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!

So Many Advantages Along the Mountain Division Trail

When opportunity knocks, so they say, open the door. Today, it wasn’t really a door that I opened, but rather a trail that I explored. And it wasn’t a new trail to me, for I’ve ventured along the Mountain Division Trail in Fryeburg many times before.

1-trail sign

But my morning and afternoon plans changed and I happened to be in the vicinity and I don’t think I’ve ever walked that way in late summer before–so I did what I love to do best and set off down the path beside the now defunct railroad track. And I was curious to discover who else might be taking advantage of it on this fine September day.

2-monarch caterpillar

Within minutes, I made my first discovery–a monarch butterfly caterpillar crawled along the paved trail. I’d actually chosen this spot for I hoped to see a few monarchs and my chances suddenly increased.

3-red-legged grasshopper

Also using the asphalt were innumerable grasshoppers of several types including this red-legged, and crickets galore. In fact, between them and cicadas, I could almost not hear the traffic on Route 302 at the start. Almost.

4-rail trail

Within minutes, however, the trail passed behind several businesses and then curved away from the road and toward Eastern Slope Airport. It was occasionally flat, occasionally straight, occasionally curved, and occasionally hilly. But always paved. And much quieter.

5-spotted knapweed and web

Constantly, the offerings changed. Knapweed with its pineapple-like base, which loves disturbed areas, had made itself at home. And a spider had used the structure to create its own home.

6a-monarch

As I walked, I began to notice them–a monarch fluttering past here and another there. At last, I found one that had paused to take advantage of the nourishment offered by an aster.

6-monarch on aster

I stood for as long as it would allow . . .

7-monarch on aster

enjoying every pose presented.

8-crystalline tube gall

A little further, I found something I only remember seeing for the first time a few weeks ago–I think it’s a crystalline tube gall on the oak leaf, but urchin gall would be my second guess.

9-banded tussock caterpillar

On the same leaf, either a banded-tussock moth caterpillar or a Sycamore tussock moth caterpillar munched away, so similar are they. Check out all the bristles by the head–both an extra set of black and a more subtle set of white.

10-water

By what I assumed was an old mill pond fed by a small brook, the watery world quietly intercepted all other communities found along this path.

11-painted turtle

And today, a painted turtle watched nonchalantly from a log in the pond as the world passed by–runners, walkers and bikers on the path above . . . some who hardly noted his presence.

12-male blue dasher

And dragonflies,  including this mighty handsome green-eyed blue dasher, below. Do you see the hint of amber in his wings? One of the telltale signs.

13-pokeweed poking through the fence

Continuing on, I was surprised by a sight I’d seen before because I’d forgotten its presence. Pokeweed flowered and fruited and . . . poked through the fencing that formed a boundary along parts of the trail.

14-northern white cedar

There’s also a short section where northern white cedar formed a wall, its woody cones all opened in an expression of giving forth new life and its leaves scaled like skinny braids.

15-pipewort gone to seed

Being a greatly disturbed zone, pilewort grew in abundance and its seeds danced and twirled and sashayed through the air like ghostly angels blowing in the wind. Actually, the graceful seedheads were much more attractive than the flower in bloom.

16-Queen Anne's Lace

Queen Anne’s Lace had also bloomed profusely, but today showed only its winter weed form full of tiny seeds edged with rows of bristles. The better to ground itself somewhere when the time comes, I supposed.

17-Bristly sarsaparilla fruits

Speaking of bristles, bristly sarsaparilla sent its many-fruited umbels out through the fence, perhaps in offering to those passing this way.

18-into infinity

So many offerings I’d seen by the time I reached about the three mile mark and I knew there would be even more on the way back so I used my own imaginary turntable and began the return trip.

20-spider web between pipewort

It was then that a web strung with great and amazing strength between two pileworts caught my attention. First, I couldn’t believe the distance between the two plants or the thickness of the anchoring web. And then I noticed something else . . .

21-seeds caught in web

An orb about two thirds of the way across, decorated with pilewort seeds that will take a little longer than usual to get established on the ground. Will they be viable, I wondered.

23-funnel spider

Another industrious arachnid had used one of the fence pipes to make himself a home. Can you see the funnel spider waiting in the tunnel for delectable prey to land on his web?

22-goat

And then there were the goats, this one and two others who munched beside the trail. I called their owner because I feared they’d broken out of their pen (or someone had opened the gate). Her number was on a board attached to a tree as she’d advertised her daycare business to all who passed by. We enjoyed a pleasant conversation and I learned that she lets them out for an hour or so each day to feed on the weeds. Weeds? What weeds. All I saw where wildflowers aplenty. Anyway, if you go, do know that you may encounter the goats and they are not gruff at all.

24-cabbage white butterfly

While I saw a few more monarchs as I wandered back, a few other butterflies at least half the size of the royal ones moved with dainty motions. For the cabbage white butterfly, the asters were all the thing. But like so many of the wildflowers that have taken root in this disturbed place, this butterfly also disturbs people because it has a penchant for damaging crops.

26-northern cloudywing skipper butterfly

Even smaller was the northern cloudywing skipper that stopped atop a red maple sapling. Males perch near the ground awaiting females, so his chosen spot made sense. His wing scales gave him such a satiny look as he shown in the light and his earth-tone colors included hints of purple.

It was all about the earth, I noted, as I walked along the Mountain Division Trail. Years ago, the path that I followed today had been used to construct the railroad track. And then in the 2000s, the rail trail had been built beside it. Over the years, I’m sure the railroad track had been enhanced. So the land was indeed disturbed . . . repeatedly.

And now, just as I took advantage of it to follow the well-constructed trail, so many others had done the same–both human and non. Not all were beneficial, but still they eeked out a life in that place. From insects and “weeds” to turtles and tree, there are so many advantages available along the Mountain Division Trail in Fryeburg, Maine.

 

 

 

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.

 

Insects of Lovell

To say the insects of Lovell are the insects of Maine . . .  are the insects of New England . . .  is too broad a statement as we learned last night when Dr. Michael Stastny, Forest Insect Ecologist at the Atlantic Forestry Centre in Fredericton, Canada, spoke at a Greater Lovell Land Trust talk  Mike helped us gain a better understanding of the relationship between trees, invasive insects and climate change in our grand State of Maine.

And then this morning, he led us down the trail on land conserved through the GLLT as a fee property and one held under conservation easement work.

1-what's that?

From the get-go, our curiosity was raised and we began to note every little motion above, at eye level, and our feet.

2-not an insect

Sometimes, what attracted our attention proved to be not an insect after all for it had two extra legs, but still we wondered. That being said, the stick we used to pick it up so we could take a closer look exhibited evidence of bark beetles who had left their signature in engraved meandering tunnels.

4-leaf miner scat

A bit further along, Mike pulled leaf layers apart to reveal the work of leafminers and our awe kicked up an extra notch. Leafminers feed within a leaf and produce large blotches or meandering tunnels. Though their work is conspicuous, most produce injuries that have little, if any, effect on plant health. Thankfully, for it seems to me that leaves such as beech are quite hairy when they first emerge and I’ve always assumed that was to keep insects at bay, but within days insect damage occurs. And beech and oak, in particular, really take a beating. But still, every year they produce new leaves . . . and insects wreak havoc.

6-leafminer pupa

Leafminers include larvae of moths (Lepidoptera), beetles (Coleoptera), sawflies (Hymenoptera) and flies (Diptera). I’m still trying to understand their life cycles, but today we got to see their scat when Mike pulled back a leaf layer! How cool is that?  Instantly, I recognized a new parlor trick that I can’t wait to share with the GLLT after-school Trailblazers program we offer through Lovell Recreation.

7-grandma and granddaughter

As for today, Mike’s mother-in-law, Linda, tested the wow factor on her granddaughter and we knew we had a winner.

8-hickory tussock moth caterpillar

Our attention was then directed to the tussock moth caterpillars, including the hickory tussock moth that seems to enjoy a variety of leaf flavors.

9-another tussock

And we found another tussock entering its pupating stage. We didn’t dare touch any of them for the hair of the tussocks can cause skin irritation and none of us wanted to deal with that.

11-leaf roller

Our next find was a leaf roller, and for me the wonder is all about the stitches it creates to glue its rolled home closed.

12-meadow goldenrods

Eventually we reached a wildflower meadow where our nature distraction disorder shifted a bit from insects to flowers, including local goldenrods.

12a-up close

There was much to look at and contemplate and everyone took advantage of the opportunity to observe on his/her own and then consult with others.

13-silvery checkerspot butterfly

One insect we all noted was the Silvery Checkerspot Butterfly. It’s a wee one and in the moment I couldn’t remember its name.

14-checkerspots mating

But . . . it remembered how to canoodle and we reveled in the opportunity to see such.

15-bees on Joe Pye Weed

Our final insect notification was a bumblebee on the Joe-Pye-Weed. A year ago we had the opportunity to watch the bumblebees and honey bees in this very meadow, but today there were no honeybees because a local beekeeper’s hives collapsed last winter.

15a-Beside Kezar River

Our public walk ended but the day continued and I move along to the Kezar River Reserve to enjoy lunch before an afternoon devoted to trail work.

15b-darner exuvia

Below the bench that sits just above the river, I love to check in on the local exuvia–in this case a darner that probably continues to dart back and forth along the shoreline, ever in search of a delectable meal.

16-Autumn Meadowhawk Dragonfly

Landing frequently for me to notice was an Autumn Meadowhawk Dragonfly, its body all ruby colored and legs reddish rather than black.

17-milk snake

My goal was to slip down to the river level like the local otters might and as I moved along I startled a small snake–a milk snake. Not an insect . . . but still!

19-Mrs. Slaty Skimmer

Because I was there, so was the female Slaty Slimmer Dragonfly, and she honored me by pausing for reflection.

18-slaty skimmer dragonflies

Apparently I wasn’t the only one to notice her subtle beauty, for love was in the air and on the wing.

20-female ruby meadowhawk dragonfly

Lovell hosts many, many insects, but I certainly have a few favorites that change with the season and the location. Today, Ruby Meadowhawks were a major part of the display.

21-female ruby meadowhawk dragonfly

Note the yellowish-brown face; yellowish body for a female; and black triangles on the abdomen, and black legs.

Our findings today were hardly inclusive, but our joy in noticing and learning far outweighed what the offerings gathered.

Ruby, Slaty, Miner, Tussock, Checkerspot, so many varieties, so many Insects of Lovell, and we only touched on the possibilities. Thank you, Mike, for opening our bug eyes!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Day The World Passed By

I love those days when I have a few moments and can pay attention to the world around me. It never ceases to fill me with awe and wonder. And today was such as I had a free hour that I chose to spend on the dock.

1-fishing spikder

I shouldn’t have been surprised to see a fishing spider the size of my palm resting there, but I was for it was my first sighting of one this year. True confession, indoors I’m not a huge spider fan and as a kid I used to holler for someone to come kill any arachnid I spied. But . . . with age comes appreciation. And perhaps understanding.

2-fishing spider bristles

And so I appreciated this spider’s pattern and understood the need for its hairy body that gave it such a scary look. Fishing spiders hunt by sensing vibrations. The hair is hydrophobic, meaning it repels water. It also allows the spider to actually walk on water to get its prey. Those bristly hairs also trap air bubbles that the spider uses to breathe when it waits underwater to ambush a meal, be it insects, tadpoles, or other invertebrates.

3-lancet clubtail and ant

When I heard wing beats behind me, I turned my focus away from Charlotte and toward a Lancet Clubtail dragonfly that had landed on a seat of My Guy’s boat. An ant marched right over to check it out.

4-ant tickling dragonfly

And I fully expected the Lance to eat the ant. But . . . he didn’t. Drats.  I like watching them consume their prey.

5-lancet minus one tarsus

The more I looked at this guy, and it was a guy based on its cercus, the more I noticed, including the fact that it was missing the tarsi or claw-like foot of one leg.

6-dragonfly_anatomy

It was his face though, that I really wanted to study. I found this simplified picture at arizonadragonfly.org, and though it’s not complete, it provided enough information for my purposes.

7-facial features of a dragonfly

There’s so much to learn, that to add more detail would be more than overwhelming. Look at the mouth parts. And those eyes–each is composed of 30,000 lenses. Apparently, they can see ultraviolet and polarized light. And then there’s the ocelli, or visual organs, that probably work along with the antennae. Prey don’t have a chance.

8-fishing spider

When the Lance flew away, I checked on Charlotte again. Still she sat, one leg dangling below the dock board and touching a web. I figured she was waiting for movement to announce that a meal had arrived.

9-Ted had arrived

And then I noticed that it wasn’t a meal, but perhaps a mate she’d been expecting.

11-spider movement

Suddenly, he darted under the dock and she started across the gap–toward me!

12-Charlotte the spider

Then she stopped, seemed to make an adjustment,  and quickly disappeared.

13-spider nursery

I moved in for a closer look and made a discovery.

14-spider nursery

Her nursery! Fishing spiders are nursery web spiders. She must have wrapped her eggs in a silken sac and carried it to the gap between the outer two boards of the dock, where she constructed the web. And she was standing guard waiting for her spiderlings to emerge–until I came along. Now the question remains, will I be around when they do hatch and disperse on their own silken threads?

15-bubble on water

I don’t know. But today, I was there to notice so much in such a short time–as the world passed by.

 

 

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.