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.
Sigh. And sigh again. Happy sighs are these. Because . . . the dragonflies are transforming from their aquatic form to flyers. In either lifestyle, they are predators, but it’s the latter flyer that we appreciate the most. Especially during years like this when the Black Fly and Mosquito populations are prolific. We give thanks, of course, for such prevalence, because these little stinging fliers become odonata and amphibian and bird food, or so we like to pretend that we give thanks. Really, we’re grateful for the insistent buzzing and biting, but even more grateful for those who predate upon them.
The exciting thing about this week is that several of us had the great opportunity to spy some dragonflies eclosing, the act of emerging from their larval forms. So here’s the deal: fully developed aquatic larvae, aka nymphs, crawl out of the water onto emergent grasses, sedges, shrubs, and rocks, split the back of their skin and emerge as winged adults like the one in view here.
Newly eclosed dragonflies lack pigment so identifying them isn’t always easy. Of even more importance, they are extremely vulnerable to predation as they clutch their old skin while pumping air into their bodies and liquid into their expanding wings. One way to note an emergent adult is by the cloudiness of the wings as they set their internal systems in motion. The tough part is that they must wait in this position, unable to escape predators, until wings dry and they can fly. The process can take several hours.
And so it was with great glee that we noticed wee, yet mature Hudsonian Whiteface dragonflies, members of the Skimmer family, flying and posing, flying and posing.
The yellow spot on segment seven (dragonfly abdomens consist of ten segments) is triangular in shape, aiding in the identification as I get my dragonfly eyes back on.
In no time, it seemed, there were dragonflies everywhere. Well, not everywhere for I traveled several trails and realized that those who were emerging tended to be near stiller waters. The Common Baskettail, as this species is known, is a member of the family Corduliidae (the Emeralds). Unlike other Emerald family members, baskettails lack the green eyes, though as they age the color does change. But they make up for it by being super hairy. As a naiad, the hair apparently traps tiny pieces of debris, thus hiding it from predators in the muck. In its adult form, the hair serves as a spring jacket, holding in heat.
All that is fine and well and there will be many more odonata references during the next six months as I wonder my way. but today I happened upon one who added to my knowledge bank and I’ll forever celebrate this opportunity to learn more. Do you see the neon green appearing to drip off the wings?
Look closely at the left behind aquatic structure, aka exuvia or cast skin, and you can see the length of the former nymph that helps define this species to family based on its shape: Darner.
Though I first thought this specimen was dead, suddenly it walked along the underside of an old stump beside the water. Try as I could to separate its wings, I was unsuccessful. For some reason they were stuck together. And one was even folded still as it would have been upon first emerging, thus there was green at its tip, though it appeared at first glance to be in the middle of the wing.
Based on the fact that its thorax stripes were already taking on its adult colors, I knew this darner had been trying to reach flight stage for hours. What had gone wrong? What was the neon green? Something must have gone astray as this dragonfly tried to pump hemolymph (Insect fluid like blood) through to its wings to stiffen them for flight.
Hemolymph is made up of water and other characteristics like carbohydrates and amino acids, and also pigments, though the latter are typically clear but may be tinged with yellow or green. In the case of this darner, it seems that green is the color of choice. Had it been able to expand its wings, the fluid would have drained out of the wings and back into the body. Usually, it takes about an hour or more for the wings to reach full length and they have a cloudy appearance as the fluid is pumped into them. They are held together over the back, much like a damselfly, but once the fluid drains out of them, the dragonfly is able to extend the wings and there’s a shiny glint to them until they fully dry and stiffen. And then, in a split second, when one such as me is watching, flight happens.
For some reason, this darner will not know flight, but I gave thanks for the opportunity to see its blood and slow my brain down to think about the process.
To fly or not to fly?: it’s a complicated question.
No need to read on. You know it will be photos of today’s finds. Ho hum.
Our day began as it always does, with a shared piece of CraftonMain Lemon Meringue Pie topped with a raspberry, while we sat and watched this pair enjoy a meal of their own. Wait. We don’t always begin with the pie–but sure wish we could. Cardinals, however, have been blessing us with their appearance for years.
And then there was the sighting of the neighborhood fox in the field beyond our stonewall; it had its eyes on the neighbor’s dogs while we had our eyes on it. Don’t worry, the dogs didn’t become breakfast. In fact, as their mistress began to walk toward the fox (we don’t think she spied it, nor did the dogs or they would have given chase), the fox turned and dashed across the field, over another stonewall and into our woodlot.
At last, it was time to begin our hike along a trail we haven’t visited since August 2019. Our intention had been to climb it in 2020, but during the first year of the pandemic, it was closed and then we never considered it . . . until this morning. And as we started up, I remembered . . . this is the mountain where the Early Saxifrage grows.
It’s also known as rockbreaker for its habit of cleaving to the rocks, and perhaps suggested the Latin name–Saxifraga virginiensis. Saxum-rock and frangere-to break.
A funny name for such a diminutive and delicate display.
Round-leaved Violet with its scalloped-rimmed leaves more heart shaped than its name suggests also grew along the trail. Spying these tiny offerings of yellow with those incredible magenta runways meant to attract pollinators always brings a smile as if they were meant to brighten the day of all who hike this way.
Our journey found us enjoying the sound of the water’s rhythm as we climbed higher . . .
and contemplating each step once we turned away from the brook.
At the summit, the view from lunch rock included a look to the southeast where the sky predicted the forecast of a front moving in.
Meanwhile, our hometown mountain stood out in the sun.
But the grand lady, Mount Washington, was starting to disappear into the clouds.
It was windy and a bit chilly at the summit, but that didn’t stop the Brown Elfin butterfly from flirting with a few others where the blueberries grow.
I also spotted one Spring Azure. Both are rather small butterflies and if you look closely, you might spot that their antennae are patterned white and black.
On the way down, we did what we often do–looked for bear claw trees because we know they exist here. And because I know such an activity will slow my guy down. 😉 Bingo. He spotted one that was new to us.
I went in for a closer look and couldn’t believe all the marks on display.
And so I began to circle around the trunk.
One can only imagine the crop of Beech Nuts this tree must have offered.
But enough is enough. It’s just another bear claw tree, after all. Nothing to write home about. Or is it? Think about the bear and the blueberries the Brown Elfin Butterfly will help pollinate and the Beech Nuts the trees will produce and all the connections that will be made, which will include the Cardinals and the Red Fox and the flowers and all that is part of the forest. And be wowed like us. It was hardly just another boring mountain mondate on Burnt Meadow Mountain in Brownfield, Maine.
If you’ve been following wondermyway for a few years, you know that each spring I make a bee-line for vernal pools, those shallow, short-lived ponds that fill with snowmelt or spring rain for at least several weeks most years, have no major inlet or outlet, and most importantly, no fish. Without fish, reproductive success is more likely for some amphibians, crustaceans, and insects who depend upon these ephemeral water bodies for breeding.
There are four indicator species in Maine that define a vernal pool as significant. Since 2007, significant vernal pool habitat has been protected by law under Maine’s Natural Resources Protection Act (NRPA): “Significant Vernal Pool (SVP) habitat consists of a vernal pool depression and a portion of the critical terrestrial habitat within a 250-foot radius of the spring or fall high water mark of the depression. Any activity in, on, or over the SVP or the 250-foot critical terrestrial habitat zone must avoid unreasonable impacts to the significant vernal pool habitat and obtain approval from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, either through Permit by Rule (a streamlined permitting process) or full individual NRPA permit.”
Those four indicator species that define such significance: Wood Frogs, Spotted Salamanders, Blue Spotted Salamanders, and Fairy Shrimp. The pool must contain 40 Wood Frog egg masses, or 20 Spotted Salamander Egg masses, or 10 Blue Spotted Salamander egg masses, or one Fairy Shrimp. I’ve yet to see a Blue Spotted Salamander or its eggs.
Some may see these ponds as oversized puddles, but let your eyes focus and suddenly you’ll realize that they are places teeming with life.
As you do, it might surprise you to spot lots of flying activity just above the pool’s surface. It’s actually Midges on the move, trying to get a date so that there will be even more Midges on the move. They look rather like mosquitoes, but don’t bite, so not to worry.
Male Midges have a longer, more slender body that the females, and they like to posture in attempts to interest one of the opposite gender. They’re actually fun to watch.
Of course, equally, ahem, fun to watch are the larval forms of Mosquitoes as they wriggle and wraggle through the water column, some even forming dense clusters.
If you do some container dipping at a vernal pool near you in order to take a closer look, I trust you won’t dump these onto the leaf litter rather than back into the water. As much as the females annoy us once they morph into that annoying flying insect that needs to suck mammal blood to gain proteins and nutrients for their eggs, they play an important part in the food web.
Especially for warblers such as this Yellow-rumped that was part of a flock that arrived in western Maine this week–just as it should have, being the end of April. It was spotted quite near one of the pools, so I suspect Mosquito Mash will soon be on the menu.
Back to those four indicator species for a significant vernal pool . . . it was this week that while looking close up at some Wood Frog eggs, I realized we had babies in the form of tadpoles.
I saw “we” because mom and dad Wood Frog do not hang around. Once they’ve canoodled and eggs have been fertilized and deposited, they exit the pool and return to their upland habitat, where they spend the next fifty weeks, so it’s up to us to watch over their young ones. Their metamorphosis, or change to adult form, will be completed by late June or earlier should temperatures rise and the pool begin to dry out.
I encourage you , dear readers, to do what I do and stare intently into the leaf litter to see if you can spot some tadpoles. And who knows what else you might discover.
While looking into another section of the pool, you might notice another type of egg mass, this one coated with a gelatinous mass that encompasses all of the eggs. Spotted Salamanders made their Big Night return to the pools about a week or so later than the Wood Frogs, so the embryos are still developing.
I find it fascinating to see the little forms take shape. It’s like looking into a mother’s womb without medical devices.
Okay, it’s time for you to peer into the pool again. This time you are looking for Fairy Shrimp, those tiny crustaceans that are about a half inch long, swim on their backs, and move eleven pairs of legs like a crew team in a rowing shell. Remember, I said one Fairy Shrimp makes a pool significant according to the State of Maine. How many do you see in this photo?
Those in the first Fairy Shrimp photo are males, but females are present as well. The way to identify a female is to look for her two brood sacs that are positioned just under her legs or appendages.
So here’s the thing. Fairy Shrimp have a short life span, but . . . their eggs must dry out and freeze before they can respond to environmental cues such as reflooding to hatch. One of the pools I’ve been frequenting lately I’d only discovered last year and it had no Fairy Shrimp. The other day when I approached with some volunteer docents from Greater Lovell Land Trust, one exclaimed within seconds of our arrival, “Fairy Shrimp.”
That got me thinking: how is it that we didn’t spot any last year, and this year we started seeing them everywhere. Also, in another pool where we’ve often spied a few, we’ve noticed they are in abundance. Previous to this week, I knew that the eggs, known as cysts, can remain dormant for years, but assumed that if the pool flooded each year, they all hatched. It didn’t make sense though that one pool suddenly has shrimp and the other has so many more than normal. It was time to do a little research, and what I learned from the Vermont Center for Ecostudies , is that only a small portion of cysts hatch each year, thus leaving plenty more for the future. And temperature plays a key role in hatching. So I thought about winter 2021 and how we didn’t have a lot of snow and the temperature was on the mild side. This past winter was much snowier (though not enough still in my book) and much chillier. My unscientific conclusion, based only on limited knowledge and observation, is that conditions weren’t conducive in 2021 at that one pool and so no shrimp hatched. I’m already looking forward to next year.
For your enjoyment I’ve included a video of a Fairy Shrimp moving through a pool this past week. Fairy Shrimp indicate unpolluted water, so finding one is significant. Finding so many . . . bliss.
When you are peering into the water for such a long time, other life forms make themselves known, such as Predacious Diving Beetle larvae, aka Water Tiger. Just like the adult this insect will morph into, it eats everything including tadpoles and insects, and even its siblings sometimes.
It wasn’t just the docents and I who had fun at the pools, but also a group of middle school students I have the immense honor to work with each Friday and yesterday they enjoyed documenting life at the pool that suddenly had Fairy Shrimp this year. Quiz yourself on ID of the species one student scooped up in this bug box. And rest assured that these critters were released back into the pool after being studied for a few minutes.
As I said, I’ve done a lot of scanning this week, including on a couple of solo trips, and it was on one of these that I made one of my favorite discoveries: a Caddisfly larvae. In larval form, Caddisflies are resourceful architects who repurpose their surroundings to create their homes. Sometimes I find them constructed of hemlock needles topped with a maple flowers, and a friend sent a photo today of one she found who had built its house of grains of sand. My find . . . in the pool that suddenly had Fairy Shrimp this year: a mobile home built of leaves. It was so well camouflaged that only the movement made me realize what was before my eyes.
Larval Caddisflies eat various types of detritus, including bits of leaves, algae, and miscellaneous organic matter so they, too, are important as they break down what is in the pool.
If it wasn’t that I need to eventually find my way home and make dinner, I’d probably still be out there. But yikes, it’s 7:00pm, and I haven’t even started dinner, and my guy will be home from work soon, so I’d better get going.
If you are looking for me in the next few weeks, however, I’ll be the one with hands on bent knees as I hunch over the pool. Join me and we can peer in together.
Make each mind-filled step count as it presents reminders of wonder . . .
whether beside rushing waters that nourish with sight and sound,
or along mountain ledges where one is reminded that gravity holds us down.
Admire first the Trailing Arbutus as you drop to a knee to take in the sweet scent of spring enclosed within its delicate petals.
Don’t overlook the tiny fly seeking nourishment from Coltsfoot, pollinator at work upon a flower whose modified leaves give it an otherworldly appearance.
Notice the wee fiddleheads rising up beside Polypody ferns,
their hairy crosiers so minute that if you don’t search under leaves and moss, you’ll surely miss them.
Let the Eastern Comma Butterfly entertain as it dances up and down a forest trail,
occasionally pausing to allow onlookers to spot the tiny white comma, for which it was given its name, on its hind wing.
Let the past also astound in the form of last year’s Ghost Pipe flower appearing now as an intricate woody capsule.
Consider the American Beech with its canopy a bit askew, especially when compared to its neighbors.
And then gaze down the trunk until claw marks left behind years ago by a very hungry Black Bear make themselves visible.
Look with awe at the granite so evenly and naturally sliced and delight in the hues once hidden within now on view.
Embrace the panorama from a windswept summit where turbines producing energy define a nearby ridge line.
See also the old mill town that continues to produce paper products from its location nestled among mountains.
Note also the bronze geological monument used by surveyors since 1879 for mapping purposes as our forebears laid stake to the land that we can never truly claim.
And on the way home, don’t forget to take a few steps toward the barn that features memories of the past.
Try to make time to be present in the moment and see the wonders of life that surround us. Be awakened by reading the signs and not just whizzing by, no matter how or where you travel across the Earth.
Preheat your outdoor oven to 55˚ Fahrenheit or so.
Prepare several mixing bowls that include wetland scenes.
It might be best to include a vernal pool for one.
A brook for another.
And maybe even a stream.
Locate a butterfly that overwinters as a mature adult, such as this Eastern Comma.
To be sure you’ve chosen this species and not its anglewing cousin, the Question Mark, look for the punctuation mark on its outer hind wing. Drizzle it with sunshine.
Toss in the most minute and earliest blooming flower you can find, probably that of a Beaked Hazelnut with its spray of magenta styles.
Pour in some water from the Pitcher (plant) and in the process, let the sugars that are currently moving into new leaves as evidenced by the red color from pigments called anthocyanins sweeten the recipe and add some energy.
Taste the mixture and decide if you need to add more sap the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker will gladly supply.
Season the mixture with the conk-la-ree of the male Red-winged Blackbird.
Top with the sky blue reflection of a local river.
Use a Painted Turtle shell to store your concoction.
When you are ready to taste, be like a Garter Snake . . .
and dive in quickly with forked tongue.
Enjoy every bit of the wonderful flavor and embrace the texture and scent for this early spring pie won’t last long.
Rainy days that turn into sunny days are the best days of spring. And today was one such. That meant, of course, that I needed to visit one of my favorite wet spots.
Along the way, because it was raining, I noticed the White Pines were foaming at the mouth! What really occurred: sap salts and acids that had accumulated on the bark’s surface mixed together in the rain and formed soapy suds. The rainbow colors and hexagonal forms–worth a natural engineering wonder.
And upon a moss covered tree stump . . . a million more tiny bubbles dangling from reproductive capsules creating a hint of the future.
At the pool, one might say raindrops distorted the reflections captured on the surface. Or perhaps they enhanced it with a design that was ever evolving.
Bubbles kept forming as the raindrops fell . . . and then they’d burst. Just prior to their disappearance, however, they mirrored the canopy above the pool.
Oh, and do you spy what I spied? Wood Frog eggs . . . tadpoles in the making. But all the while that I stood there, and it was a while as the rain fell, not a frog did I spot.
As the skies cleared late in the afternoon, again I headed to the pool. Click on the arrow above and you should hear what I heard. A chorus of wrucks.
Of course, once I stood beside the pool, the frogs had all disappeared. But, with a bit of sun shining, I suddenly could see that in the last week numerous egg masses had been laid in communal style, as is the Wood Frog manner.
Some even exhibited the green hue indicating that mutualistic symbiosis, or a relationship between algae and developing embryos, was already underway. Shallow, ephemeral ponds such as this one, experience severe oxygen depletion during periods of high sunlight and warmth. The algae provides oxygen for the tadpoles, allowing them to survive longer and grow larger before metamorphosis, while the algae receive carbon dioxide from the tadpoles, which aids algal growth.
And then, ever so slowly, frogs silently floated to the surface, and waited . . . for that special woman to happen along. The fact that I had happened along, didn’t turn out to be special enough and so most were silent rather than wrucking as they waited . . . for me to disappear.
And then . . . and then the water began to boil. It took me a moment to realize what I was witnessing.
That moment expanded into about ten minutes as several male frogs tried to outwit each other and grab one female in amplexus.
She occasionally chirped her discontent, but that didn’t stop the good old boys from trying to do their thing.
Around and around they went, this threesome or foursome or fivesome, for it seemed to be an ever evolving grouping.
Her swollen belly betold the fact that she had eggs that needed to be fertilized, but which of these Romeos would win the right to externally fertilize her bounty?
They tumbled and tussled. She chirped. They tumbled and tussled some more.
They calmed down for a moment, but still no decision had been made.
And then, if you click on the arrow above and listen, you’ll hear what the frogs and I heard . . . as a Barred Owl called its “Who Cooks For You?” phrase several times. The frogs split up and I’ll never know which of the best wrucks one, but I suspect one of them finally succeeded in its quest to sire the next generation.
Dedication: This post is for Patti and Kate and Billy and Rob (Howie) and Johnny, in honor of your mom, Bobbie, who passed from this world to the next today. At the sight of each bubble that the day offered, it seemed another memory popped up. And I’m pretty sure we are all living proof that eating her raw Congo Bar dough adds years to ones life. Virtual hugs to all of you. And Tommy too.
My guy and I began this day with a list . . . of things to do and places to go, all within about 15 miles from home. Our starting point was our camp, where I wanted to do a few things inside, while he picked up branches that had fallen over the winter.
Once our chores were completed, we paused for a moment and enjoyed the view of Shawnee Peak Ski Area at Pleasant Mountain and the almost iced-out northern basin of Moose Pond.
Maybe the ice finally went out this afternoon, but the longer it stays, the better in my opinion. Not all that long ago we could predict the event to occur in mid-April, but sadly everything is happening earlier than it should.
From there we hiked up a hill on some land we own behind his store because he’d recently spotted a site he knew I’d appreciate: a carpet of Eastern Hemlock twigs. We looked up, but no porcupine was in sight.
Following a quick lunch at home, we headed off for a quick hike up Mount Tir’em where another porky tree greeted us beside the trail.
From the summit, we spied first Keoka Lake to the east, its ice still in.
And Bear Pond to the south, also still covered in ice. And yes, toward the west, that is Pleasant Mountain and the ski area of the earlier photo.
No trip up this mountain is complete without a visit to the glacial erratics that our sons, back in their youth, called The Castle. I’ve always thought of it as offering a great bear cave and so we went in search.
We did find the neighborhood bear who has been keeping an eye on this spot for a number of years now. My, what long, sharp claws you have.
In the best cave though, only this momma bear emerged and she seemed kinda friendly ;-).
Our final adventure of the day found us following several Yetis into the woods.
They led us to this tree, which bespoke a long and gnarled history.
On one side it sported a burl, that strange-looking collection of tree cells. Known as callus tissue, the burl forms in response to an environmental injury such as pruning, disease or insect damage.
On the other side, a tree spirit smiled. They often do if you take the time to look.
Its bark was so stretched that though it remained a bit corky, its diamond pattern had stretched into sinewy yet chunky snakes of furrows and ridges.
Upon the ground a shed limb ready to give nutrients back to the earth that will continue to aid the tree sat in its shadow.
Holes in the tree offered further intrigue . . .
and so my guy climbed up and looked in first.
I followed and couldn’t believe the site within. This tree is still producing leaves, thus the xylem and phloem still function, but almost entirely hollow and I fully expected to see a bear or two or a slew of raccoons in residence. Certainly, it would have created a delightful hideaway to sit and read and sketch, and watch . . . life inside and out.
By now you’ve possibly figured this is one mighty big tree . . . and I found this information about it: On October 30, 1969, the Maine Forest Service stated that it was the largest of its species in the state. And in 1976, the bicentennial year, it still held that honor. The dimensions in 1969 were these: circumference 17′ 81/4″, height 70′ and crown spread 77′. I’m not sure if any of those measurements have changed, but I learned last week that is still the biggest of its kind.
I bet you think this is about my guy, but actually, he had no part in this story. Instead, it’s a date of another kind for another species. You see, the other night a friend and I went out for a mini-Big Night. Though it hadn’t been raining long, the temp was about 42˚, and my communication with her and another friend got kinda confusing because first I said, “Let’s go,” then I said “Let’s not go till next week, “then I was afraid one hadn’t received my message so I said to the other, “Let’s go.” And so we did.
Go out that is to a local amphibian road crossing and in an hour’s time we helped six Spring Peepers cross the road. And then on the way home, we saw more and she began to drive like one who is dodging pot holes. One does what one needs to to save the amphibians.
But this isn’t about that date either.
Knowing that the peepers had been on the move, I thought I should check the vernal pool in the woods behind our home. This is former farmland that is now forested with boundaries marked by stonewalls. On March 25th, the pool still had ice on it, but by yesterday, April 1. the ice had finally gone out.
I stood by the edge and peered in, but saw nary a critter as the raindrops fell.
Late this afternoon, April 2, I again returned to the pool and as I approached I didn’t hear any “Wruck, wrucks” of a Wood Frog chorus, but I did spot movement. And so I found a rock on the northern side and waited patiently, hoping against hope that I would be rewarded with a sighting if I stayed as still as possible. Though the sun was warm, there was a brisk breeze and so the marcescent beech leaves wiggled and waggled.
Methinks the breeze was to my benefit because within five minutes frogs began to appear. And among them, this lovely canoodling couple in true Wood Frog form called amplexus. It’s such a great word and means “embrace” for embrace her he does. Notice his foreleg positioned behind hers and her bulging belly. My own excitement increased as I watched these two.
She was in complete control, or so it seemed and he held tightly as she swam from one location to another.
About four feet below me, they found a fallen branch and I wondered if I’d see her lay the eggs contained in that swollen belly that he’d fertilize externally. I certainly had paid for the right seat to watch such action. And speaking of action, do you see the red arrow in the lower right of the photo? How do you spell M-O-S-Q-U-I-T-O larvae? Think of them as tadpole food. And later–dragonfly and damselfly and bird food!
The dating couple weren’t the only residents showing their faces and among all the others were two who had also decided to hang out in my corner, this lighter colored Wood Frog being one . . .
and this darker colored another. Wood Frogs range in color from light tan to dark brown. It’s difficult to differentiate the gender of this species, but I’ve read that the lighter colored ones tend to be females.
Maybe that is true. The darker colored frog certainly wanted to test such a hypothesis. And so he grasped the lighter colored one.
The lighter frog seemed to say this was not a marriage made in heaven.
But still the darker tried.
And tried some more.
But a couple of clucks from the lighter colored frog and at last it was released. Male Wood Frogs do not discriminate when breeding. Anything that moves near the surface of the water is grabbed in hopes that it will eventually lay eggs that the male can then fertilize, including other males and also uninterested females. Maybe he didn’t have the right vocal quality.
At last it was time for the lighter colored frog to relax, all the while hoping for the right mate to come along. Meanwhile, the canoodling couple had found an oak leaf under which to take its interaction. Do you see them?
How about now? I had to wonder if she was laying eggs–that action I so wanted to see, but perhaps she wanted it to be a private moment between the two of them. If so, I had to wonder about their choice of placement, for from my experience of visiting this pool for the last 30 years, this is the side that dries up first and egg masses often end up drying up upon suspended branches that may be in the water now, but won’t be in a month or so if we don’t get enough rain.
At last the dating couple came out from under the leaf and returned to the branch of their original intention. As they did so, I also thought about how this pool has been part of my classroom for so long and the lessons it has offered me. Today was no exception.
And then they took off again, she swimming as he clung on, insistent that he would be the one to fertilize her eggs.
For some reason they chose a rock to next spend time beside and I questioned their choice once more. But . . . they were brilliant to be mating so early for this is a pool that dries up super early and the sooner their eggs are fertilized and laid, the more success that their offspring will survive. That early drying of this pool always leaves me wondering how any frogs and salamanders can possibly return to this particular “natal” place to breed in years following, until I remember that when these species sense that the end draws near, they have the ability to develop more quickly. Pretty darn amazing.
Suddenly, the water boiled on the other side of the pool and I looked over to see what was going on. It appeared that one female was the focus of several males and a ruckus and some clucking ensued as they sorted out the winner.
Meanwhile, the canoodlers continued their tour in search of the right place to deposit an egg mass they’ll never see develop. Such is the life of an adult Wood Frog–no parenting responsibilities to consider. She’ll leave the pond tonight probably. He’ll hang out for another week or two in hopes of scoring again.
In the meantime, plenty of others bide their time with hope on the horizon. They, too, want to be part of the gene pool that permeates from this special place.
At last it was time for me to leave as the battery of my camera had lost its juice. The canoodlers, however, still had much more juice to share on this very first date of a new season.
If I can’t have an 18-inch snowstorm in the next six months, then give me a wetland. Look for me looking for other first dates in this place and other wetlands going forward. I can’t wait to see what awaits.
We do LOVE winter, my guy and I, but really, we appreciate all of our seasons and can’t imagine living in a place where we can’t experience each in its own right and the change from one to the next.
And so today, with the temp in the low 20˚s and wind chill making it feel even colder, we donned our micro-spikes and headed up a snowmobile trail to begin our search for the current season.
Icicles that we were sure had formed overnight, since the weekend temps had been much warmer, formed along a stream that flowed toward Slippery Brook, for our trail of choice was in the White Mountain National Forest.
In other seasons, one can either drive to our destination, or go via snowmobile, but for the time being the gates to Forest Road 17 in Chatham, New Hampshire are closed to vehicular traffic. That was fine with us.
At about 2.5 miles, we took a slight detour to take in the sounds and views of Slippery Brook.
It was there on a crossbeam of the bridge where my guy was about to sit that I noticed British Soldier, a common lichen with bright red caps that remain so year-round, but have been hidden from view by snow all winter. It was like meeting a cheery old friend for the first time . . . this sighting.
Along the road also grew many a Hobblebush, another old friend, their naked leaf and flower buds swelling in anticipation of what is to come.
And then we spotted these prints, made by the largest mammal around and though we saw more in other places, this set of four made us wonder if the moose had come in for a landing and then flown off again.
At last we reached the trailhead, and as we approached the pond we noted an immediate dip in temperature, plus an increase in wind. Thankfully, we’d expected such and had dressed for the occasion. That said, it’s hard to search for spring when your cheeks sting with the wind.
A rocky and rooty trail that circles the pond, though fairly flat, requires hikers’ attention at all times of the year and today was no exception. That said, the trail itself offered a snippet of spring.
We reached Mountain Pond at last and by the outlet found some open water, but other than a few chickadees and nuthatches, there were no birds or other forms of wildlife to spy upon as we’d hoped.
Even so, our focus was rewarded in other forms, such as other buds growing larger, like upon this Speckled Alder. And notice that lateral leaf scar–a happy face indeed.
The longer male and shorter female catkins, which are the flowers of the alder, swayed in the breeze, waiting for a future date when they could do just that . . . date.
A few actually seemed ready to mate, though not with each other. While the pendulous male flowers open and extend when their pollen is ready to be dispersed, just above them the tiny, maroon female flowers “bloom” at the same time on the same shrub. In this case position counts and so with the female flowers above the males, self-pollination is discouraged and cross-pollination occurs instead thanks to wind.
Also beside the pond’s shore, the woody structures of last year’s Rhodora flowers, but also its buds enlarging by the day, with promises of exquisite displays making us suddenly want the time to push the clock ahead.
The same was true for the Sheep Laurel, that plump pinkish bud ready to burst open when the time is just right.
As we headed back toward the Forest Road at last, we began to notice exposed trails of Red Squirrels that led from one spruce cone cache to another. Those feisty ones were quiet today, but we suspected they are happy to have more food offerings on the horizon.
Nine miles later as we once again passed by the stream with the icicles and noticed that more had formed, we realized we’d found spring on this Mondate . . . she’s just taking her time and we should follow her example and be patient as this next season unfolds.
It took us a while to get out the door today, but perhaps that was because we knew we weren’t traveling far and we’d have plenty of daylight in which to explore.
Today’s destination: Sebago Lake State Park, a locale whose existence we take for granted and seldom make time to actually visit. But when we do . . . ah. We hiked over five miles today, with a few false starts, but never really getting lost.
It was a blustery but beautiful day and conditions switched from snow to ice to puddles to ice under water to bare ground. And somehow, at exactly noon we reached the summit of the Lookout Trail, where a picnic table painted brown from my guy’s hardware store awaited. Looks like maintenance will need to return to the store for some touchups this spring.
After lunch, we found our way down to the water, which in this neck of the woods looks like the ocean. That said, the Atlantic Ocean is only about thirty minutes away. Sebago Lake State Park, at 1,400 acres, opened in 1938. The lake itself, at 45-square miles, is Maine’s second largest. It’s a place with diverse natural communities, which makes it a jewel.
All of that is fine and well, but my favorite habitat of all we saved until the end. Horseshoe Bog on the park’s west side always has something to offer. It’s called Horseshoe Bog because of its shape. The question was: what would today’s offerings be?
It soon became evident when we began to notice lodges.
And chew sticks floating in a raft-like manner in a wee bit of open water. Because beavers don’t hibernate, they cache or stockpile sticks underwater so they can nibble on them once the pond freezes over in winter.
As pure herbivores, beavers subsist solely on woody and aquatic vegetation.
As we continued along the path, we paused frequently to admire their previous works, some of which hadn’t been successful in terms of felling the trees. Yet.
Others seemed like attempts to perhaps consider on some future date.
And still others made us feel as if we were walking through an art gallery for so unique were their forms.
Though a beaver will chew on any tree, its preferred species include alder, aspen, birch, maple, poplar and willow.
I’m always in awe when I think about how beavers obtain their food by toppling large trees with no other tools than those specially adapted incisors and powerful lower jaw muscles. Even after years of chewing wood, their teeth don’t become too warn and never stop growing. The four incisors (two top; two bottom) are self-sharpening due to hard orange enamel on the front and a softer dentin on the back. That means the softer backside wears faster, creating a chisel-like cutting surface. And chisel they do.
Moving rather slowly, for I’d asked my guy to change his pace when we began to circle the bog, we counted five lodges, and figured that at least two of them were active. The two bookmarking this photo we weren’t sure about.
Suddenly we spotted some action in the water and my guy caught a glimpse of a critter that swam under the ice and out of our sight. All I saw were the ripples on the water. But . . . that meant that we stopped. For a while. And in flew a small flock of Pine Siskins.
And so they garnered my attention for a few moments.
When I wasn’t searching for more beaver action, that is.
At last we reached another lodge and both of us chose trees on either side of it to hide beside and remain quiet. I have to say that I’m so impressed with how still my guy can be . . . thank goodness for that earlier half-second sighting because he was as eager as I was to spy more activity.
Unfortunately, it was in that moment that my guy finally walked toward me that the beaver did show. He missed the sighting, but for me, it was well worth the wait on this first Mondate of spring.
I’ve been meaning to thank you for serving as our morning rooster all these years. In a couple of months, as the days dawn earlier than on the cusp of this vernal equinox, I know my guy will curse your call, but I admire your tenacity to return morning after morning and practice your drum roll on a snag by the stone wall closest to our bedroom.
Your sounding board of choice resonates with each strike of your beak and I’m sure the volley of taps, sounding like someone is rapping on the back door, can be heard at least a half mile away.
What is amazing to me is that you have the ability to tap at all. But I’ve learned that your tongue actually wraps around your skull, thus dissipating and directing the energy around the brain. Plus, you have a sponge-like bone positioned in the fore and back of your skull to absorb much of the force from the repeated impact of constantly hammering against wood.
After several rounds of repetition, you take a break and stretch your neck away from the snag . . .
and sway your head . . .
in a 45˚ arc, a movement known as a bill wave. It seems to serve two purposes: as an announcement of your territory to another of your kind; or a message to the one you are trying to woo with hopes she’ll accept a date.
Of course, in the mix of all this action, you also make time to preen. After all, should a mistress fly in, you need to look handsome–an easy task on your part.
I’ve read that your territory ranges from 150 – 200 acres and give thanks that we live in an area that satisfies your needs and those of your kin.
In winter, your feeding trees are easy to spot, either by the oblong holes chiseled into the tree trunks . . .
or piles of wood chips at the base of a tree, providing a contrast with the snow.
I love it when you even rework a hole you’d started when the tree was standing. So many don’t realize that it’s not unlike you to use your tail as a third leg like a stool and stand on the ground to seek the goodness within.
When the opportunity to watch you work presents itself, I take it and stand silently below while you chip away.
What I can’t see is your method of feeding, as you pursue the tunnels of carpenter ants and snag them with your long, barbed tongue covered as it is with a sticky solution that works rather like tacky glue.
BUT, one of my great joys, as some know, is searching among the chips you’ve excavated to discover if your feeding efforts were successful. Yes, Mr. Pileated, I actually feel well rewarded when I discover packets of scat you defecated. While we humans get rid of waste nitrogen as urea in our urine, which is diluted with water, I have come to realize that you cannot fly with a full bladder and therefore must dispose of uric acid, plus the indigestible parts of your meals in combination via the cloaca or vent located under your tail. Knowing this helps me locate your scat because I first look for the white coating, which is the uric acid, and then I spy the exoskeletons of the ants that you feed upon in winter located inside the cylinder.
Sometimes, your scat doesn’t make it all the way to the ground, but rather lands on a branch below your foraging site.
Of course, it’s great fun when others are present, to whip out my scat shovel and scoop some up so they may take a closer look.
I did that just yesterday with a group of students, some of whom fully embraced the experience, which also gladdened my heart.
Another thing I love to spot as a result of your foraging efforts, sir, is the winter coloration of sap that flows from Eastern White Pine trees you’ve excavated. In warmer weather, the sap is amber in color, but there must be some winter chemistry that I do not understand, which turns it shades of violet and blue.
Oh so many shades of blue. And once blue, it doesn’t seem to regain the amber hue, at least from what I’ve seen. But then again, somewhere in this world, there’s one that does. Or many more than one.
Noticing the droplets of fresh sap yesterday, I decided to take a closer look, and spied not only spring tails stuck to its sticky surface, but also a small winter crane fly that will be forever suspended . . . unless something comes along for a snack.
When I checked this morning, it was still stuck in place.
As I complete this letter to you, Mr. Pileated, I once again want to express my appreciation for your part in this world, for creating nesting sites that others, such as small songbirds, may use, and how you help the trees in the forest by contributing to their decomposition, for as much as some think that you and your kin are killing the trees, the trees are already dying due to insect infestations, and your work will eventually help them fall to the ground, add nutrients to replace what they had used, and provide a nursery upon which other trees may grown.
And I want my readers to know that your bill waving has paid off for this morning as I watched and listened to you, in a quick turn you flew off giving your Woody Woodpecker call as you sailed away and in flew your date. She landed on the same snag you always use, gave a few taps of her own, preened for a moment or two, and then she also turned and headed in the direction you had taken, and I can only hope that the two of you have been foraging together ever since.
Oh, and that if there are any offspring from this relationship, you’ll name your first born for me.
P.S. BP, this post is dedicated to you. Hugs from your non-hugging friend.
When GLLT Tuesday Trackers meet at a property, we never know what animal sign we’ll need to interpret or what greater understanding we’ll gain. Today was no different and we had a few surprises along the way.
What we’ve all learned is that we need to take a bird’s eye view and consider where we are, whether it be forest or field or wetland, look at how the mammal is moving and what type of pattern it is creating as it moves, get down and count toes, look for nail marks and notice other idiosyncrasies, and then follow the trail for a ways, looking at the prints in different light, or under different trees. Often under hemlock trees we find the best prints because there’s not as much snow since the boughs hold it.
And so today’s adventure began with us following this particular animal and debating—do we see claw marks, is the overall shape round or oval, is there a lead toe, is the ridge creating a C on its side or an X between the toes and heel pad? It took some time, but we finally found a few prints that gave us confidence it was a bobcat we were following. So, where did the bobcat lead us?
Our first stop was along a stream where he walked beside the edge—about two or three feet above the open water for such is the snow height—but then paused for a moment and seemed to step down because he was curious about something. And so were these three, Pam, Dawn, and Emily, for they spied something in the water below.
From our position on the opposite bank, a few of us saw what we thought they were looking at. “It’s furry,” Dawn told us.
She wanted to go down into the water because it didn’t appear to be all that deep, but still that would have meant she’d be wet and so Emily hunted around and found a branch to use as a poker instead.
As Dawn wiggled the stick, all the time exclaiming that it was big, whatever it was, and trying to turn it over, Emily and Pam grabbed her to make sure she didn’t turn into an otter and slide down, though I suspected she would have laughed about the experience.
We all watched intently, making suggestions about the critter’s identity while Dawn continued to poke at it and move it. Mammal? Skull? Full body?
The coloration was definitely unique, but it is winter after all, so the freezing temperatures and fact that it was in water may have altered its appearance.
Those were our thoughts anyway, and we voiced our opinions, until . . . Dawn flipped it over and saw . . . a tag.
So hoping for a kill site where the bobcat may have dined, instead we found ourselves looking at . . . a stuffed owl.
Peter took Pippi’s hiking pole and aided Dawn in rescuing the sopping wet bird and if you look closely you may see water dripping from it.
Our chuckles must have rippled through the forest as we laughed at our great find. Mighty trackers are we. But . . . we think the bobcat was almost fooled as well. Almost.
The owl then flew from Peter’s hands to a perch and there it shall remain, or so we think.
For a few minutes we returned to and continued upon a logging road, and then the bobcat called for our attention again and so we did follow it. As I said to the group, normally I’d insist that we backtrack the animal so we don’t put stress on it, but the tracks were at least a day old.
This time the bobcat led us to a hemlock tree. Do you see the debris under the tree?
How about now? And stained snow by the trunk?
There were even little brown commas atop the snow that could easily be mistaken for hemlock cones. But rather, they were a form of scat.
Like us, the bobcat had been here, but for some reason he chose to pass by.
Whenever we spy downed hemlock branches, comma-shaped scat, and lots of urine at the base of a tree, we know to look up and so we did. High above sat a male porcupine. Males are known to stay in a tree during the day while females typically return to the den each morning and head back to the tree of dining choice at twilight. Here’s are two curious things: 1. the bobcat passed by—they will go after a porcupine, but perhaps this one was too high up. (Fishers are a porcupine’s #1 enemy.) 2. we looked all around and couldn’t find any porcupine tracks. If we had, we might have followed them to see if we could locate the den. But, since we couldn’t we came to the assumption that this porcupine has been up in the tree since at least our last major snowstorm on Friday, February 25.
Back on the bobcat’s trail we did go, being stymied occasionally because though we knew it was a bobcat, there were a few prints that resembled a deer and we came up with all kinds of stories about flying deer and other critters of our imaginations.
But always, we’d find a few classic prints and again feel 100% confident of our ID. Well, not ours, but the bobcat’s.
So where would it lead us next? To a spruce tree all covered with sap . . . and fur.
Some of the hair was dark and coarse.
In other spots it was redder and softer. After much debate, and noting that it was all up and down the tree from just above snow level to at eye sight and maybe a bit above, I think we all agreed it was a bear marking tree. Bears sometimes nip and bit trees and rub their backs on them and their hair gets stuck on splinters or in this case also sap.
According to North American Bear Center: “Favorite trees have little ground vegetation to prevent a bear from approaching them, and they often lean slightly toward the trail. Look for hair caught in the bark or wood 2 to 5 feet high and look for bites 5½ to 6½ feet high.
The hair often bleaches to brown or blond after a few months but can still be distinguished as bear hair from its length and appearance. Guard hairs are typically coarse and 3-4 inches long and have a narrow base that may be wavy. Bears are shedding their winter fur when much of the marking is done in spring or early summer, so the bark may also catch underfur, which is thin, wavy and shorter.”
Two feet up made sense given the snow’s depth.
You’d think that would have been enough, but again we wondered: where will the bobcat lead us?
This time it was a snapped snag and we noticed he’d walked along the top of it.
And then one among us spotted this. Brown snow and more hair. We were sure it was a kill site. Yes, as trackers we really like kill sites because they are fun to interpret and we appreciate the energy passed from one animal to another via the predator/prey relationship.
For a few minutes we took turns walking around the site trying to take in everything presented to us, including some hair that had fallen into the snag’s hollow.
I think it was the two=toned hair that helped us figure this one out. Plus the fact that there was no blood. This was a spot where the bobcat sat down, thus the rather tamped down snow that had turned brown. The warmth of his body helped to flatten it and in so sitting, some of his hair, which is black and white, got stuck, similar to what we see in deer beds at this time of freezing and warming temps. The mammals are beginning to shed their winter coats and last week we had an unusually warm day so change is in the air.
We admired his hunting spot and balance beam. And then it was time for us to leave.
But those grins remained on our faces for we were grateful we’d taken the time to see where the bobcat might lead us at GLLT’s Charles Pond Reserve today.
The forest behind our home has long served as my classroom and this past week has been no different.
Upon several occasions, through the doorway I stepped. My intention initially was to stalk some porcupines I’d tracked previously in hopes of finding at least one of them in a tree. But the three dens that had been active two weeks ago were empty.
Near one located almost a mile from home, however, I spied squirrel middens dotting the landscape. This was in the late afternoon of Wednesday, February 23, a day when the high temperature broke records and reached 62˚ in western Maine.
For a brief second I spied the squirrel responsible for the middens, but then it scrambled up a hemlock and disappeared from my sight.
And so I . . . I decided to try to examine its territory and exclaimed when I realized that because of the warm temperature, its tunnels had been exposed. This particular one led to one of its food storage units, a cache of hemlock cones stored under a downed tree.
Into the mix it was more than the squirrel, for I spied vole tunnels and deer prints. So here’s the thing, red squirrels tunnel through the deep snow to get to their caches. Of course, they also leap across the snow. Voles, on the other hand, are much shier of sky space because they are everyone’s favorite food. They tunnel between the ground and the snow in what’s technically called the subnivean zone and typically we don’t see their exposed runways until spring. But 62˚is like an early summer day ’round these parts. Oh, and do you see that same downed tree from the last photo? Keep it in mind, for it plays an important role in this story.
A vole’s tunnel is about an inch across and the only thing I had for a reference point was a set of keys. I was traveling light that day.
Likewise, the squirrel’s tunnel was about three inches in width.
My next move was to walk the perimeter of the squirrel activity in order to gain a better understanding of its territory. All told, it is about 30′ x 50′, and located under several tall pines and hemlocks that create a substantial canopy. On the fringe of this particular neighborhood live a few red maple and balsam fir saplings.
I had to wonder if the squirrel was still in the hemlock or had moved to a different location via its tree limb highway while I was looking down and all around.
Having figured that out, I returned to the downed tree, for not only did it serve as a food storage or cache below, but the top side was the dining table/refuse pile, aka midden. Obviously the hemlock had provided a great source of food–a good thing given that it seemed to be the only hard mast available this year.
There were other middens scattered about, but I really liked this one upon a stump, which showed the pines had at least offered a few treats not yet devoured. The thing is, red squirrels like to dine on high places, whether it be upon a downed tree, stump, or even up on a limb. That way they can see their predators approach and make a mad dash to a tunnel or up a tree trunk.
Two days later, on Friday, February 25, seven or eight inches of snow fell and again in the later afternoon I ventured into the woods to check on the squirrel’s activity. Sometimes during storms mammals hunker down but by the number of prints visible, I knew that this one hadn’t. Its tunnels had some snow in them, but the boughs above kept much of the snow from landing on the ground.
The curious thing for me was that though there was a lot of activity by the downed tree, I couldn’t locate a single midden. Even if the squirrel had been dining on a tree limb, surely some cone scales and cobs would have fallen.
It had also climbed its favorite tree, the one where I spied it on Wednesday, but again, no sign of food devoured.
After my guy and I spent the morning and early afternoon tramping four miles from home to a swamp and back, I decided to head back out to check on the squirrel while my guy went for a run. Speaking of running, as I approached the squirrel’s territory, I watched it run across the snow and zoom up the hemlock and never spied it again.
So I turned to the tree stump–it was covered with Friday’s snow, though there were tracks around the base of it. What I loved is what I’d missed on Friday–barbed wire. This was all once farmland and obviously I was standing on a boundary. It was actually a boundary for the squirrel as well, since this marked an edge of its territory.
Near the red maple saplings I found evidence of some fresh tunneling, albeit not under the snow, but through it, which is also typical. Perhaps the squirrel was dining within and had hidden its middens.
I stepped over to the downed tree and looked under in a southerly direction, curious to see barely a sign of the cache that had been so evident on the first day.
Looking north, it was more of the same.
That is . . . until it wasn’t. A hint of color captured my attention. Feathers?
No. Hair. From a red squirrel, whose hair hues can range from gray to brown to red. A fluffy tail no more. The thing is that squirrels sometimes loose their tails to predators, or even parts of the tail from a fracas during a territorial fight with one of its own. Another cause may be a tree trying to snag the tail just as speckled alder and winterberries and balsam fir tried to snag my hat repeatedly on our tramp this morning.
Even upon the downed tree . . . a little tuft. No tracks atop the tree. And no signs of feeding.
I looked around, searching for predator tracks and instead found the snow lobster instead. This was a place of squirrel and vole and deer and hare. But not a predator in sight.
And so I looked up, thinking that the hair was the result of an avian predator. My hope was to find a few strands dangling from a tree. Or some other evidence. Nothing. Oh, how I wished GLLT’s Tuesday Trackers were with me, for they are an inquisitive group and ask great questions and process the whole picture in a complete manner. Together we share a brain and I needed that sharing.
Alas, they were not, but I snatched some of the hair and will certainly share it with them in the morn.
In the meantime, that’s my tale of the squirrel’s tail. And if you have ideas or considerations, please let me know.
Seven years ago today I gave birth–rather a record at my age. It was February 21, 2015, when I welcomed wondermyway into the world. It’s been quite an adventure that we’ve shared together and one of my favorite things to do each year to celebrate is to take a look back.
As I reviewed this past year, the reality hit home. I’ve written less than half the number of posts of any other year. That all boils down to one thing. Time. There’s never enough. Oh, I’ve taken the photos, and had the adventures, but I haven’t made the time to write about all of them. Sometimes, they sit off to the side in my brain and I think I’ll use some of them together in a cumulative post, and there they sit.
That all said, I’ve had more views and visitors this past year than any other. Views = 24,955; Visitors = 16,994. Followers = 701. And over the course of wondermyway’s lifespan, the blog has received 121,765 hits.
An enormous heart-felt thanks to all who have joined me for any or all of these journeys. I get excited to share with you and love hearing from you.
In case you are wondering, my guy and I did have a Mondate this afternoon–along Bemis River and then up to Arethusa Falls in Crawford Notch, New Hampshire.
It was here at the falls that we celebrated wondermyway.com with a couple of those Bavarian Haus chocolates we purchased last Monday.
And now for a look at a few excerpts from posts I made during the past year, beginning with March 2021. To read or re-read the entire post, click on the link below each photo.
It took me by surprise, this change of seasons. Somehow I was fooled into thinking winter would hold its grasp for a wee bit longer because I don’t like to let it go.
Even Winter Dark Fireflies, who don’t carry lanterns like their summer cousins, and aren’t even flies as their name suggests (they are beetles), knew what was happening before I did for in their adult form they’d been tucked under bark in recent months, but in a flash are now visible on many a tree trunk as they prepare to mate in a few weeks.
But . . . this spring will be different.
How so? And what invitation still stands? Click on the link under the beetle’s photo to find the answers.
For the past two weeks at Greater Lovell Land Trust we’ve had the good fortune to conduct a wildlife survey in the waters that surround the newly acquired Charles Pond Reserve in Stow, Maine.
MDIFW maintains a comprehensive database on the distribution of Maine’s amphibians and reptiles, as well as terrestrial and freshwater invertebrates and the data we’ve collected will add to the bigger picture. What we discovered was just as important as what we didn’t find.
The survey began with a day of setting and baiting fifteen traps in the pond and associated rivers. What’s not to love about spending time in this beautiful locale, where on several occasions lenticular clouds that looked like spaceships about to descend greeted us.
Our favorite bird sighting was this bald eagle, who found a silver maple snag at the outlet of Cold River into Charles Pond. I was a wee bit nervous as that was Change The Trap Bait Day, and I had a bag of stinky old sardine cans in my lap as I paddled a kayak.
He was intent, however, on something else and barely gave us a glance.
This story of the survey would not be complete, however, without the absolute best sighting that occurred on the last day. Our mammal observations on almost every trip included a muskrat, plus occasional squirrels, and once a beaver. From our game camera set up at various locations, and from tracks and scat, we also know that coyotes, raccoons, otters, a bobcat and a black bear share this space.
But . . . you’ll have to click on the link under the Bald Eagle photo to figure out what our best sighting was.
Warning: Some may find parts of this post disturbing. But it is, after all, about the circle of life.
A climbing thermometer in March signaled one thing amidst many others: the time had arrived to check the vernal pool.
Completely covered with ice at the start of my explorations, I noted puddling on top and knew it was only a matter of days.
Not wanting to rush the season, though truly I did, I rejoiced when the edges melted because life within would soon be revealed.
And then one day, as if by magic, the ice had completely gone out as we say ‘round these parts. It was early this year–in late March rather than April. That same night I heard the wruck, wrucks of Wood Frogs, always the first to enter the pool.
The next day he had attracted his she, grasping her in amplexus as is his species’ manner.
Ah, but how does the story end? Click on the link under the photo to find out.
I walked into a cemetery, that place of last rites and rest, looking for life. It should have been a short visit, for finding life in such a location hardly seems possible, but . . . for two hours yesterday I stalked the gravestones and today I returned to the same spot where I once again roamed, and then continued up the road to another that surprised me even more.
Upon the granite wall that surrounded the Hutchins plot, two small, but actually rather large in the insect world, nymphs crawled and paused, crawled and paused. And my heart sang as it does when I realize I’m in the right place at the right time.
Click on the link under the photo to see the story of the Cicadas unfold.
Out of curiosity, and because it’s something I do periodically, I’ve spent the last four days stalking our gardens. Mind you, I do not have a green thumb and just about any volunteer is welcome to bloom, especially if it will attract pollinators.
There were millions of other insects, well, maybe not millions, but hundreds at least, flying and sipping and buzzing and hovering and crawling and even canoodling, the latter being mainly Ambush Bugs with the darker and smaller male atop the female.
But why the title, “Not Just An Insect”? Ahhh, you know what you’ll need to do to find the answer.
Every Mondate is different, which goes without saying, and the adventure always begins with a question, “What are we going to do today?”
The answer is frequently this, “I don’t know, you pick.”
The instantaneous reply, “I asked first. You need to figure it out.”
We did figure it out. Over and over again. This collection happens to include places that make us happy and many of our family members and just looking back puts a smile on my face. Oh, and the selfie–taken at the same place where we went today–only in September 2021.
Before today’s deluge began, I slipped into Pondicherry Park in Bridgton, Maine, to fill the innermost recesses of my lungs with November air, and at the same time my brain with memories of so many people who have traveled these trails with me from Ned Allen, former executive director of Bridgton Historical Society, to Loon Echo’s Jon Evans, and Lakes Environmental Association’s Alanna Yanelli and Mary Jewett, and friends and friends and friends, including the late JoAnne Diller, Sue Black, and Jinny Mae. But today’s journey also included memories of one I took two years ago with Becky Cook, who shared her remembrances of growing up along South High Street and romping through these trails as they were part of her backyard. If anyone ever had a sense of this place, it is Becky.
This post is full of information of an historic and natural nature. Go ahead, click on the link above to learn more.
The temperature dipped overnight and wind picked up out of the WNW but given the destination we had chosen, we knew if we dressed appropriately we’d be fine because we’d be in the woods most of the time, unlike last week’s walk where we were completely exposed to the elements on Popham Beach. That said, it was cold today.
But what could good hair possibly have to do with this Mondate? You’ll have to read it to find out.
Dear Readers, This post may not be for the faint of heart, but it’s something those of us who track find incredibly exciting as we try to interpret the gory story. Yes, you read that correctly. Blood and guts are to follow. You are now forewarned, and if you decide not to read on, I totally understand.
So how is this stuffed beaver connected to a gory story?