Thursday, February 24, 2022

Ice Has Its Way Along the Hudson

Has it really been ONLY two weeks since I've posted a blog? It sure seems a lot longer to me, since most of these past two weeks I've been feeling quite sick, with abdominal pain, headache, nausea, chills, fatigue, etc., which made each day pass very slowly.  Especially since I wasn't getting out to the woods for the healing benefits of nature walks. I'm still feeling shaky, but since medical tests now have ruled out anything terminal or treatable, I've decided to act as IF I were healthy, and maybe the trick will work. 

Not yet up for a hike but quite capable of an hour's drive, I drove up to the Ice Meadows along the Hudson River yesterday, eager to witness the reports of ice jams and road blockages happening along the river north of Warrensburg. This turbulent stretch of the Hudson is known for the monumental heaps of a particular frothy ice called "frazil" that mount to towering heights, occasionally damming the river and pushing right across riverside roads -- which I had heard had happened again this past week.

As I drove north out of Warrensburg along Golf Course Road, I noted significant -- but not astounding -- heaps of frazil piled on the river's shore and a few signs of where it previously had mounted to the road's guard rails. But all appeared to have retreated back to the normal banks now, with the churning floe-and frazil-filled water coursing freely along. I had read that ice jams had caused flooding of the bridge across the Hudson at Thurman, but I noticed no signs of impeded flow or flooding along this stretch just downstream from where Rte. 28 crosses the Hudson at The Glen.

Here's a view of the Hudson upstream from the bridge at The Glen. It is here in this very turbulent stretch of the river that much of the frazil ice forms, when the turbulence tosses droplets of super-cooled water into sub-freezing air, where the droplets immediately freeze and fall into the water, congealing with other frozen droplets to form slushy pans of frothy ice that eventually collect into masses that build down to the river bottom and eventually dam the river's flow. The river then rises, carrying the frazil heaps onto the shore. Eventually, the current's force re-opens the flow and the river then falls, leaving the frazil deposited on the shore. What look like banks of snow along the river here are actually heaps of frazil ice. 

The current today was roiling and rowdy, carrying chunks of translucent solid ice (formed in still water) as well as slushy rafts of frazil washing downstream. Since the temperature was above freezing now, no new frazil was forming, and recent rains had swollen the flow of water.

The view downstream from The Glen. The river was thick with chunks of ice, but the current was flowing freely. Since all looked to be normal here,  with the river well within its banks, I decided to take the west-bank river road back toward Warrensburg. I was hoping, of course, that the Thurman Bridge was now above water.

Well, I never got to Warrensburg or the Thurman Bridge on this River Road. Just a few miles along, I had to turn around. I think you can see ahead to why the road was closed, where huge heaps of frazil had pushed right across the road and into the woods.

Road crews have been working for days to open the road, with stretches yet to complete.  A few other folks had also come to witness the phenomenon of such monumental frazil deposits.

These friendly folks urged me to let them take my photo here with my own camera.  I obliged.

I continued walking along the cleared section of road, marveling at the amount of frazil heaped alongside.

I believe it may yet take a few more days' work to clear the road sufficiently for safe auto traffic.

Protruding from the heaps of frothy white frazil were chunks of translucent still-formed ice, which got carried along with the current and lifted up with the frazil when the river's flow was dammed.

I'm not sure if the bark was scraped from these slender birches by the ice scraping them or by the metal blades of the front-loaders pushing the ice off the road.  When summer arrives, I often see signs of trees having been uprooted by the force of frazil shoving them over.  And I bet we will still see a few pockets of unmelted ice in these woods as late as mid-June.  Since such episodes of ice-incursion along these banks have been  occurring for many millennia,  long before humans and their road-graders arrived,  I am sure the woods and the river have come to terms with each other long ago.

I DO want to emphasize, that as destructive as these surging heaps of frazil ice may be to human convenience, that same ice is essential for creating the Ice Meadows habitat along these Hudson shores, suppressing woody growth and discouraging invasion by non-native plant species, allowing many rare native plants to thrive and persist, some of which are known to exist in few or no other places in New York State. To get an impression of just how botanically rich this Ice Meadows site is, I invite you to visit this blogpost that records a recent summertime visit.

Friday, February 11, 2022

Lake Bonita, At Last!


We finally made it to Lake Bonita this week, my friends in the Thursday Naturalists and I, after two weeks of cancelling this trip because of bad weather.  The weather this past Thursday didn't seem all that promising either, with several different forecasts all predicting something different: rain, snow, sleet, or sun, oh heck, who knows? So I told my friends, "I'll be at the parking lot atop Mt. McGregor by 10am, if anyone wants to join me." And joy of joys, a few hardy souls did turn up, dressed for whatever weather came our way.  And as it happened, we did get a little of every weather, but had a great time regardless.

Lake Bonita is a lovely little mountaintop lake within Moreau Lake State Park and a wonderful place to visit in every season.  But because no boating is allowed on the lake, winter is the only time we can venture out onto its frozen surface to explore the tiny sphagnum-carpeted islets that dot the surface.  To reach the lake, we made our way down a steep rocky trail through a north-facing forest of mostly Eastern Hemlock, Red Oak, American Basswood, Red Maple, and White Ash. I took this photo below on a sunnier day, when sunshine cast undulating shadows on the sparkling snow cover of the forest floor. A mouse had dashed across the snow before I arrived.

The trees were much snowier on the day of our visit, up here atop Mt. McGregor.  It had rained a bit instead, at lower altitudes.

The Eastern Hemlocks along the shore were heavy with cones.

When we reached the lake, we could see the little islands dotting the surface, and with good thick ice covering the lake, we had no reason to fear about setting out to explore them.

All of the islets are covered with thick mats of several different kinds of Sphagnum Moss.  The Sphagnum itself creates an acidic habitat that supports the growth of many plants ordinarily found in bogs and other low-pH conditions.

The most abundant plants colonizing these islets are the three shrubs pictured here: Leatherleaf (Chamaedaphne calyculata) with dark maroon persistent leaves, Sheep Laurel (Kalmia angustifolia) with golden leaves, and Sweet Gale (Myrica gale), the bare twigs with the pointed buds in the lower right corner.

Here's a closer look at a Leatherleaf twig, already holding the buds that will produce dangling bells of white flowers in early spring.

Other Leatherleaf twigs held the open seed pods, looking like small brown flowers.

Some of the Sweet Gale shrubs bore masses of shiny mahogony-colored cone-like buds containing the flowers that will appear in early spring,  golden fuzzy tufts of staminate flowers and bright-red pistillate ones, each sex on a separate shrub.

Other Sweet Gale shrubs bore the seedpods produced by the pistillate flowers,  ready to spill their myriad seeds and perfume one's fingertips with a marvelously fragrant scent.

The Sheep Laurel holds onto both its leathery leaves and the remnants of its flower clusters throughout the winter.

Here and there, we found an arching wand of a fourth shrub, called Water Willow (Decodon verticillatum), which bears whorls of pretty rosy-purple flowers in summer. I have paddled ponds where this shrub completely dominates the shoreline with impenetrable thickets, but out here on the Lake Bonita islets, it is only an occasional find.

 Many Speckled Alder shrubs (Alnus incana) thrive along the shore of Lake Bonita, as well as growing occasionally out on the little sphagnum-carpeted islands that dot the lake.  Here and there, I found some female cones infected with a fungal plant pathogen called Alder Tongue Gall (Taphrina alni), which causes the cones to produce tangled masses of ribbon-like growths, like those pictured here.  I have read that, although it distorts some of the cones of an individual tree, it does not harm the tree itself.

Northern Pitcher Plants (Sarracenia purpurea) are common inhabitants of low-pH habitats like the islets of Lake Bonita, and we were delighted to find many well-preserved remnants of their interesting flowers.

We even found one actual "pitcher" still intact and protruding above the snow.

One of my favorite summer flowers here on Lake Bonita is Marsh St. Johnswort (Hypericum virginicum), so it's fun to see abundant numbers of its attractive tulip-shaped achenes protruding through the snow cover.

Here and there I found the persistent wispy slender stalks of White Beak Sedge (Rhynchospora alba), a common denizen of bogs and fens.

We also found several bird's nests, tucked into shrubs and located low to the ground.  The location alone suggested to us that this was probably the nest of a Red-winged Blackbird.

One of our friends found a fallen limb that was adorned with this very pretty combination of a small  ruffly tan fungus and a green foliose lichen.  I do recognize the fungus as the Crimped Gill Fungus (Plicatura crispa), but I am not sure of the lichen's ID.  Possibly Green Shield Lichen? Whatever the names, what a lovely treasure to find on a walk through the winter woods!

As I mentioned before, we had a little bit of just about every kind of winter weather during our outing What felt at first like a few drops of rain soon turned into pelting ice, but for just a moment or two before morphing into feathery flakes softly floating down and turning the air white.  But then the precipitation stopped as suddenly as it began, and a few moments later, patches of blue appeared in the otherwise cloudy sky.  How delightful it was to have such friends who came prepared to endure whatever the weather gods threw at us, in order to cheerfully explore this beautiful and fascinating site.

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

A Celebration of Wonderful Wetlands

I just learned that today-- 2/2/22 -- is World Wetlands Day.  Because of the many benefits we get from wetlands, World Wetlands Day is observed on February 2 every year to raise awareness about their importance and the need to preserve them.  Wetlands are regions where water covers the soil for an extended period of time, creating ideal conditions for the growth of highly adapted plants and animal  species. Wetlands play a critical role in maintaining natural cycles and supporting a wide range of biodiversity. They purify and filter waste from the landscape and regulate and replenish our water. For many, wetlands are the primary sources of fresh water and also serve as natural buffers against floods and droughts. Most importantly, wetlands minimize the impacts of climate change.  This year's celebration is particularly significant, since 2022 is the first year that World Wetlands Day will be observed as a United Nations international day.

I certainly couldn't let this day go by without celebrating it, especially since I possess a perfect little super-lightweight Hornbeck canoe (12 pounds!) that allows me access to so many different kinds of wetlands: rivers, lakes, swamps, and bogs. Here are just a few of the beautiful wetlands my little boat (pictured above) has carried me to. (And also one I could just walk into on foot.)

The Bog Mats on Lens Lake in the Adirondacks 

Lens Lake is surrounded by mountains and abounds with acres of floating bogmats. Snowy tufts of Cottongrass dance on slender stalks above the Sphagnum Moss that carpets the bogmats.  Sphagnum Moss is essential for creating the acidic habitat so distinctive of this type of wetland.

American Larches (Larix laricina) are typical denizens of acidic habitats like bogs.  The Larch (also called Tamarack) is our only deciduous conifer, with needles that turn golden before they are shed in the fall. This solitary golden tree was backed by dark green conifers that line the shore of Lens Lake.

Wetlands along Bog Meadow Brook Nature Trail

I don't need my canoe to access the wetlands of this nature preserve just east of Saratoga Springs, since this well-maintained foot trail (a former railway line) passes right through the middle of them.  The scarlet fruits of a Winterberry shrub (Ilex verticillata) glow from the shadowy depths of the acres and acres of wooded wetlands that surround this trail.  Despite the trail's name, this particular wetland is technically a swamp, with a higher pH habitat than would be the case for a true acidic bog.

Early Azalea (Rhododendron prinophyllum) is another shrub that thrives in the wooded wetlands along Bog Meadow Brook Nature Trail.  This shrub grows well back in the forest, hidden from casual view, but I can detect its exquisite fragrance when it blooms and thus know when to search for it.

There actually ARE a few genuinely boggy areas long the Bog Meadow Brook Nature Trail, low-pH pools that are rimmed with Sphagnum Moss and populated thickly with the wetland plant called Bog Buckbean (Menyanthes trifoliata).

The Hudson River at Moreau, New York

Small rocky islands dot the Hudson River below Spier Falls Dam at Moreau. Because of the current, the water is often open even in the depths of winter, attracting Bald Eagles to fish in its waters.

In the quiet catchment between the Spier Falls and Sherman Island dams, where the current of the Hudson is slowed, the river flows back behind a large island and into small sheltered coves. The bouldered shores are home to many beautiful native shrubs and wildflowers, some of them rare.

Moreau Lake at Moreau Lake State Park

Moreau Lake lies at the heart of Moreau Lake State Park in Moreau, NY. 

This kettle lake is only one of the wetlands within this 7,000-acre park that features two other lakes (Bonita and Anne), which are high in the mountains that surround Moreau Lake. There are also beaver ponds, tupelo swamps, vernal pools, and mountain streams to be found in the Palmertown Range of mountains that runs through the park. Moreau Lake State Park also incorporates several miles of Hudson River shoreline in both Saratoga and Warren counties.  No shortage of various wetlands in this park! And over the years, I have found at least 8 rare-to-endangered wildflowers and 15 species of native orchids among the various habitats of this marvelous park.

Pyramid Lake in Essex County, New York

Pyramid Lake is one of the jewels of the Adirondacks. It is located in the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness Area and thus is protected as "forever wild."  Thanks to calcareous rock that underlies this lake, the water, islands, and shoreline are home to many plants that require a basic (not acidic) habitat. 

There are cedar swamps at both the east and west ends of Pyramid Lake, unique habitats that feature a high-pH substrate overlaid by a low-pH carpet of Sphagnum Moss.  Pink Pyrola (Pyrola asarifolia), rated as a Threatened species in New York State, is among the remarkable plants that can be found in just this kind of swamp.

A very small sampling of some wildflowers that thrive in various wetland habitats:

Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris) carpets many different shallow wetlands -- including roadside ditches -- with its big yellow blooms quite early in the spring.

The blazing-red Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis) and the bright-blue Pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata) share the riverbanks together in late summer.

The exquisite Fragrant Water Lily (Nymphaea odorata) never floats less-than-perfect blooms on the surface of lakes or ponds, because as soon as the flower is pollinated, its stem retracts to plant its fertilized ovary down in the muddy bottom of the lake.

The gorgeous Grass Pink Orchid (Calopogon tuberosus) blooms abundantly in many of northern New York's sphagnum bogs. Many of our state's nearly 60 species of native orchids prefer the acidic habitat and cold water of northern bogs.

I don't believe there is a more quintessential northern wetland plant than our Northern Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia purpurea), a typical resident of sphagnum bogs but also of slightly less-acidic fens and lakeshores. This lovely clump was growing on one of the tiny Sphagnum-carpeted islands of Lake Bonita.

I don't find Three-leaved Solomon's Seal (Maianthemum trifolium) in every acidic wetland I explore, but if it IS in residence and blooming, I can often detect it by its fragrance before I even see it. It will often carpet the wetland with such abundance it resembles the stars in the sky.