Nature Walk: Saugerties Lighthouse

Diane, Spider and Debbie Barbour at the trail’s archway. (photos by Anita Barbour)

Diane, Spider and Debbie Barbour at the trail’s archway. (photos by Anita Barbour)

While my two sisters from Seattle were visiting us for the week of my birthday, Anita and I decided to show them one of the loveliest natural riches in our town, the Saugerties Lighthouse trail. The trail begins at its small parking lot next to the Coast Guard Station and continues between the Hudson River shore on its north and left and the mouth of the Esopus Creek to its south and right. The tide comes in and the tide goes out, but for most of nearly any day, one can traverse the trail’s length without getting one’s feet wet.

The center of the trail is forested, mostly with cottonwoods, silver maples and the invasive Norway maple. Shrubs such as spicebush and ninebark are lightly festooned with vines, the loveliest of which is the wild yam, with its graceful seed pods just developing at the time of our walk. Just beyond the yam the trail crosses a small tidal stream, a sunny opening where we saw gray, cone-like growths on willow shrubs growing in the stream along with tall meadow rue and other herbaceous plants. The growths were galls induced by gall-forming insects, probably very small wasps. Some flies can produce galls, and so can some fungi. Galls serve as incubators and food supplies for the larvae of the gall insects. These galls were especially abundant this year, the fresh gray ones far outnumbering last season’s dark brown ones.


After crossing the walking bridge we took a turn toward the river and looked out at the tidal shallows north of the trail. We saw, beyond the shoreward bulrushes, a cormorant on the water and a couple of white ducks on some exposed rocks near the west shore. Out in the deeper channel toward the east shore a barge was heading north, so we took a moment to sit on a log bench and wait for any wake to pass before moving along toward the lighthouse.

When we got nearly to the elevated plank section of the trail leading up to the lighthouse, I noticed a smallish orange butterfly nectaring on a purple loosestrife plant in early bloom. Mingling with the entirely invasive purple loosestrife was common reed, considered partially invasive (with both North American and Eurasian genotypes in our populations). The butterfly was broad-winged skipper, a native species which, by taking advantage of recent range extensions of common reed (a grass), has expanded its own range accordingly. Until relatively recently I had seen this butterfly only in the southern portion of the Hudson River Valley. Time may tell whether broad-winged skipper broadens its territory sufficiently to contact its upper Midwest population, whose caterpillars feed mostly on native wild rice.

My sisters Debbie and Diane were curious to see the Hudson from the base of the lighthouse platform, but access to the back of the lighthouse was blocked, perhaps just temporarily today, but understandably, for safety and liability concerns. So they took a look through the first-floor windows and noted the historical furnishings. They had to imagine things upstairs, since we were there on a Monday and guided tours inside occur on Sundays. They expressed interest in staying there next time they visit, but we explained that as a bed, if not breakfast, the lighthouse was already booked years in advance.

On the way back we stopped to bask briefly on the log bench, then soaked in again the sights and sounds of this marvelous section of wild river shoreline that remains as pristine as any along one of the Atlantic Coast’s most beautiful and historically celebrated watercourses. To our pleasure and gratitude the Lighthouse Trail remains beautifully cared for and open to everyone, residents and visitors alike, during most days and much of the year, as long as good weather holds.

See you down there sometime!