Pond Friends

My day began with an exploration of the edge. The edge of a favorite place I hadn’t explored much lately. And so it was to old pals that I had a chance to say hello.

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The first was so old that it almost wasn’t. Okay, so that makes no sense, but it was no longer the Fishing Spider it had once been . . . and since become. Rather, it was the exuviae of the spider–a shed skin dangling by the water’s edge.

Much tinier by comparison was a Jumping Spider, its spotted patterned-body contrasted in size upon the Bracken Fern leaflet upon which it quickly moved.

In the same space Northern Bluet damselflies graced the landscape and I realized I need to give them more notice for they are as important as their dragon cousins I spend much of my summertime focusing upon.

And so . . . I present to you another old friend, a male Eastern Forktail. This is one of my favorites for I love the contrasting coloration with bright greens and blues offset by black.

Among the Brackens another did fly . . . and land. This Flesh Fly is known not only for its red eyes, but also its red “tail” or butt.

Speaking of red, by mid-afternoon, my guy and I headed off in the tandem kayak as the sky darkened.

After making the acquaintance of a daughter and son-in-law of an old friend and recalling the tornado we all survived three years ago and sharing favorite spots on the pond, we paused ever so briefly by an active beaver lodge. Do you see the fresh mud? Don’t let that and the ripples in the water lead you to believe that the beavers came out to greet us.

I was with my guy, remember, and he has a need to be as active as the rodents within. Oh, the mud wasn’t his doing, but the ripples were.

The beavers present activity was, however, noted by the Spadderdock roots floating upon the surface of the pond. That’s a carbon-loading beaver treat.

A treat for my eyes is always a turtle sighting and though this painted one seemed to be surfing, as I explained in my ever-knowledgeable way to my guy, it was basking in the sun as a means to absorb the UV rays of the sun. He was sure it was just preparing to slip back into the water and as we approached it of course did so, thus proving him right. Um, but I was as well.

All the friends I’ve mentioned till now we’ve met before. And actually, I’ve had the privilege of meeting this last one once before, but sometimes it’s the second meeting that drives the characteristics home.

I mean, seriously, how many times have you met someone for the first time and forgotten their name? But upon that second meeting you focus on how their nose sticks out further and they have such a dark shell and a line of yellow dots under their double chin and they hang out in the shade more than the sun and you realize you do remember them: Common Musk Turtle.

I love my pond friends who are my best friends, whether we met for the first time or again and again and again.

Oh Wing-ed Ones

The power of flight. The agility of fliers. Both are key.

But to truly key in, one needs to notice the idiosyncrasies of the wings and other body parts. Consider the yellow stigma on this dragonfly’s wings, a color which matches the hearts on its abdomen.

But for me, the most outstanding part of the Calico Pennant are the stained glass patches at the base of its wings–yellow for a female and red for a male.

Then there’s one whom I first met a couple of weeks ago. By its oreo cookie face I recognized it upon our second encounter today. This Stream Cruiser’s wings certainly don’t define it.

But other attributes do, such as the green eyes of this mature being and his yellowish claspers.

Did you notice he’s on my finger? I was rather surprised and you know . . . delighted.

As I moved along, I spied another who knows how to fly through the air.

Its dark wings hardly seem capable of carrying its long body, but they do. Even more notable, however, are the long segmented antennae.

This is an Ichneumon Wasp, known not as one to sting us, but rather for its parasitic larvae that feed on or inside another insect host species until it dies.

For the Common (there’s that word again) Sanddragon dragonfly, the stand-out feature is the yellow abdominal appendages on both male and female. To tell one sex from the other, the eyes need to be considered. The female has brown eyes, while the male, such as this one, sees the world of its prey through yellow-green lenses.

Hoverflies are also part of the landscape, behaving in their typical manner by hovering mid-air in the middle of trail, until one lands on a hemlock twig and shows off not only its veined wings, but also giant eyes, the better to spy a tiny prey.

Nearby, a Robber Fly lands on the bud of a Pipsissewa flower, waiting as its species does for a chance to pounce upon a dinner of choice.

In the midst of it all, a delicate Northern Pearly-eye Butterfly graces the scene.

So many differences. And yet they all can fly despite the size of their head, thorax and abdomen.

Oh Wing-ed Ones.

May those who share this day with you be honored with similar attributes including power, agility, and idiosyncrasies all their own.

Happy Birthday Carissa, Pam, and Hannah.

Wonder Wings of the West

When we first met I was certain I knew you from past encounters.

Moving about under a leaf as you did, it was your coloration of yellow and brown bands with a hint of rust that first caught my attention and I bent over to say hello.

Those veined wings of two tones added to my sense that we knew each other well.

On your body I saw no hair, another reason to believe we’d met previously.

And your short antennae added to my certainty.

The way your thorax connected to your abdomen also bespoke your name, or so I thought.

But there was something different about you that made me question our relationship.

That beak of a mouth . . . to whom did it belong?

And below your mouth . . . was that a bug you were trying to dine upon? If so, that didn’t fit the picture of you I’d assumed.

As you held the supposed bug close, I noted that it remained the same size for minute after minute.

The closer I looked, the more I came to realize that it wasn’t a bug you feasted on, but rather it was a part of your body.

In the midst of trying to figure out your identification another flew to the edge of the woodland who also had wings of two tones.

There was no question in my mind that this dragonfly and I had never met before. If only I felt so sure about my encounter with you.

I’d thought from the start that you were a Paper Wasp for everything matched up . . . including your placid behavior. But . . . that insect that I was so sure you held, which didn’t make sense for your kind isn’t predatory, told me you were different. Rather, the bug was actually thick forelegs like a Praying Mantis might have. It was a strange mix of features that you shared, and I can only hope I’ll forever remember your name dear Wasp Mantidfly. You are a strong mimic of the one I thought you might be, but more closely related to the Mantis family.

As for the dragonfly, a Widow Skimmer added to today’s finds of the wonder wings of the west–the west being western Maine, of course.

Drawn by the Sapsuckers

This morning’s tramp found me checking on a couple of bird nests. The first, which belonged to a Phoebe family, was empty.

And so I wandered along a path through a cathedral in the pines.

It seemed apropos that I should spy the works of an Oak Apple Gall wasp in such a place for it is believed that circa 800 A.D., monks from a Columban monastery created the Book of Kells and used such galls for their green colorant. The wasp uses it as a place for a larva to pupate.

I knew I’d reached the second nest I wanted to check on because from about twenty feet away I could hear the peeps of the babes within. Their father tossed in a meal, much differently than how he was feeding them only a week or two ago when he entered the nest hole every few minutes.

Today, no sooner did he leave when a nestling popped out and begged for more. I watched for a bit and then gravity pulled me in a different direction.

And so I trespassed onto a neighboring property. Well, I don’t think of it as actually trespassing since it’s not posted and I know the owners who have invited me to visit on numerous occasions. They just didn’t know today would be one of those; nor did I until it was. The deer flies buzzed all about my head, but thankfully some old friends in the form of dragonflies (uh oh, here I go again) snatched the pesky insects and then dined.

It took a few minutes, but eventually Slaty Blue gobbled every bit of the fly. One down; a gazillion to go.

While the lupines had been in full bloom the last time I visited, today’s flowers of joy were the Milkweeds. Even the ants agreed.

On a leaf below one flowerhead, I noticed something tiny and by the pattern on its back, knew who I was spying.

About the size of a nickel, it was a Spring Peeper. Located about two feet above ground, this little frog could hide from predators all day, waiting to munch on insects and spiders at night. Do you see the X on its back? Its scientific name–Pseudacris crucifer–breaks down to Pseudo (false), acris (locust) and crucifer (cross bearer).

While I continued to admire him, a dash of color brightened the background and then flew down onto the path.

Bedecked in orange and black, it was a Fritillary butterfly. There were actually two today and where the colors of the lupines had passed, the butterflies contributed greatly with their hues.

The Fritillaries weren’t the only adding a dash of color for Eastern Tiger Swallowtails also pollinated the meadow flowers.

Canada Tiger Swallowtails also fly in this part of Maine and so I’m forever trying to remember how to tell the two apart besides size, which doesn’t help when you only see one. The trick, however, is to look at the yellow line on the underside of the forewing. If it isn’t one continuous line as this one wasn’t, then it is the Eastern variety.

I’ve probably completely confused you, but the next will be easy:

A pop quiz: 1. Who is this? You tell me. (Hint: Emerald family)

2. Who is this? (Hint: Clubtail family)

3. Who is this? (Hint: Skimmer family)

4. Who is this? (Hint: Skimmer family)

Extra credit if you can identify this lady. (Hint: Skimmer family)

The skimmers are many and each has something unique and lovely to offer. But my greatest thrill today was to encounter this delightful specimen just before I was about to depart the meadow. For those who joined me yesterday as I hunted for the Common Whitetail Skimmer, you may have noted the zigzag pattern on her abdomen. Take a look at the pattern along the abdomen of this beauty. The side spots form a smooth stripe. Her honey, whom I have yet to see, has not only the black patches on the wings, but also white. Who might this be? A Twelve-spotted Skimmer.

Before departing, I checked back on the sapsucker nestlings. Papa was doing the same from a tree about ten feet away. I got the sense he wanted to tell them to be patient and stop begging.

But how can you resist such a baby face? I know I couldn’t.

I gave great thanks to the Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers for drawing me into this place and to Linda and Heinrich Wurm for allowing me to trespass and spy their meadow once again and all that it has to offer.

P.S. Quiz answers: 1. Racket-tailed Emerald; 2. Ashy Clubtail; 3. Spangled Skimmer; 4. Dot-tailed Whiteface; Bonus: female Great Blue Skimmer (a first for me) How did you do?

Hunting the Common

I knew when I headed out this morning that there was one member of the Odonata family that I wanted to meet. But . . . where oh where to find her.

Her habitat includes muddy-bottomed ponds, lakes, and streams, as well as disturbed areas. Hmmm. That should make the quest easy.

With that in mind, I first stopped beside a muddy-bottomed pond that flows into a brook, which at its start more resembles a stream. It is there that Slaty Blue Skimmer and I got reacquainted after so many months have passed since our last encounter.

He reminds me that dragonflies belong to the suborder Anisoptera, which means “different wings” since their hindwing differ in size and shape from the forewings. Those differences may be subtle, but they are there.

How common are you? Very, but not the one you seek.

As I watched Slaty Blue come and go, defending his piece of the shoreline from his family members, I suddenly spied something under the Winterberry leaves: a newly emerged skimmer resting while its wings dried.

And then one shrub over a Racket-tailed Emerald, with neon green eyes paused longer than I expected. (This one is for you, Kate Mansfield Griffith–it doesn’t have the full green body of the Eastern Pondhawk that walked down your Connecticut driveway today, but the eyes were a good match of color, don’t you think?)

How common are you? Very, but not the one you seek.

Upon a Pickerel Weed in the water I notice a favorite of mine, this one also recently emerged and drying its wings before taking flight: a female Calico Pennant Skimmer. For some who have been watching, you’ll be happy to know that there were males about, but they were busy and didn’t wish to pose for a photo shoot.

How common are you? Very, but not the one you seek.

Old friends, like Kate who was one of my first playmates and even if we can’t spend time together we can still share moments of wonder like we did as kids, make themselves known such as this male Chalk-fronted Corporal. I’ve described it before as being kid-like in behavior because its kind love to play leap frog and land three feet ahead of me with each step I take.

How common are you? Very, but not the one you seek.

I soon leave the pond behind and find myself walking with intention along a woodland pathway and into an old log landing located near another brook. Guess who greets me? Yes, another Chalk-fronted Corporal, this one a female.

How common are you? Very, but not the one you seek.

As I continue to look, one with whom I struck up a conversation last summer flew in and snatched a moth before settleing on leaves to partake of the meal. Meet my friend: Black Shouldered Spinyleg, a clubtail so named for its black shoulders and spiny hind legs.

How common are you? Very, but not the one you seek.

Next, a Spangled Skimmer with black and white stigma on its wings took me by surprise and I vowed to remember it for no other has the dual-colored stigmas.

How common are you? Very, but not the one you seek.

In the shadows I spotted another I’m getting to know this year, the Four-spotted Skimmer. This dragonfly was stunning, but I found it amusing that its common name refers to tiny spots when so much more could have been honed in upon for a descriptor.

How common are you? Very, but not the one you seek.

I was about ready to head for the hills when another dragonfly caught my attention. Okay, so that’s a bit of an understatement as so many more than I’ve shared made themselves known to me and I stood still and watched how they moved, where they rested, and how big their territory was.

How common are you? Very, and I AM the one you seek.

I wanted to find this female Common Whitetail Skimmer because she hardly seemed like an every-day dragonfly to me. Those zigzag stripes on her abdomen. The way each segment stood out more 3-D than most. And those three black patches upon each wing. Words fail to describe her beauty.

How common are you? Very and yet . . . not at all.

I set out to hunt for the common and along the way I met others equally common, but in the end the one I sought was hardly common at all . . . despite her common name.

Secret Brook Mondate

After a delightful morning following friends in New Hampshire as we traversed their trail adjacent to the White Mountain National Forest, they told us of a different route to try before we headed off for our afternoon adventure. From the parking area at the trailhead, they said, begin hiking in a certain clock-face orientation and you’ll reach the falls that only the locals know about.

Bingo. We did as they further suggested and listened for the water, crossed a dry stream bed, and then made our way carefully down a steep embankment to the very spot they’d described. After pausing and enjoying the sight and sound for a little bit, we both came to the same conclusion. Rather than head back up to the trail, why not follow the stream to its source.

That meant walking beside moss-covered rocks as the water flowed forth.

At first it was on the easy side as we followed its course.

Our route became more challenging when we crossed slash at various times. (Can you see my guy?)

And ducked under and crawled backwards to get past some downed trees.

Hobblebush and Witch Hazel slowed us down. Well, maybe it only slowed me down. Again, can you spy him?

And then there were boulder fields to work our way around and through. Despite the sometimes challenging terrain . . .

as we continued to follow the water flowing south to its northern source . . .

the bushwhack provided us with delightful moments, such as the sight of a few Wood-sorrel flowers still in bloom.

The same was true of a Mountain Maple, its flowers splashing forth like a display of fireworks.

Occasionally damselflies known as Emerald Jewelwings landed nearby, he of the darker colors and she with a white dot at the tip of each wing.

At last we arrived at the pond that is the source of the brook. Whenever we are there we scan the landscape in hopes of spying a moose. A few tracks along the brook reminded us of their presence, but no actual sighting on this day.

We did spy more than a dozen Chalk-fronted Corporal dragonflies sunning on a rock.

And what I think was a Frosted Whiteface stuck in a spider web. Of course I had to free it.

Before setting it upon a Steeplebush, I did try to unfold its wing for the mosquitoes were thicker than thick and we’d been the source of their lunch. We only hoped this female could fly again and gobble up the pesky insects.

We could only imagine that the man in the buff we encountered as we hiked beside the brook must have provided the mosquitoes with an appetizer and dessert. We don’t know for sure because as he walked toward us, we quickly diverted for a short distance before returning to the brook, all in the name of social distancing, of course.

For our return trip, we stuck to the public trail, but gave great thanks to our morning hosts for telling us about the secret brook.

P.S. Happy Birthday Dr. Bubby! Thanks for letting us be a part of your birthday celebration.

Transformation of a Different Sort

Late afternoon found me heading to the vernal pool behind our home, mostly out of curiosity for we’ve had a week of dry, steamy days and I suspected the worst.

Not only by sight, but also stench did I know that my fears had come true.

There was merely a drop of water left, hidden below the leaves as it were.

I stood in the center for the first time all year, where the odor reminded me of New Haven Harbor at low tide, though the pool was perhaps more rank. The harbor has a mud-flat smell that entered my nostrils as a youth and has remained in my memory since, becoming that upon which I judge all other such scents.

Directly above, the sky veiled only by the canopy, offered a few clouds to occasionally shade the hot sun, but not a drop of rain was to be felt as has been the situation of late.

The source of the stench was my little friends who unfortunately didn’t get to hop out.

I could only hope that a few did leave the water of their own accord, but sadly most were fried.

All that realized, it didn’t mean the pool was a static place. There were Flesh Flies with brick red eyes who found this habitat of tadpole carcasses to be to their liking.

And Rove Beetles who surprised me with their presence, though they shouldn’t have for they also have a preference of feeding upon decaying matter.

Both the Flesh and Rove moved quickly through the neighborhood, but for a brief second each paused and posed, as if it was meant to be.

Others included the metallic Green Bottle Fly,

a cricket,

canoodling moths,

and a spider or two or many. There were also birds in the canopy and I suspected they were waiting for me to leave so they could bring food home to the nest.

In the midst, a splash of color was offered by the wee Northern Crescent butterfly whose presence perplexed me at first . . . until I realized that the pool still held moisture and other nutrients, and it offered just the right habitat for butterflies who need to puddle or suck the fluid and minerals to enhance their breeding relationships.

Right beside the pool I spied another of the order Lepidoptera in the pupal form of a Viceroy butterfly.

As has happened year after year, the vernal pool didn’t follow quite the path I had hoped since early April when the ice went out, but still, it’s a place where transformations of a different sort occur . . . and despite the demise of the tadpoles, life goes on.

Myrtle’s Morning

Meet Myrtle. Yes, she’s a turtle.

A Snapping Turtle to be exact. Chelydra serpentina is her scientific name: Chelydra meaning “tortoise” and serpentina deriving from the Latin word serpentis, which means “snake,” in reference to her long tail.

Myrtle’s neighborhood is one where carnivorous plants grow in abundance and right now show off their parasol-like flowers.

I spend some time with the old girl who certainly deserves a parasol to shield her from the sun. Turtles of her type don’t reach sexual maturity until their carapace, or upper shell, measures about eight inches in length and that doesn’t typically happen until they are at least seven. Myrtle’s is at least eight inches, maybe even longer, but I didn’t dare get too close and risk disturbing her. Nor do I ask her her age, cuze after all, we women stand together on such issues.

Below her Pitcher Plant bouquet grow its leaves shaped like . . . pitchers and filled with water and digestive juices. Downward facing hairs attract insects into the trap, and once within the pitfall, there is no escape. The prey drowns in the nectar and body gradually dissolves, providing the plant with nutrition it can’t possibly get from the acidic soil in the community.

Myrtle doesn’t really care. Her back legs are busy digging in the sand and it isn’t to plant a garden full of Pitcher Plants.

Also at home in Myrtle’s neighborhood are Crimson-ringed Whiteface dragonflies, the male showing off a brilliant red thorax.

While the dragonfly poses, waiting for a moment before taking flight to defend its territory or find a gal, Myrtle begins to press her front toes down while simultaneously lowering the back end of her carapace.

Within minutes, the male Crimson finds a date and the two become one, so engrossed in each other as such that they don’t really notice what Myrtle might be up to today.

In a form all her species’ own, Myrtle stands up on her tippy toes and moves that carapace up like the bed of a dump truck ready to make a deposit.

All the while, songs birds ring forth their joyous sounds accompanied by the strums of Green Frogs.

Sometimes Myrtle winks or perhaps its a grimace and other times she smiles with absolute glee. That or she captures a fly or a breath.

Another neighbor also uses its mouth for more than just its usual chitter. Despite the acorn in its mouth, Red Squirrel speaks around the edges and greets Myrtle without dropping its great find.

Meanwhile, Myrtle’s back end dips lower and lower.

I offer her a word of warning for I notice that there’s evidence of some neighbors she may not appreciate–raccoons to be exact based on their tracks.

In that moment, however, Myrtle doesn’t give a hoot about who might be lurking in the shadows waiting to dig up the contents of her hole during the dark of night that will fall hours and hours later.

She’s spent over an hour digging a hole with her hind feet and depositing eggs as evidenced by the plop, plop that I hear. Even though I cannot see them, I trust that more than 40 have filled the hole as she continues to dig and tamp, dig and tamp. It will be several months before they hatch and then, even another week at least before the wee ones slip into the water, and the fact that she lays so many is important because truly predators such as raccoons and skunks and foxes and coyotes may help themselves to Eggs Myrtle.

But for today, Myrtle’s morning was the most important thing on her mind and I delighted in being able to share it with her and her neighbors.

Stepping Up A Notch Mondate: Part 2

Last week found us hiking up an old fav, but there’s another way to approach the summit and so today was the day to follow that route.

But first, my guy needed to sleep in for a bit because he’s been working way too hard of late and way too many hours and so he missed some early morning moments spent with our resident doe.

But that didn’t matter. A late morning start found us parking beside a clover patch where the swallowtail butterflies showed off not only their need for nectar, but battle scars as well.

Not long into the hike, we came upon a stone bench where we once shared lunch. It was only for a brief pause that we stopped today because the insects were thick, but still . . . it’s such a pleasant spot.

After conquering some wet spots along the way, we arrived at the wettest of all, that was actually quite dry. And not a dragonfly in sight.

After that we began to climb, encountering more damp seeps along the way.

All the while our eyes scanned the forest floor because on the other trail to the same summit we’d counted 150 lady’s slippers last week. It wasn’t until we were two miles into today’s hike that we finally found one.

At last we reached the start of the ledges, a welcome spot for that meant no more mucky spots and fewer biting insects.

By the time we reached the same spur to the summit that we’d followed last week, we’d counted 13 lady’s slippers. Mind you, as we began the hike I asked my guy how many he thought we’d see. “One hundred,” he replied. And then he turned the question to me. “Seventy-five,” I said.

At the intersection he conceded. “You win because you had the lower number.”

“What do you think we’ll count when the lady’s slippers fade,” I asked.

“Deer Flies,” he said. Funny guy, my guy.

We agreed that we couldn’t count the ladies along the spur since we’d already acknowledged them last week. That is, until we came upon a bouquet we’d completely missed. Eight in a cluster like none we’d seen before.

We did chuckle a bit further on for we knew there were a bunch, but swear more had appeared for today’s display. Though you can’t see them all because some are by the tree line, there were fourteen that we know of. That’s one more than along today’s chosen trail.

Even though we had stopped counting, I have to tell you that we continued to point out old friends to each other, and even found a few others we’d previously missed. Besides the bouquet, my favorite was a wee blossom that hid under a red maple sapling.

I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge others on display like the huckleberry’s red flowers shaped like bells waiting to ring joyous sounds across the summit.

And then there was the flower beetle atop a mountain ash tree. I was pretty sure it was a flower beetle because . . . um, it was a beetle on a flower. But beyond that my knowledge and research were limited. So as I do in such cases, I reached out to Maine Master Naturalist Anthony Underwood, who said that I’d found an uncommon scarab, Gnorimella maculosa, or Maculated Scarab. Maculate means “mark with a spot.”

And then there were the ants pretending to be part of a flower structure.

Birds also were in on the scene, though we actually heard the songs of many more than we had the honor to see. But this Mourning Dove posed on the trail for us and we could hear a mate call from nearby so we suspected there must be a nest in the vicinity.

Our wonders were many, but the best of all . . . when we reached lunch rock we realized several women who were social distancing had arrived at the overlook before us. Funny thing . . . we knew them. Funnier thing . . . and the best part was that last week along this same mountain we’d met Eleanor on the left and Rachel in the middle. Today, Amy completed their friendship triangle.

Who knew that as we stepped up the notch from a different starting point on this Mondate, we’d find these three amigas. Perfect.

Where will we find you next week, ladies?

Marvels of the Meadow

“My lupine meadow is in full glory!” a friend wrote in an e-mail. And she encouraged visitations. So . . . I went. Actually, we went, for I invited another friend to join me.

The first hint that we were in for a treat was the greeting along a woodland path where small butterflies teased us into admiring them. Erratic in flight, we rejoiced when one finally paused and we could zoom in on its pattern displayed in so many shades of brown.

It didn’t take long to reach the meadow . . . well, that is after we also paused along the way to try to gain a better understanding of leaf rollers and every other little thing that caught our attention.

But then . . . our focus was upon the scene before us.

Lupines everywhere we glanced.

They ranged in presentation from those with pinkish hues . . .

to deep purple . . .

and every shade between.

In the midst of all the purplishness stood a lone white spire.

As we started down one of the mowed paths, it soon became apparent that there was even more to see, like the face of this clubtail dragonfly who refused to leave its perch even when I tried to coax it onto my finger.

And then . . . my heart almost burst for upon one of the flowers were two immature Stream Cruisers and I couldn’t recall ever becoming acquainted with them in a prior life. Certainly one wouldn’t forget that chocolate and cream layered cookie face. (Yes, it was noon.) Okay, so I forget a lot of things, but really . . .

that was one memory to behold.

Of course, there were others, such as the canoodling craneflies who thought they’d escaped my vision by carrying out their love act below a leaf.

And then one of the most curious, made even more interesting because we’d examined some rolled up leaves on our way to the meadow . . .

Under our watch (mind you we took turns going in for a closer look as is our new way of being in the same place at the same time), a secretion was discharged as this little critter turned its head from side to side and ever so slowly the leaf curled inward.

Though we didn’t see any honeybees, the bumbles were there to perform their magical act.

Occasionally we pulled our focus away from the lupines and noticed other flowers in bloom, such as lilies and columbines, and daisies, and buttercups, and cinquefoils, and even those promising future blossoms like the milkweed. A Sedge Sprite damselfly waited for its next meal to pass by, while a larval bagworm hid within its protective case.

Upon another leaf, we spotted another clubtail, and I assumed it was the same species as the first dragonfly that had greeted us. Though I called both Sir Lancelot, for I thought perhaps they might be Lancet Clubtails, I knew that I’d have to figure it out back at home. If I’m not mistaken, because there are no markings on the last two segments (segments 9 & 10 in dragonflyspeak), rather than an Arthurian legend, this was actually an Ashy Clubtail.

As the sun’s rays grew stronger, Ashy changed its orientation, extending its abdomen directly toward the star at the center of the solar system in order to cool off. The obelisk position reduces the surface area to heat. It’s behaviors like this that boggle my mind, but they are innate.

Not to go unnoticed, for they made sure we paid attention with each step we took, were the Chalk-fronted Corporals. Their behavior reminds me of small children as they run ahead and just as I catch up, they run (fly) ahead again and wait, and just as I catch up, they run ahead and . . . you get the picture.

Others also made themselves known and it seemed the more time we spent looking, the more we saw. Well, maybe “seemed” isn’t the right term, for indeed . . . the more time we spent looking, the more we saw, like this Four-spotted Skimmer shimmering in the sunlight.

And a Racket-tailed Emerald showing off its gorgeous green eyes.

There were even a couple of female Calico Pennants, but not a red-colored male in sight.

The meadow isn’t all that large, but . . . we spent at least two and a half hours circling it and shared a vision of others wondering as night fell where we might be . . . in our happy place.

Fortunately, I guess, though unfortunately on some levels, we pulled ourselves away by midafternoon, much as the canoodlers had done. But our bug eyes were as wide open as his.

In the end, we offered up thanks to our hosts, Linda and Heinrich, for inviting us to enjoy the full glory of their lupines and all the marvels of the meadow.

Stepping Up A Notch Mondate

Today’s hike meant we had to drive about thirty minutes north to an old favorite, but though we’ve hiked it a bunch in the past, we had no idea what to expect–including meeting my friend Rachel Pickus and her friend Eleanor on the trail.

Not long after we began hiking, we discovered a lone lady’s slipper and fondly thought of our discovery last week of over 200 of these beauties. The special thing about this one was that not only was it a solo but also pure white . . . a variation of a pink.

Offering other colors to the mix in the mixed forest were a couple of red-belted polypores, the name truly a misnomer for the belt along the outer margin was whitish-orange, but can also be yellowish-orange, red, brown or white.

Flitting about at our feet whenever it seemed the sun shone through the canopy were tiny blue butterflies known as Spring Azures. Though named for the season in which they are one of the first to fly, they’re known to be on the wing until autumn so keep your eyes as wide open as theirs for a one inch flash of blue at your feet.

Within a short time we reached a beaver pond that was most active with dragonflies and the banjo strums of green frogs than beavers.

To cross, one must get a wee bit muddy along the beaver dam where a few large tree cookies have been added this year as stepping “stones.”

As we moved across, the frogs who were calling did leap away, except for one who channeled its inner chipmunk and froze in place, perhaps in hopes that we wouldn’t notice. Can frogs hope? Or is that one of those most people of things?

Upward we climbed, though really, the trail is moderate in difficulty. But speaking of difficulty, check out the root of this hemlock tucked as it was inside the rock. Hemlock rock. Hemrock?

And then there was the snag of an ash tree. So you see the scar? That hollowed out part? Many of the trees along the trail exhibited such scars for the area had been logged years ago by the United States Forest Service given that we were in the White Mountain National Forest (and actually met a forester on the trail). Why the scars? Because trees pulled out of the forest would have been dragged past these and injured them in the process.

But . . . again a sign of hope if trees can hope. Or rather, if snags can hope. For this ash still had roots participating in the flow high and low of fluids and an errant compound leaf grew out of the bark.

It wasn’t long after that that I once again realized my guy has an eye for the ladies. Or at least their slippers. And odd fetish indeed. But we began to count.

The count continued as we ventured out to the ledge of a spur trail and Kearsarge North showed off its pyramid form in the distance.

Continuing to climb, we soon met a friend in the form of a Racket-tailed Emerald dragonfly.

They’re known for their metallic green thorax with brown hairs, black legs, and clear wings. with a wee bit of yellow and black at the base of the hindwings. In their simplicity, they are truly beautiful.

And speaking of beautiful, have you noticed Tiger Swallowtails everywhere of late? This one sought the nectar of chokeberry in bloom.

While I noticed the butterflies and dragonflies and trees and fungi, my guy focused in on the ladies of his dreams. By the time we’d reached the summit and ledges beyond, he’d counted many.

As we took in the view at the last cairn, and the peak on his back matched the peaks beyond, he commented that a week ago he never expected to spot so many lady’s slippers and today he added 150 to the count. I never expected him to slow down and count. Two hundred last week. One hundred fifty today. We definitely stepped it up a notch on this Mondate.

Stumped by the Star

I knew from the get go where I wanted to spend some time because I suspected I’d meet up with old friends. And I did. 

Not all, however, had as much success and so it was for a Common Spreadwing damselfly wrapped in a spider web. Oops. 

The closer I got, however, the more others, such as a Four-spotted Skimmer, showed that for the moment they were still on the prowl, despite the fact that at least the tip of one wing had been compromised.

Who might have been responsible for that wing nip? Perhaps a female Red-winged Blackbird?

She certainly looked intent.

There were other hungry ones in the midst like the large Green Frog who sat so still and waited.

His realm was below the home of the fairies for some had seen fit in the not too distant past to create a roof that covered a space that provided a place for those who fly to live and launch.

In their nymph or naiad form, they preside as spirits over the water world.

But then they take on their terrestrial/aerial being.

One seemed to be hiding, perhaps waiting to fly, but I thought I’d offer a finger and an opportunity to get to know each other a wee bit better. Much to my glee and surprise, my finger was accepted.

The Common Baskettail, as it is known, is member of the family Corduliidae (the Emeralds), and so it seemed apropos that with such a jewel-colored face it should choose the fairy home as its place to transition from one world to the next.

Unlike other Emerald family members, baskettails lack the kryptonite-green eyes, though as they age the color does change. But they make up for it by being super hairy. As a naiad, the hair serves to trap tiny pieces of debris, thus hiding it from predators in the muck. In its adult form, the hair serves as a spring jacket, holding in heat.

Though called “common,” it was hardly such with that furry coat, those dark wing spots, and the yellow stripes on its abdomen.

Nor was its behavior common for its species since typically they hover in swarms and are difficult to see clearly.

I gave thanks for the short time we shared and will be forever grateful that I was stumped by this star.

Bug Bar

On a steamy spring afternoon beside a local river the residents harkened a notice. And so, of course, I did.

Dangling like ornaments decorating hemlock trees the Mayflies did hang.

Their discarded exuviae offered a different presentation of segmented bodies and tails of length.

Here and there, newly emerged graced the same twigs of their former life style.

Many had already lived out their lives and succumbed as is their manner once mated, some upon the water’s surface. Others seemed to struggle and perhaps it was their turn to move from this life to the next, but I thought I should at least offer a finger for rescue, just in case there was a wee bit of life left to fulfill.

I let my friend free upon a shrub in hopes that I had done right by it, knowing all the while that I shouldn’t intervene, but . . . how can one living being not at least try to save another?

When it later landed upon my pants I was sure it smiled. Wait, adult Mayflies don’t have mouthparts so how could that be possible? But still . . .

Beside the water’s edge there were others who graced the scene including this giant Cranefly with wings so intricately designed.

An Assassin Bug waiting for dinner upon which to dine.

And a Frosted Whiteface Dragonfly with a penchant for mosquitoes so welcome and fine.

But the crème de la crème of this landscape was the sight of Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterflies numbering in the teens.

Their behavior so grouped was caused by their penchant to “puddle.”

Mainly the males of the species will stick their proboscises into mud puddles or, as was the case here, scat. Otter scat to be exact. It provided a source of nutrients and fluids needed, especially sodium necessary for reproduction and flight.

While the Mayflies couldn’t take advantage of the offerings, each of the rest stepped up and placed a different order . . . at the Bug Bar.

Dragonfly Whisperer Whispers

We had no intention of eating lunch in this spot today, but while looking for a mountain to climb, we kept encountering full parking lots and so our backroad meander put us beside a bog at lunch time and voilà, we managed to walk all of less than two tenths of a mile. Total.

But in that short distance, our eyes feasted. First it was all the Painted Turtles basking in the sun.

And then a Grackle flew in with a meal in beak.

I didn’t realize what that meal was until . . .

while expounding on one topic or another of which I’m sure I thought I was the authority, I stopped mid-sentence with a mouth open wide in surprise for upon a tree trunk a newly emerged dragonfly showed off its slowy unfolding wings as it moved back toward the exuviae from which it had just emerged. Why did it move back? I don’t know, but they often cling on nearby as they let their wings dry before flying. It was at that point that my lecture changed focus and suddenly I knew that our being there was important for we were saving this vulnerable being from becoming the Grackle’s dessert.

As for our lunch, my guy found a spot and . . . dined alone. I was beside myself with joy and knew there were more discoveries to make. Thankfully, he has the patience of Job in many situations, and this was one of them.

A brisk breeze blew, which kept the Black Flies at bay, a good thing for us, and perhaps it was also a welcome treat for the dragonflies as they dried their wings in preparation for first flight.

Some managed to keep wings closed over their abdomens, but again, that was another sign of new emergence for as adults, wings are spread while resting.

In the sunshine of the early afternoon, those cloudy, moist wings glistened and offered a rainbow of subtle colors.

Upon a variety of vegetation different species clung in manners of their ancestors until ready for takeoff.

At one point I turned and was surprised to find this friend upon a sapling beside my knees.

And so we began to chat . . . until he’d heard enough and flew off.

But in that same second another flew in even closer, and I just had to find out. Would he or wouldn’t he?

He would and did. Yes, I quietly placed my finger on the leaf and he climbed aboard, then struck a rather relaxed pose.

The Dragonfly Whisperer whispers once more.

My Other Favorite Season Begins

It’s been a yard work kind of weekend for my guy and me, but in the midst of it all, the habitat that this is kept drawing my focus. Oh, I shoveled more piles of dirt than I care to count and shook it down as many times as my guy did to separate the rocks from the loam and raked it all into place and did it all over again for hours on end, but in between I did what I love to do on days such as this. I stalked.

I stalked insects including mimics.

And wee ones like sawflies.

And ants trying to bring spiders home for lunch.

And miniature wasps pausing on blueberry bushes.

And hoverflies seeking nectar from azaleas.

And then. And then. An Eastern Forktail damselfly upon one of those mounds that we were working on.

And then . . . the crème de la crème for the weekend: a female Dot-tailed Whiteface dragonfly.

My other favorite season is officially underway. Bring on the damsels and dragons. And everyone else in between.

Bugged by the Otherworldy

There was a time when insects bugged me. Apparently, I’m long beyond that for though I morn the loss of snow and tracking season, I can’t wait for insect season to begin. Ah yes, that is, except for the blackflies, aka Maine’s state bird, or so they should be. But even the blackflies I can endure because I know that they provide food for actual birds and for other insects such as dragonflies. By now, you’re probably thinking I’m about to present a series of dragonfly shots. Not today, but that day will be upon us very soon for in the natural world everything seems to be on time and there is no such thing as The Pause.

Pause, however, I did beside another wetland setting today in a spot where my boots slowly sunk down into the sphagnum moss for the longer I stood the deeper they went, and the stoneflies crawled, their veined wings showing off a stained-glassed window naturally.

If you look closely at the tip of the abdomen that curves out from under the wings, you may see the cerci or paired appendages. They are one of the clues to identification and sighting stoneflies is a great thing because they are intolerant of water pollution.

Of course, when one is looking one sees . . . caddisflies everywhere, though because I was in a different wetland habitat today as compared to yesterday’s vernal pool journey, the shelter of choice differed. Notice how this caddisfly’s home resembles the equisetum upon which it climbs.

But at the risk of boring you with too many caddisfly photos, I moved on (after taking too many caddisfly photos). About an inch to the left, that is. And that’s when I spied a mayfly larva with cerci of three. The thing with mayflies–they can have two or three tails. At this stage mayflies are called nymphs or naiads.

Eventually I made my way over to some false hellebores and what should I spy at the tip of one? A teenager! Well, not exactly, but the subimago or dun form of a newly emerged dragonfly. Notice the cloudiness of its wings–a clue that it isn’t an imago or adult. Mayflies are the only insects that I know of which also molt as adults. Once the final molt occurs, the clear-winged adult will live for a day or two, mate, lay eggs, and then become part of the detritus upon which they fed as nymphs.

Checking the next false hellebore was worth it not only to embrace the design of the ribbed leaves, but hiding within–yes, another subimago.

Again, the cloudy wings were the giveaway.

At a different spot along the water’s edge, a giant of sorts scanned the scene in hopes of snagging a meal. Yesterday I looked for giant water bugs. Today I found not one, but two. My next hope is that someday I’ll get to see a male carrying the nursery his mate deposits upon his back.

But then another sight forced me back into the world of the mayflies for I spotted the exuviae or cast skin of . . . a mayfly larva. Can you see where it split at the top (bottom actually) of the structure.

And just a few inches away, the one who had just emerged from aquatic life . . .

found its feet and began to march toward a new life . . .

as it tried out its balance in the terrestrial world.

Being bugged by insects is one of my favorite ways to be. Even if there are some who annoy or predate, they are all still worthy of our wonder for they each bring something to the natural world–otherworldly or otherwise.

Aqua World

It’s never the same, any visit to a wetland or vernal pool, and such was the case today when I got my feet wet in three different aquatic habitats.

The first was at the edge of a wetland that borders a local lake and it was there that the crazy little springtails taught me a lesson.

I’d gone to see what I might see and first it was a spider, mosquito larva and a few springtails that caught my eye.

But then, I began to notice white springtails floating across the watery surface. Oh, and a water bug of sorts climbing a submerged twig.

For a bit my focus turned to the latter as I noticed his antennae and legs.

And for a second, I considered him to be a small grasshopper, but that didn’t make sense for he was in the water, after all. For now, he’ll remain a mystery until I gain a further understanding.

But then I turned back to the springtails in pure white form. They didn’t move. How could that be? Was I missing something? Or were they actually the molted skins of some of the slate-colored ones that did jump about? My later learning: Some springtails can molt up to forty times, leaving behind white exuviae. After each molt, the springtails look the same.

While watching them, something else caught my eye–a small circle . . . with a thousand legs.

I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a millipede in the water before. Moist places like our basement, yes. But swimming? Perhaps I just haven’t paid attention.

Or perhaps all the rain that graced our world yesterday caught this one by surprise.

With that find, it was time for me to take my leave.

But my next stop brought pride to my heart.

And I found myself promising a hundred million tadpoles that I will keep an eye on them since their parents have left the nursery unattended. As their surrogate mother, I’m going to worry each day and pray the water doesn’t dry up, the garter snake doesn’t return, and that these little ones will be able to mature and hop out.

A little further on at another vernal pool I met more caddisfly larvae than I ever remember meeting before.

Each sported a log cabin built of shredded plant material and I got to thinking about how they carry their houses with such agility.

Each is a wee bit different and some are messier structures than others. As I watched, one actually flipped over a few times and I finally realized it was adding another layer to the building.

A few took it upon themselves to meet at a social closeness we’ve come to avoid of late, for this one long structure is actually three sharing the same space.

Even the mosquito wrigglers, such as the one in the upper-right-hand corner, captured my sense of awe today. And all of these species got me thinking about their good works. Most feed on algae, detritus and other organic material, so yes, even mosquito larva should be celebrated.

Aqua World–it’s a wonder how it works.

Under the Bubbles

Wander outdoors if you can and let the anomalies pull you into their realm. I promise, your eyes and your mind will be opened to so many wonders that you’ll resist the urge to move along for so enamored will you be by your finds. Slow down and look and be wowed.

May it begin with an oval-shaped structure sitting atop a tree stump and filled, curiously, with a red maple samara, the latter’s own shape a decaying, many-veined wing.

Creating an oval by touching your thumb to your pointer finger, may you know the size of this leafy building created to protect a luna moth’s cocoon. Sadly, it seems, the pupal stage that had started life within had been predated. Still, the structure adds a lesson–to notice one that reminded me of an oak apple gall, but wasn’t because of its shape being more oval than round and much tougher than the gall’s papery construction. If you are like me, you’ll need to stick that in the back of your mind the next time you encounter such.

And then may you encounter one whom you know well, but still, each time you greet the Striped Maple twig and bud a sense of awe simply overwhelms you because of its striking beauty demonstrated in the pattern of leaf and bundle scars topped by growth rings over and over again.

As your eyes tune in, may you notice another who is easily overlooked for its diminutive size and may it remind you of work upon the ceilings of cathedrals that is oft under appreciated for so few can view. Each time you come to recognize the tiny, magenta blossoms of Beaked Hazelnut, may you celebrate their existence matched by your noticing.

With your awareness of the hazelnut’s flowers, may you be equally wowed by the occasional presentation of last year’s fruits, beaked as they are.

In the midst of your adventure may you meet a slab that poses a story featuring warriors of the past and may you have fun recreating the saga by letting your imagination flow. What happened here?

And just when you are thinking that there can’t be anything else to spy, may you suddenly spot the barrel-shaped egg cases of Wheel Bugs and wonder who lives within–Ambush Bug or Assassin? What you may know for sure is that the residents are Hemiptera or True Bugs.

Walking five more steps before stopping to wonder again, and then five more and so it goes, may you stumble upon a tussock moth cocoon with life formulating within and consider its possibilities–perhaps a White-marked Tussock Moth?

Next, may a long silky string with a cocoon swaying at the bottom capture your attention.

As you peer within, may you spy a Prometha Moth peering out.

May your viewing opportunities be enhanced by others who also look, including the Six-spotted Fishing Spider, who’s six spots are hidden below its upper abdomen that features twelve.

As you continue to develop an understanding may a forked tongue sniff you out as you sniff the snake out.

In the end, may it not be an end. May it be a beginning. May you live under the bubbles and give thanks that to your bubble are attached so many others as you share a brain.

I speak for myself when I say that I appreciate those who answer my questions as Anthony Underwood did today with my many insect photos (and others have done as well on a variety of topics) and I equally welcome your questions about what you are seeing. We may all live under a bubble, but may our bubbles continue to be connected.

The Dividends of Noticing

We don’t know what tomorrow holds, but I have to wonder if all of our physical/social distancing, and stay-at-home orders may actually have a silver lining. Think of the creative initiatives underway to help others; the reaching out that has become an essential component for many. And think about how all of this is affecting the natural world as we travel much less and spend more time noticing the action in our own backyards.

What have I noticed? For starters, nature didn’t get the directive for social and physical distancing and so as they do, semi-aquatic springtails gathered upon stagnant water as well as in the leaf litter. The mob scene was initiated by phermones sent out by adults, perhaps as a way of saving their lives in herd fashion. If you look bigger than you are while you feed on dead organic matter, algae, spores of mold and mildew, and pollen on the water’s surface, perhaps your enemies, such as spiders and beetles, will reconsider your fate.

What have I noticed? A spider paused briefly before journeying on toward a goal. That goal? To eat some springtails? Spin a web for future meals? Carry out a courtship ritual with a mate? Our time together wasn’t long, and while I moved forward so did it, though less conspicuously for there was plenty of natural litter to hide its progress.

What did I notice? Because I was looking down so much, that is when not looking up trying to spy all the birds chiming up their orchestral instruments from the tops of the hemlock trees, there were other things to see like this vole tunnel and hole. I placed the quarter for size and wondered if the creator survived? Voles are everyone’s favorite food and so typically they spend the winter in what’s called the subnivean zone, the area between the surface of the ground and the bottom of the snowpack, which allows them to move about without being spied by their predators. Once the snow melts, the tunnels they’d created as they fed on roots and grasses and seeds become visible.

What did I notice? I don’t know the vole’s fate, but I do know how the story ended for the hickory tussock caterpillar. Well, rather, I think I know. There’s so much I don’t know, but I do love trying to figure it out. My theory is that it waited too long last fall and a cold snap zapped the life out of it before it could wrap itself in a cocoon.

What did I notice? Life was certainly happening for some, like the underwing moths that chose to “puddle” on fox scat. While they get most of their nutrition from nectar (which must be a challenge right now), perhaps they found sodium as they probed that could serve as a gift should either of them find a fair maiden.

The name “underwing” comes from the fact that while at rest, the brighter wing color of their hind wings doesn’t show. Granted, the brighter color appears on the upper side of those “underwings.”

What did I notice? The hairy buds of Shagbark Hickory were growing larger by the day and each wore its own set of pastel colors. The colors reminded me of the inner part of an oyster shell.

What did I notice? The furry catkins of Pussy Willows begged to be touched, and if everything else wasn’t already giving the message that spring is on, these certainly did.

What did I notice? It wasn’t only the insects, spiders, birds, and buds that were the harbingers of spring, but the acorn also had a message to deliver in the form of a new root: Life will continue; and perhaps because of the challenges so many face, we’ll come out on the other side better persons for it–on behalf of each other and on behalf of the Earth. That would be one of the greatest dividends of noticing.

Transitioning with my neighbors

From sun to rain to sleet and even snow, it’s been a weekend of weather events. And like so many across the globe, I’m spending lots of time outdoors, in the midst of warm rays and raw mists.

I’m fortunate in that I live in a spot where the great beyond is just that–great . . . and beyond most people’s reach. By the same token, it’s the most crowded place on Earth right now.

On sunny days, water scavenger beetles swim about in search of a meal to suit their omnivorous appetite.

Preferring decaying plant and other organic matter as the ideal dinner menu are the mayfly larvae. Some call them nymphs, others know them as naiads.

To spot them, one must really focus for they are quite small and blend in well with the bottom debris, but suddenly, they are everywhere.

And then, another enters the scene, this possibly one of the flat-headed mayflies. If you look closely, you may see three naiads, two smaller to the upper far left and lower on the stick to the right. In between is the larger, its paired gills and three tails or caudal filaments easier to spy because of its size.

Switching to a different locale, a winter stonefly, its clear wings handsomely veined, ascends fallen vegetation on its tippy toes and my heart dances for this is probably my last chance to see one of these aquatic insects until next year. Then again, none of us can predict the future.

In the mix, green insects move and I surmise by their minute size, shape and coloration that they are leafhoppers all set to suck sap from grasses, shrubs, and trees.

Who else might live here? Why a caddisfly larva in its DIY case.

Of course, no aquatic exploration is complete without sighting mosquito larvae somersaulting through the water.

And a wee bit away from the watery spots, the pupal stage of a ladybug, a form that has perplexed me for months. It is my understanding that motion stops and so does feeding, the insect scrunches up its body and color changes . . . but the transition should last five to seven days–not since last fall. Or perhaps this species has a lot to teach me about waiting and what is to come.

Another one for the books is a translucent green caterpillar not much more than inch-worm size that I discover clinging to a red maple twig only hours before snow descends upon the setting.

Mind you, I also spotted three crescent or checkerspot butterflies, their small orange and black wings adding a quick flash of color as they flutter across my path.

And then my mind shifts, as it has a lot in the last few weeks, and between patches of snow and a fresh snow fall, I welcome the opportunity to remember others who share this space, including an opossum amidst the turkeys and deer.

Following a Tom turkey who seemed to walk with determined speed, I get to meet another neighbor and note by Tom’s toe print that his path intersected with that of a coyote after the predator had passed by. Phew for the Tom.

After all, he has a job to do. Suddenly, I note a change in his pace, which slows down considerably based on the closeness of his feet. And then I spy wing marks on the outer sides of the prints and know that he is in display mode. The curious thing: on average, he takes ten steps, then displays, takes ten steps, then displays. I know this because I counted, over and over again. But then . . . he must hear his lady friends for he makes an about turn.

And struts his stuff.

I’m not sure they are impressed for they move on and head in the direction of other neighbors, specifically a squirrel and porcupine. Others presenting tracks include chipmunks, snow lobsters, I mean snowshoe hares, moose, and a bobcat.

This is my little space on the Earth and I love spending time trying to understand it and find out more about my neighbors.

Watching over all of this action is a Fox Sparrow, whom I greet as a welcome visitor, knowing he’s on his way north to the boreal forest.

Like him, we’re all in transition, my neighbors and me. What the future holds, we know not. The best we can do is hope we come out on the other side–changed by the experience, of course.