Over the years, I’ve learned that one can know a landscape well, but not necessarily exhaustively, and so today I entered a place I love to frequent and suddenly realized I’d stepped into a museum.
Following the hallways within, I wended my way from display to display.
I discovered many favorites, this among them, which reminded me that all of us are entangled in the lives of our families and friends and those that we may not even know, but each twist and turn offers a window to the beyond.
I’ve seen sculptures similar to this so intricately carved by one artist and excavated by another. But it’s how the two worked together to leave behind a design that makes me think of stalactile hanging from the ceiling of a cave that amazed me.
Another sculpture focused on contrast of time as signaled by one closed and not yet ready to cast forth the future and the other open, knowing full well the future had dispersed in the past.
Then there was this sculpture entitled “Free Form” for so did the artist capture the subjects as they appeared to dance despite their still nature.
And I can never not pause by a turtle sculpture since such always takes me back to my childhood pets and then collection of stuffed, wooden, ceramic, you name it, renditions of this species, some of which I still own and display.
I’m certain my heart skipped a few beats when I eyed this beautiful painting, the leaf intentionally arranged among the moss in such a way that the colors and textures seem to leap off the canvas.
Into the Glass Room I did next wander and fell in love with these baubles so delicately attached and appearing to bob above moving water in a realistic way that was really so clever.
I was equally amazed by the artistry of creating feathers on a glass surface and then adding contrasting lines to accentuate the subject.
My third favorite in this room was the arrangement of six-sided crystals clustered in columns, but with a splintered effect. Why can’t I create something like that?
I knew when I saw the heart carving that the artistic universe had spoken with an offering of love and love all of these works I did, but it was time for me to draw this visit to a close.
On the way out, I looked back at the museum entrance one last timeand gave thanks for the opportunity to witness designs by nature at Art in the Park, that being Pondicherry Park.
I didn’t realize sixth months had passed since I’d last shared a Mondate adventure until I went back and checked. Never fear, my guy and I have continued to hike or paddle almost every Monday, but most of the trails I’ve written about before and really, I didn’t feel like I had a story to tell on each of them. But . . . put them all together and tada. So hang in here with me. I won’t write much, but do have a bunch of photos to share and hope you enjoy the journey.
Sometimes it was the root way to heaven that we’ve followed upon an ascent.
Other times a brook crossing that added a little tension to the adventure.
And in the mix there were a few granite scrambles to conquer.
We stepped out onto ledges,
rediscovered the rocky coast of Maine,
walked beside water racing around boulders,
stepped from the trail out onto the summit of a ski area,
paused beside a teepee that has withstood man and nature,
strolled across an airstrip,
followed more ledges,
took in the view from a spot where a fire tower once stood,
spotted the ridgeline of our hometown mountain on the cloudy horizon,
danced with hang clouds,
looked back at a summit we’d conquered a half hour before,
considered taking a chilly bath,
and always found lunch rock with a view.
Our journeys found us hiking in to mountain ponds,
and paddling upon a pond by a mountain.
During fleeting moments we enjoyed fall foliage.
On each hike/paddle we saw so much including this Northern Pygmy Dragonfly,
a Field Sparrow,
a Silver-spotted Skimmer Butterfly,
and a spider wrapping a dragonfly feast,
And did I mention Lady’s Slippers?
Over the course of three hikes in one week, we counted 963 of these beautiful orchids.
And then there was the Blinded Sphinx Moth,
a Giant Leopard Moth,
and a Green Lacewing pretending to be a leaf.
Our hearts ticked a little faster with the spot of bear claw marks upon a bog bridge.
And occasionally we were honored to spend some time with one of nature’s great engineers.
There was work to be done as the Beaver’s dam also serves as part of the path to a summit and people kept ruining it for the rodent.
Often, we’d spy a stick that suddenly slithered because it wasn’t really a stick at all but a Garter Snake.
One day we even had the pleasure to go on a Puffin Watch and spotted over a hundred of these colorful seabirds.
Today, we actually spotted a Doe who posed for about five minutes before giving us a huff and dashing off.
And a post from me wouldn’t be complete without a photo of scat–this being classic Red Fox–tapered at the ends, twisted, and located upon a rock in the middle of a trail.
We had the pleasure of hiking with our youngest (though we missed his girl),
and relaxing after another hike with our oldest and his gal, plus their pup.
My guy posed as a lobster,
and a picker of blueberries beside the water’s edge,
and across a mountain ridge.
Recently, I was talking with a friend about wondermyway.com and how it serves as a diary of our adventures as well as all the cool stuff I learn about almost daily in the world out the door.
And she replied, “Your blog is a love story.”
She’s right for it is a love story on so many levels like this one. He’ll forever be a Maine Black Bear and if you are looking for me, I’ll forever be following him into the next adventure wherever our Mondates lead us.
For several months
I’ve watched you,
always with awe,
emerging from your aquatic form
and miraculously transforming
into a flying insect
that eats nothing
but other insects
you find your way
back to the water’s edge
and hunt for a mate.
Some say you aren’t territorial
but I know otherwise
for I spend hours observing
as you land
upon a leaf or twig
and then , , ,
in a split second
chase a sibling
or cousin off
to your original perch
or at least another
It’s in those spots
that I get to
know you better,
noticing your tan-colored legs,
which set you apart
Skimmer family members.
With a face
of burgundy red
providing a contrast to
that ruby red abdomen.
and your stigma,
those elongated spots
at the tip of your wings,
offering two-toned hues
of the same theme,
you gleam like a jewel
in the sunlight.
At long last,
you find yourself
In the canoodle wheel,
a dragonfly’s lovemaking form.
You grasp your betrothed
behind her head
while she places
the tip of her abdomen
in a manner that allows
your sperm to fertilize
You, like your relatives,
stay with her
it is the eggs
that she lays
upon the mosses
and other vegetation
at the water’s edge.
a group activity
with safety found
in numbers I suppose.
Eating and mating,
as a mature being
you live longer than
most and don’t let
a few frosty nights
end your flight.
a wrong turn
on the wing
and you end up
on the water’s surface
struggling to fly free.
I watch for a few moments
until I realize
frenzied behavior means.
It is then
I grasp a stick
and offer it to you.
You follow suit
and grasp from the other end
as I lift you out
and find a sunny place
for your wings
before night sets in.
When I visit again
I cannot find you
but can only hope
that the tiny red dragonfly
that poses like a brooch
on my blaze orange vest . . .
and then adorns my finger
is you . . . or at least another
saying thank you
for the rescue.
fourth day of November,
I celebrate you,
‘Autumn Meadowhawk (Sympetrum vicinum)
for you are indeed
a gem-like wonder.
Smack dab in the midst of a hectic work schedule, we pulled off another issue of the mag. And I have to say, I really loved working on this one. As did Laurie LaMountain.
It’s full of history, both local as I had the fortune to visit with Louisa Attenborough at the Garcelon mansion on Kezar Lake in Lovell, and across the pond (read the intros to the recipes in “One Potato, Two Potato”).
Here’s an exclusive look at a bathroom window at Garcelon, flanked by mirrors that reflect the lights in the room and in the bedroom beyond.
And a side view not included in the article. The servants’ quarters, circa 1908, were in the upper-left hand corner.
Another of my articles is about the big reveal at our local ski area, which was purchased last year by Boyne Resorts. According to general manager Ralph Lewis, lots of updates have been made since the ski area closed in the spring, but the biggest one is the name change, which excites many of us. You can read all about it in “Welcome Back Pleasant Mountain.”
My third, and probably favorite article is entitled “Life Beneath the Ice,” which features the work of fellow Maine Master Naturalist Edwin Barkdoll and his discoveries as he worked on a capstone project, and Dr. Ben Peierls of Lakes Environmental Association.
“A calm winter day. Freezing temps. Thickening ice. A lid is placed on the ecosystem below. And all aquatic life goes dormant. Or does it?” You’ll have to read the article to find out.
So here’s a look at the cover, and a view of a Whirligig Bug walking under the ice that Edwin captured during his studies.
Within, you’ll also find articles by Laurie, including “Chasing Arrows,” about what happens to those items we so carefully recycle; “Fast and Affordable,” about the need for high-speed internet in our rural communities and what a collective group of towns is trying to do for affordable broadband, and “Creative Housing Solutions,” about what a group in Norway, Maine, is trying to do to bring equitable housing to the community. Plus the recipes (and history) in “One Potato, Two Potato.”
And always back by popular demand are the book reviews from the staff at Bridgton Books. Plus ads, ads, ads, for local businesses. Please take a look at them, and then visit the businesses and let them know you saw the ad in the mag.
Walking in silence
along a trail so familiar
my eyes were drawn
to bubbles at my feet.
Tiny bubbles, tinier bubbles, tiniest bubbles
formed random patterns
as they gave new life
to dying grasses.
Nearby, salmon-colored disks
the mint-green crustose form
of candy lichen's granular base.
Meanwhile, crimson caps of British Soldiers
shouted for recognition
as they showed off
their branching structures.
Upon a rotting tree
and backlit by the sun
glowed the irregularly lobed fruits
of Orange Jelly Spot.
In another sunny spot, a Little Copper sought nectar
from a goldenrod still in bloom
while a Spotted Cucumber Beetle
photobombed the shot.
I have to admit that I struggled with ID:
Ruby, Cherry-faced, and Saffron-winged
since this dragonfly showed characteristics
of each in the meadowhawk clan.
Being present on this October afternoon
reminded me of another day
when I paced before a couple of shrubs
and watched the insect action.
I am honored and humbled to announce that that blog post was recently published
in The Observer, a publication produced by the Maine Natural History Observatory.
My friend and fellow master naturalist, Cheryl Ring, also has an article in this issue.
The most humbling thing for me was an email I received from a reader who is also an avid naturalist. She commented that my ID of a butterfly at the end of the article, which I called Painted Lady, is actually American Lady. I now realize I need a new field guide because mine refers to it as American Painted Lady and I inadvertently dropped "American," while hers dropped "Painted" in the name. It's another lesson in why I need to wrap my brain around scientific names since common can cause confusion. I do appreciate that she took the time to read the article and write to me.
That said, the best lesson of any day is to take time to be present and observe in nature. Even if it's only for a few minutes.
Our time for a road trip was long overdue. But where to go? We knew we’d begin the week by driving to Lubec, Maine, where we’d enjoyed two days last year, but left knowing there was so much more to explore. And so we booked a room for the first four nights of vacation. After that? The question loomed. The answer eventually presented itself, but first, here’s to Lubec.
We’d barely landed in town after a five hour drive, when a walk down the road found my guy posing before entering Lubec Hardware. Curiously, because the owner had been to Stone Mountain Arts Center in Brownfield, Maine, not far from our hometown, he knew of my guy’s store and they enjoyed a chat. From there we sipped a beer at Lubec Brewery before heading off for our first adventure of the week, along a beach trail within reach from town.
After skipping some stones, we turned around and headed back toward our room, enjoying the cast of our shadows upon sand . . .
and cobbled beaches.
Back in the harbor of Johnson Bay, the setting sun upon moored boats captured our fancy.
And we got our bearings with a view of Mulholland Light on Canada’s Campobello Island located exactly across the Lubec Narrows from our room.
Morning and evening, whenever we were by the Narrows, we watched as the Cormorants preened and flew and swam against the current and preened some more.
On the windiest day, we took to the woods rather than the coast, knowing it would be calmer. And quieter. We weren’t disappointed.
Especially since we found a display of bear scat, this being only one chunk. Berry seeds pass through a bear’s digestive system and exit intact and viable, making bears an important part of nature’s seed distribution system.
We also spotted the largest burl either of us could remember seeing, this at the base of an old Yellow Birch turned silver in age like the rest of us.
We circled through a beaver’s territory, hoping that if we couldn’t catch sight of the bear, we might at least see the beaver, but both alluded us. Fred, the Red Squirrel, however, scolded us at every opportunity.
The next day dawned brisk and chilly, as most did, and found us first finding our way to Reversing Falls, where the incoming tide hit some rocks that splashed the water “backwards.”
Click on the link to catch a brief glimpse of the action.
Over the course of the day, we explored a few trails of Cobscook Shores, including enjoying lunch on a bluff overlooking sandbars at low tide.
Boot Head Preserve along the coast offered a variety of terrains and natural communities, including upland forests, bogs, coastal wetlands, and steep rocky shoreline.
My mom would have loved this–the rocky coast of Maine spoke to her.
We also appreciated all the bog bridging and benches placed to take in the vistas and gave thanks to those who had hustled to create such infrastructure, including my colleague Rhyan, a former intern at Maine Coastal Heritage Trust. The chicken wire along the bridges sang as we trudged, boot tread hitting wire, wire strumming against wood, and song echoing with each step as the wire bounded back off the wood. There was that to be thankful for, as well as the facts that it kept us from slipping, and from stepping upon the fragile environment at our feet.
Despite the daily chill, flower flies such as this bee mimic continued to pollinate asters in a manner hectic as the days grow shorter and temps lower.
Behind the asters we saw plenty of juicy Rose Hips and I thought of my dad who loved to eat these on our beach walks in Connecticut.
Because we followed a smattering of trails, the berry choices changed from Cranberries to . . .
Withe-rod or Wild Raisin,
and Mountain Ash in the shape of a heart.
Those berries fit right in with our daily cobbled beach quest for hearts and we found many, a few which followed us home. But this one, not exactly perfect, as no heart really is, my guy gave a pulse. A pulse with a smile. And then he left it behind.
Our favorite heart selection we did not disturb because it appeared in the midst of a fairy ring created by the tide.
Our adventures found us exploring different areas of the Bold Coast than we’d visited a year ago, but it seemed imperative that we make a quick stop at West Quoddy Head Lighthouse at the end of one day. It’s the easternmost point in the United States, thus bragging rights.
The cool news is that as of our first day of vaca, the border between the USA and Canada opened for travel without pandemic protocol and so we drove across the road bridge located about two minutes from our room, showed our passports, and within two minutes entered one of our favorite countries, this time to a place we’d never been before: Campobello Island. Once there, we drove east to the companion light of West Quoddy–and then climbed up and down two steep sets of stairs and across this wooden bridge, with lots of slippery seaweed in the mix to reach . . .
East Head Quoddy Lighthouse.
Driving back toward trails we wanted to hike, we paused to take in the scene of Head Harbour Public Wharf where lobster boats were docked in the moment.
It struck us as a safe harbor for the effects of the business.
Our next destination was Friar’s Head, where according to interpretive signs, “While occupying Eastport, the British navy was said to have used the stone pillar for target practice, altering its outline to that of a hooded monk or Friar in deep contemplation.
Native American Passamaquoddy legend referred to this rock as the Stone Maiden. “The legend speaks of a young brave leaving on a long journey, telling his lover to sit and wait for his return. Many months passed and the brave did not return. The young maiden was terribly upset and sat on the beach below the head and waited. When the brave finally returned to the village, he found his young maiden turned to stone, forever to wait and watch.”
Finally, it was time for a tour of the cottage of Franklin Delano and Eleanor Roosevelt. It has 34 rooms of which 18 are bedrooms and six bathrooms. Until he was afflicted with polio in 1921, Franklin spent every summer on the island, his parents having owned a property next door. As a belated wedding present, FDR’s mother, Sara, gave the young couple this summer home, which they filled with five children, servants, and guests.
One of my favorite rooms was the site of Eleanor’s desk, where she wrote at least 500 words/day five days a week.
In the backyard stands a reminder that the 2,800-acre Roosevelt Campobello International Park is a US Government Agency and a Canadian Government Corporation, established in 1964.
Next door is the Hubbard Cottage, where the rusticators were known to party–men smoking their cigars as they played pool and women gathering around the grand piano, but . . . it’s the oval window that offers a breathtaking frame on the world beyond, ever changing as the seasons.. Mr. Hubbard was a very successful real estate developer from Chicago and his cottage was the envy of many. The oval window in the main room apparently was imported from France.
Not ready to be done with our Canadian journey, we visited Eagle Hill Bog and then from Raccoon Beach we hiked along a loop path through bogs and fields and forest and along the coast, where we spotted a natural sculpture of faces and wondered if they represented people lost at sea or those looking for loved ones or perhaps those who came to wonder and wander like we did.
At Ragged Point, we followed a short spur to SunSweep, one of three sculptures carved from a slab of Canadian black granite and located strategically at this location in New Brunswick, a second in Minnesota, and a third in Washington. All are aligned to follow the sun’s path from daybreak to nightfall. We were there as evening approached and still had some hiking to do, so onward we journeyed.
But first, we made a quick stop at Sugar Loaf Rock, which reminded me of an iguana, and from this site had the good fortune to watch Minke whales feeding in the distance.
Before leaving Canada, we had one final stop to make–a visit to Mulholland Lighthouse, the oldest lighthouse in the country. It’s a wooden octagonal structure that was erected in 1883 and decommissioned in 1963. During its heyday, it guided ships through the Lubec Narrows, where even FDR, who served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy from 1913 to 1920, once made an inspection trip along the Maine coast aboard the U.S.S. Flusser. On a plaque it states: Taking the helm, the future President captained the vessel through the narrow channel between Lubec and Campobello Island, earning the respect of an initially concerned Lieutenant (later Admiral) William F. “Bull” Halsey. Admiral Halsey later wrote, “As Mr. Roosevelt made his first turn, I saw him look aft and check the swing of our stern. My worries were over; he knew his business.”
Our fascination with the lighthouse was that from our room at Cohill’s Inn we looked straight across to the lighthouse–the room being the double window just above the white door as we took in the opposite view.
But even more fun was spotting Harbor Seals who came snuffuluffing along with the incoming tide. It was a great way to end our Campobello/Lubec leg of the journey.
A few hours drive the next day and we began an exploration of Millinocket. I think in the back of both our minds we expected to end up there, but the plan didn’t fall into place until almost midweek. Thankfully, we found a place to stay and headed off on a trail soon after we pulled into town.
Whereas the colors along the coast were a bit muted, it was peak fall foliage in this neck of the woods, where Mount Katahdin dominates the landscape.
One hike found us making our way to Rainbow Lake, home of Eastern Brook Trout and Blueback Char. Though we didn’t see any fish actually jump there, we saw lots of activity while eating lunch beside Clifford Pond–ask us how high the fish jumped and you’ll get a different answer. Mine is maybe six inches, but according to my guy: two feet. That’s a fish tale if I ever heard one.
At the urging of an article by Carey Kish in the Portland Press Herald published on Oct 2 entitled Hiking in Maine: A hidden gem in the midst of Baxter State Park, we decided to check out the River Pond Nature Trail–and we’re glad we did. If you go from the Golden Road, we suggest following the trail counterclockwise. There are lots of blow downs that are easy to maneuver around or over or under if you begin from the opposite direction, but those might have dissuaded us at the start.
Instead, we enjoyed beautiful vistas before encountering the blowdowns. And always looked forward to the interpretive signs along the way.
I’m pretty sure that just as the moon follows us when we drive at night, so does the mountain when you hike this trail.
We were dazzled by the kaleidoscope of colors no matter where we looked.
It was pure magic enhanced by reflections along the way.
Of course, there were other things to see, like Stairstep Moss, one of my favorites known for producing a new level of growth each year. (And one that will always remind me of my dear friend, Jinnie Mae, RIP, for we discovered this species on a rock on her land.)
We added to our red berry collection when we spotted several Bunchberrys in fruit form.
A Jack Pine was also a welcome surprise, known for its bundles of two short needles: think Jack and Jill.
And then we headed into the land of the Bad Hair Day Giants, for so the Polypody fern covered erratics did seem.
Our destination–ice caves in the Debsconeag Lakes Wilderness Area! The cool environment in a deep hole under a jumble of boulders can retain ice sometimes as late as August (though I doubt that happened this year given how hot it was over the course of the summer). While we didn’t need nature’s air conditioning on this day, it was still a cool opportunity to explore.
One more stop on this day was a visit to The Crib along Penobscot River’s West Branch, where we recalled memories of dining above during a rafting expedition about 35 years ago and then how I ducked into the boat when we later passed this spot. Really though, when we rafted, they’d opened the dam above and there was much more water, but still . . . it was fast and furious. Oh, and do you see that mountain in the background? The Mighty K once again.
Our wildlife sightings on this part of the journey included a couple of startled Ruffed Grouse, a Fred the Red Squirrel who followed us, I swear, for we endured his scolding on every trail in both locations (and we hiked over 70 miles all told) and this Garter Snake. But then, the creme de la creme presented itself across from River Pond where we’d first stopped on the Golden Road to photograph Mount K and actually spotted its tracks in the morning.
Yep. We got us a moose! A male yearling I think.
On the way home a day later, we decided we hadn’t bumped across the Golden Road enough, and so headed west on it toward Greenville. Approaching Greenville, we spotted a sign for the B52 Memorial and made a sudden decision to follow the seven-mile road to the site.
The story is a somber one of a United States Air Force Boeing B-52 Stratofortress on a low level navigation training mission during the Cold War that went awry. After the aircraft encountered turbulence on an extremely cold and windy January 24, 1963, a vertical stabilizer came off and the plane went into a nose dive on Elephant Mountain.
Only the pilot and a navigator survived. Signage explains the experience: “The pilot landed in a tree 30 feet (9.1 m) above the ground. He survived the night, with temperatures reaching almost −30 °F (−34 °C), in his survival-kit sleeping bag atop his life raft. The navigator’s parachute did not deploy upon ejection. He impacted the snow-covered ground before separating from his ejection seat about 2,000 feet (610 m) from the wreckage with an impact estimated at 16 times the force of gravity. He suffered a fractured skull and three broken ribs. The force bent his ejection seat and he could not get his survival kit out. He survived the night by wrapping himself in his parachute.”
Fortunately an operator on a road grater saw the plane turn and the black smoke that followed the crash. Rescuers looked in the wrong area that day. The next day, after plowing ten miles of fifteen foot snowdrifts and snowshoeing the final mile, they reached the site.
Today, pathways lead to the strewn pieces and viewers are asked to remain silent out of reverence. Visiting the site gave us pause and we offered thanks for those who protect us and those who complete rescue missions.
We’re glad we stopped there, just as we’re glad we revisited the two locales we enjoyed last year. Except for this one spot and West Quoddy Lighthouse, it was an entirely different adventure. Oh, and we celebrated my guy’s birthday, while also celebrating our beautiful Maine and Canada.
Along a paved trail seemingly flat that follows a track to a vanishing point did I walk today.
It’s a place some see as desolate, but nature always has something to present and today it was signs of the season to come that drew my attention.
Hints of autumn’s hues . . .
contrasted sharply with summer’s chlorophyll-induced greens.
Redder than red winterberries bespoke the presence of a nearby male–since as a dioecious species, female flowers and male flowers grow on separate shrubs. They also signaled bird food and seasonal decorations–depending on who arrives first: Avian species or human.
Disturbed though the land is, Asters such as this Calico, invited visitors like the Paper Wasp to stop by for a sip of nectar.
Goldenrods also sent out messages and Bumble Bees RSVPed . . .
for they had baskets to fill one pollen grain at a time.
In the mix along this route of disturbed soil and gravel, there were those whose seedheads, while reminiscent of a dandelion, proved more beautiful than the Pilewort’s actual nondescript flower.
Less obvious, but no less beautiful, Wood Sorrel quietly softened the edges of the rocks upon which it grew.
Jewelweed, also known as Touch-Me-Not for its seed’s habit of springing forward when touched, had a visitor all its own whose name I wasn’t allowed to catch.
Similar in color to the Jewelweed, a Monarch butterfly filled up . . .
perhaps a last series of sips before the long journey south.
All of this color and action was observed by a Chippy, who was busy adding to his collection of goods, while his kin added their clucks to the chamber music orchestrated by grasshoppers and crickets.
The Mountain Division Trail in Fryeburg, Maine (home to the Fryeburg Fair), is hardly flat and not at all desolate–it just needs people with eyes to see and ears to hear and minds to wonder as they wander. Okay, so maybe it was desolate in terms of being deserted of people, but I kinda like it that way. As for being dismal and bleakly empty–I beg to differ.
Collect: to gather an accumulation of (objects) especially as a hobby.
Over the years I’ve collected many things from turtles to tea cups and seaglass and heart-shaped stones and tree cookies and dragonflies and books (oh my, yes have I ever collected books) and even . . . the crème de la crème: scat!
But today’s collection is one that is fleeting as the days are getting cooler and shorter and even if you feel as if this is all I’ve written about lately, it’s because the days are getting cooler and shorter and this collection will soon disappear. And then it will be time for SCAT again!
Yes, today’s collection is about insects, this being a Great Spangled Fritillary Butterfly. There was a time when I couldn’t be bothered with insects because I knew them as pesky things, except for the butterflies, of course. But it was when I finally decided to take a good look at them and get to know their idiosyncrasies that I realized there’s something to admire about each and every one. Well, maybe not Black Flies or Deer Flies, but then I remind myself that they are bird and dragonfly and damselfly food, and all is okay with the world once again.
One of things I’ve learned about the natural world and this butterfly speaks to it, is just how hairy many insects and plants and even tree leaves are. In the case of a butterfly, it makes sense because it begins life as a caterpillar, often a fuzzy caterpillar. And then there are those veins in the wings. And the pattern. How in the world does a caterpillar pupate and turn into soup as it digests itself, releasing enzymes to dissolve all of its tissues?And then reorganize its cells that transform rapidly to become legs, wings, eyes and other parts of an adult butterfly? How indeed!
The next insect in my collection: the Goldenrod Soldier Beetle. Though its name is for the flower it most often frequents, it can be found on any flower. There are at least 19 species of soldier beetles in North America, but this is the only one found in the Northeast: Chauliognathus pensylvanicus.
The name “soldier” apparently comes from the fact that the first species to be identified has a color pattern that reminded someone of the red coats of early British soldiers. That’s not the case with this being.
Paying attention to details is prime in learning to ID insects. Many are look-alikes and I was sure this butterfly was a Painted Lady. Instead, she’s an American Lady, due to the fact that she features a white spot on orange located on the forewing. The Painted Lady doesn’t have such a spot.
Another insect that tickles my fancy is the Sweat Bee. I’m a goner for that iridescent green head and thorax. While Sweat Bees are common on flowers, such as this tall sunflower, they also are attracted to our perspiration and this afternoon I had one that kept approaching my bare, sweaty feet.
Keeping with the bee theme, I’m always in awe when I happen upon a Tri-colored Bee, whose name speaks of its abdominal color pattern: one band of yellow, two intense orange, another yellow and then two bands of black.
Then there’s this insect. I’ve mentioned that I can stand still and not be bombarded by Bumble Bees, but this Flower Fly that chooses to mimic a bee adds a new chapter to the story. It makes the herb garden come alive with its insistent buzzing and it likes to charge at me as if it is ferocious. Intimidating? Yes. Will it sting me? No. And so I stand my ground.
One that could sting is the Honey Bee and I try to give each one I encounter the room it needs to carry out its duties of gathering pollen and nectar. Unlike Bumble Bees, Honey Bees are not native, but then again, neither am I.
That said, I have the joy of seeing many Bumbles and learned from them that while Honey Bees seem to devote their attention to one flowering species in my neck of the woods, I’ve watched the Bumbles move from one plant to another . . .
making me think that diversity is the key to their existence.
When bees visit a particular flower in the garden, I always know it before even looking for the plant that may jiggle a bit. If you click on the link above, and turn up the volume, I hope you’ll hear what I hear that signals a Bumble Bee is in a Turtlehead. When the bee squeezes into the flower and wiggles around to try to reach the nectar at the base, it causes the front “lips” to open and close as if the flower were trying to speak or the turtle snap. As you can see, the lower lip is lined with furry hairs that probably help keep out crawling insects who might steal the nectar without pollinating the flower. The bee has to push past sterile stamen to reach the nectar and I’m not sure if the sound I hear is its wings fluttering in super-fast time or the wings rubbing against the stamen and petals. It’s a tight squeeze, but as you can see from the video, the bee gets well dusted with pollen.
Of course, no insect post of mine would be complete, without a dragonfly in the midst. That said, dragonflies don’t make it in every time, but this Autumn Meadowhawk Skimmer kept landing on several bygone Daylily stalks. I thought I could get it to walk onto my hand, but though it would let me place a finger in front of it, walking onto the finger was not going to happen today. We’ll save that adventure for another day.
Since all things must come to an end, I suspect the same will soon be true for this tattered Great Spangled Fritillary Butterfly. But I rejoiced that we could spend some time together and felt I should honor it to complete my collection.
My garden. It’s a classroom. I’ve long been a teacher, but in this particular classroom I am the student. And I give thanks for the daily lessons. In fact, this past week, I’ve given thanks for hours on end as I’ve done my usual stalking, I mean research.
It all began when I started to circle one garden, that is hardly a work of art because I welcome all who grow there, especially several species of goldenrods, their composite flowers offering rays of sunshine on any summer day.
I knew I was in luck when I spied this flower fly . . . that wasn’t flying. That could mean only one thing.
Ambush Bugs were in the area. And indeed they were. So . . . this pair of Jagged Ambush Bugs wasn’t canoodling as some of you probably think. One of the lessons I learned is that this is a prelude to the actual event, where their bodies face each other.
While the Ambush Bugs were busy getting to know each other better on the flowers above, closer to my knees a Bumble Bee buzzed in to gather some pollen and nectar from Giant Blue Lobelia flowers. Another lesson, that gets reinforced each year, is that If one stands still for a long period of time, the bees and wasps and other insects will fly in and out and leave you alone.
And when one looks up again, you’ll discover that the male Ambush Bug was still wooing the female. He’s the smaller, darker insect on top of her. Still another lesson is that when they are in this position, and, mind you, they don’t stay still, his antennae quiver with what I interpret as excitement. I’m sure it has some more scientific meaning or purpose, like maybe he was sending out a signal to her to stay with him or to other males to stay away, but still, how fast did those antennae move.
In the same garden does Turtlehead grow, and I knew it had a visitor when I heard a loud buzz as a Bumble Bee rustled about inside. This plant gets its common name from the flower’s long arching upper lip, or hood, which overlaps the lower lip like a turtle’s beak, minus the eyes of course.
Some say Bumble Bees exit Turtlehead head first but my experience is that they back out of the tight flower. Since this was very near the Ambush Bugs, I thought for sure they’d take a break from their canoodling preparation and try to capture a large meal.
They did not. And then when another flower fly bumped into them, I thought this would be the moment of separation. It was not. Though Ambush Bugs will feed while in this position, or at least the female might, what I observed over the course of five days is that they never did. I also noted that other insects frequently nudged them or came close to doing so, but quickly flew off. Perhaps they sensed danger?
As for the wooers, at about 6:00 on the morning after I first started stalking the goldenrods, I saw that they were still in their pre-nuptial position. At least I assumed it was the same two for it was the same spot and I’d last spotted them at about 7:00 the night before.
While it seemed all they could think about was their progeny, I kept thinking that they needed energy. There were so many options for food, from the black Midas Fly to the green Sweat Fly, but in the moments that I watched, and they were many, none of these became food.
Watching so many different species visit the flowers, I wondered if an Ambush Bug, which I knew could fly, though they seldom did, would attack in flight. But I learned that is not how they operate.
Instead, they wait. And sometimes walk about upon the flowers, perhaps in search of the right spot from which to attack. This is the female with her light colored face.
Notice her front legs, shaped as they are to capture prey, with a pincer that snaps back toward the second larger segment when in action. They remind me a bit of lobster claws.
And this is a male with his much darker suit and head. With those beady little eyes, it’s amazing that they can see insects twice or more their size. Or maybe that’s why they go for larger victims.
The more time I spent watching, the more it was reinforced that an on-the-fly capture was not going to occur. Even still, I kept encouraging such an attempt because it seemed to me that they don’t eat often.
The offerings continued to be plentiful each time I took a spin around and through the garden, but still, since first finding that skeleton of a body that started my quest to watch for more action, I hadn’t seen any evidence of a meal consumed.
And then. And then. And then, no not a meal. Well, maybe not a meal in that moment, but in flew something that I saw out of the corner of my eye and then couldn’t locate.
The Katydid’s camouflage was perfect, even better than that of the Ambush Bugs. Growing up in southern New England, I used to fall asleep to their Katydid songs, but here in western Maine I seldom see or hear one.
Back to the Ambush Bugs, another lesson I’ve learned before but that was reinforced is the fact that they don’t hang out just on Goldenrods, though their camo is certainly better on that flowerhead than on the False Dragonhead. Actually, the Ambush Bug looks more like a dragonhead than the flower does. But I can’t take credit for naming any species. Yet.
Watching the male Ambush Bug proved to be humorous for me, for he always seemed to have his back to any incoming insects such as this hover fly.
Maybe he saw the Bumble Bee approach?
But again, he turned his back on a potential meal.
Even as it drew closer.
Once the bee took off, the Ambush Bug turned again and I had to wonder if it questioned its positioning. Probably not as I’m not sure such a critter can question anything, but if I were an Ambush Bug, I’d like to think I would have done so.
Finally, on day three of my observations, I discovered a successful female. With those claw-like front legs, she’d captured her prey and pierced its body with her beak-like proboscis.
First she injected saliva into the victim’s body and paralyzed it. The fluid also broke down the interior organs and muscles, thus extending the abdomen of her prey. Then she sucked out those succulent digested innards. Yum!
It’s a process that takes time. And given her overall length of about a half inch, it’s impressive that she can take down bigger insect.
Interestingly, once I found one meal being consumed, on the same plant I began to find several.
The other curious thing was that all the predators seemed to be females. That doesn’t mean the males don’t eat, and I’ll certainly keep looking, but it was interesting to note.
Today, on that same plant, I found two meals being consumed that gave a sense that Ambush Bugs really do hide within the flowers before making their ambush. If you look closely you should spy the legs of a fly in the center, and a moth dangling on the right.
Class isn’t over, for I’ll certainly continue to observe and learn and eventually I’ll have conquered my ABCs. Or at least my ABs, thanks to the Ambush Bugs.
Rooted in the spongy sphagnum moss of our western Maine wetlands, a certain shrub makes its home beside Highbush Blueberries and Maleberry and Speckled Alder. It’s a shrub of lax and loose form, its multiple stems sprawling this way and interlocking that way.
I was finishing up an exploration this morning when said shrub stopped me and for the next hour I walked back and forth covering a total of maybe twelve feet that equaled about a half mile all told while admiring the scene that played out before me.
First, there were the conspicuous flowers that never cease to amaze. Dense, spherical, one-inch globes offer nature’s fireworks display in the middle of a summer day. Comprised of many creamy-white tubular flowers so closely packed into a ball, and fringed with protruding pistils that extend beyond the four anthers, the flowers remind some of a pincushion. Set against a backdrop both glossy and dark, the leaves in pairs or threes serve to highlight the fringed beauty of the inflorescence.
As insect magnets, the flowers attract many pollinators including a pair of Flower Longhorn Beetles who couldn’t resist the opportunity to canoodle among the scent so sweet.
And then I spied another, a predator who had relied on its camouflage much like the flower’s color to keep from being seen in order to ambush its prey. Sit and wait. Sit and Wait. It apparently did so until success was achieved.
As I looked about, I spied a silken thread and wondered if it belonged to the Crab Spider. This species doesn’t build webs, but uses silk to attach drop lines to vegetation just in case in the midst of fervent action while attempting to capture a meal, it slips and needs to get back into position.
In the midst of my observation, in flew a pollinator that we all need to revere for its species is endangered and I felt blessed to have seen this one. It seems only yesterday, when our sons were mere tots, (think three decades ago) that we often spotted Monarchs all over flowering shrubs in August and September. But now, we celebrate each and every one and only this morning a friend sent a photo of a Monarch caterpillar feasting on her Milkweed and so we know we are among the fortunate few to share these special sightings.
Meanwhile, back at Lunch Leaf, I stalked. When its prey was close enough, the spider grabbed it with its two front legs, the longest of its four pairs, and bit into the victim.
Meanwhile, a Bumble Bee buzzed in, gathering its fill of nectar and pollen, nectar and pollen, until it needed to return to the hive before coming back to collect some more.
Back at Lunch Leaf, venom was injected to paralyze the meal.
Next, a Dun Skipper made an entrance. Actually about three of them flitted and fluttered from one globe to another.
As for the Crab Spider, it seemed to work on positioning the meal just right.
When the Dun Skipper was positioned just right, I could see its body more clearly and loved how the proboscis stuck down into the flower’s tubular structure. With its deep tube, this inflorescence was designed for butterflies and bees.
Back at the lunch counter, another twist was made.
And atop a different flower head, a Transverse Flower Fly made an appearance, its eyes much bigger than its stomach.
It soon became obvious that prepping a meal takes much work.
The visitors upon the flowers were many and I suppose the lunch choices were as well. While I’m thrilled to have seen so many pollinators, the Crab Spider could only imagine its next meal.
As our time came to an end just after a Painted Lady flew in, I looked down to make sure I hadn’t worn out the boardwalk and I thought about all the action I’d had the honor of witnessing. Though the flowers drew in smaller insects, they are designed to attract larger bees and butterflies. The Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) flowers certainly provide copious amounts of nectar and pollen that make a visit worth the effort for all who stopped by . . . Including the Crab Spider.
I gave thanks to the latter for its diet is well diversified and they are known to contribute to biological controls, but . . . unfortunately, sometimes they feed on beneficial insects like bees.
But I especially gave thanks for all the bees and butterflies who shared their feeding frenzy with me.
Time spent pacing before the satellite-shaped Buttonbush flowers is time spent enjoying an otherworldly experience.
Our Sunday became our Mondate and rather than hike, we went for a paddle in the tandem kayak. It was a long but fruitful paddle, though that fruit differed depending on perspective.
My blues began with the sighting of many Slaty Blue Skimmers with their burgundy brown heads, gorgeous slate blue bodies and aggressive personality once a competitor appears on the scene. A male will perch for moments on end, but when another male enters his territory, he as owner of that particular line of shorefront, zips into action, circling the intruder before giving chase. And then, as if nothing has happened, he returns to the same perch. And sits for moments on end until the next intrusion occurs.
A smaller, but equally aggressive skimmer is the Blue Dasher, who will take off after any dragonfly featuring blue pruinosity. Pruinescence is the frosted or dusty-looking coating on top of a surface and in the case of the dragonflies, some feature this as they mature.
And then there was the Bumblebee and Silver-spotted Skipper to watch as they gathered pollen and nectar from Pickerelweed, which in my mind its lilac coloration counts in the blue category.
Because we were in shallow water, there was an abundance of Swamp Spreadwing Damselflies flying and perching, their wings spread as the name suggests, much like a dragonfly, but their slender bodies and dumbbell-style eyes proving they are Zygopteras (damselflies) rather than Anisopteras (dragonflies).
While its thorax and abdomen are metallic green, its those blue-green eyes that spoke to me.
The more I looked, the more I realized that I need to spend time getting to know the damselflies a wee bit better. I knew that these two in their typical canoodling wheel position were bluets, but it took some study at home to determine that they were Familiar Bluets. And upon reading about them, I learned that copulation lasts about twenty minutes and then they remain together in tandem as she tests sites to lay eggs. She actually goes underwater to lay her eggs upon stems while he releases her and waits, hoping to reattach before moving to a new egg-laying site, though she doesn’t always allow him to do such.
The Skimming Bluet was my next great find, but again, I didn’t know its name at the time. This is one of only two species of bluets where the abdomen terminates with black appendages below segments 8 and 9, which are blue. The other is the Turquoise Bluet, which prefers a stream habitat. Here’s hoping I remember that fact.
While the American Bluets, the largest and most numerous genus of damselflies, are named for their bright blue coloration, not all have this color pattern. Some bluets are actually orange, red, yellow, green or black.
The Orange Blue actually begins life as a pale blue damselfly, but gradually turns orange like this one that landed on the kayak. It stayed perfectly still for quite a while, so I thought I’d channel my inner damselfly whisperer self and offer it a finger. This works for some dragonflies, but I can’t recall a damsel ever taking a ride until this one climbed aboard much to my delight.
We spent a long time getting to know each other. I was quite taken with the orange occipital bar that connected its two eyespots and had a bit of a chevron shape.
I’m sure it found something about me to admire as well. As we looked at each other, in flew one of many Deerflies. I still have a few welts to attest to their abundance. My great hope was that the damselfly would decide to do me a favor and eat the Deerfly.
Granted, the Deerfly was quite robust. And eventually flew off without the Orange Bluet giving it any notice, which should have been a bit of foreshadowing I didn’t know how to read at the moment.
Twice I put O.B. back on the boat and the second time was as we started for home. He seemed a bit sluggish.
As we moved around a bend and the wind picked up he took cover and slipped down out of the breeze. Eventually, he dropped onto my leg, and I’m sad to say, died. Damselflies have a short lifespan–living between two and four weeks. I was sad to say goodbye, but trust that he had done his duty and I’ll meet future generations of the bluet that in adulthood isn’t blue. Given that, however, he is easy to ID in the field.
And as luck would have it, a few minutes later I spotted a newly-emerged damselfly waiting for its wings to dry and pumping its bug blood back into its body. Life circles about in the aquatic world.
As for my guy, he often departed the kayak ferry and went in search of his own favorite shade of blue. He found some favorite bushes missing due to the fact that the local beavers built a new home and needed construction materials. But still, he found plenty and left plenty for others, including the birds and other critters who eat blueberries.
We were together, but each understood blue in our own manner. It was a perfect Sunday Mondate.
First they transform from aquatic macro-invertebrates into flying insects. And then they perform flight rituals that include snagging a meal and mating. Dragonflies, as many of you know, absolutely amaze me.
And today, that amazement reached a new level.
For today, I took a closer look at the compound eyes of my favorite insects. I know from reading and listening to others, that large dragonfly eyes consist of 30,000 lenses . . .
each an individual light-sensing structure, but . . .
whenever I study them in situ, though I’m completely wowed by their colors . . .
and the arrangement of eyes that helps with identification . . .
always it seems, the eyes are splotchy with some areas glowing and others a slightly different hue.
Do you see what I mean? Dark blue-gray above and almost a streak of whiteness in this Ring-tailed Emerald, followed by another shade of blue-gray below?
And have you ever noticed that dragonfly eyes wrap around almost the entire head? The thing is, an insect can’t move its eyes like we can so it needs a different adaptation . . .
in the form of hexagon-shaped structures that sense light and are known as the ommatidium or those 30,000 lenses per eye. Can you see the hexagons? Each ommatidium is much longer than it is wide. The ommatidium narrows as it leads to the brain as I’ve learned from How Insects Work by Marianne Taylor. She states: “Each ommatidium is topped with a cornea and a crystalline pseudocone, which acts as a focusing lens, directing light into the rhabdom, a long, narrow, and transparent structure at the center of the ommatidium. It contains photosensitive pigments that respond to certain wavelengths of light. The rhabdom is formed by the combined inner parts of (usually) eight specialize nerve cells–photoreceptors. When the rhabdom’s pigments undergo chemical change in response to light, these cells send a nerve impulse to the brain. The ommatidium also contains six pigment cells, which absorb light that strikes the cornea at an indirect angle. This ensures that the photoreceptors only receive light that passes through the cornea directly . . . what the compound eye “sees” is, as far as we can tell, a scene formed by an array of colored specks (including, in some cases, ultraviolet “color”), each speck contributed by an individual ommatidium. In dragonflies, there are enough specks to form a detailed picture, but in insects with fewer ommatidia the compound image has little detail.”
Here’s a look inside the head of a dragonfly from a specimen I’d collected after it died two years ago. What I didn’t realize until today was that the head had fallen off the thorax because its such a delicate creature once dried. But . . . that was great news because it gave me an opportunity to see more. I thought you might like to do the same. Though we can’t really get inside a dragonfly’s head, we can certainly enjoy the view of the backside.
I know. I know. I should have taken the bird feeders down two months ago. But I blame it on My Guy because he keeps bringing damaged bags of bird seed home. And because of that, we’ve actually had a delightful time watching all the action at the feeders and below where I scatter plenty of seed on the ground so others can partake.
A pair of Northern Cardinals are the most frequent visitors, and lately he’s taken to making sure she’s well fed. Often she sits and waits rather than helping herself, taking notes on the kind of parent he will be to their offspring.
Chipping Sparrows have also participated in courtship feeding, and just maybe this behavior also strengthens the bond between the two genders.
He did look at me as if to say, “Hey, this is between the two of us. Skedaddle.” And I eventually did disappear.
But when I looked again, I spotted an Eastern Chipmunk filling its cheeks. While this is common behavior, what wasn’t quite so common is that fact that most of its tail was missing. Had a fight occurred or did it narrowly escape becoming a meal?
I’ll never know. Among the most frequent mammal visitors are the Gray Squirrels. And they, along with the Red Squirrels and Eastern Chipmunks have learned where we store the seed in the barn and no matter how many times we think we’ve outfoxed them, we soon discover that they’ve been chewing again. We’re now using small metal trash cans, but knowing the prowess of these critters, I doubt we’ve won this battle. And keeping them out of the barn is impossible because it’s an old barn with lots of secret passageways, some that I’m sure we’re not aware of . . . yet.
Some days there are five or six Gray Squirrels foraging for seeds and looking as if they own the place. I suppose they do. We’re merely itinerate tenants and we give thanks that they let us live here.
Oh, and then there’s the neighborhood fox. We haven’t discovered the den yet, but every morning we can expect two or three visits. If it isn’t successful at sneaking up on one of the other critters, and squirrels and chipmunks can outrun a fox, it, too, dines on some seeds.
And then pauses to lick its chops.
But what the fox really wants is a more substantial meal and I suspect it has kits nearby that need feeding.
Unfortunately for the fox, sometimes the American Crows announce its presence and all the little critters run up trees or fly away.
Soon, however, they return. And begin to forage again.
And from high positions, they’ll take a break, and actually pull seeds out of those puffed-up cheeks in order to dine.
And so this morning dawned with a light rain, and just as our Red Fox walked in front of the stones by the garden, I saw a flash of brown run across the flatter rock. R.F. jumped up, looked around, jumped down and gave chase. The fox was unsuccessful.
But that didn’t stop it from returning and though the crows didn’t alert us, the squeal of a Gray Squirrel made us raise our heads and look out the back door.
Breakfast had been secured and the last we saw of the fox, it was trotting away with a meal in its mouth.
On May 21, 2022, My Guy and I hiked Albany Mountain Trail in the White Mountain National Forest on a reconnaissance mission. Ours was to note the number of Lady’s Slippers either in bloom or prepping to do so because it was May 24, 2021 that we last counted blossoms. On the 21st of this year none were in bloom, and honestly, we only spotted 21 plants.
And so we returned this afternoon, which found us enjoying Raspberry Bars baked by Fly Away Farm while sitting upon dessert bench at the summit.
On the way up, however, we did keep track of the Pink Lady’s Slippers, including this one that featured last year’s seed capsule.
Occasionally there were spots such as this, where a bunch showed off their lovely moccasins.
But our perennial favorite is the bunch of ten. It’s such a favorite that when we encountered another making his descent, My Guy suggested he hike back up about a quarter mile with us to see this display. He was grateful that we’d shared this special find with him.
But it wasn’t just Lady’s Slippers to note for when we last climbed up two weeks ago, the mosquitoes and black flies were thicker than thick and we practically ran down to finish the route as quickly as possible. Today, there were a few, but it was hardly notable and we gave great thanks to dragonflies such as this male Common Whitetail Skimmer for patrolling the territory.
We found two others on patrol, these being Garter Snakes. I really wanted to stay and watch their movements, for I suspected that the one toward the top was the larger female and the lower one might be a male, but My Guy had Lady’s Slippers on his mind and standing to watch a couple of snakes didn’t tickle his fancy.
And so we moved on, leaving the slitherers to their own intentions without interruption.
But the real star of the show (don’t tell the Lady’s Slippers) was the beaver. You see, there is a dam about a half mile in that hikers must cross to access the rest of the trail and the last few years it has been a bit easier. But this year . . . things have been different and today we met the engineer who made it so.
He was hard at work making repairs when we first came to the dam and we had to time our crossing accordingly.
We watched him as he watched us, sure that he’d slap the surface with his tail in an effort to tell us to move on. Surprised were we when he did not.
Once on the other side, when we encountered the first group of hikers making their way down, we mentioned the beaver. They hadn’t seen it upon their ascent but their group of seven said they may have been the reason for its need to work for apparently they’d messed the dam up a bit as they crossed. It’s not an easy thing to do–the crossing that is.
Upon our own descent we looked about as we reached the dam and tada, there he was swimming away.
And then we got the message–a tail slap! A statement, indeed.
A bit muddier for the experience, we both made it back across as quickly as possible.
And gave great thanks for the opportunity to make everything count.
Our day began with a remembrance of our fathers and uncles and cousins and friends and all who have served and continue to serve our country. Growing up, my hometown celebrated Memorial Day with a parade and I remember riding or marching or watching–depending upon the year. And after there was a picnic topped off with Strawberry Shortbread. But in my adopted hometown, July 4th is the date that receives all the attention.
And so, that’s a long introduction as to why My Guy and I headed off to Overset Mountain for today’s hike. We were on a mission.
Said mission was not to count all of the Indian Cucumber Root plants we could find in flower, though My Guy did point to this one at the start of our journey because just a week ago I introduced him to their double-decker structure necessary for extra sugar creation and therefore flower followed by fruiting form.
Nor was said mission to marvel at the water as it flowed over the rocks in Sanborn River.
Instead, it was a bit of a treasure hunt that motivated us as we sought the ones who liked to hide along the trail. Um, kinda like My Guy is hiding in this photo. Can you spot him?
Success at last. The first success that is–a Pink Lady’s Slipper in full bloom. #1. Henceforth, had you been with us, you would have heard us stating the number of each Lady’s Slipper we spied and honored.
At first, there weren’t many but we did what we like to do when faced with a challenge such as locating bear claw trees–we scanned both sides of the trail in hopes of being the one to announce the next number.
Oh how they hid!
To spy one often required a sharp eye. The question was thus: what determined where a Lady’s Slipper would grow? I knew it was a certain fungus, but the US Forest Service clarifies it more than I can: “In order to survive and reproduce, pink lady’s slipper interacts with a fungus in the soil from the Rhizoctonia genus. Generally, orchid seeds do not have food supplies inside them like most other kinds of seeds. Pink lady’s slipper seeds require threads of the fungus to break open the seed and attach them to it. The fungus will pass on food and nutrients to the pink lady’s slipper seed. When the lady’s slipper plant is older and producing most of its own nutrients, the fungus will extract nutrients from the orchid roots. This mutually beneficial relationship between the orchid and the fungus is known as ‘symbiosis’ and is typical of almost all orchid species.”
Turns out, we weren’t the only ones on the hunt. This Garter Snake crossed the trail and then paused, certain that it was so well camouflaged by the leaves and the twig it passed under that we couldn’t possibly spy it. But we did.
Sometimes, it was the white version of the pink that we spotted. As I mentioned, Lady’s Sippers orchids in the genus Cypripedium in the Orchidaceae family. The genus name Cypripedium is derived from the Greek words “Cypris,” an early reference in Greek myth to Aphrodite, and “pedilon” for sandal, so named for the fused petals that form the pouch and their resemblance.
There were other white flowers to also admire, such as the Canada Mayflower or Wild Lily of the Valley that decorated a boulder.
Ah, but we reminded ourselves that Lady’s Slippers were our focus. Though most stood upon straight stems, there was the occasional one such as this that had a mind of its own. What had this flower endured to create such a curvature?
At last we reached Overset Pond with the mountain of the same name beyond. This became our lunch spot and while there we watched a Common Loon and a Snapper Turtle swim underwater, for so clear it is.
It was after that, however, that our Lady’s Slipper numbers began to increase. We were at 47 when we reached the pond. But then, it felt like we were constantly taking turns announcing a number and pointing to make sure the other saw the same flowers.
When one is noticing, one notices. And so My Guy pointed out this Tiger Swallowtail taking a break, its proboscis rolled as it should be when not seeking nectar.
The next flower we spotted chose a different orientation, as if it had done something wrong and needed to show its backside to the trail. But really, perhaps it was honoring the tree beside which it grew.
We soon reached one of My Guy’s favorite spots where he counted 50 in bloom in a ten-foot-square area. And that’s just what we could see from the trail.
We found some who stood tall.
And others barely overextending the height of Bunchberry.
At the summit of Overset Mountain, we paused for a dessert break before making our way down.
On the descent there were still others to admire, though for a wee bit it felt like we’d entered the desert, but once closer to the pond, the natural community changed and apparently the fungus did as well for such were our finds.
The last of the day appeared to be the richest in color, though I’m not sure we had an overall favorite for each offered a different hue of the same theme from pale white to this rich pink.
We were on our way back to the truck, when things got even more exciting–if that can be so given all the Lady’s Slippers we’d spotted. Say hello to an immature male Common Whitetail Skimmer Dragonfly. By the time he matures, his tail will turn whitish blue, but those wings will remain the same. Oh my.
And then for the final oh my . . .
Oh My Guy! This was the closet I’ve been to my favorite Black Bear (UMaine grad–though known as UMO grad back in his day) on any hike . . . ever. And for this I give thanks to the Lady’s Slippers for slowing him down to my speed. All together we counted 286 flowering Lady’s Slippers today and know that we missed some and beyond the trail there are probably a million more.
Every day this week found me wandering a different trail, or even sometimes the same trail on multiple days.
To that end, on May 24th, I celebrated a full-fledged dragonfly emergence.
Though I wasn’t there at the time of eclosure, many of the dragonflies I spotted, and there were hundreds, were either still pumping hemolymph from their wings back into their bodies, gaining their color patterns, or letting their shiny wings dry in the breeze as they slowly began to expand them. A few had wings that seemed stuck together, but then in an unexpected moment they flew and I whispered farewell in hopes that we might meet again.
On May 25th, there were other species to behold.
It was that day that I knew the Highbush Blueberry crop will be significant this year for so many were the robust Bumble Bees that worked the pollen route. I even managed to capture one doing a happy dance with pollen on its feet. And this is canoodling season, after all, so it was fun to find a pair of flower bugs enjoying a tender moment upon Chokeberry flowers. The Mayfly did not have such a happy ending for before maturing to its adult form, it landed in a sticky web, but . . . alas, the spider must eat, so it was a good day after all.
On May 26th, my travels were more varied, as were the sightings.
For a few moments, I watched as ants, both winged and not, farmed aphids upon the stem of a Maple-leaf Viburnum. Along a trail or two that day, a melodious Song Sparrow serenaded me with its happy tune. And a quick trip to the vernal pool out back found me looking into the eyes of hundreds, maybe thousands, of Wood Frog tadpoles. But the best find of all, a fairy ring along a trail.
On May 27th, I was one of a bunch who arrived at a certain locale to bird at 6:30am.
Though I couldn’t stay for the entire trip, which yielded 38 species, I did have the joy of watching a small flock of Cedar Waxwings land and fly, land and fly. And then there was the Indigo Bunting. It’s blue coloration reminded me of Clintonia’s Blue Bead fruits we’ll spot in the summer if the birds don’t eat them all first. And I’m never sure why I’m surprised to find a House Wren on these journeys, but perhaps its because for so many years I didn’t see them (or didn’t realize I was seeing them) and thought of them more as a childhood bird from my beginnings in southern New England. The best find of all, on this day, however, was an Eastern Phoebe sitting on her nest.
On May 28th, I met some old friends, though for the first three I had to jog my memory for their names.
The first was a female Common Whitetail Skimmer dragonfly. It’s her guy who has the whitish “tail,” and I believe that she received the better strokes of nature’s paintbrush. Then there were the Hudsonian Whiteface Skimmers, she with yellow marks and his defined in red. Soon, the Calico Pennants will emerge, and we’ll see she also dons a yellow coat while he sports red. But as much as you know I love dragonflies, a fresh moose track also makes my heart sing.
On May 29th, I wondered how I could possibly top all of that.
And yet I did. First there were more ants farming aphids, this time Wooly Alder Aphids on Speckled Alders. After that, a Bluet Damselfly that didn’t seem to mind that I rustled around in some shrubs trying to get better photos of other species. For its patience, I thought I should honor it in this post. One of those other species, a small Dot-tailed Whiteface Skimmer dragonfly, drew my attention to a Pitcher Plant Flower preparing to open. I was surprised by its presence because though I knew I was in the land where Pitcher Plants are abundant, I couldn’t recall spying one in this particular spot before. But the best find of the day, an Assassin Bug, Pselliopus cinctus, finishing a meal. I had never met this species of Assassin Bug before as usually it is the slender green Zelus luridus that I encounter. The black and white legs were to be admired, by me, not its poor victim who had just had the juices sucked out of it.
It certainly has been a week to celebrate my daily wonders as I wander. And though the Assassin Bug was the best of today, the actual best I did not capture a photo of this afternoon. A River Otter popped up and stared at me briefly, chirped, and before I could reach for the camera, disappeared. But I will remember that moment and that spot in my mind’s eye.
Where to begin? Perhaps at the beginning? Or better yet, half way through. And so that’s where today’s story starts.
My Guy and I had some errands to run, but then it was time to have fun. To that end, we chose the Weeks Brook Trail up the backside (or maybe it’s the front side depending on your perspective) of Mount Kearsarge North in New Hampshire. We last climbed Kearsarge in November, which I recorded in What’s To Come Mondate, via the Kearsarge Trail that starts on Hurricane Mountain Road. We knew we didn’t have time to go to the summit today, but Shingle Pond, halfway up the trail offered a fine lunch log date and turn-around point.
Along the way we had many to honor and so we did, beginning with a colony of Clintonia showing off bright yellow blossoms.
Each cheery bloom offered an explosion of sunshine radiating from its flaring bell shape and six long stamens with yellow tips and a long style.
Sharing the trail were Pink Lady’s Slippers offering a variation of hues sharing a color scheme.
Since My Guy loves to count slippers, an activity that forever surprises me, he noted only eight in bloom today, but this one was extra special because it featured not only today’s blossom, but also last year’s fruit in the shape of a capsule that once contained thousands of tiny seeds.
And then there was Wild Sarsapirilla with its whorl of three compound leaves at the tip of a long stem.
The globe-shaped flowers that grow upon a stem of their own below the umbrella teemed with pollinators of all shapes and sizes.
My joyous heart kept growing larger and larger with each wonder-filled find enhanced in a few cases by being the first of the species I’ve spotted this year. Indian Cucumber Root topped that list with several in flower. To some, the flowers are inconspicuous as they nod below the plant’s second tier, but to me they are among nature’s most amazing constructions as the petal-like segments turn backward and the stamens stand out in reddish purple offering a contrast to the yellow pistils.
By the time we reached the Swamp Beacon Fungi, my heart was full, but like any sweet treats, there’s always room for more. These little yellow mushrooms love a wet seep and there were a few along today’s trail. I was reminded of my first encounter with this species in 2015 when I posted Slugs, Bears and Caterpillar Clubs, Oh My! (RIP PV. I’ll miss you forever)
At last we reached the pond and immediately my focus changed from flowers to other structures all belonging to the Odonata family, this one in particular being the left-behind exuviae of a Skimmer Dragonfly. I found it at eye level–my eyes that is and not My Guy’s.
I really wanted to introduce him to a dragonfly eclosing and the best I could find today was one that had already split out of its aquatic form and was still pumping hemolymph (bug blood) from its wings back into its expanding body. “Isn’t that cool?” I asked. His response somehow turned a basketball move he expected to see on tonight’s Celtics game into a cooler situation. Hmmm. I’ll win him over yet.
Despite that, I did win another one over. It was an immature Skimmer Dragonfly who had recently emerged for a wee bit cloudy were its wings still.
I knew it to species as a Whiteface for such was the color of . . . its face.
Whether it was a Belted Whiteface Skimmer or a Crimson Whiteface Skimmer, the jury is still out and based upon wing venation. My gut leans toward the former, but I’m open to learning so if you think otherwise, please explain.
That said, it was the first dragonfly that easily climbed upon my offered hand this year and I rejoiced that the Dragonfly Whisperer had joined today’s Mondate. Even My Guy was impressed.
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