Few moths are as iconic and beautiful as the Luna Moth and we are lucky enough to have these beauties in our area. The Luna Moth is a member of the giant silk moth family and can have a wingspan of up to 7 inches, making it one of the larger moths in North America. Adult Luna Moths are an uncommon sight because of their very short lifespans as adults. Adult male and female Luna Moths are easily distinguished by their plumose antennae: male moths will have much larger and feathery antennae that are used for detecting female pheromones while female moths have much more subdued antennae. They only live 7-10 days as adults due to the fact that they are born without any functioning mouthparts and their only purpose as adults is to reproduce. You are more likely to find a Luna Moth caterpillar on one of its host plants which include a wide variety of tree species. This Luna Moth was found on the back door of the Farm Store and was moved into the forest to live out the rest of its life and hopefully make more Luna Moths in the future.
Who are some of the dragonflies (and damselflies!) that live in our ponds & streams?
By Faith and Conrad.
The young of dragonflies and damselflies (together called “odonates”) spend their lives in the water. When those nymphs are ready to finish metamorphosis, they climb out of the water, unzip their skin, and emerge in their adult form. Given their dependence on aquatic environments, the species of winged adults that one sees around a particular water body depends a lot on the characteristics of those waters. For example, the dragonfly community of a pond will usually be quite distinct from that of a stream, and the presence of fish, abundance of aquatic vegetation, degree of siltation, and a variety of other factors will ultimately determine the odonate community.
In this posting, Faith (one of the FEP 2021 summer interns) and Conrad collaborate to describe a few of the species we are currently seeing around ponds and streams here at Hawthorne Valley Farm.
Though we’ve spotted them most frequently on the edges of ponds, these unusually colored damselflies can also be found around lakes and slow moving streams. After this species mates, males will often join the female while she lays eggs underwater, which can take up to 20 minutes!
The family of dragonflies known as Clubtails are named after the three flared segments at the end of their abdomen. This photo of a female Lancet Clubtail shows her with a cluster of eggs ready to be deposited into the pond we snapped this picture at, or a nearby slow-moving body of water. She will go on to lay hundreds more eggs this season!
(Upon further inspection, these ‘eggs’ may actually be mites. Interestingly, they’re sometimes hard to distinguish from egg clusters!)
The naiads, or nymphs, of the Chalk-fronted Corporal live in decaying vegetation on the bottom of lakes and ponds. With a diet that consists of mosquito and other fly larvae to small fish and tadpoles, the naiads are well fitted for life in still bodies of water!
One of the biggest dragonflies we’ve recently spotted cruising our streams is the Twin-spotted Spiketail. They are strikingly marked in black and yellow. This is not a particularly abundant species in New York, and we have only seen it a couple of times in Columbia County. It seems to prefer shaded streams, which they patrol in a somewhat regular pattern. Trying to catch one involves carefully staking out a stretch of stream and waiting for their approach – “Here it comes!”, “Quick, swing!”, “There it goes.”… young eyes and quick reflexes eventually caught one. Luckily, once you’ve inspected one in the hand, they’re relatively easy to ID on the wing. This one is resting after having been netted, inspected and released.
We were lucky enough to get the above video of a female depositing her eggs.
In some ways, the Common Baskettails are the chipmunks of our springtime odonate fauna, not because they chirp or run around collecting nuts, but because in some seasons and in some locations, they seem to be darting about everywhere. Not surprisingly given the widespread abundance of the adults, their nymphs are found across a range of aquatic habitats, from marsh to pond to stream. After spending some time chasing dragonflies, one gets an idea for the adult’s characteristic flight habits. A few can often be found flying back and forth along forest edges at about 6-15’ above the ground. In the hand, they are medium-sized, distinctly fuzzy creatures, colored in shades of brown and dirty yellow with tinges of iridescent emerald green.
This is a male so those are almost certainly mites not eggs under its tail.
Another unusual spring sighting for us has been the aptly-named Springtime Darner. We spotted it along a small stream here at Hawthorne Valley. We have only seen them once or twice before, but that might reflect the rarity with which we hunt dragonflies in Spring, rather than this species’ actual scarcity. Interestingly, its continental distribution closely parallels that of the Twin-spotted Spiketail mentioned earlier, it extends from southern Canada down the Appalachians to the Deep South with an apparent gap in interior NY. Springtime Darners are small (for a darner) but fairly brightly colored with yellow racing strips on the thorax and a blue patterning down the tail. It is a denizen of woodland streams.
Although summer technically won’t begin for another month, Memorial Day always feels like the unofficial start of our warmest season. While many people spend the weekend with family—perhaps visiting the beach, or breaking out the grill for the first time—I decided to go out and practice my insect photography along Hawthorne Valley’s nature trails.
This bundle of tiny twigs—a portable shelter constructed by a caterpillar—was the first thing to catch my eye.
Nearby, a sawfly larva wandered along a leaf. Sawflies are vegetarian relatives of wasps, and their larvae can be distinguished from caterpillars by counting their prolegs, the fleshy, leg-like appendages along the posterior section of the body. Caterpillars have no more than 5 pairs of prolegs, while sawflies have 6 or more.
Speaking of wasps—they were numerous, actively crawling among the vegetation in search of insects to parasitize. Here, a wasp belonging to the family Ichneumonidae stops to clean its antenna.
Also numerous was a kind of large, hairy fly, which I have not yet identified.
A closer look at the vegetation revealed a pair of jumping plant lice…
…and a well-camouflaged assassin bug. (The assassin bug’s prey is another ichneumon wasp.)
I also found my first scorpionfly of the season. This female lacks the scorpion’s tail-like abdomen that gives these insects their name, but is still a very strange creature. (To learn more about scorpionflies, read our post on them from last June here [link].)
Even more excitingly, I came across a Golden-backed Snipe Fly (Chrysopilus thoracicus)—a species which longtime readers may remember is one of my favorite insects (link). Perhaps I should make insect-hunting a Memorial Day tradition!
Last, but not least, here’s an unusual perspective on a common insect (a crane fly).
Early-flowering Sedges of Borden’s Pond Conservation Area in Chatham
By Claudia (with many images from Jerry Jenkins, courtesy of the Northern Forest Atlas Project)
Sedges, like their cousins, the grasses, are often overlooked and underappreciated. Yet, they contribute 140 native species to the plant diversity of Columbia County, NY and—when observed closely—reveal an unexpected beauty. So, today, I would like to share images of some of the woodland sedges currently observable at Borden’s Pond and some amazing close-up photos of the same species taken by Jerry Jenkins and available at https://northernforestatlas.org.
But first a few more words about sedges. While most of them are wetland plants, eastern North America also has a dazzling variety of upland forest sedge species (about 40 in our county). While grasses usually have bisexual flowers, which produce pollen as well as ovaries, which then develop into seeds, sedges have unisexual flowers. In most species, the flowers are arranged in spikelets.
The following image from Jerry Jenkin’s “Digital Atlas of Sedges” shows different ways in which sedge flower spikelets can be organized (clockwise from top left): they can have all male (pollen-producing) flowers, all female (seed-producing) flowers, or they can have the female flowers at the top and the male flowers at the bottom, or vice versa.
The female flowers (and later the hard, one-seeded fruits) are enclosed in a little sack, called “perigynium”. The following image (also from Jerry Jenkin’s “Digital Atlas of Sedges”) shows some of the variation in perigynium shape and location of the fruits (“achenes”) inside them.
Possibly the most conspicuous sedge at Borden’s Pond is Pennsylvania Sedge (Carex pensylvanica), which forms beautiful lawns along sections of the Red Trail and is also present in smaller patches around the two benches overlooking the former pond. It is a narrow-leaved species that forms rhizomes and has a dark reddish base.
My attempt at a closeup of the spikelets reveals a terminal all-male spikelet and several shorter female spikelets which have hairy perigynia.
At the base of this multi-trunked Sugar Maple in the upper section of the Red Trail grow several clumps of the Fibrous-rooted Sedge (Carex communis), which is closely-related to Pennsylvania Sedge.
Fibrous-rooted Sedge also has terminal male spikelets and sessile female spikelets below. Other than Pennsylvania Sedge, it does not grow rhizomes and therefore is not a lawn-former, but instead grows in distinct clumps.
A close look at the perigynia in this studio image from Jerry Jenkins reveals that they are hairy, which is not a common feature in sedges. Note also, how each perigynium is accompanied by a scale, which is true for all sedges.
Hairy leaves are uncommon in sedges, so this little guy is relatively easily identified by its hairy leaves AND perigynia. It is aptly named Hairy Sedge (Carex hirtifolia) and grows here and there along the Green Trail. Generally, it is often found in floodplains or near streams.
Another studio image from Jerry Jenkins shows the hairy perigynia, the hairy, narrow bracts (leaves at the base of each spikelet), and the hairy stalk of Hairy Sedge.
Sticking with the easily identified hairy sedges, this Pale Sedge (Carex pallescens) grows near the bench overlooking the former pond at Borden’s Pond. It has hairy leaves, but smooth (glabrous) perigynia.
This studio image by Jerry Jenkins shows the smooth (“glabrous”) perigynia of Pale Sedge, which are reminiscent of little watermelons.
While all sedge species so far had separate male and female spikelets, Hairy-leaved Sedge (Carex hirsutella), which obviously also has hairy leaves, has a terminal spikelet that sports female flowers and the surrounding perigynia at the top and male flowers (which already spread their pollen and are only marked by their persistent empty scales) at the bottom.
There is a large group of sedge species, which have several small spikelets, each with female flowers at the top and the male flowers at the bottom. Greater Straw Sedge (Carex normalis) is a common member of this group.
At Borden’s Pond, clumps of Greater Straw Sedge are found here and there along the Green Trail. This sedge can grow tall and its leaves can be up to 6 mm wide.
Delicate Quill Sedge (Carex tenera) is a smaller cousin with leaves narrower than 3mm.
The spikelets of Delicate Quill Sedge are a little more spaced out along the stem than those of Greater Straw Sedge.
Another group of sedges has spikelets where the female flowers are topped by the male flowers. This is beautifully illustrated in this image of Rosy Sedge (Carex rosea). Can you distinguish the perigynia at the base of each of these three spikelets? The three stigmas (pollen-catching parts of the female flowers) are dark, curled, and protrude from the tip of each perigynium. The anthers (pollen-producing part of the male flowers) are white and emerge at the center=top of each spikelet.
This is how Rosy Sedge looks in the field. It has smaller and larger cousins.
Its smaller cousin Eastern Star Sedge (Carex radiata) forms small clumps on the trails in level sections.
Bur-reed Sedge (Carex sparganioides) is a coarser plant with slightly larger spikelets, which grows here and there along the level sections of both the Green and Red Trail.
In this studio image of Bur-reed Sedge, the male flowers have already fallen off the top of the spikelets.
The sedge on the right in this image Nerveless Woodland Sedge (Carex leptonervia) is one of the most common larger sedges in many of our forests and keeps green leaves through the winter. The sedge on the left is its smaller cousin Slender Woodland Sedge (Carex digitalis).
The perigynia of Nerveless Woodland Sedge have many very faint nerves and two somewhat more visible ones. Can you see them in this image by Jerry Jenkins?
Another common, relatively large sedge is Gray Sedge (Carex grisea), which tends to have a slightly more yellow-green color than the Nerveless Woodland Sedge.
In contrast to the Nerveless Woodland Sedge, the perigynia of Gray Sedge have numerous, clearly visible, impressed nerves. The long, rough tips of the scales are also typical of this species (and its relatives).
Broad-leaved Sedge (Carex platyphylla) stands out by both, its broad leaves and its bluish-green color. At Borden’s Pond, it is most common in the steeper sections.
Broad-leaved Sedge tends to have few, relatively widely-spaced perigynia in each female spikelet, which in turn is subtended by a short, broad bract.
Another distinctly blueish sedge is Spreading Sedge (Carex laxiculmis), which can be seen in abundance on both sides of the Green Trail where it has its first ascend coming from the parking lot.
Spreading Sedge often has a few male flowers or empty scales at the base of the female spikelets.
I will close my exploration of the sedges of Borden’s Pond with my favorite: Graceful Sedge (Carex gracillima), otherwise known as “Red-footed Woodland Dangler”. From a distance it looks like many other sedges, but when you inspect the base of the stems, they are dark red.
And Graceful Sedge has female spikelets that dangle on long, thin stalks (“peduncles”). Note also how the terminal spikelet has female flowers at the tip and the now empty scales of the former male flowers at the bottom.
If you enjoyed this little foray into the world of sedges and want to learn more about them, you might be interested in checking out Jerry Jenkins’ “Sedge Lessons” and his “Digital Atlas of Sedges”, both available as free PDFs together with so much more amazing natural history materials and images at https://northernforestatlas.org. If you are more of a book person, I recommend “Sedges of the Northern Forest—A Photographic Guide” by Jerry Jenkins. Thank you, Jerry, for freely sharing your deep love for the natural world, your insights and your images!
For this Wonder Wander I happened upon a fledgling owl just figuring out how to fly, among many other creatures going about life in the spring. View the photos and read the captions to follow along.
Walking on the edge of a Swamp Forest, I was surprised and intrigued by the rapid beating of large owl-like wings on the forest floor. What is an owl doing on the ground in the middle of the day? When, after a bit more flapping, it made it to a low branch and I was able to take this photo, I realized it was a fledging Great Horned Owl. Note the long and fluffy first juvenile feathers.
Great Horned Owl fledglings begin to take a few short flights around 7 weeks old, but tire easily.
The initial flights of fledglings often have rocky landings, sometimes with the fledging ending up upside down on a branch. In this case, the fledging tried to stick a landing on the vertical trunk of a tree, before flapping down to the ground and trying again.
After all that flapping, a long rest on a low branch was in order. Great Horned Owls are born covered in pure white down, which is gradually replaced or added to by a grayish buff down, then its first plumage of long, fluffy feathers. Recently fledged owls may retain some down, and I’m guessing that that is what is giving the owl a white appearance in this photo.
In case you are wondering how the look of a fledgling differs from that of an adult Great Horned Owl, this adult (perhaps a parent of the fledgling) happened to draw my attention yesterday.
I have found it to be pretty easy to locate Great Horned Owls by following the excited mobbing calls of American Crows, who seem to consistently harass any Great Horned Owl out during the day. The ferocity crows direct at Great Horned Owls reflects how dangerous Great Horned Owls are to crows, preying on them at night when they nest or roost, as well as stealing their nests.
Back in the Hemlock Forest, I nearly stepped on this large pile of relatively recent Bear poop.
A closer look reveals a diet of such out-of-season foods as sunflower seeds and millet. Yes, it would seem this Bear has been visiting a bird feeder.
I thought there was another pile of the poop a couple of feet away, but it was instead a sleepy American Toad. American Toads are infrequently seen in the summer because in hot weather they hunker down in leaf litter or other hiding spots, and are mainly active at night. Apparently, some American Toads return to the same hiding spot each day, and so I will be checking to see if this one can be found again.
Last poop stop: a log crossing the stream seemed to be a popular latrine, with what may be fox poop on the left and raccoon poop on the right. Both of these animals like to poop in visible, elevated locations (and might use a log like this to cross a stream).
A close up of the possible fox poop looks like it may include the skin from an old apple? Any other thoughts? Thanks to wildlife tracker Pat Liddle for the insights into this and the Bear poop!
A Garter Snake among the ferns along the stream bank startled me and quickly moved on.
These towering fuzzy furled ferns also caught my eye along the stream bank. They are likely Interrupted Ferns.
Heading from forest to field, male Red-winged Blackbirds were brightly visible.
Later, I accidentally flushed this female Red-winged Blackbird from what was likely her nest tucked among the cattails, sedges, and reeds near the pond. Unlike males, females are far less visible at this time of year, as they spend their time tending nests.
Green Herons are also frequent visitors of the pond and surrounding areas. They make a distinctive, drawn-out “keow” sound when flying back and forth from the pines where they nest to the pond where they fish, and that is what alerted me to this Green Heron as I was continuing my Wonder Wander. The legs of breeding males at this time are bright orange, which makes me think this may be a female.
May is the month of Snapping Turtle traffic on the grassy area between the pond and stream. A little later I came across this Snapping Turtle heading to the pond. This is the time of year when Snapping Turtles leave the water to find suitable well-drained, sunny nesting sites.
Finally, a parting scene captured from the bathroom window a few days ago: three young Groundhogs venturing forth from their burrow to eat grass.
Greetings! I am excited to share with you all a Wonder Wander exploration of Oakdale Park in Hudson, brought to you in collaboration with Vanessa Baer of the Hudson Youth Center!
Similar to our self-guided Wonder Wander Walks this winter, there will be signs up along the trails highlighting different plants, animals and land use history. The signs will be installed later this week (on May 14th), and will be up until the middle of June. We hope you enjoy this virtual exploration, as well as the in-person exploration if you choose to visit the park!
About the park: Oakdale Park has a 5-acre lake, a sand beach, and a network of trails throughout the woods surrounding the lake. The beach and park are home to the Hudson Youth Center’s summer camp, as well as other programming they conduct. It’s also a popular fishing and swimming spot in the summer! To learn more about the Hudson Youth Department and the work they do in the city of Hudson, check out their website or find them on Facebook or Instagram. You can support their efforts at Friends of Hudson Youth. To learn more about Oakdale and the non-profit that works with and uplifts the park, check out Friends of Oakdale Lake.
To get to the park, map to Oakdale Beach: 53-99 N 6th St, Hudson, NY 12534. Park in the big parking lot that is adjacent to the beach and basketball court.
The trail begins in the tree line by the skate park, at the far end of the parking lot. It is a little over a mile long. Starting near the skatepark, it loops around back to the beach and parking lot. The terrain is varied, with some slightly steep sections, and with some flatter sections.
Before we “hop on” the trail, stop to take in the orchard and native pollinator beds to the left of the trailhead, that Vanessa put in last season—featuring various apple varieties, cherries and hackberry.
Pretty early on on the left side of the trail, you’ll see a cluster of delicate plants with small yellow flowers…
This is Yellow Pimpernel (Taenidia intergerrima), an uncommon member of the carrot family (Apiaceae) that grows–in our area–only on rocky slopes and hillsides near the Hudson River. The leaves of this plant are a host to the caterpillars of the Black Swallowtail butterfly!
Though we’ll see more plants in flower farther along the trail, keep an eye out for the foliage of plants that will flower soon—such as this plant, Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum) which will make some lovely purplish-pink blooms.
Two other native woodland plants that will likely be flowering soon are the “True” and “False” Solomon’s Seal. While it is hard to distinguish Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum spp.) from “False” Solomon’s Seal (Maianthemum racemosum), also called Solomon’s Plume, by only the foliage, their differences become more transparent once they flower. Below are the leaves of either the “True” or “False” Solomon’s Seal.
True Solomon’s Seal produces bell-shaped greenish-yellow flowers that hang down from the leaf axils. The flower buds are pictured below in a photo taken from the archives.
“False” Solomon’s Seal, or Solomon’s Plume, creates a feathery cluster of flowers at the end of the stem (as pictured below in another photo from the archives).
Keep an eye out for the precious Common Blue Violets (Viola sororia) that litter the edges of the trail with their heart-shaped leaves and little purple blooms. Sometimes the color of the Common Blue Violet changes, depending on the soil and environment. How many different colors of violets can you spot?
Also keep on the lookout for the beautiful white blooms that belong to Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida), a native understory tree: there are two trees around the lake!
Interestingly enough, this flower is not yet open! The showy white parts are not part of the flower, they are bracts or modified leaves. The true “flowers” will emerge from the small greenish-yellow buds in the center of the bracts, and they are much more subtle than the white bracts.
Another subtle bloom along the trail is that of Kidney-leaved Buttercup (Ranunculus abortivus). Check out the variation in leaf shape from bottom to top: the basal leaves (at the base of the plant) are round to kidney-shaped, while the top leaves are long and narrow.
At this point along the trail, hopefully you’ve glimpsed at least one of these various blooms! So far, we’ve been navigating on trails that are more sloped. That might not have been clear from the images thus far, but take our word for it!
We then reach a point where the trail really levels out. Some seasons back, Vanessa was planting along this part of the trail and noticed that the soil was a much different substrate in this section compared to other parts of the park. That’s when Vanessa learned that there used to be a railroad that ran through this part of the park. The red arrow on this aerial image of Oakdale Park from 2019 points to parts of the trail that used to be a railroad.
The Hudson Albany Electric Railway was built around 1900, and used to run to Kinderhook and Albany. It stopped running around 1927. This aerial image from 1942 depicts the same section of trail, with a distinct cleared strip where the rail bed used to be!
What other differences do you notice between the two aerial images?
Along this flatter part, we also find two small ponds! The first of which is called “Frog Pond” by the youth and campers from the Hudson Youth Center. Green Frogs, Bullfrogs, and possibly Northern Leopard Frogs! If you’re curious about hearing what those (and other) frog calls sound like, visit this website.
It’s typically male frogs that make sounds, in order to attract mates. Frogs make their calls by breathing in, closing their nostrils, and then forcing the air back and forth from their lungs and over their vocal chords. This causes their vocal chords to vibrate and create sound, which is amplified by the balloon-like (vocal) sac at the bottom of their mouth. The website above also has some incredible photos of frogs with their inflated vocal sacs.
Shhhhh, try to approach the next pond quietly!
This pond is nicknamed “Turtle Pond,” and if there’s some sun out it is very likely you might spot some turtles basking on the logs jutting out from the water.
Especially in springtime, one is likely to encounter turtles soaking up the sun’s rays.
These Painted Turtles have spent the winter hibernating in the mud at the bottom of the pond, and now need to bask in the sun in order to maintain their internal temperature. The heat they’re soaking up helps with their metabolism and digestion, mood regulation, breeding, and also helps to strengthen their shells and prevent against infections.
After the turtle pit stop, certain introduced or invasive species start to become more evident along the trail, including barberry, bittersweet, honeysuckle and buckthorn.
Despite being an aggressive member of the forest understory, the flowers of honeysuckle (Lonicera spp.) sure are lovely! One can identify honeysuckle shrubs by their opposite branching, oval and almost leathery leaves, and the pairs of flowers and later fruits.
Japanese Barberry (Berberis thunbergii), another introduced shrub that can take over under-stories and capitalizes on disturbed areas, also creates lovely flowers found under the leaves. Barberry can be identified by its light green, small oval leaves, thorns, and yellow flowers that will turn into bright red, oval fruits.
Another prevalent introduced species along the trail is buckthorn (Rhamnus spp.). Buckthorn is recognizable by the dark, scaly bark, oval leaf shape, and the branching which is sometimes opposite and sometimes alternate (this is called “sub-opposite”). Some species also have thorns. Have you ever noticed the inconspicuous flowers of buckthorn?
While we are discussing some of the species that capitalize on disturbed areas and tend to crowd the under-stories of the woods, you’ll definitely see the non-native, herbaceous Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) here. Its kidney-shaped leaves with scalloped edges that emerged in early spring have quickly shot up to flower.
The small white flowers have four petals, typical of mustard family plants (Brassicaceae). Also note the narrow seed pods that very effectively distribute the seeds! If you’re trying to keep Garlic Mustard at bay in your garden, it’s best to weed it out before it flowers or goes to seed.
Another non-native member of the mustard family that has also been rocketing on up is Dame’s Rocket (Hesperis matronalis). It isn’t yet in flower, but you’ll notice its long, narrow, fuzzy leaves throughout the woods. It will make four-petaled flowers that range from purple to pink to white!
Moving along, you’ll pass a platform that the Hudson Youth Center camp utilizes during the summer season!
It’s around here that we start to see a very unique, native flower emerge! Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) has as very interesting flower structure. The hooded part is called the spathe, and the knobby flower stalk inside is called the spadix. The color of the flower can vary from a deep purple to a light green, as illustrated in these photos of Jack-in-the-Pulpits at Oakdale.
Jack-in-the-Pulpits are dioecious, meaning that the male and female flowers are on separate plants. What’s more, the plants can change sexes year to year, depending on how much energy they have stored in their roots, or corms. If the plant has more stored energy, it will likely be a female that season and create fruit (red berries that are favored by Wild Turkeys and other birds). If the plant has less stored energy, it will likely be a male that season and only create pollen. The larger plants with two sets of leaflets are typically the more “energetic” female plants, while the smaller plants with one set of leaflets are usually male.
On closer inspection, one can carefully look at the base of the spadix to determine whether it’s a pollen-producing male plant (left) or fruit-producing female plant (right).
While there’s not a noticeable resemblance to the leafy, green Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) now, the early spring flower of Skunk Cabbage also had a hooded spathe and flowering spadix just like its relative Jack-in-the-Pulpit—both are members of the Arum or Araceae family.
Andrew Farrand, who inherited the land from his father in the late 1800s, named the property Oakdale for its oak trees, some of which still survive to this day!
One of the two most common oak species in the park is Northern Red Oak (Quercus rubra). Red Oak is recognizable by its sharply lobed leaves, its bark that flattens out into a “ski-trail” effect, and its flatly capped acorns. At this time of year, can you make out the dangling male catkin flowers, and the young leaves? The smaller female flowers won’t be visible at this time, but will develop into acorns this fall.
The other common oak species is White Oak (Quercus alba), also featuring its dangling male catkin flowers at this time of year. Compared to the leaves of Red Oak, the lobes of White Oak leaves are more rounded. The bark is lighter gray and flaky. The acorns of White Oak are more deeply capped.
At the end of the trail, we find ourselves close to the lake, with a view of the beach house from across the water.
Photos by Howard Gibson from the 1950s and 60s depict the beach house and the heavily utilized lake. The photo below was taken in 1963, from roughly the same vantage point as the previous photo! As you can see, some things resemble one another and a lot as changed too.
The corner of the lake that we are “standing” next to now used to be a lagoon pool for swimmers, as depicted in this photo by Howard Gibson.
Below is a view of the lagoon from by the road. The lagoon pool was built by the NYS National Guard in the 50s! This corner of the lake has since filled in with phragmites.
We’ll leave you on this final note: skaters on the lake in 1960, also documented by Howard Gibson.
Thank you for following along with the wonders of Oakdale Park, and we hope you’ve enjoyed this journey! It is so interesting to see how the park and lake have grown and changed over the years.
Are you noticing something odd in this flower? David Lewis grew this White Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) from seed and this year, he and Ellen noticed for the first time, that it has four leaves, four sepals, and four petals. This is highly unusual for a Trillium, where all parts should come in threes, but not totally unheard of… The big question for David and Ellen was, whether this unusual growth is genetically determined (in which case they were wondering why they had not noticed it in earlier years) or whether something went wrong with the development of the plant only this year.
David went back into his photo archive and found this image of the same plant in 2017. Clearly, the “four-ness” is not genetically determined, but due to some unusual development this year. When I looked a little more into this, I found a blog posting on Tryon Naturalist Notes that was dedicated to “Quirky Quadliums”. Please check that link for a more detailed discussion of “nature’s mistakes” in Trillium and beyond. Thanks to David for sharing this fun observation and the images.
Black Bears use certain trees (and telephone poles) in our landscape for communicating with one another. They rub, bite and claw the bark of these trees, leaving their scent and visual markers behind for other bears to see and smell. In Austerlitz I recently came across such a tree—a Hemlock covered in claw marks and with dark hair caught in its bark. I set up a game camera and captured a couple different bears interacting with the tree.
A Hemlock with loads of scratches from Black Bear. I find most bear making trees on the edges of wetlands. They tend to be Hemlock, in my experience.
A closer look at the tree’s trunk revealed long black hairs caught in its bark.
Bear scat this time of year is loaded with vegetation. They spend a lot of time in spring within wetlands, feeding on the tender vegetation coming up.
My camera captured this large Black Bear marking/inspecting the tree.
A smaller bear comes by, smells the tree, and checks out my camera.
Ah! What a special time of year, with the natural world waking up again: flowers emerging, leaves unfurling, insects stirring… A couple of days ago, Claudia and I explored River Street Park in Valatie, which borders the Kinderhook Creek. Follow along to see the abundance of spring wildflowers we witnessed. If you’re interested in visiting this park, here are the directions.
We took the trail that hugged the creek along the floodplain forest, that had many opportunities to walk down closer to the water.
To access this trail from the parking lot, we walked beyond the gazebo and took a right (see the red arrow on the image).
Right off the bat, the lacy leaves and white flowers of Dutchman’s Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) greeted us in great numbers. Dutchman’s Breeches is named for the resemblance that the flowers have to pairs of pantaloons!
Not all of our spring wildflowers are true spring ephemerals, but Dutchman’s Breeches is one! This means that it completes its entire above-ground life cycle (leafing, flowering, fruiting) within just a few weeks. It’s a short period between when the temperatures are warm enough and there’s enough sunlight, and before the canopy fills in.
Another spring ephemeral along the trail was Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum), though at the start we mostly saw just the purple and green mottled leaves littering the forest floor. Farther along the trail, we found lovely colonies of the plant with their yellow flowers out. We usually find that the blooms appear on plants that have two leaves, rather than just one leaf.
Trout Lily gets its common name from the mottled leaves which are said to resemble the markings on trout. Sometimes its also called Dog-tooth Violet, which is named for the tooth-like shape of the underground bulb.
I was really excited about encountering this native mustard for the first time this season! This is Cut-leaved Toothwort (Cardamine concatenata), beginning to flower. We also saw its close relative Broad-leaved or Two-leaved Toothwort (Cardamine diphylla) that was farther away from flowering, which unfortunately we forgot to photograph!
We paused to observe some of the first leaves of Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) emerging on a vine growing up a tree. Poison Ivy’s leaves are very red when they first come out in the spring, and will become more green (with a hint of red) as they grow.
At one of the pull offs down to the creek, we saw a small Musclewood (Carpinus caroliniana) tree in flower. The larger, dangling catkins on the right side of the image are the male flowers. The tiny flower at the tip of the branch/emerging along with the leaves is the female flower, can you make out the red, pollen-catching stigmas?
Back on the trail, we ran into two native violets. First, the Common Blue Violet (Viola sororia).
We then saw the Yellow Wood Violet (Viola pubescens). While these are among our spring wildflowers, their leaves remain throughout the season (and some plants even flower again in the fall) so they would not fall into our “true spring ephemeral” category.
Most of the Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) had already finished flowering, we were lucky to glimpse a few with their white blooms open to the sun.
Bloodroot, along with many early flowering plants, produces a fatty attachment on its seeds called eliaosomes (meaning oil + body) to attract ants. The ants take the seeds back to their nest to consume the fatty treat, while keeping the seed intact, which leaves the seed in a prime spot to germinate next year.
Later on along the trail, we finally saw some Red Trillium (Trillium erectum) flowers! Red Trillium’s beautiful blooms create a foul smelling odor in order to attract pollinators, specifically flies.
We were less delighted to see this yellow-flowering plant, which goes by the name of Lesser Celandine or Fig Buttercup (Ficaria verna). While its flowers are lovely (which is why it was introduced as an ornamental), it is a very aggressive member of floodplain forests, and crowds out native plants.
Now is a great time of year to remove this plant, because it’s very noticeable with its flowers. Before beginning that task however, be sure you can tell apart Lesser Celandine and the native lookalike, Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris), which we don’t want to remove!
Here’s a comparison of Lesser Celandine and Marsh Marigold that I found online. Note the differences in flowers and slight differences in leaf shape!
Moving along, we saw on the creek’s edge how these large American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) roots formed a lovely little cave.
We saw Golden Alexander (Zizia aurea), a native member of the carrot family (Apiaceae).
Its leaves and flowers definitely resemble those of Goutweed (Aegopodium podagraria), a very aggressive plant. However, as you can see here, Golden Alexander’s flowers are yellow while Goutweed’s are white; Golden Alexander’s leaves are also more deeply serrated.
We looped back to the parking lot once the floodplain forest started to open up more into grassier, more honeysuckle-dominant area.
We definitely appreciated these plentiful spring wildflowers!! And I hope you do too: whether its vicariously through these photos, or seeing them for yourself in the woods.
Over the last week, we have been keeping our eyes open and cameras ready to document some of the early tree flowers and fruits. We have become particularly fascinated by the different flowering/fruiting strategies of the maple species, who come into bloom each year in this order: Silver Maple, Red Maple, Box Elder, Norway Maple, Sugar Maple (which are all flowering right now or have already flowered), Striped Maple (which will soon flower), and Mountain Maple (which will flower in late May/June). Here is what the flowers/fruits of early maples (and some other trees) currently look like.
Silver Maple has separate male (pollen) and female (seed) flowers on the same tree. As you can see, it does not bother producing big showy petals. However, in spite of the minimalistic flower design, Honeybees regularly visit Silver Maple flowers to collect pollen. This image shows male flowers (note the pale orange pollen sacks) on top and female flowers (note the typical helicopter winged fruits in the making) at the bottom. The female flowers have a ring of stalkless staminoids (sterile pollen sacks):
The empty pollen sacks in male Silver Maple flowers. Silver Maple is in full bloom before the leaves come out. Now, that the flowers are spent, the leaves are emerging:
Another Silver Maple tree already has quite advanced fruits. They take but a few weeks to mature, fall off the tree, and germinate the same season:
Similar to Silver Maple, Red Maple also has separate male (pollen) and female (seed) flowers. Sometimes they are found on the same tree, but we also know some trees that consistently have only male flowers (pictured below):
Red Maple fruits developing in a cluster of female flowers. Red Maple also flowers before the leaves come out and the leaves start to emerge as the fruits are ripening:
Boxelder, in spite of its trifoliate or even pinnate leaves, which are a little bit reminiscent of those of Poison Ivy, is a true maple! Its male and female flowers are strictly on different trees. This is an image of the male (pollen) flowers, which are basically pollen sacks hanging on long stalks:
The female (seed) flowers of Boxelder have a two-parted stigma (pollen catching flower part), flanked by the fledgling wings of the typical maple helicopter fruits. Obviously, Boxelder times flowers at the same time as the leaves emerge:
The introduced Norway Maple is often planted as a shade tree in yards and along roadsides, but has a tendency to disperse into natural areas and is therefore considered invasive in our region. It has male (pollen) and female (seed) flowers on the same tree. Its flowers are more showy than those of the early-blooming native maples, complete with yellow green petals and sepals. Note how these male flowers have a ring of 10 stamens (pollen sacks at the end of long stalks), but no stigma (pollen catching flower part) in the center of the flowers:
In contrast, the female flowers of Norway Maple, which look superficially very similar to the male flowers, have shorter-stalked (and supposedly sterile) pollen sacks (called staminoids) surrounding the two-parted stigma at the center of the flower. If you look closely, you can discern that, like in other female maple flowers, the stigma is already flanked by the fledgling wings of the future helicopter fruits:
The last of our early-blooming maples to open its flowers is Sugar Maple. It, too, has male and female flowers on the same tree and this year we have not yet been able to see any female flowers up front. This image shows newly emerging male (pollen) flowers. Note how, like in all other maples, a whole bunch of flowers emerges from a single bud:
These are male (pollen) flowers of Sugar Maple are fully emerged and are spreading their pollen:
Looking ahead (with the image below taken in late May of another year), keep your eyes open for the pseudohermaphroditic (seemingly containing pollen- and seed-bearing flower parts, but usually only functioning as either pollen-producing or seed-producing) flowers dangling underneath the fully expanded leaves of Striped Maple. This native maple is a common understory tree in many of our forests:
And looking even further ahead (with the image below taken in mid June of another year), look for the male and female flowers displayed together in upright racemes above the fully expanded leaves of Mountain Maple. We know this, our rarest maple species, only from the eastern part of the County, where it grows as a shrub in cool ravines:
Coming back to late April, American Elm, which started blooming in late March, is now developing its small, papery, one-seeded fruits, which will soon disperse. Currently, all the green you can see on elm trees are these young fruits. The leaves have not begun to emerge, yet:
A fun tree to look at closely right now is Musclewood (Carpinus caroliniana). Like its relatives, the birches, hazelnuts, and Hop-hornbeam, it has separate male and female flowers on the same tree. A week ago, we took this image of the just expanding male catkins (slim, cylindrical flower clusters which contain many tiny flowers):
A few days later, we could see not only the fully expanded male catkins of Musclewood, but also the tiny clusters of female flowers (recognizable by their bright red stigmas, visible on the left side of the branch in the image below):
We’re revitalizing this blog with daily-ish postings from Farmscape staff (i.e., Anna, Claudia, Dylan, Kenny, Nellie & Conrad). This will generally be the same material that you can see on our Farmscape Ecology Program Facebook page.
While this blog was originally founded to report then/now phenology comparisons, many of our new posts will be simple this-is-what-we’re-seeing reports. But we won’t completely forget history. We are keeping our sister blog for deep dive thematic postings. If you see something and want to know what it is, don’t hesitate to send us photos – that way, we learn too! Please enjoy, and let us know how we can make this most useful.