Sunday, June 9, 2024

A Pond Struggles Back Toward Beauty

There's a pond that lies in the higher northern regions of Saratoga County, where for years I've returned to paddle its forested shores,  shores that were once bedecked by astounding numbers of some of our region's most beautiful native wildflowers.  Sadly, though, massive flooding three years ago depleted vast numbers of those flowers and also killed most of the shoreline conifers. Each subsequent year, a few of the flowers have begun to return.  Would that trend continue this year?  It was time to find out.

My friend Ruth Brooks and I set off to circle the pond by canoe, moseying as close to the rocky shore as possible, checking the vegetation.  If you can believe it, imagine the water all the way up to the top of these banks three years ago. Happily, most of the deciduous trees and shrubs have returned to health (note the dangling seeds on the Striped Maple bending over Ruth's boat), as have the ferns and mosses that thrive on the shoreline bedrock.

Some patches of Blue Flags and Field Hawkweed added bright color amid the surrounding greenery.

On the steep north-facing shore, abundant numbers of blooming Bunchberry plants spread across the moss-covered bedrock. A solitary post-bloom Painted Trillium joined the Bunchberry throng.

Here's a closer look at those beautiful Bunchberry blooms.

Sadly, though, the beauty of this shoreline will be diminished, most likely for years to come, by the bare branches of dead spruces, pines, and firs.

Most of the shoreline shrubs looked healthy enough, like the masses of Sweet Gale shrubs in the photo above, and the berry-laden boughs of Mountain Holly hanging low over the water.

Low areas that must have been completely submerged three years ago were now beautified by wind-waved fronds of lime-green Hay-scented Fern.

And the hair-fine leaves of Slender Sedge looked as lovely as ever, tossing in the breeze.

Several other shoreline sedges poked in among the masses of Slender Sedge, this one sporting tight white curls along its fruit. I did not recognize it, but I will try to learn its name and come back to identify it, if I do.

UPDATE:  New York botanist Ray Curran has suggested "How about Carex utriculata? Here's my rationale; top spikelet all male, long subtending bract, spikelets dense, cylindrical arching. = Vesicariae.. Rows of P exceed 8, perigynia oval, plump. = C. utriculata.."  Sounds convincing to me, Ray!  Thanks!

And here was some green stuff growing completely submerged in shallow water near the shore.  Looks like some kind of water plant, doesn't it?  But it's really an animal! Or, to be more exact, a colony of animals called Freshwater Sponge (Spongilla lacustris). 

Despite its green color and seaweed-like appearance, a lake sponge is a simple filter-feeding animal, possessing many cells but lacking a mouth or a brain or muscles or heart or any ability to move, once it becomes attached to a submerged rock or fallen limb. It somewhat resembles a green plant because of the green algae that inhabit it in a symbiotic relationship.  The algae help the sponge utilize available food, while the sponge supplies the algae with a place to live.

I picked up a clump of the sponge to examine it more closely. Despite its slimy appearance in this photograph, it really had a gritty feel, from its structures composed of calcium or silica.

I am often completely dumbfounded by all the many different forms that living creatures can assume!

I believe we were too early to judge how the formerly abundant wildflowers might show evidence of recovery this year. We found not a sign yet of the multitudes of Green Wood Orchids or Narrow-leaved Gentians we've observed along these shores before the flooding.  But we did enjoy some interesting faunal sightings. This Great Blue Heron, for example, displayed some rather unusual behavior.  As we approached it standing along the shore,  rather than immediately soaring away as expected, it crouched down low as if to hide among the grasses.  Only when we drew very near did the bird take to the air, but it flew just a short distance along the shore and then once again crouched as if to hide. This behavior was repeated twice more,  before we decided to seek harassing it by our approach and made a much wider berth as we passed its location.  I was wondering if it were especially loathe to go far from where we had first espied it.  Is it possible a fledgling heron had fallen from its nest, and this adult was keeping guard over it?

I found some pretty insects along the way, and lucky for me, they sat quite still for the picture-taking. This Calico Pennant Dragonfly (Celithemis elisa) displayed its female sex by the fact that all of its colorful markings were yellow. The same markings on its mate would be bright red.

This pretty bug munching the leaf of a Common Milkweed is a Swamp Milkweed Leaf Beetle (Labidomera clivicollis), who didn't allow its name to limit its food to only the leaves of Swamp Milkweed.  Note that it has nipped the vein upstream from where it is feeding, so that the sticky latex drains out before it reaches the insect's jaws and would glue them shut.

This red-legged and red antennaed beetle with metallic-green wing-covers is called a Cyan Long-horned Beetle (Gaurotes cyanipennis).  I could find its name and many photos of it on Google, but hardly a shred more information about it, except that it is a "flower" beetle.  It did not seem to have any appetite for this leaf, anyway.

Paddling back to where I put in, I was dismayed to notice how clogged this culvert was, although somehow I could hear water still plunging out the other end.  I hope the beavers are not successful in completely clogging the outlet, and thus repeating the flooding that occurred three years ago.  Last year, I tried to locate an organization that might dismantle this obstruction before it grows much more obstructive, but I got nowhere.  Darn, but it sure would be terrible to repeat that flooding, just as the former floral abundance was beginning to recover.

While loading my canoe back on my car in the parking area, I noticed this droplet-bedecked Quaking Aspen leaf lying on the gravel. How interesting that the large water drop had corralled all the gravel bits within its borders! Hey, you just never know what you're likely to see, if only you keep looking!


Momo said...

How gratifying to read of the recovery there. I enjoyed paddling there with Nancy S in 2021, complete with her discerning and sometimes quite entertaining observations.

The Furry Gnome said...

What a wonderful place to explore!

The Northeast Naturalist said...

great photos and ID's as usual!