Hardly Monochrome

My world always takes on a different look following a storm and today was no different. Yesterday we were graced with a foot of fluffy snow. And so it was with joy that I strapped on my snowshoes.

p1-window art

As I passed by the barn, I noted fresh porcupine tracks, but it was a window on the attached shed that drew my awe. I’ve seen the frost resemble ferns, flowers and trees before, but today’s display reminded me of moss.

p2-stonewall

Marshmallows seemed to have capped the stonewall along the cow path.

p3-hairy woodpecker

Into Pondicherry Park I headed and immediately was greeted by the sound of a hairy woodpecker chiseling away.

p4-bridge

The park receives a lot of visitors each year, but on this day I was tickled to be the first to make tracks.

p6-vehicle

My goal was to join others at Lakes Environmental Association’s Maine Lake Science Center for a tramp along the Pinehaven Trail, but we decided to go off trail at times to see what we might see.

p7-Anne and Alanna

I had the extreme pleasure of exploring with these two fine women, Alanna, LEA’s education director, and Anne, chair of LEA’s environmental education advisory committee. So we wondered about this vehicle. Its age. How and why it ended up where it was. We had no answers, but the squirrels and mice didn’t seem to mind its presence for their tracks led in and out. We did note some tangled fencing added to the mix.

p8-fencing

But it made sense because we were on land formerly used for farming and Alanna pointed out a section of fencing that a tree had embraced behind us.

p9-steering wheel and radio

We were busy chatting, but had we paused, perhaps we would have heard tunes pouring forth from the radio. Then again . . . maybe not.

p10-boardwalk

I spent an hour with them and then departed via the boardwalk below the science center building. It’s one of my favorite places.

p12-polypody fern

And no venture forth is complete without stopping to admire the polypody fern that dangles from a boulder, curled up as it was because of the cool temps.

p13-mossman surrenders

A wee bit further I almost passed by Moss Monster for he was hiding under his winter blanket and all that showed forth was a small balsam held tightly in his hand. I wished him sweet dreams until we meet again.

p13-tinderconk

Just as I moved from the boardwalk back into Pondicherry Park, I spied several tinder conks upon a yellow birch, their lines reminding me of oyster shells and a yearning I’ve had recently to spend some time at the ocean surfaced again. I love the woods, but do need that salt air fix every once in a while.

p14-Owl?

Slowly, I made my way beside Willet Brook and then Stevens Brook–looking about to see what I might see. And then I stopped. Could it be? Nope. As much as I wanted to spy an owl, all I found was a burl topped with snow upon a white pine trunk. It sure looked like a bird sitting on a branch. Wishful thinking.

p14-male mallards

I did find other birds, though, in the form of mallards.

p15-male:female mallards

There were plenty of them and I could have watched all day as they treaded water and occasionally nipped each other or gave chase.

p16-male mallard on snow

One handsome guy moved onto a snow bank and appeared to smile over his companions for a few minutes–king of the hill.

p17--duck prints

And then they all moved off, but left behind their prints–just for me 😉

p18-Stevens Brook

My lunch break miraculously turned into a three hour tour that I chose to illustrate in black and white, with shades of gray in between. It was a lovely day enhanced by all that snow. And hardly monochromatic.

For the Benefit of All

Living in an area where five land trusts protect land for us and the species with whom we share the Earth strikes me as a valuable reflection of who we are and where we live. Land trusts work with community members to acquire land for permanent conservation through purchases and donations. They also create legal and binding conservation easements that allow residents to protect land holdings in perpetuity, while retaining private ownership. Scenic views, wildlife corridors, flora and fauna, and topography remain, subject only to the whims of nature itself, which is ever-changing.

m1-first lodge

One of the biggest re-designers of the landscape is the beaver. And this afternoon, Jinny Mae and I ventured onto land owned by a friend and under conservation easement by the Greater Lovell Land Trust, to see what changes may have occurred in the past two months since we last visited.

First, we tramped off a logging road and checked on a lodge that was active two years ago. Today, the water level was low and there was no sign of activity. And so we continued on.

m2-pipsissewa

As we climbed up a small incline we stumbled upon a large patch of pipsissewa and had to celebrate our find.

m5-hexagonal pored fungi upperside

Back on the logging road, a tree brought down by one of nature’s recent whims introduced us to a fungi we had not met before–or at least as long as we could remember. And once we saw the underside, we were sure we would have remembered it.

m4-hexagonal-pored

Hexagonal-pored polypore (Polyporus alveolaris) caused us to emit at least six ohs and ahs.

m6-grape fern

Our next discovery–a grape fern. Actually, more than one grape fern once our eyes keyed in on them.

m7-checkered rattlesnake plantain

And then the checkered rattlesnake plantain; and again, once we spied one, we noticed that a whole patch shared the space. We just needed to focus for their presence was subtle amidst the brown leaves.

m8-bees nest 1

Before we met a snake of another kind, Jinny Mae spotted honey combs on the ground.

m8-excavation site

A look about and the realization that a raccoon or skunk had probably excavated the nest.

m9-snake liverwort

And then we met that other snake. You see, the last time we walked this property, we did see a garter snake. As we began our wander today, we commented that there would be no snakes or toads. But . . . we were wrong. This second snake was a snakeskin liverwort (Conocephalum salebrosum). For us, this was a second in another way for it was our second sighting of the species. Maybe now that we are aware of it, we’ll notice it growing in other places. We do know that its preferred habitat is wet or damp.

m10-umbilicate lichen?

In the same area, but across the brook in a place that we couldn’t reach today due to high water, we saw what looked like an umbilicate lichen, aka rock tripe. The color and substrate threw us off and so we’ll just have to visit again for further study. (“Oh drats!” they said with a smile.)

m11-beaver 1

The liverwort and mystery lichen were our turn-around point. On our way back, we decided to follow the water because we were curious. And within minutes our curiosity was appeased. The beavers we’d suspected might be casually active two months ago, had become incredibly active.

m12-beaver 2

Statue . . .

m13-beaver 3

upon statue . . .

m19-beaver 6

upon statue . . .

m20-beaver 7

upon statue announced their presence. And we acknowledged the fact that they have to turn their heads to scrape off the bark.

m14-beaver 4

Any trees that hadn’t been hauled away had been downed and gnawed upon in situ.

m15-beaver 5

It looked as if this one was a more recent dining adventure for there were wood chips upon the thin layer of ice and a hole showing were the diners had entered and exited the refectory.

m16-oak leaf and ice

Because of the ice, we noted other works of art worth admiring.

m18-lungwort 2

And occasionally, our downward gaze turned upward when we spied trees covered in lungwort worthy of notice.

m21-beaver 8

But really, it was the beaver works that we celebrated the most.

m23-beaver 10

And the fact that thanks to the beavers we learned that the inner bark or cambium layer of a red maple is . . . red.

m23a--not all cuts work in the beavers favor

No matter where we looked, in addition to recent windstorms, the beavers had changed the landscape. The curious thing is that most often the trees landed in the direction of the water, making it easier for them to enjoy their chews of inner bark and twigs in a relatively safe environment, but occasionally, hang ups occurred. And that brought about the question, how is it that most trees are felled toward the water? But not all?

m23a--lodge

While our focus was on the trees along the shoreline, we also kept admiring the water view as well.

m24-lodge

And noted the most recent activity at this particular beaver lodge, including a mud coating to insulate it for the winter.

m28-welcome flag on lodge

We also appreciated that a welcome sign blew in the breeze–in the form of an evergreen branch.

m29-otter scat

And where one finds water and beavers, there are otters. We knew of their presence by the scat left behind in a trail well traveled. Several times we found examples of the same.

m31-main channel open

As the sun lowered while we approached the beaver dam, we quietly hoped to see North America’s largest rodents at work, but settled for sky reflections on water and ice. And the knowledge that by their works and sign, we trusted they were present.

m32-dam1

At last we reached the dam, an expansive one at that. It’s in great shape and so no time had been wasted repairing it. That’s a good thing given that a few flurries floated earthward on this day that felt like winter. There’s food to gather and a home to prepare so work must be efficient.

m33-dam other side

Water trickled through in a few places and ice formed, but the infinity pool created by the dam continued to exist.

m34-brook

And below, the water flowed on–to other beaver dams and otter adventures we were sure. For Jinny Mae and me, our adventure needed to draw to a close. But . . . we made plans to explore again in a few months to see what changes may have occurred–with land owner permission, of course.

As we walked out, we gave thanks for the owners and their appreciation of the landscape and those that call it home today and tomorrow.

From the land comes food and water that benefits the critters who live here and us. It also offers us good health when we take the time to embrace it by exploring, exercising and just plain playing outdoors.

Protection is key. So is education, which develops understanding and appreciation. I know for myself, my relationship with the landscape continues to evolve.

I’m thankful for the work being done to protect the ecosystem. There’s so much I still don’t understand, but with each nugget of knowledge gained, the layers build. Maybe someday I’ll get it. Maybe I never will. Either way, I’m happy for the chance to journey and wonder on properties owned by land trusts and individuals.

Even though we can’t all endow the future of our properties, we can get involved to ensure that these organizations continue to protect land for future generations of humans and wildlife so it will remain in its natural state for the benefit of all.

 

One Plus One=Five

One plus one equals two on an average day. And so today, Marita and I set out to conquer at least one trail, with a couple of others as additional options. We ended up “bagging” as they say in hiking terms, two–including one that was totally unexpected.

s-Long Mtn lower path

Our morning began with an exploration of the new trail on Long Mountain, a 2.5 mile climb that twists and turns beside Mill Brook on property owned by Mary McFadden and Larry Stifler. Near the start, bog bridges pass through wet areas now dry.

s-Mill Brook 1

The climb is moderately gradual and the brook ever present, its rocks creating falls that added a pleasing sound and sight to our hike.

s-brook crossings

Occasionally, we needed to cross and the way was well bridged.

s-dry brook1

At times, the brook was dry, but those moments made us realize that we must return in the spring when we assumed torrents of water pass over the rocks.

s-Mill brook moss (1)

Moss dangling today, however, mimicked the flow that wasn’t there.

s-cairn

As we climbed, we noticed works of art. I’m not always a fan of cairns, but in this case, each had a flair that bespoke someone’s creative mind.

s-cairn 2

Others were simply simple.

s-water bar

We found water bars that were equally artistic in nature.

s-flagging

Just over a mile and a half into the hike, the trail turned and though it wasn’t as well cleared, it was certainly well flagged and losing our way wasn’t an option. There would be no getting fake lost on this climb.

s-sledge hammer

Eventually we came to a third section where the trail was again cleared and we found signs indicating the crew might be ahead.

s-stairs 1 (1)

Again, we admired their work, from the stone stairs to wooden steps, all created with materials found within feet of the trail. Work gloves left behind made us wonder if perhaps they wanted us to lend a hand. If you find the gloves, then I’ve a feeling you are good at “Where’s Waldo?”

s-oak ladder (1)

The extra sturdy ladder was created on site from a red oak (and some hefty hardware).

s-Marita, Bruce and Gary 2 (1)

We were chatting companionably when we heard some movement above. And then heard their hellos. We’d found the crew–Bruce, the property manager and Larry, his right-hand man. Bruce and Marita had communicated previously, so he wasn’t surprised to see us and we were full of admiration for the work these two have done–all by hand. In fact, if you ever think you want to do some trail work in your neck of the woods, I highly suggest you locate these two and spend some time working with them for theirs is the best I’ve ever seen. We chatted for a bit, learning about their good works and the good works of the property owners.

s-lunch view

And then it was time for us to move up a few more hundred feet and out to the ledges. We didn’t reach the summit of Long Mountain, for that is owned by someone else, but the ledges with a view of Round Mountain (also owned by the Stiflers), Evans Notch and the White Mountains beyond was the perfect setting for lunch rock.

s-nature's tapestry

As we ate, we noted that foliage peak had passed in this part of the woods, but still, the tapestry was worth a closer look.

s-Long Mtn trail signs 2

Eventually, we followed the 2.5 mile trail down, repeatedly singing the praises of all who made this hike possible.

s-wasp nest

And then we traveled down another road we’d never been on before and located a mailbox Bruce had told us about as an indicator to the trailhead also owned by the Stiflers. We didn’t find the trail immediately, but did find this huge wasp nest, now abandoned.

s-Speck Ponds trail sign

It took us a few minutes because it’s rather hidden, but within a few feet of the trail sign, we recognized Bruce’s artistic mark–sign attached to stump atop rock.

s-Speck Pond signs

And other trail signs that we admired mostly for their coloration in contrast to the paper birch to which they were attached.

s-Norway sign at Speck Ponds

s-Albany

This trail led us from one town to another in a matter of inches.

s-Mt Wash from Speck Ponds

And out on the power transmission line, we turned toward the mountains. with the Whites again in our view–especially Washington.

s-pond 1 (1)

At last we reached Upper Speck and turned to the left as we started on our way to hike around it and Lower Speck in what was described to us as a bit of a figure 8. I think really it was more of a calligraphy “g” in design with a bit of a line between the two ponds.

s-leaf art

Again, our views were delightful, including leaves of different species offering contrasting colors and shadows.

s-painted turtle

For a few minutes, we had the pleasure of admiring a painted turtle as it sunned itself before I disturbed it. I just wanted to get closer.

s-speck bridge

Again, bridges helped us ford the wet spots and we admired the workmanship.

s-bank lodge

It wasn’t just human workmanship that drew our attention. We saw at least five lodges, some beside the bank . . .

s-beaver lodge 2

and others in the wetlands adjacent to the ponds.

s-beaver works old and not successful

We found lots of old works . . .

s-beaver works old 2

some not entirely successful.

s-beaver dam 2 (1)

And beside a substantial beaver dam . . .

s-beaver new

we spotted a wee bit of new works–but it wasn’t much.

s-Upper Speck

Again, the colors kept us in awe, much as they had done atop the ledges of Long Mountain.

s-fall colors 1

And finally, we completed our “g” loops and made our way out with all of these and so many other photographic memories in our minds.

Today was not an average day for it’s Friday the 13th. And we had the pleasure of learning that one plus one=five–five stars that is, for we gave such a rating to each trail we traveled, and thanks to all who made them possible for us to wander and wonder. Thank you Mary and Larry and Bruce and Gary. And Marita for inviting me to join her.

 

 

 

Lichen Everything We See

The Tuesday morning Greater Lovell Land Trust docent tramps don’t typically have a theme–we just like to explore a property together to see what it has to offer and learn from each other. But this morning I tried to invoke one–lichens–since we recently had Maine Master Naturalist Jeff Pengel present a talk on the topic and a few days later he led a walk for us.

w-on the trail (1)

I’m happy to say, we are who we are and within minutes we found ourselves easily distracted.

w-many fruited pelt lichen

We did spot a variety of lichens and talked about their forms and substrates. The youngest among us at age 5 found this pelt lichen growing among the mosses.

w-Wes

In fact, he spotted it just after he’d jumped off what he deemed Jockey Cap, a rock that represented the 600-foot ledge that overlooks neighboring Fryeburg. We welcome his keen eyes and those of his siblings, for they see things we overlook and have a natural curiosity. (Don’t you just want to pinch those cheeks?)

w-green stain fruiting

In fact, his oldest brother was the first to spot this fungi, the turquoise fruiting bodies of green stain fungi that I used to think was a remnant trail blaze. The fruits are minute but the color spectacular.

w-scaly vase chanterelle

And so our eyes began to focus on other fungi, the fruiting bodies of which are a result of all the rain we’ve received. Another great find today–scaly vase chanterelles. Our British docent, who is a fungi aficionado, reminded us, “It’s veys here, but back home I’d say vahz.”

w-ant pupa in heart shape

And then there was the heart that we had to love. One of our group had stumbled by a tree stump and some bark slipped off. Beneath it, the adults in an ant colony quickly went to work, moving their pupa to a safer location and we watched for a few minutes as they worked–the heart slowly losing form.

w-interns and young naturalists 2

All along the way, our interns took time to explain things to the younger set.

w-interns and young naturalists 1

And the younger set took time to practice what they knew,

w-poking a balsam blister

such as the fact that if you pop a balsam blister, the resin will ooze out. And your fingers may stick together. But it will smell like Christmas.

w-docents 1b (1)

It took us almost two hours to walk less than a mile and climb the “eagle nest” overlooking Wilson Wing Moose Pond Bog.

w-docents 3 (1)

A few stayed below and made more discoveries.

w-pipsissewa

We finally reached Horseshoe Pond Road, turned right and slowly made our way back to the kiosk where we’d parked. But still, we stopped periodically and took in the sights, including the pipsissewa in bloom.

w-spider

And a spider that was dangling when first spotted by one, but on the dirt road when we all gathered round. Check out the design on its legs.

w-lungwort

After all but one had left, she and I chatted over our brown bag lunches and then ventured across the street to the Bishops Cardinal Reserve in preparation for tomorrow’s  Lovell Rec Summer Camp Nature Hike. We offer two hikes–one for the younger set and another for the older kids, who wish we’d talk less and walk more. We can take a hint and so we do that for them. But still, there are cool things to see. We determined some fine stopping points today for the mammal theme, but the lungwort lichen also called out with its bright green coloration after yesterday’s rain.

w-Horseshoe Pond

Once we’d completed our reconnaissance mission, I decided to stop down the road at the Horseshoe Pond boat launch, ever in search of dragon and damselflies.

w-pickerel weed

It wasn’t warm or sunny enough, so I didn’t spy any of the odonatas.

w-pickerel and hoverfly 2

But I did notice hoverflies nectaring the pickerelweed flowers.

w-green frog

And a young green frog jumped into the water upon my approach. As I stood and looked at it, I heard rustling behind me.

w-snake 8

And in the grass, I spied the creator.

w-snake 9

Notice how thick its body was and the keels or ridges on its scales. Plus the coloration–dark brown to gray with reddish brown and even black splotches.

w-snake 1

It held its head up as if searching for me and I could see a variation of color on its neck.

w-snake 3

And then I moved again while it stayed still–the better to see it with.

w-snake 6

That’s when I realized that what I thought was a six-foot-long snake . . .

w-snake 4

turned into two three-foot-long Northern water snakes. Two? Why? They are known to be solitary. And mating season has since passed.

A few minutes later, a vehicle approached on the road above and slowed down. The driver reached out and grabbed a few blueberries from a high-bush shrub. We exchanged greetings and he told me he was stopping by for his daily dose on his way home from work. I asked if he’d seen the snakes, for I recalled seeing one in the same spot a year ago. As he jumped out of his jeep, he told me he’s caught water snakes in the pond while fishing, but he hadn’t seem them by the boat launch. And then . . . he said he wanted to pick one up and in a flash he did just that, catching one by its tail as the other quickly slithered into the water. I was a bit taken aback but the snake danced with such rhythm and force that he had to let go.

w-snake 11

It dropped into the water where we could admire its colors even more.

w-snake 12

And then it swung around–not necessarily to say hello. We noted a small frog nearby and commented on how still green frogs can be.

w-snake 13

Eventually, the snake moved off, all the while its forked tongue dashing in and out . . .

w-snake 14

and in and out some more as it snacked on insects.

So much for a lichen walk–instead, as always, everything spied on today’s adventure was worth liking.

 

 

 

Embracing Quiet

If you are like me, you spend too much time racing from one moment to the next during this fleeting season of summer. With that in mind, I chose to slow down today.

m-stump islands

I know of few better places to do that than among the stump islands in the Upper Basin of Moose Pond. It’s been my place since I moved to Maine over thirty years ago.

Once upon a time, this was timberland–albeit prior to impoundment. A log sluiceway was built at the Denmark end in 1792 by Cyrus Ingalls, thus turning pastureland into the Lower Basin, so he could float logs to a nearby mill. In 1824, a more substantial dam was created and the height of that dam was raised by William Haynes in 1872 to create the current impoundment. While the Middle Basin of the nine-mile “pond” may be the largest at over 900 acres, its the 300-plus-acre Upper and Lower Basins that I like best to explore. And because the Upper is right out my summertime back door, I spend the most time there.

m-painted turtle

As I moved slowly, I greeted old friends like this painted turtle and even had the opportunity to pet a snapping turtle, so close to my kayak was it, but I paddled on.

m-newly emerged damsel 2

Actually, I didn’t paddle much once I reached the islands and stumps. Instead, I floated. And noticed. Before my eyes newly emerged damselflies pumped fluid into their bodies and wings, while their shed exuviae sat empty.

A family of three passed by in a canoe and I asked if they wanted to see something cool. When I told them about the damselfly, the father asked what a damselfly was and I told the family about its size and wing formation. They knew about dragons but had never heard of damsels. And didn’t want to stop and look. The mother commented on how magical it all was, but the father was eager to move on. I was sad for the son’s sake. He missed the real magic.

m-emerging damsel 3

Returning to my quiet mode, I found another, waiting as they all do, for the transformation to be completed. Do you see that the wings are not yet clear? I decided my presence was important, for I was keeping predators at bay.

m-orange bluet male

And then . . .

m-orange bluet 3

and then I met a new friend. An orange bluet–this being the male. I wanted to name him the Halloween damsel, but my field guide told me differently.

m-water shield and orange bluets 2

I kept waiting for him to meet her

m-orange bluets on water shield 1

and finally he did–

m-orange bluets mating

completing the wheel of damselfly love.

m-water shield 4

Because of the orange bluets, I also met the watershield flowers in their moment of glory. The flowers are described as being dull purple and inconspicuous. I found them to be various shades from mauve to muted red and lovely in presentation on day one of their life cycle.

According the US Forest Service Website, “On the first day the bud emerges above the water. Sepals and petals open and bend downward. Although stamens and pistils are present in each flower, on the first day of blooming, only the pistils emerge. Stalks of the pistils lengthen and spread outward over the petals. At night, the flower stalk bends and the flowers submerge beneath the water. On the second day, flowers emerge from the water again, but with the pistils retracted. The stamen stalks are lengthened and the anthers open. In this way flowers are cross-pollinated (Osborn and Schneider).

m-water shield old

Hardly dull, certainly unique. Even on day two.

m-newly emerged Hudsonian whiteface

Today, I also met a new dragonfly. And thought that I did it a favor, but I may not have. You see, when we first met, I noticed a web all around this immature Hudsonian whiteface (or so I think it is). With my paddle, I removed the web to free the dragonfly. But, um, it flew off and that’s when I realized it was several hours old and still drying its wings. Do you see how shiny they are? And the exuviae to which it clung prior to my “helping” hand? It’s best to leave nature alone. If it had been caught in the web, then good for the spider.

m-cotton grass 1

Speaking of spiders, I found some cotton grass gone to seed . . .

m-cotton grass with spider 2

and when I moved to photograph it with the sun behind me, I noticed what looked to be a camouflaged crab spider hiding in wait.

m-beaver lodge 1

Among the stumps, I’ve seen numerous beaver lodges over the years and know from the saplings they cut down on our property, that at least a few are active.

m-beaver scent mound 1

Today a recently visited scent mound added to that knowledge. Beavers pull aquatic plants and mud up from the bottom of the pond and create these mounds. They then secrete castoreum from castor glands beneath their tails to mark territory, deter predators, and say, “Hey baby, wanna check out my sticks?”

m-meadowsweet

The island flowers also grabbed my attention, including the fluffy heads of meadowsweet and . . .

m-grasspink orchid

grass-pink orchids now waning.

m-sweet-scented water lily

But . . . besides the dragons and damsels, I really went to see the aquatic flowers, like the sweet-scented water lily,

m-spatterdock

spatterdock,

m-pickerel weed 3

and one of my favs–pickerelweed.

m-pickerel weed

I love it for all its fine hairs and the way the flowers spiral up the stalk.

m-pickerel 2

I also love the coloration with two yellow dots on the upper lip providing a guide to the nectar it offers.

m-white face on leatherleaf 1

While I looked, another white-faced dragonfly, small in stature, kept following me. Finally, it paused on a leatherleaf shrub.

m-spatulate-leaved sundews with flower 2

And I paused beside the spatulate-leaved sundews.

m-spatulate--leaved sundew flower

I was about a week early, but one was in flower, with promises of plenty more to come.

m-pitcher plant 1

As I looked at the sundews, I realized that I’d never seen a pitcher plant in this place. As should happen, I was proven wrong, though I never would have noticed it if it didn’t have such a tall flower since its leaves were hidden by a mass of vegetation.

m-pitcher flower

Damselflies, dragonflies, and carnivorous plants–its an eat or be eaten world out there on the pond.

Bullfrogs bellowed from the edges, green frogs plinked, and fish splashed. I listened to Eastern kingbirds’ wingbeats as they dropped to the water to snatch insects, and red-winged blackbirds delightful conk-la-rees. I startled a great blue heron, the first I’ve seen on the pond all summer, and it flew off. In the midst of all the natural sounds and sights around me, I embraced the quiet on my four-hour paddle/float. And as Robert Frost might say, “That has made all the difference.”

 

I used to think

c-mayfly 1

I used to think mayflies emerged only in May.

Maybe I’ve seen them in other months, but I’d never really thought about it. Yesterday this mayfly greeted me in the morning. And in the evening, it was still there. So my May-only theory proved to be wrong.

c-mayfly 2

I used to think they had only one adult form.

c-mayfly molt 1

That all changed this morning when I spotted it again. Only, I also spotted something else an inch or two away. An exoskeleton or exuvia? From a mayfly? It certainly looked mayfly-like with the same narrow and segmented body plus long-tail cerci.

c-mayfly beside molt

When I looked more closely, I realized that the exuvia was about half the size of the true adult form. As for that cloudy-winged specimen I’d spied yesterday–it had been a teenager, aka a subimago. I let the wings trick me because I didn’t know better. Though it looked adult-like, it wasn’t sexually mature yet.

Mayflies are unique in that after the nymph emerges from the water as the subimago (that fishermen call a dun) like yesterday’s model, they seek shelter before shedding their skin for the final transformation. How lucky for me that this dun chose our porch screen on which to rest.

c-mayfly size difference

And so, I was gifted a second opportunity to look. It can take a few minutes to two days before a subimago transforms into a clear-winged imago or spinner, though the actual metamorphosis is quick. I wish I’d seen it, but at least I got to see the end result.

c-mayfly mature 1

I’m not sure my friend appreciated it, but I was glad for our opportunity to spend some time up close and personal.

c-mayfly no mouth part

While in an aquatic form for a year or two, it had done plenty of eating. But as an adult, eating became a thing of its past as it had no functional mouth parts.

c-mayfly eyes 1

It did have plenty of eyes, however. The better to find food when immature and later a mate, I suppose.  Like other flies, its two outer eyes were large and compound.  Between them were three simple eyes (ocelli).

c-mayfly clear wings

The two pairs of triangular wings were held upright like a damselfly, rather than flat like a dragonfly. When I compared yesterday’s opague wings with today’s, the clarity of the new wings defined by dark veins seemed an obvious difference and one I’ll need to pay attention to going forth.

c-mayfly aedeagi at base of abdomen

Male or female? That was the question, but only for a moment. Do you see the aedeagi or penis-like appendages at the tip of the abdomen and below the two cerci (tail-like appendages)? Meet Mr. Mayfly.

c-mayfly bird's eye view1

I know that because mayflies emerge in swarms, they can be a nuisance. But this was only one. And our friendship only lasted for a few hours total–though he spent about 24 hours in the same spot. By noontime he had disappeared–of his own efforts I hope . . . heading off to do some courting. His days are numbered, I know, for his main function is to mate and maybe mate again, before he dies.

But today he served another function as he taught me a lesson. My best learning comes from observation . . . and realizing that what I used to think isn’t always accurate.

My thanks to a mayfly.

 

The Magic of Maine

Our group was small but our experience enormous as five Maine Master Naturalists met in China, Maine, this morning to participate in a workshop about experiential learning presented by one of our own–the teacher of teachers, Anita Smith.

c-osprey 1

Upon arrival at the China School Forest where we met up, our nature distraction disorder (NDD) immediately kicked in for there was an osprey nest on a light post overlooking the ballfield between the middle and primary schools. The forest is a 50-acre tract behind the primary school that serves as a hands-on, outdoor classroom for grades K-8 and all of us really, for it is open to the public.

c-green heron 1

And then our attention was directed to the fire pond, where a stocky green heron displayed its streaked chest and dagger-like bill.

c-green heron crest

We watched him work the edge and loved when he showed off his crest–adding to our agreement about his ID.

c-trail map

At last, we pulled ourselves away and let Anita begin, starting with an overview of the forest’s history and a look at the map posted on the kiosk.

c-yellow rattle 1

We headed off down the trail to a pavilion, but again were easily distracted. This was a plant I didn’t recall meeting previously, but its bladders and yellow faces reminded me of  fish faces. Karen later ID it as yellow rattle for when the seeds form in the bladders later in the season, they rattle.

c-lady's galore

At last we arrived at the pavilion (only a few minutes walk down the trail if one wears blinders) where Anita had us help set up a work station and explained how she has students help cart the supplies. We started to help her, but within seconds Sally spotted the lady’s slippers and again we were distracted.

c-lady's by the dozens

They were so plentiful that we couldn’t resist admiring them.

c-pink lady's slipper

Most were princess pink.

c-white lady's slipper

But a few were pure white (not rare, just a form of the pink, but still . . . ).

c-lady's slipper pod

And even others spoke of transformation, with last year’s pods still standing.

c-nature journal

Again, she pulled us back to the subject of the day. Because we were there to learn about activities we might use in our work with children of all ages, Anita had us create our own nature journals. Stamps and markers and pipe cleaners and solar beads and fabric and we were happy campers–each expressing our own creativity in designing the covers.

c-phoebe babes1

While we worked, baby phoebes watched from above.

c-damselfly nymph1

Our next stop was the wildlife pond and bridge, where we did some pond dipping and were thrilled with our many findings, like damselfly larvae and tadpoles,

c-caddisfly larva and salamander

damselfly and salamander larvae,

c-water scavenger beetle larva and salamander larva

and water scavenger beetle larvae beside a salamander. There was so much more and we again had a difficult time pulling ourselves away.

c-examining aquatic species

It was the water scavenger beetle larvae that stumped us most, but we had fun identifying as many species as we could and were wowed by the variety available.

c-bird nest

Leave we did at last–only first we checked out a nest Sally had discovered. While it sat upon balsam fir branches, we thought it had fallen from above. And marveled at its construction–balsam fir twigs, fruticose lichen and balsam fir needles, all in their own layers.

c-twin flower

There were other things to see before we moved on, like the delicate twinflowers that bloomed.

c-pondweed and raindrops

An artistic display of pondweed.

c-fragrant water lily

And spadderdock,

c-fragrant water lily 2

whose flower reminded me of the inner formation of pitcher plant flowers.

c-Anita reading to us

At last, lunch time arrived. And so we returned to the pavilion where Anita shared some of her favorite books. And then she read to us All the Places to Love by Patricia MacLachlan–warning us first that she would cry when she got to the end. Indeed she did, but we were touched for we got it.

c-board feet

After lunch, she took us on a tour to visit some of the seventeen learning stations, including the forest measurements station, where students learn about common measurements related to the forest and wood product industry, including board feet for dimensional lumber.

c-reading tree

Every time I visit the China School Forest, I’m in awe. And today, I knew others, like Kathy and Cathy, felt the same. The forest was full of diverse species and twenty years ago the Town of China and folks like Anita turned it into an incredible space for children and the child in all of us to learn. My favorite spot of all has been “the reading tree” built around a weeviled white pine. Even those in wheelchairs may access it and find a spot to read or watch or listen. After we climbed up, we climbed down, and Anita led us through several fun activities, the last ending with M&Ms. What’s not to love about a seminar that ends with chocolate?

c-Eastern forktail damselfly

On our walk back, our NDD was ever on alert. And so we’d not seen too many dragon or damselflies in the morning, perhaps given the cooler temp. But on our way out, an Eastern forktail damselfly drew our admiration for its green, black and blue coloration.

c-bridge classroom

We were beside the man-made pond when we saw it, where the bridge crosses and where we’d earlier done some pond dipping to observe the aquatic insects. It’s there that a bench sits in the midst of an outdoor classroom.

c-dedicated to Anita Smith

That very bench had been dedicated to our Anita.

c-baby robin 2

Back at the pavilion, we gathered all our gear and then followed the trail out. And that’s when Kathy called from ahead, telling us to watch our step. A baby robin sat on the path. We heard a parent nearby.

And wondered in the magic of the day. Another magical day in Maine.