Thursday, September 30, 2021

Come Paddle This Beautiful River

My friend Ruth Brooks wanted to join me for a paddle on Monday, but wondered where we might go. I sent her these next two photos of the Hudson River at Moreau, taken on Sunday afternoon, to tempt her up this way:

Indeed, she succumbed to the temptation these photos held out, and arrived the next morning, ready for a lovely paddle.  Of course, the scene looked a little different this time, a pouring rain having stopped just moments before we met at the shore, with not a sunbeam in sight.

But the scene was still quite lovely, with clouds of mist rising from the rain-drenched woods.

And the calm water reflected the beauty of forested mountains that rise from the river's edge. 

So off we set, heading directly across the river to paddle upstream, staying close to the steep Warren County banks, which are covered with many different mosses.  Ruth is a moss enthusiast, and I was sure we would find a few to interest her here.

Which we did. This lovely one, with the wispy lime-green leaves and tiny, brown, perfectly round spore capsules, was my favorite. Bartramia pomiformis is its scientific name, and it's commonly called "Apple Moss," both names suggested by the apple-round shape of those spore capsules.

These spiky green tufts are Common Haircap Moss (Polytrichum commune) interspersed with rosettes of tiny leaves belonging to the lovely little blue flower called Bluets (Houstonia caerulea).

A number of different organisms here, some fern-leaved Brocade Moss (Hypnum imponens), I believe, as well as some spiky little moss mounds I can't identify and a small patch of gray-green lichen.  But the stars of this show were the caramel-colored mushrooms, a bunch of them, ranging in size from some that were no bigger than the head of a pin to others a couple of inches across.  They remind me quite a bit of Flame Chanterelles (Craterellus ignicolor), except that they didn't seem bright-enough orange.  My Google search for "caramel-colored trumpet-shaped  mushroom with descending gills" has yet to yield any unmistakeable result, so suggestions from knowledgeable readers would be welcomed.

At least I believe with some certainty that these brilliant-orange mushrooms are Cinnabar Chanterelles (Cantharellus cinnabarinus).

This strikingly purple crust fungus was growing on a tree limb hanging over the bank, and it was so small, I probably would never have noticed it if not for its unusual color.  For scale, compare its size to that of the inch-long hemlock needles nearby.  The closest match I could find on Google (there was nothing like it in any of my mushroom guides) was Violet Crust (Phlebiopsis crassa), and that seemed a very likely possibility.

It's always a surprise to find a tree-sized specimen of American Chestnut, but these boughs hanging low over the water encouraged us to look up to discover we had encountered one.  Over the years, I have found along this stretch of the Hudson several chestnut trees mature enough to bear fruit, but alas, they usually die within a year or two after fruiting.

As we neared the Spier Falls Dam just upstream, we noticed the river's current growing stronger,  and rather than struggle against it, we decided to cross to the opposite shore and head back downstream. This monumental heap of impressive bedrock awaited our explorations over on the opposite bank.

This bedrock was indeed home to many interesting mosses, and I was especially delighted by the tiny fern-like fronds of this clump of Fern Pocket Moss (Fissidens osmundioides). A number of reddish-stalked, pointed spore capsules protruded from the clump.

A generous patch of this ruffly-looking liverwort called Scapania nemorosa clung to the same rock nearby.

A flourishing patch of red-berried America Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) clung to the rounded top of a boulder.

When this Green Frog found itself trapped between my canoe and a rockface too steep for it to climb, it froze and remained immobile, allowing me plenty of time to get out my camera.

As lunchtime approached and our fannies were growing numb from sitting too long, we headed straight toward a group of small islands that lie in the middle of the river. There, we climbed out of our canoes and, after eating, stretched our legs botanizing the islands' plants.

What once was a forested island has now been denuded of most of its deciduous trees by beavers felling all but the pines.  The beavers also feast on the Early Azalea and Silky Dogwood shrubs that thrive here, but the pruning seems only to encourage their growth.  Other shrubs include Lowbush Blueberry and Black Huckleberry.

This visit was the first time I have found a  Maleberry shrub (Lyonia ligustrina) growing here. Some of its branches were thick with green fruit, with husks so hard that few animals will eat them. I find the fruit still intact on the twigs when these shrubs bloom again in the spring.

I imagine, though, that some creature will eventually devour the red hips on the low native roses that thrive on these little islands.

A couple of floral surprises met us as we explored the island.  Bluets (Houstonia caerulea) bloom abundantly in early spring, but it's rare to encounter their beautiful blue flowers this late in the year. So pretty!

Narrow-leaved Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum tenuifolium), too, would normally be well past blooming by now. But the plants on this island all bore a few tiny white flowers.

We found some interesting fungi out here, as well. Thanks to the beavers' work, many rotting logs lie across  the ground, and this one was home to abundant numbers of the Fan-shaped Jelly Fungus (Dacryopinax spathularia), so brightly colored we couldn't miss seeing them.

One of the tree stumps was thick with moss (Anomodon attenuatus?), which provided a lovely green foil for this curvaceous fringey fungus with the rather off-putting name of Jelly Rot (Phlebia tremellosa).

As I sat on a rock overlooking this third little island just downstream, I couldn't help mourning the trees that used to be happy there. Note that these trees have not been felled by beavers but have died while still standing. This sandy-floored island lies lower to the water than the rockier other two that make up this mid-river group, and thus it was flooding that killed the trees. When I first started paddling this stretch of the Hudson back in the early 1990s, the water level would fall much lower during the summer than it ever does now. I've been told that the water is kept much higher all summer now by dam operations, in order to support recreational water-sport businesses. Trees that always were able to survive brief seasonal flooding could not withstand being flooded year-round, and so have succumbed.

Ah well, a river is always changing, even when humans are not the ones causing change.  As this island's habitat changes, new and different plants will colonize it and thrive there. I do miss the lovely Paper Birches, though, and the Quaking Aspens that flocks of Tree Swallows used to return to after skimming over the water.   But happily, many other wonders remain along theses waters. I'm so glad I've come to know and love them over the years I've paddled here. How happy I am to share my love for this river with my friends.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Noblewood Park: Old Friends and a New Place to Explore on the Shore of Lake Champlain

Some places sure are worth a two-hour drive to reach, especially when they involve a reunion with dear friends at a gorgeous location.  That was my husband's and my experience yesterday when we drove up to the Essex Ferry Dock on the shore of Lake Champlain, where our friends Lewis and Madelyn had just arrived from their Vermont home across the lake. From there, we drove together a few miles north to a lakeshore park called Noblewood, where we picnicked high on a bluff overlooking the gorgeous expanse of Lake Champlain, with a glimpse of Vermont's Green Mountains on the far shore.

Noblewood Park is a natural area at the outlet of the Boquet River on Lake Champlain. This 69-acre property is owned by the Town of Willsboro and protected by a conservation easement held by The Nature Conservancy’s Adirondack Chapter.  Among Noblewood's attractions is a sandy beach on the lake, which we visited after our lunch and where we were amazed by the sparkly-black and the reddish  sands at the water's edge.  I'm sure that the sands' colors resulted from the region's geology, although I do not know what particular rocks would have contributed to these hues.

UPDATE: While searching the internet for information that might explain the colors of these sands, I came across excerpts from Peter Kalm's account of his explorations of Lake Champlain in 1749. (Kalm was a protege of the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus, who sent him to North America to collect botanical specimens.) He determined that the black sand contained iron and was attracted to magnets, while the red sand was composed of pounded garnets. This makes sense to me, since both the black-colored iron ore called magnetite and abundant deposits of ruby-red garnet occur in this region of New York State. Here's a link to the site where I found Kalm's account.

Adjacent to the sandy beach was a much rockier shoreline, with matted heaps of uprooted aquatic plants covering the rocks closest to the water. At first glance,  I was struck by what looked to be the whitest rocks I had ever seen. In a different season, I might have thought they were dusted with snow or covered with frost.

But a closer look at these shoreline rocks revealed that their whiteness was the result of their being covered by a pale, many-branched vegetation, possibly the same aquatic vegetation that lay heaped in masses nearby.

I found these branching patterns to be quite lovely. In some ways, they reminded me of the engravings on ivory called Scrimshaw, only in reverse, with white on dark instead of black on white.

I was particularly hoping to visit the part of Noblewood Park where the Boquet River flows into Lake Champlain, and after some twists and turns of the park's internal trails, we came out upon the river's shore. Much further upstream, the Boquet is a tumbling and twisting Adirondack river known for its rapids and waterfalls and famous as a fisherman's favorite trout stream. But here at Willsboro, well east of the high peaks and where the land levels off to meet Champlain's shore, the Boquet flows wide and serene.

Our first glimpse of the river revealed a beautiful Great Egret wading its shallows. Our presence, however, prompted the egret to quickly fly away.

As we emerged from the shaded forested trails to stand on the Boquet's banks, we were dazzled by the blue brightness of river, lake, and sky.

Here, the riverbank curved before it protruded into the lake with a sandy-shored point.

I could have stayed here all day.  I certainly hope to return some year in the growing season, to explore these shores for the plants that thrive in such a distinctive habitat.

We encountered very few blooming flowers this day, with the exception of several different species of goldenrods and asters, both in the woods as well as out here on the shore. This lovely cluster of Panicled Aster was blooming amid the grasses that covered the sandbar where the river met the lake.

And this cluster of Nodding Bur Marigold was happy to have its feet wet right on the Boquet's shore.


I was surprised not to find lots of mushrooms along the wooded trails, considering how rainy the past week had been. But the gigantic size of some Shaggy Mane mushrooms made up for that lack of fungal numbers just by these being so enormous.  I also found a few of these mushrooms well past maturity, their curling-back caps already slimed with inky black liquid.

As I mentioned at the start of this post, the drive to Noblewood Park from our home in Saratoga Springs is rather a long one. But who could complain about a long drive, when the highway leads through some of the most beautiful landscape in the country?  Especially during the most beautiful season of Autumn.  I know that this photo would not rate a calendar page, taken as it was through a dirty windshield while traveling 70 miles an hour. But it does reveal something of the beauty already present as the leaves start to turn, as well as a hint to the true gorgeousness yet to come in the few short weeks ahead, when every hillside and mountain will be covered with a crazy-quilt of brilliant autumn color.  Don't miss it!

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

An Adirondack Pond and its Autumn Pleasures

No need to check the calendar to know that Fall has arrived. Even though this past Monday grew summer warm by noon,  the morning was sweater-chilly when I stood on the shore of Oliver Pond and noticed the just-changing colors in the pondside trees.  I had come to this isolated Essex County pond to enjoy a paddle with my friend Ruth Brooks, and we both stood enchanted by the scene before us, almost reluctant to stir these mirror-still waters that were rendered even more quintessentially Adirondack by the haunting call of a loon.

Although the color-change in the standing trees had just begun,  this scarlet Red Maple leaf afloat on the pond was a foretaste of the brilliantly beautiful season just ahead.

The foliage colors of Fall offer us wildflower enthusiasts some comforting compensation for the close of the floral season.  As we find so few blooming flowers now,  I especially treasure the ones we do encounter, such as this abundant cluster of Panicled Aster blooms (Symphyotrichum lanceolatum) tucked in between two fallen logs on the shore of Oliver Pond.

And I wasn't the only creature happy to find these flowers.  Usually, this shiny-green, yellow-striped  Goldenrod Hooded Owlet Moth caterpillar (Cucullia asteroides) is found amid the golden flowers that suggested its common name. But considering that both goldenrods and asters reside in the same Aster Family (Asteraceae), I should not have been so surprised to find it feasting on Panicled Asters.

The only other flowers we found blooming today were these floating Water Smartweeds (Persicaria amphibia), clustered together in a quiet cove, their bright-pink flowers reflected in the still water

On our last visit to Oliver Pond, in early September two years ago, we had marveled at the abundance of Purple Bladderwort flowers (Utricularia purpurea) protruding from the water, flowers made even more fascinating because they were snowy-white instead of the standard pale-purple. We had hoped we might find just one or two remaining blooms today, but all we found were the masses of the bladderwort's brownish underwater structures.

But no matter if our flower finds were few and far between.  We still found much beauty to marvel at on many floating "nursery logs" that were covered with a rich and colorful variety of mosses, lichens, and leaves. This particular log was populated by a huge colony of red-topped lichens called Lipstick Powderhorn (Cladonia macilenta).

Another log was plush with masses of Sphagnum mosses of various colors.

Yet another Sphagnum-carpeted log held the remnant now-brown flower stalks of Spatulate-leaved Sundews (Drosera intermedia).

And a nearby log was populated by several green-leaved plants (Meadowsweet, Cranberry, and a lime-green moss), as well as the red basal leaves of Spatulate-leaved Sundew, all aglitter with the sparkling drops of sticky fluid meant to tempt insects to their mortally dangerous pads.

Here was a log that provided a home for a large patch of Marsh St. John's Wort (Hypericum virginicum), that plant's stems and leaves assuming a Cherry-Twizzler red color in their decline and rendered as translucent as stained glass by the bright sun.

The very light was dazzling today, the sunshine beaming through crystal-clear Adirondack-autumn air. As the breeze picked up and set the shoreline thickets of Slender Sedge (Carex lasiocarpa) to dancing, the reflected light danced along with the gleaming leaves.

The surface of the pond also started to dance in the afternoon breeze, each wavelet sparkling like diamonds.

By now, the morning's chill had yielded to summer-like warmth, but this Autumn Meadowhawk kept returning to the sun-warmed skin of my bare shin, as if it were hoping to store up some extra warmth for the colder days to come.

A single pair of Common Loons had claimed this pond for their own, and we learned they had managed to rear a single chick this year.  We did see all three in the hours we were on the pond, but only from a far distance. I couldn't believe how clearly my camera managed to zoom in on this solitary swimmer.

And here's the person who told us about this loon family, this yellow-hatted woman (left) named Ellie George, whom we met just as we arrived at the pond and she was leaving after paddling here to check on the resident loons.  Ellie is a very active observer of loons in the Adirondacks, monitoring their health and behavior on a number of lakes and ponds near her home on nearby Paradox Lake.  In fact, she and her husband have participated in rescuing loons that have been injured, many of those injuries caused by the barbed lures and tangling lines abandoned by careless fishermen.

My friend Ruth (right) is a passionate birder and already knew Ellie and about Ellie's work, and Ellie recognized my name from having often seen my blog.  It turned out we all had many mutual friends among the birders and botanizers and other naturalists of our region of New York State.  A small world, yes, but one that is filled with amazing and smart and informed and dedicated folks who do what they can to protect the plants and animals and their habitats.  I am so grateful that there are so many of them. And especially that I can call so many of them my friends.