Nothing False About This Celebration

With a mission
to check upon
a heron rookery,
I invited
a friend
to join me.

The young’uns
sat upon their
nests of sticks
waiting for
the next meal
to arrive.

With the flap
of wings
slowed in rhythm,
landing gear
was extended
in the form
of long legs
and feet.
Within minutes,
a meal of fish
was regurgitated
and
passed
from
parent
to
child.
Because of 
our location
beside
a slow-flowing river,
many other sights
caught our
attention.
But it was one
with a
penchant for moisture
who stood
as tall
as my chin
that garnered
the most attention.
I've oft 
relished its
pleated leaves
of green,
their manner
that of the
lily family.
In a 
clasping formation,
they attach
to the main stem,
spirally arranged
from bottom
to top.
I've seen 
the plant often
in its leafy rendition,
but today
was the first time
its star-shaped flowers
atop the plant
revealed themselves.
With
petals and sepals
combined
as tepals,
my friend noted
their resemblance
to the leaves below.
The more we looked, 
the more we realized
there were others
who also
revered
such a unique structure,
in particular
the nectar-producing glands
at each flower's base.
The plant
took advantage,
or so it seemed,
of allowing those
who ventured
into its sweetness
with a dash,
or perhaps
a dollop,
of pollen
to pass on
for future reference.
Because of its location
in the moist habitat,
insects formerly aquatic,
such as
the Alderfly,
did walk
with sluggish movements.
Up its stout stalk
one rose,
the fuzzy structure
perhaps providing
it texture
upon which to climb.
Did it seek
the bright yellow anthers?
Or the nectar below?
With wings
delicately veined
and folded over
like a tent,
the Alderfly
paused
and hardly pondered
its next move.
The flower
mattered not
for this
weak flyer.
At last
it reached
the tip
of the
long, upright
inflorescence,
conical in form,
and I wondered:
would it pierce
the unopened flowers
for a bit
of nutrition?
Perhaps not,
for adults
of this species
have a need
more important
than eating.
Theirs is to
mate,
particularly at night.
Maybe it was
a he,
looking for a sight
to meet
a she.
As it 
turned out,
not all
who had
canoodling
on their minds
could wait
until the day
darkened
to
night.
Meanwhile,
there were others
who sought
the sweet satisfaction
of nectar
for their needs.
And in 
the process
of seeking,
tads of pollen
decorated
their backs,
in this case
where X
marks the spot.
It was 
a place
for many
to gather
and garner
including
Lady Beetles
of many colors.
And upon 
those pleated leaves,
were Mayflies
who had
lived out
their short lives,
and Craneflies
taking a break,
while showing off
their wings
reminiscent
of stained glass.
After such 
an up-close greeting
of the delicate flowers,
and recognizing
for the first time
their immense splendor,
June 15
will forevermore be
the day
to celebrate
False Hellebore.

Heaven on Heath

When Alanna Doughty, of Lakes Environmental Association fame, and I pulled into the parking lot of Saco Heath this morning, we had no idea what to expect. It is described as the southern-most coalesced domed bog in Maine. I have to admit, I need to learn so much more to understand the real meaning of that. According to The Nature Conservancy, for this is one of their preserves, “the heath formed when two adjacent ponds filled with decaying plant material called peat. Eventually, the two ponds filled completely and grew together to form a raised coalesced bog, where the surface of the peat is perched above the level of the groundwater.”

Our first steps found us walking through a forested bog rich with wetland plants including Cinnamon and Royal Ferns.

And then we entered the peatland through the pearly gates.

It was a place where one could disappear for a few lifetimes and eventually emerge completely preserved. With Pitch Pines and Black Spruce towering above, the colors gave us our first pause for the Rhodora was in full bloom and neither of us could remember ever seeing so much of it before.

As it was, we seemed to have been transported into a still-life painting of spring where even the toppled Gray Birch might have been intentionally placed for such a contrast it provided.

Taking a closer look, it was suddenly obvious that life was not still at all and the flower drew our eyes in and out and in and out again with all of its lines.

We even found a few with brand new hairy leaves complementing the presentation.

This was a place where old friends live and greeting them again with a friendly handshake seemed only natural.

The Tamarack’s needles so soft and bright green graced the tree with a feathery appearance.

The flowers of the Black Chokeberry gave us pause for a few minutes for we had to get our shrub eyes adjusted to the brightness that surrounded us.

We weren’t the only ones with large eyes noticing all the goodness in our midst.

Being in a heath, members of the heath family made their presence known, such as the Bog Laurel. Some of the flowers had fallen to the sphagnum moss floor below the boardwalk, so we sat down to take a closer look at the flower, its petals fused into a shallow, five-lobed bowl. The interior of the bowl was interrupted by ten indentations where the pollen-bearing anthers snuggled as if in individual pockets. Each awaited a pollinator to trigger the spring-like tension and thus get showered with pollen. We may have unintentionally aided in sharing the goodness.

Because we were looking and trying to gain a better understanding, Alanna ran her fingers down the Bog Laurel’s stem, reveling in the recognition of the longitudinal ridges between each pair of leaves. From one set of leaves to the next, the ridge orientation and next set of leaves shifted 90˚. In the land of wonder, we were definitely wallowing in awe.

Another member of the heath family stumped us for a few minutes until it reminded us that its “pineapple” form atop the rhododendrum-like leaves was not the fruit, but rather the start of the flower.

It was a few plants later, that we noticed the flowers beginning to burst.

While we watched, a male Painted Lady paused atop one of the laurels as if it was a pedestal, the better place from which to possibly entice a mate.

Shortly thereafter we made a new acquaintance. By its shiny, parallel-veined leaves we thought we knew it, but then we spied the tiny white flowers. We know False Solomon’s Seal, but join us in greeting Three-leaved False Solomon’s Seal. Ronald B. Davis writes in Bog & Fens, “In bogs, it commonly occurs on a peat moss mat at the transition between a mineorotrophic black-spruce wooded area and a more open ombrotrophic area.”

Indeed, I have a lot to learn, but the natural community was transitioning again.

And within the transition zone, we met another new friend: Mountain Holly. In retrospect, we may have met in a past life, but it’s always good to spend some time getting reacquainted with the finer details such as the tiny flowers at the end of long, fine petioles.

At the end of the boardwalk, the trail loops around through a forest of pines and oaks.

At the shrub level, Bumblebees acted as bell ringers while they flew from one flower of the Highbush Blueberry to the next, making sure that all were in tune.

It was in this same neighborhood that we met another for the first time. Velvet-leaved Blueberry’s leaves and stems were as soft as any robe an angel might wear.

Below, her bell-shaped skirts dangled.

A surprise along the loop trail was a spur to an outlook where a sturdy bench offered time for contemplation and meditation.

Several signs beyond our reach warned us not to step off the platform and into the bog, but . . . it was soooo tempting. And weren’t we in the garden?

As we stood and wondered about what we might be missing, we spied several Pitcher Plants with their urn-like leaves.

And directly behind the bench stood one of the rare species for which this place is known: Atlantic White Cedar

Though we never did see the Hessel’s Hairstreak Butterfly, another rare species associated with Atlantic White Cedar, we honored the tree by taking a closer look at its foliage.

And then it was time to return back across the boardwalk, upon which we immediately noticed a huge Pitcher Plant we’d missed on our previous pass. In its center the bulbous red flowers posed as cranberries.

We also spotted a couple of Pink Lady’s Slippers in bloom that we’d previously walked past, giving thanks that we’d had to follow the same route and because of that made some new observations.

At the end of our time we knew we’d visited a very special place that allowed us to come to a better understanding of old friends and make new acquaintances. It certainly felt like we’d spent the morning at Heaven on Heath.

Bear to Beer: Rumford Whitecap on Memorial Day

It had been a couple of years since we’d hiked Rumford Whitecap together. As we drove north we recalled summer, fall and winter adventures on the loop trail, but never spring. And so today, we rectified that.

The 761-acre Rumford Whitecap Mountain Preserve was purchased by the Mahoosuc Land Trust in 2007. Our preferred route is to hike up the Orange/Red Trail and descend via the Starr Trail denoted by yellow blazes.

As we ascended, we chatted about our relatives and friends who had and do serve in the Armed Forces, including grandparents, dads, uncles, my brother-in-law, cousins, friends, and classmates.

Memorial Day was always special in our home growing up as my hometown celebrated with a parade that sometimes featured my siblings, neighbors, and me. Before it became a Monday holiday, it was celebrated the day before my mom’s birthday, so we always noted that the parade was held in her honor. And furthermore, her younger brother died in WWII, so it was a celebration of his service and life. I noted today that I only have known him all these years through photographs of a handsome young man, and stories of his youthful adventures.

Because we were chatting and spending much of our time looking at the ground to avoid tripping on rocks or roots, the trail passed quickly under our feet. Suddenly, I realized we were in an area of mature American Beech trees and so I started to search the bark on our never ending quest of bear claw marks. Two seconds later and bingo–I spotted one tree with a couple and then together we found another with many scars made by the bear’s long, sharp claws.

Some were older than others, and it appeared that during the mast beechnut year we had two and three years ago, this tree had been climbed several times.

We felt instant satisfaction for our efforts and continued to look as we followed the trail to the summit. But . . . we never found another.

That was okay as there was much more to see including the fluttering petals of Serviceberry or Eastern Shadbush, a shrub that loves the understory. According to Dr. Michael L. Cline’s Shrubs of the Northern New England Forest, the names Serviceberry and Shadbush “refers to early flowering corresponding to the time that those departed in winter could be interred and when anadromous shad returned to major rivers in spring.”

The natural community changes several times on this mountain, like many, and eventually it thins into a bald with islands of lichens, Black Crowberry, Alpine Bilberry, Lowbush Blueberry, Leatherleaf, Sheep Laurel, and . . . Red Pines. The summit is host to one of the largest Red Pine communities in the state–some dwarfed by the wind that flows across the granite daily.

Others standing tall in their military stature.

The wind was welcome as we continued up the granite pegmatite, and then a deposit appeared before our eyes and we knew we were indeed in the right place for this Mondate–Black Bear scat. By its color and texture, it was obvious that Ursus americanus had dined on the organ meat of a hairy critter. Too much information, I’m sure, but consider the wildness of it all.

Given all the blueberry blossoms, we suspect Ursus will return. Be ye forewarned.

At the summit, it’s always fun to find a survey monument-–the bronze disks used by surveyors since 1879 for mapping purposes.

From there (lunch rock–why does PB&J always taste so good when one hikes?) we took in the view toward Black Mountain in the near beyond,

Rumford in the valley below,

and several ridges covered with wind turbines. I’m of two minds on this topic–the old wishy-washy self that I am. In Canada, wind turbines are located across the landscape and even as we hiked the Cape Mabou trails on Cape Breton Island a few years ago, we stood below one and listened to its airplane engine-like sound, but we didn’t hear it until we were quite close. I actually think they are quite beautiful as they turn–ballet of a sort.

At last it was time to get out of the chilly wind and begin our descent. If you look closely, you might spot Sunday River with a wee bit of snow still on the ski trails. But . . . you have to look closely (Faith–I’m talking to you!)

It was on the way down the bald peak that I noticed the pompoms of several Tamarack (Larch) trees–because we don’t meet on an every day basis, they always bring a smile to my face.

We slipped from the Orange/Red trail to the Starr and found Rhodora beginning to bloom–its magenta buds bursting with pride prior to its leaves.

Pollination was happening everywhere we turned, including by Hover Flies becoming familiar with Pin Cherries.

The trail down was sometimes wooded and other times granite. As I was about to step up onto one slab, a mottled design captured my attention. It would have been easy to overlook for so well did it blend in–even seeming to mimic green lichen. But . . . it was a moth that hugged the stone face.

Soon after I made a curious observation. Colonies of Painted Trillium greeted us several times, but always at a higher elevation. I know they grow low, for I’ve encountered them many times, but it had to be a soil consideration that I don’t yet understand that caused such behavior.

Those that we saw had not yet been pollinated for their petals were not translucent . . . a give-away trait.

Further down the trail, we began to meet patches of Stinking Ben, aka Red Trillium.

There were also selections of White Quartz to admire.

And tiny Bluets that edged the lower pathway. Red, White, and Blue.

Being a Bear to Beer, we honored the hike and the day with a few sips at Sunday River Brewing Company in Bethel before heading home.

But really, the sight that best represented the day was the Red Admiral–red, white, and blue all in one. And an admiral to boot.

Thank you to all who have sacrificed your lives for our country. I did spend much of the day thinking about the peace and freedom that my guy and I enjoy. And the fact that we were surrounded by a variety of colors other than those of the American flag, which made me think of how the American Flag represents so many no matter their color or creed. And wondering why we can’t all agree to get along. We don’t have to like each other, but why can’t we agree to disagree and leave it at that?

Bear to Beer possibilities: Rumford Whitecap on Memorial Day.

Peace be with you.

Bluebird, Bluebird, Through My Focus

It rained. The sun came it. Rain drops continued to fall. Until they didn’t. Then the temperature rose to a degree we haven’t seen in over eight months here in western Maine. And we melted.

But, with the heat wave came some new visitors, including this male Baltimore Oriole, so named because his coloration resembled the coat-of-arms of Lord Baltimore.

The funny thing about Lord Oriole: he’d stopped by a few days ago when I had a sturdy chunk of suet in the feeder. After seeing him, I immediately added orange slices to the offering in hopes of enticing him to return.

And so when he did this morning, I marveled at the fact that he ignored the oranges and chose instead a small bite of the suet.

Adding more color to the yard was a male House Finch. He tarried not long for his gal paused in the lilac bush and then flew past and he followed in hot pursuit.

But I gave thanks to the finch for as I looked for him to return, I noticed movement on the outer edge of the garden below the back deck. Shuffling about the dried leaves looking to glean a meal was a Common Yellowthroat. My very own Common Yellowthroat. Certainly another reason to rejoice.

There was more rejoicing to be done for I eventually found my way to the vernal pool. I realized I’ve been avoiding it lately, ever fearful after discovering a few dead frogs that life had taken a turn for the worse within that small body of water.

But the surprise was all mine when I discovered recently hatched tadpoles resting atop an egg mass. The green color is an algae with which they share a symbiotic relationship. The algae colonize the egg mass and produces oxygen. Being symbiotic, it’s a two-way street and the algae benefits from the eggs by gaining carbon dioxide produced by the embryos. The carbon dioxide is needed for the photosynthetic process. For a few days after hatching, the tadpoles feed on the alga.

Salamander embryos within their own gelatinous also took on that greenish hue due to the same symbiotic alga. My heart was filled with joy for there were numerous masses within the pool, most of them spotted salamander. And now I can only hope that the pool stays wet enough for them to mature and crawl out as their parents did.

Leaving the pool behind, I wandered toward home, but a familiar call beckoned. It took a few minutes for me to locate the creator, but eventually I saw him.

On a sturdy branch parallel to the ground, the Broad-winged Hawk did dine. He also frequently announced his presence with his high-pitched voice.

As a true carnivore, he’s known to eat reptiles, amphibians, birds, small mammals and even large insects. From my stance, I thought I saw a long tail that didn’t seem right for a vole. Instead, I wondered if it was a snake. I kept expecting to be greeted by one beside the vernal pool and the hawk wasn’t all that far away. I suppose that means that if the salamanders and frogs are able to crawl and leap out of the water, they’d better find good hiding places because this guy and a possible mate have been soaring above for a couple of weeks and probably have a nest nearby.

In the end, it seemed that whatever his meal was, it was lip-licking good. Upon finishing it, he flew south while I trudged across the field to the east. But I suspect our paths will cross again going forward.

All of those finds were spectacular, but . . . one of the best parts of the day–watching Eastern Bluebirds in the yard. I first spied the male in this morning’s rain.

And then late this afternoon, I was surprised to discover that they were both here, the she and the he. For the most part, they stayed out by the stone wall, perched on branches above before flying down to catch a meal.

Then they flew closer to the house and landed atop the feeders where I don’t have any mealy worms that are much to their liking. I hadn’t even planned to still have the feeders out, but with each new day bringing new visitors, I’ve delayed taking them in for the season. That is, until a Black Bear arrives.

But no Black Bears yet. (Just wait, one will probably show up overnight or tomorrow.)

And so . . . Bluebird, Bluebird, through my focus. Thanks for taping me on the shoulder. 😉 And sharing this day with me.

Lessons from Muskrats and Beavers

Cousins they are, but the semi-aquatic rodents are often confused. Muskrats and Beavers are easiest to identify by their tails, but those aren’t always visible when they are swimming. Typically, a Muskrat’s whole body is visible as it swims, its long, skinny tail sticking out behind. With a Beaver, though its tail is wide, flat, and paddle-shaped, it’s usually only the large wedge-shaped head that we spy.

Today, I had the good fortune to search a friend’s property for both. My journey began at an old beaver pond that’s been devoid of water in recent years, but this year’s snowmelt and rain water have filled the space where an old, yet substantial dam does stand. The curious thing about the dam is that the Beavers built it just above an old man-made dam, or did they? I had to wonder: who came first?

For close to an hour I stood and reflected . . . on the reflections before me and past memories of times spent observing this space. All the while I hoped to see two Muskrats my friend had observed mating last week, but they were a no show.

About twenty-five feet to the left, however, I did note a well-worn hole in a tree.

It must have been a flash of action that first drew my attention to it and so in between moments of Muskrat surveillance, I turned my attention to the snag where a Chickadee did pause.

All the while “Hey sweetie, sweetie” Chickadee songs reverberated through the woodland, and then . . . the bird slipped into the hole and a minute or two later flew out. Hey Sweetie, indeed.

When I finally pulled myself away from the beaver pond, my sense of disappointment for not spying the Muskrats thankfully displaced by the thrill of seeing the Chickadee nest snag, I started to hear a certain high-pitched whistle. I looked and looked but couldn’t locate the whistler, though I did spy a nest in the lower third of the canopy.

And then . . . movement caught my attention and it settled on a snag. A Broad-winged Hawk stayed high, but let me know that this was its territory and I was an intruder.

Not too much further along, it was movement rather than song that drew my attention. I knew I was looking at a thrush, and suspected a Hermit Thrush, but I’ve been wrong before. If you know better, please teach me. What I did note was the eye ring and smudges of brown on the lower breast. Again, I’m open to interpretation.

Eventually I reached another beaver pond of sorts.

There, the Hobblebush bouquet shown its sweet face. In reality, it’s an inflorescence or lacy cluster of tiny fertile flowers surrounded by a halo of showy, yet sterile bracts. Those larger, sterile flowers attract insects while the tiny fertile flowers do all the work of seed production. Nature has its way.

And so do the Beavers. As I moved along the wetland, I noted numerous scent mounds and knew that somewhere out there the rodents were active and making their claim on the place.

Everywhere, their works old . . .

and new . . .

and new again were on display.

In the water, a raft of winter chew sticks provided another indication that the lodge had been active.

But even more evident were the birds, their songs and calls filling the air space.

My favorites were the Yellow-rumped Warblers that flew from tree to tree along the water’s edge.

That yellow. White throat. Black mask. And black and white stripes. What’s not to love?

As I walked out, a Song Sparrow didn’t sing for me, but I loved its contrasting colors among deciduous needles.

And finally a Veery.

So, I went in search of two Muskrats and the Beavers. Perhaps I was too late in the morning to see them. But because of them I was treated to a variety of birds and appreciated the opportunity to spend some time with them and learn a little more about their habitats and habits.

My gracious thanks to M.Y. for the opportunity yet again. I have to admit that I covet your property.

Peeking with my Peeps

As has been our custom for the past six years, on a quarterly basis an email is sent out with a date and location and at the agreed upon time any number of grads, teachers, and mentors from the Maine Master Naturalist Lewiston 2013 class gather. Today was one of those days.

The plan was to explore a vernal pool or two at the Cornwall Nature Preserve on historic Paris Hill, but . . . it didn’t take us (Pam, Beth, Alan, Dorcas, and yours truly hiding behind the lens) long to get distracted when we saw green poking through the many shades of brown on the forest floor.

Together, we scrambled through our brains searching for the name. With the season finally feeling like it’s transitioning, we realized we have to dust off the floral flashcards in our minds and start reviewing them. And then it came to us. One year ago, on May 5, we had seen the same at Smithfield Plantation as we celebrated Cinco de Mayo, Naturally. Then, however, we had keyed it out minus the flower. Today, the memory of last year’s ID slowly sifted to the forefront and by its leaves and colonial habit, we felt safe to call it Clintonia borealis or Bluebead Lily.

A few more steps and we started dipping containers into a potential vernal pool that was really too shallow and offered no apparent key characteristics. But . . . there was an owl pellet filled to the brim with hair and bones, the one sticking out by central vein of the leaf a hip bone. (Yeah, so I may sound like a smarty pants, but Dorcas pulled it out and quickly identified the bone by its structure.) Some little mammal, or two, or three, had provided a bird with a meal.

Stair-step Moss (Hylocomium splendens) was the next great find. I would have dismissed it as Big Red Stem or Pleurozium schreberi, and in so doing missed its finer points. Do you see how each year’s new growth rises from the previous, rather like ascending stair steps?

And then there was another new learning, for I’m always referring to this species of fungi as jelly ear or wood ear. But, with Alan the fungi fun guy in our midst, we learned that it’s really Brown Witch’s Butter or Exidia recisa. (Drats–it’s so much more fun to say Auricularia auricula.)

As we admired the Exidia recisa, we realized others were doing the same for we’d interrupted a slug fest. If you bump into Alan Seamans sometime, do ask him about the numbing qualities of slugs. 😉

A few more steps and we began to notice trilliums, especially the reds with their leaves of three so big and blossoms hiding. All of a sudden we know the flowers are going to burst open and we can’t wait to witness such glory.

At last we reached the pool of choice, located maybe a half mile from the parking area. Two years ago, MMNP students from the South Paris class discovered Fairy Shrimp in this pool.

Our best finds today were log cabin caddisflies! At this point in time, the caddisflies are in their larval stage and as such, they construct their temporary shelters from available materials. Think of them as the original recyclers.

Should a predator be about, like a hermit crab, the caddisfly can retreat into the house of needles or leaves or stones or whatever its preferred building material might be. Apparently, it didn’t mind us and we were honored to watch as the elongated body extended forth while it searched for food. In its larval form, these aquatic insects have a hardened head and first thoracic segment, while the abdomen remains pale and soft. Can you see the three pairs of legs?

The cool thing about caddisflies is that though they may use similar construction materials, no two are alike. Beth called them works of art.

I referred to this one as a she for the case included a Red Maple bouquet.

If you look closely, you might also note some filmy gills on the abdomen. And the grayish thing the Mrs. approached and a second later ignored. It seemed rather leech-like in its behavior, but I think it may have been a Planaria, which is a tiny unsegmented flat worm.

As we dipped for insects, we also noted plenty of Spotted Salamander spermatophores sticking up from leaves and twigs. But we could find none of their milky egg masses and wondered why.

We did, however, spy plenty of Wood Frog masses, some with their tapioca structures bubbling upon the surface, but most attached to the stems below.

And then a chiseled tree section across the pool called to us and so we made our way over to check the wood chips below. Of course, we searched for Pileated Woodpecker scat, but found none. Instead, we spotted a dead frog in the water. And just beyond it, a dead salamander.

It wasn’t pretty, but did make us question what had happened. Were the two amphibian deaths related? We don’t know, but we did note puncture marks on the Spotted Salamander’s underside, and even a nip of the end of its tail. Plus it had one slightly deformed front foot. And we learned that salamanders have poison glands in their skin, mostly on their backs and tails. Did the frog go after the salamander and both died from the experience? Or had another predator entered the pool? And then realized it had made the wrong decision?

We never did figure it out, but had fun asking questions. And as we stood there, our eyes keyed in on a bit of color at the end of a downed branch. Again, more questions and the use of our loupes as we tried to take a closer look. We debated: slime mold or insect eggs?

After looking closely and continuing to ask question, a quick poke with a twig provided the actual answer as we watched the spores puff out in a tiny cloud. Slime mold it was. Should we have poked it first? No, for that would have been too easy and we wouldn’t have taken the time to consider the possibilities.

On our way out, there was still one more discovery to make. I could have dismissed this one as a moss.

But, again Alan knew and he explained to us that it was a liverwort known as Porella platyphylloidea. And upon closer examination we could all see its three-dimensional structure as it curled out from the tree trunk.

Almost three hours later, our brains were full as we’d also examined trees, lichens, and other fungi, but our hearts were happy for the time spent in each others company sharing a collective brain.

I’m always grateful for an opportunity to peek with these peeps, even at something as common as a caddisfly because really . . . there’s nothing common about it.

Doubting Spring?

Finicky weather–rain one day and then another, sunshine the next, and then snow in the forecast as it is for Tuesday morning. But still, all the signs are there.

Take for instance the clumps of deer hair that have been shed and now decorate areas where the ungulates do bed.

And the masses of eggs attached to twigs and vegetation within vernal pools, the Spotted Salamander’s a milky white contrasting the Wood Frogs tapioca presentation.

Then there’s the winter firefly in one of his favorite habitats where the water stands still . . . until a breeze ripples across.

And within the water column, the wriggling Larval Mosquitoes continuously somersault, while the Phantom Midge floats as it waits for a meal to pass by.

Drone flies do just that–fly, their compound eyes announcing alarm as they take in every teensy bit of movement in the surrounds.

The sight of a wooly caterpillar might make one think the season is six months out, but a cryoprotectant in its tissues so it can literally freeze solid, has thawed and the fuzzy little bear crawls.

The Saco River with Mount Tom behind was another sign, for over its banks had it flowed.

And then, where previously I’d spotted only the vixen, not one or two, but five kits frolicked.

Mom was nowhere in sight, but I trusted she had sent them out to get some fresh air while she cleaned the den.

A move to another location, brought more sights and scents and sounds, but one of the most delightful was that of the sweet-fern–its spicy aroma suddenly filling the air.

And at a semipermanent pool, a few wrucks chorused by distant Wood Frogs.

But by my feet, Eastern Red-spotted Newts swam about camouflaged by last year’s foliage.

One climbed another, and then slide off, any mating waiting for another time. Curiously it also mounted a Bull Frog tadpole, but quickly moved on when it wasn’t well received.

The chunky Bull Frog larvae had overwintered as tadpoles, but their metamorphosis into adult form probably won’t be completed by the end of this season or the next.

In fact, it can take several years for them to completely develop. In the meantime, they sat motionless basking in the diluted sunlight offered.

There was so much to see on this day and only so much time, but from the Red Maple flowers falling to the ground to the Tamarack needles growing with new life, I knew that every moment was fleeting.

This is a time to not let life pass you by. Rather–be like the Bull Frog tadpoles and slow down.

Make time to watch. Every. Single. Subtle. Change. For even though the temperature may still feel raw at times and snow is in the forecast, it really is spring in western Maine. Don’t be a doubting Thomas or you’ll miss the transformation.

This Wild Place

There’s no music quite like the Wood Frog’s defiant chorus, sung when the ice is barely off the vernal pool and the ground still covered with patches of snow. Singing together, they sound like dozens of quaking ducks. Wood Frogs are often the first Maine frogs to break winter’s quiet, beating Spring Peepers by a few days or even a week.

Their vocal prowess extends to silence. Once we approach a vernal pool and they sense danger (perhaps through vibrations), they cut off their song altogether, as though timed by some unseen conductor. The purpose of all this calling is finding a mate, of course. Male Wood Frogs, once they’ve called in some unwitting females, can be tenacious in the extreme–even if their suitor happens to be the wrong species.

This morning, as Greater Lovell Land Trust Docent Linda Wurm and I approached a pool on the Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve, the symphony was eerily still.

And so we began to circle around, our eyes scanning the watery surface for clumps of eggs. Our hope was to either see a male hug a female in an iron-lock grasp, forming the mating embrace called amplexus, or evidence of their date.

And we were rewarded. At least one female had laid eggs fertilized by a male. As is their habit, the female attached the mass to a twig and the tiny black embryo of each egg was surrounded by a perfectly round, clear envelope about one-third inch in diameter. These gelatinous blobs can consist of up to 1,500 individual eggs. Egg-mazing indeed.

The embryos will hatch into small brownish-black tadpoles in a week or two, or longer given how chilly the water was today. As they grow, their rounded tail fins will become translucent–almost mottled with gold and blackish flecks.

Wood Frog tadpoles grow at varying rates depending on water temperature, tadpole density, and available food resources, but tend to develop within about two months to become adults. Unfortunately for them, but in the web of life good for others, tadpoles often succumb to cannibalism, especially to their larger relatives. They are also eaten by predacious diving beetles, salamanders, turtles, and birds.

We only found one, maybe two egg masses, but this pool isn’t known for many. What it is known for is its Fairy Shrimp population and I’m sorry to report that we found not a one. But, we did spy a few handsome hemlock varnish shelf fungi.

And by them some red squirrel middens that made us happy for we saw few of these all winter.

Right behind the fungi and midden, something else in the water caught our attention and Linda focused with a keen eye.

My photo wasn’t the clearest, but upon some leaves and twigs we spotted spermatophores left behind by male Spotted Salamanders. They remind me of cauliflower, their structures consisting of pedestals topped with sperm. Though we couldn’t see any milky masses of salamander eggs, we hope that on future visits we will.

Spotting a Spotted Salamander is a rare treat. With their bright yellow spots on a sleek, shiny black back, they are even more nocturnal and elusive than the Wood Frogs. They are actually mole salamanders and spend most of their time burrowed underground.

As we circled back around the pool, a White-breasted Nuthatch mimicked our searching eyes and probed under some bark, its long narrow beak seeking beetles.

Every few seconds it took a break and surveyed the world that included us.

We, too, surveyed the world, and suddenly at our feet we discovered eggs we’d not seen previously. What were they doing about a foot out of the water?

And to whom did they belong? At first I considered Pickerel Frog, but on closer examination I thought they might be Wood Frog.

And then Linda shifted one clump a wee bit with a stick and we found what may have been the entrails. Life happens in vernal pools and this one was no different. Had a predator stopped by? Perhaps a raccoon or skunk or chipmunk or raccoon? But, why didn’t it eat the eggs? Again, so many questions.

With the field microscope, we looked at the eggs again and were almost one hundred percent certain that they were Wood Frog.* We did place some of them back in the water, but wondered if they were viable.

For all the eggs that are laid, it’s hard to believe that only 10% will survive. But the truth is that most die before transforming into adults and leaving their pools. The reasons are varied: the ponds dry up; or they are hunted down by predators: or they die of diseases.

After a few hours, we pull ourselves away, grateful for the time to explore this wild place–full of life . . . and death.

*I’ve reached out to Dr. Rick Van de Poll about the eggs out of water–if, by chance, he responds, I’ll update this post so stay tuned.

And now from Rick:

Hi Leigh!

Fascinating find! Having just seen a few predated egg masses today I can definitively say they are spotted salamander eggs. The blackish coloration is likely imparted by the stomach acids of a raccoon, who apparently gorged and threw them back up, along with a few frog parts. Again, while its not too common to see this kind of things around vernal pools, it does make for for a pretty good ‘who-dunnit’!

Rick

Shrouded By Fog

“It was a dark and dreary day.”

Like a thin veil, this morning’s fog attempted to hide Miss Spring.

But instead, it revealed her nuances and enhanced her being as the birds sang and amphibians added their voices to the chorus.

As I listened, I peeked through the thinnest of openings to see what the world wanted to reveal.

Weaving all of life together were the silken lines of spider webs.

Beads of water enhancing their forms.

And the creator turned out to be the most minute of beings.

Flowing forth the remains of melting snow, the stream spoke of nourishment.

Its action creating frothy suds that cleansed.

And within its bubbles the world above was reflected.

The surrounding landscape was mirrored in the drips of raindrops.

Everywhere, there were treasures indicating what is to come . . . in the form of Hobblebush buds growing more global;

Trailing Arbutus showing a glimmer of new life;

And Beaked Hazelnut presenting its most subtle, yet exquisite floral presentation.

As I continued to look about, something different caught my eye.

A moth recently emerged from its cocoon* spoke to another form of new life.

What I learned today is that one needs to watch.

Wait.

And be ready.

Though she has been shrouded, her veil is slipping away. I was grateful to discover that Miss Spring surrounds us when we make the time to look–even on dark and dreary days.

*The moth–I knew it was such, but didn’t know what kind. Upon arriving home, I did some research and the best I could come up with was the worst–Operophtera brumata, or the invasive Winter moth. But . . . I wasn’t 100% convinced of my ID so I reached out to fellow Master Naturalist Anthony Underwood. This was his response: “Don’t panic yet, Leigh. I’ve seen this before. It’s a newly eclosed moth, yes, eclosed. Probably a Sphinx moth. I wasn’t familiar with the term until I encountered one for myself a while ago. Your vocabulary is likely more extensive than mine but just in case I’ll clarify by explaining that it means that it has emerged from its winter cocoon and is looking for a place to pump its blood into those wings and expand them for first flight. Good find!

LOVE ME, love, me: Bradbury Mountain State Park

For Valentine’s Day 2018, I gave my guy the “Amazing Race–Our Style,” which included a list of monthly adventures. And if you kept up with us, you soon discovered that we had challenges to meet along the way as we competed with “imaginary” teams.

And then dawned Valentine’s Day 2019 and I wasn’t sure how I could outdo myself until . . . the proverbial light bulb went off, or rather, on, and a plan took shape.

With that in mind, I walked into Bridgton Books to find just the right card. What could be better than a Maine original by woodcut artist Blue Butterfield in Portland? I did enhance the card a wee bit when I added the heart on the trail. But one of the things I love about this card besides the subject and colors–the shadows: of the trees and the people and the people shadows could almost be bears. Just sayin’.

Inside the card I informed my guy that our next challenge would be to ❤️ ME, ❤️, me. Get it? LOVE Maine, Love, me. Naturally! I thought it was rather brilliant and had no idea at the time that Maine will turn 200 years old in 2020.

The plan is this–we’ll get to know our state better by visiting its 34 state parks. Mind you, this won’t all happen by March 15, 2020, and we may not even finish for another five years, but that’s fine. Nor will we have to compete with anyone along the way or complete challenges. All we need to do is show up, hike together, and appreciate our surroundings.

And so today we finally had a chance to begin and decided to launch our LOVE ME, love, me adventures at Bradbury Mountain State Park in Pownal. Though we’ve visited some of the parks before, neither of us had ever stepped foot on this one that had been acquired from the Federal Government in 1939 and became one of five original state parks in our grand state.

Others had, for more years than we’ll ever understand, but we did see lots of remnants from the 1800 and 1900s, including this boxy looking structure that we assumed was a pound.

Thank goodness for signs to confirm our assumptions. The pound was used to keep stray cattle, sheep, and pigs once upon a time.

Not only did the pound give us a hint, but by the stone walls, we knew the property had been farmed. By the ledges, we knew where some of the stones had come from.

Trail conditions were such that we walked on well-packed snow and lots of ice, so a break in the wall offered the perfect spot to sit and pull on micro-spikes.

Though the snow wasn’t deep like it is here in western Maine, the ice was quite thick, though water coursed through carving a trough providing a glimpse of the glacial activity that formed the natural features of the mountain.

In fact, striations from the glaciers were still visible upon stones in the trail.

Or not. For really, they were scratches created by snowmobiles because the park is open (for a fee) to hikers, mountain bikers, trail runners, horseback riders, cross-country skiers, snowshoers, and snowmobilers. There are also picnic tables and camping areas. What’s not to love?

And did I mention that it’s also open to critters? With a large swath of it being a hemlock grove, we weren’t surprised to see deer activity. And pileated works as well.

Of course, I had to check out the pileated wood pile, and delighted in seeing the cinnamon color of its inner bark. Salmon also came to mind.

And what else should I find within the wood chips–why bodies galore from a scat broken open. Based upon all the holes in the trees we knew the pileated had found the mother-lode of carpenter ants and the scats proved the point.

A little further along, we spied watery ice of a different color than that under our feet and suspected that hiding below the leaves and rocks under the snow cover of the surrounding woods are some amphibians waiting for a certain Big Night when they’ll make their traditional journey to their natal vernal pool.

At the far end of the pool, another shade of salmony-cinnamon greeted us.

A springtail frenzy was taking place where the ice had started to melt. Ahhhh.

Not far beyond the vernal pool, we reached the 485-foot summit. It’s not much as mountains go, but . . . the view was expansive–and we could see the Atlantic Ocean.

It’s also a favorite place to watch the hawk migration and we spent some time chatting with hawk counter Zane Baker who spends six days a week from mid-March to mid-May scanning the sky for raptors. Today was slow, he informed us and you can see by the chart that he’d only recorded four sightings. But today was on the cool side and Zane suspected some birds had ventured north in last week’s bit of a warm-up and the rest were waiting to make the journey.

We sat below and dined on leftover chicken/cranberry relish salad sandwiches while Zane continued to scan the sky with his binoculars and scope. Nada. But still, it was a beautiful spot and we were happy to be there before the crowds arrive.

On the way to the summit, we’d circled around the base of the mountain via a couple of trails, but chose the .3 mile descent via the switchback trail. Steeper and well shaded by an overstory of hemlocks, it wasn’t quite as quick of a descent as it might have been. Thank goodness for spikes. Because I was always looking down to see where to place a foot, I was happy to finally discover that the canopy was changing as evergreens gave way to beech and witch hazel.

We had almost completed the downward climb when we happened upon a chasm that didn’t make sense.

Until we learned that it once served as a feldspar quarry. According to the Maine Geological Survey for Bradbury Mountain compiled by Henry N. Berry IV, “Feldspar is the most abundant mineral in granite, and in pegmatite the individual feldspar crystals can be very large. Feldspar was mined from pegmatite bodies like this in many places across Maine in the early 1900s. The quarry itself, now overgrown with large trees, is about 150 feet long, 20 feet wide, and 10 feet deep. It was crushed and separated to be used in making ceramics or as an abrasive. By the mid-1900s, feldspar mining had moved to other parts of the country and the world.”

Once we’d finished hiking on the West Side, we decided to walk across Route 9 and explore the East Side of the park. We covered lots more miles of trails, but noted only a few things along the way. One was the sweet sight of partridgeberry poking its evergreen leaves through the melted snow. There was even one tiny red berry still intact.

Again, the stone walls were numerous and by the time we had finished hiking, we suspected we’d zigzagged through a few, crossing them more than once.

The terrain was much more level and the mixed forest more open, so the trail conditions were easy.

As we neared the end of our journey, we spied a foundation of stone with a brick fireplace near the Old Tuttle Road.

It reminded us of our own old farmhouse, though our utensils are a bit more up to date. That being said, I’m always a wee bit annoyed when I discover artifacts lined up by a foundation. I guess I’m of the opinion that they should remain where they were and if someone stumbles upon something–great. Let people make their own discoveries. (Enough of a rant for today.)

At last we reached a monument we’d seen denoted on the map. We’d been wondering what it meant.

It turns out that the generous Spiegel family, who’d founded Quoddy Moccassins, had gifted some land to the people of the state of Maine. As two people of the state of Maine, we gave thanks.

Four hours and lots of miles later, our first in our ❤️ ME, ❤️, me Series had come to an end. Bradbury Mountain State Park. ✓ One down, 33 to go!

Spring Awakening

The note on the counter listed two destinations as I had no idea where I wanted to wander today and had mulled several places over in my mind. I like to let my guy know where I’m headed, or at least where I might be headed. The final decision, however, was made by my truck for it wasn’t until I was several miles beyond the first possibility when I realized I’d missed the turn. OK, so maybe the truck didn’t decide, but still . . . I surprised myself.

When I arrived, I began to drive in on the muddy part of the road first, but then I saw the icy section, and decided that rather than get stuck, I’d back out and find a different place to park. My next choice was what to wear on my feet. I’d already donned my Muck boots, which almost reach my knees, but decided to not wear snowshoes or Micro-spikes. In hindsight, either would have been helpful at times, but I think I made the right decision and if you read on, I think you’ll agree.

The road way in might seem long to some if you have to walk its length, but it gave me an opportunity to slip into the place and notice . . . things like vireo bird nests below eye-level given the snowpack. It was a rather holey nest, but still its structure was one to behold.

And then there was the ever present big-toothed hemlock to consider 😉 A rare species that grows only in these woods.

At last I reached the bog of my dreams and took in the expansive view from sky to mountains to trees and shrubs and ice and snow.

In the beyond stood Mount Washington.

And closer by was the southwestern side of Pleasant Mountain.

But . . . it was the little things that I’d ventured in to see, occasionally post-holing up to mid-thigh when I paused to focus on something such as a stonefly. It was a stonefly haven, so many did I spy.

Spiders were also out to enjoy this fine day.

And then I saw a piece of dried bark dangling from a stick in the snow. It fooled me momentarily.

But then it began to maneuver along its silky thread and I realized I was in the presence of another spider, an orbweaver.

A little further along, the melt down was officially underway. Not only by the sight of water, but in its still form I recognized the musty, muddy smell. New Haven Harbor at low tide came instantly to mind.

And roaming about in and out of the water was an American Robin. I used to think these birds were harbingers of spring, but all winter I’ve spied them in various places. This one cuck, cucked as it moved, and poked and sipped. Eventually, another responded.

My main route, which I chose to stay upon because of my footwear, began to give way as the bog water flowed over the cobbled stones.

And I gave thanks for my choice of footwear.

For a while I managed to cross the wet spots determined to see what other harbingers of spring might speak to me. While admiring some pussy willows, I heard the whispering sound of Wood Ducks and several times startled them so they took to the air as is their nervous habit.

I continued on, passing through more water until I almost reached what I call beaver bridge for the rodents love to make a dam below it. At that point the water was too high and I decided to apply some common sense and turn around. As I walked back I spied a couple of Black Ducks who were equally quick to take flight. And then I heard one of my favorite spring sounds–the check, check, check call of Red-winged Blackbirds. A few flew past and landed in treetops, all the while communicating with each other.

The final sound was that of a male Hairy Woodpecker. He seemed to drum and then listen, and spent time staying in one area where he visited several dead snags while I looked on, my presence not seeming to matter.

Was he listening for a response, I wondered.

It was on the walk back that I spied another shrub worth worshipping, Wild Raisin or Witherod, as it is known. Its fruits had been consumed but its buds were growing in expectation.

And suddenly I realized . . . so was I. I do LOVE winter, but really, I appreciate all of our seasons and can’t imagine living in a place where I can’t experience each in its own right and the change from one to another. Today, the color of the ice, a pastel blue, gave me pause and as much as I wanted to walk out onto Brownfield Bog, I knew better.

Spring awakens slowly in western Maine where a blanket of snow still covers the earth. That’s okay by me. It’s worth the wait and gives us the opportunity to treasure each revelation.

Dear Earth

Dear Earth,

In your honor, I decided that on this Earth Day I would head out the back door and travel by foot, rather than vehicle.

e1-Mount Washington

My journey led me down the old cow path to the power line right-of-way and much to my delightful surprise, Mount Washington was on display. It was so clear, that I could even see the outline of buildings and towers at the summit. Thank you for providing such clarity.

e2-vernal pool

Rather than walk to the mountain, I turned in the opposite direction and found my way to the vernal pool, where ice still covered a good portion. You know, Earth, as much as I want this to be a significant vernal pool because it does usually have two qualifiers (and only needs one): more than forty wood frog egg masses or more than twenty spotted salamander egg masses, I know that it is not. I believe it was created as part of the farm based on the rocks at the far end, not exactly forming a retaining wall, but still situated so close together in a way that I haven’t found anywhere else in my extensive journeys of the hundreds of acres behind our house. Plus, it dries up much too quickly to be a natural pool. And each year I’m surprised to find wood frogs, their egg masses, spotted salamander spermatophores, and their egg masses, given that the water evaporates before the tadpoles finish forming. If these species return to their natal vernal pool, Earth, then how can that be since no one actually hopped or walked out as a recently matured adult? Or were these frogs on their way to another pool and they happened upon this one? You know me, Earth–lots of questions as I try to understand you better.

e4-dorsal amplexus

Whatever the answer is, each year you work your magic and on a visit yesterday afternoon, I spied a male wood frog atop a female in what’s known as amplexus, aka, mating. According to Maine Amphibians and Reptiles, edited by Malcolm L. Hunter, Aram J.K. Calhoun, and Mark McCollough, “When mating, the male clings tightly to the females back. Visible contractions of the female’s body signal the onset of oviposition, at which time the male’s hind feet are drawn up close to the female’s vent. As the eggs are expelled, the male releases sperm into the water and strokes the egg mass with his hind feet, which presumably aids in distributing the sperm more evenly.” I looked this morning, but didn’t find any sign of eggs. Don’t worry, Earth, I’ll keep looking because perhaps they were there but hadn’t absorbed water yet.

e5-dead frog

One other thing I saw yesterday that greatly disturbed me was a dead frog in the water. Last year I also found such. My concern is that it was caused by a virus, but perhaps it was old age. Or some other factor. I do have to confess, though, Earth, I intervened and removed the body from the pond. I know, I know, it’s all part of the cycle of life, and I should leave nature to its own devices, but disease was on my mind and I didn’t want others to be affected. I may have been too late. Only time will tell.

e7-leaf variety

When I arrived this morning, I’m happy to report that I didn’t see any dead frogs. For the longest time I stood upon a rock–you know the one I mean, Earth, for you’ve invited me to stand there before. It’s sunny in that spot and the frogs know it well, for that is where they’ll eventually deposit their eggs. As I waited, I looked down at the leaves on the pool’s bottom and noticed how they offered a reflection of the trees above, beech and oak and maple and pine and hemlock. All still displayed their winter colors, but when the pool does dry up, they’ll turn dark brown and form a mat that will provide nutrients for the plants that colonize the area. You’ve got a system, don’t you Earth.

e8-frog 1

I knew if I stood as still as I could, I would be rewarded. While beech and oak leaves, the last to fall from their trees, danced somersaults across those already on the ground and matted by the past winter’s snow, red and gray squirrels chatted and squawked, and chickadees sold cheeseburgers in their songs, my eyes constantly scanned the pool. And in a flash, a frog emerged from under those leaves.

e8-wood frog 1a

For a while he floated, allowing the breeze to push him to and fro within a two square-foot space. But then he decided to climb atop a downed branch. Perhaps he was trying out a calling sight to use once I left.

e9a--wood frog 3

And then, there was another. And after that another. Yesterday I saw a total of six. Today only four. But that doesn’t mean the others weren’t hiding until I left, right Earth? I hope that’s what it meant. One thing you have taught me via the frogs is patience. If I stand still long enough at least one will swim to the surface. And they, too, are patient as they wait: for me to leave; for the gals to come. Well, maybe when the gals do come they aren’t all that patient.

e10-mosquito larvae

I actually returned to the pool a second time today and more of the ice had melted. While in the late morning I couldn’t see any insects on the move, in the early afternoon I eyed thousands of mosquito larvae. Everyone moans about mosquito larvae, Earth, but . . . they provide food for salamanders and the adult form for birds. I’m just trying to look on the bright side.

e11- snowmobile trail

This afternoon, I waited and waited for the frogs to emerge, but either my eyes didn’t key in on them or they decided to wait until I left. So . . . I finally did just that, and did head toward Mount Washington after all, following the snowmobile trail. As you well know, Earth, it was a bit tricky between the snow, soft mud, ruts and rocks exploding from your earth.

e11a-boots

My right foot managed to fall through the icy snow into a hidden rut filled with water that covered my Bog boots. And then my left foot found some mud that squelched with glee. Or was that you squealing with delight, Earth? I had one wet sock, but ventured on.

e11b-Mansion Road

At the junction, I turned to the west, following the log road and remembering the days of yore when my guy and I, as well as neighbor Dick Bennett, used to work up a sweat on a winter day following a snow storm, for it was our duty to you, Earth, to release the snow from your arched gray birch trees. And then, a few years ago, the road became the main route to the timber landing/staging area again, and all of those trees we’d worked so hard to protect year after year were cut to make way for machinery. As much as my heart broke, it does give me time to watch forest succession in action, and I gave thanks that you have such a plan in mind.

e14-deer dance

It also provided a blank stage upon which the does danced and left behind their calling cards.

e12-buck

And Buck sashayed each partner across the floor. The deep dew claw marks and cloven toes indicated he’d made quite an impression.

e11c-coyote scat

All along the way, upon raised rocks in the middle of the “road,” coyote and fox scat was prominent and in the sandy surface I also found their prints.

e18-vernal pool near landing

At the left-hand turn that led to the landing, I was surprised when I shouldn’t have been, for suddenly a million “wrucks” filled the air. I knew the water was there but it had slipped my mind. Thank you for the song of many more wood frogs. Thanks for filling my ears with joy.

e15-wood frog egg masses

And the chance to spy their good works. Thankfully, you make sure that life continues. At least in the form of wood frog egg masses.

e17-wood frog egg mass

I loved their gelatinous blob-like structure, all bumpy on the outside they were. Actually, I believe what looked like one mass, was several, but I didn’t dare step in to check and disturb the frogs that hid below.

e16-wood frog 5

Again I stood as still as possible, and again I was rewarded. For a bit I thought that the frog before me had no arms, but then I realized that they were just plastered to its sides.

e19-wood frog under log

A squirrel sounding bigger than itself caught my attention briefly and I turned unexpectedly. When I turned back, the frog was no longer at the water’s surface, but appeared below a downed gray birch. For a while the two of us remained still. I hoped another frog or two or three or three thousand would pop up, but that wasn’t your plan, was it? It’s okay. One was enough.

e21-log landing

I finally left my one, oops, I mean your one frog alone and continued on to the log landing, noting all the mammal tracks and looking for other signs. There was more scat, but I was disappointed not to find bobcat or moose prints. Where were you hiding them? I suspect the moose had moved to the swamp below.

Rather than go much further, for major ruts from the logging equipment were filled with water, I turned around just beyond the landing and headed back across it. Twenty-five years ago it was a much smaller clearing with a few pine trees. Over the years, I’ve watched it change and the mammal activity as well. And then, about five years ago it was converted back to a landing and I can’t wait for it to fill in again, but my desire and your plan are not necessarily the same, are they?

It all seemed like so much destruction, but I had to remind myself that I am part of the equation, with my own needs for power and wood and food and everything that you provide. And cuts do bring about a change, sometimes for the better, for the trees and the mammals and the birds and the plants and the decomposers and the consumers and all who call this place home. Am I convincing you, Earth? Am I convincing myself?

e22-frog 7

As I passed by the lengthy vernal pool again I decided to revisit the egg masses. I stood on the rock and slowly scanned the area. No frogs. On second glance, there was one right beside the rock on which I stood. And it looked like the same one I’d seen previously. I wondered why. Why didn’t I scare it? Was that you, Earth, taking a peek at me?

e23-Mourning Cloak butterfly

I had one more surprise on my journey–the first butterfly of the season, a mourning cloak. With its wings closed, it wasn’t all that attractive.

e24-mourning cloak

But upon opening them, I saw its beauty hidden within–another lesson, eh Earth? Oh, and your sense of humor. For yes, that was coyote scat on which the butterfly sucked as it sought amino acids and other nutrients. A fly also dined. Yum.

What a day, Earth. Your day. Dear Earth Day. May I remember to treat you so dearly every day.

Sincerely,

wondermyway

 

 

 

 

 

 

Craning My Neck

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about living in the moment lately, a concept that really drove itself home during the years that my mother dealt with dementia and I was forced to realize that each time I left the room, my return was a new visit; a new adventure. And now, so many friends are dealing with issues that make every second precious and I realize once again the importance of slowing down and noticing and making the most of being present. Now.

f1

Such was the case this afternoon when I joined two friends who had pulled in from their winter home in Florida this week. We met at one of the parking lots for the Mountain Division Trail in Fryeburg, Maine, a rail trail that makes one feel like you could walk to the White Mountains in a matter of miles. But, to get back to the moment, the original plan had been to travel the trail with two different friends and then one had to back out and I found out that the Florida friends had returned and so I invited them to join the other and me, and then my other friend had to back out and so it was the Florida duo and me. And it was so fabulous to spend time with them that we walked rather quickly, which completely surprised me when I thought about it for I know that they love a slow journey. But we had much to catch up on and because the trail is paved we didn’t have to think about foot placement and perhaps that’s what spurred us on.

f2-tamarack 1

At last, however, it was spurs that stopped us, for one of them spied a branch with upward facing cones and little spurs and she wondered what it was. The cones certainly looked like hemlock cones. But why were they upright? And what happened to the needles? When I explained that it was a tamarack, she again questioned it for she’s always been here in the autumn when the needles are a brilliant yellow and she thought those needles stayed on all winter. Not so, I explained, for a tamarack (larch, hackmatack–take your pick of common names) is our only deciduous conifer in northern New England. The golden needles fall the same as maple leaves.

f11-pussy willows

We also put on the brakes when she spied pussy willows–a sure sign of spring in their Zen-like presentation.

f20

Onward we marched, catching up on past months. But then, as the day would have it, first he had to turn around and head back to the parking lot and then a short time later she had to do the same. And that got me thinking about how the walk had evolved. I was sorry that the two I had originally planned to share the trail with couldn’t join me, but equally thankful for the two with whom I did travel. Living in the moment means embracing a change in direction.

f3-evening primrose basal rosette

The rail trail is four miles long in one direction and I turned around at the 2.5 mile marker. On my return, I was entirely surprised by the offerings that had escaped my attention previously, like the beauty of an Evening Primrose’s basal rosette.

f4-pitch pine cone

It’s fractal fashion was reflected in the pitch pine cones I spotted on the ground and surrounding trees.

f5-pitch again

The pitch pines always draw my fancy and I was especially intrigued by the past, present and future–as I tried to live in the moment. It’s not as easy as it sounds for we so often get caught up in what was or what could be.

f8-red oak

The past produced fruits long since deployed.

f10-speckled alder catkins

The future grew longer before pollinating the shorter.

f7-trailing arbutus in bloom

But in the moment–I spied the first blossoms of Trailing Arbutus.

f9-spotted salamander spermatophores

My return journey was much slower than the first leg, for there was so much to see. Included in the expedition was an examination of a small vernal pool. And what to my wondering eyes did I see? Spotted salamander spermatophores–those little chunks of sperm left behind by males atop cauliflower-shaped platforms.

f14-wood frogs quaking

As if that wasn’t enough, further on I heard a familiar quack and knew wood frogs were active though I couldn’t see them.

f15-wetland

And still further I discovered a wetland I’d never noticed before. Spring peepers sang from the far edges. It was all a surprise for on the walk out I’d told my friends from Florida that I hadn’t seen or heard any vernal pool action yet.

f15a--chipmunk

I just need to spend more time listening and waiting and letting it all play out before me, the same as the chipmunk that was sure I couldn’t see him.

f16-Canada geese

After a three-hour journey, I found my way back to the truck and then decided to take some back roads home. As I passed through farmland where cornfields are prolific, I noticed movement. I so wanted the movement to be another bird, but it was a huge flock of Canada Geese that attracted my attention. Again, I had to live in the moment and enjoy what was before me.

f17-sandhill cranes

And then I turned into the harbor, and was pleasantly surprised for suddenly my eyes cued in on those I sought who stood tall.

f17a--sandhil cranes

And preened.

f18-sandhill cranes

And craned their necks. Sandhill Cranes. In Fryeburg, Maine. They have returned to the harbor for at least  the past five years, probably more and I’ve had the privilege to hear them fly over several times, but today was the first time I was honored to see them. Thank you, Parker, for the tip.

I craned my neck and gave thanks for the moments spent in their presence and lifted up several people who will benefit from a dose of this medicine–Tom, Jinny Mae and Lifeguard Wendy: this one is for the three of you.

 

 

 

Transitions

Life, it seems, is always in transition. Or perhaps it is a series of transitions that we experience on this fast boat as we whiz through time and participate in endings and beginnings, with learning opportunities thrown into the mix. So it feels, when one season overlaps another.

If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant. If we did not taste adversity then prosperity would not be so welcome. ~ Anne Bradstreet

s3a-the crew

And so this morning, I enjoyed the opportunity to experience the natural transition from winter to spring at Sebago Lake State Park with a group of seven led by AMC volunteer JoAnne Diller. (JoAnne donned the lime green coat.)

s1- Ice on Songo River

We began our journey at the boat launch beside Songo River, where signs warned of thin ice and Canada geese honked in the distance.

s2-Songo River curves

Tree buds added a subtle hint of color to the landscape. And the ice in the oxbow indicated nights of cooler temps followed by days of warming.

s3-Jan examines beech scale insect

Trees within the forest showed other signs of change for we noted the cinnamon tinge on many a beech tree. Not all transitions were good.

The trees were dotted with the waxy exterior winter coating of the beech scale insect, Cryptococcus fagisuga, a tiny insect that sucks sugar and other nutrients from beech trees only.

Soon, the beech scale insect will molt into its second, legless nymph stage and emerge. Immediately, it will start sucking sap through its tubular mouthpart or stylet. That instar stage doesn’t last long, and quickly it will become a mature female. For the rest of its life it will remain sedentary, but repeatedly remove and reinsert its piercing stylet, wounding the tree and providing entry points for fungi to enter. An interesting fact about beech scale insects–its a world of females who reproduce by parthenogenesis; there are no known males.

But what about that cinnamon color? Was it a fungus? Or was it related to the insects? Yes and yes. Two species of nectria fungi are associated with beech bark disease, Nectria coccinea var. faginata and Nectria gallengia. What we examined was a large area of the former’s fruiting bodies.

s4-Y in the road

For the most part we followed the groomed trail system, though we did do some post holing as we crossed from one route to another. And then we came to a fork in the road–so we took it! Actually, first we went left and along the way startled some deer. And realized we weren’t exactly where we wanted to be so we backtracked and journeyed on to the right. How often does that happen on this boat ride? Frequently. But the best part about today was that no one complained because we were all happy to travel the trail and enjoy the world around us.

s5-beach on Sebago Lake

At last we arrived at the beach on Sebago Lake, where snow and sand in the cove and small bits of ice moving with the gentle waves spoke of what is to come.

s7-pitch pine

It was at the same spot, where we paused at a picnic table to eat a snack, that we stood in awe of the pitch pines as they showed off their plates of bark thickened by age and unique manner of needles growing from the trunk.

s8-pitch pine cone

Even their cones, each scale topped with a rigid prickle, were beginning to break down as they began their journey of giving back to the earth.

s9-tree roots

But what struck us the most were the tree roots all along the beach. And we began to wonder what had happened.

s10-roots

How old were the trees? Had the sand eroded?

s11-trees

Was the lake once much higher? And how do those trees survive? If only they could talk, we would hear their stories of pounding waves and raging storms. And maybe other adversities. Maybe they do talk and we just don’t know how to listen.

s13-back to the river

In what seemed like a flash, I realized we were on the opposite end of the oxbow I’d photographed when we first arrived–our journey had been a circular one, well sorta.

s14-buoys

By the boat launch two channel buoys waited patiently for spring to return in full force so they could move onto the river and do the job for which they were best suited.

s15-Canada geese

We took one last look before saying our goodbyes and going our own ways on this journey we call life. That’s when we spied the Canada geese–a sure sign that spring really is just around the corner.

Thank you, JoAnne, for organizing such a delightful hike and allowing us to absorb the richness of the woods, river and lake as they remind us about the transitions in life.

*And Tom, this trek is for you, and your own transition.  Love all.

 

Spring Erupts–Sort of

Two days ago the thermometer climbed to 68˚ and old records were broken. But then, as it does in New England, we had a low of 15˚ this morning. And now it is sleeting.

w-beech snag in complete decay

Before the sleet began, however, I decided to do a loop hike at the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve, beginning from the Gallie Trail and climbing up the Hemlock Trail to the summit of Whiting Hill, with a return via the Red Trail back to the Gallie. It’s a perennial favorite that always has some different things to offer, including the skeletal remains of a beech snag. I think what intrigued me most, besides the pileated woodpecker holes, were the lines of the wood, curved in nature.

w-Lactarius deterrimus (orange latex milk cap)?

Similarly curved were the gills of a decaying Orange Latex Milk Cap (Lactarius deterrimus)–at least that’s what I think it was–found beneath a hemlock.

w-bear 1

Part of my love for the Hemlock Trail can be found among the beech trees that also grow there and it is my habit to admire the lines that decorate them as well.

w-bear 2

No matter how many times I visit, I’m filled with awe.

w-bear 3

And wonder.

w-bear 4

For the black bears that left their signatures behind.

w-paper birch bark 2

Other trees also gave me pause, for though some know them as white, I prefer to call them paper birch. The curled-back bark offered hues of a different color reminiscent of a sunrise in the midst of a graying day. As my mother was fond of saying, “Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning.” Today was a day to heed said warning.

w-paper birch bark 1

Others bespoke a setting sun.

w-paper birch bark--stitchwork

And not to go unnoticed, more bark from another paper birch that had fallen to the ground. It too, offered subtle pink hues, but it was the stitchery created by former lenticels (the tree’s pores) that drew my eye. They reminded me of a million zippers waiting to reveal hidden secrets.

w-yellow birch bark

And then there was the yellow birch–with its ribbony bark shedding its own light on the world.

w-wintergreen

Around the base of some trees, the snow had melted and wintergreen plants showed off their transitional colors–winter magenta giving way to summer green.

w-bench over Heald Pond

At last I reached the summit and headed to the east side first, where Heald Pond was visible through the bare trees.

w-Mollisia cinerea--gray cap?

Nearby, still another tree invited a closer look. I love the bark of hophornbeams, but this one sported a growth I wasn’t familiar with until I checked Lawrence Millman’s Fascinating Fungi of New England upon my return home. In the world of mushrooms my knowledge is enough to be dangerous, but I trust my fungi friends will weigh in if I’m wrong on the ID. I’m going out on a limb and calling this one Gray Cup (Mollisia cinerea), for it seemed to match Millman’s description: “With luck, you might find several hundred of these stalkless ascos . . . each fruiting body will be more or less cup or saucer-shaped, but wavy or irregular in age.” And he describes their habitat as scattered or densely crowded under hardwood logs. Well, these weren’t under a log, so that made me question my ID, but they certainly seemed to match the rest of the description and hophornbeam is among the hardest of the hardwoods.

w-hophornbeam

Below another hornbeam I found the ground scattered with little fruits.

w-hophornbeam hops

The common name for the tree derived from those fruits, which when attached to their twig (the arrow points to such) are so arranged that they look like hops. As they fall, each little bladder that contains a single seed separates from the group in hopes of finding the right spot to grow into the future.

w-vole tunnels

As I moved toward the western outlook, half tunnels in the snow let me know that the vole community had been active. It probably still is . . . maybe.

w-Whiting Hill view toward Kearsarge

And then, the view to the west, which encompasses Kezar Lake, Mount Kearsarge and the Whites. The scene changed a bit last October when a windstorm just before Halloween toppled a dead white pine . . . and the cairn that marked the summit.

w-asters in snow

While there, I looked around for evidence of the wild columbine that will bloom in a few months, but found only asters hugging the snow.

I stayed for a few minutes, but the wind had picked up and so I finally turned to head back down.

w-white pine blue sap

For a short link, I followed the same path until I turned right onto the Red Trail. Just prior to that I realized I’d missed a sight on my way up–the blue sap that bled from a white pine. I’ve seen it often over my years of noticing, but have no idea why the color blue, which was really almost periwinkle. In this case, the sap flowed because a pileated woodpecker had been hard at work.

w-pileated scat

And that meant I had to look–and wasn’t disappointed. Woodpecker scat. It was so well packed, that I pulled out my hand lens and got down on my knees for a closer examination. I practically kissed it but can say for certain that insect parts were layered within.

w-heart

A few minutes later, the trail split and as I said earlier, I followed the Red Trail to descend. I had only gone a wee bit when I heard a barred owl call, “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?” It was noon, after all, so it seemed totally appropriate. The call came from somewhere near the summit and I had to wonder if I’d made the mistake of not looking up quite enough, so taken was I with the hops and the view to the west. Perhaps that vole had provided a meal. And then I heard a response somewhere quite possibly along the Hemlock Trail by which I’d ascended. For about five minutes they called back and forth and I thought of the irony, for months ago I’d scheduled an Owl Prowl for this evening, but had cancelled it this morning due to the weather forecast. That decision was the right one, but perhaps the prowl should have been scheduled for an earlier time. No matter–what’s not to love about hearing an owl hoot at any time of day or night? Especially if one happens to be standing near a tree sporting a heart.

w-lunch bench

Continuing down, another critter made me scan the forest constantly for I saw bobcat tracks and smelled a musky cat odor that I’ve previously associated with this trail. But . . . all I saw were gray and red squirrels scampering from tree to tree and signs of lunch consumed on benches.

w-chipmunk

At the bottom, I switched back and forth between the Gallie and Homestead Trails. It was along the Homestead that another sign of spring’s advent being around the corner showed its face as a chipmunk darted in and out of a hole in a stonewall and watched me from the safety of a fallen tree.

w-foundation filled with chunks of ice

Because I was there, I decided to pay a visit to the McAllister family spirits and told them of my great finds. Of course, what I shared was nothing new to them for they’ve been keeping an eye and ear on this property since the mid 1800s.

w-foundation 2

I also let them know that I was impressed they’d stacked up on ice blocks in the root cellar–certainly their produce had remained fresh throughout the season.

w-spring 1

I was almost back to my truck when I detoured by a certain yellow birch. All along I’d been walking on tracks others had made, so packed was the snow. And even when I went off trail, which was frequently, I didn’t sink. But . . . up to my knees I went as I approached my final destination–the light colored sand in the middle of  the water.

w-spring 2

It was well worth the wee challenge to get to it for the action of bubbles and sand flowing like lava was ever mesmerizing. At last I’d reached a spring that erupts in all seasons.

 

 

 

 

 

Wondermyway Celebrates Third Anniversary

Three years ago this journey began as a quiet entry into the world of blogging, of sharing my finds and questions found along the trail. And ever so slowly, you joined me to wander and wonder.

So really, today is a celebration of you, for I give thanks that you’ve continued to follow and comment and wander and wonder along, whether literally or virtually.

I absolutely love to travel the trail alone and do so often. But I also love hiking with my guy and others because my eyes are always opened to other things that I may have missed while hiking on my own.

I’m blessed with the community of naturalists with whom I’m surrounded–and this includes all of you for if you’re following along and taking the time to actually read my entries, then you share my interest and awe. And you may send me photos or I may send you photos and together we learn.

t6-cecropia cocoon

Just yesterday, while tramping in Lovell, Maine, with fellow trackers, I spotted a cocoon  dangling from a beech tree. My first thought–Cecropia moth, but I contacted Anthony Underwood, a Maine Master Naturalist who has great knowledge about insects, and learned that I was wrong. He said it looked more like the cocoon of a Promethea moth. “They hang down whereas Cecropia are usually attached longitudinally,” wrote Anthony. And there you have it.

Now I just have to remember it, which is part of the reason I value my post entries. The information has been recorded and I can always plug a key word, e.g. Promethea, into the search bar and today’s blog will come up–jogging my memory.

And so, without further ado, I present to you my favorites of the past year. It’s a baker’s dozen of choices. Some months, I had difficulty narrowing the choice to one and other months there was that one that absolutely stood out. I hope you’ll agree with my selection. I also hope that you’ll continue to follow me. And if you like what you read here, that you’ll share it with your families and friends and encourage others to follow along.

February 23, 2017:  Knowing Our Place

h-muddy-river-from-lodge

Holt Pond is one of my favorite hangouts in western Maine on any day, but on that particular day–it added some new notches to the layers of appreciation and understanding.

March 5, 2017: Tickling the Feet

CE 3

I don’t often write about indoor events, but while the rest of the world was out playing in the brisk wind of this late winter day, a few of us gathered inside to meet some feet.

April 22, 2017: Honoring the Earth

h-spotted sallie 2 (1)

It would have been so easy to stay home that night, curled up on the couch beside my guy while watching the Bruins play hockey. After all, it was raining, 38˚, and downright raw. But . . . the email alert went out earlier in the day and the evening block party was scheduled to begin at 7:30.

May 21, 2017: On the Rocks at Pemaquid Point

p16-fold looking toward lighthouse

Denise oriented us northeastward and helped us understand that we were standing on what is known as the Bucksport formation, a deposit of sandstone and mudstone metamorphosed into a flaky shist. And then she took us through geological history, providing a refresher on plate tectonics and the story of Maine’s creation–beginning 550 million years ago when our state was just a twinkle in the eyes of creation.

June 9, 2017: Fawning with Wonder

p-fawn 2

Though fawning is most oft used to describe someone who is over the top in the flattery department (think old school brown nose), the term is derived from the Old English fægnian, meaning “rejoice, exult, be glad.”

July 3, 2017: Book of July: Flying on the Wild Wind of Western Maine

d-skimmer, yellow legged meadowhawk, wings

My intention was good. As I sat on the porch on July 1st, I began to download dragonfly and damselfly photographs. And then the sky darkened and I moved indoors. Suddenly, and I mean suddenly, the wind came up. Torrential rain followed. And thunder and lightening. Wind circled around and first I was making sure all screens and doors were closed on one side of the wee house and then it was coming from a different direction and I had to check the other side. Trees creaked and cracked. Limbs broke. And the lightening hit close by.

August 6, 2017: B is for . . .

b-bye

Our original plan was to hike to the summit of Blueberry Mountain in Evans Notch today,  following the White Cairn trail up and Stone House Trail down. But . . . so many were the cars on Stone House Road, that we decided to go with Plan B.

September 15, 2017: Poking Along Beside Stevens Brook

s22-cardinal flower

Raincoat? √

Notecards? √

Camera? √

Alanna Doughty? √

This morning I donned my raincoat, slipped my camera strap over my head, and met up with LEA’s Education Director Alanna Doughty for our reconnaissance mission along Stevens Brook in downtown Bridgton. Our plan was to refresh our memories about the mill sites long ago identified and used beside the brook.

October 5, 2017: Continued Wandering Into the World of Wonder

i-baskettail, common baskettail 1

May the answers slowly reveal themselves, while the questions never end.

November 24, 2017: Black Friday Shopping Extravaganza

b8-the main aisle

At last, I’d raided enough aisles. My cart was full to the brim and my brain overwhelmed. I guess I’m not really a “shop-til-you drop” kind of gal. It was time to wind along the trail and end my Black Friday shopping extravaganza.

December 29, 2017: Oh Baby!

s-screech owl 2

We shared about ten minutes together and it was definitely an “Oh baby!” occasion. But there was more . . .

January 21, 2018: Sunday’s Point of View

p17-Needle's Eye

We arrived home with ten minutes to spare until kickoff.

February 8, 2018: Hardly Monochromatic

p18-Stevens Brook

My world always takes on a different look following a storm and today was no different.

To all who have read thus far, thanks again for taking a trip down memory lane today and sticking with me these past three years. I sincerely hope you’ll continue to share the trail as I wander and wonder–my way.

And to wondermyway.com–Happy Third Anniversary!

 

Book of October: The Secrets of Wildflowers

It hardly seems right to be choosing a book about wildflowers as the book of the month for October, but . . . I have. And for so many reasons. Therefore, the book of October is The Secrets of Wildflowers: A Delightful Feast of Little-Known Facts, Folklore, and History  by Jack Sanders.

1019171344a (1)

First and foremost, there’s the cover! I know . . . I shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. But . . . I do. And this one appeals to my sense of color. My eyes are soothed by it, and therefore, so is my brain, and I find it a lovely addition to my summer kitchen office or the upstairs library (aka bathroom).

Then there’s the subtitle: “A Delightful Feast of Little-Known Facts, Folklore, and History.” And it is . . . a delightful feast, for its varied in format, offering prose and poetry, stories, descriptions, comparisons, suggestions, and a vast variety of tidbits during this time of harvest.

On the introductory page, Sanders writes, “The Secrets of Wildflowers covers natives and immigrants, friends and foes, because both kinds are here and both are interesting.” Oh my . . . isn’t that enough to make if perfect for right here and now. And I don’t mean just flowers.

The book is divided into three sections, based on approximate blooming seasons, (bringing me to another reason to choose such a book for October–it seems our growing season has extended and my day lilies have new leaves. That’s scary.), beginning with a section on spring, then summer, followed by late summer & fall. Within each section, several pages are devoted to a particular flower, including photographs and sketches–and oh, so much information. The only drawback that I can see, is the fact that I can’t see–the type is a wee bit small, perhaps because Sanders had so much to share and the book is already quite lengthy at 304 pages.

The book concludes with a two-page list of websites, a brief glossary and an extensive bibliography.

And so, as the October breezes send leaves dancing off the trees and the color begins to wane from the landscape, despite the small type, I find myself drawn to this treasure trove of information. I can pick it up and read a short section, while in the “library,” or spend an hour focusing on one plant while drinking a cup of tea in my office. I can skip around from season to season and not feel out of place. In the midst of it all, my hope it that I’ll retain some of what Sanders shares and I, too, can share when I lead future walks–adding to the story and helping others make connections.

With all of that in mind, I think The Secrets of Wildflowers is the perfect October book, for now that I own a copy, I have the rest of fall, on into winter, and next spring to devour this delightful feast. You might think the same and add it to your Christmas list. (Along with a magnifying glass–just in case).

Oh, and it was published in Guilford, Connecticut, next to my hometown–so that, of course, makes it special.

I found my copy on the shelves at Bridgton Books.

Book of October: The Secrets of Wildflowers: A Delightful Feast of Little-Known Facts, Folklore, and History by Jack Sanders. Lyons Press, Guilford, CT, 2014.

 

 

 

 

 

April Showers bring . . .

May showers!

v-green yard

It feels like it has rained every day for the past week, but the grass is certainly green.

v-pool (1)

And the vernal pool full. Between today’s downpours I visited it a couple of times, so excited by my findings.

v-wood frog eggs developing

The wood frog eggs had turned green with a symbiotic algae and I could see the tadpoles developing inside.

v-tadpoles 2

The green coloring made the their eggs contrast with the salamander masses. I was thrilled to see movement among the green and realized that . . . drum roll please . . .

v-tadpoles 6

my babies were slowing hatching. Of course, they are mine–even though the frog pond is located on a neighboring property. I’ve been an expectant mother for several weeks, and now . . . I’m nervous about the future, as any parent would be.

v-tadpoles 1

Will my babies survive? Will they have an opportunity to transform into their terrestrial forms?

v-tadpoles 7

Or will the pond dry up too soon as it has the last few years? I guess I’ll be forced to continue to stop by. Oh darn! One thing I have noted since the ice melted: I’ve yet to see a predacious diving beetle and there are hardly any mosquito larvae flipping about. That’s good for the tadpoles on one end of the spectrum and not so good on the other. To be food and to eat food.

v-sallie eggs 1

I also wondered, will the  white and opaque masses of the spotted salamander eggs turn green like they are supposed to–also dependent on a symbiotic algae?

v-hole 4

After checking on my wee ones, I walked the pond’s perimeter and noticed activity at a spot I’ve been keeping an eye on in the southwest corner. Well, not current activity, but recent. For the first time this year, a hole has been excavated.

v-hole 3

It’s the same hole that was excavated last year. Darker debris was piled in front.

v-hole1

At about three or so inches across, I wondered who owned it. Too small for foxes, and certainly too wet. Too big for chipmunks and a dirty dooryard. Could it be a mink? Do they leave a messy dooryard? I found the same hole excavated last year, but never any other evidence of the maker. I’ll continue to check for any other signs.

v-raindrops

My eyes reverted back to the pool, where raindrops and reflections created an artistic display.

v-maple dust lichen

And then I pulled myself away, frozen were my fingers. The greenness of the world continued to show its face everywhere I turned from the maple-dust lichen to . . .

v-white pine

young white pines, their candelabras growing long,

v-maple leaf and samara

red maple samaras upon old leaves,

v-cherry 1

and cherry flowers developing.

v-mayflower1

What do April showers bring? Mayflowers (trailing arbutus), of course,

v-Canada mayflower 2

Canada mayflowers,

v-tulip 1

and garden May flowers.

 

 

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.

b-bog from road

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.

b-sky and water

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.

b-common yellow throat 2

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

b-Bridie McGreavy

our inclination was to slow down.

b-Kathy

To stop, look and listen.

b-common yellow throat 1

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

b-oriole 2

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

b-oriole singing

And its voice.

b-catbird

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

b-willows and birches

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

b-willow pine cone gall caused by midge

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.

b-song sparrow

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

b-road 1

The current was strong in places . . .

b-deep water

and water deep.

b-scenery1

But the views . . .

b-Pleasant Mtn and Bog

worth every step.

b-maple samara

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

b-coyote scat

And scat–including this double offering of coyote deposits.

b-coyote scat toenail

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.

b-ribbon snake

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.

b-ribbon 2

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.

b-Pleasant Mtn

At times, Pleasant Mountain was the featured backdrop.

b-Canada geese

And Canada geese swam in the foreground.

b-beaver mound

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

b-oak 1 (1)

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

b-beaver lodge

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

b-bog 3

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

b-cuckoo nest remnants

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.)

b-spoon jar 2

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.

 

Books of May: Vernal Pools

I had two books to choose from and couldn’t decide which one to promote as the Book of May, and so . . . I chose both.

And it seems only right that both should be presented, for though they aren’t about the flowers or birds or leaves that are making our days brighter, they are about one of my other favorite May events. Yes, we celebrate Big Night in April, that night or those nights, when amphibians cross the roads as they return to their natal vernal pools to continue the life cycle. But it’s in May that so much growth occurs within those pools and if we take the time to notice, we can watch it all happen–changing daily. And the more we understand what we are looking at, well . . . the more we get it. (“Stating the obvious again, Mom,” our two twenty-something sons would say if they were to read this. But they don’t so I can get away with it.)

Enough said. The May Books of the Month are . . . the following:

A Field Guide to the animals of Vernal Pools

and

s-MAAR (2)

Maine Amphibians and Reptiles.

The former, A Field Guide to the animals of Vernal Pools by Leo P. Kenney and Matthew R. Burne, is about 8″ x 5″ and fits easily into any pack I decide to carry. Its pages are glossy, so I don’t worry too much about it getting ruined if I get it wet. And though it was written to represent Massachusetts, most of the species described match what Maine vernal pools have to offer.

s-MAAP frogs:toads (1)

After an introduction to vernal pools, their indicator (obligate) species, protection, importance and human impacts upon them, there is a pictorial guide to the adult amphibians and reptiles. This is a quick and easy reference, and especially useful when trying to determine the difference between species, e.g. bullfrogs and green frogs or leopard frogs and pickerel frogs. Besides frogs, it includes salamanders, snakes and turtles.

s-MAAR sallies (2)

And then there are more descriptive pages for each species. These have helped me over the years to gain a better understanding of what I’m looking at.

s-sallie eggs 1

Even today, when Jinny Mae and I discovered these spotted salamander eggs, I loved that we could see that gelatinous matrix that surrounded the individual eggs.

s-wood frog eggs

And the book has helped me recognize the difference between those salamander eggs and these wood frog eggs.

In the field, there’s so much more to see, including the invertebrates that inhabit the pool, and ever so slowly I’m learning to identify them as well–you know, predaceous diving beetles, damselfly larvae, water scorpions, backswimmers, water striders . . . the list goes on. Each of them is featured in the back of the book with a photograph and paragraph or two describing their larval and adult forms.

Maine Amphibians and Reptiles, edited by Malcolm L. Hunter, Aram J.K. Calhoun and Mark McCollugh, is my at-home reference book. Well, sometimes it goes for a ride in my truck, but usually, it’s left at home because it’s larger and offers a much more in-depth take on amphibians and reptiles, their habitats and conservation. Besides a photo gallery, each amphibian and reptile that makes its home in Maine is featured, with thorough descriptions, taxonomic status, distribution, reproduction, habitat, diet, and interactions with people and other animals. There are sketches and maps to further enhance the information presented. And it’s all quite readable.

s-MAAR recordings 2 (1)

One of the best features of this book (and unfortunately, mine is cracked) is the CD at the end. Yes, you can actually listen to the individual species so that when you hear them in the day or night, you might begin to recognize them, much as you would a bird, by their voices before you spy them.

In the past few years, the vernal pool that I study frequently, has dried up before the amphibians have matured. I find solace in the fact that even when the pool dries up, the species growing there still provide nourishment and pass on energy to their consumers.

But . . . maybe this year will be different. We had a lot of snow, and now a lot of rain. Maybe this will be the year the amphibians and insects that reside in the pool will actually mature and hop or fly out.

It all begins with MAY.

The Books of May:

A Field Guide of the animals of Vernal Pools, by Leo P. Kenney and Matthew R. Burne, available through the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries & Wildlife’s Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program.  (Curiously, the copy I own was from the third printing in MAY 2009)

Maine Amphibians and Reptiles, edited by Malcolm L. Hunter, Jr., Aram J.K. Calhoun, and Mark McCollugh, The University of Maine Press, Orono, 1999. (I purchased my copy at Bridgton Books.)