing its frosty thing, and in numbers I had never seen before at this site!

Canada Frostweed patch (Crocanthemum canadense)


Here's a closer look at how the frothy ice curls around the split stems.



And as fragile as those icy curls are,  it was still so cold,  they had not yet begun to melt, even as the sun rose higher and found some of them.



The curls seemed much more frothy, this year, as if they had been formed from vapor instead of liquid. They looked like frozen clouds.



With this particular specimen, the icy mass appeared to have been formed from hair-fine threads and reminded me of cotton candy.



Once I had satisfied my quest for finding the Frostweed curls, I looked around the site for other icy transformations. The frost looked particularly pretty decorating these crimson oak leaves.

Leaves of a baby oak (Quercus sp.)


Whole swaths of reddening Dewberry leaves were outlined in silver.

Northern Dewberry (Rubus flagellaris)



The deep-red leaves of Lowbush Blueberry were fluffy with icy fur.

Lowbush Blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium)


Vast patches of Common Haircap Moss, punctuated with tiny tawny fungi,  were sparkling with icy crystals.

Common Haircap Moss (Polytrichum commune), fungus species unknown



A wee little clump of British Soldiers Lichen added a flash of bright red to this patch of frosted Haircap Moss.

British Soldiers Lichen (Cladonia cristatella)


Pretty clusters of Fan Clubmoss bore deep-green cedar-like flattened branches tipped with white.

Fan Clubmoss (Diphasiastrum digitatum), also known as Ground Cedar


Also tipped with white frost were the rounder branches of this Tree Clubmoss, which appeared as if exploding from a patch of deep-pink Sphagnum Moss.

Tree Clubmoss (Dendrolycopodium dendroideum), over pink-colored Sphagnum Moss (species unknown)



The branches of Running Clubmoss are often tipped with white hairs, which suggested its alternative vernacular name of Wolf's Claw Clubmoss.  But today, all the hair-fine leaves were whitened by frost.

Running Clubmoss (Lycopodium clavatum)


When I first arrived at this site this day, all the needles of small sapling pines were whitened by hoarfrost. But as the sun-warmed morning wore on, each needle became tipped with sparkling drops of melted ice.



As I prepared to leave, the mounting sun's rays had begun to warm the formerly shaded Frostweed curls.  But rather than dripping water, the frothy ice just seemed to dissipate into the air, reinforcing my impression that the curls might have been formed from freezing mist instead of liquid sap. I wonder if anyone has ever filmed the process as the curls were forming. That would be something to see!





Sunday, October 31, 2021

October Farewell

Here it is already, the last day of October, and it feels as if I'm still waiting for fall: those frosty mornings and crisp, clear, blue-sky afternoons amid blazing autumn foliage. But we haven't yet had a real frost, and our tree leaves have mostly turned from fungus-spotted, insect-damaged yellowing green to withered brown. It's rainy and gray today, but last Friday was a crisp, clear, blue-sky day, perfect for a walk around Moreau Lake, where some of the trees, anyway, offered some of the brilliance we hope for each fall.



This sapling Red Maple was doing its best to remind us of what fall foliage used to look like, having somehow managed to escape some of the Gypsy Moth and fungal damage that attacked most of our mature maples this past over-heated and soggy summer.




And these gorgeous American Beech boughs offered plenty of the flaming colors we have long come to expect in October.




A whole row of maples along the shore of Moreau Lake's back bay reminded me of what fall used to look like.




The Black Huckleberry hedge along the lake's north shore were rather muted, though: more of a ruddy wine color this year, instead of the blazing scarlet I have marveled at in other years.



I wonder if the continued warmth of our weather has been a factor, too, in muting the color of our fall foliage.  We have not yet had a killing frost, so even a few flowers still offer their blooms to a few insect foragers, like this tiny bee in a blooming Philadelphia Fleabane.   As in the case of several other spring-blooming flowers I have found recently (Bunchberry and Dog Violet, for example),  this species of fleabane has started blooming again, long after its early-summer flowers had gone to seed. 





While walking along the stone-cobbled eastern shore of the lake, I was delighted by these underwater stones, their multiple colors enhanced by the crystal-clear water close to shore.



I was even more delighted to find this wee little flatsedge tucked in among the dry stones higher up on the shore.  For this is one of New York's rarest species, the Small-flowered Dwarf Bulrush (Cyperus subsquarrosus), only recently re-discovered to exist on Moreau Lake's shores in uncountable numbers.



Here was another great find: A male Snow Bunting, only recently arrived from its arctic breeding grounds to spend the winter here "down south." 


I was able to recognize this unfamiliar bird, because exactly to the day 12 years ago, on October 29, 2009, I photographed this same species here on the shore of Moreau Lake, in almost the very same spot.  (Luckily, I was able to approach the Snow Bunting much closer, back then, and got a much better photo.)



As the afternoon shadows began to lengthen, I passed this grandpa and grandson fishing by the bridge, a scene that somehow made me feel that, here in this small sun-warmed spot on the planet, all was right with the world. Maybe it just reminded me of how much I had adored my own grandpa.



While I passed through the woods on my way to my car, I came upon a fallen log populated by a long stretch of small caramel-colored fungi.  They were so small and plain,  I almost passed them by without more than a glance.  But something about them urged me to take a closer look.



Aha! I knew I remembered something interesting about this fungus! When I turned this little cluster of them over, there were the crinkly, wrinkly gills that are diagnostic for the Crimped Gill Fungus (Plicaturopsis crispa). One of the remarkable things about this common fall-fruiting fungus is that it is also a truly functional winter fungus. Even after it has become thoroughly dried or solidly frozen, it can be brought indoors, moistened and kept in a humid container, and it will produce many spores throughout the winter. It is also really cute!



Now, here was a really colorful fungus, its lovely red cap set off beautifully by the bright-green moss behind it. Called Painted Suillus (Suillus spraguei), this mushroom has a mutually beneficial relationship with Eastern White Pines. In return for the sugars the photosynthesizing pine provides to the fungus,  the Painted Suillus provides water and minerals to the tree through its underground mycorrhizal network.  


The more I learn about how fungal mycorrhizae operate to connect and communicate with other organisms, the more my mind is blown! Read Merlin Sheldrake's fascinating book on mycology called Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds, and Shape Our Futures, and you will never walk through a woods the same way again.


Not only are fungi fascinating, some are astoundingly beautiful.  And Turkey Tail Fungus is one of the most beautiful of all.  I have found its thin and flexible caps adorned with stripes of many different color combinations, including royal blue and school-bus yellow or chocolate fudge and creamy vanilla.  But never have I found a population colored with such a vivid and velvety moss-green, as I did this day.   Wow!



Here's a bit closer look at those beautiful colored stripes. I am thinking that the green color comes from a  green alga taking up residence on the fungus.  Whatever the source, it certainly added to the beauty of this already lovely fungus.  The autumn leaves may have let us down this year, but the mushrooms certainly haven't!