Thursday, October 31, 2013

Back into the woods again.

It has been several weeks since I have been able to go out with the Thursday Naturalists, and I have missed them.

Our destination this day was the Woodcock Preserve on Tanner Road in Clifton Park (NY), a project of Saratoga PLAN.

The weather this morning didn't look very promising and I wondered if the turnout would be small. I should have known better. Eleven intrepid TNs (Thursday Naturalists) showed up, eager to check out some recent improvements at this preserve.

Wildflowers are long gone now, but there is much to admire about the seed pods, berries, and fungi of the late fall woods. Above, this milkweed is waiting for a good gust of wind to help disperse its seeds.

On this gray day, the fruits of bittersweet glowed against the muted woods.

There were bright rose hips, too, from a plethora of multiflora roses.

I think this deep mauve cluster may be a Bunch Gall on a fading goldenrod.

Red oaks were plentiful, in all sizes.

The TNs thought this fungi was chicken of the woods, old and faded now from its original bright orange color.

We saw a number of very large trees, probably "line" trees which once marked property boundaries. The stones at the base of this tree seem to bear this out, the likely remains of an old stone wall.

This shagbark hickory stood out in the nearly leafless woods. Its fruits, below, were plentiful, but hidden, beneath the fallen leaves.

Hop hornbeam is usually a small tree, but in these woods, several, like this burled specimen, had reached a very large size.

Lemon drop fungus (Bisporella citrina) make a tiny dusting of color on a fallen log. But magnify the photo, as below, and you can see how they are actually cup shaped.

One section of the trail goes through stands of beech trees, still glowing golden on this Hallowe'en morning.
A pignut, from a hickory of the same name.

Ruth pointed out the apron of Anomodon moss on the white oaks, a common relationship.

We admired this shaggy bear's head fungus. Some writers describe it as looking like a frozen waterfall.

These are probably the seeds of an aster. How lovely things like this are, when you pause and look closely.

This tiny spit gill fungus has a memorable name: Schizophyllum.

An open space was populated with this frothy grass, species not identified this day.

Nor do I know the variety of this hoof-like fungus, with its faded blue jean-like layers of color.

Near noon, rain began to fall, adding a sheen to these blueberry leaves.

I headed back to my car and spotted a favorite of mine along the way: partridgeberry, so lovely and diminutive.

Our group stretched out a bit on this walk and I had moved on ahead with a few others. Thus, we missed the real hit of the day. Those coming along more slowly behind us found a very large garter snake, about two feet long. Unusual to see snakes out and about at this time of year. (My sister, a faithful reader of this blog, won't mind that I missed that photo opp. She's not a fan of large - or small- snakes.)

Now, where to next Thursday?

For information about nature programs and events available through ECOS, go here:

For information about preserves and trails and other community resources available through Saratoga PLAN, go here:


Tuesday, October 29, 2013


In they all swooped, our wonderful, messy, blended, extended family.

Just how each of us is related and connected to each other doesn't seem to matter much anymore. Step-children and half-siblings and assorted husbands, current and ex, they've all morphed into just plain grandpas and cousins and aunts and uncles, without asterisks and explanations.

It has been too long between gatherings. Our children have grow up and two have married and moved far away.

But for a few days, we were all under one roof. Cousins were meeting for the first time, picking out Hot Cross Buns on the ancient piano that doesn't mind sticky fingers.

There was a lot of hugging and cuddling.

There were quiet one-on-one conversations when and where we could snatch them.

There was my happiest moment: having all three of my children in one spot, relaxed and reconnecting, now that they are grown and independent. They are different now, from the youngsters they once were. I am glad that they are getting to know each other again.

My former husband Dan, pictured below, was around a lot, enjoying his grandchildren. You know who gets credit for this? My current husband of 29 years. Bob is an awfully good step-dad, in my opinion. He has always wanted Dan to be welcome in our home, especially when John is around. Divorce is hard enough on children, even grown children. Bob has always kept us focused on trying to be a smoothly blended family. He should give lessons. Thank you, Bob.

There were aunts and step-grandmas and lots of shared meals.

There were moments when everyone was tired of Mom's endless picture-taking and just wanted to eat in peace.

 There was a lazy afternoon when vegging out held great appeal. Grilled cheese sandwiches and a kids' video seemed like a good idea.

Cousins shared a quiet moment, trying to learn cat's cradle together.

And a parents' night out together gave Grandpa Bob an armful for fairy tales in front of the fireplace.

But then the first batch had to depart. Pumpkin glasses helped keep the farewell on a light note. Margie sure missed Lexi when she had gone.

And on the last night, there was one more aunt to get to know over a story book.

The little 'uns slipped away from the final gathering of grownups, to horse around until the commotion reminded everyone that the kids needed an early night.
And then -POOF- it was all over. That's all folks, Margie seems to be saying.

Up before 4 AM this morning to get everyone to the airport for an early flight.

The house is too quiet now. I am already missing them all.

But, my oh my, what a good week. Thanks for coming, my dears. It was wonderful to see you all. Come back soon!


Saturday, October 26, 2013

I am against it.

I am against it, plain and simple. I do not want New York State to change its constitution in order to allow full-scale casino gambling here.  The whole thing stinks, in my opinion, and casinos are not likely to do a blessed thing to help the state's economy or reduce our taxes.

I am a retired teacher and NYSUT member and I was shocked to read that the United Federation of Teachers deposited $250,000 into a  pro-casino PAC, as Jimmy Vielkind reported this week.  The UFT is a union of teachers, nurses and other professionals working in New York City’s five boroughs. What the heck are they doing lobbying in support of casino gambling?

The UFT says they are "advocates for children and for the communities in which we work." Well, if that is true, then they have made a very misguided donation.

Consider the impact of casinos on a city’s quality of life, Councillor Adam Vaughan writes in a Toronto newspaper. "From a social perspective, crime goes up. Street crimes, fraud, loan sharking and prostitution rise when a casino comes to town. Before the casino, Atlantic City rarely made the top 50 list of crime ridden cities. Since gambling came to town they almost always rank near the top."

 In the New York Post, Steve Malanga wrote, "...when problem gambling grows, bankruptcy, unemployment and jail time also rise."

Gee, United Federation of Teachers, that doesn't sound very family- or community-friendly. Could it be that you were just hoping to claim a few crumbs for increased teacher pay in this deal and you really don't give a hoot about the social consequences of casino gambling?  Shame on you.

In my own county, the Saratoga "Racino" has already changed its name to "Casino", despite the fact that casinos are not yet legal here (see photo, above.)

I am voting NO to Proposition #1 on Election Day, Tuesday, November 5. I invite you to do the same.


~ Bee Balm Gal is the blog of Barbara Conner, a registered Democrat, a resident of Saratoga County (NY), a retired public school teacher, and NYSUT union member.


Friday, October 11, 2013


I didn't have much of a vegetable garden this year, but today, I gleaned the last fingerlings from it. Guess who was very happy to eat them for lunch? Yes, the HH* is a potato guy to the bone. Even I had a few. There is nothing quite like eating food that was still in the garden twenty minutes ago. Yum.

Blondie, 9/23/13

* HH = Handsome Husband


Thursday, October 10, 2013

Into the woods once more (edited and corrected 10/12/13)

Reist Wildlife Sanctuary, Niskayuna, New York
Our ECOS Natural History class
Wednesday morning dawned clear but chilly. Undeterred by the cold, our intrepid group of ladies, Beryl, Elaine, Marion, Lois, Susan, Peg, and I, bundled up and headed into the woods to learn from our wonderful teacher, Ruth Schottman.
Ruth always brings interesting print resources for us to borrow.

In these woods, I was again excited to see American elm trees growing. Ruth explained that the elm trees are evolving. By coming into fruit at a younger and younger age, they have found a way to survive Dutch Elm disease. Young trees are immune to the disease, and many now reach reproductive age before falling victim to this foreign fungus. In this way, the species has kept going. 
American elm
Another beleaguered tree survives - sort of - in these woods: the  American chestnut.

American chestnut.
The American chestnut tree once thrived over millions of acres of eastern woodlands. During the first half of the 20th century, the trees began succumbing to a lethal fungus infestation, known as the chestnut blight.
The blight, imported to the US on Asian chestnut trees, is a fungus that enters through a fresh injury in the tree's bark, killing tissues as it advances. The flow of nutrients is eventually choked off and the tree above ground dies. 
But see, here above are chestnut leaves, close to the ground! The roots do not die off, Ruth told us, so the tree continues to put out suckers. Find these leaves and a stump is surely very nearby. And yes, here below, we found it.
American chestnut stump.
Research on breeding blight-resistant chestnuts continues. Maybe like the elms, nature will find a way to help the chestnuts evolve and adapt.
So, what else did we see?
This dead snag, possibly an oak, was being eaten from the inside out by a wide array of fungi.
Pale green foliose (leaf-like) lichen and the brownish fungi Stereum ostrea, also called false turkey-tail, colonize a fallen tree trunk.

Another fallen tree has been colonized by moss.

By mid-October, most wildflowers have gone by. Here, in a sheltered patch of sunlight, a heartleaf aster continues to bloom.
 Ruth had us gather leaves for a lesson on maples.

A lesson in maple leaves. Top row, L-R: pale green Silver maple; the large leaf of a Striped maple. Bottom row, L-R: The leaf of a Red maple; a green Norway maple leaf; a now-brown leaf of a sugar maple.
Correction added 10/12/13: Our instructor, Ruth Schottman, kindly wrote to correct my error: "In identifying the maple leaf pictures the red and sugar got mixed up. The red maple has the V shaped sinus (the low point between 2 lobes) and more but smaller teeth around the leaf edge. The sugar maple has a U-shaped sinus (our leaf has folds there that obscure it a bit) and fewer, larger teeth around the edge of the leaf. In the winter the buds will be more obvious and while the red maple branches have red, blunt short buds, the sugar maples have long buds, covered with more bud scales and they are the color  of maple sugar candy."
Thank you, Ruth!

Box elders (not shown) are the only maples with compound leaves.

The bark of a striped maple.

Not a true maple, the leaves of the shrub Maple-leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium)  can look like a maple seedling on the forest floor.

The deep-blue fruits of Viburnum acerifolium are a strong clue that it is not in the maple family.

The horizontal marks on the bark of this Red maple are part of the tree's defense against an invading fungus. The cracks isolate the infected areas from the healthy parts of the tree.

Don't touch this fuzzy guy. The hairs of the Hickory Tussock caterpillar can cause an allergic reaction or rash for some people.
The mitten-shaped leaf of a sassafras. How charming is that?
This polypore has flat, fan-shaped, bright orange to salmon, overlapping caps. It is sometimes called chicken of the woods and we were told that it is delicious. 

These white mushrooms (I don't remember the variety) had begun to form a "fairy ring", below.

The fairy ring was a fitting way to conclude this day's walk, for Ruth Schottman makes every foray into the woods a magical experience.

For more information about ECOS classes and guided walks in the New York State capital region, click here.