Cherry Plain State Park is a wonderful place to visit in the summer. Up on the Rensselaer Plateau, it’s always cooler than in the valley. The water of Black River Pond is clear but deeply tannic, and even in August it’s as cold as any lake in Maine. The old dirt roads crisscrossing the park have funky names: Jiggs Highway, Pesticide Shack Road, Dynamite Shack Road.
In June I walked there with the Bird Club, looking for the last of the migrants passing through and some species who usually nest further north but consider these hills an acceptable substitute. The weather was not optimal for treetop-peering (grey skies being something of a leitmotif this year), starting in a drizzle that faded soon, though the sky remained overcast. We had excellent birders-by-ear with us, and the woods were full of sound. Two male Blackburnian Warblers challenged each other across a field, their firethroats glowing. Black-throated Blue warblers buzzed an ascending tzee-zeee-zee, while Black-throated Green’s was zee-zee-zee-zoo-zee! And the everlasting omnipresent Red-eyed Vireo monologued: “Here I am. Where are you? Right here. Vireo?” As soon as we moved out of range, another took up the chant.
By early afternoon, we gathered together to total up our count. As we added the last bird to our lists ( a calling White-throated Sparrow, gone from my yard since April), someone spotted a Broad-winged Hawk, distinguished from the commoner Red-tail by the broad white band across its tail. It had no sooner soared off when an adult Bald Eagle flew low and leisurely over us. As I walked back to the car, I heard an almost indescribable sound. Howling, yelping, croaking — three Common Ravens burst out of the trees circling, swooping, diving at each other. Whether they were driving off an intruder or just rough-housing, I’ll never know.
Great Blue Heron, Turkey Vulture, Bald Eagle, Broad-winged Hawk, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Northern Flicker, Pileated Woodpecker, Least Flycatcher, Red-eyed Vireo, Blue Jay, Common Raven, Tree Swallow, Barn Swallow, Black-capped Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Veery, Hermit Thrush, American Robin, Gray Catbird, Cedar Waxwing, Yellow Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, American Redstart, Ovenbird, Common Yellowthroat, Chipping Sparrow, Song Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, Purple Finch, American Goldfinch.
40 species seen, 6 new to this list.
Two months later the woods were quiet. It was all about fungi and butterflies this time.
When it comes to mushrooms, I know puffballs and the ones you find in the supermarket. But I love to see the variety of wild mushrooms as fall approaches, their fantastic colors and forms. Here are a few.
The little falls were running high after heavy rain. You can see how clear yet how amber the water is, like a flood in a brewery.
These stunning butterflies were everywhere on the sunny road, tasting the gravel.
'Astyanax' Red-spotted Purple
These are both ‘forms’ of Limenitis arthemis, formerly considered to be different species. Astyanax is the more southern variety, while the Ad-mee-ral (I have to say it with Khan’s accent) is commoner up north. Along the dividing line which must be in upstate NY, they hybridize freely.
A flash of brilliant black and yellow caught my eye in a stand of Joe-pye Weed. I thought at first it was a Tiger Swallowtail, but it was larger and more solidly black, with a broad yellow crossbar and yellow fringes to the wings. Its body was pale with no striping. When I got home I pored over my field guides and the internet, concluding that it was a Giant Swallowtail, uncommon for this area. Giant indeed — I’d say its wingspan, extended, was the length of my open hand. The camera’s batteries were crapping out, so I could only get a few shots and hope for the best.
Giant Swallowtail on flower head
Wings closed, alas.
Hmmm, maybe I’ll add butterfly-watching — or is it butterflying? — to my obsessions.