Thursday, December 14, 2023

Couple of Breakdowns, and I'm Taking a Break


I guess I won't be driving for a while -- not this car or any.  On December 8, I got slammed hard while turning left right into the path of an oncoming car going full speed, and it was my fault.  I just did not see it coming, and that error will haunt me for a very long time.  Luckily, it appeared that no one in the other car was injured (at least not visibly).  But I was, although not in any life-threatening way, thank God.  I don't know how both legs got bashed, but now I can barely walk, and five days after the accident, I still can't bend my left leg more than a few degrees without severe pain, and the leg certainly can't lift my weight, although, thankfully, it can bear it. So I can hobble. That knee was already damaged from a previous injury, so maybe it's time to do what my orthopedist had been recommending and have a knee replacement.  Maybe after Christmas.

At any rate, the woods and waters and winter wonderlands will not have me wandering them for quite a while, so I won't have anything new to report here on this blog for some time.  And then my old iMac crashed as well, with my harddrive still accessible but with no connection to the internet. I'm composing this post on a new computer, but I cannot access 15 years' worth of photos still on my old drive until I have a friend's help to load them onto this one. But before that, I'm going through thousands of old photos to eliminate duds and duplicates in the meantime, in case my new computer doesn't have room to store them accessibly.

What I'm saying is that I'm taking a break from blogging for a while, although with every intention of returning when I am more able-bodied.  But after nearly 15 years of keeping this blog (first post was on January 2, 2009), there's lots of material here to be perused, and if I say so myself, some of it's still pretty interesting and informative.  There's an archive in the right-side sidebar that will carry a reader back to all posts from all times of year, and a search bar at the top left that can lead a reader to all mentions I've posted on hundreds of plants and dozens of places. I hope some of my dear followers will find something to interest them among past posts, and also check back here from time to time to see if I'm posting anew. This project has been the focus of my life for so long, I cannot imagine I will abandon it for long.

Meanwhile, I want to express my gratitude for the blessings that I experienced in the middle of my distress. With all the evidence of human wickedness in the news these days, I cling to any and all evidence of human kindness I encounter.  And oh my, did I encounter human kindness after my car crash. I had not realized how battered I was when I crawled out of my smashed vehicle and limped, stunned, to a nearby bench. But a kind young man from the Malta Emergency Services quickly appeared and invited me to come out of the damp cold and enter the emergency vehicle standing by. At first I declined, just hoping my husband would soon arrive to take me home, but the young man's gentle prodding convinced me I should let the EMTs take my vital signs and check me for injuries and so I accepted the invitation to climb onto the gurney.  As it happened, I was experiencing cardiac and blood pressure abnormalities that indicated I should go to the hospital for further examination. Which I did, and there underwent scans from my head to my toes, which revealed no life-threatening conditions or injuries, thank God. I don't know how my legs got so battered and bruised, but at least I won't die from not being able to walk for a while.  And I have no-fault insurance that will cover many of my material losses as well as my medical bills. All will be well, eventually, so now my fear has given way to enormous gratitude to all those kind people who looked after me in my distress. I especially want to thank Justin and Scott, the two EMTs who cared for me so solicitously and helped me to feel I'd be OK.  How wonderful that such good people feel called to this caring and life-saving work. And that goes for all the good people who cared for me at the Saratoga Hospital Emergency Room, who treated me with such competence, respect and gentleness.  Of course, I must thank my husband Denis, who now must  drive me around to all errands and appointments that I once drove myself to. And many friends who have reached out in love and/or with foodstuffs and other offers.  I thank God for all such caring people around the world, wherever there is disaster and distress. I have been so disheartened by news of wars and natural disasters, but I am grateful to be reminded that still there are those good people who rush to give hope and healing to people in need.

Monday, December 4, 2023

Rare Plant Remnants Along the Shore

Due to a recent painful bout of ocular rosacea, I've neglected both cold-weather outdoor walks and extended computer use for a while. And my blogging has been on hold.  But one rather dark and not-too-cold day last week, I did venture up to Moreau Lake State Park. I had not been able to explore the shore of the lake all summer, because of high water levels, but now the sandy and pebbly sections of shore have emerged and are beckoning my return. I particularly wanted to walk the shore of a cove that is home to some of our state's rarest plants.  How had these plants fared from being flooded all summer?

At first glance, the vegetation appeared to be shriveled beyond recognition, but I knew very well that certain plant remnants do persist in a recognizable state all year.  And I also knew that many of them clustered about the base of a certain shoreline Cottonwood tree.

Sure enough, these puffy gray balls that once held the seeds of Whorled Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum verticillatum var. verticillatum) were easily seen, still standing on stems that held them above the surrounding brown vegetation.  And because the summer's high water had not reached this far up the shore, a healthy population of a dozen or so plants remained intact.  This plant is one of New York's rarest species, rated as Endangered, so I always feel reassured to find it still surviving here on the shore of Moreau Lake.

 Sadly, though, the population of Whorled Mountain Mint has declined substantially since I first discovered it here 10 years ago, and a state rare-plant monitor later assessed its numbers along this cove's shoreline to be more than 270 healthy specimens.  Because Moreau Lake is a kettle lake, dependent for its water mainly on rainfall and snowmelt, its water levels rise and fall substantially from year to year.  Recent years of high water have eliminated much of this rare plant's growing space, but at least enough plants remain intact to provide a seedbank for continued survival along this particular cove's shoreline. We have not found other populations of Whorled Mountain Mint anywhere else around the lake, or anywhere else in Saratoga County. 

A second rare plant that shares this same shoreline is the Mustard-family plant called Green Rockcress (Borodinia missouriensis).  Because this plant possesses distinctive arching seedpods that persist through the winter, it is easy to spot this time of year, and indeed, I saw dozens of persisting plants along this cove, both out on the sand and also higher up on the forested banks. Although Green Rockcress is rated as a Threatened species in New York,  several hundred specimens have been recorded at Moreau Lake State Park, at several locations around the park as well as out here on the cove. We have no reason to think that this species is threatened within this park.

As I continued my walk around the cove, it became evident to me that the last few years of high water had diminished the shoreline habitat for the Whorled Mountain Mint significantly for other reasons than simply water covering the sand on the shore.  During the first couple of years I had personally monitored this habitat, there existed a walkable clear area between the shoreline Buttonbush shrubs and a steep forested bank, and this is the area where I first found the most abundant population of this Endangered species, with specimens numbering into the hundreds.  High lake levels over the past few years have apparently pushed the Buttonbush shrubs closer to the steep forested banks, and the shrubs now occupy the space where the Whorled Mountain Mint once thrived abundantly.  On this visit,  I found fewer than a dozen.  I guess this kind of naturally occurring habitat loss may be one of the reasons this species is Endangered.

When I reached the point where I met the main lake, I decided to continue along the lakeshore.  A couple of years ago,  a state rare-plant monitor and I found another truly rare plant, the Endangered species called Small-flowered Dwarf Bulrush (Cyperus subsquarrosus), on the shore of Moreau Lake.  And we found this tiny plant growing by the thousands all around the lake, on both sandy and pebbly habitat. Including this very stretch of shore.  Unfortunately, its recognizable remnants tend to disappear after hard frost.  Would I find any trace of them now?

I searched and searched among the pebbles and found no recognizable remnants of Small-flowered Dwarf Bulrush. I suppose these wispy brown threads could have been what I was looking for, but I definitely was not certain.

Here's what Small-flowered Dwarf Bulrush looked like in September, before a hard frost, with its curving gray-green leaves and stubby little cone-like spikelets. Nothing I found today looked enough like this to convince me I had found the plant I was looking for.  But I knew it was there, and it would be back again.

Despite not finding any recognizable remnants of Cyperus subsquarrosus today, I saw lots of other tiny green plants snuggled in among the stones.  And I loved looking at the colorful mix of pebbles that cover this shore.  

And as lovely as those pebbles looked when dry,  just see how gorgeous some others were when covered by an inch or so of clear water, with golden ribbons of sunlight rippling across them. I was grateful that a break in the clouds brought not only some shoulder-warming rays on this otherwise cold day, but also this transforming brilliance to the shore of Moreau Lake.

Saturday, November 18, 2023

Still Out There, Still Finding Cool Stuff

I am one of those odd folks who actually loves November -- this brown and bronze season as our warm-weather plants settle down for their long restorative winter naps.  But darn it all, old age has imposed on me a painful eye condition called Ocular Rosacea that is triggered by cold weather. It makes my eyes feel as if there were grit beneath my eyelids as inflammation causes the lower lashes to turn inward and poke at my eyeballs. That stings!  And spending hours looking at a computer screen exacerbates the condition. I have managed to keep going outdoors, even on frosty days, but the work of editing photos and writing blogs has been a painful chore I have been avoiding.  I did, though, manage to choose a few photos from several recent outings that I want to post here.  I do like to keep this blog going, even if just for myself, since it serves me as a phenological record of what happens when, in my natural surroundings.  By New Year's Day, 2024, my blog will consist of 15 years of botanical explorations of this northeastern part of New York State.

First Frost at Mud Pond

I don't know if November 2 is an especially late date for first hard frost in northern Saratoga County, but I do know that my friend Sue Pierce and I had been waiting and waiting what seemed a long time for it this year. And this was our lucky day. First Frost is a day we wildflower nerds celebrate as the day to go Frostweed hunting. And the sandy-soiled powerline easement just north of Mud Pond at Moreau Lake State Park is the place we know we will find it.

 But it can't be just any old First Frost morning.  The night must be clear for optimum radiational cooling of the land, cold enough for the fluid in the stems of the Frostweed (Crocanthemum canadense) to freeze and expand and split the stems of this native wildflower, and it has to be a night and a morning without a breath of wind that would quickly dissipate the emerging vaporous fluid as it curls around the stems.  Sometimes those curls look as frothy as clouds, while today they appeared like fine threads of ice spooling around the stems.

The frost also spangled all the plants that grow in the open area below the power lines. These British Soldier lichens (Cladonia cristatella) added a dash of brilliant red among the ice crystals.

The Clubmoss called Running Pine or Wolf's Claw (Lycopodium clavatum) looked as if it had sprouted white fur all over instead of just at the tips of its branches.

These small taupe-colored mushrooms looked quite silvery amid this frosted patch of Juniper Haircap Moss (Polytrichum juniperinum).

Sadly, my photo of these deep-pink tufts of Small Red Sphagnum moss (Sphagnum capillifolium) could not display how twinkly they sparkled as the sun touched the crystals of frost.

As the frost dissipated when the morning sun's warmth reached the powerline, Sue and I continued our walk on the forested trail around Mud Pond.

We always search for the evergreen basal leaves of two orchids that thrive in the pine-needle carpeted woods that surround Mud Pond.  We did find many pale-green basal rosettes of Checkered Rattlesnake Plantain (Goodyera tesselata).

But we found only one small patch of Downy Rattlesnake Plantain (G. pubescens), its darker-green leaves distinctively marked by a very pale central vein.

What a charming find this was, these itty-bitty orange mushrooms sprouting up from within a lush green patch of Atrichum moss.

This, too, was a charming find, the tiny ear-shaped fruiting bodies of a fungus much more frequently seen as a blue-green stain on rotting hardwoods.  Chlorociboria is the genus, while whether its species is aeruginosa or aeruginascens can only be determined by microscopic examination of its ascospores. The two look very much alike, both displaying this vivid teal color so remarkable to see in a mushroom.  

As the trail that circles the pond reconnects with the powerline, there is a patch of brilliant red-berried American Climbing Bittersweet (Celastrus scandens) sprawling in the grass. 

This native species of bittersweet can be distinguished from the highly invasive Asian Bittersweet (C. orbiculatus) by the way its berries are borne in terminal clusters at the ends of its stems.  The berries of the Asian import are borne in the leaf axils along the vines.  The leaves look quite different, too, with those of our native species being longer and narrower, with sharply pointed teeth, while those of the Asian species are nearly round with blunt teeth. Our native bittersweet is quite a rare find these days, as it has been seriously supplanted or hybridized by the invasive non-native species. I feel quite fortunate to know where this patch of it can be found.

Heading home to Saratoga Springs by driving over Mount McGregor, I was struck by the brilliant and beautiful abundance of fruit on the Winterberry shrubs (Ilex verticillata) this year. Especially in this little swamp that borders the Wilton Mountain Road

Roadside Rocks and a Waterfall Climb

Last May, I was truly dismayed while driving along Spier Falls Road where the road closely follows the Hudson River at Moreau, and steep cliffs of the Palmertown Mountains rise from the side of the road.  These cliffs hold many ledges where a marvelous mix of native mosses and wildflowers grow, constantly watered in every season by springs that drip down the face of the cliffs.  But back then, a roadwork crew had scraped all vegetation from these roadside cliffs and ledges. Wondering what those rocks would look like today, I returned to the site late last week.

As I approached, the rocks still looked very bare, the stone still bearing the scars of being scraped clear of vegetation.

But as I drew closer, I could detect patches of green stuff reclaiming these rocks as their home, and the evergreen pink-edged basal rosettes of Early Saxifrage (Micranthes virginiensis) had reasserted their place among the marvelous mix of spring-dampened mosses. Here's hoping masses of their tiny white flowers will once again transform these bare rocks to spectacular rock gardens next spring.

Nearby, I could hear the music of water splashing from rock to rock, and I was delighted to find this long waterfall plunging its precipitous white-water way down the mountainside. It beckoned me to ascend its course, up and up and up, to explore some wide meadows along a high powerline road. 

The wet banks of the waterfall are home to many different mosses, including this sprightly patch of a Sphagnum species. Many other lovely mosses covered the waterside rocks, but, being alone, I did not want to risk a fall by venturing out on such slippery surfaces to examine those mosses more closely.

As I emerged from the forested mountainside to the wide meadows along the powerline, I was happy to find that many tall clumps of Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) had retained their vivid yellow color this late in the season.  Although this perennial bunchgrass is native to most of North America east of the Rockies, I have rarely found it growing wild around here, except in areas of grassland restoration. Or in ornamental plantings.  And also along this high mountainside powerline.

Old Friends, New Finds in Cole's Woods

This past Thursday promised to be sunny and pleasant for our friends in The Thursday Naturalists to walk in Cole's Woods, a many-acred forest right in the center of Glens Falls.  But lucky for us, it was still a bit below freezing when we first arrived.  That meant we were treated to an extensive patch of Frostweed doing its frosty thing down in the tall grass.

Even though the Frostweed (Crocanthemum canadense) was surrounded by tall stands of Little Bluestem Grass, its frothy stark-white curls were immediately visible to our searching eyes. By the time we passed this sun-warmed patch again on our way home, there wasn't a wisp of these icy curls left.

Cole's Woods is home to many interesting native plants, many of which we would not be able to locate, even as remnants, this time of year.  But Green Rock Cress (Borodinia missouriensis) is probably at its most visible now, with its long arching pale-colored seedpods standing tall and wafting in the breeze. This native Mustard-family plant is actually rated as a Threatened species in New York State, and as Rare to Extremely Rare in New England states as well.  But you'd never guess it was such a rare plant from the large population that grows right here in Cole's Woods.

One of our destinations today was an old rotting tree trunk we had visited on a previous walk in this woods. Back then, we had found many different species of fungi residing on this trunk, but this time we found just the two different species of Eyelash Cups, the larger (but still quite small) deep-orange ones called Scutellinia scutellata and also the teeny-tiny yellow ones, Scutellinia setosa. Both species occupied this knot on the trunk.

Here's a whole bunch of the itty-bitty Scutellinia setosa scattered across the rotting wood.

When I first passed this stand of Spotted Alder and noticed a colony of Woolly Alder Aphids occupying a twig,  I hardly slowed my pace, since I often find these bunches of woolly-looking all-female wingless clones this time of year. And this population appeared to be nearing the end of its seasonal stay, since it appeared that many had already died and dropped off, having cloned a final population of winged aphids that flew away.

But wait a minute!  What the heck are those black spongy blobs attached to the alder twigs right below where the aphids had been feeding!  I had read about how a black mold often grows on the honeydew secretions the aphids produce. Could this be that? But I thought that that mold was a flat sticky stuff. These growths were puffy and soft, not sticky at all.

When I pulled a blob off and examined it closely, its greenish thready interior looked more like one of those bearded lichens that grow on tree limbs. But those lichens tended to be dry and crispy.  This stuff was soft and spongy.

Well, thanks to our dear fellow-naturalist friend Tom Callaghan and his cell-phone access to iNaturalist, we promptly obtained an accurate ID of this stuff: the Honeydew Eater Fungus (Scorias spongiosa), a sooty mold fungus that grows on aphid honeydew, but only on the honeydew produced by aphids that feed either on beech or alder trees. (Luckily, these were Woolly Alder Aphids, not the Woolly Beech Aphids, which create disease on beech trees. The aphids who feed on alders do not harm their host.)

This was certainly a first find for me. I have been observing Woolly Alder Aphids for at least 10 years and never found this spongy stuff in connection to them.  And believe it or not, I found a U.S. government medical site on Google that claims that Scorias spongiosa is not only edible, but it also has multiple anti-inflammatory and antioxidant medical benefits.  But please don't take my word for that.

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Back to Bog Meadow

When an old blog post of mine from October 31, 2019, showed up on my Facebook Memories yesterday, I was struck by how gorgeously colorful the Bog Meadow Brook Nature Trail had been on that date. So off I went to see if this year's experience there would match the one from four years ago.

Well, it didn't, quite. At least, it didn't seem to at first.

As this photo of the trail reveals, about the only color that now remained was in the still-green leaves of all the invasive honeysuckle that thrives along the first half-mile of this otherwise wonderful wooded wetland trail.

Of course, this trail, even when not so colorful, is always interesting. I could see that the beavers were trying again to raise the water level in the trailside swamp.  This was just one of their recently built dams.

The Gray Dogwoods that looked so beautiful four years ago had already lost their white berries, and  their vivid red pedicels were now dark. But the Poison Sumac trees that thrive in the trailside swamps were festooned with many dangling clusters of off-white fruit.  We humans may not appreciate them, but the birds will be happy to find such abundance of nutritious berries when other late-fall food sources have been consumed. 

The tufts of Virgin's Bower seeds are hardly colorful, but they are certainly still attractive in their own fluffy way.

And these prettily curvaceous young fern fronds (some evergreen Intermediate Wood Ferns?) contributed a lovely surprise of spring green to this old moss-covered stump.

The now-rosy leaves of Spotted Geranium added their bright color to the otherwise fading trailside plants.

And WOW!  What could match the brilliance of even a single bough of this Winterberry shrub?

By the time I reached the section of trail that bordered an open marsh, an occasional sunbeam managed to poke through the otherwise almost complete cloud cover, brightening the scene.

A forest of mainly oaks on the far side of the marsh grew much more vividly colorful in this enhanced light.

Even as the sun was once again thinly veiled by clouds, the leaves of this Silky Dogwood shrub retained their rosy glow.

The richly coral-colored leaves of this Swamp Rose appeared almost as bright as flames.

The vivid leaves of small Red Maple saplings all lived up to their colorful name.

Even the fading seedpods of Buttonbush provided some lovely color to the watery edges of the marsh.

Here was a final treat:  a fluffy cluster of Woolly Alder Aphids being tended by a guardian ant.  As ants do with other species of aphids, they "milk" them for the sweet fluid called "honeydew" the aphids excrete, and the ants also fiercely drive any likely predators of the aphids away. I do often find these clusters of aphids, but not very often in the company of their guardian ants.

Why would I consider finding a bunch of bugs a treat?  Well, these are some truly amazing insects, almost miraculous, from a human point of view.  For all of these little aphids, their bodies covered with an extruded white waxy "fur" to protect themselves from weather and predators, are the wingless female offspring not only of a single winged female aphid but also of each other, clones of the single wingless clone that the winged female first deposited on this alder twig. At the end of their feeding season and before dying and dropping away, these individual females will each produce a WINGED clone of herself, and some of these will be males! (How a female clones a male clone I have yet to comprehend!)  Then all these winged Woolly Alder Aphids will fly off to some Silver Maple trees to find mates and lay eggs on the maple bark. The cycle than begins again next spring.

Meanwhile, many winged Woolly Alder Aphids are currently wafting about on the air, tiny pale-blue bits of fluff we now call "Fairy Flies."  Here's a photo of one I chanced to capture a few years ago.  Isn't she (or maybe it's a he) so lovely?