From wet to sweat

“Will I need waders?” I asked before we departed from the Lakes Environmental Association’s office  early Wednesday morning.

Dr. Rick Van de Poll looked down at my hiking boots and said, “No, you should be okay if you don’t mind getting muddy.”

l1-into the fen

And so, LEA teacher/naturalist Mary Jewett and I joined him to begin a two-day survey of LEA’s Highland Lake Preserve. The 325-acre property was the gift of the David and Carol Hancock Charitable Trust. Except for two logging roads, there are no trails.

Our first destination was in the middle of the fen. OK, so Mary and I should have known better because we know how much it has rained this summer. But really, it was quite hot that morning and our feet did get wet.

In fact, she found a deep hole on the way in.

l1-fen plot

Once reaching the plot, our tasks were several.


We helped delineate the boundary with measuring tape and flagging, the first being 10 meters by 10 meters, and then found the center, thus creating four quarters.

l1-Rick 1

Under Rick’s patient guidance and teaching, we began to survey the site, section by section, while he recorded our findings.

l1-measuring trees

Trees were first and needed to be measured to make sure they were trees after all, and not considered saplings.

l1-rhodora 1

Layer by layer, including shrubs,



l1-round leaf sundew 2

and herbaceous ground cover,

l1-round-leaved sundew 1

we made our way down.

l1-wasp pupa on hornworm 1

Along the way, other discoveries presented themselves, including wasp pupae on a hornworm,

l1-garden spider 1

black and yellow garden spiders,

l1-garden spider 2

weaving their signatures,

l1-eastern pondhawk

eastern pondhawks,

l1-eastern pondhawk 1

up to the measure,

l1-green frog

and of course, green frogs.

Swamp Thing

Four hours later I found a deep hole as we departed that plot. We slogged out, water swishing in our boots, and quickly ate lunch.

l2-hemlock plot

And then it was back into the woods for the afternoon, this time a hemlock grove. On the way, we marked off a site for Thursday’s work, before reaching our destination for the afternoon.

l2-surveying the site

This plot was 10×20 meters and so within we had nine smaller plots to examine in the same manner.

l2-squirrel bites

Though we identified all the species from top to bottom, we also noted more cool finds like squirrel chews on a striped maple,

l2-glue crust fungus

a crust fungus that acts like a glue and attaches dead wood to live,

l2-spotted wintergreen

and spotted wintergreen, listed as S2 meaning this: “Imperiled in Maine because of rarity (6-20 occurrences or few remaining individuals or acres) or because of other factors making it vulnerable to further decline.”

l3-plot 3 (1)

I had to miss the Thursday morning session due to a GLLT hike, but met Rick and LEA’s education director, Alanna Doughty, as they finished their lunch. I think they extended it a few minutes as I was a wee bit late. This time, Alanna and I sat on the tailgate of Rick’s truck as he drove down a logging road–I, of course, held on for dear life, while she nonchalantly acted like it was a walk in the park. The best part of the ride was the smell of sweet-fern that our feet occasionally dragged over. And then our march began with a short trek through a wooded forest, before we reached the highbush blueberries and other shrubs that acted like hobblebush and made for careful movement.

l3-black and red spruce 3 (1)

The first afternoon site was in a black spruce bog and for once, I could confidently differentiate between black and red as they stood side by side–both by their colors, the black having a blueish hue, while the red was more yellowy-green, and their gestalt.

l3-cinnamon and chain ferns

One of my favorite learnings from that plot was the difference between cinnamon fern and Virginia chain fern. Again, they were easy to ID by their colors, the cinnamon already dying back. But notice the similarities.

l3-chain fern

And then we looked at the back side. While cinnamon has a separate fertile frond that forms in the spring and then withers, chain fern’s sporangia are oblong and on the underside.

l3-chain spores 2

The area was thick with the chain ferns and our every movement meant spores flew through the air.

l3-pitchers (1)

Every movement also meant we had to watch our every step, for so numerous were the pitcher plants. It was a great opportunity to ask Rick about the color of these–I’d been told that green is rare, but he said it’s just a matter of sunlight and age, all eventually take on a redder hue in veins and then overall leaf coloration as they mature.

l3-pitcher plants

Their flowers were also plentiful in this lush space.

l3-chanterelle waxy cap 1

Among other things, Rick is a fungi expert (and an overall fun guy with corny jokes–the mark of a teacher), and so our learnings were plentiful, including these chanterelle waxy caps.

l4-plot 4 (1)

After making our way back out through the tangle, we hopped back onto the tailgate for a short ride and then headed off into a mixed forest for the final 10x 20 plot.

l4-deer skull

Our cool finds in this one included a much gnawed skull,


and spotted coral-root.

l4-bristly clubmoss

I also learned to ID one clubmoss–bristly tree so named for its bristly stem.

l4-back up the road

It was dinner time when I again held on for dear life as we drove up the road. To say we were sweaty, stinky, hungry and pooped would be an understatement. By the same token, I think I can speak for Mary and Alanna to say that we were more than grateful to have spent so much time learning from Rick. From wet to sweat–it was well worth the effort.