A Price Worth Paying (part 2 of 3)
July 21st, 2017
, Part 3
I tallied four separate singing Northern Waterthrushes over the course of my
hike, the most I've ever heard in one day. (Saw none of them. Par for the
course with Northern Waterthrushes.) And indeed, what I could see through the
trees looked like waterthrush paradise, for much the same reason it was
mosquito paradise: abundant, pristine standing water and gently flowing
water. Somewhere in there, a little streaky brown bird was walking along the
water's edge, tail bobbing, searching for aquatic insects and crustaceans or
maybe even wading into the water to snap up minnows. But I could only imagine
it, not see it.
After awhile I came to a spot where swampy woods gave way to a large, open
wetland. It appeared a grassy marsh at first glance, but the presence of what
looked like bog cotton
suggested otherwise. These are the snowy-white tufts that blanket Mer Bleue
bog in late spring and summer, giving the landscape a strange, almost alien
beauty. They did not blanket this place, but that there were any of them was
very suggestive. This was no mere marsh, and there might be things to see that
I don't see often.
It was on the margin of this wetland that I found my first in-bloom Showy
Showy Ladyslippers are somewhat variable wildflowers. They can grow up to two
feet tall and may have striking, deep pink highlights on the white slippers.
This one was on the small and pale side, but beautiful nonetheless. I was
thrilled to find it. I searched for more, but it was the only one I could see.
Its presence suggested that the wetland was in fact a fen (neutral-to-alkaline
and fed by groundwater), which in turn suggested that the "Bog Cotton" was
actually its relative, Slender Cottongrass. (I'm rather out of my depth here.
I'd love to take a field botanist along with me on this hike!)
These little beauties also grew on the margins of the wetland. The very dark,
purplish lateral petals mark them, I think, as a variation known as Small
Yellow Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium parviflorum var. makasin). Compared to the
larger and more common variety, these are about half the size and prefer
wetter habitat, particularly fens and bogs.