Friday, June 27, 2008

North Park Hikers--38 years and growing

Yesterday I had the wonderful pleasure of returning to my roots: walking with the Thursday morning nature group at North Park in Allegheny County, near Pittsburgh, PA. I used to hike with them back in the '70s when I still lived in that area. It was like turning back the clock. My wildflower email friend Dianne brought my old buddy Esther from those early days and, along with about a dozen other "newbies," we walked the old Braille Trail. We saw many wildflowers, some of which are accompanying this article.

Indian Cucumber-root, dead man's fingers, Indian pipe, rose moss, as
well as too many to mention (some in bloom, some not). Esther, who is now 90, still trots along the trail like a 40-year-old! Her vast knowledge of wildflowers, mosses, fungi and general nature bubbles forth as she points out various stages of plant life along the roadside and trail. Rose moss has a rather straight and boring growth habit until the rain hits it, when the tips fluff open into rose-like "blossoms." Dead man's fingers, a fungus that appears like blackened fingers reaching up from the grave, start out as little white threads.

Our walk was highlighted by the birdsong: the melodious Wood Thrush, the pan flute-like song of the Veery, Bobwhites whistling, and the twittering of many swallows.

What a great day it was!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Magical, Mystical Bog

This coming Saturday I'll be stomping through the waist-deep moat into a northwest Pennsylvania bog near Corry, PA, with the Botanical Society of Western PA. Although I've been in the bog a number of times over the years, each new incursion brings new wonderments to behold.
This particular bog is a specialized area, acid, wet and spongy, and with characteristic flora such as sphagnum. It was a glacial pothole lake up to the late 1800's. Then the sphagnum began to fill in the lake so that now it is a floating mat on the lake, surrounded by a "moat" formed by the remains of the old lake. The floating mat varies in thickness from only a few feet up to maybe 10 or more feet. It is a very special and sensitive area, and once you visit a bog such as this, you'll never use true sphagnum again in your gardens. On the mat, cranberries, sundews, orchids, blueberries and stunted trees grow, and in the thin spots, water lilies are established. When you are in the bog, you can barely hear a plane flying over because the sound is absorbed. A magical place to visit. Like a line of explorers on a safari, we enter the bog along an obscure trail that brings you through buttonbush and serviceberry, where you can snatch handsful of wild blueberries along the way. All you can see of your co-botanizers as you fight your way through the moat shrubs are the tops of our hats bobbing above the greenery. After about 20 minutes you finally step onto the floating peat bog, amidst a small stand of White-fringed orchis (Habenaria blephariglottis.) The cotton grass, when past bloom, shows brown fuzz, enabling us to see that they are everywhere, along with the sundews and bog cranberries. Rose Pogonia (Pogonia ophioglossoides) and Grass Pinks (Calopogon pulchellus) might be in bloom, as they usually bloom in June. And there are a lot of baby orchid plants sprouting across the bog. Several Fragrant Waterlilies are also seen blooming (Nymphaea odorata). Other neat plants to see include Skullcap, Marsh St. Johnswort, Marsh Cinquefoil, Swamp Milkweed and Indian Pipe. There is a mighty red oak: 100 years ago, the oak was a struggling seedling growing on a peat hummock in the bog, and now it is a huge oak that, along with other large trees in that section, drew enough water out of the bog to convert it to a spit of dry land jutting into the moat. It is owned by the Presque Isle Audubon Society and Botanical Society of Western PA, jointly, and is designated a National Natural Landmark. We do not mark its presence in any way, by signs nor by advertising its existence. It is too sensitive to allow people onto except for two limited groups per year, and/or a researcher each year. It is protected and registered as a National Natural Landmark. No peat miners can touch it. The rare bog plants won't be scraped off, it won't be drained, and the peat won't be mined.
UPDATE: June 28, 2008
Today was the day we visited the bog and it surpassed my expectations. Those baby orchid plants from the last visit have matured and are now in bloom. Masses of pink dots all around us! The Calopogon and Pogonia were in full bloom, with even a hybrid of the two discovered and cataloged. Butterflies, dragonflies, baby spring peepers and signs of beavers and other wildlife all added to the mystique of the bog. In a few weeks the white Habenaria will be in bloom also. We spent over three hours on the bog and not a minute was boring!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Canoe trips this summer

For those of you who live in western Pennsylvania, I'm listing a few canoe/kayak trips that are scheduled for this summer. Contact me for further information.

Saturday, July 12, Allegheny Canoe Club's Annual Paddle Day on the Allegheny River
This trip is usually from Tionesta to President (about 7 miles), but may be changed this year due to road construction along the shuttle route. The alternate is West Hickory to Tionesta, about 6 miles. (West Hickory access is PFBC, stickers required) In any case, we will meet at 11:00 at the public access area by the hunting museum/lighthouse/Cooperative Extension Office a few blocks downstream of the bridge in Tionesta. (note: NOT the PFBC access which is upstream)
Sat. & Sun., July 19-20, Allegheny River from Warren to Tidioute, camping/paddling
Tentative plans: Put in at Betts Park, at the west end of Warren; have our lunch stop at Buckaloons and walk their mile-long "Seneca Interpretive Trail;" then paddle to an island downstream to camp, perhaps historic Thompson's Island. Second day, paddle to Tidioute where we will take out. Distance will be approximately 10 miles each day. This will allow for a leisurely paddle and hopefully a little more time enjoying the camping itself . We will take out at the "Tidhouse" in Tidioute, leaving most vehicles there. Total distance is 20 miles or so. Dogs are welcome as long as they aren't attack dogs!
Saturday, September 13, Allegheny River from Tidioute to West Hickory--Allegheny Canoe Club
Meet at 10:00 at the West Hickory Access area (on the east side of the river just below the bridge, behind the Penndot lot.)