Whetting Our Apatite

Our hunger is never satisfied each time we gather. We always manage to see more, share more and learn more because of our combined knowledge. We also always come away with questions. And so it was this afternoon when about ten of my Maine Master Naturalist Lewiston classmates and I gathered with two of the programs founders, Dorcas Miller and Fred Cichocki, to explore a public park in Auburn, Maine.

a1a-looking at trees

From the get go, we bounced back and forth along the trail to look at the idiosyncrasies of trees and chat about the book, A Beginner’s Guide to RECOGNIZING Trees of the NORTHEAST.

a1-red maple target fungus

And as they should, teachable moments kept presenting themselves, including a prime example of the bull’s eye target fungus on red maple bark. Suddenly, those who hadn’t quite seen the target in an earlier specimen had the opportunity to meet it and I trust they will recognize it going forward.

a2-slime mold

As much as we zigzagged down the trail, we also bounced off of each other as we shared our knowledge. Because we all suffer from Nature Distraction Disorder, and have the tendency to travel at a slower than slow pace, it was no surprise that a stop to look at a fungus closer to the ground meant that one of us noticed a slime mold in the crevasses of pine bark. A poke with a finger nail and the spores oozed out.

a2a-approaching the mines

There were mosses to look at. Ferns to recognize. Lichens to question. And a trench that probably had been used to drain water back in the day.

a3-Dr Fred

Just beyond the trench, the star of the show took over. Dr. Fred was in his element as he reviewed the geological history of this place.

a21

And when he talks, we listen.

a4- Greenlaw quarry 1

We had come upon the first of the quarries, where feldspar had been mined in the early 1900s for porcelain. But, as Fred explained, while mining the feldspar, rare and unusual minerals had been discovered including a phosphate mineral called apatite.

a6a-Maine Feldspar Quarry

From there, we circled down and around and looked across at the Maine Feldspar Quarry.

a6-Maine Feldspar quarry

We learned from Fred that the wall of the feldspar quarry was a demonstration of light-colored pegmatite just above the water, topped by gray metamorphic rock.

a8-basalt dyke

Next, we encountered a fractured wall of fine-grained basalt–an igneous vein that formed a dyke.

a9-basalt:iron

Basalt is fine-grained due to the molten rock cooling too quickly for large mineral crystals to grow. Typically, it’s gray to black in color with rust from iron oxidation.

a12-another quarry

From there we moved on to another quarry, where our attention was not so much focused on the rocks as on other things.

a13-squirrel cache

For deep within, we spied several red squirrel caches and dining tables. Later, we watched a chipmunk take advantage of the squirrel’s work. Minerals aren’t the only gems of choice at this place.

a14-labyrinth

As we made our way around to a quarry dump, we discovered a labyrinth that made its way around the pine trees. I followed it to the center–struck by the fact that we were examining rocks dating back to the Carboniferous period, and I was walking a path based on an ancient archetype dating back 4,000 years. Time. Worth a wonder.

a15-tourmaline 1

In the dump field, we scattered about looking for souvenirs and then paused at a boulder to examine its offerings.

a16-tourmaline crystal

On the back side, Fred pointed out several depressions where tourmaline crystals had been discovered and removed. We were awed.

a20-graphic granite

There was so much to see from milky and smoky quartz to feldspar, mica and garnet, but my favorite find was more graphic.

a17-graphic granite

Graphic granite–a pegmatite of igneous origin that splits in such a way to make it look as if stories have been expressed with a fountain pen. In this case, I was sure the story was about birds flying over mountains.

The quarries were our turn-around point. We had begun our adventure with plans to visit them quickly, then explore the outer trails of the park, but as we knew would happen, two and half hours later we’d only made our way to the quarries and it was time to head out because the sun was sinking.

That didn’t matter for happy were we to spend time exploring together and whetting our naturalist appetites at Mount Apatite.

 

For the Benefit of All

Living in an area where five land trusts protect land for us and the species with whom we share the Earth strikes me as a valuable reflection of who we are and where we live. Land trusts work with community members to acquire land for permanent conservation through purchases and donations. They also create legal and binding conservation easements that allow residents to protect land holdings in perpetuity, while retaining private ownership. Scenic views, wildlife corridors, flora and fauna, and topography remain, subject only to the whims of nature itself, which is ever-changing.

m1-first lodge

One of the biggest re-designers of the landscape is the beaver. And this afternoon, Jinny Mae and I ventured onto land owned by a friend and under conservation easement by the Greater Lovell Land Trust, to see what changes may have occurred in the past two months since we last visited.

First, we tramped off a logging road and checked on a lodge that was active two years ago. Today, the water level was low and there was no sign of activity. And so we continued on.

m2-pipsissewa

As we climbed up a small incline we stumbled upon a large patch of pipsissewa and had to celebrate our find.

m5-hexagonal pored fungi upperside

Back on the logging road, a tree brought down by one of nature’s recent whims introduced us to a fungi we had not met before–or at least as long as we could remember. And once we saw the underside, we were sure we would have remembered it.

m4-hexagonal-pored

Hexagonal-pored polypore (Polyporus alveolaris) caused us to emit at least six ohs and ahs.

m6-grape fern

Our next discovery–a grape fern. Actually, more than one grape fern once our eyes keyed in on them.

m7-checkered rattlesnake plantain

And then the checkered rattlesnake plantain; and again, once we spied one, we noticed that a whole patch shared the space. We just needed to focus for their presence was subtle amidst the brown leaves.

m8-bees nest 1

Before we met a snake of another kind, Jinny Mae spotted honey combs on the ground.

m8-excavation site

A look about and the realization that a raccoon or skunk had probably excavated the nest.

m9-snake liverwort

And then we met that other snake. You see, the last time we walked this property, we did see a garter snake. As we began our wander today, we commented that there would be no snakes or toads. But . . . we were wrong. This second snake was a snakeskin liverwort (Conocephalum salebrosum). For us, this was a second in another way for it was our second sighting of the species. Maybe now that we are aware of it, we’ll notice it growing in other places. We do know that its preferred habitat is wet or damp.

m10-umbilicate lichen?

In the same area, but across the brook in a place that we couldn’t reach today due to high water, we saw what looked like an umbilicate lichen, aka rock tripe. The color and substrate threw us off and so we’ll just have to visit again for further study. (“Oh drats!” they said with a smile.)

m11-beaver 1

The liverwort and mystery lichen were our turn-around point. On our way back, we decided to follow the water because we were curious. And within minutes our curiosity was appeased. The beavers we’d suspected might be casually active two months ago, had become incredibly active.

m12-beaver 2

Statue . . .

m13-beaver 3

upon statue . . .

m19-beaver 6

upon statue . . .

m20-beaver 7

upon statue announced their presence. And we acknowledged the fact that they have to turn their heads to scrape off the bark.

m14-beaver 4

Any trees that hadn’t been hauled away had been downed and gnawed upon in situ.

m15-beaver 5

It looked as if this one was a more recent dining adventure for there were wood chips upon the thin layer of ice and a hole showing were the diners had entered and exited the refectory.

m16-oak leaf and ice

Because of the ice, we noted other works of art worth admiring.

m18-lungwort 2

And occasionally, our downward gaze turned upward when we spied trees covered in lungwort worthy of notice.

m21-beaver 8

But really, it was the beaver works that we celebrated the most.

m23-beaver 10

And the fact that thanks to the beavers we learned that the inner bark or cambium layer of a red maple is . . . red.

m23a--not all cuts work in the beavers favor

No matter where we looked, in addition to recent windstorms, the beavers had changed the landscape. The curious thing is that most often the trees landed in the direction of the water, making it easier for them to enjoy their chews of inner bark and twigs in a relatively safe environment, but occasionally, hang ups occurred. And that brought about the question, how is it that most trees are felled toward the water? But not all?

m23a--lodge

While our focus was on the trees along the shoreline, we also kept admiring the water view as well.

m24-lodge

And noted the most recent activity at this particular beaver lodge, including a mud coating to insulate it for the winter.

m28-welcome flag on lodge

We also appreciated that a welcome sign blew in the breeze–in the form of an evergreen branch.

m29-otter scat

And where one finds water and beavers, there are otters. We knew of their presence by the scat left behind in a trail well traveled. Several times we found examples of the same.

m31-main channel open

As the sun lowered while we approached the beaver dam, we quietly hoped to see North America’s largest rodents at work, but settled for sky reflections on water and ice. And the knowledge that by their works and sign, we trusted they were present.

m32-dam1

At last we reached the dam, an expansive one at that. It’s in great shape and so no time had been wasted repairing it. That’s a good thing given that a few flurries floated earthward on this day that felt like winter. There’s food to gather and a home to prepare so work must be efficient.

m33-dam other side

Water trickled through in a few places and ice formed, but the infinity pool created by the dam continued to exist.

m34-brook

And below, the water flowed on–to other beaver dams and otter adventures we were sure. For Jinny Mae and me, our adventure needed to draw to a close. But . . . we made plans to explore again in a few months to see what changes may have occurred–with land owner permission, of course.

As we walked out, we gave thanks for the owners and their appreciation of the landscape and those that call it home today and tomorrow.

From the land comes food and water that benefits the critters who live here and us. It also offers us good health when we take the time to embrace it by exploring, exercising and just plain playing outdoors.

Protection is key. So is education, which develops understanding and appreciation. I know for myself, my relationship with the landscape continues to evolve.

I’m thankful for the work being done to protect the ecosystem. There’s so much I still don’t understand, but with each nugget of knowledge gained, the layers build. Maybe someday I’ll get it. Maybe I never will. Either way, I’m happy for the chance to journey and wonder on properties owned by land trusts and individuals.

Even though we can’t all endow the future of our properties, we can get involved to ensure that these organizations continue to protect land for future generations of humans and wildlife so it will remain in its natural state for the benefit of all.

 

Through Younger Eyes

Zigzagging through the woods, my young friends find wonder in every moment. They embrace their discoveries–often with exclamations and excitement. Following the blazed trail is not in their blood, for they know that some of the coolest finds are off trail, where the fungi aren’t trampled and mammal signs not obliterated.

w-striped ledge

And so it was that this past week, I had the honor of spending lots of time exploring with them. First, on Tuesday, our Greater Lovell Land Trust docent tramp found us atop the “striped ledge” beside Keewaydin Lake in Stoneham, Maine. One of our docents, Mary, had obtained landowner permission for this grand adventure. From the Maine Geological Survey: “The dikes cutting the granite trend generally from southwest to northeast. They most likely intruded the host rock during the Jurassic period, when continental rifting caused extensive fracturing of New England’s bedrock (McHone 1992). Basaltic magma intruded these cracks, and cooled and solidified to form dikes such as those seen in Striped Ledge. Close examination of the ledge shows a complex intrusion history at this locality Some of the dikes have layering parallel to their walls, which may have resulted from several pulses of magma into the fractures and/or chilling of the dike margins in contact with cooler host rock . . . the dikes locally cross one another, with the older dikes being offset where they are torn apart by the younger ones.” How cool is that?

w-smiling for rosy quartz

Darn cool, especially when rose quartz was among the great finds.

w-rock hounds

And in that instant, a few rock hounds were initiated.

w-turning two twigs into a fish

When not looking at rocks, a couple of broken twigs on the ledge became a fish in one moment, and hotdog tongs in another–ever versatile were they.

w-eyeing a flower in rock tripe

But it wasn’t the ledge alone that drew their attention. When we stopped to admire rock tripe growing atop a boulder, it was the eye of the youth that discovered the green “flower” at the center.

w-Sucker Brook 2

And then the next morning, which dawned even colder than the previous, I joined the same family for a pre-hike at the GLLT’s Wilson Wing Moose Pond Bog Preserve as we prepared for a public hike. The trail meanders beside Sucker Brook, and we, too, meandered.

w-dipping into the cold for a Pooh stick

Pooh sticks were launched periodically and sometimes had to be dislodged.

w-wondering about foam

There were bubbles to watch in the brook and the foam formed to hypothesize about.

w-stump art

Nature’s artistic designs were viewed with awe.

w-pointing to hobblebush

The intention was to find a few of their favorite things. They found a few hundred and  . . .

w-seesaw

had lots of fun along the way.

w-exploring the stream

All the way along, the water, moss-covered rocks and sticks became part of their playground. But really, they also noted a variety of fungi, including their favorite green stain, which was in fruit,  a tree that had brought distress this summer for it housed honeybees and they learned that the hard way, great sliding spots from which to practice being river otters, the sunlight glittering on Moose Pond Bog and Indian pipes in their capsule form. There were sapsucker holes, pileated woodpecker activity, birch polypores, and even a surprise. They couldn’t wait for the public hike to show off their discoveries.

l-measuring diameter 4

That same afternoon, District Forester Shane Duigan, joined our GLLT after-school program at New Suncook School in Lovell. The Trailblazers, as the group is known, first introduced Shane to their trees. And then he showed us some of the tools stored in his vest, such as the tape measure used to determine diameter.

w-learning how to age a tree

As the kids made guesses about a tree’s age, Shane demonstrated how foresters use an increment borer to extract a small core from a tree.

l-counting rings on tree core

They crowded in to watch him count its rings. The predicted age: 100. The actual age: 50. The fun: 100%.

w-Horseshoe Pond

And then this morning dawned, colder than our previous outings and the wind created white caps on Horseshoe Pond below the kiosk for the Wilson Wing Moose Pond Bog Preserve. It was time for our public walk to enjoy the wonders of Wilson Wing.

w-ice 1

One of the biggest surprises were the icicles that had formed on Sucker Brook since our last visit on Wednesday morning.

w-carrot-shaped icycle

And because they are kids, they couldn’t resist gathering such to admire up close. This one looked like a carrot, and actually appeared so as it reflected the blaze orange–our color of the season.

w-ice 2

The kids realized that the icicles formed upon all types of vegetation and created their own interesting shapes worth celebrating.

w-ice 3

One even looked like a flag blowing in the breeze when turned upright, and this guy showed it to his mom in honor of her service in the Army and the fact that today is Veterans Day. Turned on its side, it became a maze game and he really wanted to place a small ball in it and watch the ball move through. And as much as he wanted to take it home, it has to live on in his mind’s eye and this photograph.

w-wondering about the car

They showed us so many things of nature, and even the unnatural, though they imagined all the critters for which the old blue car might create a fine home–squirrels, weasels, porucpines, foxes, and coyotes were on their list. And then they turned into otters themselves and slide back down the hill over and over again.

w-polypody 1

They wanted to share some other great finds, including a few squirrel dining tables and a rock with bad hair day, but the crowd had gotten ahead of them. Despite that, they looked at the “bad hair day” fern, aka polypody, and realized that it had curled in since Wednesday’s visit. And then they figured out that the fern curls when it gets cold. Who knew you could use a fern to determine the temperature?

w1-artist conks

Though they didn’t get to share all of their finds this morning, they did make some new discoveries as they wandered off trail, like the artists conks that grew in abundance.

w1-dead man's fingers

And deadman fingers fungi that reminded one of them of scat standing upright. I’ve a feeling that description will stay with me each time I look at it going forward.

w-bear hair 1

In what seemed like no time, for we traveled the trail much faster than intended, we were back on Horseshoe Pond Road and one among us was particularly excited about a certain display upon pole 13. She ran ahead to be able to show all the participants as they passed by.

w-bear hair on pole 13

It was bear hair and scratch marks that she shared with enthusiasm. And the knowledge that we are not alone in these woods.

And just after that one of her brothers realized our walk was almost over and he was disappointed for so much fun had he had being a junior docent.

w-Sarah signing my book

A few hours later, my guy and I ventured to The Met Coffee House and Gallery in North Conway to meet up with another who encourages children and their adults to explore the outdoors. It was our great joy to join my dear friend, Sarah Frankel, for the first book signing event as she celebrated the publishing of Half Acre.

w-posing by an uprooted tree

And now it’s the end of the day and the end of the week, and I’m a better person because of the time I’ve spent with young friends as they’ve moved quickly at times and then stopped to wonder. They taught me the joy of looking with open minds.

If you don’t have kids to learn with and from, may you find time to channel your inner child and look at the world through younger eyes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday School

After church this morning, I stepped out the door, passed through openings in a couple  of stonewalls and then down the cowpath, crossed the power line, and ventured into my smiling place. It had been more than several months since I’d pushed the hemlocks aside to enter for it’s a wetland and woodland filled with growth that can make it difficult to meander through without snowshoes. But before winter arrives, I wanted to take a peek and learn what I could along the way.

o-oak saplings

My lessons started early as I noted a couple of red oak saplings growing in the hollow of an old tree stump, their color reminiscent of the Christmas season. Last year’s mast crop (and another for some oak trees this year) meant a plentiful supply of food for weevils, little brown things, squirrels, turkeys and deer. And yet, not all were consumed and so they sprouted. Now my plan will be to wait and watch–and wonder which of this array actually will win the race to adulthood.

o-huge squirrel cache 1

A little bit further into the woods, I spied a huge cache of white pine cones. This made my heart sing, for I love to keep on eye on big caches such as this and watch as they get whittled down over the course of the winter.

o-pine cones up close

While I stood there admiring the work of the red squirrel who’d filled its larder presumably when the cones were green (and by the way, these cones are two years old, for it takes two years for them to mature atop the pine trees), I thought about the sap that coats them in white. Though the sap is drier now, does it get stuck to their feet. I know that when I come in from a walk through a pine forest, I have sap on my soles, and attached to that may be pine needles or dried leaves. Is it the same for a squirrel? If so, does it wear off like that on my boots? It must because I’ve never seen it on their feet.

o-pine on the cob 1

And what about as they work on their pine-on-the-cobs? Does the sap on the scales come off on  their lips or teeth–much like when we eat something sticky and gooey like peanut butter?

o-pine seeds

It’s a lot of work to get to the two tiny seeds tucked within each scale. They look to be about an inch long, but most of that is the wing (think maple samara). When the weather is warm and dry, pine cone scales open to release the seeds. The squirrel who’d hoarded the stash, had plucked the cones when they were still green and atop the tree–dropping them to the forest floor before they opened so he’d have plenty to eat. And then he had to gather all that he’d dropped into the piles. And now I can’t wait for the coming months–to watch the pile dwindle and middens grow; to see the tunnels he makes in the snow; and just maybe to sit quietly nearby and watch him in action. He was a bit peeved that I was poking about today and let me know with so many chirrs from a branch nearby.

o-porky den?

I finally moved on and saw an uprooted tree I’ve visited on previous occasions. Last year I followed porcupine tracks to this very spot and spied porky within. But when I checked on later occasions, it didn’t seem as if he’d returned. Today, I peeked in and saw water. Even though it looked like a grand home to me, I’m learning that porky knows best.

o-walking in a hemlock grove

At times, I moved quietly upon the duff under the hemlock trees. Frequently, I stopped to listen and look.

o-cinnamon fern leaves1

And then in an opening, I was again in the wet zone where the cinnamon ferns grew abundantly. In curled formation, their leaves added interest to the landscape and a bit of a crunch to my footsteps.

o-cinnamon fern 2

And piled as they were surrounding each plant, I thought back to the pinecone cache. This was food of a different kind, for those leaves will decompose over the winter and nourish the earth.

o-snowberry 1

Continuing on, I came to one of my favorite spots–where the creeping snowberry grew. I hunted under the tiny leaves for the little white berries, but found none. And I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen them, especially in this place, for I suppose that I miss all the action since snow melt always seems to call a halt to such visitations and then I never make my way deep into these woods all summer. I have to assume that the little brown things and birds had a feast. Although, as any teacher knows, one should never assume. Perhaps next year, I’ll make a point of checking on these plants.

o-birch tree in offing

My tramp was a meander, for I knew not what direction each footstep might take me, changing my mind constantly and trusting that if I turned left or right, I wasn’t missing something in the opposite direction. The sight of a beech tree, its leaves ever rattling, did mean that I’d have a chance to move to drier land for a few minutes.

o-equisetum

And then I stepped up onto a rock, where the growth at my feet surprised me for I didn’t realize that equisetum grew in this part of the woods. Always something new to learn.

o-tamarack branch 1

That wasn’t all. As I looked around, a branch with yellow needles by my foot caught my attention.

o-tamarack branch 2

This was the twig of a tamarack tree, with its needles growing in tufts atop little spurs. Had we met before, the tree and me? If so, I couldn’t remember it. Nor could I find it.

o-evergreen hallway

Before me was a wall of evergreens, in a classroom all of their own, for really, these are among my favorite places where learning opportunities present themselves. But, today’s lesson wasn’t about the hemlock, white pine, fir and spruce idiosyncrasies.

o-tamarack tree

And so I scanned the sky, and about twenty-thirty feet away, I found the tree. A tamarack or larch or hackmatack tree, aka Larix laricina, is our only deciduous conifer because unlike all the evergreens, it sheds its needles each fall.

o-moose scat

A few minutes later, I heard movement, and looked up to see . . . no, not the moose that made this deposit last winter, but two flashes of white as a couple of deer bounded off. I think that’s one of my favorite lessons of these woods, for the landscape changes repeatedly and thus offers a variety of habitats for the mammals of western Maine. This is the place where I get to learn the most about them and their behaviors.

o-deer rub 1

Sometimes I’m rewarded with spying the mammal from a distance, but other times I find evidence of its behavior, like this antler rub with frayed bark at top and bottom and smooth wood between.

o-varied habitat 1

I’ve watched the forest succession in these woods for twenty-five years,

o-varied habitat 6

and it’s been logged again more recently.

o-varied habitat 4

With each change, comes more change. And so the mammals move from one spot to another, but they’re still all here–somewhere.

o-varied habitat

I just need to listen and look.

o-turkey tail fungi

It’s not just the mammals and trees that I get to learn about. My studies include among other topics, fungi, of which I’m only a so-so student. But I do know that this is turkey tail, aka Trametes versicolor.

o-Fomitopsis cajanderi  (Rosy Polypore) 2

And then I happened upon a hemlock stump topped with a large, beautiful display outlined in a coffee brown and salmon pink. It took me some work to remember its name. I can tell you where else I’ve seen it for it grows upon a hemlock log at Holt Pond.

o-unknown mushroom 1

Before I forget again, it’s a rosy polypore, if memory serves me right. I only hope my fungi teachers weigh in on this one.

o-logging road 1

At long last, it was time to follow a logging road back to the snowmobile trail.

o-snowberry on sphagnum

Sometimes, I slip back into the woods before reaching the trail, but today I chose to follow it. And what to my wondering eyes should appear, but more creeping snowberry atop sphagnum moss.

o-home sweet home

As I finally crossed the field toward home, I gave thanks for the classroom that is right outside our back door and for the lessons learned in this Sunday School. Now I just have to remember everything, which is why I record so much.

 

 

I Spy, You Spy, We All Spy

As I stepped out the door early this morning to dump yesterday’s coffee grounds, my eyes were immediately drawn to a pattern in the dew and I knew that Porky had paid us a visit.

t-porcupine trail in morning dew

His trademark sashay showed in the wet grass almost as well as it does in snow with that pigeon-toed pattern and swish of a tail. Only yesterday I’d been noting all the freshly nipped oak branches in our yard and woodlot, cut as they were at that telltale 45˚ angle.

t-flat hill sign--oxymoron

And then, after today’s coffee (grounds waiting until tomorrow to be disposed) and breakfast, I drove to Lovell to meet up with some Greater Lovell Land Trust docents for a climb up Flat Hill–that oxymoron of a name. But really, the summit is rather flat–after climbing the hill, of course.

t-trail light

It was early and felt more fall-like than we’ve experienced of late and we reveled in the temperature as well as the light along the trail as the sun played with the leaves and added a golden glow to our day.

t-coyote scat 1

When we weren’t looking up, we looked down. One of our first sights–scat! Coyote scat, we thought. Only the contents of this scat were different than most.

t-coyote scat 2

And so we went in for a closer look–for it was filled with quills. Not my home porky, but we know that the summit and rocky ledge below are porcupine territory so it made perfect sense that we found such scat in the middle of the trail.

t-fox scat

We found more scat a little further along–this one was filled with berries and seeds and also in the middle of the trail, atop a rock. Smaller in size, we suspected red fox.

t-paper birch lenticels

There were other things than scat to attract our attention, like the long lenticels on a downed paper birch–their pattern looking like either zippers on a jacket or a bunch of spruce trees in their spire formation.

t-maple-leaf viburnum

We marveled at the color and texture of the maple-leaf viburnums–like no other in the mix.

t-hop hornbeam bark and leaf

And when we reached the hop hornbeams with their shaggy bark and double-toothed leaves, we knew to look below for their seed pods. It wasn’t an easy search for they are small and blend in well with the birch and hornbeam leaves on the ground.

t-hop seed 2

But we found one–its papery sack enclosing the nutlet. We were curious to see the seed and so opened the inflated casing. It was almost a 3D tear-drop shape, coming to a sharp point.

t-hops

Skipping ahead for a moment, after we finished hiking I visited a tree back near the parking lot where Pam and I had noted plentiful fruits in the summer. It takes about twenty-five years for a hop hornbeam to fruit. And the common name–“hop” refers to the seed clusters that represent true hops used in beer production.

t-summit view 1

At last we reached the summit and stood for a while, in awe of the color display before us.

t-polypody 1a

From the same spot, we also noted the polypody ferns that grow upon the summit rock.

t-polypody spores 2

Ferns reproduce by spores rather than seeds. The itty bitty spores (think dust sized), called sporangia, grew on the underside of these leathery frond leaflets. The sporangia form clusters called sori and in the case of polypody the sori are naked. Some had already dispersed.

t-chipmunk

At last we started down, but not without a side trip of bushwhacking and annoying a chipmunk who had some housekeeping details to attend to.

t-docents 1

Less than three hours later (amazing for us), we gathered at the bottom and said our goodbyes to Darbee and David on the left–they’ll return to their winter home soon. Bob and Pam will hang with us for a bit longer, but while I reflected on all the wonderful reasons to enjoy winter in Lovell, the two couples made plans to connect in their winter habitat.

t-wooden spoon

The day wasn’t over yet and this afternoon another docent and I set up a “Kim’s game” of natural and unnatural items on a sheet covered with a bandana on the trail behind the New Suncook School. Then we walked further along the trail and hid a bunch of unnatural items for our after-school Trailblazers to locate. (We had to relocate them as well and are almost certain we found all of them. Maybe . . . )

t-noticing leaf colors

Before the kids did anything though, they introduced Linda to their trees–clusters of trees really for all are copiced, that they’ve befriended and named and gotten to know up close and personal. This afternoon, they noted that the colors of the leaves were changing.

t-Linda and Sassy

They loved giving Linda a tour and she loved being part of the action.

t-alligators in the woods

The kids did an excellent job with their observation skills, including locating at least one species that didn’t quite belong in these woods.

t-fallen log 1

And then we started gently rolling over fallen limbs, curious about what we might find below.

t-red-backed salamander

And what to our wondering eyes should appear? A red-backed salamander under the first one. We rolled a few more and didn’t find much. But then we heard something and stood still as we listened. Finally, it called again and we called back–a barred owl was somewhere nearby. At last it was time for the kids to head home and as we walked out of the woods to meet their parents, we stopped to roll one more log–where we found a yellow-spotted salamander. Unfortunately, in our excitement, I couldn’t take a decent photo, but still . . . we were thrilled.

What a perfect day–of I spy, you spy, we all spy. Indeed we did.

 

Moments of Awe

The garden hum slowed significantly in the last few days, with bee buzz overpowered by cricket chirps. But still they come.

i6-spotted cucumber beetle

The first insect I focused on wasn’t a bee at all, but a spotted cucumber beetle who paid a surprise visit. It’s been years since I grew cucumbers and I can only imagine that it was a couple of houses shy of my neighbor’s garden. Instead, it made do with the mint.

i1-hoverfly, haltere

A second glimpse wasn’t at a bee either. But I must admit that I’m forever mesmerized by  the tiny hover flies that frequent the flowers. Hover flies are true flies, so while they may look a bit bee like, they don’t sting. And they take time to enjoy the nectar. My, what big eyes they have–taking up most of their head space. And such short antennae.

i1-hoverfly-haltere

Since I was paying attention, I also realized that hover flies don’t have hindwings per say. Rather, as dipterous insects, they have halteres, which are a modified form of a hindwing. The halteres help with balance and guidance while in flight and are situated behind the forewings on the thorax or middle section of the body. Remember–head, thorax, abdomen. Here’s another tip: two wings fun, four wings run. Well, don’t exactly run, but get out of the way.

i2-sweat bee

One of my favorites in the garden mix, the jewel-like sweat bees with their metallic green heads and thoraxes, plus yellow and black striped abdomens.

i7-sweat bee

“Sweat bee” doesn’t strike me as the most romantic name for such a beautiful specimen, but they are so called because they’ve been known to land on us in search of a salty sip as we perspire. They will sting if annoyed.

i3-bumblebee face

But their sting isn’t as pronounced as that of the bumblebee; I thought about that as I  carefully greeted one face to face while he sucked with his straw-like proboscis. The bumbles were in constant motion today. Though they’ve been in a collection tizzy all summer, I had to wonder, do they sense the end is near? And still, they perform their job.

i4-honey bee, leg parts1

Taking its time in the collection process was a honeybee. Perhaps it knows the end is coming for it was much calmer than has been the norm and stayed in the same spot for several minutes, ever so slowly only moving its head.

i5-honeybee 2

All the better for me to take a closer look, including at the segments of its leg. I’m fascinated by the claws at the base of the tarsus.

Each day, the sweet offerings diminish as do the number of pollinators. Long ago I swore I didn’t like insects, but the more I look, the more in awe I am. Even though I know there will be other things to focus on, I’m going to miss these moments of wonder.

 

 

 

Belated Book of September: Butterflies and Moths

All month long books have been staring at me from their shelves, piles or baskets, a few begging for the honors. But each time I thought I knew which book I’d feature for September, a different month made a claim on it.

b-monarch 1

And then, mid-morning, I looked out the kitchen window and saw a certain visitor nectaring at the flowering mint and instantly knew what book it would be.

b-cover

Bufferflies and Moths by Dr. Walter Robert Corti is an oldie but goodie that has graced my personal library since 1964. I don’t remember its origin, but think it may have been a birthday or Christmas present when I was in second grade–such was my wonder even then.

On the back, The Odyssey Library is described as “a new and exciting concept in book publishing, combining in convenient, compact format, texts by leading authorities and full-color illustrations by outstanding artists and photographers. Designed for the reader who wants to add a new dimension to his [or her] understanding of the world, these are books to enjoy, to study, to treasure.” Indeed, I’ve treasured it for over fifty years and referred to it often.

b-monarchs and others

Today found me examining the differences between “look-alikes” because I wanted to make sure that what was fluttering about the garden wasn’t a Viceroy.  They do look similar, but the Viceroy is smaller than a Monarch and its hind wings have a line that runs parallel to the outer margin. There are other differences, but that was enough for me to note. Another thing to note: the illustrations in this book were by Swiss artist Walter Linsenmaier.

b-monarch 2

No such line existed on this morning’s beauty.

b-monarch map

Though the author states that in September, “large flocks” of Monarchs gather to fly south, and that was once the case, at least in my backyard it’s no longer true. This is only the second one I’ve seen this year, the first being in a field yesterday and it didn’t light long enough for me to snap a photo. In the past few years, I don’t recall seeing any. But . . . when our twenty-something sons were the age I was when I received this book, we did have large flocks that completely covered some flowering plants and shrubs.

b-monarch probiscus 2

Outdated though the book may be, some things haven’t changed. The order is still Lepidoptera, so named for the scales on their wings; lepis being Greek for “scale,” and pteron for “wing.”

b-monarch probiscus 1

Some cool features include the tongue or proboscis–can you see the coiled dark tube below the antennae? Once you find it, return in your brain to your sixth birthday party (if you had one–my next-door-neighbors, Pat and Kate always came for my birthday dinners, but we never had parties) and the blowouts that were curled until you blew into them and made noise.

b-monarch 6

The same thing happens with the proboscis (though it lacks a sound effect), which is actually two half tubes joined to form one, and includes muscles, nerves and the trachea, as it straightens out and penetrates the far reaches of flowers in search of nectar to suck.

b-monarch eyes

The book also mentions the faceted eyes–each compound and consisting of up to 17,000 “ommatidia,” or  individual light receptors with their own microscopic lenses. Think about what the world around them looks like. How in the world do they hone in on their targeted plants? They have their ways. Read on.

b-painted lady 2a

Prior to seeing today’s Monarch, I’d been blessed with many opportunities to observe Painted Ladies, which share similar colorings to a Monarch, though the pattern differs.

b-painted lady map

Dr. Corti describes their migration pattern, but mentions with all that migrate, it could be that it’s a second or third generation that actually completes a given journey.

b-painted lady 3

The outer wing coloration is what always reminds me that I’m looking at a Painted Lady and not a Monarch.

b-painted lady 1

One thing I’ve observed about the butterflies that I watch–nectaring can happen whether one is right-side up or upside-down. The straw works from any approach.

b-painted lady 2

The club-shaped antenna, common features of butterflies, are angled and work like radar to detect scents. And I mentioned the palpi, which are quite visible here as they are the small projections that protrude from the front of the head. These are covered with scent-detecting sensors as well. And actually, more sensors are located on the thorax, abdomen and legs. That’s how the butterflies find their sources of nourishment.

b-painted lady 5

One of the things I noted about the Painted Ladies that have graced my path lately is that they flit from flower to flower in constant motion . . .

b-painted lady 9

and seek goodness . . .

b-painted lady 10

from a variety of benefactors. I know Monarchs do the same, but today the one I watched much preferred the mint.

b-fritillary 1

An early season butterfly that some may confuse with the Monarch is the Fritillary.

b-fritillary 2

While its coloration is similar,

b-fritillary probiscus

its much smaller in size.

b-clouded sulphur 1

Most butterflies feed with their wings pulled together, such as this clouded sulphur portrayed. I love the subtle blend of pink, yellow and green in this beauty, and especially the yellow-green eyes.

b-white admiral 1

Early on in the summer, white admirals flew about.

b-white admiral 2

Occasionally one posed. Noticed its tattered hind wings. Such is the life of a butterfly.

b-Canada tiger swallowtail 1

We admire them for their beauty and they suffer for it–becoming easy prey. But until they succumb, they spend their days seeking sustenance. And bringing us joy.

As Dr Corti states, “The enchanting colors of their wings, their intimate commerce with quiet flowers, their modest food needs, the innocence of their courtships make them seem like fairy creatures from some unspoiled paradise. They are a delight to curious children, harmless idlers, contented topers, and strolling lovers wherever they appear. It is as if they were created solely to make the world more beautiful.”

Weren’t they?

I know there are updated butterfly guides, but I still love my first.

Butterflies and Moths, by Dr. Walter Robert Corti, The Odyessey Press, New York, 1964.