Wrote Aldo Leopold, “Everyone knows…that the autumn landscape in the north woods is the land, plus a red maple, plus a Ruffed Grouse. In terms of conventional physics, the grouse represents only a millionth of either the mass or the energy of an acre yet subtract the grouse and the whole thing is dead.”
And so it was that I tramped with a couple of friends today who had the delightful pleasure of meeting ArGee (R. G. for Ruffed Grouse). We’d been chatting and searching for a few red blooms on a tall staghorn sumac when suddenly we spied him crossing over a stone wall and approaching us.
He circled and circled for a while as we stood still yet continued to talk–sharing admiration and awe at the opportunity to be in his presence.
We watched him forage for seeds and wondered about his behavior. Typically, Ruffed Grouse are loners, except for mating season. But this one seems to greet visitors to its territory with somewhat regular frequency.
When we moved, he did likewise–usually a few feet to either side of us.
And when we stopped, he did the same, seeming as curious as us.
It was a brisk morning, so periodically he did what birds do to warm up–turned into a football of sorts as he fluffed up his feathers to trap warmer air. A bird’s body heat warms the air between its feathers and the more trapped air, the warmer the bird. After all, he didn’t have the luxury of hand warmers. But then again, we didn’t have the luxury of trapping air within our feathers.
While we watched, I couldn’t help but notice the auricular feathers–those stiff feathers that cover the bird’s ear and form a triangular patch that extends back from the bill and the middle of the eye.
Do you see what I mean as they fan out below ArGee’s eye?
Here’s another look. And notice that beak–sturdy and down-curved for eating buds and twigs, the bird’s staple in winter.
Survival isn’t easy for a Ruffed Grouse, but despite his affinity for people, ArGee knew to take cover occasionally and perhaps that is why he is still among us. That and maybe the fact that we’re honored to be in his presence and learn more about his species as we have the ability to study him.
While I’d previously noted the comb-like scales on his feet that act as snowshoes and perhaps add stability somewhat like a porcupine as he’ll search for buds in trees once winter advances, today’s understanding included noting how ArGee moved–with one foot placed in front of the other.
I’ve seen it displayed in the tracks left behind including this old set we found further along, but watching the proximity of one foot to another as ArGee moved added a vision and understanding to the signs left behind.
Sometimes it seemed the feet were practically touching and other times there was a bit of space between them. Then again, at times ArGee paused and that seemed to be when his feet where closer together and other times he marched or ran beside us and there was a bit of distance between the two feet.
Our time with ArGee lasted maybe a half hour or less. And he wasn’t always puffed up to stay warm. When he returned to his original size, his chicken-like form seemed more apparent.
Always, he searched for buds to consume. Ruffed Grouse have a special internal adaptation, most helpful for their winter diet–similar to that of deer and moose, which is rather funny when you think about the fact that most Ruffed Grouse burst out of the snowpack and scare the daylights out of us as we approach and make our hearts beat rapidly as we’re certain we’ve encountered a moose. Maybe they should be named Ruffed Moose instead.
So back to that internal winter adaptation: they store food in their crops (esophagus) until later and then within their bodies are two offshoots of their intestines, called caeca, which grow enormous each autumn and allow them to break down cellulose so they can get nourishment from the woody aspen and birch buds that they prefer. Come spring, the caeca atrophy for the warmer months.
Our lesson from ArGee ended in much the same time frame as it usually does, but he left us wondering all the same. After we’d spent time moving and stopping together, suddenly he started to gently attack the backs of our legs. It was at a spot that seemed to delineate his territory given past experiences, but why the attacks? Did he want us to leave? Not leave? Were we suddenly seen as the aggressor? All along he’d seemed as curious about us as we him and so we were left to ask questions which we did for the rest of our journey. But wow. We were given the opportunity to wonder.
And wonder we did. What did ArGee see in us?
And what was he thinking?
Bird brain? What passes through it? We may never know, but we do know that our lives were enriched and the landscape is alive.
All month I’ve been thinking about which book to recommend and then a recent purchase came to the forefront. Finally. It’s a good thing given that this is the last day of November.
Here’s the scoop: I was scanning book titles at Maine Audubon’s Gilsland Farm Bookstore and happened upon Kaufman’s Field Guide to Nature of New England. Since I already had National Audubon Society Field Guide to New England on my bookshelf, I wasn’t sure I needed Kaufman’s guide. But my friend Karen Herold highly recommended it and said she preferred it to the other book. I’m am hear to state that I wholeheartedly agree.
Kaufman Field Guide to Nature of New England was written by husband/wife team Kenn Kaufman and Kimberly Kaufman. Both are naturalists extraordinaire, he being the author of other field guides (which I don’t yet own) and she the executive director of the Black Swamp Bird Observatory in Ohio.
The Kaufmans have color coded each section of the 7.75 X 4.75-inch book, making for easy reference. And though it’s a wee bit heavy (no heavier than the other book), it fits easily into the small pack I carry for explorations of the natural world. Of course, David Brown’s Trackards, accompany it.
Speaking of tracks, the Kaufmans do offer a few identifying features of such, but they also recommend two other sources: the Peterson Guide to Animal Tracks and Paul Rezendes’ Tracks and the Art of Seeing. I highly recommend both as well,
which just happens to include me in the acknowledgements. But . . .
my go-to guide in the field remains David Brown’s Trackards.
Back to the Kaufman guide: I wish I’d had it with me this past summer when I encountered sulphur butterflies puddling on a dirt road in the western Maine town of Fryeburg. First off, the section on butterflies and moths begins with an explanation of their life cycles and the differences between the two, including an illustration of their antennae.
In addition, a feature I really like is the view of the upper and underside of the wings since . . .
some butterflies “keep their wings tightly closed above their backs when at rest,
showing their bright undersides mainly in flight,” state the Kaufmans on page 302.
I could have fluctuated between Clouded Sulphur and Pink-edged Sulphur in my determination, but the description on page 302 reminded me that the latter prefers bogs and blueberry barrens and I was standing in the midst of a farm where milkweed, other wildflowers and hay grew. The other thing that supported my attempt at ID was that though my butterflies did have pink-edged wings, the dots matched those of the Clouded in the book.
And since it is now winter, the guide will be handy to pull out when showing others what a critter looks like–especially if we have the joy of spying one.
Occasionally that happens, such as on one occasion last winter when a few of us saw this mink. Please forgive the fuzziness–a result of my excitement.
And had I purchased the book sooner, I could have pulled it out as two friends and I watched an otter frolic in early summer.
But . . . now I have it and it is the perfect addition to my pack, whether for solo hikes or with others when we question what we’re seeing.
I think one of the things that I really appreciate about this book is the voice of the authors, which echoes my own thoughts. (And their sweet dedications to each other on page 4.)
In the introduction, Kenn writes, “Once a person goes outdoors with senses attuned to nature, the sheer diversity of living things is both delightful and maddening, both reassuring and overwhelming.” Just this morning, Alanna Doughty, education director of Lakes Environmental Association, and I exchanged an email conversation about the very same thought and gave thanks that we still have so much to learn.
Kaufman continues, “If we try to look at everything in nature, we find so many things that we never get past the edge of the parking lot.” I chuckled when I read that because my peeps and I have said the same thing, whether I’m tramping with the docents of the Greater Lovell Land Trust or a group of Maine Master Naturalists.
Does the book cover every single species to be discovered in New England? That would be impossible–or at least too heavy to tote along on a tramp. “Our intent has been to cover those things that people are most likely to notice, so we have exercised a bias toward the most conspicuous plants and animals.” With that in mind, my suggestion: purchase Kaufman Field Guide to Nature of New England and throw it into your pack. Then purchase any other guide books and refer to them when you get home.
Book of November: Kaufman Field Guide to Nature of New England by Kenn Kaufman & Kimberly Kaufman, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012.
Some people collect salt and pepper shakers, others small figurines or coins or stamps or antique cars or beer caps or . . . TWIGS! Yep, I would fall into the latter category and because I used them last week to teach a class, I thought I’d also share them with you.
If you stop reading right now, I understand. If you choose to continue, please know that some of what you read I’ve learned from the Maine Master Naturalist course, which first opened my eyes to twigs and buds; some from a variety of books on the subject; and lots from personal observation. You may not always agree with me, but I strongly encourage you to step outdoors and take a look. Keep track of your observations and begin to note idiosyncrasies. But do remember this: nature hasn’t read the books and doesn’t always follow the rules we’ve insisted upon as we try to make sense of the world around us.
Next year’s flower and leaf buds formed this past summer and overwinter inside bud scales, which are actually modified leaves. Most scales, such as this one, provide protection with a waxy coating. (Species: Norway Maple, Acer platanoides)
Terminal buds are located at the tips of most twigs. When that bud forms, the tree ceases to grow for the year. At the base of the terminal bud is a leaf scar where a former leaf stem was attached to the twig. And within the leaf scar are little corky dots called bundle scars that were actually the vascular tissue that had connected the leaf to the twig. Think veins. The shape of the leaf scar and number of bundle scars can be used as an identifying mark since they are often consistent across a species. (Species: White Ash, Fraximus americana)
Leaf scars come in a variety of shapes, including monkey faces topped with hairy caps. (Species: Butternut, Juglans cinera)
Others may be shield shaped, though you could also see a bit of a funny face in this one. (Species: Shagbark Hickory, Carya ovata)
And there are those that nearly encircle the bud. (Species: Staghorn Sumac, Rhus hirta)
Some twigs feature a false terminal bud. In reality, it was a lateral or side bud that took the position of the terminal bud. On twigs that don’t have actual terminal buds, such as American Elm and Basswood, the wood kept growing until the tree could no longer supply it with nutrients or something else impeded its growth. The twig then died back to the last terminal bud and dropped off. (Species: American Elm, Ulmus americana)
On those twigs with a false terminal bud, a branch scar was left behind when the woody structure broke off. The branch scar is located . . .
opposite the leaf scar, which contains bundle scars. (The branch scar does not have bundle scars.) (Species: American Basswood, Tilia americana)
Below the terminal or false terminal buds are lateral buds, those which grow on the side of the twig. Their orientation may be opposite, such as this example. (Species: Sugar Maple, Acer saccharum)
Others are alternate. The cool thing about this example is that the alternate buds are also appressed, meaning they grow flat to the twig; and they are one scaled (well, actually two scales fused together as one). (Species: Willow, Salix spp.)
Alternate appressed buds may grow far apart or quite close to each other such as with this particular tree and its globous buds. (Species: Quaking Aspen, Populus tremuloides)
Others are divergent and stick out away from their twig. (Species: American Beech, Fagus grandifolia)
Then there’s the pith. I just like saying that word–pith, pith, pith. Pith is the soft central core or interior of the twig. It comes in a variety of patterns including round, triangular and star-shaped such as is illustrated here. (Species: Quaking Aspen, Populus tremuloides)
In some species, its shape is best viewed in cross-section by halving the twig lengthwise with a sharp knife. Diaphragmed pith, solid with partitions, can be seen in Black Gum, which I didn’t find. But this example is chambered pith, which is hollow with partitions. (Species: Butternut, Juglans cinerea)
Another fun characteristic that aids in identification is the occurrence of catkins on members of the birch family. (Note: Betulaceae, the birch family, includes six genera of deciduous nut-bearing trees and shrubs: the birches, alders, hazels, hornbeams, hazel-hornbeam, and hop-hornbeams.) (Species: Speckled Alder, Alnus incana ssp.rugosa) Speckled Alder is really a shrub, but don’t tell it that.
Another fun thing to point out are the growth rings on twigs. We often think of aging a tree by counting the rings from the heartwood out to the bark, but . . . twigs have rings of their own. They’re a bit raised and wrinkled in presentation, but each cluster of rings indicates where that year’s leaf and flower buds had formed, developed, and released their seeds. After that, the twig continued to grow. The same will develop once the current buds complete their cycle. (Species: Striped Maple, Acer pensylvanicum)
If you’ve stuck with me, know that the end is in sight. I’d like to conclude this post with examples of some of my favorite trees found in the western Maine woods. I’ll begin with those deciduous trees with alternate buds. This particular twig is in a family that features catkins. It has several cousins so it’s worth getting to know a few of them. Notice the hairy twig, but not so hairy and rather pointed buds. Buds on older branches grow on stacked scars, which I’ll share an example of in a minute. If you were to squeeze these buds, they’d be sticky. Those are all great clues, and here’s one more. The tree’s bark is white and it curls away from the tree in rather big sheets.
Did you guess correctly?
Here’s a cousin and that example of stacked scars with the bud at the end that I promised. Notice the lack of hair? The clues for this species: scrape the bark on the twig and sniff it. Does it smell like wintergreen? And the bark on the trunk–does it peel away like ribbons? (Species: Yellow Birch, Betula alleghaniensis)
And another member of the Betula family. This one is an early succession tree, meaning it grows quickly in fields and along roads that have been disturbed. But it is also the shortest lived of the family and doesn’t reach an old age in tree years (Yellow Birch can grow to be about 250 years and Paper Birch about 150). This species is lucky if it reaches its 90th birthday. Though you can’t see it here, the twig isn’t hairy, but it is quite bumpy or warty. And it doesn’t have a wintergreen odor if scratched. Also, the bud isn’t sticky. Though only one catkin is shown here, it could have two, while Paper Birch has three and Yellow three or four. Who is this?
I’m sure you guessed it.
Another of alternate twig and bud orientation, this particular bud is often described as a cigar. I’m not sure that works for me–maybe as it expands a bit in the spring, but the multiple overlapping scales and pointed tip make it seem obvious as its different from all other presentations. Plus, its leaves are marcescent, meaning they wither or remain on many younger trees throughout the winter. Actually, it’s easy to be fooled into thinking a mammal is moving nearby for in a slight breeze the marcescent leaves rattle. I’ll admit I’ve jumped a few times. Back to the buds–the other thing to note is that like a New York Fern, it tapers at both ends (maybe they, too, keep their lights on at both ends of the day). Who is this?
Bingo! You are on a roll! I should define lenticel at this point. Those raised white dots on the twig are the lenticels, which are the pores that provide openings for air-gas exchange.
We haven’t talked about the fact that some twigs have buds crowded at the tip. In this particular case, I think of them as a crown.
This cousin also wears a crown. So, what are their differences? The first is more conical and shinier than the second. And look at their colors. Number 1 comes in shades of chestnut brown, while number 2 is much darker and almost reddish brown in tone. You’d have to look carefully to see the silky hairs at the pointed tip of number 1, but trust me that they are there. Number 2 is hairless and blunt.
This is number 1. Did you guess that correctly? And number 2 is . . . White Oak, Quercus alba.
Now it’s on to trees with opposite orientation. And if you think you’re seeing double, you are! I used this photograph at the start. But now, let’s compare this twig to that of a cousin.
Can you see the fuzz on this one? And no fuzz on the one above? Also, notice in the first one the notched leaf scar. The second is not deeply notched. Who are they?
Two of the three ashes that grow locally. Identifying White and Green Ash, as they are respectively, is never easy, but the hairs or lack of, and the shape of the leaf scars are the key elements.
And finally, two members of probably everyone’s favorite fall trees. Notice the lateral buds are arranged on opposite sides. The buds and branch are purplish brown. On the twig, the buff colored lenticels practically jump out. The bud is a tad bit hairy and sharp pointed. Do you see the leaf scar bundles? How many? I hope you counted three. And who might this be?
You are almost done. Only one last twig to examine.
This one is probably Maine’s signature tree when it comes to fall foliage. And of all the members of the Maple family, this is the most abundant species. So, remember the crowded buds on the Oaks? Well, this twig also sometimes wears a crown. But, the terminal bud is wedged between two opposite lateral buds. And the color–red, because there’s always something red on this tree. Hint. Hint. If that didn’t give it away, this will . . .
I love Red Maple. If you haven’t done so, follow the progression of its buds and I hope you’ll be wowed when it flowers next spring. Until I looked, I never noticed its dainty flowers. Now, I can’t not look.
If you’ve stayed with me thus far, congratulations. You deserve an award. Or at least a hearty THANK YOU!
There’s more, but I’ll let the bigwigs handle that. I just learned of a new book about trees that I plan to purchase soon entitled Woody Plants of the Northern Forest: A Photographic Guide by Jerry Jenkins. Thanks to fellow naturalist Anita Smith for the recommendation. I can’t wait to add it to my bookshelf.
Who knew there could be so many idiosyncrasies? After all, aren’t they all just twigs and buds? Ah, the wonder.
I hope you’ll refer to this primer periodically as you gain a better understanding of twig morphology. And share it with your friends 😉
Some Mondates are meant to be shared and this was one of them for I’d made arrangements to join the Fairs, Farms and Fun 4-H Group as they decorated a tree (or two or three) on a Greater Lovell Land Trust property this morning.
And honestly, my guy was as excited as me to join the adventure for he loves kids.
One of the GLLT’s volunteer docents, Juli, had offered to lead today’s hike since her four children are part of the group. And because she’s a Maine Master Naturalist-in-Training, she made evergreen trees the focus as she explained when we circled up.
All together there were fifteen kids–fourteen of them walking and one young babe tucked inside her mom’s coat. At least I think there were that many. Every time I counted, the number seemed to change.
After Juli’s initial explanation, we headed off onto the trail. Though most of us sported blaze orange because it’s hunting season, we made enough noise to announce our arrival to deer and their predators within range and beyond, I’m sure.
We’d gone only a wee bit, when Juli stopped the group to ask them about evergreens. My guy and I were impressed with their collective knowledge.
But it wasn’t only for the trees that she stopped. She’d spied a decoration already dangling and asked if the kids knew how it happened to be there.
What was it? A mushroom. Did it fall from the sky? Or from a taller tree? No and no. Instead, they figured out that a squirrel had deposited it and Juli explained that red squirrels place mushrooms in trees to dry. Or rather, freeze dry as was the case.
She hadn’t walked much further when she stopped again. And again asked some questions as she showed off the five needles in a white pine bundle.
Five needles in each bundle makes it easy to remember as there are five letters in W-H-I-T-E, the color of Maine’s State Tree: Eastern White Pine.
It wasn’t all a lesson for the name of this 4-H group includes the word “Fun.” And so they climbed atop and under an erratic boulder and added more life on a rock than that one had seen in a long time.
A little further on a bit of an incline invited their exploration and what to their wondering eyes should they discover but a long abandoned cellar hole with trees growing in it. For a few minutes that became their playground.
It took us a while to move along because the kids kept finding cool things to admire, including a variety of mammal tracks and . . . even a dead spider.
What do you see? Lots of eyes.
And you? Fangs.
And you? Hairy legs.
After that discovery, we had to run to catch up with the rest of the group because they were on their way to the scenic overlook. But one of the boys had borrowed a GLLT Nature Backpack from the Charlotte Hobbs Memorial Library, which I was thrilled to see, and we used the lucite insect box with a magnifier that was stored in the pack so that all the kids could look at the spider up close if they so wished.
And then it was time to decorate a tree. But first, Juli had the kids identify three types of evergreens in the same vicinity: spruce, hemlock and balsam fir. Their decorating began with the balsam fir.
One by one, they attached homemade, biodegradable ornaments.
And added a tree topper in the form of a birch bark “sleeve.”
Some were hearts cut from birch bark . . .
and coated with peanut butter and sunflower seeds.
It took great concentration.
In no time, the tree was fully decorated.
Some changes had to be made. For one, one of the younger boys wanted his ornament to serve as a tree topper, so the birch bark sleeve was placed in a resting place on another tree.
And then the kids decided to decorate any branch in the vicinity that attracted their fancy.
At least one needed a boost, but that’s what someone else’s mom was for when your own mom was busy with your baby sister.
Branches all around certainly won’t feel left out.
And no mouse or bird or squirrel or deer will go unfed.
The kids quickly realized that they’d created a critter cafe that even included an offering tucked between two hop hornbeam trees.
At last, the decorating had come to an end and the crew posed for photographs.
Our journey back to the parking lot was the same distance as we followed the rest of the one-mile loop, but we travelled much more quickly. We did pause once in a while, however, especially in a grove of young white pines, where the kids practiced aging a tree.
They knew to begin with 5 for the number of years it takes the seed to germinate and begin to grow and then to count the whorls of branches, each whorl representing one year.
My guy challenged them to find one that matched his age. They found one that was 43–only off by 20+ years. But a few noted that it did match their dad’s age. I chuckled for I’d had that particular dad in class way back when he was in middle school.
We were almost done when they made one last discovery–ice! Their very own rink. One little boy wanted to live there so he could slide on the ice all day. And then jump in the water come summer. We didn’t have the heart to tell him that the ice was a result of our rainy October and its not a permanent feature.
It was lunch time when the group was finally ready to depart.
All the way home and even still, my guy and I have been smiling about our morning and the fun we had sharing it with the kids and their moms. Thank you Juli, and 4-H leader Wendy, and all of the homeschooled kids who attended. We were blessed by the opportunity to spend a few hours with you on the Jolly Mondate.
This afternoon’s goal: To find a Christmas Tree to decorate for the Christmas at Ladies Delight Walk on December 1st. For the reconnaissance mission, I joined the Coombs family at the GLLT’s Chip Stockford Reserve.
The Coombs children are homeschooled by their amazing mother, Juli, and though they learn many lessons at home, they are also well educated in the outdoors. In fact, they are among my favorite naturalists.
And they belong to a 4-H Homeschool group that will decorate a tree(s) with biodegradable ornaments prior to the December 1st walk.
And so we set off on our tour looking for just the right tree. But . . . as is always the case with this family, there was so much more to see.
Since Juli is a Maine Master Naturalist Program student, so are her children. And every topic she studies, they study, so it was no surprise to me that six-year-old Wes picked up stick after stick loaded with various forms of lichens.
Of course, they are children, ranging in age from six to eleven, and puddles are invitations. The family motto is this: No puddle shall remain unsplashed.
But just after the puddle, at the start of an old log landing, we began to notice something else. A mushroom drying on the whorl of a White Pine.
As we stood and looked at the first, someone among us spied a second.
And then a third, and so it went. We knew that squirrels dried mushrooms in this manner, but never had we seen so many. It dawned on us that we were standing in a squirrel’s pantry. One squirrel? Two squirrel? Gray Squirrel? Red Squirrel? One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.
For a while we paused by an erratic boulder and looked at the lichens that grew atop it. The kids and their mom also checked the sand under and behind it and I told them that the only critter sign I’d ever noticed was that of a Ruffed Grouse sand bath–and I only recognized it as such because I’d startled the two birds and they startled me as they flew off. In fact, on another hike this morning at the GLLT’s Five Kezar Ponds Reserve, friend Teresa and I had startled a grouse and we talked about how the bird’s explosive behavior makes us feel as if we’ve encountered a moose.
Well, just beyond the boulder, as we all chatted and moved about with quick motion, Caleb spotted something and told us to stop. A Ruffed Grouse!
It threw leaves about as it sorted through them in search of seeds and buds and we all watched in silence.
As we stood or sat still, the bird moved this way and that, making soft clucking sounds the entire time.
Ellie stood in front as the bird moved a few feet ahead of her and crossed the trail. I kept looking back at Juli in wonder. How could this be? Why wasn’t it disturbed by us? I’ve spotted Spruce Grouse in higher elevations and they are much “friendlier” or less wary of people, but I’d never been able to get up close to a Ruffed Grouse.
Our fascination continued and we noted its feathered legs, making us think perhaps it had pulled on some long johns for a cold winter night.
It eyed us and we eyed it back–our minds filled with awe.
Think about this: four children and two adults and we were starting to get fidgety because we’d been still for fifteen or more minutes and we had begun to whisper our questions and still . . . it let us watch.
And it let Ellie be the Grouse Whisperer for she began to follow it off the trail. Eventually, it climbed up a fallen tree and she knelt down beside, taking photos as it stood less than a foot from her. How cool is that?
We were all wowed by the experience, but when Ellie finally turned back, we continued on . . . sometimes running and other times pausing to ride imaginary horses.
Or listen to Birch Polypores! Yes, Juli did listen for it’s part of an assignment for the Maine Master Naturalist class. So what exactly does a Birch Polypore sound like? “I couldn’t hear the ocean,” she said with a smile.
And what does it smell like? “Wood.”
The next moment of glee–poking Wolf’s Milk Slime Mold and watching it ooze.
“It’s cool and gross at the same time,” said Ellie.
Onward and again, more fungi drying in trees as Aidan pointed out.
We even found a few stuck on spiky spruces much like ornaments might be and we reminded ourselves that we were on a mission and still hadn’t found the right tree to decorate.
At last, however, we did. And then we made our way out to the spur and recently opened view of Kezar Lake’s Lower Bay and Cranberry Fen, plus the mountains.
This became our turn-around point as it was getting cooler by the minute and the sun was setting. We promised Wes we’d look only at our feet as we followed the loop trail down, though occasionally we stopped again to admire more fungi tucked onto tree branches and a set of trees that formed a rainbow arched over the trail.
As for the fungi, we wondered if we were seeing so many because last year’s mast crop of pinecones, beech nuts, and acorns didn’t exist this year. And when the 4-H club returns in a couple of weeks to decorate the tree, will the mushrooms still be there? Will there be more? How long do the squirrels wait before consuming them? So many questions and so many lessons still to be learned.
And so many things to spy. We were honored with the opportunity to do just that and my heart smiled with the knowledge that the kids appreciated it as much as their mom and I did.
I spy . . . we spied . . . INDEED!
Oh, and please join the GLLT for Christmas at Ladies Delight. I have the inside word that there will be hot cocoa and cookies somewhere along the trail.
December 1, 9:30 – noon
Christmas at Ladies Delight: The Maine Christmas Tree Hunt is a fun holiday scavenger
hunt to find decorated trees in western Maine. We’ll search for the decorated tree along the Bill Sayles Loop at the Chip Stockford Reserve and may add a few of our own biodegradable ornaments along the way. Location: Chip Stockford Reserve, Ladies Delight Road, Lovell.
Degree of Difficulty: Easy.
Some days are meant to be spent at home, especially when there’s yard work to finish up before the snow flies. And so today was just such a day and my guy chose to work on the leaves while I finished putting the gardens to bed and mowed one last time for this year.
It was while putting the garden to bed that I made a discovery–a form of bird’s nest fungi, this one being Crucibulum laeve! The structure is so named because it resembles a tiny bird nest. Prior to spore distribution, each “nest” is covered with a yellowish lid. Inside, the little disc-shaped “eggs” are called peridioles, which contain the spores. When a raindrop falls into the nest, the eggs are projected out of the cup. I’ve had the honor or watching that one rainy day, but it was one of those “you had to be there” moments that will live on in my mind’s eye.
In one of the gardens stands a rather decrepit Quaking Aspen. It’s a favorite tree for woodpeckers and porcupines. thus it’s terrible condition. And usually I post photos of bear claw trees, but this particular aspen sports many, many porcupine scratches, some new and others older, such as these.
As I looked at the bark to notice what else might be about, I spotted a spotted ladybug. We’d had a frost overnight, but she continued to move, however lethargically.
By the kitchen garden, I found another insect I’d forgotten all about these last few weeks–the caterpillar larvae of the Psychidae or bagworm moths that construct cases out of silk and environmental materials, much the way a caddisfly might. It’s the perfect camouflage from predators such as birds and even other insects.
Everywhere throughout the garden were milkweed seeds, some wearing beaded skirts that will likely keep them in place. That’s fine with me, for I love milkweed. Even if this one does eventually fly away on a whim and voluntarily plant itself in another location, I know that my plants will produce more seeds for they also increase their population via underground tuberous rhizomes. Some call them invasive; I call them welcome.
I’m not so sure the creator of this large hole in the yard is welcome. I know my guy wasn’t impressed. It’s about a foot wide and deep. We suspect one of “our” woodchucks. I’d rather think it was excavated by the beautiful red fox that crosses the yard several times a day, but it’s a bit away from the fox’s route.
My wander eventually took me from the garden to the stone walls, where lichens form their own little gardens and support such species as the Mealy Pixie Cups, a fruticose lichen with a stalk or podetia below the cup.
Foliose-styled rock shield lichens grow abundantly on the rock’s surface, their success due to the numerous disk-shaped structures called apothecia. Reproductive spores develop on the rolled edges of the brown berets, awaiting the time when conditions are just right for them to move on and grow into a new lichen.
Crustose lichens were the most plentiful with their painted on appearance, like this ash-gray Cinder Lichen that reminded me of a mosaic piece of artwork.
One of my favorite crustoses, however, was the Concentric Boulder Lichen with its raised blackish-brown apothecia. Each time I saw the pattern created by the little disks, I felt like I was looking at a maze.
And then I stepped over the wall and turned my attention to some trees. That’s when I spied numerous tent caterpillar eggs cases. The Eastern Tent Caterpillar overwinters as an egg. Each one is part of a greater mass of anywhere from 150 to 400 eggs. They encircle a branch and are almost impossible to see, until your eye begins to recognize the structure. This was an old one and no longer had the shiny varnish-like coating that will help keep winter at bay.
Also keeping winter at bay were the waxy scales of tree leaf and flower buds. The buds formed in the summer and now must wait for February’s warm sun before they begin to swell and ready themselves for next spring’s bloom. In the meantime, they are snug inside their tight structures.
My next great find–tubes or tunnels created by the Pine Tube Moth. Last summer, larvae hatched from eggs deposited on the needles. Though Eastern White Pine needles grow in packets of five (W-H-I-T-E or M-A-I-N-E is a mnemonic we use to remember how many needles on the white pine, spelling “white” for its name or “Maine” because it is the state tree.) Anyway, the tube moth used silk to bind a bunch of needles together, thus forming a hollow tube. Can you see the silk at the top? Notice the browned tips–that’s due to the larvae feeding on them. Eventually the overwintering larvae will pupate within the tube and in April they’ll emerge. Two generations occur each year and those that overwinter are the second generation. The good news is that Pine Tube Moths are not considered a significant pest.
One of my favorite finds as I headed down the cowpath toward home was actually an old friend–Pinesap in its winter capsule form. Pinesap is similar to Indian Pipe, another Monotropa (once turned speaking to its flower that turns upright after fertilization). The creamy whitish flowers developed into woody capsules. As the capsules mature, the structures become erect. Once ripened, seeds will be released through slits that open from the tip to the base of the capsules.
I was back in the grassy part of our yard when I passed by a tree in the corner and made a new discovery–a false tinder conk or polypore, with its black fissured cap. My very own Phellinus ignarius! While a Tinder Conks pore surface is usually concave, in the false specimen, it’s angled downward from the rim to the tree.
I know my friend Faith will see a smiley face in the upper spore surface; it rather reminds me of a weasel.
We never left home today, my guy and me. Our focus was on the yard, but mine was a wee bit different than his. And for those of you who have been asking–these photographs were all taken with the Canon Rebel T3i. Yep, that’s the one that got wet when I decided to flip off a boardwalk last May.
It was a mere drizzle when we stepped outside and walked to Pondicherry Park, but eventually we needed to pull up the hoods of our raincoats. Our journey was rather quick as we followed first the Snowshoe Hare trail, and then the Pasture Trail, which led us to the Stonewall Loop, where two thirds of the way around, we diverted.
Our main intention had been to cross over the stonewall that marks the park’s boundary and explore the Pinehaven Trail owned by Lakes Environmental Association. It is on this land that the Maine Lake Science Center is located, but there are other cool features as well.
As the first sign informed us, we had arrived. And you can see by the moisture that it was raining in earnest.
Funding for the Pinehaven Trail signs and low-element course was provided by LEA Board Member Roy Lambert and his wife Mary Maxwell, summer residents of Bridgton who have made a huge impact on protecting the lakes and ponds we all love. Roy has brought the LakeSmart Program to LEA and Mary has spearheaded LEA’s invasive plant patrols.
Despite the fact that the sign warned us the course is “dangerous when wet,” we decided to test it out. After all, we were accompanied by a leaf as indicated.
Broken into four wonderful sets, each offering a variety of activities, we began by becoming birds on a wire.
Though I would have liked to say that I was a Barred Owl or Cooper’s Hawk, being a Nuthatch wasn’t so bad.
My guy . . .
was also a Nuthatch.
Set Two meant getting more practice in the art of walking on a balance beam. It looked so easy, but with each one, the level of difficulty increased a bit as our confidence did the same . . . for the most part.
And at first, our eyes saw only a few anomalies in the woods, but once we focused we realized each leg of the course was more involved than first anticipated.
The second set found us not only keeping our balance on the beams that zigzagged through the grove, but also on a swinging beam.
And then we had to step up and up and up.
One of my favorite parts was circling the tree like a rock wall climber might do.
In the process, I got to hug the pine, not that I ever need an excuse.
My other favorite part of Set Two was the bench. There were other benches along the trail, but I found this one to be the most aesthetically appealing. Even if you don’t want to try out the course, you can walk the trail and sit a bit. You might just see a deer–we did. And in the past I’ve seen other animals including a red fox.
As we walked on, not sure if there were more sets, we spied the first interpretive sign created by LEA’s Education Director, Alanna Doughty, and featuring her explanations and drawings. I LOVE them. And want to decorate my house with them. I didn’t tell my guy that. The other thing I loved about all the signage–it was mounted on rough-edged boards, adding to the natural look. Do I know the creator of those boards? A local box company perhaps?
Much to our delight, not much further on we came to Set Three.
The forest really was enchanted and we found ourselves using all four modes of operation in order to get from one piece of wood to the next.
There were lots of tree cookies to step on and more balance beams to conquer.
Sometimes we hopped like toads, who don’t leap as far as frogs with their longer hind legs.
Other times we had to channel our inner Cooper’s Hawk as there was no place to put our hands.
And in doing so, my guy figured out that pausing to wait for the wire to stop swaying made for an easier crossing. He succeeded. (I need to sneak back and practice this one some more as my knees were a tad too shaky.) We suspected that kids run across without giving it a thought. And so our excuse–it was raining.
Though it looked intimidating at first, moving across the log was fun, but I wasn’t so sure about the beam that turned out to be the highest one yet. It felt like crossing a brook and so after he finished I asked my guy to come back and give me a supporting hand. He laughed and asked if I expected him to stand in the imaginary water. Yes! Chivalry at its best. Once I started across while grasping his hand, I felt rather confident and soon let go. At the other side, I rejoiced in my success. And thanked him, of course.
Onward still, we encountered another one of Alanna’s signs, simple yet informative. And still, we were accompanied by a leaf. And no, we didn’t place the leaves on the signs.
This sign struck me as extremely important, not that the others weren’t. But . . . clean water is what the Lakes Environmental Association is all about.
At last we reached the final set, or first if you approach from Willet Road. Again, a leaf 😉
As for how good would we be as lumberjacks? Well, my guy would pass. I’d almost get there, but I have to work on my log rolling skills.
What I liked about the final set was not only the focus on various types of trees, but also that the same theme was executed in a variety of ways and so we crossed another swinging step bridge.
Sometimes, the choice to be a Nuthatch or Barred Owl didn’t exist and we had to become Cooper’s Hawks as we had nothing to grab onto while moving forward.
There were opportunities to be apes as well and then disappear around the back sides of rather large pine trees, their girth indicative of the fact that the land had once been agricultural and the trees grew in abundant sunshine after it was no longer farmed. So, do you see my guy?
Now you do! Circling around that tree was as fun as the first and it had ash tree foot and hand holds.
He Tarzan! And notice how the piece he was about to step onto was set on a log. Yup, it was a foot seesaw. There were several and we really liked them.
The last set included climbing a rope to the upper deck and then descending the ladder to another and on to a balance beam and then the log rolling. He did it all. I saved the wet log for another visit.
Just beyond the final set was Alanna’s last sign and a hot topic this year since last year’s mast crop of white pine cones, acorns, maple samaras, and beech nuts have meant a banner year for squirrels and mice. Remember, those little rodents don’t have as much food this year and they’ll become food for the predators and nature will try to balance itself once again. Oh, and not only are Alanna’s drawings beautiful but her humor and voice come through in the interpretive signs.
As for us, we had finished our balancing act, crossed the science center’s driveway, followed the second portion of the Pinehaven Trail and wound our way down to the board walk that passes back into Pondicherry Park. From there, we found our way home.
What a blast. I think we were both a bit let down that we’d finished the course.
Thank you LEA, Alanna, Roy and Mary, for providing us with a delightful Mondate Challenge . . . even in the rain. My guy and I highly recommend the Pinehaven Trail.
I was on a reconnaissance mission this afternoon for next week I’m leading some middle school students into a wetland and talking about forest ecology before sharing the joy of foraging with them.
To reach the wetland, it was like walking through a jungle where the ferns grow tall, their fall coloration enhancing the scene. Cinnamon Ferns are a species that easily grow in medium to wet soils in part shade to full shade. The moist, rich, acidic soils, I walked through were much to their liking.
It appeared that they were named for their autumn presentation, but really it refers to the cinnamon-colored fibers found near the frond bases.
Because they look so similar to their relatives in the Osmundaceae family, the Interrupted Fern, I looked to the back of the frond for confirmation. Sure enough, where the pinnae (leaflet) met the rachis (center stem), a tuft that we refer to as the hairy underarm was present.
Onward I continued, not sure what the moisture situation might be. So, in the past, I’ve paused by the kettle hole, but never actually entered it. All that changed today and my plan is to take the students into this special place. A kettle hole is a basin created when a large block of glacial ice was left stranded and subsequently melted in place, producing a basin or depression. These basins fill with water up to the depth of their surrounding water table, which currently happens to be rather low.
Because the temperature had risen after a damp, chilly start to the day, the meadowhawk dragonflies flew . . . and landed. This one was a White-faced Meadowhawk, aptly named for that face.
Its abdomen markings of dark black triangles also help in identification.
Flying in the same airspace where the Autumn Meadowhawks, with their light-colored legs. All other meadowhawks have dark legs.
Love was in the air and on the leaf as a pair of Autumns took advantage of the warm weather to canoodle in the sunlight.
They weren’t alone.
What I learned as I explored was that the kettle was actually a double pot for a second one had formed behind the first. Notice the layered structure of the area from trees on the outer edge to shrubs to grasses and flowers to water.
And everywhere–deer and raccoon tracks crisscrossed through mud and water.
Bird tracks also joined the mix among the raccoon prints.
And because I was interested in learning who lived there, I had to pay homage to the six-spotted fishing spider.
The spider flirted with me as he moved quickly among the spatterdock leaves that sat in the wee bit of water left in the center of the kettle.
I finally left the kettle only to discover another and again the formation of layers.
The water was a bit deeper and a family of Green Teal Ducks dabbled.
It took some time and steady foot placement as I climbed over downed trees hidden by winterberry and other shrubs, but at last I reached my intended destination, a cranberry bog.
And then I spent the next hour or so filling my satchel for so abundant were the little gems of tartness. The best where those hidden among the leaves–dark red and firm were they.
As I picked, I realized I wasn’t the only one foraging. It appeared that either chipmunks or squirrels also knew the value of the flavor–though they only nibbled.
Occasionally, or even more often, I looked up to take in the colors and layers that surrounded me–from leatherleaf bronze to blueberry red to Gray Birch and Red and Silver Maples with a few White Pines in the mix.
Buttonbush added its own color and texture to the scene.
At last I decided to find my way out. (Sorta for I did get a wee bit disoriented.)
Among the offerings were ferns of a different kind–though still related to the cinnamons I’d seen earlier. The Royal Fern’s fertile crown had months ago shared its spores with the world and all that was left were salmon-colored structures.
I picked my way carefully and eventually found one of the kettles. And . . . drum roll please . . .
two Sandhill Cranes. Others can tell you better than I how long the Sandhills have returned to this area, but it’s been for a while now and some even saw a nesting pair this past summer. My sightings have been few and so it’s always a pleasure.
I stood still as they moved about and they didn’t seem to notice my presence.
While they foraged for roots, another also watched.
The Great Blue Heron was cautious as they strolled in his direction.
And then . . . and then . . . in flew a Bald Eagle. And out flew the heron.
The cranes waited a couple of minutes and then they flew, bugling on the wing.
And I rejoiced. Oh, I still had to find my way out and did eventually cross through a property about a quarter mile from where I’d started. But, all in all from kettles to cranberries to birds, it was a Fen-tastic afternoon as I explored an outlet fen.
“The Great Maine Outdoor Weekend is a series of events led by outdoor-oriented organizations and companies to celebrate the how, where, and what of being active outside in Maine. Our goal is to connect our friends and neighbors with the natural world, to promote fun, physical activity, & good health.” ~greatmaineoutdoorweekend.org
Though the temperature was a bit nippy, as in mid-50˚s to start (and colder in the shade), we couldn’t have asked for a better autumn day, especially given that we first began planning this event last winter.
In what seemed like perfect timing for they didn’t all pull in at once, vehicles laden with kayaks and even one canoe, arrived and folks who’d never met before helped each other carry boats, paddles and personal floatation devices down the road. Then we stood in our traditional circle, where Erika of USVLT and I welcomed everyone and introduced our two organizations. By the tile sign created by Maine Master Naturalist Kathy McGreavy, I pointed out our location and destination along the Old Course of the Saco River.
And then we all walked down the road to the put-in site . . .
where our parade of kayaks awaited the adventure.
One at a time the boats were launched. And then the magic began. It was two-fold in that I’d challenged our twenty participants, some of whom had learned of the event via our advertising efforts locally and were already members of our organizations, and others who discovered the event via the GMOW website and wanted to try something new. The challenge was to spend some time chatting with people they’d never met before. And they did. Conversations ranged from living in New York to termite mounds in Africa.
Folks came from Fryeburg, Bridgton, Lovell, Standish, Jackson and North Conway, as well as Westbrook, Portland, and Cape Elizabeth. But that wasn’t all, for one joined us from Philadelphia and two came from Houston. Our furthest traveler hailed from London. Well, truth be told, she’s a long-time GLLT member, docent and board member who spends at least four months in Lovell. 😉 Thanks Moira.
The tapestry of colors was the other magical element. We chatted about the colors and the carotenoids (yellows and orange pigment) showing up as the leaves stop producing sugar and starch for the tree, and the chemical process that produces the anthocyanin or red coloration.
We mentioned the lily pad aphids that sought nutritious sap and noted how the yellowjackets took advantage of the honeydew secretions the aphids offered.
And some of us had the joy of watching two Bald Eagles soar on the thermals above.
There were some fresh beaver works to note and we did spy a few lodges, though none looked active.
And for most of the trip we heard the duck hunters’ gunshots as they took aim, though I think we scared a few of them off. The hunters that is. Well, we know we scared a few ducks off as well.
But, what the day was really all about was an enjoyment of being outdoors and sharing a place many had never explored before.
Around every bend, we discovered different threads, our own colors sewn into the tapestry.
One of my favorites is what I’ve come to call “The Tree.” It’s a perfectly shaped Red Maple that protects a beaver lodge–if you peak below the lower branches on the left, you may see the pointed top of the lodge.
Even The Tree’s reflection was worth several expressed “Ahhs.”
Though the clouds weren’t many, some enhanced the scene.
With each stroke of the paddle it seemed we reached new vantage points where the artwork was similar . . .
How could it get anymore beautiful?
Even the lily pads stood out as if seeking recognition for their presentation.
At last we reached the end of the road, or rather Old Course. That was our turn-around point.
And so we did . . . turn around.
Before heading immediately back, however, we paused for a few moments to sip some water.
And a few new friends even enjoyed rafting up while they ate their picnic lunches.
The trip back passed by much more quickly, as it always does. But still, The Tree called for attention.
And so did the young Yellow-rumped Warblers that flew in and out among the Pickerel Weeds.
They moved in a flock from weeds to the shrubs and back again and a few of us recalled the thicker than thick mosquito population we’ve encountered at the bog in the past, but exalted the insects because of the birds they feed. Today, we were mosquito free and thankful for that. The birds seemed to find what they needed to sustain them. There are still plenty of insects about, just not bothersome ones.
Three hours later, we found our way back to the launch site and once again helped each other stabilize boats and bodies and then carry the boats and gear back to the vehicles. Our journey together had ended, but . . . we had all chatted with a variety of people and left with smiles on our faces and in our hearts for the morning we’d spent together.
We’d connected in the most beautiful setting thanks to everyone’s effort of choosing to celebrate Great Maine Outdoor Weekend.
For help making those connections, thank you Jesse Wright of USVLT for initiating this paddle with me so many moons ago, and to Trisha Beringer of USVLT for the time we shared walking and paddling in preparation, as well as taking the lead on the sign-up process, and to Erika Rowland of USVLT for transporting boats, taking up the lead when Trisha got sick, and being flexible along the way.
What a great day and great way to spend time outdoors in Maine.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
But this shield bug didn’t care about the Middle Ages. Instead, it had one thing on its little mind.
Its offering was almost minute, yet pearl-like in structure.
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 . . .
encountering a spider web? Funnel spiders had practically veiled the entire shrub with their silken structures.
Though anchored with strength, they were extremely soft to the touch.
As the day progressed, I kept tabs on three funnel spiders, the mighty weavers that they were. All were wary of daylight.
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.
There wasn’t much left of it by the time this spider had finished its meal.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I stood for as long as it would allow . . .
enjoying every pose presented.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Speaking of bristles, bristly sarsaparilla sent its many-fruited umbels out through the fence, perhaps in offering to those passing this way.
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.
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 . . .
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I found cruisers hiding under the logs . . .
and even one tucked in by a basement window that had a shed spider exoskeleton dangling from it.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
And around the bend, where the chimney meets the camp, an orbweaver spinning some silk in the hopes of fine dining.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
From the get-go, our curiosity was raised and we began to note every little motion above, at eye level, and our feet.
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.
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.
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.
As for today, Mike’s mother-in-law, Linda, tested the wow factor on her granddaughter and we knew we had a winner.
Our attention was then directed to the tussock moth caterpillars, including the hickory tussock moth that seems to enjoy a variety of leaf flavors.
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.
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.
Eventually we reached a wildflower meadow where our nature distraction disorder shifted a bit from insects to flowers, including local goldenrods.
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.
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.
But . . . it remembered how to canoodle and we reveled in the opportunity to see such.
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.
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.
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.
Landing frequently for me to notice was an Autumn Meadowhawk Dragonfly, its body all ruby colored and legs reddish rather than black.
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!
Because I was there, so was the female Slaty Slimmer Dragonfly, and she honored me by pausing for reflection.
Apparently I wasn’t the only one to notice her subtle beauty, for love was in the air and on the wing.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
And I fully expected the Lance to eat the ant. But . . . he didn’t. Drats. I like watching them consume their prey.
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.
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.
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.
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.
And then I noticed that it wasn’t a meal, but perhaps a mate she’d been expecting.
Suddenly, he darted under the dock and she started across the gap–toward me!
Then she stopped, seemed to make an adjustment, and quickly disappeared.
I moved in for a closer look and made a discovery.
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?
I don’t know. But today, I was there to notice so much in such a short time–as the world passed by.
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.
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.
Last week, Brent Legere of Lovell Box Company and Western Maine Slabworks, installed new signs to guide hikers on the trail system.
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.
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.
Then she prepped Associate Director Aidan, and GLLT Docents Nancy and Pam in the plan for the eastern trail.
All signs were laid out and ready to be hauled up the trails for installation.
And so, in true Seven Dwarf style, it was hi ho, hi ho and off to work we went.
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.
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.
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.
Suddenly everything changed. Light turned to shade. Dry turned to damp. Leaves turned to needles. And conifers showed off their unique characteristics.
Even the forest floor changed from dried leaves and wildflowers to green mosses, including sphagnum, with its pom-pom shaped heads.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
That very White Pine was also on Joan’s list as an excellent example, and so it will be noticed for a while.
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.
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.
Turning a wee bit to the north, the view also encompassed more of Kezar Lake, and the White Mountains.
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.
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.
We were nearly finished with our morning’s work when we reached the new plank bridge Brent had placed across a small stream.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
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.
Despite its efforts, I could zero in on it even after walking away and returning.
Eventually I moved my focus to Pondicherry Park, where a variety of eyes greeted me, including those of a Song Sparrow.
What did he seek? Insects and other invertebrates, such as weevils, leaf beetles, ground beetles, caterpillars, dragonflies, grasshoppers, midges, craneflies, spiders, snails, and earthworms.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Rather than a rail trail, this is actually a rail-with-trail even though the rail is not currently active.
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.
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.
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;
and Calico Pennant.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
We finally left the snake in peace. And paused next to gaze upon a painted trillium.
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.
It was at the bench that bird song again greeted us and we looked above the shrubs toward the tree limbs above.
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.
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.
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.
Another that spoke to the theme was a flower that hadn’t quite yet bloomed–fringed polygala, aka gay wings.
Despite all the flowers and birds, our NDD followed us right to the end–when we spotted a tiny spring peeper . . .
and then a green frog.
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.
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.
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.
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.
And a few mosquito larvae as determined by Caleb, Linda and Nancy.
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.
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.
Despite the lack of indicator species, we scooped up water to determine what did live there.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
Birch Man posed again and again, until his older brother Aidan, sporting a missing front tooth, jumped in front.
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.
We found pottery and cast iron and realized the tree had grown upon an old dump site.
And that hump of earth–the four siblings were sure that it hid a Volkswagen Beetle.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I really had to focus in order to spot them.
But once I did, they were . . .
And in all forms, including a nymph.
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.
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.
As I watched, it continued to swim forward, the vegetation providing it’s favorite type of habitat. Again, you have to look carefully.
And again. It was a water scorpion with an oval-shaped abdomen. Do you see it?
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We found enough peepers, but the stars of the night were the spotted salamanders.
The youngest among us picked up one of the ubiquitous worms that marked the night and laid it down beside a sallie.
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.
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.
Our intentions were in their favor. We only wanted to help save them from the vehicles that passed by.
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.