Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Wildflowers Along the River

Although the primary purpose of our overnight canoe trip on the Allegheny River was to get into nature and camp, I quickly discovered that my personal primary purpose became botanizing. The summer wildflowers are in full glory now. And as the water slipped by quietly under my canoe, the changing scenery on shore frequently drew me for a closer look.

We put in Saturday at our house and set forth downstream. Of course the first wildflowers to catch my attention were in my own backyard. On the riverbank I found developing brown-eyed Susan, bedstraw, several varieties of wild sunflowers, lupine that I planted this spring, wild dodder and the horrid invasive, Lythrum--purple loosestrife. There are many others that I have yet to ID, but I'll get out there sometime soon with my Newcomb's guide and check on those.

As we moved down the river, we noticed many stands of smartweed. The white flower spikes tipping over at the tops, weaving in the wind, reminded me of a drunkard leaning wobbly against a light pole. Spots of black snakeroot dotted the banks. Water stargrass sent their leaves to the surface, floating and holding up the buds, soon to bloom. Monkey flower bloomed on the islands, their funny faces dancing on the breezes. And small groups of the ubiquitous purple loosestrife in various bays and inlets were insidiously weaving their roots into the quagmire. When I saw more wild dodder near some loosestrife, I began to wonder if the dodder would take a hold of Lythum and parasitize it, causing a decline in the robustness of this invasive. I'm going to experiment by placing some of my own dodder on my Lythrum and see what happens.

I was surprised to see goldenrods already in bloom, rather early this year--although they may have been a species that blooms earlier than the typical August and September varieties. Next time I will take my field guide along!

We also saw many birds on this trip, as is usual on the Allegheny River. Several eagles put in an appearance, many cedar waxwings danced out from the treetops chasing insects, red-tail hawks circling on the updrafts as were the turkey vultures, redwing blackbirds bringing life to the shoreweeds, common yellowthroats calling "witchity witchity withchity," great-horned and barred owls hooting at night. While investigating a rock formation on the riverside, Charlie saw two juvenile wood ducks who swam into a rock cave upon his approach. Although the photo is rather grainy because I had to push the speed to ISO 1600 to compensate for such darkness, we were able to get enough details to ID them using the Sibley Guide to Birds.

On Sunday as we moved on down the river, distant thunder quickly became an imminent threat. As we passed the Hunter's Station Golf Course, their horn blew, calling all golfers off the course. We headed to shore as the rain pelted us and took shelter under a deadfall tree. Unfortunately, the rain in our eyes blinded us to the stinging nettle we were rushing through. But, fortunately, there was an abundance of jewelweed under the deadfall and we were able to stanch the pain with the crushed stems of Mother Nature's first aid plant. It really does work!

The pelting rain put an end to my botanizing. I took out at the golf course and waited for Charlie to paddle the rest of the way to the car, parked in President, PA. He found me a couple of hours later, holding my saturated little dog and swatting biting flies in the parking lot (where were those cedar waxwings). Another good canoeing story to tell around a future campfire!

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