First Snow!

Saturday delivered a light blanket of snow to our area.

Read about how snowflakes form.  View the science of snowflakes.  View a slideshow of photographs of snowflakes.

Speaking of snow, here are some recipes and other ideas for you to consider:

It now looks wintery.  View the countdown to the winter solstice 2017.

I visited Shenantaha Creek Park in the Town of Malta.  The nature trail along Ballston Creek (also named Shenantaha by the Iroqouis, meaning “deer water”) offers several scenic views from the trail atop the bluff along portions of this creek.

View of Ballston Creek from trail atop cliff

Trail through woodland along stone wall

View of Ballston Creek from trail atop cliff

Shale bedrock-lined ravine

Looking upstream along Ballston Creek from where trail descends into flooplain forest

View of floodplain forest (Zim Smith Trail along top of high ridge in distant background)

Panoramic view of Ballston Creek from trail through floodplain forest

In addition to enjoying the beautiful woodland scenes along this trail, I also took the opportunity to do a little winter botanizing, which is more like forensic botanizing in that you look for plant features (such as seed pods or branching patterns) that help distinguish a particular species.

See what I found –

Maple-leaved Viburnum

Shagbark Hickory

Hairy White Old-field Aster

Thimbleweed

Selfheal

Common Mullein

Hawthorn

Christmas Fern

Which reminds me…it’s beginning to look a lot like…(listen)!

Happy trails!

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Giving Thanks

Today’s sunny disposition beckoned me to visit Anchor Diamond Park at Hawkwood, located in the Town of Ballston.As a frequent visitor to this park and other area nature observation destinations, I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge the visionaries, philanthropic individuals, and both the leaders and staff of local governments and land trusts that have enabled the establishment of this park and many similar other community assets throughout the Capital Region.

I also wish to acknowledge the many, many selfless nameless volunteers who have contributed countless hours of their time and toil to create and maintain the many miles of trails found at those nature observation destinations.  Without every contribution from each of you, none of these opportunities would be afforded to visitors like myself.

To each and every one of you, I say a most heartfelt and grateful “thank you.”

Fruit of Common Winterberry

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Happy trails!

Fall Colors Stroll

Today’s spectacular weather beckoned me outdoors.  I chose to take a stroll along the Community Connector Trail from the base of the Twin Bridges to the trail bridge over the outlet of Wager Pond.

Trail bridge over outlet of Wager’s Pond

Outlet of Wager’s Pond

View of Mohawk River and outlet of Wager’s Pond

View my fall colors sampler –

Virginia Creeper

Upper colored leaves = Sugar Maple, Lower colored leaves = American Basswood

Smooth Arrowwood

Northern Prickly Ash

Asiatic Bittersweet – note the Black-capped Chickadee just left of the twisted trunk of the left tree

Three-seeded Mercury

Hog Peanut

Blue-stemmed Goldenrod

White Wood Aster

Wild Columbine

Common Witch-hazel sans flowers

Chestnut Oak

Happy trails!

Hickory nut harvest is underway!

Ripened hickory nuts usually begin dropping to the ground in early October.  The production of mast typically varies year-to-year, but it seems as though hickories produce the most nuts every third year.  This is one of those years; it may be possible to forage for nuts throughout October and into November.

While there are several species of hickory in our area, I believe the tastiest nuts are those of Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata) and Pignut Hickory (Carya glabra).  Hickory trees are found in mature woods and fencerows.  The husk surrounding the individual nut is the easiest way to distinguish between the two species.

This is the nut of Shagbark Hickory.

Can you find the five Shagbark Hickory nuts in this photo?

Read about Shagbark Hickory.  View how to identify this species.

This is the nut of Pignut Hickory.

Read about Pignut Hickory.  View how to identify this species.

 

IMPORTANT – PLEASE NOTE:  Do NOT collect/use the nuts of Bitternut Hickory.  These are not palatable!  View how to identify this species.  This is the nut of Bitternut Hickory.

Bitternut Hickory

 

Once you have collected the nuts, you will likely need to remove the husk off the shell before you crack open the shell.

The husks of Shagbark Hickory often easily separate from the shell.  Most will quickly fall off the shell as you pick up the nuts from the forest floor.  View how to prepare these nuts for long-term storage.

The husks of Pignut Hickory, on the other hand, will nearly always need to be peeled off.  After collecting Pignut Hickory nuts, I typically wait a couple of weeks before proceeding to remove their husks.  To do so, I use a pocket knife (a paring knife is a good alternative) and simply insert the blade along the seam of one of the four sections of husk and give the blade a twist to pop off that section of husk.  If the husk has sufficiently dried, this task proceeds fairly quickly.  However, this additional step does take some time, particularly if you have collected many nuts of this particular species.

Read about foraging for these particular nuts.

After the hickory nuts have had the husks removed, I place them into a sink filled with water for two reasons.  First, any nuts that float are discarded; these either did not develop the nutmeat inside the shell or there may be a worm inside the shell – either way, you don’t want those!  Second, I want to rinse off any dirt, trail debris or under-husk little fibers that may have adhered to the shells.

These didn’t float. Today’s harvest of Shagbark Hickory nuts.

Unfortunately, hickories have perhaps the hardest shell of nearly any nut.  That makes cracking them open a challenge.  THE BEST nutcracker for hickory nuts is this –I was first introduced to one of these particular nutcrackers when I was growing up in east central Wisconsin.  The design of this nutcracker makes simple work of the essential task of gaining access to the delicious nutmeats inside.  However, once cracked, those fragments of very hard shell must be carefully removed from the delicious morsels of nutmeat.  That’s why I carefully sort out only the largest pieces of nutmeat from the rest of the nut as I crack them and simply discard those fragments of shell that may still harbor smaller pieces of nutmeat.  Doing so greatly reduces the chance of shell fragments becoming mixed with the nutmeat.

Hickory nuts are my favorite to eat, bar none.  While related to pecans, the flavor of a hickory nut is distinctively different and delicious.  Hickory nuts also contain a fairly high oil content, making them an excellent nut to use in baked goods.

Recipes:

Hickory Daiquiri made with Hickory Syrup

Hickory Nut Ambrosia

Hickory Nut Cookies

Maple Hickory Nut Cookies

Hickory Nut Shortbread Cookies

Hickory Nut Cake

Hickory Nut Milk (broth)

Hickory Bark Ice Cream (yes – using tree bark!)

Hickory Nut Brittle

I recommend substituting hickory nuts for any other nut (including pecans) in any of your favorite baked goods recipes.

Happy trails!

Welcome to Autumn

Equinox Tree – half fall colors, half greenery; observed near Ann Lee Pond Nature and Historic Preserve in the Town of Colonie

The autumnal equinox will arrive Friday afternoon.  The shorter days and cooler nights to follow will usher in a new season of vibrantly colored foliage throughout the area.  Read about the status of fall colors.  Read about the dozen best places in the Capital Region to view fall colors.  See other leaf-peeping opportunities throughout New York.  View a quick guide to the fall colors of tree leaves.

However, I invite you to view fall colors…from a different perspective (slide show or video).  Most of these plants can be viewed in your community, your neighborhood, even in your own backyard.

Wood Strawberry

Here is a list of autumn activities to consider:

Happy trails!

Pre-autumn Amble through Asters

Yesterday, I concluded my wildflower inventory at Anchor Diamond Park at Hawkwood, which is located in the Town of Ballston.  I was able to add one more species for this park and am now ready to assemble a wildflower field guide.  The guide should be ready for spring 2018.

During my visit, I saw –

Hairy White Oldfield Aster

Heath Aster

White Wood Aster

Small White Aster

Heart-leaved Aster

Purple-stemmed Aster

I also observed this red berry sampler along the way –

Happy trails!

Late Summer Stoll along the Champlain Canal

Yesterday, I concluded my wildflower inventory of the Historic Champlain Canalway Trail segment located in the Town of Waterford.  I found a few more species to add to my list; I am ready to expand my wildflower field guide for this trail, which will now include the segment in this town as well as a longer segment in the Town of Halfmoon.

Yesterday’s mostly sunny sky and blooming wildflowers belied the fact that autumn is rapidly approaching.  A sneak peek at fall colors is beginning to appear everywhere.

Lopseed exhibiting its fall foliage

During my outing, I observed the following –

Blue-stemmed Goldenrod

Gray Goldenrod

Calico Aster

Tall Goldenrod

Late Goldenrod

Garden Phlox

Climbing False Buckwheat

Canada Goldenrod

Cranberry Viburnum fruit – while edible, I don’t like their flavor.

Pale Jewelweed

Virginia Creeper fruit – highly toxic to humans.

Pilewort

Spotted Jewelweed

Gray Dogwood fruit – important food for songbirds.

Common Evening Primrose

Turtlehead

Purple-stemmed Aster

Hog Peanut

Hog Peanut seedpods – these seeds are not edible.

Flat-topped Goldenrod

Autumn-olive fruit – can be made into a jam high in lycopene.

Devil’s Beggar Ticks (AKA Sticktight)

Tall Rattlesnake Root

Happy trails!