Thursday, June 30, 2022

Notes from a Nature Week

This time of year, I hardly have time to post a blog, I'm so busy out in the woods or on the water. But I've got to clear my camera now for further adventures, so just for the record, here are some photos from some of the places I wandered this past week.

The "Green Team" Tours the Mud Pond Powerline

The "Green Team" is a group of volunteer master gardeners who beautify Moreau Lake State Park with flower gardens, using mostly those plants that are native to our region.  My friend Sue Pierce and I have been leading these gardeners to areas of the park where some of our most beautiful native wildflowers thrive, in order to witness these plants in their native habitat.  The last week of June is probably the most spectacular time to visit the powerline clearcut just north of Mud Pond, for that's when some of our showiest native wildflowers have come into bloom.  In the photo above, you can see how the brilliant Wood Lilies (Lilium philadelphicum) thrive among the wild grasses, actually preferring the sterile sandy soil here, over the rich soil that most garden plants prefer.

Here's a closer look at the Wood Lily's spectacular blooms.

A second gorgeous wildflower that shares this sandy sun-baked site is the Blunt-leaved Milkweed (Asclepias amplexicaulis), which opens its exquisitely fragrant blooms at the same time that Wood Lilies do.

We weren't the only ones drawn to these milkweeds' beautiful blooms.  We saw Banded Hairstreak Butterflies feeding on nearly every plant.  Often, multiples of them.

I'm not sure what this ant was doing on this Frostweed flower (Crocanthemum canadense), another native beauty that shares this sandy-soiled site.  Sue and I make sure to visit this flower on the first sub-freezing days of autumn, when the frozen sap curling around the frost-split stems reveals how this flower acquired its vernacular name.

Many of the Bear Oak shrubs (Quercus ilicifolia)  and other young oaks that line this powerline had been completely stripped of their leaves by now, due to voracious hordes of Spongy Moth larvae feeding on them.  But now that the caterpillars have done their worst and are preparing to  pupate, the young trees are putting out new leaves, colored red by the substance called anthocyanin, which helps to protect the fragile young leaves from sunburn.

I have read that a virus called Nucleopolyhedrosis is beginning to kill many of the Spongy Moth larvae still feeding in our forests.  On a walk near Moreau Lake just today, every caterpillar I saw was shriveled and limp, hanging dead from the tree bark.  It's too bad the virus didn't show up sooner in the season, before the caterpillars had defoliated whole forests of their deciduous leaves and conifer needles. But it certainly is encouraging to know that this scourge has at least one control.  In addition to Black-billed Cuckoos, which have recently moved in to gobble the caterpillars up.

The Graphite Range Community Forest in Wilton

This 200-acre mountainous forest just north of Saratoga along Rte. 9 won't be open to the public until the fall, not until the professional trail-builders have completed the 5 miles of specialized trails that will serve many different recreational needs, for hikers, mountain bikers, and forest bathers alike.  So what was I doing there, now?  As an early donor to the site's development and one who has some knowledge about native plants, I had been invited to tour the site in the early spring, but that was well before any plants had come into bloom. Now I wanted to see what might be growing along the trails. And I asked my best co-nature-nerds Sue Pierce and Ruth Brooks to help me with this task.

It didn't take long to pass through the open meadow until the trail climbed steeply into the mountainous terrain, where a stream tumbled down a deep gorge and the forest grew thick over our heads.

As we examined the bare-rock ledges that lined portions of the main trail, we noted the presence of Ebony Spleenwort (Asplenium platyneuron).  Although this fern is known to tolerate soils of varying pH, I usually find it in alkaline (higher pH) habitats, on substrates like limestone or marble.  Would we find other plants that would indicate calcareous soils?

We did find other plants that I have found only in rich calcareous woodlands, like the limestone underlaid woods at Skidmore College in Saratoga or near marble quarries atop a mountain in Vermont. One of those plants was Wood Betony (Pedicularis canadensis), and we found a huge patch of them. I really look forward to returning next year when all these plants are in bloom.

We eventually reached the site of the old graphite mines that suggested the name of this community forest preserve. And oh my, were they impressive, with great gaping entrances leading deep into rocky cliffs! Long abandoned now, the mines were in operation during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Other evidence of the mining operations can be found nearby, including an old dam once used to process the graphite, crumbling stone foundations of buildings, and large grinding stones.

We were prevented from exploring the walls of the mines by pools of water covering the floors.  The water was the most beautiful color of blue, and we wondered what mineral or other substance might be the cause of that color.

This property, obtained by a private citizen to eventually be owned by Saratoga County, will provide a link to a future trail through the Palmertown Mountain Range that will connect Moreau Lake State Park to Saratoga Springs. The land conservation organization called Saratoga PLAN (Preserving Land And Nature) as well as the Open Space Institute were instrumental in the efforts to preserve this remarkable site and prepare to make it available to the public in the fall.

The Exposed Shores of the Hudson River at South Glens Falls

Wow!  Where did the river go?  As a matter of fact, it was being held back behind dams upstream, while work on the dam at Glens Falls is being undertaken. I have heard that the level has been lowered 8 feet, and that level will be maintained for some weeks, until the work is completed.  This section of the Hudson is one of our favorite places to paddle toward the close of summer, when some of our most interesting native wildflowers (some quite rare) thrive in a series of shallow backwaters, sorting pools carved out of the bank back in the logging era.  Each lumber company would store its own logs, floated down from the Adirondacks, in separate pools along here.  They would not be able to do that this week! Nor would we be able to paddle those shallow backwaters to find such floral rarities as Small Floating Bladderwort or Water Marigold. I can't help but wonder how they will survive this prolonged exposure.

It was interesting to see the remnants of the underwater plants now stranded high and dry on the mud. Most had been shriveled to unidentifiable shreds, but sweeping strands of Water Bulrush (Schoenoplectus subterminalis) revealed why I had made up my own name for it: Mermaid's Hair.  A more official common name is Swaying Bulrush.

I wonder what this Great Blue Heron makes of his disappearing pool? I'm sure it could still find a frog or two for its supper. 

At least some big patches of Pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata) still looked as beautiful as ever.

Higher up on the banks, we found some Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) also beautifully in bloom. And look down there on one of its leaves: a colorful beetle had found this plant, too.

Such a pretty beetle! And so aptly named: the Swamp Milkweed Leaf Beetle (Labidomera clivicollis), seen here munching its favorite food.  A smart little bug, too. So as not to get a snoot full of milkweed latex that could glue its jaws shut, the beetle has severed the leaf veins upstream, so the milky sap flows out before it reaches the edge of the leaf the beetle is feeding on.  And similar to most other insects that feed on toxic milkweed, its bright red coloration serves as a warning to potential predators that this bug is not palatable.

1 comment:

The Furry Gnome said...

I've only seen Ebony Spleenwort once up here.