Friday, August 30, 2013

Golden August (updated 9/1/13)

Please see updated field notes at the end. 
Along the Kayaderosseras Creek, the colors of late August are becoming softer, more muted.
Goldenrod is what you notice most, appearing frequently with the dusty pink Joe Pye weed and white boneset. These three plants fill the fields and roadsides and stream banks of upstate New York at this time of year.


There are over seventy species of goldenrod in the northeast, but my companions Thursday quickly identified this one, below, as the woods-dwelling Zigzag Goldenrod.

The Thursday Naturalists are a group that has evolved from ECOS, The Environmental Clearinghouse. It is a regional environmental organization founded in Schenectady (NY) in 1971.  ECOS offers classes and nature walks and shares information about volunteer opportunities connected to environmental issues.
There were eight of us this day, and we moved "at a botanist's pace" along newly cut trails in the Boice preserve in Milton.

In the woods, asters were plentiful. But since there are over fifty species of asters in these parts and I am a novice, I have trouble going beyond "aster". I believe this one, below, is Lowrie's Aster.

We also saw Wood and Calico asters. The photo below is Heart-leaved aster.    
We found Fleabane and ...
... Green-headed Coneflower, another member of the Aster family.  
 More exotic-looking flora was just around the bend. Here was Turtlehead coming into bloom. In my home garden, I have a pinkish/purple-ish version of this plant in abundance every fall.

Dodder, a parasitic vine, was in bloom. Dodder has no leaves and once established, no roots. It literally sucks nutrients from the stems of its host plants.

The orange blossoms of Spotted Jewelweed are so pretty. We also saw the yellow Pale Jewelweed, but in smaller numbers. Hummingbirds and butterflies like these plants.

We saw both wild and bur cucumber (below). Neither fruit is edible, but they sure were plentiful.

Bindweed is not blessed with a poetic name, nor is it well-loved, but I think these morning glory cousins are quite lovely. Along the Kayaderosseras, we found it in both pale lavender and white.

In a damp place at the edge of the woods, we found this beautiful Closed Gentian. One of my field guides says this is fairly common, but I have never noticed it before.

Near the Gentian were bright flashes of red Cardinal Flower. Cardinal Flowers are another plant that is popular with hummingbirds.
In early September, I will begin taking my first nature class at ECOS. The instructors will be some of the same learned folks I have been exploring woods and fields and swamps with this summer. I hope I will learn to be a more competent and confident and contributing member of the Thursday Naturalists. That is my goal, anyway!

“Weeds are flowers, too, once you get to know them.” Eeyore  (A.A. Milne)

Update 9/1/13: Ed Miller, who is one of the leaders of the Thursday Naturalists (AKA, the TNs) emailed these comments about this post:

Hi Barbara
re your blog. 
The TN  predates ECOS. Ruth and friends have been meeting since the late 40's- early 50s. I think more probably it was TN members who started ECOS.
The Aster with the heart shaped leaves is probably wood aster. The Aster called "heart leaved" (usually) has purple flowers.
Although we  saw Lowries Aster, I think the one shown is the Calico aster. 
I thank Ed for his corrections and clarifications. I am still proud that I can get as far as "aster". Give me forty more years of wandering the woods and I may then be able to pin it down with greater accuracy. Until then, go with what Ed says!
~ Barbara


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Missing Monarchs

Photo by and (c)2009 Derek Ramsey (Ram-Man) (Self-photographed) [GFDL 1.2 (], via Wikimedia Commonsion

Gardening and nature-loving friends are beginning to ask: Have you seen any monarchs yet? Sadly, the most frequent answer this year is, "No."

Earlier this month, The Boston Globe ran a story about missing monarchs at the Boston Nature Center, which is owned by the Massachusetts Audubon Society. From that article:

Even in the nature center’s small, 1,680-square-foot butterfly garden in Mattapan, where there is plenty of milkweed, the monarchs are nowhere to be found. Naturalist Andrew MacBlaine says he has seen just one monarch in the garden all summer. Last summer they were “all over the place,” he said.


Where have all the monarch butterflies gone? is a headline from today's Intelligencer Journal in Lancaster, PA.

From Tupper Lake, NY, there is this article: Monarch butterfly population plummets .

Here in Saratoga County (NY) my own garden is thick with milkweed and phlox and Joe Pye weed. While we have seen plenty of swallowtails and smaller butterflies this year, not a single monarch has yet visited.

So how is it in your neck of the woods? Have you seen any monarchs? 

Can this species rebound?

An autumn without monarchs, a world without monarchs... I don't want to think that can happen.


Thursday, August 22, 2013

Near Stillwater, NY (Updated 8/23/13 and again on 8/26/13)

I always learn many interesting things when I tag along with the Thursday Naturalists. Today, it was this useful tip: that the leaves of the swamp white oak make good emergency toilet paper. This is due to the softness of the leaf's back, which is indeed Charmin-like. Duly noted.

Update 8/26/13: Jackie, over at Saratoga Woods and Waterways, took the same hike a couple of days after we did. She has added some information in her comment at the end of this post. You can also see her excellent blog post HERE.

It was a lovely warm day to explore the nature trails that run south east from Lock 4 of the Champlain Canal and along the Hudson River near Stillwater. We found white snakeroot along the edge of the woods.

There was also purple Groundnut. The guide book says that its root is an edible tuber  Update 8/23/13: We have a correction. The plant below may actually be Hog Peanut (Amphicarpa bracteata), Ed writes.

This lovely small sunflower was a puzzle. We never did find an identification that the group was confident in. I would be happy to hear from anyone who is certain of its name. It wasn't very tall, maybe three feet or so.
Ed writes, "I am uncertain on the sunflower. I think thin leaved (Helianthus decapetalus) or pale leaved (H strumosus)."

The flowers of the Horse Balm, below, were almost past. It is a member of the Mint Family, one of several mints we saw today.

The fruit of maple leaf viburnum is a lovely deep purple at its ripest.

One of the few flowers to bloom in the woods at this time of year is the lovely wood aster.

We saw a good number of ferns, including this evergreen wood fern and ...

...this interrupted fern.

Our trail followed the Hudson River and offered many places to pause and admire the view.

I love the way this mushroom on the left has  grown up under the moss. They are a species of Russula, I was told, but I do not know which.

It is easy to see why Big Bluestem grass is also called turkey foot.

Hairy Bush Clover was getting ready to bloom.

The tiny blossoms of Deptford Pink are dotted with white.

Our path reached the point where the Hoosic River meets the Hudson. What a view! We then turned left and began to follow the Hoosic upriver.

Along the path we found Slender Gerardia, a type of Figwort.

Here, too, was Showy Tick Trefoil.

Folks thought this mushroom nestled among the wintergreen might be Old Man of the Woods. Update: Jackie writes, "If you'd picked the shaggy brown mushroom, you would have noted it was toothed, not pored like the bolete Old Man of the Woods. We found the same mushroom and determined it was instead Bitter Tooth (Sarcodon scabrosus)."

To me, it resembled the small toad we met along our way. This was really the only critter we encountered today, aside from one cedar waxwing hanging out in a riverside oak.

We continued east along the banks of the Hoosic and the day grew warmer.

A shady dip in the landscape provided a lovely place to rest and look out at the river.

To rest, that is, until CRACK! The aged log that had appeared to be a good seat for two of our group suddenly gave way and down they went! Fortunately, no one was hurt and they were able to laugh about it.
Back on the trail again, this member of the pea family provided another puzzle for the day.

Later, at lunch, a verdict was reached: Wandlike Bush Clover.

 We found Wild Mint...

...and Mad-dog Skullcap.

This, below, appears to be another member of the mint family. I think it might be Northern Bugleweed. The leaves did not have a strong scent. Any thoughts on that? Update: Ed writes, "The mint is not Lycopus but I don't know what it is." So it's not a Bugleweed. Further suggestions welcome.

This, if my notes are correct, was Narrow-leaved Willow Herb.

Every time that I get to go out with the Thursday Naturalists, I discover how little I know about the woods and fields and swamps around us. What a privilege it is to learn from these folks. I thank them for letting me tag along
and for being patient when I endlessly ask, "What's this?"


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Adirondack August

I truly believe that every place on earth has its beauty if you look for it. But in New York State's Adirondack Mountain region, you don't have to look very hard.
On this late summer day, I borrowed a friend's kayak and took a paddle around a small Adirondack lake.  On numerous fallen trees, painted turtles were basking in the afternoon sun. When I got too close, with a quiet -blip!- they were gone.


Purplish-blue Pickeralweed was blooming in a shallow spot along one shore.

Further along, I drifted among lily pads and listened to the quiet of the late summer woods.

The petals of the Small White Water-lily open in the afternoon. There were only a few in bloom today.

This female mallard wanted nothing to do with me. I've gotten so used to park-dwelling ducks that I forget that truly wild critters don't expect a hand-out.

 A loon was also on the lake but I couldn't get close enough to take a photo. I did watch it dive for its lunch and goodness, it seemed to stay down forever.

This swimming critter, below, was friendlier.

Oddly, I also came upon a floating carrot. Aha, I thought. So this is where Frosty the Snowman ended up when he melted.

This fishing spider is hard to spot against the weathered wood, but trust me, she was a big 'un! Can you see her?

I paddled the entire shoreline of the lake - slowly - in about an hour. Upon my return, the Handsome Husband took the kayak out and I went for swim.

On the shore, meadowsweet (I think) was in bloom. I hope it was meadowsweet, anyway, because that is one of my favorite wildflower names.

Meadowsweet: what could be lovelier than that?

Summer, do please stay around a little longer.