Friday, September 15, 2017

An Ever-changing River!

Wow!  Who pulled the plug on the Hudson?  These vast mud flats are the sight that greeted me as I came down Spier Falls Road on my way to the river.  Then I remembered a newspaper notice about water levels being lowered so work could be done on the Spier Falls Dam.  I had come to the river today in hopes that I would go for a paddle on this lovely late-summer day.  Would I be able to launch my boat? Certainly not here, above the dam, where the mud would suck me down to my shins before I could reach the water.

How happy -- and surprised! -- I was to find the river still full to its banks when I reached the Sherman Island Boat Launch about a mile downstream from the dam. I soon was gliding across the river's silvery surface under a beautiful sky.

My destination was a group of little islands that lie not far from the launch site, their shores adorned with the ruddy leaves of Silky Dogwood shrubs and bordered by shallows that support many emergent wetland plants.

Although many of summer's flowers have faded and fallen, often their leaves remain stunningly beautiful.  The glowing corals and rich reds of Marsh St. Johnswort leaves and seedpods are somehow enhanced by sharing their space with the dainty lime-green leaves of Northern St. Johnswort.

Here was a third species of St. Johnswort, Dwarf St. Johnswort, a pretty pink cluster crowning a rotting stump.

The Yellow Loosestrife plants were adding a little color of their own by sprouting ruby-red bulbils in their leaf axils.  These bulbils will drop off and sink to the mud to produce clones of the parent plants.

Mats of blooming Golden Pert added their sunny yellow and glowing green to the color scheme.

As I paddled along close to the river banks, I came upon this patch of sedges, their dangling seedheads pale and shimmering against the dark ruddy leaves of Silky Dogwoods.

And oh, what a burst of royal blue from this explosion of Bottle Gentians!

Sharing the riverbank with the gentians were numerous blooming Turtleheads, their fat white blossoms tinged with pink.

I don't know how this catchment of the river can stay full of water with its source upstream so diminished.  But the water level was high enough that I could enter a section of a small stream that enters the river close by the boat launch site.  What a display the Bottle Gentians put on back here!

I could even spy a few remaining spikes of Cardinal Flower tucked in among the creekside greenery.  There's certainly no missing the super-saturated red of this flower's blooms!

Sneezeweed, too, still held onto its sunny-yellow blooms to brighten this dark shady creekbank.

It was still summer-warm on this mid-September day, but these bright-orange leaves on a riverside maple reminded me that autumn is on its way for sure.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Avens, Avens, Everywhere!

If the Large-leaved Avens (Geum macrophyllum) is so rare as to be classified as an endangered species in New York,  how can it be that we've found it thriving in three contiguous New York counties this week?  Well, in the case of Essex and Saratoga Counties, I already knew exactly where to look, because I had seen it there, even before I knew it was endangered.  But in Warren County, my friend Sue Pierce discovered it entirely by accident,while out walking for exercise. And last Sunday afternoon, she took me to where she had found it.

Actually, Sue took me to three different places where she had found what she believed to be Large-leaved Avens: the Warren County Bike Path near Glen Lake, then to an expansive meadow with mowed paths surrounding a housing development on Meadowbrook Road in Queensbury, and just down the road from there, a many-acred field of meadow flowers called the Meadowbrook Preserve. (The Meadowbrook Preserve is where I took the photo above.)  And sure enough, we found this supposedly elusive plant at each one of those sites.  Even without its yellow flowers or burry seed heads, there was no mistaking the large round terminal leaflet on the compound basal leaves, or the very hairy leaves and stems.

After documenting the locations of all the Large-leaved Avens we found at each site, we continued walking just for the sheer pleasure of being out under a clear blue sky, surrounded by vast fields of goldenrods, asters, Joe Pye-weeds and other meadow plants. The air was filled with the shrill trilling of Tree Crickets, and if we stood still and paid attention, we became aware of a constant low hum, the sound of thousands and thousands and thousands of bees and flower-flies feasting on wildflower nectar and pollen.

Is there any late-summer wildflower more striking than the vividly purple New England Aster?  This was one of the commonest meadow flowers we found, set off so beautifully by masses of goldenrod.

We saw beautiful creatures, too, in addition to beautiful flowers.  It was a great day for numerous Painted Lady Butterflies, which were fluttering busily among the Joe Pye-weeds and occasionally spreading their lovely wings long enough for the picture-taking.

The Brown-hooded Owlet Moth is one of our drabbest moths, just a little dusty-brown thing that might be mistaken for a dead leaf.  But its caterpillar is one of the most colorful of all, with vivid red, yellow, and orange stripes alternating with striking black-and-white patterns.  It was so busy chowing down on this aster leaf, it let me move in for some close-up shots.

Somehow Sue managed to spy this female Marbled Orb Weaver hiding out in a cluster of flowers.   I think she must have caught it in action, while it was quickly wrapping that unfortunate bee in silk.  I know it's a female because of its globe-shaped abdomen, and oh look!  There's a tiny fly sitting atop that abdomen!  Smart fly!  I wonder if the spider even knows it's there.

At the far end of the meadow where the ground is damp, our footsteps set off a  frenzy of hopping Leopard Frogs.  Since the frogs were as green as the grass, we never saw them until they sprang from the path just ahead of our feet.  Then, once in a while, a frog would freeze, as if hoping its camouflage would save it from detection.  Silly frog, you should have landed in the grass instead of the dirt!

Monday, September 11, 2017

A Happy Task At Pyramid Lake

 What a day to visit Pyramid Lake in the Adirondacks!  One of the nicest days we've had all summer, sunny and warm but cool in the shade, dry air, blue sky, calm wind.  Except for the trilling of Tree Crickets and the occasional haunting call of a loon, all was delightfully silent.   And there wasn't another soul around to break that silence. Not until my pals Bonnie and Bob arrived, that is.

Fellow plant-enthusiasts Bob and Bonnie had come to help me count the number of Large-leaved Avens (Geum macrophyllum var. macrophyllum) we could find.  I knew where lots of them grow, since I've been visiting them for years just outside the dining hall of the Pyramid Life Center, a retreat center situated here on this beautiful lake.  I've known these plants were here for at least 15 years, but it wasn't until a few weeks ago that I learned they were classified as an Endangered species in New York, the rarest category.  Well, endangered they may be, but they certainly never seemed to mind the rather unaccommodating situation beneath the kitchen porch, where they happily grow surrounding the trash cans and other stuff tossed beneath the kitchen's deck.

We counted around 50 individual plants of varying sizes, from those that bore flowering stalks (now topped with burs) to those that looked as if they were juvenile plants, not yet mature enough to bear the small yellow blooms this native wildflower puts forth in early summer.  Although this species has already been documented to exist in Essex County,  the New York Flora Association likes to keep track of rare-plant populations,  and we will be happy to report that this looks like a large and healthy one of this Endangered species.

Our botanical task completed, the three of us set out for a pleasant hike around the western shore of the lake. Our trail took us through a mossy, pine-needle-carpeted woods now studded with many fascinating fungi.  One of those fungi was this nearly black mushroom with creamy-white gills that Bob later identified as the very descriptively named Chocolate Milky (Lactarius lignyotus).

A very dark chocolate, indeed!

Eventually, the trail led up a rocky mountainside to a ledge where we could gaze out across the lake toward this gorgeous view of Pharaoh Mountain in the distance. The last stretch of this trail proved steep and rather precarious, so we were glad to rest a bit on this ledge, enjoying the spacious view as well as the scent of sun-warmed Sweet Fern that surrounded us there.

Tired but happy, we said our good-byes, and I was already leaving the parking lot when I had to pull over and jump from my car to get a better look at a beautiful patch of Common Hedge Nettle (Stachys tenuifolia) growing by a small stream.  Its purple blooms looked especially pretty set off by the tiny clustered white flowers of Arrow-leaved Tearthumb (Persicaria sagittata).  I had seen this Mint-family plant blooming profusely here in mid-July, so it was quite a surprise to find a large patch of them still in perfect bloom.

Common Hedge Nettle is certainly worth a closer look, to enjoy the lovely moire pattern on its florets' lower lips.

One more precipitous pull-over occurred along the center's long access road when I spied these furry tendrils arrayed across some marble outcroppings.  These are the seedheads of American Purple Clematis (Clematis occidentalis var. occidentalis), and I had promised one of my friends who propagates native plants that I would try to obtain some seeds for her.  Mission accomplished!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

A Nice Walk, a Not-So-Nice Find

The weather was quite changeable on Thursday, with intermittent downpours followed by sunny spells.  I longed for a brisk walk, but I didn't want to stray too far from my car, so I chose some rolling hills along Spier Falls Rd. at Moreau.  Here, a powerline clearcut has created some lovely open meadows where grasses, goldenrods, and other wildflowers create a colorful carpet spread beneath the sky, and those hills, with their steep ups and downs, would give me a welcome workout.

One of the features of these grassy hills is a grove of Hawthorn trees arrayed like an orchard high up where the forest starts to close in on the meadows.  All of those trees were heavy with their bright-red fruit, made glossy by the recent rain.

I found many of our native asters fully opening their blooms, including the impressive Purple-stemmed Asters with their silver-dollar sized lavender blooms.  All the flowers were buzzing with various insects, including this little hoverfly, dining on aster pollen.

There was lots of Common Milkweed up here on these open meadows, and again I was lucky to find a Monarch caterpillar feeding on milkweed leaves.  I have seen more of these vividly striped caterpillars this year than in all my years of looking for them.

Eventually, a powerline service road led down to the road, and I crossed the road to make my way down to the shore of the Hudson River.  The river lay serene beneath a sky that was roiling with clouds, including some dark ones moving in from the west. Time to head back home.

I made my way back to my car along Spier Falls Road.  I was trying to achieve a brisk pace, but I halted my steps when I came upon this patch of pale greenery dotted with reddish leaves right at the edge of the asphalt.

Hmmm. . . .  What's THIS plant?  There was something about it -- the jointed stems, the clasping leaves, the clusters of tiny closed flowers -- that told me this was some kind of Smartweed, but it wasn't any kind of Smartweed that I recognized.  It reminded me of Tearthumb, but it didn't have any prickles on its stems.  A search of all my wildflower guides yielded no likely answer.

I belong to a plant ID site on Facebook, so I posted a couple of photos there -- the one above and the one below -- and it didn't take more than ten minutes before someone suggested it might be Nepalese Smartweed (Persicaria nepalensis).  A quick survey of Nepalese Smartweed photos on Google Images convinced me that that was the correct identification.  Oh boy, I thought at first, a new flower to add to my life list!  But then I read up on it.

Unfortunately, this is not a flower we want to find in New York.  Introduced to New York only recently from Asia, it has been found to become rapidly invasive once it gains a foothold.  Yikes! I reported this plant and its location to the New York Flora Association, and was told that a regional invasive species monitoring team would be notified.  Yesterday, I went back with my GPS device and recorded its exact location.  Luckily, this plant seems to be confined for the moment to two discrete patches between the Spier Falls Dam and the Sherman Island boat launch site, so I'm hoping it can quickly be eradicated. Let's hope so!

Thursday, September 7, 2017

A Few Pretty Things at Orra Phelps Nature Preserve

I took a quick walk out to Orra Phelps Nature Preserve in Wilton yesterday, hoping to find the Fringed Gentians (Gentianopsis crinita) in bloom.  And I wasn't disappointed!

There were quite a few plants in the sandy open area, many still in bud but a few being coaxed by a warming sun to unfurl their  gorgeous royal-blue petals.  I have not found this flower anywhere else in Saratoga County, so I thank the spirit of the late Orra Phelps for providing such a happy home for them here.  And I also thank the staff and volunteers of Saratoga PLAN for working to keep this sandy area clear of the encroaching pines and poplars that had threatened to overshadow these rare plants.

Indian Cucumber Root (Medeola virginiana) actually prefers the shade of the woods, and I found quite a few of them along the wooded stream that runs through this lovely preserve.  Their little greenish, spidery flowers hide beneath the top tier of leaves in early summer, but by now the ruby-red berry stalks have migrated upwards to hold these shiny black fruits above the leaves, now splashed with a rosy blush.

A few days of rain had called forth a myriad of tiny mushrooms, which were dotting the forest floor with their miniature parasols.  Adorable!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The Changing Flora Along the Kayaderosseras Creek

My photo journal alerted me that it's time to go looking for New England Asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) and Maximilian Sunflowers (Helianthus maximiliani) along the Kayaderosseras Creek.  There's a trail near Ballston Spa called the Burl Trail that closely follows the creek, and that's where I usually go to find these gorgeous late-summer flowers in all their glory.  Here's a photo I took of them in early September a couple of years ago, when the New England Asters burgeoned there with both pink and purple flowers, and the Maximilian Sunflowers grew so abundantly I feared they were becoming invasive:

But where the heck are those asters and sunflowers now?  This is what the trail along the creek looked like today, with not one New England Aster nor Maximilian Sunflower in sight. Nor many of the other multi-colored wildflowers I expect to see this time of year.

The banks were certainly lush with plants, but far too many of those plants were the very invasive weed called Mugwort (Artemesia vulgaris), which was introduced a few years ago in the root balls of trees that were planted along the creek.  I have been aware of this plant's presence since then, but never had I seen it in such massively overwhelming abundance as it has grown this year.

Thankfully, we do have some sturdy native plants that hold their own against a rampant invader like the Mugwort.  Certainly the most abundant of those native plants along the Burl Trail are massive numbers of Tall Goldenrod (Solidago altissima). Following a steady rain last night, these tall goldenrods were leaning heavily over the trail today.

A second sturdy native that thrives here is the sunflower look-alike called Oxeye (Heliopsis helianthoides), which also was bent over today from last night's rain.

There ARE several species of native sunflowers that grow along this creek, but it's possible to distinguish the Oxeye by the tiny pistils that can be found where the ray flowers join the disk flowers.  No genuine sunflower species has fertile ray flowers like this.

Pale Jewelweed (Impatiens pallida) has such a delicate appearance, it's hard to believe it could hold its own against such alien invaders as Japanese Knotweed and Wild Chervil, which press it on all sides.  And yet it thrives here in beautiful abundance.

The same can be said for Pale Jewelweed's orange-flowered cousin, the Spotted Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis), which also grows along these banks.  What's doubly remarkable about these two Impatiens species is how well they compete against their invasive neighbors, despite having to grow anew from seed each year.  Both species are annuals that reseed prolifically.

Here's another of our sturdier native plants, the Eastern Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), which today was looking a bit worse for wear.  Understandably so, since they have been blooming for several weeks already.

And here at last was one single specimen of New England Aster!  This is the deep-rose color variant of this native aster, which usually produces flowers of a vibrant deep purple.  I was SO disappointed to not find any others here, but maybe they are just in hiding now, still in bud and not quite ready to show themselves in all their colorful glory.

Here's a photo I took of this trail all abloom with asters a few years ago on a date in late September, so maybe we will yet find this colorful mix along the creek.  You can also see abundant numbers of Maximilian Sunflower in this photo, a species that is native to central regions of the U. S. but was introduced at this site back in 2013 when the creek's banks were reconfigured to minimize future flooding downstream. It became so abundant in such a short time, I really did fear that it might become truly invasive, driving out other species that are native to this part of the country.

It truly astounded me today, that I could find no Maximilian Sunflowers, either in bloom or fat bud, since just last year I found them here by the thousands, evident by their towering height even before they opened their flowers.  I searched and searched and finally found just a few of its stalks, distinguished by these sickle-shaped down-curving leaves.  But that does not look like a flower bud topping the stalk!  To me, it looks more like a gall.  I wonder if some kind of insect is affecting this plant that is not native to this part of New York, and if this population will disappear because of it.  I guess only time will tell!

Well, if one adventive species is about to disappear from this site, it appears that a second one might currently be making a foothold.  If a single specimen counts as a foothold, that is.  I was quite surprised to find this towering Ironweed plant holding its cluster of purple flowers well about the surrounding flora.  I have never seen any Ironweed here along the creek in all the years I've been exploring this trail, neither Tall Ironweed (Vernonia gigantea) nor New York Ironweed (V. noveboracensis).

So which one is this?  It's hard to see in this photo, but the bracts that cover the base of the flower head each end in a long, threadlike tip.  According to my Newcomb's Wildflower Guide, this would indicate this species is New York Ironweed.   Newcomb asserts that the bracts of Tall Ironweed (an Endangered species in New York) are blunt or short-pointed.  But I will need to get some more experts to weigh in on this before I can be sure.

All in all, my disappointment in not finding more asters was certainly tempered by my excitement in finding that Ironweed.  I was also delighted to find this Monarch caterpillar chowing down on some Common Milkweed leaves.  I search and search for these caterpillars every year, and rarely do I find one.  But this is the third one I have found this year.  I hear reports from others that the Monarch population appears to be rebounding.  Hurray!


And I also found yet another milkweed lover, the Milkweed Tiger Moth caterpillar, a very furry critter who (like the Monarch) advertises by its colorful stripes the toxicity it acquires by eating milkweed leaves.  I can't imagine any possible predator would enjoy a beakful of all that fur, either.