Book of June: Dragonflies of the North Woods

Head, thorax, abdomen, abdomen!

Head, thorax, abdomen, abdomen!

Big eyes, four wings, and an exoskeleton,

Head, thorax, abdomen, abdomen!

Okay, so maybe I tweaked the words a bit to suit the celebration of my favorite season, but it’s what I do. And it’s a fun way to think about the body parts of dragonflies, those mini helicopters that have finally emerged and started dining on the pesky mosquitoes.

cover

I can think of no better way to honor this special season than to look at dragonflies (and damselflies) up close by purchasing a new field guide: Dragonflies of the North Woods by Kurt Mead.

Of course, his north woods is different from mine since he’s located in Minnesota and I’m in Maine, but our habitats are similar enough that we share many of the same species.

Before I say anything more about the contents of the book, I have to share the “About Kurt Mead” from the back cover because it may just be the top reason to own a copy: “Kurt Mead is a naturalist at Tettegouche State Park on the North Shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota. (He finally knows what he wants to be when he grows up.) He has also worked in a pea canning factory, as a garbage man, an animal control officer, an urban wildlife trapper, an aquaculturist, a security guard, an acid rain monitor, a substitute teacher, a waiter, a delivery driver, an elected township supervisor, a DNR Fisheries creel surveyor, a log home builder and carpenter in Sweden, a naturalist at environmental centers, an itinerant naturalist throughout the Midwest, an instructor at folk schools, was a stay-at-home dad for 15 years, and he founded the Minnesota Odonata Survey Project, which has since become the Minnesota Dragonfly Society. His scavenging habits lead his wife to believe that he is a reincarnated Turkey Vulture.”

The second paragraph describes his university credentials, wife and daughters, and ends with this line: “Kurt is also passionate about good donuts.”

Indeed, that’s why this guide flew off the shelf and perched in my hands at Bridgton Books not long ago.

immature chalk fronted corporal 2

The size of the book is 8.5 x 4.5 and it’s a half inch thick so it doesn’t take up a lot of space in my over-the-shoulder field bag. Like all good guides, Mead begins by describing a dragonfly–well actually, he begins with a Lewis Carrol conversation between Gnat and Alice, but you’ll need to purchase the book to read the quote.

In his explanation, he briefly describes the difference between dragon and damselflies, including the most obvious ones as demonstrated by a Chalk-fronted Corporal (Ladona julia) I saw at the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Kezar River Reserve this afternoon: dragonflies have a stout build, eyes in contact with each other, and wings held flat when perched.

superb jewelwing male

Mead doesn’t devote much space to damselflies, which overall are easy to differentiate  within the order Odonata because their build is slight, eyes separate, and wings held over their backs when perched. I understand why he doesn’t include more than one page with photos of distinctive damsels because the guide would have been too long, but I had the pleasure of making two new acquaintances today . . . Mr. Superb Jewelwing (Calopteryx amata) and his mate.

superb jewelwing female

Meet the Mrs. Notice the white dots on her wings–that always makes for easy gender ID of the jewelwings. These two–superb indeed.

thorax and wings

Looking at the Corporal again, Mead includes an excellent diagram of the body parts, the head including those compound eyes, thorax with six legs and four wings, and segmented abdomen.

Four-spotted skimmer

Mead further describes the life cycle and behaviors of these awesome fliers. Before getting into the nitty gritty of specific species, he offers a Quick “In the Hand” Key to help viewers differentiate family traits. The family key is followed by a Quick Wing Pattern Key. As you can see from this Four-spotted Skimmer (Libellula quadrimaculata), some wings have spots and bands.

Lancet Clubtail

The main part of the book is divided by families and on the back cover colored tabs indicate those, making for easy reference. At the start of each family section, Mead devotes two pages to specific information that makes them unique. And he includes a sketch of the nymph stage, Within the family, the dragonflies are again divided by genus and two pages are devoted to each species. On each two-page spread, the reader will find photographs, habitat, descriptions and more. This Lancet Clubtail (Phanogomphus exilis) is described on pages 80-81.

American Emerald

Within the spread for this American Emerald (Cordulia shurtleffii), I read about its hunting technique: “Will feed on relatively defenseless and weak teneral (newly emerged) damselflies and dragonflies. Fortunately, Mr. and Mrs. Superb made it past the teneral stage. (I like that word.)

Calico Pennant

The end of the book includes a glossary, field checklist, dragonfly synonyms and names in languages other than English, phenology flight chart, and other info.

I never knew until I began to pay attention that there are so many beautiful species flying about in mosquito land. One of my favorite finds today was this Calico Pennant (Celithemis elisa). If you’re curious about the species you encounter, then I highly recommend Kurt Mead’s Dragonflies of the North Woods. Again, I purchased my copy at Bridgton Books.

Dragonflies of the North Woods by Kurt Mead, Kollath+Stensaas Publishing, 2017.

The Trail To And Fro

The heron rookery was our destination and so friends Pam and Bob journeyed with me, our expectations high.

M1-KENNEDY'S EMERALD

But as nature would have it, we’d barely walked fifty feet when our typical distraction disorder set in–and the focus encompassed the dragonflies that perched on foliage beside the trail. Our first was a Kennedy’s Emerald, named for Dr. Clarence Kennedy, a renowned Ohio State University professor and odonatologist.

M2-BEAVERPOND BASKETTAIL

Among the same fern patch was a Beaverpond Baskettail. It’s the eyes of this species that appealed to me most for I loved their teal color.

M3-IMMATURE CHALK-FRONTED CORPORAL

Every step we took seemed to produce a new combination of colors and presentations, all a variation on the dragonfly theme, including this immature Chalk-fronted Corporal.

M4-MUSTACHED CLUBTAIL

And their names were equally intriguing, this one being a Mustached Clubtail.

M6- SKIMMING BLUET

It wasn’t just dragonflies patrolling the path and one mosquito at a time reducing the biting insect population–for damselflies also flew. When they weren’t canoodling that is. But canoodle away we said, for each interaction resulted in even more predators of our favorite kind.

M7-GRAY TREE FROG

And then . . .

M8-GRAY TREE FROG

and then we discovered a predator of another kind. And we rejoiced even more because for all the time we spend in the woods, sighting a gray tree frog is rather rare.

M9-EBONY JEWELWING MALE

Not quite so rare, but beautiful in its unique form was the Ebony Jewelwing and her metallic colors. We spied one male with a white dot on his wings, but he escaped the camera lens.

M10-GARTER PARENT

It wasn’t just fliers and hoppers that caught our attention. Movement at our feet directed us to one who preferred to slither through the woods in garter formation.

M11-GARTER BABY

And about a foot away from the parent–one of the young’uns.

M12-ROOKERY SITE

At last we reached our destination and the real purpose for our journey. We were on a reconnoissance mission. Our job was to count nests, young and adults at a heron rookery for the Heron Observation Network of Maine–a citizen science adopt-a-colony network managed for Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife by biologist Danielle D’Auria. The project began after a significant decline in the number of nesting pairs of Great Blue Heron was realized in Maine from the 1980s to 2007, and MDIFW listed the bird as a Species of Special Concern.

M13-HERON ROOKERY

Sadly, our count was zero for each category. While last spring the nests were active, something occurred and the colony collapsed before the young fledged last summer. Bald Eagles were the likely suspects of such a decline and as nature would have it, we thrilled with the resurgence of one species at the expense of another. Despite the current failure of the community, we’ll continue to visit each year . . . just in case.

M140WHITE CHALK CORPORALS

But guess what? As we stood there, we noted the activity, or lack thereof, of mature Chalk-fronted Corporals–the female relaxing on the left and male on the right.

M15-DARNER

Every few seconds a Green Darner conducted its own reconnaissance mission.

M17-CANADA GEESE

And then some serious honking from upstream called for our attention.

M18-CANADA GOOSE

And we were reminded of Bernd Heinrich’s book, The Geese of Beaver Bog, for we were in such a place.

m19-immature KENNEDY'S EMERALD

At last, we pulled ourselves away, though I suspect we could have easily spent hours being mesmerized by the magic of the place. Such magic was reflected in the opaque wings of a newly emerged Kennedy’s Emerald dragonfly.

M20-INDIAN CUCUMER ROOT

And on the way back, as often happens, we were privy to sights we’d missed on the way in. So it was that an Indian Cucumber Root displayed its unique flower–nodding pale green petals folded back, like a Turk’s cap lily, and from the center emerged three long reddish styles (think female reproductive parts) and several purplish orange stamens. Those styles gave the flower a unique spidery appearance.

M21-GRAY TREE FROG

And then . . . and then one more time not far from where we’d seen the gray frog on our way in, and mere moments after Pam said, “Where there’s one . . .” we found a second.

The heron rookery was our destination, but the trail to and fro offered so many moments of wonder.

Thank you to the family that conserved this land. Thank you to the wildlife in many forms who call it home. And thank you to Pam and Bob for not only accompanying me, but for insisting that I borrow your lightweight Canon Powershoot SX720HS. I might get hooked.

Mayday Alert

Each time we explore a Greater Lovell Land Trust property, we have no idea what we might discover and this day was no different. For today’s Tuesday Tramp I suggested we visit the Cohen Property near the Lower Bay of Kezar Lake, which was the last acquisition under the direction of the late Tom Henderson. We’d only been there once before–and that was a few months ago when we explored via snowshoes. At that time we discovered ice-covered depressions and so a journey to check them out as vernal pools seemed apropos.

m2-moose print ID

There are no trails yet and so after parking, we followed the road back a ways to the area of our winter expedition. And what to our wondering eyes did we spy on the road? Moose prints! One should always look through a magnifying glass to make certain the ID is correct. Wes confirmed our suspicion.

m2-scooping

We found sitting water and running water and began to wonder about the wetland and whether what we thought might be a vernal pool really was, for we knew that a v.p. shouldn’t have an inlet or outlet. As the first dips of the day were made, black flies began to swarm around us. We hoped to pick up their larvae in the moving water, but instead we found many springtails.

m3-what did you catch

And a few mosquito larvae as determined by Caleb, Linda and Nancy.

m5-blob and algae

In another spot, we also found a mystery. At first we thought it might be some sort of egg. And maybe it was, but how was it related to the algae that seemed to be a host? We didn’t know, but now that we’re aware of it, we’ll continue to wonder and perhaps become enlightened.

m6-pool?

We checked out “pool” after “pool” and found not one egg mass (except for a false start that fooled us momentarily), which rather disappointed us. Were these really vernal pools? We suspected so as they were shallow and looked like they’ll dry up in the summer, if not before, plus they supported no fish. Were they significant vernal pools? Definitely not. To be a significant vernal pool, the body of water must contain one of the following obligate species: 1 fairy shrimp or 10 blue-spotted salamander egg masses or 20 spotted salamander egg masses (yellow spots) or 40 wood frog egg masses. Fairy Shrimp? No. Salamander egg masses? No. Frog egg masses? No.

m7-examining species

Despite the lack of indicator species, we scooped up water to determine what did live there.

m8-mosquito larvae

The most abundant residents found–mosquito larvae. And do you see the small jar in Ellie’s hand? She created a mosquito larvae aquarium and discovered that they seemed to like the algae she’d added. Perhaps they’d found microorganisms we couldn’t see.

m8a-pointing out antics of mosquito larvae

Watching the acrobatics of the larvae entertained us for a while. They twisted and turned somersaults and wriggled in the water and we soon realized that eggs left behind by last year’s females who had sucked our blood before breeding, must have remained dormant all winter until the snow melted and spring rains began.

m9-chironomid midge larva

We did find another species to admire, that also wriggled in a constant state of contortion–this one being a chironomid midge with blood-red coloration. According to A Field Guide to the animals of Vernal Pools, the color is “due to a hemoglobin-like pigment that helps them retain oxygen. This pigment allows the larvae to survive in water that is very low in dissolved oxygen, as is common in vernal pools as drying proceeds throughout the seasons.”

m10-Trailing Arbutus--May flower

Because I had to meet someone at noon, and Dave knew that it would take us at least a half hour to make the short trek back to our vehicles due to our incessant nature distraction disorder, we had to cut our journey short. Dave was right–as he often is–and we were forced to stop several time, including to sniff a couple of mayflowers, aka trailing arbutus or officially: Epigaea repens.

m11-ribbon snake 1

We finally reached the spot where we’d parked with fifteen minutes to spare when Linda sighted movement beside the tires of my truck and our hearts jumped with joy.

m12-ribbon snake captured

We didn’t want to run it over as we backed out and so Heinrich captured it. What is it? An Eastern ribbon snake, which is a species of special concern in Maine. According to the Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife website, “A species of special concern is any species of fish or wildlife that does not meet the criteria of an endangered or threatened species but is 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. Special concern species are established by policy, not by regulation, and are used for planning and informational purposes; they do not have the legal weight of endangered and threatened species. The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife reviews the list of special concern species at the beginning of each calendar year, and, based on criteria in the Maine Endangered and Threatened Species Listing Handbook , revises the list as appropriate.”

m13-ribbon snake 2

And that is why it’s so important to protect the land. I knew Tom was smiling down upon us due to this find. Interestingly, we also spotted a ribbon snake at the John A. Segur Wildlife Refuge on Farrington Pond Road in early May 2015.

m14-paper birch superhero

Finally, we all departed and I was only ten minutes late for my quick meet-up, after which I headed back down Route 5 to reconnect with my favorite little naturalists at the Kezar River Reserve across from the Wicked Good Store. There’s a tape across the road, which I suspect was put in place by the local snowmobile club when the ice was questionable on the river, but it remains, which given the recent rain is probably a good thing. We’ll take it down soon, but it has prevented the road from becoming more rutted than normal.

Anyway, Wes climbed out of the family’s vehicle with his paper birch armor. He’d spied it in a V between to birch trees on our morning trek and his mom climbed up to retrieve it for him.

m15-brother bomb

Birch Man posed again and again, until his older brother Aidan, sporting a missing front tooth, jumped in front.

m16-root art

The boys stood on a hump of earth beside a tree root. And it was through their eyes that we noticed some interesting finds among the tree’s former life support.

m17-canister cover

We found pottery and cast iron and realized the tree had grown upon an old dump site.

m19-VW

And that hump of earth–the four siblings were sure that it hid a Volkswagen Beetle.

m23-Kezar River

It took us a while to walk down the “roadway” and then the left-hand loop. We made a few discoveries, including coyote scat filled with bones, and the kids did some trail work. At last we reached the canoe/kayak landing at the Kezar River and noted some otter scat and a few slides, plus some fishing lures and line stuck in the trees. It was at that point that the family had to leave, but before they left they asked me what I’d do before I had another meeting in the afternoon. I told them I planned to hike the second loop, which happens to be longer and dips into an interesting ravine.

m23-salamander eggs

That never happened. As it turned out, I stood at the boat launch for about an hour. First, I spied one small clump of salamander eggs.

m24-equisetum

And then realized that the raft before me, which filled the small cove, was equisetum. Where it came from I didn’t know for I couldn’t recall ever seeing it at this property.

m24-Mayfly 1

But, regardless, it provided a perfect camouflage for aquatic insects. It took me a while to key in on the species before me, but I knew they were there because every once in a while, one took flight. Do you see the mayfly subimago that had recently emerged? The teenager stood atop its nymph exuvia. Mayflies are unique in that after the nymph emerges from the water as the subimago (that fishermen call a dun), they seek shelter before shedding their skin for the final transformation.

m25-mayfly 2

I really had to focus in order to spot them.

m27-Mayfly

But once I did, they were . . .

m28-mayfly

everywhere.

m29-mayfly larva

And in all forms, including a nymph.

m30-Mayfly up close

The cool thing is that thirteen mayflies are also on the list of species of special concern. Was this one of the species? I have so much more to learn.

m31-water scorpion

As I continued to watch, there was an incredible amount of activity. And then I saw a predator that was about two and half inches long. Do you see it? Not atop the vegetation, but rather under it in right-hand center of the photo. Behind it, almost to the right edge of the photo, was a bubble at the end of its long breathing tube.

m33-water scorpion

As I watched, it continued to swim forward, the vegetation providing it’s favorite type of habitat. Again, you have to look carefully.

m34-water scorpoin

And again. It was a water scorpion with an oval-shaped abdomen. Do you see it?

m35-ribbon snake

Finally, it was time for my next meeting, but as I walked back up the trail I reflected upon the wonders of the day and the work of the land trust under Tom’s leadership. Creating corridors is important for mammals, but also for all critters that share the various habitats.

There was no need to put out a distress signal today. Indeed. With others and alone, I was thankful for the opportunity to be gifted with such sightings: Mayflowers and Mayflies! And a water scorpion. Topped off with a ribbon snake. May Day Alert of the best kind.

 

 

 

 

Dear Earth

Dear Earth,

In your honor, I decided that on this Earth Day I would head out the back door and travel by foot, rather than vehicle.

e1-Mount Washington

My journey led me down the old cow path to the power line right-of-way and much to my delightful surprise, Mount Washington was on display. It was so clear, that I could even see the outline of buildings and towers at the summit. Thank you for providing such clarity.

e2-vernal pool

Rather than walk to the mountain, I turned in the opposite direction and found my way to the vernal pool, where ice still covered a good portion. You know, Earth, as much as I want this to be a significant vernal pool because it does usually have two qualifiers (and only needs one): more than forty wood frog egg masses or more than twenty spotted salamander egg masses, I know that it is not. I believe it was created as part of the farm based on the rocks at the far end, not exactly forming a retaining wall, but still situated so close together in a way that I haven’t found anywhere else in my extensive journeys of the hundreds of acres behind our house. Plus, it dries up much too quickly to be a natural pool. And each year I’m surprised to find wood frogs, their egg masses, spotted salamander spermatophores, and their egg masses, given that the water evaporates before the tadpoles finish forming. If these species return to their natal vernal pool, Earth, then how can that be since no one actually hopped or walked out as a recently matured adult? Or were these frogs on their way to another pool and they happened upon this one? You know me, Earth–lots of questions as I try to understand you better.

e4-dorsal amplexus

Whatever the answer is, each year you work your magic and on a visit yesterday afternoon, I spied a male wood frog atop a female in what’s known as amplexus, aka, mating. According to Maine Amphibians and Reptiles, edited by Malcolm L. Hunter, Aram J.K. Calhoun, and Mark McCollough, “When mating, the male clings tightly to the females back. Visible contractions of the female’s body signal the onset of oviposition, at which time the male’s hind feet are drawn up close to the female’s vent. As the eggs are expelled, the male releases sperm into the water and strokes the egg mass with his hind feet, which presumably aids in distributing the sperm more evenly.” I looked this morning, but didn’t find any sign of eggs. Don’t worry, Earth, I’ll keep looking because perhaps they were there but hadn’t absorbed water yet.

e5-dead frog

One other thing I saw yesterday that greatly disturbed me was a dead frog in the water. Last year I also found such. My concern is that it was caused by a virus, but perhaps it was old age. Or some other factor. I do have to confess, though, Earth, I intervened and removed the body from the pond. I know, I know, it’s all part of the cycle of life, and I should leave nature to its own devices, but disease was on my mind and I didn’t want others to be affected. I may have been too late. Only time will tell.

e7-leaf variety

When I arrived this morning, I’m happy to report that I didn’t see any dead frogs. For the longest time I stood upon a rock–you know the one I mean, Earth, for you’ve invited me to stand there before. It’s sunny in that spot and the frogs know it well, for that is where they’ll eventually deposit their eggs. As I waited, I looked down at the leaves on the pool’s bottom and noticed how they offered a reflection of the trees above, beech and oak and maple and pine and hemlock. All still displayed their winter colors, but when the pool does dry up, they’ll turn dark brown and form a mat that will provide nutrients for the plants that colonize the area. You’ve got a system, don’t you Earth.

e8-frog 1

I knew if I stood as still as I could, I would be rewarded. While beech and oak leaves, the last to fall from their trees, danced somersaults across those already on the ground and matted by the past winter’s snow, red and gray squirrels chatted and squawked, and chickadees sold cheeseburgers in their songs, my eyes constantly scanned the pool. And in a flash, a frog emerged from under those leaves.

e8-wood frog 1a

For a while he floated, allowing the breeze to push him to and fro within a two square-foot space. But then he decided to climb atop a downed branch. Perhaps he was trying out a calling sight to use once I left.

e9a--wood frog 3

And then, there was another. And after that another. Yesterday I saw a total of six. Today only four. But that doesn’t mean the others weren’t hiding until I left, right Earth? I hope that’s what it meant. One thing you have taught me via the frogs is patience. If I stand still long enough at least one will swim to the surface. And they, too, are patient as they wait: for me to leave; for the gals to come. Well, maybe when the gals do come they aren’t all that patient.

e10-mosquito larvae

I actually returned to the pool a second time today and more of the ice had melted. While in the late morning I couldn’t see any insects on the move, in the early afternoon I eyed thousands of mosquito larvae. Everyone moans about mosquito larvae, Earth, but . . . they provide food for salamanders and the adult form for birds. I’m just trying to look on the bright side.

e11- snowmobile trail

This afternoon, I waited and waited for the frogs to emerge, but either my eyes didn’t key in on them or they decided to wait until I left. So . . . I finally did just that, and did head toward Mount Washington after all, following the snowmobile trail. As you well know, Earth, it was a bit tricky between the snow, soft mud, ruts and rocks exploding from your earth.

e11a-boots

My right foot managed to fall through the icy snow into a hidden rut filled with water that covered my Bog boots. And then my left foot found some mud that squelched with glee. Or was that you squealing with delight, Earth? I had one wet sock, but ventured on.

e11b-Mansion Road

At the junction, I turned to the west, following the log road and remembering the days of yore when my guy and I, as well as neighbor Dick Bennett, used to work up a sweat on a winter day following a snow storm, for it was our duty to you, Earth, to release the snow from your arched gray birch trees. And then, a few years ago, the road became the main route to the timber landing/staging area again, and all of those trees we’d worked so hard to protect year after year were cut to make way for machinery. As much as my heart broke, it does give me time to watch forest succession in action, and I gave thanks that you have such a plan in mind.

e14-deer dance

It also provided a blank stage upon which the does danced and left behind their calling cards.

e12-buck

And Buck sashayed each partner across the floor. The deep dew claw marks and cloven toes indicated he’d made quite an impression.

e11c-coyote scat

All along the way, upon raised rocks in the middle of the “road,” coyote and fox scat was prominent and in the sandy surface I also found their prints.

e18-vernal pool near landing

At the left-hand turn that led to the landing, I was surprised when I shouldn’t have been, for suddenly a million “wrucks” filled the air. I knew the water was there but it had slipped my mind. Thank you for the song of many more wood frogs. Thanks for filling my ears with joy.

e15-wood frog egg masses

And the chance to spy their good works. Thankfully, you make sure that life continues. At least in the form of wood frog egg masses.

e17-wood frog egg mass

I loved their gelatinous blob-like structure, all bumpy on the outside they were. Actually, I believe what looked like one mass, was several, but I didn’t dare step in to check and disturb the frogs that hid below.

e16-wood frog 5

Again I stood as still as possible, and again I was rewarded. For a bit I thought that the frog before me had no arms, but then I realized that they were just plastered to its sides.

e19-wood frog under log

A squirrel sounding bigger than itself caught my attention briefly and I turned unexpectedly. When I turned back, the frog was no longer at the water’s surface, but appeared below a downed gray birch. For a while the two of us remained still. I hoped another frog or two or three or three thousand would pop up, but that wasn’t your plan, was it? It’s okay. One was enough.

e21-log landing

I finally left my one, oops, I mean your one frog alone and continued on to the log landing, noting all the mammal tracks and looking for other signs. There was more scat, but I was disappointed not to find bobcat or moose prints. Where were you hiding them? I suspect the moose had moved to the swamp below.

Rather than go much further, for major ruts from the logging equipment were filled with water, I turned around just beyond the landing and headed back across it. Twenty-five years ago it was a much smaller clearing with a few pine trees. Over the years, I’ve watched it change and the mammal activity as well. And then, about five years ago it was converted back to a landing and I can’t wait for it to fill in again, but my desire and your plan are not necessarily the same, are they?

It all seemed like so much destruction, but I had to remind myself that I am part of the equation, with my own needs for power and wood and food and everything that you provide. And cuts do bring about a change, sometimes for the better, for the trees and the mammals and the birds and the plants and the decomposers and the consumers and all who call this place home. Am I convincing you, Earth? Am I convincing myself?

e22-frog 7

As I passed by the lengthy vernal pool again I decided to revisit the egg masses. I stood on the rock and slowly scanned the area. No frogs. On second glance, there was one right beside the rock on which I stood. And it looked like the same one I’d seen previously. I wondered why. Why didn’t I scare it? Was that you, Earth, taking a peek at me?

e23-Mourning Cloak butterfly

I had one more surprise on my journey–the first butterfly of the season, a mourning cloak. With its wings closed, it wasn’t all that attractive.

e24-mourning cloak

But upon opening them, I saw its beauty hidden within–another lesson, eh Earth? Oh, and your sense of humor. For yes, that was coyote scat on which the butterfly sucked as it sought amino acids and other nutrients. A fly also dined. Yum.

What a day, Earth. Your day. Dear Earth Day. May I remember to treat you so dearly every day.

Sincerely,

wondermyway

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book of April: Take a Wetlands Walk

Those of you who have followed me on the trail or through wondermyway for a while know that I’m not only drawn to mountaintops, but wetlands as well. And I have a few that I frequent including several vernal pools, Holt Pond Preserve, Perky’s Path, and Brownfield Bog.

w1

Book of April

Therefore, when I spotted Take a Wetlands Walk by Jane Kirkland at Maine Audubon’s Nature Store a few years ago I wasn’t surprised that it jumped into my hands and dragged me to the checkout. Since it’s April and the snow is slowly melting in western Maine, and some afternoon in the near future I look forward to receiving an email announcing our local Big Night celebration, it seemed apropos that I should feature Take a Wetlands Walk as the book of the month.

w-Holt P 2

Holt Pond boardwalk

This is a children’s book and I like how the author divided it into three sections, using a phrase often heard at the starting line.

Get Ready–encourages kids to gain a better understanding of wetland terminology in an easy to understand manner. In fact, it’s as if the author is sitting beside you, so conversational is the tone.

w-fairy shrimp

Fairy Shrimp

w-tadpoles

Tadpoles

w-wood frog

Wood Frog

w-painted turtle

Painted Turtle

w-water snake 1

Water Snake

w-water snake 2

Water Snake (notice his tongue)

Get Set–introduces amphibian and reptile species associated with wetlands.

w-pitcher plant

Pitcher Plant

Go!--sends the children outside to read the signs of nature and jot down their observations.

w-Holt Pond quaking bog

Quaking Bog at Holt Pond

In the Go! section, Kirkland describes what the kids might discover in such places as bogs, estuaries, salt marshes, freshwater marshes, streams, rivers, lakes, vernal pools, swamps, and the Everglades.

w-Red-winged Blackbird

Through sidebars, illustrations, and photographs, Kirkland touches on many topics related to wetlands, but constantly encourages further research, including of course, heading out the door. She also includes a wee bit of information about citizen science projects and wetland careers.

w-pileated woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

Each time she first uses a technical term, she adds a pronunciation key. One of my favorites: The Pileated Woodpecker (Py-lee-ata-id or PILL-e-ate-id). I prefer the latter, but occasionally hear the former uttered. “You like to-may-toes and I like to-mah-toes!”–Although in that sense, I prefer the former tomaytoes.

w-spotted sallie 2

Spotted Salamander

Throughout, Kirkland shares personal experiences as well as those of her acquaintances. Finally, she includes pages filled with photos to help you identify birds, plants, reptiles, amphibians, mammals and insects related to wetlands.

w-pond dipping

Pond Dipping

Yes, this is a children’s book, but adults can also benefit from reading it. And then heading outside.

Get Ready, Get Set, Go! Pick up a copy of Take A Wetlands Walk and visit your nearest wetland.

Take a Wetlands Walk by Jane Kirkland, Stillwater Publishing, 2011

Books of the Month: Stone Walls–Stories Set in Stone

It’s March, that most indecisive of months. And so, I decided to follow in the same pattern by choosing not one,

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or two,

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or even three,

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but four–

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all books about stone walls which are once again revealing their idiosyncrasies. These are the Books of March.

p-on-the-cowpath

Walk along our woodland trail with me and you’ll know that something different happened there ages and ages ago. To reach the trail, we’ll need to pass through two stone walls. Continuing on, we’ll come to a cow path where several pasture pines, massive trees that once stood alone in the sun and spread out rather than growing straight up, must have provided shade for the animals.

e-pine whorls

They are the grandparents of all the pines that now fill this part of the forest.

Further out, one single wall widens into a double wall, indicating a different use of the land.

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The walls stand stalwart, though some sections are more ragged than others. Fallen trees, roots, frost, weather, critters and probably humans have added to their demise, yet they are still beautiful, with mosses and lichens offering striking contrasts to the granite. Specks of shiny mica, feldspar and quartz add to the display. And in winter, snowy outlines soften their appearance.

The fact that they are still here is a sign of their endurance . . . and their perseverance. And the perseverance of those who built them. and yet . . . . the stone walls aren’t what they once were, but that doesn’t matter to those of us who admire them.

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For me, these icons of the past conjure up images of colonial settlers trying to carve out a slice of land, build a house and maybe a barn, clean an acre or two for the garden and livestock and build walls. The reality is that in the early 1700s, when western Maine was being settled, stones were not a major issue. The land was forested and they used the plentiful timber to build. It wasn’t until a generation or two later, when so much timber had been harvested to create fields for tillage and pasture, that the landscape changed drastically, exposing the ground to the freezing forces of nature. Plowing also helped bring stones to the surface. The later generation of farmers soon had their number one crop to deal with–stone potatoes as they called them. These needed to be removed or they’d bend and break the blade of the oxen-drawn plowing rake.

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Stone removal became a family affair for many. Like a spelling or quilting bee, sometimes stone bees were held to remove the stones from the ground. Working radially, piles were made as an area was cleared. Stone boats pulled by oxen transported the  piles of stones to their final resting place where they were woven into a wall.

Eventually single walls, also called farmer or pasture walls, were built as boundaries, but mainly to keep animals from destroying crops. The advent of stone walls and fences occurred within a few years of homesteads being settled, but during the sheep frenzy of the early 1800s many more were built. Those walls were supposed to be 4.5 feet high and fence viewers were appointed by each town to make sure that farmers tended their walls.

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Double walls were lower and usually indicated an area that was to be tilled. A typical double wall was about 4-10 feet wide and consisted of at least two single walls with smaller rubble thrown between.

Drive our back roads and you’ll see many primitive walls created when stone was moved from the roadway and tossed into a pile, or wander through the woods and discover stone walls and fountains in unexpected places. The sheep craze ended about 1840 after the sheep had depleted the pastures and younger farmers heeded the call to “Go west young man, go west.” The Erie Canal, mill jobs, and better farming beyond New England all added to the abandonment of local farms.

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Today we’re left with these monuments of the past that represent years of hard labor. Building a wall was a chore. Those who rebuild walls now find it to be a craft.

Sam Black, who lives in Bridgton, Maine and spent twelve years rebuilding the walls on his property, once told me, “It was meditation time, like working in the garden. It’s one of those things you do philosophically and it lets you operate at a deeper level. You have time to think and contemplate as you work on the jigsaw puzzle.”

Frank Eastman of Chatham, New Hampshire, is the caretaker for the Stone House property in Evans Notch, and said when I asked if he’d ever worked on single walls, “No, I ain’t that good at balancing things. You got to have a pretty good ability to make things balance and a lot of the times your rock will titter until you put a small rock in just to hold it. No, I don’t want to monkey around with a single wall.”

Karl Gifford of Baldwin, Maine, told me, “I’m either looking for the perfect stone or trying to create the perfect space for the stone I’m working with. It takes a lot of practice, seeing what I need and being able to pick it out of the pile.” The entire time we chatted, his hands moved imaginary stones.

The more walls I encounter in the woods, the more respect I have for those who moved the stones and those who built the fences that became the foundation of life. Walk in the woods and you’ll inevitably find evidence that someone has been there before you–maybe not in a great many years, but certainly they’ve been there. Their story is set in stone.

If you care to learn more about stone walls, I highly encourage you to locate these books. I found all of them at my local independent book store: Bridgton Books.

Books of March:

Sermons in Stone by Susan Alport, published 1990, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
A history of stone walls in New England.

Stone by Stone by Robert M. Thorson, 2002, Walker & Company.
A geological look at stone walls

Exploring Stone Walls by Robert M. Thorson, 2005, Walker & Company.
A field guide to determining a walls history, age, and purpose.

The Granite Kiss by Kevin Gardner, 2001, The Countryman Press.
A look at repairing walls of stone.

And now I leave you with this poem:

The Old Stone Fence of Maine

Shall I pay a tribute here at home,
To the Old Stone Fence of Maine?
It was here when you were born,
And here it will remain.
Stone monuments, to grand old sires,
Who, with a good right arm,
Solved problems little known to you,
E’re their “clearing,” was your farm.

When you see an Old Stone Fence,
Weed grown and black with age,
Let your mind’s eye travel backward
And read its written page.
And, as Moses left us words in stone,
That live with us today,
Almost, with reverence, let us read
What these Stone Fences say.

They tell of those who “blazed the trail,”
We are walking in today;
Those who truly “bore the burdens
In the heat of the day.”
For every stone was laid by hand,
First taken from the soil
Where giant trees were cut and felled,
Bare handed–honest toil.

The Stone Fence marked the boundary line
Whereby a home was known;
Gave them dignity, as masters
Of that spot they called their own.
The Stone Fence, guarded church and school
And the spots more sacred far,
The silent spots, in memory kept
For those who’ve “crossed the bar.”

Then, treasure this inheritance,
Handed down from sire to son,
Not for its worth, to you, today,
But for when, and why, begun.
For with it comes a heritage
Of manly brawn and brain,
That is yours today, from the builders
Of the Old Stone Fence of Maine.

~Isabel McArthur, 1920

Bogging with Barb

Passing off a copy of the book, From Grassroots to Groundwater, about how two small Maine towns fought Nestlé and won, was the perfect excuse to head to Brownfield Bog. I told Barb I didn’t mind driving to her home or somewhere nearby to give her the book because I’d then go exploring and she welcomed the opportunity to do the same.

b2-Kathy's sign

As we began our journey, I asked if she knew Kathy McGreavy. Of course she did. I mentioned that Kathy walks in the bog daily and we might encounter her. Of course we did. Kathy and “her friend” were just coming out after walking their dogs and so we chatted for  bit. Our discussion included mention of the sign Kathy made last year as her capstone project for the Maine Master Naturalist Program. It’s an incredible piece of artwork and as she’s learned, I’m not the only one who thinks so. Recently, she discovered that a woodpecker had taken to pecking it and so the bottom is now protected with a piece of plexiglass. Crazy birds.

b1-Bog view from the road

Eventually, Barb and I said our goodbyes to the McGreavys and walked down the unplowed road where I did warn her about my obsession for stopping frequently to take photos. It began from the start–when we spied the bog through the trees and noticed the contrast of colors and layers.

b3a-pussy willows

And then–specks of white were ours to behold.

b3-pussy willows

Pussy willows. Was it too early she wondered. No–in fact, I spotted some a year ago on February 23 at Lakes Environmental Association’s Holt Pond Preserve.

b4-red-winged blackbirds

Our next reason to stop–the red and yellow shoulder patch or epaulet providing their name: Red-Winged Blackbirds. Again, Barb asked if it was too early. This time, I referenced Mary Holland for the February 27th entry in her book Naturally Curious Day by Day has this headline: Returning Red-Winged Blackbirds Survive Cold Temperatures and Few Insects. Bingo.

b5-water obstacles

Sometimes our stops were to contemplate our next steps–especially when it came to the water that covered the cobble stones on the road.

b6-Barb charges through the water

But sometimes you just have to go for it. And we did. As the morning continued, we ventured through deeper water and plowed ahead knowing that we would need to dry our hiking boots out when we arrived home.

b7-bird's nest

We found a bird nest and wondered about its creator. We did note some acorn pieces inside, so we think it had more than an avian inhabitant.

b8-beaver lodge

And we paused to look at an old beaver lodge. The mud looked recent but none of the sticks were this year’s additions so we didn’t know if anyone was home.

b9-map in the snow

All along, we’d been talking about places we’ve hiked and other topics of interest to both of us. We even learned that we’d both worked in Franklin, New Hampshire, just not at the same time. But speaking of hikes, with her finger, Barb drew a map in the snow and now I have another trail to check out soon with my guy. Should I forget the way, I’ll just reference this map. 😉

b10-raccoon prints

Because we were near water, though most of it still frozen, and the temp was high (actually, too high–in fact, it felt HOT as it soared into the upper 60˚s today), we weren’t surprised to find this set of prints created recently by a raccoon. I love the hand-like appearance and opposite diagonal of each two feet. Can’t you just see him waddling through–in your mind’s eye, that is?

b11-the bog

Our turn-around point offered an expansive view of the bog. As much as we may have wanted to head out onto it, we sided with caution and kept to the edge of the shore.

b12-winterberry

On the way back, there were other things to admire as there always is even when you follow the same route: winterberries drying up;

b13-rhodora

rhodora’s woody seed pods and flower buds swelling;

b14-willow gall

and the pinecone-like structure created with leaves by a reaction to a chemical released by the larva that allows a gall gnat midge to overwinter on the willows.

b16-carrion-flower tendrils

And then we stumbled upon a plant neither of us knew. With it’s long stem and curly tendrils, we were sure it was a vine.

b15-carrion-flower

Upon arriving home, however, I wondered about the umbel structure that had been its flower and now still held some fruits. A little bit of research and I found it: Carrion Flower (Smilax herbacea), which apparently smells rather foul when it’s in bloom and thus attracts carrion flies as its pollinator. Now I can’t wait to return and check it out in the next two seasons. Any excuse to get back there.

b17-bog to Pleasant Mountain

At last the time had come to say goodbye to the bog and then goodbye to each other. Thanks Barb, for giving me an excuse to go bogging with you. It was indeed a treat.

Spring Erupts–Sort of

Two days ago the thermometer climbed to 68˚ and old records were broken. But then, as it does in New England, we had a low of 15˚ this morning. And now it is sleeting.

w-beech snag in complete decay

Before the sleet began, however, I decided to do a loop hike at the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve, beginning from the Gallie Trail and climbing up the Hemlock Trail to the summit of Whiting Hill, with a return via the Red Trail back to the Gallie. It’s a perennial favorite that always has some different things to offer, including the skeletal remains of a beech snag. I think what intrigued me most, besides the pileated woodpecker holes, were the lines of the wood, curved in nature.

w-Lactarius deterrimus (orange latex milk cap)?

Similarly curved were the gills of a decaying Orange Latex Milk Cap (Lactarius deterrimus)–at least that’s what I think it was–found beneath a hemlock.

w-bear 1

Part of my love for the Hemlock Trail can be found among the beech trees that also grow there and it is my habit to admire the lines that decorate them as well.

w-bear 2

No matter how many times I visit, I’m filled with awe.

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And wonder.

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For the black bears that left their signatures behind.

w-paper birch bark 2

Other trees also gave me pause, for though some know them as white, I prefer to call them paper birch. The curled-back bark offered hues of a different color reminiscent of a sunrise in the midst of a graying day. As my mother was fond of saying, “Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning.” Today was a day to heed said warning.

w-paper birch bark 1

Others bespoke a setting sun.

w-paper birch bark--stitchwork

And not to go unnoticed, more bark from another paper birch that had fallen to the ground. It too, offered subtle pink hues, but it was the stitchery created by former lenticels (the tree’s pores) that drew my eye. They reminded me of a million zippers waiting to reveal hidden secrets.

w-yellow birch bark

And then there was the yellow birch–with its ribbony bark shedding its own light on the world.

w-wintergreen

Around the base of some trees, the snow had melted and wintergreen plants showed off their transitional colors–winter magenta giving way to summer green.

w-bench over Heald Pond

At last I reached the summit and headed to the east side first, where Heald Pond was visible through the bare trees.

w-Mollisia cinerea--gray cap?

Nearby, still another tree invited a closer look. I love the bark of hophornbeams, but this one sported a growth I wasn’t familiar with until I checked Lawrence Millman’s Fascinating Fungi of New England upon my return home. In the world of mushrooms my knowledge is enough to be dangerous, but I trust my fungi friends will weigh in if I’m wrong on the ID. I’m going out on a limb and calling this one Gray Cup (Mollisia cinerea), for it seemed to match Millman’s description: “With luck, you might find several hundred of these stalkless ascos . . . each fruiting body will be more or less cup or saucer-shaped, but wavy or irregular in age.” And he describes their habitat as scattered or densely crowded under hardwood logs. Well, these weren’t under a log, so that made me question my ID, but they certainly seemed to match the rest of the description and hophornbeam is among the hardest of the hardwoods.

w-hophornbeam

Below another hornbeam I found the ground scattered with little fruits.

w-hophornbeam hops

The common name for the tree derived from those fruits, which when attached to their twig (the arrow points to such) are so arranged that they look like hops. As they fall, each little bladder that contains a single seed separates from the group in hopes of finding the right spot to grow into the future.

w-vole tunnels

As I moved toward the western outlook, half tunnels in the snow let me know that the vole community had been active. It probably still is . . . maybe.

w-Whiting Hill view toward Kearsarge

And then, the view to the west, which encompasses Kezar Lake, Mount Kearsarge and the Whites. The scene changed a bit last October when a windstorm just before Halloween toppled a dead white pine . . . and the cairn that marked the summit.

w-asters in snow

While there, I looked around for evidence of the wild columbine that will bloom in a few months, but found only asters hugging the snow.

I stayed for a few minutes, but the wind had picked up and so I finally turned to head back down.

w-white pine blue sap

For a short link, I followed the same path until I turned right onto the Red Trail. Just prior to that I realized I’d missed a sight on my way up–the blue sap that bled from a white pine. I’ve seen it often over my years of noticing, but have no idea why the color blue, which was really almost periwinkle. In this case, the sap flowed because a pileated woodpecker had been hard at work.

w-pileated scat

And that meant I had to look–and wasn’t disappointed. Woodpecker scat. It was so well packed, that I pulled out my hand lens and got down on my knees for a closer examination. I practically kissed it but can say for certain that insect parts were layered within.

w-heart

A few minutes later, the trail split and as I said earlier, I followed the Red Trail to descend. I had only gone a wee bit when I heard a barred owl call, “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?” It was noon, after all, so it seemed totally appropriate. The call came from somewhere near the summit and I had to wonder if I’d made the mistake of not looking up quite enough, so taken was I with the hops and the view to the west. Perhaps that vole had provided a meal. And then I heard a response somewhere quite possibly along the Hemlock Trail by which I’d ascended. For about five minutes they called back and forth and I thought of the irony, for months ago I’d scheduled an Owl Prowl for this evening, but had cancelled it this morning due to the weather forecast. That decision was the right one, but perhaps the prowl should have been scheduled for an earlier time. No matter–what’s not to love about hearing an owl hoot at any time of day or night? Especially if one happens to be standing near a tree sporting a heart.

w-lunch bench

Continuing down, another critter made me scan the forest constantly for I saw bobcat tracks and smelled a musky cat odor that I’ve previously associated with this trail. But . . . all I saw were gray and red squirrels scampering from tree to tree and signs of lunch consumed on benches.

w-chipmunk

At the bottom, I switched back and forth between the Gallie and Homestead Trails. It was along the Homestead that another sign of spring’s advent being around the corner showed its face as a chipmunk darted in and out of a hole in a stonewall and watched me from the safety of a fallen tree.

w-foundation filled with chunks of ice

Because I was there, I decided to pay a visit to the McAllister family spirits and told them of my great finds. Of course, what I shared was nothing new to them for they’ve been keeping an eye and ear on this property since the mid 1800s.

w-foundation 2

I also let them know that I was impressed they’d stacked up on ice blocks in the root cellar–certainly their produce had remained fresh throughout the season.

w-spring 1

I was almost back to my truck when I detoured by a certain yellow birch. All along I’d been walking on tracks others had made, so packed was the snow. And even when I went off trail, which was frequently, I didn’t sink. But . . . up to my knees I went as I approached my final destination–the light colored sand in the middle of  the water.

w-spring 2

It was well worth the wee challenge to get to it for the action of bubbles and sand flowing like lava was ever mesmerizing. At last I’d reached a spring that erupts in all seasons.

 

 

 

 

 

The Books of February: The HIDDEN LIVES of OWLS & OWLS of the NORTH

“Who cooks for you?” was the question I heard being asked as I fell asleep last night. And “Who cooks for you all?” the response I awoke to this morning.

‘Tis the season for owl mating calls, in this case Barred Owls, and therefore the season to promote two books about some species that hoot in our neighborhoods.

o-The Hidden Lives of Owls

The first, The HIDDEN LIVES of OWLS: The Science and Spirit of Nature’s Most Elusive Birds by Leigh Calvez, provides a fun and informative read. Perhaps I like it so much because we share a name and an interest in nature. But really, it’s the stories she tells about her experiences in the night world that make me feel as if I’m sitting on a tree stump or rock wall beside her–waiting and watching.  Listening and learning.

Calvez begins her book with silhouettes for eleven owls and a list that includes the scientific name of each, overall length, and wingspan.

s-screech owl 2

The first chapter is about Northern Saw-whet Owls, a new favorite for me since I was honored with the opportunity to meet one at the end of 2017 as I snapped my way through a thicket of hemlock trees, twigs breaking with each movement. Despite all the noise, this owl flew in and our eyes connected. Like Calvez, that sighting quivered in my mind and heart as I tried to remain calm and maintain my focus. I felt like a little kid wearing big girl boots, such was my excitement.

It’s through Calvez that I learned the origin of this bird’s name: the rasping call reminding those who named it of the sound made when “whetting” or sharpening a saw against a file.

And did you know that within mated pairs of these little birds, minute members of the owl family as they aren’t much bigger than a robin, the female sits on the nest for an almost one-month incubation period, while the male dutifully brings food? He actually continues this process even after the young’uns fledge, while momma goes off to the spa in order to regain her strength (or start another brood).

Since she first became fascinated by owls, Calvez had the good fortune to travel to a variety of locations and learn from others–as well as from the owls. She delved into the science of the species and the spirit of some individual birds; her stories are all tucked into this 205-page book. While some are species we may not see in the Northeast, for she writes about those she most familiar with in the Northwest, there’s still plenty to be gained from reading this book.

The book ends with the following: “Notes from the Field: Insights from an Owl.” I wish I could share it with you, but don’t have permission to do so. Let me just say–this list and the silhouettes and comparisons at the beginning make the book well worth the purchase. And the stories in between, filled with wit and wisdom, make it well worth the read.

o-Owls of the North

The second book, which I purchased the same day, is OWLS of the NORTH: a naturalist’s handbook by David Benson.

This book is more of a guide, filled to the brink as it is with photographs and facts about ten owls. For each species, Benson includes a global map and quick list of the following: description, range, size, wingspan, other names, diet, a brief personal story about an experience with the particular owl, identification, sounds, habitat, food, hunting, courtship and nesting, juveniles, and behavior. Almost every page features one or two action shots.

And then there are the sidebars, highlighted within an orange box on each of the odd-numbered pages. One included information about pellets, whitewash and skulls.

o-owl pellet

Of course, that reminded me that I have an owl pellet in my collection of all things natural. I found it in March 2016 at Brownfield Bog. According to Benson’s sidebar: “Owls usually swallow their prey whole. An owl catches a mouse, kills it with its talons or by biting its neck and then bolts the whole thing down. Much of the mouse is not very digestible though–the bones, fur and other tough parts don’t provide much nutrition. These are compacted together in the owl’s digestive tract. Then, about six hours after the meal, a pellet of these indigestible parts is coughed up and it drops to the ground beneath where the owl is roosting.”

o-pellet critters--voles

I’ll probably never dissect the pellet I found, but did dissect one for the Maine Master Naturalist Course–and determined that the owl had consumed two voles. (Don’t look too closely for I know that I put a couple of bones in the wrong place–nobody’s perfect.)

We have an Owl Prowl coming up at the Greater Lovell Land Trust and I’m trying to learn as much as I can. The two books, The HIDDEN LIVES of OWLS by Leigh Calvez and OWLS of the NORTH by David Benson, have proven to be valuable resources. I purchased both at Bridgton Books, an independent book store.

If you want to learn more, I encourage you to check out these books, join us for the Owl Prowl, or step outside–tis mating season and the calls can be heard. You might even think about responding. Go ahead–give a hoot.

The HIDDEN LIVES of OWLS: The Science and Spirit of Nature’s Most Elusive Birds by Leigh Calvez, published 2016, Sasquatch Books.

OWLS of the NORTH: a naturalist’s handbook by David Benson, published 2008, Stone Ridge Press.

Book of January: Winter World

It seemed only apropos as a blizzard intensifies that the January Book of the Month be Bernd Heinrich’s Winter World: the ingenuity of animal survival.

w-Winter World by Bernd Heinrich

In this very readable book, biologist and illustrator Heinrich takes us into the depths of animal adaptation that allows even the tiniest among us to deal with the elements in order to avoid freezing to death. Of course, some do. And others become food.

A main theme of the book is the yellow-crowned kinglet, a bird Heinrich describes as weighing as little as two pennies. I’ve only had the honor of observing these tiny birds a couple of times, but daily watch other birds puff out their feathers to insulate their bodies from the frigid temps we’ve experienced this winter.

w-snow on pines

The bird frenzy was crazy at the feeders all day today. And the blizzard conditions drew me outside for a while on a quest of my own to see what else I might observe. Other than lots of snow, I didn’t see much. A few chickadees flew in to check on me as they worked on hemlock cones–in their attempt to release seeds. And I startled a ruffed grouse, which in turn startled me.

w-no Mount Washington in sight

But really, the wind was strong and view at times quite limited.

w-gray birch

One of the curious things that Heinrich doesn’t address in this book is the affect of a changing habitat on survival. With all the snow and ice we’ve had, gray birches everywhere have bent with their burdens. I know this area to be frequented by snowshoe hares, but suspect that will change as the birches die and red maples take their  place.

w-deer tag

It’s also an area that the deer pass through, not stopping to rest for it’s a bit wet at times, but certainly pausing to browse.

w-deer rub

And leave behind their scent.

w-vernal pool

Nearby exists my favorite vernal pool. In chapter 13: Frozen Frogs on Ice, Heinrich addresses the chemistry that allows the wood frogs and peepers who will sing from this pool in the future to become frost-tolerant. “When the first ice crystals begin to form on or in the skin of a wood frog, it sets off an alarm reaction. Skin receptors relay the message of freezing to the central nervous system (CNS), and the CNS activates the adrenal medulla to release adrenaline into the bloodstream. When the adrenaline circulates to the liver, it there activates the enzymes that convert the liver’s stores of glycogen to glucose. In the wood frog, this response is massive and before the ice reaches the cells they become packed with glucose that acts as an antifreeze . . . in about fifteen hours, the frog is frozen solid except for the insides of its cells. Its heart stops. No more blood flows. It no longer breathes. By most definitions, it is dead. But it is prepared to again revive at a later date.” As he says, the wood frogs (and hibernating bears) are “biological marvels that challenge the limits of our believes of what seems possible.” 

w-goldenrod gall

There’s so much more in his book, including chapter 14: Insects: From the Diversity to the Limits, in which among other things he discusses the goldenrod gall fly larva that is “physiologically specialized to overwinter.” 

While I was out and about, I checked on the red squirrel cache I’ve been keeping an eye on. No action of any kind today. In fact, most critters seemed to have hunkered down to wait out the storm, huddled together in ground or tree holes and dens. Sometimes in the quiet of a snowstorm I meet deer, but not so today. With the wind whipping through the trees, large plops of snow whooshed off of hemlocks and pines, while shards of ice crackled and fell. A few times I felt like Chicken Little as a chunk hit my hat. All of that was reason enough to find a cozy spot.

w-blizzard of 2018

Finally, it was time for me to do the same. To return home, brew a cup of tea, and reread Bernd Heinrich’s book. It’s one of my favorites, although I also love The Geese of Beaver Bog, The Trees in My Forest, and A Year in the Maine Woods. (Note: my least favorite is Summer World. Not sure why, but try as I might, I can’t get through it.)

w-a smile and a wink

Winter World literally and figuratively makes me smile.

Winter World: The ingenuity of animal survival by Bernd Heinrich, published 2003, HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Tracker Tales

When I pulled into the Charlotte Hobbs Memorial Library parking lot this morning I didn’t expect any of the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Tuesday Trackers to be waiting for me given that the temperature was at least -20˚. But, Jo Radner was ready and waiting. She joined me for the drive to the John A. Segur West property on New Road.

Standing in the small parking lot was Stephen Lewis, another diehard participant. And as  Jo and I fiddled with our snowshoes, Heinrich Wurm pulled in.

And so, we four intrepid trampers took off over the snowbank and immediately met some tracks. A little back tracking and attention to details helped us determine a bobcat had crossed the trail. There were red and later gray squirrel tracks, deer, and mice. Most were old for the animals, especially the squirrels and mice seemed to be hunkered down in their holes–certainly a good choice.

j-junco tracks and wing marks

By the time we reached the old log landing at the end of the trail, we noticed lots of junco tracks and their small wing impressions. Seeds aplenty were scattered across the snow. Our conversation soon turned from the little birds to an experience I had this past week when a saw-whet owl flew into a thick stand of hemlocks I was crashing through like a bull in a china shop. I had just finished saying that much to my surprise the bird flew in as I broke through the branches when one would expect a bird to quickly depart, when Steve pointed at something in our midst.

j-mouse discovery 1a

We all moved in for a closer look.

j-mouse discovery 2

A dead mouse splayed on the branch of a gray birch. My brain played with that sight over and over again. Yes, we’d seen numerous crazy mouse tracks left behind by either deer or white-footed mice–it’s difficult to determine which, for both have long tails that leave drag marks between their footprints. Jumping mice hibernate so they could be ruled out.  Jo asked if I could tell which of the other two it might be. I’m happy to say that even well-respected tracker Paul Rezendes, author of Tracking and the Art of Seeing, has this to say, “There are more than 120 different species of North American mice, and about half of them fall under the general rubric ‘white-footed mouse.’ The deer mouse is a type of white-footed mouse, and to me there is not perceptible difference in tracks. There are several anatomical differences, but these change from habitat to habitat. The white-footed mouse measures up to about seven and a half inches long (including its three-and-a-half inch tail) and weighs one-half to one ounce. Its color is gray or light brown to dull orange-brown above, with a white belly, throat, and, as its name implies, feet. The deer mouse is gray to reddish brown on its upper parts, including its tail, and white below, with longer hind feet and a tail usually longer than its body. Both animals have bicolored a bicolored tail.”

j1-mouse 1

Our next question was, “How did it get there?” My mind immediately went to a December 13 entry on page 419 in Mary Holland’s Naturally Curious Day by Day about butcher birds overwintering. Mary discusses how northern shrikes preferred food sources are other birds, mammals and insects. “This tundra-nesting bird comes as far south as New England in the winter, where it preys mainly on mice, voles, and small birds.” She goes on to explain that the bird often kills more than it can consume and leaves some food in the freezer for future feeding adventures. “The manner in which it stores this extra food is what gives it the nickname ‘butcher bird.’ It often impales prey on a thorn, broken branch, or even barbed wire, or it wedges prey into narrow V-shaped forks of branches, where it hangs until reclaimed by the shrike.”

Bingo! I think we figured out what we were seeing and in Mary Holland’s book we have my dear friend, mentor and former LEA and GLLT Education Director, Bridie McGreavy, PhD, to thank for the photo.

We could have turned around then, so thrilled were we, but we hadn’t even reached the wetland. And so, a quick check to make sure everyone was comfortable and on we trekked.

j-deer crossing Bradley Brook

When we found more deer tracks, we decided to follow them in search of beds. At that point we found no bedding areas, but did see that the deer had crossed Bradley Brook.

j-Bradley Brook frozen

It was the first time I’d ever seen the brook frozen over and we took advantage by making our way to the other side.

j-water on lungwort 1

We continued looking for tracks, but found other things as well, including dried lungwort. I mentioned that lungwort, like other bryophytes, will immediately photosynthesize when water is added. Jo wanted proof and so I had her pull out my water bottle and pour it over the leafy structure.

j-lungwort turning green

Within minutes . . .

j-lungwort magic

magic.

j-beaver works 1

As we crossed the wetland, we searched high and low for evidence of wildlife. Up high, chickadees and goldfinches sang from treetops. Down low–not a single track. We did find a few examples of beaver works.

j-beaver works 2

And we thought perhaps the lodges were active.

j-beaver works 3

We hoped.

j-checking the beaver lodge1

But our hope was dashed.

j-beaver lodge 2

No vent hole above and no evidence of life anywhere nearby. Perhaps they’d abandoned this for a second one we spied.

j-stone lodge

Only thing is that the second one also supported no mammal life at the moment, for it turned out not to be a lodge after all, but a boulder covered with snow.

j-beaver dam

Just beyond the boulder lodge, however, we found the old dam, which still stood strong.

j-sharing smiles at the dam

Our smiles were equally strong as we acknowledge what a fine day it had been and this would make the perfect turn around point.

j-Heinrich looking skyward

Jo and Steve took one last look at the brook below and Heiner turned his eyes skyward.

j-heading back

Heading back, we all did the same for we heard military planes flying overhead and could see their contrails.

j-looking north

But it was the cloud formation that really drew our attention.

j-clouds 2

Steve mentioned lenticular clouds and it seemed the perfect explanation given that these lens-shaped structures probably formed after the flow of air encountered Mount Washington.

j-mouse in tree crotch

Our journey back found us going off trail again, and we did find a couple of deer beds, but what will stand out in our brains for this day’s tramp–the mouse with the very long tail and tiny white feet. How it got there, we don’t know for sure, though the shrike story does make sense. What I am sure of is that it will become part of our tracker tales.

 

Whetting Our Apatite

Our hunger is never satisfied each time we gather. We always manage to see more, share more and learn more because of our combined knowledge. We also always come away with questions. And so it was this afternoon when about ten of my Maine Master Naturalist Lewiston classmates and I gathered with two of the programs founders, Dorcas Miller and Fred Cichocki, to explore a public park in Auburn, Maine.

a1a-looking at trees

From the get go, we bounced back and forth along the trail to look at the idiosyncrasies of trees and chat about the book, A Beginner’s Guide to RECOGNIZING Trees of the NORTHEAST.

a1-red maple target fungus

And as they should, teachable moments kept presenting themselves, including a prime example of the bull’s eye target fungus on red maple bark. Suddenly, those who hadn’t quite seen the target in an earlier specimen had the opportunity to meet it and I trust they will recognize it going forward.

a2-slime mold

As much as we zigzagged down the trail, we also bounced off of each other as we shared our knowledge. Because we all suffer from Nature Distraction Disorder, and have the tendency to travel at a slower than slow pace, it was no surprise that a stop to look at a fungus closer to the ground meant that one of us noticed a slime mold in the crevasses of pine bark. A poke with a finger nail and the spores oozed out.

a2a-approaching the mines

There were mosses to look at. Ferns to recognize. Lichens to question. And a trench that probably had been used to drain water back in the day.

a3-Dr Fred

Just beyond the trench, the star of the show took over. Dr. Fred was in his element as he reviewed the geological history of this place.

a21

And when he talks, we listen.

a4- Greenlaw quarry 1

We had come upon the first of the quarries, where feldspar had been mined in the early 1900s for porcelain. But, as Fred explained, while mining the feldspar, rare and unusual minerals had been discovered including a phosphate mineral called apatite.

a6a-Maine Feldspar Quarry

From there, we circled down and around and looked across at the Maine Feldspar Quarry.

a6-Maine Feldspar quarry

We learned from Fred that the wall of the feldspar quarry was a demonstration of light-colored pegmatite just above the water, topped by gray metamorphic rock.

a8-basalt dyke

Next, we encountered a fractured wall of fine-grained basalt–an igneous vein that formed a dyke.

a9-basalt:iron

Basalt is fine-grained due to the molten rock cooling too quickly for large mineral crystals to grow. Typically, it’s gray to black in color with rust from iron oxidation.

a12-another quarry

From there we moved on to another quarry, where our attention was not so much focused on the rocks as on other things.

a13-squirrel cache

For deep within, we spied several red squirrel caches and dining tables. Later, we watched a chipmunk take advantage of the squirrel’s work. Minerals aren’t the only gems of choice at this place.

a14-labyrinth

As we made our way around to a quarry dump, we discovered a labyrinth that made its way around the pine trees. I followed it to the center–struck by the fact that we were examining rocks dating back to the Carboniferous period, and I was walking a path based on an ancient archetype dating back 4,000 years. Time. Worth a wonder.

a15-tourmaline 1

In the dump field, we scattered about looking for souvenirs and then paused at a boulder to examine its offerings.

a16-tourmaline crystal

On the back side, Fred pointed out several depressions where tourmaline crystals had been discovered and removed. We were awed.

a20-graphic granite

There was so much to see from milky and smoky quartz to feldspar, mica and garnet, but my favorite find was more graphic.

a17-graphic granite

Graphic granite–a pegmatite of igneous origin that splits in such a way to make it look as if stories have been expressed with a fountain pen. In this case, I was sure the story was about birds flying over mountains.

The quarries were our turn-around point. We had begun our adventure with plans to visit them quickly, then explore the outer trails of the park, but as we knew would happen, two and half hours later we’d only made our way to the quarries and it was time to head out because the sun was sinking.

That didn’t matter for happy were we to spend time exploring together and whetting our naturalist appetites at Mount Apatite.

 

Book of December: A Beginner’s Guide to RECOGNIZING TREES of the NORTHEAST

Fellow master naturalist Alan Seamans recently sent me an e-mail with this message: “I found a new book that might be of interest to you. It’s called A Beginner’s Guide to Recognizing Trees of the Northeast, by Mark Mikolas, published Oct. 3, 2017. Rather than leaves, buds or flowers, he focuses on bark, stature, habitat, and some other techniques to teach beginners how to recognize about 40 common tree species. It’s a compact softcover guide, very educational, lots of photos illustrating his points. Not text heavy. I like it, and learned many things.”

IMG_3897

Book of December

And so I did what I often do when I hear of a book that might interest me and marched into Bridgton Books in search of a copy. Alan was correct. It isn’t text heavy and indeed simplifies things in a way a dichotomous key cannot. Actually, this book includes so many of the nuances I like to share along the trail with folks who are looking at trees for the first or hundredth time and as I read it I felt like I was on a guided tour with a new friend.

Mikolas begins this tree identification book by restricting the focus area to the Northeast–in a zone those of us who live in New England may find amusing for it ranges from our grand states south to West Virginia and west to Indiana and Michigan. As he explains, though, that’s the Northeast as defined by the World Geographical Scheme of Recording Plant Distributions.

The book is divided into two sections–deciduous or broad-leaf trees and coniferous–or cone-bearing trees. And within each section, it’s broken down into individual trees with plenty of photographs to explain each characteristic.

Mikolas keeps it simple and I wish I’d had this book when I first began my journey into familiarizing myself with different tree species. Similar to the approach taken by Donald W. Stokes in A Guide to Nature in Winter, who suggested learning six deciduous trees and the evergreens, Mikolas also encourages the reader to start with the most common, though he prefers the number twelve.

I wondered what I might learn or relearn as I began reading. And found plenty of information, some of it already stored in my brain, and more to be tucked away.

s-target

The book begins with red maple, which always has something red to display, but Mikolas also mentions the target fungus that affects only this species, creating a round bull’s eye on the bark. I know from experience that once your eye focuses on the target, you’ll begin to see if on so many maple trees. And as he said, and a forester told me several years ago, here in western Maine, 90% of our maples are Acer rubrum. That’s one thing you don’t have to worry about, except for one instance that I could find, he doesn’t use the Latin names. For some folks, that may be a downfall, but this is a beginner’s guide.

b-twisted maple

I was pleased that he included the twisting of a sugar maple. Other trees twist as well and I can remember first realizing this while tramping with a friend. We couldn’t understand what was going on. The reason for the spiral growth is on page 26–you’ll have to read it for yourself.

After describing these two trees, as he does periodically throughout the book, Mikolas gives clues on how to tell them apart. For these two, he describes their habitat, bark, twig and bud color.

m-beech sunshine

One of the clues he provides for beech trees is the fact that the leaves remain on the trees all winter. What I like about his comment is that he says this happens on young trees, for indeed, since I started paying attention, that’s what I’ve noted.

b-marcescent leaf

He also described the habit of oaks retaining their leaves, but what he didn’t mention was the term to describe this habit: marcescence or withering. Maybe I was disappointed because I just like to say marcescence.

b-ash bark

When it came to ash trees, I was pleased that he described the bark as being diamond-shaped, but he added an X to the pattern and that may help when I next look at an ash tree with others. Some have a difficult time finding the diamonds. They don’t exactly glitter in the sunshine.

b-aspen bark

I was thankful that when it came to the quaking and big-toothed aspen trees, Mikolas acknowledged that they are difficult to identify by bark alone. A few years ago, I spent some time practicing my tree ID with two different foresters and when I asked about these trees, they too, had a difficult time pinpointing the differences. Both were sure we were looking at quaking, but a quick scan of the ground below showed us big-tooth leaves.

b-aspen 2

One thing I’d add to Mikolas’ description is that on the lower portion of older trees, the vertical lines are similar to that of a red oak. One of the really cool tricks I picked up from the book in reference to aspens is what he calls “birds on a wire.” Again, you’ll need to purchase a copy to find out what he means. Or join me for a tramp.

b-grandaddy birch

Another description that brought a smile to my face was how he casted a mature and shaggy yellow birch as “the granddads or old wise men of the forest.”

b-yellow birch

I had the good fortune to meet one such character just the other day.

b-basswood

In reference to basswood,  Alan Seamans wrote in his e-mail message: “I didn’t know you could confirm i.d. of basswoood by the sound it makes when you hit it with a stick!” I didn’t either, but you can bet that’s on my list of things to do–frequently.

b-paper-birch-old

Mikolas’ photo essay on the aging of paper birch bark from a teen to an old man is well worth a look. My only disagreement with him in this section is that what he sees as an inverted V over the branch, looks more like an inverted U to me, or as I’ve always described it–a fu manchu mustache of sorts.

b-gray birch

Likewise, Mikolas sees black triangles under the branches of gray birches. I could agree with him on that for when I say it’s a chevron, people don’t always get what I’m talking about. One friend, in keeping with the paper birch’s mustache, suggested the gray birch may have a beard–a gray beard. Mikolas also says that gray birches are chalkier than paper–experiment for yourself  by rubbing your fingers on the bark and come to your own conclusion on that one.

IMG_5301

Turning to striped maples, I was tickled to learn a new common name. He used goosefoot, which describes the leaf shape,  and moosewood because deer and moose like to leave their scent by rubbing their antlers on the bark, but a name I hadn’t heard before–whistle wood. Apparently, slip-bark whistles can be carved from striped maple or willow in the spring.

n-Central Park 1

I do wish I’d read this book before venturing to Central Park a few weeks ago. I was in awe of the American elms that grow there, and wondered about their health given that so many elms have succumbed to Dutch elm disease. What I didn’t realize is that what I saw before me was one of the largest and last stands of these majestic trees.

b-red pine plantation

Heading back into a woodland setting, and this one was actually in Vermont, occasionally we stumble upon red pine plantations. It was my understanding that these were planted by the CCC or Civilian Conservation Corps between 1938 and 1942 to provide farmers with a hill crop and others with employment. When walking in the woods and suddenly encountering a sterile environment where trees stand stalwart in lines and there is no undergrowth due to the thick needle cover below, and little diversity in wildlife, one may have entered such a plantation. At the time, it seemed like a good idea and provided work.

hemlock petioles (stems) and stomata lines

In the forest, I often discover hemlock and balsam fir saplings sharing a space. One word of caution when it comes to differentiating between the hemlock shown here and balsam fir needles that are shown on page 188–both have two white stripes of stomata on the underside. There are other clues to help tell them apart and I’ve actually written about such in the upcoming issue of Lake Living magazine so you’ll have to stay tuned.

spiky spruce

And then there are the spruces and I have to admit, I have a difficult time with red versus white, though forester friends have said they hybridize. I noticed that Mikolas mentions both, but doesn’t provide the fine details about scent and twig hair. Perhaps it’s enough to know it’s a spruce–especially if it’s spikey to the touch.

b9-tamarack gold

The tree descriptions conclude with the one and only deciduous conifer of our woods–the tamarack–the cone-bearing tree that loses its leaves (needles) each winter.

And with that, I will conclude this rather lengthy review. I’m so glad Alan recommended it to me, for it really is a gem. I hope you’ll purchase a copy and together we can head out on the tree trail and get to know our local species even better.

Put A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO RECOGNIZING TREES OF THE NORTHEAST on your wish list and shop local.

A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO RECOGNIZING TREES OF THE NORTHEAST, by Mark Mikolas, published 2017, The Countryman Press.

Post script, or maybe it should be post post. This comment appears on my About page, but I couldn’t resist including it here. I’m always tickled and honored when an author responds to one of my posts:

Thanks so much for the detailed and positive review of my book, A Beginner’s Guide to Recognizing Trees. It sounds like it would be great to take a hike with you. I really appreciate the good press. –mm

Liked by you

  1. Mark, Thank YOU so much for taking the time to read this and comment. I think A Beginner’s Guide to Recognizing Trees is a fabulous addition to my book shelf and back pack. In fact, I’m on the board of the Maine Master Naturalist Program and asked our curriculum coordinator to review it. If it doesn’t become one of our text books, it should at least be on our recommended reading list. Well done, indeed. Oh, and if you’re ever in western Maine–give a shout. LMH

 

Through Younger Eyes

Zigzagging through the woods, my young friends find wonder in every moment. They embrace their discoveries–often with exclamations and excitement. Following the blazed trail is not in their blood, for they know that some of the coolest finds are off trail, where the fungi aren’t trampled and mammal signs not obliterated.

w-striped ledge

And so it was that this past week, I had the honor of spending lots of time exploring with them. First, on Tuesday, our Greater Lovell Land Trust docent tramp found us atop the “striped ledge” beside Keewaydin Lake in Stoneham, Maine. One of our docents, Mary, had obtained landowner permission for this grand adventure. From the Maine Geological Survey: “The dikes cutting the granite trend generally from southwest to northeast. They most likely intruded the host rock during the Jurassic period, when continental rifting caused extensive fracturing of New England’s bedrock (McHone 1992). Basaltic magma intruded these cracks, and cooled and solidified to form dikes such as those seen in Striped Ledge. Close examination of the ledge shows a complex intrusion history at this locality Some of the dikes have layering parallel to their walls, which may have resulted from several pulses of magma into the fractures and/or chilling of the dike margins in contact with cooler host rock . . . the dikes locally cross one another, with the older dikes being offset where they are torn apart by the younger ones.” How cool is that?

w-smiling for rosy quartz

Darn cool, especially when rose quartz was among the great finds.

w-rock hounds

And in that instant, a few rock hounds were initiated.

w-turning two twigs into a fish

When not looking at rocks, a couple of broken twigs on the ledge became a fish in one moment, and hotdog tongs in another–ever versatile were they.

w-eyeing a flower in rock tripe

But it wasn’t the ledge alone that drew their attention. When we stopped to admire rock tripe growing atop a boulder, it was the eye of the youth that discovered the green “flower” at the center.

w-Sucker Brook 2

And then the next morning, which dawned even colder than the previous, I joined the same family for a pre-hike at the GLLT’s Wilson Wing Moose Pond Bog Preserve as we prepared for a public hike. The trail meanders beside Sucker Brook, and we, too, meandered.

w-dipping into the cold for a Pooh stick

Pooh sticks were launched periodically and sometimes had to be dislodged.

w-wondering about foam

There were bubbles to watch in the brook and the foam formed to hypothesize about.

w-stump art

Nature’s artistic designs were viewed with awe.

w-pointing to hobblebush

The intention was to find a few of their favorite things. They found a few hundred and  . . .

w-seesaw

had lots of fun along the way.

w-exploring the stream

All the way along, the water, moss-covered rocks and sticks became part of their playground. But really, they also noted a variety of fungi, including their favorite green stain, which was in fruit,  a tree that had brought distress this summer for it housed honeybees and they learned that the hard way, great sliding spots from which to practice being river otters, the sunlight glittering on Moose Pond Bog and Indian pipes in their capsule form. There were sapsucker holes, pileated woodpecker activity, birch polypores, and even a surprise. They couldn’t wait for the public hike to show off their discoveries.

l-measuring diameter 4

That same afternoon, District Forester Shane Duigan, joined our GLLT after-school program at New Suncook School in Lovell. The Trailblazers, as the group is known, first introduced Shane to their trees. And then he showed us some of the tools stored in his vest, such as the tape measure used to determine diameter.

w-learning how to age a tree

As the kids made guesses about a tree’s age, Shane demonstrated how foresters use an increment borer to extract a small core from a tree.

l-counting rings on tree core

They crowded in to watch him count its rings. The predicted age: 100. The actual age: 50. The fun: 100%.

w-Horseshoe Pond

And then this morning dawned, colder than our previous outings and the wind created white caps on Horseshoe Pond below the kiosk for the Wilson Wing Moose Pond Bog Preserve. It was time for our public walk to enjoy the wonders of Wilson Wing.

w-ice 1

One of the biggest surprises were the icicles that had formed on Sucker Brook since our last visit on Wednesday morning.

w-carrot-shaped icycle

And because they are kids, they couldn’t resist gathering such to admire up close. This one looked like a carrot, and actually appeared so as it reflected the blaze orange–our color of the season.

w-ice 2

The kids realized that the icicles formed upon all types of vegetation and created their own interesting shapes worth celebrating.

w-ice 3

One even looked like a flag blowing in the breeze when turned upright, and this guy showed it to his mom in honor of her service in the Army and the fact that today is Veterans Day. Turned on its side, it became a maze game and he really wanted to place a small ball in it and watch the ball move through. And as much as he wanted to take it home, it has to live on in his mind’s eye and this photograph.

w-wondering about the car

They showed us so many things of nature, and even the unnatural, though they imagined all the critters for which the old blue car might create a fine home–squirrels, weasels, porucpines, foxes, and coyotes were on their list. And then they turned into otters themselves and slide back down the hill over and over again.

w-polypody 1

They wanted to share some other great finds, including a few squirrel dining tables and a rock with bad hair day, but the crowd had gotten ahead of them. Despite that, they looked at the “bad hair day” fern, aka polypody, and realized that it had curled in since Wednesday’s visit. And then they figured out that the fern curls when it gets cold. Who knew you could use a fern to determine the temperature?

w1-artist conks

Though they didn’t get to share all of their finds this morning, they did make some new discoveries as they wandered off trail, like the artists conks that grew in abundance.

w1-dead man's fingers

And deadman fingers fungi that reminded one of them of scat standing upright. I’ve a feeling that description will stay with me each time I look at it going forward.

w-bear hair 1

In what seemed like no time, for we traveled the trail much faster than intended, we were back on Horseshoe Pond Road and one among us was particularly excited about a certain display upon pole 13. She ran ahead to be able to show all the participants as they passed by.

w-bear hair on pole 13

It was bear hair and scratch marks that she shared with enthusiasm. And the knowledge that we are not alone in these woods.

And just after that one of her brothers realized our walk was almost over and he was disappointed for so much fun had he had being a junior docent.

w-Sarah signing my book

A few hours later, my guy and I ventured to The Met Coffee House and Gallery in North Conway to meet up with another who encourages children and their adults to explore the outdoors. It was our great joy to join my dear friend, Sarah Frankel, for the first book signing event as she celebrated the publishing of Half Acre.

w-posing by an uprooted tree

And now it’s the end of the day and the end of the week, and I’m a better person because of the time I’ve spent with young friends as they’ve moved quickly at times and then stopped to wonder. They taught me the joy of looking with open minds.

If you don’t have kids to learn with and from, may you find time to channel your inner child and look at the world through younger eyes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time Well Spent

Time. I never seem to have enough of it. Time with my guy. Time with our sons. Time with family. Time with friends. Time to explore. Time to reflect. Time to write. Time to sketch. Time to be . . . in tune with the world around me and my own soul.

b-pileated 1

And so today, when I heard a pileated woodpecker as it worked on a dead ash tree by one of the stonewalls, I decided to take a break from my own work and give it the attention it so loudly demanded.

b-pileated 2

Its a repeat visitor to that tree; along with crows and hawks and smaller birds as well. The tree can no longer create its own source of food, but it continues to provide for others, be they bird, insect or mushroom. And I suspect that it secretly shares its knowledge of the world with the younger ash it towers over–to the right. As for the pileated, his time at that tree came to an end . . . for the moment. He’ll be back–probably soon.

b-ash tree 1

Because I stood below and no longer need to look up, I turned my gaze downward. And then had to pause. What had happened? Who had visited? And scraped the ground right down to the roots? And left a pile of leaves and sticks and other debris at the edge? A mushroom foray? An acorn frenzy? I looked for hair and found none. Turkey? Squirrel? Porcupine?

b-ash tree 2

And at the base of the next old ash, similar behavior.

b-scat 2

Returning to the first tree, I discovered that what looked like dirt was actually little pellets of scat . . . tiny scat. Tons of scat. A latrine. Did perhaps a meadow vole live somewhere nearby and a predator went after it? I did also suspect that there may have been a bunch of mushrooms that were harvested and in the process the vole’s latrine was exposed. I’m not sure if I’ll ever really know, but since I had stopped to look, I noticed something else.

b-pigskin poison puffball (Earthball)

Tucked near the base of the tree and relatively untouched by whatever had spent some time clearing the area, was a pigskin poison puffball, so named for its outer skin that feels like a football. (In his book, Fascinating Fungi of New England, Lawrence Millman writes: “historical note: footballs used to be made of pigs’ bladders, not pigskin.”) The dark spore mass within seemed to reflect the ashen color of the tree beside which it grew.

b-pelt lichen1

I should have returned to work then, but the puffball discovery and my wonders about the latrine made me want to poke about some more. Since I’d missed the puffball, what else hadn’t I noticed. A few steps to the left upon another tree root–a pelt lichen with many fruits, aka many-fruited pelt. I first discovered this lichen upon Bald Pate Mountain a few years ago, but didn’t know that it grew here–right under my nose.

b-many-fruited 2

Its smooth brown lobes shone brightly due to all the recent moisture, but it was the reddish-brown apothecia or fruiting forms that I found so intriguing. They’re described as saddles, and I suppose if you look at one from the right angle, yes, you can see the saddle-like structure.

b-field dog lichen

On the next tree, another pelt known as dog lichen–apparently named because its fruits reminded someone of dog ears.

b-spring tails 1

The algal component of a lichen goes into food production during rain, and so I continued to peer around. But first, a clump of Indian pipes caught my attention and upon them I noticed springtails doing their thing–springing about in search of food. Their diet consists of fungi, pollen, algae and decaying organic matter. Springtails are among the most abundant of insects, but because they are so small, they often go undetected unless you see them on snow in the winter.

b-mealy pixie cups

And then back to the lichens it was. I found mealy pixie cups in great number growing on a stonewall.

b-pixie cups fruiting

And one large patch looked like it was going to produce another, for so prolific were its fruits of tiny round balls.

b-lichen design

Also among my great finds, were the lichens decorating branches that had fallen to the ground in our recent wind storm. I loved the picture they painted with variations on a theme of color . . .

b-foliose and fruticose

and form.

b-lichen 3

My favorite of all reminded me of so many things–a rose in bloom, waves echoing forth with ripples, and even a topographical map.

Alas, I was short on time and needed to head in, but my finds–were the greatest. Even a wee bit of time spent wondering is time well spent.

 

Book of October: The Secrets of Wildflowers

It hardly seems right to be choosing a book about wildflowers as the book of the month for October, but . . . I have. And for so many reasons. Therefore, the book of October is The Secrets of Wildflowers: A Delightful Feast of Little-Known Facts, Folklore, and History  by Jack Sanders.

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First and foremost, there’s the cover! I know . . . I shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. But . . . I do. And this one appeals to my sense of color. My eyes are soothed by it, and therefore, so is my brain, and I find it a lovely addition to my summer kitchen office or the upstairs library (aka bathroom).

Then there’s the subtitle: “A Delightful Feast of Little-Known Facts, Folklore, and History.” And it is . . . a delightful feast, for its varied in format, offering prose and poetry, stories, descriptions, comparisons, suggestions, and a vast variety of tidbits during this time of harvest.

On the introductory page, Sanders writes, “The Secrets of Wildflowers covers natives and immigrants, friends and foes, because both kinds are here and both are interesting.” Oh my . . . isn’t that enough to make if perfect for right here and now. And I don’t mean just flowers.

The book is divided into three sections, based on approximate blooming seasons, (bringing me to another reason to choose such a book for October–it seems our growing season has extended and my day lilies have new leaves. That’s scary.), beginning with a section on spring, then summer, followed by late summer & fall. Within each section, several pages are devoted to a particular flower, including photographs and sketches–and oh, so much information. The only drawback that I can see, is the fact that I can’t see–the type is a wee bit small, perhaps because Sanders had so much to share and the book is already quite lengthy at 304 pages.

The book concludes with a two-page list of websites, a brief glossary and an extensive bibliography.

And so, as the October breezes send leaves dancing off the trees and the color begins to wane from the landscape, despite the small type, I find myself drawn to this treasure trove of information. I can pick it up and read a short section, while in the “library,” or spend an hour focusing on one plant while drinking a cup of tea in my office. I can skip around from season to season and not feel out of place. In the midst of it all, my hope it that I’ll retain some of what Sanders shares and I, too, can share when I lead future walks–adding to the story and helping others make connections.

With all of that in mind, I think The Secrets of Wildflowers is the perfect October book, for now that I own a copy, I have the rest of fall, on into winter, and next spring to devour this delightful feast. You might think the same and add it to your Christmas list. (Along with a magnifying glass–just in case).

Oh, and it was published in Guilford, Connecticut, next to my hometown–so that, of course, makes it special.

I found my copy on the shelves at Bridgton Books.

Book of October: The Secrets of Wildflowers: A Delightful Feast of Little-Known Facts, Folklore, and History by Jack Sanders. Lyons Press, Guilford, CT, 2014.

 

 

 

 

 

Plan B Mondate

We had a hike in Evans Notch planned for today, but a look at the weather forecast made us question our choice.

Forecaster Jack made the following prediction: “Current observations this morning show the long-awaited cold front just about to clear the coast. NW winds are already in progress across the mountains behind the front. Today’s weather will be dominated by a familiar pattern that we haven’t gotten to enjoy much recently: upslope/downslope. The mountains will see plenty of cloud cover as air is forced to rise up the NW slopes. As that air descends the SE slopes of the mountains, it warms and dries, leading to sunny conditions along the coastal plain. All models are in agreement that temperatures will be moving downward today, so the ‘high temperature’ is whatever you’re seeing right now. For the mountains, this means that temperatures in the mountains will fall from the low 50s this morning down through the 40s this afternoon before arriving in the 30s this evening. Temps along the coast will be about 10 degrees warmer with morning 60s cooling to afternoon 50s and evening 40s.

Consequently, we thought about changing our plans since it seemed like any foliage views would be under cloud cover. And then Marita sent me an invitation to hike with her tomorrow, which I can’t do, but we decided we’d invite her to join us today–on a hike of her choice.

r1-trail sign

The Red Tail Trail off Hurricane Mountain and the backside of Cranmore Mountain was the path she chose. It’s a funky trailhead to locate–park near the little cement building and gate, walk up the dirt road to a large water tank (now decorated with graffiti), and skip the first trailhead to Kettle Ridge, instead circling about halfway around the tank where a small sign about ten feet up a tree marks the way.

r30-dam

For a half mile or so, the trail follows No Name Brook, so named by moi because I have yet to locate its identity, but it parallels Hurricane Mountain Road. Near the start, barbed wire and an old mill dam bespoke its former use.

r31-no name brook

We followed it, slipping down occasionally for a closer look and listen–its rhythmic cadence so pleasing to our souls.

r3-giant erratic

And then we came upon the glacial erratic that must have landed with a thud one day about 10,000 years ago. Standing over the brook and covered in polypody ferns and asters, it resembled a small, two story earth house with a garden roof.

r4-sending puffball spores airborne

Shortly before breaking into the old log landing, which had been transformed into a mountain bike park with jumps of sorts since we last traveled this way, Marita spied several large clumps of puffballs. And so I encouraged her to poke them.

r5-spores wafting forth

She channeled her inner child as she poked one after another, releasing the spores which wafted skyward, mimicking a smokey fire.

r6-climbers trail sign

Arriving in the log landing, we were a bit confused about whether to follow the bike trail and then my guy spied a small yellow sign–and we found our way, for climbers were we.

r7-hobblebush color deepening

And because there were so many along the lower part of the route near the brook, I once again celebrated the variation of colors portrayed by the hobblebush shrubs.

r8-mount kearsarge 1

We zigged and zagged as we made our way through hardwood, softwood and new succession areas of forest. At last, we looked northwest and were greeted with the sight of another old favorite–Mount Kearsarge North. And the color display.

r9-Whitehorse ledge

Across the valley, we also spied White Horse Ledge and the White Mountain Motel.

r10-upslope clouds

After climbing 2.6 miles, we came to a T, and turned left toward the Black Cap Mountain trail. In the offing, we could see those upslope clouds overtaking the mountains beyond.

r14-Mt Wash and Kearsarge

And ever so slowly snaking their way over Mount Washington.

r15-lunch rock

By the time we reached lunch rock atop Black Cap, we were rather warm . . . and hungry.

r16-me and my guy

But ready to pose once we’d eaten.

r17-mountain ash fruits

As we looked about at the top, we admired the red, red berries of Mountain Ash, and wondered about their edibility. According to Weeds of the Woods by Glen Blouin, the scarlet fruits provide food for “many species of songbirds, including cedar waxwings, grosbeaks, and robins . . . they are also a favorite of both black bear and ruffed grouse.” Blouin adds, “The berries are rich in both iron and vitamin C and were used (medicinally) both fresh and in teas, to treat scurvy. Prior to ripening, the fruit is high in tartaric acid and is unpalatable. After a few frosts, the taste mellows and, though still bitter, the fruit becomes edible.” To that end, he provides a recipe for Mountain Ash Berry Jelly. Hmmm.

r18-starting down from Black Cap

For our descent, we decided to follow the loop trail around the summit of Black Cap.

r19-down 2

With each change of natural community, we enjoyed the color it offered.

r20-yellow birch

Back on the Red Tail Trail, Marita spied a tree we’d previously walked under, but not noticed. “What is it?” she asked, commenting that it looked like two different trees. Indeed, it wasn’t. Instead, it was an old yellow birch that had toppled a bit, caught in another tree and continued to grow–sending new branches skyward that looked like young trees on their own.

r21-hemlocks and pines

Again we zigged and zagged, changing up leaders as we wound our way down.

r21-upslope clouds advancing

At the point where we’d first enjoyed the views of Mounts Washington and Kearsarge, we again paused. That section had been previously bushhogged, thus providing an exceptional vista.

r22-upslope wrapping around Washington

And again we noted the upslope clouds curling around Washington, but chuckled that the mountain we’d originally intended to climb was probably in the clear.

r22-flowers in bloom

Our downward climb was much faster than our upward and in what seemed like no time, we reached the “bike park.” What had once been a mass of wildflowers overtaking the log landing, had become small patches and we were surprised that they still bloomed.

r25-squared rocks

Back at the brook, we commented on the squared off sections of granite and wondered about the processes that created such.

r28-artist conk

And then we reached the trailhead, where I spied an old favorite–an artist conk that has a surface area of about two feet.

From beginning to end, we knew that Plan B was really better than Plan A–for we’d had fun introducing Marita to a trail we like as we shared stories, laughter, lunch rock, and later a post-hike beer.

 

Belated Book of September: Butterflies and Moths

All month long books have been staring at me from their shelves, piles or baskets, a few begging for the honors. But each time I thought I knew which book I’d feature for September, a different month made a claim on it.

b-monarch 1

And then, mid-morning, I looked out the kitchen window and saw a certain visitor nectaring at the flowering mint and instantly knew what book it would be.

b-cover

Bufferflies and Moths by Dr. Walter Robert Corti is an oldie but goodie that has graced my personal library since 1964. I don’t remember its origin, but think it may have been a birthday or Christmas present when I was in second grade–such was my wonder even then.

On the back, The Odyssey Library is described as “a new and exciting concept in book publishing, combining in convenient, compact format, texts by leading authorities and full-color illustrations by outstanding artists and photographers. Designed for the reader who wants to add a new dimension to his [or her] understanding of the world, these are books to enjoy, to study, to treasure.” Indeed, I’ve treasured it for over fifty years and referred to it often.

b-monarchs and others

Today found me examining the differences between “look-alikes” because I wanted to make sure that what was fluttering about the garden wasn’t a Viceroy.  They do look similar, but the Viceroy is smaller than a Monarch and its hind wings have a line that runs parallel to the outer margin. There are other differences, but that was enough for me to note. Another thing to note: the illustrations in this book were by Swiss artist Walter Linsenmaier.

b-monarch 2

No such line existed on this morning’s beauty.

b-monarch map

Though the author states that in September, “large flocks” of Monarchs gather to fly south, and that was once the case, at least in my backyard it’s no longer true. This is only the second one I’ve seen this year, the first being in a field yesterday and it didn’t light long enough for me to snap a photo. In the past few years, I don’t recall seeing any. But . . . when our twenty-something sons were the age I was when I received this book, we did have large flocks that completely covered some flowering plants and shrubs.

b-monarch probiscus 2

Outdated though the book may be, some things haven’t changed. The order is still Lepidoptera, so named for the scales on their wings; lepis being Greek for “scale,” and pteron for “wing.”

b-monarch probiscus 1

Some cool features include the tongue or proboscis–can you see the coiled dark tube below the antennae? Once you find it, return in your brain to your sixth birthday party (if you had one–my next-door-neighbors, Pat and Kate always came for my birthday dinners, but we never had parties) and the blowouts that were curled until you blew into them and made noise.

b-monarch 6

The same thing happens with the proboscis (though it lacks a sound effect), which is actually two half tubes joined to form one, and includes muscles, nerves and the trachea, as it straightens out and penetrates the far reaches of flowers in search of nectar to suck.

b-monarch eyes

The book also mentions the faceted eyes–each compound and consisting of up to 17,000 “ommatidia,” or  individual light receptors with their own microscopic lenses. Think about what the world around them looks like. How in the world do they hone in on their targeted plants? They have their ways. Read on.

b-painted lady 2a

Prior to seeing today’s Monarch, I’d been blessed with many opportunities to observe Painted Ladies, which share similar colorings to a Monarch, though the pattern differs.

b-painted lady map

Dr. Corti describes their migration pattern, but mentions with all that migrate, it could be that it’s a second or third generation that actually completes a given journey.

b-painted lady 3

The outer wing coloration is what always reminds me that I’m looking at a Painted Lady and not a Monarch.

b-painted lady 1

One thing I’ve observed about the butterflies that I watch–nectaring can happen whether one is right-side up or upside-down. The straw works from any approach.

b-painted lady 2

The club-shaped antenna, common features of butterflies, are angled and work like radar to detect scents. And I mentioned the palpi, which are quite visible here as they are the small projections that protrude from the front of the head. These are covered with scent-detecting sensors as well. And actually, more sensors are located on the thorax, abdomen and legs. That’s how the butterflies find their sources of nourishment.

b-painted lady 5

One of the things I noted about the Painted Ladies that have graced my path lately is that they flit from flower to flower in constant motion . . .

b-painted lady 9

and seek goodness . . .

b-painted lady 10

from a variety of benefactors. I know Monarchs do the same, but today the one I watched much preferred the mint.

b-fritillary 1

An early season butterfly that some may confuse with the Monarch is the Fritillary.

b-fritillary 2

While its coloration is similar,

b-fritillary probiscus

its much smaller in size.

b-clouded sulphur 1

Most butterflies feed with their wings pulled together, such as this clouded sulphur portrayed. I love the subtle blend of pink, yellow and green in this beauty, and especially the yellow-green eyes.

b-white admiral 1

Early on in the summer, white admirals flew about.

b-white admiral 2

Occasionally one posed. Noticed its tattered hind wings. Such is the life of a butterfly.

b-Canada tiger swallowtail 1

We admire them for their beauty and they suffer for it–becoming easy prey. But until they succumb, they spend their days seeking sustenance. And bringing us joy.

As Dr Corti states, “The enchanting colors of their wings, their intimate commerce with quiet flowers, their modest food needs, the innocence of their courtships make them seem like fairy creatures from some unspoiled paradise. They are a delight to curious children, harmless idlers, contented topers, and strolling lovers wherever they appear. It is as if they were created solely to make the world more beautiful.”

Weren’t they?

I know there are updated butterfly guides, but I still love my first.

Butterflies and Moths, by Dr. Walter Robert Corti, The Odyessey Press, New York, 1964.

 

Book of August: Mosses, Liverworts and Hornworts

Last winter when I scheduled a talk/walk on lichens and another on mosses for this summer, I wasn’t sure what the public response would be, and so it was a pleasant surprise that both were well received. While Maine Master Naturalist Jeff Pengel spoke to us and then led us down the trail taking a close-up look at lichens in July, Ralph Pope introduced many to mosses for the first time on August 1. And then he took us only part way down a trail on August 2, for there were samples everywhere–both at our feet and sometimes even eye level.

m-mosses book

Ralph is the author of Mosses, Liverworts and Hornworts: A Field Guide to Common Bryophytes of the Northeast. He began thinking about writing such a guide while teaching a course on bryophyte identification at Antioch University New England. “I realized that the available resources were not inviting for a beginning student,” says Ralph.

His book begins with a description of bryophyte biology, taxonomy and ecology for those who are interested. As he states on page 11, “Mosses, hornworts, and liverworts, the three groups making up the bryophytes, evolved from the aquatic ancestors of modern green algae and represent the beginnings of terrestrial plant life, eventually giving rise to our amazingly diverse array of vascular plants.” Beyond words. Beyond our world.

I’ve used another guide, but this one seems so much easier to follow for Pope has formatted it into divisions that make sense to my brain–Spagnaceae: peat mosses; Acrocarpous: (acro-high; carpous-fruit) upright-growing mosses with fruits on the top; Pleurocarpous: (pleuro-side; carpous-fruit) mat-forming mosses with fruits extended on side branches; Liverworts (body of plant flat-thalloid; leaves in two rows-leafy) and Hornworts (uncommon–in fact, I’ve yet to meet one). These are in color-coded sections, making the process even easier.

And while each section begins with a key, for those who don’t like such things, there is a description of preferred habitat, family characteristics and then the species presented in alphabetical order (think Latin, for as Ralph pointed out, we’ve been spoiled by common names for birds and think that everything should have such, but for some species there are several common names, thus making it difficult to know for sure across the globe that we are talking about the same species.–Guess I need to get my Latin on) and illustrated with fabulous photographs.

m-looking at samples

With a few slides, Ralph introduced the audience to bryophytes, which are the most primitive of plants having no roots, no flowers, and no woody structure. They are usually green (as opposed to the gray-green hues of lichens), translucent as they are only one cell thick, and often have spore capsules that last a long time.

m-studying examples

After the talk, he encouraged the audience to take a closer look at species gathered that day along the Westways Trail at the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve.

lm-checking out the field guide

Behind each species an enlarged poster of the related page from his book included a description, similar species, range and habitat, and meaning of names or tips for identification.

lm-large group

A crowd of 25 spanning ages 5 to 25 a few times over, stepped onto the Westways Trail with Ralph the next morning.

lm-listening to Ralph

His combined knowledge and humor kept us all enraptured with the world below our feet. To get a sense of Ralph’s voice is this sample from page 7, “Remember the old adage that if you happen to lose your compass, your iPhone, your GPS, your ability to see the sun, and your sense of direction, moss growth will show you the north side of a tree? Well, keep the compass handy, but the north side of a tree trunk does indeed get less desiccating sunlight than the rest of the tree trunk, so it just might have more moss growth. Score one for the Boy Scouts.”

m-big red stem 1

On moss-topped rocks, Ralph and his wife, Jean, had marked species to be sure to stop at for our edification. The number referred to the page in the book and for those who didn’t have their own copy, he had loaners. In this case, 255 is Pleurozium schreberi or Big Red Stem.

m-big red 2

He picked samples so we could each take a closer look and see the reason for the name–notice that red stem? Because most bryophytes cells are totipotent–thus they have the ability to grow into a new plant, trampling them or even breaking some off can lead to new growth, so he was happy to pass small samples around.

m-close up

We looked . . .

m1-Aidan

and looked . . .

m-another close up

and looked . . .

m-Caleb

some more.

m-Wes

Of course, sometimes we just had to take a break. Oh to be five again!

m-sphagnum

Our samples included Sphagnum pylaesii, with its pompom head,

m-cushion

an acrocarp–Leucobryum glaucum, or pincushion moss,

m-calliergon 221

the pleurocarp, Calliergon cordifloium, 

m-porella 343

and the liverwort, Porella platyphylloidea. 

m-do you see what I see?

For a couple of hours, we were all thoroughly enchanted . . .

m-Ralph

as we focused our intention on these miniature plants and this man–who opened our eyes.

m-weasel scat

Only once did our attention get diverted–for some weasel scat. Thanks to intern Kelley’s keen eyes, a few of us saw the weasel scampering about thirty feet ahead. Still . . . notice where the weasel chose to make its contribution–on a rock covered in moss in the middle of the trail.

This book was a Christmas present from my guy and I look forward to many more days spent sitting on a rock getting to know my surroundings better.

Mosses, Liverworts and Hornworts: A Field Guide to Common Bryophytes of the Northeast, Ralph Pope, Cornell University Press, 2016.

 

 

 

 

Flying on the Wild Wind of Western Maine

My intention was good. As I sat on the porch on July 1st, I began to download dragonfly and damselfly photographs. And then the sky darkened and I moved indoors. Suddenly, and I mean suddenly, the wind came up. Torrential rain followed. And thunder and lightening. Wind circled around and first I was making sure all screens and doors were closed on one side of the wee house and then it was coming from a different direction and I had to check the other side. Trees creaked and cracked. Limbs broke. And the lightening hit close by. That’s when I quickly shut down my computer and checked my phone to see how much battery life it had. And saw two messages. One was an emergency weather alert. Tornado Watch. And the other was from my friend Marita, warning me that there was a tornado watch for our area. I stood between the kitchen door and the downstairs water closet, where a hatchway leads to the basement. But, there was stuff in the way and I really wanted to watch the storm. At the same time, I was frightened. Of course, in the midst of it all, the power went off.

ph 3 (1)

It didn’t last all that long, as storms go, but the damage was incredible, including telephone poles left standing at 45-degree angles. Soon, the neighbors and I assessed our properties. We somehow lucked out and only two branches plus a bunch of twigs fell. Others were not so fortunate. Trees uprooted along the shoreline or crashed onto houses, sheds, vehicles and boats. Our neighbors float shifted about thirty feet north from its usual anchored spot. And the National Weather service did indeed determine it was an EF-1 Tornado with winds of 90-100 miles per hour.

d-firetruck on causeway

At first traffic along the causeway moved extremely slowly because fallen trees had closed the south-side lane, but eventually the police shut the road down and the fire crew arrived to begin the clearing process. After the first storm, it rained on and off, but once my guy got back to camp (he dodged a detour–don’t tell), we still managed to grill a steak and sat on the porch in the dark, which is our evening habit anyway. Central Maine Power worked most of the night and they’ve been at it all day–resetting poles and lines while neighbors’ generators and the buzz of chainsaws filled the air.

And my focus returned to others who also fill the air–though in a much more welcome manner, to we humans that is. Damselflies and dragonflies. Other insects don’t necessarily agree with us–as they become quick food.

Therefore, it seems apropos that the Book of July is the Stokes Beginner’s Guide to Dragonflies and Damselflies by Blair Nikula, Jackie Sones, with Donald & Lillian Stokes.

d-book

It’s not a big book by any means, and doesn’t include all species of the insect order Odonata, but for me right now, it’s enough. And it fits easily into my pack. I can not only try to give a name to what I see, but more importantly to recognize the subtle differences in these favorite of insects.

d-book key

One of the features I really like is that it has a key on the inside cover, first divided between damselflies and dragonflies, and then further divided by families based on size, percher or flier, flight height, wings, body colors, eye position and other clues. As you can see, there are color tabs and I can quickly move to that section and search for the species before me. I’ve discovered that I’m now looking at eye position and colors as a quick key, with other features falling into place.

The book also discusses the life cycle and behavior of damselflies and dragonflies.

d-pond damsels mating, Marsh bluets 1

Of course, it all begins when he grabs her–for damselflies such as these marsh bluets, he clasps her by the neck. Dragonflies do the same, only he clasps his female of choice behind the eyes.

d-damsel love, variable dancers

Eventually damsel love occurs as the mating couple forms a “copulation” wheel, thus allowing him to remove any sperm she may have already received from another, and replacing it with his own. Sneaky dudes. Soon after, hundreds to thousands of eggs are deposited, either in the water or on vegetation, depending on the species.

d-damselfly nymph1

Emerging from an egg, the larvae develop underwater. Damselflies such as this one, obtain oxygen through the three tail-like projections at the end of their abdomens. From 8-17 times, they molt, shedding their outer shells, or exoskeletons.

d-exoskeleton shrubs

In the spring, the big event happens. We all celebrate the emergence of the last stage in the larval skeleton, when the insects climb up vegetation or onto rocks, or even the ground, and make that final metamorphosis into the damsel or dragonfly form we are so familiar with, thus leaving their shed outer shell (exuviae) behind.

d-emerging dragonfly

On a warm, sunny spring day toward the end of May, there’s no better place to be than sitting in the presence of an emerging adult.

d-emerging 2

I encourage you to look around any wetland, even as the summer goes on, for you never know when those moments of wonder might occur.

d-Broad-winged damsel, River Jewelwing 1

In the guide, the authors include all kinds of observation tips. And then, the real nitty gritty. The first thirty-six pages of the Identification section are devoted to damselflies. And those are divided into Broad-winged damsels, Spreading, and Pond damsels. This is a river jewelwing, and for me it was a first a few weeks ago. I spotted this beauty beside the Saco River in Brownfield Bog–its iridescent green body showing through the dark-tipped wings.

d-pond damsel, ebony jewelwing, male

In the same category, the ebony jewelwing is equally stunning with brilliant green highlighted by black accents. This was a male; the female has a white dot or stigma toward the tip of her wings.

d-spreadwing, common spreadwing

Spreadwings are next and so named for their spread wings. This one happened to be a common spreadwing, though really, I don’t find them to be all that common.

d-pond damsel, variable dancer

The pond damsels are the ones I do see often, including the female variable dancers. Check out her spotted eyes.

d-pond damsel, sedge sprite 1

And one of my favorites for its colors and name–the sedge sprite. If you noted the dancer’s eyes, do you see how the sprite’s differ?

From page 79-155, dragonflies are identified. I don’t have one from every type, but I’m working on it.

d-clubtail, lancet clubtail, male

Clubtails have clear wings, and their coloration is often green, yellow or brown. Check out those eyes–and how widely separated they are. Meet a lancet club tail, so named for the yellow “dagger” markings on its back.

d-Emeralds, Ameican Emerald 2

The emeralds are known by their eyes, which are often green. This American emerald has a black abdomen with a narrow yellow ring at the base near the wings.

d-baskettail, common baskettail 1

Also included with the emeralds is the common baskettail. Notice how stout this handsome guy is.

d-skimmer, chalk-fronted corporal male

Among the easiest dragonflies to actually get a good look at are the skimmers. And it seems that on many paths I follow, the chalk-fronted corporals are there before me. His thorax has two bluish-gray stripes with brown on the sides. And his wings–a small brownish-black patch.

d-skimmer, slaty blue 2

Then there’s the slaty skimmer, in a shade of blue I adore. His wings are clear, except for the black stigmas toward the tips.

d-skimmer, common whitetail

The common whitetail is also a skimmer. Not only is his abdomen different–with white markings on the side, but he has wings with black and chalky white bases and broad black bands in the middle.

d-skimmer, calico pennant, male

They’re all pretty, but I think that so far, my all time favorites are the calico pennants; the male with red highlights including stigmas on his wings and hearts on his back, plus a hint of red everywhere else.

d-skimmer, calico pennant female

For once the male isn’t to be outdone in the color department, and the female looks similar except that she’s yellow.

d-skimmer, yellow legged meadowhawk, wings

There’s so much to admire about damselflies and dragonflies. I mean, first there are those compound eyes. But look at the thorax–where both the three pairs of legs and two pairs of wings attach. I find that attachment to be an incredible work of nature. It’s awe inspiring at least.

d-ending, female calico pennant on screen

Then again, nature is awe-inspiring. When I awoke as the sun rose yesterday morning, I wondered about the damsels and dragons. Did they survive the storm? I stepped outside to once again check for damage and look who I spotted on the porch screen. Mrs. Calico stayed for about an hour or two, letting her wings dry off before heading out to perform today’s duties–flying on the wild wind of western Maine.

Damselflies and dragonflies are one more point of distraction for me these days. I won’t always get their ID correct, but I’m thankful for the Book of July, Stokes Beginner’s Guide to Dragonflies and Damselflies, that I found at Bridgton Books.

Stokes Beginner’s Guide to Dragonflies and Damselflies by Blair Nikula, Jackie Sones, with Donald & Lillian Stokes. Little, Brown and Company, 2002.