Embracing Quiet

If you are like me, you spend too much time racing from one moment to the next during this fleeting season of summer. With that in mind, I chose to slow down today.

m-stump islands

I know of few better places to do that than among the stump islands in the Upper Basin of Moose Pond. It’s been my place since I moved to Maine over thirty years ago.

Once upon a time, this was timberland–albeit prior to impoundment. A log sluiceway was built at the Denmark end in 1792 by Cyrus Ingalls, thus turning pastureland into the Lower Basin, so he could float logs to a nearby mill. In 1824, a more substantial dam was created and the height of that dam was raised by William Haynes in 1872 to create the current impoundment. While the Middle Basin of the nine-mile “pond” may be the largest at over 900 acres, its the 300-plus-acre Upper and Lower Basins that I like best to explore. And because the Upper is right out my summertime back door, I spend the most time there.

m-painted turtle

As I moved slowly, I greeted old friends like this painted turtle and even had the opportunity to pet a snapping turtle, so close to my kayak was it, but I paddled on.

m-newly emerged damsel 2

Actually, I didn’t paddle much once I reached the islands and stumps. Instead, I floated. And noticed. Before my eyes newly emerged damselflies pumped fluid into their bodies and wings, while their shed exuviae sat empty.

A family of three passed by in a canoe and I asked if they wanted to see something cool. When I told them about the damselfly, the father asked what a damselfly was and I told the family about its size and wing formation. They knew about dragons but had never heard of damsels. And didn’t want to stop and look. The mother commented on how magical it all was, but the father was eager to move on. I was sad for the son’s sake. He missed the real magic.

m-emerging damsel 3

Returning to my quiet mode, I found another, waiting as they all do, for the transformation to be completed. Do you see that the wings are not yet clear? I decided my presence was important, for I was keeping predators at bay.

m-orange bluet male

And then . . .

m-orange bluet 3

and then I met a new friend. An orange bluet–this being the male. I wanted to name him the Halloween damsel, but my field guide told me differently.

m-water shield and orange bluets 2

I kept waiting for him to meet her

m-orange bluets on water shield 1

and finally he did–

m-orange bluets mating

completing the wheel of damselfly love.

m-water shield 4

Because of the orange bluets, I also met the watershield flowers in their moment of glory. The flowers are described as being dull purple and inconspicuous. I found them to be various shades from mauve to muted red and lovely in presentation on day one of their life cycle.

According the US Forest Service Website, “On the first day the bud emerges above the water. Sepals and petals open and bend downward. Although stamens and pistils are present in each flower, on the first day of blooming, only the pistils emerge. Stalks of the pistils lengthen and spread outward over the petals. At night, the flower stalk bends and the flowers submerge beneath the water. On the second day, flowers emerge from the water again, but with the pistils retracted. The stamen stalks are lengthened and the anthers open. In this way flowers are cross-pollinated (Osborn and Schneider).

m-water shield old

Hardly dull, certainly unique. Even on day two.

m-newly emerged Hudsonian whiteface

Today, I also met a new dragonfly. And thought that I did it a favor, but I may not have. You see, when we first met, I noticed a web all around this immature Hudsonian whiteface (or so I think it is). With my paddle, I removed the web to free the dragonfly. But, um, it flew off and that’s when I realized it was several hours old and still drying its wings. Do you see how shiny they are? And the exuviae to which it clung prior to my “helping” hand? It’s best to leave nature alone. If it had been caught in the web, then good for the spider.

m-cotton grass 1

Speaking of spiders, I found some cotton grass gone to seed . . .

m-cotton grass with spider 2

and when I moved to photograph it with the sun behind me, I noticed what looked to be a camouflaged crab spider hiding in wait.

m-beaver lodge 1

Among the stumps, I’ve seen numerous beaver lodges over the years and know from the saplings they cut down on our property, that at least a few are active.

m-beaver scent mound 1

Today a recently visited scent mound added to that knowledge. Beavers pull aquatic plants and mud up from the bottom of the pond and create these mounds. They then secrete castoreum from castor glands beneath their tails to mark territory, deter predators, and say, “Hey baby, wanna check out my sticks?”

m-meadowsweet

The island flowers also grabbed my attention, including the fluffy heads of meadowsweet and . . .

m-grasspink orchid

grass-pink orchids now waning.

m-sweet-scented water lily

But . . . besides the dragons and damsels, I really went to see the aquatic flowers, like the sweet-scented water lily,

m-spatterdock

spatterdock,

m-pickerel weed 3

and one of my favs–pickerelweed.

m-pickerel weed

I love it for all its fine hairs and the way the flowers spiral up the stalk.

m-pickerel 2

I also love the coloration with two yellow dots on the upper lip providing a guide to the nectar it offers.

m-white face on leatherleaf 1

While I looked, another white-faced dragonfly, small in stature, kept following me. Finally, it paused on a leatherleaf shrub.

m-spatulate-leaved sundews with flower 2

And I paused beside the spatulate-leaved sundews.

m-spatulate--leaved sundew flower

I was about a week early, but one was in flower, with promises of plenty more to come.

m-pitcher plant 1

As I looked at the sundews, I realized that I’d never seen a pitcher plant in this place. As should happen, I was proven wrong, though I never would have noticed it if it didn’t have such a tall flower since its leaves were hidden by a mass of vegetation.

m-pitcher flower

Damselflies, dragonflies, and carnivorous plants–its an eat or be eaten world out there on the pond.

Bullfrogs bellowed from the edges, green frogs plinked, and fish splashed. I listened to Eastern kingbirds’ wingbeats as they dropped to the water to snatch insects, and red-winged blackbirds delightful conk-la-rees. I startled a great blue heron, the first I’ve seen on the pond all summer, and it flew off. In the midst of all the natural sounds and sights around me, I embraced the quiet on my four-hour paddle/float. And as Robert Frost might say, “That has made all the difference.”

 

Nervous Nellie Mondate

Usually my guy asks me to recommend a trail for our Monday hikes. But this weekend he had one in mind. Actually, he wanted to conquer it on Saturday, but I put the kabosh on that plan because of predicted thunderstorms that didn’t develop here. We kayaked instead.

And then I was able to postpone it on Sunday because I thought we should do something more palatable for my left knee as I was recovering from a quirk in it due to training (LOL–two runs but plenty of cross-training activities) before participating in the annual Four on the Fourth Road Race. So yesterday, we drove to Bartlett, New Hampshire, and began our journey on the Langdon Trail with the intention of summiting Mount Langdon. But after meeting one couple on their descent and listening to them talk about the views from Mount Parker, we changed our minds mid-hike and climbed to the summit of the latter. It was a fun hike that at first seemed a wee bit boring (did I write that?) as it followed an old logging trail, but eventually the natural communities began to change and we really enjoyed the climb.

Because we often hike in companionable silence, that climb was filled with voices from so many friends who are currently dealing with a variety of difficulties–physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I chatted with them along the way and lifted them on high at the summit–including those who suffer silently. May they all find a moment of peace in their lives.

But, it had to happen eventually and so today dawned. There were no storms on the horizon and after yesterday’s eight-mile climb, my knee felt fine. Darn. I’d run out of excuses. And so this morning I drove us to New Hampshire. At the stoplight in Conway Village, we could see the mountain’s craggy outline contrasted against the blue sky. I wanted to take a photo of a church spire in the foreground and mountain in the back, which seemed apropos for how I was feeling, but a large SUV blocked the total view at the stoplight. We continued on, turning onto the Kancamagus Highway for our trail of choice, for we chose the easy trail. Yeah, right!

c-waterfall 4

Our journey began with some easy hiking through a hemlock grove. I was liking it. We continued upward and at 1.5 miles reached a decision-making spot–turn left onto a loop by the waterfalls or continue straight. I’d read that the waterfall trail could be dangerous and that rescues were sometimes necessary, but agreed to go–stating, of course, that we had the option of backtracking.

c-waterfall 1a

The waterfalls, however, took my breath away–and my fear . . . for the moment.

c-water fall 1

I extended that moment by taking numerous photos in different settings of the same thing.

c-waterfall 2

Up and up we climbed beside them,

c-waterfall 3

and with every step the landscape changed. Watching water flow is like watching the flames in a campfire–each moment a glorious rendition of the same and yet a new statement.

c-wood sorrel

And at the same spot, a surprise–wood sorrel with its delicate candy-stripe petals.

c-waterfall stairs

At last we climbed the staircase to heaven–or at least back to the main trail.

c-ichneumon male

The higher we climbed, the rockier the trail became and so my focus was on the ground under my feet. But . . . a downed tree laden with lichen drew my attention for its beauty. As I looked, I realized something was flying about. In my current damselfly/dragonfly mode, I thought I’d spotted a spread-winged damsel until I took a closer look and realized it was a male ichneumon wasp.

c-ichnueomon wasp female

And in another spot below the downed tree, a female ichneumon, her lower abdomen twisted into a disc. My guy actually came back to watch with me as we saw her body throb–using her antennae, she must have honed in on a horntail wasp grub within the wood. Her intention was to drill and secrete a fluid into the grub and then deposit her eggs, which will eventually hatch and consume the grub. How cool is that?

c-northern bush honeysuckle

The trail became much rockier the further up we climbed. And I continued to look for things I haven’t seen recently, including Northern bush honeysuckle, its flowers still in their yellowish-green hue. Check out its long pistils. She’s a pistil!

c-looking for yellow blazes

A couple of hours later, we reached my moment of fate–when the treeline gave way to open rocks. At first it wasn’t so bad and I thought I could manage it.

c-view from lunch rock

Because the wind was more of an issue in the openness, we decided to find lunch rock before progressing further. The views were breathtaking as we looked toward Kearsarge and even our own Pleasant Mountain.

c-Mount Washington 1

Mount Washington was also part of the backdrop.

c-lichen lunch rock

And right under our butts–I was liken the lichens on lunch rock. I could have spent the rest of the day in their presence. And probably should have.

c-geology folds

But that was not to be. With other travelers on this mountain, we continued the journey from the false summit to the main summit. I tried to be positive as my knees buckled. I knew I wasn’t alone in that feeling as others also commented. But, I tried to stay focused and along the way, I realized I was looking at a fold as I channeled my inner geologist, Denise Bluhm.

c-summit view 1

Hand over hand, we scrambled up.

c-summit view 2

The views were incredible.

c-summit 4

Finding the trail wasn’t always easy and we all let the next know where the yellow blaze might be. Finally, after lots of scrambling, I realized I’d reached my ending point. A mental block flashed in my brain and I could go no further. My guy, however, despite his own fear of heights, wanted to give it a try. While he crawled the last 75 feet to the actual summit, I tucked into the mountain and became a trail guide, telling others where they should go and how to place their feet–like I knew.

c-after the summit

It wasn’t long before he descended–using the crab style that became our means of downward locomotion. We made it back to the treeline by the seat of our pants.

c-luna 1

From there, we were thankful to continue our downward descent. And then, less than a mile from the parking lot, we made a delightful discovery–a luna moth.

c-luna moth1

She seemed to embody our hike–clinging on as best she could. Her wings were a bit ragged and one ribbony tail missing. I too, was a bit ragged from the experience, and later discovered dried blood on my leg from an encounter with a branch. But, I lived. Sadly, she won’t live much longer–her main job to mate and then die.

Despite that, we were thrilled for the sighting. Seeing a luna moth is such a special treat and that fact that we saw it on the Champney Trail of Mount Chocorua even better.

I’ve spent about forty years avoiding that mountain and for good reason. But today, my guy pulled me out of my comfort zone–to a point. My nervous Nellie syndrome was well earned from my mom–Nellie. She, too, however, stepped out of her comfort zone many times and I have her to thank over and over again.

 

 

 

 

I used to think

c-mayfly 1

I used to think mayflies emerged only in May.

Maybe I’ve seen them in other months, but I’d never really thought about it. Yesterday this mayfly greeted me in the morning. And in the evening, it was still there. So my May-only theory proved to be wrong.

c-mayfly 2

I used to think they had only one adult form.

c-mayfly molt 1

That all changed this morning when I spotted it again. Only, I also spotted something else an inch or two away. An exoskeleton or exuvia? From a mayfly? It certainly looked mayfly-like with the same narrow and segmented body plus long-tail cerci.

c-mayfly beside molt

When I looked more closely, I realized that the exuvia was about half the size of the true adult form. As for that cloudy-winged specimen I’d spied yesterday–it had been a teenager, aka a subimago. I let the wings trick me because I didn’t know better. Though it looked adult-like, it wasn’t sexually mature yet.

Mayflies are unique in that after the nymph emerges from the water as the subimago (that fishermen call a dun) like yesterday’s model, they seek shelter before shedding their skin for the final transformation. How lucky for me that this dun chose our porch screen on which to rest.

c-mayfly size difference

And so, I was gifted a second opportunity to look. It can take a few minutes to two days before a subimago transforms into a clear-winged imago or spinner, though the actual metamorphosis is quick. I wish I’d seen it, but at least I got to see the end result.

c-mayfly mature 1

I’m not sure my friend appreciated it, but I was glad for our opportunity to spend some time up close and personal.

c-mayfly no mouth part

While in an aquatic form for a year or two, it had done plenty of eating. But as an adult, eating became a thing of its past as it had no functional mouth parts.

c-mayfly eyes 1

It did have plenty of eyes, however. The better to find food when immature and later a mate, I suppose.  Like other flies, its two outer eyes were large and compound.  Between them were three simple eyes (ocelli).

c-mayfly clear wings

The two pairs of triangular wings were held upright like a damselfly, rather than flat like a dragonfly. When I compared yesterday’s opague wings with today’s, the clarity of the new wings defined by dark veins seemed an obvious difference and one I’ll need to pay attention to going forth.

c-mayfly aedeagi at base of abdomen

Male or female? That was the question, but only for a moment. Do you see the aedeagi or penis-like appendages at the tip of the abdomen and below the two cerci (tail-like appendages)? Meet Mr. Mayfly.

c-mayfly bird's eye view1

I know that because mayflies emerge in swarms, they can be a nuisance. But this was only one. And our friendship only lasted for a few hours total–though he spent about 24 hours in the same spot. By noontime he had disappeared–of his own efforts I hope . . . heading off to do some courting. His days are numbered, I know, for his main function is to mate and maybe mate again, before he dies.

But today he served another function as he taught me a lesson. My best learning comes from observation . . . and realizing that what I used to think isn’t always accurate.

My thanks to a mayfly.

 

Orchid-Maine-ia

m-bald eagle 2

I took it as a sign when I first heard and then spotted a bald eagle on a white pine towering over Moose Pond. It seemed apropos that it should serve as a token of good luck, or at least a push out the door to spend some time wandering and wondering. And so I made the instant decision to drive to Holt Pond, where tomorrow I’ll join Ursula Duve and Kathy McGreavy as we lead a guided walk.

p-grasspink2

Our focus will be on orchids, such as the grass pink, which seems such a common name for this blooming beauty.

p-grass pink 1

The magenta flowers or Calopogons I spotted today are a wee bit off the boardwalk in the quaking bog, but even still I could see their showy formation with knobbed hairs on the upper lip. It is thought that the yellow crest on that lip imitates pollen, to attract pollen-seeking bees. But the real deal for orchids is that a collected mass of pollen grains are gathered together in a pollinium or anther lobe and thus deposited onto the bee’s abdomen.

p-rose pogonia 1

Rose pogonias were also blooming abundantly. In a way, their formation is opposite that of the grass-pink, with the fringed lower lip providing an attraction for pollinators.

p-pitcher leaf

Also on display as the water receded a wee bit despite a beaver dam on Muddy River–my favorite carnivorous pitcher plants with their urn-like leaves that serve as pit traps appeared quite robust.

p-pitcher flower

Carnivorous plants are orchid companions as they both prefer the bog habitat, like to fool their pollinators and are otherworldly beautiful. There is one aspect in which they differ–the orchids like to attract insects for pollination and the pitcher plants for nutrients. But first, the pitchers may use the insect as pollinators, thus fooling them into a visitation. Pollinators beware!

p-sundew

Equally seductive are the spatula-leaved sundews visible at the end of the quaking bog boardwalk. Until now, they’d been under water and difficult to see. The scent of sugary liquid on the leaf tips attracts unsuspecting insects who get stuck to the tentacles, which then curl inward and thus digest the nutrients from their prey. Again–beware.

p-trail sign

Orchids and their bog companions weren’t the only thing on view today.

p-painted turtle by Muddy River

When I stepped onto the short boardwalk to the Muddy River intent on hunting for dragonflies, I discovered a painted turtle sunning at the edge.

p-blue dasher 1

And then I found what I’d hoped–blue dashers dashed about, although occasionally one stopped so I could take a better look.

p-bluet love

And familiar bluets canoodled on a stem.

p-variable dancer

I discovered a female variable dancer damselfly on a small twig,

p-ebony jewelwing

a male ebony jewelwing fluttered and paused on red maple leaves,

p-flyby

and slaty blue dragonflies buzzed about Holt Pond in record-breaking speed.

p-slaty skimmer1

Finally, one stopped long enough for me to soak in its gray-blue color.

p-steeplebush

There were other flowers to enjoy as well, including the spirea,

p-swamp rose

swamp rose,

p-cranberry flowers

cranberry,

p-cowwheat

cow-wheat,

p-blue flag iris with hoverfly

and blue flag iris. If you look carefully, you may see a hoverfly following the runway on the left lobe.

p-blueberries ripening

I noticed blueberries beginning to turn blue,

p-cinnamon fern

cinnamon ferns with shriveled fertile fronds,

p-hobblebush leaves turning purple

and a few hobblebush leaves already taking on the fall shade of purple. Uh oh.

p-Holt Pond to the south

The wonders of Holt Pond . . .

p-Holt Pond west

never cease to amaze me.

p-quaking bog boardwalk

I hope that you can venture there yourself and discover your own Orchid-Maine-ia. Who knows what else you might notice along the way.

The Best Laid Plans

The opportunity was golden. Lakes Environmental Association’s Executive Director invited me to tag along with Dr. Rick Van de Poll as he conducted a Comprehensive Ecological Assessment at the Highland Lake Preserve. I couldn’t wait to be in Rick’s presence again, for he’s a walking naturalist encyclopedia. But . . . I’d been late in responding to an e-mail and didn’t know what time to meet him.

And so this morning I went in search. I located his truck parked just off the road at the northern end of the lake. I was certain I’d find him despite the fact that the preserve encompasses 325 acres and doesn’t have any trails.

h-Eastern pondhawk female 1

It does, however, have an old logging road that bisects the property.  At a sunny spot which had once served as a log landing, I realized I wasn’t alone. A female Eastern pondhawk dragonfly graced the airspace. Being a skimmer, she paused frequently so I could take a closer look at her markings and delight in her bright coloration.

h-Eastern Pondhawk 3

While her mate, whom I did not see, is powder blue, she was florescent green with black markings. And the stigmas toward the tip of her wings were pale brown. Did you know that Eastern pondhawks are known to be vicious predators and will even catch dragonflies similar in size–sometimes even other pondhawks? Wow!

h-turtle eggs

Because I spent long moments at the old landing, I noticed a pattern in the sandy substrate and followed it to a snapping turtle egg laying spot. Something, possibly a raccoon had done what they do best–dug up and eaten some of the eggs. My hope is that it didn’t get all of them. But what made me wonder was the location, for this location seemed a distance from the water. How far do snapping turtles travel to lay eggs?

h-hoverfly1

Also along the road, I periodically encountered hoverflies hovering. I’ve watched members of the species in my garden where they feed on nectar and pollen–known as nectaring. Hoverflies mimic the look of bees and wasps, but they don’t sting, which is good news.

h-snapper turtle sunning itself

Ever so slowly, with many pregnant pauses between movement, I made my way to the wetland that flows into the lake. And what should I spy? A snapping turtle sunning itself.

h-beaver lodge

As I listened to the chorus of bullfrogs and red-winged blackbirds, I also noted the beaver lodge. And I heard something in the water, but never determined what it was. Could it have been Rick? Maybe.

h-emerald jewelwing female 2

Following the shoreline, I suddenly found myself in the company of a female ebony jewelwing damselfly. She was absolutely gorgeous with her dark wings topped with white stigmas and green and bronze body.

g-porcupine den

Continuing on, a pile of scat under an old hemlock caught my attention (are you surprised?)–porcupine scat. I looked inside, but no one was home. In fact, it had been a while–maybe since winter that anyone had been in residence.

h-garter snake

At last it was time for me to head out of the preserve because I needed to head to Lovell for today’s start of the nature walk the Greater Lovell Land Trust provides each week for the Recreation Program. I made my way back to the logging road and followed it out. But again, along the way I was forced to pause. First, it was for a garter snake who I suspected was waiting for the sun to shine upon it. The snake never moved and I wondered if the leaves had served as a blanket and provided it a wee bit of warmth overnight.

h-Eastern pondhawk dining

And then I paused again to admire the pondhawk one more time and had the honor of seeing her catch an insect. I couldn’t tell what she was eating, though it looked like a large fly, but she gobbled it quickly.

I never did find Rick–my plans not being the best laid, but despite that I was tickled with my findings and knew it was time well spent. The opportunity was indeed golden.

 

 

Spotlight on the Brownfield Bog

When I drove to the Brownfield Bog, aka Major Gregory Sanborn Wildlife Management Area, this afternoon, my intention was to pay attention to the shrubs that grow there.

b-black swallowtail

But, as usual, the distractions were many and a black swallowtail landed as I stepped out of my truck.

b-ant on alder aphid

I did note a tremendous amount of wooly alder aphids coating the alder stems everywhere I walked. In fact, I’ve never seen so much fluff. And I found only one ant eager to milk the sweet honeydew produced by the aphids as they sucked the shrubs sap. Once in a while the white fluff danced in the breeze. Was it an aphid on the fly?

b-willow flowers

Or did it come from the willows that were in the process of sending their seeds forth into the future?

b-Northern Arrowwood

So you see, I was paying attention to the shrubs, especially those in flower like the Northern Arrowwood. There was another with a similar flowerhead, but different leaves and I need to return and spend more time studying it.

b-Pleasant Mountain 2

Because I was in the bog, I did pause occasionally to peer across its advance, usually with a view of my favorite mountain (Pleasant Mountain) providing the background.

b-chalk-fronted corporal 1

But the dragonflies live there. And the chalk-fronted corporals became my BFF, since as many as twenty lifted off with each step I took. They led me all the way down the trail and all the way back, usually a few feet in front.

b-dot-tailed white face 1

The corporals weren’t the only dragons of choice.

b-dot-spotted white face 2

Dot-tailed white face dragonflies were happy to pose.

b-calico pennant 1

And I even found a few calico pennants–happy to make their acquaintance again.

b-white gall on maleberry 2

Between dragon and damselfly opportunities, white globs and . . .

b-maleberry gall?1

green caught my attention. They were the size of apples and totally new to me. My thought right now is that they are galls, similar to the azalea gall, but these were on maleberry shrubs. If you know otherwise, I welcome your information.

b-bog view

The bog was swollen with water only a few weeks ago, but that story line has passed and life sprang from the spring like a fountain of youth.

b-damsel love 1

My noticing continued when I spied a couple of youthful damselflies . . .

b-damsel love 2

he’d attached himself below her . . .

b-damsel love 3

and ever so slowly advanced . . .

b-damsel love 4

until the circle of love was complete.

b-lady beetles canoodling

Canoodling of all kinds occurred.

b-dragonflies canoodling 2

Even the dragonflies tried to get in on the action.

b-dragonflies canoodling

She wasn’t very tolerant, however, and a couple of seconds later detached herself from her forward position and took off.

b-sedge sprite 1

I moved on, looking here and there and thrilling at the sight of the beautiful and iridescent sedge sprite damselfly.

b-river jewelwing

Following the trail to the Saco River, I found tracks galore in the muck below, and a river jewelwing–appropriately named.

b-Canada geese

As I headed out, I startled a Canada goose family that had been feeding along the edge.

b-ring necked and mountain

And then I paused for one last look at the bog and Pleasant Mountain.

b-ring-necked duck

That’s when I realized I was in the presence of a male ring-necked duck. If you like to bird, this is the place. I saw several but heard so many more. And even if I couldn’t apply a name to a song, I did enjoy the symphony that followed me throughout my adventure.

b-Kathy's bog sign

Though I said I went to look at the shrubs because I do want to learn them, my real reason for going was to see this new installment.

b-Kathy's sign up close

Maine Master Naturalist (and potter) Kathy McGreavy created this handmade and painted map of the bog for her capstone project. Her husband recently installed it and it’s a work of art worth looking at not only to appreciate Kathy’s talent, but also to learn more about the bog and those that call it home.

My hope is that the spotlight will continue to shine brightly on Kathy’s creation . . . made with love in honor of her bog.

Ain’t Lovell A Great Place To Be?

On my way to meet a few docents and the new interns for the Greater Lovell Land Trust this morning, a photo opp presented itself and I was forced to stop.

h-stan's sign

Stan Tupaj of Kezar Realty strikes me as the town cheerleader and I love to read his sign as I pass by. From time to time I’ve meant to photograph it, but somehow always seem to be in a rush to get to the next destination. But this morning I was a wee bit early and so this was the day.

h-heald sign

From there, I drove on to the Fairburn parking lot on Slab City Road where I planned to meet the crew.

h-green frog

Our goal was to walk to Otter Rock, not a far walk by any means, but it took us 1.5 hours to get there, such were the sights along the way, including a few green frogs in puddles along the trail. I know he’s a green frog and not a bull frog because he showed off a dorsal lateral fold along the sides of his back.

h-baby toad

While the green frogs were beside or in the water, the ground seemed to hop at our feet in dry places thanks to a kazillion baby American toads on the move.

h-Ellie and the baby toad

I noted that it seems the younger toads are in constant motion, while older and much chunkier ones pause and try to blend into their surroundings, allowing us to study them (and take photos–just saying). One of the younger members of our team, Ellie, proved me wrong as she charmed a young toad to stay still while she looked at it through her hand lens for several moments. It wasn’t until Ellie moved that the toad hopped away.

h-damselfly with eggs

While Ellie was the toad whisperer, her older brother Caleb wowed us with his ability to capture dragonflies and damselflies in a net, such as this one. As he held it high, he realized it was a she for there were eggs on her abdomen and so he gently released her–in hopes she’d find some vegetation on which to inject those tiny sacs.

h-keeping mosquitoes at bay

Their youngest brother, Wes, demonstrated the value of bracken ferns–which served as a fun hat to keep the mosquitoes at bay.

h1-Aidan

And it wasn’t until later that I realized I didn’t have a photo of Ellie’s other brother, Aidan, but I knew of one from a prior insect walk that showed his own curiosity.

h-grape fern

We looked at tons of plants as well and were all especially eager to re-greet the grape ferns that we knew grew there.

h-exoskeletons 2

At last we reached our destination, Otter Rock on Heald Pond, where we found what we had hoped for: exoskeletons decorated the landscape.

h-exoskeltons on shrub

Dragonflies lay egg clusters into sediments or tap small clumps directly onto the water’s surface. Each egg hatches into a small nymph, which grows until its ready to emerge as a flying adult. At that time, the nymph crawls to the surface, and ever so slowly, the adult pulls itself free of the exoskeleton. It’s the most amazing process to watch. But even if you don’t have that opportunity, just seeing the left over nymphal shells and knowing that the magic happened is worth a wonder.

h-exoskeletons on ground

We had to watch where we stepped, for the exoskeletons not only decorated the shrubs, but also the ground . . .

h-exoskeleton on tree

and even the trees.

h-widow skimmer

And then we began to notice newly emerged dragonflies like the widow maker on Otter Rock,

h-black-shouldered spinyleg

and black-shouldered spinyleg on the ground. We were afraid to step for everywhere our eyes focused, there was either an exoskeleton or a dragonfly drying its wings in preparation for a first flight.

h-chalk 5

As we looked about, Caleb spotted one struggling in the water, so he pulled it out.

h-chalk 4

Coated in a bit of pollen from the pond, it still clung to its exoskeleton.

h-chalk-fronted corporal 1

We watched for a few moments as it moved about, those wings slowly drying. I think my ID is right and this was a chalk-fronted corporal. At last it was time for us to draw our sense of wonder to a close and make our journey out.

h-meet the interns

But first, I asked our interns to pose–meet Hannah, Kelly and Dakota. Today was their first day of work and we probably overwhelmed the two guys a bit. Hannah was with us last year, so she knows our ways–that we walk slowly and look at everything. She gets it and we love that. We’re excited about the possibilities ahead. Join us for a GLLT walk or come to an evening talk and you’ll get to meet them.

h-heading out

Our walk out was much quicker, though we still stopped occasionally.

h-stan's sign

In the end, I have no doubt that we knew the answer to Stan’s question: Lovell IS a great place to be.