Saturday, June 26, 2010

Late Day Humor

We all need a good laugh now and then, and today's comes to you from the Winter/Spring 2010 issue of "Occurance," the newsletter of the New York Natural Heritage Program.


Q: What's going on with New York's bats?

A: Several species of New York's bats have declined precipitously in the last few years. Recent research has determined that they have been afflicted with a terrible disease. When their hibernacula are too near highways or, you know, like, really windy places, ambient "white noise" wakes them up, interferes with their echolocation, and SMACK! they fly into trees and die. The affliction is thus named "White Noise Syndrome." Scientists are confused because white noise often helps people sleep, so why not bats? On the meantime, managers are working furiously to soundproof caves by carpeting the stalagmites.


In all seriousness, however, WNS (white NOSE syndrome) has now been found in Oklahoma, although previous reports of it being in Kentucky were apparently erroneous.

A southeastern myotis was discovered in Virginia this year with WNS. Scientists are concerned because this species is already in decline, and if individuals contract WNS, they will further spread the disease as they travel throughout their range: south Florida to eastern Texas, and north to Indiana and Illinois.

The small-footed bat and the northern long-earred bat, both found in New York in very small numbers, may soon be on the endangered species list.

The future is not rosy.

Poison I-i-i-i-vy

About a week and a half ago, I noticed a small bump on the back of my thigh - it itched a bit. I thought it was an insect bite and just resolved not to scratch it. A few days later, I noticed that there was more than one bump. Today, the bumpy patch is, oh, three inches across, by maybe 2 inches the other way. And it itches like mad.

Meanwhile, I also have three or four more "bites" behind my right knee.

For the last day or two I've started wondering if this isn't something else, like, oh, maybe poison ivy.

Remember the partridge berry I was trying to photograph along the Ice Meadows? It was nestled down among a very healthy, robust population of PI growing all along the herdpath. I sat and nearly lay down in it to try and photograph the partridge berry flowers.

I've never reacted to PI before, but that could be because I've always been very careful to avoid it. But now I'm beginnng to wonder if some of the oil got on my pants, and the later on, while hanging out in the house, I might have come into contact with it. I can think of no other explanation.

Now, the thing is, if you "get" poison ivy, it doesn't "spread." At least not the way most people seem to think it does. The rash is an allergic reaction to the oil. If you wash after getting the oil on you, you can possibly eliminate the problem before it starts, or you can at least keep it from spreading because you have washed the oil away. However, if a patch shows up in one spot, and later another spot appears, it could be that both areas contacted the oil, but one reacted more quickly than the other.

And if you rupture the blisters by scratching (I admit, I did make my leg bloody the other day), you are not "spreading" the oil, for the liquid in the blisters is only your own bodily fluids, just like in a normal blister.

So, the moral of this story is: when one lies with PI, one is bound to wake up with a rash. I should've lobbed those pants right into the washing machine when I got home.

Hm...and then there are the boots...

Friday, June 25, 2010

Another Pyrola

Much as I love Newcomb's Wildflower Guide, sometimes it lets me down. Take for example the following flower:

I know it's a pyrola, but I couldn't for the life of me determine if it was shinleaf, which is very common around here, for green-flowered. The obvious answer, just looking at the thing, is that it is green-flowered, because the flowers are, well, green.

Shinleaf has white flowers, and green-flowered can be green, greenish-white. But can not-quite-ripe shinleaf flowers also be greenish? A lot of white flowers are somewhat green before they come into their full bloom.

Then there are the leaves. Here is the photo:

According to Newcomb's green-flowered's leaves are thick and nearly round, not shiny, 1/2-1 1/2" long, wth the stalk no longer than the blade.

Shinleaf's leaves rae also not shiny, are 1-3" long, and longer than wide. The leaf blade is usually longer than its stalk.

I look at the leaves, and I'm just not convinced they are round, nor am I convinced they are not round. As for shiny-ness, well, that's anyone's guess. I will have to visit the plant again to acertain the thickness of the leaves.

After much agonizing, I think I am resolved that this is green-flowered, if only because the flowers are greenish.
What's really cool about this plant, however, is the underside, where the reproductive parts are located.

Looking at them close up, we see a bunch of hollow tubes encircling a long solid tube:

Those hollow tubes are the anthers, part of the male reproductive parts. Pollen is shed from the hollow openings, falling downward.

The green tube in the middle is the female part. Pollen is transfered to the sticky tip, which is the stigma. But it's not the same plant's pollen that lands here. The pollen, which is also sticky, sticks to visiting insects (mostly flies). They in turn transfer it to the stigmas of other flowers they visit. This way the flowers do not fertilize themselves, and cross-pollination occurs.

Pyrolas - fascinating flowers no matter how you look at them, and so much variety! I can now say I have seen five of the six (or is it seven?) we have in New York. The only one I don't think I've seen is P. americana, sweet pyrola. Although, P. minor, the mountain pyrola, may also have eluded me.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Secret Garden

Another trip, this time to a secret, undisclosed location, brought a bunch of us together to add more orchids, and other plants, to our life lists.

We started off in a needle-carpeted forest, where our first find was one-flowered pyrola (Moneses uniflora).

This is another of my favorites. I first saw it a year or two ago on the property at the VIC. From above it's a nice star-shaped flower, but from a snake's point of view, looking upwards, it is quite exquisite.

A second pyrola, this time one-sided (Orthilia secunda) was spotted further down the forested slope, where the ground was a bit spongier - we had to start watching our steps.

In the forested wetland proper, we found a third pyrola: Pyrola asarifolia, or pink pyrola. This one is on the NYS rare plant list, listed as threatened. Unlike the other pyrolas, this one was astonishingly large. And there were several of them, all shining in patches of afternoon sunlight.

But the star of the show, the flower we'd come to see, was the showy ladies slipper (Cyprepedium reginae). Our guide, "Fred", had been here earlier in the season and had found five in bloom. Today there was just one - the deer had eaten all the others.

We all lined up to take turns photographing this remaining specimen. Fred told us that once upon a time there were over a hundred showies in this location, but time marches on and in a forest that means succession. The surrounding trees have grown up and are now providing too much shade. There were plenty of plants, but only a handful now can store up enough energy to create flowers.

"Phil", another member of our group, found a lone bud. We are all hoping it has a chance to bloom before the deer eat this one, too.

Another orchid was present in pretty good numbers: the northern green orchid (Platanthera aquilonis). Not nearly as showy as the ladies slipper, it was still a beautiful find.

Here you can see a sample of the number we found.

Fred really knows the mosses, and pointed out Sphagnum wulfianum, a robust sphagnum that was growing quite well around the edges of this woodland fen.

One of Fred's favorites was this moss: Rhytidiadelphis triquetris. I think a large part of the fascination is the name, which just rolls off the tongue.

We found several stalks of this wool grass. None of us are sure what species it is...I'll have to ask Fred.

Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) is in full reproductive mode these days, for I keep finding it with its fronds curled up at the edges. This is because of the sporangia on the underside.

Fred pointed out a new fern for most of us: crested fern (Dryopteris cristata). None of us are quite sure why it is called "Crested". I"ll have to do some research on this.

Dwarf scouring rush (Equisetum scirpoides) was another rare plant and a good find for us. How anyone could spot this small, wirey plant is beyond me! It blended in with the needles and mosses and other debris on the ground, making it difficult to photograph as well.

Many thanks to Fred for taking us to see all these wonderful rare plants. And even though I stepped through the mosses at one point (I was back on the slope of the forest, by the way, so who knew it would be so hazardous?), sinking up to my knee in the muck below and had to be hauled out (almost leaving my boot behind), it was a terrific day.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Other Side of the River

Time and distance can result in change. Even a short distance can make all the difference. Last week I made another trip to the Ice Meadows, except this time I met my friend Jackie and we toured the opposite shore - the eastern shore. This side gets different lighting during the day, as one would expect. There are probably myriad other differences as well, all tying in to microclimate, lighting, moisture, current, etc. This side has less cobble-y beach, with vegetation growing right down to the water's edge. It also has some wonderful marble slabs that rise like a miniature mountain range. This is prime sunbathing real estate for the younger crowd, and a great place to explore.

As usual, Jackie and I were scoping out the plant scene. We confirmed some of my sightings from earlier in the week, like this wide-leaved ladies tresses (Spiranthes lucida). The one I photographed earlier was just barely opening, and I was unable to determine for sure if it had the yellow lower lip. The specimens today left no room for doubt.

This tall pointy orchid caught my eye, and I asked Jackie which one it was. We stopped, looked, photographed, and had to key it out, for it was new to her as well. It turned out to be tubercled orchid (Platanthera flava), which isn't particularly rare or anything, but for us it was a great find.
The word "tubercled" refers to the little bump, or tubercle, found in the middle of the lower lip.

Another name for this flower is pale green orchid. Not very clever, but certainly descriptive.

Another new plant for me was thimbleweed (Anemone virginiana). A member of the buttercup family, this native flower of dry areas was used for a variety of medicine by native people, including a cure for tuberculosis and diarrhea.

I am constantly amazed at the variety of cinquefoils that exist. Just when I think I've seen them all, a new one pops up. This is tall cinquefoil (Potentilla/Drymocallis arguta). To me it looked much like any other cinquefoil blooming right now, but it is indeed a different species.

Did you notice any critters in the thimbleweed photo above? If not, here is a close up: a stonefly exuvia, or shed exoskeleton. This is the time of year to find these empty shells all along moving waterways. The nymphs crawl out on to rocks or vegetation, their backs split open, and out crawl the adults.

We were lucky enough to actually find an adult, too!

One of the Ice Meadows' rare plants is spiked nut rush. I couldn't find any information about "spiked nut rush" on the NYS Rare Plant List, but I did find whip nutrush (Scleria triglomerata) listed as found in Warren County, so I am wondering if that is what this is.

Wedged into the crevices of the marble slabs were some wonderful spatulate-leaved sundews (Drosera intermedia). Sundews rank right up there among my favorite plants. First, they are quite attractive, with their red fingers and greenish-yellow "palms". Then there's the droplet at the end of each "finger." This droplet entices insects, who think it might be a source of food. A rude awakening is in store for them, however, as this tantalizing droplet turns out to be more of a sticky goo than a sweet snack. Trapped, the insect struggles. This triggers rapid growth by the fingers, which reach over and further ensnare the insect. Then, the plant slowly digests the insect by covering it with digestive enzymes. Mmmm. Glad I'm too big to be considered a meal.

A further treat was the fact that the sundews were blooming!

Another insect we encountered was this shield bug.

And we startled this very large and moody milk snake in the woods, where it was trying to catch a few rays that were filtering through the pines. It did NOT want its photo taken, and repeatedly struck at Jackie who valiantly tried to block its escape route. After a short chase, we let it go.

Meanwhile, back on the shoreline, I added frostweed (Verbesina virginica) to my life list. Again, I thought this was just another evening primrose until Jackie corrected me. Frostweed has been on my radar for a while, not for this flower, but for the frothy ice flowers made from the freezing sap that erupts from the stem in the fall. I've seen images of this, but have never seen it myself. Now that I know what the plant looks like, I know what to look for when the season is right.

A number of dragonflies and damselflies were flitting about the shoreline - it was a good day for them. I haven't had a chance to ID this one yet, but I suspect it is a female because its colors tend toward brown rather than bright.

Rock sandwort (Minuartia michauxii) is a delightful little flower, growing in clumps along the rocks. Another new plant for me, and I got a bonus beetle with this shot. I'll be sending it in to BugGuide to get an ID on it, if possible.

This was probably my favorite flower for the day: racemed milkwort (Polgala polygama). It's a ridiculously tiny flower, difficult to photograph, but I gave it a shot. Note how each flower looks a lot like gaywings, also a Polygala. Jackie said they aren't to common, but we lucked out and found several bunches of them.

Wearing the same color scheme, we have the swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata). None of the milkweeds are blooming in Newcomb, yet, but here in the Ice Meadows they are starting to open.

We saw several of these things, but have no idea what it is. I suspect it's a gall of some kind. I'll continue researching it, but if anyone knows, feel free to chime in.

Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) was one of our last finds. Jackie was determined to find this low-growing plant, which makes a wonderful ground cover. Later in the season its lovely green leaves will be mixed with bright red berries, which bears are reputed to enjoy. A quick scan around the Internet shows that it is listed in many herbals, both as a food plant and for medicine. All parts are claimed to have some use.

As always, it was a great day to be along the river!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Another Day at the Ice Meadows

Tuesday dawned with a pea soup fog. I love the fog and how it makes the world mysterious, but it also often signals a hot and humid day ahead - ugh. It didn't take long, however, for the sun to start to burn it off, and by 8:00 AM the blue sky was already putting in an appearance.

I had to go to The City again for an eye appointment, so I left early. The sun hadn't quite burned away all the moisture, yet, and the roadsides were thick with dew-covered spider webs. These are ephemeral works of art, for once the sun hits them, they dry up and their magic is gone.

After passing hundreds of webs, I finally pulled over and got the camera out. I even had a tripod in the car, so I was set!

By the time I returned my gear to the car and headed back down the road (grateful I had given myself plenty of extra time), the webs were already vanishing.

Several hours later, with blurry vision thanks to the eye dilation drops, I was headed back to the mountains. It had turned out to be quite a spectacular day after all - not hot and humid as I had thought. I knew I had to stop at the Ice Meadows again, to see the new flowers that were blooming.

My friend Jackie had recently been there and had posted on her blog (Saratoga Woods and Waters) a flower I'd never seen before, and I wanted to see it for myself.

I stuffed my Newcomb's field guide and my tripod into my backpack, slung the camera bag over my shoulder and I was off. A young couple were sunbathing on the rocks, and directed me towards a different path to get down to the cobbles without having to scramble past them.

The first thing to catch my eye (besides the sunbathers) were the roses. Not only were they blooming in pink profusion, but their delicate scent wafted on the wind.

Whorled loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia) was also in bloom. I kept cursing my eyes, for everything was blurry. I had to trust that my camera was in focus when I took each shot. Not only that, but I had to wear my sunglasses because my pupils were still wide open and the world was a blinding glare without them, so I couldn't even be sure I had good exposures. Fortunately, the camera didn't let me down.

I was totally taken in by this flower, and found myself suffering from a profound case of Speckled Alder Syndrome (only fellow students of Dr. Joel Howard will likely understand that reference). I took photo after photo of the flowers, and whipped out my field guide to ID it. It is seldom that Newcomb's lets me down, and this was one of those times. It was only later when I actually sat back and looked at the whole plant that I gave myself a dope slap - it was red-osier dogwood (Cornus sericea).

A few blue flag irises (Iris versicolor) were blooming, their delicate petals whipped by the wind, which, of course, was blowing quite strongly.

Isn't this bedrock wonderful? And do you see what is perched at the top?

It was a lone harebell (Campanula rotundifolia). I may just use this image on some business cards.

I scared up a couple ladybugs clinging to the vegetation. Just in case they were one of the Lost Ladybugs, I snapped a photo. Unfortunately, this is the seven-spotted ladybug, seven spotted ladybug (Coccinella septempunctata), not one of the lost native species.

I was surprised to see butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) in bloom. This plant had very yellow blossoms - usually the ones I've seen have been much oranger. A member of the milkweed clan, this native flower is a favorite with many bees and butterflies.

There were lots of signs of people visiting the Ice Meadows. Somehow I doubt that the ones who leave these signs behind are there to enjoy the rare vegetation.

Thanks to our recent rains (about 3" so far this month), the river was running well.

I watched this couple put in their tube and float downstream, with Fido paddling faithfully alongside.

I simply love viper's bugloss (Echium vulgare), even if it is a non-native. The blue and pink coloration is simply a showstopper.

Back in the woods along the trail, I was floored by a carpet of partridge berry (Mitchella repans) in bloom. Hundreds of these tiny white flowers were scattered along the forest floor, like so many stars in the sky. Unfortunately, there was an equal amount, if not greater, of poison ivy. Still, I plunked myself down to get a shot or two. And I was completely surprised by what I discovered: the tiny white flowers are incredibly furry!

I drove further downstream to another trail leading to the river. This was a gentler incline, with a little less PI along the way. When I hit the cobbled shore, I found some old friends and new.

One plant that surprised me to be in bloom already was ladies tresses, one of the Spiranthes orchids. I don't know which one this is, however. It's really a bit too early for nodding ladies tresses, which is the only one with which I am familiar. I'll send the photo to an orchid enthusiast I know and see if he has a better idea. Update: the general consensus is that this is wide-leaved ladies tresses (Spiranthes lucida), which is the earliest-blooming of the ladies tresses. The thing is, with trying to ID these, is that the leaves don't appear until later in the season, kind of like coltsfoot. Blooming times can be helpful, as can location.

While my mission this day was to add a specific new plant to my life list, the highlight was what occurred next. I heard a peep peep peeping in the grasses. Looking around, my eye caught a swift movement. There, dashing away as fast as its legs would carry it, was a baby sandpiper. Update: I believe these are spotted sandpipers (Actitis macularia).

It just couldn't get away from me fast enough, and soon vanished into the vegetation and rocks. Nearby, Mom was calling, either trying to get the offspring's attention so it would come to her, or mine to draw me away. The latter is most likely, since she kept flying back and forth.

I soon turned around and went back to the little pool. Mom flew back toward Junior and began calling to him again. I watched as the little peep scrambled over the rocks...

...and into the water, where it paddled around to the next rock. I always thought these were wading birds, but apparently they can swim, too, or at least they can when they are small.

Once more, as soon as it was aware that I was taking its photo, the peep took off for the safety of the shore and vanished.

And I did find the flower I sought: sticky tofieldia (Triantha glutinosa), aka: sticky false asphodel. What a beautiful little flower.

A touch to the stem explained the name. It didn't stick with a glue-like ooze, nor did it grab with tiny barbed hooks. Still, the stem has a sticky quality to it. This delightful plant is listed as an endangered species in New York State - I am thrilled to have seen it, and am grateful for the tip from Jackie!

Right by the river's edge, rose pogonias (Pogonia ophioglossoide) were in bloom - lots of them. They may be, like nodding ladies tresses, one of our more common orchids, but I still enjoy seeing them.

As I was leaving the Ice Meadows (I really did have to get home), I saw one more flower: small sundrops (Oenothera perennis), a small member of the evening primrose family.

As I drove away, I noticed that much of my vision had returned to normal. Whew! Still, it wasn't until almost 7:00 that I was enough back to normal that I could go outside without the sunglasses. We seldom appreciate the miracle that is our eyesight until we start to lose it, even if only temporarily.