Tuesday, July 27, 2021

A Waterfall Picnic Park

Racing season is now in full swing in Saratoga Springs, where our famous historical thoroughbred racetrack brings tens of thousands of visitors to town each weekend between now and Labor Day. For us locals, weekends are a good time to get out of town, and one of my husband's and my favorite places to go is Lake Luzerne, about 20 miles north of Saratoga. Our favorite lunch spot there, with a long veranda overlooking the Hudson River where it plunges through a gorge at Rockwell Falls, is now closed, alas! But a riverside tree-shaded park with picnic tables and benches suffices for a lunch date instead, so that's where we headed this past Saturday. The view here is lovely, and (since I made the sandwiches myself) the price can't be beat!

This sweet little park sits on the Hudson riverbank just above Rockwell Falls.  We couldn't see the falls from our bench, but we sure could see the plumes of mist rising from the plummeting falls. And hear the roar, as well, with the river running fast and full from many previous days of drenching rains.

After eating, we made our way down a steep bank to a rocky promontory right where the Hudson plunges into a gorge.  We could see the water charging along from where the Adirondack Mountains rise upstream.

Downstream, we could see how the rocky cliffs each side of the river channel the full flood of the water through a narrow gorge.  Just beyond the bridge, the Sacandaga River joins the Hudson and the river widens enormously from there on down.

On this day, the gorge was so full we could hardly detect where the Rockwell Falls normally plummets, although the foaming, splashing surge was impressive for its power.

It was refreshing, on this hot day, to sit on the rocks right near the surging turbulence and feel the cooling mist on our skin.

When our kids were young, we used to come here to swim where the water calms its turbulence below the bridge. I don't think it would have been a good day for a swim here today!

As we turned to go, I detected a marvelous fragrance on the air, and I soon discovered the source. I was amused to find these deliciously scented Groundnut flowers (Apios americana) entwined among the green fruits of Carrion Flower (Smilax herbacea).  A month or so ago, I would have detected a much less pleasant odor on the air.  For then, the Carrion Flower would have been in bloom and -- true to the name of this plant -- releasing a stench that attracts carrion-eating insects to its pollen. While repelling the rest of us!

Sunday, July 25, 2021

A Perfect Day in Paddlers' Paradise!

It would be hard to imagine a finer paddling experience than I had last Friday:  a bright sun smiling gently on us out of a clear blue sky, quiet water shimmering among forested boulders in secluded coves, colorful flowers at the peak of their high-summer beauty, and the best of friends -- Sue Pierce and Ruth Brooks -- to enjoy every minute we had together, doing what we love to do best: exploring what marvels Mother Nature had in store for us on this perfect day.

Sue and Ruth and I met to paddle the Hudson River at Moreau.  Here's where we put our lightweight canoes in the boulder-shored river, where the forest glowed green and gold in the morning sun, and the quiet water echoed all that surrounding beauty in shimmering reflections.

After days of rain, the river was high enough to allow our little boats to move easily among the shaded, moss-covered boulders.

It was only a matter of minutes before we spied our first of many Cardinal Flowers (Lobelia cardinalis), glowing like a beacon from out of the shady banks.

Again and again, as we slowly paddled close to the shore, the Cardinal Flowers announced their presence with flaming color.

The vividly blue Monkey Flowers (Mimulus ringens) also caught our attention with their quieter beauty.

It was hard to miss this group of Spotted Joe-Pye Weed (Eutrochium maculatum) towering above all other riverside vegetation, the morning sun spot-lighting their dusty-rose flower heads.

The snowy-white spiky flowers of Tall Meadow Rue (Thalictrum pubescens) were impossible to overlook, even when hiding among the shade of taller riverside plants.

Patches of Pipewort (Eriocaulon aquaticum) decorated the shallows with their tiny white button-shaped blooms atop slender leafless stems.

Stands of Soft-stemmed Rush (Schoenoplectus tabernaemontani) waved their arching stems in the breeze, which also rippled the water and turned the stems' reflections into crinkled threads of gold and green.

Many waterside boulders were covered with a fascinating variety of mosses, lichens, and liverworts.  I recognized this fluffy green mound of moss as Common Apple Moss (Bartramia pomiformis), thanks to the tiny brown perfectly round spore capsules (remnants of last year's growth) almost hidden among the starry-shaped leaves.  A small patch of what looked to be a leafy liverwort (Plagiochila asplenoides?) can be seen in the upper left corner of this photo.

A large section of smooth rocky bank was carpeted with a plush growth of Big Red-stemmed Moss (Pleurozium schreberi), punctuated by a single specimen of Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) bearing a cluster of bright-red berries.

Another rocky bank held this interesting mix of various dark- and light-green mosses, a single golden mushroom, a small cluster of Partridgeberry leaves, and a large silvery-gray patch of a ruffly Peltigera lichen.

A single, startling-white mushroom (an Amanita species, told by its basal cup and the veil remnants on stem and cap) had found a niche among protective boulders on a steep bank of the river.

Our destination today was this quiet cove, where several years ago I had found a single specimen of a  Smaller Purple-fringed Orchid (Platanthera psycodes). I hadn't seen it again at this site for all the years since then.  Might it be possible to find it here once again today?  Sometimes orchids take years between blooming times.

We didn't really hold much hope about finding the orchids, but the cove invited us in by its serene beauty, nevertheless.

And look what we found! TWO Smaller Purple-fringed Orchids, not just the single one I had found in this very same spot all those years ago!

And the orchids were right where I'd found that single specimen years before, almost hidden beneath the fronds of a Royal Fern.

It was hard to stop taking pictures of these beautiful orchids. I might never see them again at this site in my lifetime, after all. And they were in perfect bloom.

With afternoon rains predicted and our sought-after treasure found, we soon decided we'd best continue  our explorations of the river another day. As we entered the cove where we'd launched our canoes, another surprise awaited us.  Hordes of tiny creatures were massing in clusters on the water's surface, while others skittered across the water, then gathered again in floating islands of spiky-legged insects that dispersed in a flash as our boats approached. None of us had ever seen such insect activity. But we could guess, by the way they skated at astounding speed across the water, that these creatures had to be Water Strider nymphs.

 And here, atop this floating Watershield leaf, we found confirmation of our guess.  I don't know what species those tiny flies are that are also sharing this leaf, but the long-legged spiky-looking things are the cast-off skins of molting Water Strider nymphs (I once had a similar find confirmed as such by an entomologist).  But even though I had seen these shed skins stuck on Watershield pads before, I had never before seen such massive congregations of the nymphs on the water, and neither had Sue or Ruth. We just never know what amazing sights might await us here on this river! 

(Now I need to find out the story behind these tiny flies. Hello, BugGuide.net, it's me again!)

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Dodging the Rain, Here and There

I just cannot remember a July when it rained so many days in a row! I'm glad I have so many places near my home where I can run out for an hour or (if I am lucky) two, just to see what's in bloom.  This week, I was especially eager to check on a population of an Endangered species called Whorled Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum verticillatum var. verticillatum) that grows on the shore of a cove of Moreau Lake.  For nearly two years, its site had been under water as the lake rose right up into the surrounding woods.  And despite all the rainfall this summer, the lake is back down to almost as low as it was the year I first discovered the Whorled Mountain Mint back in 2013. Would this really rare plant have made a recovery by now? I was eager to find out as I approached its site along the low sandy shore.


Before I reached the Mountain Mint site, I was delighted to see another truly rare plant -- Small-flowered Dwarf Bulrush, also rated as Endangered -- thriving in great numbers in the sand beneath my feet. 

Called by the scientific name Cyperus subsquarrosus, this tiny flatsedge had not been reported from the shores of Moreau Lake since 1961 when we chanced upon it here back in 2018.  That was a year when the lake water had fallen extremely low, allowing the seeds long waiting beneath the water to once again sprout and bear fruit.  Then in 2019,  Moreau Lake rose once again, sending the thousands of plants we had counted in 2018 back underwater. And here they were, back again, as thriving as ever, now that their seedbed has once again resurfaced.

In this next photo, you can see the stubby little brown spikelets getting ready to produce new seeds. With my hand in the shot, you can also get some idea of how truly tiny this flatsedge with the very long scientific name really is.

Continuing along the shore, I pushed through a Buttonbush thicket to the exact spot where, back in 2013, I had first encountered the Whorled Mountain Mint. I had had no idea, back then, how truly rare this plant was, only knowing it looked a bit different from the Narrow-leaved Mountain Mint I was quite familiar with.  At that time, there were only 5 other sites in all the state from which this species had been reported. Now that I am aware of this plant's Endangered status, I breathed a great sigh of relief when I saw once again, right where I'd found it before, this blooming specimen of Whorled Mountain Mint, its terminal clusters of spiky buds just opening into purple-spotted white florets.

But wait!  Where were the rest of them?  Back in 2018, a state rare-plant monitor and I had counted 273 blooming specimens along the shore of this cove, signifying the healthiest and most abundant population of Whorled Mountain Mint in all of New York.  This day, however, I could find only 19 blooming plants in two separate locations many yards apart: 10 where I found the first plants behind some Buttonbush shrubs, and another 9 where they clustered at the base of a Cottonwood tree.

I sure hope that, as with the case of the little flatsedge, the seeds might still be extant in the soil and just taking their time to regenerate. I also have hope that this year's flowering specimens will produce the seeds to rebuild the size of the population that once grew so abundantly here.

Meanwhile, I enjoyed the beauty of other flowering plants that thrive along this shore, like this deep-rose Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) offering its nectar to a lovely Spangled Fritillary butterfly.

If this Rough Cinquefoil plant (Potentilla norvegica) was blooming, its yellow flower was hidden by the presence of this colorful female Calico Pennant dragonfly. Since dragonflies eat other insects, it might have been feasting on whatever small insect might have been visiting the flower to consume its pollen or nectar.

What a cute little American Toad, decorated with reddish spots and barely more than an inch long!

Although I'd been disappointed to find the Whorled Mountain Mint population so depleted, I was happy to find on this shore an abundant patch of this native plant called Slender Three-seeded Mercury (Acalypha gracilens). 

Although the New York Flora Association plant atlas shows this plant as having been reported from fewer than a dozen counties state wide, it still rates it as Ostensibly Secure in New York. It is not exactly a showy plant, with teeny-tiny flowers that hide in the leaf axils along the stem, so it's probably not a plant many folks would pause to admire or even take notice of (or collect and report to be vouchered by state botanists).  I happen to love its gracefully slender green leaves and the furry little nubbins of its three-seeded flowers. I was just attempting to photograph these tiny, just-developing flowers when the third rainfall of the day started to threaten my camera, so I packed it away and saved that attempt for another less-rainy day.

The Hudson River at Moreau

Storm clouds towered high in the sky and rain spattered the windshield of my car as I drove to the shores of the Hudson River along Spier Falls Road today. But then the rain stopped, just as I reached the river. Should I chance a paddle before the next storm? Well, maybe just a short one, since the water lay so calm and serene and the beautiful view upstream beckoned to me like my own personal Bali ha'i.

And here was the first flower that made it worth taking that chance!  Could there be a flower more gloriously red than the Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis)?

These Spotted St. John's Worts (Hypericum punctatum) were lovely, too, with clusters of bright-yellow flowers topping graceful stems that leaned over the dark water.

The radiant blue of these Marsh Skullcap flowers (Scutellaria galericulata) seemed to glow in the dim light of the rain-clouded sky.

And here were the flowers that tempted me here today despite the threat of storms! This trio of gorgeous Smaller Purple-fringed Orchids (Platanthera psycodes) had achieved the near-perfect bloom I was hoping to find.

What a spectacular native wildflower! And this is the smaller version of Purple-fringed Orchid loveliness! This species can be distinguished from the look-alike Greater Purple-fringed Orchid by the shape of the opening into the throats of the florets, which I wanted to examine.  I moved in toward the bank to get as close a shot of this feature as I could.

But then the sky just opened! A true cloudburst began to drench me and my camera. So I quickly stowed my camera in a zip-lock bag and moved under the boughs of some overhanging Hemlocks to wait out the torrential downpour. Rainfalls this heavy rarely last long.  Or so I hoped!

And so the rain soon stopped.  Or at least, this rainstorm did.  Since I expected that more of them were probably on the way, I decided to call it a day and paddle quickly downstream to my launching site.  But before I left the river, I paused for just a moment to be awed by the beauty of clouds of mist rising  up from the forest and veiling the distant mountain.

Monday, July 19, 2021

Lovely Day, Quiet Pond

I'd been hearing tales that one of my favorite Adirondack ponds had been mobbed by visitors this past pandemic year, and that they'd trashed this lovely site so bad that it was no longer a place I'd want to paddle. But that sun-dazzled rainless day last Friday tempted me to brave what I might find. And I'm glad I took that chance!  There wasn't another soul on the pond when I arrived,  nor was there a beer can nor bait box littering either the parking area or the shore. The serene, only slightly breeze-riffled water reflected the puffy white clouds and the bright-blue sky, inviting me to set off in my solo canoe to follow the forested edges of the pond.

I especially love the rocky,  mossy, deep-green woodsy north-facing shore, with its shady steep banks that let me edge right up to where the forest meets the water.

Nestling my little canoe right up to the rocks, I can marvel at all the beautiful shapes and colors of the shoreline plants. On this day, I took great delight in the brilliant masses of Bunchberry fruits (Cornus canadensis).

I had barely taken five strokes of my paddle before I saw my first orchid: a Small Club-spur Orchid (Platanthera clavellata), its cluster of light-green florets standing out against the deep shade of the woods.  And this was the first of dozens I would espy as I inched my way along this forested shore.

Here's a closer look at the Little Club-spur Orchid's greenish-white flowers, held erect on slender stems, each floret displaying the long spur distinctive to this species of native orchid.

A particularly impressive patch of Clintonia (Clintonia borealis) was arrayed at the base of a tree stump.

The fruits of the Clintonia had ripened to the wonderful blue color that suggests one of this native lily's vernacular names, Bluebead Lily. 

Oh, but talk about BLUE! And what a surprise it was, to see the beautiful Narrow-leaved Gentian (Gentiana linearis) already beginning to bloom!  It seems weeks early to begin to see this radiantly blue flower.

There were many, many plants of Narrow-leaved Gentian, still in bud, growing in amazing numbers all along the shore.  What a show they will put on, when all are in bloom!

Another native flower that thrives on these rocky banks is Dalibarda (Rubus repens), a low-growing plant with heart-shaped leaves and flowers so brilliantly white they are difficult to photograph without them being over-exposed.  Another of its names is Dewdrops, a pretty name for a pretty flower.

If I had started my circuit of the pond an hour or so later, I probably would have found the pretty pink flowers of Marsh St. John's Wort (Hypericum virginicum) fully open.  As it was, the barely opened buds were very pretty in their own way.

As I paddled through the swaying grass-fine sedges and stiffly erect bur-reed leaves, it was like moving through a radiantly blue snow-flurry of Bluet damselflies, all flitting and dashing and wafting about and never pausing long enough to get a clearly focused photo of them.  Finally, one pair perched long enough to initiate a "romantic encounter," while a spread-wing damselfly also took a brief rest on a bur-reed leaf.  All my other attempts at a photo of them show only bright-blue smears against the dark water.

After pulling my boat ashore, I walked through a patch of Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), hoping to find a Monarch caterpillar or two.  Not yet did I find any caterpillars, but several adult Fritillary Butterflies were very busy sampling the nectar of many flower clusters.

I'm glad I found no butterflies trapped by their tongues or legs in the milkweed's florets, but I did see this tiny blue-winged insect (a sawfly?) suspiciously unmoving when I moved my camera in close for a shot. Sure enough, one of its legs was snared by the milkweed's pollen-bundle threads. I was glad I was able to pull the floret apart sufficiently that the insect flew rapidly away.

Too late, though, for this hapless bee, snared not just by one, but TWO legs caught within the slits of the florets!  Sadly, the bee was long past any chance of being able to fly away if released.  I left its lifeless form in the hope that it might be food for some other creature seeking sustenance.

This bristly-butt, hairy-headed fly was resting on a nearby leaf.  Despite its rather ferocious appearance, this adult Tachinid fly eats only a liquid diet of flower nectar and the honeydew exuded by aphids.  Other insects, though, do have much to fear from it, for female Tachinid flies lay their eggs on insects like beetles and grasshoppers, which, when the eggs hatch, are devoured from the inside by the larvae. Consequently, these flies should be very welcomed by farmers and gardeners hoping to eliminate insect pests.

This spindly-legged creature, most commonly known as a Daddy Long-legs or Harvestman, was resting atop the developing fruits of an Indian Cucumber Root (Medeola virginiana).  A Harvestman is not a spider, although it does belong to the same family of Arachnids. Like spiders, they do hunt other insects, but not by spinning webs.  Instead they deposit a glue-like substance that traps the insects they hope to devour.  We larger creatures have nothing to fear from them, since they are not venomous nor do they bite humans. 

After all the days and days and days of rain we've been having of late, I was surprised not to find the woods here carpeted with fungi of many kinds.  At least I did find this charming little Salmon Unicorn Entoloma (Entoloma quadratum), with its bright-orange pixy cap, so vividly displayed against a patch of emerald-green moss.

Another brightly colored organism of the forest floor was this patch of the slime mold called Scrambled Egg or Dog Vomit (Fuligo septica), its yellow fruiting bodies forming on a rotting conifer log that is also home to a species of green-colored liverwort. Slime molds are not fungi, although they do behave in a similar way to fungi when they form fruiting bodies like these, where the spores are developed and dispersed. I found this patch particularly fascinating, because I could still see its string-like "plasmodium," masses of undifferentiated cells that can move in an ameboid-like fashion as the organism searches for nutrients.