Self-Guided Tour of Sabattus Mountain

As stories go, Sabattus Mountain in Lovell offers plenty of lore. For starters, there’s the name of the mountain. I’ve heard at least two tales and seen three spellings, but basically the legend is the same–about a Pequawket named Sabatos, Sabatis, or Sabattus, who guided hunters and one day killed a lynx, or was it a mountain lion, before it sprang upon him.

In a July 14, 2017 article, Ed Parsons of the Conway Daily Sun wrote: “Sabattus was born in St. Francis, Canada, and with the influence of French missionaries, was named for St. John the Baptist, shortened to Sabattus. When Roger’s Rangers destroyed St. Francis in 1759, Sabattus was about 10 years old. He was kidnapped and went south with the rangers. Later, he went to Fryeburg with one of them, and spent the rest of his life in the area.

Sabattus had two children with the well-known area healer, Molly Ockett. In 1783, an earlier wife of his returned from a long trip to Canada, and claimed to be his spouse. To settle the dispute, Sabattus took them to the house of Mr. Wiley in Fryeburg so there would be a witness, and the two women fought, “hair and cloth flying everywhere.” Mrs. St. Francis, as Molly Ockett called the former wife, was stronger and won out. Molly Ockett left and moved to Andover, Maine.

There’s also the Devil’s Staircase, but that’s for another day.

s1-sign

Two Land for Maine’s Future program grants, along with funding from the Greater Lovell Land Trust, enabled the State of Maine to purchase 177 acres on and around Sabattus Mountain, protecting hiking access to Lovell’s highest peak. The trail is a 1.6-mile loop to and from the 1,253-foot summit. Sabattus Mountain is now owned and managed by the Bureau of Parks and Lands. The land trust, however, has taken a keen interest in upkeep of the trail system recently because there had been much erosion ever since Hurricane Irene and the State seemed to back off maintaining it. Last year, the GLLT’s three interns built numerous water bars, especially on the eastern trail.

s6-Brent's Loop Trail Sign

Last week, Brent Legere of Lovell Box Company and Western Maine Slabworks, installed new signs to guide hikers on the trail system.

s2-self-guided nature walk

Today, a team of docents, associates and this year’s intern, under the well-organized leadership of GLLT Docent and Maine Master Naturalist Joan Lundin, installed informational signage along the loop.

s3-explaining the plan

The morning began as Joan divided the team into two groups. First she instructed Intern Isaiah (in red) and Stewardship Associate Dakota (in plaid), to take one set of signs up the western trail and leave them beside examples of particular species on the way.

s5-all smiles to go

Then she prepped Associate Director Aidan, and GLLT Docents Nancy and Pam in the plan for the eastern trail.

s4-signs

All signs were laid out and ready to be hauled up the trails for installation.

s12-hi ho

And so, in true Seven Dwarf style, it was hi ho, hi ho and off to work we went.

s7-installing the first sign

Because she’d climbed the trail so often in order to prepare for today’s undertaking, Joan knew right where each sign belonged. At the start, she did most of the installing, showing off her muscle power on this steamy day, despite her petite physique.

s8-yellow birch

Each sign included common and scientific names, plus only a few key characteristics so not to overwhelm those who might stop to read them and look around to locate the particular species. It’s a technique decided long ago by the full team of docents who have undertaken this task each summer for years–always along a different GLLT trail.

s9-striped maple

The natural community along both trails on the loop system transitioned about two-thirds of the way up. For the lower portion, the community consisted of a variety of deciduous trees.

s13-hemlock

Suddenly everything changed. Light turned to shade. Dry turned to damp. Leaves turned to needles. And conifers showed off their unique characteristics.

s14-sphagnum moss

Even the forest floor changed from dried leaves and wildflowers to green mosses, including sphagnum, with its pom-pom shaped heads.

s15-loop trail sign at ridge

As we hiked up the eastern trail, Dakota and Isaiah swung along the ridge line and came down to find us for they had only placed their signs along the western trail as instructed by Joan, and hadn’t yet pounded them into the earth. We chatted as we moved upward, talking about the turn ahead to the ridge, and Dakota told us we’d be pleased with how obvious it was since Brent had installed the new signs. Indeed!

s16-glacial erratic

Of course, we were a group that failed at following directions, and so off trail we went to check on the glacial erratic that we knew stood just beyond a downed tree.

s17-porcupine scat

We also checked underneath, for who doesn’t like to look at porcupine scat. New and old, though not especially fresh, it’s been a winter den for at least 30+ years that I’ve been climbing this mountain.

s18-Canada mayflower

And then Joan redirected us, pulling us back into the mission of the morning and finding a place to post the Canada Mayflower sign–between the granite slabs at our feet.

s19-window on the world beyond

Making our way across the ridge, we paused for a second to look out the window upon the world beyond. It’s from heights like this one that we always appreciate how much of Maine is still forested. At a recent gathering with District Forester Shane Duigan, he said that the state is 85% forested–down from 90% not because of urban sprawl, but instead increased farming.

s20-main summit signs

A few minutes later we reached the main summit, where Brent had posted more signs. They’re nailed to a White Pine and mark the intersection of the ridge trail and western loop, with a spur to the western-facing ledges and scenic overlook.

s21-white pine

That very White Pine was also on Joan’s list as an excellent example, and so it will be noticed for a while.

s22-Keyes Pond and Pleasant Mtn

For a few minutes, we took in the wider view to the south–noting Keyes Pond in Sweden and Pleasant Mountain in Bridgton, both part of the great beyond.

s23-scenic view

And then a quick trip out to the scenic overlook, where the sweeping view included the Lower Bay of Kezar Lake and pyramid outline of Mount Kearsarge in North Conway.

s24-scenic view 2

Turning a wee bit to the north, the view also encompassed more of Kezar Lake, and the White Mountains.

s25-chipmunk

On the way down, we continued, or rather, the rest of the team continued to install the signs while I watched, and one quiet chipmunk with a piece of a leaf dangling from its mouth looked on with approval. We assumed it approved, for it didn’t chatter at us.

s26-teamwork

It seemed the signs on the western trail went into place far more quickly than on the climb up, but maybe it was because there weren’t as many. We did pause for a few minutes as Isaiah and Dakota changed out one sign for another because the species Joan wanted to feature wasn’t as prominent as hoped. But, she was prepared with extra laminated cards and quickly produced a description of an alternate species.

s27-plank

We were nearly finished with our morning’s work when we reached the new plank bridge Brent had placed across a small stream.

s28-white admiral

Back at the parking lot, we were wowed by the sight of pollinators upon the Staghorn Sumac, including a White Admiral Butterfly.

With that, our tour was done for the day, but we’d met several people along the way who were thrilled with the work we’d done. We hope you, too, will partake of the pleasant hike up Sabattus Mountain, and stop along the way to enjoy the self-guided tour. It will be in place until Labor Day weekend.

And be sure to stop by the office on Route 5 and make a contribution to the Greater Lovell Land Trust for we are a membership-driven organization and can’t do such work without your continued support.

P.S. Thank you Self-guided Tour Docents and GLLT staff, plus Property Steward Brent.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Flexing My Wings with Jinny Mae

It’s been a while since Jinny Mae and I had wandered and wondered together, but this afternoon the opportunity finally arose. And so we agreed on a time and place (though she did change the time 😉 ), and pulled into the parking lot of the Mountain Division Trail located closest to the Eastern Slopes Airport on Route 5 in Fryeburg, Maine.

m6-Mtn Division Trail

Rather than a rail trail, this is actually a rail-with-trail even though the rail is not currently active.

m2-lupine

From the start, we were surprised and delighted to see so many lupines in bloom along the edge. Lupines are members of the pea or legume family, Fabaceae. As such, the flowers have a distinctive upper banner, two lateral wings, and two lower petals fused together to form a keel. Those lateral wings earned the plant’s place in this contemplation.

m2a-lupine aphids

Of course, being that not everything in nature is as perfect as we might desire, we did discover destruction in action on a few stems and flowers. Lupine aphids seeking honeydew suck the juices from a plant. They’ll continue to feed until midsummer, even after they’ve destroyed the flower.

While there isn’t much to celebrate about these garden pests, it is worth noting that all aphids are female and give birth to live young, without mating. And another cool fact–once the population grows too large, they will develop wings and fly to a new host plant.

m3-chalk-fronted white corporal

We continued our journey at our typical slow pace and stopped frequently to admire the dragonflies. There were quite a few species, but many spent time patrolling in flight and so we couldn’t photograph them. We did, however, give thanks for the work of all for we felt the sting of only a few mosquitoes. And we appreciated the perchers as well, for by letting us get a closer look we could learn their characteristics, and therefore ID: Chalk-fronted Corporal;

4-four-spotted skimmer

Four-spotted Skimmer;

m5-calico pennant

and Calico Pennant.

m7-ant dragging grasshopper

We also noted a crazy ant act. The ant apparently got a great deal at the grocery store and somehow managed to single-anticly drag the remains of a grasshopper home–that’s one flier we won’t see in the air again.

m8-wood sower gall wasp gall

We also stumbled upon another interesting find–the galls of a wood sower gall wasp. As I told Jinny Mae, I’ve seen them before and knew they were associated with oak trees, but couldn’t remember the name in the moment. Maybe if I say it five times fast and spin around three times I’ll remember its name the next time I encounter it. Doubtful.

m8-wood sower gall wasp

The cool facts about this fuzzy white gall with pink polka dots, which is also known as oak seed galls: it only grows on white oak; the fuzziness is actually secretions from grubs of the gall wasp; and within are seed-like structures that cover the wasp larva.

m9-tiger swallowtail

Finally, it was a swallowtail butterfly that stopped us in our tracks and mesmerized us for moments on end. The question was this: which swallowtail–Eastern or Canadian, for both fly here.

m11-eastern tiger swallowtail

Earlier in the day I’d photographed an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail in the backyard. Tiger comes from the four black stripes, while swallowtail refers to the long tails extending from the hind wings that these butterflies often lose to their prey as spring gives way to summer.

This was a female given that her hind wings featured blue with bright orange accents when viewed from the top. The areas that are blue on the female are black on the male.

And notice her main body, which is a rather muted combo of black and yellow.

m10-canadian tiger swallowtail

Now look at the butterfly Jinny Mae and I each took at least fifty photographs of and do you see the darker body? The Canadians have more black hairs covering their bodies.

m11-probiscus

Also look at the underwings. I regret that I didn’t get a shot of the Eastern’s underwings, but for the Canadian this matches the pattern: Note the yellow band just inside the outer edge on the underside of its forewings. Had it been an Eastern, it would have featured a series of disconnected yellow spots on the black band. The Canadian has a continuous yellow band. And then there are the orange and blue markings.

m13-canadian tiger

At the end of the day all that detail really didn’t matter–Eastern or Canadian, both were tiger swallowtails.

And I gave thanks for the opportunity to flex my wings beside Jinny Mae. It felt so good to fly along the path together again. For those who don’t know, Jinny Mae’s journey has been one of varied wing beats as she’s lived with cancer for the last three years. Her current treatment is going well and we look forward to more flight paths.

 

 

 

Petals and Wings: A Window of Opportunity

Spring ephemerals. Those species that take advantage of the short stretch of time between snow melt and leaf out. We celebrated such today at the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve as we ever so slowly walked along the orange trail from the Flat Hill parking lot and then looped around on Perky’s Path.

S1-GATHERING

But first, we gathered in the parking lot where Docent Peter explained that he thought I was crazy when I suggested a May date for a flower and bird walk. He’d not been in Maine during May previously and only this week learned the joys of birding with minimal leaf cover. I think he’s hooked. And I’m still crazy.

S4-WILDFLOWER GUIDES

Our journey began with Docent Linda locating wildflowers that are opportunists who bloom early, get pollinated and produce seeds before the deciduous trees blanket the floor of the forest in shade.

S2-STINKING BENJAMIN

Among those early bloomers was one that stinks! And yet, it’s exquisitely beautiful. Stinking Benjamin is one of its common names because of the flower’s malodorous scent. Of course, you need to get down on your hands and knees to get a whiff.

S5-HAND LENS

Our focus wasn’t just on flowers and birds as we all soon realized, for it seemed that many things caught our attention, including the seeds of deer tongue grass. As a collective group, we suffered from Nature Distraction Disorder.

S6-WILD SARSAPIRILLA LEAVES

Because of such, we observed more than just the flowers that were in bloom. In one instance, the flower was yet to come, but the leaves in their early stage were worth noting. Linda pointed out that the color of wild sarsaparilla’s new leaves was reminiscent of poison ivy. But, poison ivy has leaves of three.

S7-BEECH LEAVES

And that reddish tint that we saw in the sarsaparilla, beech and other leaves? The various hues of color in leaves was caused by the presence of pigments called anthocyanins or carbohydrates that are dissolved in the cell sap and mask the chlorophyll. As our spring temperatures rise and light intensity increases, red pigment forms on a leaf and acts as a sunscreen to protect the plant from an increase in ultraviolet rays.

S8-BIRDING

We’d been looking down for a while, but then bird song pulled our attention to the tree tops. Without the use of my Cannon Rebel, which is currently enjoying what I hope will be a successful rice bath 😦 , I couldn’t capture the many warblers we spied. Some, as Peter, and his wife Molly, told us, were only in the area temporarily to fuel up on insects before continuing the journey to their breeding grounds in Canada.

S10-GARTER SNAKE

And looking at our feet once again, another in search of insects. We saw a garter snake who stayed as still as possible while we ogled it. Was it cold and trying to soak up warmth from the sun? Or did it stay still in hopes we wouldn’t spy it?

S11-PAINTED TRILLIUM

We finally left the snake in peace. And paused next to gaze upon a painted trillium.

S12-HOBBLEBUSH FLOWERS

Almost two hours after our start, we approached the wetland and overlooking bench. It was there that a hobblebush laden with blossoms caught our attention in the shrub level. The hobblebush bouquet was really an inflorescence or lacy cluster of tiny fertile flowers surrounded by a halo of showy, yet sterile bracts. Those larger, sterile flowers attract insects while the tiny fertile flowers do all the work of seed production. Nature has its way.

S13-BIRDING BY THE BENCH

It was at the bench that bird song again greeted us and we looked above the shrubs toward the tree limbs above.

S14-BIRDING

For many of us, we looked through our binoculars at birds we’d only heard of before, including a Bay-breasted Warbler. Peter explained that he’s participating in the citizen science project to update the Maine Birding Atlas and so he uploaded the 38 species identified today to the e-bird website.

S15-LINDA TURNS HER FOCUS UPWARD

Even though she’d spent a lot of time directing our attention to the beauty at our feet, Linda was also in awe of those who moved above, however, she was heard to comment that it’s a whole lot easier to ID flowers that stand still.

S16-BEECH FERN

As our journey finally continued, we found a patch of beech ferns with their own variation of today’s theme, for each leaflet attached to the rachis in a winged formation.

S18-FRINGED POLYGALA

Another that spoke to the theme was a flower that hadn’t quite yet bloomed–fringed polygala, aka gay wings.

S17-SPRING PEEPER

Despite all the flowers and birds, our NDD followed us right to the end–when we spotted a tiny spring peeper . . .

S21-GREEN FROG ON A LOG

and then a green frog.

S22-FEMALE WHITEFACE SKIMMER

While the frog marked the end of our journey, I moved on to the GLLT’s Kezar River Reserve, where another winged critter flew at the flower level–the first dragonfly of the season: a female whiteface skimmer.

Today was filled with petals and wings and all things ephemeral. I hope you’ll have a chance to take advantage of this short window of opportunity.

 

 

 

 

Mayday Alert

Each time we explore a Greater Lovell Land Trust property, we have no idea what we might discover and this day was no different. For today’s Tuesday Tramp I suggested we visit the Cohen Property near the Lower Bay of Kezar Lake, which was the last acquisition under the direction of the late Tom Henderson. We’d only been there once before–and that was a few months ago when we explored via snowshoes. At that time we discovered ice-covered depressions and so a journey to check them out as vernal pools seemed apropos.

m2-moose print ID

There are no trails yet and so after parking, we followed the road back a ways to the area of our winter expedition. And what to our wondering eyes did we spy on the road? Moose prints! One should always look through a magnifying glass to make certain the ID is correct. Wes confirmed our suspicion.

m2-scooping

We found sitting water and running water and began to wonder about the wetland and whether what we thought might be a vernal pool really was, for we knew that a v.p. shouldn’t have an inlet or outlet. As the first dips of the day were made, black flies began to swarm around us. We hoped to pick up their larvae in the moving water, but instead we found many springtails.

m3-what did you catch

And a few mosquito larvae as determined by Caleb, Linda and Nancy.

m5-blob and algae

In another spot, we also found a mystery. At first we thought it might be some sort of egg. And maybe it was, but how was it related to the algae that seemed to be a host? We didn’t know, but now that we’re aware of it, we’ll continue to wonder and perhaps become enlightened.

m6-pool?

We checked out “pool” after “pool” and found not one egg mass (except for a false start that fooled us momentarily), which rather disappointed us. Were these really vernal pools? We suspected so as they were shallow and looked like they’ll dry up in the summer, if not before, plus they supported no fish. Were they significant vernal pools? Definitely not. To be a significant vernal pool, the body of water must contain one of the following obligate species: 1 fairy shrimp or 10 blue-spotted salamander egg masses or 20 spotted salamander egg masses (yellow spots) or 40 wood frog egg masses. Fairy Shrimp? No. Salamander egg masses? No. Frog egg masses? No.

m7-examining species

Despite the lack of indicator species, we scooped up water to determine what did live there.

m8-mosquito larvae

The most abundant residents found–mosquito larvae. And do you see the small jar in Ellie’s hand? She created a mosquito larvae aquarium and discovered that they seemed to like the algae she’d added. Perhaps they’d found microorganisms we couldn’t see.

m8a-pointing out antics of mosquito larvae

Watching the acrobatics of the larvae entertained us for a while. They twisted and turned somersaults and wriggled in the water and we soon realized that eggs left behind by last year’s females who had sucked our blood before breeding, must have remained dormant all winter until the snow melted and spring rains began.

m9-chironomid midge larva

We did find another species to admire, that also wriggled in a constant state of contortion–this one being a chironomid midge with blood-red coloration. According to A Field Guide to the animals of Vernal Pools, the color is “due to a hemoglobin-like pigment that helps them retain oxygen. This pigment allows the larvae to survive in water that is very low in dissolved oxygen, as is common in vernal pools as drying proceeds throughout the seasons.”

m10-Trailing Arbutus--May flower

Because I had to meet someone at noon, and Dave knew that it would take us at least a half hour to make the short trek back to our vehicles due to our incessant nature distraction disorder, we had to cut our journey short. Dave was right–as he often is–and we were forced to stop several time, including to sniff a couple of mayflowers, aka trailing arbutus or officially: Epigaea repens.

m11-ribbon snake 1

We finally reached the spot where we’d parked with fifteen minutes to spare when Linda sighted movement beside the tires of my truck and our hearts jumped with joy.

m12-ribbon snake captured

We didn’t want to run it over as we backed out and so Heinrich captured it. What is it? An Eastern ribbon snake, which is a species of special concern in Maine. According to the Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife website, “A species of special concern is any species of fish or wildlife that does not meet the criteria of an endangered or threatened species but is particularly vulnerable, and could easily become, an endangered, threatened, or extirpated species due to restricted distribution, low or declining numbers, specialized habitat needs or limits, or other factors. Special concern species are established by policy, not by regulation, and are used for planning and informational purposes; they do not have the legal weight of endangered and threatened species. The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife reviews the list of special concern species at the beginning of each calendar year, and, based on criteria in the Maine Endangered and Threatened Species Listing Handbook , revises the list as appropriate.”

m13-ribbon snake 2

And that is why it’s so important to protect the land. I knew Tom was smiling down upon us due to this find. Interestingly, we also spotted a ribbon snake at the John A. Segur Wildlife Refuge on Farrington Pond Road in early May 2015.

m14-paper birch superhero

Finally, we all departed and I was only ten minutes late for my quick meet-up, after which I headed back down Route 5 to reconnect with my favorite little naturalists at the Kezar River Reserve across from the Wicked Good Store. There’s a tape across the road, which I suspect was put in place by the local snowmobile club when the ice was questionable on the river, but it remains, which given the recent rain is probably a good thing. We’ll take it down soon, but it has prevented the road from becoming more rutted than normal.

Anyway, Wes climbed out of the family’s vehicle with his paper birch armor. He’d spied it in a V between to birch trees on our morning trek and his mom climbed up to retrieve it for him.

m15-brother bomb

Birch Man posed again and again, until his older brother Aidan, sporting a missing front tooth, jumped in front.

m16-root art

The boys stood on a hump of earth beside a tree root. And it was through their eyes that we noticed some interesting finds among the tree’s former life support.

m17-canister cover

We found pottery and cast iron and realized the tree had grown upon an old dump site.

m19-VW

And that hump of earth–the four siblings were sure that it hid a Volkswagen Beetle.

m23-Kezar River

It took us a while to walk down the “roadway” and then the left-hand loop. We made a few discoveries, including coyote scat filled with bones, and the kids did some trail work. At last we reached the canoe/kayak landing at the Kezar River and noted some otter scat and a few slides, plus some fishing lures and line stuck in the trees. It was at that point that the family had to leave, but before they left they asked me what I’d do before I had another meeting in the afternoon. I told them I planned to hike the second loop, which happens to be longer and dips into an interesting ravine.

m23-salamander eggs

That never happened. As it turned out, I stood at the boat launch for about an hour. First, I spied one small clump of salamander eggs.

m24-equisetum

And then realized that the raft before me, which filled the small cove, was equisetum. Where it came from I didn’t know for I couldn’t recall ever seeing it at this property.

m24-Mayfly 1

But, regardless, it provided a perfect camouflage for aquatic insects. It took me a while to key in on the species before me, but I knew they were there because every once in a while, one took flight. Do you see the mayfly subimago that had recently emerged? The teenager stood atop its nymph exuvia. Mayflies are unique in that after the nymph emerges from the water as the subimago (that fishermen call a dun), they seek shelter before shedding their skin for the final transformation.

m25-mayfly 2

I really had to focus in order to spot them.

m27-Mayfly

But once I did, they were . . .

m28-mayfly

everywhere.

m29-mayfly larva

And in all forms, including a nymph.

m30-Mayfly up close

The cool thing is that thirteen mayflies are also on the list of species of special concern. Was this one of the species? I have so much more to learn.

m31-water scorpion

As I continued to watch, there was an incredible amount of activity. And then I saw a predator that was about two and half inches long. Do you see it? Not atop the vegetation, but rather under it in right-hand center of the photo. Behind it, almost to the right edge of the photo, was a bubble at the end of its long breathing tube.

m33-water scorpion

As I watched, it continued to swim forward, the vegetation providing it’s favorite type of habitat. Again, you have to look carefully.

m34-water scorpoin

And again. It was a water scorpion with an oval-shaped abdomen. Do you see it?

m35-ribbon snake

Finally, it was time for my next meeting, but as I walked back up the trail I reflected upon the wonders of the day and the work of the land trust under Tom’s leadership. Creating corridors is important for mammals, but also for all critters that share the various habitats.

There was no need to put out a distress signal today. Indeed. With others and alone, I was thankful for the opportunity to be gifted with such sightings: Mayflowers and Mayflies! And a water scorpion. Topped off with a ribbon snake. May Day Alert of the best kind.

 

 

 

 

Sallie Savers Celebrate Big Night with LEA

The initial email was sent by Mary Jewett of Lakes Environmental Association in Bridgton, Maine, on Tuesday:

Hello everyone!

Many amphibians have already crossed and laid eggs but there are still some waiting in the woods. Tomorrow evening looks like it will be perfect conditions for an amphibian migration and I would like to get a group together to go out with me. My plan would be to meet at the office at 8pm. With sunset being at 7:40 I really wouldn’t want to start any earlier since the frogs and sallies won’t move when it’s light out.

I want to get an idea of who would be able to come out with me. I have a reporter and videographer coming out from the Bangor Daily News and they would like to get shots of actual people (not just me) and possibly get some quotes from participants. I know that it’s tough to get out with kids since it starts so late but I hope that we can get a diverse group. We also may have the opportunity to check out egg masses that are already in the water!

And then this afternoon, Mary sent this follow-up message:

I have heard from a handful of people who are able to come out tonight so I’m going for it. Here are some details:

Meet at the LEA office building (230 Main Street) at 8pm
We will caravan up to the Masonic Hall and walk to Dugway Road from there.
Bring high powered flashlights/headlamps
Wear warm clothes and rain gear. It looks like the rain may be pretty heavy when we are out there. Good for amphibians but not so great for people trying to stay dry.
Wear reflective clothing if you have some. I have vests available if you don’t have your own.
Do not wash your hands with soap or put on hand lotion or hand sanitizer.
I have spoken to the police and they are going to try and send someone out. They have a training program this evening so we might not see them. This makes it extra important that kids stay with their parents at all times!

b3-amphibian crossing sign

And so we did just that–met at the LEA office first, and then moved on to the Masonic Hall to park before beginning our journey into the wet and wild world of the amphibians.

b1-redbacked

Right away, we noticed worms. And even better, a red-backed salamander. Red backs don’t use vernal pools to mate, but they sure do love rainy nights that offer great opportunities to roam about seeking food.

b2-red backed salamander

We crossed the field from the Hall to Memory Land, our eyes ever looking for more red backs, but instead we noted a kazillion worms, each the size of a young snake. And then, after only a few minutes on the road another red backed graced us with its presence.

b4-Mary explains rules of the road

Finally, we reached Dugway Road, our destination, and Mary took a few minutes to remind folks of safety rules. Some years the Bridgton police are able to join us and either shut the road down or at least slow traffic. Such was not the case tonight and so it was important that our crowd of at least twenty ranging in age from four years old to 70+ be cautious.

b4-walking the road

And then the real fun began. We spread out across the road with flashlights and headlamps, walking with care as we tried to notice the little things in life who chose this night to return to their natal pools in order to mate.

b6-spring peeper

Right away, the good times got rolling as we began to spot spring peepers. Really, it was those with eagle eyes who spotted the most, which wasn’t easy given the asphalt conditions. Though we knew better, we did have to wonder if the amphibians chose this road because it provided good camouflage.

b5-first catch- spring peeper

Being the first of the night, Mary demonstrated the fine art of capturing the peeper, explaining first that her hands were damp and had no soap or cream upon them.

Outstretched hands of one of the younger set awaited a transfer.

b5-pass off

The mission was to help the peeper get to the other side of the road. Typically, once captured, we transport them to the side in which they were headed.

b5-final pass off

The release was made into the youngster’s hands and then onward child holding frog went. Lucky for the frog, there was a culvert at the side and that seemed like the safest place to release it.

b14-into the vernal pool

Further down the road, the songs of the wood frogs and peepers were almost deafening. As we looked into the vernal pool that was still half covered in ice, there was some movement, but the frogs all continued to sing despite our presence, unlike what happens when we approach a pool during the day and they dive under the leaf cover for a few minutes.

b7-spotted salamander

We found enough peepers, but the stars of the night were the spotted salamanders.

b8-sally and worm

The youngest among us picked up one of the ubiquitous worms that marked the night and laid it down beside a sallie.

b9-sally eyes

Sallie didn’t care. It was on a mission and just wanted to move on without our interference. There was only one thing on its mind and we suddenly stood between it and that goal.

b12-salamander

It had a dance to perform before the sun rose and we had a heck of a nerve for getting in the way. I’m always in awe of these creatures who spend at least 11.5 months under the leaf litter and maybe a week or two in the pool. Our rare chance to catch a glimpse of them is on such a rainy night as tonight.

b10-sally on card

Our intentions were in their favor. We only wanted to help save them from the vehicles that passed by.

b11-sally's world

In the end, though, I had to wonder–is this what the salamander’s world looked like as we scooped it up and helped it across.

Possibly, but still, it’s always a thrill for tots, tweens, teens, and all the rest of us to celebrate Big Night with the Lakes Environmental Association. We are the Sallie Savers.

Book of April: Take a Wetlands Walk

Those of you who have followed me on the trail or through wondermyway for a while know that I’m not only drawn to mountaintops, but wetlands as well. And I have a few that I frequent including several vernal pools, Holt Pond Preserve, Perky’s Path, and Brownfield Bog.

w1

Book of April

Therefore, when I spotted Take a Wetlands Walk by Jane Kirkland at Maine Audubon’s Nature Store a few years ago I wasn’t surprised that it jumped into my hands and dragged me to the checkout. Since it’s April and the snow is slowly melting in western Maine, and some afternoon in the near future I look forward to receiving an email announcing our local Big Night celebration, it seemed apropos that I should feature Take a Wetlands Walk as the book of the month.

w-Holt P 2

Holt Pond boardwalk

This is a children’s book and I like how the author divided it into three sections, using a phrase often heard at the starting line.

Get Ready–encourages kids to gain a better understanding of wetland terminology in an easy to understand manner. In fact, it’s as if the author is sitting beside you, so conversational is the tone.

w-fairy shrimp

Fairy Shrimp

w-tadpoles

Tadpoles

w-wood frog

Wood Frog

w-painted turtle

Painted Turtle

w-water snake 1

Water Snake

w-water snake 2

Water Snake (notice his tongue)

Get Set–introduces amphibian and reptile species associated with wetlands.

w-pitcher plant

Pitcher Plant

Go!--sends the children outside to read the signs of nature and jot down their observations.

w-Holt Pond quaking bog

Quaking Bog at Holt Pond

In the Go! section, Kirkland describes what the kids might discover in such places as bogs, estuaries, salt marshes, freshwater marshes, streams, rivers, lakes, vernal pools, swamps, and the Everglades.

w-Red-winged Blackbird

Through sidebars, illustrations, and photographs, Kirkland touches on many topics related to wetlands, but constantly encourages further research, including of course, heading out the door. She also includes a wee bit of information about citizen science projects and wetland careers.

w-pileated woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

Each time she first uses a technical term, she adds a pronunciation key. One of my favorites: The Pileated Woodpecker (Py-lee-ata-id or PILL-e-ate-id). I prefer the latter, but occasionally hear the former uttered. “You like to-may-toes and I like to-mah-toes!”–Although in that sense, I prefer the former tomaytoes.

w-spotted sallie 2

Spotted Salamander

Throughout, Kirkland shares personal experiences as well as those of her acquaintances. Finally, she includes pages filled with photos to help you identify birds, plants, reptiles, amphibians, mammals and insects related to wetlands.

w-pond dipping

Pond Dipping

Yes, this is a children’s book, but adults can also benefit from reading it. And then heading outside.

Get Ready, Get Set, Go! Pick up a copy of Take A Wetlands Walk and visit your nearest wetland.

Take a Wetlands Walk by Jane Kirkland, Stillwater Publishing, 2011