Another bright, sunshiny day in late May sent the weekly Parks and Recreation hiking group ambling out to Bridget Point. The muskeg and open woods at the start of the trail was decorated with bog laurel, bog rosemary, starflower, a few open Labrador tea and cloudberry. Three-leaf goldthread, one of my favorites, was blooming on all sides and some of these were already setting fruit.
I find this little plant interesting because it is closely related to the forest-dwelling fern-leaf goldthread, but looks nothing like its relative except when fruiting. In this species, the true petals have been converted into tiny golden trumpets that hold the nectar, while the usually inconspicuous sepals (which in most species form the back of a flower) are white and showy, performing the advertising role of petals. Despite the difference in appearance, both species of goldthread are apparently pollinated by small flies.
The boardwalk through the wetlands was dry (what a change from past springs!), but some of the boards had warped into seesaws that threaten the shins of the next person in line. Red-winged blackbirds were singing and chasing, Lincoln sparrows burbled in the brush and a yellowthroat sang in the distance. An eagle huddled in the heavy shade of a dense spruce. At the edge of the wetlands, raucous Steller's jays complained of our presence and Townsend's warblers buzzed in the treetops.
The meadows themselves were awash in floral colors. Acres of yellow buttercups and pink shooting stars spread out under the sun, with spots of yellow marsh marigolds, dark chocolate lilies just opening, and even a few of those delightful wild iris (with lots more soon to come). Swathes of wild strawberry plants displayed their white blooms. Lupines were bolting and starting to flower.
I saw the smallest bumblebee that I've even seen, I think. Perhaps when it was just a grub in the nest, the queen didn't feed it very much? A tiny thing, it nevertheless was doing its job of collecting pollen and, in the process, pollinating the flowers. This was one of our prettiest bees, with a nice red belt around the abdomen.
Two marmots were sun-bathing on a boulder near Cowee Creek as we rounded the point. A porcupine scrambled to safety in a small willow. As we sprawled on the boulders near the point for an early lunch, a cooperative whale puffed as it cruised by in Berners Bay, occasionally showing its flukes.
Sights and sounds ... but don't forget another sense that deserves our attention. The delicate aroma of skunk cabbage wafted through the woods at the edge of the meadow (personally, I don't perceive any resemblance to the pungency of real skunks). A common shrub out near the Cowee Meadow cabin is the well-named sweetgale - try sniffing a crushed leaf! But you might rather skip sniffing the flowers of chocolate lily ...
On the way home, we stopped at the Jensen-Olson Arboretum, both to see a floral display and to explore the new trail. This short trail winds out to a rocky point with a shady bench and a great view of the channel. We were glad to see that the trail-makers were content to create a tidy narrow pathway appropriate to the site, and not a pedestrian "highway."
Mary F. Willson is a retired professor of ecology.
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