Spring is Near!

Despite last week’s significant snowstorm reminding us all that it was still winter, the vernal equinox will indeed occur early this week.

With longer days to come, the new season will begin heralding the emergence of a myriad of wildflowers and the unfurling of tree leaves throughout our area.

Common Shadbush – downy underside of emerging leaves

Emerging False Hellebore leaves

Consider these activities as part of your adventures this spring –

I have compiled five new wildflower field guides; you can view or download them here.  I hope they help you learn about wildflowers that can be viewed at some of our local nature preserves, parks and trails.

Lastly, I have scheduled several wildflower walks this year, including those listed above.  Please join me.

Happy trails!

 

 

A Ski Tour of History Through Nature

Given this week’s bountiful snowstorm and today’s cloudless sky, I was obliged to go ski touring.  I chose the Vischer Ferry Nature and Historic Preserve in the Town of Clifton Park.

I skied directly south of the Whipple Bridge toward the Mohawk River.

Historical marker – Vischer Ferry Nature and Historic Preserve

The trail turns westerly at a vantage point from where the Mohawk River can be easily viewed.

Woodland loop trail near site of Forts Ferry (Mohawk River appears in distant background left of center of this image)

That trail proceeds through a floodplain forest and connects with the West Pond Trail.

Floodplain forest

Several years ago while I was conducting my wildflower inventory along the trails of this preserve, the entire floodplain forest looked much like the above photo.  Today, there is a swath near the center of this woodland where many trees have been blown over or otherwise severely damaged by high winds as shown here.  The sum of these natural disturbances to this woodland has no doubt resulted in more sunlight reaching the ground surface during the growing season in this area.  Almost assuredly, there will likely be more species of plants growing along this portion of the trail now than when I conducted that inventory.

Floodplain forest – note many downed trees due to strong winds over the past several years

This trail then ends at its connection with West Towpath.  I turned left to continue heading westerly past Old Lock 19 to the towpath’s intersection with a service road for the dredge spoils area along the river.

View from atop Old Lock 19 looking easterly

Historic Marker – Vischer Ferry Nature and Historic Preserve

I then simply retraced my route back to the parking lot at the Whipple Bridge.

I saw/heard:  ducks, Canada geese, red-winged blackbirds, song sparrows, a pileated woodpecker, hairy woodpeckers, red-bellied woodpeckers, a white-breasted nuthatch, black-capped chickadees, cardinals, American robins, American crows, and a tufted titmouse.

I also saw tracks from deer, mice, fisher, fox, gray squirrel, and rabbit.

In all, a pleasant ski tour of about four miles.

And, speaking of nature and history – PLEASE HOLD THESE DATES!  The Town of Clifton Park will be celebrating the history and nature of this preserve on May 12-13.  Stay tuned – more info to come.Happy trails!

First Blooms of the Season!

Following our string of 70-degree sunny days, many plants starting exhibiting spring-like behavior.  The forecasted deep freeze for the next two nights will likely dramatically slow everything back to an early-March pace.  We’ll see.

Nevertheless, those warm days (and a few nights as well!) contributed to the following blooms observed this morning along the Stillwater Multi-Use Trail:

Beaked Hazelnut - female flower

Beaked Hazelnut – female flower

American Hazelnut - male (left) and female (right) flowers

American Hazelnut – male (left) and female (right) flowers

Think spring!  Happy trails!

Winter Plant ID Quiz #2

Yesterday’s continuing warm temperatures once again ruled out ski touring.  So, on this President’s Day, I chose to enjoy the abundant sunshine while trekking along the trails at the new Anchor-Diamond Park at Hawkwood Estate in the Town of Ballston.  This park opened in late autumn 2016 and features several trails meandering through woodlands.

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View along Stonewall Trail (blue markers) near far west end of park

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View along Stonewall Trail (blue markers) in hemlock grove near center of park

My hike inspired me to once again offer you a winter plant ID quiz.  Consider this the “final exam” for this winter!  To identify each plant, simply click on “Answer” beneath each image.  Have fun!

Please ID the two stems (left to right) in the foreground (not the one with leaves) - (1) Large stem along left edge of photo: (2) Smaller stem slightly right of center of photo:

Please ID the two stems (left to right) in the foreground (not the one with leaves) –
(1) Large stem along left edge of photo:  Answer
(2) Smaller stem slightly right of center of photo:  Answer

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Please ID the plant wrapped around the red twig: Answer

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Someone took the time to add this adorable little snow sculpture along the trail today!

Now that the plan ID quiz is completed, I saw two other things that prompted these two extra credit questions (NOT about plants) –

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What animal created these holes in the bark of this tree?  Answer

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What animal created the cavity in this tree? (Please also note wood debris at base of tree.)  Answer     View a short video of the making of a cavity.

Happy trails!

“Snow fleas” and a couple of other trailside critters

With last weekend’s significant snowfall, I have been awaiting this weekend to get out and enjoy some additional ski touring for the season.  Unfortunately, since then the temps have been near or in the 40s and sunny days have taken a toll on all that fresh powder snow.

Nevertheless, I headed to Historic Champlain Canalway Trail for an outing.  No such luck.

I was greeted with this sign at the entrance to the trail from the northern end parking lot off Upper Newtown Road –20170218_103332-sample

So, on to plan B.  I drove over to the southern trailhead of the Zim Smith Trail off Coon’s Crossing Road.  Upon my arrival, two snowmobilers were reviewing the trail map and another pair of snowmobilers were making their way to the trail by way of shoulder of Coon’s Crossing Road.  After they cleared out, I skied westerly with a yet unknown destination in mind along the trail.20170218_111624-sample

I had not traveled very far and crossed paths with this litter chatterbox –

Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus)

Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus)

Junction of Zim Smith Trail with trail at Ushers Road State Forest

Junction of Zim Smith Trail with spur trail at Ushers Road State Forest

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Nicely tracked (from snowshoers) trails winding through Ushers Road State Forest

Winterberry fruit

Winterberry fruit frequently found along all trails at Ushers Road State Forest

Old grove of large Eastern Hemlock trees

Old grove of large Eastern Hemlock trees near intersection of spur trail and loop trail at Ushers Road State Forest

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View along southern segment of loop trail at Ushers Road State Forest

 

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“Snow fleas” were very prevalent along the spur trail and also along the southern segment of the loop trail at Ushers Road State Forest.  Watch a very brief video from today.  (Read more about them here.)

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View along northern segment of loop trail at Ushers Road State Forest

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Young grove of small Eastern Hemlock trees along north segment of loop trail at Ushers Road State Forest

Grove of large White Pine trees

Grove of large Eastern White Pine trees along north segment of loop trail at Ushers Road State Forest

Young grove of seedlings and other small Eastern White Pine trees

Young grove of seedlings and other small Eastern White Pine trees along spur trail on the way to Zim Smith Trail.

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View along Zim Smith Trail near Ushers Road State Forest

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Panoramic view of south end of Village of Round Lake from Zim Smith Trail

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Eastern Cottontail Rabbit basking in the sunshine

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I had no difficulties maintaining my speed below the stated limit.

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Trailside amenity complements of The Mill on Round Lake

I saw/heard:  Pileated, hairy and red-bellied woodpeckers; tufted titmouse; American robins, white-breasted nuthatches; American goldfinches; black-capped chickadees; American crows; mourning doves; blue jays; red squirrel; Eastern cottontail rabbit; and a northern mockingbird.

In all, I skied to the Village of Round Lake (with a detour to ski the trails at Ushers Road State Forest) and back (with a second detour to ski the trails at Ushers Road State Forest).  What a gorgeous day to be outside!

Hope you find an opportunity to get outside and enjoy nature this weekend.  Happy trails!

 

 

 

First (skiable) snow!

At last.  The results of two snowfalls this past week accumulated a sufficient depth to prompt me to blow the dust of my pair of cross-country skis and hit the trails.  First outing of the season!

After considering several local trail choices, I selected Woodcock Preserve in the Town of Clifton Park.  These trails wander through woodlands and often provide wildlife sightings or other signs of forest critters.

I started by checking out the trail map, conveniently provided in a trailhead kiosk.20170211_110322-sample

View the trails map.

Let's go! Heading out from parking lot along White Trail.

Let’s go! Heading out from parking lot along White Trail.

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Making my way along north boundary (on right) and open marsh (on left).

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Critter tracks crossing Yellow Trail.  I believe these may belong to a Bobcat.

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White Trail nearing its intersection with Red Trail near west end of preserve.

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Making my way along Red Trail in northwest portion of preserve.

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Oval cavity in dead tree along White Trail along west boundary of preserve. This is the work of a Pileated Woodpecker.

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Entrance of Blue Trail off White Trail. Blue Trail explores the far southern portion of the preserve.

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A “grove” of dried fertile fronds of Sensitive Ferns near small pond along Blue Trail.

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Along Blue Trail at southern boundary of preserve.

I saw/heard:  American Crows, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Hairy Woodpeckers, Tufted Titmouse, American Robins.  I also saw tracks from White-tailed Deer, Gray Squirrels, mice and Bobcat (? – see photo above).

In all, I made four trips around all of the trails for a total of approximately 8.5 miles.  During my last loop, my smartphone alerted me about a winter storm warning calling for 10-14″ of new snow between Sunday morning and sometime Monday.  Looking forward to my next outing…

Happy trails!

Forthcoming Wildflower Guides

Given the near absence of winter thus far, I have continued my wildflower inventories at a few locations.  And those activities have me thinking about spring and the upcoming return of blooming wildflowers throughout the next growing season.

With that in mind, I wanted to offer this sneak peak screen shot of five new wildflower field guides that will be available on this site in March.  Each of these new guides will be in Microsoft PowerPoint Show format (ppsx), featuring easier navigation throughout each document and higher resolution photographs as well as additional information regarding many of the species contained in each guide.  Unfortunately, each of these digital files is much larger than my previous wildflower guides; thus, downloading will take more time.  Those new wildflower guides will include:

  • Ashford Glen Preservea-field-guide-to-wildflowers-ashford-glen-preserve-1st-edition-march2017-chokecherry-sample-page
  • Bauer Environmental Parka-field-guide-to-wildflowers-bauer-environmental-park-1st-edition-march2017-cranberry-viburnum-sample-page
  • Old Iron Spring Fitness Traila-field-guide-to-wildflowers-old-iron-spring-fitness-trail-1st-edition-march2017-fringed-loosestrife-sample-page
  • Peter Desrochers Memorial Country Knolls Trailsa-field-guide-to-wildflowers-peter-desrochers-memorial-country-knolls-trails-1st-edition-march2017-woodland-agrimony-sample-page
  • Zim Smith Traila-field-guide-to-wildflowers-zim-smith-trail-1st-edition-march2017-common-arrowhead-sample-page

Also, please check my updated status of wildflower inventories.  I will be adding one of those destinations (Anchor-Diamond Park at Hawkwood Estatel) as a new page on this site sometime later this year.

In the meantime, view my winter plant ID quiz.

Lastly, a reminder to keep a watchful eye for ticks.  During a winter as mild as this one has been, they remain active.  Last week, I found two while visiting a local preserve!

Happy trails!