Thursday, August 27, 2009

Visiting Roadside Ditches

There's something to be said about visiting roadside ditches. These microhabitats can surprise you with what they hold.

For instance, one day last year I discovered Smaller Purple Fringed Orchids (Habenaria psycodes) blooming in the ditch next to the rescue squad. This year they were back.

This summer a friend told me to keep watch for Spiranthes , another orchid, in the same location, for they both like similar conditions. And lo! and behold, there they were: Nodding Ladies' Tresses (Spiranthes cernua).

I decided to see what else might be blooming there, and was shocked and surprised to find a lone White Turtlehead (Chelone glabra).

A small dragonfly (a White-faced Meadowhawk, Sympetrum obtrusum) flitted about as well, keeping me company and graciously posing for a picture.

As an added bonus, you can help the ditch by picking up the trash which is also a frequent find.

Selecting a roadside ditch to explore is fairly easy, the only requirements I would make would be ease of access and, of course, safety. I think I'd avoid ditches along the Northway, but any ditch on a side road, or even along your street, might prove to contain all sorts of hidden treasures. Dress appropriately (long pants and boots, the latter preferably water-proof), bring a couple field guides, a hand lens, and a camera. Then carefully stalk your way through the vegetation, looking for the small things that usually escape our notice. Who might just find some rare and endangered specimen!

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