One Wing, Two Wing

Whether I look up, down, or somewhere between, all that fly have captured my attention lately.

l6-river jewelwing

My heart flutters when a female River Jewelwing, with her iridescent body flies into my space.

l26-female river jewelring

But it’s those two-toned wings with their white spots or stigmas (indicating it’s a female for male’s don’t feature the spots) folded over their backs that wow me the most. Though their wings may appear to be two different colors, and these were taken in two different river locations, they are really the same. It’s the very nature of being iridescent, where all colors of light are reflected, that makes them appear as either black or bronze. You know what else I like about this damselfly–it was eating an insect.

s6-four-spotted skimmer

And then I turned on my dragonfly eyes. Ever so slowly over the last few years I’m beginning to recognize some of the perchers by name, like this Four-spotted Skimmer. It certainly helps that they pause frequently and hold their wings out to the side, which is a dragonfly characteristic.

l12-four-spotted skimmer

It’s the wings that are the defining points for me. All four feature a beautiful amber patch on the upper or leading edge. Do you see the golden veins? And then there are the black spots. Those in the middle or elbow of the wing are referred to as nodal, while the stigma is at the leading edge, the same as the female damselfly’s. Why four-spotted and not eight? I don’t have an answer, but perhaps it’s just plain easier to quickly count the four spots on the forewings before the insect flies off.

s8-calico pennant

Last year it was the Calico Pennant that became one of my new species to recognize each time we met. This is a rather small skimmer with the most amazing wing pattern. Notice the dark patch near the tip of the wings, just beyond the yellow stigma. What I love most though is the stained-glass patch on the hindwings. This one was either a female or an immature for its coloration was yellow; the male stands out in red. I have yet to encounter a male this year, but trust it will happen.

s7-dusky clubtail

Sometimes it’s not the wings that are the showiest part, like on this Dusky Clubtail,

l27-green-faced clubtail

Green-faced Clubtail,

l25-racket-tailed emerald

and Racket-tailed Emerald, but there is beauty in simplicity.

l17-Large Flathead Pine Heartwood Borer Beetle (Chalcophora virginiensis)

Wings on other insects are also worth observing, like the purplish ones on a Large Flathead Pine Heartwood Borer Beetle, aka Metallic Wood Boring Beetle. Though it’s supposed to be a noisy flyer, I only saw it clinging to a leaf on a recently harvested hill–meaning there’s lots of dead pine heartwood nearby.

l18-click beetle

Only a few feet away, I had my first encounter (at least that I can recall) with an Eastern-Eyed Click Beetle. Click beetles get their names from the sound they emit when they flip themselves upright. I didn’t have the opportunity to hear that sound for I’m actually sharing these two photos out of order.

l19-click beetle

When I first met him, he was upright and may have flipped over to pretend to play dead. So I saved this photo to show second because of those “eyes” on the thorax and then the mottled black with white specked wings. The “eyes” are intended to frighten away predators. As an adult, the click beetle doesn’t dine on much, though occasionally it feeds on the larva of wood-boring beetles–thus there existed the possibility of an interesting intersection.

s21

When a Canadian Swallowtail flew in to my range, backlighting by the sun helped me see the overlap of its fore and hindwings as evidenced by the deeper yellow arch. I also noticed a tattering on one forewing. Butterflies are so beautiful and take such a beating both from their surroundings and any predator.

l21-luna moth wing

The same can be said for Luna Moths and by a hindwing left behind, I wondered when this one met its demise for so faded was it. But the “eye” on the wing was still evident, as well as the downy coating of this giant silkmoth. Of course, I would have preferred to see it alive, but was still thrilled with such a delicate find.

s13-yellow-bellied

Another great find was the discovery of a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker who has been feeding its young throughout each day. Do you see the hole in the tree right beside the bird’s breast? I could hear the young located inside and have spent more minutes than I should admit to watching the parents fly in and out.

l22-veery eggs in nest

Soon the baby sapsuckers up in the tree will prepare to fledge.  Likewise, if all goes according to plan, these four Veery eggs found in a ground nest (mom and pop were accidentally flushed out, but we trust they returned) will hatch and four more sets of wings will take to the airways.

One wing, two wing, clear wing, metallic wing, butterfly wing, beetle wing–so many wings worth noticing.

 

 

 

Otherworldly in Nature

One doesn’t necessarily step into the woods and expect transcendent events to occur, but then again by learning to live in the moment one never knows what to expect. And so it was that I traveled the trail at LEA’s Holt Pond Preserve with my friend Ann this morning–both of us delighted to just spend some quiet time exploring together.

o1-bunchberry

Our tramp began with a pause beside bunchberries because it’s a plant I always associate with Ann due to her trailside teaching about its finer points years ago. Today, as the flowers began to morph into fruit, it was the points of the four white petal-like bracts and green leaves that asked to be noticed in the most subtle of ways for each was decorated with a dewdrop.

o2-red maple swamp

Not far beyond where the bunchberries grew, we stepped onto the first of the boardwalks that provided for a delightful amble through the red maple swamp.

o3-green frog

Just off the edge of the wooden walkway, we spied some eyes starring up at us and realized we were the subject of the green frog’s discontent.

o4-green frog male

His camouflage almost worked as he tried to hide among the sphagnum moss . . .

o5-green frog and insects

but again we found him. How did we know he was a he? By his tympanum (ear), the circle behind his eyes. We really wanted to see him feed and if you look closely, you may see a mosquito and other insects nearby, but he seemed focused on us–in case he needed to defend his territory we supposed.

o6-pitcher plants

A wee bit further we met the first of many of their kind–the incredibly unique pitcher plants with their strikingly beautiful magenta flowers that stood like the wind spinners we used to create as kids.

o7-pitcher plant leaves

In the water below were the pitcher-shaped leaves that gave this plant its common name.

o17-pitcher pitchers

The carnivorous pitcher plant obtains nitrogen and phosphorus by eating insects. Its oddly shaped leaves form a pitcher partly filled with water and digestive enzymes. The spout is a hairy landing platform for insects attracted by its red venation and nectar glands. Imagine this: An insect crawls to the edge of the leaf, aka pitcher, slips on the downward-sloping hairs and plunges into the liquid below where enzymes and bacteria break it down. Any chances for escape are zapped by those stiff hairs.

o8-frosted whiteface dragonfly

As we paid attention to the plant, damselflies and dragonflies, like this Frosted Whiteface Skimmer, flew in the surrounding airspace. We appreciated that he landed so we could take a closer look at the details of his body, including the golden outline of the upper edge of his wings.

o8-red maple leaf

Moseying along, our next great find was a red maple leaf, which made perfect sense given that we were in the midst of the red maple swamp. What didn’t make sense was the fact that it donned its autumnal coloration, but ours was not to make sense of everything.

08a-muddy river

At last we reached the boardwalk to the Muddy River, where we embraced stillness and listened to the green frogs strum their banjo voices and red-winged blackbirds sing their conk-la-ree songs.

o9-red-winged and painted

One blackbird, in particular, stood out as if he were the king of the river. We didn’t realize it at the time, but the photographs tell the story for he did have a subject in mind–in the form of a painted turtle.

o10-red winged :painted

Off his high horse he flew, but continued to squawk from a lower pulpit. What did it all mean?

o11red winged blackbird

While we’ll never know, he did seem pleased with a gaze into his own reflection.

o12a-

Our gaze also became more focused when we realized we stood in the midst of a newly emerged dragonfly. By its cloudy wings folded over its back damselfly-style and the abandoned exuvia on the other side of its perch did we realize what we were witnessing.

o12b

We felt a sense of caretakers for suddenly it was our honorable duty to stand watch and protect this vulnerable being from becoming prey. With wonder, we watched as it slowly changed position and suddenly spread its wings. For at least an hour we stood sentry and noted the slightest changes while we delighted in how the breeze occasionally fluttered through its wings.

o13-female eastern forktail damsel

Oh, we looked around and spied a female Eastern Forktail damselfly . . .

o14-chalk-fronted corporal

and many a Chalk-fronted Corporal dragonfly among others.

o15-spreading his wings

But our attention continued to return to the subtle beauty before us. How did it know to climb the vegetation? How did it know to emerge? How did it know today was sunny? How could such delicate wings support its meaty body? Where do dragonflies hang out on rainy days? How long would it take before it flew off? Our questions were numerous, but . . .

o15-dragonfly exuvia

in a flash, as I moved in for a closer shot of the exuvia, the dragonfly decided it had posed for enough photos, and Ann and I watched with continued fascination as it flew off. Really, we felt like proud parents who had sent our offspring into the world. And we rejoiced. We had just witnessed one of nature’s greatest spectacles. It wasn’t only thrilling to watch, but was an all-encompassing experience that pulled us in with our sight and minds.

016-pitcher

After such an awe-inspiring opportunity, we couldn’t imagine anything else, but as we moved along the boardwalk through another section of the red maple swamp we again encountered pitcher plants.

o18-pitcher flower

And this time we decided to take a closer look at the flower structure, which was umbrella-like with those five broad and waxy sepals situated above. Unless you physically turn it and take a peek, it’s difficult to see what is going on beneath where five more bright red, oval petals, curved in at the base and covered the ovary.

o19-pitcher anthers

Within, yellow stamens surrounded the base of ovary. Below, a slender style extended from the round ovary and flattened out into an angled yellowish green structure like an inverted umbrella that curved back over the center of the flower. Certainly another novel spectacle for us to behold.

o20-four-spotted skimmer

Along the same stretch we were equally wowed by a Four-spotted Skimmer.

o21-four-spotted face

He gave us the opportunity to take in his mightiness from more than one vantage point.

o25-quaking bog

At last we reached the quaking bog and despite the water that filled our hiking boots, we moved forward toward Holt Pond with some caution. (Think right wrist still in cast.)

o26-caddisfly case

Along the way we discovered an abandoned caddisfly larva case,

o23-blue flag iris

blue flag irises,

o24-green frog

another green frog,

o27-tadpole

and a huge tadpole swimming over the boardwalk.

o28-muskrat works

At the water’s edge, though we sought sundews and could find none where they used to grow in abundance, we did realize someone had come with a different quest and because it seemed the pickerel weed roots had been foraged, we suspected a muskrat.

o29-hp northwest

After enjoying the view and trying to make the bog quake by jumping to no avail, we journeyed on.

o32a-Muddy River

Our walk back via the road passed much more quickly and in what seemed like no time, we were at the parking lot. But I had one more site to show Ann and so we headed down to the Muddy River, our circle completed–though we were a wee bit east of our first river encounter.

o32-canoe

It’s there that LEA has long left a canoe for anyone to use–just bring you own paddles and pfds.

o33-sawdust

And as our walk had begun, so it ended . . . with us again looking at bunchberries. but these were different for they were covered with sawdust and we suspected carpenter ants were busy residents in the pine tree behind them.

o35-exuvia

Because we were looking we were again rewarded as we noticed something else–a dragonfly exuvia.

o36-ghosts

And behind the tree two ghosts stared up at us in awe–completing the picture of this morning filled with the otherworldly so often encountered in nature.

 

 

 

The Ayes Have It

I knew I was blessed when I spied a Northern Flicker in the backyard early this morning. This is the one woodpecker that doesn’t behave like a typical family member for it forages on the ground rather than a tree trunk.

e1-northern flicker

From the kitchen window, I watched this guy for a while as he looked for food. I knew it was a male because of the so called black mustache on either side of its bill. But . . . it was the bird’s eyes I was most curious about . . .and their placement on the side of its head.

e2-flicker feeding

Like mammals, birds with eyes on the side are born to hide . . . from predators. His field of vision, therefore, was wide and the ants on the ground were the ones who needed to scurry and hide.

e4-tachinid fly

After dining for a while, the flicker flew off and I stepped out the door–in search of other  sets of eyes to behold–like the red ones of a tachinid fly,

e8-long-legged fly

and metallic green on a long-legged fly. Like the flicker, flies also have a wide field of vision due to the fact that they have compound eyes. Each eye consists of thousands of individual visual receptors, or ommatidia, (singular ommatidium) (om·ma·tid·i·um, äməˈtidēəm.) Each hexagonal-shaped ommatidium (think honeycomb) is a functioning eye in itself. With thousands of eyes on the world, it’s no wonder flies and other insects see us coming–especially when we have a flyswatter in hand.

e7-green and brown stink bug

I kept looking and among the elderberry shrub leaves I found a strikingly beautiful green and brown stink bug, or shield bug, if you’re looking for a more pleasant name. Like all insects, it featured those compound eyes, but I was struck by how tiny they were. Apparently, it was enough to see movement and kept trying to hide from me.

e8-stink bug eyes

Despite its efforts, I could zero in on it even after walking away and returning.

e9a-song sparrow

Eventually I moved my focus to Pondicherry Park, where a variety of eyes greeted me, including those of a Song Sparrow.

e7a

What did he seek? Insects and other invertebrates, such as weevils, leaf beetles, ground beetles, caterpillars, dragonflies, grasshoppers, midges, craneflies, spiders, snails, and earthworms.

e11-slug eyes

What about a slug? I suspected the sparrow would enjoy such and today was a decent slug-like kind of day. But, how does a slug see?

A slug has two pairs of retractable tentacles on its head. The upper, optic tentacles, feature light-sensitive eyespots on the ends. And just like a deer can move each ear independent of the other, slugs can do the same with each eye-stalk. Another cool fact: an eye stalk can be re-grown if something attacks it.

e11a-spider eyes

Further along, I found a wolf spider hanging out on last year’s fertile frond of a sensitive fern. Did you know that spiders have eight legs AND eight eyes? Two of them are large and prominent–the better to see you with.

e11-ebony jewelwing

As I continued to look for the sparrow’s prey, I discovered an ebony jewelwing that I determined had just emerged for it posed as I took numerous photographs. Usually, they flit about like woodland fairies. Unlike its larger dragonfly cousins who have eyes in front in order to hunt, the damsels’ are on the sides. Though zoom-and-swoop attacks may not be possible for the damselfly, it can see all-round–including above and behind– giving it control of its airspace.

e12-barred owl

My wander continued and then I heard a sound and saw some action in a tree about thirty feet off trail. And just like that, in what felt like a miracle of miracles, I realized I was in the presence of the wise one.

With his eyes in front, a Barred Owl is born to hunt. For several minutes we starred at each other and I was honored by his presence. Of course, I hoped he might cook for me tonight, but he let me down. Possibly he had others more in need of supper than I was at the time.

In the end my vote was aye in favor of all the peepers I’d met along the way, both in the yard and the forested park, for I knew that the eyes had it.

 

 

 

Flexing My Wings with Jinny Mae

It’s been a while since Jinny Mae and I had wandered and wondered together, but this afternoon the opportunity finally arose. And so we agreed on a time and place (though she did change the time 😉 ), and pulled into the parking lot of the Mountain Division Trail located closest to the Eastern Slopes Airport on Route 5 in Fryeburg, Maine.

m6-Mtn Division Trail

Rather than a rail trail, this is actually a rail-with-trail even though the rail is not currently active.

m2-lupine

From the start, we were surprised and delighted to see so many lupines in bloom along the edge. Lupines are members of the pea or legume family, Fabaceae. As such, the flowers have a distinctive upper banner, two lateral wings, and two lower petals fused together to form a keel. Those lateral wings earned the plant’s place in this contemplation.

m2a-lupine aphids

Of course, being that not everything in nature is as perfect as we might desire, we did discover destruction in action on a few stems and flowers. Lupine aphids seeking honeydew suck the juices from a plant. They’ll continue to feed until midsummer, even after they’ve destroyed the flower.

While there isn’t much to celebrate about these garden pests, it is worth noting that all aphids are female and give birth to live young, without mating. And another cool fact–once the population grows too large, they will develop wings and fly to a new host plant.

m3-chalk-fronted white corporal

We continued our journey at our typical slow pace and stopped frequently to admire the dragonflies. There were quite a few species, but many spent time patrolling in flight and so we couldn’t photograph them. We did, however, give thanks for the work of all for we felt the sting of only a few mosquitoes. And we appreciated the perchers as well, for by letting us get a closer look we could learn their characteristics, and therefore ID: Chalk-fronted Corporal;

4-four-spotted skimmer

Four-spotted Skimmer;

m5-calico pennant

and Calico Pennant.

m7-ant dragging grasshopper

We also noted a crazy ant act. The ant apparently got a great deal at the grocery store and somehow managed to single-anticly drag the remains of a grasshopper home–that’s one flier we won’t see in the air again.

m8-wood sower gall wasp gall

We also stumbled upon another interesting find–the galls of a wood sower gall wasp. As I told Jinny Mae, I’ve seen them before and knew they were associated with oak trees, but couldn’t remember the name in the moment. Maybe if I say it five times fast and spin around three times I’ll remember its name the next time I encounter it. Doubtful.

m8-wood sower gall wasp

The cool facts about this fuzzy white gall with pink polka dots, which is also known as oak seed galls: it only grows on white oak; the fuzziness is actually secretions from grubs of the gall wasp; and within are seed-like structures that cover the wasp larva.

m9-tiger swallowtail

Finally, it was a swallowtail butterfly that stopped us in our tracks and mesmerized us for moments on end. The question was this: which swallowtail–Eastern or Canadian, for both fly here.

m11-eastern tiger swallowtail

Earlier in the day I’d photographed an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail in the backyard. Tiger comes from the four black stripes, while swallowtail refers to the long tails extending from the hind wings that these butterflies often lose to their prey as spring gives way to summer.

This was a female given that her hind wings featured blue with bright orange accents when viewed from the top. The areas that are blue on the female are black on the male.

And notice her main body, which is a rather muted combo of black and yellow.

m10-canadian tiger swallowtail

Now look at the butterfly Jinny Mae and I each took at least fifty photographs of and do you see the darker body? The Canadians have more black hairs covering their bodies.

m11-probiscus

Also look at the underwings. I regret that I didn’t get a shot of the Eastern’s underwings, but for the Canadian this matches the pattern: Note the yellow band just inside the outer edge on the underside of its forewings. Had it been an Eastern, it would have featured a series of disconnected yellow spots on the black band. The Canadian has a continuous yellow band. And then there are the orange and blue markings.

m13-canadian tiger

At the end of the day all that detail really didn’t matter–Eastern or Canadian, both were tiger swallowtails.

And I gave thanks for the opportunity to flex my wings beside Jinny Mae. It felt so good to fly along the path together again. For those who don’t know, Jinny Mae’s journey has been one of varied wing beats as she’s lived with cancer for the last three years. Her current treatment is going well and we look forward to more flight paths.

 

 

 

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.

Cinco de Mayo, Naturally

The hour and a half drive to Litchfield, Maine, was worth every second on this fifth day of May. The spring tapestry that spread before my eyes had me oohing and aahing around each bend in the road for such were the colors–so many shades of greens, mixed in with reds and magentas and pinks and yellows. It was almost intoxicating.

But . . . a photograph will have to wait for another day for I needed to reach my destination and catch up with my peeps–fellow classmates from our 2012-13 Maine Master Naturalist class. For the last five years we’ve tried to get together quarterly. It doesn’t always work out, but this year we’re making a concerted effort.

s1-Smithfield map

Today’s destination was the vernal pool at Smithfield Plantation, a 103-acre property the town of Litchfield conserved. If you look carefully, you might see a reflection of Sharon, who has lead many a school group along the trails and knows the property intimately.

s1a-Sharon T

Before we headed to the pool, she oriented us to the site.

s2-moose wood

One of the things Sharon explained was that a Boy Scout had created an interpretive tree trail and so we paused at one of his stops to admire the craftsmanship.

s2b-moose wood maple leaf

Indeed, right behind the sign, a striped maple, aka moose maple, shared its newly emerged pastel buds and leaves.

s2a-moose maple

And then we lifted the lid to reveal the information. OK, so there were a few typos for the grammar police, but on each of his cards, he included a joke. What a great idea as that would certainly appeal to the younger set. It definitely appealed to those of us who are still ten years old in our minds.

s4-hobblebush

And on the opposite side of the trail, we spotted another type of moose wood–hobblebush just beginning to flower. Both striped maple and hobblebush are favorite foods of moose, thus their nicknames.

s3a-clintonia

Onward we walked until a patch of leaves stopped us. And our brain-sharing began. We thought we knew what the plant was, but then questioned ourselves as it wasn’t in flower yet. Each season, we need to relearn some. Despite the lack of flowers, we decided to key it out in Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide using two other descriptors–leaves both basal and entire.

s3-clintonia 1

For those familiar with Newcomb’s that meant of the three numbers in the locator key, we didn’t know the first, but went with 22 for the second and third representing basal leaves and entire leaves. Then we tried, 122, 222, etc.

s3b-clintonia buds

And landed on our first suspicion: 622–Yellow Clintonia or Bluebead (Clintonia borealis).

s6-vernal pool

The trail wasn’t long, but as one might expect, it took us a while to reach the vernal pool. And then we were stopped in our tracks and didn’t approach it right away.

s7-solitary sandpiper

Instead, we stood back and spent a while watching a solitary sandpiper on a downed tree.

s7a-solitary sandpiper

As we watched, it bobbed its tail. And at one point we were sure it took a mid-morning nap. Eventually, the bird flew to another part of the pool and a few minutes later departed.

s10-setting up camp

And so we set up camp, dropping some of our gear on the bench.

s10a-setting up camp

And more of it on and beside a log. We had macro-invertebrate charts and vernal pool pamphlets and books, plus all kinds of containers for pond dipping.

s9-Pam's journal

Pam was the smart one and she’d packed her sketch book and colored pencils. That’s one skill we all appreciate for it slows us down and makes us really notice. I, for one, haven’t done enough sketching in the past year and so this was the perfect incentive for the future.

s8-mosquito larvae

As we looked into the pool and Sharon told us what we might find, we immediately noticed the most abundant residents–mosquito larvae doing their whirligig dances.

s11-first fairy shrimp

But on her first dip, Sharon pulled up the crème de la crème–a fairy shrimp. Bingo–a significant pool it was as she knew, though not so documented with the state.

s12-examining the fairy shrimp

With her loupe, Jen took a closer look.

s13-five fairy shrimp

On Sharon’s next dip she pulled up not uno, not dos, not tres, not quatro, but cinco fairy shrimp.

s13-Pam sketches the fairy shrimp

And so Pam settled in to sketch them in all their glory.

s13-Pam's sketches

And added a caddisfly larva for we’d also captured one of those.

s14-female fairy shrimp

One of the cool things that Sharon pointed out, the brood pouch at the end of the abdomen, so indicating a female. How cool is that?

s15-caddisfly larvae

And here is our caddisfly, his casing created out of fallen hemlock needles. Caddisfly larvae that create their bodies from woody material are the log-cabin variety. We watched it move about in the tray, sometimes extending its soft body out of the case.

s17-spotted salamander egg mass

The dipping continued and a spotted salamander egg mass was pulled out, but only for us to take a closer look. And then it was returned from whence it came. Notice the individual eggs within the greater gelatinous matrix.

s18-egg mass

After that, Sharon found another reason to celebrate. She’d worn her waders and so was able to go deeper into the water than the rest of us.

s18-tadpoles

A quick dip and she’d pulled up an egg mass that almost melted as life burst forth–tadpoles. The first of the season for all of us.

s20-predacious diving beetle larvae

One last dip revealed one not so kind to all the other species we’d located. Known as a water tiger or toe biter, you can tell that it’s one mean little thing. This was the larval stage of a predacious diving beetle and the tadpoles had everything to fear for like its adult form it was a predator.

s23-Cinco Amigas

After that last find, it was time for us to pack up our gear and leave the pool behind. But, we took with us memories of a delightful spring morning spent exploring together. And . . . we had a chance to catch up, show each other field guides we thought might be of interest, share experiences of our volunteer opportunities, provide suggestions for ways to make a nature program work be it for kids or adults, and realize that we were not alone in any obstacles that may cause an issue during those programs.

What a naturally wonderful way to spend this Cinco de Mayo . .  . con cinco amigas. Thanks Gaby, Beth, Jen, Sharon and Pam.