Taking Flight

Morning had broken . . .

h1-morning has broken

and Pleasant Mountain’s reflection marked a new day.

h2-variable dancers conducting variable dance

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

h3-slaty skimmer

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

h4-Hemlock covered bridge

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

h5-bridge

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

h8-water low

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

h6-LOVE

The handiwork of more recent travelers . . .

h7-love lasts forever

was also clearly visible.

h9-river jewelwing-female, white dots in sync

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

h10-Hemlock Covered Bridge

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

h11-Mt. Kearsarge

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

h18-Mount Tom

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

h12-Dianthus armeria, Deptford pink

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

h14-bindweed

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

h13-honeybee on milkweed

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

h17-sulphur cinquefoil

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

h16-clouded sulphur butterfly

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

h16- clouded sulphurs puddling

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

h15-dragonhunter

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

h29-Fryeburg Bog

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

h19-buttonbush

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

h21-frosted whiteface

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

h22-frosted whiteface

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

h20-ruby meadowhawk

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

h23-ruby meadowhawks canoodling

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

h23--late afternoon snack

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

h30-Smarts Hill

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

h25-variable dancer

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

h26-variable dancers canoodling

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

h27-variable dancers canoodling

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

h28

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

h31-rainbow

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

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

 

 

 

 

Upta Camp

It’s been a gray day and a quiet day–the right mix of ingredients for a perfect day. And except for saying goodby to my guy this morning, the only conversations I have had, too numerous to count, were with myself.

c2-gray squirrel

Well, maybe that’s not quite accurate, for I did talk to a squirrel, but in unusual squirrel manner, it stayed as still as could be and didn’t respond. Together, however, we eyed our domain.

c5-mayfly

It turned out we weren’t the only ones with big eyes that chose to hang out all day. Attached to the screen was a Mayfly subimago–the teenage form of the insect.

c6-close up

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

m6c-close up

Notice the cloudy wings–that’s a clue as to its age. 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. Will I see it? You know I’ll keep watching.

c6-sawfly insect case

In the meantime, there was more to discover, including a sawfly insect case featuring the tiny hole where the insect chewed its way out.

c19-round-leaved sundew

As I looked about, I made one extremely exciting discovery–at least to me. Since 1986, I’ve stalked this land and today was the first time that I noticed the carnivorous Round-leaved Sundew growing here. Its leaves were filled to the brink with insect parts.

c18-round-leaved sundew

Perhaps that was why it looked so healthy and ready to flower. Expect to meet it again in future blog posts. (I warned you.)

c14-swamp rose

I also spotted a few Swamp Roses offering a bright contrast to the day’s overcast reflection.

c13-red pine

Featuring its own display of color was my favorite red pine–all pink-orange-gray hued in a jigsaw puzzle manner.

c15-red pine cone developing

At the ends of its branches I found young cones growing larger and greener.

c16a-spider

And old cones offering the perfect camouflage for a spider that had created a large network in which to trap its prey. I think it was of the garden cross variety, but without breaking the web, I couldn’t get too close, and I didn’t want to ruin all of its work.

c17-dragonfly exuvia

Entangled in a bit of another web and dangling from the floor of the porch and beside the foundation was a skimmer dragonfly exuvia. Today wasn’t a flight day for dragonflies, and so I had to wonder–where do they hide when the sun doesn’t show its cheery face?

c1-camp view

Perhaps in the buffer zone of vegetation that surrounds Propinquity, our point of view.

c2a-dock view

It only took us about a month longer than usual . . .

c2-Pleasant Mtn

to make the long journey (7 miles) to the water’s edge.

c20-hammock

But at last we’ve arrived.

c21-hammock view

Upta camp. The way life should be.

 

 

The Amazing Race–Our Style, episode six

The clue was rather vague as clues go: Drive five hours south to the second dot to the right in Harbor View. And so we did.

c1a

The map provided helped–sorta.

c3

And just before dark we located the spot that included not only a view of the outer harbor, but also the back side of Hammonassett Beach State Park on Long Island Sound in Connecticut. It was like we knew exactly where we were going.

c1

As it turned out, we were joined by another couple with whom we’d formed an alliance for the race and so we decided to spend the weekend completing the challenges together. Funny thing–I think we felt so comfortable with them because she looked very much like my sister and he reminded us of my brother-in-law. With them was a young man who is about to celebrate his 24th birthday (in two more days) and so we all celebrated with him–but even his presence was part of the challenge. And so Team Budz (the alliance couple) and Team Wonder (us), shared the responsibility of his presence. They picked him up at the train station. We provided the cake, which he decorated himself. We also offered the musical accompaniment, much to his dismay. And together, presents, much to his delight.

c4

Refreshed after a good night’s sleep in that delightfully salty air, we faced new challenges, such as sighting three mammals. Together, Team Budz and Wonder spied cottontail rabbits, which were probably the eastern species that was introduced into New England in the late 1800s/early 1900s and have expanded in range ever since, rather than the native New England Cottontail. Both feature large hind feet, long ears, and a short, fluffy tail that resembles its namesake–a cotton ball. Suffice it to say: it was a cottontail. We also saw a red fox that looked a bit mangy and was too close to home, poking up as it did on the rocks in front of our accommodation, and a momma raccoon that, sadly, had been struck by a car–ever so gently struck.

c5

Challenge number two found us seeking two sea birds. We found adult Osprey standing guard,

c8

and scanning the water for a fishy meal.

c7

Meanwhile, their young patiently awaited breakfast in the nest built of sticks upon man-made platforms that were installed at least thirty years ago. And actually, while we watched them, we noted something disturbing–tangled fishline dangling from the construction site. That led us to send out a word of caution–dispose of your tangled fishline so the birds and other aquatic species with whom we share this Earth don’t get wrapped up to the point of no escape, aka death.

c6

We did note that while some of the young Osprey stretched their wings to capture the sun’s warmth and waited for mom and pop to return with a meal, a couple of smaller birds used the nest structure as a great place to pause below and contemplate the surrounding world. Osprey eat fish and perhaps the smaller birds knew that? Or they just made the right decision.

c9

The Great Egret was the second bird we were assigned to watch . . . as it watched.

c10

And preened.

c11

And exclaimed its beauty.

c12

And watched some more.

c13

And focused.

c14

And then . . . the splash.

c15

And success.

c16

A meal.

c17

To pull in.

c18

And swallow.

c19

And swallow some more.

c20

Suddenly, in a flash of time, for so it seemed, Team Wonder needed to hold up its end of the alliance bargain and get this guy back to the train.

c21

But–we needed directions to the railroad station, for we wanted to make sure that he made his connection in New Haven.

c22

We were told to look to the sky for a message–and it was there that we found an advertisement unfolding in what struck us as a strange place, but perhaps it wasn’t so strange after all, for it was above some train tracks. Another Happy Birthday Message?

c23

Whatever, it turned out to be the right one. First, the Shoreline East to New Haven and then the Metro North to Grand Central. And off he went–to his home of the past year and his career in the film editing industry (and his 24th birthday in two more days).

c24

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, aka Alliance Inn, the tide was slowly coming in, but we headed out, two teams as we were, ready to take on the next adventure.

c25

My guy and Mr. Budz led the way through the shallow water the outer harbor has long been famous for.

c26

It’s a tradition of the neighborhood–this gathering place at low tide.

c27

Team Wonder did get a wee bit worried when Team Budz paired up ahead–where they going to ditch us at the channel?

c28

But they didn’t. Instead, they paused with us to look at one of the wonders we needed to find by the sandbars–what was it?

c29

A sand collar–which felt like sand paper above and was smooth below. It was actually a mass of snail eggs. A rather amazing form.

c30

On the sandbars and in the water, Spider Crabs appeared fierce, but were really quite nonchalant. Note the round and spiny carapace, with small spines running down its back. The crab is known to attach bits of algae, mud, and seaweed to many sticky hairs all over its bodies for camouflage, thus giving it a frightening look, but don’t take it seriously. It moves quite slowly and won’t pinch your toes like some of its relatives.

c32

And then we saw the wicked cool Lady’s Slipper of the Sound. Slipper shells they may be, but their natural history is amazing. The following is from the University of Rhode Island: This shell is shaped like an egg or oval that has been cut in half with the top of the shell turned sharply to one side. Looking at the underside of the shell, it is easy to see how it got its name. Underneath the shell is a ledge to support the internal organs; this ledge extends about half the length of the animal. Different slipper shell species are characterized by different shell textures, including rough, smooth, ribbed, corrugated, and flat. Although they have a foot for locomotion, by the time they reach maturity they anchor themselves to a hard substrate and remain stationary.

And there’s more: All common slipper shells start their lives as males, but some change to females as they grow older. A waterborne hormone regulates the female characteristics. Once they change into females, they remain females. They often stack up on top of each other for convenient reproduction. The larger females are on the bottom, the smaller males are on the top, and the hermaphrodites are between the two. If the ratio of males to females gets too high, the male reproductive organs will degenerate and the animal will become female. Eggs are laid in thin-walled capsules that the female broods under her foot.

Common slipper shells also form stacked aggregations when there is no hard substrate on which to attach. They attach to objects in large numbers and can sometimes suffocate the animal on which they are attached.

Who knew? I just thought they were common slipper shells.

c31

We’d finished the sandbar challenge and had no idea how the other teams might be doing, though we did wonder if some of them were thrown off for we spotted a sign that said “sanbars” instead of “sandbars” and we could only hope that they’d gone off in search of the former–to no avail.

c34

Alliance Inn beckoned, as did the incoming tide, and so we headed back toward the shore.

c36

And the next challenge–completing the Sunday crossword puzzle. My guy read the clues and told us how many letters and the four of us shouted out answers–whether they fit or not. I silently kept score (sorta) and was sure that Team Wonder was in the lead, but didn’t want to make a big deal out of it, for we had agreed on an alliance after all. At least for this weekend.

c37

At last the sun set on the day. And the outer harbor.

c38

And we celebrated the day’s discoveries with a bottle of The Cottage for it seemed apropos. I think we were all in agreement, however, that the bottle was much better  looking than the flavor and we aren’t exactly wine connoisseurs.

c39

And then this morning dawned with another bird ID challenge. First up–who had taken up housekeeping in the apartment building meant for the Purple Martins? House Sparrows.

c40

And we wondered if they might have some young in Apartment D for come and go did the male and female, both attentive to whomever hung out within.

c41

Overlooking it all, a Purple Martin–though he never defended his territory.

c42

And immature Starlings . . .

c43

as invasive as ever . . .

c44

stood ever so ready to move in to Apartment B.

c46

Who stood on the right-hand jetty? A Greater Yellowlegs Sandpiper, its bill longer than its head.

c47

And on another jetty to the south–a Cormorant gathered warmth in its wings, first turning to the right.

c49

Then to the left.

c51

And finally slipping back into the water and cruising by.

c52

At last, much to our dismay, our time with Team Budz drew to an end, quite like the way a day lily such as those my mom so loved and planted everywhere, shared their pollen and then closed up. Who knows what the next episodes will bring. Will we continue to join forces with Team Budz to complete the next challenges? Will they pull ahead of us? Or we ahead of them? We’re only halfway through the Race and as we all know–anything can happen.

But–as we lived in the moment, we certainly loved this episode’s opportunity to celebrate a certain young man’s 24th birthday, ID birds we hadn’t paid attention to since we were kids, explore the sandbar once again, and enjoy the camaraderie of this couple we’ve grown quite fond of. As we go forward, may the best team win . . . and if it can’t be Team Wonder, then we sure hope it’s Team Budz.

 

 

Capturing Peace at Deer Hill Bog

The minute I stepped out of the truck, a loud, rather unharmonious musical performance, greeted me at Deer Hill Bog in Stow, Maine. Rather than the Peeper and Wood Frog chorus of spring, the summer symphony was performed by Bullfrogs and Green Frogs, but mainly the former.

d1-approaching the bog

It was about nine a.m. when I caught my first glimpse of the bog, a result of man and nature working together. An old wood dam combined with a beaver dam created the 25-acre body of shallow water. From moose and Great Blue Herons to aquatic plants and tiny organisms, over 90 species call the bog home. Though I truly expected to spy a moose, that opportunity was not meant to be. I did go, however, because of the Great Blue Herons. Friend JoAnne reminded me the other day of the old rookery, so I decided to check on it.

d2-heading toward the blind

But first, I made my way toward the wildlife viewing blind.

d3-bird blind

The blind featured benches, cut-outs for viewing and informational posters–a quiet place to watch nature in action.

d5-inside the blind

It was built in 1993 by the Maine Conservation Corp and is maintained by the White Mountain National Forest. Two more panels described some species of wildlife one might expect to see.

d6-view from the blind

And, of course, the cut-outs provided a bird’s eye view . . .

d6a-another view

of life in the bog.

d12-bullfrog

But, I’m not very good about staying undercover, and so around to the side and front of the blind I went. And stood as still as possible, for the Bullfrogs quieted upon my approach, as I expected they would. A few minutes later they again sang, “rumm . . . rumm . . . rrrrrumm,” the notes all in bass.

d30-fish

The water practically boiled with small fish jumping, but my freshwater fish knowledge is limited and my best guess was that they were bait fish of some sort.

d8-three lodges

Looking around, I noted three beaver lodges, each of a different size. None looked active, but it was a warm summer morning and perhaps they were sleeping inside.

d8-adult heron

And then I spied two heron nests–on the first I saw only an adult who spent much time in preening mode.

d13-heron feeding

The second nest I was sure was empty–until an adult flew in and three immatures squabbled for the food about to be regurgitated by the parent.

d14-bullfrog

And back down to bog level, another Bullfrog doing what they seemed to do best–waiting patiently, with nary a rumm, though the sound seemed to travel in waves down the bog.

Frogs are ectothermic animals, which means they depend on the environment to maintain their body temperature, therefore many jumped onto fallen logs to catch a few rays. It may also have been that the height gave them a better view of the local action.

d15-bullfrog

This one did eventually turn, making it a fine time to examine his body a bit. How did I know it was a male? His eardrums or tympanums, those circles located directly behind the eyes, were larger than the eyes. In females, they are about the same size.

d10-clubtail exuvia

There were other things to look at, like the exuviae of a clubtail dragonfly. Notice how far apart the eyes were. Eye position is one key to determining species.

d11-frosted whiteface dragonfly

Other characteristics included the white face of the Frosted Whiteface.

d16a-slaty skimmer dragonfly--black face:brown eyes

And the black face and brown eyes of a Slaty Skimmer.

d16-slaty skimmer dragonfly

The slaty part of its name came from the fact that male’s body is entirely blue–slate blue.

d17-bullfrog

Again a rumm-rumm-rrrrummm.

d24-bullfrog

It seemed there were female frogs around, but they didn’t care about the males’ singing talents–at least not in my presence.

d16-red-winged blackbird

And an o-ka-leeee.

d18-frosted whiteface dragonflies

In the midst of it all, some canoodling by a pair of Frosted Whitefaced Dragonflies connected in their love formation.

d20-green frog

Plunking rubber bands to the beat of plunk-plunk-plunkplunkplunk were the Green Frogs. This one was so identified by the dorsalateral folds that ran from its eyes along the sides of its back and down toward its former tail.

d21-grackle

Wood Ducks and Merganzers swam further away from my spot, but Grackles flitted in and out, up and down on the ground, fallen trees, and rocks, ever in search of fine dining.

d27-grackle

In between foraging for insects, crustaceans, mollusks, fish, and frogs, oh my, they sang their guttural song that was often followed by a high-pitched whistle.

d22-painted turtle

There were also painted turtles to admire. Well, I only saw one, but suspect there were others.

d25-painted turtle

It slipped into the water and then came up on a nearby log, another species that valued the sun’s warm rays.

d26-bullfrog

And another. Really, they were everywhere. Did you know that a frog’s pupils are horizontal so it can look forward, backward, and up and down. The better to see me,  dinner, and predators on the quick.

d28-two frogs

Sometimes frogs yelp, and it was such a sound that brought these two to my attention. Because of the sun’s position, I couldn’t get a clear take on their gender, but I watched them both jump onto the log simultaneously. At first they were side by side, but then one shifted further to the right. Had they been mating? Had one male tried to jump onto another thinking it was a female? Had something bigger than them been on the hunt?

d31-water snake with tongue extended

I may never know why the frogs jumped, but this water snake was making the rounds. Every once in a while it made the water boil and I knew something was consumed. Can you see his forked tongue sticking out?

d29-sundew about to flower and marsh st.john's wort

At last my bog time was drawing nigh, and yet there was so much more to see, including Round-leaved Sundews and Marsh St. Johnswort on log islands.

d30-bullfrog

And one more Bullfrog to provide a last note to the morning’s wonder.

d32-bog

Though to some, the bog may look like a place of death, and death does happen there, it’s also full of life. It’s a place of biodiversity and hidden beauty. And this morning I was thankful to have it all to myself–the only human sounds I heard were of my own making. Deer Hill Bog–a magical, wonder-filled place to capture peace.

Maybe everyone needs a bog visit.

P.S.  The frog sounds were borrowed from https://srelherp.uga.edu/anurans/sounds as I’m not tech savvy enough to have recorded them. But do click on them, because it gives you a sense of this place. You’ll need to turn up the sound on your computer and possibly will need to press play when you click on the link.

 

 

 

 

A Slice of Life in the Rookery

We only had an hour and we had a task to accomplish as citizen scientists for Maine IF&W’s Heron Observation Network. Our mission, which we chose to accept, was to count the number of nests, the number occupied, the number not occupied, the number with residents, the number of immature, the number of mature, the number of . . . you get the picture.

h1b-rookery

In the past, this was the largest inland rookery in the state and supported 40+ active nests, but over the last few years the numbers had dwindled and today we found only nine. Of those nine, three were inactive. Where have all the birds gone, we wondered.

h1-wood duck

As we started to focus on the scene before us, one member of our team spotted a wood duck surveying the beaver pond from a limb on one of the many old snags.

h2a-heron chick

And then we looked upward. Counting isn’t always easy–in fact, it’s never easy. One immature–check. More than one? Well, we could see a lump representing another bird. Was it one lump or two? Over and over again, we counted.

h3-standing still

And then there was this nest that was hidden from our sight at first, only because it seemed to blend in with the pine tree behind it. Again we wondered–why was this adult standing on it? Was this a sentry watching over all of the nests why the other parents were off fishing? Usually, though, experience told us that sentrys stood on higher branches–the better to watch for predators.

h29-sentry

Like this.

h2-otter

Suddenly we heard a commotion in the water and noticed action near the beaver lodge. What was it?

h4-incoming

And then the sound of the youngsters crying frantically made us look upward again, where we spied an incoming adult.

h5-landing

The kids exclaimed their excitement because a meal had certainly arrived.

h6-begging for food

We could almost see their smiles as they anticipated the goodness they were about to receive.

h7-what? No food?

But . . . no food was regurgitated despite the kids’ squawks.

h9-meanwhile-mouths have closed

Finally, they quieted down and looked rather disgusted.

h10-preening

And Momma preened.

h11-wood duck family

Back in the pond, a family of Wood Ducks swam among the flowering Watershield.

h12-movement above

And up again, we noticed slight movement in the nest.

h13-a chick with downy feathers

Could it be?

h14-red winged

Before we answered the last question, a Red-winged Blackbird paused . . .

h15-singing

sang . . .

h16-did you hear me?

and looked around as if to say, “Did you hear me?” We did.

h17-another incoming

More squawks from above and we saw another adult fly in.

h18-what did you bring?

It seemed Dad had joined Mom and the family was complete.

h19-I'm off

But only for a second, as Mom took off.

h20-snacks?

“Where’d Mom go?” and “What’s to eat?” was all Dad heard.

h21--watching from nearby

She didn’t go far, but like all mommas, she needed a few minutes of time to herself.

h21-baby chick revealed

Meanwhile, back by the pine, that little bit of fluff moved some more.

h22-stretching my wings

And someone else needed to stretch his wings.

h24-otter again

It was like watching a tennis match, for our eyes moved back and forth, up and down–especially when we heard movement in the water again and saw the same something undulating through the water.

h26-water snake

We weren’t the only ones watching all the action from a hidden location–a water snake on a hummock across the way did the same.

h28-don't you have any food?

Skyward, the family unit came together again. And still no food. The kids were getting impatient.

h30-have a stick

And then one parent left briefly and returned–with a stick for the kids to add to the nest, perhaps heron-speak for clean the house first and then you’ll get a snack.

h31-what's he thinking?

“We did it,” they tried to tell her, but Mom had her eyes on something else.

h27-beaver again

Her focus wasn’t on the beavers that swam back and forth below. Oh, and if you think this is the hump that had been making the water boil, you are mistaken.

h32-there he goes again

“Mom, bring back lots of fish . . . pleeeeease,” the kids cried as she took off again. “We’ll even eat frog legs.”

h33-picking twigs

But she had her eyes on other things–sticks from one of the abandoned nests.

h34-got one

She pulled one out.

h36-did you see what he just did?

And the kids looked away and one complained to Dad about all the housework they were expected to do and they still hadn’t received their allowance.

h25-checking us out

Unfortunately, it was time for us to head to work, but our undulating friend returned.

h37-otter

Great Blue Herons, Wood Ducks, Red-winged Blackbirds, Water Snakes, Beavers . . . and a River Otter! A slice of life in the rookery.

 

 

Summer Solstice Sweetness

My dear friend Carissa sent me an e-mail about this week being Pollinator Week and challenged me to write about it. Her inspiration came from an e-mail she’d received from Natureworks Horticultural Services in Northford, Connecticut–part of our old stomping grounds as babes, toddlers, tweens and teens. (She grew up in Northford, while I grew up on the other side of the tracks in North Branford–two distinct villages that formed one town.)

Part of the message included this passage: “Happy Pollinator Week. There really is a week for that? You betcha. Pollinators are vital to life on this planet. And, at Natureworks, we are teaching our customers to protect and help pollinators every single day. It all starts with an organic garden. It includes planting lots of pollinator-friendly flowers. It continues with the way you manage your landscape and the way your community manages their public spaces. Pollinators are in decline around the world. We need to take this seriously. Let me just say . . .  we have the plants for that!

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And then another friend, Pam, invited me to join her on a mini-hike to Foss Mountain today in Eaton, New Hampshire, and it all came full circle. To travel here with Pam was an incredible opportunity because she had some personal experience with the property and shared the local lore, including a story about a peddler who long ago repeatedly traveled a road that crosses the mountain and apparently spent some time canoodling with another man’s woman. And then, on one of those journeys, the peddler vanished into thin air–never to be seen or heard from again.

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Pam’s brother and sister-in-law had previously owned the land we were about to explore, but it’s now owned by the Town of Eaton and is protected in perpetuity by the Upper Saco Valley Land Trust. The property is managed by the Eaton Conservation Commission, which maintains the trail and blueberry fields.

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The blueberry fields were really a sign of early succession following a 150+ year history as pasture land. According to information posted on one of the three kiosks, there was a description of the farming heritage that included along the timeline the decade that the fields reverted to blueberries, juniper and gray birch, and the man who oversaw the blueberry crop–Frank French.

At some point along that timeline, the Brooks family homesteaded there, but not much was known about them. Pam and I wandered about the remaining cellar hole as we tried to interpret the scene, but didn’t quite understand all that we saw. (We sure wished our friend Janet had been able to join us and add her understanding of such historical sites.)

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We continued on the short journey upward, passing through a pleasant White and Red Pine forest along a well-defined trail with switchbacks to help eliminate erosion.

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Suddenly, the natural community changed and we entered an open area where White-throated Sparrows serenaded us with their “Old Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody” song. Sheep Laurel surprised us with its bright pink flowers, but . . . we spied no pollinators.

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We also discovered a cinquefoil growing abundantly among the rocks, and though it had a few pollinators, it was just that–only a few.

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Now allow me to interrupt with an explanation of the common name for this cinquefoil or Sibbaldiopsis tridentata: it’s known as Three-toothed (tridentata) for the three teeth at the tip of each leaflet. Do you see them?

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Though we only saw a few pollinators among the cinquefoil, the abundance of blueberries suggested a lot of previous action. A few blueberries had already ripened. We conducted a taste test and suggest you totally avoid Foss Mountain this summer for we certainly couldn’t taste the sunshine in those little blue morsels. (And my nose just grew longer–Pinocchio-style.)

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As we reached the summit, we shifted our attention from flowers and pollinators to the 360˚ view that surrounded us.

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In every direction . . .

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we relished the sight . . .

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of blueberry plants . . .

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and mountains–including the Ossipee, Belknap and Presidential ranges.

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After a lunch break in the middle of this longest day, we started down and made more discoveries–including the sweet flowers of Blue-eyed Grass and its fruits indicating it had been pollinated.

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And nearby on a Red Clover . . .

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a bumblebee sought nectar while simultaneously filling its pollen sacs.

But in the whole scheme of things, we saw few pollinators and wondered–what’s up? This is an organic field and public space, as Carissa’s contact at Natureworks encouraged. And yet . . . Pam and I weren’t able to answer all our questions today.

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But . . . as we looked upon the abundant blueberry crop before us on this first day of summer, we gave thanks for those who had protected the land and those who had performed the mighty act of pollination despite adversity and we looked forward to the sweetness that will follow this Summer Solstice.

The Amazing Race–Our Style, episode five

I’m not sure how it happened, but when we arrived at Route 113 in Fryeburg to pick up our clue we realized we were the first contestants for this episode of The Amazing Race–Our Style.

Consequently, we had a quick decision to make–the main clue referred to the Baldfaces and we recognized the fact that that entailed a challenging climb. Though my cast has morphed into a smelly splint [envision sliced cast up one side and then add two wide strips of velcro], I was relieved that we could take advantage of the Fast Forward clue that mentioned shingles in a white forest.

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We checked the map and located a trailhead for Shingle Pond only a few miles away. BINGO.

s2-heading into the woods

The trail begins along Forest Road 317, but a few curves later heads into the nitty gritty of the White Mountain National Forest.

s8-locating the trail

Toward the beginning we could hear the buzz of logging machinery in the distance, but it wasn’t all that loud and certainly didn’t drown out the not-so-sweet buzzing of the local mosquitoes. Our first real challenge, for one can hardly count those flying buzzers and stingers as an obstacle, but more a way of life, came in the form of staying on the trail. It was blazed yellow, but occasionally we had to slow ourselves and our minds, and look around for some clues. There was only one cairn, which was fine with us, but after that spot we spent several minutes of valuable time looking for yellow in every direction . . . to no avail. Finally, however, my eyes cued in on what appeared to be a worn path between some trees to our right and my guy passed through some muck and logging slash to discover that indeed we had found it. That happened more than once, but each time we paused, scouted and eventually made the right decision. They didn’t promise us easy when we signed on for our own version of the reality show.

s11-crossing Weeks Brook

The path took us across Weeks Brook for which the trail had been named and it was there that we noted a trillion trilliums–all past their prime.

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Through hemlock groves and mixed forests we hiked, occasionally passing by patches of clearcuts. Our next challenge was to determine the benefits of such habitat. The answer seemed obvious for so much was the bird song–from those I recognized like Ovenbirds, Veerys, and Hermit Thrushes to warblers that we could hear but not see. If we hadn’t been racing against the clock it would have been fun to try to figure out some of the song makers.

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We also noted plenty of signs, such as browsed tree buds, that told us moose and deer had foraged in those areas.

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Challenge number 3 required that we locate a few plants and note whether they were edible or not. Wood Sorrel was easy–and most welcome on this sultry day for its a thirst quencher.

s6--Indian Cucumber Root

Indian Cucumber Root was another enticing edible and it grew abundantly in the forest. As pleasing as the flower is above its second tier, it’s not their fruits that appealed to us, but rather the small white rhizomes buried in the ground which offered a cool and crisp cucumbery taste. Even my guy can attest to that.

s7-wild calla

The one herb we didn’t taste test was the Wild Calla or Bog Arum. It’s known to cause severe irritation of the mouth and throat if consumed. We left it be.

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We did find one other plant that we wouldn’t think of eating, but always revere–Pink Lady’s Slippers, in this case a matching pair.

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And not far beyond–Prince Charming himself. Even his eyes were surrounded by a ring of gold.

s14-Shingle Pond

At last we reached the two-acre Shingle Pond. Though we wanted to be greeted by a moose in the water, we were pleased with all that we saw and heard, including bull, green and tree frogs.

s15-Kearsarge Fire Tower

Though we were two miles and lots of ledges below the summit of Kearsarge North, as we ate our PB&J sandwiches created by my guy, the sight of the historic fire tower evoked lots of memories and got us dreaming about our next opportunity to sign the guest notebook.

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Our task at the pond was to bushwhack around its perimeter and note some of the species who called this mountain pond home. Probably my favorite discovery was the Crimson-ringed Whiteface Dragonfly.

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Over and over again we saw it, that bright red body standing out in contrast to its dark abdomen. There were a zillion dragonflies, many of them darners and clubtails zooming about, but this skimmer had the decency to perch frequently and reveal its finer details.

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As we moved around the pond, we met trees to climb over, under and around.

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Many were felled by the resident beavers, so we had another who made its home there to add to the list.

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In fact, we found the most recently built beaver abode.

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And the dam that made it all possible.

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One special sign of wildlife may gross you out, but we were delighted for this pile of scat indicated a bear had passed by earlier this spring. I’d wanted to look for bear trees on the hike up, but these days my eyes are mighty focused on trail conditions. And scat is just as good, if not better than a tree with old claw marks. Well–both are wonderful . . . really.

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One other resident was insistent that we take notice and I think we may have paused near a nest tree. When I asked my guy if he could hear the Conway Scenic Train whistle emanating from the other side of the mountains, he said that all he could hear was the chickadee’s chatter.

s22a-Atlantis Fritillary

The return hike down was via the same trail, but when we reached the log landing and later the logging road we had one final challenge to complete–the flutter-by challenge. Who were those beauties that flitted about, gracing the landscape with their presence? For starters, we discovered several Atlantis Fritillaries seeking nectar from eggs and bacon flowers, aka Bird’s-foot-trefoil.

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Once over easy, it was equally beautiful.

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And the learning continued for we watched numerous White Admirals flit from spot to spot. But notice the coloration–including orange spots below its white bars.

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This blue version was also a White Admiral. Needless to say, we admired it no matter its variation.

And with that we had successfully completed the fifth episode of The Amazing Race–Our Style. All day we didn’t know our status in comparison to the other contestants, but six miles and four hours later we had nothing to fear. We definitely won this leg for we stood upon the mat at the Pit Stop much earlier than any of the other contestants.

As much as we would have liked to climb the Baldface Circle, it wasn’t in the cards for us today.  And as a final note to today’s journey–I added a few more mosquitoes to the natural history museum forming on the velcro of my splint. It’s a museum, however, that I hope will close soon, for it stinks–literally and figuratively.