I was on a reconnaissance mission this afternoon for next week I’m leading some middle school students into a wetland and talking about forest ecology before sharing the joy of foraging with them.
To reach the wetland, it was like walking through a jungle where the ferns grow tall, their fall coloration enhancing the scene. Cinnamon Ferns are a species that easily grow in medium to wet soils in part shade to full shade. The moist, rich, acidic soils, I walked through were much to their liking.
It appeared that they were named for their autumn presentation, but really it refers to the cinnamon-colored fibers found near the frond bases.
Because they look so similar to their relatives in the Osmundaceae family, the Interrupted Fern, I looked to the back of the frond for confirmation. Sure enough, where the pinnae (leaflet) met the rachis (center stem), a tuft that we refer to as the hairy underarm was present.
Onward I continued, not sure what the moisture situation might be. So, in the past, I’ve paused by the kettle hole, but never actually entered it. All that changed today and my plan is to take the students into this special place. A kettle hole is a basin created when a large block of glacial ice was left stranded and subsequently melted in place, producing a basin or depression. These basins fill with water up to the depth of their surrounding water table, which currently happens to be rather low.
Because the temperature had risen after a damp, chilly start to the day, the meadowhawk dragonflies flew . . . and landed. This one was a White-faced Meadowhawk, aptly named for that face.
Its abdomen markings of dark black triangles also help in identification.
Flying in the same airspace where the Autumn Meadowhawks, with their light-colored legs. All other meadowhawks have dark legs.
Love was in the air and on the leaf as a pair of Autumns took advantage of the warm weather to canoodle in the sunlight.
They weren’t alone.
What I learned as I explored was that the kettle was actually a double pot for a second one had formed behind the first. Notice the layered structure of the area from trees on the outer edge to shrubs to grasses and flowers to water.
And everywhere–deer and raccoon tracks crisscrossed through mud and water.
Bird tracks also joined the mix among the raccoon prints.
And because I was interested in learning who lived there, I had to pay homage to the six-spotted fishing spider.
The spider flirted with me as he moved quickly among the spatterdock leaves that sat in the wee bit of water left in the center of the kettle.
I finally left the kettle only to discover another and again the formation of layers.
The water was a bit deeper and a family of Green Teal Ducks dabbled.
It took some time and steady foot placement as I climbed over downed trees hidden by winterberry and other shrubs, but at last I reached my intended destination, a cranberry bog.
And then I spent the next hour or so filling my satchel for so abundant were the little gems of tartness. The best where those hidden among the leaves–dark red and firm were they.
As I picked, I realized I wasn’t the only one foraging. It appeared that either chipmunks or squirrels also knew the value of the flavor–though they only nibbled.
Occasionally, or even more often, I looked up to take in the colors and layers that surrounded me–from leatherleaf bronze to blueberry red to Gray Birch and Red and Silver Maples with a few White Pines in the mix.
Buttonbush added its own color and texture to the scene.
At last I decided to find my way out. (Sorta for I did get a wee bit disoriented.)
Among the offerings were ferns of a different kind–though still related to the cinnamons I’d seen earlier. The Royal Fern’s fertile crown had months ago shared its spores with the world and all that was left were salmon-colored structures.
I picked my way carefully and eventually found one of the kettles. And . . . drum roll please . . .
two Sandhill Cranes. Others can tell you better than I how long the Sandhills have returned to this area, but it’s been for a while now and some even saw a nesting pair this past summer. My sightings have been few and so it’s always a pleasure.
I stood still as they moved about and they didn’t seem to notice my presence.
While they foraged for roots, another also watched.
The Great Blue Heron was cautious as they strolled in his direction.
And then . . . and then . . . in flew a Bald Eagle. And out flew the heron.
The cranes waited a couple of minutes and then they flew, bugling on the wing.
And I rejoiced. Oh, I still had to find my way out and did eventually cross through a property about a quarter mile from where I’d started. But, all in all from kettles to cranberries to birds, it was a Fen-tastic afternoon as I explored an outlet fen.