We are between rain storms and last night’s was a whopper and I’m willing to take the blame because like I wish for snow, so was I wishing for rain. After all, there are vernal pools to tend to and since the mamas and papas have all either hopped or crawled out and headed back to their upland habitat, someone has to watch over the young’uns.
I’ve accepted the responsibility, knowing full well that there will be heartbreak in a month or two, but with the hope that a few days of rain might fill the pools for now to give frog and salamander embryos a chance to grow and emerge and feed and grow some more.
And so as the sun shone in the midst of major flooding, I stood sentry and took note of my various wards.
My peeps include the larval and pupal forms of mosquitoes because they do, after all, play an important part in the food web, especially in the ephemeral pool where my kids need food. And later, my other young’uns who emerge as dragonflies and damselflies will also benefit from dining on such biting insects. Birds, too, will find nourishment with these tiny morsels. And so, when I go pond dipping with others, I always encourage them to return the mosquito-ridden water back to the pool rather than following their instinct to pour them onto the ground and let them dry out and die in an attempt to keep the population down.
With focused attention today, I watched as the bubble-butts also drew attention, for Predacious Diving Beetles, who head to the surface to trap oxygen-filled air between their wings and body, prolonging their time under water. and thus can stay under for long periods of time, were chasing after each other, thus extending their need to stay below for some canoodling efforts.
At last I reached my babes, some of them still forming within their bubble-shaped egg sacs. Wood Frogs will these become. In time.
Older siblings hung out on the leaves that form the pool’s lining, their diminutive tadpole size contrasted by the background of a Northern Red Oak leaf.
As was to be expected, my Spotted Salamander tykes have yet to emerge as they grow stronger within their gelatinous matrix. It always strikes me as being impenetrable, but is it?
Right now, however, the most prolific members of the pool appear to be the half-inch Midges, who swim on the water’s surface, and skitter and fly about on leaves and any other vegetation.
Click on the arrow and watch these crazy little, non-biting flies. One of my favorite posts from last year was Midges I Have Known. And I’ve known a few. In case you are wondering, she still shares a room with us.
As I stood silently guarding my little friends of many, a surprising event occurred. The local Yellow-bellied Sapsucker makes its presence known each time I am out there. But today, today was bath day.
And I had the good fortune to be standing on a rock across the way, hidden by branches that create the blurry effect, serving as a bit of a bird blind, while the woodpecker splashed about.
I could not believe my good fortune to spend time with this male making himself more handsome by the moment.
His splashes, mixed with today’s breeze, created ripples that sometimes distorted my view of Wood Frog egg masses, but at the same time created a work of art I can only imagine my friend Jessie painting.
It is my job to keep an eye on the nursery and it’s a job I am honored to hold.
Most people think there are four seasons in the northern hemisphere: spring, summer, autumn, winter. In Maine, many would argue that there’s a fifth: mud. And maybe even a sixth: road construction season.
I beg to differ on all accounts. In my wee world view we just came out of tracking season, which began at the beginning of December and lasted through the end of March.
And now, we have entered The Other Season. While tracking season doesn’t involve much color, it does offer an insider’s look at the animals with whom we share this space, and the habitat in which they live.
But now . . .
one’s eye needs to focus on what is different. The anomaly. Really focus. For there is a special snake making an appearance upon an old stump by the water’s edge. It looks rather like the saplings that have made this nurse log their home, but if you look closely, you might spy three light yellow stripes that contrast against a dark background and a bit of a curved tail.
Zooming in even closer, look at the snake’s head and the light colored spot in front of its eye. This is a key ID feature for an Eastern Ribbonsnake, an uncommon species in Maine, and one of special concern, which according to the maine.gov website means ” particularly vulnerable, and could easily become an endangered, threatened, or extirpated species due to restricted distribution, low or declining numbers, specialized habitat needs or limits, or other factors.”
Then there’s the Backswimmer who spends its life rowing about, belly up. Each set of legs is used for a different function – the front pair for catching prey because they are voracious predators, the middle pair for holding the prey tight, and the flattened, hairy third pair acts as oars, much like those used with a rowing shell.
As piercer-predators. they kill and suck the bodily fluids out of any prey they can subdue – invertebrate and vertebrate alike – including tiny tadpoles and fish fry. They remind me of terrestrial assassin bugs. But, Backswimmers also become fish food.
In this same habitat, one of the first butterflies to grace our airwaves is the Mourning Cloak because it overwinters as an adult. It’s an easy one to ID, perhaps the easiest for its rich brown wings are accented by vibrant blue dots and a bright yellow border along the trailing edge. Seeing mourning cloaks flutter out of the leaf litter is a sure sign of the other season.
In the same space, moving swiftly from one body of water across a cobbly road to another wetland was a Snapping Turtle. Though Snapping Turtles appear to pose a threat to humans, they are not as aggressive as we think. Instead of swimming, these turtles spend most of their time crawling along the bottom of shallow water.
On land, however, Snappers often act like the nastiest characters that you ever want to encounter. Have you ever tried to help one cross the road? With its long neck, that is almost as long as its shell, it’ll swing its head and lunge with open jaws.
I have read that even though they hiss and strike out with their formidable jaws, they will usually not bite. Supposedly, they’ll close their jaws just before they reach your hand. I don’t intend to verify this. Their act is enough to keep me at a safe distance. It’s best to leave a Snapping Turtle alone andtreat it with respect.
Because I was beside water, upon floating leaves, an insect flew in that could easily have been mistaken for a wasp, such as is its tendency to mimic such. The Masquerading Syrphid Fly, aka a hover fly, has longitudinal stripes on its thorax that resemble those on the back of a Paper Wasp, but a wasp it is not. For one thing, it has only one pair of wings, where bees and wasps have two pairs.
Away from the water but within the nearby leaf litter, and easy to find if you roll a log or move some downed tree bark, you might discover the high population density of Red-backed Salamanders who often maintain small territories that they guard and in which they exclusively forage.
The forest floor is a sophisticated, perennial cycling system of leaf litter, fungus, minerals and soil extending from tree trunks down into the earth. Scores of critters travel in between, eating, moving, and transforming the layers as they go, like Red-backed Salamanders who feed on a wide variety of invertebrates and to whom we give great thanks.
Among their meals, Red-backed Salamanders feed on of invertebrates including ants, but have you ever seen anything like this: an ant convention? And not one focused on a sweet treat you accidentally dropped?
According to Donald Stokes 1983 A Guide to Observing Insect Lives, “The other situation is where hundreds of ants seem to be crawling all over each other . . . These masses are probably involved in an aggressive encounter, possibly over the position of nest sites. They could be termed ‘territorial battles’ or even ‘wars.’ In contrast to our wars, they are conducted entirely by females. lf you look closely at the ants, you will see individual battles — ants using their pincers to dismember the bodies of other ants. On the battlefield may be cutoff legs or heads.”
We may be in a new season as witnessed by all the finds commented upon, but where there’s mud or wet sand, there will be tracks and so there’s some carry-over. Do you see the baby hand prints? At least two Raccoons had passed the way of some of the other critters in this post.
But the time has come to emerge from the depths of winter and shed a few weeds and head into the other season: Standing Beside the Water Season.
If you are looking for me in the next six months — I’ll be holding true to this next season.
Though not the extravagance of Fifth Avenue, this Easter Parade is much more to our liking. Simple, yet eloquent in nature.
The white carpet was rolled out making us feel most welcome and we easily strolled upon it.
There were several occasions when the parade route appeared to be smooth as glass, but each step had a rippling effect.
It was such fun to watch cheerleaders along the sidelines perform their routines with pompoms created by flowering Silver Maples.
Competition for the best Easter Bonnet included tassels of Speckled Alder, and . . .
Pussy Willow plumes.
Ring-necked Ducks peaked their heads as they watched the marchers progress.
And Wood Ducks performed their “oo-eek, oo-eek” while swishing into the air for a flyover.
Accompanying them was a Hairy Woodpecker on percussion and . . .
Red-winged Blackbird offering a “conk-la-ree” trill.
A couple of fluttery marchers donned their mourning cloaks before flying off to another viewing spot.
We thought the butterflies were enough to make us happy about attending this parade, but then we heard a certain ephemeral wruck and knew that like antique cars, which always slow the show down, we’d have to wait a few minutes for the Wood Frogs to turn the corner. (Look carefully and you might spy two canoodlers under a leaf.)
There was so much to see including a lodge-like float that passed by us and included an advertisement for mud insulation.
Oh, and those geese and crows, how much they must have practiced to get their marching routine synchronized.
As it should, this Easter Parade finally drew to a close at the mighty oak, but left hope and awe and wonder hovering in the air.
Smack dab in the midst of a hectic work schedule, we pulled off another issue of the mag. And I have to say, I really loved working on this one. As did Laurie LaMountain.
It’s full of history, both local as I had the fortune to visit with Louisa Attenborough at the Garcelon mansion on Kezar Lake in Lovell, and across the pond (read the intros to the recipes in “One Potato, Two Potato”).
Here’s an exclusive look at a bathroom window at Garcelon, flanked by mirrors that reflect the lights in the room and in the bedroom beyond.
And a side view not included in the article. The servants’ quarters, circa 1908, were in the upper-left hand corner.
Another of my articles is about the big reveal at our local ski area, which was purchased last year by Boyne Resorts. According to general manager Ralph Lewis, lots of updates have been made since the ski area closed in the spring, but the biggest one is the name change, which excites many of us. You can read all about it in “Welcome Back Pleasant Mountain.”
My third, and probably favorite article is entitled “Life Beneath the Ice,” which features the work of fellow Maine Master Naturalist Edwin Barkdoll and his discoveries as he worked on a capstone project, and Dr. Ben Peierls of Lakes Environmental Association.
“A calm winter day. Freezing temps. Thickening ice. A lid is placed on the ecosystem below. And all aquatic life goes dormant. Or does it?” You’ll have to read the article to find out.
So here’s a look at the cover, and a view of a Whirligig Bug walking under the ice that Edwin captured during his studies.
Within, you’ll also find articles by Laurie, including “Chasing Arrows,” about what happens to those items we so carefully recycle; “Fast and Affordable,” about the need for high-speed internet in our rural communities and what a collective group of towns is trying to do for affordable broadband, and “Creative Housing Solutions,” about what a group in Norway, Maine, is trying to do to bring equitable housing to the community. Plus the recipes (and history) in “One Potato, Two Potato.”
And always back by popular demand are the book reviews from the staff at Bridgton Books. Plus ads, ads, ads, for local businesses. Please take a look at them, and then visit the businesses and let them know you saw the ad in the mag.
My Guy and I were climbing Mount Tom in Fryeburg, Maine, this afternoon when it began to rain. Being under the canopy, it didn’t bother us. Until it did. That moment occurred when the thunder began and continued as the storm seemed to circle nearby Pleasant Mountain. Even though we were close to the summit and had planned a round trip hike, we quickly turned about and backtracked as the heavens opened and even the canopy could no longer protect us. And then back at the trailhead, the sun came out. This is Maine after all.
And so I drove down the road to another spot where the actual “hike” is about 50 feet long, but the view and sounds spectacular.
The first friend we did meet was a Dot-tailed Whiteface Skimmer Dragonfly, so named for that spot on its abdomen and the fact that its face is white. Sometimes common names make complete sense and other times they are a source of confusion, but to learn the scientific names boggles my brain most of the time. Or maybe I’m too lazy.
Dragonflies are often territorial, unless they are Chalk-fronted Corporal Skimmers as are two resting here on Sensitive Fern. The Corporals often share a space and I’ve frequently spotted bunches resting on rocks or the ground.
But there’s another dragonfly in this scene. Can you find it? And it got me thinking about how some different species do share a space within the same habitat. That is, until one decides to eat the other.
In the mix, Familiar Bluet Damselflies also flew … and rested. This one upon an equisetum.
And another upon a Sensitive Fern. The damselfly wasn’t all that senstive for if you look at the last few segments of its abdomen, you’ll spot little red dots, the bodies of water mites.
Some species of water mites are parasites on insects like damselflies. The mite larvae attach to a damselfly nymph in its underwater stage. When the nymph emerges from the water and enters adulthood, the mite larvae stay with it and also mature as they feed on the body fluids of the damselfly. While the damselfly will probably survive the mite parasitism, it may be weakened by the tiny critters.
In the water itself, tadpoles. Tadpoles galore.
Above the water, a Frosted Whiteface Skimmer, a rather minute species in the whole scheme of things.
That’s not all. Four-spotted Skimmers also flew and paused, flew and paused. The Four-spotted is an aggressive hunter of other insects, sometimes even capturing smaller dragonflies, um, like the Frosted Whiteface. Fortunately, no such action happened on our clock. (Though it would have been cool to witness.)
Oh, and then a Viceroy Butterfly flew in. Be still my heart. While one might think Monarch Butterfly based on the coloration, the Viceroy is much smaller and features that black line that crosses the hind wing, Monarchs don’t have a line across their hind wings.
Perhaps, though, my favorite spot of the hour was the Racket-tailed Emerald, so named for the tennis racket shape of its abdomen–use your imagination. Even more important to notice: those shiny green eyes. This was the dragonfly that shared the space with the Chalk-fronted Corporals.
So the reality was that My Guy spent a few minutes with me and was impressed by the tadpoles, but then he returned to the truck and took a nap.
The Dot-spotted Whiteface looked at me as if to say, “Hey lady, haven’t you had enough yet? Maybe it’s time for you to return to the truck as well. And skedaddle. ”
I supposed I should, but really, based on all the sounds and sights and the fact that there was so much more going on that I didn’t capture, I could still be standing there.
Take a gander yourself. I welcome you to observe friends on the edge of Abraham Krasker Bog Pond on Bog Road in Fryeburg.
Sigh. And sigh again. Happy sighs are these. Because . . . the dragonflies are transforming from their aquatic form to flyers. In either lifestyle, they are predators, but it’s the latter flyer that we appreciate the most. Especially during years like this when the Black Fly and Mosquito populations are prolific. We give thanks, of course, for such prevalence, because these little stinging fliers become odonata and amphibian and bird food, or so we like to pretend that we give thanks. Really, we’re grateful for the insistent buzzing and biting, but even more grateful for those who predate upon them.
The exciting thing about this week is that several of us had the great opportunity to spy some dragonflies eclosing, the act of emerging from their larval forms. So here’s the deal: fully developed aquatic larvae, aka nymphs, crawl out of the water onto emergent grasses, sedges, shrubs, and rocks, split the back of their skin and emerge as winged adults like the one in view here.
Newly eclosed dragonflies lack pigment so identifying them isn’t always easy. Of even more importance, they are extremely vulnerable to predation as they clutch their old skin while pumping air into their bodies and liquid into their expanding wings. One way to note an emergent adult is by the cloudiness of the wings as they set their internal systems in motion. The tough part is that they must wait in this position, unable to escape predators, until wings dry and they can fly. The process can take several hours.
And so it was with great glee that we noticed wee, yet mature Hudsonian Whiteface dragonflies, members of the Skimmer family, flying and posing, flying and posing.
The yellow spot on segment seven (dragonfly abdomens consist of ten segments) is triangular in shape, aiding in the identification as I get my dragonfly eyes back on.
In no time, it seemed, there were dragonflies everywhere. Well, not everywhere for I traveled several trails and realized that those who were emerging tended to be near stiller waters. The Common Baskettail, as this species is known, is a member of the family Corduliidae (the Emeralds). Unlike other Emerald family members, baskettails lack the green eyes, though as they age the color does change. But they make up for it by being super hairy. As a naiad, the hair apparently traps tiny pieces of debris, thus hiding it from predators in the muck. In its adult form, the hair serves as a spring jacket, holding in heat.
All that is fine and well and there will be many more odonata references during the next six months as I wonder my way. but today I happened upon one who added to my knowledge bank and I’ll forever celebrate this opportunity to learn more. Do you see the neon green appearing to drip off the wings?
Look closely at the left behind aquatic structure, aka exuvia or cast skin, and you can see the length of the former nymph that helps define this species to family based on its shape: Darner.
Though I first thought this specimen was dead, suddenly it walked along the underside of an old stump beside the water. Try as I could to separate its wings, I was unsuccessful. For some reason they were stuck together. And one was even folded still as it would have been upon first emerging, thus there was green at its tip, though it appeared at first glance to be in the middle of the wing.
Based on the fact that its thorax stripes were already taking on its adult colors, I knew this darner had been trying to reach flight stage for hours. What had gone wrong? What was the neon green? Something must have gone astray as this dragonfly tried to pump hemolymph (Insect fluid like blood) through to its wings to stiffen them for flight.
Hemolymph is made up of water and other characteristics like carbohydrates and amino acids, and also pigments, though the latter are typically clear but may be tinged with yellow or green. In the case of this darner, it seems that green is the color of choice. Had it been able to expand its wings, the fluid would have drained out of the wings and back into the body. Usually, it takes about an hour or more for the wings to reach full length and they have a cloudy appearance as the fluid is pumped into them. They are held together over the back, much like a damselfly, but once the fluid drains out of them, the dragonfly is able to extend the wings and there’s a shiny glint to them until they fully dry and stiffen. And then, in a split second, when one such as me is watching, flight happens.
For some reason, this darner will not know flight, but I gave thanks for the opportunity to see its blood and slow my brain down to think about the process.
To fly or not to fly?: it’s a complicated question.
If you follow me either virtually or in reality, you know that during April and May I spend a lot of time beside vernal pools. And this year is no different. Thankfully, I also get to take others along on the journey, from school children to their parents, and members of the public, plus colleague naturalists in the form of Greater Lovell Land Trust’s volunteer docents.
And so it’s been that this particular pool on a land trust property has received tons of attention this year. We’ve always known it to be special because it’s home to Fairy Shrimp, which just the occurrence of one makes it significant by State of Maine standards.
Vernal pools provide essential breeding habitat for certain species of wildlife, including salamanders and some frogs species. At the same time, juvenile and adult amphibians associated with such a pool provide an important food source for small carnivores as well as large game species. Many of these amphibians are pool specific in that they must return to their natal vernal pool to breed, thus making them and the surrounding habitat important and the loss of such would lead to loss of local amphibians, a decrease in biodiversity, and a decline in food available to others who inhabit the surrounding natural community.
Upon visiting this past week, the pool had taken on a new sheen, appearing at first glance to resemble ice. But it was much too warm for that to be the case.
Floating upon the pool’s surface were male Red Maple flowers, the oval items at the ends of slender, threadlike stalks the pollen producing anthers dangling on their filaments and the release of said pollen the cause of the ice-like presentation.
So the exciting thing about this particular pool is that though It has long been a breeding ground for Fairy Shrimp (and mosquito larvae), this year we spotted more of the former than ever swimming along on their backs as they filtered the water and sought a mate.
Though the pollen on the pool may give it a look of being polluted, the presence of Fairy Shrimp actually serve as an indicator of good water quality.
Where a month ago we were scooping up hundreds of these tiny crustaceans, this past week we found only a few, which served as one sign that this is a pool in transition. Their life cycle isn’t long, but if you checked in recently with the post entitled Peering Into the Pool, you’ll have learned a cool fact or two about their existence.
Back to now. Wood Frog tadpoles had suddenly emerged and their egg masses began to disintegrate, though still adding a source of food in the symbiotic relationship with an algal form.
Mosquito larvae and pupae, though still present, were not as prevalent, given that their flying, biting form had begun to hatch.
And then there was another change to note. And it’s a major change in my book of these habitats. Large Bullfrogs had taken up residence.
The wee bit smaller but similar Green Frogs had as well.
How does one decipher between a Bullfrog and Green Frog? First, as you approach a pool and you hear a squeal as a frog jumps from the edge into the water, you know that Green Frogs are in the midst.
And if you finally get to spy one, look for the line behind the eye. If it follows along both edges of the frog’s back, called dorsal lateral folds, it’s a Green Frog.
If, however, the line extends from the back of the eye and wraps around the round disk, or tympanum membrane (think ear), it’s a Bullfrog.
Also, Bullfrogs don’t leap away quite a suddenly as Green Frogs. In fact, they can stay quite still for hours on end.
Once human eyes adjust to the surroundings, shadows may pretend to be frogs, but they aren’t. The real deal, however, lurks at the surface, often only its eyes making its presence known.
Hemlock needles and maple flowers decorate it, and much to my surprise don’t frustrate it. Though some frogs may seem super sensitive to us, they also exhibit a patience not to be matched as they sit and wait.
Oh, did I mention that they were everywhere? Literally.
The thing is. these two frog species weren’t in the pool to breed like the Wood Frogs had been. They, after all, need a permanent water source because their tadpoles take two years at a minimum to morph into adults and a vernal pool that dries up each year would not be suitable. This tadpole was spied at a nearby pond, indicating that perhaps the Bullfrog came from that source to the vernal pool.
So what were the Bullfrogs and Green Frogs doing at the pool? Predating all that live within. Remember what I said earlier, that vernal pools provide food for small and large predators. These would be on the smaller size, though not the smallest.
Perhaps that’s why we weren’t seeing as many Fairy Shrimp this past week. And given the prevalence of these two frogs, who knows what will hop or crawl out of the pool, but we suspect some Wood Frogs and Spotted Salamanders will make it to adulthood so that they can carry on the tradition of returning to their natal pools to breed.
The thing about visiting a pool such as this with the younger set is that they are bound to make exciting finds. And so one did, locating a Spring Peeper swimming about.
And in the surrounding uplands, another found a Pickerel Frog. We could hear their snoring chorus, so this discovery wasn’t unexpected. But still it was special.
How to tell a Pickerel Frog from a Leopard Frog (the latter a species I’ve only seen a few times): by the spots on its back. The Pickerel’s spots are more symmetrical than the randomness of a Leopard’s and the Pickerel’s spots are outlined while a Leopard’s are not.
And then there was this teeny, tiny American Toad covered with warts and suddenly the ground was hopping with these wee creatures and Spring Peepers and one had to be careful where one stepped.
The final find of the week, an adult Wood Frog with its robber mask making for a sure ID. This one was a poser.
As the vernal pool turns, so do its inhabitants and I give great thanks for the opportunity to learn from it and share it with so many others who add to the lessons.
Dedication: This one is for Nancy Hogan Posey cuze I was going to write about something completely different today and your question turned the page to this one. Thank you.
If you’ve been following wondermyway for a few years, you know that each spring I make a bee-line for vernal pools, those shallow, short-lived ponds that fill with snowmelt or spring rain for at least several weeks most years, have no major inlet or outlet, and most importantly, no fish. Without fish, reproductive success is more likely for some amphibians, crustaceans, and insects who depend upon these ephemeral water bodies for breeding.
There are four indicator species in Maine that define a vernal pool as significant. Since 2007, significant vernal pool habitat has been protected by law under Maine’s Natural Resources Protection Act (NRPA): “Significant Vernal Pool (SVP) habitat consists of a vernal pool depression and a portion of the critical terrestrial habitat within a 250-foot radius of the spring or fall high water mark of the depression. Any activity in, on, or over the SVP or the 250-foot critical terrestrial habitat zone must avoid unreasonable impacts to the significant vernal pool habitat and obtain approval from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, either through Permit by Rule (a streamlined permitting process) or full individual NRPA permit.”
Those four indicator species that define such significance: Wood Frogs, Spotted Salamanders, Blue Spotted Salamanders, and Fairy Shrimp. The pool must contain 40 Wood Frog egg masses, or 20 Spotted Salamander Egg masses, or 10 Blue Spotted Salamander egg masses, or one Fairy Shrimp. I’ve yet to see a Blue Spotted Salamander or its eggs.
Some may see these ponds as oversized puddles, but let your eyes focus and suddenly you’ll realize that they are places teeming with life.
As you do, it might surprise you to spot lots of flying activity just above the pool’s surface. It’s actually Midges on the move, trying to get a date so that there will be even more Midges on the move. They look rather like mosquitoes, but don’t bite, so not to worry.
Male Midges have a longer, more slender body that the females, and they like to posture in attempts to interest one of the opposite gender. They’re actually fun to watch.
Of course, equally, ahem, fun to watch are the larval forms of Mosquitoes as they wriggle and wraggle through the water column, some even forming dense clusters.
If you do some container dipping at a vernal pool near you in order to take a closer look, I trust you won’t dump these onto the leaf litter rather than back into the water. As much as the females annoy us once they morph into that annoying flying insect that needs to suck mammal blood to gain proteins and nutrients for their eggs, they play an important part in the food web.
Especially for warblers such as this Yellow-rumped that was part of a flock that arrived in western Maine this week–just as it should have, being the end of April. It was spotted quite near one of the pools, so I suspect Mosquito Mash will soon be on the menu.
Back to those four indicator species for a significant vernal pool . . . it was this week that while looking close up at some Wood Frog eggs, I realized we had babies in the form of tadpoles.
I saw “we” because mom and dad Wood Frog do not hang around. Once they’ve canoodled and eggs have been fertilized and deposited, they exit the pool and return to their upland habitat, where they spend the next fifty weeks, so it’s up to us to watch over their young ones. Their metamorphosis, or change to adult form, will be completed by late June or earlier should temperatures rise and the pool begin to dry out.
I encourage you , dear readers, to do what I do and stare intently into the leaf litter to see if you can spot some tadpoles. And who knows what else you might discover.
While looking into another section of the pool, you might notice another type of egg mass, this one coated with a gelatinous mass that encompasses all of the eggs. Spotted Salamanders made their Big Night return to the pools about a week or so later than the Wood Frogs, so the embryos are still developing.
I find it fascinating to see the little forms take shape. It’s like looking into a mother’s womb without medical devices.
Okay, it’s time for you to peer into the pool again. This time you are looking for Fairy Shrimp, those tiny crustaceans that are about a half inch long, swim on their backs, and move eleven pairs of legs like a crew team in a rowing shell. Remember, I said one Fairy Shrimp makes a pool significant according to the State of Maine. How many do you see in this photo?
Those in the first Fairy Shrimp photo are males, but females are present as well. The way to identify a female is to look for her two brood sacs that are positioned just under her legs or appendages.
So here’s the thing. Fairy Shrimp have a short life span, but . . . their eggs must dry out and freeze before they can respond to environmental cues such as reflooding to hatch. One of the pools I’ve been frequenting lately I’d only discovered last year and it had no Fairy Shrimp. The other day when I approached with some volunteer docents from Greater Lovell Land Trust, one exclaimed within seconds of our arrival, “Fairy Shrimp.”
That got me thinking: how is it that we didn’t spot any last year, and this year we started seeing them everywhere. Also, in another pool where we’ve often spied a few, we’ve noticed they are in abundance. Previous to this week, I knew that the eggs, known as cysts, can remain dormant for years, but assumed that if the pool flooded each year, they all hatched. It didn’t make sense though that one pool suddenly has shrimp and the other has so many more than normal. It was time to do a little research, and what I learned from the Vermont Center for Ecostudies , is that only a small portion of cysts hatch each year, thus leaving plenty more for the future. And temperature plays a key role in hatching. So I thought about winter 2021 and how we didn’t have a lot of snow and the temperature was on the mild side. This past winter was much snowier (though not enough still in my book) and much chillier. My unscientific conclusion, based only on limited knowledge and observation, is that conditions weren’t conducive in 2021 at that one pool and so no shrimp hatched. I’m already looking forward to next year.
For your enjoyment I’ve included a video of a Fairy Shrimp moving through a pool this past week. Fairy Shrimp indicate unpolluted water, so finding one is significant. Finding so many . . . bliss.
When you are peering into the water for such a long time, other life forms make themselves known, such as Predacious Diving Beetle larvae, aka Water Tiger. Just like the adult this insect will morph into, it eats everything including tadpoles and insects, and even its siblings sometimes.
It wasn’t just the docents and I who had fun at the pools, but also a group of middle school students I have the immense honor to work with each Friday and yesterday they enjoyed documenting life at the pool that suddenly had Fairy Shrimp this year. Quiz yourself on ID of the species one student scooped up in this bug box. And rest assured that these critters were released back into the pool after being studied for a few minutes.
As I said, I’ve done a lot of scanning this week, including on a couple of solo trips, and it was on one of these that I made one of my favorite discoveries: a Caddisfly larvae. In larval form, Caddisflies are resourceful architects who repurpose their surroundings to create their homes. Sometimes I find them constructed of hemlock needles topped with a maple flowers, and a friend sent a photo today of one she found who had built its house of grains of sand. My find . . . in the pool that suddenly had Fairy Shrimp this year: a mobile home built of leaves. It was so well camouflaged that only the movement made me realize what was before my eyes.
Larval Caddisflies eat various types of detritus, including bits of leaves, algae, and miscellaneous organic matter so they, too, are important as they break down what is in the pool.
If it wasn’t that I need to eventually find my way home and make dinner, I’d probably still be out there. But yikes, it’s 7:00pm, and I haven’t even started dinner, and my guy will be home from work soon, so I’d better get going.
If you are looking for me in the next few weeks, however, I’ll be the one with hands on bent knees as I hunch over the pool. Join me and we can peer in together.
Rainy days that turn into sunny days are the best days of spring. And today was one such. That meant, of course, that I needed to visit one of my favorite wet spots.
Along the way, because it was raining, I noticed the White Pines were foaming at the mouth! What really occurred: sap salts and acids that had accumulated on the bark’s surface mixed together in the rain and formed soapy suds. The rainbow colors and hexagonal forms–worth a natural engineering wonder.
And upon a moss covered tree stump . . . a million more tiny bubbles dangling from reproductive capsules creating a hint of the future.
At the pool, one might say raindrops distorted the reflections captured on the surface. Or perhaps they enhanced it with a design that was ever evolving.
Bubbles kept forming as the raindrops fell . . . and then they’d burst. Just prior to their disappearance, however, they mirrored the canopy above the pool.
Oh, and do you spy what I spied? Wood Frog eggs . . . tadpoles in the making. But all the while that I stood there, and it was a while as the rain fell, not a frog did I spot.
As the skies cleared late in the afternoon, again I headed to the pool. Click on the arrow above and you should hear what I heard. A chorus of wrucks.
Of course, once I stood beside the pool, the frogs had all disappeared. But, with a bit of sun shining, I suddenly could see that in the last week numerous egg masses had been laid in communal style, as is the Wood Frog manner.
Some even exhibited the green hue indicating that mutualistic symbiosis, or a relationship between algae and developing embryos, was already underway. Shallow, ephemeral ponds such as this one, experience severe oxygen depletion during periods of high sunlight and warmth. The algae provides oxygen for the tadpoles, allowing them to survive longer and grow larger before metamorphosis, while the algae receive carbon dioxide from the tadpoles, which aids algal growth.
And then, ever so slowly, frogs silently floated to the surface, and waited . . . for that special woman to happen along. The fact that I had happened along, didn’t turn out to be special enough and so most were silent rather than wrucking as they waited . . . for me to disappear.
And then . . . and then the water began to boil. It took me a moment to realize what I was witnessing.
That moment expanded into about ten minutes as several male frogs tried to outwit each other and grab one female in amplexus.
She occasionally chirped her discontent, but that didn’t stop the good old boys from trying to do their thing.
Around and around they went, this threesome or foursome or fivesome, for it seemed to be an ever evolving grouping.
Her swollen belly betold the fact that she had eggs that needed to be fertilized, but which of these Romeos would win the right to externally fertilize her bounty?
They tumbled and tussled. She chirped. They tumbled and tussled some more.
They calmed down for a moment, but still no decision had been made.
And then, if you click on the arrow above and listen, you’ll hear what the frogs and I heard . . . as a Barred Owl called its “Who Cooks For You?” phrase several times. The frogs split up and I’ll never know which of the best wrucks one, but I suspect one of them finally succeeded in its quest to sire the next generation.
Dedication: This post is for Patti and Kate and Billy and Rob (Howie) and Johnny, in honor of your mom, Bobbie, who passed from this world to the next today. At the sight of each bubble that the day offered, it seemed another memory popped up. And I’m pretty sure we are all living proof that eating her raw Congo Bar dough adds years to ones life. Virtual hugs to all of you. And Tommy too.
I bet you think this is about my guy, but actually, he had no part in this story. Instead, it’s a date of another kind for another species. You see, the other night a friend and I went out for a mini-Big Night. Though it hadn’t been raining long, the temp was about 42˚, and my communication with her and another friend got kinda confusing because first I said, “Let’s go,” then I said “Let’s not go till next week, “then I was afraid one hadn’t received my message so I said to the other, “Let’s go.” And so we did.
Go out that is to a local amphibian road crossing and in an hour’s time we helped six Spring Peepers cross the road. And then on the way home, we saw more and she began to drive like one who is dodging pot holes. One does what one needs to to save the amphibians.
But this isn’t about that date either.
Knowing that the peepers had been on the move, I thought I should check the vernal pool in the woods behind our home. This is former farmland that is now forested with boundaries marked by stonewalls. On March 25th, the pool still had ice on it, but by yesterday, April 1. the ice had finally gone out.
I stood by the edge and peered in, but saw nary a critter as the raindrops fell.
Late this afternoon, April 2, I again returned to the pool and as I approached I didn’t hear any “Wruck, wrucks” of a Wood Frog chorus, but I did spot movement. And so I found a rock on the northern side and waited patiently, hoping against hope that I would be rewarded with a sighting if I stayed as still as possible. Though the sun was warm, there was a brisk breeze and so the marcescent beech leaves wiggled and waggled.
Methinks the breeze was to my benefit because within five minutes frogs began to appear. And among them, this lovely canoodling couple in true Wood Frog form called amplexus. It’s such a great word and means “embrace” for embrace her he does. Notice his foreleg positioned behind hers and her bulging belly. My own excitement increased as I watched these two.
She was in complete control, or so it seemed and he held tightly as she swam from one location to another.
About four feet below me, they found a fallen branch and I wondered if I’d see her lay the eggs contained in that swollen belly that he’d fertilize externally. I certainly had paid for the right seat to watch such action. And speaking of action, do you see the red arrow in the lower right of the photo? How do you spell M-O-S-Q-U-I-T-O larvae? Think of them as tadpole food. And later–dragonfly and damselfly and bird food!
The dating couple weren’t the only residents showing their faces and among all the others were two who had also decided to hang out in my corner, this lighter colored Wood Frog being one . . .
and this darker colored another. Wood Frogs range in color from light tan to dark brown. It’s difficult to differentiate the gender of this species, but I’ve read that the lighter colored ones tend to be females.
Maybe that is true. The darker colored frog certainly wanted to test such a hypothesis. And so he grasped the lighter colored one.
The lighter frog seemed to say this was not a marriage made in heaven.
But still the darker tried.
And tried some more.
But a couple of clucks from the lighter colored frog and at last it was released. Male Wood Frogs do not discriminate when breeding. Anything that moves near the surface of the water is grabbed in hopes that it will eventually lay eggs that the male can then fertilize, including other males and also uninterested females. Maybe he didn’t have the right vocal quality.
At last it was time for the lighter colored frog to relax, all the while hoping for the right mate to come along. Meanwhile, the canoodling couple had found an oak leaf under which to take its interaction. Do you see them?
How about now? I had to wonder if she was laying eggs–that action I so wanted to see, but perhaps she wanted it to be a private moment between the two of them. If so, I had to wonder about their choice of placement, for from my experience of visiting this pool for the last 30 years, this is the side that dries up first and egg masses often end up drying up upon suspended branches that may be in the water now, but won’t be in a month or so if we don’t get enough rain.
At last the dating couple came out from under the leaf and returned to the branch of their original intention. As they did so, I also thought about how this pool has been part of my classroom for so long and the lessons it has offered me. Today was no exception.
And then they took off again, she swimming as he clung on, insistent that he would be the one to fertilize her eggs.
For some reason they chose a rock to next spend time beside and I questioned their choice once more. But . . . they were brilliant to be mating so early for this is a pool that dries up super early and the sooner their eggs are fertilized and laid, the more success that their offspring will survive. That early drying of this pool always leaves me wondering how any frogs and salamanders can possibly return to this particular “natal” place to breed in years following, until I remember that when these species sense that the end draws near, they have the ability to develop more quickly. Pretty darn amazing.
Suddenly, the water boiled on the other side of the pool and I looked over to see what was going on. It appeared that one female was the focus of several males and a ruckus and some clucking ensued as they sorted out the winner.
Meanwhile, the canoodlers continued their tour in search of the right place to deposit an egg mass they’ll never see develop. Such is the life of an adult Wood Frog–no parenting responsibilities to consider. She’ll leave the pond tonight probably. He’ll hang out for another week or two in hopes of scoring again.
In the meantime, plenty of others bide their time with hope on the horizon. They, too, want to be part of the gene pool that permeates from this special place.
At last it was time for me to leave as the battery of my camera had lost its juice. The canoodlers, however, still had much more juice to share on this very first date of a new season.
If I can’t have an 18-inch snowstorm in the next six months, then give me a wetland. Look for me looking for other first dates in this place and other wetlands going forward. I can’t wait to see what awaits.
Seven years ago today I gave birth–rather a record at my age. It was February 21, 2015, when I welcomed wondermyway into the world. It’s been quite an adventure that we’ve shared together and one of my favorite things to do each year to celebrate is to take a look back.
As I reviewed this past year, the reality hit home. I’ve written less than half the number of posts of any other year. That all boils down to one thing. Time. There’s never enough. Oh, I’ve taken the photos, and had the adventures, but I haven’t made the time to write about all of them. Sometimes, they sit off to the side in my brain and I think I’ll use some of them together in a cumulative post, and there they sit.
That all said, I’ve had more views and visitors this past year than any other. Views = 24,955; Visitors = 16,994. Followers = 701. And over the course of wondermyway’s lifespan, the blog has received 121,765 hits.
An enormous heart-felt thanks to all who have joined me for any or all of these journeys. I get excited to share with you and love hearing from you.
In case you are wondering, my guy and I did have a Mondate this afternoon–along Bemis River and then up to Arethusa Falls in Crawford Notch, New Hampshire.
It was here at the falls that we celebrated wondermyway.com with a couple of those Bavarian Haus chocolates we purchased last Monday.
And now for a look at a few excerpts from posts I made during the past year, beginning with March 2021. To read or re-read the entire post, click on the link below each photo.
It took me by surprise, this change of seasons. Somehow I was fooled into thinking winter would hold its grasp for a wee bit longer because I don’t like to let it go.
Even Winter Dark Fireflies, who don’t carry lanterns like their summer cousins, and aren’t even flies as their name suggests (they are beetles), knew what was happening before I did for in their adult form they’d been tucked under bark in recent months, but in a flash are now visible on many a tree trunk as they prepare to mate in a few weeks.
But . . . this spring will be different.
How so? And what invitation still stands? Click on the link under the beetle’s photo to find the answers.
For the past two weeks at Greater Lovell Land Trust we’ve had the good fortune to conduct a wildlife survey in the waters that surround the newly acquired Charles Pond Reserve in Stow, Maine.
MDIFW maintains a comprehensive database on the distribution of Maine’s amphibians and reptiles, as well as terrestrial and freshwater invertebrates and the data we’ve collected will add to the bigger picture. What we discovered was just as important as what we didn’t find.
The survey began with a day of setting and baiting fifteen traps in the pond and associated rivers. What’s not to love about spending time in this beautiful locale, where on several occasions lenticular clouds that looked like spaceships about to descend greeted us.
Our favorite bird sighting was this bald eagle, who found a silver maple snag at the outlet of Cold River into Charles Pond. I was a wee bit nervous as that was Change The Trap Bait Day, and I had a bag of stinky old sardine cans in my lap as I paddled a kayak.
He was intent, however, on something else and barely gave us a glance.
This story of the survey would not be complete, however, without the absolute best sighting that occurred on the last day. Our mammal observations on almost every trip included a muskrat, plus occasional squirrels, and once a beaver. From our game camera set up at various locations, and from tracks and scat, we also know that coyotes, raccoons, otters, a bobcat and a black bear share this space.
But . . . you’ll have to click on the link under the Bald Eagle photo to figure out what our best sighting was.
Warning: Some may find parts of this post disturbing. But it is, after all, about the circle of life.
A climbing thermometer in March signaled one thing amidst many others: the time had arrived to check the vernal pool.
Completely covered with ice at the start of my explorations, I noted puddling on top and knew it was only a matter of days.
Not wanting to rush the season, though truly I did, I rejoiced when the edges melted because life within would soon be revealed.
And then one day, as if by magic, the ice had completely gone out as we say ‘round these parts. It was early this year–in late March rather than April. That same night I heard the wruck, wrucks of Wood Frogs, always the first to enter the pool.
The next day he had attracted his she, grasping her in amplexus as is his species’ manner.
Ah, but how does the story end? Click on the link under the photo to find out.
I walked into a cemetery, that place of last rites and rest, looking for life. It should have been a short visit, for finding life in such a location hardly seems possible, but . . . for two hours yesterday I stalked the gravestones and today I returned to the same spot where I once again roamed, and then continued up the road to another that surprised me even more.
Upon the granite wall that surrounded the Hutchins plot, two small, but actually rather large in the insect world, nymphs crawled and paused, crawled and paused. And my heart sang as it does when I realize I’m in the right place at the right time.
Click on the link under the photo to see the story of the Cicadas unfold.
Out of curiosity, and because it’s something I do periodically, I’ve spent the last four days stalking our gardens. Mind you, I do not have a green thumb and just about any volunteer is welcome to bloom, especially if it will attract pollinators.
There were millions of other insects, well, maybe not millions, but hundreds at least, flying and sipping and buzzing and hovering and crawling and even canoodling, the latter being mainly Ambush Bugs with the darker and smaller male atop the female.
But why the title, “Not Just An Insect”? Ahhh, you know what you’ll need to do to find the answer.
Every Mondate is different, which goes without saying, and the adventure always begins with a question, “What are we going to do today?”
The answer is frequently this, “I don’t know, you pick.”
The instantaneous reply, “I asked first. You need to figure it out.”
We did figure it out. Over and over again. This collection happens to include places that make us happy and many of our family members and just looking back puts a smile on my face. Oh, and the selfie–taken at the same place where we went today–only in September 2021.
Before today’s deluge began, I slipped into Pondicherry Park in Bridgton, Maine, to fill the innermost recesses of my lungs with November air, and at the same time my brain with memories of so many people who have traveled these trails with me from Ned Allen, former executive director of Bridgton Historical Society, to Loon Echo’s Jon Evans, and Lakes Environmental Association’s Alanna Yanelli and Mary Jewett, and friends and friends and friends, including the late JoAnne Diller, Sue Black, and Jinny Mae. But today’s journey also included memories of one I took two years ago with Becky Cook, who shared her remembrances of growing up along South High Street and romping through these trails as they were part of her backyard. If anyone ever had a sense of this place, it is Becky.
This post is full of information of an historic and natural nature. Go ahead, click on the link above to learn more.
The temperature dipped overnight and wind picked up out of the WNW but given the destination we had chosen, we knew if we dressed appropriately we’d be fine because we’d be in the woods most of the time, unlike last week’s walk where we were completely exposed to the elements on Popham Beach. That said, it was cold today.
But what could good hair possibly have to do with this Mondate? You’ll have to read it to find out.
Dear Readers, This post may not be for the faint of heart, but it’s something those of us who track find incredibly exciting as we try to interpret the gory story. Yes, you read that correctly. Blood and guts are to follow. You are now forewarned, and if you decide not to read on, I totally understand.
So how is this stuffed beaver connected to a gory story?
Warning: Some may find parts of this post disturbing. But it is, after all, about the circle of life.
A climbing thermometer in March signaled one thing amidst many others: the time had arrived to check the vernal pool located in the woods behind our house.
Completely covered with ice at the start of my explorations, I noted puddling on top and knew it was only a matter of days.
Not wanting to rush the season, though truly I did, I rejoiced when the edges melted because life within would soon be revealed. And what’s not to love about the unique tapestry, a pattern never repeated.
With keen eyes I’d gaze in, but at first my focus was only upon the reflection offered by the bare-limbed trees above.
And then one day, as if by magic, the ice had completely gone out as we say ‘round these parts. It was early this year–in late March rather than April. That same night I heard the wruck, wrucks of Wood Frogs, always the first to enter the pool.
The next day he had attracted his she, grasping her in amplexus as is his species’ manner.
A day or two later, her deposited eggs already swelled with water, presented themselves like a tapioca pudding popsicle.
Soon they were joined by so many other globular masses making a statement that living in community is safer than upon your own and might provide warmth when the temperature dips.
Inevitably it did dip, and one day snowflakes frosted the rocks and ground, sugar-coated the tree branches, and plopped like leaden raindrops, rippling the water’s surface.
But . . . the embryos still formed.
With each visit it became more and more apparent that a vernal pool isn’t just about Wood Frogs. Spotted Salamanders and midges and beetles and mites and water striders and squirrels and deer and raccoons and snakes and so many others benefited regularly from its nourishment. Even the resident Barred Owl liked to call occasionally. But perhaps the most prolific residents were the mosquito larvae who wriggled and tumbled through the water column.
Predacious Diving Beetles intent upon creating more of their own, lived there as well.
One of the curious wonders about those who use a vernal pool as a breeding ground is that they don’t stay around to parent their offspring. If fact, once canoodling is done, they either hop, climb, or fly out and spend the rest of their lives in the forest.
Despite the lack of nurturing, within two weeks tadpoles emerged. Hundreds at first. And then . . . thousands.
A month later, as the pool began to shrink significantly because it is vernal, and fed only by rain or snow melt, my tadpoles, so claimed since I’m about the only one who checks on them regularly, started to show off their more adult form in the making.
Suddenly . . . a few sweltering days later and all the water had evaporated.
Stepping toward the center with hope, I was instead greeted with the horrific odor of decaying bodies and a Flesh Fly confirmed my suspicions.
Also buzzing all about were Green Bottle Flies and the reason for so much frantic activity: carnage by my feet.
But I soon came to realize that while not all the frogs had transformed in time to leave the pool, many must have and it still teemed with life–of a different kind.
American Carrion Beetles also stalked this place of death.
Over and under leaves, the Carrion Beetles moved as they mated. The rotting tadpoles provided a place for them to lay their eggs and a food source for their future larvae. This was true for the flies and even little mites who live in a symbiotic relationship with the beetles and eat fly eggs so the beetle larvae have the carrion to themselves.
As I watched, one canoodling pair of beetles flipped over and if you look closely, you might see he was on top (or the bottom in this case) and biting one of her antennae as part of their mating ritual.
At last it was with great sadness that I said goodby to those who could not, but leaving the stench and frantic activity behind, I reminded myself that this happens each year and there’s a reason why frogs lay so many eggs. Without my witnessing it, some, possibly many, did hop away from the pool. And next year they’ll return to carry on the ritual. Until then, the flies and beetles and so many others will bring new life and by November the depression will fill again waiting for the saga of the vernal pool to continue.
In parting, here’s a quick video of the sights and sounds.
The ice went out only a few days ago in western Maine, but as is their tradition, the frogs took no time in making their presence known. Have you heard them? The wruck wruck wruck of the wood frogs?
Over the years wood frogs have taught me so many lessons, the major one being patience–to stand still beside the pond and wait because eventually they will resurface. What strikes me is that there is more action this year than last year and last year there was more action that the previous five years. Why is that given that the pool seems to dry up so soon and I always worry that the tadpoles don’t have time to finish morphing into adults and hopping toward upland habitats. Do some mature before I realize it? That would be great news.
Otherwise I have to wonder how so many return each year and within a day or two of the ice melting, lay masses of eggs in colonial form.
Of course, as I watch, mistakes are made and males so eager grab others of the same sex only to realize moments later that it’s not worth the effort.
And then there’s that ear-shattering harmonic symphony produced by the spring peepers, one which typically comes to a complete rest when I approach. But late this afternoon there was just enough breeze to disguise my footsteps and sing on they did.
I couldn’t believe my good luck in spying the peeper on the stalk, but to notice the one below added icing to the cake.
As I watched, the second tiny frog began to climb onto the first.
Theirs was one of frog versus frog as they volleyed for the highest spot on the stem.
Occasionally for a mere second they paused.
But really, there was no break in their behavior as they sang on and on in a manner more aggressive and vied for superior achievement.
One must remember that spring peepers are much tinier that their wood frog cousins and measure about the size of a quarter all told.
The X on their backs provides for their scientific name: Pseudacris crucifer, or cross bearer.
And bear a cross did they as they competed for that best spot.
Like brothers they tangled, each in hopes of gaining the upper frog leg.
Really though, it’s the male peeper’s ability to generate his seductive and ear-splitting peep by closing his nostrils, and pushing air over his vocal chords into that amazing throat sac, that acts as a resonator at vernal pools each spring and gains him an upper position in the pool heirarchy.
The frogs that chirp the fastest are the ones with the greatest stamina and so chirp quickly they do in hopes of achieving a mate.
Wruck on. Chirp on. Before you hop on. The season has begun. There’s such competition and what I don’t understand is how a vernal pool that dries up so soon these past few years continues to produce but it does. The mystery of life continues.
It’s hard to believe that six years ago I gave birth to wondermyway as a means to record the natural world and all I met along the way.
There’s no need in reminding everyone that since last February it has been quite a year, but I have to say that I’m especially grateful to live where I do, in a place where I CAN wander and wonder on a regular basis.
As I look back through posts of these expeditions, I realize how often nature presents itself in such a way that moments of awe make everything else going on in the world seem so foreign. If only everyone could whisper to a dragonfly upon his or her hand; watch a cicada emerge from its larval form; and even appreciate a snake or two or three.
Join me for a look back at some of my favorite natural encounters of the past year. If you want to remember a particular adventure, click the titled link below each photo.
Wander outdoors if you can and let the anomalies pull you into their realm. I promise, your eyes and your mind will be opened to so many wonders that you’ll resist the urge to move along for so enamored will you be by your finds. Slow down and look and be wowed.
In the end, may it not be an end. May it be a beginning. May you live under the bubbles and give thanks that your bubble is attached to so many others as you share a brain.
We had no intention of eating lunch in this spot today, but while looking for a mountain to climb, we kept encountering full parking lots and so our backroad meander put us beside a bog at lunch time and voilà, we managed to walk all of less than two tenths of a mile. Total.
But in that short distance, our eyes feasted. First it was all the Painted Turtles basking in the sun. And birds. And dragonflies.
I just had to find out. Would he or wouldn’t he? He would and did. Yes, I quietly placed my finger on the leaf and he climbed aboard, then struck a rather relaxed pose. The Dragonfly Whisperer whispers once more.
“My lupine meadow is in full glory!” a friend wrote in an e-mail. And she encouraged visitations. So . . . I went. Actually, we went, for I invited another friend to join me.
Fortunately, I guess, though unfortunately on some levels, we pulled ourselves away by mid-afternoon. But our bug eyes were wide open. In the end, we offered up thanks to our hosts, Linda and Heinrich, for inviting us to enjoy the full glory of their lupines and all the marvels of the meadow.
Beings who once walked the Earth
support new life as summer's serenade
begins to take shape
upon stones that memorialize the past...
On this summer day, hollow cast(ket)s left behind
provide a memory of vulnerable forms.
From soft pastel bodies to wide-faced creatures with bulging eyes,
I get to celebrate cemetery cicadas.
I’m pretty sure I said to the friend whom I met on the dirt road that I never see frogs there except for the painted boulder that has faded with age and I no longer even think to honor with a photograph.
But still, she reminded me, “I’m sure we’ll see something interesting.”
After walking one stretch of the road and only pausing a few times in the hot sun, we hopped back into our vehicles and made our way to a much more shaded location. As we stepped toward the river, in flew a Kingfisher. And we knew we were in for a treat or two or three.
The theme of the week didn’t dawn on me immediately, but a few days into it and I knew how blessed I am.
It was a week for me to realize how important all the young people in my life are from our sons whom I can chat with on the phone to those who have chosen to make this area of western Maine their home and to get to know their place in it. And then to go beyond and share it in a way that benefits the wider community.
Thank you, Hadley, for the opportunity to celebrate your birthday. And thank you Rhyan, Parker, Dan, Jon, Mary, Brent, and Alanna: it’s my utmost pleasure to share the trail with you whenever we can. And to know that the future is in your capable hands.
We are all blessed. Today we crowed Hadley, and in so doing, gloried so many others.
Last week, while walking along a trail I later intended to share with some local kids, a subtle movement caught my attention.
About two thirds of the way along the trail, exactly where I’d spied it two hours prior, the Garter Snake still posed. And the kids got to examine it. And wonder. And exclaim. They went in for a close-up look, thus the snake stuck out its tongue repeatedly in an attempt to get a better sense of who or what might be in its midst.
Snakes have poor eyesight and their hearing ability is limited. Thus they use their nostrils and tongues to pick up scents of prey or predator. By flicking the tongue, they collect odors that the forked prongs relay to two holes in the roof of their mouths, aka Jacobson’s organ. With information transferred from the organ to the brain, they can interpret scents.
For the kids and me, it was this sense: Best. Moment. Of. The. Afternoon.
For the snake: it decided we weren’t worth getting excited about as it made sense of our scents.
My mission was two-fold. Hike up a small mountain and capture a one minute video to post on a work website next week, and retrieve a game camera so we can download the photos and then place in a different location.
First there was the porcupine den, then a beaver tree, and along the way a fungi.
My final sighting of the day, that still has me smiling, occurred in the middle of the adventure, but I wanted to save it for last. Do you see what I saw?
Who cooks for me? I wish this Barred Owl would, for I must now prepare dinner. But that’s okay because I’ll take him with into the kitchen in spirit and give thanks that I had the opportunity to spend a few minutes with him . . . all in a day’s work.
Fourteen months ago I wrote Ode to Pinus Strobus, showing my respect for the mighty pines that inhabit our woods. Curiously, it was a rainy day then. And today dawned the same, though even more curiously, today we turned the calendar to December 1, yet the temperature rose to 57˚, like a summer day as we approach winter in western Maine. Because of the temp, the day offered some incredible wonders.
For those who love to wander and wonder, I hope you’ll be still and have an experience similar to what this tree offered me today.
I was early–a rare occasion as usually I’m the one who arrives at least ten minutes after the agreed upon time. It wasn’t always that way, but has become a bad habit. That said, it was a creature of habit that I went in search of because I had some time to spare.
He was up there enjoying the cambium layer of the bark as witnessed by the goldeny color of the branch by his feet. All those downed twigs–apparently they were in his way so he nipped them off and dropped them to the ground in order to get to the nutrients he sought for his winter diet.
Check out his eye. We were both sharp observers as we eyed each other from a distance.
For almost thirty years I’ve roamed this particular wood and for the most part you’ve eluded me.
After finding so many signs year after year, today . . . today I spied an uprooted tree at the very spot I thought might be a good place to stop and spend a few hours in silence. As I made plans to do such in the near future, the tree moved.
And transformed into you!
When at last you and your youngster departed, despite your sizes, it was as if you walked through the forest in silence. My every move comes with a sound like a bull in a china shop, but you . . . Alces alces, you weigh over one thousand pounds, stand six feet at your shoulder, and move through the forest like a ghost. For that reason and because you let me spend some time with you today, February 11 will henceforth mark the day that I celebrate the Ghost of the North Woods.
Thank you to all who have joined me for any or all of these journeys. With each learning or sighting, I get excited and can’t wait to share it with you. I’m not only grateful to be able to wander and wonder, but I’m also thankful for all of you who take the time to read these posts.
During our Staycation, my guy and I hiked a trail new to us that connects one mountain to another. Our intention had been to summit both that day, but because it took us some time to locate the actual trail head once we’d climbed two miles up a ski trail, we ran out of time to complete the route before turning around. At our turn-around point, we waypointed that spot on GPS knowing we’d return and actually looked forward to approaching from the opposite direction.
Today was that day. And so we signed in at the kiosk, and headed up the orange-blazed trail where many beech leaves had already fallen and enhanced our hike with the crunch they provided upon each step we took.
And where there are beech leaves, there are American Beech trees. And where there are beech trees, there might very well be bear claw marks. Though this has been a mast year for acorns and pinecones, it’s not been so for beech nuts, but by the pattern we spied, we knew that in the past this tree provided a few fine meals.
As the trail began to transition from beech and oak to spruce and fir, we found signs of another–perhaps a contemplator who got so lost in thought that he or she left behind a pair of fine specs. A few times in the past I’ve included finds such as this and the owners have been reacquainted with their losses. Perhaps these sunglasses will find their way home soon.
Though we didn’t wish away the hike as we ascended, we were eager to reach the point where the Black and White trail would depart to the right and knew when the substrate changed from packed trail, roots, and rocks to all granite, that it wouldn’t be long.
Indeed it wasn’t. Nor was the turn-around point. Ten minutes in, I looked at the GPS to see how much further we needed to go, and discovered we’d walked about 30 feet beyond the landmark we’d noted. We chuckled to think that a week ago we’d been soooo close.
A week ago, however, the Hobblebush did not look like this. That, in itself, was reason to give thanks that we’d ventured forth today.
Ten minutes later and we were back on the trail where more shades of red greeted us.
Some of it was pinkish in hue and I don’t think we’ve ever hiked past this perfectly split granite boulder without honoring its offerings.
Still, there was more trail to cover, so upward and onward we climbed.
At last we reached the summit and had another good chuckle. Along the way, we met one woman descending who rejoiced in the fact that today was her first day on this mountain. By the split rock, we watched as a younger man ran down the trail and shared with each other that that wasn’t a mode we would have chosen. But we both know those who like to run up and down. A wee bit further on, a man was taking a break as he sat on the granite and he, too, was amazed by the trail runner. It was also his first time to do this climb, and he asked my guy to take his photo. And then, as we stood at the summit and got our bearings with the mountains and man-made objects beyond, a woman approached and said, “I just need to touch that thing.” “Huh?” we thought. “What thing?” She pointed to the Geological Survey marker and we quickly moved out of her way. With one pole she touched it, said, “Now I can add it to the list,” and then pivoted and quickly began her descent. Her behavior drove home the fact that we all come to the mountains for different reasons and even if yours doesn’t make sense to us, it’s still yours.
One of our reasons for being there was to stand in the opposite position than we stood the first time we attempted the Black and White trail. Last week, we posed for a selfie below the radio tower viewed in the distance.
From the other summit, there wasn’t much of a view, but from today’s stance, the expanse was 360˚.
And so around . . .
and around . . .
As we began the descent moments later, my guy took in his royal kingdom.
My kingdom was at a much smaller scale, and it was the scales of a Tamarack cone that stopped me in my tracks. Tamarack. Hackmatack. Larch. Call it what you want, but do give it a shout out–at least in our area because it’s always a treat to find such. This conifer (cone-bearer) had begun to show off its deciduous nature as its the only one of its type in which its leaves (needles) change colors as sugars are shut down and photosynthesis ceases, just like the broad-leaf trees.
Eventually, we turned right onto the yellow trail down, and it wasn’t far along when we encountered the last of our human counterparts–two women who had just spotted a Green Snake. A Green Snake near the summit. Another treat of the trail. One woman thought she could catch it, but as she moved in it quickly slithered away for its nature is on the shy side and due to its color you may have been near one more frequently than you know, but it would have been well camouflaged within the foliage it prefers.
Before we left the bald ledges behind, we reveled in the rich shades of red that will become candy in our minds’ eyes for months to come.
The foliage is different this year as a result of the drought and then an early frost, both of which should have enhanced it, but for some reason didn’t. That said, there is still spectacular color to be found, all of it seemly encapsulated in a Bigtooth Aspen leaf.
Nearing the end of our journey, we paused upon a bridge for a snack break: a Kind Bar for him and apple for me.
And it was there that we met the trail ambassador: Prince Charming. By the size of the Green Frog’s large external eardrums (tympanums) we knew it was a male. If the tympanum is larger than the eye, it’s a male. Smaller equals female.
The prince was the icing on the cake for this Black and White Mondate filled in with various shades of red . . . and topped off with a bear tree, a Tamarack, and a couple of shades of green, including one who let me massage his back. And I’m not talking about my guy!
And opens to a wonderful view of the mountains to the west. This isn’t actually the summit of the mountain, but it’s close to the boundary line of land open to the public. The trail continues for another half mile and as we did in the spring, we followed it–hoping against hope and because someone told us it was true, that a loop around the top had been completed. Take it from us: that is false information. But still, we hiked six miles in three hours. And . . . those were the only photos I took. My guy was in as much disbelief as I was. To say we practically ran down the trail would be an understatement.
By contrast, and my guy laughs at this, yesterday a friend and I traveled a different route and covered three miles in five hours.
We were in the land of the Green Frogs . . . and wildflowers and birds and chipmunks and shrubs and trees, but our best finds of all were a couple of insects.
It all began with a seedhead we couldn’t recall meeting before. Who was this Cousin Itt? Turns out–a Roundhead Bushclover.
It also turns out that Western Conifer Seed Bugs (WCSB) had already made its acquaintance. We were certainly late to the party. But really, it was a clover species that was new to us. Apparently it’s high in protein and a preferred treat for wildlife–from mammals to insects.
As we looked, two other insects thought (can insects think?) they were hiding from our inquisitive eyes, but . . . we found them on the backside and quickly realized their backsides were connected.
In canoodle fashion they mated. Once we established that, we tried to determine their names. As I said to my companion, names don’t matter as much as the characteristics, but still, we agreed, we like to know upon whom we’ve focused our attention. And so our study began. Initially, the insect in the foreground reminded us of the WCSB, but there were subtle differences in color and structure. Their main food is seeds, which they pierce with their proboscis to drink the nutritious fluids contained within.
These bugs mainly inhabit fairly arid and sandy habitat and we were certainly in such at a place known as Goose Pasture. It also seemed to be the preferred habitat of the Round-Headed Bushclover.
Upon another clover we were intrigued by a creature that made us first think this: Ant. But . . . if we’ve learned nothing else in this darn pandemic, it’s to question the information presented. What looks like an ant but isn’t an ant? Why, an ant mimic, of course. Our takeaways: long horns or antennae; modified wings; and a butt that looks like a face, perhaps warning others to stay away?
If you look back at the canoodlers, you’ll notice this critter and the smaller mating insect are rather similar . ,. . because they are indeed one in the same in terms of species.
I was confounded as I often am with intriguing insects and so I reached out to my entemologist friend, Anthony. And . . . he confirmed my guesses. A Broad-headed Bug: Alydus eurinus.
In the same area, a teeny butterfly flew in to tap check the asters.
Her markings and coloration pointed toward the ID of a Northern Crescent. My wow moments included the black and white pattern of her antennae as well as her grayish green eyes that seemed almost as big as the Green Frogs–speaking relatively due to size, of course.
With her proboscis did she probe and I’m sure lots of nectar was sought. I am making a gender assumption for I don’t know for sure–the female is supposed to be larger and darker than the male. Without seeing two together, I couldn’t make a size reference but this one certainly had darker colors.
And I’d be remiss to dismiss the female White-faced Meadowhawk who followed us most of the way and has reached its peak flying season. There were other species to note, but they eluded my camera’s focus, so they’ll have to remain but a memory.
Today, my guy and I hiked up a mountain and reveled in the fact that the trail is so well constructed that one hardly feels like one is climbing higher and higher.
But yesterday offered a taste of Brigadoon and for the Broad-headed Bugs perhaps it was just that. It often feels that way to me.
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