Friday, January 22, 2021

Winter Walk, Gray Day

One gray day after another.  Sigh!  What happened to our Januaries of deep blue skies and sparkling snow? We did have one bright sunny day this past week, on Wednesday, but I was glued to my TV that day, excited to join the celebration welcoming President Biden.   I did get out for a walk at Mud Pond in Moreau Lake State Park yesterday, even though the low clouds and dim light were not really very inviting.  At least the pond was frozen enough that I could walk on the ice, where the snow was not deep, keeping close to the shore.

There were many animal tracks criss-crossing the frozen pond, but all were too distorted by melting and blown snow for me to accurately identify any for certain. By the size of the foot and the length of the stride, though, I would guess that this particular trail was made by a fox, either red or gray. (My own snowshoe tracks are evident here as well. Even though the snow on the pond was not deep, I chose to wear snowshoes to spread my weight more evenly, lessening my chances of breaking through the ice.)

I was disappointed that the tracking was so obscured, since finding wild animal sign is one of my  favorite winter amusements. But at least I did come across this obvious den in the steep bank. Again, I couldn't distinguish the paw prints well, but my guess would be a fox's home. It seemed too  high up on the bank to be a beaver's, since I think of beavers as preferring to enter the water directly from their pondside dens.  There are many beaver dens at the water's edge around Mud Pond, as well as a large lodge out in the water.

Many wildflower signs remained on this bank as well.  I'm thinking that these dried puffs are what's left of the globular flowers of Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea), especially since the numerous petal-like bracts are so persistent. Another clue was the persistence of the very narrow lance-like leaves, arranged alternatively along the stem. (You can see the entire plant in the lower right corner of the photo above.)

Here was another interesting wildflower relic, a split-open Common Milkweed pod (Asclepias syriaca), the seeds long gone but the husk of the pod assuming the shape of a heart.

While the previous two photos are of the remains of plants long spent, this next photo is of a bud containing both the leaves and the flowers of a Sweet Viburnum shrub (Viburnum lentago) that has yet to bloom. That long-billed stork-head shape is diagnostic for buds of this viburnum.

I had now reached a section of shoreline where a creek enters the pond and has formed a muddy broad delta, frozen now, but the wetland habitat was made obvious by the remains of a number of wetland plant species.  Some of these plants looked quite striking against the pure-white background of the snow.

I'm not sure exactly which species this is, although I have always called it a bulrush.  The explosion of star-shaped bracts at the ends of arching stems always reminds me of fireworks.

You will always know you are in a wetland when you find the persistent spore stalks of Sensitive Fern (Onoclea sensibilis).

Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata) is a lovely blue summer wildflower that doesn't mind at all having its feet in the mud.  The candelabra shape of its inflorescence is obvious, even in winter.

I loved the graceful shape of this cluster of Steeplebush (Spiraea tomentosa), rendered easily identifiable by the tight steeple-shaped floral remains at the ends of the stems.

I've left the wetland habitat now, climbing a sandy trail at the north end of the pond. The flowers that grow here are happiest in dry, low-nutrient soils. Goldenrod (Solidago spp.) is one of those flowers.  Since the leaves of this particular plant are long gone, I won't hazard a guess as to which of the goldenrod species this is, except that it's one that bears its flowers in a cluster shaped like a fountain.

I do know which species of bushclover this is, since only the Round-headed Bushclover (Lespedeza capitata) bears its flowers in compact almost-orbs like these.

I bet almost everybody can recognize the dried umbel of Queen Anne's Lace (Daucus carota), even after its dainty little white florets have morphed into what resembles a broad bouquet of small dark spiders.

Even in winter, the dried leaves of Sweet Fern (Comptonia peregrina) still hold their graceful curves, so elegant against the blank white of the snow. Even better, they also still hold their delicious fragrance, tempting me to gather handfuls of them to press against my nose and breathe deeply of that scent. Eventually, the leaves will desiccate and crumble as the winter wears on.  But the furry little male catkins clustered at the ends of the stems will endure, waiting for the first warmth of spring to fluff out their scales and release their pollen on the air.  Tiny red puffs of female flowers will be emerging on neighboring stalks, ready to receive that pollen and produce next summer's seeds.


Jane said...

So lovely Mom. Wish we could go for a walk together. XO

The Furry Gnome said...

Amazing how you can identify things and find bits of beauty at this time of yesr.

Woody Meristem said...

Couldn't miss the inauguration -- things are looking up. Yes indeed, there's always beauty in the natural world.