Ides Bog'ling: Beware. Be present. Be still.

When the world goes haywire, the perfect antidote is a day spent outside soaking up the sights and sounds and sun and most of all, fresh air.

Today, that spot offered so many sights including Mount Washington’s snowy covering in the great beyond.

And Pleasant Mountain’s ridgeline at a closer range.

But the sights also included selections much smaller such as Buttonbush’s winter structure–offering a half globe rather than the full orb of its summer form.

And Rhodora giving off its own glow as with buds and flower structures waiting in the wings.

What’s not to love about an infusion of color to the late winter/almost spring landscape.

Speckled Alders, their male catkins growing long below the females, also bespoke the season on the horizon.

Having developed last summer, the males are slender spikes of tightly appressed scales. Above, the females are more bud-like in manner. Both persist throughout the winter and soon will bloom before summer leaves appear.

While new buds showed off their reddish faces, last year’s alder “cones” remained woody in form. Not truly cones for those grow only on conifers, there is a strong resemblance. Thankfully, Mary Holland of Naturally Curious explains the difference best: “Angiosperms, or flowering plants such as Speckled Alder, produce seeds that are enclosed within a covering (the ovary), whereas gymnosperms (conifers) have un-enclosed or “naked” seeds. Alder “cones” open to release seeds in a manner similar to many conifer cones and, like most cones, do not disintegrate immediately after maturity. Female flowers/catkins of Speckled Alder, if fertilized, will develop into ‘cones.‘”

That said, there were some of last year’s structures that showed off a much different form. It was almost like they had tried to flower. In reality, they were Alder Tongue Galls–resulting from a fungus rather than an insect infecting the female catkins.

Other sights included Morse Code representations of the dot dot dash work created by Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers upon many a birch.

I traveled this day with a friend and in our quest to clean out the innermost recesses of our lungs, we walked across ice, snow, mud and through water. it was totally worth the effort to get to the other side.

For on the other side, we encountered Maleberry shrubs with ornaments of a different kind.

Each had been sculpted in a unique manner, but we suspected all resulted from the same creator.

Our best guess, after opening one or two, was that some insect had created a home in the Maleberry leaves last fall but once again, we were stymied by a new learning and suspect the lesson hasn’t ended yet.

As our journey continued, we suddenly found ourselves in the presence of wind dancers for so did the marsescent White Oak leaves appear.

On the ground we found a comparative study between the White and Red Oak leaves, their lobes and colors bespeaking their individuality.

And upon some of the White’s saplings, another gall of this place–Oak Marble Gall. Growing in clusters on twigs, they turn brown in maturity and their emergence holes show the site of escape for mature adults who flew out in the fall. They are also called oak nuts.

Today’s sights included the landscape and its flora, birds of the trees such as nuthatches and chickadees, plus those of the water including woodducks, and sky birds like two eagles we watched circle higher and higher until they escaped our view. We also found bobcat and coyote scat. And then in some mud, signs left behind by others such as the raccoon’s close-toed prints.

Among the raccoon track, there were also plenty of bird prints that we suspected belonged to crows.

And in the water beyond, a rather active beaver lodge.

On this day, my friend and I slipped away into the land beyond known locally as Brownfield Bog, where we at times were boggled by the offering of this Ides of March. Beware. Be still. Be present. It’s the best way to be. Be.

To Pause and Focus

I had no idea what to expect of today’s tramp with two friends as I didn’t even know prior to this afternoon that the trail we would walk even existed. And so I pulled in to the parking area at the end of Meetinghouse Road in Conway, New Hampshire, sure that we’d only be able to walk down to the Saco River about a hundred feet away and that would be the extent of our adventure.

1-Conway Rec Path

But . . .  much to my pleasant surprise I was wrong and in the northeastern corner of the parking lot we crossed a bridge into the unexpected setting.

2-Saco River framed

For the entire journey, we walked above and beside the Saco River. And our minds were awed by the frames through which we viewed the flowing water and boulders.

3-clear view of the Saco River

Occasionally, our view was clear and colorful, the colors now more pastel than a week ago.

5-witch hazel, understory

Even as the colors have begun to wane and leaves fall, we looked up from our spot below the under and upper stories and sighed.

4-Witch Hazel

For much of the time, we were wowed by the Witch Hazel’s flowers–for so thick were they on many a twig.

4a-witch hazel flowers

In fact, if one didn’t pause to notice, you might think that each flower featured a bunch of ribbons, but really, four was the count over and over again.

4b-witch hazel flowers, leaf:bundle scars

And some were much more crinkly than others. One of my other favorites about this shot is the scar left behind by a recently dropped leaf. Do you see the dark smile at the base of the woody yet hairy flower petiole? And the dots within that represented the bundles where water and nutrients passed between leaf and woody structure?

6-spotted wintergreen

And then one among us who is known for her eagle eyes spied a Spotted Wintergreen, Chimaphila maculata, a name that has always made us wonder for its dark green leathery leaves seem far more stripped than spotted. It’s one of those plants with a bunch of common names and so we should try another one on: spotted wintergreen; striped prince’s pine; striped wintergreen; striped pipsissewa; spotted pipissewa; and pipissewa. But perhaps the fact that it’s striped and referred to as spotted helps me to remember its name each time we meet. A sign of how my brain works.

7-spotted wintergreen patch

While we know it to be rare and endangered in Maine, it grew abundantly under the pines on the slight slope beside the river in New Hampshire, and we rejoiced.

8-spotted wintergreen capsules

Its newer capsules were green, but a few of last year’s woody structures also graced the forest floor. Reseeding helps the plant propagate, but it also spreads through its rhizomes.

9-maple-leaf viburnum

Everywhere we looked there was a different sight to focus our lenses and we took photo upon photo of the variations in color of some like Mapleleaf Viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium), a shrub with three-lobed maple-like leaves and small white flowers in the spring that form blue fruits in the early fall and had been consumed, only their stems left to tell the story.

10-red maple leaves

Red Maple (Acer rubrum) leaning over the river offered their own hues that bespoke autumn.

16-platter sized mushrooms

And tucked into a fungi bowl, we found the yellow form of Sugar Maples (Acer saccharum). 

11-Saco River with Moat Mountains in background

Onward we continued with the river to our left, outlined with maples and evergreens, and backdropped by the Moat Mountains.

12-small pond stained glass window

And to our right, a small pond where trees in the foreground helped create a stained glass effect filled with autumn’s display.

13-reflection

And once again, in the pond’s quiet waters reflections filled our souls.

14-turn around trespass

A wee bit further, we trespassed onto private land, and decided to make that our turn-around point as we got our bearings via GPS.

15-trail

Backtracking was as enjoyable as our forward motion. We had been on a trail called the Conway Rec Path, part of the Mount Washington Valley Rec Path, intended for walking, running, biking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, bird watching, wildflower viewing , tree study, plus river and mountain views. Kennett High School athletes ran past us and we encountered couples out for exercise. None took their time as we did, but that’s our way and occasionally we ventured off trail because something caught our eye.

9-rock carvings match the waves

Meanwhile, the river continued to flow, as it has for almost ever, and the water continued to carve patterns yet to be seen, but we enjoyed those that reflected its action.

17-old silver maple

Back at the parking lot, we were wowed by a Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum), its girth suggesting an age older than a century.

18-silver maple buds

As had been the case all along the way, we experienced another wow moment when we realized how developed were the flower and leaf buds already. We know they form in the summer, but . . . they looked ready to pop!

19-white-throated sparrow

As we stood and admired, a flock of Juncos and White-throated Sparrows flew from one spot to the next as they sought seeds on the ground. Occasionally, the sparrows paused for a moment.

20-2 white-throated sparrows

And then moved on again.

21-Eagle over Moose Pond

At last it was time for us to move on as well and head for home, my friends’ to their mountainside abode in New Hampshire and me to my humble house on the other side of the Moose Pond Causeway. But as I always do when making the crossing, I looked up.

22-immature Bald Eagle

And was honored by a sighting that pulled me out of my truck. The immature Bald Eagle I’d watched and listened to all summer graced me with another opportunity to view it.

One scene after another, it was a delightful autumn afternoon. Thanks P&B, for the sharing a new trail with me and providing many moments to pause and focus.

A “Fen-tastic” Afternoon

I was on a reconnaissance mission this afternoon for next week I’m leading some middle school students into a wetland and talking about forest ecology before sharing the joy of foraging with them.

1-Into the jungle

To reach the wetland, it was like walking through a jungle where the ferns grow tall, their fall coloration enhancing the scene. Cinnamon Ferns are a species that easily grow in medium to wet soils in part shade to full shade. The moist, rich, acidic soils, I walked through were much to their liking.

1a-cinnamon fern

It appeared that they were named for their autumn presentation, but really it refers to the cinnamon-colored fibers found near the frond bases.

1b-hairy underarm

Because they look so similar to their relatives in the Osmundaceae family, the Interrupted Fern, I looked to the back of the frond for confirmation. Sure enough, where the pinnae (leaflet) met the rachis (center stem), a tuft that we refer to as the hairy underarm was present.

2-kettle

Onward I continued, not sure what the moisture situation might be. So, in the past, I’ve paused by the kettle hole, but never actually entered it. All that changed today and my plan is to take the students into this special place. A kettle hole is a basin created when a large block of glacial ice was left stranded and subsequently melted in place, producing a basin or depression. These basins fill with water up to the depth of their surrounding water table, which currently happens to be rather low.

3-white face meadowhawk

Because the temperature had risen after a damp, chilly start to the day, the meadowhawk dragonflies flew . . . and landed. This one was a White-faced Meadowhawk, aptly named for that face.

4-white face meadowhawk abdomen markings

Its abdomen markings of dark black triangles also help in identification.

4b-autumn meadowhawk dragonfly

Flying in the same airspace where the Autumn Meadowhawks, with their light-colored legs. All other meadowhawks have dark legs.

4c-autumn meadowhawk love

Love was in the air and on the leaf as a pair of Autumns took advantage of the warm weather to canoodle in the sunlight.

4c-dragonfly love everywhere

They weren’t alone.

7-kettle 2

What I learned as I explored was that the kettle was actually a double pot for a second one had formed behind the first. Notice the layered structure of the area from trees on the outer edge to shrubs to grasses and flowers to water.

5-mammal tracks

And everywhere–deer and raccoon tracks crisscrossed through mud and water.

5a-racoon and bird tracks

Bird tracks also joined the mix among the raccoon prints.

6-six-spotted fishing spider

And because I was interested in learning who lived there, I had to pay homage to the six-spotted fishing spider.

8-spatterdock leaves and root

The spider flirted with me as he moved quickly among the spatterdock leaves that sat in the wee bit of water left in the center of the kettle.

9-another kettle

I finally left the kettle only to discover another and again the formation of layers.

10-green teal ducks

The water was a bit deeper and a family of Green Teal Ducks dabbled.

11-bottoms up

Bottoms up!

12-my destination

It took some time and steady foot placement as I climbed over downed trees hidden by winterberry and other shrubs, but at last I reached my intended destination, a cranberry bog.

13-cranberries

And then I spent the next hour or so filling my satchel for so abundant were the little gems of tartness. The best where those hidden among the leaves–dark red and firm were they.

14-some nibbled cranberries

As I picked, I realized I wasn’t the only one foraging. It appeared that either chipmunks or squirrels also knew the value of the flavor–though they only nibbled.

15-October colors layered

Occasionally, or even more often, I looked up to take in the colors and layers that surrounded me–from leatherleaf bronze to blueberry red to Gray Birch and Red and Silver Maples with a few White Pines in the mix.

16-buttonbush

Buttonbush added its own color and texture to the scene.

17-finding my way out

At last I decided to find my way out. (Sorta for I did get a wee bit disoriented.)

18-royal fern fertile fronds

Among the offerings were ferns of a different kind–though still related to the cinnamons I’d seen earlier. The Royal Fern’s fertile crown had months ago shared its spores with the world and all that was left were salmon-colored structures.

21-buttonbush galore, but more

I picked my way carefully and eventually found one of the kettles. And . . . drum roll please . . .

22-two sandhill cranes

two Sandhill Cranes. Others can tell you better than I how long the Sandhills have returned to this area, but it’s been for a while now and some even saw a nesting pair this past summer. My sightings have been few and so it’s always a pleasure.

23-sandhill cranes

I stood still as they moved about and they didn’t seem to notice my presence.

24-sandhill cranes

While they foraged for roots, another also watched.

25-great blue heron

The Great Blue Heron was cautious as they strolled in his direction.

29-bald eagle

And then . . . and then . . . in flew a Bald Eagle. And out flew the heron.

30-cranes flew out

The cranes waited a couple of minutes and then they flew, bugling on the wing.

And I rejoiced. Oh, I still had to find my way out and did eventually cross through a property about a quarter mile from where I’d started. But, all in all from kettles to cranberries to birds, it was a Fen-tastic afternoon as I explored an outlet fen.

 

Speaking to the Future, Jinny Mae

As a kid, science and history eluded me. Reading, and writing, and even, ‘rithmitic, I embraced. Well, only a wee bit of the latter, though my father thought my abilities were far greater than they were and he saw a bank position in my future. He was the mathematician. It wasn’t a subject for me to pursue. And so I became an English teacher.

And then one day I woke up and found I’d developed an interest in the how and why and the science of stuff. Added to that was a desire to know more about the past. And voila, here I am, some days spending way too many hours pursuing insects in the garden or bark on tree or dragonflies buzzing about. Other days, its following trails of yore and trying to understand the lay of the land and those who came before that interests me. My favorite days are probably those that find me pursuing the two subjects simultaneously.

1-Ambush Bug on Hydrangea

Today, I devoted spurts of time to a hydrangea bush that we rescued from a shady spot in our yard about fifteen years ago and transplanted to a sunny spot. What once was a dying shrub that rarely produced more than one flower is now a healthy specimen laden with blooms. And the insects love it.

My biggest surprise, however, was to find an Ambush Bug sitting atop one of the newly opened white flower petals. For the first time since I’ve been paying attention, the bug was on something other than a goldenrod and I could truly see its body. I’ve always thought it exhibited a hint of a smile, and do believe I’m correct.

An Ambush Bug is my “iguana” insect for its body structure always brings to mind a neighbor’s iguana that got loose one day and never was spied again when we were kids. (Or was it? Didn’t we find a dead iguana on the old dump road, Kate and Lynn? Was that Rob’s lizard?) Anyway, I think the Ambush Bug resembles an iguana, on a much smaller scale, of course. MUCH smaller.

2-Ambush Bug

Seeing the bug on the white petals really threw me for a loop. Why was it there? What would it ever find to eat? The pollinators no longer bothered with the shrub on which it stood. They’d moved on to the goldenrods and asters below.

And how could this insect behave as one who ambushes when it was hardly camouflaged on the white petal? It must have questioned the same (if Ambush Bugs can question) for it turned this way, then that, and back again, and then moved from petal to petal and flower to flower. Usually, it hardly seems to flex a muscle as it remains in one spot for hours or days on end.

3-eye to eye with Ambush Bug

We studied each other, eye to eye, or perhaps more correctly, lens to lens, until I blinked and it flew off. I trust it landed on a nearby goldenrod, where a meal wasn’t too long in the making.

4-Tiger Moth Caterpillar

Just after the Ambush Bug and I parted ways, I noticed a subtle movement below and watched a tiger moth caterpillar that reminded me of a soft boa scarf one might wrap around a neck quickly slither down another flower on the shrub until . . .  it reached the edge of the final petal and fell to the ground, climbed up a fern frond, found its way back to the shrub and moved on to the world within.

7-grasshopper 1

I was beginning to think that all of the insects on the hydrangea would move on or in, but then I met the Red-legged Grasshopper. He set his elbow on the leaf bar and we consulted each other. Would he fly away if I moved into his personal space, I wondered. He wanted to know why I stalked him.

8-red-legged grasshopper

I mentioned his body of armor and the herring bone design and the leg joints and the spurs on its legs that drew my awe.

9-grasshopper

As a solo traveler, I knew it didn’t appreciate that I wanted to share the space. But, I couldn’t resist. Notice its feet and the segments on its abdomen and even the veins in its wings. Did I mention its mandibles?

10-caterpillar scat

As it turned out, there may have been a reason it wanted to be alone, but I was there. To. Witness. The. Poop. A blessed moment. It would have been more of a blessed moment had it pooped on me. Oh, and did I mention that grasshopper poop, like all insect poop, isn’t called scat. Rather, it is frass. Thanks go to Dr. Michael Stastny, Forest Insect Ecologist in New Brunswick, Canada for reminding me of that term. Cheers Mike.

14-shield bug

Another moving about was a shield bug, so named for the shield on its back. It does make me think of a piece of metal one might use as protection. Combine the shield with the grasshopper’s suit of armor and you might think you were spending time in an earlier era. Much earlier.

15-shield bug

But this shield bug didn’t care about the Middle Ages. Instead, it had one thing on its little mind.

12a-shield bug eggs?

Depositing eggs.

13-shield bug eggs?

Its offering was almost minute, yet pearl-like in structure.

16-wasp within

The world I watched on the outside of the hydrangea made me wonder what might possibly go on within. As much as I wanted to break through the branches and take a better look, I knew I’d ruin everything and after all, it wasn’t my place. I did, however, get to witness one moving about briefly for a paper wasp left the goldenrods and heading under the hydrangea leaves to move the pollen about on its body. Why did it go under? Why not pause atop a leaf for such behavior? And how did it escape the inner world without . . .

16a-spider web

encountering a spider web? Funnel spiders had practically veiled the entire shrub with their silken structures.

16b-web anchors

Though anchored with strength, they were extremely soft to the touch.

17-spiders

As the day progressed, I kept tabs on three funnel spiders, the mighty weavers that they were. All were wary of daylight.

18-food in front

But one had set up its home on the eastern side of the shrub and so it spent the day in the shade and enjoyed fine dining on a small bee that I assume made a mistake of pausing while shifting some pollen on its body.

19-dining

There wasn’t much left of it by the time this spider had finished its meal.

21-dinner in hand

Later in the day, a web weaver on the western side began to show itself–and it also had a meal secured.

All of the insects and arachnids I saw, and I had to assume even more enjoyed the inner structure of the condo that the shrub certainly was, all spoke not to the past, but to the future.

And with that, I dedicate this blog entry to you, Jinny Mae. You have a better eye and understanding and ask better questions than I ever will. Here’s to the future!

Wondering With Jinny Mae

It takes us forever and we like it that way. In fact, today a woman who saw us in our typical slo-mo movement commented, “It’s like you’re on a meditative walk. I always move quickly and miss so much.” Indeed we were and when I travel beside Jinny Mae there isn’t much we don’t see. But always, we’re sure that we’ve moved too quickly and missed something. Then again, we realize that whatever it was that we accidentally passed by this time may offer us a second chance the next time.

1-winterberry

Today’s wonder began with the realization that winterberry holly or Ilex verticillata, grew abundantly where we chose to travel. This native shrub will eventually lose its leaves, but the plentiful berries will last for a while–until they’ve softened considerably that is and then the birds will come a’calling.

2-winterberry

Everywhere we turned, or so it seemed, we found them ranging in color from spring green to shades of red. As summer turns to autumn, the leaves will yellow and eventually fall.

3-winterberry

And then the brightly colored berries that cling to every stem will add color where it’s otherwise lacking in the landscape.

4-winterberry

Even while the leaves still held fast, we found some brightly colored berries that offered a breathtaking view.

5-to Muddy River

We passed through numerous natural communities, tiptoeing at times, such as on the boardwalks, for we didn’t want to disturb the wildlife around us–no matter what form it took.

9-dragonfly attachment

And we rejoiced in spying a cherry-faced meadowhawk couple in their pre-canoodling mode. Can you see how he has used his cerci to clasp the back of her head? His hope is that he can get her to connect in the wheel position and they’ll take off into the safety of the nearby shrubbery to mate.

6-Muddy River

At the river, we began to notice other signs that we’ve once again entered a transition between seasons, for subtle were the colors before us.

7-beaver lodge

Across the river and just north of where we stood, we spotted an old lodge, but weren’t sure anyone was in residence for it didn’t seem like work was being done to prepare for winter. Then again, we haven’t done anything to prepare either, for though the temperature has suddenly shifted from stifling to comfortable (and possibly near freezing tonight), it’s still summer in Maine. And we’re not quite ready to let go.

17-Sheep Laurel

That being said, we found a most confusing sight. Sheep laurel grew prolifically in this place and we could see the fruits had formed from this past spring’s flowers and dangled below the new leaves like bells stringed together.

18- sheep laurel flowering in September

Then again, maybe it wasn’t all that odd that it still bloomed for when I got home I read that it blooms late spring to late summer. I guess we’ve just always noticed it in late spring and assumed that was the end of its flowering season. But then again, it appeared that this particular plant had already bloomed earlier in the season and produced fruit, so why a second bloom? Is that normal?

10-pitcherplant 1

As we continued on, we started to look for another old favorite that we like to honor each time we visit. No matter how often we see them, we stand and squat in awe of the carnivorous pitcher plants.

11-pitcher plant 2

But today, we were a bit disturbed for one that we’ve admired for years on end looked like it was drying up and dying. In fact, the location is typically wet, but not this year given the moderate drought we’ve been experiencing in western Maine. What would that mean for the pitcher plant?

13-pitcher plant flower

Even the flower pod of that particular one didn’t look like it had any life-giving advice to share in the future.

14-Pitcher Plant 4

Fortunately, further on we found others that seemed healthy, though even the sphagnum moss that surrounded them had dried out.

14a-pitcher plant

Their pitcher-like leaves were full of water and we hoped that they had found nourishment via many an insect. Not only do I love the scaly hairs that draw the insects in much like a runway and then deter them from exiting, but also the red venation against the green for the veins remind me of trees, their branches spreading rather like the tree of life. Or maybe a stained glass window. Or . . . or . . . we all have our own interpretations and that’s what makes life interesting.

15-pitcher plant flower 2

Speaking of interesting, the structure of the pitcher plant flower is one we revere whenever we see it because it’s so otherworldly in form. And this one . . . no the photo isn’t sideways, but the flower certainly was. If you scroll up two photos, you’ll see it as it grew among the leaves. The curious thing is that it was sideways. Typically in this locale, Jinny Mae and I spy many pitcher plant flowers standing tall. Today, we had to squint to find any.

16-pitcher flower and aster

She found the sideways presentation and this one. But that was it. Because of the drought? Or were we just not cueing in to them?

20-cinnamon fern

We did cue in to plenty of other striking sights like the light on a cinnamon fern that featured a contrast of green blades and brown.

21-cinnamon fern drying up

Again, whether the brown spoke of drought or the transition to autumn, we didn’t know. But we loved its arching form dramatically reflected in each pinna.

18a-swamp maple

But here’s another curious thing we noted. We were in a red maple swamp that is often the first place where the foliage shows off its fall colors and while some in other locales have started to turn red, only the occasional one in this place had done so. Our brains were totally confused. Sheep laurel blooming for a second time; pitcher plants drying up and dying; and few red maples yet displaying red leaves?

19-witch's caps or candy corn

We needed something normal to focus on. And so we looked at the candy corn we found along the trail. Some know them as witch’s caps. They are actually witch hazel cone galls caused by an aphid that doesn’t appear to harm the plant. It is a rather cool malformation.

24-white-faced meadowhawk

On a boardwalk again, we stepped slowly because the white-faced meadowhawk kept us company and we didn’t want to startle it into flight.

25-white-faced meadowhawk dining

One flew in with dinner in its mouth and though I couldn’t get a photo face on before it flew to another spot to dine in peace, if you look closely, you might see the green bug dangling from its mouth.

26-New York Aster

All round us grew asters including New York, water-horehound, cranberries, bog rosemary and so many others.

27-Virginia marsh-St. John's Wort

There was Virginia marsh St. John’s Wort,

28-fragrant water lily

fragrant water lilies,

28-jewelweed

jewelweed,

29-pilewort globe

and even pilewort to admire. The latter is so much prettier in its seed stage than flowering. Why is that we wondered.

30-Holt Pond Quaking Bog

Ahhhh, an afternoon of wondering . . . with Jinny Mae. At LEA’s Holt Pond Preserve. In Bridgton. An afternoon well spent. Thanks JM.

 

 

 

 

 

Filling Our Buckets Mondate

Our day began with a journey to Green Thumb Farms in western Maine because we were curious about their native blueberry sod. We had hoped to see some, but that wasn’t to be and instead we were given a contact number for a sales rep. Our hope is to purchase a couple of pallets worth and use it as one more filter system at our camp in our continuing efforts to protect water quality. We recently learned that we qualified for a LakeSmart Award, but don’t want that to stop us from finding other ways to create a more lake-friendly property. Stay tuned on the sod because once we figure that out, it will be a story worth telling.

1-lunch spot, Eaton Village Store

From Green Thumb Farms we zigged and zagged along the back roads until we reached Eaton, New Hampshire. Lunch awaited at the Eaton Village Store on Route 153. Inside, one wall is covered with mailboxes and the post office. Grocery and gifty items are displayed in an aisle or two. And then there’s the lunch counter and a few tables for the eatery. A most pleasant eatery. The menu is simple, food fresh, and all served with a smile and conversation.

2-falling snow sign

Oh, and one more thing. They are eternal optimists! Or procrastinators like me. Heck, eventually there will be falling snow to watch for again.

3-Foss Mtn Trail

After lunch, we zigged and zagged again, winding our way up a road we once remember sliding down–in the winter on our bellies with our eight and ten year old sons in tow. Our destination today was much easier, though I did put the truck into four-wheel-drive to reach the trailhead parking lot for Foss Mountain. I’d told my guy about the blueberries and views and neither of us gave a thought to today’s weather for in the newspaper the forecast predicted it to be “rather” cloudy, “rather” being a rather unscientific term. It turned out to be more than “rather.” And raindrops fell, but still we went.

4-Foss Mtn Map

We examined the sign and my guy was thrilled with the possibilities.

6a-no picking

Some fields, however, were closed to public picking for a private operation leased those from the town.

5-Ryan Bushnell Blueberry Operation

Off to the side, we spied their sorting machines. Note the blueberry color of the equipment.

6-blueberry envy

And the abundance of blueberries.

7-hands in pockets

After testing a sample to make sure they were acceptable for human consumption, my guy stuck his hands in his pockets to avoid further temptation.

8-Joe Pye Weed all in disarray

Upward we journeyed, following the path of this property that is owned by the Town of Eaton. Along the way, a large patch of Joe Pye Weed shouted for attention, its petals disarrayed much like my own hair on this misty of days.

9-into the fog

The habitat changed and still we climbed–anticipation in every step my guy took at full speed.

10-pick blueberries sign

At the next natural community boundary, where conifers gave way to saplings and undergrowth, my guy rejoiced. At last we’d reached the promised land.

11-my guy disappeared ;-)

And immediately he stepped off the trail to find those tiny blue morsels that bring him such delight.

12-summit fog

While he picked, I headed toward the summit, where a blanket of fog enveloped the view. It didn’t matter, for our focus zeroed in on what was before us rather than being swept up with the beyond.

14-my guy picking

From my place at the top, I could see him below–a mere speck intent on filling his bags to the brim.

15-erratic

I began to look around and felt an aura that made me feel as if I was in Ireland rather than New Hampshire. The fog. The green. The gray. The world disappeared.

16-more colorful eratic

And the world before me opened up.

17-Common goldspeck lichen (Candelariella vitellitta

Like yellow caterpillars that are all the rage right now, Common Goldspeck Lichen inched across the granite face.

18-granite-speck rim lichen

Beside it, Granite-speck Rim Lichen stood out like tiles in a mosaic work of art.

19-fog danced across ridge

Meanwhile, the fog danced across the ridgeline, twirling and whirling in a ghostly quiet manner, its transparent gowns touching the ground ever so tenderly before lifting into the next move.

19-my guy picked some more

And my guy found a new location and picked some more.

15-steeplebush

My attention turned to the Steeplebush, a spirea that grew abundantly at the summit, its flowers of pink offering a tiny splash of color to brighten any day.

25-American Copper Butterfly

The American Copper Butterfly and a bumblebee also found the Steeplebush much to their liking.

26-American Copper

And I, I couldn’t pull my eyes away from admiring this tiny butterfly and its beautiful markings.

28-American Copper Butterfly

From every angle that it posed while seeking nectar, I stood in awe–those striped antennae, giant black eyes, copper-silver color, and hairy scaled wings.

21-chipmunk

And then there was another, which I thought was a bird when I first heard it scamper out of the bushes.

22-chippie eating berries

But Chippie soon made himself known and I discovered that he, too, sought those little morsels so blue. Competition for my guy.

23-fog lifts a bit

Ever so slowly, the fog lifted a bit and even the sun tried to poke through for a moment or two. Still, my guy picked–somewhere. I couldn’t always see him, but trusted he was in the great beyond.

24-cedar waxwings

Much closer to me, three Cedar Waxwings circled the summit over and over again in a counter-clockwise pattern. Thankfully, they also paused, eyeing the potential for their own berry picking sights from the saplings on which they perched.

24-cedar wax wing bad hair day

I fell in love . . . with their range of colors:  cinnamon, black, gray, brown, red, yellow, and white. And the bad-hair day tufts, for like the Joe Pye Weed, the Cedar Waxwings and I also shared a resemblance.

29-My guy finishing up

At last my guy finished up, though not before standing on a yonder piece of granite, looking west and calling for me. “I’m up here, behind you,” I shouted softly into an almost silent world, where the only sounds came from cicadas and crickets and occasionally the Cedar Waxwings.

30-blueberry caterpillars

As we made our way down, he stopped again for about a half hour to pick some more in a spot he’d noted on the way up. And I looked around, discovering other blueberry lovers among us–Yellow-necked Moth Caterpillars were slowly stripping some bushes of their greenery.

35-blueberries!

At last we passed by the forbidden fields, where my guy later confessed he felt like we were in Eden.

31-Burnt Meadow Blueberries in operation

Ryan Bushnell of Burnt Meadow Blueberries was at work, raking and sorting the sweet morsels of blue.

32-Blueberries!

It was his business to make sure each pint would be filled by day’s end.

33-Filling the buckets

We wanted to chat with him more about the operation, but he was intent upon working and so after the initial greeting and a few more words, we knew it was time to move on. Mr. Bushnell’s buckets would be filled over and over again. (And I suspected that upon seeing this operation, my guy, should he ever decide to retire from his hardware business, may just ask to work in the field–the blueberry field.)

Our buckets were full as well–for my guy, it was bags of blueberries to freeze for future consumption. For me, it was all that I saw as I poked about the summit, thankful that I wasn’t distracted by the 360˚ view. We did indeed fill our buckets on this Mondate.

 

Taking Flight

Morning had broken . . .

h1-morning has broken

and Pleasant Mountain’s reflection marked a new day.

h2-variable dancers conducting variable dance

New life was also in the making as the Variable Dancer Damselflies practiced the fine art of canoodling. I’d never noticed an oviposition aggregation before, but it made sense if it minimized the threats a couple receives from unattached males. Plus, if the spot was good enough for one pair to lay their eggs, then it must be fine for another. And so I learned something new today.

h3-slaty skimmer

Perhaps it also cut down on predation, though I couldn’t stay long enough to note if the Slaty Skimmer that hung out above turned either pair into breakfast. If so, I hope they at least had a chance to leave their deposits.

h4-Hemlock covered bridge

That was my morning view, but I changed it up a bit this afternoon and darted across the Hemlock Covered Bridge that spans the Old Course of the Saco River in Fryeburg. Built in 1857 of Paddleford truss construction with supporting laminated wooden arches, the bridge is a quaint and charming reminder of days gone by.

h5-bridge

Though reinforced in 1988 so you can drive across, it’s even more fun to glide while admiring the work of our forefathers and . . .

h8-water low

peer out a window at the river from Maine’s oldest remaining covered bridge.

h6-LOVE

The handiwork of more recent travelers . . .

h7-love lasts forever

was also clearly visible.

h9-river jewelwing-female, white dots in sync

Down by the Old Course, I spotted a female River Jewelwing, the white dots on its four wings showing off in the day’s light. Just prior, a few sprinkles had fallen and one teeny droplet rolled down her thorax. A few even teenier ones clung to her legs.

h10-Hemlock Covered Bridge

With one more look back to reflect upon the bridge, I was then ready to set sail again.

h11-Mt. Kearsarge

Heading toward Frog Alley, the view across the fields included Mount Kearsarge amid the summer haze that had developed.

h18-Mount Tom

Mount Tom was more clearly visible for it was so much closer.

h12-Dianthus armeria, Deptford pink

But what I really stopped to look at where those things closer to the ground, like the brilliant pink Dianthus with their petals all spotted and toothed at the tips.

h14-bindweed

Offering a lighter hue of pink, a bindweed twined its way through the roadside wildflowers.

h13-honeybee on milkweed

Also with shades of pink and the yellow complexion of those flowers already pollinated, milkweed was in full bloom and the ants and some flies were making the rounds, but I only saw one honeybee taking advantage of the sweet nectar. It reminded me that the same was true on the milkweed growing in my garden where, at most, I’ve seen four honeybees rather than the usual swarms.

h17-sulphur cinquefoil

And then there was the subtle yellow of the Sulphur Cinquefoil showing off its cheery face despite a few tear drops. Actually, it may have cried for only a few drops had fallen from the sky and we really do need a soaking rain.

h16-clouded sulphur butterfly

As if taking a cue from the cinquefoil, Clouded Sulphur butterflies flitted and danced along the road.

h16- clouded sulphurs puddling

And then I realized that they kept gathering in groups. It’s a form I’d read about but never observed before–puddling. This was a male habit and apparently their intention was to suck nutrients from the wet ground. I guess even a few raindrops served the purpose.

h15-dragonhunter

Before I moved on again, my heart was still as more yellow entered the scene in the form of a striped thorax and I realized I was watching a Dragonhunter Dragonfly. Though it wasn’t so easy to see the tip of tail once it landed, as it flew about in my vicinity it kept its abdomen curved down–a habit of these big guys.

h29-Fryeburg Bog

The Fryeburg Bog was my next landing and though I didn’t head out to the water that was more like an over-sized puddle, I found plenty to focus on.

h19-buttonbush

For starters, the Buttonbush had begun to bloom and I loved its otherworldly presentation.

h21-frosted whiteface

It was there that I saw the smallest of dragons, in the form of the Frosted Whiteface.

h22-frosted whiteface

At most, he was about 1.5 inches long–quite probably the smallest of the species that I know.

h20-ruby meadowhawk

It was there that I also spotted my first Ruby Meadowhawk of this year.

h23-ruby meadowhawks canoodling

And then there were two! And in the future, obviously, there will be more.

h23--late afternoon snack

And finally, it was there that I noticed a Song Sparrow had nabbed a butterfly snack–all part of the circle of life.

h30-Smarts Hill

My final stop on today’s journey was at Popple Hill Brook along Smarts Hill Road in Sweden.

h25-variable dancer

And like the Variable Dancers I’d seen this morning, I found many more beside the brook. Not only was the male’s purple coloring stunning, but notice those silvery legs.

h26-variable dancers canoodling

Of course, where there is more than one dragonfly or damselfly, there is love.

h27-variable dancers canoodling

As my tour began, it ended–with the Variables dancing to their heart song.

h28

And with that, I flew back to camp, where the mountain’s reflection was conducting its own dance routine as the sun began to slip toward the horizon.

h31-rainbow

And a few more raindrops produced a rainbow in the eastern sky.

Thanks for taking flight with me on this wonder-filled wander and soaring above some of the areas that are so unique and yet we tend to overlook them.

 

 

 

 

Flying With John A. Segur

I never had the honor of meeting Mr. Segur, but it was my honor to be his eyes for a short time today as I wandered down the short trail off New Road in Lovell at the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s John A. Segur Wildlife Refuge. Upon his death, a bequest in his name was left to the land trust to preserve habitat for native wildlife to thrive.

The JAS Wildlife Refuge actually encompasses 592 acres and I only explored the .3 mile trail on the western section of the property, but on an extremely hot summer day my finds were enough. Follow me and I think you’ll see what I mean.

j1-Across from the sign and telephone pole

First off, you need to locate the small undefined parking lot. It’s about a mile beyond Foxboro Road, but I don’t pay attention to that. Rather, I look for the “No Thru Trucks” sign and turn on my left-hand blinker as soon as I spot it.

j2-trail and kiosk

Just beyond a couple of boulders placed to keep vehicles from driving down the old skidder trail, stands the kiosk where you can take a look at the trail map and check out some other GLLT materials.

j3-map

As I said, this is just a small part of the overall refuge, but it’s well worth an exploration, especially if you don’t have much time (though some of us have been known to spend at least three hours making our way down and back).

j3a-the trail mowed

Recently, the GLLT’s Associate Team and Intern mowed the trail, making it passable and not quite so tick-infested. But . . . still take precautions. Always! The trail is rather level, so it’s an easy one to travel.

j4-daisy and crab spider

This is a place where you’ll find the ordinary, like a daisy. And trying to decide if “he loves me, he loves me not,” you might see a small crab spider.

j5-sundews

This is also the land of the extraordinary–in the form of the carnivorous Round-leaved Sundews. Check out the glistening droplets at the ends of the hair-like tendrils that  extend from each round leaf. The droplets are actually quite sticky. Just like a spider sensing a bug on its web, the tendrils detect the presence of prey and then curl inward, thus trapping the prey.  The whole leaf will eventually wrap around the insect and in the process of digesting it, the plant will absorb the bug’s nutrients. Sundews tend to grow in areas that lack sufficient nutrients, so this is the plant’s way of supplementing its diet. And if that wasn’t enough–it was just plain beautiful.

All that being said, this is a tiny plant and right now preparing to flower. So, if you travel this way, about a tenth of a mile into your journey, look down at your feet for these minute gems, take a closer look, and then walk with care.

j6-sweet-fern

Further along the trail you’ll see a few species of ferns, as well as the fern that isn’t a fern. Sweet-fern is so named for it’s fern-like appearance, but it has a woody stem and is actually a shrub. It’s yellowish green flowers that first appeared in spring were giving way to greenish brown, burr-like nutlets. In any season, this shrub has such variation to offer, that like hobblebush, I can’t resist honoring it with a million photographs.

j8-raspberries

One of the sweet joys of this trail is that because of previous logging, early succession is taking place in terms of the plants and trees that grow beside the trail, including blackberries not quite ripe and these raspberries already offering a delightful reprieve on a humid summer day.

j14-the field

Eventually, the trail leads to the turn-around point, the old log landing, which also displayed signs of forest succession, for its there that some wildflowers and sweet-ferns grow in the center. At the perimeter, white pines, gray birch and blackberries crowd each other.

j10-four-spotted with food

And on the edge, the dragonflies fly. And dine. This Four-spotted Dragonfly settled on a dead red pine to consume an insect.

j11-4 spotted eating

Ever so slowly . . .

j12-feeding frenzy

the body disappeared into its mouth.

j13-4 spotted, back view

While it was busy eating, I was busied myself in getting as close as possible to enjoy all of its nuances, from the four spots on its wings, to the basal display on the hind wings to the placement of its eyes and colors on its thorax and abdomen. All of those details help in ID.

j15-old coyote scat

And then into the field I went, with a memory of a winter expedition when we noticed that a shrike had deposited a mouse in a tree. Today’s finds included a pile of old coyote scat probably also deposited this past winter that indicated a territory repeatedly marked.

j16-turtle?

I also spied lots of recently made depressions. While one might suspect dust baths by a turkey or grouse, feathers are usually left behind in the process. Instead, the ground was more disturbed and because the landing is close to Bradley Brook, I determined I was looking at recently dug holes made by turtles. Snappers and painted turtles have been depositing eggs recently and these may be the incubation nurseries for their offspring.

j16-racket-tailed emerald

As I turned back toward the trail, I noticed a dragonfly seeking shade, for so hot was it. Notice the bright green eyes of the Racket-tailed Emerald. Thank goodness for those emerald eyes that always help in narrowing down the choices.

j18-common dewberry:sphinx moth

I found it a bit more difficult to ID the sphinx moth that paid a visit to the Dewberries. There are only 1,450 species in the Sphingidae family, but my leaning was toward Nessus Sphinx, though I could be totally off on that one.

j20-Northern-bush Honeysuckle

I was much more confident about my ID of the native Northern-bush Honeysuckle with its greenish-yellowish-orangish flowers. The plant is actually a shrub with a woody stem, and one that moose and deer like. I’ve yet to see a moose print along this piece of the property, but I know its part of a deer yard.

j21-Spotted St. John's-wort

Also springing forth with yellow blossoms was Spotted St. John’s-wort, with its translucent spots on the leaves and tiny black dots outlining its petals.

j22-whorled yellow-loosestrife

And not to be overlooked, the Whorled Yellow-Loosestrife with its cheery flowers extended in a whorl from the stem by long petioles.

j23-hitchiker

My journey wasn’t long, but with all that I saw, I was thankful for the spirit of Mr. Segur that flies over this place.

Just possibly, he graced me with his presence today . . . in the form of Spangled Skimmer.

Beside Browns Pond

One should not work from home for then it is much too easy to do an about face with plans for the day and hit the trail before meeting deadlines. But alas, that is how I found myself on the Chessey Property this morning. It just seemed to make more sense to head out early in the day, rather than wait until the end to reward myself.

c14-map

The 100-acre property Chessey Property was forever protected from development under a conservation easement with the Presumpscot Regional Land Trust. Though I’d passed by numerable times, I had never before ventured that way.

c1-trail sign

And so this morning I decided to rectify that and drove to the trailhead. Actually, I drove past the trailhead, spotted the large cemetery on my left and turned around. The sign was facing in the opposite direction and easy to miss. Because the trail was only a half mile long, I figured it would be a quick trip. Apparently, I don’t know myself very well.

c2-snowshoes

I hadn’t tramped far when I realized I was moving in the opposite direction of one whose ancestors had inspired my own mode of transportation.  The start of the trail is a field in early succession and so it made sense to find snowshoe hare prints crisscrossing the opening.

c3-red fox

But . . . it wasn’t just a hare that had moved atop the snow. The print size and stride told me a red fox had also traveled there–and not too long before I’d arrived. To add to my identification was the chevron visible in the front foot print. Do you see what the arrows indicate?

c4-red fox track

I didn’t follow the track, and so I wasn’t sure if I was looking at prints made by one fox or perhaps two. My gut told me one and that the back foot didn’t always land exactly in the impression of the front.

c5-hare and fox cross tracks

Nor do I know how the story ended–for the fox crossed the hare’s tracks. Did the two ever actually meet?

c12-speckled alder

In the same area I found speckled alder, so named for its bark speckled with pores or lenticels. Its red and maroon catkins grew longer–well, at least the male catkins. The shorter catkins are the females, for alders are monoecious–male and female flowers grow on the same plant. As March gives way to April, the male color will deepen to burgundy, while the females will turn bright red–in full blush.

c13-pussy willows

Another color also caught my attention–pussy willows with their furry little silver flower buds just opening. The soft tufts earned their common name due to their resemblance to tiny kitten paws.

c6-my tracks

All of that, and I hadn’t gone far from my truck. But, by the depth of my impressions, you can see that my travel would be slow for no one had packed the trail before me.

c7-water obstacle

I journeyed on, stopping every ten to twenty steps to look around, listen, and catch my breath. Tracking was almost impossible once I ventured into the forest for snow drops from the trees created their own random impressions. Water obstacles were a bit of a challenge, but I managed to manipulate around all four. And bird song included the throaty caws of Ravens. At one point I heard their powerful wing beats and looked up to see three chasing another bird that I couldn’t identify.

c10-face in the snow

But never fear, though I couldn’t find tracks as I continued, I found plenty of other things to look at, including a tilted snow mask, and . . .

c11-snow art

snow sculptures. How does snow do that? Worth a wonder, indeed.

c8-otter tracks:slide

I’d almost reached the turn around point when I recognized a pattern by my feet and realized an otter had passed that way–probably yesterday based on the state of the slides, prints, and scat. One really cool thing that I learned as I followed its trail was that every once in a while it tunneled under the snow. I don’t know that I’ve ever noted that behavior previously. Most of its tunnels were about ten feet long and then it emerged again to bound and slide.

c9-Browns Pond

At last I turned my attention to the 110-acre pond that opened before me. It’s my understanding that it remains undeveloped–a rare feat in these parts. I wanted to stay and explore, but knew I had to save it for another day because work really did sit at home awaiting my attention. I trust I’ll return in another season when the traveling isn’t quite as difficult, but until then this morning’s moments beside Browns Pond will sustain me.

 

 

 

Brain Share–Naturally

I was thankful I’d thrown my winter coat into the truck for I had a feeling it would be a better choice than a vest given the group I’d be traveling with this morning. And sure enough, though the sun felt warm, a breeze added a chill to the air. Plus, I knew we wouldn’t travel far and would spend much of our time standing around.

r0-life on a rock

Well, not exactly standing, for as Maine Master Naturalists, we’ve been trained to get down for a closer look. Our first stop–to check out the life on a rock that was revealing itself as the snow slowly melted. Karen is on the left, an Augusta grad, and Sarah and Anthony to her right, both South Paris grads.

r0a-polypody

The focus of our attention was common polypody, a fern with leathery leaves and spherical spore clusters on the underside. Rocks are their substrate and they often give a boulder a bad-hair day look.

r1b-speckled alder

Moseying along, we reached a point where we knew we wanted to spend some time–at a wetland beside one of the Range Ponds (pronounced Rang) at Range Pond State Park in Poland, Maine. Because it likes wet feet, we weren’t surprised to find speckled alder growing there, but what did throw us for a loop was the protrusions extending from last year’s cones.

r1a-speckled alder

It was almost like they had tried to flower atop the cones and all we could think of was an insect creating a gall. Indeed, it appeared that the cones were also experiencing a bad hair day. After a little research, it may be alder tongue gall–resulting from a fungus rather than an insect infecting the female catkins. Apparently, the tongue-like growths are green to begin, but transform to orange, red and finally brown. It was certainly a new one for the four of us.

r2a-leatherleaf and sphagnum moss

On we moved down to the wetland where the snow surprisingly held us for most of the journey and we didn’t leave behind too many post holes. Leatherleaf and sphagnum moss showed off their winter hues at our feet.

r4-cranberries

We also spied cranberries hiding underneath.

r3-cranberries among the leatherleaf

And sampled them. A few were tart, while others had fermented.

r1-two lodges

In the middle of the wetland, two well built lodges stood tall. They had fresh wood and had been mudded in the fall. One did look as if the vent hole had been enlarged, so we wondered if anyone still lived there. We heard no noises, but had to assume that we were bothering the residents so we didn’t stay long.

r2-wetland and pond beyond

One last view of the wetland and pond beyond, then we turned and walked toward the opposite side.

r5-bird nest

Just before climbing uphill, we spotted a bird nest in the winterberry shrubs. It was filled with dried berries, and we again made an assumption, that a mouse had cached its stash for the winter and maybe dined there in peace and quiet while the nest was covered in snow. That’s our story and we’re sticking with it. Whose nest it was prior to the mouse? We don’t know, but it was made of twigs. If you have an answer, please enlighten us.

r6-bone

Back up on an old railroad bed, we again stopped frequently, including to talk about the beech scale insect and nectria fungus that moves in and eventually kills the trees. And then something else came to our attention–it wasn’t a broken branch hanging down like an upside-down V on the beech tree. No indeed. It was a bone. A knee bone. And it had been there for quite a while given its appearance.

r7-Introduced Pine Sawfly pupal case

Because Anthony was with us and he’s our insect whiz, we spent a lot of time learning from him–including about the pupal case of an introduced pine sawfly. The sawfly had already pupated and in this case no one was home.

r8-Introduced sawfly pupal case

As the morning went on, we became quite adept at locating more cases of other sawfly species, including one that wasn’t yet opened. We each channeled our ten-year-old selves as we tried to be first to find the next one. But really, Anthony won for he had insect case eyes.

r9-going in for a closer look

And eyes for other things as well.

r10-old spider web case

This time we examined a delicate, almost lacy structure under a branch on a young beech. Anthony suspected a pirate spider, which tickled our fancy for we imagined them raiding the goods of others. But later he e-mailed with another option: “The old spider egg case could also be from an orbweaver of the araneidae family.” Either way, we were happy for the sighting; for taking the time to slow down and notice.

r11-beech leaves

And there was more. Sarah had to leave us a wee bit early, so she missed our finds on the backside of beech leaves.

r12-maroon dots on beech leaves

They were dotted with raised bumps that under our hand lenses reminded us a bit of the sori on common polypody.

r13-maroon dots on beech leaves

Leaf rust? Was it related in any way to the splattering of tiny black dots also on the leaves? We left with questions we haven’t yet answered.

r14-hair on beech leaves

Taking a closer look did, however, remind us of how hairy beech leaves are–do you see the hairs along the main vein? And that reminded us of how the tree works so hard to protect the bud with waxy scales all winter, keeping the harsh conditions at bay. In early spring, slowly the leaves emerge, ever hairy, which strikes me as an adaptation to keep insects at bay, and then . . . and then . . . it seems like every insect finds a reason to love a beech leaf and in no time they’ve been chewed and mined and you name it.

r15-oak gall

We made one more discovery before heading out–a gall formed on oak twigs. Do you see the exit hole? It’s in the shape of a heart–apparently the insect that created the gall loved the oak.

r15-pine tube moth

As we made our way back to the parking lot, I kept searching all the pine trees because I wanted to share an example of the tube created by a pine tube moth. Of course, there were none to be found, but as soon as I arrived home, I headed off into the woods for I knew I could locate some there. Bingo.

Notice how the lumps of needles are stuck together in such a way that they formed a tube. Actually, the tube is a tunnel created by the moth. The moth used silk to bind the needles together, thus forming the hollow tube. And notice the browned tips–that’s due to the larvae feeding on them. Eventually the overwintering larvae will pupate within the tube and emerge in April. Two generations occur each year and those that overwinter are the second generation. Fortunately, they don’t seem to harm the trees–yet.

Three and a half hours later we hadn’t walked a great distance, but our findings and learnings were many and we talked about how we’d added more layers to our understanding. Now if only we can remember everything. Thanks to Karen, Sarah and Anthony for sharing your brains me with–naturally.

P.S. Lewiston MMNP grads, et al, I’ll be in touch. Look for a doodle poll soon so we can get out and do the same. Or if you want to take the initiative, please feel free to go for it.

 

 

 

From wet to sweat

“Will I need waders?” I asked before we departed from the Lakes Environmental Association’s office  early Wednesday morning.

Dr. Rick Van de Poll looked down at my hiking boots and said, “No, you should be okay if you don’t mind getting muddy.”

l1-into the fen

And so, LEA teacher/naturalist Mary Jewett and I joined him to begin a two-day survey of LEA’s Highland Lake Preserve. The 325-acre property was the gift of the David and Carol Hancock Charitable Trust. Except for two logging roads, there are no trails.

Our first destination was in the middle of the fen. OK, so Mary and I should have known better because we know how much it has rained this summer. But really, it was quite hot that morning and our feet did get wet.

In fact, she found a deep hole on the way in.

l1-fen plot

Once reaching the plot, our tasks were several.

l1-flag

We helped delineate the boundary with measuring tape and flagging, the first being 10 meters by 10 meters, and then found the center, thus creating four quarters.

l1-Rick 1

Under Rick’s patient guidance and teaching, we began to survey the site, section by section, while he recorded our findings.

l1-measuring trees

Trees were first and needed to be measured to make sure they were trees after all, and not considered saplings.

l1-rhodora 1

Layer by layer, including shrubs,

l1-tamarack

seedlings,

l1-round leaf sundew 2

and herbaceous ground cover,

l1-round-leaved sundew 1

we made our way down.

l1-wasp pupa on hornworm 1

Along the way, other discoveries presented themselves, including wasp pupae on a hornworm,

l1-garden spider 1

black and yellow garden spiders,

l1-garden spider 2

weaving their signatures,

l1-eastern pondhawk

eastern pondhawks,

l1-eastern pondhawk 1

up to the measure,

l1-green frog

and of course, green frogs.

Swamp Thing

Four hours later I found a deep hole as we departed that plot. We slogged out, water swishing in our boots, and quickly ate lunch.

l2-hemlock plot

And then it was back into the woods for the afternoon, this time a hemlock grove. On the way, we marked off a site for Thursday’s work, before reaching our destination for the afternoon.

l2-surveying the site

This plot was 10×20 meters and so within we had nine smaller plots to examine in the same manner.

l2-squirrel bites

Though we identified all the species from top to bottom, we also noted more cool finds like squirrel chews on a striped maple,

l2-glue crust fungus

a crust fungus that acts like a glue and attaches dead wood to live,

l2-spotted wintergreen

and spotted wintergreen, listed as S2 meaning this: “Imperiled in Maine because of rarity (6-20 occurrences or few remaining individuals or acres) or because of other factors making it vulnerable to further decline.”

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I had to miss the Thursday morning session due to a GLLT hike, but met Rick and LEA’s education director, Alanna Doughty, as they finished their lunch. I think they extended it a few minutes as I was a wee bit late. This time, Alanna and I sat on the tailgate of Rick’s truck as he drove down a logging road–I, of course, held on for dear life, while she nonchalantly acted like it was a walk in the park. The best part of the ride was the smell of sweet-fern that our feet occasionally dragged over. And then our march began with a short trek through a wooded forest, before we reached the highbush blueberries and other shrubs that acted like hobblebush and made for careful movement.

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The first afternoon site was in a black spruce bog and for once, I could confidently differentiate between black and red as they stood side by side–both by their colors, the black having a blueish hue, while the red was more yellowy-green, and their gestalt.

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One of my favorite learnings from that plot was the difference between cinnamon fern and Virginia chain fern. Again, they were easy to ID by their colors, the cinnamon already dying back. But notice the similarities.

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And then we looked at the back side. While cinnamon has a separate fertile frond that forms in the spring and then withers, chain fern’s sporangia are oblong and on the underside.

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The area was thick with the chain ferns and our every movement meant spores flew through the air.

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Every movement also meant we had to watch our every step, for so numerous were the pitcher plants. It was a great opportunity to ask Rick about the color of these–I’d been told that green is rare, but he said it’s just a matter of sunlight and age, all eventually take on a redder hue in veins and then overall leaf coloration as they mature.

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Their flowers were also plentiful in this lush space.

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Among other things, Rick is a fungi expert (and an overall fun guy with corny jokes–the mark of a teacher), and so our learnings were plentiful, including these chanterelle waxy caps.

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After making our way back out through the tangle, we hopped back onto the tailgate for a short ride and then headed off into a mixed forest for the final 10x 20 plot.

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Our cool finds in this one included a much gnawed skull,

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and spotted coral-root.

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I also learned to ID one clubmoss–bristly tree so named for its bristly stem.

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It was dinner time when I again held on for dear life as we drove up the road. To say we were sweaty, stinky, hungry and pooped would be an understatement. By the same token, I think I can speak for Mary and Alanna to say that we were more than grateful to have spent so much time learning from Rick. From wet to sweat–it was well worth the effort.

 

Book of June: Bogs and Fens

My wish was granted when I asked for a copy of Bogs and Fens: A Guide to the Peatland Plants of the Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada by Ronald B. Davis for Christmas.

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The idea for this book came from many years spent by Davis as a biology and Quaternary studies professor at the University of Maine and Colby College, plus his services as a docent at the Orono Bog Boardwalk in Orono, Maine.

Since I spend a lot of time tramping through a few favorite bogs and fens as well as visiting others, this seemed like the perfect guide to help me better understand the world of these special communities. And then I realized that on our own property grows some of the vegetation associated with these wetlands. With them right under my nose, what better way to learn?

Davis begins by describing the occurrence and indicator species of peatlands and then he goes on to give a lesson on the ecology of wetlands, including a description of peat, fens and bogs. A bibliography is provided for further reading and terms are defined.

What really works for me though, is the species descriptions, which he’s taken the time to divide into their various layers–trees, tall shrubs, short and dwarf shrubs, prostrate shrubs, herbaceous plants and ferns. Within each section, a specific plant is described, including its Latin name, common names, family, characteristics such as how tall it grows, number of petals, fruit, if any, etc., and its occurrence–whether in a fen, bog, dry hummock or other. All in all, he features 98 species, but also mentions 34 comparative species and includes an annotated list of 23 additional trees, shrubs, herbs and ferns that may grow in one or more community. And finally, the book ends with a description of pathways and boardwalks worth visiting.

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And so this morning, I walked out back to look at our wetland, where the sphagnum moss’s pompom heads were crisscrossed by spider webs donned with beads of water.

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It’s there that the round-leaved sundews grow, which I only discovered last year. Notice those bad-hair day “tentacles” or mucilaginous glands and the black spots upon the leaves. Dinner was served–in the form of Springtails or Collembola–their nutrients being absorbed by the plant to supplement the meager mineral supply of the sphagnum community.

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And in the plant’s center, the flower stem begins to take shape. This summer, it will support tiny white flowers that will turn to light brown capsules by fall.

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Sheep laurel also grows in this place, its new buds forming in the axils below the newly emerged leaves. I can’t wait for its crimson flowers to blossom. Its flowers provide an explosion of beauty, and yet, danger lingers. This small shrub contains a chemical that is poisonous to wild animals, thus one of its common names is lambkill.

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Another short shrub is the rosy meadowsweet or steeplebush with its deeply toothed leaves.

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Being only June 1st, it’s too early to flower, but last year’s steeple-like structure still stands tall in the landscape.

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Low-bush blueberries grow here as well and it’s only now that I realize I need to return and study these some more for Davis differentiates between velvet-leaved blueberries and common low-bush. I assumed these were the latter, but according to his description, the leaves will tell the difference. Apparently velvet-leaved, which I’ve never heard of before, feature “smooth-edged, alternate leaves, and bear fine, short hairs on the underside, edges and along veins of the upper side,” while low-bush leaves “have a finely serrate edge and a lack of pubescence, except rarely a sparse pubescence along the veins.” The next time I step out there, I will need to check the leaves to determine whether we have one or both species.

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Of course, my favorite at the moment is the black chokeberry because the flowers provide a wow factor.

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I’m not alone in my fascination.

b-water scavenger beetle larvae

Because I was nearby, I walked to the vernal pool, where a wee bit of sunlight highlighted another fascination of mine–my most recent discovery of water scavenger beetle larvae. Check out those heads and eyes.

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Today, the tadpoles weren’t as shy as the other day and so they let me get up close and personal.

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I’m holding out hope that the pool doesn’t dry up before they are able to hop away. Already, I can see their frog form beginning to take shape. This is a shout out to one of the Books of May: Vernal Pools–A Field Guide to Animals of Vernal Pools.

But back to the Book of June, and really the book of all summer months–Bogs and Fens by Ronald B. Davis. It’s heavy as field guides go and so I don’t always carry it with me, but it’s a great reference when I return to my truck or home. I appreciate its structure and information presented in a format even I get.

Bogs and Fens: A Guide to the Peatland Plants of the Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada, by Ronald B. Davis. University Press of New England, 2016.

My copy came from Bridgton Books, my local independent book store.

Sharing My Site

I count myself among the fortunate because pollen doesn’t keep me inside during its high season. Nor do the bugs or rain. Mind you, I do my fair share of complaining–after all I am human. At least I think I am, though I was honored to be called an ent yesterday. (Thanks Cyrene.)

Enough of that. Let’s head outside to see what we might see.

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True confession. I took this photo yesterday, but didn’t have time to write. Finding this jack-in-the-pulpit beside a granite bench by my studio was a complete surprise.

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Today’s journey began in the front yard where sugar maple samaras dangled below full-grown leaves. Their presence will soon offer presents to the world below.

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My next stop was beside another secret giver of gifts–blueberry flowers.

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And then I stepped into the woodlot, where a single striped maple which was the bearer of a deer antler rub last year and scrape (upward motion with lower incisors) this past winter, had something else to offer.

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Below its almost dinner-plate size leaves–flowers. Happy was I to find these little beauties.

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Perhaps . . . just maybe . . . there will be more striped maples offering their bark to those in need.

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Moving along, I stopped at the opening of the cowpath to admire baby hemlock cones when something white and bubbly caught my attention. My first spittle bug sighting of the year. An adult spittlebug whips up some slimy froth to cover its eggs in late summer and the nymphs cover themselves while feeding in the spring–and so I concluded that I was viewing a nymph’s locale.

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Emerging under the power lines, the community changes. It’s here that the land is especially wet and species one might find in a bog grow–such as the black chokeberry shrub. These also like rocky ledges, but such is not the case in this spot.

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I was thankful to find it for those flattened bright pink anthers brightened this damp day.

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Heading north, I sloshed through the deep puddles on a quest to find the sundews I discovered growing in this area for the first time last fall.

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No such luck, but I did welcome the sight of the candy lichen fruits exploding from their crustose base. And then . . . and then . . . what did I see (but only when I looked at the photograph on my computer, and so now I know where they are located)? The round-leaved sundews–do you see them in the bottom right-hand corner? These are carnivorous plants (think Venus Flytrap) and their prey consists of small insects. Already, I can’t wait to make their acquaintance again.

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I turned around and headed south–on my way to the vernal pool. But before passing through a stonewall, I had to look at the bunchberries in bloom.

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Normally, a bunchberry plant has two-sets of leaves. But . . . when one is mature enough to grow a third set, typically larger leaves (perhaps to capture more energy) than the first two sets, it produces four white bracts that we think of as petals but they are actually modified leaves. The flowers are in the center–tiny as they are.

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And because I was in the neighborhood, in the land of mosses, reindeer lichens, Canada Mayflowers and wintergreen, trailing arbutus (aka Mayflower) spoke up. Its flowers were slowly transforming from white to rust and I shouldn’t rush the season, but I can’t wait to see its fruit again.

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At last I reached the vernal pool and realized I wasn’t the only visitor. What perfect hunting ground it proved to be for the . . .

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phoebe. I cheered for its insatiable insect appetite.

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Because the day was dark, it was difficult to see tadpoles, but I did note that many spotted salamanders were still forming. I also noted that the water level has dropped a wee bit–hard to believe–and where yesterday I found a few egg masses a bit high and dry, today they were gone. Something enjoyed eggs for dinner.  Scrambled or otherwise, I’m not sure.

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Back on the trail and at the next stone wall, interrupted fern showed off its fertile pinnae near the middle of the blades. It’s called interrupted because of the interruption in the blade. Again, this is an inhabitant of moist to wet forests and so it was no surprise to find it growing there.

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A fertile blade, such as this, may have two to seven pairs of middle pinnae.

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The globose sporangia is bright green when young, but darkens to tan or black as it matures.

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On the other side of the wall, I spied some more flowers.

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These were the elongated loose clusters of black cherry trees, that open when the leaves are fully developed.

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One that flowers and fruits before its leaves are fully developed is the red maple.

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And fruits and fruits . . . need I say more?

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Though the wind blew, the samaras weren’t yet ready to let go and set down their roots. It won’t be long though, I’m sure.

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Finally returning home, I passed by the granite bench once more and was still stymied by the site I saw about a half hour after discovering the jack-in-the-pulpit yesterday.  It had been consumed. I suspected the woodchucks that live under the studio. Either that or a bear came along and I missed it.

And so ended today’s tramp. Thanks for traipsing along with me to visit these sites out our back door. I especially welcome those who are homebound with allergies, like my friend Jinny Mae. She gave me the inspiration to take a look today–to be her eyes for the moment and share my sight.

Walking with Ursula

No matter when or where I walk, Ursula Duve is always along. She sees what I see, smells what I smell, feels what I feel, tastes what I taste and knows way more than I’ll ever know.

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And so it was today that a bunch of us followed this delightful little woman as she led us down the trail at Lakes Environmental Association’s Holt Pond Preserve.

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We gathered in the parking lot, where the black flies tried to swallow us whole. But, we got the better of them and practiced mind over matter. Of course, bug spray and our flailing arms helped–or at least made us feel as if it was worth the effort.

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After an introductory greeting from LEA’s teacher/naturalist Mary Jewett, we stopped frequently as Ursula shared stories of plants and life. You see, she was born in Hamburg, Germany, and grew up during WWII so she has quite a few memories flowing through her system, but as she reminded us, with the bad comes the good. And the good comes from moments she associates with wildflowers, like this bellwort.

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Having lived in the United States for 50+ years now, with the last nineteen in Maine, Ursula considers herself a Mainer despite her German accent because she loves it here. And she knows when and where each flower will bloom, such as the painted trillium.

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Even those not yet in bloom drew her attention–this being a chokeberry along the first boardwalk.

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One of the finds Ursula enjoys sharing with others is the pitcher plant, a perennial herb with pitcher-shaped leaves. We noted that this particular one sported new flower buds.

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And on another, the otherworldly shape of last year’s now woody flower capsule–its job completed.

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Ursula is as awed as I am by the power of the pitcher plants. Color, scent (that I’ve never smelled) and nectar in glands near the top of the pitcher leaf attract insects. Once inside, those downward-pointing hairs make it difficult to leave. So what happens next? The insect eventually drowns in the rainwater, decomposes and is digested by the plant’s liquid, which turns phosphorus and nitrogen released by the insect into supplemental nutrients for the surrounding peat. Interestingly, no “joules” or units of energy are passed on through this process to the plant itself. The plant gathers its energy through the process of photosynthesis instead.

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As we continued, we were wowed once again–this time by the sight of the showy rhodora. Rhodora flowers fully before its leaves emerge and so today they were but small nubs located alternately along the shrub’s branches.

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But those flowers–oh my! The rose-purple bloom has what’s considered two lips–with the upper consisting of three lobes and the lower of two. And each produces ten purple-tipped stamen surrounding the pistil, where the pollen will germinate into a many-seeded capsule.

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Like the rhodora, another member of the heath family in bloom was the leatherleaf–with bell-shaped flowers formed in leaf axils and dangling below the stem as if it was laundry hung out to dry. One way to differentiate this plant from the highbush blueberries that can be found throughout the preserve, are the alternate, upward-pointing leaves, which decrease in size as your eye moves toward the tip of the stem.

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Just before we stepped out onto the Quaking Bog boardwalk, Mary pointed out a native honeysuckle. In my memory bank, I couldn’t remember ever seeing it before, and if I had, well . . . I was glad to make its acquaintance again.

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And then we stepped onto the boardwalk. Folks up front paused to admire a green snake, while those of us in the back noticed a green frog. It stayed as calm as possible in hopes that we wouldn’t see it. Nice try.

H-Holt Pond

Like all ponds and lakes right now, the water level remains high and so walking the boardwalk meant wet hiking boots.

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But that didn’t stop some of us. Fortunately, mine are waterproof.

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Just before we stepped from the boardwalk back onto land, I saw that the frog was still there.

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On the trail again, another showy flower called for our attention–hobblebush.

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While some looked fresh, others were beginning to pass and their fruits will soon form. We noted the sterile outer blooms that surround the inner array of small fertile flowers. And a beetle paying a visit.

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Speaking of insects, a slight movement on the ground pulled us earthward.

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We’d found a Mayfly–perhaps just emerged and its wings drying.

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In the last wooded section we would cover for the day, we noticed that the two-tiered Indian Cucumber Roots have a few buds. I can’t wait for them to flower soon.

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Among the flowers that I’ll always associate with Ursula because she’s the first to have introduced me to them, is the goldthread, so named for its golden-colored root. We usually identify it by its cilantro-shaped leaves, but right now the dainty flowers are not to be missed. What looks like petals are actually sepals and there can be five to seven of them. And stamen–many. Goldthread can feature 5-25 stamen.

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Even the number of yellow-and-green pistils can vary from three to seven. Ah nature–forever making us think.

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The other plant I associate with Ursula is dwarf ginseng. Its explosive umbel consists of many flowers. And in this one, a dining crab spider.

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Finally, we found our way to Grist Mill Road and headed back toward the parking lot. But even on the road we found something to wonder about when one member of our group pointed to the curvy black design. In the past, I’ve always dismissed it as some sort of mineral associated with the dirt.

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Today, I learned it was none other than those good old spring tails or snow fleas we associate with late winter, but are really present all year. Something new to notice going forward.

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At the end of our walk we all gave thanks to Mary and Ursula. We’d come away with refreshers and new learnings.

And we’d been reminded by Ursula that though she and her husband, Wolfgang, can no longer get out as often as they’d like, after sixty years of marriage they still have fun reminiscing about their many explorations together. A goal for all of us to set.

Most often this wildflower and bird enthusiast walks vicariously with me as she reads my blog entries, but today it was my immense pleasure to walk with her. Thank you, Ursula, for once again sharing your love of all things natural with the rest of us . . . and your optimistic philosophy of life.

Oh and a question for Wolfgang, while Ursula walked with us, did you get on the treadmill?

Slog Through The Bog

She said she’d call a half hour before heading to the bog so I should probably sleep in my hiking clothes and boots. And she was right! I was just about to take a bagel out of the toaster oven when the phone rang. “We’re going to the bog at 9:00. Can you join us?” Thirty-five minutes later I pulled into her driveway, excited because it was a chance to explore Brownfield Bog with about-to-become Maine Master Naturalist Kathy McGreavy and her daughter, Dr. Bridie McGreavy.

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From there we drove to Bog Road and parked at the beginning since conditions were dicey, but also because it gave us a chance to walk and listen–almost immediately we heard a barred owl. And then the warblers greeted us.

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Brownfield Bog, aka Major Gregory Sanborn WMA, encompasses 6,000 acres of wetland. And on any given day, the sky tells its story above and below. Of course, we thought we were going to get poured upon when we first met, but the mist soon evaporated and sun warmed us enough that we shed a few layers.

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The initial stretch of our journey found us moving at a fast pace, but once we reached the second gate,

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our inclination was to slow down.

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To stop, look and listen.

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The chestnut streaks on the yellow warbler matched the emerging red maple leaves.

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And I can never spend enough time with a Baltimore oriole, forever wowed by its color.

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And its voice.

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Birds flitted about and flew overhead, but occasionally one, such as this catbird, paused and posed.

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Most of the songbirds were feeding and perhaps nesting in the land of the willows, birch and maples.

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Others also sought homes here, like the gall gnat midge that overwintered in a pinecone-like structure created with leaves by the reaction to a chemical released by the larva. I’m forever amazed about how nature works.

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Eventually, we followed the song sparrows as they led us down the cobbled road.

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The current was strong in places . . .

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and water deep.

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But the views . . .

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worth every step.

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Sometimes, our focus was upon the ground, where we spotted a few small red maple samaras.

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And scat–including this double offering of coyote deposits.

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And among it–a toe nail first spied by Bridie. I chuckled to myself when we got down to look at this, for Bridie first introduced me to the finer qualities of scat when she worked at Lakes Environmental Association. She also taught me to track mammals. And . . . the crème de la crème–to sniff fox pee. Ah, the delights we have shared–they are many and having an opportunity to walk with her today brought them all flooding back.

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We decided to put our blinders on so we could continue without any pauses, but then Bridie’s eagle eyes zeroed in on movement. Her mom and I saw the movement as well, but we had to really focus in order to find the creator among the dried vegetation.

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And we did–a ribbon snake, who happens to be a great reason for preserving this property because its a species of special concern in Maine.

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At times, Pleasant Mountain was the featured backdrop.

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And Canada geese swam in the foreground.

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Everywhere, beaver works were obvious and scent mounds growing in size.

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After a couple of hours, we reached our turn-around point at the old oak tree.

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As we looked across, one of the beaver lodges stood above the water level.

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But Kathy and Bridie both reminded me that another was still submerged due to this spring’s high water level.

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Finally, we did our best to bee-line back. But Kathy showed me one more great find that had been pointed out to her by Mary Jewett last year–the straggly stick structure of a cuckoo’s nest. Certainly worth a wonder. (The other wonder–when we first arrived at the bog this morning, Mary was just leaving.)

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Our entire morning had been worth a wonder and then another occurred when we returned to Kathy’s house. While I said goodbye to Bridie, who is an Assistant Professor of Environmental Communication in the Department of Communication and Journalism at the University of Maine, her mom slipped into the house. When Kathy returned, she handed me this spoon pot filled with daffodils from her garden. She’s a potter and owner of Saco River Pottery. Though I love to give her fine art as presents, I only own one other piece. This one now stands proudly on our kitchen counter, holding the utensils as it was intended. It will forever remind me of the McGreavys and the day I first saw a dragonfly emerge from its exoskeleton–at the bog with Bridie; and the day I spent with Kathy as I interviewed her for a magazine article about creating pottery–and she let me try my hand at the wheel; and so many other memories of time spent with these ladies, but especially today–for the opportunity to slog through the bog with the two of them.

 

Into Focus

Sunshine. Spring sunshine. Need I say more. No, but I will as I bring the focus to two of my favorite watering holes.

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Of course, a visit to my first pond isn’t complete without a pause to recognize the power and the powerful.

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As I approached the vernal pool, I heard not a sound. But, my heart filled when I spotted a clump of wood frog eggs.

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When our sons were youngsters, we always called it the frog pond rather than the vernal pool. And so it is . . . both.

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After an hour spent in the pond’s midst, I drove to another–Holt Pond–where I decided to park on the corner of Perley and Grist Mill Roads. I wasn’t sure of the conditions on Grist Mill Road and figured that provided the perfect excuse for a walk and an opportunity to take in the sights along the way. Stepping out of the truck, pussy willows called to me . . . and to their pollinators.

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And on the corner, a dried Queen Anne’s lace displayed its fireworks formation.

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There were sensitive fern fronds, their beads still encapsulating many cases containing dust-like spores.

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And I even found a few beaked hazelnuts still showing off their minute magenta flowers.

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I knew by my observations that I’d made the right decision to walk in–both in my findings and in the road conditions.

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After following the initial trail and climbing over the stonewall, I was about to step onto the first boardwalk when I realized the beavers had been busy.

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The water was high as I quietly moved along the board walk, but not too high.

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Although in some cases pitchers were submersed in the wet goodness.

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The speckled alders didn’t mind for they love wet feet.

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I stepped out to the Muddy River and listened to the chickadees sell cheeseburgers galore.

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And then I turned in the opposite direction to admire the beaver lodge and winter feeding pile beside it.

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On the next boardwalk, the beauty of the red maple swamp surrounded me again.

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Layers and colors spoke to the community and season.

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And standing like sentries were the red maples for which it is named.

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It was here that I found evidence of another visitor, albeit this past winter–moose scat.

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And noted the swelling buds of highbush blueberries–their season in the offing.

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After passing through the woodlands a couple of times in between the swamp journey, I at last reached the quaking bog and Holt Pond.

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Beside the board walk, last autumn’s cranberries floated in the water.

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And more pitcher plants showed off their hairy entrance ways.

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Withered pitcher plant flowers dangled in their woody fashion–as beautiful in death as in full bloom.

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By the time I reached the T on the boardwalk, I was standing atop it, but in six inches of water–thankful for my rain boots.

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And thankful for the opportunity to stand there on a gorgeous spring day as I looked toward Five Fields Farm.

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In that very view–two Canada geese. I wondered if they’d found a nest site.

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Also in view, last year’s dragonfly exoskeleton that bobbed in the water flowing over the boardwalk.

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On the way back, I stopped once again. My first photo call was an ostrich fern that I didn’t realize grew there. See why you should walk in rather than drive? That photo didn’t come out so well, but I was standing in an area filled with cinnamon ferns and suddenly realized I was looking at my first crosiers of the season.

I was actually down by a stream beside the road when I found these. A truck came along and the driver paused. He and his friend thought I was fishing and were going to ask what I’d caught. “Only photos,” I said playfully.

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Upon returning home I decided to visit the frog pond one more time, thinking the lighting would be different. At the end of the cowpath I found a garter snake enjoying the warmth of the sun . . . and probably a few insects.

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When I’d walked to the pond this morning, I was surprised at how quiet it was. That changed this afternoon as a chorus of wrucks added music to my day. And another egg mass had been added to the display.

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Of course, all quieted down once I arrived, but I waited . . . and realized the pond really is full of life.

I’d spent the day beside my favorite ponds and was well rewarded. I’d also played with my camera settings, avoiding auto-focus all day. I’ve got a lot to learn, but hey, isn’t that what it’s all about?

Celebrating Place–Naturally

Once the snow melts it will be more difficult for me to wander and wonder in the woods I explore all winter given its spring/summer water level and logging slash. And so I make the most of these days–trying to notice as much as I can before I can notice no more (or at least until next winter).

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Though I’d promised myself I’d not go again in an effort to not disturb the deer, promises are meant to be broken. And from that came a lesson–the deer are sticking to the snowmobile trail and field edges where tender bark of young red maples and hemlocks, plus swelling buds meet their needs for the moment. So, it was OK that I broke my promise, for the deeper I tramped, the fewer tracks I encountered.

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Today’s warmer temps in the low 40˚s found the springtails hopping about on any and all surfaces.

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As is my habit, I checked on a pileated woodpecker hole when I saw bark and wood scattered atop the snow. Deep was this excavation in search of nourishment.

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And chock full was the scat below, which contained insect body parts and seeds of the dreaded bittersweet. Beside the scat, a springtail sought to placate its own food needs which among other things includes plant material and animal remains.

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Turning to another tree, I landed on a perfect bull’s eye! The target fungus that affects many red maples makes for an easy ID.

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Lichens have also been a focus of late. What I like about this one, the circular green with the black disks of a crustose lichen (possibly bark disk lichen), was its location beside a liverwort (the beaded brown Frullania eboracensis) and a moss that I didn’t key out. Tree bark has its own structure and texture, but so often others also call it home.

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Rocks also serve as a substrate and this one featured a couple of leafy foliose shield lichens, their colors enhanced by yesterday’s inch of snow.

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And dangling from a branch, two forms of fruticose (branching or fruit-like structure–) lichens. The dark is a hair lichen, while the green a beard–seems about right with the hair above the beard.

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On another maple I spied a garden–you’ve got to liken it. (Corny joke that always manages to enter a lichen conversation.)

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I’ve often paused beside Frullania eboracensis, a liverwort with no common name, but today several trees shared displays of mats called Frullania asagrayana, so named for a botanist and natural history professor at Harvard University from 1842-1873–Asa Gray.

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Its shiny, overlapping chain of red-brown leaves reminded me of caterpillars crawling along the maple bark.

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Casting my eye elsewhere, steeplebush in its winter form offered an artistic presentation.

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And as the snow melts, last year’s bracken fern made an appearance.

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One last shrub made me stop. Minus any catkins or “cones” for which it is known, I had to think for a moment about the speckled alder. But those speckles or lenticels through which gas exchange occurs, and the buds and leaf scars were give aways.

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The two bud scales meet at their edges and look like miniature footballs. But it’s the bundle scars where leaves were formerly attached that make me laugh. That vascular system looks like a face–two round eyes, a funny shaped nose and a round mouth, as if it’s exclaiming, “Ohhh” or “Wow.”

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At last I reached my turn-around point. I could see Pleasant Mountain in the distance and knew where I was in the world. This is my place and I love every opportunity to celebrate it–naturally.

Seeing Red

I wander through the same woods on a regular basis, sometimes following old logging roads and other times bushwhacking through the understory–a mix of young conifers and hardwoods that are slowly reclaiming their territory. Always, there are water holes to avoid as this is a damp area, so damp that in another month I probably will have to curb some of my wandering habits because it will become difficult to navigate.

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But it’s that same water that gives life to the flora and fauna that live therein, such as the buds on the maleberry shrub. Notice how downy the twig is. And the bright red bud waiting patiently within two scales–preparing for the day when it will burst forth with life.

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On the same shrub exists evidence of last year’s flowers, now capsules reddish-brown and five-celled in form.

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And like the maleberry buds, the red maples buds grow more global each day, some with three scales of protective covering and others more.

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Today was a day of contrasts, from sunshiney moments to snow squalls, as well as greens to reds, tossed in with a mix of browns and grays.

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Continuing my venture, I soon realized I wasn’t the only one enjoying red. The moose and deer with whom I share this place, also find it a color of choice–especially the bark of young red maple trees.

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As I looked at the tree trunks, I could sense the motion of the moose’s bottom incisors scraping upward and then pulling against its hard upper palate to rip the bark off. Everywhere I turned, the maples showed signs of recent scrapes.

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Less frequently seen were antler rubs such as this one, where the middle was smoothed by the constant motion and the upper and lower ends frayed. Such finds offer noted differences between a scrape and rub–the former has tags hanging from the upper section only and the teeth marks stand out, while the latter often features a smooth center with the ragged edges at top and bottom. But . . . like us, nature isn’t perfect and not everything is textbook, so I often have to pay closer attention.

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I saw more than red and so I could hardly resist a moose bed filled with scat and urine. I’m always in awe of the sense of size and again I saw motion, of this large mammal laying down to take a rest and perhaps a few hours later, getting its feet under itself to rise again, do its duty and move on to browse some more.

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Deer tracks were even more numerous than moose and the solidness of the snow allowed them to travel atop the crust. At one point I spied something I didn’t recall seeing before–witch hazel capsules decorating the snow.

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At this time of year, these grayish tan capsules persist on the trees, but their work was completed in the fall when they expelled their two glossy black seeds.

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Ruffed grouse, wild turkeys and snowshoe hare like witch hazel buds. As do deer, who rip them off in the same fashion as a moose and leave a tag behind–as a signature.

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Not all were eaten–yet. Notice these buds, ensconced in dense reddish/yellowish/brown hairs rather than the waxy scales of the maleberry and maple. And the shape extending outward from the twig, almost in scalpel-like fashion. Yeah, I was still seeing a hint of red.

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If I wanted to carry my red theme to the extreme, I could say that the bright yellow bracts that formed the base of the former flowers were framed in red, but really, it’s more of a hairy light tan along their rims. Eventually, the bracts will develop into seed capsules and next autumn they’ll be the ones to shoot their seeds with a popping sound. We always talk about that sound and refer to Henry David Thoreau for as far as I know he was the one to first hear it. This past fall, a friend tried this and like Thoreau, he was awakened during the night by the seeds being forcibly expelled. (Credit goes to Bob Katz for that experiment.)

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Back to red. Under the hemlocks where the deer had traveled, I was looking at some mosses when these bright red soldiers showed their cheery caps–it’s been a while since I’ve seen British Soldier lichens, most of it buried beneath the snow.

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As I headed toward home, a red oak beside the cowpath asked to be included. It seems in winter that the rusty red inner bark stands out more in the landscape, making the tree easy to identify. Of course, don’t get confused by the big tooth aspen, which slightly resembles a red oak at the lower level, but a look up the trunk suddenly reveals similarities to a birch.

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Many of the acorns have been consumed after such a prolific year, but their caps still exist and the color red was exemplified within the scales.

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Back at the homestead, I walked by the shed attached to the barn where icicles dripped–again speaking to this day. By that time the snow squalls had abated and sun shone warmly, but a brisk wind swirled the snow in the field into mini whirling dervishes. My cheeks were certainly red.

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My red adventure was completed at the bird feeder. A happy ending to scenes of red.

 

 

 

 

Books of December: A Holiday Wish List

In the spirit of changing things up a bit, I decided that I’d include five books I highly recommend you add to your holiday wish list and two that I hope to receive.

These are not in any particular order, but I’m just beginning to realize there is a theme–beyond that of being “nature” books.

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Book of December: Forest Forensics

Tom Wessels, forest guru and author of Reading the Forested Landscape, published this smaller work in 2010. Though only 5″ x 7.5″, the book is rather heavy because it’s filled with photographs. Despite the weight, Forest Forensics fits into a backpack and is the perfect guide for trying to figure out the lay of the land. Using the format of a dichotomous key, Wessels asks readers to answer two-part questions, which link to the photos as well as an Evidence section for Agriculture, Old Growth and Wind, plus Logging and Fire. In the back of the book, he includes Quick Reference Charts that list features of particular forest and field types. And finally, a glossary defines terms ranging from “age discontinuity” to “Uphill basal scar,” “weevil-deformed white pines” and “wind-tipped trees.” In total, it’s 160 pages long, but not necessarily a book you read from cover to cover. If you have any interest in rocks, trees, and the lay of the land, then this is a must have.

Forest Forensics by Tom Wessels, The Countryman Press, Woodstock, VT, 2010.

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Book of December: Shrubs of the Northern New England Forest

Michael L. Cline is executive director of Tin Mountain Conservation Center in Albany, New Hampshire. In September, I had the pleasure of attending a talk he gave at the center about Shrubs of the Northern New England Forest. The 6″ x 9″ book weighs about the same as Wessels’, and will also fit handily into your pack. Of course, you might want to leave the books in your vehicle or at home and look up the items later–thus lightening your load. Using Brownfield Bog as one of his main go-to places, Cline describes 70 species of shrubs from Creeping Snowberry to Mountain Ash. The book is arranged by family, beginning with Mountain Maple and Striped Maple of the Aceraceae (Maple) family and ending with the American Yew of the Taxaceae (Yew) family. Each two-page layout includes photographs (and  occasionally drawings), plus a description of habit, leaves, flowers, twig/buds, habitat, range, wildlife use, notes and other names. I have no excuse now to not know what I’m looking at as I walk along–especially near a wetland. That being said, I’ll think of one–like I left the book at home, but I’ll get back to you.

Shrubs of the Northern New England Forest by Michael L. Cline, J.S. McCarthy Printers, 2016

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Book of December: Bogs and Fens

Ronald B. Davis’ book, Bogs and Fens, was a recent gift from my guy. I hadn’t asked for it, and actually didn’t know about it, so I’m tickled that he found it. I’m just getting to know Dr. Davis’s work, but trust that this 5.5″ x 8.5″ guide about peatland plants will also inform my walks. Again, it’s heavy. The first 26 pages include a description of vegetation and peatlands and even the difference between a fen and a bog. More than 200 hundred pages are devoted to the trees, plants and ferns. In color-coded format, Davis begins with the canopy level of trees and works down to tall shrubs, short and dwarf shrubs, prostrate shrubs, herbaceous plants and finally, ferns. He also includes an annotated list of books for further reference, as well as a variety of peatlands to visit from Wisconsin to Prince Edward Island. As a retired University of Maine professor, Davis has been a docent and guide at the Orono Bog Boardwalk for many years. Field trip anyone?

Bogs and Fens: A Guide to the Peatland Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada by Ronald B. Davis, University of New England Press, 2016.

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Book of December: Lab Girl

I’d never heard of Hope Jahren until this summer and then several people recommended her book, Lab Girl, to me. Rather than a guide, this is the story of Jahren’s journey from her childhood in rural Minnesota to the science labs she has built along the way. As a scientist, Jahren takes the reader through the ups and downs of the research world. And she does so with a voice that makes me feel like we’re old friends. Simultaneously, she interweaves short chapters filled with  information about the secret life of plants, giving us a closer look at their world. I had to buy a copy because for me, those chapters were meant to be underlined and commented upon. I do believe this will be a book I’ll read over and over again–especially those in-between chapters.

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren, Alfred A. Knopf, 2016.

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Book of December: The Hidden Life of TREES

And finally, a gift to myself: The Hidden Life of TREES by Peter Wohlleben. I’d first learned about this book in a newspaper article published last year and had to wait until recently to purchase it after the book was translated from German to English. Again, it’s not a field guide, but offers a delightful read that makes me think. And thus, you can see my bookmark. I’ve not finished reading it yet, but I’m having fun thinking about some different theories Wohlleben puts forth. As a forester, Wohlleben has spent his career among trees and knows them well. He’s had the opportunity to witness firsthand the ideas he proclaims about how trees communicate. And so, I realize as I read it that I, too,  need to listen and observe more closely to what is going on in the tree world–one of my favorite places to be. Maybe he’s right on all accounts–the best part is that he has me questioning.

The Hidden Life of TREES: What They Feel, How They Communicate by Peter Wohlleben, Random House, 2016.

And that’s just it–the underlying theme of these five books you might consider is TREES. I can’t seem to learn enough about them. One word of caution, each author has their own take on things, so the best thing to do is to read the book, but then to head out as often as you can and try to come to your own conclusions or at least increase your own sense of wonder.

And now for the books on my list (My guy is the keeper of the list):

Naturally Curious Day by Day: A Photographic Field Guide and Daily Visit to the Forests, Fields, and Wetlands of Eastern North America by Mary Holland, Stackpole Books, 2016

Mosses, Liverworts, and Hornworts: A Field Guide to Common Bryophytes of the Northeast by Ralph Pope, Cornell University Press, 2016.

Do you have any other suggestions for me?

One final thought about books–support your local independent book store as much as you can. Here in western Maine, we are fortunate to have Bridgton Books. Justin and Pam Ward know what we like to read and if they don’t have a particular book we’re looking for, they bend over backwards to get it for us.

 

The Way of the Land at Long Meadow Brook Reserve

Last month the Greater Lovell Land Trust purchased a new property along Long Meadow Brook that further develops the wildlife corridor. A couple of weeks ago I first visited it with GLLT’s Executive Director Tom Henderson and a number of the land trust’s volunteer docents. As we left the property, Tom said to me, “I didn’t oversell this, did I, when I said this will become one of the docents’ favorite properties.” Indeed.

And so I couldn’t wait to get back there myself to spend a few hours exploring the almost one-hundred-acre reserve.

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Because the land was last logged by the previous owner in 2014, it’s in the early succession stage of regrowth.

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And so, it’s a place where those who like disturbed places tend to grow, such as the common mullein. What surprised me most was that I found a few still offering blooms.

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Of course, it reminded me that I was in the great West–WESTern Maine, that is–with its occasional cacti-like form.

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Scattered throughout are also the seedheads of white lettuce, waiting for release in lampshade-like formation.

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Orange-peel fungi fruited prolifically in the gravel logging road.

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That was all before I even reached the future parking lot, which had served as the log landing a few years ago. Already, sweet ferns and berry bushes have made themselves known.

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The leaves of sweet fern, which is really a shrub rather than a fern, exhibited their version of autumn hues.

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If you go, I encourage you to look for the blue ribbons that indicate where a future trail will be placed. It’s a loop trail that summer interns Hannah and Aidan laid out and leads to two focal features.

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The trail nears a neighboring property, which just happens to also be under conservation easement thanks to the foresight of its owners. I stepped off the blue flag trail and started to follow the wall for a bit–noticing that soon it changed from a double (garden or plowed land) wall to a single wall. A large pasture pine grew at the change-over point.

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And where the wall switched to single formation, barbed wire indicated its former use a pasture boundary. And white pine scales indicated its current use–as a red squirrel’s dining room table.

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After moving away from the wall, I noticed the mountains in the offing and ferns and young trees already filling in the empty spaces.

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One of my favorite mountains to climb stood tall in the backdrop–Mount Kearsarge.

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My bearings were off a bit, but I knew where the eastern boundary was as I moved across this opening.

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Walking along the back edge, my tree passion was ignited yet again.

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Several pitch pines grow in this space. While the bark is similar to that of red pines, it’s platier (is that a word?). And the tufts of needles that grow along the trunk were a dead give-away.

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But . . . I always quiz myself and so I looked around. And right below the trees, pitch pine cones and the triple needle bundles common to this species.

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It was here that I discovered wintergreen growing by the base of a tree stump. What made me wonder was the amount of fruit on each plant. Yes, wintergreen grows prolifically in all of western Maine, but I can’t recall ever seeing so many little red globes dangling below the leaves.

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From my half-circle around the opening, I wasn’t positive about my whereabouts and so decided to follow the land downhill because it looked like there may be an opening below. A few minutes later, I realized I was in a marshy spot where the cinnamon ferns grew. And the earth beneath my feet was rather spongy and damp.

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I reached what I thought was the meadow I sought–only to realize that I was looking at a beaver lodge. I knew that beaver lodge, but from a different perspective–the neighbors’ property.

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And then something else caught my attention.

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Tamarack (aka larch) trees–our only deciduous conifers, which had turned a golden yellow as is their autumn habit.

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The spray of tamarack needles reminded me of witch hazel flowers, which also grow on this property. But soon, the former will drop, leaving only their barrel-like stems as a reminder of their presence.

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I left that spot, retraced my steps and headed to the north on a cross-country bushwhack, where the mauve colored maple-leaf viburnum grew.

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I saw lots of mammal sign and even a few birds, including turkeys who are loving the fact that this is a mast year for acorns.

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At last I emerged onto the trail I remembered and headed downhill again.

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And then . . . I was rewarded for my efforts. Long Meadow Brook and the mountains beyond provided a WOW moment.

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I looked to the east for a few minutes.

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And then turned west again, where the layers and colors spoke of diversity.

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Even the dead snags added beauty.

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Cat-in-nine tails added to the view and I noted others who like wet feet including steeplebush, meadowsweet and bulrushes growing along the old beaver dam. It’s also a place for a variety of evergreen species–hemlock, white pine, balsam fir, red spruce and tamaracks. Future teaching moments await.

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My intention to stick to the trail was soon thwarted when I spied hobblebush.

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Like all trees and shrubs, the future was already encased in a bud–in this case a bud we refer to as naked because it doesn’t have the waxy coating of most others. Methinks its furry presentation offers the same protection from winter’s cold.

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And as I studied the back side of fallen leaves, I paid attention to the venation–reminiscent of the bud’s pattern.

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In the glow of sunlight, I felt like I’d found the pot of gold.

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A short time later I reached the second opening that Hannah and Aidan’s trail encompasses. And what to my wondering eyes should appear–a meadowhawk dragonfly.

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It provided a sharp contrast to snow on the Baldface Mountains.

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It was at this six-acre opening that I poked around for a while longer. And watched a goshawk fly to a pine tree with something dangling from its talons. Did I take a photo? No, of course not. I was too mesmerized to focus my camera. But sometimes, the photo doesn’t matter. Being there in the moment does.

I’m thankful for such opportunities made possible by organizations such as the Greater Lovell Land Trust. I know that ultimately this property is for the mammals that travel through and I saw plenty of evidence that they use this place. But then again, I’m a mammal who also appreciates the land bridges created and opportunity to observe the connectivity. I spent the day getting to know the way of the land at Long Meadow Brook Reserve–and can’t wait to return.