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.