Insect Awe

I never intended to like insects. They weren’t really my thing. At all. And if I encountered one in the house, I’d either ask someone to smoosh it or do the dirty work myself, though sometimes that meant my hands clenched together until I got up the nerve.

But one day I began to look. I’m not even sure when that day was, but for quite a while now, it has become a daily habit.

What I am about to share with you are some finds from this past week. Some were new acquaintances while others were old friends I was meeting all over again.

For starters, I discovered this tiny, cylindrical structure on an oak leaf. Notice how it was right beside the main vein. I had to wonder, was the top rim also a vein, for so thick it appeared.

It’s my understanding that after creating the third role of the leaf, a single egg is laid. What triggers the insect to lay the egg then? Why not on the second role? And how many roles are there before the nest is completed?

What is this? A Leaf Roller Weevil nest, which is called a nidus.

In another place I spotted the first of what I suspect I’ll see repeatedly as spring gives way to summer. The wasp who built this global structure also used an oak leaf.

I’d love to see one of these being created and I am humbled not only by the perfectly round balls, but also the the interior. This one happened to be split open so I could peek inside. The wasp used the leaf tissue to surround a single larva located at the center. Fibers radiating from that central larval capsule supported the exterior. How could it be that an insect could create such?

What is this? An Oak Apple Wasp Gall.

Standing with others beside water as we listened for and spotted birds, I noticed the largest insect remaining in one place for minutes on end as if suspended midair.

It’s rather scaring looking, but that’s all an act for this impersonator likes to look like a wasp or bee in order to avoid becoming prey (think Batesian mimicry where something looks dangerous but is actually good).

In reality, despite its “fierce” presentation, it’s actually harmless. And beneficial. While it consumes nectar, honeydew and pollen, but doesn’t actually collect the latter like a bee, in the process of visiting a flower may get some pollen on its body and transfer the goods from that plant to the next.

But that controlled flying? You can see by the photo that the wings were moving, but with the naked eye it appeared motionless.

What is this? A Hover Fly.

I was standing about ten feet above a pond when I spied and first thought that these two insects were one. In fact, I was sure I was looking at the largest example of this species. And then I saw all the legs and realized something more was going on.

Indeed, a lot more was going on. She was on the bottom and as you can see, he had a tight clasp. Theirs is a mating habit that’s quite unique and if she doesn’t give in, it can go on for a couple of days. And might mean doom for her.

You see, she has a genital shield to guard against him if she doesn’t think he’s the man she wants. But, he has a counter behavior–he taps the water in a pattern that might lure predators such as fish. And since she’s beneath and closest to the fish’s mouth, it behooves her to submit quickly to his endearment.

What are these? Water Striders.

This next one was discovered when some young naturalists I was hanging out with lifted a rock upon a rock beside a brook. Burrowed in to the humus was a segmented insect.

In its larval form it would have had protective filaments, as well as gills to help it absorb dissolved oxygen. And a set of mean-looking mandibles. Ten to twelve times it would have molted before leaving the water and finding this moist environment under the rock where it dug a cell within which it spent up to fourteen days before pupating. Under the same rock was the exoskeleton it had shed. In this next stage of life, it developes wings, legs, antennae and mouth parts. We covered it back up and I suspect that by now or very soon it will dig its way out of the cell and emerge as a winged adult.

What is it? A Dobsonfly Pupa.

One of my favorite finds was beside a river–and though I didn’t get to see it emerge from its exoskeleton, I did watch it pump some blood into its body and grow bigger and longer over the course of an hour or more.

Its cloudy wings needed time to dry out and lengthen, as did its abdomen. And eventually, its colors would help in a determination of its specific name, though I wasn’t there that long.

Just across a small inlet, another had also emerged and while it had almost reached maturity, it was still waiting for its wings to dry. Notice how in the previous photo, the wings are held upright over its back, but as demonstrated here, when they dry they extend outward. That’s actually a great way to differentiate these from their Odonata cousins who wear their wings straight over their abdomens.

Meet the cousin–the damselflies.

And now back to the others, who also begin life as aquatic insects that molt a bunch of times before becoming adults. When the time is right, they climb up vegetation and undergo an incredible metamorphosis as you saw above. Left behind as skeletons of their earlier life are the delicate structures that remain on the vegetation for quite a long time.

I’m always amazed when I discover one atop another, and as far as I know it’s all just a matter of this being a good spot to go through the change of life.

What are these? Cruiser Dragonfly Exuvia above a Darner.

Also recently emerged as indicated by the still cloudy wings (and fact that I saw the exoskeleton a few inches away) was another that wasn’t a damsel or a dragon. Instead, it has the longest and thinnest legs that look like they can hardly support the abdomen, but they do. In flight, people often mistake them as Mosquitoes, but if such, they’d have to be considered giant Mosquitoes.

As it turns out, however, they are not, nor do they bite. In fact, in their adult stage, which only lasts for ten to fifteen days, they do not eat. Anything. Their sole purpose at this stage of life is to mate.

What is this? A Crane Fly.

I have saved my favorite for last. Oh, I think they are all fascinating, but this one . . . oh my. Notice that needle-thin abdomen and the zebra-like appearance of those long, skinny legs. I think they have at least three joints which give each leg a zigzaggy appearance.

The legs become important as it flies through the air–or rather drifts. Or maybe swims would be a better verb to describe its movement. You see, each leg is hollow. And each foot (a teeny, tiny tarsomere) is filled with air. Crazy? Yes. As it lifts off, it spreads its legs, but barely moves its wings, and disappears into the vegetation beside the brook in a ghostly fashion.

I’m really not sure how I spotted it, but I’d never seen one before and then this past week twice it made its presence known and I felt honored for the meeting.

What is this? A Phantom Crane Fly. (And if you hear me say Phantom Midge while we’re walking together–feel free to correct me. It’s like birch and beech, and so many others–my mouth jumps before my brain kicks into gear.)

Insect Awe. Who knew I would ever experience such. I can only hope our paths cross again soon.

Walking with Dragons

As I drove down the dirt road into Brownfield Bog today, I began to notice ruts on the side where previous vehicles had gotten stuck in the mud. And then I came to a puddle the looked rather deep and to its right were several rocks that I didn’t feel like scraping the truck against to avoid the water. That’s when I decided I’d be much better off backing up and parking at the beginning of the road. Besides, I knew if I walked I’d have more chance to see what the road and bog had to offer. But . . . back up on that curvy narrow road–for a quarter mile or more? Yup. Thankfully, no one drove in or out and somehow I managed to get myself out of that predicament.

I knew I’d made the right choice when I was greeted by an immature Chalk-fronted Corporal. First it was one, then two, and then so many more. And the mosquitoes and black flies? Oh, they were there, but not in abundance.

Also helping patrol the roadway was a Spring Peeper, the X on its back giving reference to its scientific name: Pseudacris crucifer–the latter meaning cross-bearer. Notice his size–about as big as a maple samara.

A more mature female Chalk-fronted Corporal perched upon an emerging Bracken Fern was my next point of focus. She’s larger and darker than her young counterparts, her corporal stripes on the thorax marked in gray.

And then there was a June Beetle, also maple samara in length with its thorax and abdomen robust.

My own eyes kept getting larger and larger for every step I took I felt like there was someone new to meet. Practicing ID was helped a bit as I’ve begun to recognize certain traits of the different species. Of course, each year I need a refresher course. By the green eyes, I knew this one was in the Emerald family, and with its green and brown thorax, black abdomen with a narrow pale ring between segments 2 and 3, and the fact that the abdomen is narrow to start and finish with a widening in between, I decided it was an American Emerald.

Reaching the bog at last, I was glad I’d worn my Muck boots, for the water flowed across the cobbled road and in several places it was at least five inches deep.

Within one puddle floated a dragonfly exuvia, its structure no longer necessary. I will forever be in awe about how these insects begin life in an aquatic nymph form, climb up vegetation or rocks or trees and emerge as winged insects.

As I continued to admire them, there were others to note as well, like the metallic green Orchid Sweat Bee pollinating the Black Chokeberry flowers.

The next flyer to greet me had a white face that you can’t quite see. By the yellow markings on her abdomen, I think I’ve identified her correctly as a Frosted Whiteface.

Birds were also abundant by their song and calls, though actually seeing them was more difficult since the trees have leafed out. But . . . a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker did pause and pose.

Again, shadows blocked the face of this species, but the wings and abdomen were far more worthy of attention as it clung to a Royal Fern. In fact, with so much gold, I felt like I was greeting a noble one. The Four-spotted Skimmer is actually quite small, yet stocky. The four spots refer to the black nodus and stigma (Huh? nodus: located midway between the leading edge of each wing where there is a shallow notch; stigma: located toward the wingtips). But notice also that the amber bar at the base of its wings and black basal patch on the hind wings–giving it an almost stained glass look.

By now, you must be wondering if I was really at the bog for I’ve hardly shown any pictures of it. Yes, I was. And alone was I. When I first arrived by the water’s edge, I noted two vehicles that had braved the road and as I stood looking out at the old course of the Saco River, I heard a couple of voices which confirmed my suspicion that they’d gone kayaking. But other than that, I had the place to myself. Well, sorta.

Me and all the friends I was getting reacquainted with as I walked along. The name for this one will seem quite obvious: White-faced Meadowhawk, its eyes green and brown.

Nearby a pair of Eastern Kingbirds, perched, then flew, enjoying such a veritable feast of insects spread out before them.

I worried for my other winged friends, including the female Bluet damselfly.

And the Common Baskettail. How long will they survive?

I also wondered about reproduction for I saw so many, many female Chalk-fronted Corporals, but not a male in sight. Until, at last, before I left the bog, I spied one.

And for a long time we studied each other. Have you ever realized how hairy dragonflies are?

The Brownfield Bog (Major Gregory Sanborn Wildlife Management Area) can put the brain on nature overload as all senses are called into action. But today, because with every step I took at least fifty dragonflies flew, they drew my focus and I gave thanks to them for reteaching me about their idiosyncrasies, as well as eating the smaller insects so I came away with only a few love bites behind my ears.

Walking with dragons. As life should be. In western Maine.

Echos of Hey YOU!

It’s not every day one gets to board a replica of the famed Mississippi River Paddle Wheelers. And especially not in western Maine.

But so I did, along with a slew of other adults and sixth graders today. And before our eyes, the Songo River Queen II transformed into an outdoor classroom.

For more than twenty years, Lakes Environmental Association has offered an educational cruise to those students who have completed the Living Connections Program in Lake Region Schools.

Each year, the weather differs from hot to cold to windy to calm to sunny to cloudy on cruise day. Today–on the chilly side, but calm and overcast.

Our cruise activity coordinator, the one and only Mary Jewett of Lakes Environmental Association fame, once sat in the very seats the students occupied. Mary is a naturalist/educator for LEA and spends the school year teaching classes about the watershed. Her job today, despite a hoarse voice and germs, was to quiz the kids about the knowledge they’ve gained. I’m always impressed with the understanding these kids have of their place.

Of course, no cruise is complete without someone at the helm and as always it was Captain Kent blowing the departure horn and steering the boat. While Mary asked questions and awarded prizes of seed bombs, LEA pencils and stickers, and track cards, Captain Kent took us on a tour of the lake. Every once in a while, he slowed the boat down and announced some odd behavior along the shore line.

His first spotting was of two women throwing sand from a wheel barrow onto a beach. Adding sand to replenish or enhance an existing beach can have a huge impact on water quality because it contains the nutrient phosphorus, which feeds algae. When sand washes into the lake during a rain event, the phosphorus is carried along and essentially fertilizes the waterbody. Phosphorus occurs naturally, but think of it as junk food for the algae. Too much is too much and the algae will grow out of control and turn the water green, thus decreasing water clarity. Point blank: in Maine it is illegal to add sand to a beach.

To get the ladies to stop, the kids stood up and shouted, “Hey YOU!”

And the ladies responding by hiding. Sorta.

More questions from Mary, such as, “What is phosphorus and how do you spell it?” And then Captain Kent announced the sighting of another infraction. Fertilizer was being spread at random.

On the same property, someone was spraying a weed killer, while another person mowed the lawn too short.

Again: a Hey YOU! chorus greeted the folks on land.

“Who me?”

Yes, you because the fertilizer and herbicide will wash into the water during a rainstorm. And by cutting the grass so short, there is nothing to stop the rain from flowing across the well manicured lawn, picking up those pollutants and more before dumping them into the lake.

Still Mary’s questions continued and prizes were awarded. And then Captain Kent spied more illegal work being done along the shoreline. A crew was loping the vegetative buffer, which should be left in place to filter the water that does flow from the house toward the lake.

Again: a Hey YOU! chorus greeted the folks on land.

And again, the people ran.

And hid. Sorta.

At last it was time for Captain Kent to turn the boat to the port side and we passed by an LEA Test Site. Below the bouy, a floating line holds in-lake data loggers that acquire high resolution temperature measurements. The loggers, which are also referred to as HOBO sensors, provide a detailed record of temperature fluctuations within the water column. They remain in place from ice-out until late fall. From these, LEA staff gain a better understanding of the thermal structure, water quality, and extent and impact of climate change and weather patterns on the waterbody tested.

Just beyond the bouy, Mary announced that it was time for half of the group to each lunch on the lower deck, and the other half to split into their four pre-assigned groups and make their way through four stations. My station was the Secchi Disk.

I showed the kids the eight-inch disk painted with four quadrants. We talked about how the disk is slowly lowered into the water on a metered tape.

On deck, the kids looked at the disk through the Aqua-Scope, similar to how a monitor watches it closely when actually on the water. When I asked why the black cup at the top of the view scope, in each group at least one figured out that it cuts out glare.

We did toss the disk into the water, but we couldn’t use the scope since we were several feet above. Still, they got the idea. When the white quadrant on the disk completely disappear, a depth reading is taken.

Our conversation also included factors that make the water turbid or difficult to see through like erosion, sediment, gasoline and oil.

And they learned to spell Secchi.

After completing quick lessons at each of the stations, which also included a core sampler, temperature and oxygen profile, and Van-Dorn style sampler, the two groups switched places and we offered the same information four more times.

And then everyone returned to the upper deck, and Mary’s quiz questions changed from information she’d reviewed with them in class to specific questions about each station (which was really a review also of their class material).

But . . . what to Captain Kent’s wondering eyes should suddenly appear? A team about to cut trees beside the water.

Just before the chain saw connected with the tree . . . the Hey YOU! chorus shouted.

Again, the reaction was similar. Who me?

Yes, you.

The state has guidelines limiting the amount of vegetation that can be cut within 100 feet of the high-water mark.

The tree crew got the message. And ran.

Can you find both hiding spots?

By now the kids were really into their shoreland zoning enforcement job and Mary had to remind them that some people were out on the lake doing legal things such as installing docks.

One student did point out a silt fence that surrounding a building project, but the project itself brought up the question of whether or not it was legal to add on to a structure located so close to the lake. Thankfully, Captain Kent knows each and every property along the shoreline since he’s travelled this route many times a day during the cruise season. He informed the group that this project was not an addition, but rather a replacement.

By the Naples Town Beach, the kids realized that a group of women were dancing and tossing cans into the water.

Again: a Hey YOU! chorus greeted the folks on land.

And again they ran to hide.

Just beyond the town dock, however, a man was bathing.

By now you know what they said and what he did.

At last it was time to return to the dock, but all around Long Lake in Naples, I suspect people can still hear “Hey YOU! Hey YOU! Hey YOU!” reverberating.

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.

Because of the Elder Alder

“Mind your elders,” they say. And so today I did.

It all began when I stood by a river in expectation of spying a few dragonfly exoskeletons. Low temperatures of late mixed in with lots of rain, however, meant that while the Black Fly and Mosquito populations are on the high side, the dragonflies have been slow to delight us with their presence. But . . . while I looked my eyes began to focus on another bug. On small saplings of Hemlock and others along the river bank, I found numerous takes on the same insect. Though winged, none of them appeared to be in a great hurry.

While I looked about, I realized that they weren’t the only ones who chose to stand rather still. The same was true of the Mayflies recently hatched, their eyes so big, bodies so striped, and mouths non-existent for eating was not their prime duty. Mating was the name of the Mayfly game.

And it appeared that others had the same intention in mind. And so I continued to circle back to them in my usual stalking routine.

“My, what long antennae you have.”

“The better to stroke you with, my dear.”

While I looked about, a bird flew in. My initial reaction: a thrush. More specifically: a Hermit Thrush. But . . . recently I’d learned that what I thought was a Hermit turned out to be a Swainson’s Thrush–a species I tended to ignore because I didn’t realize it might be a possibility in western Maine, until it was. And in the past two weeks, I’ve had three occasions upon which to make its acquaintance.

What I’m learning to note is its buffy eye ring and consistent color. I’m not a great birder, and don’t ask me about sound. Though I was raised in a musical family, the gene somehow was dropped from my DNA. I find that I appreciate the songs and calls that I hear. In fact, my life is enlightened by the morning orchestra. But . . . don’t ask me to repeat a note for it goes in one ear, out the other, and continues on into the forest reverberating against bark and leaves and illuminating the world in a manner ethereal–just not one I can remember.

As for the resident bugs, I found one that had bird droppings on it, but somehow it had managed to avoid becoming dinner. So far.

While I looked about, a bird of another sort made itself known–via a pellet filled with hair and bones.

Meanwhile, back on the first Hemlock sapling, I overheard this:

“Do you want to see me Hemlock needle collection?”

“Oh yes, please. I thought you’d never ask.”

While I looked about, I also noticed Starflowers in bloom, their tender blossoms practically imitating the leaves below.

Back at the ranch, or rather branch, the dance had finally begun. It was a slow one, indeed.

While I looked about, one with much more speed scurried across the forest floor. Where’s Waldo Spider? Do you see him?

And on the branch the slow dance continued as the partners spent time getting to know each other.

While I looked about, ants ran up and down stems all around on a quest I couldn’t quite understand, though I’m sure there was sugar involved.

On the branch: He stepped in closer with his left foot and she with the right as they began to Rumba.

While I looked about, I realized other insects had become meals so caught were they in the tangle of a web.

On another sapling, others waited to cut in. It’s a recognized practice to cut in. The guy who wants to cut taps the gal’s partner quietly on the shoulder. The dancer must let her go both courteously and cheerfully. She, of course, has no choice in the matter.

On the branch: He was going to allow no one to cut in. And she felt the same.

While I looked about, I discovered a white Lady’s Slipper not yet in full bloom, but when it does, it will be the perfect dance shoe.

When I at last left, the couple continued to explore each other, though mating doesn’t typically take place until nighttime. I guess this male was ready to get a head start. After all, their window of opportunity isn’t long, so they must make hay while the sun doth shine.

Because of these elder Alderflies, I had the honor to see and learn so much today.

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.

Stop, Look, and Listen

I’m a wanderer both on and off trail, and sometimes the path has been macadamized. Such was my following this morning as I paused on the way home from running an errand in North Conway, New Hampshire.

I’d stuck to the backroads on my way out of state to avoid road construction on Route 302, but knew that upon my return I wanted to stretch my legs along the Mountain Division Trail in Fryeburg.

The delightful four-mile rail trail, so named for the railroad line it parallels, intended for walkers, runners, bikers, roller bladers, etc., extends from the Maine Visitors Center on Route 302 to the Eastern Slope Airport on Route 5 and can be accessed from either end or several points between.

The wind was blowing and the bug count low, so though it wasn’t a warm, sunny spring day, it was a purely enjoyable one. And the cheery cherry flowers enhanced the feeling.

All along the way, it seemed, the Red Maples had not only leafed out, but yesterday’s flowers had magically transformed into today’s samaras that dripped below like chandeliers.

Lovely tunes and chips were also part of the landscape and I have no idea if I’ve identified this species correctly, but I’m stepping out on a branch and calling it an Alder Flycatcher. I’m sure those who know better will correct me. The naming isn’t always necessary, however. Sometimes, it’s more important to appreciate the sighting, the coloration, and the sound. For this bird, it was the dull olive green on its back that caught my attention.

And then up above on the other side of the track, it was the “Cheery, Cheery, Cheerio” song that helped me locate the American Robin in another maple raining with seeds.

Maples weren’t the only trees showing off their flowers, and those on the Northern Red Oaks reminded me of grass hula skirts below Hawaiian-themed shirts.

Even the ordinary seemed extraordinary like the Dandelion. Each ray of sunshine was notched with five “teeth” representing a petal that formed a single floret. Fully open, the bloom was a composite of numerous florets.

Nearby, its cousin, the early blooming Coltsfoot, already had the future on its mind and little bits of fluff blew in the breeze.

Eventually, I reached Ward’s Pond and after scanning the water found a Painted Turtle seeking warmth. The day was overcast and there was a bit of a chill in the strong breeze. Being down below the trail, at least the turtle was out of the wind and I had to assume that the temperature was a bit higher than where I stood.

This is a trail that may look monotonous, but with every step there’s something different to see like a Pitch Pine showing off three generations of prickly cones. What was, is, and shall be all at the tip of the branch.

It seemed like every time I looked to the left, such as at the pine, a sound on the other side of the trail caught my attention. And so it was that I realized a White-tailed Deer was feeding on grasses behind a fence by a now-defunct factory (so defunct that the roof had collapsed under the weight of snow). Notice her ears.

And now look at her again. A deer’s ears are like radar and she can hone in on a sound by turning them.

I don’t know if she was listening to me or to the Eastern Towhee telling us to drink our tea.

After 2.5 miles, I decided to save the rest for another day and follow the path back. Though loop trips are fun, following the same path back brings new sights to mind, like the Interrupted Fern I’d walk past only a few minutes before. Notice its clump formation known in the fern world as vase-like.

And the butterfly wings of its interrupting leaflets covered with sporangia. My wonder came with the realization that within the interruption not all of the pinnules or subleaflets were covered with the bead-like shapes of fertility. Spores stored within essentially perform the same function as a seed: reproduce and perpetuate the species. So–is part of the pinnule fertile while the rest remains sterile? Do I need to check back? Oh drats, another trip to make along the Mountain Division Trail. Any excuse to revisit it works for me, though one hardly needs an excuse.

Further along I looked to the other side of the tracks for I’d spotted bird movement. Behind it was the reason–my White-tailed Deer friend. I have a feeling people feed it for it seemed not at all disturbed by my presence, unlike the ones in our yard and the field beyond that hear my every move within the house even in the middle of winter and are easily spooked.

The deer, however, wasn’t the only wildlife on or near the trail. Suddenly, a Red Fox appeared and we each considered the other. He blinked first during our stare down and trotted away.

Passing by Ward’s Pond once again, I stopped to check on the turtle. It was still in the same spot I’d seen it probably a half hour before.

Not far from the visitors center, a Big-Toothed Aspens chose to be examined for the soft downy feel as well as color of its leaves. The various hues of color in leaves during spring is caused by the presence of pigments called anthocyanins or carbohydrates that are dissolved in the cell sap and mask the chlorophyll. As the temperature rises and light intensity increases, red pigment forms and acts as a sunscreen to protect the young leaves from an increase in ultraviolet rays.

Because I was standing still and admiring the leaves, I heard another bird song and eventually focused in on the creator.

And so I have the Big-Toothed Aspen to thank for showing me the Indigo Bunting. My first ever. (Happy Birthday Becky Thompson.)

A turtle. A deer. A fox. A towhee. A bunting. All of that was only a smattering of wonder found along the Mountain Division Trail. If you go, make sure you recall the old railroad signs: Stop, Look, and Listen.