Wednesday, August 26, 2009


Today is an incredibly beautiful, perfect, late summer day. This is much appreciated after a week of very hot, humid weather. I have been away this past week, but we had the same weather where I was, so I didn’t escape it. I did miss kayaking, too, and it felt great to get back out on the water! The creek is looking beautiful, though there is a lot of boat traffic, as always at this time of year, and I worry about the too-fast speeds of the boats, manned by people perhaps unaware of the serious impact of the erosion caused by the high wake.
I came across some photos of a favorite flower that grow here on the creek, and I wanted to share it: it is Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis).
Here is my entry the first time I discovered it, August 5, 2006:
I found this incredible flower! It is a shrub, and has a woody stem. The flowers are round composites, with many individual flowers on one round orb. It has many styles sticking out, which make it look like a pincushion. The flowers, themselves, are white, tubular, lily-like, and about 1/3-inch long, with long filaments and yellow anthers. Once pollinated, the stamens and blossoms fall off, leaving a greenish-yellow globe, which then dries to a stiff, dry, brown orb about the size of a large marble. Before the blossoms appear, it starts out as a green, densely packed orb. The leaves are opposite, entire (smooth edges, not toothed) and egg-shaped. They have 7-10 pairs of veins on each leaf. As the individual flowers die on the cluster, they turn rust-brown. The shrub can get to be over 2 feet high and likes to grow in wet places. Evidently good pollen, for it’s covered with bees!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Long Journey Home

As summer begins to draw to a close, I begin to think about the monarch butterflies’ long journey that lay before them. Amazingly, though most of the generations of monarchs born throughout the summer, live only 2 weeks, this last generation lives an incredible 9 months! They start out like all the others: an egg, laid on a leaf, specifically a milkweed leaf (Asclepias syriaca) by a female Monarch (Danaus plexippus). She flies from leaf to leaf, checking with the sensors in her feet (like taste buds in our mouths) that she has the right plant, for only milkweed is acceptable. The egg is laid in a sticky substance so that it can’t be shaken off by wind or rain, and for extra protection, the female usually lays the egg on the underside of the leaf so that it won’t be easily detected.
It is interesting that the monarch has chosen this plant as its host plant, for milkweed has within its cells a carotenoid poison; most other insects that eat this plant will die, but the monarch butterfly is immune to its poison. In fact, both the caterpillar and the adult carry this toxin within their cells, so that they taste bad when eaten, and it can even make their predators ill. Once having eaten a monarch, should they survive, they learn not to eat this animal again. This is why monarchs are nature’s traditional warning color: orange.
When they hatch, they are no bigger than the head of a pin, but their first job is to eat the shell from which they have hatched, for it is full of nutrients. As soon as they are able, they make their way to the edge of the leaf, where it is most tender, because at this stage, their jaws are so small they can only scrape the leaf with their mouth.
But as they grow, and begin to be able to chew, they develop voracious appetites, and soon grow too large for their skin. Because their exoskeleton is so hard (for protection from predators) they need to shed their skin, or molt, on a regular basis, for a total of five molts during this stage of their life. Each time, the caterpillar emerges from the new skin, larger, and more mature.
This process continues for about two weeks, when finally it’s ready for the next stage of its development. It carefully selects a twig, or some sturdy leaf stem and attaches itself. It latches on by means of a little button of silk, which it spins, (from glands near its mouth called spinnerets) and hangs itself, upside down, (called the "J" form) and attaches itself to the button of silk.
Under the old skin, it is a soft, green, almost shapeless lump. But then it begins to dry and harden, and shimmering golden spots begin to appear. This green form is the chrysalis, and its golden spots are what gave the monarch its name, for, to those who named it, the gold looked real, worthy of a king.
During pupation the caterpillar does not eat or move. It hangs silently on the stem, its green color helping to camouflage it, for two more weeks. Soon, it begins to change color: first, a beautiful blue-green teal, and then, it begins to be transparent. As you look inside the chrysalis, the black and orange wings of the butterfly begin to be visible. When this happens, we know that the butterfly is about to emerge.
First, the chrysalis begins to move, gently swaying back and forth on the branch, but then the movements become quicker, and suddenly, the chrysalis splits open. The butterfly begins to struggle its way out: first, the head and legs, and then, its wings.
When it first emerges, its wings are wet, and hang limply about its body. But then its swollen abdomen begins to pump fluids into its wings; they begin to fill out, and then, as time passes, to dry. The butterfly must hang there for about four hours to allow its wings to dry thoroughly. As it waits, basking in the sun, its body temperature slowly raises, allowing it to reach a warm enough temperature so it can finally fly.
Most monarchs live only two weeks, but those born at the end of the summer, in the Eastern United States, migrate nearly two thousand miles to the Sierra Madre Oriental Mountains in Mexico. (Monarchs in the western parts of the U.S. migrate to a place in Santa Cruz, California.)
Here, they spend their time in a sleepy state, hardly moving, accept to move themselves into the sunlight as it climbs higher in the sky during the day. Once the monarchs have spent the cold winter months in this safe place, they begin the long journey back to the home from which they had come.
As they make their journey, they mate, lay new eggs, and the cycle begins again. The butterflies which have hibernated for the winter, are not the same ones who make it all the way back to the north, but generations of their offspring continue to travel northward, until finally they have reached the same area that the hibernating butterfly started from!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Bounty on the Barren

Bounty on the Barren
By Jacqueline Callahan

It was an overcast day and I started out with some unease about the weather; clouds are not helpful for butterfly hunting, but this was my first-ever participation in a National Butterfly count, and despite the dampening effects of the weather, I was excited! I made my way to Camp Saratoga, protected lands owned by the Nature Conservancy, and operated by the Wilton Wildlife Preserve and Park (WWPP), a community-based conservation program in Wilton, near Saratoga Springs, New York. I was meeting Jessica Stager, an intern for the preserve, who was over-seeing the count that day.
I pulled my car into Camp Saratoga, and I found Jessica already there, as well as Michelle Mattocks, an intern with the federal AmeriCorps program. We sat down at a picnic table to go over our methods for the count. Jessica had everything that we would need: several butterfly field guides, some butterfly nets, small plastic bags, a map of the intended exploration area, and the official butterfly count paperwork. She described how we would capture, identify and document whatever butterflies we would see that day. She went over the map that defined the areas that we would cover, and talked about how we would proceed.
As we sat there talking, the clouds began to dissipate, and the sun began to break through. As if on cue, a beautiful Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) fluttered by, and Jessica aptly demonstrated how to capture the lovely specimen.
Approaching the unsuspecting insect with stealth, she scooped the net in a smooth arc, and with precision, the net came down confining the Swallowtail. Deftly, she worked the creature into a plastic bag.
Gently, she held the insect between her index and middle fingers in order to minimize struggle or movement (and resultant loss of scales) explaining as she did this, that if she was ever unsuccessful with this operation, she would be sure to release a butterfly before she would allow it to harm itself in a struggle to escape.
Once inside the bag, we were able to view the insect, and identify it. Though we all knew that this was an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, we practiced the steps of identification.
First, we turned to the pictorial table of contents in the front of Jim Brock’s Butterflies of North America. Quickly, this table showed that we were dealing with a butterfly that was in the Swallowtail or Parnassians group. Once in the right general vicinity, we were able to identify our captive positively. We then released our prey, unharmed.
Later in the day, when we’d captured a Northern Pearly Eye (Enodia anthedon) and found that it wasn’t as easy to identify (due to its faded and somewhat tattered condition) we found that the maps showing specific butterfly regions, as well as the careful descriptions of species’ characteristics, were very helpful in pinpointing the species.
The clouds continued to persist, and the day was partly sunny at best, so we didn’t see a tremendous variety in our first location, but Jessica and Michelle assured us that if we got into our cars and drove to another near-by locale, we’d be sure to see something very special. Our group (now grown to six) unanimously decided to head over to the other location.
As a leadership volunteer for the WWPP, I knew that we were dealing with a very special area. The region we lived in was located in an ancient lakebed known as Glacial Lake Albany. Twenty thousand years ago, glaciers had carved out this lake basin, and when the glaciers retreated, the lake was created. Local rivers, such as the Mohawk, had flowed into this lake, and deposited large amounts of sand and sediment. Thousands of years later, the lake dried up, exposing the ancient lakebed. Winds then swept the sand into dunes, leaving the unique Oak Pine Savanna (or Pine Barren) with rolling, sandy hills that are seen present day. This unique habitat is home to many wonderful species: 70 kinds of mammals, and 120 species of amphibians, reptiles, and birds.
But the area shelters some very significant species, as well: Frosted Elfin (Callophyrys irus) a butterfly designated by the state of New York as threatened; the Blandings Turtle (Emydoidea blandingii) also designated as a threatened species; the Eastern Hognose Snake (Heterodox platrhinos) state designated species of special concern; the Eastern Spadefoot Toad (Scaphiopus holbrookii) state designated species of special concern; and the Blue Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma laterale) state designated species of special concern.
But the most well known resident of the area, I knew, was the Karner Blue Butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis) listed on both the federal and state levels as endangered. Like its fellow special inhabitants of this unique environment, it too, was in trouble.
Historically, its range once covered an area east to west that reached from Maine to Minnesota, and latitudes between 41 and 46 degrees (south to north.) But (as some estimates claim) 99% of its population has declined in the past one hundred years, with the past ten years having been the most detrimental. While there are still healthy populations in Michigan and Wisconsin, it has been extirpated from Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maine, Ohio, Illinois, Iowa and the Canadian province of Ontario. Compared to the populations in Michigan or Wisconsin, the local population is miniscule.
To make matters worse, the Town of Wilton has recently been listed as the second fastest growing municipality in New York. Habitat was swiftly being lost due to residential, commercial and light industrial development.
In order to do something about the dramatic decline in habitat, and to protect this fragile and threatened area, The Nature Conservancy banded together with New York State Department of Conservation, and the Town of Wilton, as well as Saratoga County, to help save the habitat of these precious species. To date, these organizations have made a unified effort to protect hundreds of acres in order to safeguard existing, and develop new habitat. Thankfully, all of these lands have been acquired from willing sellers.
Wild Blue Lupine (Lupinus perennis) the Karner Blue’s hostplant, thrives in sandy soils and in sunny and open locations. These open areas once occurred naturally due to agriculture and spontaneous fires from lightening strikes. But as farming has dramatically decreased, and spontaneous burns have become increasingly suppressed, the open areas that are crucial to Wild Blue Lupine survival, and therefore the Karner Blue butterfly, have significantly decreased. As a result, WWPP and its partners have worked to restore the natural habitat by planting acres of Wild Blue Lupine, as well enriching the habitat by planting nectar-rich native species such as Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) Bush Clover (Lespedeza) New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus americanus) and Horsemint (Monarda punctata).
I knew that we were headed toward one of these restored Karner habitats and my hopes were high that I would see one of these beautiful butterflies that day. I began to suspect that something very special was about to happen when, as we got out of the car, Michelle handed me a hand-held counter in order to keep track of the Karners.
As we crossed over the fence onto the sandy soil, I saw a mass of Wild Blue Lupine, flowerless now, as it was going to seed. As we walked, gingerly, careful to stay to the path, Jessica lightly touched the Lupine plants, and as she did, tiny clouds of Karners fluttered up before our eyes. I was clicking the counter continuously: ten, twenty, twenty-five, thirty, forty, forty five, before we were through, I’d counted ninety-six Karner Blues! Someone said, “How can we be sure you’re not re-counting the same butterflies?” Jessica explained that though we couldn’t be sure that we weren’t recounting some of them, we knew that there were many more that we weren’t seeing, and on average, we could be pretty sure that our number was not terribly exaggerated. Michelle Mattocks, the intern whose job it was to monitor the Karner population, had been getting counts consistent with this day’s number.
I watched, spellbound as these beautiful creatures fluttered about. The male’s upper-side is a lovely silvery blue, while the female’s upper-side is a bluish brown, with orange crescents and dark markings along the margins. The undersides of both sexes have black and orange markings. They are diminutive: only about an inch across.
As the Wild Blue Lupine’s flowers were now spent, they obtained nectar from Spotted Knapweed (Centaurea maculosa) and Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) as well as one or two Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) bushes that were present in this locale.
(It is important to note here, that native butterflies require native hostplants, as native plants contribute to the diversity of the habitat. As is commonly known, invasives such as Spotted Knapweed crowd out native plants depleting the diversity of the ecosystyem. This plant is particularly detrimental for the habitat, for its roots secrete a toxin that inhibits the growth of surrounding plants. As a result, WWPP and its volunteers have spent a good deal of time trying to eradicate it from the restored habitat area – no easy feat, as Spotted Knapweed can reproduce at an alarming rate: each plant can produce up to 1,000 seeds!)
The Karners were relatively easy to follow for they are not high fliers, and on this day, were not covering a great deal of territory. (Common belief has held that 200 meters was the maximum of territory covered during the Karner’s lifespan, but recent research has indicated that some of these butterflies may travel as much as 2 or 3 miles.) However, it is known that the entire life cycle of the butterfly is played out amongst the Wild Blue Lupine, with the Karner Blues even laying eggs on the ground near the Lupine once the plant has gone to seed.
I turned slightly to the left, and there before my eyes, a drama played out: a Jumping Spider (Eris marginata) pounced on and began to consume an adult Karner. As I watched mesmerized by the power of nature, and the cycle of life and death, I wondered about the future of this species.
As we got in our cars and drove away, I felt an enormous respect for the many people who have worked so hard to preserve the life of this species, and others, and I had a renewed desire to be a part of that effort.
Here are some ways that you can help:
∑ Support Prescribed Burns in order to Preserve Wild Blue Lupine Habitat: Specifically, Oak Savannas, Pine Barrens and Prairies
∑ Act to Preserve Existing Wild Blue Lupine Habitat
∑ Avoid the use of Chemicals and Pesticides near Wild Blue Lupine and/or Karner Blue butterfly habitat
∑ Create butterfly gardens using native plants

First published July 2004

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Dragonfly Love

Today I had a variable dancer (Argia fumipennis) perch on my arm; it is the only violet damselfly in the northeast, quite lovely, and special, as well. I believe there are over 750,000 species of dragonfly/damselflies in the world, but about 165 in the northeast. I see many species on the water, and they are all beautiful.
They belong to the order Odonata, Odon, meaning, “tooth”, an indication of the formidable mouthparts setting them apart as voracious predators. The sub orders, Anisoptera (dragonflies) and Zygoptera (damselflies) occur in North America.a
Usually, people refer to both suborders as dragonflies, but there is, in fact, a distinction between the two. Romantically speaking, of course, I am drawn to the damselfly: slender, delicate, seemingly fragile, all “feminine” characteristics; while the stout-bodied dragonfly is larger, more solidly built (male characteristics) which might lead one to believe that the former was the female of the same species, but this is not the case.
Either way, I am in love with both; they fly so effortlessly and silently making their sudden appearance feel magical. Their persona is so poetic, that one would not guess that they are “voracious predators”, but they are. In fact, the males are also very territorial, protecting their territory very ardently.
Females only visit the wetlands when they are ready to mate, and once a male is found, they display a unique method of mating by forming a “mating wheel”. The female arcs her body around to meet the male sex organs, which are on the underside of his body. They will fly joined like this, while mating is completed. The male then flies with the female while she oviposites (or, lays her eggs) and sometimes they fly in tandem during this process, as well. The reason for the male’s jealous guarding of his mate is that male dragonflies possess the ability to remove sperm packets (spermataphores) of previous mates! In order to avoid having his dominance usurped, he sees to it that their process is brought to complete closure.
The females deposit their eggs in varying ways, depending on their species: some will make a slit in plant stems to deposit their eggs; others will deposit them directly on grasses, reeds and mosses; while still others will deposit their eggs directly in the water.
Whatever way they come to us, a day on the water would not be the same without them.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

A Hand-Lens For the Heart

Muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus)

This water-loving mammal is often seen along the creek, but they are shy, and avoid human contact as much as possible. I have seen them swimming, usually alone, and they always seem to be at work. They move back and forth from the shore (and their den) to the open water. I have seen them gather strands of a plant that has ribbon-like leaves (possibly Bur Reeds). They pull them in long, graceful trails behind them, back to their nest, where they can eat them in safety,
Their back feet are partially webbed, and larger than their front feet, and their tail acts as a rudder, so they are good swimmers. Muskrats also have the talent of being able to swim frontward or backward, with equal ease. They build large houses that contain a nesting chamber, with an underwater entrance, so they can come and go with the relative safety such cover provides.
My neighbor’s son was telling me how he and his grandfather were killing “pests” the other day, and that he’d shot a muskrat in the tail end with a bb gun. “I didn’t kill it”, he said, “just surprised it”. He laughed as he told me this, and my heart broke to think that so many young people, even with the vast amount of knowledge about ecosystems, and the inter-related nature of all living things, which is available today, could still be so out-of-touch with the senselessness of such an act.
But then, I was painfully reminded of my experiment with a spider a couple of weeks ago: I’d noticed an interesting web, on a branch, near the shore, and I took out my hand-lens to get a closer look. It was a lovely pinkish-brown, about 2 cm long. Upon closer examination, its body looked like a semi-unripe plum, complete with the typical bloom of such a fruit. It sat upon a nettle leaf, near the stem; it’s glycerin-like legs all bunched about its body: two, reaching backwards, wrapped around its round little abdomen; one pair extended to either side; and two pair reaching frontward, over its head! It sat in a shroud of silk, silently waiting. When I jostled the leaf, it readied itself for action: its legs extending outward.
At that moment, a much smaller spider crawled across my leg, and I could not help but wonder if the gossamer web could hold this prey, and so, in God-like fashion, I placed the spider upon the leaf. Instantly, the spider I’d been watching leaped into action, attacking the prey with its fangs, injecting paralyzing venom. Then, sucking the juices from its victim, the pink spider seemed to balloon in size – suddenly it was fat with life, while its unfortunate visitor shrunk in collapse.
Quickly the host made repairs to its web, and then began dance-like movements: back and forth – its body writhing as though in labor. Sometimes it would turn itself entirely upside-down, so that I could see the opening from which the silk ensued. The gap had little prongs emerging from it, so that it looked, for all the world, like a female about to give birth to a live young – legs first! After having secured its home, it turned its back upon its prey, and continued its vigil.
Though I had pangs of guilt for having caused this death, my curiosity was not yet satisfied, and I placed another victim upon its lair – this time, an ant. The host lost no time in securing this meal with a venomous sting, but already sated, chose not to dine, and went back to its post.
It sat there for about ten minutes, and then went back to its first victim, and drank some more. It placed its fangs upon the unfortunate’s abdomen, and left them there for many minutes. The meal, no longer recognizable as a living thing, its black and white legs the only remaining feature.
In the meantime, the ant had made an escape; somehow he found the strength to make his way to the underside of the leaf, and down the leaf stem – an inch removed from its captor. At first, it advanced with difficulty, its movements, awkward, and legs flailing, but then, it moved no more, whether dead or paralyzed, I did not know.
This memory came back to me now, as I thought of my neighbor. I realized the parallel between my actions, and the boy’s, were obvious.
It was, I realized, simply a matter of perception: to me, the muskrat, being a mammal (like me) was easier to identify with; also, it’s beautiful, and its presence enriches the environment in which I live. As such, I would never dream of harming it.
Yet, a spider, from a seemingly different universe, is perceived as different enough from myself, that somehow, it doesn’t seem to hold the same value.
I am not sure, where the lines are drawn, if any, but I know that now that I am in possession of a hand-lens, whole new worlds are open to me: a nondescript “grey” caterpillar, under a hand-lens, is seen for its true magnificence: elaborate, colorful, distinctive markings suddenly become evident. How can something so magnificent be any less important?
Maybe a kind of hand-lens for the heart is what we need: something that can boost our perceptions, and help us to see that which should be obvious, but yet somehow, we often miss.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Great Blue Heron

I set off in my kayak last night, just as the sky bled orange and pink in the distance. The hot, muggy day had given way to a cool, and comfortable, night air, an early harbinger of fall. At first, I paddled west, because in that direction, the sky is wide open; here the span of water is 50 yards across, and the space affords the best light; for even though it is lined with high trees on both banks, the expanse of open sky is broad, and the last remains of the day’s light, can best be garnered. I also knew, that if I headed into the brook (where conversely, the breadth of water was much more narrow, and where the trees: aspen, birch, willow, beech and oak, seemed to hang in close, as though embracing the banks) it would already be semi-dark. But I knew, too, that it was here that I would most likely chance upon wildlife; the hope, of course, being that I would be unseen, and I would find them going about the business of living, unaware, and at ease. Because it is smaller, the brook is more intimate; wildlife, once found, can be observed up-close; and most of the time one can count on their presence, because they are attracted to this haven, where they can get away from the traffic on the creek, and the noise of the powerboats that traverse the waterway, though these were few now, as dusk fell.
I rounded the first corner of the brook, and an inner dialogue was ensuing: I was reminding myself, none too gently, to be quiet; the diatribe went something like this: “Even when you’ve convinced yourself that you are utterly alone, that is when you must be the most on guard, for isn’t it always then that you get careless, and cough, or bump your paddle against the boat? Then suddenly (of course) there is an abrupt rustle of wings, or a loud thump, followed by a splash, and you realize, you’ve blundered in; yet again, you have played the part of the proverbial bull in a china shop, frightening off some precious opportunity! So be quiet!”
Just as I said these final words to myself, I froze, for there, not ten feet away, stood the great blue heron, surrounded in an ephemeral mist, which rose from the water about him. His long, nimble neck was scrunched down into his shoulders, rounded, and hunched, leaving him to resemble a vulture; but his graceful beak quickly saved him from this indignity, refined, and elegant, as it was. His eyes appeared to be closed, and he stood motionless, save for a slight turn of the head in my direction. But the movement seemed casual, utterly unalarmed. I instantly held my breath and stayed stock-still. Unfortunately, however, though I had control over my body, I had no control over the boat, and it continued to drift lazily on the gentle current. If I’d used the paddle to stop the boat, I’d certainly frighten him away; but if I didn’t move, I could see that I was headed straight for a stand of cattails, and I knew there would be a loud rustling when the kayak made contact with them; I had no choice but to hand my fate over, and hope for the best. Amazingly, the noise made by the landing was minimal, and at first, he stood nonplussed, even when, as the momentum of the collision caused the boat to then glide backwards, and I started to move toward him once more; yet still, he did not move! It was just prior to the boat moving backward, that I’d heard the gentle splashing of a wood duck having his nightly bath, in the shadows, another ten feet beyond the heron; and it was the duck that startled, and flew away; once he was gone, the heron followed, as well.
It reminded me of what had happened the day before: I’d been sitting in a scrap of shade, trying to escape the heat, quietly contemplating the surroundings, when I heard a movement in the corn field that borders that section of the brook. I looked up to see a young fawn, still resplendent with white spots, step out onto the shore. Momentarily, its mother followed. While the fawn had not seemed to notice me (though I was in plain sight, just 10 feet from where he stood) the mother instantly locked her gaze on me, clearly trying to determine what this strange object was before her. She splayed her front legs, dropping down lower so that she could see below a low-hanging branch, which was obstructing her view. I closed my eyes, knowing that if she saw them, she would surely run; my hand lay across my face, and I peeked through my fingers with one eye, so that I could watch this beautiful creature. Unintentionally, one finger twitched, and in an instant, she retreated from whence she had come, her young quickly following. They leaped like gazelles through the corn, their white tails flagging behind them.
I felt sad that I’d disturbed them, forcing them to leave without their drink. The next evening, too, I felt regret that I’d robbed these other creatures of their peace and solitude. It was a troubling conundrum: those brief insights into their mysterious and mystifying world were what I hungered for, and sought out, each day. But I did not like to think of myself as just another nuisance to be endured on this too-busy waterway. Though I suffered these mild pangs of guilt, I knew that the pull toward them was too strong for me to resist, and that I would be back, tomorrow.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Maiden Voyage

Well! This is my maiden voyage in the world of blogging. I am thrilled to finally have a way to reach out to kindred spirits and to share my love of nature. As time goes by, I will share excerpts from the nature journal I am keeping on Fish Creek, an outlet of Saratoga Lake in Saratoga Springs, New York. This creek is amazingly still quite beautiful and, relatively unspoiled. My friend, Mira, a fellow nature-enthusiast, and I, took a 6- and- a- half hour paddle on Tuesday, and it was phenomenal! We spotted great blue herons, as well as green herons, and got to see a belted kingfisher do its famous dive-bomb into to the water to catch a fish! Along the way, we saw pasture roses in bloom, as well as day lillies, jewelweed, arrowhead, joe pye weed, purple loosestrife, and more. Spruce, pine and hemlock, as well as deciduous maple, elm,and birch dominate the shores, creating a magical forest through which we passed; in some places, no human presence could be detected. Only the call of redwing blackbirds, catbirds, and crows punctuated the more melodious songs of robin, baltimore oriole, and sparrow.
The history of this creek is quite impressive, Native Americans lined these shores for literally thousands of years. Before the dam was built on the Hudson, shad, herring, eel, and salmon ran these waters, and nourished the peoples who lived here. The great Iroquois tribes lived here, as well as others before them, and they flourished in a land that was abundant in wildlife and resources.
They obtained most of their food by gathering, hunting and fishing, but also grew maize, beans and squash.
In spring, they would gather fiddlehead ferns, cattail shoots, milkweed shoots, and marsh marigold shoots; in fall, they gathered chestnuts, hickory nuts, acorns and walnuts; and in winter, they gathered and stored nuts, seeds and roots. In the abundance of summer, they shared in strawberries, grapes, berries of all sorts, milkweed flowers, and rose hips.
In addition, they hunted Black bear , Elk, and Moose, now virtually unknown in the area, were plentiful, as well as whitetail deer, beaver and wild turkey. (Re: The First People of the Northeast, by Esther and David Braun)
While the natural splendors of those times are now, to a great extent, lost, we are still fortunate that the waters still flow with great beauty, and they are still attracting and supporting many fascinating and beautiful species.
It is my hope that this blog will serve in one small way to inspire, renew interest, and remind us all that this world is precious, and we must all work to preserve it, if our children, and our childrens' children, are not to be faced with a similarly drastic reduction in organic life.
Keep your eyes on the sky!