Saturday, April 24, 2021

Glowegee Creek Preserve: Southern Section

A couple of weeks ago, when my friend Sue Pierce and I explored the new Saratoga PLAN property called Glowegee Creek Preserve in Galway, we spent so much time in the northern section, we never made it all the way to the southern trailhead.  We were so amazed by the plethora of native wildflowers we'd found at that time, we were eager to see what lay in wait if we entered from the south. So that's where we headed one mostly sunny but cold and blustery day this past week.  

Here, Sue makes her way on a well-constructed stone pathway across one of  the wetlands that abound in this southern tract.

We had found that the northern section of this preserve consisted of a dry-mesic forest absolutely paved with such lime-loving wildflowers as Blue Cohosh and Squirrel Corn.  It was also in that northern section that the trail moved close to the beautiful Glowegee Creek with its picturesque cascading waters.  This time, we found a quite different terrain in the southern section, with fewer woodland wildflowers but much more wetland habitat.  We had barely entered the preserve from the south when we came upon this lovely pool that was bordered by a limestone ridge.

As we progressed along the Green Trail, we encountered a low-lying swamp that was filled to its edges with the brilliant-yellow flowers and emerald-green leaves of Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris).

Here's a closer look at the beautiful flowers of this spectacular native wetland species.

We never encountered the Glowegee Creek along this trail, but we did cross several smaller brooks.  This little stream surged around a large rock that was carpeted with a beautiful moss holding its pointed spore capsules aloft on reddish stalks.

The muddy ground near this swampy area held the unfurling fiddleheads of several wetland ferns, including this young Lady Fern (Athyrium filix-femina).  We felt confident identifying this fern, even at this immature stage, by the dark flecks on the stalks. Our mnemonic device, in this case, is "the lady neglected to shave her legs."

We were not so confident, however, in putting a name to these delicate fronds cascading out of the cracks in a limestone ledge. The calcareous rocky substrate led me to suspect it could be Bulblet Fern (Cystopteris bulbifera), although of course it would not, at this juvenile stage, produce the little bulblets that would clinch that ID.  Other newly emerging Bulblet Ferns I have found in other locations had redder petioles, though. So I remain quite unsure.  But who needs to put a name to such a thing of beauty, in order to simply enjoy it?

At least I had no trouble identifying these pretty leaves that had crowded into a niche in a limestone wall.  The "waterspots" on the compound leaves almost say the name, Virginia Waterleaf (Hydrophyllum virginianum), out loud.

As  I mentioned before, we found many fewer wildflowers in this southern section of the preserve, but there were a few, including many Red Trilliums (Trillium erectum) just opening their showy flowers.

Wherever the soil was damp, both species of Toothwort abounded, including this Large Toothwort (Cardamine maxima) just beginning to open its blooms. This species has three compound leaves protruding from the central stem, a feature that distinguishes it from its close look-alike cousin, the Two-leaved Toothwort (C. diphylla). 

We also saw many Yellow Trout Lilies (Erythronium americanum), although all of their flowers had closed against the rain and cold of the preceding days.  Many Trout Lilies were hiding among the abundant green leaves of Wild Leeks (Allium tricoccum), a plant that flourishes here in astounding numbers.  (I'm going to age myself when I confess this, but this solitary lily hiding among the leeks reminds me of a song I heard on the radio growing up, "I'm a Lonely Little Petunia in an Onion Patch.")

At one point, the trail entered a grove of American Beeches (Fagus grandifolia), a patch of forest that seemed lit with a silvery light.  Here, the forest floor held many tiny Beech seedlings, with gracefully arching baby leaves covered with kitten-soft fur that had just broken free from their sharply pointed bud scales the color of polished copper.

From silvery light and copper buds to golden bark, like that on the otherwise shining bark of this extravagantly shredded Yellow Birch (Betula alleghaniensis). Yes, I consciously use the names of these precious metals to elicit the gleaming quality of this beautiful woods in the spring, before the canopy closes in and takes most of the light for itself.  I am sure that the Glowegee Creek Preserve will be beautiful in every season, but I am glad I had a chance to explore it in the spring, both the north and the south, along with my best nature buddy Sue.  

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Mud Pond Meander

Last Saturday was gray and a little chilly, but that meant I would have the trails around Mud Pond at Moreau Lake State Park mostly to myself, despite it being the weekend.

I was struck by how low the water has fallen, compared to a year ago.  If not for the channels beavers had dug leading into their bank-side burrows, I could have walked all around the pond down on the flat areas next to the water.

One beaver lodge remains out in the water, and it looks as if a pair of Canada Geese might be turning it into a nesting site once more.

I was eager to see if the masses of Trailing Arbutus were filling the entire steeply pitched south bank of the pond, as they had a year ago.  There were not so many this year, I discovered.  But still a good number of plants adorned the slope, all in beautiful bloom.  Some of the flower were white:

And some of the flowers were pink:

Because the water in the pond was so low, I could walk below the steep bank and lean over to breathe in the marvelous fragrance of arbutus flowers blooming right at face level.

I continued around the pond, remaining close to the shore but moving up into the woods, where the pearlescent downy buds of Striped Maple glowed like candle flames in the dim light.

Red Maple saplings held exploding tufts of red-touched spring-green leaves at the ends of each twig.

Some of the more-mature Red Maples held cascading clusters of female flowers, where pairs of scarlet winged seeds were just beginning to emerge.

In a low swampy section where a creek empties into the pond, I found many hooded clusters of unfurling Cinnamon Ferns.

If I looked really close among the dead leaves, I found the tiny reddish fiddleheads of unfurling Sensitive Fern.

A mass of greenery in the damp woods along the creek invited me to investigate, and that's where I saw the tight purple flower buds of Golden Ragwort atop tall stalks holding fern-like green leaves. The deeply lobed stem leaves of Golden Ragwort look very different from the simple, heart-shaped, and bluntly toothed basal leaves.

Following the creek bed back to the main trail that circles Mud Pond, I saw many tufts of the fine-cut leaves of Dutchman's Breeches, but only a few plants held flowers as yet, and those flowers were still rather greenish, instead of the sparkling white they will turn when fully mature.  This wildflower's show has only just begun!

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Wildflower Extravaganza at Glowegee Creek Preserve

The land-preservation organization Saratoga PLAN (Preserving Land And Nature) recently announced the opening of a new nature preserve near Galway (Saratoga County), and it sounded like this preserve would offer a marvelous woods and waterway to explore.  The Glowegee Creek tumbles along a portion of the trail, and a geological fault runs through the site, bringing limestone to the surface and offering what PLAN describes as "a plethora of spring wildflowers" throughout the forested land. Well, all right!  Gotta check this OUT! So my friend Sue Pierce and I headed over there on a sunny warm day this past week, and we can assure you that that description only begins to describe the amazing wildflower extravaganza we encountered. (The photo below shows Sue ambling along a well-groomed trail that offers about a three-mile round trip through the center of the preserve.)

We had barely entered the woods near the start of the trail's north end when we encountered the first of thousands and thousands of Early Blue Cohosh (Caulophyllum giganteum) that flourish there,  acres of these native wildflowers solidly covering whole hillsides.

The Early Blue Cohosh leaves turn green as they fully open, and everything you can see that is green in the photo below is Early Blue Cohosh. And this is just a short stretch of the Cohosh-covered hillside that slopes down from a limestone ridge.

Very nearly as prolific in this portion of the woods is Carolina Spring Beauty (Claytonia caroliniana), and it was certainly in its glory the day we were there!

Such an aptly named flower, Spring Beauty!

These Spring Beauty blooms had popped up amidst the lacy leaves of one more plant that thrives in this woods in extraordinary numbers, the native wildflower called Squirrel Corn (Dicentra canadensis).

We had arrived about a week too early to find the Squirrel Corn in full bloom, but we did find a few greenish specimens of its heart-shaped flowers on their way to turning the pure white they will be at their peak of bloom.


While those first three flowers I mentioned were the most prolific denizens of this limestone underlaid woods, there were other equally lovely flowers that grow here abundantly, too. We found a whole hillside of Sharp-lobed Hepatica (Hepatica acutiloba) bearing snowy-white flowers above their beautifully patterned leaves.


We spied the broad green leaves of Red Trillium (Trillium erectum) throughout the woods, and a few of them had opened their buds to display the rich-red flowers within.

At least two species of lime-loving, broad-leaved sedges (Carex spp.) were blooming throughout the preserve, and both bore flowering spikes topped with tousle-haired yellow male flowers. Spindly white threads, the female flowers, protruded along the stems.

We were too early to catch any blooms on the Virginia Water Leaf (Hydrophyllum virginianum), but we didn't need to see flowers to recognize these compound leaves that appear to have been spotted by water droplets.  Another limestone lover, this plant will bear clusters of pale-purple flowers later in the spring.

We soon heard the sound of rushing water and promptly arrived at this little bridge that carried us across the picturesque Glowegee Creek, a tributary of the larger Kayaderosseras Creek that eventually empties into Saratoga Lake.

What a lovely rushing, splashing, tumbling stream this is, shaded by tall trees and dappled with whatever sunshine can make it through the tree canopy, causing the still or splashing water to both sparkle and gleam.

Rather than proceeding much further toward the south end of the trail, we dallied along the creek banks, watching the water ripple around moss-covered mid-stream rocks and admiring the exuberant spring-green display of False Hellebore leaves (Veratrim viride).

The Spicebush shrubs (Lindera benzoin) that lined the creekbank bore puffs of vivid-yellow blooms along their slender, wide-reaching branches.

A flat leafy liverwort (Conocephalum sp.?) grew on the damp mossy banks, and most of the patches bore these tiny mushroom-shaped spore-distributing organs.

And what's a good creek without a frog to inhabit it? This Green Frog leapt away at our approach, but it promptly turned to inspect us with its golden-rimmed shining eyes. Perhaps the frog felt well-enough camouflaged that it could safely remain.  And it would be right!  Just look at how perfectly its ripple-patterned back blends with the green-and-gold ripples of the sun-dappled stream.

I'm sure most folks could easily complete this three-mile, there-and-back-again trail in a little more than an hour, but we wildflower nerds have to stop every few feet to examine and photograph our trailside finds.  So the morning was heading toward afternoon now, and we had barely completed half of the distance. Our stomachs were reminding us that we still had nearly a mile-long hike back to our cars before we could head toward the Village Ristorante and Pizzaria in Galway, where we had planned to have lunch.  So we planned to return the first sunny warm day next week, to approach from the south and see what we missed of this truly spectacular preserve.  But first, we had to stop to admire and photograph one more pretty wildflower here, this bright-yellow early-blooming Round-leaved Violet (Viola rotundifolia).

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Another Day, Another Bunch of Wildflowers

Another sunny warm day in Saratoga County!  So off I sped to both the North Woods at Skidmore College here in Saratoga Springs, and then a few miles north to the Orra Phelps Nature Preserve in Wilton. I was betting new flowers would be blooming today, and I was not mistaken!

North Woods at Skidmore College

Could Trout Lilies be blooming already?  I was here just a few days ago and saw only a few of the mottled leaves protruding above the leaf litter.  But rain and warmth had worked their magic, and today, the forest floor was teeming with these lovely yellow lilies (Erythronium americanum):

Unfortunately, the Red-necked False Blister Beetles had discovered the Trout Lilies' pollen-rich anthers almost as soon as the flowers had opened their buds, and the beetles were gorging on the pollen already. 

Within a day or two, all those velvety red anthers will be turned into wrinkled black threads. Luckily, though, Trout Lilies don't depend to any great extent on sexual reproduction, relying mostly on vegetative cloning to create their extensive patches of plants. Although many of the plants that thrive on this and other forest floors never bloom, there certainly was no dearth of flowers to be found in the Skidmore woods today.

Early Blue Cohosh (Caulophyllum giganteum) is another of the early spring bloomers at Skidmore, and many of this plant's slender purple-leaved stalks were standing tall above the leaf litter today.  

The above photo demonstrates two of the traits that distinguish the C. giganteum species of Blue Cohosh from the daintier, later-blooming species, C. thalictroides.  These flowers are a dark purple, for one thing,  and they are already fully in bloom while the leaves are not yet unfurling.  The greenish-yellow flowers of C. thalictroides do not open before their leaves do.

The buds of these tiny Dwarf Ginsengs (Panax trifolius) had not yet opened to reveal their spherical clusters of starry white flowers, but their soft-green, reddish-stemmed leaves made them easy to find, tucked in among the sheltering roots of a tree trunk.

In all of the Skidmore woods I walked today, I found only this one single violet of any species.  The Long-spurred Violet (Viola rostrata) is quite common in this lime-rich woods, so I would expect to see many more of them in the days ahead. But most will not be this mottled purple/white pattern. This violet is typically a pale lavender color that darkens toward its throat. But all will have the distinctive long spur.

Whoa! Now, this Hepatica flower is PURPLE!  Quite a rich, deep purple, too, while most of the other examples thriving now in this woods were much paler shades, as well as pure white. Both the Sharp-lobed Hepatica (Hepatica acutiloba) and the Round-lobed Hepatica (H. americana) can be found in this lime-rich habitat.

I'm not sure how many people would recognize these tousled yellow threads and twisting white threads on these grass-fine stalks as genuine flowers, but that is indeed what they are: the yellow threads are the staminate males of a species of sedge (Carex sp.), and the white threads lower on the stems are the pistillate female ones.  But as to what species of sedge this is, I confess I don't know, since I am woefully ignorant in how to tell one sedge from another.

Orra Phelps Nature Preserve, Wilton

How interesting, that the first blooming flowers that greeted me when I reached the Orra Phelps Preserve belonged to another species of sedge.  And this sedge species I DO know! Or, I think I do.  The wide, slightly rumpled leaves and the reddish base of the stalks are clues that this is the Plantain-leaved Sedge (Carex plantaginea). Again, yellow staminate flowers surmount stems that sprout with tiny white pistillate ones.

Those tousle-headed sedges are fun, but this is the flower I really came to Orra Phelps to see today: the lemon-yellow, basal-leaved violet known as the Round-leaved Violet (Viola rotundifolia).  A nice cluster of these short-stemmed violets stars a section of a dark-green-moss-covered bank along the stream that runs through this preserve. I believe that this is the earliest of our native violets to bloom, and I always count on finding them here at the same spot every year.  I was not disappointed today!

Another native early-blooming wildflower I can count on finding at Orra Phelps is the Sessile-leaved Bellwort (Uvularia sessilifolia), and again, I was not disappointed.  There were many still tightly in bud along the creek bank, but a few were dangling their dainty pale-yellow bells with slightly flaring petals.

Did I say slightly flaring? Well, that's usually the case, so these few specimens with sharply retracted petals were quite an unexpected surprise.

Two different Toothworts (Cardamine spp.) grow in the mucky, moss-covered soils at Orra Phelps, and I was once told that the sharply toothed leaf on the left in this photo belonged to the Large Toothwort (Cardamine maxima), while the bluntly toothed leaf on the right belonged to the Two-leaved Toothwort (C. diphylla). Now that I'm reading various guides to try to confirm these IDs, I realize I have to look at how each of these divided leaves is attached to the main stem of the plant.  So I'll have to go back to examine the entire plants more carefully.  In the meantime, it's obvious that the leaves do look quite different, no matter what species they are.  And they do both have 4-parted whitish or purple-tinged flowers, so I do know they are certainly Toothworts!

UPDATE:   OK, I found the two species of Toothwort today and photographed the number of compound leaves attached to the stems of each species.  Here's my photo of C. maxima showing the 3 compound leaves:

And here is my photo showing the 2 compound leaves attached to the stem of C. diphylla:

Uh oh!  I DO know exactly what species of plant THIS is, and I sure wish I hadn't found it here! For this is Lesser Celandine (Ficaria verna), one of the most aggressively invasive species around, and I found some extensive patches of it growing along the creek at the Orra Phelps Preserve. I have seen acres and acres of this yellow-flowered plant along other creeks downstate, supplanting any native plants that once made those creekbanks their home.

Over the past five years, I occasionally had found single specimens of this alien invader along this creek and promptly dug them out, hoping never to see them here again.  And I never did, until now. And this wasn't a single specimen, but several rather extensive patches. Darn!

Luckily, I keep a sharp-pointed weed-digger in my car (I use it in winter to knock snow out of my car's wheel wells). I quickly retrieved that long-shafted digger and started digging.  It took me about half an hour and several broken fingernails to fill a garbage bag with what I hoped was every trace of these nasty plants. But I'm sure enough little pieces remain to regenerate over time, so I alerted the volunteer stewards of this preserve to watch for any resurgence.  And of course, I'll be watching, too! This small nature preserve contains so many beautiful native creekside flowers, it sure would be a shame to lose them to this horrid weed.