Our Happy Place Mondate

Imagine our joy. Imagine our smiles that showed our joy.

We’d considered a hike for this Mondate, but awaking to another humid day put the damper on that.

How should we spend the day? What would make us both happy?

A paddle seemed the perfect solution.

And so off we headed into the deep blue sea. Or rather, deep blue pond. My guy sought another hue of deep blue. In the form of certain berries so named for their color.

I, on the other hand, sought others, such as this Lancet Clubtail dragonfly who returned to my dirty kayak over and over again–a sibling chasing him off in between.

As we explored the edges of islands, my guy searching for fulfillment of the containers he’d brought along, Swamp Spreadwing damselflies, their form so dainty, posed frequently to my liking.

Among the branches of my guy’s desire, webs had been created . . . and unfortunately for some spreadwings, canoodling acts were ended by the sticky structure created by others.

Despite that, those known as Familiar Bluets found a way to continue the circle of life through their heart-shaped wheel.

Slaty Blue dragonflies were not to be outdone and she clung to him from her lower position.

As all things go in the natural world, not every dragonfly nymph completed the transformation to adulthood and thus a few were left in suspended animation. This one, in particular, reflected the bent form of the Pickerel Weed upon which it wished to emerge. So what happened? Why was the plant stem bent? Why didn’t the dragonfly complete the cycle of life? I’ll never know, but it’s worth wondering about.

Every once in a while upon our journey, I remembered to let the entire scene fill my scope and summer fill my soul. Did my guy do the same? I kinda think so, but can’t say for sure.

After all, his focus was on little berries of blue, while I took in a few other things, like the teeny flowers of Spatulate-leaved Sundew. Such a dainty flower for a carnivorous plant.

And the there was the Tachnid fly on the Swamp Milkweed.

The flies weren’t the only ones pollinating the flowers.

With eyes so big, and waist so thin, it could only be one: a wasp. But not all wasps are to be feared and this Great Golden Digger proved it has much to offer the world.

Into the mix flew a female Red-winged Blackbird, her focus not at all upon her reflection, but rather food to feed her young.

Fortunately for her, the mister also searched and provided.

As my guy foraged, I continued to hunt. My form of hunting, however, embraced only photographs, such as a small Blue Dasher Skimmer upon a Yellow Pond Lily.

Who ever determined such wee ones with white faces, metallic eyes, bright thorax stripes, and a blue abdomen with black tip as common? For me, the Blue Dasher will always be worth a wonder.

That’s exactly what I did on this Mondate as a Lancet Clubtail whirled upon my hat much like a beanie copter. I wondered while I wandered.

My guy foraged and foraged some more.

And in the midst of it all, I met a dragonfly new to me this summer who is supposed to be common: a male Widow Skimmer.

What a day. What a Mondate. What a dragonfly. What a wonder. Our Happy Place. Indeed.

Oh Wing-ed Ones

The power of flight. The agility of fliers. Both are key.

But to truly key in, one needs to notice the idiosyncrasies of the wings and other body parts. Consider the yellow stigma on this dragonfly’s wings, a color which matches the hearts on its abdomen.

But for me, the most outstanding part of the Calico Pennant are the stained glass patches at the base of its wings–yellow for a female and red for a male.

Then there’s one whom I first met a couple of weeks ago. By its oreo cookie face I recognized it upon our second encounter today. This Stream Cruiser’s wings certainly don’t define it.

But other attributes do, such as the green eyes of this mature being and his yellowish claspers.

Did you notice he’s on my finger? I was rather surprised and you know . . . delighted.

As I moved along, I spied another who knows how to fly through the air.

Its dark wings hardly seem capable of carrying its long body, but they do. Even more notable, however, are the long segmented antennae.

This is an Ichneumon Wasp, known not as one to sting us, but rather for its parasitic larvae that feed on or inside another insect host species until it dies.

For the Common (there’s that word again) Sanddragon dragonfly, the stand-out feature is the yellow abdominal appendages on both male and female. To tell one sex from the other, the eyes need to be considered. The female has brown eyes, while the male, such as this one, sees the world of its prey through yellow-green lenses.

Hoverflies are also part of the landscape, behaving in their typical manner by hovering mid-air in the middle of trail, until one lands on a hemlock twig and shows off not only its veined wings, but also giant eyes, the better to spy a tiny prey.

Nearby, a Robber Fly lands on the bud of a Pipsissewa flower, waiting as its species does for a chance to pounce upon a dinner of choice.

In the midst of it all, a delicate Northern Pearly-eye Butterfly graces the scene.

So many differences. And yet they all can fly despite the size of their head, thorax and abdomen.

Oh Wing-ed Ones.

May those who share this day with you be honored with similar attributes including power, agility, and idiosyncrasies all their own.

Happy Birthday Carissa, Pam, and Hannah.

Drawn by the Sapsuckers

This morning’s tramp found me checking on a couple of bird nests. The first, which belonged to a Phoebe family, was empty.

And so I wandered along a path through a cathedral in the pines.

It seemed apropos that I should spy the works of an Oak Apple Gall wasp in such a place for it is believed that circa 800 A.D., monks from a Columban monastery created the Book of Kells and used such galls for their green colorant. The wasp uses it as a place for a larva to pupate.

I knew I’d reached the second nest I wanted to check on because from about twenty feet away I could hear the peeps of the babes within. Their father tossed in a meal, much differently than how he was feeding them only a week or two ago when he entered the nest hole every few minutes.

Today, no sooner did he leave when a nestling popped out and begged for more. I watched for a bit and then gravity pulled me in a different direction.

And so I trespassed onto a neighboring property. Well, I don’t think of it as actually trespassing since it’s not posted and I know the owners who have invited me to visit on numerous occasions. They just didn’t know today would be one of those; nor did I until it was. The deer flies buzzed all about my head, but thankfully some old friends in the form of dragonflies (uh oh, here I go again) snatched the pesky insects and then dined.

It took a few minutes, but eventually Slaty Blue gobbled every bit of the fly. One down; a gazillion to go.

While the lupines had been in full bloom the last time I visited, today’s flowers of joy were the Milkweeds. Even the ants agreed.

On a leaf below one flowerhead, I noticed something tiny and by the pattern on its back, knew who I was spying.

About the size of a nickel, it was a Spring Peeper. Located about two feet above ground, this little frog could hide from predators all day, waiting to munch on insects and spiders at night. Do you see the X on its back? Its scientific name–Pseudacris crucifer–breaks down to Pseudo (false), acris (locust) and crucifer (cross bearer).

While I continued to admire him, a dash of color brightened the background and then flew down onto the path.

Bedecked in orange and black, it was a Fritillary butterfly. There were actually two today and where the colors of the lupines had passed, the butterflies contributed greatly with their hues.

The Fritillaries weren’t the only adding a dash of color for Eastern Tiger Swallowtails also pollinated the meadow flowers.

Canada Tiger Swallowtails also fly in this part of Maine and so I’m forever trying to remember how to tell the two apart besides size, which doesn’t help when you only see one. The trick, however, is to look at the yellow line on the underside of the forewing. If it isn’t one continuous line as this one wasn’t, then it is the Eastern variety.

I’ve probably completely confused you, but the next will be easy:

A pop quiz: 1. Who is this? You tell me. (Hint: Emerald family)

2. Who is this? (Hint: Clubtail family)

3. Who is this? (Hint: Skimmer family)

4. Who is this? (Hint: Skimmer family)

Extra credit if you can identify this lady. (Hint: Skimmer family)

The skimmers are many and each has something unique and lovely to offer. But my greatest thrill today was to encounter this delightful specimen just before I was about to depart the meadow. For those who joined me yesterday as I hunted for the Common Whitetail Skimmer, you may have noted the zigzag pattern on her abdomen. Take a look at the pattern along the abdomen of this beauty. The side spots form a smooth stripe. Her honey, whom I have yet to see, has not only the black patches on the wings, but also white. Who might this be? A Twelve-spotted Skimmer.

Before departing, I checked back on the sapsucker nestlings. Papa was doing the same from a tree about ten feet away. I got the sense he wanted to tell them to be patient and stop begging.

But how can you resist such a baby face? I know I couldn’t.

I gave great thanks to the Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers for drawing me into this place and to Linda and Heinrich Wurm for allowing me to trespass and spy their meadow once again and all that it has to offer.

P.S. Quiz answers: 1. Racket-tailed Emerald; 2. Ashy Clubtail; 3. Spangled Skimmer; 4. Dot-tailed Whiteface; Bonus: female Great Blue Skimmer (a first for me) How did you do?

Hunting the Common

I knew when I headed out this morning that there was one member of the Odonata family that I wanted to meet. But . . . where oh where to find her.

Her habitat includes muddy-bottomed ponds, lakes, and streams, as well as disturbed areas. Hmmm. That should make the quest easy.

With that in mind, I first stopped beside a muddy-bottomed pond that flows into a brook, which at its start more resembles a stream. It is there that Slaty Blue Skimmer and I got reacquainted after so many months have passed since our last encounter.

He reminds me that dragonflies belong to the suborder Anisoptera, which means “different wings” since their hindwing differ in size and shape from the forewings. Those differences may be subtle, but they are there.

How common are you? Very, but not the one you seek.

As I watched Slaty Blue come and go, defending his piece of the shoreline from his family members, I suddenly spied something under the Winterberry leaves: a newly emerged skimmer resting while its wings dried.

And then one shrub over a Racket-tailed Emerald, with neon green eyes paused longer than I expected. (This one is for you, Kate Mansfield Griffith–it doesn’t have the full green body of the Eastern Pondhawk that walked down your Connecticut driveway today, but the eyes were a good match of color, don’t you think?)

How common are you? Very, but not the one you seek.

Upon a Pickerel Weed in the water I notice a favorite of mine, this one also recently emerged and drying its wings before taking flight: a female Calico Pennant Skimmer. For some who have been watching, you’ll be happy to know that there were males about, but they were busy and didn’t wish to pose for a photo shoot.

How common are you? Very, but not the one you seek.

Old friends, like Kate who was one of my first playmates and even if we can’t spend time together we can still share moments of wonder like we did as kids, make themselves known such as this male Chalk-fronted Corporal. I’ve described it before as being kid-like in behavior because its kind love to play leap frog and land three feet ahead of me with each step I take.

How common are you? Very, but not the one you seek.

I soon leave the pond behind and find myself walking with intention along a woodland pathway and into an old log landing located near another brook. Guess who greets me? Yes, another Chalk-fronted Corporal, this one a female.

How common are you? Very, but not the one you seek.

As I continue to look, one with whom I struck up a conversation last summer flew in and snatched a moth before settleing on leaves to partake of the meal. Meet my friend: Black Shouldered Spinyleg, a clubtail so named for its black shoulders and spiny hind legs.

How common are you? Very, but not the one you seek.

Next, a Spangled Skimmer with black and white stigma on its wings took me by surprise and I vowed to remember it for no other has the dual-colored stigmas.

How common are you? Very, but not the one you seek.

In the shadows I spotted another I’m getting to know this year, the Four-spotted Skimmer. This dragonfly was stunning, but I found it amusing that its common name refers to tiny spots when so much more could have been honed in upon for a descriptor.

How common are you? Very, but not the one you seek.

I was about ready to head for the hills when another dragonfly caught my attention. Okay, so that’s a bit of an understatement as so many more than I’ve shared made themselves known to me and I stood still and watched how they moved, where they rested, and how big their territory was.

How common are you? Very, and I AM the one you seek.

I wanted to find this female Common Whitetail Skimmer because she hardly seemed like an every-day dragonfly to me. Those zigzag stripes on her abdomen. The way each segment stood out more 3-D than most. And those three black patches upon each wing. Words fail to describe her beauty.

How common are you? Very and yet . . . not at all.

I set out to hunt for the common and along the way I met others equally common, but in the end the one I sought was hardly common at all . . . despite her common name.

Secret Brook Mondate

After a delightful morning following friends in New Hampshire as we traversed their trail adjacent to the White Mountain National Forest, they told us of a different route to try before we headed off for our afternoon adventure. From the parking area at the trailhead, they said, begin hiking in a certain clock-face orientation and you’ll reach the falls that only the locals know about.

Bingo. We did as they further suggested and listened for the water, crossed a dry stream bed, and then made our way carefully down a steep embankment to the very spot they’d described. After pausing and enjoying the sight and sound for a little bit, we both came to the same conclusion. Rather than head back up to the trail, why not follow the stream to its source.

That meant walking beside moss-covered rocks as the water flowed forth.

At first it was on the easy side as we followed its course.

Our route became more challenging when we crossed slash at various times. (Can you see my guy?)

And ducked under and crawled backwards to get past some downed trees.

Hobblebush and Witch Hazel slowed us down. Well, maybe it only slowed me down. Again, can you spy him?

And then there were boulder fields to work our way around and through. Despite the sometimes challenging terrain . . .

as we continued to follow the water flowing south to its northern source . . .

the bushwhack provided us with delightful moments, such as the sight of a few Wood-sorrel flowers still in bloom.

The same was true of a Mountain Maple, its flowers splashing forth like a display of fireworks.

Occasionally damselflies known as Emerald Jewelwings landed nearby, he of the darker colors and she with a white dot at the tip of each wing.

At last we arrived at the pond that is the source of the brook. Whenever we are there we scan the landscape in hopes of spying a moose. A few tracks along the brook reminded us of their presence, but no actual sighting on this day.

We did spy more than a dozen Chalk-fronted Corporal dragonflies sunning on a rock.

And what I think was a Frosted Whiteface stuck in a spider web. Of course I had to free it.

Before setting it upon a Steeplebush, I did try to unfold its wing for the mosquitoes were thicker than thick and we’d been the source of their lunch. We only hoped this female could fly again and gobble up the pesky insects.

We could only imagine that the man in the buff we encountered as we hiked beside the brook must have provided the mosquitoes with an appetizer and dessert. We don’t know for sure because as he walked toward us, we quickly diverted for a short distance before returning to the brook, all in the name of social distancing, of course.

For our return trip, we stuck to the public trail, but gave great thanks to our morning hosts for telling us about the secret brook.

P.S. Happy Birthday Dr. Bubby! Thanks for letting us be a part of your birthday celebration.

Marvels of the Meadow

“My lupine meadow is in full glory!” a friend wrote in an e-mail. And she encouraged visitations. So . . . I went. Actually, we went, for I invited another friend to join me.

The first hint that we were in for a treat was the greeting along a woodland path where small butterflies teased us into admiring them. Erratic in flight, we rejoiced when one finally paused and we could zoom in on its pattern displayed in so many shades of brown.

It didn’t take long to reach the meadow . . . well, that is after we also paused along the way to try to gain a better understanding of leaf rollers and every other little thing that caught our attention.

But then . . . our focus was upon the scene before us.

Lupines everywhere we glanced.

They ranged in presentation from those with pinkish hues . . .

to deep purple . . .

and every shade between.

In the midst of all the purplishness stood a lone white spire.

As we started down one of the mowed paths, it soon became apparent that there was even more to see, like the face of this clubtail dragonfly who refused to leave its perch even when I tried to coax it onto my finger.

And then . . . my heart almost burst for upon one of the flowers were two immature Stream Cruisers and I couldn’t recall ever becoming acquainted with them in a prior life. Certainly one wouldn’t forget that chocolate and cream layered cookie face. (Yes, it was noon.) Okay, so I forget a lot of things, but really . . .

that was one memory to behold.

Of course, there were others, such as the canoodling craneflies who thought they’d escaped my vision by carrying out their love act below a leaf.

And then one of the most curious, made even more interesting because we’d examined some rolled up leaves on our way to the meadow . . .

Under our watch (mind you we took turns going in for a closer look as is our new way of being in the same place at the same time), a secretion was discharged as this little critter turned its head from side to side and ever so slowly the leaf curled inward.

Though we didn’t see any honeybees, the bumbles were there to perform their magical act.

Occasionally we pulled our focus away from the lupines and noticed other flowers in bloom, such as lilies and columbines, and daisies, and buttercups, and cinquefoils, and even those promising future blossoms like the milkweed. A Sedge Sprite damselfly waited for its next meal to pass by, while a larval bagworm hid within its protective case.

Upon another leaf, we spotted another clubtail, and I assumed it was the same species as the first dragonfly that had greeted us. Though I called both Sir Lancelot, for I thought perhaps they might be Lancet Clubtails, I knew that I’d have to figure it out back at home. If I’m not mistaken, because there are no markings on the last two segments (segments 9 & 10 in dragonflyspeak), rather than an Arthurian legend, this was actually an Ashy Clubtail.

As the sun’s rays grew stronger, Ashy changed its orientation, extending its abdomen directly toward the star at the center of the solar system in order to cool off. The obelisk position reduces the surface area to heat. It’s behaviors like this that boggle my mind, but they are innate.

Not to go unnoticed, for they made sure we paid attention with each step we took, were the Chalk-fronted Corporals. Their behavior reminds me of small children as they run ahead and just as I catch up, they run (fly) ahead again and wait, and just as I catch up, they run ahead and . . . you get the picture.

Others also made themselves known and it seemed the more time we spent looking, the more we saw. Well, maybe “seemed” isn’t the right term, for indeed . . . the more time we spent looking, the more we saw, like this Four-spotted Skimmer shimmering in the sunlight.

And a Racket-tailed Emerald showing off its gorgeous green eyes.

There were even a couple of female Calico Pennants, but not a red-colored male in sight.

The meadow isn’t all that large, but . . . we spent at least two and a half hours circling it and shared a vision of others wondering as night fell where we might be . . . in our happy place.

Fortunately, I guess, though unfortunately on some levels, we pulled ourselves away by midafternoon, much as the canoodlers had done. But our bug eyes were as wide open as his.

In the end, we offered up thanks to our hosts, Linda and Heinrich, for inviting us to enjoy the full glory of their lupines and all the marvels of the meadow.

Stumped by the Star

I knew from the get go where I wanted to spend some time because I suspected I’d meet up with old friends. And I did. 

Not all, however, had as much success and so it was for a Common Spreadwing damselfly wrapped in a spider web. Oops. 

The closer I got, however, the more others, such as a Four-spotted Skimmer, showed that for the moment they were still on the prowl, despite the fact that at least the tip of one wing had been compromised.

Who might have been responsible for that wing nip? Perhaps a female Red-winged Blackbird?

She certainly looked intent.

There were other hungry ones in the midst like the large Green Frog who sat so still and waited.

His realm was below the home of the fairies for some had seen fit in the not too distant past to create a roof that covered a space that provided a place for those who fly to live and launch.

In their nymph or naiad form, they preside as spirits over the water world.

But then they take on their terrestrial/aerial being.

One seemed to be hiding, perhaps waiting to fly, but I thought I’d offer a finger and an opportunity to get to know each other a wee bit better. Much to my glee and surprise, my finger was accepted.

The Common Baskettail, as it is known, is member of the family Corduliidae (the Emeralds), and so it seemed apropos that with such a jewel-colored face it should choose the fairy home as its place to transition from one world to the next.

Unlike other Emerald family members, baskettails lack the kryptonite-green eyes, though as they age the color does change. But they make up for it by being super hairy. As a naiad, the hair serves to trap tiny pieces of debris, thus hiding it from predators in the muck. In its adult form, the hair serves as a spring jacket, holding in heat.

Though called “common,” it was hardly such with that furry coat, those dark wing spots, and the yellow stripes on its abdomen.

Nor was its behavior common for its species since typically they hover in swarms and are difficult to see clearly.

I gave thanks for the short time we shared and will be forever grateful that I was stumped by this star.

My Other Favorite Season Begins

It’s been a yard work kind of weekend for my guy and me, but in the midst of it all, the habitat that this is kept drawing my focus. Oh, I shoveled more piles of dirt than I care to count and shook it down as many times as my guy did to separate the rocks from the loam and raked it all into place and did it all over again for hours on end, but in between I did what I love to do on days such as this. I stalked.

I stalked insects including mimics.

And wee ones like sawflies.

And ants trying to bring spiders home for lunch.

And miniature wasps pausing on blueberry bushes.

And hoverflies seeking nectar from azaleas.

And then. And then. An Eastern Forktail damselfly upon one of those mounds that we were working on.

And then . . . the crème de la crème for the weekend: a female Dot-tailed Whiteface dragonfly.

My other favorite season is officially underway. Bring on the damsels and dragons. And everyone else in between.

Meadowhawk Mondate

It was just after noon when my guy and I parked on Knapp Road to complete trail work along the Southern Shore Trail of Lakes Environmental Association’s Holt Pond Preserve. We should have completed such sooner, but prided ourselves on waiting until after last week’s Nor’easter because there were many trees and branches that needed attention.

Some were too big for us, but we did the best we could to make the trail enjoyable for all. And then, even though we’d completed our section, we continued the journey along the 5.3-mile trail, clearing as we went.

It was while in a sunny spot that I did the “I swear I’ll never do this” task–I took a selfie featuring me and my dragonfly pennant. It was my happy moment.

Another happy moment occurred once we’d circled around to Chaplin’s Mill Road and then down through the Emerald Field via the Muddy River Trail.

Beside the river I spied the makings of a fresh beaver mound, where bottom muck and leaves had been piled up and a certain scent, almost vanilla in odor, deposited.

Last April, LEA Education Director Alanna Doughty and I had discovered tons of beaver action in this area and the tree beside the water on the left-hand side still stands as a monument.

Other monuments included three to four-foot gnawed stumps scattered throughout the area that served as reminders of last year’s snow depth. Either that, or the beavers stand as tall as deer in these here woods.

This is an area that the giant rodents have known for many moons as evidenced by hemlocks they chose to girdle in hopes their least favorite trees might fall. Instead, the trees tried to heal their wounds and show the beavers who is boss of this territory.

All along the river, water flowed over beaver dams, much the same way it would have flowed over a mill dam in a different era and we loved the juxtaposition of man and nature. Or was it nature and man?

Onto the boardwalk system and through the Red Maple Swamp did we trek, and of course I stopped beside the Pitcher Plants because . . . just because. But notice the water. So, we’ve had a lot of rain, but also we suspected the beavers had something to do with the high level.

Out of curiosity, we stepped onto the boardwalk out to the Muddy River to check on some beaver lodges.

And there just happened to be an Autumn Meadowhawk upon the wood. I wasn’t sure it was alive, for it didn’t move as we stepped past it.

We made it almost to the end of the boardwalk, but eventually it dipped under water and so we stood still and gazed toward the lodges. Can you see them? 😉

Like a duplex, they were joined. But what was the best news was the sight of new branches and some insulation that had been added . . . in the form of mud. Though we hadn’t seen any new beaver works, we suspected that somewhere in this waterbody a beaver or two or family had been active.

Returning to the Hemlock Grove behind the boardwalk, I stopped to check out the dragonfly and it moved a foreleg as I watched–a sure sign of life.

And so, I did what I love to do, stuck my finger in front of it, and upon did it crawl. My heart stopped beating.

My guy had gone before, so he missed this opportunity. But chatting to it quietly, my dragonfly and I moved from the boardwalk to the much darker Hemlock Grove. He seemed not to mind, but did move about a bit on my finger and I wondered if the much cooler and darker grove might not be to his liking. Despite my concern, he stayed with me and I introduced him to my guy, who questioned the fact that I was talking to a dragonfly. And then he chuckled, “Of course you are.” I guess he knows me.

We followed him onto the next section of boardwalks that passes through the second section of the Red Maple Swamp. All along the way, I murmured sweet nothings and my little friend took in the scene. But . . . when we reached the next Hemlock Grove, he flew off. I couldn’t say I blamed him for it was much cooler and darker than the first.

By that point, my guy and I were by the Quaking Bog, so out to Holt Pond did we venture. And . . . I spotted more dragonflies to meet.

And greet.

A few of his relatives were also in their meet and greet tandem form. Had they just canoodled and dropped eggs into the water or was she playing coy?

I don’t know the answer to that, but my new friend liked the view of the pond.

And then he began to do something that it took me a few minutes to understand. Notice how his wings are down.

And then hind up, forewings down.

Fluttering, they moved rather like a windmill, but never did he take off.

The speed increased.

And I finally realized he was just trying to stay warm in the cooler air by the pond. Wing-whirring they call it. Like turtles, dragonflies are cold-blooded or ectothermic. They can’t regulate their body temperature and must depend on sunlight and ambient air temperature for warmth, which is why we encounter them along the sunny spots on the trail. My little friend was trying to warm up by vibrating his wings. Knowing his need for sunlight, just before we returned to the dark grove, I left him upon a shrub leaf.

Oh, and the beavers, we never did see them, but finally, as we approached Holt Pond from Grist Mill Road, we found fresh beaver works. They’re out there somewhere and I can’t wait to see what they do next. I’m excited to know that I’ll have their antics to watch in the upcoming months for I suspect that my dragonfly days are about to draw to a close.

But today was most definitely a Meadowhawk Dragonfly Mondate and I gave thanks for the opportunity to travel with my guy and this guy, and one or two of his relatives.

Women of the Dragonflies

The minute we launched our kayaks, I knew we were in for a treat, for beside bur-reed and water-logged branches and even upon our boats, the Autumn Dragonflies danced, theirs a frantic last-minute mating routine.

Single males watched as couples prepared for the grand event and every once in a while they’d try to interfere, though that usually ended within seconds.

Once they gave up, they were willing to land and hang out with me for a few moments. If you know me, you know I was thrilled–especially given that every time I see a dragonfly of late, I’m sure it’s the last of the season. And then . . .

I heard a loud buzz over my head and upon my friend Pam’s vest, a Lake Darner landed. I told her not to move as I took in its glory. That being said, only moments before perhaps this same dragonfly tried to nab a canoodling pair positioned right below my paddle. For the moment, they survived, and he took a break.

His break over, onward we paddled into the wind and current. But really, it wasn’t a tough journey and around every bend we were wowed as we paused, drifted, and got lost in the scenery. The colors have reached their beyond peak rendition, but still, we were surrounded by beauty.

It showed itself in layers,

reflections,

and a combination of the two.

We paused beside tree stumps and gasped at their intricate structures as we remembered summer sightings of painted turtles.

As one might expect, the littlest things begged our focus, such as the spider only Pam spied through her lens.

While she looked down, I looked beyond to a far stump and Heron Rookery in the distance. And in the midst of my search–a Lake Darner Dragonfly flew in on patrol. Do you see it in the upper right-hand corner?

Our next wonder moment occurred when we realized a certain insect posed upon a drowned branch.

Our spot: a Wooly Bear caterpillar. Having grown up in Canada, Pam didn’t know about the Wooly Bear’s reputation as a predictor of winter weather. According to local lore and backed up by The Farmer’s Almanac, this is how it works: “The Woolly Bear caterpillar has 13 distinct segments of either rusty brown or black. The wider the rusty brown sections (or the more brown segments there are), the milder the coming winter will be. The more black there is, the more severe the winter.”

The curious thing: this is the first I’ve seen with a wider rusty brown section; all others have had wider black sections. Hmmm. Methinks that by April we’ll know which W. Bear was correct.

But here’s another question: there was water on either side of the downed limb. How in the world did the caterpillar get there? We’ve watched Hickory Tussock Caterpillars squirm their way across the water all summer, so we know they can “swim.” Did W. Bear come from the shore? A bird’s mouth? Or fall from a branch above? We’ll never know, but considering the possibilities opened our minds.

Beyond W. Bear, we found ourselves looking at a familiar view we’ve always enjoyed from the land behind us: a look north toward a Heron Rookery.

High up in the trees sit condominiums that we’ve seen filled with birds. One, two, three, four, even five birds. Large birds. Yes, the nests are large, but how in the world do they survive wild winds and how in the world do the birds co-exist upon them before fledging?

We spent a lot of time looking up, but an equal amount of time looking down, where Equisetum fluviatile, or Water Horsetail grew prolifically. The thing about it was that it had all been browsed as if a field mowed. We suspected the diners were Canada Geese that we knew had inhabited this place for months.

At last we reached a point where paddling further north presented some issues and the sun was lowering in the sky. So, we turned around and paddled south as far as we could go, with the sun blinding much of the sights. But . . . beside another stump we did stop. And were honored with the lines it presented from a complicated spider web intermixed with the tree’s lines.

Wthin sight of the Route 93 bridge, we again turned around to return to our launch site. The temperature had dipped and as we rounded the final bends, we found ourselves in full shade rather than sun. And a discussion of seasonal lighting entered our conversation.

Things are in flux in these parts. But for one more day, we were the women of the dragonflies.

Bear to Beer Possibilities: Brownfield’s Burnt Meadow Mountain

It’s been a while since my guy and I have ventured on a Bear to Beer Possibility hike, but today dawned bright and even a wee bit chilly. A perfect August day. A perfect hiking day.

As he dipped his hand into the little box filled with potential, Burnt Meadow Mountain in Brownfield surfaced.

And so it was that we decided to hike up and down the Twin Brooks Trail rather than doing the loop to the North Peak. Though a bit longer, it proved to be a good choice as we came upon a couple of bear trees we hadn’t met previously. The first was the best for so many claw marks did it feature.

Even from the back side there was proof that not only was this our favorite bear tree, but it was also some bear’s favorite.

A little further on we found another we hadn’t met before. Or . . . perhaps we were meeting it for the first time all over again. That happens to us sometimes and, after all, we were approaching from a different angle than is our norm.

There were other things to slow us down, like the occasional Autumn Meadowhawk Dragonfly, especially in an area where the trail had been rerouted a few years ago during a logging operation and most of the growth is early successional.

And a Bald-faced Hornet nest that was quite active. “How does your nest grow?” I asked the lady of the house. “With chewed wood fibers mixed with saliva,” she responded. The result was an impressive condominium a few feet off the trail.

Continuing on, there was a cave that deserved a visit so my guy peeked in. Fortunately, no one peeked out.

And then . . . another bear tree, though not nearly as impressive as those we spotted previously.

Onward and upward we climbed. Thankfully, we didn’t have to partake of the heart-throbbing scramble of the North Peak Trail that sometimes gives me pause, but we still had some scrambling to do on the trail of today’s choice.

It was worth it, for we paused at one point and turned to take in the view of Mount Washington.

At last we reached the flat top of Burnt Meadow Mountain. It always amazes us that with all the boulders and ledges we encounter on the way up, the summit is rather like a mesa.

Lunch rock found us taking in the view to the east. The Atlantic Ocean is somewhere beyond the sea of trees.

And though there were still plenty of berries at the top, we never met an interested bear. (Almost 20 years ago, we did when hiking there with our sons.) Nor was my guy interested in what I typically call his blue gold.

Instead, he chose to nap.

As for me, well, you can guess what I was doing before we descended. This tiny dragonfly is a female Eastern Amberwing and this was our first meeting. I first met her male counterpart last month in NYC’s Central Park.

She wasn’t a bear, but in my book, she was the next best thing.

And the Backburner Restaurant in Brownfield wasn’t open when we passed by on our way home, so . . . our bear to beer possibility this time included bear trees but not beer. Even so, it was a great hike.

Mondate with Pam and Charles

Don’t tell her husband who wasn’t able to join us today, but Pam fell fast and hard for another guy. His name is Charles.

It was supposed to be just the three of us kayaking when we launched this morning, Pam, my guy, and me.

But it soon became apparent that this other guy was trying to woe her with bouquets of wildflowers, including Cardinals so red,

Turtleheads so white,

Arrowheads with broad leaves,

and those whose leaves overtopped the flowers.

But I think Pam was most wowed when he presented her with Ground-nut, its maroonish flower with a pair of upper petals forming a hood or keel, a pair of lower lateral wings, and a lower keel that curled upward.

And then Charles made a point of inviting his friends to meet Pam, though we wondered if the Painted Turtle always grimaced or if perhaps he was jealous of all the attention bestowed upon her.

The male Emerald Jewelwing Dragonfly was much friendlier and happy to say hello in its lighthearted manner.

And the Dragonhunter Dragonfly made frequent visits to get . . .

to know . . .

Pam better. We’re grateful he didn’t decide to gobble her up.

But perhaps Pam’s favorite moment was when Charles presented not just a Pickerel Weed in flower, but also a Clearwing Hummingbird Moth pollinating it.

Oh, he wasn’t one to make things super easy, that Charles.

But he’d asked my guy to help us portage around the dam, and so we never had to get out of our kayaks. Chivalry at its best.

Continuing our paddle, we began to think of Charles’ estate as Brigadoon for such were the colors each time we rounded a bend.

Around a final corner, Charles revealed his mansion with promises of many happy days to come.

It was so large that we knew it was an example of a big house, little house, back house, barn, which made sense given that Charles’ family had long lived in the area.

On one of the walls inside, he’d painted a scene that reflected the outdoors, including the mountains in the background.

From the backdoor it was a straight shot and suddenly we emerged onto his pond. The man was wealthy, but we told Pam that if she was going to fall for him, she had to do some serious thinking for her guy Bob is really the one who holds the strings to her heart.

In the end, though she thanked him for sharing his place with us today, Pam did inform Charles that they could remain friends, but not get any closer than that. And she added that the next time they meet, Bob will be with her.

My guy and I were thankful that she introduced us to the kind man as the three of us explored his property: Charles River and Charles Pond in Fryeburg, Maine. But we’re equally grateful that their relationship will remain merely aquatic.

The Nature of New York

We pounded the sidewalk this weekend in a style not quite ours, but visiting the Big Apple always finds us realizing that the world around us is larger than our little speck on the map in western Maine. And yet, we found similarities everywhere we turned.

Birds of various shapes, colors, and sizes like the Common Tern with its bright two-toned bill, offered watery reflections as they stood in front of us and pondered life in the East River.

On a much larger scale was the raven of the sea, the Cormorant, with its eyes so blue and bill so long and hooked.

There were a variety of gulls as well, plus sparrows, and of course, the exotic pigeons, all enjoying life along this place where the Statue of Liberty welcomed us from her distant, yet ever distinguished pose upon Liberty Island.

We spent some time in the morning and again in the afternoon beside the river and it dawned upon me as we gazed at the surrounding architecture, here positioned behind the Brooklyn Bridge, that the form of each structure was rather organic in style. Just as all ferns might be viewed as “just ferns,” so might buildings be viewed as “just buildings.” But then one day, you wake up and begin to notice the idiosyncrasies and suddenly you recognize the sensitive fern in its once-cut form with its separate fertile frond and the lady fern with her hairy legs and comma-like “eyebrow” sporangia on the back of her pinnules and voilà, you realize that each one has its own characteristics worth noting. Somehow, the buildings began to feel the same to me–their different forms and colors and sizes took on new meaning and though I don’t yet understand them all, I can at least appreciate their artistry.

The other thing I began to realize is that from our stance in Brooklyn, as we looked across the Manhattan Bridge, the community on the other side had suddenly changed or so it seemed based on the size and style of the buildings, much like natural communities change based on location–whether its a riverbank, forest, pond, cliff, or bog, etc. Fortunately, we were accompanied by our youngest son who lives in Brooklyn and works in Manhattan, and he could point out that the view below the Brooklyn Bridge was of the Financial District of Manhattan, while the view on the other side of the Manhattan Bridge was toward Chinatown.

Even the bridges themselves were meant to be celebrated for their lines, whether straight, curved, or angular–all working together to create monuments out of stone and steel.

Against the sky, their geometric shapes drew our eyes up and down and up and down again as we glanced upon the individual spans.

A few steps beyond the bridge, in DUMBO, we spied more geometry enhanced by color and while some might see crystals in rocks, I kept thinking of insects and their “mechanical” structures of antennae and legs and thoraxes and abdomens and wings.

Our walking tour included The Fence, the largest public photo exhibition in North America that moves from one city to another and will be on display in the Brooklyn Bridge Park through September.

The photographs are displayed in categories. In the Farm-to-Camera category, it tickled me to see that photographer Adrien Bloom had included Garlic Scapes from a farm in Maine.

Beside each set of photographs within a category, an explanation was provided. In this case, we read the following: “Farm-to-Camera honors the pure and simple beauty of the bounty that comes from our farms. Billions of years in the evolutionary making, each item we pick up at the farmers market, or directly from the farm, is a perfect piece of art and deserves to be treated as such.”

One last gaze across the East River provided a sight that looked more poster-like than real. And yet it was . . . real. And in its realness, it appeared that some buildings in the canopy had crowded out the saplings and shrubs and definitely those in the herb layer.

According to our son, the reality of the unfinished building in the center is that the structure is off by two inches between the top and bottom and it has been left as is for months now. Perhaps it will be the tree that can’t survive in this forest because of the crowded conditions.

Before we left the DUMBO area, he showed us a different view of the river, actually this one a representation as it blocked off a location where “Gotham” is set. He was able to point out changes they make during the filming season as he knows it from a work perspective in his job at a film editing house.

Our first day ended with the three of us enjoying a delicious dinner at French Louie under a break in the sky–a heart meant for us.

The next morning called for a trip to Manhattan and a walk in Central Park where the ornate architecture was framed by a break in the trees.

It was near there that we paid our respects to Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich Alexander von Humboldt, aka Alexander von Humboldt, the famous geographer, explorer and naturalist. His publications, which were prolific, had a mission to encourage scientific inquiry as well as a wonderment of nature. And to him we gave thanks.

Within the park we stood by The Lake for a bit, watching lovers in boats . . .

approaching each other in the water,

and basking in the sun. Interestingly enough, if you scroll up to the first shot of The Lake, you may notice that the rock upon which the Red-eared Slider Turtles sunned themselves actually looked like a turtle.

It was there that we also spotted dragonflies new to my knowledge–the Eastern Amberwing. I think I may have called it the Topaz Wing had I been the first to ID it, but perhaps that’s because I’m partial to the stone that represents my birth date.

Inside the Museum of Natural History we wandered and wondered for hours and hours. I’m not a city girl, but I sure did wish from time to time that I lived closer for I would purchase a pass each year and spend time in various sections–visiting repeatedly to gain a better understanding.

Oh yeah, these are the two variations of a snowshoe, aka varying hare.

And did I mention that we spotted Sandhill Cranes and their nest. It looks like three little ones should hatch any day now. That is . . . if it’s possible to emerge from their plastic forms enclosed behind the glass wall.

Though I enjoyed the river and park and museum, and especially breaking bread together, the best part of the weekend was spending time with my guy and our youngest son, both of whom actually posed for me beside skeletons of extinct mammals.

We were there to wish this young man a happy 25th birthday. We are so proud of him and the work he is doing and person he has become.

He loves New York for all its city ways and quirky offerings. We love that we can visit from time to time and get to know his place a wee bit better–right down to the artwork on the walls of the subway. The more often we go, the more we begin to realize that in the midst of all its city-ness, moments of wonder can be found.

Ahhh–the nature of New York.

P.S. Happy 25th Paddy Mac!

Wonders of the Bog

My wish was granted. I had hoped to have the bog to myself, and except for three cars that passed by headed east and two headed west, which I could only hear and not see from my stance in front of the “blind,” not a soul disturbed my solitude.

That’s not completely true. Many souls actually disturbed the peace from low-pitched bellows to squeaks and whistles and croaks and splashes. But . . . they were all to be expected in such a place as this.

I new I’d made the right decision to visit when I spied a shed snake skin on the path to the front of the blind. Just maybe I’d get lucky and see one.

At last I found a spot from which to channel my inner bullfrog and watch for the next insect to snatch . . . though in my case it was to snap a photo.

And I didn’t join the chorus of GA-DUNK, GA-DUNK, GA-DUNK, GA-dunk, GA-dunk, ga-dunk, ga-dunk each time it rose and fell, beginning in one corner of the bog and eventually extending all the way around.

My other thought was that perhaps I should be like a sapling and then I might encourage a dragonfly to land upon me.

It was a good thought, but I wasn’t sure it would work. Instead, I began to slowly scan the area to see what I might see–and the painted turtles didn’t let me down. Can’t you just hear the one in the front tell the other to stop following her?

From water to foliage, everywhere every minute there was something new to focus on and I rejoiced with the sighting of my first Slaty Skimmer of the season. He’s an easy one to ID with his body entirely blue, enhanced by those dark brown eyes and black face. And then there’s that long black stigma toward the tip of his wings. A handsome guy indeed.

Another handsome guy was the Common Grackle with his seed-eating bill so big and thick. And that iridescent bluish head accenting the bright yellow eye. The Tree Swallows were too quick for me, but they frequently chased the Grackles and I suspected there was a swallow nest in one of the dead snags in the water.

My pose as a sapling seemed to be working for the Corporal kept landing right at my roots. There were so many and they all zipped about before taking breaks such as this.

Meanwhile, on another log another turtle basked, soaking up the warmth of the sun’s rays on this delightful morning.

Not every log served as a sunbather’s lounge chair, but they all had something of interest upon them, such as the Round-leaved Sundew bouquet, its flowers not yet in bloom, but standing tall and curled like crosiers.

Also scanning the stumps and any small hummock were the Grackles as they sought their next meal. Typically, they are seedeaters, but the insects, spiders, frogs, and salamanders of this place can also provide tasty morsels.

With my legs as the sapling’s trunk, finally the Corporal did land.

And if that wasn’t exciting enough, then I spotted a turtle in a surfing pose ;-).

Actually, according to Mary Holland, author of Naturally Curious, “Being cold-blooded, or ectothermic, they need this external source of heat to warm their body, but the UV light also regulates their metabolism and breeding as well as helps produce Vitamin D3, which is essential for the health of their bones as well as their internal organs.

Basking can also help relieve aquatic turtles of ectoparasites. Leeches are a blood-sucking ectoparasite that can cause anemia in reptiles. Drying out in the sun causes the leeches to shrivel up and die. Algae on basking aquatic turtles can also dry out and fall off, allowing the shells to retain their aerodynamic nature.”

While the turtles took care of themselves, the Grackles had other business at hand. If you look carefully at the right hand side of the snag, on the burl you may see tail feathers sticking out. Each time a Grackle entered, it had food in its mouth. And a few seconds later when it departed, it had fecal matter which it deposited in the water. I couldn’t hear the babes calling for food among the din of all the other sounds in the bog, but it soon became obvious that they lived within.

As for my own tree-like stature, it worked. All morning the dragonflies landed on my pants, shirt or hat and their wingbeats reminded me of Hummingbirds as they flew onto or off quickly, always in competition with others.

And then, one blessed me by landing as soon as I stuck my limb out. He looked at me in as much a curious way as I looked at him.

The wonders of the bog. Deer Hill Bog.

Thanks to the Hare

I should have known it would be this kind of a day when I spotted a Snowshoe Hare on the road. It’s a rare spot for me, though all winter long I see their tracks and scat. Only occasionally do I get to glimpse one and even then, it’s just that . . . a glimpse.

But today was different. As I drove to a Greater Lovell Land Trust property, movement on the pavement slowed me down. To. A. Stop. Not wanting to scare it, I took a photo from behind the windshield and then watched as it hopped on the road for a couple of minutes and then off into the grass.

My destination was just around the corner where the Sundews grow. Carnivorous Round-leaved Sundews. Check out the glistening droplets at the ends of the hair-like tendrils that extend from each round leaf. The droplets are actually quite sticky. Just like a spider sensing a bug on its web, the tendrils detect the presence of prey and then curl inward, thus trapping the victim.

The whole leaf will eventually wrap around an insect and in the process of digesting it, the plant will absorb the bug’s nutrients. Can you see the action in process of the lower leaf on the left?

Sundews tend to grow in areas that lack sufficient nutrients, so this is the plant’s way of supplementing its diet. And if that isn’t enough–it’s just plain beautiful.

When I first ventured onto this wildlife refuge with others for a morning of trail clearing, the sky was overcast and mosquitoes plentiful. But . . . the sun eventually burned through the clouds and with that, some of my favorite over-sized, prehistoric looking insects did fly. Thankfully, they also paused so I could admire their structures, colors, and habits. This member of the Odonata family loves to skim across the land at low level and pause on rocks or leaves. Sometimes I feel like I’m walking with them for such is their behavior to lift off from one rock as I approach and settle on the next just a few feet ahead. That is, until I approach that one and then they move on to the next. Over and over again. Of course, all the time they’re hunting for a meal.

The two photographs above are of the same species and same gender. Both are females of the Chalk-fronted Corporal sort. But notice the cloudier abdomen of the second. There’s just a bit of the grayness in the first photo. So here’s a word to stick under your hat and remember: Pruinescence–meaning a “frosted or dusty looking coating on top of a surface.” The female’s abdomen turns chalky gray with pruinosity. In my under-educated brain, I’d say the second is older than the first for her pruinose markings are more obvious.

I was standing in the middle of a former log landing when I began to notice the insects. It’s an area where forest succession is slowly occurring and may need to be addressed. But for now, the wildflowers include Yellow Hawkweeds. And because their resting position is different from the Corporals, upon the flowers perched Calico Pennants. The first I saw was a male, so identified by the red markings on its abdomen.

In many male/female contrasts, be it dragonflies, damselflies, or even birds, the female is in no way as attractive as the male. But for the Calicos, both are worth celebrating. Check out those wings–their basal patches like stained glass windows.

It wasn’t just dragonflies that visited the field, for as I said it’s a land once stripped of vegetation that now plays hosts to flowers and shrubs and saplings all competing for space. And Syrphid flies also competed, their focus not on other insects, but rather pollen and nectar.

Equally stained-glass like are the wings. And notice the hair on its body. The natural world is incredibly hairy. Looks rather like a bee, doesn’t it? I was fooled, but my entomologist friend Anthony corrected me–thankfully.

Notice the lack of pollen baskets on those big funky hind legs, lack of antenna with “elbows,” and the shape of the eyes. Similar to a bumblebee, yes, but with subtle differences.

Other visitors who sampled the goods in a much faster manner included Hummingbird Clearwing Moths. The wings of this one pumped so quickly that it appeared wingless. If you look closely, you may see the comb-like structure of its antennae, which helps to differentiate moths from butterflies with their club-like antennae.

I had been feeling rather blessed for all I’d seen to this point and then an old friend made itself known. This dragonfly is one that I know I’ll eventually photograph on my hand or leg this summer and it honors me with those landings for I feel like a Dragonfly Whisperer in those moments. Today we were merely getting reacquainted. And instead of landing on me, it let me photograph its face. Take a look and wonder.

And then look at the abdomen of the same dragonfly: a Lancet Clubtail. By its bluish gray eyes that remind me of my own, and narrow yellow daggers on each segment of its abdomen, I hope you’ll recognize it going forward should you have the opportunity to meet.

Butterflies were also among the visitors of the field, including a Tiger Swallowtail with a tale to tell of how it lost a part of its tail.

And then I spotted a skipper or two moving just a wee bit slower than the Hummingbird Clearwing Moth. My what big eyes you have.

As I slowly made my way back up the trail, it was the Kennedy’s Emerald, named for Dr. Clarence Kennedy, a renowned Ohio State University professor and odonatologist that asked to be noticed. I knew we’d met before when I realized it had two downward-arched yellow spots on the first two segments of its otherwise dark abdomen. The yellow coloration indicated it was a female.

Then I watched a most curious thing as I stood by a fence that stands beside a short portion of the trail. Do you see the dragonfly crawling along the fence?

It seemed to be on a mission that I couldn’t understand.

Perhaps it had its sight on an insect I couldn’t spy.

For a few minutes it posed and gave me time to at least decide it was a darner, though I keep changing my mind about which one. But notice its markings. The venation of its wings was rather fine compared to so many, yet the markings on its abdomen were well defined. Oh, and do you see the paddle-like claspers–used to hold the female’s head during mating? And then it flew off.

My heart was filled by all that I’d been seeing. And then . . . in flew another that seemed to top the rest. A Twelve-spotted Skimmer. Count each one on all four wings–twelve dark spots. Crazy beautiful. And to think that I always used to think dragonflies were dragonflies and they were wonderful because they consume mosquitoes and make our woodland hikes so much more bearable. But like ferns that I always thought were all the same, they are not. Slowly I’m learning them by their names and give thanks for every moment I get to spend in their presence.

What’s not to wonder about and love–notice the yellow hearts on the female Calico Pennants abdomen. And her reflection on the leaf below.

I knew that hare brought me good tidings. And will be forever grateful.

Walking with Dragons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the Common Baskettail. How long will they survive?

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

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

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

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

Cranberry Memories

It’s amazing how a simple act such as taking cranberries out of the freezer and transforming them into a relish can take one back in time, but so it did today.

My family knows best that I’m not a foodie, and cook only because we can’t survive on popcorn alone (drats), but one of my favorite flavors brings a burst of tartness to any meal. And as I concocted the simple cranberry orange relish we so enjoy, moments spent picking them kept popping up.

On several occasions last fall, I bushwhacked toward the fen, stopping first to explore the kettle holes that dot the landscape.

And though I love tracking all winter, it’s those unexpected moments in other seasons when I recognize the critters with whom I share the Earth that make my heart quicken.

Especially when I realize that one of my favorites has also passed this way, stomping through the water . . .

and then onto the drier land. Yes, Ursus americanus had been on the hunt as well.

He wasn’t the only one fishing for a meal, though of a much smaller spidery-style scale.

And then there were my winged friends, the meadowhawks.

I remember the mating frenzy occurring as that most ancient of rituals was performed both on the leaf and in the air.

Other winged friends, showing off a tad of teal, dabbled nearby.

Eventually, I tore myself away from the kettle holes and tramped through winterberry shrubs filled with fruits and cinnamon ferns ablaze in their fall fashion.

After all, my destination was the cranberry fen.

And last year was a mighty fine year for those little balls of wonder that hid below their green leaves. I filled my satchel to overflowing before taking my leave, knowing that in the coming months I’d share the foraged fruits with family and friends and remember time well spent.

Not only did the abundant fruit make it so special, but on my way out I stumbled upon another kettle hole and much to my delight spotted two Sandhill Cranes, part of a flock that returns to this area of western Maine on a yearly basis.

While the cranes foraged on the ground, a Great Blue Heron watched them approach.

And then in flew a Bald Eagle who eventually settled in a pine tree beside a crow.

With that, the cranes flew off and a few minutes later so did the heron. And then I left, trying to find my way out, but I’d gotten a bit twisted and turned and ended up cutting through someone’s yard to get back to the road. Because I was a wee bit confused, I couldn’t find my truck right away, and in the process of looking I dropped a few cranberries. It was all worth it! And still is as we’ll enjoy that relish in our chicken salad sandwiches tonight.

Ah, cranberries. And bears. And spiders. And dragonflies. And birds. Ah, cranberry memories.

Our Home is Their Home

As I sit in my rocking chair on the camp porch, the cicadas still buzz, with chirps of crickets thrown into the mix and somewhere in the background a constant trill from another. Tree frog? Perhaps, but it seems to carry on for longer than usual. Grasshopper? Maybe. And then there is the occasional call of the loon.

1-camp

What truly attracted my attention earlier today, however, were the other members of the household. Whose home this is, I think I know. Or rather, I thought I did. I thought it belonged to my guy and me. But really, I should have known better for it has never just housed the two of us. There were the boys growing up, and family, and friends, and renters, even. Actually, the latter three knew it before the boys. (Oops, I suppose I should call them young men, mid-twenty-somethings that they now are.)  But, through all these years, it has also housed many others. And so today, I got acquainted with some of its other residents. Rather than the mammals that we know also share the space, e.g. mice, squirrels, and bats, it was the insects and arachnids that I checked out.

2-cicada exuviae

My first find along the foundation was an exuvia of one I listen to day and night–that of a cicada. In their larval stage, cicadas live down to eight feet underground. When the time comes to metamorphose into winged adults, they dig to the surface, climb up something, in this case the foundation, and molt. The  emerging winged insects leave behind their shed skin, aka abandoned exoskeleton or exuvia. It’s a rather alien looking structure, with the split obvious from which the adult emerged.

3-cruiser 1

The cicadas weren’t the only aliens along our foundation. It seemed like every few feet I discovered a dragonfly exuvia dangling from the porch floor and now encased in spider webs.

3b-cruiser

One of the cruiser exuviae had dropped to the ground below. But still the structure remained intact. And I now realize that my next task is to head out the door once again in the morning and collect these beauties, the better to understand their nuances.

4-cruiser hiding

I found cruisers hiding under the logs . . .

6-cruiser and cast off spider

and even one tucked in by a basement window that had a shed spider exoskeleton dangling from it.

6a-lancet clubtail dragonfly

There were others as well, but nowhere did I find the exuvia of the one with whom I’ve spent the most time, Sir Lance(t) Clubtail. I suspect his shed skin is attached to some aquatic vegetation for he spends so much of his time by the water, even today, pausing only briefly to rest on the dock ladder.

7-bag worms and pupal case of a pine sawfly

There were other species to meet, including the most interesting of structures, those of the evergreen bagworm cases. I assumed that the young had already emerged, but their homes consisted of material from the trees on which they fed, e.g. pine needles. They struke me as the terrestrial form of the aquatic caddisflies.

And beside the two bagworms was a small, rounded brown case–the pupal case of a pine sawfly. The sawfly had already pupated and in this case no one was home.

8-pine sawfly caterpillar on screen

Oh, but they were and have been for a few weeks. I first realized we had an infestation when what sounded like the drip-drop pattern of a summer rain on a perfectly sunny day turned out to be little bits of green caterpillar frass falling from the trees. Everything was decorated. And then I began to notice the caterpillars–many falling out of trees and landing on the surrounding vegetation, and the house. As would be expected, they climbed toward the sky, hoping, I suppose, to reach the top of the trees. Good luck with that.

9-pine sawfly caterpillars

Some didn’t make it above the foundation, where they encountered spider webs and soon had the juices sucked out of them. Such is life. And today, a winter flock of birds including chickadees, nuthatches, goldfinches, hairy woodpeckers, young robins, and even a brown creeper flew in and some fine dining took place. The raindrops have nearly ceased.

10-Northern Pine Sphinx

That wasn’t the only pine-eating caterpillar to make its home here. On the chimney, I found a northern pine sphinx caterpillar moving full speed ahead.

11-orbweaver

And around the bend, where the chimney meets the camp, an orbweaver spinning some silk in the hopes of fine dining.

14a-calico pennant dragonfly in web

One meal had obviously been consumed–a calico pennant dragonfly. I’d seen a few of those on the vegetation a few weeks ago, but none recently. Apparently, one flew too close to the building. The only way I could ID it was by its wings for the head, thorax and abdomen had been eaten. But the wings have no nutritional value.

11a-Northern Pine Sphinx 2

A short time later I returned to the chimney in hopes of locating the northern pine sphinx caterpillar again. I did. And he wasn’t. He’d apparently turned the sharp corner on the chimney and met his fate.

13- Northern Sphinx 4

Eye to eye. I’m amazed at the size of the insects that find their way to her web. It’s not like they are attracted to it. Instead, they come upon it quite by surprise and she makes fast work of their mistake.

14-pine tree spur-throated grasshopper

Rounding the corner back toward the porch door, one last insect drew my attention. And again, it was related to the pines, such is the local community: a pine tree spur-throated grasshopper on one of the logs that forms the outer wall of our wee home.

Our home is their home and we’re happy to share the space with them. Provided, of course, that they leave space for us to live as well. So far, all is well.

 

Eagle-eyed Mondate

It was the call of the loon that pulled me onto the dock early this morning, my coffee and camera in tow.

1

As it moved about not too far off, I noticed that it started turning in circles. It appeared to be listening and looking . . . and not for fish.

2

Suddenly, from behind me, there was movement in the sky and I began to understand. If you look carefully, you will also begin to understand.

3

A mature eagle had entered the neighborhood.

4

For some reason, the loon moved closer.

22

And then an immature eagle appeared. So did my next-door-neighbor, who walked quietly onto the dock with her camera. Together, we watched, barely exchanging any words as we didn’t want to disturb the scene.

23

Eventually the older bird flew up to a perfect viewing spot on a nearby island, rearranging a couple of twigs to create a mini-platform from which to watch the world.

5

The younger bird stayed a bit longer and then it flew toward the north end Moose Pond.

6

A few hours later, my guy and I also headed north, traveling a route we typically follow with our kayaks. Our mode of transportation on this day was the S.S. Christmas, our Maine Guide boat.

7

As we moved along, I felt a tickle on my leg and looked down to see that Sir Lance, the lancet clubtail dragonfly, had joined us for the journey. He came and went several times and then left us alone as we moved into a territory occupied by other species of dragonflies.

8

Among the islands we moved, keeping an eye on the bottom for the water is quite shallow and our boat precious. So are we. And the camera!

9

Eventually we ran out of mini-channels to follow for so carpet-like was the display of lily pads before us.

10

I would have been content to drift, but my guy is a doer and he needed to be doing something. And so he rowed.

11

As I turned around to see what I might see, I saw a hitchhiker up under the bow–a dock or fishing spider! The rule was, if it didn’t bother me, I wouldn’t bother it.  And so it went for the remainder of our journey together, though I’m not sure he departed when we returned to the dock.

12

Anyway, back to our adventure. We were approaching one of the islands we sometimes stop on when we snowshoe in the winter–it’s a fine place to enjoy a PB&J sandwich. And then I spied something in the tall pine. An owl? I’ve listened to a Barred Owl the past few nights.

13

My guy rowed closer and we realized it was the immature eagle.

14

And so at last we sat still. For a long while. And watched. And waited. And listened. And saw calico pennant dragonflies.

15

But it was the eagle that really drew our attention.

16

Behind us fish jumped and we fully expected the bird to scream down our way with its talons extended.

17

But it didn’t. Instead, it panted like a dog. The day was warm, especially up in the islands where the wind was blocked.

18

It also preened.

19

And occasionally it looked our way–mostly when my guy’s feet moved a bit and his crocs squeaked, sounding rather like another eagle. Their highpitched call always surprises me for it seems rather weak for such powerful birds that draw our awe and wonder with each sighting.

20

At last the eagle flew south, apparently not at all interested in any fish . . . or painted turtles. And we made our way south as well.

21

We were almost back to the dock when Sir Lance landed on my leg again. I placed my pointer finger in front of him and he climbed onto it. How cool is that?

Another fun Mondate aboard the S.S. Christmas with my guy–and another opportunity to exert our eagle eyes!

 

 

A Berry Pleasant Mountain Hike

Thirty-two years ago I moved to Maine (the only place I’ve ever lived where the number of years counts as bragging rights) and Pleasant Mountain quickly figured into my life. The first day I drove past it on Route 302, I was killing time before a job interview and one look at Moose Pond with the mountain looming over it and I knew I very much wanted to live here. A couple of days later, I received the phone call I’d been waiting for and principal Larry Thompson said it was only a matter of formality that my name go before the school board. By the next week, I was packing up in New Hampshire and making my way further north. I’d found a place to live that meant I’d pass by the mountain on my way to and from school each day. And then that October I attended a Halloween party with friends at the ski lodge of what was then called Pleasant Mountain Ski Resort. I was an olive and I met this guy dressed as a duck hunter. Turns out he’d never been duck hunting, but had a great duck puppet and he could turn its head with the stick within. He certainly turned my head!

Thus began the journey with my guy. Our first hike together–up the Southwest Trail of Pleasant Mountain. That first winter, he taught me to downhill ski, well sorta. My way of turning that first time included falling as I neared the edge of the trail, shifting my body once I was down on the snow, begging for the components of a steak dinner, rising and skiing across at a diagonal to the opposite side only to repeat my performance. Dinner was great that night! And well deserved.

Time flashed forward four years, and at noon on August 4, 1990, we were married; our reception in the Treehouse Lounge at the Ski Resort. In all the years since we first met and then were married and beyond, we’ve skied (though I have managed to avoid that concept more recently) together and with our sons before their abilities outgrew mine, snowshoed and hiked and grown only fonder of the place we call home. Our intention yesterday was to climb the mountain in celebration of our 28th anniversary, but the weather gods outpouring of moisture was not in our favor.

Today, however, dawned differently and so mid-morning we made our way with a plan to hike up the Bald Peak Trail, across the ridge to the summit, and down the Ledges Trail. We’d left the truck at the Ledges, ever mindful that the last thing we want to do after climbing down the mountain is to walk 1.5 miles to reach our vehicle.

1-heading up

As I’ve done over and over again in the past 32 years, I followed my guy–over rocks and roots and bald granite faces.

2-Pinesap

Once in a while I announced the need for a stop because my Nature Distraction Disorder ticked into action. In this case, it was Pine-sap, or Monotropa hypopitysMono meaning once and tropa turned; hypopitys for its habitat under a pine or fir. Also called Dutchmen’s Pipe, this is a parasitic plant that obtains all its nutrients by stealing them from the roots of a host tree. It doesn’t enter the host directly, but through a fungal intermediary. And like Indian Pipe, it has no green tissues. It differs from I.P. in two ways, its yellow color as compared to white, and two to eleven flowers versus a single flower. In my book of life, both Pine-sap and Indian Pipe are great finds.

3-Moose Pond below

I didn’t let my NDD get the better of me too often on the way up. It was extremely humid and so we did stop frequently, but also kept a pace that worked for both of us and soon emerged onto the ridge where a look back through the red and white pines revealed a peek of the causeway that crosses Moose Pond.

5-hidden camp

Employing the telephoto lens, I spied our camp hidden among the trees, only the dock and our little boat showing. It’s amazing how obvious all the neighboring camps seemed when viewed from up high.

7-ridge line trail

After the climb up, the ridge always seems a cinch as the pathway wanders through blueberries, pines and oaks.

6-lunch rock

At last we found lunch rock, a place to pause in the shade and enjoy our PB&J sandwiches. We’d packed cookies for dessert, but decided to save those for later. My guy, however, had accidentally unpacked my work backpack and discovered a few pieces of a dark chocolate KitKat–my stash when I’m tired at the end of the day and need a pick-me-up before driving home. It looks like the purchase of another KitKat is in my near future for we topped off the sandwiches with a sweet treat.

8-picking blueberries

After lunch, my guy’s eyes focused in on one thing only. That is after he moved away from his original spot behind the rock we’d sat upon for our repose. Unwittingly, he’d stirred up a yellow jacket nest and managed to walk calmly away, only one bee stinging his leg.

14-blueberries

While his attention was on the gold at his feet–in the form of low-bush blueberries, I turned my lens in a variety of directions. Oh, I helped pick. A. Wee. Bit.

9-Lake Darner Dragongly

But there were other things to see as well and this dragonfly was a new one for me. A few highlights of this beauty: Do you notice the black cross line in the middle of the face. And on the thoracic side stripe, do you see the deep notch?

10-Lake Darner Dragonfly

Both of those characteristics helped in ID: Meet a Lake Darner. Even the male claspers at the tip of the abdomen are key, for they’re paddle-shaped and thicker toward the end. Though he didn’t pause often, Lake Darners are known to perch vertically on tree trunks. I was in awe.

11-grasshopper

All the while we were on the ridge, the Lake Darners flew about, their strong wing beats reminiscent of hummingbirds, so close did they come to our ears that we could hear the whir. And then there was another sound that filled the summer air with a saw-like buzziness–snapping and crackling as they flew. I couldn’t capture their flight for so quick and erratic it was, but by rubbing pegs on the inner surface of their hind femurs against the edges of their forewings, the grasshoppers performed what’s known in the sound world as crepitation. Crepitation–can’t you almost hear the snap as you pronounce the word?

12-coyote scat

It wasn’t just insects that caught my eye, for I found a fine specimen of coyote scat worth noting for it was full of hair and bones. It was a sign bespeaking age, health, availability, and boundaries.

12A

Turns out, it wasn’t the only sign in the area and whenever we hike the trails on Pleasant Mountain these days, we give thanks to Loon Echo Land Trust for preserving so much of it. According to the land trust’s website: “Currently, Loon Echo owns 2,064 mountain acres and protects an additional 24 acres through conservation easements.”

13-picking some more

Our time on the ridge passed not in nano seconds, for my guy was intent on his foraging efforts. I prefer to pick cranberries, maybe because they are bigger and bring quicker satisfaction as one tries to fill a container. But, he leaves no leaf unturned. And enjoys the rewards on yogurt or the possible muffin if his wife is so kind, until late in the winter.

15-middle basin of Moose Pond

As we slowly moved above the middle basin of Moose Pond, I found other berries growing there.

14-lingonberries

Among them, lingonberries were beginning to ripen. They grow low to the ground, below the blueberries, and resemble little cranberries. In fact, some call them mountain cranberries. Like blueberries, they like acidic, well-drained soil. For all the leaves, however, there were few fruits and I had to wonder if the birds were enjoying a feast.

16-huckleberries

Huckleberries also grow there, though not quite as abundantly as along our shorefront on Moose Pond. They’re seedier than blueberries, though the local squirrels don’t seem to mind. Both red and gray harvest them constantly as they move throughout the vegetated buffer in front of camp.

17-summit fire tower

It took some convincing, but finally my guy realized that we needed to move on and so we gradually made our way to the summit, where the once useful fire tower still stands as a monument to an era gone by.

18-summit view in the haze

Our pause wasn’t too long for so strong was the sun. And hazy the view, Kearsarge showed its pointed profile to the left, but Mount Washington remained in hiding today.

19-ledges view of Moose Pond's southern basin

The journey down was rather quick. Perhaps because we were so tired, it felt like we just rolled down. But we did stop to admire the view of the southern bay of Moose Pond in Denmark. Our intention was also to eat the cookies we’d packed once we reached this point. Through both bags we hunted to no avail. I remembered packing the cookies under our sandwiches. And then moving the sandwiches to the second pack, but leaving the cookies. Did we accidentally take them out after all? Were they on the kitchen counter? In the truck? The final answer was no on all fronts. We think we must have taken them out at lunch rock and they never made it back into the pack. I had moved the backpacks with great calmness once we discovered the yellow jacket nest. Just maybe the yellow jackets are dining on some lemon cookies. Perhaps it was our unintended peace offering.

20-hiking down following this guy

After a five plus hour tour, filled with blueberries and sweat, I followed my guy down. We’ve spent the greater part of our lives following in each other’s footsteps and it’s a journey we continue to cherish, especially on our favorite hometown mountain.

Here’s to many more Berry Pleasant Mountain Hikes with my guy.