A “Fen-tastic” Afternoon

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

1-Into the jungle

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

1a-cinnamon fern

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

1b-hairy underarm

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

2-kettle

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

3-white face meadowhawk

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

4-white face meadowhawk abdomen markings

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

4b-autumn meadowhawk dragonfly

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

4c-autumn meadowhawk love

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

4c-dragonfly love everywhere

They weren’t alone.

7-kettle 2

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

5-mammal tracks

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

5a-racoon and bird tracks

Bird tracks also joined the mix among the raccoon prints.

6-six-spotted fishing spider

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

8-spatterdock leaves and root

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

9-another kettle

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

10-green teal ducks

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

11-bottoms up

Bottoms up!

12-my destination

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

13-cranberries

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

14-some nibbled cranberries

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

15-October colors layered

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

16-buttonbush

Buttonbush added its own color and texture to the scene.

17-finding my way out

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

18-royal fern fertile fronds

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

21-buttonbush galore, but more

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

22-two sandhill cranes

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

23-sandhill cranes

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

24-sandhill cranes

While they foraged for roots, another also watched.

25-great blue heron

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

29-bald eagle

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

30-cranes flew out

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

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

 

Speaking to the Future, Jinny Mae

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

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

1-Ambush Bug on Hydrangea

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

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

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

2-Ambush Bug

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

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

3-eye to eye with Ambush Bug

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

4-Tiger Moth Caterpillar

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

7-grasshopper 1

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

8-red-legged grasshopper

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

9-grasshopper

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

10-caterpillar scat

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

14-shield bug

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

15-shield bug

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

12a-shield bug eggs?

Depositing eggs.

13-shield bug eggs?

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

16-wasp within

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

16a-spider web

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

16b-web anchors

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

17-spiders

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

18-food in front

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

19-dining

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

21-dinner in hand

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

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

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

Our Home is Their Home

As I sit in my rocking chair on the camp porch, the cicadas still buzz, with chirps of crickets thrown into the mix and somewhere in the background a constant trill from another. Tree frog? Perhaps, but it seems to carry on for longer than usual. Grasshopper? Maybe. And then there is the occasional call of the loon.

1-camp

What truly attracted my attention earlier today, however, were the other members of the household. Whose home this is, I think I know. Or rather, I thought I did. I thought it belonged to my guy and me. But really, I should have known better for it has never just housed the two of us. There were the boys growing up, and family, and friends, and renters, even. Actually, the latter three knew it before the boys. (Oops, I suppose I should call them young men, mid-twenty-somethings that they now are.)  But, through all these years, it has also housed many others. And so today, I got acquainted with some of its other residents. Rather than the mammals that we know also share the space, e.g. mice, squirrels, and bats, it was the insects and arachnids that I checked out.

2-cicada exuviae

My first find along the foundation was an exuvia of one I listen to day and night–that of a cicada. In their larval stage, cicadas live down to eight feet underground. When the time comes to metamorphose into winged adults, they dig to the surface, climb up something, in this case the foundation, and molt. The  emerging winged insects leave behind their shed skin, aka abandoned exoskeleton or exuvia. It’s a rather alien looking structure, with the split obvious from which the adult emerged.

3-cruiser 1

The cicadas weren’t the only aliens along our foundation. It seemed like every few feet I discovered a dragonfly exuvia dangling from the porch floor and now encased in spider webs.

3b-cruiser

One of the cruiser exuviae had dropped to the ground below. But still the structure remained intact. And I now realize that my next task is to head out the door once again in the morning and collect these beauties, the better to understand their nuances.

4-cruiser hiding

I found cruisers hiding under the logs . . .

6-cruiser and cast off spider

and even one tucked in by a basement window that had a shed spider exoskeleton dangling from it.

6a-lancet clubtail dragonfly

There were others as well, but nowhere did I find the exuvia of the one with whom I’ve spent the most time, Sir Lance(t) Clubtail. I suspect his shed skin is attached to some aquatic vegetation for he spends so much of his time by the water, even today, pausing only briefly to rest on the dock ladder.

7-bag worms and pupal case of a pine sawfly

There were other species to meet, including the most interesting of structures, those of the evergreen bagworm cases. I assumed that the young had already emerged, but their homes consisted of material from the trees on which they fed, e.g. pine needles. They struke me as the terrestrial form of the aquatic caddisflies.

And beside the two bagworms was a small, rounded brown case–the pupal case of a pine sawfly. The sawfly had already pupated and in this case no one was home.

8-pine sawfly caterpillar on screen

Oh, but they were and have been for a few weeks. I first realized we had an infestation when what sounded like the drip-drop pattern of a summer rain on a perfectly sunny day turned out to be little bits of green caterpillar frass falling from the trees. Everything was decorated. And then I began to notice the caterpillars–many falling out of trees and landing on the surrounding vegetation, and the house. As would be expected, they climbed toward the sky, hoping, I suppose, to reach the top of the trees. Good luck with that.

9-pine sawfly caterpillars

Some didn’t make it above the foundation, where they encountered spider webs and soon had the juices sucked out of them. Such is life. And today, a winter flock of birds including chickadees, nuthatches, goldfinches, hairy woodpeckers, young robins, and even a brown creeper flew in and some fine dining took place. The raindrops have nearly ceased.

10-Northern Pine Sphinx

That wasn’t the only pine-eating caterpillar to make its home here. On the chimney, I found a northern pine sphinx caterpillar moving full speed ahead.

11-orbweaver

And around the bend, where the chimney meets the camp, an orbweaver spinning some silk in the hopes of fine dining.

14a-calico pennant dragonfly in web

One meal had obviously been consumed–a calico pennant dragonfly. I’d seen a few of those on the vegetation a few weeks ago, but none recently. Apparently, one flew too close to the building. The only way I could ID it was by its wings for the head, thorax and abdomen had been eaten. But the wings have no nutritional value.

11a-Northern Pine Sphinx 2

A short time later I returned to the chimney in hopes of locating the northern pine sphinx caterpillar again. I did. And he wasn’t. He’d apparently turned the sharp corner on the chimney and met his fate.

13- Northern Sphinx 4

Eye to eye. I’m amazed at the size of the insects that find their way to her web. It’s not like they are attracted to it. Instead, they come upon it quite by surprise and she makes fast work of their mistake.

14-pine tree spur-throated grasshopper

Rounding the corner back toward the porch door, one last insect drew my attention. And again, it was related to the pines, such is the local community: a pine tree spur-throated grasshopper on one of the logs that forms the outer wall of our wee home.

Our home is their home and we’re happy to share the space with them. Provided, of course, that they leave space for us to live as well. So far, all is well.

 

Dying To Get In

When I told my guy that Connie was taking me to Evergreen Cemetery in Portland today, he gave me a questioning look and asked, “Why?”

‘Why not?” I responded.

But really, it was because both she and I have friends who have posted incredible photographs of the natural world that is part of the cemetery and we wanted to discover what it was all about.

e1-evergreen cemetery

At first glance, Evergreen Cemetery may look like Anytown Cemetery for it features gravestones, memorials and tombs throughout. But . . . as we read on a panel near the entrance: “Established by the city in 1854, the cemetery was designed by Charles H. Howe as a rural landscape with winding carriage paths, ponds, footbridges, gardens, a chapel, funerary art, and sculpture. It also includes extensive wooded wetlands. Evergreen was modeled after America’s first rural cemetery, Mount Auburn in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The cemetery, the second-largest publicly-owned open space in the City at 239 acres, has been host to a variety of wildlife such as geese, ducks, pheasants, swans, turtles, blue heron, fox, mink, deer, and moose. Its spaciousness combined with old growth pine and oak, vegetation, ponds, and surrounding wetland, provides a true wildlife oasis. It is considered a premier birdwatching sanctuary. Maine Audubon utilizes the cemetery for field trips, to include their annual Warbler Weeks conducted in May. Evergreen Cemetery is also a wonderful location to enjoy the vibrant colors of fall foliage in Maine.

e2-sunburst lichen

We didn’t actually spend much time exploring the cemetery itself, though that would be fun to do on a return trip, but as we waited for Connie’s friend Linda to join us, we did look at a few gravestones and were especially enamored with the sunburst lichen that lightened a stone gray morning.

e3-male mallard

Linda was only a few minutes behind us and then we all traveled to the back end of the cemetery, where the Mallards stopped us in our tracks. While you might ask why, remember that we are women of wonder and wonder we did: about his iridescent head,

e4-famale mallard

her lack of ducklings despite four attentive males,

e5-mrs. mallard

why their feet were orange,

e6-duck tweed

and the tweedy pattern of their feathers.

e7-ducklings

And then we spied a couple of other females with ducklings, this one standing tall as she allowed her youngsters to explore.

e7-chipping sparrow

They weren’t the only ones exploring–a Chipping Sparrow was doing the same, though it was almost impossible to see given that it blended in so well with its surroundings.

e8-black swallowwort

At last we pulled ourselves away from the ducks and our view of the car, and started down a trail where flowers and leaves made us take note. Last year, I first met the dark maroon flowers of Black Swallowwort, an invasive. Diminutive and pretty, it was difficult to dismiss them, especially when juxtaposed as they were against a sensitive fern frond.

e9-ragged-robin

Connie introduced us to another invasive that she immediately recognized as Ragged-robin. Linda and I were wowed by the pink petals, irregularly cleft.

e10-sunburned oak meat

The natural community kept changing and suddenly we found ourselves under a power line where dried spaghnum moss made us wonder if the land was typically wet. And then we saw something red, and the discarded outer shells nearby spoke to its source. It was the “meat” of an acorn, the red being its “sunburned” presentation.

e11-oak setting root

The evolution of an oak tree–it begins with an acorn.

e12-song sparrow

In the same opening, we watched several Song Sparrows move among the shrubs, and then one paused to serenade us.

e13-song sparrow

Upon finishing, it waited as if for our applause.

e14-arrowwood viburnum

Before moving on, we had one more plant to ID. Thanks to iNaturalist, Connie informed us that it was Arrowwood Viburnum. While we appreciated its umbel of flowers and large-toothed leaves, one stem in particular drew our attention. In a symbiotic relationship, ants stroked brownish-red aphids with their antennae, while the aphids released drops of honeydew sucked from the stem. The process was much like a cow being milked. It was actually rather creepy, but wicked cool and all three of us used a loupe to take a closer look.

e15-American honeysuckle

Back along a woodland trail we continued, again stopping periodically to take in the sights, ask questions, and appreciate our surroundings. Among our finds we discovered the newly forming fruits of a native honeysuckle.

e16-beaked hazelnut

We also rejoiced when we encountered the beaked fruits of Beaked Hazelnut.

e17-mallards

At last we’d completed a short loop, and found ourselves drawn in again by the Mallards, both young and old.

e19-snapping turtle

But then our eyes focused on other residents in the shallow water.

e20-ducks and turtle

And we feared that we’d witness a snapping turtle devour a duckling. We kept encouraging mama to move her kids out of the way.

e21-3 turtles

Especially when we realized the pond was full of snappers and they all seemed focused on swimming to the same focal point.

e22-injured duck

But mamma took her time and let the kids roam freely. We did realize that she had an injured foot or leg and moved with a hop, which added to our anxiety. I also felt a certain affinity with her, given my current one-armed bandit situation due to a broken wrist that is slowly healing. Here’s hoping that she heals as well.

e22-mouth open

As we watched the drama play out before us, we noted two adult ducks hanging out under some alders beside the shore. Suddenly, a snapper approached them quickly and opened his mouth wide. Was he exhibiting aggressive behavior?

e23-mouth closing

We weren’t sure, but as suddenly as he’d approached, he closed his mouth and turned away.

e18-ducklings all in a row

We noticed that turning away was typical turtle behavior. They seemed to get within a couple of feet of the ducks and then turn. Why? We were, however, glad when momma got her ducklings all in a line and moved on.

e25-green heron

We, too, moved on . . . a few more feet toward the car. And then we stopped again to check on the action in the pond. That’s when a Green Heron flew in.

e26-green heron

He was also looking for lunch, though we never saw him succeed in his search.

e27-turtle wars

We did see the ducks and turtles again. And our turtle questions continued for we noticed that they would gather and then one would go after another and the water would boil. An act of aggression? Or a mating ritual?

e28-turtle face

We didn’t have all the answers, but one thing we knew–we’re dying to get into the cemetery again.

 

Prehistoric Lovell

It only takes a few minutes of time to realize that Lovell, Maine, like all other New England towns, is rich in history–both human and natural. And though we may be able to assign dates to certain events that shaped the town, there are reminders in our midst that predate our understanding.

p3-white admiral

Think about it. According to the American Museum of Natural History’s website, our knowledge of “Butterfly origins is based on the study of living Lepidopteran species. We can often learn about evolution from the fossil record, but there are relatively few butterfly fossils. Those that do exist, like the 40-million-year-old Prodryas persophone, are remarkably similar to modern-day forms—so the fossil record sheds little light on the origin of today’s butterflies.

Many scientists think that the specialized association between today’s butterflies and flowering plants suggests that butterflies developed during the Cretaceous Period, often called the “Age of Flowering Plants,” 65 million to 135 million years ago—a time when dinosaurs also roamed the earth.”

And there I was this afternoon at the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve admiring a White Admiral, Limenitis arthemis.

p4-white admiral

In quiet reflection above Heald Pond, one seemed to contemplate life. A cool fact about this butterfly is that rather than seeking nectar, the White Admiral is known to extract much of the water and nutrients it requires from mammal scat. Though I didn’t see one on scat today, I knew that the we shared a special connection–scat, after all, happens and has done so since the beginning of time.

p7-dragonfly exuvia

And then there were the dragonflies that may have been older than even the dinosaurs. Certainly by the structure of the exuvia left behind once they emerge, one gets a sense of that ancient time.

p5-chalk-fronted

Today’s great finds at H&B included male Chalk-fronted Corporals that followed me everywhere,

p9-female chalk-fronted

and their occasional female counterparts.

p4-lancet club

There were plenty of Lancet Clubtails,

p6-racket-tailed emerald

and even a Racket-tailed Emerald.

p10-female common whitetail

In keeping with the same theme at the Kezar River Reserve, I spied a female Common Whitetail–which was anything but common,

p11-female and male ebony jewelwings

and atop bracken ferns a female (note her white dots) and male Ebony Jewelwing Damselfly.

Again, the earliest fossils of the Odonata so far discovered come from Upper Carboniferous sediments formed about 325 million years ago. The group of fast-fliers represented by the fossils went extinct about the time of dinosaurs, and yet today we have their relatives to admire.

Even the bracken fern on which the jewelwings paused spoke to an earlier time when it stood much taller than today’s three feet.

p12-snapping turtle

And then on my way home it was a dragon of a different sort that made me stop on a bridge, put the truck in reverse, park it and hop out. The snapping turtle may look much older than all the other species I encountered today, but it has haunted our wetlands for only 90 million years. A young’un in this neck of the woods.

p13-snapper's nails

These critters were the most intimidating, however, as noted by those claws,

p14-snapper's tail

that tail,

p16-snapper's face 1

and its snout.

p16-snaper's wink

Despite that, we shared a wink . . .

p15-snapper's face

and then each went our own way.

The next time you step outside, whether in your backyard or on a land trust property, be sure to pay reverence to those that have brought a prehistoric time closer to home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ayes Have It

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

e1-northern flicker

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

e2-flicker feeding

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

e4-tachinid fly

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

e8-long-legged fly

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

e7-green and brown stink bug

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

e8-stink bug eyes

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

e9a-song sparrow

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

e7a

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

e11-slug eyes

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

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

e11a-spider eyes

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

e11-ebony jewelwing

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

e12-barred owl

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

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

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

 

 

 

Hunkered Down

Three nor’easters in two weeks. Such is March in New England. The latest delivered over twenty inches of snow beginning yesterday morning. And still the flakes fall.

p-chickadee

But staying inside all day would be much too confining and so I stretched my legs for a few hours before giving my arms another workout with driveway cleanup duty. It was much more fun to explore and listen to the chickadees sing.

p-snow on trees

There are a few places in our woods that I find myself stopping to snap a photo each time a snowstorm graces our area. The stand of pines with their trunks snow coated was one such spot yet again. And tomorrow the scene will transform back to bare trunks and so it was one I was happy to behold in the moment.

p-snow on limbs

As was the older pine that grows beside a stonewall along the cowpath and perhaps served as the mother and grandmother of all the pines in my forest–bedecked in piles of flakes, her arms reached out as if to embrace all of her offspring.

p-snow on insulators

With the snow so deep, I felt like a plow as I powered through under the insulated insulators.

p-snow on park sign

Finally, I reached one of the entryways to Pondicherry Park and while I love being the first of the day to leave my mark, I’d secretly hoped someone had trudged before me. But . . . a few steps at a time meant taking frequent breaks to rest and look around.

p-snow on tree trunk

Again, it was the snow’s manner of hugging tree trunks that drew my awe.

p-snow on tree trunk 2

Sometimes it reminded me of giant caterpillars climbing into the canopy.

p-snow on roots

Even the roots of a downed tree took on an artistic rendition.

p1-snow on bittersweet

And that most invasive of species in these woods, bittersweet, offered curves worth appreciating–ever so briefly, of course.

p-snow on fences

Snow blanketed fences of stone and wood.

p-snow on bridge

Enhanced the bridge.

p-snow on bench

And buried a bench.

p-Stevens Brook

Beside Stevens Brook, it looked as if winter still had a grasp though we’re about to somersault into spring.

p-snow on trees reflected

And the reflection in Willet Brook turned maples into birches.

p-kneeland spring

At Kneeland Spring, water rushed forth in life-giving form and the sound was one we’ll soon hear everywhere as streams and brooks overflow.

p-mallards 1

I went not to see just the snow in its many variations, but also the wildlife. I found that like me, the squirrels and deer had tunneled through leaving behind troughs. And the ducks–they didn’t seem at all daunted by the mounds of white stuff surrounding them.

p-mallards 2

In fact, one female took time to preen.

p-mourning dove

I found mourning doves standing watch.

p-Robin

And heard robins singing.

p-snow spider

And because I spent a fair amount of time looking down, I began to notice life by my feet, such as the snow spider–an indicator that the thermometer was on the rise. It lives in the leaf litter, but when the temp is about 30˚ or so, it’s not unusual to see one or more. Today, I saw several. And wished I had my macro lens in my pocket, but had decided to travel light.

p-winter stonefly

Winter stoneflies were also on the move. They have an amazing ability to avoid freezing due to the anti-freeze in their systems.

p-winter dark firefly 2

I also found a winter dark firefly. While the species is bioluminescent, I’m not sure if this one was too old or not to still produce light.

p1-snow on me

At last the time had come for me to head home for not only was the snow still falling, but so was the sky–or so it felt each time a clump hit my head as it fell from the trees.

p-final photo

We’ve got snow! In fact, we’ve got snows! And in reference to a question an acquaintance from Colorado had asked yesterday–“Are you hunkered down?” My answer was, “No, Jan, I’m not. Nor is the world around me. In fact, except for the shoveling, I relish these storms as winter holds on for just a wee bit longer.”