September 27, 2014

Early Autumn Morning at Great Meadows

The clear warm days and cooling nights of autumn give way to dazzling morning dew and rising vapors with each sunrise.  Some daybreaks are more bejeweled and mist shrouded than others, and this weekend I encounter one of those.  As the morning sun clears the treetops at Great Meadows on Saturday, the marsh view is softened by light fog.

Backlight accentuates thousands of drying plants and seeds along the trail edges.  Showy tick-trefoil (Desmodium canadense) seeds "Velcro" themselves to passing cattail down, making striking silhouettes against the softly focused dewy sparkles of the marsh behind.

Milk parsley (Peucedanum palustre) seeds on beautiful, umbel-shaped armatures, join the weedy tangle, promising continued vitality for this rare northern European immigrant at Great Meadows.

In the fall, spiders are particularly obvious along edges of wetlands, fields, and trails and the lowered light angles of dawn, dusk, and the season in general highlight their gossamer weavings.  This morning these dew-studded webs catch the light, creating infinite beauty along the dike trail.

As the marsh awakens, thousands of many-eyed lotus pods catch the light on their dew-dappled surfaces, evoking primal feelings as I gaze back at them.

And finally, a surprise greeting from another early riser as I encounter a young Cooper's Hawk scanning the marsh from its high perch on the observation deck railing.

Much of the morning's magic melts away by 8 am as the sun climbs higher above the marsh.  Temperatures warm, surfaces dry, birds quiet, and eyes squint as autumn color becomes more vibrant across the marsh.  With sunrises coming later each morning, it will be easier to revisit these early morning wonders in the weeks ahead.

September 24, 2014

Brilliant Deceiver - Poison Sumac

Late September view of Heywood Meadow, an acidic fen in Walden Woods, with touches of orange poison sumac in the mid-ground

Poison sumac (Toxicodendron vernix) conceals itself in our local wetlands until its distinctive orange color blazes forth from bog mats and damp swampy shorelines in late September.  A more toxic relative to poison ivy, its compound leaves light up when its fruits ripen, signaling to foraging birds that another autumn feast is ready.  I've encountered poison sumac in a number of wetlands throughout Concord - Gowing's Swamp, Moore's Swamp, wetlands in Estabrook Woods, and here in Heywood Meadow, just south of Walden Pond - and expect that it thrives in many more.  It's easiest to spot when its compound, sumac leaves first emerge in spring and when it flashes its color early in the autumn foliage parade.  It's a brilliant deceiver...look but don't touch!

Poison sumac growing with tawny cotton sedge
Poison sumac's flaming color reveals its location across this boggy expanse