Thursday, October 20, 2016

An Autumn Walk at Saratoga Battlefield

Our weather changed overnight, from sunny and summery-warm to chilly and dark today, with threatened rain.  But lucky for me and my friends in the Thursday Naturalists, that rain held off until we had almost completed our walk among the expansive meadows of the Saratoga Battlefield.  I knew we were in for some spectacular vistas as I approached the entrance to this national historic site along Rte. 32 and was awed by the sight of thick morning fog filling the Hudson River valley between Schuylerville and Stillwater.

The view from the visitor's center at the battlefield  -- now called the Saratoga National Historical Park -- was just as spectacular.  This view shows the trail we would walk portions of today, a 4.2 -mile historic footpath called the Wilkinson Trail, which retraces the same route where Revolutionary War soldiers marched to and from the Battle of Saratoga.  It was here back in 1777 that American forces overwhelmed those of the British in a battle historians now consider the turning point of the American Revolution.

War cannons situated on the heights remind us of the blood that once was shed on these now peaceful lands.

While this park is a wonderful destination for those interested in military history (and we chanced to meet an amazingly informed military historian on our walk today), the site is also a fine place for naturalists to hike.   And here we are, just starting out.

What incredible vistas this trail provides!  From here, we can see  across the river valley to the far-away Green Mountains of Vermont and their foothills in Washington County just across the Hudson.

Although very few flowers remained in bloom, we still enjoyed examining the seedheads and other remains of the plants that thrive in these expansive meadows. As Ed is doing here.

Mostly, though, we simply let our eyes gaze across these rolling meadows, awed by the amazing variations of splendid color.

Among the plants we DID stop to identify were patches of Panicled Dogwood, clad now in the rosiest red we had ever seen this shrub assume.  None of the dogwood shrubs were more than knee high, since the park mows and burns these fields to maintain the appearance of the farm fields that existed at the time of the Revolution.

I recognized these puffy gray seedheads as those of Narrow-leaved Mountain Mint, set off so beautifully by the pinks and purples and yellows and greens of the surrounding plants.

Although the rain held off until we had started our return to the visitors' center,  it did start to come down hard before we reached that destination.  But that rain could not dampen our enjoyment of this gorgeous landscape.  We simply donned our raingear and enjoyed the rest of the hike.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

A Summery Day for an Autumn Paddle

Eighty degrees in October?!  Well, I'm surely distressed by more evidence of our warming climate, but I did take advantage of this summery day to go enjoy the glorious spectacle of autumn along the Hudson.  Here was the view that greeted me as I launched my canoe behind a large island, with forested mountains rising beyond.

Although a brisk breeze was riffling the water out on the open river, back here behind the island the water was calm, reflecting in shimmering beauty the gorgeous colors of the trees that lined the sheltered coves.

I remembered a Flowering Dogwood shrub grew here on the shore of a cove, and it certainly wasn't hard to spot its beautiful red boughs.

Again, the shimmering reflections amplified the beauty of all the autumn colors.

I love the view of West Mountain from the back of this cove, so I sat for a while just to take in its splendor against a radiant blue sky.

Here, I am heading out toward the open river, delighting in the crazy-quilt colors that adorn the forested mountainsides.

Looking up as I pass beneath a large Sassafras tree, I am dazzled by its vivid leaves glowing against a sapphire sky.

Looking down as I pass along tree-shaded banks, I am delighted by the multicolored plants that decorate the shore. Dewberry leaves, in shades of both pink and green, and a lime-green mound of sphagnum moss crowd in on a glossy green patch of Partridgeberry, dotted with scarlet fruits.

Rounding a rocky point that juts out into the river, I next enter a quiet swamp that lies behind this island that is crowned by three tall White Pines.

The star of the shoreline here is a cluster of Black Tupelo trees, displaying their signature scarlet.

Those vivid-red Tupelo boughs were thick today with pendulous blue-black fruits.

The rounded, rolling profiles of the mountains here create a dramatic shoreline along this stretch of the Hudson, especially when those mountainsides are dotted with autumn's colors.

It was time to head for home, but the beauty of the woods along the river kept urging me to linger. As you look at these final photos, can you understand why I was loathe to leave?

As I climbed from my boat and scrambled up the riverbank, I spied this single oak leaf resting on a bed of emerald-green Haircap Moss.  Here was a fine souvenir of this beautiful day:  all of the gorgeous colors of autumn displayed on a single leaf!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Sunday in the Woods With Sue

 I hardly ever get to walk with my fellow nature-loving pal Sue, since she started working days instead of evenings.  We try to get together on weekends, though, and we were lucky this past Sunday when the rain stopped by early afternoon, giving us time for a pleasant walk in Cole's Woods in downtown Glens Falls.

It's amazing to find such an extensive woodland in the middle of a city, and even though we can still hear traffic sounds as we wander the complex network of trails within this many-acred woods, it feels like we're deeply immersed in nature back here.  Especially when we keep to the trails that follow the pretty brook at the center of the woods.

Sue and I visit Cole's Woods several times during the wildflower season, so we have become familiar with where certain flowers grow.  Even now, with most of the flowers long spent, we enjoy revisiting their locations, seeking out the flowers' remnants and always hoping to discover new patches of favorite finds.  We did find a new patch of Pyrolas on Sunday, both the common Shinleaf Pyrola (Pyrola elliptica) with its larger rounded leaves, and also the One-sided Pyrola (Orthilia secunda) with its smaller, more pointed leaves.  This photo shows the two different species side-by-side amid the small evergreen leaves of Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens).

Our identifications of the different species were confirmed when we found many flower stalks, now containing their seeds.  Here I am holding a stalk of One-sided Pyrola with its dangling seed pods.

Along with the Pyrolas, many other of our favorite summer flowers bear evergreen leaves, making them easy to find any time of the year.  This photo shows the glossy green leaves of Pipsissiwa (Chimaphila umbellata) next to a berry-bearing sprig of Partridgeberry.

An unexpected find was this lovely Downy Rattlesnake Plantain (Goodyera pubescens) with its gorgeously patterned evergreen leaves.  We had never found this little native orchid in Cole's Woods before.

In the damp soil along the brook we found many patches of different mosses, which will also stay green all winter. We also found many shoots of Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus), which will overwinter with its pale bluish-green spathes tightly furled until early spring.  This Skunk Cabbage shoot has pushed up between mounds of Delicate Fern Moss (Thuidium delicatulum) and Rose Moss (Rhodobryum ontariense).

I hope visitors to Cole's Woods are not tempted to pick a bough of these beautifully colored leaves, since these are the leaves of Poison Sumac (Toxicodendron vernix).  They were among the most vividly colored leaves we found this day, and although they were growing in swampy spots few hikers would venture into, some of the shrubs did grow within arm's reach of the nearby trails.

When I first noticed this plump and colorful Marbled Orb Weaver spider on the ground, I thought it was a yellow gall that had fallen from a tree, and I picked it up to examine it more closely.  Oops!  Sorry, little lady!  I didn't mean to frighten you.  (Or me!)

I'm not really afraid of spiders, but I was quite surprised when the "gall" started to wriggle and tickle my hand with those tiger-striped legs.  I was also impressed by the size and plumpness of this spider's abdomen. I have seen this species of spider many times before, but their abdomens were always more slender and with black markings, instead of these reddish traceries.  Those must have been males.  The large size and round shape of this abdomen indicate that this is a female.  Perhaps that bulbous abdomen is full of eggs.

Here's another photo of this spider, and I placed my finger next to her to show how big and fat she was:

Sunday, October 16, 2016

A Fine Day for a Family Hike

How lucky could we be this week?  Not only did our daughter Jane and her husband Bill and our granddaughter Natalie come for a visit this past Saturday, we also had one of the prettiest days of the autumn, with foliage nearing its peak of glorious color.  So of course we went for a walk  outdoors.  And a wonderful walk it was, up an easy-enough mountain in Moreau Lake State Park to enjoy a picnic lunch overlooking the Hudson River and miles of forested mountains as far as the eye could see.

From the crowd of cars in the trailhead parking lot, it was obvious that many folks were enjoying this part of the park on this beautiful day.  But the miles of trails that are accessed from this trailhead can absorb vast numbers of people at once, and we will still not pass many fellow hikers along the way.  Even this spectacular overlook could be shared with other folks and no one felt crowded in on.

As beautiful as the foliage already was, we could see that the glorious spectacle of autumn had only just begun, with many trees -- and not just the conifers -- still vividly green, while others had burst into various shades of chrysanthemum colors.

When I hike with my husband and other family members, I try to keep my botanizing in check.  But I couldn't keep myself from calling attention to these "zombie" leaves of Quaking Aspen, their yellowing leaf tissue still marked with swaths of bright green.

I just can't refrain from relating the fascinating tale of the miniature moth larva that resides in a tiny pocket of brown tissue at the base of the green patch, releasing a chemical that prevents the leaf from withdrawing its chlorophyll, so that the larva may continue to feed on living leaf tissue until it is ready to pupate.  I remember how astounded I was when I first learned about this phenomenon (go HERE to learn more about it), and I always hope to impart some of the wonder I felt to anyone else who might be amazed.

And again I drew my fellow hikers' attention to one more marvel along the trail, when I led them to a patch of Pink Earth Lichen (Dibaeis baeomyces), which grows in the hardest-packed dirt along the trail.  I knew that no one would be likely to notice this wee little lichen unless I pointed it out, because it is so very, very small, so small as to be virtually invisible except to very close examination (or a photo by my camera's macro lens).  Those little pink blobs that look like miniature wads of bubble gum are actually hardly bigger than the head of a dressmaker's pin.

After our mountain hike, we took the scenic route home, driving along the Hudson River and then continuing on country roads instead of the interstate.  Here, we stopped off by the river for one more family photo.  I sure love this dear bunch of people, and I am so glad we shared this beautiful day.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Autumn in the Adirondacks

Brrrr!  We had our first truly cold morning of the season this Monday.  But a temperature down in the 40s did not  deter my friends Evelyn and Bonnie and me from paddling Lens Lake on one of the most spectacular blue-sky days of this fall.  Donning longjohns and knee boots and polar fleece, we set off to explore one of the prettiest lakes of the Adirondacks, up in the mountains a few miles west of Stony Creek.

The trees along the shore and up on the mountainsides were just about as colorful as trees could be, rivaling in brightness the cold-weather gear and PFD that Bonnie is wearing here.

Bonnie and Evelyn (plus Evelyn's grandson Calvin) were on a mission today, to pick as many cranberries as they could find on the abundant bog mats that populate this quiet lake.  Soon, they pulled their boats up on the bog mats and began to fill their collection buckets.

And boy, were the pickings great!  I've searched these bog mats for cranberries on years when I could find barely enough to fill a small paper cup, but this year the ruby-red berries lay thick on the golden sphagnum.

It didn't take long to fill whole bags full!

I was more enchanted by the scenery than interested in harvesting cranberries, so while my friends were bending over their task on the bog mats, I paddled around just soaking up the spectacle of autumn in the Adirondacks.  I couldn't remember the mountainsides displaying such a marvelous crazy-quilt of glorious colors.

For viewing this autumn spectacle, nothing beats paddling a quiet lake, where the brilliant shoreline colors are amplified by the water's reflections.

After sating myself with the glorious views from out on the open water, I next slipped into some quiet coves to explore the shoreline vegetation up close.

This fallen log along the shaded shore was home to an amazing variety of colorful plants, including numerous cranberries in quite unexpected shades of pink and purple. I wonder if this is the color that shade-growing cranberries regularly exhibit, compared to the ruby red of the ones that grow out on the sun-drenched bog mats.

Even the Pitcher Plants that shared this log were a darker maroon than the scarlet ones out on the bog mats.

Well, this flowering Sheep Laurel was quite a surprise!  This is a shrub that normally blooms in June, and I could see some spent flower clusters from then still clinging to the shrubs lower down on the stems.  When they bloom in early summer, the flower clusters of Sheep Laurel are surmounted by a terminal cluster of leaves, but all the flowers I saw today were blooming at the top.  Just one more wonder to ponder on this glorious autumn day on an Adirondack lake.