Friday, June 27, 2014

Year of the Milkweed

I was very excited the other day to look out and see my poke milkweed was blooming!  I planted three last year, and none survived.  I put in three more this year, and of those, only one is still hanging in there, and is blooming!  I'm very excited.

Apparently the ants are pretty excited, too, for each flower had at least one ant on it!

Knowing that the butterfly weeds and common milkweeds were already blooming, too, I walked around the yard to see if any of my other milkweeds were surviving and blooming.  Things are not looking very promising.  No signs of any of the tall green milkweeds, but I did find one green milkweed (not tall green milkweed, just plain old ordinary green milkweed) had buds.  

On the corner of the house the swamp milkweed from two years ago is getting ready to bloom, too.  I think it's happy being by the downspout.

Out in the side yard, where I've planted several native grassland plants (in an area where grass has just not grown), I found only one sand milkweed still in the running (for some reason Blogger insists on turning the photo sideways).

And later, out in my wildflower bed that borders what was my vegetable garden (but this year is nothing but weeds weeds weeds), the whorled milkweed seems to be doing okay, too. 

Last year's purple milkweed (rare) and tall green milkweed, and last year's sand milkweed did not survive.  I was unable to get purple this year, and I hope the sand takes hold and does okay.  It looked like only one of the three I planted this year is still alive.

Why Year of the Milkweed?  Because monarchs are having a difficult time.  Numbers crashed last summer and over the winter, and anything we can do to help, which is mostly planting their host plants (milkweed) will help.  I have only seen a couple monarchs so far this's not looking good.  A co-worker found three eggs so died, but two are now chrysalises. 

Do what you can to help:  plant milkweed.

Last Day - Heading Back to MI

After spending a couple days with my folks, I had to return to Michigan...I had camp interviews to conduct on Monday.  So Saturday morning I loaded up the car and was westward-bound.  I picked up the Thruway north of Oneida, and as I reached the Finger Lakes Region I saw the signs for Seneca Falls and the Women's Rights National Historical Park.  

For years I've been saying to myself "I want to go there some day," thinking I'd be living the rest of my life in New York and the opportunity would always be there.  Never count on "some day" - unless you make "some day" today, it will never happen.

So, spur of the moment I slowed down and took the exit for Seneca Falls.

It's not a large national park...although it has several sections.  In downtown Seneca Falls is the headquarters of this national park, with a small museum, a couple little parks, and the Wesleyan Chapel.

It was here, at the chapel, On July 9, 1848, where the first Convention occurred and speeches were made for women's rights.  Elizabeth Cady Stanton, at the time relatively unknown, read the newly drafted Declaration of Sentiments, based on the Declaration of Independence.  This document declared that all men and women had equal rights.

 Inside the museum, one is immediately struck by the life-size bronze statues that grace the lobby.

Many (if not all) of the figures are real historical people who were involved in the Suffrage Movement, including Frederick Douglas.

 Between the museum and the chapel is a little grassy park with a wall running along one side.  This wall is a water feature, with water sheeting from the top and down the face, upon which is inscribed the Declaration of Sentiments and the names of all the people who signed that historic document.

I sat in on the talk the park ranger gave at the chapel, which was interesting.  From there the ranger was driving to the Stanton home, and then one of the other homes outside of town that make up part of this spread-out park, but I needed to be on my way.

I did pick up a little treat for myself, though.  This is Buddy the Bison - a clever gimmick the National Park Service has put out to get kids interested in going out and visiting our Parks.  It's kinds of like Flat Stanley:  you take Buddy to various locations (presumably National Parks) and take his picture to show where he has been.  I love the idea, so I had to get my own Buddy.  And here he is, at his first tourist destination:  the Women's Rights National Historic Park in Seneca Falls, NY.

Watch for the further adventures of Buddy and Ellen!

Day Eight - Visiting with Jackie and Sue

Wednesday morning, I packed, chatted with Paige for a bit, and then headed south towards Saratoga, where I met up with my dear friend and botany pal, Jackie.  Jackie was generously putting me up for the night, and we had hoped to spend at least part of the day botanizing.   The weather, however, had other plans.

In a light rain we headed for Skidmore and the preserve that houses some beautiful and even rare wildflowers.

Due to the rain, and the shifting seasons, there wasn't too much to oggle while we were there.  We had one plant of whorled loosestrife, 

 and the patch of orange-fruited gentians that had been in bloom the day before, were now flowerless.

This little red eft, however, was quite content in the rain.

We found a wonderful patch of squawroot - must've been at least 20, with more just waiting to burst from the soil!

I've only seen squawroot (Conopholis americana) once or twice before, so this was a pretty cool find, especially in this quantity.  Also called bear corn or American cancer-root, this member of the Broomrape family, like the other members (beech drops and one-flowered cancer-root) is parasitic and cannot make its own chlorophyll.  It is parasitic primarily on oaks (preferring red oaks, apparently), although will also parasitize beeches.

When it emerges from the ground (it being the inflorescence...the flowering bit), it is covered with brown scales which perhaps protect it as it pushes up through the forest floor debris.  Then the white flowers open.  As each is pollinated (by bees or flies, from the bottom of the inflorescence to the top), the fertilized flowers turn brown and wither.  Each is replaced by a white, ball-like capsule that contains the seeds.  When the seeds drop, they work their way into the soil in search of a host tree root, to which they attach and hang on for dear life.

Pretty amazing plants. 

The star of the day, for me, was a new life-list plant:  four-leaved milkweed.  Only one was still in bloom, although Jackie said there were more the day before.

As I've said, for me this is the Year of the Milkweed.  I tried it last year without much success.  I may have some better luck this year, and certainly I had luck by being able to see this species.  It's not one of the milkweeds listed for Michigan (it is an Eastern US and Canadian plant).  My friend Jackie says this is the only place she's ever seen it, even though the NY Floral Association lists it as "demonstrably secure" throughout much of New York.  I grew up in central NY and spent ten plus years in the Adirondacks...I'd never seen it until now.

We got to see the fun fruit of large-flowered bellwort.  

And, of course, green violet.  This is the only place I've seen this flower, but according to range maps, it should be here in Michigan as well.  

 Now, I know what you're thinking - it doesn't look anything like a violet, and you would be right...sorta.  There are violets, and there are true violets.

Violets are a family of about 800 species worldwide, most of which are in South America.  Violets all have the following in common:  one petal that is larger than the rest; a spur on the back of the flower (on the back of the largest petal); and narrow sepals.

True violets, the ones you and I think of when we think "violet" are those found only in the genus Viola.  The green violet is in the genus Hybanthus, of which there are about 150 species, most of which are tropical.  In North America there are four species:  one (the green violet) in the eastern part of North America, two in the Southwest, and one in Florida.

The green violet is known to botanists as Hybanthus concolorHybanthus is from the Greek root word hybos, which means hunch-backed, presumably because the spurs make the flower look humped or lop-sided...if you look really closely.  Concolor means one color, and no doubt this refers to the fact that the whole plant (stems, leaves, flowers) are all the same color:  green.

We found some seed pods already developing on some of the plants.  Jackie opened one so I could see the little pearl-like seeds inside.  Pity they weren't ripe...I'd have loved to have brought some home to plant.

By now the rain was coming down pretty steadily, and my efforts to keep my camera dry with my arms would not be effective for much longer.  So, we returned to Jackie's house for lunch and then headed out again.

Jackie took me on a scenic drive towards Glens Falls (I wanted to stop at my favorite tea shop and stock up on African Outback - the only tea I drink, and I only drink it when I'm sick).  We stopped to see this very large, old sugar maple.

Someone ("The Lorax") has affixed this label to the tree, claiming it is surely the largest sugar maple in New York.

We were amused to see a bush honeysuckle growing out of the tree!

After picking up my tea and stopping for a snack in downtown Glens Falls, we met up with another one of Jackie's hiking pals:  Sue.  I remember Sue as the turtle lady - able to pick out (and thus survey) turtles in the water at 100 paces!

We drove to a place they called the Five Combines, which is along th Feeder Canal Heritage Trail in Hudson Falls.  This is one of their botany and birding spots.

Located next to a covered landfill, this area was once important to getting water (and boats) into the canal.

If you enlarge the photo below, you can read about the five combines (locks 6-10), which were originally made of wood.  Each one raised (or lowered) boats about 11 feet, taking about 15 minutes to do so.  

 Even on this drippy, grey evening, the locks, which are only about 15 feet wide, are very picturesque.

Jackie and Sue consulting.

I added another new plant to my life list:  tower mustard, identified by the way the seed pods lay flat against the stem, almost like scales.

In 1845 the wooden locks were replaced with "hammer-dressed limestone," which for the most part have held up well, but down here at lock 2 Nature seems to be winning the battle.

We saw lots of evidence that turtles had been out laying eggs...and something else had come along and had a feast.

At the end of the locks, the water pooled in a small pond, which was home to many wetland critters.

When we walked back to the parking lot, we decided it was time for dinner, so we stopped at a Mexican restaurant for some quick food.  Then we had to drop Sue back off at home.

Jackie wrapped up the evening for me with a grand tour to Fort Edwards to see the house where Solomon Northup had lived for three years, about ten years before his capture and being sold into salvery.  If you aren't familiar with the story, which I read as a child because my great-grandparents had the book (which I now have...a first edition), look up Solomon Northup, Twelve Years a Slave.  The movie was out last year.  

The house was originally the Patt Smyth House, during the time of the American Revolution.

We drove back to Jackie's house and soon called it a night.  The next day I drove westward to visit the Herkimer Diamond Mines before heading to my parents' house.  I did some digging in the mines, in the steady, and sometimes pouring rain.  Needless to say, I didn't get photos (except with my phone camera).

I also didn't find much for my efforts.  The mine isn't what it was in 1988 when I visited during my first internship as a naturalist with Beaver Lake Nature Center (Baldwinsville, NY).

Day Seven - Departure and on my own

The last day of our Adirondack Adventure was the day we all packed up and left.  I, however, had plans to stay a little longer and visit old haunts and friends. 

First stop was the mechanic's in Long Lake - see if I could get the mysterious noise my car was making diagnosed.  No luck.

From there I spent the rest of the morning catching up with my good friend Dona Hall in Long Lake.  Dona had done in her back, so I helped her set up a bed downstairs and we had a nice long chat.  Afterwards I swung by the Long Lake Library to see the quilt exhibit, which featured several of Dona's pieces.

From there I drove to Newcomb, stopping first at the Ecological Center to visit with Charlotte.  Also chatted briefly with Stacy and Bruce.  Good to see familiar faces!

Next was the Miga residence, where I got to catch up with Wes and Lorraine.  Got to hear a lot of what was going on locally in politics (good luck, Wes) and at the visitor center.

It was getting late in the afternoon by the time I stopped in to see Edna, one of my dear "old ladies."  We had a terrific long chat about the black flies and Bti, as well as other things.  Edna has been (and remains) one of my favorite people - she can always make me laugh!

Stopped by to visit with Connie, but she was out a the village board meeting.  I had hoped the quilters might be meeting, and I could cross a whole bunch of people off my list at once, but no dice.

I next drove to Winebrook, carefully avoiding my old home.  Stopped to see if Monica was in, but she was not.  However, Lorinda, from across the street, saw me and invited me in at her house to see all the wonderful renovations she's done.  How wonderful it must be to have a creative/artistic streak!

I ended up back at Charlotte & Paige's house, where I was generously offered a room for the night.  We sat on the back porch and chatted until it was good and dark.  Charlotte had to be up to count birds at 4:30, so we called it a night.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Day Six - Adirondack Musuem, Bloomingdale Bog (again)

Monday morning we were expecting rain.  The rain never materialized, but the humidity was high.  Because we had flip-flopped a couple days, today was going to be a museum day, starting at the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mt. Lake and visiting the Wild Center in the afternoon.  Plans change.

Our morning started with a wonderful sighting of a pair of luna moths on the side of the motel.  For some of our group, these were life list insects.  We watched the pair mating for quite some time, and finally we had to be on our way.  The next morning all we found were two wings in the grass.  Hopefully the female was able to lay some eggs somewhere.

Because the Blue Ridge Falls had been such a hit the day before, I decided to swing by Buttermilk Falls in Long Lake on our way to the museum.  Water levels were a bit low, so the rush over the rocks was not as impressive as it could be.

Gary and Paul pose next to the river just above the falls.

The Adirondack Museum is known internationally, and for some folks requires a full three days to visit.  We, however, only had about three hours to spend here.

Of course, I had to have the group sit in the big chair.

I think every time I visit I take a photo of Gordon the Guide - it's just such a great sculpture!

One of our group was very excited about the first boat he saw.  As soon as I saw the name on the motor, he said, I knew what it was!

This motor was made in Jackson, MI - where we had all come from just a week before!

I confess I left the group to wander on their own - see what they wanted to see - while I checked out some of my favorites.

Glaucous honeysuckle - a stunning native plant, and one of my favorites, which I now know thanks to my friend Jackie introducing it to me about five years ago.

View of Blue Mt. Lake from the cafe.  Probably one of the most photographed views in the Park.

After we left the museum, there were decisions to be made.  By now the day had cleared - it wasn't going to rain.  Did we want to try Bloomingdale Bog again for the boreal chickadee, or go to the Wild Center?  Six of our group chose the natural history museum, while the rest of us headed back to the bog.

Again, lots and lots of cotton grass in bloom!

The group that came out here on Saturday got some amazing photographs of the gray jays feeding from people's hands.  I sooooo wanted to do this.  Gary had some really high-end trail mix which he put out on the feeding station some people have put along the trail.  And we waited.  And waited and waited and waited.  It was about 2:00 in the afternoon...down time for birds.  Nothing was happening.  After we walked back down the trail, a crow finally flew in a grabbed a nut - that was as exciting as it got.

I did see some lovely dragonflies though, like this painted skimmer, 

and this harpoon clubtail (thanks to Don Henise for ID help).

Now, if you very closely just slightly left of center in this photograph, you will see a small splash of yellow-orange.  That is the crown of a golden-crowned kinglet.  It was flitting around in the trees above us, back and forth across the trail, agitated by the call one of our group was playing of a kinglet.  This bird thought his territory had been invaded.

We left the trail and drove through Bloomindale to another road that crossed the trail a bit to the north - more wooded.  Here was where the boreal chickadee could "always" be found.  So far our seeker was 0 for 2.  This was his third and final try to find the bird.

We played the boreal chickadee's call; we played a recording of chickadees mobbing a screech owl.  We listened, we looked.  We thought we heard a boreal, but never saw it.

We drove further up the road...there was rumor of a black-backed woodpecker.  The road was VERY challenging (as hard as it is to believe, it was worse than the one into Spring Pond Bog), but we found the log that supposedly pointed to the bird's nest, and sure enough, we found not only the hole, but the female was at home and two or three times poked her head out to see what all the fuss was about.  You can just make her out at the center of this photo.

On our way back out we tried once more for the boreal chickadee...for Paul.

All we got was a few black-capped chickadees, which were doing their best to sound like boreals.

We had to admit defeat.

On the way back to Tupper Lake, we stopped at the newly reopened Casa del Sol in Saranac Lake for dinner - another item checked off my Bucket List.  In 1983 I worked at a camp in Lake Placid for the summer and the staff (sans yours truly - I wasn't in the In Crowd) often ate here on their days off.  I heard about it, but never went.  Before leaving NY in 2010, I stopped by to try it, and it was closed.  But this spring I read in Adirondack Life Magazine that it was reopening, and we were there the week they opened!  I hope they can make a go of it.