Embracing Quiet

If you are like me, you spend too much time racing from one moment to the next during this fleeting season of summer. With that in mind, I chose to slow down today.

m-stump islands

I know of few better places to do that than among the stump islands in the Upper Basin of Moose Pond. It’s been my place since I moved to Maine over thirty years ago.

Once upon a time, this was timberland–albeit prior to impoundment. A log sluiceway was built at the Denmark end in 1792 by Cyrus Ingalls, thus turning pastureland into the Lower Basin, so he could float logs to a nearby mill. In 1824, a more substantial dam was created and the height of that dam was raised by William Haynes in 1872 to create the current impoundment. While the Middle Basin of the nine-mile “pond” may be the largest at over 900 acres, its the 300-plus-acre Upper and Lower Basins that I like best to explore. And because the Upper is right out my summertime back door, I spend the most time there.

m-painted turtle

As I moved slowly, I greeted old friends like this painted turtle and even had the opportunity to pet a snapping turtle, so close to my kayak was it, but I paddled on.

m-newly emerged damsel 2

Actually, I didn’t paddle much once I reached the islands and stumps. Instead, I floated. And noticed. Before my eyes newly emerged damselflies pumped fluid into their bodies and wings, while their shed exuviae sat empty.

A family of three passed by in a canoe and I asked if they wanted to see something cool. When I told them about the damselfly, the father asked what a damselfly was and I told the family about its size and wing formation. They knew about dragons but had never heard of damsels. And didn’t want to stop and look. The mother commented on how magical it all was, but the father was eager to move on. I was sad for the son’s sake. He missed the real magic.

m-emerging damsel 3

Returning to my quiet mode, I found another, waiting as they all do, for the transformation to be completed. Do you see that the wings are not yet clear? I decided my presence was important, for I was keeping predators at bay.

m-orange bluet male

And then . . .

m-orange bluet 3

and then I met a new friend. An orange bluet–this being the male. I wanted to name him the Halloween damsel, but my field guide told me differently.

m-water shield and orange bluets 2

I kept waiting for him to meet her

m-orange bluets on water shield 1

and finally he did–

m-orange bluets mating

completing the wheel of damselfly love.

m-water shield 4

Because of the orange bluets, I also met the watershield flowers in their moment of glory. The flowers are described as being dull purple and inconspicuous. I found them to be various shades from mauve to muted red and lovely in presentation on day one of their life cycle.

According the US Forest Service Website, “On the first day the bud emerges above the water. Sepals and petals open and bend downward. Although stamens and pistils are present in each flower, on the first day of blooming, only the pistils emerge. Stalks of the pistils lengthen and spread outward over the petals. At night, the flower stalk bends and the flowers submerge beneath the water. On the second day, flowers emerge from the water again, but with the pistils retracted. The stamen stalks are lengthened and the anthers open. In this way flowers are cross-pollinated (Osborn and Schneider).

m-water shield old

Hardly dull, certainly unique. Even on day two.

m-newly emerged Hudsonian whiteface

Today, I also met a new dragonfly. And thought that I did it a favor, but I may not have. You see, when we first met, I noticed a web all around this immature Hudsonian whiteface (or so I think it is). With my paddle, I removed the web to free the dragonfly. But, um, it flew off and that’s when I realized it was several hours old and still drying its wings. Do you see how shiny they are? And the exuviae to which it clung prior to my “helping” hand? It’s best to leave nature alone. If it had been caught in the web, then good for the spider.

m-cotton grass 1

Speaking of spiders, I found some cotton grass gone to seed . . .

m-cotton grass with spider 2

and when I moved to photograph it with the sun behind me, I noticed what looked to be a camouflaged crab spider hiding in wait.

m-beaver lodge 1

Among the stumps, I’ve seen numerous beaver lodges over the years and know from the saplings they cut down on our property, that at least a few are active.

m-beaver scent mound 1

Today a recently visited scent mound added to that knowledge. Beavers pull aquatic plants and mud up from the bottom of the pond and create these mounds. They then secrete castoreum from castor glands beneath their tails to mark territory, deter predators, and say, “Hey baby, wanna check out my sticks?”

m-meadowsweet

The island flowers also grabbed my attention, including the fluffy heads of meadowsweet and . . .

m-grasspink orchid

grass-pink orchids now waning.

m-sweet-scented water lily

But . . . besides the dragons and damsels, I really went to see the aquatic flowers, like the sweet-scented water lily,

m-spatterdock

spatterdock,

m-pickerel weed 3

and one of my favs–pickerelweed.

m-pickerel weed

I love it for all its fine hairs and the way the flowers spiral up the stalk.

m-pickerel 2

I also love the coloration with two yellow dots on the upper lip providing a guide to the nectar it offers.

m-white face on leatherleaf 1

While I looked, another white-faced dragonfly, small in stature, kept following me. Finally, it paused on a leatherleaf shrub.

m-spatulate-leaved sundews with flower 2

And I paused beside the spatulate-leaved sundews.

m-spatulate--leaved sundew flower

I was about a week early, but one was in flower, with promises of plenty more to come.

m-pitcher plant 1

As I looked at the sundews, I realized that I’d never seen a pitcher plant in this place. As should happen, I was proven wrong, though I never would have noticed it if it didn’t have such a tall flower since its leaves were hidden by a mass of vegetation.

m-pitcher flower

Damselflies, dragonflies, and carnivorous plants–its an eat or be eaten world out there on the pond.

Bullfrogs bellowed from the edges, green frogs plinked, and fish splashed. I listened to Eastern kingbirds’ wingbeats as they dropped to the water to snatch insects, and red-winged blackbirds delightful conk-la-rees. I startled a great blue heron, the first I’ve seen on the pond all summer, and it flew off. In the midst of all the natural sounds and sights around me, I embraced the quiet on my four-hour paddle/float. And as Robert Frost might say, “That has made all the difference.”

 

Poking Along On Perky’s Path

Every Greater Lovell Land Trust trail is my favorite in any given moment and so it was that Perky’s Path received that ranking today.

p-beaked hazelnuts 2

I met my friend Pam in the parking lot and immediately our hunt for great finds began. We looked first at the basswood, but it was the shrub next door that heard us utter with delight–a beaked hazelnut showed off its fuzzy horned fruits.

p-hops on hop hornbeam

And then we walked back up the road a wee bit for at the entrance to the parking lot I’d spied a hop hornbeam also loaded–with hops.

p-striped maple sign

At last, we started down the trail, heading south where a self-guided tour begins. A small group of GLLT docents spent the winter months preparing signs for a variety of species along this route. It’s a task that requires choosing a particular trail one summer for the next, determining which species to ID, taking photographs, gathering and writing facts, creating and printing cards, laminating them, attaching them to posts, relocating the species and finally erecting the posts, which will be left in place until Labor Day. That’s a lot of work, so if you have a chance, take the tour. It includes trees, shrubs, flowers, ferns and more.

p-American toad

As we walked, the ground at our feet moved–in hopping fashion. We only saw one American toad, but plenty of frogs.

p-bloated female wood frog 2

All of them sported their camouflage colors, so after the ground moved, we had to focus in order to relocate them once they paused.

p-bloated female wood frog 1

This female wood frog’s robber mask was the only thing that helped us locate her.

p-young wood frog hiding under starflower leaf

You’ll have to use your own focus to find the baby wood frog that hid beneath a decomposing starflower leaf.

p-spring peeper

And another teeny, tiny one–a spring peeper with the X on its back.

p-common brown cup, Peziza varia

Because we were looking down all the time, we began to notice other things, such as the common brown cup fungi which looked rather like a wrinkled ear.

p-black trumpet Craterellus fallax

We also found a few black trumpets,

p-chanterelles 1

chanterelles (I’m leaning toward Cantharellus cibarius but don’t take my word for it–check with the Veitch brothers of White Mountain Mushrooms for positive ID is you are a forager.),

p-caesar's mushroom 1

and a couple of Caesar’s.

p-Indian cucumber 2

Though we found one Indian cucumber root that had been broken, its fruit continued to form.

p-round-leaf pyrola 3

Our hearts throbbed when we recognized that here and there hiding among the herb layer were round-leaved pyrolas.

p-round-leaf pyrola1

Their leaves were nearly round with petioles or stems no longer than the blade.

p-pyrola flowers 2

And their flowers–nodding.

p-pipsissewa flowers 1

Pam had shown me a photo of a pipsissewa that grew on her property and we then found a small patch just off the trail, their jester-hat flowers attracting small insects.

p-up close

What better way to admire those flowers than up closer and personal.

p-Pam's brackenfern hat 1

And then it was time to don a brackenfern cap for the mosquitoes were at times annoying–and biting.

p-Indian pipes 1

As we continued on, we noted that it is Indian pipe season. I asked Pam if she’d ever seen the pink version that occasionally occurs–and then we began to find several nodding heads . . .  all with a tinge of pink.

p-lichen sign

As we neared the platform overlooking the meadow and brook that flows between Heald and Bradley ponds, a sign of a different kind stood before a tree. Rather than focusing on one species, this one described the different formations of lichens.

p-lichen tree

And on the tree behind it–an example of all three, with several types of crustose (crust-like and look to be painted on), foliose (foliage) like the small ribbon lichen that is bright green and ribbony in the upper right hand corner, and fruiticose (think grape branches) of the beard lichens below the ribbon lichen.

p-lungwort 1

Behind that tree–another featuring lungwort lichen.

p-view to the south

For a few moments, we paused at the platform bench–taking in the sights . . .

p-looking north

and sounds as we wondered what may have passed through.

p-steeplebush

We also noted the difference in structure of the spireas, including steeplebush in bloom  . . .

p-meadowsweet 1

and meadowsweet not yet.

p-swamp candle, aka yellow loosestrife

Swamp candles added a tinge of color to the offerings.

p-blue bead lily1

Back on the trail, we were excited to find the porcelain beads of clintonia, one showing the transformation from green to blue.

p-dew drop 1

Dew drops shone white against their dark heart-shaped leaves covered in rain drops.

p-from the bridge

And further on by the primitive bridges that cross below the beaver pond,

p-tall meadow rue

tall meadow rue flowers presented a daytime fireworks display,

p-otter scat

while otter scat decorated a bridge slat.

p-end sign

We continued along, enjoying the offerings and quizzing ourselves on a variety of species, all the time pausing to read the self-guided tour signs. At last we reached the junction with the trail to Flat Hill and found our way back to the parking lot.

Perky’s Path is maybe a mile long, but it took us 3.5 hours to complete the tour as we poked along–rejoicing with each of our finds.

I used to think

c-mayfly 1

I used to think mayflies emerged only in May.

Maybe I’ve seen them in other months, but I’d never really thought about it. Yesterday this mayfly greeted me in the morning. And in the evening, it was still there. So my May-only theory proved to be wrong.

c-mayfly 2

I used to think they had only one adult form.

c-mayfly molt 1

That all changed this morning when I spotted it again. Only, I also spotted something else an inch or two away. An exoskeleton or exuvia? From a mayfly? It certainly looked mayfly-like with the same narrow and segmented body plus long-tail cerci.

c-mayfly beside molt

When I looked more closely, I realized that the exuvia was about half the size of the true adult form. As for that cloudy-winged specimen I’d spied yesterday–it had been a teenager, aka a subimago. I let the wings trick me because I didn’t know better. Though it looked adult-like, it wasn’t sexually mature yet.

Mayflies are unique in that after the nymph emerges from the water as the subimago (that fishermen call a dun) like yesterday’s model, they seek shelter before shedding their skin for the final transformation. How lucky for me that this dun chose our porch screen on which to rest.

c-mayfly size difference

And so, I was gifted a second opportunity to look. It can take a few minutes to two days before a subimago transforms into a clear-winged imago or spinner, though the actual metamorphosis is quick. I wish I’d seen it, but at least I got to see the end result.

c-mayfly mature 1

I’m not sure my friend appreciated it, but I was glad for our opportunity to spend some time up close and personal.

c-mayfly no mouth part

While in an aquatic form for a year or two, it had done plenty of eating. But as an adult, eating became a thing of its past as it had no functional mouth parts.

c-mayfly eyes 1

It did have plenty of eyes, however. The better to find food when immature and later a mate, I suppose.  Like other flies, its two outer eyes were large and compound.  Between them were three simple eyes (ocelli).

c-mayfly clear wings

The two pairs of triangular wings were held upright like a damselfly, rather than flat like a dragonfly. When I compared yesterday’s opague wings with today’s, the clarity of the new wings defined by dark veins seemed an obvious difference and one I’ll need to pay attention to going forth.

c-mayfly aedeagi at base of abdomen

Male or female? That was the question, but only for a moment. Do you see the aedeagi or penis-like appendages at the tip of the abdomen and below the two cerci (tail-like appendages)? Meet Mr. Mayfly.

c-mayfly bird's eye view1

I know that because mayflies emerge in swarms, they can be a nuisance. But this was only one. And our friendship only lasted for a few hours total–though he spent about 24 hours in the same spot. By noontime he had disappeared–of his own efforts I hope . . . heading off to do some courting. His days are numbered, I know, for his main function is to mate and maybe mate again, before he dies.

But today he served another function as he taught me a lesson. My best learning comes from observation . . . and realizing that what I used to think isn’t always accurate.

My thanks to a mayfly.

 

Orchid-Maine-ia

m-bald eagle 2

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

p-grasspink2

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

p-grass pink 1

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

p-rose pogonia 1

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

p-pitcher leaf

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

p-pitcher flower

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

p-sundew

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

p-trail sign

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

p-painted turtle by Muddy River

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

p-blue dasher 1

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

p-bluet love

And familiar bluets canoodled on a stem.

p-variable dancer

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

p-ebony jewelwing

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

p-flyby

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

p-slaty skimmer1

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

p-steeplebush

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

p-swamp rose

swamp rose,

p-cranberry flowers

cranberry,

p-cowwheat

cow-wheat,

p-blue flag iris with hoverfly

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

p-blueberries ripening

I noticed blueberries beginning to turn blue,

p-cinnamon fern

cinnamon ferns with shriveled fertile fronds,

p-hobblebush leaves turning purple

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

p-Holt Pond to the south

The wonders of Holt Pond . . .

p-Holt Pond west

never cease to amaze me.

p-quaking bog boardwalk

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

The Best Laid Plans

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

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

h-Eastern pondhawk female 1

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

h-Eastern Pondhawk 3

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

h-turtle eggs

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

h-hoverfly1

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

h-snapper turtle sunning itself

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

h-beaver lodge

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

h-emerald jewelwing female 2

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

g-porcupine den

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

h-garter snake

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

h-Eastern pondhawk dining

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

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