Nope, not a post about boogers. Sorry.
Way back in 2010 we visited Vroman’s Nose when there was snow on the ground, so what better place to strike out for during spring? I expected a mild, gorgeous day full of baby bunnies and nesting pairs of birds flitting about; I got a sun-baked, windy cliffside with no trace of Peregrine Falcons. Not a problem though, a perfect day for a picnic, and you know what I like almost as much as birds that eat other birds? Moss. Maybe it eats other moss, I don’t know.
Packing a macro lens, I was looking down more than I was looking up. Anywhere a bright patch promised enough sunlight for a decent exposure, I stomped off, heedless of deer ticks, for a close up view. When you’re looking for details, the world changes in a way, and you notice things you’d never noticed before. Quick note: you can click on any image to go to the flickr page, where you can see larger versions, which have much more detail. I suggest it.
Like this moss. Guess what, I am really bad at identifying moss. I can point out club moss, because that’s easy and relatively nonspecific. This is not a club moss. This is a fruiting body, I think; you can see the bed in the slightly less magnified photo below.
This amazes me, it looks like some alien forest. Avatar? Don’t need that, looking close enough at what we already have is crazy enough.
This, another moss, looked to me like a rolling sea, or acres of grain being blown by the wind. I’m repeatedly surprised by how our world on a small scale can often look like our world on a large scale. Then again I always thought the orbits of electrons around an atom’s nucleus resembled the orbits of planets around stars and satellites around planets, plus I didn’t pay a lot of attention in chemistry class.
These curly little mosses were near the ones above (actually you can see one of the above mosses at the bottom). Both blanketed a large rock, most likely successional species after lichen colonized it. I explained this phenomenon in an earlier post about Dyken Pond.
Most interesting were the above… I don’t know. This must be some kind of fruiting body, but to me it looks more like the Sarlacc that swallows Boba Fett in Return of the Jedi. That’s at a little over 1:1 (see below), so that central green stalk is about 1cm tall, for reference.
The vegetation near the cliff of Vroman’s Nose is adapted to punishing winds and relatively cold temperatures. The macrobiology consists mainly of hardy trees; twisted krummholz near the edge, with some hardier deciduous varieties mixed with evergreens a little further in. Those trees are uniformly covered with (what I believe are) liverwort, along with some mosses. The liverwort is the dull, leafier structure above; they’re easily mistaken for lichen (by me). Liverwort tends to thrive in moist conditions, which makes sense here when you realize that the rough tree bark collects moisture in the form of dew and may secrete its own moisture as well. The moss seems to be along for a free ride, conveniently.
So many leaves were budding, they made excellent closeup subjects. I have no idea what kind of plant this leaf is attached to! But it looks awfully nice and fuzzy, right?
Like other high-altitude, competitive local environments, Vroman’s Nose has lush beds of wild blueberries (or these may be huckleberries, hard for me to tell), which should blossom soon and produce tiny, amazingly flavorful fruit in late summer. If you camp in the higher elevations of New York, collect some of these for breakfast pancakes. Trust me. For now, they give some pleasant ground cover.
I’m coming to grips with my own issues with heights; as I’ve said before, it’s not heights I’m afraid of, but falling. It’s not uncommon for rescues to be performed, and I don’t want to know how painful it is to fall far enough to need a rescue. Still, I went near the edge for a few photos, which is more than I did last time.
To get into gear talk for a minute, I’ve discussed inexpensive macro solutions and macro photography while hiking before. Since this was a low-impact hike, I brought along a dedicated lens and packed an all-purpose zoom. The macro photos here were made with a Canon FD 50mm f/3.5 Macro lens, adapted to the modern EF mount (think of it as the granddaddy of the current EF 50mm f/2.5 Macro). The trick here is that unless the adapter has an optical element, slowing and degrading the lens, you cannot get full infinity focus with an FD lens. For macro photos, I’m not concerned about infinity focus, which makes it a perfect inexpensive solution; $30 or so for the lens and $15 for the adapter. Since the adapter then acts as a thin extension tube, at maximum magnification (including the original dedicated FD25 extension tube) this gets just over 1:1 reproduction. For dedicated macro shooting, this is the setup that I’m happiest with after three years of experimentation — but it still doesn’t quite match up to a modern lens designed for the Canon system.
Here’s the thing; I am generally dismissive of macro photography. It’s often a cheap thrill, photos of flowers simply for the fact of the super closeup, not for any real consideration of the subject. A very “look at me” kind of photography. I consider myself a (very) amateur naturalist, so I justify these photos as studies of local flora and fauna. Do I know what the insect above is? No, but I’m fascinated by the way it’s adapted to blend in with trees in its habitat. Look at the very large version and the antennae look like tiny individual beads strung together. I am not into macro photography simply because it looks cool, but because I’m trying to examine and understand the world around me.
So that’s another trip to Vroman’s Nose. My last note is this: if you’re coming from Albany, don’t take I-90 or Rt 88. Those are the easy ways to get to Middleburgh, but if you spend some time with a map and look at Rt 146 or any of the other backroads, you’ll drive through some quiet country with amazing scenery. Get a gazetteer and enjoy New York!
If you want someone who is much better at finding and describing the small, seasonal things in our Capitol Region, check out Saratoga Woods and Waterways. If you want to know things about microbiology you will subsequently not want to know, I heartily recommend The Artful Amoeba. You can also see a slideshow of allll my Vroman’s nose photos.