Saturday, July 31, 2010

Evening Along the Sucker Brook Trail

The evening before had been such a hit with the dog and for me finding flowers, that I decided to come back last night and do another trail. This time we picked the Sucker Brook Trail. The sun was getting low, so we only saw it at the beginning of the outlet and then later on grazing the tops of the trees.

I love the light at the end of the day. It just makes things glow.

This patch of hobblebush always has a good dosing of bird droppings upon it. Every year. What birds are responsible? And why?

Every time I look up, I hope to find a nest, or even a bird, but all I ever see is the tree. It has some good branches for perching, but I still don't know what bird(s) use(s) it. If it was an owl, there would probably be at least a few pellets, but I've never found a pellet here. Woodpeckers? Kingfishers? The droppings look too big for kinglets or warblers, but who knows! Maybe they are copious poopers!

Toby's Great Adventure:

Head up, ears up, tail up, fur up - there's gotta be something in there!

I can smell it!!!

How sad; the sapsucker tree fell down.

Maybe it's a bear! We saw a bear here once before!

It's just ahead! Come on, c'mon - you're too slow!!!

AH-HA! I told you so! Look! A squirrel!!!

I, however, was there for the scenery. It was a beautiful evening to be out in the woods.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Before and After

Erosion 101

Here we have a nifty rock along the shore of Rich Lake 9 July 2009:

Here is that same rock just over a year later (29 July 2010):

All those lovely protrusions have been worn away! [Or at least they look that way from this angle. Admitedly, I was out in a canoe when I took the first image, and on shore for the second, which could make some of the protusions seem smaller due to angle.] What was a beautiful, fanciful rock appears to be a worn stub. Wind, rain, ice, can be a bummer for a soft rock.

We tend to think of erosion (especially on rocks) as something that occurs over geologic time, not within a year. Yet it can be a powerful force that can leave its mark in a short period of time. Some rocks weather a lot more quickly than others.

Around here, we have a lot of limestone and Grenville marble (or perhaps the Grenville marble is limestone based?). These are soft rocks.

Not being great at geology, I've asked my friend Lesley, who runs a rock shop over in Long Lake (Minerals Unlimited) if she could help me out here. Without actually seeing the rock up close and in person, all she could say was it looks like a type of limestone.

Still in need of info, I searched online for some kind of definition of limestone and marble. Here's a great description I found at

The main difference between limestone and marble is that limestone is a sedimentary rock, typically composed of calcium carbonate fossils, and marble is a metamorphic rock. Limestone forms when shells, sand, and mud are deposited at the bottom of oceans and lakes and over time solidify into rock. Marble forms when sedimentary limestone is heated and squeezed by natural rock-forming processes so that the grains recrystallize. If you look closely at a limestone, you can usually see fossil fragments (for example, bits of shell) held together by a calcite matrix. Limestone is more porous than marble, because there are small openings between the fossil fragments. Marble is usually light colored and is composed of crystals of calcite locked together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Marble may contain colored streaks that are inclusions of non-calcite minerals.

If you paddle around Rich Lake, when the water levels are low, you will see lots of rocks that look like creative sculptures. The softest portions have worn away, leaving the harder, more resistent rock behind. Some, like my rock above, can be quite lovely.


The monarch butterflies have been few and far between this year. In fact, after seeing the first one(s) in early July, I can't recall seeing any more! So I was pleasantly surprised to actually find a monarch caterpillar on one of my butterflyweeds a couple evenings ago.

Yesterday evening I took another look and found a second caterpickle on the same plant!

I moved on to a second plant, peered at it, and discovered one more caterpickle, although this one was significantly smaller! It's amazing how something so strikingly colored can blend right in.

I've also been fascinated this year with the variety in butterflyweeds. Most are orange sherbet colored, but this one has almost reddish stripes on the petals, while the ones we found at the Ice Meadows tended towards yellow.

I also have a couple at home that instead of sporting nice rounded clusters of flowers, they have a Spartan clusters of two to six flowers, spread out sporadically along the stems. Hm.

Mysterious Bladderwort - SOLVED

To recap: yesterday evening I found this lovely pale pink flower blooming along the shore of Rich Lake. I thought it was a bladderwort, but it doesn't match anything in my field guide.

Okay - I've already established that I am quick to jump to conclusions. But this time I have been careful to look for as many details as I could, looked up all known bladderwort species in NYS, as well as any pink/purple bladderworts found worldwide, or any other type of plant that might even remotely look like this (maybe it isn't even a bladderwort).

The first thing I did this morning was to return to the shoreline to verify that the plant is indeed a bladderwort. How? But uprooting a specimen and looking for bladders.

Voila! There they were. So, I've established that this is a bladderwort.
Looking through my field guide (and on-line), I see that most bladderworts are yellow. There is a purple bladderwort found in NY, but based on the illustrations in the field guide and the photographs I've seen on-line, it does not have the spur this one sports, and the flower shape is different.
What can this be? Is it a mutant? Is it a new species (Utricularia rathboneii)?

I'm counting on my flower friends (uh, that'd be you, Jackie) to have what is likely to be a simple explanation. The odds are this is something quite common and I've simply gotten hung up on some little detail, or missed something obvious and just jumped to the wrong conclusion.

Some of these are right in the water, while others are upshore just a bit (would be in the water if we got a little more rain).

Rich Lake is nearly neutral in pH, with a lot of limestone bedrock exposed. There are sundews, pipewort and water lobelia growing in the same area, with narrow-leaved gentians just inland a few feet.

I eagerly await input.

Update: As I suspected, my friend Jackie knew what it was. This is lavender, or reversed, or supine bladderwort (Utricularia resupinata). In the NYS Revised Checklist of Plants it is only listed as "bladderwort," so I forgive myself for overlooking the listing. This member of the bladderwort clan is found throughout the northeast and up into Canada, although in many of our surrounding states its status is iffy (Endangered: CT, ME, MD, NJ; Threatened: MA, VT; Special Concern: RI, TN; Extirpated: IN, PA). So, I'm glad to have seen it!

For those wondering, bladderworts are carnivorous plants. Those little bladders are the food-acquisition units. They lie there flat, waiting for a prey item to trigger a little hair that makes the bladders snap open, the resulting vacuum sucking in the surrounding water and any critters in it. (Think of what would happen if you were in outer space and your space vehicle developed a hole: everything would be sucked out into space instantaneously.) Digestive enzymes and bacteria go to work on the food, digesting it in 15 minutes to 2 hours, depending on the amout of prey captured. When the process is done, special cells extract the resulting soup into the stem of the plant, thus reestablishing the vacuum within the bladder and resetting the trap. Pretty nifty system.

An Evening on the Peninsula and a Follow-up Visit

Because I've been itching to get back out to the Peninsula Trail to check the rattlesnake plantains, and because all last week and this week I've been the only full-time employee "on" and thus unable to hit the trails, last night I decided our evening stroll would be at the VIC. So, donning leash (dog) and camera (me), we drove over and hit the trails.

The plantains were blooming - all over! I first saw one very small specimen, and was soon convinced we had a dwarf rattlesnake plantain. [A follow-up visit this morning (for better photos, sans dog) proved this was optimistically incorrect.]

I next came across a cluster - most of which were definitely downy rattlesnake plantain (Goodyera pubescens). One, however had paler leaves, and once more I was all excited thinking it might be checkered rattlesnake plantain. I checked it again this morning, getting a better look at the flowers, and I'm now satisfied that all the rattlesnake plantains I saw were downies. Here are some pics for your own evaluation:

Downies are known for their rather pouched lips, and they are the most common species.

By the time I had taken about a hundred photos, the sun was headed toward the horizon. It was about 8 PM.

We walked along the shoreline, just because it was there. I was thrilled to see water lobelia (Lobelia dormanna) in bloom, some standing in the water, others stranded up on the shore.

Gentians were suddenly everywhere, just within the treeline along the shore. Most common here is the narrow-leaved gentian (Gentiana linearis).

And then there was this plant. My first thought was "It's a pink bladderwort. I've never seen a pink bladderwort." I took some pics and when I got back to the car I looked it up. Nada. There is a purple bladderwort, but the flower looks different. What can this be?

This morning I went back out to reevaluate this flower - details will be in my next post (ahh - suspense).

In the meantime, this tiny frog hopped by. It's a young pickerel frog (Rana palustris, although the genus is no longer Rana; my field guide with the corrected name is in my car - will get back to you on that).

And if you want to see cardinal flowers (Lobelia cardinalis), now is the time to do it. I even saw a hummingbird checking them out this morning.

It was good to be out on the trails again!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Humid Morning in the Garden

Unable to hit the trails because of low staff numbers, I headed into the butterfly garden this morning to see what might be happening.

The rain from the last 24 hours was sparkling like liquid silver on the leaves of the false indigo, making it an immediate draw for me and the camera.

I am drawn to water drops in a way I cannot explain. One of the things I love about them is how they reflect the world around them, only upside-down and in miniature.

Mr. Snail (or is it a Ms?) was oozing along a milkweed leaf. Their eyestalks always amuse me.

This ladybug was zooming all over the stem and leaves of a globe thistle. She wouldn't hold still long enough to photograph, but I managed to capture this shot just before she dashed out of the frame. I love the striped stem - reminds me of some of the striped pants that were so popular during the '60s/'70s. The color is delicious.

And then there was this guy. I had packed up my gear and was heading inside when I saw him creeping along the pavement toward the front doors.

After several attempts I was able to pick him up and put him on the railing for photographing. This is what he did:

This defensive posture, rearing up and swaying back and forth, is supposed to look threatening. Head on it looks a bit like a snake.

To me, though, it looks more like a manatee or a walrus.

I used to be a member of the Save the Manatee Club, and have several photos of manatee faces, so I am quite familiar with their appearance. This is almost a dead ringer (ignoring the yellow eye spots, of course, for manatees have small, dark eyes).

OH! So what is it? It's a caterpillar of a Canadian Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio canadensis). I had a devil of a time getting an ID on it. Our two caterpillar field guides are pretty basic and this wasn't in it. The closest I could come was the regular tiger swallowtail, except its larvae are green. The rest of the markings (blue spots, yellow eyespots, yellow ring around the neck) were all the same. The field guides say that when young (small) the tiger's larvae are brown, but turn green as they mature. This puppy was already quite mature, so I had my doubts. Two or three searches on-line and finally I found it!

This actually answers a question I've had since late spring when the tiger swallowtails were all over the place. I wasn't sure if we had regular tigers or Canadian tigers. They can be very difficult to tell apart. One of the traits used is size - the Canadians are smaller. But on the wing it is hard to tell. Now we know for sure that Canadian tigers are here in Newcomb, NY!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Stormy Weather

Wednesday evening, about 6 PM, a storm blew in to town. The power went out, came on, went out, and finally came back on 20 minutes later.

The wind blew, the rain fell. It was so intense, it looked more like a blizzard in winter than a rain storm, what with the sheets of rain blowing off roofs and swirling down the street.

By 7 PM it was over. Toby and I went out for our walk and saw a small tree down along the highway, but otherwise not much damage.

Thursday morning, many DOT trucks passed us on the road. As I drove in to work, I saw them all along one house - and there, on the roof, was a very large tree.

Thursday night, on the way home from our concert in Long Lake, the woman with whom I was carpooling wanted to stop and see how her aunt was doing. We pulled into the driveway, and this is what I saw (in the dark):

The car had been under the tree when it fell. As you can see, the window is a bit scratched.

It was at this point that I learned about the Microburst. We have a small Fitness Trail in town that runs down toward the Town Beach. My carpool companion mentioned the microburst at the beach. "What?" I said. "Oh, you didn't hear? Yeah - it looks like someone clearcut the woods along the fitness trail."

Well, I had to check it out, so this morning I stopped by on my way to work. About an acre of woods was just totally flattened. It was impressive.

Here is the view from the parking area:

I couldn't walk in far enough to get a good shot, though.

So, I walked down the Fitness Trail. The flattened area goes right across the trail.

The holes left by these roots were at least three, maybe three and a half, feet deep.

These trunks are about 18" diameter.

This rootmass was easily eight feet tall.

Here's what Wikipedia says about Microbursts:

A microburst is a very localized column of sinking air, producing damaging divergent and straight-line winds at the surface that are similar to but distinguishable from tornadoes which generally have convergent damage. There are two types of microbursts: wet microbursts and dry microbursts. They go through three stages in their life cycle: the downburst, outburst, and cushion stages. The scale and suddenness of a microburst makes it a great danger to aircraft due to the low-level wind shear caused by its gust front, with several fatal crashes having been attributed to the phenomenon over the past several decades.

A microburst often has high winds that can knock over fully grown trees. They usually last for a couple of seconds. writes this:

A microburst is a small, very intense downdraft that descends to the ground resulting in a strong wind divergence. The size of the event is typically less than 4 kilometers across. Microbursts are capable of producing winds of more than 100 mph causing significant damage. The life span of a microburst is around 5-15 minutes.

When rain falls below cloud base or is mixed with dry air, it begins to evaporate and this evaporation process cools the air. The cool air descends and accelerates as it approaches the ground. When the cool air approaches the ground, it spreads out in all directions and this divergence of the wind is the signature of the microburst. In humid climates, microbursts can also generate from heavy precipitation.

Our local youth program had a group camping on the beach this night. When the storm hit, one of tents blew over onto the other tent. The group leaders wisely decided to pack up and leave.

Mother Nature is an impressive force - it is amazing what she can do, eh?