Myrtle’s Morning

Meet Myrtle. Yes, she’s a turtle.

A Snapping Turtle to be exact. Chelydra serpentina is her scientific name: Chelydra meaning “tortoise” and serpentina deriving from the Latin word serpentis, which means “snake,” in reference to her long tail.

Myrtle’s neighborhood is one where carnivorous plants grow in abundance and right now show off their parasol-like flowers.

I spend some time with the old girl who certainly deserves a parasol to shield her from the sun. Turtles of her type don’t reach sexual maturity until their carapace, or upper shell, measures about eight inches in length and that doesn’t typically happen until they are at least seven. Myrtle’s is at least eight inches, maybe even longer, but I didn’t dare get too close and risk disturbing her. Nor do I ask her her age, cuze after all, we women stand together on such issues.

Below her Pitcher Plant bouquet grow its leaves shaped like . . . pitchers and filled with water and digestive juices. Downward facing hairs attract insects into the trap, and once within the pitfall, there is no escape. The prey drowns in the nectar and body gradually dissolves, providing the plant with nutrition it can’t possibly get from the acidic soil in the community.

Myrtle doesn’t really care. Her back legs are busy digging in the sand and it isn’t to plant a garden full of Pitcher Plants.

Also at home in Myrtle’s neighborhood are Crimson-ringed Whiteface dragonflies, the male showing off a brilliant red thorax.

While the dragonfly poses, waiting for a moment before taking flight to defend its territory or find a gal, Myrtle begins to press her front toes down while simultaneously lowering the back end of her carapace.

Within minutes, the male Crimson finds a date and the two become one, so engrossed in each other as such that they don’t really notice what Myrtle might be up to today.

In a form all her species’ own, Myrtle stands up on her tippy toes and moves that carapace up like the bed of a dump truck ready to make a deposit.

All the while, songs birds ring forth their joyous sounds accompanied by the strums of Green Frogs.

Sometimes Myrtle winks or perhaps its a grimace and other times she smiles with absolute glee. That or she captures a fly or a breath.

Another neighbor also uses its mouth for more than just its usual chitter. Despite the acorn in its mouth, Red Squirrel speaks around the edges and greets Myrtle without dropping its great find.

Meanwhile, Myrtle’s back end dips lower and lower.

I offer her a word of warning for I notice that there’s evidence of some neighbors she may not appreciate–raccoons to be exact based on their tracks.

In that moment, however, Myrtle doesn’t give a hoot about who might be lurking in the shadows waiting to dig up the contents of her hole during the dark of night that will fall hours and hours later.

She’s spent over an hour digging a hole with her hind feet and depositing eggs as evidenced by the plop, plop that I hear. Even though I cannot see them, I trust that more than 40 have filled the hole as she continues to dig and tamp, dig and tamp. It will be several months before they hatch and then, even another week at least before the wee ones slip into the water, and the fact that she lays so many is important because truly predators such as raccoons and skunks and foxes and coyotes may help themselves to Eggs Myrtle.

But for today, Myrtle’s morning was the most important thing on her mind and I delighted in being able to share it with her and her neighbors.

Dragonfly Whisperer Whispers

We had no intention of eating lunch in this spot today, but while looking for a mountain to climb, we kept encountering full parking lots and so our backroad meander put us beside a bog at lunch time and voilà, we managed to walk all of less than two tenths of a mile. Total.

But in that short distance, our eyes feasted. First it was all the Painted Turtles basking in the sun.

And then a Grackle flew in with a meal in beak.

I didn’t realize what that meal was until . . .

while expounding on one topic or another of which I’m sure I thought I was the authority, I stopped mid-sentence with a mouth open wide in surprise for upon a tree trunk a newly emerged dragonfly showed off its slowy unfolding wings as it moved back toward the exuviae from which it had just emerged. Why did it move back? I don’t know, but they often cling on nearby as they let their wings dry before flying. It was at that point that my lecture changed focus and suddenly I knew that our being there was important for we were saving this vulnerable being from becoming the Grackle’s dessert.

As for our lunch, my guy found a spot and . . . dined alone. I was beside myself with joy and knew there were more discoveries to make. Thankfully, he has the patience of Job in many situations, and this was one of them.

A brisk breeze blew, which kept the Black Flies at bay, a good thing for us, and perhaps it was also a welcome treat for the dragonflies as they dried their wings in preparation for first flight.

Some managed to keep wings closed over their abdomens, but again, that was another sign of new emergence for as adults, wings are spread while resting.

In the sunshine of the early afternoon, those cloudy, moist wings glistened and offered a rainbow of subtle colors.

Upon a variety of vegetation different species clung in manners of their ancestors until ready for takeoff.

At one point I turned and was surprised to find this friend upon a sapling beside my knees.

And so we began to chat . . . until he’d heard enough and flew off.

But in that same second another flew in even closer, and I just had to find out. Would he or wouldn’t he?

He would and did. Yes, I quietly placed my finger on the leaf and he climbed aboard, then struck a rather relaxed pose.

The Dragonfly Whisperer whispers once more.

Ponds #1 and #2 Mondate

My friend, Alice, suggested a trail to me over the weekend, and so when this day dawned, my guy and I had a plan. We’d pack a lunch, drove a wee bit north, and let the fun begin. We love exploring places new to us and this was such.

Immediately, the forest floor reflected the canopy above where Sugar Maples, Beech and Red Oak presided.

Other items also made themselves known, including the dried capsules of Pinesap, a plant that features three to ten topaz-colored flowers during the summer. The plant has such cool characteristics: it lacks chlorophyll because it doesn’t have any leaves to photosynthesize, and acts as an indirect parasite of trees. You see, Pinesap’s roots steal nutrients from mycorrhizal fungi, specifically from the genus Tricholoma, that the mushroom obtains from associated trees.

It wasn’t long before the carpet changed color indicating we’d entered a Red Maple community.

And again, upon the ground, another cool site worth honoring. Many-fruited Pelt is a foliose lichen that grows on soil, moss and rocks. The rust-colored projections among the shiny brown lobes made me squat for a photo call. Those reddish-brown projections are the fruiting bodies on the leafy margins–thus the name.

Again we moved onward and upward and again the community changed, the leaves telling us we’d entered a Big-Tooth Aspen/American Beech neighborhood.

Wherever beech trees grow this year, it seems the parasitic Beechdrops are also present. Lucky for me, though my guy likes to hike as if on a mission to get to the destination, when I ask him to pause, he quietly does. I’m forever grateful that he understands my need to take a closer look. I’m not sure if he’s amused by it or just tolerates it, but he never complains. And occasionally he points things out for me to notice or tells me the name of something.

Anyway, Beechdrops, like Pinesap, lack chlorophyll, have scales in place of leaves so they have no way to photosynthesize, and are parasitic. In the case of the Beechdrops, however, it’s the roots of the American Beech from which it draws its nutrition. Small, root-like structures of the Beechdrops insert themselves into the tree’s roots and suck away. Do they damage the trees? The short answer is no because the parasitic plant is short-lived.

Our journey continued to take us uphill and really, it wasn’t easy to follow, but somehow (thanks to GPS–I surprised myself with my talent) we stayed on the trail.

Do you believe me now that it wasn’t easy to follow? Yes, that is a blaze, the yellow paint practically obliterated by a garden of foliose and fruticose lichens. Foliose being a “leafy” looking structure and at least two grew on the bark. Fruticose, likewise the “fruity” structure (think a bunch of grapes minus the fruits) also presented itself in at least two forms.

Of course, there were still many other things to admire including the multiple shades of magenta presented by the shrub: Maple-leaf Viburnum. In my book of autumn, nothing else exhibits such an exquisite color, making it easy to identify.

Our luck increased once we began to spy rock cairns marking the trail.

And it got even better when I noticed several classic deposits beside the cairns. Bobcat scat! Check this one out. Have you ever seen anything quite so beautiful? Look at that hair tucked within the packet. Of a snowshoe hare. Oh my.

While taking a closer look, I realized I wasn’t the only one with all eyes on the structure. Yes, that’s a wolf spider.

Realizing we were at the summit of a certain small mountain, suddenly we found ourselves walking along ledge.

And then the view opened up. It became lunch rock view.

Words seemed not enough to describe.

At last we made our way down, for still we hadn’t reached our destination.

And that’s when Pinesap’s cousin, Indian Pipe showed off its one-flowered structure. While Pinesap features three to ten flowers per stalk, Indian Pipe offers only one waxy structure made of four to five small petals. Until fertilized by a Bumblebee, the flower droops toward the earth, but upon pollination turns upward toward the sun. Eventually a woody capsule will form.

Also parasitic, Indian Pipes have a mutually beneficial relationship with many tree species plus Russula and Lactarius mushrooms, as they work together to exchange water and carbohydrates with nutrients from the soil.

At long last, we reached the first of our destinations, Pond #1. The glass-like water offered a perfect mirror image of the scene upon the opposite shore and we both let “oohs” and “aahs” escape from our mouths when we came upon an opening in the shrubby vegetation that protected the shore. I think my favorite portion of this photo is the evergreens that add a fringed frame.

Our journey, however, didn’t stop there, for we had another pond to locate. Again, we referred to the GPS and found ourselves climbing over several fallen trees. Upon one, I spied pumpkin-colored fungi that requested a stop. Of course. But really, it’s another I can never resist–Cinnabar-red Polypore.

As lovely as the color of the upper surface may be, it’s the pore surface that really makes my jaw drop. That color. Those angular shapes. Another “oh my” moment.

And then upon another downed tree, multi-aged tinder mushrooms. It was the mature one that fascinated me most for it looked like happy turtle basking on rocks in the sun.

Last week I met a Snapping Turtle in the shade and he hardly looked thrilled with our encounter.

At last my guy and I reached Pond #2, where we sat for a few minutes and took in the scene. Okay, so we also enjoyed a sweet treat–as a celebration.

We still had another mile or so to hike before reaching my truck, but we gave thanks to Alice for the suggestion and for the fun we’d had discovering Pond #1 and #2 on this Mondate. And all that we saw between.

Go ahead, take a second look at that bobcat scat. You know you want to.

Learning in the Forest

Today was field trip day. Well, actually, every day is field trip day. This week’s trips have included Kezar Lake and the Kezar River Reserve in Lovell, as well as Holt Pond in Bridgton. But today, it was further afield as I drove north to China, Maine, to introduce Erika Rowland, Executive Director of the Greater Lovell Land Trust, and Alanna Doughty, Education Director of Lakes Environmental Association to a special person and a special place.

The special place is one that allows children young and old to use natural materials to build faerie houses. I’ve been entranced by such since my youth–thanks be to my father and his Scottish ancestry, and our “Aunt” Betsy, (she isn’t related, but she’s always been a wonderful aunt) who often took us on a picnic to the fairy table in her woods.

Faeries (fairies) love quiet places and their homes come in many forms. They’re best made from scavenged materials. Imagination rules and nature provides all the things needed for such creative architecture.

This particular village is identified by a sign that provides a list of materials both appropriate and inappropriate.

A wee bit further along the trail, we happened upon another spot that hasn’t been finalized yet, but it’s a collaborative effort between our hostess and last year’s fifth grade class.

The kiddos studied Maine mammals and then created a scavenger hunt. Erika, Alanna, and I continued to channel our inner kid and looked left, right, high, and low to spy the critters that share these woods. From coyotes to . . .

mama bear and her cubs, to . . .

a lynx chasing a snowshoe hare, to . . .

a moose, they were a pleasant surprise all along the way. If you have a smartphone available, you can learn more about them.

And if there are mammals, then there must be tracks.

We checked the gravely mammal “pit” and discovered pointed toenail prints leading us to think coyote. Had the silhouette come alive?

Continuing on, we came to an old log landing, where pine saplings happily inhabited the clearing. Our hostess, Anita, showed off the recent crazy growth years. Each year, a White Pine produces a whorl of branches, thus allowing one to age the tree by counting from one whorl to the next. And in between–well, the tree grows. Some years, the growth is extensive if conditions are right, such as this 18″ spurt one year and a similar one above the next.

A couple of trees, however, showed off the efforts of a White Pine Weevil. Brown, wilted main shoots (terminal leaders) featured tips curved into a shepherd’s crook. More on that later.

In the midst of all the pines, I was wowed by another tree with needles. It’s one that begs a handshake every time.

And really, that hand comes with the softest touch.

Even upon its trunk, the needles do splay . . . like an aster, but they won’t last long for a Tamarack (aka Larch, Hackmatack) is a deciduous conifer and already they are turning their golden autumnal color.

The Tamarack wasn’t the only star, for cedars also added a different texture to the woods.

And then . . . and then . . . we came upon the Treehouse. A handicap accessible treehouse.

It’s known as the Reading Tree, but it’s more than that, which the interpretive sign explains. Remember that White Pine Weevil damage we saw at the log landing? Well, the White Pine that the treehouse surrounds was a long-ago weeviled tree. When a pine is weeviled, the leader shoot dies and the whorl from the previous year take on the task of growing skyward.

The treehouse is built to accommodate its growth and let the sun in.

It also provides a fantastic place for all to blend in to its structure.

Of course, if you climb the tree, you might have to spend a bit of time in “Timeout.” But really, what a pleasure to do both.

We didn’t want to leave the treehouse behind and actually considered moving in, but onward our journey continued to a spot where the story transitions to mathematical computations. A cord of wood in the background, a chance to measure board feet in the foreground. It’s all a part of this special place, where classrooms abound . . . in the forest.

It didn’t stop there. A fence with cut-outs high and low let us peek at more local wildlife. Had we been with a class of twenty or more elementary school children, we surely would have scared the birds away. But . . .

our bird sightings were plentiful.

How many do you spy?

At the end of the wall, the interpretive sign offers clues of those one might see.

Leaving the wall, as we walked toward a wetland, movement at our feet led to the realization that we’d disturbed two garter snakes trying to grasp the rays of today’s limited sun.

Onto a bridge originally built by students twenty plus years ago in the man-made wetland, we paused to covet the outdoor classroom.

The possibilities for exploration were endless.

And they were all possible because of our incredible hostess, Anita Smith. Anita is a retired teacher, Maine Master Naturalist, and Project Learning Tree Advocate.

Her community close to home appreciates her, but so do the rest of us for as I’ve learned, Anita is alway happy to share what she and others have created to educate all ages.

Before we drove back to western Maine, we had one last wonder to fill our day–the woody capsules of Lady’s Slippers gone by that grow in clumps like we typically don’t see anywhere else.

Thanks to Anita and all her volunteers, we spent today wandering the China School’s Working Forest in China, Maine, and loved exploring the twenty or so learning stations set up on the fifty-plus acre forest. Neither Greater Lovell Lovell Land Trust or Lakes Environmental Association can replicate the China School Forest, but our take-away was immense and we loved the opportunities to learn in the forest.

In the Middle of the Bubble

We were going to go. We weren’t going to go. In the end, we each took a break from work and met at Lakes Environmental Association’s Highland Lake Research Forest.

Alanna said we could get away with calling it work because we were, after all, conducting research–on where the vernal pools were located. And so we listened and followed our ears as we bushwhacked through the woods. Peeps and wrucks and trills filled the air and we beelined their way. Suddenly we emerged beside the Red Maple Swamp.

Of course, the symphony cut off upon our arrival, and so after sitting and standing still for a few minutes, we decided to step into the water and search for egg masses. Maybe it was the lighting. Maybe we didn’t look hard enough, though Alanna did find at least one Wood Frog mass after she crossed over a log.

While she was still on the other side, I headed back up onto the land, and a few feet from the water I was stopped in my tracks by a large snake.

Its mouth gaped in a fashion that could almost have been a smile. For a few minutes I watched and the mouth never closed. That’s when I realized that it was dead.

As Alanna made her way back to see it, she found a deep hole and one of her boots filled with water. Being the person she is, she got out of the muck, emptied it, and . . .

despite the fact that we were both intrigued and a wee bit freaked out about the snake, she picked it up. If you’ve never seen a Northern Water Snake, they are big. And what if it wasn’t really dead, though we were sure that it was. But what if it wasn’t?

It dangled from her hands as over and over again she said, “I can’t believe I’m holding a snake.” Her grinning grimace echoed those words.

Because she’s a collector of fine things like scat, she had brought along a bag and so into it went the snake. Still, she continued to repeat, “I can believe I’m holding a snake.”

Just a few feet away, we found another kill site. A woodpecker had met its demise.

And only feet from that–a deer vertebrae. It became clear that life happens by the swamp; and nearby was an owl pellet filled with bones. We doubted the owl had anything to do with the deer, but what about the snake and bird? Maybe it wasn’t the owl, but some other bird of prey. Why hadn’t the snake been consumed? Or the bird plucked? As usual, more questions than answers. At last we decide to move on because we heard a wetland chorus calling our names on the other side of the next hill.

I followed Alanna until she stopped abruptly. In her path about twenty or thirty feet from the water, another water snake. This one even bigger. And . . . alive. The sun’s rays weren’t strong, but we suspected it was trying to get warm. For a few minutes we stood and watched and then finally decided we could walk by without a problem. And we did. That being said, every step we took after that included a search just in case more snakes lurked about.

The amphibian calls drew us to the area where a river flows through the swamp.

It was there that we found more signs of life including Canada Geese,

Red-winged Blackbirds,

and rather recent beaver works. At that point, Alanna had to depart, but I stayed for about an hour longer and wandered along the edge of the wetland.

My finds continued for where I looked for frogs by a coppiced tree, instead I found a tussock moth caterpillar frozen in time. It had remained attached firmly to the twig all winter because I suspected it had been parasitized by a mummy wasp.

And then it was uphill toward a rocky ledge that I tromped because the ground was carpeted with hemlock twigs. I knew who had cut and dropped them, and wondered if I might spy a den.

Where I thought there was a den below, I was wrong. But . . . atop the downed tree was another kill site. This time it looked like a Junco had been the source of food.

And on a leaf, the bird’s blood stains.

Not far from the feathers and blood, I did find what I was looking for–a porcupine den and its telltale pile of scat flowing forth.

Murder and mayhem you might think. But death is part of the web of life, which also sustains us.

Today, Alanna and I went seeking egg masses and instead found ourselves surrounded by so many other things. It all made me realize I am only one tiny speck in the middle of the bubble.

The Gathering

I can’t remember when our yearly ritual began but it has become tradition for three college friends and me to meet somewhere for a fall weekend. And so this year found us staying at a borrowed house in York, Maine. I was late to the gathering but we spent last night catching up as we surrounded the kitchen island. It seems like a table or island is always the spot where we spend most of our time each year while we tell new stories and recall old ones.

1-duck pond

This morning found us dining at a local restaurant. Years ago, I’d spent many an hour in York, either eating at Rick’s, combing the beaches, or standing beside a duck pond. And after this morning’s breakfast, voila–the duck pond. I’m not sure it was the one I remembered for so much had changed in town since I’d last looked for it, but still . . . it was a pond . . . with ducks.

2-fall mallards

Dabbling Mallards to be exact, their iridescent colors as brilliant as the fall foliage.

3-Long Sands Beach

Our next stop was the beach–Long Sands Beach that is. With the tide rolling out, we were able to stroll along most of its mile and a half length.

5-herring gull-shadow and reflection

Our sights included a Herring Gull in triplicate, with both its shadow and reflection cast on the watery surface.

9-ripples in the sand

Equally impressive were the ripples in the sand that matched the water that had once flowed over it,

11-patterns

and those in a small stream bed (which we chose not to cross).

10-snail trails

Our sense of wonder was again aroused when we saw a message in the sand and realized it was not someone writing in script, but rather the trail of a snail.

8-half dollar

We also found a few broken sand dollars, the fifty cent piece being the largest.

6-three old friends

We walked and chatted and walked and chatted some more until our time together came to an end. Once more we gathered round the kitchen counter, then shared a group hug and said our goodbyes.

12-until we meet again

But we each left knowing that when the time comes to meet again, we’ll follow the signs and pick up where we left off.

13-Nubble Light

As I turned north out of the lane, I wasn’t quite ready to hop onto the highway and find my way home, so I detoured. My first stop was a Nubble Lighthouse, where “in 1874 President Rutherford B. Hayes appropriated money to build a lighthouse on this “Nub” of land.” All these years later, it’s getting a much needed facelift.

14-Barrier Beach Trail

A wee bit further up the road, I pulled into Wells Reserve at Laudholm , a 2,250-acre estuarine zone. Trails loop about the property and I followed a few.

15-bumblebee pollination

Beside the estuary, bees aplenty buzzed about some late asters in the warmth of the sunshine.

16-yellow rump hiding

And closer to the ocean, Yellow-rumped Warblers flew and landed among the shrubs.

17-beach rose

As I walked across a boardwalk toward the beach, a few beach roses showed off their brilliant blooms.

18-Drake's Island Beach

At last I reached Drake’s Island Beach on the Atlantic Ocean, one of my old haunts on daytrips long ago.

19-more squiggles in the sand

And there, another squiggly message in the sand, longer than the first but about half as wide in trail straddle (just getting back into my winter tracking frame of mind and terminology.)

21-Rachel Carson Wildlife Reserve

On my return, I looped around on the Laird-Norton Trail, where a well-built boardwalk was decorated with so many shades of red speaking to the Acer rubra Maples that arched above.

23-garter snake

In one sunny spot, a garter snake sunned and I tried to warn a woman who was walking toward me, but she didn’t hear and the startled snake practically jumped off the boardwalk. The woman almost did as well!

24-apple tree

Snakes and apples and I began to wonder if I was in the Garden of Eden. But really, I wondered if a squirrel had wedged the apple into the nook of the tree to dry. I’ve seen the same with mushrooms and just last week watched a red squirrel snatch a dried mushroom in a movement so quick that it will remain in my mind’s eye only.

20-drone fly, looks like a European honey bee

Certainly, the bees and flies, such as this hover fly, were taking advantage of the nutrition offered at the reserve. Temperatures are forecast to dip this week, so I’ll be curious to see how long the flowers and pollinators last.

25-estuary

My final stop of the day was to walk a trail that connects to the reserve. The Carson Trail is named for Rachel Carson. The Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge was created in 1966 to protect valuable salt marshes and estuaries for migrating birds. My views today included heron, an egret, and a sandpiper.

27-selfie

Finally it was time to head for the hills. But like the ducks and pollinators and birds that foraged for nourishment, I was grateful for the opportunity once again to gather with friends and be sustained by each other’s company.  We’d pose for our traditional selfie before heading off in individual directions to our everyday lives in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine,  and Vermont. Thanks Pammie, Bev, and Becky, and a special thanks to Lynn and Tim for letting us make ourselves at home in their York place.

Until we meet again . . .

 

Island Hopping Mondate

Paddling together in “Big News,” our double kayak so named for it was a gift from the Neubigs many moons ago (thank you, Carissa and Bob), is one of our favorite summer pastimes. With wrist almost fully mended, it’s an even sweeter journey for me because it means I don’t have to work hard.

1-prepping the kayak

And so it was that my guy prepped Big Red for today’s journey–an exploration of the northern basin of Moose Pond. The “pond” is a 1,697 water body with a 33.3 mile perimeter that’s broken into three sections. We know the north best, which offers about a four-mile round-trip journey from camp up into the islands of Sweden. The other section that we don’t visit as often, but do enjoy exploring, is the southern section in Denmark, for it’s equally interesting.

2-BLUEBERRIES!

Today, though, my guy had a mission worth gold in mind–to make some headway on his blueberry greed.

6-yellow-necked caterpillars

Along the way we discovered an interesting sight. Our friend, and pond neighbor from the western shore, Lili Fox, asked yesterday if I could identify some yellow and black caterpillars. After a wee bit of research, I suggested Yellow-necked Moth Caterpillars. I didn’t expect to meet them quite so soon myself, but immediately recognized the group that clustered at the tip of a blueberry twig. At first, they seemed immobilized, but then I realized they were in the defense form that I’ve witnessed with other caterpillars, curling outward to form a U. I’d just picked a few berries below and so they saw me as prime predator. Fortunately, no attack was made.

8-yellownecked 2

Overall, they have yellow and black stripes, but it’s the yellow segment or neck behind their black heads for which they were named. These very hungry caterpillars were reaching maturity and soon should drop to the ground. They’ll apparently overwinter burrowed below as pupa and emerge in adult form next year.

10a-fluffy yellownecked

I assumed that those with the most wiry hair were the oldest. We probably should have shaken them off the branches and into the water, but we didn’t. Nature knows what to do and some will become a food source for wasps or birds, passing along the energy contained in the blueberry leaves to another level.

3-variable dancer damselfly

In the meantime, I became the Yellow-necked Lookout Warden as my guy continued to pick. Accompanying me with his own bulbous set of eyes was a male Variable Dancer Damselfly.

4-spreadwing

The damselflies actually could care less about the caterpillars and more about finding a mate and so they all posed, either on the kayak, or nearby vegetation.

5-orange bluet damselflies

Both turned out to be the right substrate on which to perform mating rituals, this being a pair of Orange Bluet Damselflies on the kayak.

7-emerald spreadwings canoodling

And Emerald Spreadwings offering a reflection on the pond of their canoodling efforts.

10-heading north

At last we continued further north, island hopping along the way.

12-Eastern Pondhawk Dragonfly

Though their natural communities all looked similar, with each stop came a different offering, including the Eastern Pondhawk that displayed one of my favorite combinations of color-sky blue pond green.

13-EAstern Pondhawk

Eye to eye, we contemplated each other. I have no idea what he thought of me. Well, actually, I’ve no idea if dragonflies can think. Is all their action instinctive? As for my thoughts, I didn’t want to gobble him up in a literal fashion, but wish I could have taken him with me so I could continue to stare, infatuated with his colors as I was. On his thorax I saw a watercolor painting reflecting a sunny day by the pond.

14-Floating Heart Plant

Another island and another find–the delicate flower of a Floating Heart Plant.

14-bullfrog on lily pad

And then a frog on a lily pad, a young frog that is.

15-bullfrog froglet

If you look closely, you may see her tail extending behind. I couldn’t help but think that she’s got big feet to grow into.

16-beaver lodge

Beside one of the last islands we visited, we saw that the neighborhood had changed quite recently and a new house had been built. Though none of the residents came out to greet us, we weren’t surprised. Based on the greenery and wet mud we suspected they’d been busy as beavers all night and needed a rest.

17-beaver island

A quick look around and we knew the source of their building materials. It reminded us that they’ve been secret visitors to our land in the past and have helped themselves to young saplings much to our dismay. Then again, it is their land as well. We’re just the ones who pay the taxes.

11-spadderdock with damselfly exuvia

Of course, no water adventure is complete without a photo of Spatterdock, this one featuring a damselfly exuvia.

17-fragrant water lily

And Fragrant Water Lily. That rayed presentation. Those prominent yellow stamens. The symmetry. And, of course, the fragrance.

18-honeybee

What could be better than the two together? The two together with small flies on one and a honey bee, its buckets full, visiting the other.

19-painted turtle

At last, it was well after lunch, which we’d neglected to pack and my wrist was sore, so my guy said he’d paddle us home. And because we’d startled a turtle earlier, he said he’d find one for me. Wow! Both the turtle and I were impressed.

20-turtle basking

As turtles do, he stretched out his back legs demonstrating how they need to capture additional heat given that they are cold-blooded animals. Basking helps them to absorb warmth and vital UV rays.

21-waving goodbye

What he did next surprised us. He began to wave his front left leg–I took it as a goodbye, but it was probably either a way to push an insect toward his mouth or an aggressive move telling us to move on. We did, heading back to camp as we finished up our Island Hopping Mondate.

 

 

Capturing Peace at Deer Hill Bog

The minute I stepped out of the truck, a loud, rather unharmonious musical performance, greeted me at Deer Hill Bog in Stow, Maine. Rather than the Peeper and Wood Frog chorus of spring, the summer symphony was performed by Bullfrogs and Green Frogs, but mainly the former.

d1-approaching the bog

It was about nine a.m. when I caught my first glimpse of the bog, a result of man and nature working together. An old wood dam combined with a beaver dam created the 25-acre body of shallow water. From moose and Great Blue Herons to aquatic plants and tiny organisms, over 90 species call the bog home. Though I truly expected to spy a moose, that opportunity was not meant to be. I did go, however, because of the Great Blue Herons. Friend JoAnne reminded me the other day of the old rookery, so I decided to check on it.

d2-heading toward the blind

But first, I made my way toward the wildlife viewing blind.

d3-bird blind

The blind featured benches, cut-outs for viewing and informational posters–a quiet place to watch nature in action.

d5-inside the blind

It was built in 1993 by the Maine Conservation Corp and is maintained by the White Mountain National Forest. Two more panels described some species of wildlife one might expect to see.

d6-view from the blind

And, of course, the cut-outs provided a bird’s eye view . . .

d6a-another view

of life in the bog.

d12-bullfrog

But, I’m not very good about staying undercover, and so around to the side and front of the blind I went. And stood as still as possible, for the Bullfrogs quieted upon my approach, as I expected they would. A few minutes later they again sang, “rumm . . . rumm . . . rrrrrumm,” the notes all in bass.

d30-fish

The water practically boiled with small fish jumping, but my freshwater fish knowledge is limited and my best guess was that they were bait fish of some sort.

d8-three lodges

Looking around, I noted three beaver lodges, each of a different size. None looked active, but it was a warm summer morning and perhaps they were sleeping inside.

d8-adult heron

And then I spied two heron nests–on the first I saw only an adult who spent much time in preening mode.

d13-heron feeding

The second nest I was sure was empty–until an adult flew in and three immatures squabbled for the food about to be regurgitated by the parent.

d14-bullfrog

And back down to bog level, another Bullfrog doing what they seemed to do best–waiting patiently, with nary a rumm, though the sound seemed to travel in waves down the bog.

Frogs are ectothermic animals, which means they depend on the environment to maintain their body temperature, therefore many jumped onto fallen logs to catch a few rays. It may also have been that the height gave them a better view of the local action.

d15-bullfrog

This one did eventually turn, making it a fine time to examine his body a bit. How did I know it was a male? His eardrums or tympanums, those circles located directly behind the eyes, were larger than the eyes. In females, they are about the same size.

d10-clubtail exuvia

There were other things to look at, like the exuviae of a clubtail dragonfly. Notice how far apart the eyes were. Eye position is one key to determining species.

d11-frosted whiteface dragonfly

Other characteristics included the white face of the Frosted Whiteface.

d16a-slaty skimmer dragonfly--black face:brown eyes

And the black face and brown eyes of a Slaty Skimmer.

d16-slaty skimmer dragonfly

The slaty part of its name came from the fact that male’s body is entirely blue–slate blue.

d17-bullfrog

Again a rumm-rumm-rrrrummm.

d24-bullfrog

It seemed there were female frogs around, but they didn’t care about the males’ singing talents–at least not in my presence.

d16-red-winged blackbird

And an o-ka-leeee.

d18-frosted whiteface dragonflies

In the midst of it all, some canoodling by a pair of Frosted Whitefaced Dragonflies connected in their love formation.

d20-green frog

Plunking rubber bands to the beat of plunk-plunk-plunkplunkplunk were the Green Frogs. This one was so identified by the dorsalateral folds that ran from its eyes along the sides of its back and down toward its former tail.

d21-grackle

Wood Ducks and Merganzers swam further away from my spot, but Grackles flitted in and out, up and down on the ground, fallen trees, and rocks, ever in search of fine dining.

d27-grackle

In between foraging for insects, crustaceans, mollusks, fish, and frogs, oh my, they sang their guttural song that was often followed by a high-pitched whistle.

d22-painted turtle

There were also painted turtles to admire. Well, I only saw one, but suspect there were others.

d25-painted turtle

It slipped into the water and then came up on a nearby log, another species that valued the sun’s warm rays.

d26-bullfrog

And another. Really, they were everywhere. Did you know that a frog’s pupils are horizontal so it can look forward, backward, and up and down. The better to see me,  dinner, and predators on the quick.

d28-two frogs

Sometimes frogs yelp, and it was such a sound that brought these two to my attention. Because of the sun’s position, I couldn’t get a clear take on their gender, but I watched them both jump onto the log simultaneously. At first they were side by side, but then one shifted further to the right. Had they been mating? Had one male tried to jump onto another thinking it was a female? Had something bigger than them been on the hunt?

d31-water snake with tongue extended

I may never know why the frogs jumped, but this water snake was making the rounds. Every once in a while it made the water boil and I knew something was consumed. Can you see his forked tongue sticking out?

d29-sundew about to flower and marsh st.john's wort

At last my bog time was drawing nigh, and yet there was so much more to see, including Round-leaved Sundews and Marsh St. Johnswort on log islands.

d30-bullfrog

And one more Bullfrog to provide a last note to the morning’s wonder.

d32-bog

Though to some, the bog may look like a place of death, and death does happen there, it’s also full of life. It’s a place of biodiversity and hidden beauty. And this morning I was thankful to have it all to myself–the only human sounds I heard were of my own making. Deer Hill Bog–a magical, wonder-filled place to capture peace.

Maybe everyone needs a bog visit.

P.S.  The frog sounds were borrowed from https://srelherp.uga.edu/anurans/sounds as I’m not tech savvy enough to have recorded them. But do click on them, because it gives you a sense of this place. You’ll need to turn up the sound on your computer and possibly will need to press play when you click on the link.

 

 

 

 

A Slice of Life in the Rookery

We only had an hour and we had a task to accomplish as citizen scientists for Maine IF&W’s Heron Observation Network. Our mission, which we chose to accept, was to count the number of nests, the number occupied, the number not occupied, the number with residents, the number of immature, the number of mature, the number of . . . you get the picture.

h1b-rookery

In the past, this was the largest inland rookery in the state and supported 40+ active nests, but over the last few years the numbers had dwindled and today we found only nine. Of those nine, three were inactive. Where have all the birds gone, we wondered.

h1-wood duck

As we started to focus on the scene before us, one member of our team spotted a wood duck surveying the beaver pond from a limb on one of the many old snags.

h2a-heron chick

And then we looked upward. Counting isn’t always easy–in fact, it’s never easy. One immature–check. More than one? Well, we could see a lump representing another bird. Was it one lump or two? Over and over again, we counted.

h3-standing still

And then there was this nest that was hidden from our sight at first, only because it seemed to blend in with the pine tree behind it. Again we wondered–why was this adult standing on it? Was this a sentry watching over all of the nests why the other parents were off fishing? Usually, though, experience told us that sentrys stood on higher branches–the better to watch for predators.

h29-sentry

Like this.

h2-otter

Suddenly we heard a commotion in the water and noticed action near the beaver lodge. What was it?

h4-incoming

And then the sound of the youngsters crying frantically made us look upward again, where we spied an incoming adult.

h5-landing

The kids exclaimed their excitement because a meal had certainly arrived.

h6-begging for food

We could almost see their smiles as they anticipated the goodness they were about to receive.

h7-what? No food?

But . . . no food was regurgitated despite the kids’ squawks.

h9-meanwhile-mouths have closed

Finally, they quieted down and looked rather disgusted.

h10-preening

And Momma preened.

h11-wood duck family

Back in the pond, a family of Wood Ducks swam among the flowering Watershield.

h12-movement above

And up again, we noticed slight movement in the nest.

h13-a chick with downy feathers

Could it be?

h14-red winged

Before we answered the last question, a Red-winged Blackbird paused . . .

h15-singing

sang . . .

h16-did you hear me?

and looked around as if to say, “Did you hear me?” We did.

h17-another incoming

More squawks from above and we saw another adult fly in.

h18-what did you bring?

It seemed Dad had joined Mom and the family was complete.

h19-I'm off

But only for a second, as Mom took off.

h20-snacks?

“Where’d Mom go?” and “What’s to eat?” was all Dad heard.

h21--watching from nearby

She didn’t go far, but like all mommas, she needed a few minutes of time to herself.

h21-baby chick revealed

Meanwhile, back by the pine, that little bit of fluff moved some more.

h22-stretching my wings

And someone else needed to stretch his wings.

h24-otter again

It was like watching a tennis match, for our eyes moved back and forth, up and down–especially when we heard movement in the water again and saw the same something undulating through the water.

h26-water snake

We weren’t the only ones watching all the action from a hidden location–a water snake on a hummock across the way did the same.

h28-don't you have any food?

Skyward, the family unit came together again. And still no food. The kids were getting impatient.

h30-have a stick

And then one parent left briefly and returned–with a stick for the kids to add to the nest, perhaps heron-speak for clean the house first and then you’ll get a snack.

h31-what's he thinking?

“We did it,” they tried to tell her, but Mom had her eyes on something else.

h27-beaver again

Her focus wasn’t on the beavers that swam back and forth below. Oh, and if you think this is the hump that had been making the water boil, you are mistaken.

h32-there he goes again

“Mom, bring back lots of fish . . . pleeeeease,” the kids cried as she took off again. “We’ll even eat frog legs.”

h33-picking twigs

But she had her eyes on other things–sticks from one of the abandoned nests.

h34-got one

She pulled one out.

h36-did you see what he just did?

And the kids looked away and one complained to Dad about all the housework they were expected to do and they still hadn’t received their allowance.

h25-checking us out

Unfortunately, it was time for us to head to work, but our undulating friend returned.

h37-otter

Great Blue Herons, Wood Ducks, Red-winged Blackbirds, Water Snakes, Beavers . . . and a River Otter! A slice of life in the rookery.

 

 

Dying To Get In

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

‘Why not?” I responded.

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

e1-evergreen cemetery

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

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

e2-sunburst lichen

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

e3-male mallard

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

e4-famale mallard

her lack of ducklings despite four attentive males,

e5-mrs. mallard

why their feet were orange,

e6-duck tweed

and the tweedy pattern of their feathers.

e7-ducklings

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

e7-chipping sparrow

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

e8-black swallowwort

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

e9-ragged-robin

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

e10-sunburned oak meat

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

e11-oak setting root

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

e12-song sparrow

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

e13-song sparrow

Upon finishing, it waited as if for our applause.

e14-arrowwood viburnum

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

e15-American honeysuckle

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

e16-beaked hazelnut

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

e17-mallards

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

e19-snapping turtle

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

e20-ducks and turtle

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

e21-3 turtles

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

e22-injured duck

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

e22-mouth open

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

e23-mouth closing

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

e18-ducklings all in a row

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

e25-green heron

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

e26-green heron

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

e27-turtle wars

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

e28-turtle face

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

 

Prehistoric Lovell

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

p3-white admiral

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

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

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

p4-white admiral

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

p7-dragonfly exuvia

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

p5-chalk-fronted

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

p9-female chalk-fronted

and their occasional female counterparts.

p4-lancet club

There were plenty of Lancet Clubtails,

p6-racket-tailed emerald

and even a Racket-tailed Emerald.

p10-female common whitetail

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

p11-female and male ebony jewelwings

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

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

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

p12-snapping turtle

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

p13-snapper's nails

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

p14-snapper's tail

that tail,

p16-snapper's face 1

and its snout.

p16-snaper's wink

Despite that, we shared a wink . . .

p15-snapper's face

and then each went our own way.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Trail To And Fro

The heron rookery was our destination and so friends Pam and Bob journeyed with me, our expectations high.

M1-KENNEDY'S EMERALD

But as nature would have it, we’d barely walked fifty feet when our typical distraction disorder set in–and the focus encompassed the dragonflies that perched on foliage beside the trail. Our first was a Kennedy’s Emerald, named for Dr. Clarence Kennedy, a renowned Ohio State University professor and odonatologist.

M2-BEAVERPOND BASKETTAIL

Among the same fern patch was a Beaverpond Baskettail. It’s the eyes of this species that appealed to me most for I loved their teal color.

M3-IMMATURE CHALK-FRONTED CORPORAL

Every step we took seemed to produce a new combination of colors and presentations, all a variation on the dragonfly theme, including this immature Chalk-fronted Corporal.

M4-MUSTACHED CLUBTAIL

And their names were equally intriguing, this one being a Mustached Clubtail.

M6- SKIMMING BLUET

It wasn’t just dragonflies patrolling the path and one mosquito at a time reducing the biting insect population–for damselflies also flew. When they weren’t canoodling that is. But canoodle away we said, for each interaction resulted in even more predators of our favorite kind.

M7-GRAY TREE FROG

And then . . .

M8-GRAY TREE FROG

and then we discovered a predator of another kind. And we rejoiced even more because for all the time we spend in the woods, sighting a gray tree frog is rather rare.

M9-EBONY JEWELWING MALE

Not quite so rare, but beautiful in its unique form was the Ebony Jewelwing and her metallic colors. We spied one male with a white dot on his wings, but he escaped the camera lens.

M10-GARTER PARENT

It wasn’t just fliers and hoppers that caught our attention. Movement at our feet directed us to one who preferred to slither through the woods in garter formation.

M11-GARTER BABY

And about a foot away from the parent–one of the young’uns.

M12-ROOKERY SITE

At last we reached our destination and the real purpose for our journey. We were on a reconnoissance mission. Our job was to count nests, young and adults at a heron rookery for the Heron Observation Network of Maine–a citizen science adopt-a-colony network managed for Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife by biologist Danielle D’Auria. The project began after a significant decline in the number of nesting pairs of Great Blue Heron was realized in Maine from the 1980s to 2007, and MDIFW listed the bird as a Species of Special Concern.

M13-HERON ROOKERY

Sadly, our count was zero for each category. While last spring the nests were active, something occurred and the colony collapsed before the young fledged last summer. Bald Eagles were the likely suspects of such a decline and as nature would have it, we thrilled with the resurgence of one species at the expense of another. Despite the current failure of the community, we’ll continue to visit each year . . . just in case.

M140WHITE CHALK CORPORALS

But guess what? As we stood there, we noted the activity, or lack thereof, of mature Chalk-fronted Corporals–the female relaxing on the left and male on the right.

M15-DARNER

Every few seconds a Green Darner conducted its own reconnaissance mission.

M17-CANADA GEESE

And then some serious honking from upstream called for our attention.

M18-CANADA GOOSE

And we were reminded of Bernd Heinrich’s book, The Geese of Beaver Bog, for we were in such a place.

m19-immature KENNEDY'S EMERALD

At last, we pulled ourselves away, though I suspect we could have easily spent hours being mesmerized by the magic of the place. Such magic was reflected in the opaque wings of a newly emerged Kennedy’s Emerald dragonfly.

M20-INDIAN CUCUMER ROOT

And on the way back, as often happens, we were privy to sights we’d missed on the way in. So it was that an Indian Cucumber Root displayed its unique flower–nodding pale green petals folded back, like a Turk’s cap lily, and from the center emerged three long reddish styles (think female reproductive parts) and several purplish orange stamens. Those styles gave the flower a unique spidery appearance.

M21-GRAY TREE FROG

And then . . . and then one more time not far from where we’d seen the gray frog on our way in, and mere moments after Pam said, “Where there’s one . . .” we found a second.

The heron rookery was our destination, but the trail to and fro offered so many moments of wonder.

Thank you to the family that conserved this land. Thank you to the wildlife in many forms who call it home. And thank you to Pam and Bob for not only accompanying me, but for insisting that I borrow your lightweight Canon Powershoot SX720HS. I might get hooked.

The Amazing Race–Our Style, episode 3

We were a bit confused by the clue–something about an oven and ice and we felt like maybe we were headed to a kitchen. My guy doesn’t cook all that much and I avoid it as much as possible, so we knew this was going to be a tough leg of the race. Surely, we’d be there all night trying to concoct something and the sky would darken on our chance of winning.

To top it all off, it was an equalizer. That meant that though we were early to the starting point, all participants would begin at the same time. And so we had some time on our hands and a few dollars to spend on lunch and libations.

o1-clue

As we sipped, our clue was revealed. And we were ready to heed it, despite our anxiety over the cooking issue.

o2-footbridge

Following lunch, we still had more time to kill and decided to walk across the footbridge in Boothbay Harbor.

o3-ghost harbor

It was a bit of a ghost harbor on this day, but it won’t be long and people and boats and more people will fill this space.

o5-sign of snow

As we walked around town, we did some window shopping–of the best sort.

o4-clock

And then a view at a clock reminded us that we had a place to be by 1:15.

o6-crooked sign

Look for the crooked sign, the clue stated. We found it.

o8-trail conditions

Follow the trail. We did.

o10-mud below

Note the tide. It was obviously out.

o11-bridge

Locate the bridge that connects Oven Mouth Preserve West to Oven Mouth Preserve East. Bingo.

o13-ice house cove dam

But what was below us, we wondered. And that was our next challenge. We had to figure out the configuration of this land. It looked like an old bridge, but rather, it was a former dam that had been used to create an ice pond on the other side of the bridge upon which we stood. Aha–the icy portion of this leg of the race. Our task was to discover its history. Reading a brochure produced by the Boothbay Region Land Trust we learned the following: “In 1880, in response to a growing demand for ice, [the cove now known as Ice House Cove] was dammed to form a fresh-water pond and an ice house was built. The ice was shipped by schooner, mainly to Boston and New York.” Today, any blocks of ice would surely have melted as happened in our water bottles.

o7-garter snake

While we looped around the two peninsulas we had a several other challenges to complete. First, we needed to find three examples of critter sign–other than the ubiquitous red squirrel middens. We checked off number one with a garter snake that slithered past.

o7b-mammal tracks

Number two: mammal tracks in the mud below. We couldn’t get close enough to identify it, but noted the trotting pattern.

o7a-wasp nest

And number three, the remnants of a paper wasp nest.

Another challenge down. How many more to go?

o12-scavenger 2

It wasn’t long before the next presented itself as we wound our way around the property. First, we needed to find evidence of the land’s former use–as a sheep pasture in the 19th century.

o12-scavenger hunt 1

And then the letter D. We never did learn what the D stood for, but . . . we found it.

o15-sausage-shaped boudins

And finally, a sausage-shaped boudin among the folds, formed by the pinching and swelling from compression and shearing.

o13-Cross river

The tide slowly flowed in as we journeyed on.

o14-rip where Back and Cross River met

And at the point where the Cross River met the Back River, we noted a rip current visible in the swirls.

o14-ice house dam and today's bridge

At last we crossed back over the bridge from east to west and then peeked at the dam juxtaposed as it was in the shadow of the modern-day bridge.

o16-oven?

From the outermost point of the west side, we paused to look back toward the dam and bridge–did the early explorers really see this rounded cove as the inside of an oven, thus naming it Ovens Mouth? It was certainly unique. Fortunately, we could enjoy the view without turning up the heat. If they thought it was an oven, we agreed. If it meant we didn’t have to cook, we definitely agreed.

From the brochure, we did learn more history: “This area has always been inviting for maritime activities because of its deep-water access and protected location. Settled in the mid-1700s, one of the region’s earliest shipyards was located here and both British and American vessels hid in the coves during the Revolution. Soon after the Civil War, the property came into the hands of the Tibbets-Welsh family, who owned it for more than a hundred years.”

o17-kissing tree

We had one last challenge to complete before finding our way to the mat. Our final mission: to note three sights that represented our relationship.

Kissing trees–check.

o17-heart

A heart-shaped rock–check.

o17-pigeons

Whispering sweet nothings–check. (Note the heart-shaped white cere on their bills. And no, he is not picking her nits. Well, even if he is, isn’t that a loving move?)

Once again, we managed to stay ahead of other contestants, didn’t squabble too much, avoided our worst fears and completed the assigned tasks without much stress. In the third episode of our imaginary rendition of The Amazing Race–Our Style, we landed on the mat in first place once again. What’s next? Stay tuned.

 

 

 

Book of April: Take a Wetlands Walk

Those of you who have followed me on the trail or through wondermyway for a while know that I’m not only drawn to mountaintops, but wetlands as well. And I have a few that I frequent including several vernal pools, Holt Pond Preserve, Perky’s Path, and Brownfield Bog.

w1

Book of April

Therefore, when I spotted Take a Wetlands Walk by Jane Kirkland at Maine Audubon’s Nature Store a few years ago I wasn’t surprised that it jumped into my hands and dragged me to the checkout. Since it’s April and the snow is slowly melting in western Maine, and some afternoon in the near future I look forward to receiving an email announcing our local Big Night celebration, it seemed apropos that I should feature Take a Wetlands Walk as the book of the month.

w-Holt P 2

Holt Pond boardwalk

This is a children’s book and I like how the author divided it into three sections, using a phrase often heard at the starting line.

Get Ready–encourages kids to gain a better understanding of wetland terminology in an easy to understand manner. In fact, it’s as if the author is sitting beside you, so conversational is the tone.

w-fairy shrimp

Fairy Shrimp

w-tadpoles

Tadpoles

w-wood frog

Wood Frog

w-painted turtle

Painted Turtle

w-water snake 1

Water Snake

w-water snake 2

Water Snake (notice his tongue)

Get Set–introduces amphibian and reptile species associated with wetlands.

w-pitcher plant

Pitcher Plant

Go!--sends the children outside to read the signs of nature and jot down their observations.

w-Holt Pond quaking bog

Quaking Bog at Holt Pond

In the Go! section, Kirkland describes what the kids might discover in such places as bogs, estuaries, salt marshes, freshwater marshes, streams, rivers, lakes, vernal pools, swamps, and the Everglades.

w-Red-winged Blackbird

Through sidebars, illustrations, and photographs, Kirkland touches on many topics related to wetlands, but constantly encourages further research, including of course, heading out the door. She also includes a wee bit of information about citizen science projects and wetland careers.

w-pileated woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

Each time she first uses a technical term, she adds a pronunciation key. One of my favorites: The Pileated Woodpecker (Py-lee-ata-id or PILL-e-ate-id). I prefer the latter, but occasionally hear the former uttered. “You like to-may-toes and I like to-mah-toes!”–Although in that sense, I prefer the former tomaytoes.

w-spotted sallie 2

Spotted Salamander

Throughout, Kirkland shares personal experiences as well as those of her acquaintances. Finally, she includes pages filled with photos to help you identify birds, plants, reptiles, amphibians, mammals and insects related to wetlands.

w-pond dipping

Pond Dipping

Yes, this is a children’s book, but adults can also benefit from reading it. And then heading outside.

Get Ready, Get Set, Go! Pick up a copy of Take A Wetlands Walk and visit your nearest wetland.

Take a Wetlands Walk by Jane Kirkland, Stillwater Publishing, 2011

Wild Willy Wandering Wilderness

There are times when one wanders down a trail and a certain spirit seems to swirl about in the silence of the wilderness. Such was the feeling today as my friend, Joan, and I joined two other friends to explore their land in South Chatham, New Hampshire.

k-Pleasant Mtn

Before we ventured forth, however, we sat upon their deck and enjoyed the view of my hometown mountain–the ridge of Pleasant Mountain, this being a backside view.

k-sensitive pea 2

And then we paused by one of the wildflower gardens they have created with seeds of unknowns sown at abandon.

k-Sensitive Partridge Pea

Based on its seed pods that split open on both sides, we knew it was in the pea family, but didn’t know its name. Upon arriving home and keying it out, I discovered it’s a sensitive partridge pea, also know as a wild sensitive plant, the perfect tribute to the trail. Notice the pinnately-divided leaves–they fold up when touched, thus the name “sensitive.”

k-three amigos under the arch

Soon after getting acquainted with the sensitive pea, we continued onto the trail that Pam and Bob (the couple on the left; Joan on the right) have carved out of the land, with the help of their nephew for whom they constantly uttered words of praise. One of his artistic offerings to them was an archway formed from beech saplings.

k-steps by Willy

Another offering–steps created from stones found nearby. But where exactly did he find the stones? That remains a secret for so good is his work. It seemed as if the trail had been there all along as it wound its way up and over, down and around, passing by landmarks worth pausing by.

k-black cherry

We saw so much, including bark on young trees that we desperately wanted to be black birch (aka sweet or cherry birch), but was really black cherry. Nearby where pin cherry trees that we easily recognized, but this one seemed a wee bit different and we thought maybe, just maybe it was a black birch. But maybe it wasn’t when I opened Michael Wojtech’s BARK later.

k-black cherry 2

And further along the trail we spied a mature black cherry, its bark we knew for the curled chunks that remind us of burnt potato chips.

k-yellow birch

The curls of an old yellow birch also intrigued us and we noted many, many young and a few old members of this family throughout the property.

k-big tooth aspen

It’s a mixed forest and we had fun searching for the big tooth aspen trees, their bark deceptive with a northern red oak look below and birch look above.

k-hemlock and boulder 2

Other landmarks included a hemlock kissing a boulder and . . .

k-Province Brook hemlock root

another with the longest, thickest root we’d ever seen that arched across the land, creating an opportunity for the fairies that live in such an enchanted forest a chance to do the limbo.

k-coyote scat

We discovered what Pam and Bob already knew–it’s more than fairies that inhabit their place. In the middle of the trail, coyote scat presented itself.

k-deer sign

We found lots of deer scrapes, where in previous years they’ve scraped the bark upward to feed on it. But this was a recent visit with tags at both ends of the action, indicating a rub. Deer rub a tree to clean their antlers of velvet–that soft, vascular skin that grows on their antlers. They also rub trees to mark their territory.

k-garter snake1

And our wildest sighting of all–a garter snake enjoying some late afternoon sun. It never moved as we gawked and finally passed by, so really it wasn’t so wild after all. But Pam and Bob shared stories of other sounds and sightings, for this really is a wild land that abuts the National Forest.

k-Province Brook 2

It’s also bounded by Province Brook, where the water’s flow soothed our souls.

k-Province Brook 3

We were embraced by its reflective color . . .

k-Province Brook 4

and life-giving cadence.

k-spirits 1

And it was there that the water spirit . . .

k-spirits 2

rose and embraced us.

k-wood swirls

We found it wherever we went and recognized it in various forms . . .

k-afternoon light 2

as it wandered beside us.

k-sign

Just as we ended our journey, we noticed the sign–Wild Willy Wandering Wilderness Trail. Pam and Bob had told us its name, in honor of their nephew Willis and his hard and creative work in carving out the trail, but they kept the sign a secret until we finished. Hats off to all three of them and their love of the land and for each other. Joan and I were envious of it all and thankful for the opportunity to be embraced by the spirit of this place and these people.

 

One Plus One=Five

One plus one equals two on an average day. And so today, Marita and I set out to conquer at least one trail, with a couple of others as additional options. We ended up “bagging” as they say in hiking terms, two–including one that was totally unexpected.

s-Long Mtn lower path

Our morning began with an exploration of the new trail on Long Mountain, a 2.5 mile climb that twists and turns beside Mill Brook on property owned by Mary McFadden and Larry Stifler. Near the start, bog bridges pass through wet areas now dry.

s-Mill Brook 1

The climb is moderately gradual and the brook ever present, its rocks creating falls that added a pleasing sound and sight to our hike.

s-brook crossings

Occasionally, we needed to cross and the way was well bridged.

s-dry brook1

At times, the brook was dry, but those moments made us realize that we must return in the spring when we assumed torrents of water pass over the rocks.

s-Mill brook moss (1)

Moss dangling today, however, mimicked the flow that wasn’t there.

s-cairn

As we climbed, we noticed works of art. I’m not always a fan of cairns, but in this case, each had a flair that bespoke someone’s creative mind.

s-cairn 2

Others were simply simple.

s-water bar

We found water bars that were equally artistic in nature.

s-flagging

Just over a mile and a half into the hike, the trail turned and though it wasn’t as well cleared, it was certainly well flagged and losing our way wasn’t an option. There would be no getting fake lost on this climb.

s-sledge hammer

Eventually we came to a third section where the trail was again cleared and we found signs indicating the crew might be ahead.

s-stairs 1 (1)

Again, we admired their work, from the stone stairs to wooden steps, all created with materials found within feet of the trail. Work gloves left behind made us wonder if perhaps they wanted us to lend a hand. If you find the gloves, then I’ve a feeling you are good at “Where’s Waldo?”

s-oak ladder (1)

The extra sturdy ladder was created on site from a red oak (and some hefty hardware).

s-Marita, Bruce and Gary 2 (1)

We were chatting companionably when we heard some movement above. And then heard their hellos. We’d found the crew–Bruce, the property manager and Larry, his right-hand man. Bruce and Marita had communicated previously, so he wasn’t surprised to see us and we were full of admiration for the work these two have done–all by hand. In fact, if you ever think you want to do some trail work in your neck of the woods, I highly suggest you locate these two and spend some time working with them for theirs is the best I’ve ever seen. We chatted for a bit, learning about their good works and the good works of the property owners.

s-lunch view

And then it was time for us to move up a few more hundred feet and out to the ledges. We didn’t reach the summit of Long Mountain, for that is owned by someone else, but the ledges with a view of Round Mountain (also owned by the Stiflers), Evans Notch and the White Mountains beyond was the perfect setting for lunch rock.

s-nature's tapestry

As we ate, we noted that foliage peak had passed in this part of the woods, but still, the tapestry was worth a closer look.

s-Long Mtn trail signs 2

Eventually, we followed the 2.5 mile trail down, repeatedly singing the praises of all who made this hike possible.

s-wasp nest

And then we traveled down another road we’d never been on before and located a mailbox Bruce had told us about as an indicator to the trailhead also owned by the Stiflers. We didn’t find the trail immediately, but did find this huge wasp nest, now abandoned.

s-Speck Ponds trail sign

It took us a few minutes because it’s rather hidden, but within a few feet of the trail sign, we recognized Bruce’s artistic mark–sign attached to stump atop rock.

s-Speck Pond signs

And other trail signs that we admired mostly for their coloration in contrast to the paper birch to which they were attached.

s-Norway sign at Speck Ponds

s-Albany

This trail led us from one town to another in a matter of inches.

s-Mt Wash from Speck Ponds

And out on the power transmission line, we turned toward the mountains. with the Whites again in our view–especially Washington.

s-pond 1 (1)

At last we reached Upper Speck and turned to the left as we started on our way to hike around it and Lower Speck in what was described to us as a bit of a figure 8. I think really it was more of a calligraphy “g” in design with a bit of a line between the two ponds.

s-leaf art

Again, our views were delightful, including leaves of different species offering contrasting colors and shadows.

s-painted turtle

For a few minutes, we had the pleasure of admiring a painted turtle as it sunned itself before I disturbed it. I just wanted to get closer.

s-speck bridge

Again, bridges helped us ford the wet spots and we admired the workmanship.

s-bank lodge

It wasn’t just human workmanship that drew our attention. We saw at least five lodges, some beside the bank . . .

s-beaver lodge 2

and others in the wetlands adjacent to the ponds.

s-beaver works old and not successful

We found lots of old works . . .

s-beaver works old 2

some not entirely successful.

s-beaver dam 2 (1)

And beside a substantial beaver dam . . .

s-beaver new

we spotted a wee bit of new works–but it wasn’t much.

s-Upper Speck

Again, the colors kept us in awe, much as they had done atop the ledges of Long Mountain.

s-fall colors 1

And finally, we completed our “g” loops and made our way out with all of these and so many other photographic memories in our minds.

Today was not an average day for it’s Friday the 13th. And we had the pleasure of learning that one plus one=five–five stars that is, for we gave such a rating to each trail we traveled, and thanks to all who made them possible for us to wander and wonder. Thank you Mary and Larry and Bruce and Gary. And Marita for inviting me to join her.

 

 

 

Summer Sendoff with Jinny Mae

Last week a friend sent me some photos of an odd phenomenon in a wasp nest over her porch door. Thankfully, she also included Mary Holland in the e-mail, who probably had a much better idea of what was going on than I did.

m1a

My two thoughts–green in the woody tissue the paper wasps consumed or small green caterpillars somehow at the nest. Neither made sense. My friend is away for a while, but she suggested I go take a look and bring a ladder.

m1-ladder shake

And so I did, but first I invited Jinny Mae to join me. Feeling well these days, I’m thankful she’s up for some adventures. We found the nest and up I climbed, but I guess I was a wee bit shaky for my photos were fuzzy. Nonetheless, I saw no green and so the mystery remains. But, if you have such a nest nearby, take a look–going only as close as you are comfortable. And let me know if you see anything green.

m2-ladder 2

We found another nest over a different door, but it appeared the wasps had abandoned it. Why is that? They work so hard to build these and then move on.

m3-asters

Since our wasp adventure wasn’t successful, we decided to take advantage of the situation and explore our friend’s property, a lovely woodland and garden under conservation easement. (Hope you don’t mind, MY.)

m8-tree across trail

Along the trail we came upon a downed beech tree that seemed equally alive in death as in life.

m7-lichen moss map 2

It sported lichens and mosses that combined looked like a 3-D topographical map of the property. And only now am I seeing something I can’t believe Jinny Mae and I missed earlier–script lichen across the bottom of the map. As it should be.

m5-puffballs 1

Puffballs also appreciated the substrate and fruited en masse.

m9-leafed out

.While we both looked into the hollow of the tree hoping to find someone at home, we didn’t. But, we did note that before the trunk snapped and toppled, it had leafed out–a last shout out to the world that sugar and water flowed through its pipeline.

m10-prince charming 1

We pulled away from that exploration, when something else caught Jinny Mae’s eye. I didn’t see it at first, and can’t imagine how I missed it–Prince Charming, the king of the toads.

m11-Prince charming 2

He had so many warts that he had warts atop warts, a right robust old guy.

m12-aliens among us

A little further along, more fungi attracted Jinny Mae, while I pulled out my hand lens to take a closer look at some fuzz balls that I first thought were cocoons. You might say they are also fungi upon fungi, so coated were they with a hairy mold. Or you could see them as alien forms frolicking on a fallen log. I prefer the latter.

m13-stairway to the castle in the clouds

Everywhere we turned it seemed fungi presented itself in various forms and patterns, which was apropos given that the friend who owns this land is a mushroom aficionado.

m15-beaver works 2

As we walked, we looked and looked for bear trees, finding none. We did, however, find some beaver works–both fresh and . . .

m19-beaver works 3

old. Even tree roots attracted their attention.

m18-brook view

Beside the wetland, we scanned high and low–hoping for activity of some sort. Jinny Mae saw what was probably a cormorant, but that was all.

m20-lodges

Our view, of course, included a lodge that looked like it had some fresh wood atop. The winter prep was under way.

m21-spider lodge

And nearby, a lodge of a different sort, its construction equally intricate in an interesting geometric form.

m16-winterberry

After expressing our awe, we finally turned ourselves around–our stomachs indicating that it must be getting toward noon.

m24-false tinder 2

We walked out the same way we’d walked in, and as was to be expected, found more, like a false tinder conk that measured almost ten inches across.

m25-little snake

And a young snake about ten inches long.

m27-big snake 1

And then we spied something even longer in the grass.

m28-bigger snake 2

This guy stayed absolutely still, its head held high.

m29-bigger snake 3

But we noticed the thickness about halfway along its body.

m30-bigger snake 4

It had beat us to lunch and we wondered what we’d missed.

m31-bigger snake 5

Whatever it was, it apparently put up a bit of a fight if that’s blood on the snake’s neck.

m32-stream

We’d wandered and wondered for three hours on this last summer morn.

m33-clouded sulfur butterfly

And gave thanks for the opportunity to spot several clouded sulphur butterflies on red clover,

m35-milkweed seeds

the first of the milkweeds spilling its beans,

m34-painted lady

and painted ladies feasting on Joe Pye Weed. Summer was slowly coming to an end.

m36-fall on the horizon

But Jinny Mae and I managed to embrace its last moments thanks to MY’s question about the wasp nest. We knew that before the sun set over the mountains, fall would be upon us.

Happy Autumn.

Orchid-Maine-ia

m-bald eagle 2

I took it as a sign when I first heard and then spotted a bald eagle on a white pine towering over Moose Pond. It seemed apropos that it should serve as a token of good luck, or at least a push out the door to spend some time wandering and wondering. And so I made the instant decision to drive to Holt Pond, where tomorrow I’ll join Ursula Duve and Kathy McGreavy as we lead a guided walk.

p-grasspink2

Our focus will be on orchids, such as the grass pink, which seems such a common name for this blooming beauty.

p-grass pink 1

The magenta flowers or Calopogons I spotted today are a wee bit off the boardwalk in the quaking bog, but even still I could see their showy formation with knobbed hairs on the upper lip. It is thought that the yellow crest on that lip imitates pollen, to attract pollen-seeking bees. But the real deal for orchids is that a collected mass of pollen grains are gathered together in a pollinium or anther lobe and thus deposited onto the bee’s abdomen.

p-rose pogonia 1

Rose pogonias were also blooming abundantly. In a way, their formation is opposite that of the grass-pink, with the fringed lower lip providing an attraction for pollinators.

p-pitcher leaf

Also on display as the water receded a wee bit despite a beaver dam on Muddy River–my favorite carnivorous pitcher plants with their urn-like leaves that serve as pit traps appeared quite robust.

p-pitcher flower

Carnivorous plants are orchid companions as they both prefer the bog habitat, like to fool their pollinators and are otherworldly beautiful. There is one aspect in which they differ–the orchids like to attract insects for pollination and the pitcher plants for nutrients. But first, the pitchers may use the insect as pollinators, thus fooling them into a visitation. Pollinators beware!

p-sundew

Equally seductive are the spatula-leaved sundews visible at the end of the quaking bog boardwalk. Until now, they’d been under water and difficult to see. The scent of sugary liquid on the leaf tips attracts unsuspecting insects who get stuck to the tentacles, which then curl inward and thus digest the nutrients from their prey. Again–beware.

p-trail sign

Orchids and their bog companions weren’t the only thing on view today.

p-painted turtle by Muddy River

When I stepped onto the short boardwalk to the Muddy River intent on hunting for dragonflies, I discovered a painted turtle sunning at the edge.

p-blue dasher 1

And then I found what I’d hoped–blue dashers dashed about, although occasionally one stopped so I could take a better look.

p-bluet love

And familiar bluets canoodled on a stem.

p-variable dancer

I discovered a female variable dancer damselfly on a small twig,

p-ebony jewelwing

a male ebony jewelwing fluttered and paused on red maple leaves,

p-flyby

and slaty blue dragonflies buzzed about Holt Pond in record-breaking speed.

p-slaty skimmer1

Finally, one stopped long enough for me to soak in its gray-blue color.

p-steeplebush

There were other flowers to enjoy as well, including the spirea,

p-swamp rose

swamp rose,

p-cranberry flowers

cranberry,

p-cowwheat

cow-wheat,

p-blue flag iris with hoverfly

and blue flag iris. If you look carefully, you may see a hoverfly following the runway on the left lobe.

p-blueberries ripening

I noticed blueberries beginning to turn blue,

p-cinnamon fern

cinnamon ferns with shriveled fertile fronds,

p-hobblebush leaves turning purple

and a few hobblebush leaves already taking on the fall shade of purple. Uh oh.

p-Holt Pond to the south

The wonders of Holt Pond . . .

p-Holt Pond west

never cease to amaze me.

p-quaking bog boardwalk

I hope that you can venture there yourself and discover your own Orchid-Maine-ia. Who knows what else you might notice along the way.

The Best Laid Plans

The opportunity was golden. Lakes Environmental Association’s Executive Director invited me to tag along with Dr. Rick Van de Poll as he conducted a Comprehensive Ecological Assessment at the Highland Lake Preserve. I couldn’t wait to be in Rick’s presence again, for he’s a walking naturalist encyclopedia. But . . . I’d been late in responding to an e-mail and didn’t know what time to meet him.

And so this morning I went in search. I located his truck parked just off the road at the northern end of the lake. I was certain I’d find him despite the fact that the preserve encompasses 325 acres and doesn’t have any trails.

h-Eastern pondhawk female 1

It does, however, have an old logging road that bisects the property.  At a sunny spot which had once served as a log landing, I realized I wasn’t alone. A female Eastern pondhawk dragonfly graced the airspace. Being a skimmer, she paused frequently so I could take a closer look at her markings and delight in her bright coloration.

h-Eastern Pondhawk 3

While her mate, whom I did not see, is powder blue, she was florescent green with black markings. And the stigmas toward the tip of her wings were pale brown. Did you know that Eastern pondhawks are known to be vicious predators and will even catch dragonflies similar in size–sometimes even other pondhawks? Wow!

h-turtle eggs

Because I spent long moments at the old landing, I noticed a pattern in the sandy substrate and followed it to a snapping turtle egg laying spot. Something, possibly a raccoon had done what they do best–dug up and eaten some of the eggs. My hope is that it didn’t get all of them. But what made me wonder was the location, for this location seemed a distance from the water. How far do snapping turtles travel to lay eggs?

h-hoverfly1

Also along the road, I periodically encountered hoverflies hovering. I’ve watched members of the species in my garden where they feed on nectar and pollen–known as nectaring. Hoverflies mimic the look of bees and wasps, but they don’t sting, which is good news.

h-snapper turtle sunning itself

Ever so slowly, with many pregnant pauses between movement, I made my way to the wetland that flows into the lake. And what should I spy? A snapping turtle sunning itself.

h-beaver lodge

As I listened to the chorus of bullfrogs and red-winged blackbirds, I also noted the beaver lodge. And I heard something in the water, but never determined what it was. Could it have been Rick? Maybe.

h-emerald jewelwing female 2

Following the shoreline, I suddenly found myself in the company of a female ebony jewelwing damselfly. She was absolutely gorgeous with her dark wings topped with white stigmas and green and bronze body.

g-porcupine den

Continuing on, a pile of scat under an old hemlock caught my attention (are you surprised?)–porcupine scat. I looked inside, but no one was home. In fact, it had been a while–maybe since winter that anyone had been in residence.

h-garter snake

At last it was time for me to head out of the preserve because I needed to head to Lovell for today’s start of the nature walk the Greater Lovell Land Trust provides each week for the Recreation Program. I made my way back to the logging road and followed it out. But again, along the way I was forced to pause. First, it was for a garter snake who I suspected was waiting for the sun to shine upon it. The snake never moved and I wondered if the leaves had served as a blanket and provided it a wee bit of warmth overnight.

h-Eastern pondhawk dining

And then I paused again to admire the pondhawk one more time and had the honor of seeing her catch an insect. I couldn’t tell what she was eating, though it looked like a large fly, but she gobbled it quickly.

I never did find Rick–my plans not being the best laid, but despite that I was tickled with my findings and knew it was time well spent. The opportunity was indeed golden.

 

 

A Boulder Degree

When I began writing this blog in 2015, my intention was to focus on the wonder of the natural world in western Maine. But sometimes, it’s other wonders and points further west (or even east) that grab my attention.

c-Pena Drive 1

And so it was that midweek last week we headed west of our west and landed in Denver, Colorado, for an extra long weekend. All that being said, this photo with the Rockies in the background made it look like it was sunny when we landed. Not so. It even rains in Colorado, though nothing like we’ve experienced in New England this month, and we landed in the mist on Wednesday night. But we made several trips to the airport and Big Sky country enveloped us.

Not only that, but there were prairie dogs everywhere along Peña Drive. OK, so they aren’t in my backyard, thankfully, but they were incredibly cute. We deal with mole mounds, but prairie dog mounds seem to be even more pronounced. Still . . . I smiled with each sighting.

Our home base for the next four nights was a garden suite in the Arvada home of Donevon and Beth–an Airbnb rental. It was clean, comfortable and located between our two destinations: Boulder and Denver. We highly recommend this two-bedroom space should you be in the area. Don’t forget to say we recommended it–and be sure to pet Maggie.

c-to boulder 4

A road traveled often was the one that led us to Boulder and we soon became familiar with the wind farm to the left, which evoked memories of the first wind farm we ever encountered on Prince Edward Island in Canada when our sons were but youngsters. And this past weekend, it was the younger of the two for whom we made the journey.

c-looking toward boulder

His home these past years has been at the base of the mountains, where he’s earned an education on many levels.

c-Pearl Street2

With him, we walked along Pearl Street, mindful always of the artistic endeavors (and similarities to Church Street in Burlington, Vermont).

c-boulder lions

And among it all, one Lion appreciated the work of others who’d built a fountain.

c-peak to peak 2

Then we headed further northwest, toward Estes Park, enjoying the mountain and sky views along the route.

c-Estes Park1

Like Maine, spring was just arriving, adding a contrast from brown and green below to white summits.

c-elk 1

And in the midst of it all . . .

c-elk 2

elk stopping traffic. (Didn’t they know they were supposed to turn to their other right?)

c-Estes 2

We oohed and awed, but had a plane to meet and so we didn’t stay long.

c-16th Street Mall sign

Over the course of our journey we explored Denver as well, where we walked the 16th Street Mall a couple of times.  We lunched and we dined–our companions ever changing, which added to the highlights.

c-16th Street, Denver

In historic terms, 16th is such a blend, though leans more toward the modern than so many back East.

c-union station 1

But, history stood tall . . .

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and lit the way toward the future.

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No visit is ever complete without a stop at our favorite bookstore–Tattered Cover.

c-aquarium sign

We also made time to learn about the exotic. Or so they seemed to our New England brains.

c-turtle 3 (1)

We viewed an alligator-snapping turtle–a first for us. According to a sign, adult males are known to move very little and in fact, may stay in the same location for up to ten years. There’s a lesson in that, I suppose–about perseverance, which our youngest can certainly attest to.

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We noted the range of scales,

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differing in patterns and . . .

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size. Those pointed to another lesson about diversity among people and their outer skins that shield inner experiences.

c-spider 1 (1)

While some displays denoted hairy situations,

c-starfish and tropical fish

others demonstrated the creativity that can overcome.

c-starfish 2

There were times when the world looked best from an upside-down position,

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but in the end, stardom ruled.

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So did rays of another sort, who flapped their “wings” in forward motion.

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And then there was the whisperer . . .

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who patiently encouraged slow movement . . .

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rewarded with a gentle stroke.

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In the end, we had our favorites. The sting rays and the king of them all–a least expected resident in the aquarium, a Sumatran Tiger.

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And jellyfish! Bioluminescent sea nettles–the fireflies of the aquatic world. (Memories swam through my mind of glowing night swims in my own youth.)

c-before the grads enter

But our main reason for heading west was to watch Folsom Stadium fill up.

c-the stage is set

The stage was set and bag pipes tuned.

c-grads entering

Ever so slowly, soon-to-be graduates marched in.

c-college of arts and sciences sign

We were most interested in the College of Arts and Sciences.

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When I sent a text message asking, “Where are you?” I received this response: “I’m sitting down and wearing black.” Ah, that boy! Or young man, I should say.

c-where's waldo? he's here!

But, he could not escape his mother’s eye and she found him in the sea of Waldos. Or rather, Buffs. (Have fun looking.)

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A couple of hours and sunshine later, degrees were conferred and tassels moved over.

c-congrats from cousin

But then, a second ceremony for each school, and this for film studies, where his cousin from Denver (and also a CU grad) joined us and offered congratulations.

c-receiving his diploma

After speeches and honors, at last the diplomas were awarded.

c-it's official

And in the wink of an eye, he was done. Fini.

c-our grad

Our grad tolerated his mom–as the sun shone brilliantly.

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We all gave thanks for Pat’s achievements, from Hannah and Shep, to cousin Christian, our grad Pat, and my guy.

c-congrats class of 2017

The signs . . .

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said . . .

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it all.

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He did it. And our smiles beamed for our wonder-ful son. Forever a Buff. Congratulations to Pat on your CU Boulder degree. Best. Mother’s. Day. Gift. Ever.