Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Trip to Vermont

Saturday I woke with the urge to drive to Vermont. I was on a mission. Ten years ago I was the Program Director at Merck Forest and Farmland Center in Rupert, VT. While there I began working on an Interpretive Master Plan, an effort to record all the assets of and develop an interpretive outline for the facility. I did not have a digital camera (only the really wealthy photograhers could afford those), and things like flashdrives did not exist, so I have no record of the interpretive materials I developed. I wanted to go back to get photos of my work to add to my portfolio - all the better to find a job with, eh?

So, after walking the dog, I headed eastward.

The colors are just about at peak here in the central part of the Park.
As I drove out of the mountains, though, the colors reverted to green.

It's about a two and a half hour drive to MF&FC, and it was a lovely day for it. When I pulled in to the parking lot, at the end of a very long dirt road up the side of a mountain, I found the place was hopping. Lots of folks were out taking advantage of this sunny fall day, despite the strong wind.

The first thing that caught my eye was this sign along the Discovery Trail - a short little woodland trail perfect for young families. When I was here, we commissioned a beautiful carved wooden sign with a ruffed grouse on it. That sign is apparently history - replaced by this smaller painted sign. I wonder what happened to the other one...

Apparently it was a good pumpkin year on the farm. They had brought down their pumpkins and displayed them in the woods here - an eye-catching arrangement.

But I was on a mission, so I immediately headed down the farm road toward the farm. I was surprised this tree was still standing - it was a popular photographic opportunity (usually with the family's children standing inside) when I worked here.

The chickens were very friendly. As soon as I turned up, they trotted right over to check me out.

I got quite a kick out of this chicken's dust bath - took, oh, 20 or 30 photos of the activity.

My primary reason for this trip was to photograph the following signs. These were the interpretive signs I designed while I was on staff. I had a new camera (a Pentax SLR - bought the trip I made to Peru in January 2000), so I was a picture-taking fool while I was here. The best of my shots from around the farm were used for the background graphics of the farm's signs. While a few of the signs remain out on the farm, most were stashed away in the hay barn, in various states of disrepair. Trent, who currently works on the farm, was very helpful in tracking them down so I could record them.

It was kind of sad to see how the place has changed since I was there. It used to raise rare breeds of livestock (Randall blue lineback cattle, Gloucestershire Old Spot pigs, some rare chickens and turkeys, and Suffolk Punch horses). The horses were used to plow the fields, plant the spuds, and harvest some of the crops. Today machinery is used instead.

Back in the day, the farm had extensive fields of crops, mostly potatoes and garlic. Most of these crop fields are now fallow - full of mustard and other weeds.

The moveable chicken coop (the third sign above) has been replaced with two permanent chicken houses. The chickens are free range now, but the benefits of the portable coop are lost.

This mostly brown caterpillar was cruising across the road. Well, it was trying to cruise along...the wind was so strong that the poor thing kept getting blown over!

Apparently these days they purchase their piglets rather than breeding them on-site. Another change.

Despite the changes and the gale force winds (the farm gets most of its electricity from a small wind turbine that was erected while I was on the staff), MF&FC is a lovely place, especially in the fall.

Advertisement: MF&FC is a wonderful hiking destination, with several miles of trails. They also have cabins they rent out for overnight stays. Some of the cabins are very rustic, while others are bright and cozy. MF&FC also sells their organic produce and grassfed meats. Maple sugaring is one of their one-going projects - they have lots of syrup for sale in the visitor center, as well as sheep skins and yarn from their sheep. It's a beautiful place and well worth a visit, whether for a day or a week.

Views Along the Roadside

With all the time I've been off from work lately, one would think I'd be travelling all over the Park and doing all sorts of naturalist things. Sadly, no. Most of my time has been spent finishing up projects and filling out job applications. Catching up on sleep. Reading.

The days have been rather grey and drippy, too, so that doesn't really encourage field trips. Even so, the colors are coming right along, In fact, we must be pretty near peak here in the central Adirondacks. I drove down the Blue Ridge Road Saturday (my next post), and the colors were spectacular, although difficult to admire when one is at the wheel on a very windy road.

Still, a break in the clouds Sunday found me out with the camera locally.

I was really amazed (in fact, I did a double take) when I saw this monarch caterpillar on some milkweed. We've already had a frost, and I'm sure these cool days (although yesterday and today it was VERY warm and humid) are not good for insect development. Will it have enough time to finish its larval stage and pupate? I have my doubts.

The geese weren't hanging around. I have yet to see a large flock, but a few small ones have passed overhead.

I think I mentioned before about the rock cairns at the golf course. I built a small pile on one of these boulders a few weeks ago...it seems to have bred.

In the fall the grasses really come into their own. I've been playing around with the camera trying to get some good photos of them. They haven't always been successful, but this clump came out pretty well.

I saw a daddy-longlegs hunkered under a small ledge on a cedar post and took its photo, only to discover afterwards that there were two of them! A further examination of the post turned up several of these arthropods. I wonder if they were all seeking refuge from the cool drippy weather in the shelter provided by the fence posts.

Who'd a Thunk It?

Yes, that's a lilac, and yes, it is blooming now.

I noticed this lilac when I was visiting my folks a week or two ago. I was saying goodbye to Mom (always a long, drawn-out affair because one or the other of us thinks of something more to chat about...an hour later, I'm still standing by the car), when I glanced up past Mom's shoulder and saw a purple bloom at the top of a shrub.

"Is that the lilac? Blooming now?"

We wandered over to verify it, and sure enough, it was. I've never heard of lilacs blooming in September. Another reflection of this year's unusual weather.

We also saw one of the early spring primroses in bloom. Hmm...curiouser and curiouser.

Monday, September 27, 2010

When is a Dogwood not a Dogwood?

About eight years ago, while walking the dog, I came across a shrub with lovely pink fruits. It had opposite branching, so I filed it away in my mind as a dogwood, a very common shrub in these locales.

I never again saw the pink berries until earlier this month when I passed a similar shrub along the road into Tahawus. I posted that it was a dogwood and left it there.

Of course, my friend Jackie was not going to let me get away with that. I just knew I couldn't sneak this by her...she wanted to know what kind of dogwood had pink fruits (and I must confess, I wanted to know, too).

Now, I knew the fruits (technically drupes, not berries) turned blue when they ripened, but I could find no information about which dogwood did this. It was frustrating.

So, Saturday evening I drove back up the road to Tahawus, hoping to relocate the plant and get a confirmed identification of it. No luck. What stood out like a sore thumb two or three weeks ago was now invisible.

Not to worry, I thought; I knew where I had seen the original. So yesterday I put the leash on the dog, grabbed the camera, and off we went.

I found the spot, but not a pink or blue fruit was to be seen. The only shrub that was there with opposite branching was decidedly fruit-less.

The leaves looked right, though.

But the buds, which you can just see near the center of this photo (long and thin), were definitely NOT dogwood buds.

I cut off a twig and looked at the pith, which would be helpful in dogwood ID, even though I knew the buds were definitely not dogwood buds.

When I got home, I looked up the owner of the buds (I knew whose buds they were), and sure enough, they belong to a shrub that has fruits that start off pink and turn blue when ripe: nannyberry (Viburnum lentago).

Nannyberry is one of our native viburnums, and viburnums have opposite branching, as well as very distinguishable buds. The fruits are apparently greatly prized by the local wildlife, for in less than three weeks they went from unripe to completely consumed.

So, there we have it. If you see a shrub with opposite branching, do not automatically assume (!) it's a dogwood. It might just be a nannyberry.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Phenology Today

We had our first frost of the season last night, with a low of 29*F at my house. Autumn is here.

Monday, September 20, 2010

A Day Out with Mom

On a whim, I drove to my folks' home this weekend. Dad headed out Saturday for a fishing trip, so Mom and I were on our own. It was simply too nice a day to spend inside, so we went for an explore. Our goal: The Root Glen, an arboreteum at Hamilton College, which is in Clinton, NY, just south of Utica, in the foothills of the Adirondacks.

I remember coming here once as a youngster. My grandparents were with us, and it was spring.

My memories are soley of this grassy area, which is surrounded by garden beds. They were full of daffodils and irises and crocii. Today's trip was much different. To begin with, it is nearly autumn, so if anything was blooming, it wouldn't be daffodils et al.

Beyond the grassy lawn are the woodland trails. I have no recollection of these, but my mother remembers walking along here.

There's a gully at the bottom, lined with rocks - a man-made, or at least man-maintained, ravine - with bridges crisscrossing the water's course.

As an arboretum, several of the tree species are labeled, like this ginko. It must've been an old specimen, for the tree had fair girth and the leaves were waaay up high. I love ginko leaves, so I was sorry that the leaves were really too far out of reach to enjoy.

This Asian "temple" was hidden away off to the side of the trail.

The plants that totally intrigued me were labeled as the Butterbur Grove.

I thought they were giant mayapples. As you can see, thanks to Mom's modeling, they were huge.

Butterbur (Petasites hybridus) is a plant that has been touted for centuries for its medicinal values. According to Culpepper (English botanist, herbalist, physician in the 1600s): 'It is a great strengthener of the heart and cheerer of the vital spirits: . . . if the powder thereof be taken in wine, it also resisteth the force of any other poison . . . the decoction of the root in wine is singularly good for those that wheeze much or are shortwinded.... The powder of the root taketh away all spots and blemishes of the skin.'

And Gerard (another English herbalist, who preceded Culpepper in the 1600s) wrote: 'The roots dried and beaten to powder and drunke in wine is a soveraigne medicine against the plague and pestilent fevers, because it provoketh sweat and driveth from the heart all venim and evill heate; it killeth worms. The powder of the roots cureth all naughty filthy ulcers, if it be strewed therein.'

According to The Modern Herbal, today "butterbur root is medicinally employed as a heart stimulant, acting both as a cardiac tonic and also as a diuretic. It has been in use as a remedy in fevers, asthma, colds and urinary complaints, a decoction being taken warm in wineglassful doses, frequently repeated. "

The substantial leaves (I still can't get over the size) used to be used to wrap butter when the weather was warm, hence the common name butterbur.

The plant shares a lot in common with coltsfoot, including the shape of the leaves and its predilection for blooming before the leaves emerge in the spring.

We didn't see the flowers (wrong season), but from what I've seen on the Internet, they are rather interesting. This might just warrant a return visit in the spring.

We also saw a lot of horse balm, which I was able to recognize thanks to my friend Jackie who showed me this plant at Orra Phelps' preserve.

A couple of folks have asked me about the habitat preferences of yellow and orange jewelweed. A sort of informal theory was in play, with the thought being that orange jewelweed preferred wooded habitats, while the yellow preferred open spaces. Well, here in the woods we found plenty of the yellow variety.

I also saw some orange growing along the open, sunny roadsides near my parents' house. So much for that theory, eh? Based on my informal observations, there doesn't seem to be a shade preference for these two plants. Perhaps there is a soil preference.

We saw lots of white snakeroot (Ageratina altissima) in bloom, too.

Like the butterbur, I was equally fascinated by the water control system the college has all along the trails.

Clay (?) gutters line the trails, funneling the water into the stream at the bottom of the ravine.

We found some lovely pink turtleheads in bloom in the formal gardens.

And corralled behind a fence, so it wouldn't get away, was this very large Norway spruce.

Upon leaving the Root Glen, we grabbed a bite to eat in Clinton, enjoying our nosh at an outside table of a small bistro. Then it was back home to drop off leftovers. Off we went again, to the apple orchards near LaFayette. It seems EVERYONE went to the orchards that afternoon, for the places were packed! So, I left Toby in the car while we made a quick dash in to grab some apples and squash - it was too crowded to pick our own.

On the way home we stopped at a farmer's market in Cazenovia, and watched a really long limo made a really narrow turn into a park where a wedding was in progress.

All in all, it was a nearly perfect almost-autumn day in Central New York.