Stop, Look, and Listen

I’m a wanderer both on and off trail, and sometimes the path has been macadamized. Such was my following this morning as I paused on the way home from running an errand in North Conway, New Hampshire.

I’d stuck to the backroads on my way out of state to avoid road construction on Route 302, but knew that upon my return I wanted to stretch my legs along the Mountain Division Trail in Fryeburg.

The delightful four-mile rail trail, so named for the railroad line it parallels, intended for walkers, runners, bikers, roller bladers, etc., extends from the Maine Visitors Center on Route 302 to the Eastern Slope Airport on Route 5 and can be accessed from either end or several points between.

The wind was blowing and the bug count low, so though it wasn’t a warm, sunny spring day, it was a purely enjoyable one. And the cheery cherry flowers enhanced the feeling.

All along the way, it seemed, the Red Maples had not only leafed out, but yesterday’s flowers had magically transformed into today’s samaras that dripped below like chandeliers.

Lovely tunes and chips were also part of the landscape and I have no idea if I’ve identified this species correctly, but I’m stepping out on a branch and calling it an Alder Flycatcher. I’m sure those who know better will correct me. The naming isn’t always necessary, however. Sometimes, it’s more important to appreciate the sighting, the coloration, and the sound. For this bird, it was the dull olive green on its back that caught my attention.

And then up above on the other side of the track, it was the “Cheery, Cheery, Cheerio” song that helped me locate the American Robin in another maple raining with seeds.

Maples weren’t the only trees showing off their flowers, and those on the Northern Red Oaks reminded me of grass hula skirts below Hawaiian-themed shirts.

Even the ordinary seemed extraordinary like the Dandelion. Each ray of sunshine was notched with five “teeth” representing a petal that formed a single floret. Fully open, the bloom was a composite of numerous florets.

Nearby, its cousin, the early blooming Coltsfoot, already had the future on its mind and little bits of fluff blew in the breeze.

Eventually, I reached Ward’s Pond and after scanning the water found a Painted Turtle seeking warmth. The day was overcast and there was a bit of a chill in the strong breeze. Being down below the trail, at least the turtle was out of the wind and I had to assume that the temperature was a bit higher than where I stood.

This is a trail that may look monotonous, but with every step there’s something different to see like a Pitch Pine showing off three generations of prickly cones. What was, is, and shall be all at the tip of the branch.

It seemed like every time I looked to the left, such as at the pine, a sound on the other side of the trail caught my attention. And so it was that I realized a White-tailed Deer was feeding on grasses behind a fence by a now-defunct factory (so defunct that the roof had collapsed under the weight of snow). Notice her ears.

And now look at her again. A deer’s ears are like radar and she can hone in on a sound by turning them.

I don’t know if she was listening to me or to the Eastern Towhee telling us to drink our tea.

After 2.5 miles, I decided to save the rest for another day and follow the path back. Though loop trips are fun, following the same path back brings new sights to mind, like the Interrupted Fern I’d walk past only a few minutes before. Notice its clump formation known in the fern world as vase-like.

And the butterfly wings of its interrupting leaflets covered with sporangia. My wonder came with the realization that within the interruption not all of the pinnules or subleaflets were covered with the bead-like shapes of fertility. Spores stored within essentially perform the same function as a seed: reproduce and perpetuate the species. So–is part of the pinnule fertile while the rest remains sterile? Do I need to check back? Oh drats, another trip to make along the Mountain Division Trail. Any excuse to revisit it works for me, though one hardly needs an excuse.

Further along I looked to the other side of the tracks for I’d spotted bird movement. Behind it was the reason–my White-tailed Deer friend. I have a feeling people feed it for it seemed not at all disturbed by my presence, unlike the ones in our yard and the field beyond that hear my every move within the house even in the middle of winter and are easily spooked.

The deer, however, wasn’t the only wildlife on or near the trail. Suddenly, a Red Fox appeared and we each considered the other. He blinked first during our stare down and trotted away.

Passing by Ward’s Pond once again, I stopped to check on the turtle. It was still in the same spot I’d seen it probably a half hour before.

Not far from the visitors center, a Big-Toothed Aspens chose to be examined for the soft downy feel as well as color of its leaves. The various hues of color in leaves during spring is caused by the presence of pigments called anthocyanins or carbohydrates that are dissolved in the cell sap and mask the chlorophyll. As the temperature rises and light intensity increases, red pigment forms and acts as a sunscreen to protect the young leaves from an increase in ultraviolet rays.

Because I was standing still and admiring the leaves, I heard another bird song and eventually focused in on the creator.

And so I have the Big-Toothed Aspen to thank for showing me the Indigo Bunting. My first ever. (Happy Birthday Becky Thompson.)

A turtle. A deer. A fox. A towhee. A bunting. All of that was only a smattering of wonder found along the Mountain Division Trail. If you go, make sure you recall the old railroad signs: Stop, Look, and Listen.

Taking Flight

Morning had broken . . .

h1-morning has broken

and Pleasant Mountain’s reflection marked a new day.

h2-variable dancers conducting variable dance

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

h3-slaty skimmer

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

h4-Hemlock covered bridge

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

h5-bridge

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

h8-water low

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

h6-LOVE

The handiwork of more recent travelers . . .

h7-love lasts forever

was also clearly visible.

h9-river jewelwing-female, white dots in sync

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

h10-Hemlock Covered Bridge

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

h11-Mt. Kearsarge

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

h18-Mount Tom

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

h12-Dianthus armeria, Deptford pink

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

h14-bindweed

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

h13-honeybee on milkweed

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

h17-sulphur cinquefoil

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

h16-clouded sulphur butterfly

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

h16- clouded sulphurs puddling

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

h15-dragonhunter

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

h29-Fryeburg Bog

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

h19-buttonbush

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

h21-frosted whiteface

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

h22-frosted whiteface

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

h20-ruby meadowhawk

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

h23-ruby meadowhawks canoodling

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

h23--late afternoon snack

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

h30-Smarts Hill

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

h25-variable dancer

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

h26-variable dancers canoodling

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

h27-variable dancers canoodling

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

h28

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

h31-rainbow

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

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