Saturday, June 15, 2013

Up to the UP - Part 4, Day 3

It was a chilly and drippy morning.  Still, we had birds to seek and places to explore.  After the complementary breakfast at our motel, we drove out to meet the rest of the group.  Our first stop was along a dirt road to a place called Natalie.  Objective:  Canada warbler.

We heard a few birds, but the Canada remained elusive.  

I was soon wandering off the road to investigate the flowers.  Pale laurel was quite abundant here, but this white-flowering shrub was something new.  It was Labrador Tea, another friend from the mountains back east.

One of the quick ways to identify this evergreen shrub is by looking at the underside of the leaves, which are covered with an orange wooliness.  Yes, this plant was historically used in making a tea (or, more properly, a tisane), but some folks also used to chew on the leaves because they liked the flavor.  One of our group tried it, and soon declared it must be an acquired taste...and the wooliness was rather off-putting.

Leatherleaf, another blast from the past, was also growing rather prolifically along the road.  In fact, we were to run into vast populations of these two wetland plants later this day.  Leatherleaf flowers are reminiscent of blueberry flowers, but a close look soon tells that they are different plants.  

John Eastman's book, The Book of Swamp and Bog, is a very worthwhile read for those interested in learning about the life in various wetlands.  He points out that "Leatherleaf plants show zones of annual stem growth.  The branch...with smaller leaves, has produced this season's flowers and seeds.  Like the previous year's fruiting branch, it will wither and die [you can see these dead twigs when you look closely at a leatherleaf shrub].  Next year's flowering branch will sprout from [a] leafy branch [that you see now without flowers on it]."

We encountered a number of willows on this trip.  Here were a couple in bloom:

At least I think they are willows.  

Further up the road the woods opened into peatlands.  Perfect for moose.  We didn't see one.

We did see some very soggy cotton grass, though.

And one very early buttercup.  It was in the wrong habitat for early buttercup (R. fascicularis), but perhaps it was an early bloomer of one of the others, possibly swamp or tall.  It was too wet out to dig out my Newcomb's and I did not get a photo of the leaves for later verification.

We continued up the road to a campsite and a boat launch.  Very foggy, very windy.  Some waterfowl were added to the birders' lists...and a black tern, if I remember correctly.

We found some fairly recent beaver work.

And even saw where the logs ended up.

I was tickled pink to find bunchberry in bloom.

Our next destination was a short drive away.  The cherries were in bloom, and the only birds I recall hearing were robins.

What really caught my attention here, though, was the logging.  We were parked next to a staging area where thousands and thousands of logs were stacked, waiting to be packed onto train cars and shipped to their destination.  I suspect a paper mill was at the end of the line, based on the size of the logs.  Pulpwood.

Since the birds were not cooperating here, we hopped back in the cars and drove to our next spot.  The birders set off at a good clip, leaving behind those of us who were wandering more than birding.  We found a nice patch of goldthread, and I dug one up to show the golden roots while I explained how these plants had once been harvested to the brink of their existence in many areas. The roots were sought for various medicines, including as a treatment for mouth sores (hence the common name canker root). I seem to recall reading somewhere that it was once used in a popular beverage to combat hangovers, too, although its efficaciousness (is that a word?) remains in doubt.

We were walking along a lovely road through the woods.  There are many of these roads in this area, each providing access to the interior of the woods.  Some may have been old logging roads, and some are certainly used for hunting access and other forms of outdoor recreation.

The roadsides were soon gardens of mosses and lichens.

Small woody plants with white flowers had us confused for quite some time, until one of our group determined these were just really small serviceberries.  Blooming so young?  Perhaps they were dwarfed because of deer pressure and in fact they were much older than they appeared.

A familiar plant growing low on a mossy slope caught my eye.  Partridgeberry!  Update:  I am wrong - these are not partridgeberry at all!  From my plant pal back east, I received the following: 
"...both photos of tubular white flowers are Trailing Arbutus.  The first photo, where it looks like twin flowers, is an arbutus flower cluster that has shed all but two of its blooms.   You can see the shed blooms lying on the ground in front of it, and the bracts that held those blooms still remain on the cluster.  Partridgeberry has really distinctive small round dark leaves with a pale stripe, and I only see arbutus leaves in your photo."  I also looked up both plants again.  Partridgeberry has four petals, and trailing arbutus has five.  Looking closely at these (which I confess I did not), I see that they may look like they only have four, but indeed they have five.  And I never knew that TA had tubular flowers, too!

These flowers often grow in pairs and the two of them merge to form a single red berry, which is edible.

Mixed in with the partridgeberry  There are no partridgeberries here - they are all trailing arbutus (but I will leave the info on partridgeberry up, because it is true:  the flowers do grow in pairs and they do join to make one fruit).  This is a plant I've only seen a couple times with flowers, so I originally assumed it was just another partridgeberry and did not look closer.  Bad habit for a naturalist...and a trap I seem to have fallen into.  Add to this another bad habit:  Speckled Alder Syndrome.  SAS was something we learned about in college:  it's when you look at only one trait of a plant (or bird, or whatever) and use that one thing for your diagnosis/ID - you are bound to be wrong eventually, and it's happening to me more and more.  So, fellow nature nuts, be sure to look at more than just one trait of the object of your desire.  If it is a flower, consider not only the infloresence, but also the leaves, the stem, and the habitat in which it is growing!  Avoid jumping to conclusions and ending up with egg on your face - trust me, it WILL happen.

The woods started to open up a bit and we found ourselves next to more wetlands. 

One of these wetlands was a goal of our trio...there was an unusual flower that Lathe wanted to show us.

A primitive boardwalk led us out into the floating mats.

Lathe cautioned us to stay on the misstep and we would go straight down twenty feet or so.  Even staying on the boards, we were going to get wet, thanks to all the rain that weekend.

More favorite bog plants were present, like the pitcher plant.  It's flowers were just starting to send up shoots (the red stem with the red ball on the end).

The delicate pink blossoms of bog rosemary were also present.

But this was what he wanted us to see.  Do you see the yellow "flower" just left of the center of this photo?

We had to use our binocs to see it up close, and I had to put my big lens on my camera to get a close-enough shot...and even that I had to crop and enlarge.  What in the world could this be?   The leaves at the bottom are definitely pitcher plant leaves, but this was not like any pitcher plant part I had ever seen.

This photo (below) was taken by Gary the day before.  Well, I was well and duly puzzled by this plant and just could not let it go.  I sent copies of these photos (gotta love the internet) to several botantists - some I know, and some I found via searches for pitcher plant specialists.  The conclusion they all came to was a) they had never seen anything like this before and b) it must be a deformed pitcher plant flower (all the strategic parts are there) - either a genetic anomaly or possibly something a critter ate (I doubt the latter since any critter would've sunk in the water trying to reach it).

After wading back to shore, we continued to the destination at the end, Clark Lake.  As we reached the shore, we saw a couple debris shelters on the slope below us.   They looked well-built and functional.

And there, beyond the trees and down the steep slope, was the lake.  A cold wind was blowing off the water and we bundled up and headed back down the trail to the cars.

Along the way I found a nice patch of crowned pixie-cup lichens, Cladonia carneola.

A black-throated green warbler came down to check us out.

When we reached the vehicles, one of our party called me over "I have a great photo for you."  Hm...there must be a story behind these shoes.  Is it a memorial to a hiker who never made it out?  Or merely someone's soggy shoes that were left behind?  We may never know.

After a somewhat leisurely lunch, with surprisingly few mosquitoes, we parted ways.  The birders went off to parts unknown while my car companions and I headed back to Taquamenon Falls, this time to take in the Upper Falls.

Stay tuned...

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