Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Ahh! Glorious fringed genetians! Thanks to Jeff Leon of Strawberry Fields, and his efforts to preserve these threatened flowers, and to raise awareness about them, I had the opportunity to see them for the first time ever. I first visited there with an ECOS (Environmental Clearinghouse of Schenectady) class, led by the amazing naturalist, Ruth Schottman.
They are in bloom now, and it’s amazing to think that these lacy, fragile-looking flowers are sturdy enough to survive, indeed thrive, in these chilly fall temperatures. Likewise, these nodding ladies'-tresses!
Who can help me to name these lovely little seed-pods(?) I think 'box' is in the name, but I can't find them in my field guides.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Adirondack Ramble

These photos were taken up in the beautiful Adirondacks on Schroon River. I feel so fortunate to live in such abundantly rich, diverse and amazing environs.These British Red Soldiers are a sight to behold, as well. I understand these are a lichen, which is an organism that is both fungus and algae. But I am not sure what all of the elements of the photograph are... they are lovely though!
I also am delighting in small gifts that I find such as these mushrooms that have markings on them that leave them looking like some delicate scrimshaw (claw marks? scraping from a tooth?)
And last, but not least, these lovely turkey tail fungi!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Farewell to Summer Flowers

  • With the chill in the air this morning, I am reminded that the summer is coming to a close. I say this wistfully, for I really love summer, but of course, fall has many beautiful gifts, as well. For instance, during my walk, I was amazed at how many flowers I am seeing still in bloom. Of course, there are the fall flowers: goldenrod, boneset, joe pye weed, many different asters, jewelweed, butter-and-eggs, and many that I can’t name; but there are still quite a few hardy summer flowers still in bloom, as well: birdfoot trefoil, clover, chicory, bladder campion, the lovely turtlehead, a few arrowhead and of course, purple loosestrife!
  • Also I saw an incredible little bug which turned out to be an immature stink bug (thanks so much Ted!)
  • And I saw a lovely gall (thanks woodswalker!) which I thought was a fruit of some kind.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Signs of Fall

As I set out on the water this day I see many signs of fall around me: bushes ripe with berries everywhere (here, honeysuckle) beautiful goldenrod in bloom (on which I found an amazing yellow and black argiope spider!) and of course, the twice-a-year gathering of redwinged blackbirds. I have yet to write down the date that I’ve first perceived their absence, so I am unsure when to expect their departure. I have a large dead oak, about 45 feet high, and they often congregate here. It seems to be mostly the young males, they look like the females (sort of like a large sparrow, with mottled brown feathers) except they are plumper, and their feathers seem more puffed out. The adult males, of course, are the classic glossy black birds with bright red shoulder patches.
They produce 2-3 broods per year, so that explains all the juveniles so late in the season. They nest on the ground, making a small, tight cup of marsh grass, which is attached to marsh vegetation, or, sometimes, in a bush. The eggs are a beautiful pale blue with dark brown and purple markings.
They have a bad reputation with farmers, as they eat grain in cultivated fields, but actually they benefit the farmer, for they consume large numbers of harmful insects, along with small fruits, small aquatic life, and seeds.
I came around the bend into the brook just as the blackbirds were roosting for the night. Such a cacophonous noise! They excitedly filled the trees and the reeds near the water. They typically gather in huge flocks, so this was not unusual. Little by little, they began to quiet down, settling into the trees, and the long grasses and reeds, as well, for the night.
Within ten minutes there was much less flitting from tree to tree and the chattering began to quiet as well. I noted that the trees they selected still had sunlight falling on them, while the surrounding ones were in shade. Within another five minutes they were almost quiet; there was still some jockeying for position going on, as though they must vie for position anew each night.
I read yesterday that they will gather with other species of blackbirds and even grackles and cowbirds as they prepare to migrate. There is a great explosion of sound and excited behavior that has them gathering in the trees above ones head. This is an amazing thing to witness, especially when some unseen cue silences them all simultaneously!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009




I headed in an opposite direction than usual today. A local farmer had sprayed the fields bordering the creek, using an atomized method; this renders a spray so fine, that it seeps into even closed windows, and creates a noxious and suffocating fume. The smell was oppressive, much more intense and unpleasant than fertilizer of days gone by, so though I tried, at first, to ignore it, I quickly realized that it would not do, and turned the boat eastward, upwind.

Problem is, the brook affords a lot of shade, and privacy, which I was seeking today, and so I wasn’t thrilled about heading out into the hot, open creek, with little protection from the sun. But I hadn’t gone a ½ mile when I noticed a little leafy edge, up against the hill on the eastern bank. Hanging from the side of the embankment there was an alder, with branches so low, that some were hanging in the water. This created a small blockage of the current where the water eddies and swirls as it goes past a fallen limb in the creek; a slight whirlpool is here created in its wake. Behind this blockage, and under this shade, was created a minute paradise, free of noise, or traffic, or noxious smell!

Ironically, most of the shade was provided by a white oak, just like the one that I was originally headed for; like the one whose shade I love to nestle under in the brook, so I was quite pleased to find it. Of course, this was a much younger one, with
not nearly the circumference of shade, nor nowhere near the splendor or presence of “my” oak, but it was leafy, and tall, about 15 feet - probably about ten years old. Next to it was a birch, about the same age, and next to that was a sumac, much younger, but because they grow so fast, and their compound leaves spread wide, they give a good amount of shade, early on. Together, they provided very decent cover, in fact, it was absolutely enticing: a leafy little sanctuary, complete with chipping sparrows.

On the steep embankment, above my head, rose Virginia creeper, sorrel, plantain, and mullein. In addition, the bank was covered with lichen and moss. The sandy hillside was covered with tunnel-like holes, like diminutive versions of the nest-tunnels created by belted kingfishers. In addition, there were many types of fungi: a diminutive black mushroom that looked like an umbrella; a little disk-shaped white mushroom about the size of a sunflower seed; and small cup-shaped projections that stood at attention like so many minute soldiers, each ½ the height of a straight pin.

Because the hill was sandy, it eroded easily, and the fine, filamental roots of the grasses were exposed, creating a fine network through the soil, and upon that, some species of spider had spun his web, again and again, and these were now covered with a fine spray of sand, creating a diaphanous curtain, that spread across the bank. I lightly touched one, here and there, careful to do no damage, in hopes that the architect would show up to investigate the disturbance, but my efforts were not rewarded.

I did notice that many of the fine holes in the bank were covered with this webbing, each with a distinct round opening in the middle of the web; an opening, coinciding with the center of the hole it covered. Was this the door to his cave? Was this his tunnel with the very center left open so that he could move about unhindered by his sticky lair?

As I looked at a patch of common carpet moss (mnium) mixed in with some broom moss (dicranum) I noticed a small slug, looking for all the world like a miniature Loch Ness monster, its antennae, little stubs; its body glistening in the sun. It sat motionless until I touched it with my pen, and then it moved only slightly.

As I sat here, a young rabbit moved across my view of the bank, stopping just six feet away to nibble the grass. As he moved unconcernedly up the hill he flashed his white cottontail and disappeared over the ridge.

So much to see in such a small space! I am here reminded of the incredible diversity of life, and how rich a few square yards can be. I set out today tired and cross, resentful that my usual sanctuary had been sullied, but in the span of ten minutes, I found yet another sanctuary, a world unto itself. As I looked at these fascinating and beautiful living things, my heart rate began to slow, my breathing became deeper, and I began to forget about my troubles; I could only glory in the gifts that surrounded me. I head home now more patient, more hopeful, and kinder than I left. Perhaps there is a finer way to spend an hour, but I cannot think what that might be.