Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Glorious Morning

It was such a beautiful morning that I had to abandon the office and get out on the trails. I headed for the Sucker Brook Trail, always a good choice.

The water level of the lake is quite low. We've barely had a half inch of rain this month, and July was also quite dry (about 3"). So I was able to walk along a shoreline that is usually underwater.

The gentians are pretty much past their prime, but oh, the cardinal flowers (Lobelia cardinalis) really are glorious this year!

As I recall, the structure of the cardinal flower is designed so that when a hummingbird attempts to score some nectar, the finger that sticks out above whaps the bird on the head, effectively attaching the pollen. When the hummer flies on to the next flower, its head is whapped again and pollen exchange takes place. Here is a close up of the reproductive parts. Pretty nifty, eh?

Another flower blooming along the now-exposed beach was this delicate little yellow fellow. It was on a long thin stem,

with only a small cluster of thin, grass-like leaves at the base (the ones held by my fingers, not the larger, dark green ones). This turned out to be creeping spearwort (Ranunculus reptans), a member of the buttercup family and a new flower for my lifelist. As I looked around, I spotted a few more. A pretty little plant.
Update: I was doing a little research on this little plant and found myself bogged down in a morass of taxonomy. Y'see, I like to get things labeled correctly, and this plant was just not lending itself to that. The Newcomb's field guide called it creeping spearwort - R. reptans, but on-line all I could find was R. flammula. My Revised Checklist of NYS Plants listed R. flammula, but not R. reptans. Then I found a website that called R. reptans greater creeping spearwort, and R. flammula lesser creeping spearwort. Okay, I thought, I can work with this, but the next website I read had them reversed. ARGH! So I wrote to my botany buddy Jackie for her opinion. Here's what she wrote: I know only one Creeping Spearwort, and it's the one listed in Newcomb's as Ranunculus reptans. But this name has since been updated, according to info Steve Young sent, to Ranunculus flammula var. reptans. So, if you are like me, and like to get all your labels correct, it looks like this is the latest version for this little plant.

While hanging out on one of the bridges, I noticed a silvery spot on the water. It was a large group of insects - possibly whirlygig beetles or something similar. They just sort of sat there, barely milling about.

On a whim, I decided to "shoot some video" of the insects, just in case they did something. Sure enough, something caused a disturbance in the mass. A puff of wind? A gang of fish? Who knows.

When the proverbial dust settled, the insects arranged themselves into two rows instead of one blob.

In the winter I constantly photograph the sulfur yellow naked leaf buds of the hobblebush (Viburnum alnifolium), but here they are already - waiting for next spring to open completely and start photosynthesizing.

The hobblebush fruits are ripening now, too. Do you see what's all over the fruits?

How about now? These ants were very busily swarming all over the fruits. I wonder why? There were no aphids evident, so these couldn't have been shepherding ants. What could they have been after?

This lovely little moth thought it could fool me as it flitted across the path, executed a neat flip and dove to the leaf-littered ground beneath the low vegetation. It took a moment, but despite its clever camouflage, I was able to locate it.

I love jewelweed. It is such a lovely plant, and comes in two colors: yellow and orange. The orange ones are also called orange touch-me-nots (Impatiens capensis), while the yellow ones are pale touch-me-nots (I. pallida). Why are they called "touch-me-not"? It's not because they have thorns, or prickles, or a rash-causing toxin. Nope, it's because when the seed pods are ripe, the slightest touch will cause them to explode open, shooting out their seeds like so many mini cannonballs.

I never noticed before, but jewelweed flowers are attached to the plant in a rather odd location. They look kind of like goldfish that have had a fishing line glued to the tops of their heads.

The long white fibers on the leaves of this plant (I didn't spend time looking at the plant to ID it, but my impression was raspberry) caught my eye. Every leaf cluster looked like this one. I knew it wasn't something "normal," and I suspected aphids. It actually reminded me of wooly alder aphids, but this wasn't an alder, and the white fibers were too long for WAAs. I was flummoxed.

Here's what I saw on the back side. If you can click on the photo and zoom in, you will see that those brown bits are insects. I had thought they were aphids, but they have wings and look, in form, kind of like plant hoppers. I've sent photos to BugGuide to see if anyone there knows what they are. Will keep you posted.

The final flower of my walk was common burdock (Arctium minus), complete with bumblebee.

A lovely plant and supposedly the inspiration for velcro, burdock is a non-native that has made itself quite at home. Known medicially as a great blood purifier, its roots are harvested in the fall and can be easily made into a tincture.

And now I'm back in the office and will soon need to take my turn at the front desk. The clouds are starting to roll in - rain is in the forecast. I shall do a little rain dance and see if that helps.


  1. Love the whirligig video and I am so impressed with how accurate your photo of the reds in the cardinal flower turned out. I can never quite capture reds.

  2. Ellen, this was a lovely entry, so full of interesting things. I see so many things that I have never seen, or noticed before. The video of the water bugs was fascinating. And, that woolly raspberry leaf and it's little bugs is a real mystery. I can't wait to find out what they turn out to be.

  3. threecollie - the color capture on my camera has often had me turning the air around me blue! I think I have come to the conclusion, however, that it might just be that the camera's viewing screen is off. Red usually look a lot more orange, and blues and purples, well, they just don't look "right." Still, once they are on the computer, all seems to look okay. Go figure, eh? :)

    Louise - the current opinion is that the insects are, brace yourself, jumping plant lice. Ewww. I'm waiting for confirmation.

  4. Blech! I made a mistake and Googled them. Those were some icky pictures, and critters.

  5. WOW! what a cool set of photos and information. Love the video...I wish I could remember to turn mine on. Don't you just love to look under leaves and find strange and interesting critters and signs of critters. This evening I was reading about Tied Conifer Needles, p370 Eiseman, and then went outside and there they were. I was told that the yellow jewelweed grows in the sun and the red grown in the shade. Is that true?

  6. Great photos, as always, but that second one, of the cardinal flower should have a R rating! Lots of interesting info, thanks.

  7. Squirrel - I don't know about yellow vs orange jewelweed with regards to location. In fact, I've only rarely found yellow. I've seen lots of orange in my life...and all in the woods. Maybe there is something to it. I'll keep my eyes peeled.