Monday, January 30, 2023

A Winter Walk at Meadowbrook Preserve

Because of a painful eye issue that made me want to keep my eyes closed, I hadn't ventured out except for necessities for more than a week. But lucky for me, just as the pain was subsiding and I could reliably see where I was going, my friends arranged to meet for a walk at Meadowbrook Preserve in Queensbury this week and asked me along.  One of the things that's so inviting about this preserve is that it incorporates several different habitats, with well-kept trails that lead through all of them.  So we had a chance to find all kinds of natural things to fascinate us.

When we first started out, we crossed a vast open meadow, some of it dry and other parts of it open wetland.  The remnants of asters and goldenrods were evidence of the dryer parts, while multitudes of Sensitive Fern spore stalks indicated they'd risen from frozen muck (now covered with snow).

More evidence of a wet habitat along this meadow-crossing trail was provided by two native dogwoods, both of them wetland denizens and both of them bearing red bark.  They were even growing so close together we could draw their twigs together to demonstrate the distinctive differences in their barks.  The twig on the left, from a Silky Dogwood (Cornus amomum) bore lengthwise tan lenticels that looked like stripes, while the twig on the right bore rounder, dot-like lenticels, a sure sign that this was the Red Osier Dogwood (C. sericea).

We soon moved into an extensive forested part of the Meadowbrook Preserve.  The snow-covered trail through the woods was so well-packed we needed neither snowshoes nor ice-grippers to safely walk along it.  Here, my friends (L-R) Tom, Dana, Noel, and Sue pause while I studied some Red Maple buds that were littering the snow.

I found the maple buds quite puzzling, since they appeared to have bloomed recently (note the anthers), and also because their twigs appeared to have been nipped off and many were lying around on the snow.  Could our over-mild winter have compelled our maples to bloom so soon?  And has some hungry critter been nipping them off in order to lap at the sap?  The mystery remains unsolved!

The woodland trail leads past several other types of wetland, including this swamp with pools of ice-rimmed open water.

We also encountered open cattail marsh with a flowing stream -- called Halfway Brook -- running through it.

A small flock of Mallard Ducks paddled quickly away at our approach.  As forecasts call for much colder weather -- up to 20 BELOW predicted later this week! -- I wonder where the ducks will go to find open water.

We did not have to consult our guide books to know that American Beech trees (Fagus grandifolia) thrived in this woods.  Just a glance around revealed the presence of many young ones, all holding onto their golden leaves that won't fall until new leaves emerge in the spring.

The wiry bud-studded stems of Beechdrops (Epifagus virginiana) provided further proof that American Beeches grew nearby. This parasitic plant has no green leaves and so must obtain its nutrients by sucking on the roots of beech trees.

Yellow Birch (Betula alleghaniensis) also abounds in this woods, immediately recognizable by its gleaming golden bark with small shredded curls.  When we spotted this arching branch of one, my friends couldn't resist appearing to hold it up for the picture-taking. I sure am glad I have such fun-loving pals!

See how beautifully this Yellow Birch bark gleams as if gilded with gold leaf!  And see also the lovely little patch of lacy green, so beautifully arrayed against the gleaming gold.  

Here's a closer look at that lacy green growth, with its tiny round overlapping leaves that sprawl across the yellow treebark.  Both Sue and Tom immediately recognized this arboreal liverwort as Radula complanata, also known as Flat-leaved Scalewort.  I am very familiar with the dark-colored Frullania liverworts that decorate many woodland trees, but I had never noticed this vividly green growth before. So beautiful!

Here was another tree with yellowish bark, American Basswood (Tilia americana), this tree displaying the signature lines of holes created by the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker as it drills for sap.

And of course, we found fungi! A winter woodland walk would be so much less delightful without them.  Even if I didn't know what to call it, I still marveled at the beauty of these golden overlapping caps, crowned with snow.  The caps seemed too thin to be Turkey Tail and not wavy enough to be Stereum.

Each golden cap had a cream-colored fertile-surface covered with teeny-tiny circular pores.  That should have been a clue for me, but I confess I'm still stumped!

At least I wasn't stumped by this small stump-full of genuine Turkey Tail fungus (Trametes versicolor), with its distinctive zones of alternating colors and textures.

I confess I have been confused about this next fungus, most likely the Amber Jelly Fungus (Excidia recisa), mistaking it for Wood Ear Fungus (Auricularia sp.), which does look quite similar.  In fact, the two species look so much alike, I may still be mistaken about this ID. There are several articles I can read on Google about how to tell the two apart, but accuracy depends on having the species in hand.  And all I have right now is this photograph.  Very cool looking fungus, whichever one it is. And one that we can depend on finding in winter.

Last fungus, and another one that conspires to confuse us, especially when coated with green algae to mask its normal coloration.  But the distinctive purple coloration of Violet-toothed Polypore (Trichaptum biforme) is also missing this time of year, age having rendered the caps an undistinguishable beige vaguely striped with light brown.   So why am I assuming this fungus is the Violet-toothed Polypore?

I usually depend on the rusty color of Purple-toothed Polypore's fertile surface, as well as the tiny teeth, not pores, that cover it.  Well, that rusty color has remained unchanged, but its tiny teeth sure look different.  Having long ago expelled their spores, the teeth have kind of exploded open, so they form a maze-like jumbled appearance.

At least, I think that's what's happened here.  Sigh!  Winter fungi can be hard!

Monday, January 23, 2023



Yay!  It snowed!  Finally, some soft fluffy stuff.

But Pooh!  It will soon turn to rain.  Sigh!

I ran outdoors with my camera before breakfast, hoping to prove that we DID get some real snow this winter. It will probably all be turned to mush by this afternoon.

My "three graces" garden nymphs were sporting a tall fluffy topper:

Husband Denis cleared the heated birdbath and pavement where he spreads seeds for the birds.  And I will fill the hanging feeder.  Sadly, since our neighbor cut down all the tall trees that once bordered our yard, we get mostly English Sparrows and Pigeons instead of Cardinals and Chickadees and Downy Woodpeckers.  But sparrows have to eat, too.  And a few Juncos show up now and then. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

More Happiness!


Photo by Dana Stimpson

On my last post, I mentioned how happy I am, having such wonderful friends to explore with me the many amazing natural sites that surround us here in the northern regions of New York State.  This week, my friends and I went together again to explore the beautiful Orra Phelps Nature Preserve in nearby Wilton, and that's where Dana Stimpson took the photo of rosy-cheeked me above: the happiest photo I've ever seen of myself.  And one that truly reflects the delight that we were experiencing while enjoying nature together.

That's Dana in the pink hat, leaning down to observe what mosses grew on the banks of the rushing Little Snook Kill, one of two creeks that run through this lovely forested preserve, once the home of the late noted Adirondack botanizer Dr. Orra Phelps, who cherished these woodlands.  It was probably Orra herself who planted the huge Rosebay Rhododendron leaning over the creek, just beyond where our friend Sue Pierce (in buffalo checks) was trying to capture in a video the icy beauty and musical sound of rushing water. Our third dear companion on this cold but gorgeous winter day was Noel Dingman, clad all in green except for her hot-pink mittens.

Before traveling further along the trail, we lingered near the creek and surrounding swale, testing ourselves to see if we could name some of the many mosses, lichens, liverworts and evergreen plants that thrive abundantly here, looking just as lush and lovely as ever, despite winter's freezing cold.

We had to brush some snow from this frilly lime-green liverwort to make sure we were indeed seeing  Handsome Woollywort (Trichocolea tomentella), a plant that's as pretty as its delightful name is amusing. 

This particular swale is home in spring to some of the largest, reddest Skunk Cabbage spathes I have ever found, spathes still hidden within this super-early-bloomer's winter bracts.  Most of the winter bracts were as dark as the surrounding mud, unlike these two pale-green ones, protruding from a mat of bright-green Atrichum moss.

There appears to be more than one kind of moss crowning this lichen-beautified boulder.  Knowing the names of neither the mosses nor the crustose pale-green and speckled lichen did not diminish my delight at this lovely co-habitation.

More crustose lichens, quite likely more than one species, decorated this boulder with a colorful pattern.

We eventually moved along to an upland woods, where each fallen log offered much to fascinate us.

Just one single limb from a fallen tree held this vividly colorful mix of various fungi and lichens:  Black Witch's Butter, Red Tree Brain, and wee little Lemon Drops were the fungi; and the lichens included the bright-yellow Poplar Sunburst and some gray-green Rosette Lichens.  I am not including the scientific names for any of these (their vernacular names are self-evident), because almost all fungi are now called by some other names than those in my mushroom guides. And lichens often require microscopic examination to determine their species.  

Another log held these cream-colored shelf fungi with few distinguishing marks to their caps.  After consulting her iNaturalist app where she shared photos of both caps and porous undersides, Sue suggested this might be the Lumpy Bracket Fungus (Trametes gibbosa).

When I turned one of the cream-colored shelf fungi over to examine its fertile surface,  I was intrigued by what looked like many orange dots, a color pattern I had never observed on a mushroom before.  But my camera's macro lens revealed what my un-aided poor eyesight could not see: dozens of tiny orange larvae happily feeding among the fungus's pores! Anyone know what they are?  A Google search for "tiny orange larvae feeding on fungus" turned up nothing that looked like these.

At least I was sure about which understory tree produced such vividly red twigs in mid-winter.  The opposite branching, large tapering oval buds, and pale bracelets ringing the twig are definite field marks for Striped Maple (Acer pensylvanicum).  Not every specimen of Striped Maple bears twigs this red in winter, but I often do find thickets of red-twigged ones all growing in the same location.

Of all that enchanted us at Orra Phelps today, this rushing creek and its icy adornments provided us with probably the most delight.  Recent rains had filled the creek to overflowing with rushing whitewater, and freezing nights had turned much of that water into forms of crystalline interest and beauty.

I was intrigued by how these icy forms emerging from the bank resembled in shape and striation the large shelf fungus called Ganoderma.

Where rushing water spread shallowly across plates of shale on the creek bottom, freezing had captured in dark rippling lines the rippling flow of the sheeting water.

This frieze of dangling crystal trumpets was particularly fascinating.  The structure was certainly beautiful, observed from upstream, a rhythmical pattern of glassy ice, glowing with shimmering light.

From behind, this frieze was even more beautiful, animated by how the light changed from bright to dark as the rushing water rose and fell with each rippling wave.  Here, the icy forms glowed with captured light.

And here, some of the bells of the trumpets grew inky black while others continued to glow with a pearly light.  I was completely captivated by this beauty!

No wonder I was so thoroughly enchanted!  Someone had constructed this tiny house for the woodland fairies.  So perhaps the fairies were fluttering near, touching me with their magic wands and causing me to never want to leave.

Sunday, January 15, 2023

The Key to Happiness: Fine Friends and Fun in the Forest

Last Tuesday, The New York Times featured a two-page spread in the "Well" section called "The 7-Day Happiness Challenge."  The article offered a weeklong regimen of activities to "help you focus on a crucial element of living a good life: your relationships," and also presented a quiz to assess "the breadth of your social ties."  Well, I sure aced that quiz! Especially such questions as "Do you participate in any group activities?" or "When was the last time you said 'yes' to a social plan with others?"  As any long-time reader of this blog would know, I am certainly blessed with (and eager to participate in) many opportunities to join with friends, with our social pleasure amplified by our walking in wondrous nature.  In fact, I  had just ventured out with the three friends pictured below (L-R: Dana Stimpson, Sue Pierce, and Tom Callaghan) to walk a favorite wooded trail at Moreau Lake State Park called the Cottage Park Trail.

 The trailhead for the Cottage Park Trail lies across Spier Falls Road from the Sherman Island Boat Launch Site on the banks of the Hudson River, which is where we met, arriving from points north and south.  Before heading off to our trail, we had to linger a moment just to marvel at the beauty of the river islands and forested mountains so perfectly reflected in the quiet water.

The Cottage Park Trail is named for the various structures that housed workers who labored to build the nearby Spier Falls Dam that crosses the Hudson. Remnants of those buildings can still be found near the trailhead, the old stone foundations now thickly covered with lush green mosses.

This trail eventually leads to the heights of the Palmertown Mountains that rise from the riverbanks, but it first heads through a wooded lowland that's home to several species of birch.  This Yellow Birch (Betula alleghaniensis), lit by the low winter sun,  shone in that light as if its bark were composed of hammered gold leaf.

We found Black Birch here, too, but this Gray Birch (B. populifolia) caught our attention more, thanks to the very obvious chevrons that climbed its nearly-white trunk.  These inverted Vs are a helpful distinguishing mark, for the Gray Birch's bark can be nearly as white as that of a young Paper Birch. (We did find some Paper Birch in this woodland, too.)

Sadly, almost all of the mature American Beech (Fagus grandifolia) in this woods showed the pock-marked bark that is a result of the mortal disease now infecting most of our native beeches.  Luckily, the disease did not deter our resident Pileated Woodpeckers from searching the dying wood for the insects that live within. There is no mistaking the very large, long oval pits hammered out of the trunk by this, our largest woodpecker.

We enjoyed searching the forest floor for any evergreen plants that thrive there, and we were lucky to find a patch where numerous plants of the moonwort called Dissected Grape Fern (Botrychium dissectum f. obliquum) were thriving. Close by was a second form of this same Grape Fern species with more intricately cut leaves, that one known as B. dissectum f. dissectum.

This time of year, the winter-persisting fungi offer us nature lovers many examples to ponder, and almost all of them resemble in some way that most ubiquitous shelf fungus called Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor). The Turkey Tail fungi feature zonal stripes of alternating smooth and furry textures and of  alternating colors.  Most of the true Turkey Tails we found today were in shades of tan and gray with vivid gold stripes.

But here, sharing the same ailing beech limb with the specimen shown above, were some Turkey Tails featuring stripes of avocado green.

On another beech limb were Turkey Tails that reserved the green color for patches near the base.  (Or is that a green alga using the fungus as a host?)

Here's a close look at how truly furry the furred regions of a Turkey Tail cap can be!

No matter the varying colors and textures of the Turkey Tail caps, the pore surfaces underneath appear the same pale beige color with minute pores.

The caps of these stripy shelf fungi do look kind of like Turkey Tail, do they not?  But wait!

Turn them over and find pore surfaces of a fine-toothed texture and rusty color, quite unlike the pore surface of Turkey Tail.  And then, to confuse us even more, this Violet-toothed Polypore (Trichaptum biforme) displays neither the pores that the name "polypore" would suggest, nor the purple color that the name "Violet-toothed" would suggest.  This time of year, the vivid purple seen in the summer has faded nearly completely.

When I came upon this log that was nearly completely covered with these pure-white caps that resembled sea shells, I probably should have tried to determine the species.  But I didn't. I just stood and admired them for their beauty, even in their bleached-out state of decrepitude.

I was also content to "let the mystery be" regarding these pretty mushrooms, too.  Pretty on the gill-side, that is, while faded to a generic white on what was visible of the caps' surface, mostly hidden as it was by the twig the caps were attached to. I believe at least one of my companions got an i-Naturalist suggestion that these might be a species of the Crepidotus genus. 

And now for something completely different!  Still a fungus, though, but one without gills or pores: a purple-tinged crustose fungus called Silverleaf (Chondrostereum purpureum).

We continued on the Cottage Park Trail, crossing two powerlines with open-meadow habitat lying beneath the pylons and wires.

Here in this open grassland we found the remnants of many sun-loving flora, including the intricate seedheads of many Wild Bergamot flowers (Monarda fistulosa).  Even the dried remnants were beautiful, and they still possessed the strongly minty fragrance they emitted when in flower.  After I pinched one of these seedheads, the fragrance remained on the fingers of my glove for the rest of our adventure here.

Another common denizen of sun-baked clearings like this is the Round-headed Bushclover (Lespediza capitata). This plant's multiple round flowerheads are stacked on a single stem, and its floral bracts, empty now of seeds, remain visible all winter.

Ah, now we have reached today's goal destination! Near here is where the Cottage Park trail starts to sharply ascend toward the mountainous heights of the Palmertown Range, and this photo reveals how precipitously the terrain has changed. But the four of us have no desire to climb a mountain today, for what interests us are not mountaintop views but rather what plants we might find on this bedrock or inhabiting this forest floor with its soils enriched by lime-delivering springs and streams.

We particularly wanted to see this patch of Foamflower plants (Tiarella sp.) that have crowned this steep bedrock cliff.  Because of the plants inhabiting this bare rock instead of growing on softer woodland soil, we can see its long stolons dangling over the face of the rock, stolons that in a woodland would grow invisibly under the ground or beneath the leaf-litter of a forest floor.

Here's a closer look at the Foamflower stolons dangling over this cliff.  When I first encountered this particular Foamflower patch and showed photos of these dangling stolons on Facebook, I heard from some botanists who informed me that the presence of such long stolons had convinced some taxonomists that the species of Tiarella found in this part of North America is NOT the species we have always known it by -- cordifolia -- but rather the species these botanical taxonomists are calling stolonifera.  We wildflower-obsessed amateurs were excited to have this chance to observe in person what the professional flower folks were discussing among themselves.

While combing the forest floor at this site below the rocky cliffs, we found little evidence of other of the many native wildflowers that abound here in the spring, including some -- Canada Violets, for example -- that would indicate the presence of lime in the soil.  We did, though, find these colorful wintering-over leaves of Sharp-lobed Hepatica (Hepatica acutiloba),  a calciphile species that definitely prefers a lime-rich woods.

An unexpected final delight greeted us when we discovered the pooled remains of a tiny creek that had only recently been flowing across the forest floor, thanks to recent rains.  Another habitat to explore, the habitat of flowing water rendered in frozen crystal!

And oh, what exquisite icy wonders awaited, each tiny pool offering different beautiful forms that flowing water can assume in freezing temperatures.  Some pools held glassy bubbles.

Other tiny pools held curvaceous swirls and curving lines.

Although solid now, the ice revealed so clearly the swirl and flow of the water as it incrementally froze. 

This starburst pattern of radiating crystal needles had me audibly gasping with delight.

I think I could add "seek out some dangling Foamflower stolons and frozen crystalline forms" to that New York Times article about how to find happiness. With the added advice, that you will be even happier when you find them along with good friends.