Monday, May 31, 2010

Bennett Hill, Part 3

The dogs and I were now atop Bennett Hill. It's a flat topped hill with many pines and occasional views off into the valley below. Fergus and Daphne, still muddy from playing along the trail, were at this point enjoying the pine scented trails carpeted in needles:

I began to encounter these white flower clusters and had no idea what they were. I'd heard the name "Foam Flower" and suspected these might be them as they certainly looked foamy. But I looked it up when I got home and learned that they are Three-Leafed False Solomon's-Seal, Smilacina trifolia:

The trail hadn't been arduous enough to slow the dogs down much, and they were full of energy:

I was hopeful of finding a really good scenic overlook. So when I saw this tree on the edge of the hilltop with its horizontal limb I hurried over there. I'd intended to climb out onto it for a good view and if I'd been younger or had someone to help me in the event of a mishap, I might have done it. But at my age, and all alone, I decided it'd be wise to keep my feet on the ground and watch for scenic overlooks elsewhere:

Seamus was not only peppy, but perhaps overly so as he got numerous reprimands. We had no repeat of his "too tired to go any farther" performance on the Taconic Crest Trail recently. Or, given that I was sick and feverish, perhaps I was a bit crabby. Nothing deterred Seamus from having a grand time. That's why dogs are such marvelous company:

Daphne and Fergus rounded a bend as the hill began a slight incline:

At last, I found a scenic overlook where the farm fields we'd passed on the way up stretched out in the valley below. Seeing it all through the fragrant pines added to the experience:

Bennett Hill is a steep sided, flat topped hump and you can get an idea of its structure in this photo. The flat top is rather extensive and has many unique plants that are not found on its hillsides:

I arrived at this plant, an old friend I remembered well from previous hikes here. It's the only high-bush blueberry I've ever seen in the wild. Furthermore, it was in full bloom:

Here's a close-up of its bell flowers. They're a bit less waxy and a bit more open than the blossoms of the much more common low-bush blueberries. They were also growing all over the hilltop, but apparently their blooming season had passed:

And right next to the high-bush blueberry was this wild rose. I found it more difficult to identify it precisely, but finally decided that it is a Pasture Rose, Rosa carolina. Finding a wild rose is always a happy experience for me:

And, of course, there were strawberries. But once again, there were different species and I had to figure out which one it was. I decided it was Common Strawberry, Fragaria virginiana. Alas, I had still not seen any Pink Lady's-Slippers:

I arrived at perhaps the best scenic overlook of all. I believe that in the past, perhaps when the leaves were off the trees, I've been able to see the tall buildings of Albany from this spot. The hillside was exceedingly sandy and steep right here, but little Daphne explored down there anyway:

And while she explored, Daphne called my attention to these Columbines in bloom, Aquilegia canadensis:

I climbed down the steep bank to get a photo and all three dogs tried to join me. They're so much "help:"

And I took this video of the scenery from this vantage point and it was while shooting that I discovered the wild Columbines. Well, Daphne actually discovered them for me:

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Bennett Hill, Part 2

I took Seamus, Fergus and Daphne with me to hike Bennett Hill, a little known nature preserve just outside of Albany in Clarksville, New York. It's a wonderful place to see plants and birds which you're not likely to see elsewhere and also, of course, the more common species. Early in the hike I began seeing this yellow flower. It is Winter Cress, Barbarea vulgaris, an alien in the mustard family:

We'd passed by the farm fields and were hiking deeper into the woods:

I began to encounter this colorful shrub scattered through the woods. It's another alien, the Japanese Honeysuckle, Lonicera japonica. It's always been a favorite of mine for its two-toned, somewhat orchid shaped flowers. They're both yellow and white. The buds are sometimes pink:

The trail began to gain altitude and the dogs were enjoying it very much. I thought Daphne was missing in this photo, but there she is right behind Fergus:

And then we came upon a recent trail improvement. The spring had a new bathtub to catch its water. I don't know why, as it had more decaying leaves in it than water. But someone with good intentions thought it'd be a smart thing to do:

The forest type changed as we ascended, from Hemlock to Maple/Hickory to Pine. In this photo, the dogs have found a spot where the trail was all muddy and messy. Like children, they found this delightful and had themselves some drinks and anointed their bodies with mud for the trip home in my car:

As we neared the top of the hill, I began to see more and more of these tiny yellow flowers. The leaves looked like a Cinquefoil and so did the flowers, but they were all much to small. When I got home, I looked in my field guide and discovered that they are Dwarf Cinquefoil, Potentilla canadensis. So there's a good reason for their diminutive stature:

Onward and upward we hiked, and the forest type turned to primarily pines. There was White Pine, of course, but also another species which I didn't know. When we got into heavy concentrations of pines, the aroma was intense:

And then we reached the rather flat top of Bennett Hill, where I knew from past experience that we'd find an altogether different collection of flora:

The dogs didn't care about the flora. They were having too much fun:

The trail circles around the flat hilltop and every so often one could see the farms and their fields in the valley below:

I set the camera on a log and took a photo of us. Daphne is blurry because she was, as usual, moving like a rocket:

The trees at the top were small pines and it gave a kind of mysterious, adventurous feel to the hike:

Little Daphne is having a lot of deep woods experiences for a puppy. This photo could inspire a children's book about a puppy all alone and lost in the deep and threatening forest if only you couldn't see Seamus' big butt sticking out from behind a tree:

"Hi, Dad. Do you like my mud?"

I've tried to teach the pooches to keep ahead of me so that I can see what they're up to - but not too far ahead. This is me training them about the correct distance, though the real reason I kept the video is for the beauty of the woodland trail:

And one more video today.
We were all alone on the trail, having the hill all to ourselves. Once we reached the flat top, I stopped to take this video in order to show the sights and sounds:

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Bennett Hill, Part 1

I became ill during my day off one recent Monday and felt even worse when it was time to go back to work on Tuesday morning. So I called in to work sick and set about to give myself a day of napping, green tea and ibuprofen. But around mid-day I got to thinking that this might be my only chance to hike Bennett Hill in May, the time when I'd expect the Pink Lady Slippers (now more correctly called Moccasin-Flowers) to be in bloom. I'd seen them there before in past May hikes.

So in spite of my sore throat and aching, I put Seamus, Fergus and Daphne into the back of my car and set off for Bennett Hill. It's a little known nature preserve in Clarksville, New York just outside of Albany. It's surrounded by farm land and is a botanical and ornithological wonder. When I arrived at the trail head and got out of my car, I was immediately struck by the wonderful cacophony of birdsong. I also noticed that the Black Cherry trees were in full bloom:

The trail head begins in an old meadow and progresses into the woods. We were greeted by more birdsong, of course, now including that of a Wood Thrush. And by these Wild Geraniums, Geranium maculatum:

The dogs ran ahead of me along the trail and were even more excited and animated than usual. Or maybe I was just too ill to enjoy their antics as much as usual. But they were having a grand time. Fergus and Daphne are hiking buddies:

The trail took us steadily into the woods with farm fields to our right:

This is hill country, and the views through the trees of the farm fields and surrounding hills were as nice as the woodlands:

Some of the trees were quite old and quite large. It was obvious that no one had logged this hill in a long time. The dogs ran back and forth, up and down hills, and were quite lively:

The old farm fence between us and the cattle was in very poor shape and in some cases, no longer standing. I saw cattle hoof prints in the mud and knew that they sometimes came up onto the hiking trail. I just hoped they weren't too anti-dog in their bovine belief systems:

They were a colorful lot and seemed to include animals from many breeds. There appeared to be dairy cows, heifers, and steers. With the downed fence, I certainly hoped there was no bull:

It was beautiful and rich countryside. As is usually the case, the biodiversity of this ecotone, where different habitat types join, is much higher than either one alone. The bird songs and wildflowers were spectacular, but no Pink Lady Slippers. I expected to see them at the top:

Eventually the trail turned away from the farm fields and we headed into the woods. Seamus discovered for the first time the joy of chasing squirrels. I tried to dissuade him, but he was on a roll and I must admit, the squirrels did indeed seem to be intentionally taunting him:

As we gained altitude, the woods became deeper and darker. Seamus thought it was all grand. You can see him there on the trail:

I know that volunteers maintain the trail and they really outdid themselves when they build this bridge. The dogs are used to these bridges now, so didn't give this one a second thought:

The surrounding forest became primarily Hemlocks:

And up we climbed. This photo shows Seamus waiting patiently for me to catch up:

Little Daphne was smelling many new and exciting new smells. There were no trail maps and few markers, but the trail was fairly clear and my memory from previous hikes was helpful. I've divided this hike into four posts, so will post more each day. I'll add a video to this post also:

I took this video just after we arrived at the trail head and before letting the dogs out of the car. The small roof in the grass used to be a kiosk with trail map, etc. but apparently has collapsed. But the birds were singing and the day was beautiful:

Friday, May 28, 2010

Rensselaer, New York

Yesterday I posted photos of the southern part of the city of Rensselaer, New York, a historic city directly across the Hudson River from the city of Albany. I shot some photos and was heading home when I saw more photo opportunities for pictures which could be taken from the city park right on the shores of the Hudson. So of course I pulled in and grabbed my camera off of the car seat. Most of this small park sits beneath overhead roadways which divide traffic coming from and heading to Albany and its various attractions. The first photo I took was looking across the river from Rensselaer to Albany from under the main highway bridge in that area. As you can see, it was a fine, beautiful day:

And directly across the river I saw the Dutch Apple sightseeing cruise ship and The USS Slater, a historic World War II battleship:

Looking a bit farther south, there's the U-Haul storage building with the moving van on top:

On the shores of the Hudson, the city of Rensselaer has this small pier. This is where Pete Seeger's Clearwater and other historic wooden ships can dock. The small amphitheater allows them to give informative talks to small audiences

Looking north, I saw a barge beneath the bridge. Repairs to the bridge were being staged from there:

And downtown Albany lies directly across the river:

In this photo you can see the Dutch Apple cruise ship, the USS Slater, one of the tall buildings of the Empire State Plaza and the New York State Museum, which is that squarish building beneath the highway ramps:

And a closer view of the Albany side of the river:

I walked a bit closer to the shore to take this photo of downtown Albany:

And on the Rensselaer side of the river sits a concrete block manufacturer:

And turning my camera eastward, I could see a church steeple and the steeple of the new Amtrak station. By the way, in case you're wondering, that ramp/bridge does indeed stop in mid-air. Apparently, many years ago, they'd planned an exit ramp there but never used it. Now there's the new Amtrak station in the way so I guess the ramp will never be finished. Anyway, it was lovely day and a good time for photos: