Odonata Chronicles: Second Edition

Are you ready for some more in the dragonfly tales? I thought for this second edition, and actually the third and fourth to follow, I’d stick with the stocky Skimmer family.

We’ll begin with the Four-spotted Skimmer, (Libellula quadrimaculata. I shouldn’t have favorites, but this is one. It’s as if it was given the crown jewels to display.

The name comes from the black spots at the nodus (that point in the wing where it appears notched and some veins begin) about halfway across each wing, and stigma at the wing’s tip. If you count going across, you have four spots. If you count instead the fore and hind wings, you have four spots, making for an easy ID when one perches to consume a meal like this one did.

And then there is that incredible stained-glass black basal spot on the hind wing that is interwoven with amber venation. My heart be still.

Look for Four-spotted Skimmers near shallow water during the summer season. I saw this one in a meadow located between a brook and lake.

As you can see, the lighting wasn’t quite right on this lady, but notice how her coloration is sorta similar to the Four-Spotted, thus forcing the brain to work. I have to slow myself down when in the field and remember key characteristics. Both may share shades of brown and creamy yellow, but upon closer inspection, they aren’t the same at all. The clue to the identity of this skimmer is the white stigmas on the wings. To my knowledge, no other dragonfly shares this feature. (Till one does, of course.) And in the case of this female Spangled Skimmer (Libellula cyanea), the tips of her wings are dark.

Those white stigmas really stand out on her male counterpart. Spangled Skimmers fly in my neck of the woods. from June through August near lakes and ponds and fields and woodlands, so keep your eyes open for the white flags.

A bit smaller in size to the Four-spotted and Spangled, the Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis) is another handsome specimen. That white face. Those green eyes. Can you see that the eyes have a metallic blue hue on top? His female’s eyes are red over gray, though they also turn green as she matures.

In a combination of colors, the thorax is striped, abdomen bluish with a black tip, wings with an amber base patch, and then, of course the eyes and face.

Floating or emergent vegetation, such as this Spadderdock, are preferred as Blue Dashers are spotted throughout the summer season. I’ve read that some migrate along the Atlantic Coast.

Some dragonflies are easier to identify than others because of unique features and such is certainly the case with the Widow Skimmer ((Libellula luctuosa). It’s the large dark patch that stretches from the base of the wing to the nodus that gives away her identity. Where her abdomen has a dark stripe down the middle that widens toward the tip, and yellow stripes on each side, his abdomen is entirely gray blue above. And his wings feature the same black patch with an adjacent white patch reaching almost to the stigma. Do you see a. bit of the whitish patch on the wings?

Perhaps the white is a little more evident now? I think I’m correct in stating that this brown-eyed specimen is an immature male due to the hint of white as well as the dark face. While both male and females have brown eyes, his face is dark, where hers is tan. Does that make this a widower? Hmmm. Not sure how that works. The Latin luctuosa in its scientific name refers to feeling sorrowful and I suppose these dragonflies were considered to be wearing black in mourning.

While they are summer fliers beside water bodies, fields, and woodlands, I’ve only ever encountered this one . . . that I can remember.

And just when you thought you had it, another species with black patches on its wings flies into the scene. But, there are differences. First, there’s the dark, wide crossband stretching from top to bottom of each wing and from nodus to stigma. Then, there’s the basal patches: black on fore wings; black with a white patch below on hind wings.

This dragonfly is known as a Common Whitetail (Libellula lydia). Huh? Well, you are actually looking at an immature male. The female is similar in that she also has the yellow slashes along the sides of her abdomen, but she lacks white patches on her hind wings. So how does the “whitetail” fit into the name?

The abdomen being the tail, this male demonstrates how the name came to be. I may have used the term “pruinosity” before, but this mature male surely illustrates it–a frosted or powdery appearance caused by pigment on top of an insect’s cuticle that covers up the underlying coloration. It’s my understanding that for some dragonflies like Blue Dashers and Common Whitetails, displaying pruinescence on the abdomen to other males is a territorial threat.

Common Whitetails are also summer fliers who prefer to perch on or just above the ground.

Finally, the last species for today, which is hardly the least. I’m so excited to introduce you to the Painted Skimmer (Libellula semifaciata)because I only just made its acquaintance this summer. My first thought when we met was that it was a Calico Pennant Skimmer. I got the skimmer correct, but not the actual ID. Notice that cherry-colored face that is tan on the sides. That gave me the first inkling that I might be on the wrong track.

The wings provided the next clue. While the Calico has dark patches on its wings, the Painted features bands that extend from top to bottom toward the tip of each wing about halfway down beginning at the nodus. Likewise, the abdomen differs for each species, with the Calico’s featuring heart-shaped spots, while Painted’s is brown with yellow sides and black triangles and lines on segments 6 and 7, plus wide black stripes on segments 8 through 10.

This is a face I hope to remember for a long time as the Painted Skimmer and I got to know other during a few brief moments along a forest road near a river in June. Until we meet again . . .

One final note: if you are with me in the field, I may not remember every little detail or the common name. I definitely won’t know the scientific name. But the more time I spend with them and the more I study and write about them, the more I learn and I hope you are learning a wee bit as well.

I leave you with my latest creation: Indigo Skimmer (Libellula indigofera), formed from deconstructed blue jeans.

Odonata Chronicles: First Edition

Somehow the words my high school Spanish and Latin teacher, Mr. Cretella, wrote in my yearbook have always stayed with me: “Never lose your desire to learn.” Indeed. That said, in Latin 1 during my senior year, if I couldn’t remember the answer, I substituted a Spanish term. I don’t remember how he reacted to that–probably with a groan on the outside and a smile within.

And so, my friends, please join me as I continue to learn about Odonatas, aka dragonflies and damselflies , those winged insects we all love to celebrate because they eat those that bug us the most, including blackflies and mosquitoes. Hmmmm, what about ticks?

Periodically, over the course of the summer my intention is to share some information and/or story with you about these predatory fliers. I may not always be correct, but hey, that’s how I learn, and I hope you’ll wondermyway for the journey.

One distinction I want to make is that mature dragonflies always have their wings spread out whether in flight or perching, while damselfly wings are together over their backs when perching (except for the Spreadwing family of damsels).

With 468 North American Species of Odonates at this time (new discoveries are always being made), Maine is home to 160 species.

One thing I want to point out about dragonflies is that the abdomen consists of ten segments. That will become important for identification purposes.

I thought we’d begin with the dragonflies known as Skimmers.

Skimmers, like the Four-Spotted Skimmer above, are the most ubiquitous dragonflies and range in size from small to large. They tend to have stocky bodies and spend much of their time perching on the ground and other flat substrates near muddy ponds and stream.

Chalk-fronted Corporal Skimmers are active May through July.

This chunky northern male skimmer has dark markings at the base of his otherwise clear wings. His hind wing patches are triangular, and the forewing patches are smaller or non-existent.

He has dark brown eyes and a black face. Notice the whitish/grayish/bluish stripes on his thorax–those are his “corporal” stripes.

The first half of abdomen is the same color and the rest of it is black.

Chalk-fronted Corporals tend to be in dense populations. Often, as I walk along a woodland path or beside a pond, these dragonflies lead the way, flying a few feet ahead, stopping on a rock or something else ahead of me and then as I approach, moving ahead again.

This baker’s dozen I spotted on a rock beside a small mountain pond.

The Female Chalk-fronted Corporal Skimmer’s eyes are brown and face tan. But where his thorax was whitish gray, her’s is brown. 

Her abdomen, however, is like his.

Would you have guess that this was an immature form of the same? Just when you thought you nailed the Chalk-fronted Corporals. The immature features a lovely orangey brown with a black strip down the middle. The immature stage last for about two weeks in any species.

Active June through August, Slaty Blue Skimmers are about two in length.

The mature male is entirely blue except for black face and brown eyes. I typically find them flying and perching beside lakes and ponds.

Notice how he doesn’t have the patches at the base of his wings like the Corporals did.

Like most species, the female Slaty Blue has a look all her own with a brown thorax highlighted with yellowish-tan stripes. Her abdomen has a dark brown to black stripe down the top with a yellowish-tan stripe along the sides. 

She’ll darken with age to a uniform brown or gray color and her eyes will become red-brown. Immature of both sexes resemble a young female, just to confuse you more.

Much smaller in size at about 1.2 inches as compared to a two-inch Slaty Blue are the Calico Pennants, active May through August.

The male has red heart-shaped spots on abdomen segments 4 to 7 (remember, all dragonflies have 10 abdominal segments so you need to start at the base below the thorax and begin counting from there.)

All four wings have a small dark patch at the wing tips. And the hindwings have a large, mottled dark patch at the base which reminds me of stained glass.

The stigma, on the leading edge of each wing toward the wingtip, and the face are red. 

His claspers at the end of the abdomen are also reddish.

The female is the same as her male counterpart, but her spots and stigma are yellow. Again, it’s that stained glass effect that captures my attention.

From May through September you might spot an Eastern Pondhawk Skimmer near a lake or pond.

The entire thorax and abdomen of a Male Eastern Pondhawk Skimmer are powder blue; and his claspers at the tip of the abdomen are white.

Often found perching on lily pads, his face is green and eyes blue.

The female Eastern Pondhawk Skimmer is bright green with black markings. Her green thorax is unstriped.

In flight from May through August, the Dot-tailed Whiteface male is an easy one to identify in the field. First, there’s that white face. But wait. Some other dragonflies also have white faces, so don’t stop there. While his eyes are brown, his body is black overall, but he has a conspicuous yellow spot on segment 7.

You might not recognize his mate as being a Dot-tailed because, well, she has lots of dots. Her abdomen is yellow at the base and then large dots on segments 3 through 6, with a smaller one on segment 7. She also has along the sides of her abdomen.

There are more to share just in the Skimmer family, but for the first edition of Odonata Chronicles, we’ll leave it at that. Five species with so much variation is a lot to digest.

Aligning the Stars

Sometimes it happens. Well, more than sometimes. One steps out of a vehicle to go for a walk in the woods, and tada . . .

A diminutive butterfly rapidly and erratically skips from stone to stone in the parking lot, before it final settles down for a few moments. Meet a dustywing, a member of the spread-wing skippers who hold forewings and hindwings open when landed.

And then upon a pine sapling, another tiny offering, this one of the click beetles.

The day already feels complete when another winged insect suddenly flies up from where we are about to step and then lands a few feet ahead. We have to have look closely to spy it, but finally do–dragonfly that’s only just over an inch long. The sighting is special because just a couple of hours prior I’d taught a senior college course about Mayflies, Cicadas, and Dragonflies. But the test is on us. Who is this? In some ways it resembls a Calico Pennant Skimmer–the female of the pennant being black with yellow markings. But the shape of the pennant’s yellow on the abdomen is heart-shaped and these are more variable.

We take a few more steps when another wee one garners attention and by its membranous wings and abdomen broadly joined to the body, plus it’s chosen plant, it must be a member of the sawfly family.

A few more steps and we meet it’s cousin, another sawfly on another pine.

As we continue, so do our encounters with our little dragonfly friend and we begin to realize there are many and they are all the same species. But the question remains. What species is it? It can’t be the Calico Pennant because all four of her wings have dark patches at the tips and her hindwings are decorated with blotches of yellow and black at the base that remind me of stained glass. This dragonfly only has small dark patches, at the base, the hindwing’s more triangular shaped and larger than the forewing. And those hindwing patches feature light venation, not colored like a Calico’s.

At last, though it’s not all that far, but takes us at least an hour and a half, maybe two hours, we reach a brook where an orbweaver does just that–weaves.

Farther out in the water, a Tree Swallow poses at the top of snag, intent upon its surroundings. We pose as well, though our intention is upon all the vegetation for we seek the exuviae left behind by the dragonflies when they transformed from their aquatic life to terrestrial. We find none, and determine that vegetation in the brook must have served as their life-changing substrate.

Finally leaving the water behind, we once again meet our dragonfly friends. What species is it? Well, the face adds another clue for where the face of a female Calico Pennant is yellow like the hearts along her abdomen, this dragonfly has a white face.

So be it. Continuing along, Striped Maple flowers dangling like a lantern with a string of shades, light the path in a place or two.

And then as we pause upon a bench for a moment, our eyes are drawn to movement upon the ground and we spy a grasshopper who is so well camouflaged that we’re grateful when it finally climbs onto a fallen branch and poses.

At last it is time to walk back to our parked vehicles, but again, along the way we are greeted over and over again by our new friend. Occasionally, we can see the sheen of the wings and realize that the molt had occurred within the last few hours as they hadn’t completely dried.

It’s not until we get home, however, and respectively pour through ID books and bounce ideas off of each other, that we realize the name of our new friend. Meet Hudsonian Whiteface, a member of the Skimmer family. For a bit, we consider Dot-tailed Whitface, but Hudson’s yellow spot on segment seven (dragonfly abdomens consist of ten segments) is triangular in shape, whereas Dottie’s is more like a square.

So many stars align, and except for not finding the dragonfly exuviae, we will always celebrate this day (actually yesterday, May 13) as First Dragonfly of 2021 and give thanks that the real star was a new learning for us.

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.