A “Fen-tastic” Afternoon

I was on a reconnaissance mission this afternoon for next week I’m leading some middle school students into a wetland and talking about forest ecology before sharing the joy of foraging with them.

1-Into the jungle

To reach the wetland, it was like walking through a jungle where the ferns grow tall, their fall coloration enhancing the scene. Cinnamon Ferns are a species that easily grow in medium to wet soils in part shade to full shade. The moist, rich, acidic soils, I walked through were much to their liking.

1a-cinnamon fern

It appeared that they were named for their autumn presentation, but really it refers to the cinnamon-colored fibers found near the frond bases.

1b-hairy underarm

Because they look so similar to their relatives in the Osmundaceae family, the Interrupted Fern, I looked to the back of the frond for confirmation. Sure enough, where the pinnae (leaflet) met the rachis (center stem), a tuft that we refer to as the hairy underarm was present.

2-kettle

Onward I continued, not sure what the moisture situation might be. So, in the past, I’ve paused by the kettle hole, but never actually entered it. All that changed today and my plan is to take the students into this special place. A kettle hole is a basin created when a large block of glacial ice was left stranded and subsequently melted in place, producing a basin or depression. These basins fill with water up to the depth of their surrounding water table, which currently happens to be rather low.

3-white face meadowhawk

Because the temperature had risen after a damp, chilly start to the day, the meadowhawk dragonflies flew . . . and landed. This one was a White-faced Meadowhawk, aptly named for that face.

4-white face meadowhawk abdomen markings

Its abdomen markings of dark black triangles also help in identification.

4b-autumn meadowhawk dragonfly

Flying in the same airspace where the Autumn Meadowhawks, with their light-colored legs. All other meadowhawks have dark legs.

4c-autumn meadowhawk love

Love was in the air and on the leaf as a pair of Autumns took advantage of the warm weather to canoodle in the sunlight.

4c-dragonfly love everywhere

They weren’t alone.

7-kettle 2

What I learned as I explored was that the kettle was actually a double pot for a second one had formed behind the first. Notice the layered structure of the area from trees on the outer edge to shrubs to grasses and flowers to water.

5-mammal tracks

And everywhere–deer and raccoon tracks crisscrossed through mud and water.

5a-racoon and bird tracks

Bird tracks also joined the mix among the raccoon prints.

6-six-spotted fishing spider

And because I was interested in learning who lived there, I had to pay homage to the six-spotted fishing spider.

8-spatterdock leaves and root

The spider flirted with me as he moved quickly among the spatterdock leaves that sat in the wee bit of water left in the center of the kettle.

9-another kettle

I finally left the kettle only to discover another and again the formation of layers.

10-green teal ducks

The water was a bit deeper and a family of Green Teal Ducks dabbled.

11-bottoms up

Bottoms up!

12-my destination

It took some time and steady foot placement as I climbed over downed trees hidden by winterberry and other shrubs, but at last I reached my intended destination, a cranberry bog.

13-cranberries

And then I spent the next hour or so filling my satchel for so abundant were the little gems of tartness. The best where those hidden among the leaves–dark red and firm were they.

14-some nibbled cranberries

As I picked, I realized I wasn’t the only one foraging. It appeared that either chipmunks or squirrels also knew the value of the flavor–though they only nibbled.

15-October colors layered

Occasionally, or even more often, I looked up to take in the colors and layers that surrounded me–from leatherleaf bronze to blueberry red to Gray Birch and Red and Silver Maples with a few White Pines in the mix.

16-buttonbush

Buttonbush added its own color and texture to the scene.

17-finding my way out

At last I decided to find my way out. (Sorta for I did get a wee bit disoriented.)

18-royal fern fertile fronds

Among the offerings were ferns of a different kind–though still related to the cinnamons I’d seen earlier. The Royal Fern’s fertile crown had months ago shared its spores with the world and all that was left were salmon-colored structures.

21-buttonbush galore, but more

I picked my way carefully and eventually found one of the kettles. And . . . drum roll please . . .

22-two sandhill cranes

two Sandhill Cranes. Others can tell you better than I how long the Sandhills have returned to this area, but it’s been for a while now and some even saw a nesting pair this past summer. My sightings have been few and so it’s always a pleasure.

23-sandhill cranes

I stood still as they moved about and they didn’t seem to notice my presence.

24-sandhill cranes

While they foraged for roots, another also watched.

25-great blue heron

The Great Blue Heron was cautious as they strolled in his direction.

29-bald eagle

And then . . . and then . . . in flew a Bald Eagle. And out flew the heron.

30-cranes flew out

The cranes waited a couple of minutes and then they flew, bugling on the wing.

And I rejoiced. Oh, I still had to find my way out and did eventually cross through a property about a quarter mile from where I’d started. But, all in all from kettles to cranberries to birds, it was a Fen-tastic afternoon as I explored an outlet fen.

 

Speaking to the Future, Jinny Mae

As a kid, science and history eluded me. Reading, and writing, and even, ‘rithmitic, I embraced. Well, only a wee bit of the latter, though my father thought my abilities were far greater than they were and he saw a bank position in my future. He was the mathematician. It wasn’t a subject for me to pursue. And so I became an English teacher.

And then one day I woke up and found I’d developed an interest in the how and why and the science of stuff. Added to that was a desire to know more about the past. And voila, here I am, some days spending way too many hours pursuing insects in the garden or bark on tree or dragonflies buzzing about. Other days, its following trails of yore and trying to understand the lay of the land and those who came before that interests me. My favorite days are probably those that find me pursuing the two subjects simultaneously.

1-Ambush Bug on Hydrangea

Today, I devoted spurts of time to a hydrangea bush that we rescued from a shady spot in our yard about fifteen years ago and transplanted to a sunny spot. What once was a dying shrub that rarely produced more than one flower is now a healthy specimen laden with blooms. And the insects love it.

My biggest surprise, however, was to find an Ambush Bug sitting atop one of the newly opened white flower petals. For the first time since I’ve been paying attention, the bug was on something other than a goldenrod and I could truly see its body. I’ve always thought it exhibited a hint of a smile, and do believe I’m correct.

An Ambush Bug is my “iguana” insect for its body structure always brings to mind a neighbor’s iguana that got loose one day and never was spied again when we were kids. (Or was it? Didn’t we find a dead iguana on the old dump road, Kate and Lynn? Was that Rob’s lizard?) Anyway, I think the Ambush Bug resembles an iguana, on a much smaller scale, of course. MUCH smaller.

2-Ambush Bug

Seeing the bug on the white petals really threw me for a loop. Why was it there? What would it ever find to eat? The pollinators no longer bothered with the shrub on which it stood. They’d moved on to the goldenrods and asters below.

And how could this insect behave as one who ambushes when it was hardly camouflaged on the white petal? It must have questioned the same (if Ambush Bugs can question) for it turned this way, then that, and back again, and then moved from petal to petal and flower to flower. Usually, it hardly seems to flex a muscle as it remains in one spot for hours or days on end.

3-eye to eye with Ambush Bug

We studied each other, eye to eye, or perhaps more correctly, lens to lens, until I blinked and it flew off. I trust it landed on a nearby goldenrod, where a meal wasn’t too long in the making.

4-Tiger Moth Caterpillar

Just after the Ambush Bug and I parted ways, I noticed a subtle movement below and watched a tiger moth caterpillar that reminded me of a soft boa scarf one might wrap around a neck quickly slither down another flower on the shrub until . . .  it reached the edge of the final petal and fell to the ground, climbed up a fern frond, found its way back to the shrub and moved on to the world within.

7-grasshopper 1

I was beginning to think that all of the insects on the hydrangea would move on or in, but then I met the Red-legged Grasshopper. He set his elbow on the leaf bar and we consulted each other. Would he fly away if I moved into his personal space, I wondered. He wanted to know why I stalked him.

8-red-legged grasshopper

I mentioned his body of armor and the herring bone design and the leg joints and the spurs on its legs that drew my awe.

9-grasshopper

As a solo traveler, I knew it didn’t appreciate that I wanted to share the space. But, I couldn’t resist. Notice its feet and the segments on its abdomen and even the veins in its wings. Did I mention its mandibles?

10-caterpillar scat

As it turned out, there may have been a reason it wanted to be alone, but I was there. To. Witness. The. Poop. A blessed moment. It would have been more of a blessed moment had it pooped on me. Oh, and did I mention that grasshopper poop, like all insect poop, isn’t called scat. Rather, it is frass. Thanks go to Dr. Michael Stastny, Forest Insect Ecologist in New Brunswick, Canada for reminding me of that term. Cheers Mike.

14-shield bug

Another moving about was a shield bug, so named for the shield on its back. It does make me think of a piece of metal one might use as protection. Combine the shield with the grasshopper’s suit of armor and you might think you were spending time in an earlier era. Much earlier.

15-shield bug

But this shield bug didn’t care about the Middle Ages. Instead, it had one thing on its little mind.

12a-shield bug eggs?

Depositing eggs.

13-shield bug eggs?

Its offering was almost minute, yet pearl-like in structure.

16-wasp within

The world I watched on the outside of the hydrangea made me wonder what might possibly go on within. As much as I wanted to break through the branches and take a better look, I knew I’d ruin everything and after all, it wasn’t my place. I did, however, get to witness one moving about briefly for a paper wasp left the goldenrods and heading under the hydrangea leaves to move the pollen about on its body. Why did it go under? Why not pause atop a leaf for such behavior? And how did it escape the inner world without . . .

16a-spider web

encountering a spider web? Funnel spiders had practically veiled the entire shrub with their silken structures.

16b-web anchors

Though anchored with strength, they were extremely soft to the touch.

17-spiders

As the day progressed, I kept tabs on three funnel spiders, the mighty weavers that they were. All were wary of daylight.

18-food in front

But one had set up its home on the eastern side of the shrub and so it spent the day in the shade and enjoyed fine dining on a small bee that I assume made a mistake of pausing while shifting some pollen on its body.

19-dining

There wasn’t much left of it by the time this spider had finished its meal.

21-dinner in hand

Later in the day, a web weaver on the western side began to show itself–and it also had a meal secured.

All of the insects and arachnids I saw, and I had to assume even more enjoyed the inner structure of the condo that the shrub certainly was, all spoke not to the past, but to the future.

And with that, I dedicate this blog entry to you, Jinny Mae. You have a better eye and understanding and ask better questions than I ever will. Here’s to the future!

Global Golden Sights

Until I spent time watching, I never realized how global a goldenrod could be. In fact, I must admit that there were years when I tried to eliminate these hardy yellow plants from the garden. After all, weren’t they weeds? You may think thus for so prolifically do they grow, but these days I prefer to think of them as volunteers who add beauty in any season. And during this season, they mimic life as we know it.

1-worker honeybee foraging

First, on sunny days European Honey Bees buzzed about. Yes, they are not native. But don’t tell them that. After all, they think they own the place.

2-honeybee

As quickly as they could, they sought nectar from the flowers and in the process, pollen clung to their hairy bodies. Aha, so in their greediness, goodness happened. How could that be? Or rather, how could that bee? (Corny jokes are forever a teacher’s forte)

3-hoverfly

As I gazed upon the minute flowers of the Rough-stemmed Goldenrod, I had to look for subtle changes of color in order to read the story. Ever a fan of the coloration of the Hover Fly, I was thrilled that I could focus in on this one. Then the realization struck–this fly wasn’t . . . flying. In fact, it was dead. And yet it still held its structure.

4-ambush bug

Looking up a stem or two, I noticed a predator in the waiting, its structure so otherworldly, much like an armored iguana. But it wasn’t a lizard.

4a-ambush bug

It was a common insect that changed position as I changed lenses. The amazing thing is that it blended in so well, but that was all part of the insect’s strategy. Did the Hover Fly’s death have anything to do with the Ambush Bug? All are innocent until proven guilty and I needed to remember that, but I still suspected I knew the perpetrator.

4b-ambush bug

For three days I stalked him as he stalked others. An Ambush Bug is willing to wait until just the right moment to attack its prey with those oversized raptorial forelegs and quickly dispatch it with a stab from his sharp beak. Who knew that in the small world of the goldenrod one needed to be ever on the alert?

6-honey bee

And still, a Honey Bee foraged and farmed.

9-Japanese Beetle

Also on a mission was a Japanese Beetle, another immigrant in the mix. And I know that if I were to point out the unique idiosyncrasies of its body structure, I’d get booed out of town. But  . . . look at those colors, the details, and especially the antennae. It’s tough being the one dude that no others appreciate.

18-Where's Waldo the spider?

For every foraging or unwanted citizen, there was one hiding in the shadows, ever ready to catch the neighbors when they were most vulnerable. Do you see the green and brown crab spider?

25-spider web

Some even set up traps to catch their prey, but after all, we are all hunters and need to dine.

10-pollen all over body

Still the Honey Bees flew in and out and chased off any others, even their siblings who got in the way. All were females, for such are the workers in their society. Ahem. Oh, excuse me. Just clearing my throat.

12-locust borer

For all the time that I watched (and really, I only spent an hour or so each day for I did have work to do) I noticed a Locust Borer on one particular plant. Females tunnel into bark to lay eggs and I probably should have taken a closer look at the quaking aspen in the garden that has been compromised by so many insects. But here’s another thing–do you see the yellow tip on its abdomen? Locust Borers don’t sting, but should you touch one it will try to bore its tail end into you as if it were a stinging insect. Silly bug.

22-Assassin bug 1

Peeking under a nearby stem, I found another seeking others–an Assassin Bug that was related to the Ambush Bug. Assassin Bugs are proficient at capturing and feeding on a wide variety of prey. Though they are good for the garden because they act as tiny Ninjas and prey on enemies of the plants, they don’t always discriminate about their prey. The unsuspecting victim is captured with a quick stab of the bug’s curved proboscis or straw-like mouthpart. I’ve had the opportunity to watch the action in the past, but I couldn’t always locate the little warrior, thought I knew it was somewhere among the drooped stems.

8-honey bags

And still , the Honey Bees flew, filling their sacs being their main priority.

15-drone fly 2

Not everyone could be a bee, but some surely tried to mimic their adversaries. Thus is the life of a Drone Fly that may have a bit of a hairy body, but it can’t sting. Instead, it had to outsmart its predators by being a look-alike. Such is known as Batesian mimicry, so named for the famous English naturalist, Henry Walter Bates. Bates discovered this concept while working in the Brazilian Amazon.  In the course of his studies, he realized that numerous non-toxic butterflies looked identical to a few very potent types.

16-sawfly?

Other non-bees on the flowers included a rather handsome sawfly, its wings so distinctly veined.

17-honey bee moving pollen on body

But the honey bees were on the move the most and managed to control the activity of those smaller and larger by giving chase to all. Occasionally, one had to pause and dangle in order to move some pollen into its sac.

30-crab spider

Also known to dangle, for that’s what spiders do best, was another crab spider, Crab spiders may be tiny, but they can be cunning and ferocious. Like the predatory insects, waiting was the name of the arachnid’s game and I don’t doubt that this one was successful in securing its next meal.

32-inch worm

And while still in a dangling mode, there were the inch worms of varying colors to spy, most of them slithering ever so slightly among the plants flowers, but some were on the move to the leaf that was greener on the other side.

36-dead inch worm

This morning, I did discover a dead inch worm and again, like the Hover Fly that met its demise, I wondered who done it. Ambush or Assassin Bug? Those were my two choices.

39a-hover fly

I did find a live Hover Fly and its presence made me happy. There’s something about its streamlined structure and minute hairs and clear wings and hovering ability that appeal to me.

39-hover fly an dinch worm

One even demonstrated that it could share the space with an inch worm.

37-flesh fly

Equally admirable was the Flesh Fly with its brick red eyes and handsomely striped abdomen. It’s called a Flesh Fly for its habit of locating decomposing carcasses and laying its eggs. I have to admit that thinking about that and the maggots to follow gives me a chill.

40a-metallic green sweat bee

A metallic green Sweat Bee flew in periodically, but never stayed long. Thankfully, it chose to ignore me. In fact, considering how close I was and in the faces of so many, as always, the insects and spiders left me alone. I, on the other hand, continued to stalk them.

42-paper wasp

Surprisingly, even the rather aggressive Paper Wasp ignored me. I could hardly ignore it. Whenever he flew, most other flying insects performed a mini dance, flying up, swirling down and then settling again.

But take a moment to look at that body. It’s as if some insects wear a coat of armor. And in the wasp’s case that coat was dusted with pollen, just as nature intended so fertilization could occur.

44-bumblebee

Even the aggressive Bumblebee let me bumble about without incident. In my three days of watching, there were plenty of Bumblebees buzzing, but they tended to visit all of the surrounding flowers. Today, however, in a frantic frenzy, one sampled this flower and that along the goldenrod stem.

45-locust borer waving

While the Locust Borer I mentioned earlier spent the last three days on the same plant, a second one flew in today and settled on a goldenrod about seven feet away from the first LB. Will they meet? I assume so, but in the meantime, it waved.

41-assassin bug

And in a different location than the first day, I found an Assassin Bug. The same one? Perhaps. But again, no food. Still, it waited.

50-ambush bug

As did the Ambush Bug.

39-half-inch worm and ambush bug

In three days, it hadn’t moved far, but finally decided to take a different stance. To its left, a half-inch worm stayed in one spot, though it kept changing position. And I kept waiting–why didn’t the Ambush Bug grab the little thing and suck its guts out?

46-ambush dining on hover fly

Because . . . it was waiting for a more substantial meal I later learned. And my question was answered. What killed the first Hover Fly? An Ambush Bug. And this afternoon it worked on another. Drats. But, in this insect or arachnid eat insect world, finding a meal and gathering energy from it was the most important thing.

43-larvae of brown-hooded owlet moth

Much to my delight because I was looking–I spied the larvae of a brown-hooded owlet moth. Besides a monarch caterpillar, oh and a sphinx moth, and . . . and . . . the brown-hooded owlet moth caterpillar is one of my favorites.

33-forage looper moth

Its mature form wasn’t quite as attractive.

35-I see you

But still, what a sight to see tucked in among the goldenrods.

The garden may be small, but its offerings were global in nature when you think about it. Ah, those golden sights. Worth a wonder.  (And I left a few out!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mast Landing Mondate

What should you do when you come to a fork in the road . . . and a mailbox?

2-mailbox in the woods

Why open the mailbox, of course, enter the date and your names on the notebook stored within, and then follow the trail to the left. If all goes well, a couple of hours later you’ll emerge via the trail on the right. With lots of zigs and zags along the way, that is.

3-foundation

The story of this place dated back to the 1700s when the massive white pines that once grew there were harvested for the British navy. A dam was built and mills as well. In fact, at one time there were four mills, including a saw mill, textile mill, and two grist mills, plus a woodworking shop. We spied a foundation just off the trail, but didn’t know its part in the story.

5-lily of the valley surrounding foundation

Surrounding the foundation in abundance, however, were lily of the valley plants, their fruits taking on their fall hue. And I imagined the lady of the house tending her garden.

4-black-capped chickadee egg?

Though the homesteaders were no longer in residence, we found evidence that others called this place home–possibly a black-capped chickadee egg.

3a-old vechicle

A little further on, we found another artifact dating to an earlier time. Much earlier given its structure and how buried it was. This had once been farmland before the forest grew up again.

6-climbing under blow down

It wasn’t far into our journey, however, that we began to notice something about this land–it had been hit over and over again by windstorms, all blowing from the east, which made sense given that we were less than a mile from the ocean. We found ourselves stepping over, crawling under . . .

7-walking through blowdown

walking between . . .

8-destruction everywhere

and starring in awe at all of the destruction. It was nothing like we encounter in western Maine, and we began to feel trail snobbish.

9-uprooted

But . . . uprooted trees do offer interesting art forms from above . . .

10-underrooted

and directly below. Think of it as nature’s stained glass window.

10a-bark beetle tunnel art

There was other artwork to admire, including those zigzaggy tunnels created by bark beetles. They must dance to their own tunes as they mine their way across the cambium layer.

10b-artist conks

On the same tree we also found fine specimens of artist conk fungi. How apropos.

12-education building

Soon we came to a modern structure. A peek through the window and we knew we’d reached an education center, where cubbies lined a wall, and posters no longer quite secure rolled from the points at which they’d been tacked.

14-tick check

My favorite was a painting on the outside. Tick Check!

15-apple tree

Because the land had been farmed, apple trees danced in their forward leaning forms.

16-apple

And gave forth fruit among the maze of branches.

17-apples on ground

Some trees were more prolific producers than others.

18-eating an apple

And according to my guy, the offerings were delicious.

18-silky dogwood fruit

There were other fruits to admire, including the wedgewood blue of silky dogwood.

18a-hobblebush fruits

And the green turning red, red turning blue, purplish, blue and almost raisin-like fruits of hobblebush.

19-Norway Maple samara

Even the Norway maple showed off its seeds in samara form.

22-more asters

The asters added delightful touches of color to the rather drab landscape.

11-Nephrotoma eucera, tiger crane fly

And among them, insects such as a tiger crane fly, enhanced the scene.

23-turtlehead

We found turtlehead,

24-false solomon's seal

false Solomon seal in its fruit form,

25-beach rose

and beach roses showing their bright florescence.

26-rose hips

And where there were roses, there were rose hips and I was reminded of my father who couldn’t walk past a rose bush on our travels from our cottage in Harbor View, Clinton, CT, to town via the town beach, without sampling such.

27-dam

Eventually today, after a few backtracks, for we occasionally got fake lost and with all the downed trees, every trail began to look the same, we found the dam.

29-dam breached

It had been breached long ago, and according to the property’s history, the mills were “destroyed by fire in the early 1860s, and not rebuilt.”

29-old mill structures

We could see some evidence through the woods, but weren’t in a major gotta-see-more mode I guess, which isn’t really our way, but today it was.

j30-below the dam--low tide

Down below, the mill stream became the Haraseekeet River if we understood correctly. It was low tide in the estuary. And smelled to me like the mud flats in Clinton Harbor and I was transported to my childhood for a moment.

31-caretakers house

On our way out, we passed by the caretaker’s house, built in 1795 by mill master Abner Dennison. Sadly, it looked like it needed some care taking.

32-head start on Halloween

Nonetheless, it was decorated for the upcoming season.

34-tree spirits

At the end of our journey, we decided that the trails were not our favorite given all the blowdowns and a stagnant Mill Brook that seemed like an oxymoron, but we’d still found plenty of delightful sights. And tried not to make too many contrary comments for the tree spirits kept many eyes on us.

35-tree gnomes

And listened from their gnome homes.

On this Mondate, we whispered that we probably don’t need to return to Maine Audubon’s Mast Landing, but we didn’t want them to hear us.

 

 

Wondering With Jinny Mae

It takes us forever and we like it that way. In fact, today a woman who saw us in our typical slo-mo movement commented, “It’s like you’re on a meditative walk. I always move quickly and miss so much.” Indeed we were and when I travel beside Jinny Mae there isn’t much we don’t see. But always, we’re sure that we’ve moved too quickly and missed something. Then again, we realize that whatever it was that we accidentally passed by this time may offer us a second chance the next time.

1-winterberry

Today’s wonder began with the realization that winterberry holly or Ilex verticillata, grew abundantly where we chose to travel. This native shrub will eventually lose its leaves, but the plentiful berries will last for a while–until they’ve softened considerably that is and then the birds will come a’calling.

2-winterberry

Everywhere we turned, or so it seemed, we found them ranging in color from spring green to shades of red. As summer turns to autumn, the leaves will yellow and eventually fall.

3-winterberry

And then the brightly colored berries that cling to every stem will add color where it’s otherwise lacking in the landscape.

4-winterberry

Even while the leaves still held fast, we found some brightly colored berries that offered a breathtaking view.

5-to Muddy River

We passed through numerous natural communities, tiptoeing at times, such as on the boardwalks, for we didn’t want to disturb the wildlife around us–no matter what form it took.

9-dragonfly attachment

And we rejoiced in spying a cherry-faced meadowhawk couple in their pre-canoodling mode. Can you see how he has used his cerci to clasp the back of her head? His hope is that he can get her to connect in the wheel position and they’ll take off into the safety of the nearby shrubbery to mate.

6-Muddy River

At the river, we began to notice other signs that we’ve once again entered a transition between seasons, for subtle were the colors before us.

7-beaver lodge

Across the river and just north of where we stood, we spotted an old lodge, but weren’t sure anyone was in residence for it didn’t seem like work was being done to prepare for winter. Then again, we haven’t done anything to prepare either, for though the temperature has suddenly shifted from stifling to comfortable (and possibly near freezing tonight), it’s still summer in Maine. And we’re not quite ready to let go.

17-Sheep Laurel

That being said, we found a most confusing sight. Sheep laurel grew prolifically in this place and we could see the fruits had formed from this past spring’s flowers and dangled below the new leaves like bells stringed together.

18- sheep laurel flowering in September

Then again, maybe it wasn’t all that odd that it still bloomed for when I got home I read that it blooms late spring to late summer. I guess we’ve just always noticed it in late spring and assumed that was the end of its flowering season. But then again, it appeared that this particular plant had already bloomed earlier in the season and produced fruit, so why a second bloom? Is that normal?

10-pitcherplant 1

As we continued on, we started to look for another old favorite that we like to honor each time we visit. No matter how often we see them, we stand and squat in awe of the carnivorous pitcher plants.

11-pitcher plant 2

But today, we were a bit disturbed for one that we’ve admired for years on end looked like it was drying up and dying. In fact, the location is typically wet, but not this year given the moderate drought we’ve been experiencing in western Maine. What would that mean for the pitcher plant?

13-pitcher plant flower

Even the flower pod of that particular one didn’t look like it had any life-giving advice to share in the future.

14-Pitcher Plant 4

Fortunately, further on we found others that seemed healthy, though even the sphagnum moss that surrounded them had dried out.

14a-pitcher plant

Their pitcher-like leaves were full of water and we hoped that they had found nourishment via many an insect. Not only do I love the scaly hairs that draw the insects in much like a runway and then deter them from exiting, but also the red venation against the green for the veins remind me of trees, their branches spreading rather like the tree of life. Or maybe a stained glass window. Or . . . or . . . we all have our own interpretations and that’s what makes life interesting.

15-pitcher plant flower 2

Speaking of interesting, the structure of the pitcher plant flower is one we revere whenever we see it because it’s so otherworldly in form. And this one . . . no the photo isn’t sideways, but the flower certainly was. If you scroll up two photos, you’ll see it as it grew among the leaves. The curious thing is that it was sideways. Typically in this locale, Jinny Mae and I spy many pitcher plant flowers standing tall. Today, we had to squint to find any.

16-pitcher flower and aster

She found the sideways presentation and this one. But that was it. Because of the drought? Or were we just not cueing in to them?

20-cinnamon fern

We did cue in to plenty of other striking sights like the light on a cinnamon fern that featured a contrast of green blades and brown.

21-cinnamon fern drying up

Again, whether the brown spoke of drought or the transition to autumn, we didn’t know. But we loved its arching form dramatically reflected in each pinna.

18a-swamp maple

But here’s another curious thing we noted. We were in a red maple swamp that is often the first place where the foliage shows off its fall colors and while some in other locales have started to turn red, only the occasional one in this place had done so. Our brains were totally confused. Sheep laurel blooming for a second time; pitcher plants drying up and dying; and few red maples yet displaying red leaves?

19-witch's caps or candy corn

We needed something normal to focus on. And so we looked at the candy corn we found along the trail. Some know them as witch’s caps. They are actually witch hazel cone galls caused by an aphid that doesn’t appear to harm the plant. It is a rather cool malformation.

24-white-faced meadowhawk

On a boardwalk again, we stepped slowly because the white-faced meadowhawk kept us company and we didn’t want to startle it into flight.

25-white-faced meadowhawk dining

One flew in with dinner in its mouth and though I couldn’t get a photo face on before it flew to another spot to dine in peace, if you look closely, you might see the green bug dangling from its mouth.

26-New York Aster

All round us grew asters including New York, water-horehound, cranberries, bog rosemary and so many others.

27-Virginia marsh-St. John's Wort

There was Virginia marsh St. John’s Wort,

28-fragrant water lily

fragrant water lilies,

28-jewelweed

jewelweed,

29-pilewort globe

and even pilewort to admire. The latter is so much prettier in its seed stage than flowering. Why is that we wondered.

30-Holt Pond Quaking Bog

Ahhhh, an afternoon of wondering . . . with Jinny Mae. At LEA’s Holt Pond Preserve. In Bridgton. An afternoon well spent. Thanks JM.

 

 

 

 

 

Filling Our Buckets Mondate

Our day began with a journey to Green Thumb Farms in western Maine because we were curious about their native blueberry sod. We had hoped to see some, but that wasn’t to be and instead we were given a contact number for a sales rep. Our hope is to purchase a couple of pallets worth and use it as one more filter system at our camp in our continuing efforts to protect water quality. We recently learned that we qualified for a LakeSmart Award, but don’t want that to stop us from finding other ways to create a more lake-friendly property. Stay tuned on the sod because once we figure that out, it will be a story worth telling.

1-lunch spot, Eaton Village Store

From Green Thumb Farms we zigged and zagged along the back roads until we reached Eaton, New Hampshire. Lunch awaited at the Eaton Village Store on Route 153. Inside, one wall is covered with mailboxes and the post office. Grocery and gifty items are displayed in an aisle or two. And then there’s the lunch counter and a few tables for the eatery. A most pleasant eatery. The menu is simple, food fresh, and all served with a smile and conversation.

2-falling snow sign

Oh, and one more thing. They are eternal optimists! Or procrastinators like me. Heck, eventually there will be falling snow to watch for again.

3-Foss Mtn Trail

After lunch, we zigged and zagged again, winding our way up a road we once remember sliding down–in the winter on our bellies with our eight and ten year old sons in tow. Our destination today was much easier, though I did put the truck into four-wheel-drive to reach the trailhead parking lot for Foss Mountain. I’d told my guy about the blueberries and views and neither of us gave a thought to today’s weather for in the newspaper the forecast predicted it to be “rather” cloudy, “rather” being a rather unscientific term. It turned out to be more than “rather.” And raindrops fell, but still we went.

4-Foss Mtn Map

We examined the sign and my guy was thrilled with the possibilities.

6a-no picking

Some fields, however, were closed to public picking for a private operation leased those from the town.

5-Ryan Bushnell Blueberry Operation

Off to the side, we spied their sorting machines. Note the blueberry color of the equipment.

6-blueberry envy

And the abundance of blueberries.

7-hands in pockets

After testing a sample to make sure they were acceptable for human consumption, my guy stuck his hands in his pockets to avoid further temptation.

8-Joe Pye Weed all in disarray

Upward we journeyed, following the path of this property that is owned by the Town of Eaton. Along the way, a large patch of Joe Pye Weed shouted for attention, its petals disarrayed much like my own hair on this misty of days.

9-into the fog

The habitat changed and still we climbed–anticipation in every step my guy took at full speed.

10-pick blueberries sign

At the next natural community boundary, where conifers gave way to saplings and undergrowth, my guy rejoiced. At last we’d reached the promised land.

11-my guy disappeared ;-)

And immediately he stepped off the trail to find those tiny blue morsels that bring him such delight.

12-summit fog

While he picked, I headed toward the summit, where a blanket of fog enveloped the view. It didn’t matter, for our focus zeroed in on what was before us rather than being swept up with the beyond.

14-my guy picking

From my place at the top, I could see him below–a mere speck intent on filling his bags to the brim.

15-erratic

I began to look around and felt an aura that made me feel as if I was in Ireland rather than New Hampshire. The fog. The green. The gray. The world disappeared.

16-more colorful eratic

And the world before me opened up.

17-Common goldspeck lichen (Candelariella vitellitta

Like yellow caterpillars that are all the rage right now, Common Goldspeck Lichen inched across the granite face.

18-granite-speck rim lichen

Beside it, Granite-speck Rim Lichen stood out like tiles in a mosaic work of art.

19-fog danced across ridge

Meanwhile, the fog danced across the ridgeline, twirling and whirling in a ghostly quiet manner, its transparent gowns touching the ground ever so tenderly before lifting into the next move.

19-my guy picked some more

And my guy found a new location and picked some more.

15-steeplebush

My attention turned to the Steeplebush, a spirea that grew abundantly at the summit, its flowers of pink offering a tiny splash of color to brighten any day.

25-American Copper Butterfly

The American Copper Butterfly and a bumblebee also found the Steeplebush much to their liking.

26-American Copper

And I, I couldn’t pull my eyes away from admiring this tiny butterfly and its beautiful markings.

28-American Copper Butterfly

From every angle that it posed while seeking nectar, I stood in awe–those striped antennae, giant black eyes, copper-silver color, and hairy scaled wings.

21-chipmunk

And then there was another, which I thought was a bird when I first heard it scamper out of the bushes.

22-chippie eating berries

But Chippie soon made himself known and I discovered that he, too, sought those little morsels so blue. Competition for my guy.

23-fog lifts a bit

Ever so slowly, the fog lifted a bit and even the sun tried to poke through for a moment or two. Still, my guy picked–somewhere. I couldn’t always see him, but trusted he was in the great beyond.

24-cedar waxwings

Much closer to me, three Cedar Waxwings circled the summit over and over again in a counter-clockwise pattern. Thankfully, they also paused, eyeing the potential for their own berry picking sights from the saplings on which they perched.

24-cedar wax wing bad hair day

I fell in love . . . with their range of colors:  cinnamon, black, gray, brown, red, yellow, and white. And the bad-hair day tufts, for like the Joe Pye Weed, the Cedar Waxwings and I also shared a resemblance.

29-My guy finishing up

At last my guy finished up, though not before standing on a yonder piece of granite, looking west and calling for me. “I’m up here, behind you,” I shouted softly into an almost silent world, where the only sounds came from cicadas and crickets and occasionally the Cedar Waxwings.

30-blueberry caterpillars

As we made our way down, he stopped again for about a half hour to pick some more in a spot he’d noted on the way up. And I looked around, discovering other blueberry lovers among us–Yellow-necked Moth Caterpillars were slowly stripping some bushes of their greenery.

35-blueberries!

At last we passed by the forbidden fields, where my guy later confessed he felt like we were in Eden.

31-Burnt Meadow Blueberries in operation

Ryan Bushnell of Burnt Meadow Blueberries was at work, raking and sorting the sweet morsels of blue.

32-Blueberries!

It was his business to make sure each pint would be filled by day’s end.

33-Filling the buckets

We wanted to chat with him more about the operation, but he was intent upon working and so after the initial greeting and a few more words, we knew it was time to move on. Mr. Bushnell’s buckets would be filled over and over again. (And I suspected that upon seeing this operation, my guy, should he ever decide to retire from his hardware business, may just ask to work in the field–the blueberry field.)

Our buckets were full as well–for my guy, it was bags of blueberries to freeze for future consumption. For me, it was all that I saw as I poked about the summit, thankful that I wasn’t distracted by the 360˚ view. We did indeed fill our buckets on this Mondate.

 

Island Hopping Mondate

Paddling together in “Big News,” our double kayak so named for it was a gift from the Neubigs many moons ago (thank you, Carissa and Bob), is one of our favorite summer pastimes. With wrist almost fully mended, it’s an even sweeter journey for me because it means I don’t have to work hard.

1-prepping the kayak

And so it was that my guy prepped Big Red for today’s journey–an exploration of the northern basin of Moose Pond. The “pond” is a 1,697 water body with a 33.3 mile perimeter that’s broken into three sections. We know the north best, which offers about a four-mile round-trip journey from camp up into the islands of Sweden. The other section that we don’t visit as often, but do enjoy exploring, is the southern section in Denmark, for it’s equally interesting.

2-BLUEBERRIES!

Today, though, my guy had a mission worth gold in mind–to make some headway on his blueberry greed.

6-yellow-necked caterpillars

Along the way we discovered an interesting sight. Our friend, and pond neighbor from the western shore, Lili Fox, asked yesterday if I could identify some yellow and black caterpillars. After a wee bit of research, I suggested Yellow-necked Moth Caterpillars. I didn’t expect to meet them quite so soon myself, but immediately recognized the group that clustered at the tip of a blueberry twig. At first, they seemed immobilized, but then I realized they were in the defense form that I’ve witnessed with other caterpillars, curling outward to form a U. I’d just picked a few berries below and so they saw me as prime predator. Fortunately, no attack was made.

8-yellownecked 2

Overall, they have yellow and black stripes, but it’s the yellow segment or neck behind their black heads for which they were named. These very hungry caterpillars were reaching maturity and soon should drop to the ground. They’ll apparently overwinter burrowed below as pupa and emerge in adult form next year.

10a-fluffy yellownecked

I assumed that those with the most wiry hair were the oldest. We probably should have shaken them off the branches and into the water, but we didn’t. Nature knows what to do and some will become a food source for wasps or birds, passing along the energy contained in the blueberry leaves to another level.

3-variable dancer damselfly

In the meantime, I became the Yellow-necked Lookout Warden as my guy continued to pick. Accompanying me with his own bulbous set of eyes was a male Variable Dancer Damselfly.

4-spreadwing

The damselflies actually could care less about the caterpillars and more about finding a mate and so they all posed, either on the kayak, or nearby vegetation.

5-orange bluet damselflies

Both turned out to be the right substrate on which to perform mating rituals, this being a pair of Orange Bluet Damselflies on the kayak.

7-emerald spreadwings canoodling

And Emerald Spreadwings offering a reflection on the pond of their canoodling efforts.

10-heading north

At last we continued further north, island hopping along the way.

12-Eastern Pondhawk Dragonfly

Though their natural communities all looked similar, with each stop came a different offering, including the Eastern Pondhawk that displayed one of my favorite combinations of color-sky blue pond green.

13-EAstern Pondhawk

Eye to eye, we contemplated each other. I have no idea what he thought of me. Well, actually, I’ve no idea if dragonflies can think. Is all their action instinctive? As for my thoughts, I didn’t want to gobble him up in a literal fashion, but wish I could have taken him with me so I could continue to stare, infatuated with his colors as I was. On his thorax I saw a watercolor painting reflecting a sunny day by the pond.

14-Floating Heart Plant

Another island and another find–the delicate flower of a Floating Heart Plant.

14-bullfrog on lily pad

And then a frog on a lily pad, a young frog that is.

15-bullfrog froglet

If you look closely, you may see her tail extending behind. I couldn’t help but think that she’s got big feet to grow into.

16-beaver lodge

Beside one of the last islands we visited, we saw that the neighborhood had changed quite recently and a new house had been built. Though none of the residents came out to greet us, we weren’t surprised. Based on the greenery and wet mud we suspected they’d been busy as beavers all night and needed a rest.

17-beaver island

A quick look around and we knew the source of their building materials. It reminded us that they’ve been secret visitors to our land in the past and have helped themselves to young saplings much to our dismay. Then again, it is their land as well. We’re just the ones who pay the taxes.

11-spadderdock with damselfly exuvia

Of course, no water adventure is complete without a photo of Spatterdock, this one featuring a damselfly exuvia.

17-fragrant water lily

And Fragrant Water Lily. That rayed presentation. Those prominent yellow stamens. The symmetry. And, of course, the fragrance.

18-honeybee

What could be better than the two together? The two together with small flies on one and a honey bee, its buckets full, visiting the other.

19-painted turtle

At last, it was well after lunch, which we’d neglected to pack and my wrist was sore, so my guy said he’d paddle us home. And because we’d startled a turtle earlier, he said he’d find one for me. Wow! Both the turtle and I were impressed.

20-turtle basking

As turtles do, he stretched out his back legs demonstrating how they need to capture additional heat given that they are cold-blooded animals. Basking helps them to absorb warmth and vital UV rays.

21-waving goodbye

What he did next surprised us. He began to wave his front left leg–I took it as a goodbye, but it was probably either a way to push an insect toward his mouth or an aggressive move telling us to move on. We did, heading back to camp as we finished up our Island Hopping Mondate.