It’s become a tradition for us to spend Memorial Day or at least a day during this weekend searching for one of My Guy’s favorite blooms. I don’t even remember how the count began, but now he cannot not count them.
What we’ve learned over the years is that they like a variety of habitats. from dark forests to bogs, and even mountain tops. And they like to hide. So we must really don our Lady’s Slipper eyes (just as I’ve been donning my dragonfly eyes lately) and look for them.
I mean . . . really hide.
It’s acidic soil that they are rather fond of, just like Yellow Clintonia, the beacons of many a forest trail. But while Clintonia seems to bloom anywhere and everywhere, Lady’s Slipper need Rhizoctonia fungi in order to grow and show off a blossom. According to Jack Sanders, author of The Secrets of Wildflowers, “Unlike most seeds, the minute and dustlike Lady’s Slipper seeds contain no food to allow them to grow. However, the outside of the seed is susceptible to attack by Rhizoctonia fungi, which digest the outer cells. If things balance out just right, the inner cells escape digestion and absorb some of the nutrients the fungus obtained from the soil. Not until this happens can the seed germinate and begin growing . . . The symbiosis with the fungus doesn’t end there. In order for the infant corm (or ‘proto-corm’) to obtain minerals and other soil foods, it must use the ‘go-between’ services of Rhizoctonia fungi. The fungi, in turn, take from the seedling Lady’s Slipper foods that are photosynthetically manufactured. These sensitive and complex relationships make native orchids of all kinds relatively uncommon . . . What’s more, in the wild, it takes from 10 to 17 years for a Lady’s Slipper seed to become a mature plant capable of blooming.“
So here’s the thing. Yellow Clintonia and Pink Lady’s Slipper flowers look nothing alike. But their leaves–that’s a different story and when there are no flowers to confirm, one like me, must slow down and notice the features. Do you see what I mean? Clintonias are members of the Lily Family, with six lily-like tepals (segment of the outer whorl in a flower that has no differentiation between petals and sepals). And their leaves can be folded in half with the inner vein forming the fold line.
Lady’s Slippers, on the other hand, are orchids. The flower is a moccasin-shaped, inflated pouch, but also two lateral petals that twist outward. And the leaves–take a look. Remember folding paper in an accordion-like manner to create fans, or tissue paper to create flowers? That’s what Lady’s Slipper leaves look like to me. Multiple pleats.
Lest you think nature didn’t distract us, there was a male swallowtail puddling in a wet seep that we had to pause and admire.
And we certainly didn’t want Indian Cucumber Root, in the same lily subfamily as Clintonia, to think we were ignoring it for it has just begun to offer its unique flower to the world.
But our real focus, of course, were the slippers, even those decorated in white, which is a form of the pink.
Until, that is, the Common Loons begged to be noticed and so we did.
A few miles into the hike, we reached one of My Guy’s favorite spots. Just the other day I heard him describe it as a field of Lady’s Slippers. I’m pretty sure he was thinking football field. I happen to think it’s closer to the size of my office. But, it does produce about fifty flowers each year.
While he was meticulously counting those fifty, a Bald-faced Aerial Yellowjacket flew in and started chewing some wood. My attention was indeed diverted.
Heading to the summit, we didn’t find as many, but still they were there and we paused to admire this grouping. I wonder if there was a nurselog below them that offered the right growing conditions and thus the line.
At the summit, after finishing dessert (we’d eaten our sandwiches below by the pond), someone had to survey his kingdom.
It’s always worth a look.
We found some more as we descended and then followed a different trail out, where another lady made herself known.
Meet a female Common Whitetail Skimmer dragonfly, who is hardly common with her tail markings, and spots on her wings.
We were almost finished when we spotted this Lady’s Slipper blowing in the breeze. Note the curve in the stem, and the closed moccasin.
I don’t know if removing the leaf will help the flower to fully develop, but it made me think of today, Memorial Day, and the fact that so many have in the past and do presently work so that we can enjoy the freedom of going for a hike in the woods–thank you to all who have served our country, past, present, and future, including our dads, uncles, cousins, and friends.
The question remains: How many Lady’s Slippers did we honor on this Mondate? 351. And those were only the ones we could spot from the trail. I’m sure we missed some. Can you imagine how many more might be out there.
Standing beside quiet water in so many places this past week offered rewards for those of us who took the time to look.
The first order of business was to watch for large aquatic insects moving quickly toward the shore or vegetation. Hormones send the signal that any give day is THE day to begin the quest. In Kurt Mead’s Dragonflies of the North Woods, he explains that just prior to THE day, the aquatic insect rests (goes into a state of diapause), “while the final changes are made inside the larval exoskeleton.”
Once out of the water, it can be quite a journey to cross land and find the right plant or tree. I’ve seen some travel more than ten feet for just the right spot upon which next to pose.
Should a boardwalk get in the way, scampering across it is of utmost importance. When one is on a mission, road blocks must be overcome.
I do have to say I had to relocate a few who thought my boot, green as it is, offered the right opportunity. Certainly I would have protected it from any predators at the period of time when a dragonfly switches from aquatic predator to teneral land prey before becoming a terrestrial flying predator. For hungry nesting birds, these could become quick snacks.
Once the perfect substrate is chosen, it takes a while before the insect begins to undergo metamorphosis into an adult. Then the magic begins. The skin at the back of the head cracks open, and ever sooooo slowly the head, thorax with wings that had been stuffed into little packages on its back, legs, and abdomen begin to emerge. This process of emerging from the larval skin is called eclosing.
With all the effort it can muster, it briefly pumps its body as it arches backward away from the vegetation. The pumping is followed by periods of rest because this process takes so much energy.
Over time, as in at least an hour, more and more of the body pulls free and its aquatic breathing tubes are no longer needed.
Colors are drab throughout the process making it difficult to ID to species, but that will come.
Ever so slowly, the legs harden and the dragonfly begins to extend them. If you look closely at this photo you might notice one emerging and another climbing up the vegetation to find its own spot for emergence.
Just before fully pulling its abdomen free, the dragonfly reaches up and grabs its shed skin or exuviae. And then it begins to unfurl its wings while pumping hemolymph, aka bug blood, into them. Once elongated, the wings are cloudy. It’s actually one of the easiest times to spot the process, for the cloudy grayish brownish wings become obvious among the foliage.
It’s rather like a “Where’s Waldo” moment when you do start to look. One here, another there. And, and look, yet another.
The next step, while still clasping the shed skin, is to extend the wings out, pumping the bug blood back into the body so the abdomen can extend and colors begin to emerge. At this point, the spread wings take on a shiny sheen as they dry.
This is the second most obvious way to spot a newly emerged dragonfly, for the shiny wings glisten with hints of rainbow colors.
Remember the naiads making a quick exit from life spent below water? Many of them stalk their prey among the underwater vegetation, and it seems sometimes the vegetation stalks them. Can you see a stem sticking through the body of this larval form?
I have to wonder if it’s the reason some wings are folded and never quite open all the way, thus leaving the insect unable to fly. Well, maybe it’s one reason.
Those who do fly off find that first flight to be a bit tenuous, lift off happening suddenly and the insects act like balloons floating toward the heavens. Within a day, however, the sheen begins to dry and true colors, like those of this Belted Whiteface form.
The same was true for this Stream Cruiser, the only cruiser species in our neck of the woods (at least to date). But, the right hind wing was stuck to the front wing and flight was difficult. That said, this particular species was found at least a quarter mile from water and it got there somehow.
All this being said, I highly encourage you to head to the water’s edge and take a look. I wasn’t rewarded each day this week, but more often than not, and I suspect you will be too. If nothing else, you might discover the papery remains of a discarded exuviae and once you locate one, you’ll surely see a bunch of others.
Go ahead. Take a peek.
The best part of this week for me was that not only did I don my own set for another year, but I had the pleasure of sharing the opportunity with so many people, young and more mature (nice way to say old), who developed their own set of dragonfly eyes.
Saturday found My Guy and me doing some trail work in the rain along a local path that we’ve helped maintain for probably close to twenty years. On Sunday we went on one of the buggiest hikes we’ve endured in a while. But there was a prize to be had. And today. Ah today. What a gorgeous day. And few bugs. There was a reason for that.
We were in a wetland where the dragonflies were emerging. So this is a member of the Baskettail family. I’m just getting my dragonfly eyes back on and need to refresh my memory.
Looking at it from a different angle, my brain wants to call it a Spiny Baskettail rather than Common for it seemed dark behind its head and the dark basal marks on the wings seemed to match up, but . . . if you think otherwise, I’m open to clarification.
We also spotted Belted Whiteface Skimmers seeking meals, and there were damselflies on the hunt as well. If these Mosquito/Black Fly/Deer Fly-eating predators haven’t reached your backyard yet, know that help is due to arrive any day.
Not all the sights we saw were predatory and so we delighted that a few new butterflies of the season were in our midst, including this Mustard White, with its striking venation a feature of the spring brood. The coloring has to do with developing in the chrysalis during shorter spring days versus the pure white or mustard-color which occur in summer broods.
Also fluttering about were a few Canadian Tiger Swallowtails, adding bright dashes of color in a woodland growing ever so green.
While the butterflies help with pollination, this humongous Bumblebee was hosting a pollen party for one and if you look closely, you may see the yellow specks flying in the air and all over its face.
It was no surprise to see the pollen sacs on its hind legs filled to overflowing.
There was so much to take in everywhere we looked and we were glad we’d driven an hour and a half to spend time in this special place where one of My Guy’s favorite flowers grows. Though not in bloom yet, they are preparing and we can’t rush the season. I know some have blossomed closer to home, but think our location a bit further north meant things are delayed by a week or so.
Equally as fun to find was evidence of last year’s flower in the form of a football-shaped seed capsule–and we can only hope that some of those seeds will find the right conditions and show off their showy blossoms. Of course, those seeds might remain dormant until conditions are just right, so it could be years before we can enjoy them. We’re willing to wait.
Today’s journey found us enjoying the mountains and wetlands in Whitefield, New Hampshire, where there was still some snow on distant peaks. Look below the clouds and you’ll see what I mean.
So many stars we enjoyed and really have only honored a few here.
But the real star among us we spent some time with yesterday . . . until the insects drove us home, literally!
This Black Chipmunk and its forebears have been rather reliable residents on a certain trail and though I don’t spot one every year, it’s always a treat to meet it again. This was the prize.
As we watched, the chipmunk behaved as one would expect, dining upon seeds it had cached, then running along a log, jumping down to the ground, and disappearing into a hole beside a tree. I have to wonder how many more it may be feeding with its stuffed cheeks. And having observed 315 15-second game camera videos of a Red Squirrel a couple of years ago, and watching this particular chipmunk, as well as those who live around our house, I know that it repeated its routine from hole to food source and back to hole from sun-up to sun-down.
Melanistic mammals have an increased amount of the dark pigment melanin in their hair, and though they are considered rare, I know of at least three local areas where Black Chipmunks have been spotted for years.
There may be stars in the sky as this beautiful day gives way to night, but indeed there are many more stars at our feet if we take the time to notice.
I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a mother, but was blessed with two sons more than two decades ago.
When the boys were young, I soon discovered that each day there was something to rejoice about beginning with those early accomplishments like rolling over, blowing bubbles, learning to walk, loosing a tooth, tying a shoe, zippering a jacket, skipping down the road, whistling a tune, or riding a bike without training wheels.
Always, it was traditions that we shared which brought great delight. S and I had a secret hand code that meant “I love you.” P would say, “Ding, ding, snuggle time,” at the end of many meals and climb onto my lap to cuddle.
At bedtime, there was that sense of relief because these two dynamos were finally going to sleep, but special moments occurred each night as we shared important memories of the day with thanksgiving and snuggled some more while reading books.
For P’s first two years, I was convinced he and S were twins. It took me that long to accept that we had two individuals. By looks it was obvious with S’s coarse, curly hair and P’s much finer curls. But there was more.
At age six, S loved science, reading, writing, swimming, mazes, Winnie-the-Pooh, the computer and pretending to be a Private Eye. He constantly planned businesses and designed buildings. S was our organizer and enjoyed figuring out strategies. He was intense with a wonderful sense of humor.
Four-year-old P loved sports, knights in shining armor, super heroes, and dressing as a police officer, fireman, or postman. He loved to tell long, embellished stories. And P learned by observing and taught himself how to ski, skate, and ride a bike. He was quick to smile and loved to joke.
As teenagers, some things had changed. S’s passions included reading, theme parks, roller coasters, computers, Walt Disney, cinematography, geography, research, stocks, and business adventures. He was a member of the honor society, three sports teams, drama club, and Boy Scouts. In addition, S loved to volunteer for our local access cable station where he’d film events as well as work on audio and production. He had grown more intense than ever, but his humor provided a balance.
P’s interests included more sports, writing, drawing, fixing things, playing games, creating meals, playing percussion, yard work, hiking, any outdoor activities, and time spent with family and friends. He had developed a definite sense of justice and he was thoughtful. P participated on three sports teams, drama club, and Boy Scouts. In addition, he and three friends formed a rock band and played at school and community events. He continued to tell great stories and loved a good joke.
As I wandered today, I thought of how proud we are of our sons. After graduating from college with a degree in communications and thinking he was going to work in the newspaper industry, S decided instead to pursue a career dealing with hardware. And for those of you who know, that apple did not fall far from the tree as he has recently returned to town and is in the midst of taking the reins at My Guy’s store.
P also surprised us and chose to major in film, an avenue we thought his brother might have followed. And he has made waves in the film editing business in New York City, a location we never envisioned as being part of his future.
Going back to my story, while carrying S, I remember sharing concerns with other soon-to-be parents. I was most worried about what my child would be like as a teen because at that time I was teaching and knew the struggles teenagers faced daily. Eventually I learned not to focus on that, but rather to worry more about getting the boys safely to that point. A strange thing happened to me along the way. I stopped worrying about them becoming teenagers and adults because they taught me to live in the here and now.
My Guy and I worked hard to give them the right tools to deal with situations as their lives evolved. We nourished them and in return they nourished us.
I remember having a great need for my mother’s ongoing presence and love. I can only hope our boys will always have the same need for us. And that their lives will forever be colored by that love.
As it says in Robert Munsch’s Love You Forever, “I’ll love you forever. I’ll like you for always. As long as I’m living, My babies you’ll be.”
Happy Mother’s Day to all, even those who are not mother’s because I’m sure your acts have nourished others on more occasions than you realize.
We are between rain storms and last night’s was a whopper and I’m willing to take the blame because like I wish for snow, so was I wishing for rain. After all, there are vernal pools to tend to and since the mamas and papas have all either hopped or crawled out and headed back to their upland habitat, someone has to watch over the young’uns.
I’ve accepted the responsibility, knowing full well that there will be heartbreak in a month or two, but with the hope that a few days of rain might fill the pools for now to give frog and salamander embryos a chance to grow and emerge and feed and grow some more.
And so as the sun shone in the midst of major flooding, I stood sentry and took note of my various wards.
My peeps include the larval and pupal forms of mosquitoes because they do, after all, play an important part in the food web, especially in the ephemeral pool where my kids need food. And later, my other young’uns who emerge as dragonflies and damselflies will also benefit from dining on such biting insects. Birds, too, will find nourishment with these tiny morsels. And so, when I go pond dipping with others, I always encourage them to return the mosquito-ridden water back to the pool rather than following their instinct to pour them onto the ground and let them dry out and die in an attempt to keep the population down.
With focused attention today, I watched as the bubble-butts also drew attention, for Predacious Diving Beetles, who head to the surface to trap oxygen-filled air between their wings and body, prolonging their time under water. and thus can stay under for long periods of time, were chasing after each other, thus extending their need to stay below for some canoodling efforts.
At last I reached my babes, some of them still forming within their bubble-shaped egg sacs. Wood Frogs will these become. In time.
Older siblings hung out on the leaves that form the pool’s lining, their diminutive tadpole size contrasted by the background of a Northern Red Oak leaf.
As was to be expected, my Spotted Salamander tykes have yet to emerge as they grow stronger within their gelatinous matrix. It always strikes me as being impenetrable, but is it?
Right now, however, the most prolific members of the pool appear to be the half-inch Midges, who swim on the water’s surface, and skitter and fly about on leaves and any other vegetation.
Click on the arrow and watch these crazy little, non-biting flies. One of my favorite posts from last year was Midges I Have Known. And I’ve known a few. In case you are wondering, she still shares a room with us.
As I stood silently guarding my little friends of many, a surprising event occurred. The local Yellow-bellied Sapsucker makes its presence known each time I am out there. But today, today was bath day.
And I had the good fortune to be standing on a rock across the way, hidden by branches that create the blurry effect, serving as a bit of a bird blind, while the woodpecker splashed about.
I could not believe my good fortune to spend time with this male making himself more handsome by the moment.
His splashes, mixed with today’s breeze, created ripples that sometimes distorted my view of Wood Frog egg masses, but at the same time created a work of art I can only imagine my friend Jessie painting.
It is my job to keep an eye on the nursery and it’s a job I am honored to hold.
It’s April Fools Day and the weather tried to trick us into thinking it is still winter by adding at least two inches of snow to our world that is for the most part . . . still covered by at least a foot of snow. In some places it is even deeper. In others, bare ground and leaf litter are visible. And evergreen plants like Goldthread and Wintergreen and Partridgeberry show off their shades of green.
But this isn’t about snow or flowers. Instead, I want to take you into the water. YES. It’s time to stop tracking on a regular basis and begin squatting beside open water and peering in, which a friend and I did just this week when we were checking on beaver activity.
We didn’t spy any beavers, though there was lots of activity including these logs underwater, which told us the family was still in residence. But . . . take a look at the logs. Yes, you can see the chew marks left by the beavers as they dined on the cambium layer. There’s so much more though.
Each of those dark spots on the logs . . . Mayfly larva! A fly fisherperson’s delight. Ours as well. We know from experience because this past year we’ve dipped D-nets into streams in all seasons, that the larval forms of aquatic insects are alive and well whether there is a foot of ice or no ice. But where the ice has started to melt (and that’s not everywhere yet, though this week is supposed to warm up), life that has been there all along is emerging before our eyes.
Did you know that there are 614 species of Mayflies in New England? Eggs are laid in the water, where the larval form or nymph develops. #1.Shows the egg that had been deposited on the bottom maturing into a nymph. #2 is the nymph growing in stages called instars until it matures. By #3, the mature nymph or emerger swims to the surface. Some species shed their skin and becomes a dun or subimago on the water’s surface. First It floats until its wings are dry enough for flight. This is a unique stage in the insect world as only Mayflies are fully winged before the adult stage. Others climb upon vegetation or an upright object to everge. For #4, you can see that the dun flies into bushes or trees along the water’s edge, where it sheds its skin and, #5, becomes an adult known as a spinner or imago. #6. The spinner flies off to join the mating swarm. #7. After mating, the female spinner dips her eggs on the water’s surface, and they fall to the bottom where it takes anywhere from ten days to months to hatch. Finally, #8 depicts the end for both male and female spinners fall to the water’s surface and die after mating. Keep in mind, this is a general description of a Mayfly’s life cycle.
If you look with a keen eye you can see some of what I found one day–at least ten Mayfly nymphs on a leaf. I’ve used black arrows to point to some of them.
Here’s your challenge. Quiz #1: I’ve done the squatting for you. See if you can locate at least one Mayfly nymph in this photo.
Not all nymphs are equal–in size that is. Remember, there are 614 species. Again, if you look closely, you’ll see that this one large nymph is surrounded by two smaller ones. Notice the tails. Mayflies have elongated bodies with 2 – 3 very long, tail-like appendages called cerci at the end of their abdomens.
Here’s another reference for size as the large beetle is a Predacious Diving Beetle and there are three small Mayfly nymphs in the picture.
This is a dun or subimago who had just flown from the water. Well, I should correct that as I had picked it up from the water’s surface and let it dry its wings while resting on my finger. And then I helped it to a nearby shrub. Look at those wings.So many people don’t like Mayflies, but I find their structures and life cycle to be amazing. Take note of how “cloudy” the wings are. That’s how I know this is a dun.
Mayflies, of course, don’t just land on bushes and trees, but some species may choose stems or rocks upon which to transform. Others meet obstacles along the way, including my pants. But again, notice those wings–another dun or subimago. And notice how the hind wing is so much shorter and rounder than the forewing.
A little bit about Mayfly anatomy. Like all insects they have a head, thorax, and abdomen, whether as a nymph, subimago, or adult (imago). The head typically is for seeing and feeding, though while Mayflies feed in their nymphal form, any mouthparts in the adults are reduced or non-functional. The thorax is the section of the body that supports three pairs of legs and two sets of wings–a forewing and a hindwing and therefore it’s located in the center of the body. In the larval or nymph form, the abdomen features gills, which are absent in the older two molts. And you can see the tails attached to the end of the abdomen. Notice, too, the gender ID. So the abdomen bears the reproductive structure and in some insects it also carries the digestive tract.
So, Quiz #2: Male or female?
Sometimes the safe place isn’t a shrub or some other natural setting for a final molt, but rather the screened porch at our camp. Often, early in the morning, as I sit in a rocking chair to sip coffee, I’ll notice a visitor on the outside of the screen. And not just in May. These were in August.
Mayflies often molt at night by breaking out through the top of the thorax. In the process, the Mayfly pulls a fresh set of wings from inside the subimago wing cuticle. How cool is that?
Here’s a look at the discarded exuvia or shed skin and you can see the adult to the left.
Here is a clearer view of the adult or imago, which, you remember, will only live long enough to join the mating swarm, mate, and then die.
Notice how clear the wings have become.
And those conspicuous eyes. They are like a mini-set of dumbbells. But no mouth because with such a short life-cycle, there is no need to feed.
This is a shed skin I found on the surface of a swampy section of a river.
And right next to it, the dun or subimago crawling away as its wings dried.
Quiz #3: What stage is this? And is it male or female?
Quiz #4: And what stage is this?
Not all Mayflies die on the water as there are other hazards one might encounter such as this very sticky spider web.
That’s all I have to say about Mayflies for today, but going forth, expect more of these tiny critters to appear in this space. Along with others like dragonflies and cicadas and robberflies and . . . I can’t wait. Oh yeah, and it’s almost vernal pool season too.
Thanks for taking the Mayfly Challenge on this April Fools Day.
Once upon a time . . . there was a season named Winter. Now winter isn’t typically capitalized unless it falls at the start of the sentence, but for the sake of our story, it shall be so.
And there was a young woman . . . well, she’s old actually, but don’t tell her that because her twelve-year-old self still lives within her heart. This young woman decided to check on Winter. But she didn’t want to wear snowshoes and so she did a lot of postholing, making her feel more her actual age.
The young woman’s search led to islands such as this, but still Winter persisted and made its presence known.
Everywhere, the young woman heard the drumming of Pileated Woodpeckers, all friends of Winter, but because she was postholing, she couldn’t get a good look at the birds.
She did, however, find scat! Of course she did. This one seemed to be full of insect bodies and some seed capsules. And if you look closely, you too might see something else in this photo in the form of even smaller insects–Springtails. They also adore Winter.
The next stop on the young woman’s tour was a visit to the neighborhood vernal pool, where soon she’ll spend hours staring into its shallow depth and watching all of the activity that takes place there. For now, Winter still has a slight hold on the pool.
After some more postholing, the young woman finally reached a well-packed trail and paused as she often does beside a small stream where the dappled sunlight highlighted at least ten shades of green. But still Winter was there.
In another location, the young woman discovered the blues and grays of the sky above reflected in the brook below and the sight of more color tested her love of Winter.
But Winter wasn’t ready to go to bed just yet and a coat of thin ice on quiet water proved that point.
Behold, however, in the sky above, a Turkey Vulture’s raised its wings in its dihedral habit as it rocked back and forth on the brisk wind that marked this day. Winter saw this as well and began to wonder.
And this Pussy Willow the young woman paused beside added to Winter’s wonder.
“Should I stay or go?” asked Winter.
The young woman thought and thought. It was a most difficult question to answer because of her love for Winter. But in the end, she said, “Sweet Dreams, Winter. Stay under your covers and when you wake up next December, we shall meet again.”
After three snowstorms this past week, the latest dumping over a foot of white stuff in western Maine, winter has finally arrived. Or, as a friend calls it, “Second Winter.”
In fact, there is finally so much snow, that my wee studio, the spot where I used to escape to write and sketch many moons ago, looks as if it’s being gobbled up and about to disappear into the landscape.
I love winter and so I’m thrilled to know that it’s not ready to give up on us yet. I also love how winter likes to play, creating tree boas that defy gravity.
In spite of all that, I do need a touch of color now and then and so I headed to a local brook where I know the Mallards gather.
And tread water as they wait for what, I don’t know. Perhaps for me to admire them: those shiny green heads, the sharp white necklaces, and cute little curly tail feathers. They tolerate our cold winters and as long as there is food and open water, such as this spot, I know where to find them.
I finally left the ducks behind and continued walking beside a second brook, pausing occasionally to reflect on the changes I’ve observed in this spot over the years, including one late November afternoon when I heard the water flowing as if over a fall and then spotted beavers hard a work, building a dam. Today, it was the spring ice that caught my attention and I know that as much as I want winter to last, spring is just around the corner and soon I’ll be peering into vernal pools.
And then, something quite small captured my attention. A Winter Stonefly! Scurrying across the snow.
Suddenly, what began as one sighting turned into two and then . . . hundreds as my eyes focused. In winter, crazy as it may seem, the aquatic immature stage of a Winter Stonefly, aka naiad, crawls from the rocky bottom home of the brook where it has spent the last year or more maturing (going through as many as thirty molts)and shredding falling leaves, climbs up through crevices in the snow that covers the brook, finds a plant or some other spot to emerge as an adult, and leaves behind its shed skin, much like a dragonfly or damselfly.
My attention in tune, I began to notice several things. First, there were large Winter Stoneflies . . .
and some much smaller, known as Small Winter Stoneflies in common terms. Their wings are non-functional, thus they crawl. But herein was the curious thing, at least to me. They all were headed west.
It didn’t seem to matter if I found them where the brook was to the east, or to the north, all of the Stoneflies walked in a westerly direction. Why?
I began to wonder where they were headed, so . . . I followed them. To tree trunks. I’d say any tree trunk, for the species didn’t seem to matter, but maturity did and they all headed to older trees. At least, the insects I observed.
This Small Winter Stonefly had obstacles of ice crystals to work around, but it was on a mission to reach that tree.
Once there, the insects crawled down under the snow beside the trunk and I had to wonder if a party was in the making. The bark is warmest in that spot, so it was a good place to get out of the weather.
Stoneflies have hammer-like structures on their abdomen that make noise when thumped against a surface, like a tree trunk or a twig or even the ground. This is a mating call. The males drum, and the females drum back, and voila, they find each other and canoodle.
It’s not the same drumming sound as we hear daily from our resident Pileated Woodpecker. In fact, it’s made for Stonefly ears only and it’s not a party for which we receive an invitation.
Seeing so many Stoneflies made me want to celebrate anyway for they, like Mayflies, and Caddisflies, are particularly sensitive to pollution and serve as bioindicators of water quality. That means the brooks beside which I walked have excellent water quality.
And though I couldn’t hear the percussion instruments at the base of the trees, I am grateful to have spent some time with those who march to the beat of a different drummer.
We didn’t know what to expect when we headed off on a trail today. Or even what to wear on our feet–besides winter boots that is. And so we donned snowshoes initially in hopes that should we locate a Tiger, we’d be able to move easily across the snow rather than posthole and get slowed down.
Ah, but there were things that did slow us down. If you are a long-time follower of wondermyway.com, then you know I can’t resist a Pileated Woodpecker tree . . . among other subjects that repeatedly slow me down. This one was fun because it was obvious that the bird stood on the snow to excavate at least the bottom hole. In my mind’s eye, I could see it using its tail feathers as the third leg in a tripod while its beak pounded away at the tree, excavating a hole. Did it find any food?
Indeed it did and several healthy looking cylindrical scats full of the indigestible parts of the Carpenter Ants it sought were waiting to be discovered like little piles of treasure.
Was the Tiger hiding among the wood chips? No, unfortunately not.
The next great sight was the cocoon of a Promethea silkworm moth. When the caterpillar or larval form of the moth was ready to pupate at the end of last summer, it strengthened the stem, or petiole, of a leaf with silk, and then attached the silk to a nearby branch as you can see, assuring that the leaf would remain attached to the tree rather than fall off. It then spun the cocoon inside the curled leaf.
This species overwinters as pupae in a state known as diapause. During pupation, the larval structure breaks down into a soupy form and then restructures so that by the end of the process (in late May/early June) adult structures, including wings appear before its time to emerge and fly.
Was the Tiger hiding behind the cocoon? No, unfortunately not.
And then there was the Hickory Tussock Moth Caterpillar–climbing a tree to look for food on a winter day? Hardly. At a certain point in its growth, it lightly locked its legs into mat of silk it had produced on the branch. It then released enzymes that dissolved the inner layer of its cuticle, and a day or so later, much like a dragonfly or cicada emerging from exuviae, the caterpillar’s cuticle split above the thorax and the caterpillar literally crawled out of its skin. This is an old cuticle left behind.
Was the Tiger hiding amid the HTM’s cuticle? No, unfortunately not.
As we hiked along the snowshoe trail, we had to work our way around, over, and under downed trees, but this one encouraged me to pause for it’s one I don’t encounter on an everyday basis, much like its cousin with bristles on its leaf lobes. The cousin in Northern Red Oak, but the leaves we met today belonged to White Oaks. Oh, there were red oaks along the way, and I don’t mean to downplay them, but I’m forever in awe of the marcescent (leaves that wither but remain attached to the stem) of White Oaks. Those veins. That color. And the shape. Always curled in winter as if an open palm.
Was the Tiger masked by the downed tree? No, unfortunately not.
At an erratic the size of a small house, I had to take a closer look and convinced my guy to pause. He did and circled the boulder in search of the Tiger.
Did he find the critter? No, unfortunately not.
It was next to a Speckled Alder that our attention, well, my attention turned. What initially stopped me in my tracks was the woolliness of Woolly Alder Aphids. Those fuzzy aphids feed on the sap of the shrub and produce white wax, or “wool,” filaments from their abdominal glands.
They drink volumes of sap in order to get enough nitrogen, which they then exude as honeydew. In the summer, I find ants farming them to sip the honeydew.
But that’s not all that is interested in the sweet liquid. A Black Sooty Mold loves the honeydew as well.
The funny thing is that I was just discussing this yesterday with Land Steward Leah of Dartmouth Natural Resources Trust in Dartmouth, Massachusetts. The Black Sooty Mold is actually a Poop Eater! What? Yup. A poop-eating fungus. The natural world is more otherworldly than one can even imagine.
The Sooty Mold’s name comes from the dark threadlike growth (mycelium) of the fungi resembling a layer of soot or rather, a bit like elongated coffee grounds, and within my hands, its brittle structure quickly splintered into tiny specks.
Was the Tiger hiding among the Sooty Mold? No, unfortunately not.
Eventually, we returned from whence we’d come because one of the snowshoe trails is an out-and-back, found a rock upon which to sit for lunch, and the same served as a storage hide-away for our snowshoes while we donned micro-spikes, for the rest of the journey would be along a snowmobile trail. The thing about snowmobile trails in our area–they were closed a few days ago, just at the start of Spring Vacation, oops I mean Winter Vaca, but such have been the temps of late and the trails are not safe–especially where they cross waterways or boggy areas.
That said, I stepped off the trail and located this tree–a wonder unto itself. For those who know the species, it’s a Hophornbeam gone astray. Typically, these trees of sorta shaggy, yet tight bark, if one can be such, grow straight and strong, but obviously there was an interruption in the growth of this tree, though eventually it found its way skyward as is its normal behavior.
Was a Tiger hiding among the trees? No, unfortunately not.
I discovered the disfigured Hophornbeam because I’d gone closer to the water to spy on a couple of Beaver lodges. And I’m happy to report that based on the mud and fresh branches, they appeared to be active.
Was there an active Tiger in the area as well? No, unfortunately not.
Shortly after reaching Snowmobile Trail ITS 89, we noted the double-wide stonewall, a hint of days gone by when the property was probably plowed for agricultural reasons. We also noted that it’s been a while since that practice occurred for so old did the Eastern White Pine that grew atop the wall appear.
Was it large enough to hide a Tiger? No, unfortunately not.
So the next spot brought a smile to my face, for often, when I’m leading a hike my mouth gets ahead of my brain and I know I mean birch when I say beech, or visa versa, but here they were representing as one in the same for over time they had rubbed against each other for so long that they rubbed together.
Here’s a new word for me: Inosculation–when the friction between two trees causes the outer bark of each to scrape off at the point of contact. The trees respond by producing callus tissue that grows outward, thereby increasing the pressure between the two. This pressure, along with the adhesive nature of sap or pitch that exudes from their wounds, reduces the amount of movement at the point of contact. But the question remains: Does the cambia layer from the two trees come in contact and the vascular tissues become connected, allowing for the exchange of nutrients and water? Maybe if they are trees of the same species, but these were two different species and I suspect they are actually false grafts, which means the two trees have not formed a union of conductive tissues. Going forward, when I say Birch and mean Beech, or Beech and mean Birch–I shall remember these trees.
As for the Tiger, did he know them as well? No, unfortunately not.
As the sun began to shine, we found ourselves pausing beside Cold Rain Pond, where Sheep Laurel showed off its plans for the future. I want winter to continue, and apparently it might, for such is the forecast for later in the week when temperatures are supposed to dip to more seasonal numbers and snow is in the forecast, but note those buds.
Did they obscure the Tiger? No, unfortunately not.
As we backtracked our journey and followed the snowmobile trail out several hours later, I found the evidence we sought. A footprint. Certainly that of a Tiger. A very big Tiger for our area.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to locate the Tiger. We knew it was there somewhere, but just like our Bobcats, it chose to remain elusive and hid among the shadows. Do you see it?
After all, we had traveled over 7 miles of Loon Echo Land Trust trails at their Tiger Hill Community Forest.
There must be Tigers in the midst, indeed. For why else would it be named such?
Disclaimer: the Tiger print is actually a bleached out Bobcat print–made larger as the temperatures rise.
My fingers reach in, wondering what marvel I might pull out of the wool sock, one I knitted when my guy and I first tied the knot so many moons ago.
Of course I shouldn’t be surprised that the first thing my fingers grasp is a dragonfly, this being a Common Whitetail male in the Skimmer Family, with those broad crossbands on the wings and black streaks at the base of each.
Calling it “common” strikes me as such an understatement and I’m thrilled when I next pull out an immature male of the same species. I mean, look at those wing markings. And the spots along the sides of the abdomen segments. And the difference in color from immature to mature. Surely, next it will be a female that falls into my hands.
It is quite a shock, however, to realize it is fur that tickles my hand, and voila, out of the sock comes a Red Fox. A Red Fox who settles for Black-oil Sunflower Seeds, not quite the next best thing to capturing a squirrel.
When I next reach in, I am sure I’ll pull out a female Common Whitetail, but . . . instead it is a much smaller, and even more extravagantly decorated female Calico Pennant Skimmer. The same family, but this is one of my favorite species (please don’t be offended Whitetails, I really do think you are more special than common), with those heart-shaped markings along its abdomen segments and basal wing coloration reminding me of a stained-glass window, which seemed apropos for today’s celebration.
And then there are two with similar colors and equally delicate, puddling as is their habit, these Eastern Swallowtail Butterflies sticking their proboscis seeking nutrients from the gravel road. The chemical make-up of the site is key, for the butterflies are looking for something specific: salt (sodium) and minerals
Most puddlers are males, who ingest the salts, minerals and amino acids that the source provides, especially after it has rained. They store these nutrients in their sperm so that when the time comes to mate, the male passes these goodies as a nuptial gift along to the female. This gives the female an extra boost, which she then passes along to her eggs. It’s an important gift because eggs that receive the extra nutrients have a greater chance of success than those that do not.
Back into the sock do I dip, this time finding a Little Copper Butterfly seeking pollen and nectar upon Pearly Everlasting flowerheads. Little Coppers, tiny as the name suggests, thrive in areas disturbed by either human activity or natural events and it seems almost an oxymoron to think that as teeny and delicate as they are, they are right at home in waste places.
Once again, there is a significant change between the Little Copper and the next species that my hands discover. “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?” hoots the Barred Owl much to my delight. Only two nights ago I heard it calling out the back door, so to find it in the sock is a treasure indeed.
Almost immediately after, a Muskrat swims out of the sock, moving quickly toward me with its rat-like tail acting like a rudder in the rear. I love its questioning look as we meet each other for the first time.
Enough fluff about the Muskrat. It is a feathered friend. who next pops up out of the sock. One of the most amazing things to me about this gift is the color of its eyes and how they reflect the sky above and water below.
Still pulling from the leg of the sock, this Gray Seal floats forth, as if on the incoming tide. Sometimes called “horseheads,” because of their long snouts, Gray Seals scientific name, Halichoerus grypus, literally means “hooked-nose sea pig.”
Not the prettiest of names, not the prettiest of species, but I am still excited to realize this one is my own to keep.
Suddenly, there seems to be a theme to the gifts, and a life on or in the water makes sense. The next item in the sock is one we think of as nature’s engineer, and though not everyone is thrilled with their prowess at felling trees, building dams and lodges, and changing waterways for their own benefit, it’s good to realize that they also benefit other species in the process, including humans. This particular Beaver is active during the day because hikers like my guy and me keep ruining its dam as we cross over it to access a trail.
Still on the water theme, but much diminished in size, is a female Fairy Shrimp. Just sighting one such species is enough to make its vernal pool habitat significant. The way to identify a female is to look for her two dark brood sacs that are positioned just under her legs or appendages.
So here’s the thing. Fairy Shrimp have a short life span, but . . . their eggs must dry out and freeze before they can respond to environmental cues such as reflooding to hatch.
The eggs, known as cysts, can remain dormant for years, and only a small portion of cysts hatch each year, thus leaving plenty more for the future. And temperature plays a key role in hatching.
I’m beginning to realize how much I am enjoying the variety hidden within this sock, and the next gift turns out to be a Blinded Sphinx moth, a species one doesn’t ofter encounter during the day. Or at all, for it’s a night flyer. But those markings and folds, and the overall design. Oh my.
With the next item I choose, I am reminded that one must look for anomalies in the landscape. And so I do. It is the horizontal line of the back that gives away the fact that I am starring at a White-tail Deer. Otherwise, I might think that the legs are sapling trunks and the face maybe a few bleached beech leaves.
My next surprise–comes as a trio. And I might not even realize they are there if I hadn’t heard them first–chattering to each other as they swim and play and fish and sometimes sit on the ice before slipping quickly back into the water in what can only be known as River Otter delight.
Once again, I suspect I know what I’ll pull out next, only to be surprised to discover that it is not a prickly friend, but rather a feathered one who roosts high up in a tree–this being a Ruffed Grouse.
But the prickly one doesn’t disappoint, and makes its own appearance in a different tree and place.
That is to be followed by another I often spot basking in the sun with friends, but it is great fun to spot a Painted Turtle swimming below the water’s surface of a shallow pond.
The water theme begins to appear again, maybe because the one who filled the sock knows I spend a lot of time peering into the depths, and sometimes I’m rewarded with sightings such as this of tadpoles forming into their mature frog beings.
And then there is another that requires a stretch of my neck as it stretches its neck to feed its young high up in a nest.
Having regurgitated a meal, the mature Great Blue Heron stays with its young a wee bit longer before heading off to replenish the pantry.
No sock of mine would be complete without a couple of canoodlers, he atop her. Water striders can walk on the surface because they have very fine hairs on the undersides of their legs that trap air and repel water, a technique called superhydrophobic. They move so quickly because what they are doing is more like rowing, vigorously rowing, creating little swirls in the surface that help propel them forward.
When I slip my hand down into what feels like the toe of the sock, I pull out the largest gift of all and a totally unexpected sighting–a buck. Actually, there are two, but this was the larger and definitely mightier. I feel blessed to have received such a gift. In fact, to have received all of these gifts. To have been present for these presents.
It’s actually toeless, this wonder-filled stocking of mine. And could go on forever. But I’ll pause here and rejoin my family. I do, however, wish you all warmth and peace and electrical power and good health this holiday season.
I didn’t realize sixth months had passed since I’d last shared a Mondate adventure until I went back and checked. Never fear, my guy and I have continued to hike or paddle almost every Monday, but most of the trails I’ve written about before and really, I didn’t feel like I had a story to tell on each of them. But . . . put them all together and tada. So hang in here with me. I won’t write much, but do have a bunch of photos to share and hope you enjoy the journey.
Sometimes it was the root way to heaven that we’ve followed upon an ascent.
Other times a brook crossing that added a little tension to the adventure.
And in the mix there were a few granite scrambles to conquer.
We stepped out onto ledges,
rediscovered the rocky coast of Maine,
walked beside water racing around boulders,
stepped from the trail out onto the summit of a ski area,
paused beside a teepee that has withstood man and nature,
strolled across an airstrip,
followed more ledges,
took in the view from a spot where a fire tower once stood,
spotted the ridgeline of our hometown mountain on the cloudy horizon,
danced with hang clouds,
looked back at a summit we’d conquered a half hour before,
considered taking a chilly bath,
and always found lunch rock with a view.
Our journeys found us hiking in to mountain ponds,
and paddling upon a pond by a mountain.
During fleeting moments we enjoyed fall foliage.
On each hike/paddle we saw so much including this Northern Pygmy Dragonfly,
a Field Sparrow,
a Silver-spotted Skimmer Butterfly,
and a spider wrapping a dragonfly feast,
And did I mention Lady’s Slippers?
Over the course of three hikes in one week, we counted 963 of these beautiful orchids.
And then there was the Blinded Sphinx Moth,
a Giant Leopard Moth,
and a Green Lacewing pretending to be a leaf.
Our hearts ticked a little faster with the spot of bear claw marks upon a bog bridge.
And occasionally we were honored to spend some time with one of nature’s great engineers.
There was work to be done as the Beaver’s dam also serves as part of the path to a summit and people kept ruining it for the rodent.
Often, we’d spy a stick that suddenly slithered because it wasn’t really a stick at all but a Garter Snake.
One day we even had the pleasure to go on a Puffin Watch and spotted over a hundred of these colorful seabirds.
Today, we actually spotted a Doe who posed for about five minutes before giving us a huff and dashing off.
And a post from me wouldn’t be complete without a photo of scat–this being classic Red Fox–tapered at the ends, twisted, and located upon a rock in the middle of a trail.
We had the pleasure of hiking with our youngest (though we missed his girl),
and relaxing after another hike with our oldest and his gal, plus their pup.
My guy posed as a lobster,
and a picker of blueberries beside the water’s edge,
and across a mountain ridge.
Recently, I was talking with a friend about wondermyway.com and how it serves as a diary of our adventures as well as all the cool stuff I learn about almost daily in the world out the door.
And she replied, “Your blog is a love story.”
She’s right for it is a love story on so many levels like this one. He’ll forever be a Maine Black Bear and if you are looking for me, I’ll forever be following him into the next adventure wherever our Mondates lead us.
For several months
I’ve watched you,
always with awe,
emerging from your aquatic form
and miraculously transforming
into a flying insect
that eats nothing
but other insects
you find your way
back to the water’s edge
and hunt for a mate.
Some say you aren’t territorial
but I know otherwise
for I spend hours observing
as you land
upon a leaf or twig
and then , , ,
in a split second
chase a sibling
or cousin off
to your original perch
or at least another
It’s in those spots
that I get to
know you better,
noticing your tan-colored legs,
which set you apart
Skimmer family members.
With a face
of burgundy red
providing a contrast to
that ruby red abdomen.
and your stigma,
those elongated spots
at the tip of your wings,
offering two-toned hues
of the same theme,
you gleam like a jewel
in the sunlight.
At long last,
you find yourself
In the canoodle wheel,
a dragonfly’s lovemaking form.
You grasp your betrothed
behind her head
while she places
the tip of her abdomen
in a manner that allows
your sperm to fertilize
You, like your relatives,
stay with her
it is the eggs
that she lays
upon the mosses
and other vegetation
at the water’s edge.
a group activity
with safety found
in numbers I suppose.
Eating and mating,
as a mature being
you live longer than
most and don’t let
a few frosty nights
end your flight.
a wrong turn
on the wing
and you end up
on the water’s surface
struggling to fly free.
I watch for a few moments
until I realize
frenzied behavior means.
It is then
I grasp a stick
and offer it to you.
You follow suit
and grasp from the other end
as I lift you out
and find a sunny place
for your wings
before night sets in.
When I visit again
I cannot find you
but can only hope
that the tiny red dragonfly
that poses like a brooch
on my blaze orange vest . . .
and then adorns my finger
is you . . . or at least another
saying thank you
for the rescue.
fourth day of November,
I celebrate you,
‘Autumn Meadowhawk (Sympetrum vicinum)
for you are indeed
a gem-like wonder.
Smack dab in the midst of a hectic work schedule, we pulled off another issue of the mag. And I have to say, I really loved working on this one. As did Laurie LaMountain.
It’s full of history, both local as I had the fortune to visit with Louisa Attenborough at the Garcelon mansion on Kezar Lake in Lovell, and across the pond (read the intros to the recipes in “One Potato, Two Potato”).
Here’s an exclusive look at a bathroom window at Garcelon, flanked by mirrors that reflect the lights in the room and in the bedroom beyond.
And a side view not included in the article. The servants’ quarters, circa 1908, were in the upper-left hand corner.
Another of my articles is about the big reveal at our local ski area, which was purchased last year by Boyne Resorts. According to general manager Ralph Lewis, lots of updates have been made since the ski area closed in the spring, but the biggest one is the name change, which excites many of us. You can read all about it in “Welcome Back Pleasant Mountain.”
My third, and probably favorite article is entitled “Life Beneath the Ice,” which features the work of fellow Maine Master Naturalist Edwin Barkdoll and his discoveries as he worked on a capstone project, and Dr. Ben Peierls of Lakes Environmental Association.
“A calm winter day. Freezing temps. Thickening ice. A lid is placed on the ecosystem below. And all aquatic life goes dormant. Or does it?” You’ll have to read the article to find out.
So here’s a look at the cover, and a view of a Whirligig Bug walking under the ice that Edwin captured during his studies.
Within, you’ll also find articles by Laurie, including “Chasing Arrows,” about what happens to those items we so carefully recycle; “Fast and Affordable,” about the need for high-speed internet in our rural communities and what a collective group of towns is trying to do for affordable broadband, and “Creative Housing Solutions,” about what a group in Norway, Maine, is trying to do to bring equitable housing to the community. Plus the recipes (and history) in “One Potato, Two Potato.”
And always back by popular demand are the book reviews from the staff at Bridgton Books. Plus ads, ads, ads, for local businesses. Please take a look at them, and then visit the businesses and let them know you saw the ad in the mag.
Walking in silence
along a trail so familiar
my eyes were drawn
to bubbles at my feet.
Tiny bubbles, tinier bubbles, tiniest bubbles
formed random patterns
as they gave new life
to dying grasses.
Nearby, salmon-colored disks
the mint-green crustose form
of candy lichen's granular base.
Meanwhile, crimson caps of British Soldiers
shouted for recognition
as they showed off
their branching structures.
Upon a rotting tree
and backlit by the sun
glowed the irregularly lobed fruits
of Orange Jelly Spot.
In another sunny spot, a Little Copper sought nectar
from a goldenrod still in bloom
while a Spotted Cucumber Beetle
photobombed the shot.
I have to admit that I struggled with ID:
Ruby, Cherry-faced, and Saffron-winged
since this dragonfly showed characteristics
of each in the meadowhawk clan.
Being present on this October afternoon
reminded me of another day
when I paced before a couple of shrubs
and watched the insect action.
I am honored and humbled to announce that that blog post was recently published
in The Observer, a publication produced by the Maine Natural History Observatory.
My friend and fellow master naturalist, Cheryl Ring, also has an article in this issue.
The most humbling thing for me was an email I received from a reader who is also an avid naturalist. She commented that my ID of a butterfly at the end of the article, which I called Painted Lady, is actually American Lady. I now realize I need a new field guide because mine refers to it as American Painted Lady and I inadvertently dropped "American," while hers dropped "Painted" in the name. It's another lesson in why I need to wrap my brain around scientific names since common can cause confusion. I do appreciate that she took the time to read the article and write to me.
That said, the best lesson of any day is to take time to be present and observe in nature. Even if it's only for a few minutes.
Our time for a road trip was long overdue. But where to go? We knew we’d begin the week by driving to Lubec, Maine, where we’d enjoyed two days last year, but left knowing there was so much more to explore. And so we booked a room for the first four nights of vacation. After that? The question loomed. The answer eventually presented itself, but first, here’s to Lubec.
We’d barely landed in town after a five hour drive, when a walk down the road found my guy posing before entering Lubec Hardware. Curiously, because the owner had been to Stone Mountain Arts Center in Brownfield, Maine, not far from our hometown, he knew of my guy’s store and they enjoyed a chat. From there we sipped a beer at Lubec Brewery before heading off for our first adventure of the week, along a beach trail within reach from town.
After skipping some stones, we turned around and headed back toward our room, enjoying the cast of our shadows upon sand . . .
and cobbled beaches.
Back in the harbor of Johnson Bay, the setting sun upon moored boats captured our fancy.
And we got our bearings with a view of Mulholland Light on Canada’s Campobello Island located exactly across the Lubec Narrows from our room.
Morning and evening, whenever we were by the Narrows, we watched as the Cormorants preened and flew and swam against the current and preened some more.
On the windiest day, we took to the woods rather than the coast, knowing it would be calmer. And quieter. We weren’t disappointed.
Especially since we found a display of bear scat, this being only one chunk. Berry seeds pass through a bear’s digestive system and exit intact and viable, making bears an important part of nature’s seed distribution system.
We also spotted the largest burl either of us could remember seeing, this at the base of an old Yellow Birch turned silver in age like the rest of us.
We circled through a beaver’s territory, hoping that if we couldn’t catch sight of the bear, we might at least see the beaver, but both alluded us. Fred, the Red Squirrel, however, scolded us at every opportunity.
The next day dawned brisk and chilly, as most did, and found us first finding our way to Reversing Falls, where the incoming tide hit some rocks that splashed the water “backwards.”
Click on the link to catch a brief glimpse of the action.
Over the course of the day, we explored a few trails of Cobscook Shores, including enjoying lunch on a bluff overlooking sandbars at low tide.
Boot Head Preserve along the coast offered a variety of terrains and natural communities, including upland forests, bogs, coastal wetlands, and steep rocky shoreline.
My mom would have loved this–the rocky coast of Maine spoke to her.
We also appreciated all the bog bridging and benches placed to take in the vistas and gave thanks to those who had hustled to create such infrastructure, including my colleague Rhyan, a former intern at Maine Coastal Heritage Trust. The chicken wire along the bridges sang as we trudged, boot tread hitting wire, wire strumming against wood, and song echoing with each step as the wire bounded back off the wood. There was that to be thankful for, as well as the facts that it kept us from slipping, and from stepping upon the fragile environment at our feet.
Despite the daily chill, flower flies such as this bee mimic continued to pollinate asters in a manner hectic as the days grow shorter and temps lower.
Behind the asters we saw plenty of juicy Rose Hips and I thought of my dad who loved to eat these on our beach walks in Connecticut.
Because we followed a smattering of trails, the berry choices changed from Cranberries to . . .
Withe-rod or Wild Raisin,
and Mountain Ash in the shape of a heart.
Those berries fit right in with our daily cobbled beach quest for hearts and we found many, a few which followed us home. But this one, not exactly perfect, as no heart really is, my guy gave a pulse. A pulse with a smile. And then he left it behind.
Our favorite heart selection we did not disturb because it appeared in the midst of a fairy ring created by the tide.
Our adventures found us exploring different areas of the Bold Coast than we’d visited a year ago, but it seemed imperative that we make a quick stop at West Quoddy Head Lighthouse at the end of one day. It’s the easternmost point in the United States, thus bragging rights.
The cool news is that as of our first day of vaca, the border between the USA and Canada opened for travel without pandemic protocol and so we drove across the road bridge located about two minutes from our room, showed our passports, and within two minutes entered one of our favorite countries, this time to a place we’d never been before: Campobello Island. Once there, we drove east to the companion light of West Quoddy–and then climbed up and down two steep sets of stairs and across this wooden bridge, with lots of slippery seaweed in the mix to reach . . .
East Head Quoddy Lighthouse.
Driving back toward trails we wanted to hike, we paused to take in the scene of Head Harbour Public Wharf where lobster boats were docked in the moment.
It struck us as a safe harbor for the effects of the business.
Our next destination was Friar’s Head, where according to interpretive signs, “While occupying Eastport, the British navy was said to have used the stone pillar for target practice, altering its outline to that of a hooded monk or Friar in deep contemplation.
Native American Passamaquoddy legend referred to this rock as the Stone Maiden. “The legend speaks of a young brave leaving on a long journey, telling his lover to sit and wait for his return. Many months passed and the brave did not return. The young maiden was terribly upset and sat on the beach below the head and waited. When the brave finally returned to the village, he found his young maiden turned to stone, forever to wait and watch.”
Finally, it was time for a tour of the cottage of Franklin Delano and Eleanor Roosevelt. It has 34 rooms of which 18 are bedrooms and six bathrooms. Until he was afflicted with polio in 1921, Franklin spent every summer on the island, his parents having owned a property next door. As a belated wedding present, FDR’s mother, Sara, gave the young couple this summer home, which they filled with five children, servants, and guests.
One of my favorite rooms was the site of Eleanor’s desk, where she wrote at least 500 words/day five days a week.
In the backyard stands a reminder that the 2,800-acre Roosevelt Campobello International Park is a US Government Agency and a Canadian Government Corporation, established in 1964.
Next door is the Hubbard Cottage, where the rusticators were known to party–men smoking their cigars as they played pool and women gathering around the grand piano, but . . . it’s the oval window that offers a breathtaking frame on the world beyond, ever changing as the seasons.. Mr. Hubbard was a very successful real estate developer from Chicago and his cottage was the envy of many. The oval window in the main room apparently was imported from France.
Not ready to be done with our Canadian journey, we visited Eagle Hill Bog and then from Raccoon Beach we hiked along a loop path through bogs and fields and forest and along the coast, where we spotted a natural sculpture of faces and wondered if they represented people lost at sea or those looking for loved ones or perhaps those who came to wonder and wander like we did.
At Ragged Point, we followed a short spur to SunSweep, one of three sculptures carved from a slab of Canadian black granite and located strategically at this location in New Brunswick, a second in Minnesota, and a third in Washington. All are aligned to follow the sun’s path from daybreak to nightfall. We were there as evening approached and still had some hiking to do, so onward we journeyed.
But first, we made a quick stop at Sugar Loaf Rock, which reminded me of an iguana, and from this site had the good fortune to watch Minke whales feeding in the distance.
Before leaving Canada, we had one final stop to make–a visit to Mulholland Lighthouse, the oldest lighthouse in the country. It’s a wooden octagonal structure that was erected in 1883 and decommissioned in 1963. During its heyday, it guided ships through the Lubec Narrows, where even FDR, who served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy from 1913 to 1920, once made an inspection trip along the Maine coast aboard the U.S.S. Flusser. On a plaque it states: Taking the helm, the future President captained the vessel through the narrow channel between Lubec and Campobello Island, earning the respect of an initially concerned Lieutenant (later Admiral) William F. “Bull” Halsey. Admiral Halsey later wrote, “As Mr. Roosevelt made his first turn, I saw him look aft and check the swing of our stern. My worries were over; he knew his business.”
Our fascination with the lighthouse was that from our room at Cohill’s Inn we looked straight across to the lighthouse–the room being the double window just above the white door as we took in the opposite view.
But even more fun was spotting Harbor Seals who came snuffuluffing along with the incoming tide. It was a great way to end our Campobello/Lubec leg of the journey.
A few hours drive the next day and we began an exploration of Millinocket. I think in the back of both our minds we expected to end up there, but the plan didn’t fall into place until almost midweek. Thankfully, we found a place to stay and headed off on a trail soon after we pulled into town.
Whereas the colors along the coast were a bit muted, it was peak fall foliage in this neck of the woods, where Mount Katahdin dominates the landscape.
One hike found us making our way to Rainbow Lake, home of Eastern Brook Trout and Blueback Char. Though we didn’t see any fish actually jump there, we saw lots of activity while eating lunch beside Clifford Pond–ask us how high the fish jumped and you’ll get a different answer. Mine is maybe six inches, but according to my guy: two feet. That’s a fish tale if I ever heard one.
At the urging of an article by Carey Kish in the Portland Press Herald published on Oct 2 entitled Hiking in Maine: A hidden gem in the midst of Baxter State Park, we decided to check out the River Pond Nature Trail–and we’re glad we did. If you go from the Golden Road, we suggest following the trail counterclockwise. There are lots of blow downs that are easy to maneuver around or over or under if you begin from the opposite direction, but those might have dissuaded us at the start.
Instead, we enjoyed beautiful vistas before encountering the blowdowns. And always looked forward to the interpretive signs along the way.
I’m pretty sure that just as the moon follows us when we drive at night, so does the mountain when you hike this trail.
We were dazzled by the kaleidoscope of colors no matter where we looked.
It was pure magic enhanced by reflections along the way.
Of course, there were other things to see, like Stairstep Moss, one of my favorites known for producing a new level of growth each year. (And one that will always remind me of my dear friend, Jinnie Mae, RIP, for we discovered this species on a rock on her land.)
We added to our red berry collection when we spotted several Bunchberrys in fruit form.
A Jack Pine was also a welcome surprise, known for its bundles of two short needles: think Jack and Jill.
And then we headed into the land of the Bad Hair Day Giants, for so the Polypody fern covered erratics did seem.
Our destination–ice caves in the Debsconeag Lakes Wilderness Area! The cool environment in a deep hole under a jumble of boulders can retain ice sometimes as late as August (though I doubt that happened this year given how hot it was over the course of the summer). While we didn’t need nature’s air conditioning on this day, it was still a cool opportunity to explore.
One more stop on this day was a visit to The Crib along Penobscot River’s West Branch, where we recalled memories of dining above during a rafting expedition about 35 years ago and then how I ducked into the boat when we later passed this spot. Really though, when we rafted, they’d opened the dam above and there was much more water, but still . . . it was fast and furious. Oh, and do you see that mountain in the background? The Mighty K once again.
Our wildlife sightings on this part of the journey included a couple of startled Ruffed Grouse, a Fred the Red Squirrel who followed us, I swear, for we endured his scolding on every trail in both locations (and we hiked over 70 miles all told) and this Garter Snake. But then, the creme de la creme presented itself across from River Pond where we’d first stopped on the Golden Road to photograph Mount K and actually spotted its tracks in the morning.
Yep. We got us a moose! A male yearling I think.
On the way home a day later, we decided we hadn’t bumped across the Golden Road enough, and so headed west on it toward Greenville. Approaching Greenville, we spotted a sign for the B52 Memorial and made a sudden decision to follow the seven-mile road to the site.
The story is a somber one of a United States Air Force Boeing B-52 Stratofortress on a low level navigation training mission during the Cold War that went awry. After the aircraft encountered turbulence on an extremely cold and windy January 24, 1963, a vertical stabilizer came off and the plane went into a nose dive on Elephant Mountain.
Only the pilot and a navigator survived. Signage explains the experience: “The pilot landed in a tree 30 feet (9.1 m) above the ground. He survived the night, with temperatures reaching almost −30 °F (−34 °C), in his survival-kit sleeping bag atop his life raft. The navigator’s parachute did not deploy upon ejection. He impacted the snow-covered ground before separating from his ejection seat about 2,000 feet (610 m) from the wreckage with an impact estimated at 16 times the force of gravity. He suffered a fractured skull and three broken ribs. The force bent his ejection seat and he could not get his survival kit out. He survived the night by wrapping himself in his parachute.”
Fortunately an operator on a road grater saw the plane turn and the black smoke that followed the crash. Rescuers looked in the wrong area that day. The next day, after plowing ten miles of fifteen foot snowdrifts and snowshoeing the final mile, they reached the site.
Today, pathways lead to the strewn pieces and viewers are asked to remain silent out of reverence. Visiting the site gave us pause and we offered thanks for those who protect us and those who complete rescue missions.
We’re glad we stopped there, just as we’re glad we revisited the two locales we enjoyed last year. Except for this one spot and West Quoddy Lighthouse, it was an entirely different adventure. Oh, and we celebrated my guy’s birthday, while also celebrating our beautiful Maine and Canada.
Along a paved trail seemingly flat that follows a track to a vanishing point did I walk today.
It’s a place some see as desolate, but nature always has something to present and today it was signs of the season to come that drew my attention.
Hints of autumn’s hues . . .
contrasted sharply with summer’s chlorophyll-induced greens.
Redder than red winterberries bespoke the presence of a nearby male–since as a dioecious species, female flowers and male flowers grow on separate shrubs. They also signaled bird food and seasonal decorations–depending on who arrives first: Avian species or human.
Disturbed though the land is, Asters such as this Calico, invited visitors like the Paper Wasp to stop by for a sip of nectar.
Goldenrods also sent out messages and Bumble Bees RSVPed . . .
for they had baskets to fill one pollen grain at a time.
In the mix along this route of disturbed soil and gravel, there were those whose seedheads, while reminiscent of a dandelion, proved more beautiful than the Pilewort’s actual nondescript flower.
Less obvious, but no less beautiful, Wood Sorrel quietly softened the edges of the rocks upon which it grew.
Jewelweed, also known as Touch-Me-Not for its seed’s habit of springing forward when touched, had a visitor all its own whose name I wasn’t allowed to catch.
Similar in color to the Jewelweed, a Monarch butterfly filled up . . .
perhaps a last series of sips before the long journey south.
All of this color and action was observed by a Chippy, who was busy adding to his collection of goods, while his kin added their clucks to the chamber music orchestrated by grasshoppers and crickets.
The Mountain Division Trail in Fryeburg, Maine (home to the Fryeburg Fair), is hardly flat and not at all desolate–it just needs people with eyes to see and ears to hear and minds to wonder as they wander. Okay, so maybe it was desolate in terms of being deserted of people, but I kinda like it that way. As for being dismal and bleakly empty–I beg to differ.
Collect: to gather an accumulation of (objects) especially as a hobby.
Over the years I’ve collected many things from turtles to tea cups and seaglass and heart-shaped stones and tree cookies and dragonflies and books (oh my, yes have I ever collected books) and even . . . the crème de la crème: scat!
But today’s collection is one that is fleeting as the days are getting cooler and shorter and even if you feel as if this is all I’ve written about lately, it’s because the days are getting cooler and shorter and this collection will soon disappear. And then it will be time for SCAT again!
Yes, today’s collection is about insects, this being a Great Spangled Fritillary Butterfly. There was a time when I couldn’t be bothered with insects because I knew them as pesky things, except for the butterflies, of course. But it was when I finally decided to take a good look at them and get to know their idiosyncrasies that I realized there’s something to admire about each and every one. Well, maybe not Black Flies or Deer Flies, but then I remind myself that they are bird and dragonfly and damselfly food, and all is okay with the world once again.
One of things I’ve learned about the natural world and this butterfly speaks to it, is just how hairy many insects and plants and even tree leaves are. In the case of a butterfly, it makes sense because it begins life as a caterpillar, often a fuzzy caterpillar. And then there are those veins in the wings. And the pattern. How in the world does a caterpillar pupate and turn into soup as it digests itself, releasing enzymes to dissolve all of its tissues?And then reorganize its cells that transform rapidly to become legs, wings, eyes and other parts of an adult butterfly? How indeed!
The next insect in my collection: the Goldenrod Soldier Beetle. Though its name is for the flower it most often frequents, it can be found on any flower. There are at least 19 species of soldier beetles in North America, but this is the only one found in the Northeast: Chauliognathus pensylvanicus.
The name “soldier” apparently comes from the fact that the first species to be identified has a color pattern that reminded someone of the red coats of early British soldiers. That’s not the case with this being.
Paying attention to details is prime in learning to ID insects. Many are look-alikes and I was sure this butterfly was a Painted Lady. Instead, she’s an American Lady, due to the fact that she features a white spot on orange located on the forewing. The Painted Lady doesn’t have such a spot.
Another insect that tickles my fancy is the Sweat Bee. I’m a goner for that iridescent green head and thorax. While Sweat Bees are common on flowers, such as this tall sunflower, they also are attracted to our perspiration and this afternoon I had one that kept approaching my bare, sweaty feet.
Keeping with the bee theme, I’m always in awe when I happen upon a Tri-colored Bee, whose name speaks of its abdominal color pattern: one band of yellow, two intense orange, another yellow and then two bands of black.
Then there’s this insect. I’ve mentioned that I can stand still and not be bombarded by Bumble Bees, but this Flower Fly that chooses to mimic a bee adds a new chapter to the story. It makes the herb garden come alive with its insistent buzzing and it likes to charge at me as if it is ferocious. Intimidating? Yes. Will it sting me? No. And so I stand my ground.
One that could sting is the Honey Bee and I try to give each one I encounter the room it needs to carry out its duties of gathering pollen and nectar. Unlike Bumble Bees, Honey Bees are not native, but then again, neither am I.
That said, I have the joy of seeing many Bumbles and learned from them that while Honey Bees seem to devote their attention to one flowering species in my neck of the woods, I’ve watched the Bumbles move from one plant to another . . .
making me think that diversity is the key to their existence.
When bees visit a particular flower in the garden, I always know it before even looking for the plant that may jiggle a bit. If you click on the link above, and turn up the volume, I hope you’ll hear what I hear that signals a Bumble Bee is in a Turtlehead. When the bee squeezes into the flower and wiggles around to try to reach the nectar at the base, it causes the front “lips” to open and close as if the flower were trying to speak or the turtle snap. As you can see, the lower lip is lined with furry hairs that probably help keep out crawling insects who might steal the nectar without pollinating the flower. The bee has to push past sterile stamen to reach the nectar and I’m not sure if the sound I hear is its wings fluttering in super-fast time or the wings rubbing against the stamen and petals. It’s a tight squeeze, but as you can see from the video, the bee gets well dusted with pollen.
Of course, no insect post of mine would be complete, without a dragonfly in the midst. That said, dragonflies don’t make it in every time, but this Autumn Meadowhawk Skimmer kept landing on several bygone Daylily stalks. I thought I could get it to walk onto my hand, but though it would let me place a finger in front of it, walking onto the finger was not going to happen today. We’ll save that adventure for another day.
Since all things must come to an end, I suspect the same will soon be true for this tattered Great Spangled Fritillary Butterfly. But I rejoiced that we could spend some time together and felt I should honor it to complete my collection.
My garden. It’s a classroom. I’ve long been a teacher, but in this particular classroom I am the student. And I give thanks for the daily lessons. In fact, this past week, I’ve given thanks for hours on end as I’ve done my usual stalking, I mean research.
It all began when I started to circle one garden, that is hardly a work of art because I welcome all who grow there, especially several species of goldenrods, their composite flowers offering rays of sunshine on any summer day.
I knew I was in luck when I spied this flower fly . . . that wasn’t flying. That could mean only one thing.
Ambush Bugs were in the area. And indeed they were. So . . . this pair of Jagged Ambush Bugs wasn’t canoodling as some of you probably think. One of the lessons I learned is that this is a prelude to the actual event, where their bodies face each other.
While the Ambush Bugs were busy getting to know each other better on the flowers above, closer to my knees a Bumble Bee buzzed in to gather some pollen and nectar from Giant Blue Lobelia flowers. Another lesson, that gets reinforced each year, is that If one stands still for a long period of time, the bees and wasps and other insects will fly in and out and leave you alone.
And when one looks up again, you’ll discover that the male Ambush Bug was still wooing the female. He’s the smaller, darker insect on top of her. Still another lesson is that when they are in this position, and, mind you, they don’t stay still, his antennae quiver with what I interpret as excitement. I’m sure it has some more scientific meaning or purpose, like maybe he was sending out a signal to her to stay with him or to other males to stay away, but still, how fast did those antennae move.
In the same garden does Turtlehead grow, and I knew it had a visitor when I heard a loud buzz as a Bumble Bee rustled about inside. This plant gets its common name from the flower’s long arching upper lip, or hood, which overlaps the lower lip like a turtle’s beak, minus the eyes of course.
Some say Bumble Bees exit Turtlehead head first but my experience is that they back out of the tight flower. Since this was very near the Ambush Bugs, I thought for sure they’d take a break from their canoodling preparation and try to capture a large meal.
They did not. And then when another flower fly bumped into them, I thought this would be the moment of separation. It was not. Though Ambush Bugs will feed while in this position, or at least the female might, what I observed over the course of five days is that they never did. I also noted that other insects frequently nudged them or came close to doing so, but quickly flew off. Perhaps they sensed danger?
As for the wooers, at about 6:00 on the morning after I first started stalking the goldenrods, I saw that they were still in their pre-nuptial position. At least I assumed it was the same two for it was the same spot and I’d last spotted them at about 7:00 the night before.
While it seemed all they could think about was their progeny, I kept thinking that they needed energy. There were so many options for food, from the black Midas Fly to the green Sweat Fly, but in the moments that I watched, and they were many, none of these became food.
Watching so many different species visit the flowers, I wondered if an Ambush Bug, which I knew could fly, though they seldom did, would attack in flight. But I learned that is not how they operate.
Instead, they wait. And sometimes walk about upon the flowers, perhaps in search of the right spot from which to attack. This is the female with her light colored face.
Notice her front legs, shaped as they are to capture prey, with a pincer that snaps back toward the second larger segment when in action. They remind me a bit of lobster claws.
And this is a male with his much darker suit and head. With those beady little eyes, it’s amazing that they can see insects twice or more their size. Or maybe that’s why they go for larger victims.
The more time I spent watching, the more it was reinforced that an on-the-fly capture was not going to occur. Even still, I kept encouraging such an attempt because it seemed to me that they don’t eat often.
The offerings continued to be plentiful each time I took a spin around and through the garden, but still, since first finding that skeleton of a body that started my quest to watch for more action, I hadn’t seen any evidence of a meal consumed.
And then. And then. And then, no not a meal. Well, maybe not a meal in that moment, but in flew something that I saw out of the corner of my eye and then couldn’t locate.
The Katydid’s camouflage was perfect, even better than that of the Ambush Bugs. Growing up in southern New England, I used to fall asleep to their Katydid songs, but here in western Maine I seldom see or hear one.
Back to the Ambush Bugs, another lesson I’ve learned before but that was reinforced is the fact that they don’t hang out just on Goldenrods, though their camo is certainly better on that flowerhead than on the False Dragonhead. Actually, the Ambush Bug looks more like a dragonhead than the flower does. But I can’t take credit for naming any species. Yet.
Watching the male Ambush Bug proved to be humorous for me, for he always seemed to have his back to any incoming insects such as this hover fly.
Maybe he saw the Bumble Bee approach?
But again, he turned his back on a potential meal.
Even as it drew closer.
Once the bee took off, the Ambush Bug turned again and I had to wonder if it questioned its positioning. Probably not as I’m not sure such a critter can question anything, but if I were an Ambush Bug, I’d like to think I would have done so.
Finally, on day three of my observations, I discovered a successful female. With those claw-like front legs, she’d captured her prey and pierced its body with her beak-like proboscis.
First she injected saliva into the victim’s body and paralyzed it. The fluid also broke down the interior organs and muscles, thus extending the abdomen of her prey. Then she sucked out those succulent digested innards. Yum!
It’s a process that takes time. And given her overall length of about a half inch, it’s impressive that she can take down bigger insect.
Interestingly, once I found one meal being consumed, on the same plant I began to find several.
The other curious thing was that all the predators seemed to be females. That doesn’t mean the males don’t eat, and I’ll certainly keep looking, but it was interesting to note.
Today, on that same plant, I found two meals being consumed that gave a sense that Ambush Bugs really do hide within the flowers before making their ambush. If you look closely you should spy the legs of a fly in the center, and a moth dangling on the right.
Class isn’t over, for I’ll certainly continue to observe and learn and eventually I’ll have conquered my ABCs. Or at least my ABs, thanks to the Ambush Bugs.
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