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.

 

 

Flying on the Wild Wind of Western Maine

My intention was good. As I sat on the porch on July 1st, I began to download dragonfly and damselfly photographs. And then the sky darkened and I moved indoors. Suddenly, and I mean suddenly, the wind came up. Torrential rain followed. And thunder and lightening. Wind circled around and first I was making sure all screens and doors were closed on one side of the wee house and then it was coming from a different direction and I had to check the other side. Trees creaked and cracked. Limbs broke. And the lightening hit close by. That’s when I quickly shut down my computer and checked my phone to see how much battery life it had. And saw two messages. One was an emergency weather alert. Tornado Watch. And the other was from my friend Marita, warning me that there was a tornado watch for our area. I stood between the kitchen door and the downstairs water closet, where a hatchway leads to the basement. But, there was stuff in the way and I really wanted to watch the storm. At the same time, I was frightened. Of course, in the midst of it all, the power went off.

ph 3 (1)

It didn’t last all that long, as storms go, but the damage was incredible, including telephone poles left standing at 45-degree angles. Soon, the neighbors and I assessed our properties. We somehow lucked out and only two branches plus a bunch of twigs fell. Others were not so fortunate. Trees uprooted along the shoreline or crashed onto houses, sheds, vehicles and boats. Our neighbors float shifted about thirty feet north from its usual anchored spot. And the National Weather service did indeed determine it was an EF-1 Tornado with winds of 90-100 miles per hour.

d-firetruck on causeway

At first traffic along the causeway moved extremely slowly because fallen trees had closed the south-side lane, but eventually the police shut the road down and the fire crew arrived to begin the clearing process. After the first storm, it rained on and off, but once my guy got back to camp (he dodged a detour–don’t tell), we still managed to grill a steak and sat on the porch in the dark, which is our evening habit anyway. Central Maine Power worked most of the night and they’ve been at it all day–resetting poles and lines while neighbors’ generators and the buzz of chainsaws filled the air.

And my focus returned to others who also fill the air–though in a much more welcome manner, to we humans that is. Damselflies and dragonflies. Other insects don’t necessarily agree with us–as they become quick food.

Therefore, it seems apropos that the Book of July is the Stokes Beginner’s Guide to Dragonflies and Damselflies by Blair Nikula, Jackie Sones, with Donald & Lillian Stokes.

d-book

It’s not a big book by any means, and doesn’t include all species of the insect order Odonata, but for me right now, it’s enough. And it fits easily into my pack. I can not only try to give a name to what I see, but more importantly to recognize the subtle differences in these favorite of insects.

d-book key

One of the features I really like is that it has a key on the inside cover, first divided between damselflies and dragonflies, and then further divided by families based on size, percher or flier, flight height, wings, body colors, eye position and other clues. As you can see, there are color tabs and I can quickly move to that section and search for the species before me. I’ve discovered that I’m now looking at eye position and colors as a quick key, with other features falling into place.

The book also discusses the life cycle and behavior of damselflies and dragonflies.

d-pond damsels mating, Marsh bluets 1

Of course, it all begins when he grabs her–for damselflies such as these marsh bluets, he clasps her by the neck. Dragonflies do the same, only he clasps his female of choice behind the eyes.

d-damsel love, variable dancers

Eventually damsel love occurs as the mating couple forms a “copulation” wheel, thus allowing him to remove any sperm she may have already received from another, and replacing it with his own. Sneaky dudes. Soon after, hundreds to thousands of eggs are deposited, either in the water or on vegetation, depending on the species.

d-damselfly nymph1

Emerging from an egg, the larvae develop underwater. Damselflies such as this one, obtain oxygen through the three tail-like projections at the end of their abdomens. From 8-17 times, they molt, shedding their outer shells, or exoskeletons.

d-exoskeleton shrubs

In the spring, the big event happens. We all celebrate the emergence of the last stage in the larval skeleton, when the insects climb up vegetation or onto rocks, or even the ground, and make that final metamorphosis into the damsel or dragonfly form we are so familiar with, thus leaving their shed outer shell (exuviae) behind.

d-emerging dragonfly

On a warm, sunny spring day toward the end of May, there’s no better place to be than sitting in the presence of an emerging adult.

d-emerging 2

I encourage you to look around any wetland, even as the summer goes on, for you never know when those moments of wonder might occur.

d-Broad-winged damsel, River Jewelwing 1

In the guide, the authors include all kinds of observation tips. And then, the real nitty gritty. The first thirty-six pages of the Identification section are devoted to damselflies. And those are divided into Broad-winged damsels, Spreading, and Pond damsels. This is a river jewelwing, and for me it was a first a few weeks ago. I spotted this beauty beside the Saco River in Brownfield Bog–its iridescent green body showing through the dark-tipped wings.

d-pond damsel, ebony jewelwing, male

In the same category, the ebony jewelwing is equally stunning with brilliant green highlighted by black accents. This was a male; the female has a white dot or stigma toward the tip of her wings.

d-spreadwing, common spreadwing

Spreadwings are next and so named for their spread wings. This one happened to be a common spreadwing, though really, I don’t find them to be all that common.

d-pond damsel, variable dancer

The pond damsels are the ones I do see often, including the female variable dancers. Check out her spotted eyes.

d-pond damsel, sedge sprite 1

And one of my favorites for its colors and name–the sedge sprite. If you noted the dancer’s eyes, do you see how the sprite’s differ?

From page 79-155, dragonflies are identified. I don’t have one from every type, but I’m working on it.

d-clubtail, lancet clubtail, male

Clubtails have clear wings, and their coloration is often green, yellow or brown. Check out those eyes–and how widely separated they are. Meet a lancet club tail, so named for the yellow “dagger” markings on its back.

d-Emeralds, Ameican Emerald 2

The emeralds are known by their eyes, which are often green. This American emerald has a black abdomen with a narrow yellow ring at the base near the wings.

d-baskettail, common baskettail 1

Also included with the emeralds is the common baskettail. Notice how stout this handsome guy is.

d-skimmer, chalk-fronted corporal male

Among the easiest dragonflies to actually get a good look at are the skimmers. And it seems that on many paths I follow, the chalk-fronted corporals are there before me. His thorax has two bluish-gray stripes with brown on the sides. And his wings–a small brownish-black patch.

d-skimmer, slaty blue 2

Then there’s the slaty skimmer, in a shade of blue I adore. His wings are clear, except for the black stigmas toward the tips.

d-skimmer, common whitetail

The common whitetail is also a skimmer. Not only is his abdomen different–with white markings on the side, but he has wings with black and chalky white bases and broad black bands in the middle.

d-skimmer, calico pennant, male

They’re all pretty, but I think that so far, my all time favorites are the calico pennants; the male with red highlights including stigmas on his wings and hearts on his back, plus a hint of red everywhere else.

d-skimmer, calico pennant female

For once the male isn’t to be outdone in the color department, and the female looks similar except that she’s yellow.

d-skimmer, yellow legged meadowhawk, wings

There’s so much to admire about damselflies and dragonflies. I mean, first there are those compound eyes. But look at the thorax–where both the three pairs of legs and two pairs of wings attach. I find that attachment to be an incredible work of nature. It’s awe inspiring at least.

d-ending, female calico pennant on screen

Then again, nature is awe-inspiring. When I awoke as the sun rose yesterday morning, I wondered about the damsels and dragons. Did they survive the storm? I stepped outside to once again check for damage and look who I spotted on the porch screen. Mrs. Calico stayed for about an hour or two, letting her wings dry off before heading out to perform today’s duties–flying on the wild wind of western Maine.

Damselflies and dragonflies are one more point of distraction for me these days. I won’t always get their ID correct, but I’m thankful for the Book of July, Stokes Beginner’s Guide to Dragonflies and Damselflies, that I found at Bridgton Books.

Stokes Beginner’s Guide to Dragonflies and Damselflies by Blair Nikula, Jackie Sones, with Donald & Lillian Stokes. Little, Brown and Company, 2002.

Sprinting up Mount Tom

With the Four on the Fourth Road Race only five days away, my friend Marita Wiser and I are in training. Perhaps a more apt description would be cross-training, for our actual time spent running has been sporadic, but we’ve both been on hikes that we’re sure will give us an upper edge. Look for us to cross the finish line in record time on Tuesday–or not.

To that end, this morning we climbed Mount Tom–with a desire to see what the new West Ridge Trail had to offer in a different season. In the past year, she and I hiked it in October, while my guy and I snowshoed up the trail in February. And so, Marita did what I like best because we wanted to make a loop–she parked at the base of the original trail about 2.3 miles in on Menotomy Road and we walked 1.4 miles down the road to the new trailhead.

t-Mount Tom Preserve sign

The last time I visited, the snow was deep and up to the base of the preserve sign. Today, a red maple sapling claimed that spot.

t-bristly sasparilla 2

Next to it grew a bristly sarsaparilla, its rounded umbels standing tall above the leaves.

t-bristly sarsapirilla 2

As we stood there and applied some bug dope, a hoverfly, an important pollinator, worked its magic on the flowers.

t-relic 1

And then we stepped onto the trail and were immediately reminded of the past by a relic someone left on a rock.

t-homestead foundation

The homestead, possibly that of A.H. Evans, is located within feet of the trail’s head. And it appears that if this did belong to A.H., he was the head of a large family for it’s a huge foundation.

t-center chimney

Equally large was the center chimney.

t-outbuildings and barn

And based on the configuration of rocks and boulders we stepped over as we turned left between the house, outbuildings and barn, all were once attached.

t-barn

The barn foundation was also impressive and we could sense the work that went into such a creation. Among all the buildings were some recovered artifacts and I’ve a feeling I know who unearthed them. I love to see these relics, but hope that others won’t continue to follow suit and look for them. Or take them. Okay–that’s my salt box speech for today.

Again, assuming all of this belonged to A.H., I did discover a 1916 document that suggested he grew rutabagas: “A. H. Evans, Fryeburg, raised 90 bushels rutabagas in 1-8 of an acre.”

t-old pine 2

We followed the white-blaze trail, which was fairly well defined, and passed through a mixed forest, where at least one old white pine spoke to the history of this land, for it obviously once stood in an opening allowing it to stretch its arms and perhaps provide shade for farm animals.

t-ledges 1

One of my other favorite features of the West Ridge Trail, besides the foundations, are the ledges that stand as tall rock gardens.

t-ledges 2

Some were even terraced and though we didn’t pause to look for evidence today, we got the sense of where the house and barn foundation stones were found.

t-wild sarsapirilla plant

As we continued to climb (and sweat for it was a bit of a cardio workout–and humid), a couple of woodland plants stood out, including the wild sarsaparilla, which had flowered  in the spring. It was fun to note the difference between the bristly and wild–for the former flowers now with those umbels above the leaves, while the flowers of the latter developed below its leaves.

t-wild sarsa fruits 2

The wild sarsaparilla flowers have since turned to green fruits, which in time will ripen to a reddish-purple display. They were rather like mini green pumpkins in fireworks formation, a description conceived due to the pending holiday.

t-marginal wood fern 2

Another offering was the bluish-green fronds of a marginal wood fern.

t-marginal wood fern 1

A bent frond on one showed off the round sori located near the margins.

t-summit 1

After about an hour and a half, which included our walk down the road to the trailhead and then up the trail, we reached the summit. In the fall and winter, Pleasant Mountain had been plainly visible in the background, but today we had to peek through leaves to see it.

t-new oak leaves

As we peeked, Marita asked about the red leaves on an oak–fall couldn’t be on the horizon already, could it? I shared one theory with her, but after a wee bit of research discovered there may be a second–and possibly more.

The leaves were young and the red may act as a sunscreen, protecting them until photosynthesis takes place when they are fully developed.

The other thought is that the red may serve as a warning sign to mammals that the leaves contain chemicals that will taste bad, thus preventing them from being eaten.

Other theories?

t-spotted st johnswort 2

Our summit stay wasn’t long, but long enough to enjoy the bushy stamen of spotted St. Johnswort.

t-pink corydalis 1

And the daintiness of pink corydalis.

t-hiking down the old trail

And then we followed the old trail down, through the hemlock grove and onto the logging road, which had grown in so much that it made us wonder if The Nature Conservancy wants to discourage its use. The thought of ticks crossed our minds, but she sported her treated tick gators and I used Repel®. Both worked for us, though I do want to get a pair of gators. I’m taking recommendations for brand.

t-Mt Tom cabin sign 2

Just before the end of the trail, we once again paused by the Mt. Tom Cabin, the real deal for a 19th century “camp” experience, but with a few added amenities including electricity. I like it for its structure, views and Northern white cedar.

t-Mt Tom cabin pond

Across the field, Old Glory blew in the breeze and reminded us of our need to “train.”

Our hike to the summit–it was as quick as we could make it, even with me taking a few pics, for the mosquitoes were thick. But–thanks to those very mosquitoes, we sprinted up Mount Tom in honor of our training regime.

 

 

 

 

 

Homecoming Mondate

After months of waiting and an arduous drive, we arrived at our camp on Moose Pond late yesterday afternoon. It’s that anticipation following months away and the five mile road trip that always make the final turn into the driveway so sweet.

m-night sky 2

We unpacked and put everything away, ordered a pizza because our Sunday night tradition of making our own takes a hiatus for a couple of months, and then settled on the porch as dark clouds gathered, their hues enhanced by the water’s reflection. And then we spotted a friend from across the pond jumping into his boat and pulling away from his dock. He raced south and we thought perhaps he hadn’t seen the lightning that was visible to us. Suddenly the wind increased dramatically and then the rain came. We moved indoors and checked windows and looked to our south and assumed Brian’s boat was fast enough to get beyond the storm. When the rain began to teem, we realized he hadn’t outrun it for two boats came flying back into the North Basin, his being one. We knew he was soaked and probably had a story to tell. Such is life on the pond, where our focus switches from world news to the news of our immediate world.

m-loon off the dock

And so we awoke this morning to the announcer of said news–a pair of common loons calling. We answered as we headed outdoors.

m-robber fly 1

Of course, being back meant we had chores to complete, but most of them were outside. I finished mine first and so I began taking inventory–greeting old friends I hadn’t seen in a while. The first was a robber fly posed by the porch door.

m-robber fly side view

Its compound eyes aren’t as large as those of a dragonfly, but still . . . they are large enough and allow this mighty predator to spot and catch prey more than a foot away in a split second. I wanted to see it, but wasn’t privy. Instead, I admired his body features.

m-flesh fly

Then I headed to the pond. My first find beside the water was a flesh fly–and I wondered what dead insects his bright red eyes may have feasted upon.

m-familiar bluet 2

More to my liking was the sight of a male familiar bluet damselfly. I can’t see enough of these and I think it has something to do with the color blue–especially when it contrasts against a dark green leaf.

m-chalk-fronted corporal 1

As I stood there, a perennial favorite appeared. It seems the chalk-fronted corporal dragonfly and I like the same habitats for wherever I go, at least a half dozen are also there. Perhaps that means that wherever I go, I’m always at home.

m-lancet 1

And then another dragonfly caught my eye and I recognized it as another familiar friend,  a lancet clubtail. But what surprised me was that a damselfly, possibly a familiar bluet, was exploring the underside of the same leaf.

m-lancet 2

That is . . . until I looked again.

m-lancet 3

And noticed the bend in the damselfly’s abdomen.

m-lancet 5

And watched the dragonfly move the damsel body with one wing attached and another dropped.

m-lancet 7

Ever so slowly . . .

m-lancet 8

the damselfly . . .

m-lancet 9

disappeared . . .

m-lancet 10

until only a bit of its abdomen,

m-lancet 11

a leg part and the wing were left. Wow. I felt privileged to have observed such a meal. Of course, I was sad for the damselfly, but also thankful for the energy it passed on to the dragonfly.

m-loon in Sweden, Maine 1

At last, my guy’s chores were completed. We pulled out the kayaks and paddled north to Sweden. Sweden, Maine, that is. And in the shallows of the northern-most end of the pond (Moose Pond is actually nine-plus miles long), we again met the loons.

m-eastern kingbird

A trillion damselflies and dragonflies darted about, some in mating position. And the kingbirds hovered above the water before making quick dips to retrieve insects.

m-rose pogonia driftwood garden 1

We floated around and noted that the water was deep enough for us to get almost to the very tip of the pond. At the same time, the old stump islands delighted us with their gardens.

m-rose pogonia 1

And within some of those islands another delight–rose pogonia in bloom.

m-looking south 2

At last it was time to leave our favorite section of the pond where all kinds of life thrived, knowing that we’ll return time and time again.

m-red winged blackbird

As we moved along, a red-winged blackbird began to turn circles above us–squawking as he showed off his shoulder patches in glaring scarlet form. He landed on a cattail and we paddled on, assuming there was a nest nearby. We also spotted Mrs. Red-Winged, who chose to go grocery shopping at that time. Even though we were headed away, the Mr. came after us one more time, so close that we could almost touch him. He was definitely a good dad–protecting the nest and/or young.

m-painted turtle 1

Continuing south, a painted turtle surprised us by staying atop a rock until we passed by, as if he wanted to welcome us back (or so we believed–after all, this is our story).

m-camp 1

A couple of hours later and we returned to camp sweet camp, to this place that has marked many occasions in our journey together since we first started dating in 1986.

Camp will always represent a homecoming to us, made especially sweet when we can share a Mondate here as we rediscover the world that surrounds it.

 

 

 

Swamp People

The phone rang as I was getting ready this morning and I don’t usually answer those with IDs such as “Private Caller,” but I did. And that made all the difference. Alanna Doughty was on the other end of the “line” and wanted me to know that this morning’s Lakes Environmental Association walk to explore the wetland plants at Holt Pond was still a go. She also asked if I wanted to borrow a pair of waders. Indeed, I did.

About 30 minutes later a group of eight had gathered at the preserve parking lot despite the raindrops. A few didn’t learn about the event until they read a description in this week’s Bridgton News, and so though they were prepared with raincoats and bug spray, they didn’t have Bogg boots or waders, but Alanna had brought along a few extra pairs and most made do. One gentleman had large feet and said he didn’t mind getting his sneakers wet. Such was the spirit of the morning.

p-red maple swamp

Without much further ado, we stomped down the trail and then slipped off it, through the woods and directly into the red maple swamp . . .

p-blue flag iris

where raindrops enhanced the dainty leaves of the blue-flag iris. Going off trail offers a certain liberating feeling.

p-pitcher plant

It also offers different species. Our movement was interrupted frequently by our findings, and as we stopped to determine the identification of a shrub that stumped us for a while, another plant drew our attention. Holt Pond is home to many pitcher plants, but this one cast its spell upon us for the curvy flower stems and new urn-shaped leaves. Most often, the stems stand stalwart.

p-pitcher spider

The otherworldly flowers protect friendly pollinators from accidentally being consumed. Unlike the pit trap below, aka the urn-shaped or pitcher leaves, the flowers are friendly and provide bees and other insects with nectar and pollen. This morning a spider wandered within, stepping on fallen anthers.

p-pitcher 4

I’ve forever found it a wonder that the extremely large style sits below the rest of the structure in order to capture pollen in its upside-down umbrella shape.

p-pitcher flower 1

Though those flowers have aged, their leathery sepals remained, fading from red to magenta. Below the sepals the large swollen ovary may house as many as 300 tiny seeds.

p-working our way through the swamp

After a long period of admiration, we finally pulled ourselves away and continued our tramp, finding our way through the swamp. And only briefly did we feel fake lost, but knew that wherever we came out, we’d recognize our position and continue the journey.

p-Great St. Johnswort

Among the sphagnum moss grew Great St. Johnswort not yet in flower.

p-slug

And slugs dined.

p-grasses, sedges and rushes

There were maples of course, and gray birches and speckled alders and royal and cinnamon ferns. But, there were also grasses and sedges and maybe even rushes. When at last we left the swamp and found ourselves on Tire Alley, about where we wanted to be, Alanna shared the ditty that helps us to maybe not name a particular species, but at least to know where to begin: Sedges have edges, rushes are round, grasses have joints all the way to the ground. Of course, she passed around examples so everyone could feel the edges of the sedge and see the joints on the grass.

p-Alanna describing hobbleush flowers

Then she stopped to describe the former flower of hobblebush, and I noticed the bouquet in her hand had expanded–her collection intended for further study later in the day.

p-slime mold on birch

We were about to head from the trail into the quaking bog by Holt Pond when Mary Jewett spied a growth on an old birch tree.

p-slime mold 2

My best guess was a slime mold for it looked like the Son of Blob had arrived. She and I both touched it and the outer coating fell off. It was rather creepy.

p-dark green fritillary caterpillars

At that point, we did a 180˚ turn and started out onto the quaking bog, literally, but a few in the front decided it wasn’t quite what they had bargained for since the water was especially deep. So, Alanna and Mary ventured that way and I joined the rest for a walk on the boardwalk, which was wet as well, but a bit more stable. Along the way, we spotted caterpillars actively consuming spirea leaves. Upon later research, I determined they were dark green fritillary caterpillars that will soon metamorph into those beautiful orange butterflies that we often mistake for monarchs. (Note: I spotted a monarch on milkweed not yet in bloom yesterday)

p-bog rosemary

Among the many plants growing on the quaking bog, the bog rosemary stood out with its bluish gray leaves.

p-bog rosemary 1

Newer leaves formed at the top, giving off a reddish hue and adding to their distinctiveness.

p-bog rosemary 2

The netlike venation on the leaves was also noticeable and though the blooms have passed, the pretty pink fruits hadn’t yet matured into brown capsules.

p-sundew with Mary

Since we’d seen the pitcher plants, Mary wanted to find the sundews that grew near the boardwalk. With the high water as a result of a beaver dam on the Muddy River, it’s been  hard to spot the sundews, but she persevered and located one, showing off its glistening tentacles intended to capture small insects. Should one land on the tiny leaf, the insect’s feet become ensnared in the sticky secretion and the end is eminent. Within mere minutes the tentacles curl around the victim and suck the nutrients out of it.

p-snakeskin 1

Meanwhile, Alanna continued to wander off the boardwalk and suddenly she discovered a shed snake skin. I had intended to join her, but I have to say that though I wore hip waders and my feet and legs were mighty dry, I could feel the bog quake with each step and I didn’t get far. Blame it on my camera, but I didn’t want to risk a fall. And do you know that squelchy sound of pulling a foot out of several inches of mud? That’s how it was when I tried to get back on the boardwalk. It’s not just a few plants that are carnivorous–it’s the entire bog.

p-snake skin 1

Never fear. We all survived and she brought the skin back for us to admire.

p-black chokeberry 1

We stayed on the boardwalk and trail as we finally looped back and still, there was much to see. The shrub that had stumped us when we first spotted the pitcher plant in the red maple swamp suddenly spoke its name and we knew we were looking at the fruits of the black chokeberry. Only a week or two ago we’d admired their flowers.

p-serviceberry 2

And then there was the berry that reminded us of a rose hip, as it should for it was in the rose family.

p-service berry gall?

Its ripening pomes will eventually turn purplish-black. But . . . we spied something we weren’t familiar with at all–do you see the growth on one? It rather reminded me of the Son of Blob slime mold we’d seen earlier and must have been a gall. Nature certainly provides as many questions as answers.

p-Northern Arrowwood

All spring and summer the flowers of the bog change by the week, or so it seems. This week, the Northern arrowwood was showing off its creamy-white blooms.

p-sheep laurel 2

And the sheep laurel, its fuchsia-colored blossoms.

p-bog monster web

For three hours we oohed and aahed and had great fun. We made one last stop before returning to the parking lot for the spirit in the hemlock called out to us–seemingly doing its own oohing and aahing.

Such were the offerings of the preserve this morning. And the people who gathered . . . I only knew Alanna and Mary before we began, but because of our shared experience the group was quite chummy by the time we were ready to depart. That’s what I love about walks such as this where complete strangers become instant friends, even if it’s only in the moment.

Swamp people . . . don’t mind rain or mosquitoes or wet feet. Swamp people . . . get to move where the spirit takes them. Swamp people . . .  find joy and wonder along the way.