Rookery and Beyond

It’s a difficult sound to describe, rather primordial in nature. Maybe it’s a duck’s quack? Or a dog’s bark? Or some combination of the two. And yet, all is quiet and then the noise erupts suddenly from one nest as a parent flies in, a meal in the oven about to be regurgitated.

It’s a scene that plays out at individual nests for a while before all become quiet again as if lunch has ended and the kids should take time for a nap. But until such time, the neighbors in the high rise next door watch enviously as their playmates are fed.

Just down the block one of the tweens, for suddenly after about a month of life they are such, flexes his wings as he stands out on a branch. It’s a tradition as old as time–tweens and teens going out on a limb to show their capability to survive in the world. The question remains, however: when will he reach the right age to get a license?

As the tween to the right finishes flexing, the one in the center lets a shiver pass through his body. Is it a pre-flex motion? His other sibling watches and wonders what it’s all about. Perhaps he’s trying to prove something?

Meanwhile, because I stood beside a river with a friend so I could count Great Blue Heron nests, active nests, young, young in nests, fledglings, and adults, we also began to notice other life that surrounded us like a Kingbird who posed for moments on end.

Constantly, however, my eye was drawn to the tiptop of the White Pines, where I began to realize there were more and more birds than my first count because many were feeling their oats and testing their individuality.

Other birds added to the rhythm as we listened for and shared with each other the location of the song makers in our midst.

And then, and then . . . a male Belted Kingfisher pause smack dab in front of us, his tuft of head feathers earning him the “Wicked Cool Dad” award in the neighborhood.

He looked right at us and made dorky dad comments that left us exclaiming with delight.

Meanwhile, back at the rookery, some of the tweens continued to wait in the most patient manner. They muttered hardly a word. We did have to wonder how such big birds could fit in those nest of twigs. The nests were large in bird terms, but the birds were even larger. At last it was time for us to depart, and we left the young in their quiet mode.

My journey continued on the other side of the river. It was there that I spotted Robber Flies in that age-old act of mating.

And a moth I believe to be known as a Virginian Tiger Moth or Woolybear Moth clinging.

But perhaps my favorite of all, that I found because we chose today to check on the rookery, was the Sphinx moth holding onto a pine sapling. At first I thought it was a dead leaf caught on the twig.

Behold the wonder of the rookery and beyond.

Nothing False About This Celebration

With a mission
to check upon
a heron rookery,
I invited
a friend
to join me.

The young’uns
sat upon their
nests of sticks
waiting for
the next meal
to arrive.

With the flap
of wings
slowed in rhythm,
landing gear
was extended
in the form
of long legs
and feet.
Within minutes,
a meal of fish
was regurgitated
and
passed
from
parent
to
child.
Because of 
our location
beside
a slow-flowing river,
many other sights
caught our
attention.
But it was one
with a
penchant for moisture
who stood
as tall
as my chin
that garnered
the most attention.
I've oft 
relished its
pleated leaves
of green,
their manner
that of the
lily family.
In a 
clasping formation,
they attach
to the main stem,
spirally arranged
from bottom
to top.
I've seen 
the plant often
in its leafy rendition,
but today
was the first time
its star-shaped flowers
atop the plant
revealed themselves.
With
petals and sepals
combined
as tepals,
my friend noted
their resemblance
to the leaves below.
The more we looked, 
the more we realized
there were others
who also
revered
such a unique structure,
in particular
the nectar-producing glands
at each flower's base.
The plant
took advantage,
or so it seemed,
of allowing those
who ventured
into its sweetness
with a dash,
or perhaps
a dollop,
of pollen
to pass on
for future reference.
Because of its location
in the moist habitat,
insects formerly aquatic,
such as
the Alderfly,
did walk
with sluggish movements.
Up its stout stalk
one rose,
the fuzzy structure
perhaps providing
it texture
upon which to climb.
Did it seek
the bright yellow anthers?
Or the nectar below?
With wings
delicately veined
and folded over
like a tent,
the Alderfly
paused
and hardly pondered
its next move.
The flower
mattered not
for this
weak flyer.
At last
it reached
the tip
of the
long, upright
inflorescence,
conical in form,
and I wondered:
would it pierce
the unopened flowers
for a bit
of nutrition?
Perhaps not,
for adults
of this species
have a need
more important
than eating.
Theirs is to
mate,
particularly at night.
Maybe it was
a he,
looking for a sight
to meet
a she.
As it 
turned out,
not all
who had
canoodling
on their minds
could wait
until the day
darkened
to
night.
Meanwhile,
there were others
who sought
the sweet satisfaction
of nectar
for their needs.
And in 
the process
of seeking,
tads of pollen
decorated
their backs,
in this case
where X
marks the spot.
It was 
a place
for many
to gather
and garner
including
Lady Beetles
of many colors.
And upon 
those pleated leaves,
were Mayflies
who had
lived out
their short lives,
and Craneflies
taking a break,
while showing off
their wings
reminiscent
of stained glass.
After such 
an up-close greeting
of the delicate flowers,
and recognizing
for the first time
their immense splendor,
June 15
will forevermore be
the day
to celebrate
False Hellebore.

The Wonder Tour

When my friend JVP and I made a lunch plan for today, I offered to take her to some of my more recent stalking sites, those places I’ve been frequenting of late because of the wildlife sightings. She liked that plan and I fear announced to the world (or at least one or two others) that we were going on an adventure and our finds would be many.

But . . . yesterday’s River Otter turned out to be only slushier ice today.

And the fairground fox was nowhere to be seen, though we did get to chat with Roy Andrews, president of the Fryeburg Fair. Yes, the foxes have again taken up residence within the infield directly across from the Grandstand. I’ve yet to see the kits, and had hoped that today would be the day, but my day will come. For JVP’s sake, I was disappointed that she didn’t even get to see an adult. Our time spent with Roy, however, made it worthwhile and he shared stories and photos of last year’s fox families.

It seemed that I was striking out on the promised tour and it appeared I wasn’t alone.

But the views of Fryeburg Harbor, its fields flooded from the sudden snowmelt, with the backdrop of the White Mountains, was a treat to enjoy on this bluebird day.

And speaking of birds, we went to one area to see Kildeer, but only saw gulls . . . until we realized that American Kestrels were also part of the picture. Finally, things were picking up.

As we wound our way through the harbor, following the Old Course of the Saco River, we did catch a few glimpses of Wood Ducks, so I was feeling better about our wildlife sightings.

Once again, however, where last week I spent a while admiring a Great Blue Heron, we didn’t see anything of interest.

Until, that is, we noticed movement in the great beyond and realized a pair of Hooded Mergansers were swimming about.

I continued to strike out when I tried to show her the Sandhill Cranes, a pair I’d come to count on during my almost daily visits. Just yesterday another friend said she’d spied them in the field they’d been frequenting.

No cranes to speak of, but we did spy a pair of Canada Geese.

And a pair of Mallards in the flooded field.

Dabbling as they do.

And then, where the cranes had been previously, I spied what I thought was a lump of mud and snow, but JVP’s sight was keener and she said newborn calf. And she was correct.

As we watched, sweet nothings were whispered and no matter what we saw or didn’t see, our tour was worth a wonder and thankfully I didn’t have to reimburse JVP for the admission price.

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.

Framed by the Trees

Our journey took us off the beaten path today as we climbed over a snowbank at the end of Farrington Pond Road and onto the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s John A. Segur Wildlife Refuge East. We began at a piece of the parcel neither Pam Marshall or I had ever explored before, which added to the fun. At first, we followed the tracks of a giant, and eventually decided they might have belonged to another human being. Might have. Always wonder.

And then we were stopped in our tracks as we looked up and recognized a Great Blue Heron–or so it seemed in the dead snag that towered over the edge of Farrington Pond. Except for one tiny area of water, the pond is still very much ice covered so it will be a while before this ancestor of the Greats sees her relatives return.

Standing beside the bird-like structure was another that helped us find beauty and life in death.

We peered in, and down, and up, and all around. With each glance, our understandings increased. So did our questions.

There were holes that became windows looking out to the forest beyond.

But those same windows helped us realize they were framed by the results of their injuries. You see, it appeared that a pileated woodpecker had dined on the many insects who had mined the inner workings of the tree. After being so wounded by the birds, the tree attempted to heal its scars as evidenced by the thick growth ring structure that surrounded each hole. Or at least, that’s what we think happened.

To back up our story, we looked from the outside in and saw the same.

We also noted the corky bark with its diamond shapes formed where one chunk met another.

And much to our surprise, we found one compound leaf still dangling. No, this is not a marcescent tree, one of those known to hold its withering leaves to the end of time (or beginning of the next leaf year). But instead, this old sage is one of the first to drop its leaves. So why did one outlast the race? Perhaps to provide a lesson about leaves and leaflets, the latter being the components of the compound structure.

Adding to the identification, we realized we were treated to several saplings growing at the base of the one dying above. By its bud shape and opposite orientation we named it Ash. By its notched leaf scars and lack of hairs, we named it White. White Ash.

Because we were looking, Pam also found a sign of life within. We suspected a caterpillar had taken advantage of the sheltered location, but didn’t know which one.

About simultaneously, our research once we arrived at our respective homes, suggested a hickory tussock moth. Can you see the black setae within the hair?

Pam took the research one step further and sent this: “I read that the female lays eggs on top of the cocoon and then makes a kind of foam that hardens over them so they can survive the winter. How cool is that?” Wicked Cool, Indeed!

We probably spent close to an hour with that tree, getting to know it from every possible angle.

And then it was time to stop looking through the window and to instead step into the great beyond.

We did just that, and found another set of mammal tracks to follow. Tracking conditions were hardly ideal and we followed the set for a long way, never quite deciding if it was a fisher or a bobcat, or one animal traveling one way and another the opposite but within the same path.

Eventually, we gave up on the shifty mammal and made our way into the upland portion of the property where I knew a bear claw tree stood. Pam’s task was to locate it and so she set off, checking all the beech trees in the forest.

Bingo! Her bear paw tree eyes were formed.

It was a beauty of a specimen that reminded us of all the wonders of this place.

From that tree, we continued off-trail, zigzagging from tree to tree, but never found another. That doesn’t mean we visited every tree in the refuge and so we’ll just have to return and look some more.

We did, however, find some scratch marks on a paper birch.

They were too close together to have been created by even a young bear, but we did consider squirrel. Wiping off the rosy-white chalk that coated the bark, we did find actual scrapes below. Now we’ll have to remember to check that tree again in a year or so and see what we might see.

What we finally saw before making our best bee-line out (don’t worry, our Nature Distraction Disorder still slowed us down) was the view of Sucker Brook and the mountains beyond.

At last we pulled ourselves away, but gave great thanks for that ash tree that framed our day and our focus and for all that we saw within it and beyond.

A’pondering We Will Go

August 3, 9:30 am – 12:30 pm
A’pondering We Will Go: Get inspired by the beauty along the trail at the John A. Segur Wildlife Refuge East. This will be a stop-and-go walk as we pause frequently to sketch, photograph, and/or write about our observations, or simply ponder each time we stop. Location: John A. Segur Wildlife Refuge East, Farrington Pond Road, Lovell.
Degree of Difficulty: Easy.

j1-pickerel frog

That was our advertisement for this morning’s Greater Lovell Land Trust walk, but we weren’t sure the weather would cooperate. Docent Pam and I emailed back and forth as we looked at various forecasts and decided to take our chances. As it turned it, it did sprinkle occasionally, but we didn’t feel the rain until we finished up and even then, it wasn’t much. Instead, the sound of the plinking against the leaves in the canopy was a rather pleasant accompaniment to such a delightful morning. Our group was small–just right actually for it was an intimate group and we made a new friend and had a wonder-filled time stopping to sit and ponder and then move along again and were surprised by tiny frogs and toads who thought the weather couldn’t get any better, as well as other great finds. Here, a pickerel frog showed off its rectangular spots for all of us to enjoy.

j2-Sucker Brook

After a first 20-minute pause in the woods, we continued on until we reached Sucker Brook.

j3-Colleen

Each of us settled into a place to listen . . .

j4-Bob

photograph . . .

j6-Judy

and write.

j7-heron

I have no idea how much time had passed, but suddenly we all stirred a bit and then someone who was noticing (I think it was Ann) redirected our attention.

j8-heron

We were encouraged to focus on another who was also paying attention.

j9-heron

And narrowing in . . .

j10-heron and fish

on lunch.

j11-wings

When the young heron flapped its wings, we were all sure the meal was meant “to go.”

j12-securing the catch

But thankfully, the bird stayed.

j13-lunch

And played with its food.

j14-lunch making its way down

Ever so slowly, the fish was maneuvered into its mouth.

j15-gulp

And swallowed.

j16-down the throat it goes

Down the throat it slid.

j16-feathers ruffled

And then the feathers were ruffled–rather like a chill passing through its body.

j17-movement

Wing motion followed.

j18-searching

But still, the Great Blue Heron stayed.

j19-next course

And stalked some more.

j20-Isaiah

We continued to watch until we knew we had to pull ourselves away.

j21-the journalists

If we didn’t have other obligations, we might still be there. Gathered with me from left to right: Judy, Colleen, Isaiah, Pam, Ann, and Bob.

j22-owl pellet

On our way back, again we made some interesting discoveries that we’d somehow missed on the way in, including White Baneberry, aka Doll’s Eye, a bone we couldn’t ID, Indian Pipe, and this owl pellet smooshed, but full of tiny bones–vole-sized bones.

j22-Pam reading what she wrote

We stopped one more time, to share our morning’s observations.

j23-Judy reading her poem

Reading aloud is never easy, but because our group was small and we’d quickly developed a sense of camaraderie and trust, the comfort level was high.

j24-Ann's landscape sketch with heron

Sketches were also shared, including this one of the landscape that Ann drew–including the heron that entered the scene just before she quietly called our attention to it.

j25-stump and lichen

And my attempts–the first of a tree stump from our woodland stop, and then a lichen when we were by Sucker Brook.

A’pondering We Did Go–and came away richer for the experience. Thanks to all who came, to Pam and Ann for leading, and to Isaiah for his fine eye at spotting interesting things along the way.

 

 

A Slice of Life in the Rookery

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

h1b-rookery

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

h1-wood duck

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

h2a-heron chick

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

h3-standing still

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

h29-sentry

Like this.

h2-otter

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

h4-incoming

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

h5-landing

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

h6-begging for food

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

h7-what? No food?

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

h9-meanwhile-mouths have closed

Finally, they quieted down and looked rather disgusted.

h10-preening

And Momma preened.

h11-wood duck family

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

h12-movement above

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

h13-a chick with downy feathers

Could it be?

h14-red winged

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

h15-singing

sang . . .

h16-did you hear me?

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

h17-another incoming

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

h18-what did you bring?

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

h19-I'm off

But only for a second, as Mom took off.

h20-snacks?

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

h21--watching from nearby

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

h21-baby chick revealed

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

h22-stretching my wings

And someone else needed to stretch his wings.

h24-otter again

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

h26-water snake

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

h28-don't you have any food?

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

h30-have a stick

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

h31-what's he thinking?

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

h27-beaver again

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

h32-there he goes again

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

h33-picking twigs

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

h34-got one

She pulled one out.

h36-did you see what he just did?

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

h25-checking us out

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

h37-otter

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