Saturday, June 29, 2013

Officially a Wildflower Geek

This morning, I returned for the third time in two weeks to a damp field just to try to catch a plant in bloom.

And since the plant was not yet in bloom, I will be making a fourth trip very soon.

I first saw this little patch of budding lilies two weeks ago when I was participating in a walk organized by the Friends of the Kayaderosseras at Gray's Crossing in Saratoga County. I wasn't sure then what kind of lilies these were. Could they be Wood lily, Turk's cap, or Canada lilies?

I am fairly certain now that they are Canada lilies, but I will still be going back to verify this. And for another thing, the flower color can vary in these plants. Will these be yellow? Or red?

If they are Canada lilies, they will be contributing to a very Canadian theme in this field of wildflowers.  For at least two weeks, the Canada anemone have been putting on a great show here (see above and below).

Despite the lack of opened lily blooms, plenty of other plants were strutting there stuff. I think this is yellow bedstraw, below.

This purple cow vetch was glowing in the early morning sun.

 I think this yellow-flowered plant below is wild parsnip, which, I believe, is an invasive.

Lovely milkweed, the food of monarch butterflies, was showing its fresh ruddy pink blooms.

And in a shady spot, a few dame's rockets lingered still, with dewy faces.

A few critters were up and about. The mown grass trail was full of snails.

The warming sun brought this blue and brown dragon fly out to bask on a bare  branch.

Unfortunately, the rising sun lures out other creatures, as well. Garter snakes also like to lay out along the mown trail and soak up some early morning rays. I have been to this meadow so often in the last two weeks that I now know where the snakes are likely to be. Still, I do not like meeting them but I am getting resigned to it. Blah blah blah, I know, they are a sign of a healthy ecosystem and all that. Can't they go be healthy somewhere that I am not?

Wild chervil isn't a healthy sign (it's invasive) but golly it has a pretty rose and green fern-like leaf.

This particular meadow at Gray's Crossing is about half-way between my oldest sister's house and mine. My sister is ill and has become increasingly disabled over the last eighteen months. On Friday nights, I cook her dinner and stay over-night with her. It is emotionally draining to watch a loved one struggle with a difficult disease. When I leave her house on Saturday mornings, Gray's Crossing lures me in to walk and breath in - life. I am seeing even snails and snakes with new eyes. After my walk, refreshed with the sights and sounds and scents of a summer meadow, I am ready to go home again.


Thursday, June 20, 2013

Silkmoths and Sassafras: A walk with fifteen new friends in the Malta Ecological Park

Question: Can you name the only Northern native tree in the citrus family?
Answer: It's the Common Prickly Ash, also called Northern Prickly-ash.
We found a good supply of its tiny fruits on the trees we found in the Malta Ecological Park this morning. When you bruise or crush the fruits, they have a wonderful citrusy aroma. If you look very closely, you can see that the skin of the fruits looks like that of a lime or an orange.

Fifteen members of the "Thursday Naturalists" group from the greater capital region came to Malta this morning to help me identify some of the trees and plants growing at the Eco Park on Malta Avenue. What a wonderful group of people.

 We set off about 9:30 and carefully moved through the park, looking at the trees and plants along the paths.

 The Naturalists had brought some labels with them and we were able to tag a number of trees around the park.

 A moth, possibly a Cecropia silkmoth, was found by the side of the path. This species is North America's largest native moth but they only survive a maximum of about two weeks

Ed Miller, below, often leads the outings of this group of botanists and nature lovers. I learned so much from them this morning, when folks leaned in to show me things like the difference between the leaves of a red oak (spiny leaves) and a white oak (leaves are more rounded.).
I learned about sassafras and big tooth aspen. We even saw some young elms growing along the trail. (Elms! I thought the species was pretty much kaput, but there they were.) I learned that the leaves of a gray birch look like the shape of an elephant's head, and that the vining black swallow-wort is invasive and we should probably try to pull it out when we find it in the park.

The good news is, that there wasn't much evidence of invasives in the park. Most of the trees and shrubs and flowers that are filling in the woods are natives.

My deepest admiration and thanks go out to the Thursday Naturalists for sharing their knowledge and advice this morning. I hope they - and you all - come visit the Ecological Park again soon. We would like to expand the trail system in this park and add bathrooms, picnic tables, and some benches in the shade. What do you think?


Monday, June 17, 2013

Flowers and trees and reptiles this morning at the Mohawk River State Park.

This morning, I met botanist and author Ruth Schottman near one edge of the Mohawk River State Park. The park and its trails cover 107 acres in the vicinity of Lock 7.  We'd only gone a few steps when we stopped to examine the blossoms of a catalpa tree. Ruth knows about the trees and plants that grow here. I could listen to her all day.

Ruth had graciously offered to give me a tour of the area. I was especially eager for her to show me the easy labeling system that volunteers are using here to identify trees growing in the preserve.

Printed on a home computer, these labels are made on something akin to a bumper sticker, both sturdy and waterproof, yet lightweight. Volunteers use a heavy-duty stapler to affix the labels. The labels are low-cost and so can be easily replaced as needed.

The Thursday Naturalist group that does this work in Niskayuna will be coming to Malta this week. They will help us to get started labeling trees at the Malta Ecological Park.  I think this system will work well for us.

A single Yellow Hawkweed blossom was an opportunity for a flower identification lesson for me. But when I got home and studied my guide, I still could not tell Hawkweed from Two-flowered Cynthia. I will have to keep working at this.

Madam Snapper became a startling obstacle halfway down a steeply eroded trail. We decided to clamber back up the muddy slope and go around her.

The detour provided an opportunity for Ruth to show me New Jersey tea...

... and the delicate yellow flowers of bush honeysuckle.

The reptiles just kept showing up. We had already seen a number of toads and frogs, in addition to the very large turtle. Here, a medium-sized garter snake was enjoying a sheltered sunny spot.

We came out from the woods onto a bike trail near Lock Seven of the Erie Canal system. The Mohawk River seemed a little calmer today.

Just off shore, a great blue heron stood quietly fishing. Can you see him?

Here's a cropped close-up, below.

I can't remember for certain what kind of dogwood this was. Gray dogwood, maybe? I really need to do more studying and better note-taking.

My camera couldn't capture the amazing emerald color of this ebony-winged damselfly. It was so lovely basking there in the sun.

We spotted one more garter snake along the bike trail as we headed back to our cars.

Thank you, Ruth Schottman, for a beautiful morning. You are a patient teacher and a genuine inspiration.

Two days, two different open space experiences in Saratoga County.

Canada Anemone (This is a good plant.)

On Saturday, I joined one of the nature walks sponsored by the Friends of the Kayaderosseras. (They have two more programs planned for this month; check out their website.)

Wild Chervil (This plant is invasive; not a good plant.)

Jackie Donnelly led our trip and helped us identify invasive species like Japanese Knotweed and Wild Chervil, plus beautiful natives like ferns, dogwoods, and Canada anemone.

Our group began to gather at Gray's Crossing and then set off to follow the Kayaderosseras Creek, which was brimming after all of our June rain.

Here above, are Ostrich ferns with wild cucumber weaving through them.

Japanese knotweed, above, has been classified as an invasive.

Jackie showed us how to tell some of our native dogwood species apart. I need more practice.
A few of the trees along this trail had been caged to protect them from beaver.

I didn't notice any evidence of beaver, but a raccoon had recently passed this way.

The wooded stream-side trail eventually looped back and brought us to this lovely meadow. On Saturday, it was filled with Canada anemone. Such a lovely sight. You can see Jackie Donnelly's own version of this trip at her excellent blog, Saratoga Woods and Waterways.
On Sunday, I drove up the east side of Saratoga Lake to enjoy the 18th annual Sundae on the Farm. This year, the event was hosted by the McMahon family, of thoroughbred Funny Cide fame.

Despite some rain, there was a huge but cheerful crowd for this popular Father's Day tradition.

I had a nice chat with Catienus, one of the twelve stallions currently "standing" at the McMahon farm. He was a pretty handsome fellow.

Over in the yearling barn, several fillies were being readied for the famous Fasig-Tipton thoroughbred yearling sales scheduled for later this summer.
One thing I learned: it is not the owners who get to choose which horses go to this sale. The Fasig-Tipton agents visit the breeding farms each spring and they decide which horses are spiffy enough to be part of this elite sale. So after the yearlings have been selected, the next few months of their lives are pretty pampered. They are carefully exercised, their manes are fussed with, their little boo boos are quickly patched up, all so that the yearlings can look glorious for the few short minutes they will be paraded around the sale room.

My last stop was at the barn for mares and new foals. Why these horses hadn't all had a nervous breakdown with all of these hundreds and hundreds of people milling around, I don't know. But both mamas and babies seemed pretty calm, Still, I bet they slept well last night when it was all over.

Sundae on the Farm takes place at a different farm in Saratoga County every Father's Day. It's very organized, the farmers clearly love doing this, and everyone seemed to be having a terrific time.
Remember it for next Father's Day and check it out.