Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Butterfly Paradise

 I know a place where the Wild Lupine grows -- and boy, does it EVER!  That place is the Gick Farm parcel of the Wilton Wildlife Preserve and Park, where park managers have been sowing Wild Lupine for years, as a project intended to support the federally endangered Karner Blue Butterfly, whose larvae feed on lupine leaves and nothing else.  Well, it sure appears that their efforts have paid off!  Have you ever seen so much Wild Lupine in one place?

I even found some that were white!

I stood around in the middle of these Lupine fields, hoping to get a clear photo of the beautiful Karner Blue Butterfly, a wee little thing, barely an inch across, and as blue as a clear summer sky.  Here's one that landed, just briefly, and kept his wings open just long enough for me to snap his picture, before he flitted off.  They are such teases, so blue on the wing but gray as dust when they land on a flower to feed.

Most of the time, when these butterflies land, they snap their wings together and disappear, as if they had become the color of air.  Here's one whose image I managed to capture, because the sun lit up its gray underwings with their spots of orange and black.

You will notice these butterflies are not feeding on Wild Lupine, but rather on the flowers of Common Blackberry.  While it's true that this butterfly's larvae can only feed on the leaves of Wild Lupine, the adults are happy to take their meals wherever nectar is offered.  Blackberries must have nectar in abundance, to judge by the traffic jam of butterflies and others feeding on this patch today.

Oh look, a little brown butterfly has joined the party!  Chances are, it's a female Karner Blue, which is described in the butterfly guides as having wings of dusky brown, bordered with orange crescents.

As this photo shows, there is a slight blue cast to this brown butterfly's wings, especially near the body.  And when she closed her wings, her underwings were as silvery gray as her mate's.

There WAS another brown butterfly enjoying the feast of these fields, and that was this little Silver-spot Skipper, sipping some Wild Lupine nectar.

Here's another nectar-sipper, a cute little Bee Fly feasting on blackberry flowers with its needle-thin proboscis, its rapidly beating wings a-blur.

Yes, those butterflies looked so pretty, feeding on lovely flowers.  And hey, they STILL looked pretty, happily feeding on clumps of horse poo.  I have heard that mud and manure hold minerals that many butterflies crave, but it's always a little startling to see these ethereal creatures feasting away on feces.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Floral Finds in the Piney Woods, and On the Marble Shore

What fun to have my friend Sue on holiday today, so we could explore together a wonderful piney woods a few miles north of Warrensburg.  We had visited this woods together a couple of years ago, and we remembered nearly swooning from the sweet heady fragrance of thousands and thousands of Canada Mayflowers in bloom beneath the tall pines.  And yes, we found them here again this year -- and in full glorious bloom and bounteous aroma!  How to describe their fragrance?  Sweet and fruity, a little bit like grape lollipops.  But better.  Heavenly!  And they're also really pretty.

Just as pretty, if not quite so abundant, were the dozens and dozens of Pink Lady's Slippers in beautiful bloom on Monday, sharing that same woods as the Canada Mayflower and lots and lots of wee tiny pines.

I don't believe I have ever before seen a Pink Lady's Slipper so deeply pink.  What a rich wonderful color -- the visual equivalent of the rich wonderful fragrance we breathed as we gazed at the Lady's Slippers' beauty.

In the same vicinity under the pines, the Yellow Clintonia was also coming into its glory.

After sating our senses with the beauty and fragrance of all that grew in the woods, we next moved out to the shore of the Hudson River, which here at this spot possesses banks of the most amazing marble.

So many different shapes and colors and swirls of what once was molten rock!  It almost looks as if it were flowing still.

Tucked in among these swirling and crystalline rocks were a number of beautiful flowering plants, including the rare Dwarf Sand Cherry, its sprawling branches loaded with white, fragrant blooms.

Another pretty plant that thrives here is Star-flowered Solomon's Seal, each stem of blue-green leaves topped with a cluster of star-shaped white flowers.

We weren't the only ones enjoying these pretty flowers today, although I believe this female Scorpion Fly was more interested in the food it provided her than she was in its beauty.  Sue was the one who first spotted this interesting insect, and when I asked her how it came to be called a Scorpion Fly, she told me that if I were to see the male of this species,  I would know why.  If you Google "Male Scorpion Fly," you can see photos of its enlarged sexual organ, which does indeed look like the business end of a scorpion.

The flowers that grew among these rocks presented quite a colorful display, with these Golden Alexanders glowing a vivid yellow.

Clusters of dainty Bluets added their radiant blue hues.

Hedges of some species of Low Blueberry shrubs provided a charming multi-color display, the pink-blushed yellow blooms held in bracts of the loveliest turquoise-blue.

Bastard Toadflax held buds and blooms of purest white.

Wild Columbine brought the most smashing colors of all, their glowing scarlet outer parts enclosing intricate structures of bright-yellow.

After exploring the marble outcroppings that line the shore here, we next ventured downstream to a flatter area along the river, a stretch of sandy, gravely beach.

The flowers of New Jersey Tea or of Frostweed or of Tubercled Orchids were as yet nowhere to be found, nor were the tall stalks of flowing white Canadian Burnet that we knew to grow here.  But the baby leaves of Canadian Burnet, deeply scalloped and rimmed in red, were every bit as pretty as their flowers will ever be when they bloom late in summer.

We also found some interesting sedges, including the rare Buxbaum's Sedge, with its rather attractive seed heads colored a translucent lime green striped with black.

I don't know the name (as yet) of this attractive sedge, with its long male inflorescences colored a deep mustard yellow.  Many clumps of it were growing right next to the water in damp sand, so we can surmise it prefers a wet habitat.

These Lance-leaved Violets were our last surprise of our visit, since we did not remember finding them here before.  I wonder how we could have missed them, since they were growing in abundant numbers, and again, very close to the river's edge, in damp sand.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Cold Dawn On Pyramid Lake

Think 37 degrees is too cold to go for a morning paddle?  Yeah, that thermometer gave me pause for a moment Saturday morning when I arose at Pyramid Lake.  But then I turned around and looked at the dawn sun touching the trees with gold and a sapphire sky stretching from horizon to horizon, and I heard the loons calling from somewhere beyond the island.  The choice was easy.  Out I went.

Yeah, I sure could have used some warm gloves, but the rest of me was snug in warm clothes as I paddled toward the eastern end of the lake, keeping to the shaded shore so the rising sun wouldn't blind me.

Then I crossed to the sunlit shore and drifted along, feeling the warmth of a late-spring sun on my back and basking in the glow of this birch tree gilded by dawning light.

I don't think there's any place on earth more lovely than an Adirondack lake, surrounded by mountains and dotted with islands, on a sunlit morning when the water lies shining and reflective as molten silver.

I was here at Pyramid Lake this weekend to help prepare my beloved Pyramid Life Center for a new season of retreats and recreational offerings. I've been coming here for 24 years, ever since the 1991 (first!) Iraq war drove me to seek refuge among others who believed in the sinfulness and futility of war.  That was a peacemakers' retreat with the Jesuit priest and war resister Daniel Berrigan, and I've been coming back every year since then.  How many wars ago was that?

Since I find such peace and joy and friendship and natural beauty here, I volunteer both spring and fall to help open and close the center, and my task has always been to clean all the guest rooms in the main lodge, 17 of them, plus all the bathrooms and meeting rooms and lounges in the building.  The rooms are not fancy, but they are comfortable, and when I'm done with them, they sure are clean!  This was my room this weekend.

I did not have much time this year to go botanizing, but I did stop along the entrance road where marble boulders climb the banks, and it's here where the lovely Purple Virgin's Bower blooms every spring.  My visits to Pyramid Life Center don't always coincide with this flower's bloom time, but, lucky for me, this year's visit did.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Bounteous Botanical Beauty Along Bog Meadow Brook

What a botanical treasure-lode we have in Bog Meadow Brook Nature Trail!  Located just east of Saratoga Springs, the trail runs for about 2 miles along an old railroad right-of-way and passes through three different  habitats:  forested wetland, swamp, and open marsh, each with its distinct group of plants.   If you just want to walk it, you can cruise right along and complete its length (one way) in much less than an hour.  But if you want to stop every few feet or so to marvel at all the array of fascinating plants, you'd better plan on quite a bit longer than that.  When I led a group from the Ecological Clearing House of Schenectady there on Tuesday, we barely reached the half-way point before some of our group had to leave for prior appointments.  Ah well, at least we had seen some of the special plants I had promised we would find.

Right at the start of our walk, I could point to the masses of tiny white flowers that lined the path, a wee little thing called Grove Sandwort. This is not considered to be a rare flower in the county, but Bog Meadow is the only place I know where to find it, and none of our group today had ever seen it.

Adding its own bigger brighter color to the patches of sandwort was the lovely purple Wild Geranium.

We didn't have to go far before we saw the first of many Mayapples, with their single big white flowers half hidden beneath the umbrella of their giant leaves.

Only a bit further along we began to see the flower that this trail is famous for, the elusive Nodding Trillium.  Although some botanists have expressed concern that this trillium seems to be disappearing from its traditional sites, so far it thrives along Bog Meadow Brook Nature Trail.  In fact, I counted many more  here this year than ever before, and our group was delighted to find so many in full glorious bloom.

We were a little bit too early to find the pretty yellow Clintonia in full glorious bloom, but we did find a few just warming up for the big show to come.

Speaking of shows to come, I was delighted to find dozens and dozens of Canada Lily shoots lining the path.  I don't know how many of these young plants will bloom this year, but if only a portion of them do, there will be a spectacular display of these lilies, dangling their orange, yellow, and red fireworks around the Fourth of July.

When it comes to floral fireworks, it would be hard to surpass the flowers of Glaucous Honeysuckle for gorgeous multi-colored blooms.  I was SO excited when one of our group pointed to this confetti-colored flower cluster and asked what it might be.  I had found Glaucous Honeysuckle here years ago, but not in quite some time.

It was just about at this point on the trail that some of our group had to turn back.  I offered to continue the walk for those who would like to remain, and several did.  And wouldn't you know, we hadn't gone more than 20 feet before we entered a section of trail that held some of the most interesting finds.  I almost hollered at our departing friends to quick come back and see these beautiful Star-flowered Solomon's Seals, but they might have already been beyond earshot.  The friends who remained were certainly delighted by these sweet starry flowers held on lovely blue-green leaves.

These beautiful and prolific flowers stayed with us for quite a while as we proceeded along the trail, until we drew to a halt to examine the next population of remarkable flowers, a large patch of Perfoliate Bellworts.

Now we were entering a darker forest, where the trees met over the trail and water pooled on either side, creating a deep-green swamp filled with Marsh Marigold and Skunk Cabbage leaves and the long slender wands of Water Horsetail, wreathed with their spiky branches.

It was here in these dark still pools, maybe 15 years ago, that I first found the only bog plant I've ever known to grow along Bog Meadow Brook Nature Trail, a plant called Bog Buckbean.  For the past three years I have missed finding it,  for not only its flowers, but also its leaves just seemed to have disappeared.  Well, you can imagine the squeal I let out when I spied the distinctive cluster of Buckbean's three leaves protruding above the muck.  And that was just for spying the leaves.  On Wednesday I returned and discovered the bright-white cluster of flowers in the very same spot.  I wonder how on earth I could have missed them the first time around.  I am just so happy to see they are back where I always used to find them, the only place I know of in all of Saratoga County.

Just a few yards further along, it was my friends' turn to squeal with delight, as we spied the bright pink flowers of Early Azalea off in the woods, its presence announced in advance by the heady fragrance borne on the warm humid air.

Such an incredibly beautiful native shrub, it's hard to believe it just grows wild in the swamp, with no gardener or groundskeeper to tend it.

And now it really was time to turn back, if any of us hoped to have lunch before it was time to start dinner.  What a fine time we had all had together, enjoying not only the floral surprises but also the songs of many birds, from the loud liquid peals of a Scarlet Tanager hiding from sight in the treetops, to the sweet sibilant silvery spiral of song from a Veery way off in the forest. Not to mention the great pleasure of each other's fine company.  I hope we can walk together another time.  When we have more time.

*  *  *

Well, I had more time for Bog Meadow the next day, when I returned to enter the trail from a different access point midway along its length.  I knew there were still more botanical treasures to be found, and I wanted to find them before their bloom-time was over.

I encountered the first flower I was seeking almost as soon as I entered the trail, at a place I have always found it before, along a tiny brook.  The plant's name is Water Avens, and true to its name, it likes to grow in wet places.  Although it looks as if it were still in bud, this is actually as far as its blossoms will open.

I next crossed the trail and entered the woods, moving in closer to a vast wetland that supports massive growths of Sensitive Fern and Skunk Cabbage.

I could walk through an open woods close to this wetland, and here I found abundant numbers of the bright-yellow flowers of Golden Ragwort, a plant that likes its feet rather damp.

I was now exploring a part of this nature preserve I had never traveled through before, so I had never seen this particular section of wetland completely taken over by a single species of sedge.  Luckily, I have a friend with far more extensive knowledge of sedges than I ever hope to have (Thanks, Andrew!), and he has informed me that this is quite likely a sedge called Carex lacustris.   Possessing some of the largest leaves and fruiting bodies of any sedge, this is a common denizen of wetlands in New York State.

I have never thought of Bog Meadow as a particularly lime-rich habitat, but the presence of masses of Maidenhair Fern in both the wetlands and upland forest cause me to believe there must be some source providing the lime that this beautiful fern requires.

I also have found an occasional Rattlesnake Fern in these woods, which is a species of botrychium that also usually indicates the presence of lime in the soil.

Well, I searched and searched and I never did find a flower I had located several days ago when I scouted this trail in preparation for leading the ECOS group here.  How could I miss this sizable clump of Rose Twisted Stalk with its pretty pink bells dangling down from arching leaves?

I know it's in there, and I am determined to find it again.  Which means I will have to come back before next Thursday, when I lead my friends in the Thursday Naturalists  along this same trail in search of all we found this week, and possibly others.  I just hope that most of these botanical treasures will still be in bloom by then.

One thing is certain, the trail will be in good shape for walking, thanks to the efforts of this gentleman, Geoff Bournemann, whom I met hard at work repairing silted-out sections caused by erosion.  Geoff has been stewarding this trail for many years, and I can't thank him enough for easing my passage along one of the richest botanical sites in all of Saratoga County.