Meals-on-Wings

I wasn’t sure how I would spend the afternoon, until that is, the phone rang. On the other end of the line (what line?) Mary Jewett of Lakes Environmental Association excitedly told me about her adventures last evening exploring one of my favorite Lovell haunts. She’s an avid birder and is currently participating in the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s Maine Breeding Bird Atlas.

For this citizen science project, Mary has chosen several areas of Lovell as her block and so she’s getting to know one of my favorite necks of the woods. Last night, she explained, found her kayaking with her boyfriend on a river that passes through a Greater Lovell Land Trust property. As she talked, she started listing off the birds they saw that are not on the species list for that property, thus nudging me to make sure it gets updated. One in particular pushed her excitement button, and that’s when I knew where I was going to spend the afternoon.

She also told me about a most unusual sight that she caught on film–a porcupine swam across the river, passing in front of their kayaks. Who knew? She surmised it had been chased to the water and just kept going.

k7-kezar river

Anyway, within 45 minutes of the phone call, I was at the water’s edge.

k8-canada geese

The bird life was immediately apparent in the form of Canada Geese, their youngsters growing bigger by the day.

k10-mallard duckling

What rather surprised me was that I watched two Mallard ducklings, but never saw their momma, unless she was hiding under some shrubs. I could only hope that was the case.

k21-kingfisher

There were Red-winged Blackbirds, the males displaying their bright shoulder patches, and even a Belted Kingfisher who sang his rattling song as he flew above the water looking for a meal.

At last I had dallied long enough, for of course I admired the dragonflies and damselflies, but it was time to bushwhack over to a viewpoint where I could stay hidden as my eyes and ears filled with the sights and sounds of . . .

k11a-rookery

a Great Blue Heron Rookery. It had been on my radar to get there, but other events took priority until Mary’s nudge. The moment I started down the trail I heard the chorus of croaks and knew I was in for a treat.

k12-food

Up high in the pines, those massive birds stood, most upon their large platform nests made of twigs and sticks, and apparently lined with moss and pine needles to soften the interior. If you looked closely at the adult upon the nest, its curved throat appeared to bulge a bit.

k13-food

Both parents are known to provide a meal of regurgitated food. Can you see the adult bending down, its beak meeting the youngster’s? Soon, regurgitating the food will stop and instead small fish will be deposited in the nest and the “little” ones will learn to feed themselves.

k14-next meal

After one was fed, another begged for its share of the picnic. It seemed to look up and say, “Hey, where’s mine?” in true jealous sibling behavior.

k15-sentry

By now you may have noticed that the youngsters have black flattop haircuts. Adult Great Blues have thin black plumes that are swept back of the tops of their heads making for easy ID until the young fully mature. And at least one stands sentry, ever on the lookout for predators like eagles and raccoons.

 

k17-double decker

Great Blue Herons nest in colonies near wetlands such as this. The group of nests is called a rookery–so named for the colonial nests of the Eurasian rook, a bird similar to a crow, but called a rook because of the sound it makes.

k18-birds everywhere

With my eagle eyes, I had to really focus in on the trees, for not all of the nests were obvious from my vantage point on the distant shore. It’s best if you are to observe to keep your distance and remain quiet and hidden so the birds aren’t disturbed during this fragile time in their life cycle.

k19-i'll be back

With the kids fed in nest one, the parent decided to chat with a neighbor before heading off to gather supplies for the next meal.

k20-don't forget us

And the kids next door waited expectantly–ever anxious for the delivery of their own meals-on-wings.

 

Dying To Get In

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

‘Why not?” I responded.

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

e1-evergreen cemetery

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

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

e2-sunburst lichen

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

e3-male mallard

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

e4-famale mallard

her lack of ducklings despite four attentive males,

e5-mrs. mallard

why their feet were orange,

e6-duck tweed

and the tweedy pattern of their feathers.

e7-ducklings

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

e7-chipping sparrow

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

e8-black swallowwort

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

e9-ragged-robin

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

e10-sunburned oak meat

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

e11-oak setting root

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

e12-song sparrow

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

e13-song sparrow

Upon finishing, it waited as if for our applause.

e14-arrowwood viburnum

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

e15-American honeysuckle

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

e16-beaked hazelnut

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

e17-mallards

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

e19-snapping turtle

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

e20-ducks and turtle

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

e21-3 turtles

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

e22-injured duck

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

e22-mouth open

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

e23-mouth closing

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

e18-ducklings all in a row

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

e25-green heron

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

e26-green heron

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

e27-turtle wars

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

e28-turtle face

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

 

One Wing, Two Wing

Whether I look up, down, or somewhere between, all that fly have captured my attention lately.

l6-river jewelwing

My heart flutters when a female River Jewelwing, with her iridescent body flies into my space.

l26-female river jewelring

But it’s those two-toned wings with their white spots or stigmas (indicating it’s a female for male’s don’t feature the spots) folded over their backs that wow me the most. Though their wings may appear to be two different colors, and these were taken in two different river locations, they are really the same. It’s the very nature of being iridescent, where all colors of light are reflected, that makes them appear as either black or bronze. You know what else I like about this damselfly–it was eating an insect.

s6-four-spotted skimmer

And then I turned on my dragonfly eyes. Ever so slowly over the last few years I’m beginning to recognize some of the perchers by name, like this Four-spotted Skimmer. It certainly helps that they pause frequently and hold their wings out to the side, which is a dragonfly characteristic.

l12-four-spotted skimmer

It’s the wings that are the defining points for me. All four feature a beautiful amber patch on the upper or leading edge. Do you see the golden veins? And then there are the black spots. Those in the middle or elbow of the wing are referred to as nodal, while the stigma is at the leading edge, the same as the female damselfly’s. Why four-spotted and not eight? I don’t have an answer, but perhaps it’s just plain easier to quickly count the four spots on the forewings before the insect flies off.

s8-calico pennant

Last year it was the Calico Pennant that became one of my new species to recognize each time we met. This is a rather small skimmer with the most amazing wing pattern. Notice the dark patch near the tip of the wings, just beyond the yellow stigma. What I love most though is the stained-glass patch on the hindwings. This one was either a female or an immature for its coloration was yellow; the male stands out in red. I have yet to encounter a male this year, but trust it will happen.

s7-dusky clubtail

Sometimes it’s not the wings that are the showiest part, like on this Dusky Clubtail,

l27-green-faced clubtail

Green-faced Clubtail,

l25-racket-tailed emerald

and Racket-tailed Emerald, but there is beauty in simplicity.

l17-Large Flathead Pine Heartwood Borer Beetle (Chalcophora virginiensis)

Wings on other insects are also worth observing, like the purplish ones on a Large Flathead Pine Heartwood Borer Beetle, aka Metallic Wood Boring Beetle. Though it’s supposed to be a noisy flyer, I only saw it clinging to a leaf on a recently harvested hill–meaning there’s lots of dead pine heartwood nearby.

l18-click beetle

Only a few feet away, I had my first encounter (at least that I can recall) with an Eastern-Eyed Click Beetle. Click beetles get their names from the sound they emit when they flip themselves upright. I didn’t have the opportunity to hear that sound for I’m actually sharing these two photos out of order.

l19-click beetle

When I first met him, he was upright and may have flipped over to pretend to play dead. So I saved this photo to show second because of those “eyes” on the thorax and then the mottled black with white specked wings. The “eyes” are intended to frighten away predators. As an adult, the click beetle doesn’t dine on much, though occasionally it feeds on the larva of wood-boring beetles–thus there existed the possibility of an interesting intersection.

s21

When a Canadian Swallowtail flew in to my range, backlighting by the sun helped me see the overlap of its fore and hindwings as evidenced by the deeper yellow arch. I also noticed a tattering on one forewing. Butterflies are so beautiful and take such a beating both from their surroundings and any predator.

l21-luna moth wing

The same can be said for Luna Moths and by a hindwing left behind, I wondered when this one met its demise for so faded was it. But the “eye” on the wing was still evident, as well as the downy coating of this giant silkmoth. Of course, I would have preferred to see it alive, but was still thrilled with such a delicate find.

s13-yellow-bellied

Another great find was the discovery of a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker who has been feeding its young throughout each day. Do you see the hole in the tree right beside the bird’s breast? I could hear the young located inside and have spent more minutes than I should admit to watching the parents fly in and out.

l22-veery eggs in nest

Soon the baby sapsuckers up in the tree will prepare to fledge.  Likewise, if all goes according to plan, these four Veery eggs found in a ground nest (mom and pop were accidentally flushed out, but we trust they returned) will hatch and four more sets of wings will take to the airways.

One wing, two wing, clear wing, metallic wing, butterfly wing, beetle wing–so many wings worth noticing.

 

 

 

Prehistoric Lovell

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

p3-white admiral

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

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

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

p4-white admiral

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

p7-dragonfly exuvia

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

p5-chalk-fronted

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

p9-female chalk-fronted

and their occasional female counterparts.

p4-lancet club

There were plenty of Lancet Clubtails,

p6-racket-tailed emerald

and even a Racket-tailed Emerald.

p10-female common whitetail

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

p11-female and male ebony jewelwings

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

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

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

p12-snapping turtle

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

p13-snapper's nails

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

p14-snapper's tail

that tail,

p16-snapper's face 1

and its snout.

p16-snaper's wink

Despite that, we shared a wink . . .

p15-snapper's face

and then each went our own way.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Otherworldly in Nature

One doesn’t necessarily step into the woods and expect transcendent events to occur, but then again by learning to live in the moment one never knows what to expect. And so it was that I traveled the trail at LEA’s Holt Pond Preserve with my friend Ann this morning–both of us delighted to just spend some quiet time exploring together.

o1-bunchberry

Our tramp began with a pause beside bunchberries because it’s a plant I always associate with Ann due to her trailside teaching about its finer points years ago. Today, as the flowers began to morph into fruit, it was the points of the four white petal-like bracts and green leaves that asked to be noticed in the most subtle of ways for each was decorated with a dewdrop.

o2-red maple swamp

Not far beyond where the bunchberries grew, we stepped onto the first of the boardwalks that provided for a delightful amble through the red maple swamp.

o3-green frog

Just off the edge of the wooden walkway, we spied some eyes starring up at us and realized we were the subject of the green frog’s discontent.

o4-green frog male

His camouflage almost worked as he tried to hide among the sphagnum moss . . .

o5-green frog and insects

but again we found him. How did we know he was a he? By his tympanum (ear), the circle behind his eyes. We really wanted to see him feed and if you look closely, you may see a mosquito and other insects nearby, but he seemed focused on us–in case he needed to defend his territory we supposed.

o6-pitcher plants

A wee bit further we met the first of many of their kind–the incredibly unique pitcher plants with their strikingly beautiful magenta flowers that stood like the wind spinners we used to create as kids.

o7-pitcher plant leaves

In the water below were the pitcher-shaped leaves that gave this plant its common name.

o17-pitcher pitchers

The carnivorous pitcher plant obtains nitrogen and phosphorus by eating insects. Its oddly shaped leaves form a pitcher partly filled with water and digestive enzymes. The spout is a hairy landing platform for insects attracted by its red venation and nectar glands. Imagine this: An insect crawls to the edge of the leaf, aka pitcher, slips on the downward-sloping hairs and plunges into the liquid below where enzymes and bacteria break it down. Any chances for escape are zapped by those stiff hairs.

o8-frosted whiteface dragonfly

As we paid attention to the plant, damselflies and dragonflies, like this Frosted Whiteface Skimmer, flew in the surrounding airspace. We appreciated that he landed so we could take a closer look at the details of his body, including the golden outline of the upper edge of his wings.

o8-red maple leaf

Moseying along, our next great find was a red maple leaf, which made perfect sense given that we were in the midst of the red maple swamp. What didn’t make sense was the fact that it donned its autumnal coloration, but ours was not to make sense of everything.

08a-muddy river

At last we reached the boardwalk to the Muddy River, where we embraced stillness and listened to the green frogs strum their banjo voices and red-winged blackbirds sing their conk-la-ree songs.

o9-red-winged and painted

One blackbird, in particular, stood out as if he were the king of the river. We didn’t realize it at the time, but the photographs tell the story for he did have a subject in mind–in the form of a painted turtle.

o10-red winged :painted

Off his high horse he flew, but continued to squawk from a lower pulpit. What did it all mean?

o11red winged blackbird

While we’ll never know, he did seem pleased with a gaze into his own reflection.

o12a-

Our gaze also became more focused when we realized we stood in the midst of a newly emerged dragonfly. By its cloudy wings folded over its back damselfly-style and the abandoned exuvia on the other side of its perch did we realize what we were witnessing.

o12b

We felt a sense of caretakers for suddenly it was our honorable duty to stand watch and protect this vulnerable being from becoming prey. With wonder, we watched as it slowly changed position and suddenly spread its wings. For at least an hour we stood sentry and noted the slightest changes while we delighted in how the breeze occasionally fluttered through its wings.

o13-female eastern forktail damsel

Oh, we looked around and spied a female Eastern Forktail damselfly . . .

o14-chalk-fronted corporal

and many a Chalk-fronted Corporal dragonfly among others.

o15-spreading his wings

But our attention continued to return to the subtle beauty before us. How did it know to climb the vegetation? How did it know to emerge? How did it know today was sunny? How could such delicate wings support its meaty body? Where do dragonflies hang out on rainy days? How long would it take before it flew off? Our questions were numerous, but . . .

o15-dragonfly exuvia

in a flash, as I moved in for a closer shot of the exuvia, the dragonfly decided it had posed for enough photos, and Ann and I watched with continued fascination as it flew off. Really, we felt like proud parents who had sent our offspring into the world. And we rejoiced. We had just witnessed one of nature’s greatest spectacles. It wasn’t only thrilling to watch, but was an all-encompassing experience that pulled us in with our sight and minds.

016-pitcher

After such an awe-inspiring opportunity, we couldn’t imagine anything else, but as we moved along the boardwalk through another section of the red maple swamp we again encountered pitcher plants.

o18-pitcher flower

And this time we decided to take a closer look at the flower structure, which was umbrella-like with those five broad and waxy sepals situated above. Unless you physically turn it and take a peek, it’s difficult to see what is going on beneath where five more bright red, oval petals, curved in at the base and covered the ovary.

o19-pitcher anthers

Within, yellow stamens surrounded the base of ovary. Below, a slender style extended from the round ovary and flattened out into an angled yellowish green structure like an inverted umbrella that curved back over the center of the flower. Certainly another novel spectacle for us to behold.

o20-four-spotted skimmer

Along the same stretch we were equally wowed by a Four-spotted Skimmer.

o21-four-spotted face

He gave us the opportunity to take in his mightiness from more than one vantage point.

o25-quaking bog

At last we reached the quaking bog and despite the water that filled our hiking boots, we moved forward toward Holt Pond with some caution. (Think right wrist still in cast.)

o26-caddisfly case

Along the way we discovered an abandoned caddisfly larva case,

o23-blue flag iris

blue flag irises,

o24-green frog

another green frog,

o27-tadpole

and a huge tadpole swimming over the boardwalk.

o28-muskrat works

At the water’s edge, though we sought sundews and could find none where they used to grow in abundance, we did realize someone had come with a different quest and because it seemed the pickerel weed roots had been foraged, we suspected a muskrat.

o29-hp northwest

After enjoying the view and trying to make the bog quake by jumping to no avail, we journeyed on.

o32a-Muddy River

Our walk back via the road passed much more quickly and in what seemed like no time, we were at the parking lot. But I had one more site to show Ann and so we headed down to the Muddy River, our circle completed–though we were a wee bit east of our first river encounter.

o32-canoe

It’s there that LEA has long left a canoe for anyone to use–just bring you own paddles and pfds.

o33-sawdust

And as our walk had begun, so it ended . . . with us again looking at bunchberries. but these were different for they were covered with sawdust and we suspected carpenter ants were busy residents in the pine tree behind them.

o35-exuvia

Because we were looking we were again rewarded as we noticed something else–a dragonfly exuvia.

o36-ghosts

And behind the tree two ghosts stared up at us in awe–completing the picture of this morning filled with the otherworldly so often encountered in nature.

 

 

 

The Ayes Have It

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

e1-northern flicker

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

e2-flicker feeding

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

e4-tachinid fly

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

e8-long-legged fly

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

e7-green and brown stink bug

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

e8-stink bug eyes

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

e9a-song sparrow

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

e7a

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

e11-slug eyes

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

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

e11a-spider eyes

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

e11-ebony jewelwing

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

e12-barred owl

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

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

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

 

 

 

Flexing My Wings with Jinny Mae

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

m6-Mtn Division Trail

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

m2-lupine

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

m2a-lupine aphids

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

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

m3-chalk-fronted white corporal

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

4-four-spotted skimmer

Four-spotted Skimmer;

m5-calico pennant

and Calico Pennant.

m7-ant dragging grasshopper

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

m8-wood sower gall wasp gall

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

m8-wood sower gall wasp

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

m9-tiger swallowtail

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

m11-eastern tiger swallowtail

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

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

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

m10-canadian tiger swallowtail

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

m11-probiscus

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

m13-canadian tiger

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

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