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.

The Trail To And Fro

The heron rookery was our destination and so friends Pam and Bob journeyed with me, our expectations high.

M1-KENNEDY'S EMERALD

But as nature would have it, we’d barely walked fifty feet when our typical distraction disorder set in–and the focus encompassed the dragonflies that perched on foliage beside the trail. Our first was a Kennedy’s Emerald, named for Dr. Clarence Kennedy, a renowned Ohio State University professor and odonatologist.

M2-BEAVERPOND BASKETTAIL

Among the same fern patch was a Beaverpond Baskettail. It’s the eyes of this species that appealed to me most for I loved their teal color.

M3-IMMATURE CHALK-FRONTED CORPORAL

Every step we took seemed to produce a new combination of colors and presentations, all a variation on the dragonfly theme, including this immature Chalk-fronted Corporal.

M4-MUSTACHED CLUBTAIL

And their names were equally intriguing, this one being a Mustached Clubtail.

M6- SKIMMING BLUET

It wasn’t just dragonflies patrolling the path and one mosquito at a time reducing the biting insect population–for damselflies also flew. When they weren’t canoodling that is. But canoodle away we said, for each interaction resulted in even more predators of our favorite kind.

M7-GRAY TREE FROG

And then . . .

M8-GRAY TREE FROG

and then we discovered a predator of another kind. And we rejoiced even more because for all the time we spend in the woods, sighting a gray tree frog is rather rare.

M9-EBONY JEWELWING MALE

Not quite so rare, but beautiful in its unique form was the Ebony Jewelwing and her metallic colors. We spied one male with a white dot on his wings, but he escaped the camera lens.

M10-GARTER PARENT

It wasn’t just fliers and hoppers that caught our attention. Movement at our feet directed us to one who preferred to slither through the woods in garter formation.

M11-GARTER BABY

And about a foot away from the parent–one of the young’uns.

M12-ROOKERY SITE

At last we reached our destination and the real purpose for our journey. We were on a reconnoissance mission. Our job was to count nests, young and adults at a heron rookery for the Heron Observation Network of Maine–a citizen science adopt-a-colony network managed for Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife by biologist Danielle D’Auria. The project began after a significant decline in the number of nesting pairs of Great Blue Heron was realized in Maine from the 1980s to 2007, and MDIFW listed the bird as a Species of Special Concern.

M13-HERON ROOKERY

Sadly, our count was zero for each category. While last spring the nests were active, something occurred and the colony collapsed before the young fledged last summer. Bald Eagles were the likely suspects of such a decline and as nature would have it, we thrilled with the resurgence of one species at the expense of another. Despite the current failure of the community, we’ll continue to visit each year . . . just in case.

M140WHITE CHALK CORPORALS

But guess what? As we stood there, we noted the activity, or lack thereof, of mature Chalk-fronted Corporals–the female relaxing on the left and male on the right.

M15-DARNER

Every few seconds a Green Darner conducted its own reconnaissance mission.

M17-CANADA GEESE

And then some serious honking from upstream called for our attention.

M18-CANADA GOOSE

And we were reminded of Bernd Heinrich’s book, The Geese of Beaver Bog, for we were in such a place.

m19-immature KENNEDY'S EMERALD

At last, we pulled ourselves away, though I suspect we could have easily spent hours being mesmerized by the magic of the place. Such magic was reflected in the opaque wings of a newly emerged Kennedy’s Emerald dragonfly.

M20-INDIAN CUCUMER ROOT

And on the way back, as often happens, we were privy to sights we’d missed on the way in. So it was that an Indian Cucumber Root displayed its unique flower–nodding pale green petals folded back, like a Turk’s cap lily, and from the center emerged three long reddish styles (think female reproductive parts) and several purplish orange stamens. Those styles gave the flower a unique spidery appearance.

M21-GRAY TREE FROG

And then . . . and then one more time not far from where we’d seen the gray frog on our way in, and mere moments after Pam said, “Where there’s one . . .” we found a second.

The heron rookery was our destination, but the trail to and fro offered so many moments of wonder.

Thank you to the family that conserved this land. Thank you to the wildlife in many forms who call it home. And thank you to Pam and Bob for not only accompanying me, but for insisting that I borrow your lightweight Canon Powershoot SX720HS. I might get hooked.

Otter Spotter Mondate

Fresh snow. Blue-bird sky. Mid-range temperature. Day off. All the makings for a fine Monday date with my guy.

m1-apples

We weren’t sure if snowshoes would be the right choice as we feared the snow might stick to the cleats and make us feel like we were walking on high heels–hardly our style. But, actually, conditions were perfect. Of course, my guy tried going without at first, but after creating one post hole after another, he strapped his on while I headed over to an apple tree to enjoy the view.

We were on a private property in Lovell that is under conservation easement with the Greater Lovell Land Trust.

m2-coyote track

I’d been on this property only a few days ago and the tracks were many, but with the advent of yesterday’s snow, we found only a few. One set was that of a coyote. And fairly fresh was it.

m4-brook below

We moved quickly (of course we did for I was with my guy–but I was equally anxious to get to two destinations) and in no time found ourselves walking along beside a brook.

m5-brook crossing

As we approached we wondered how open the brook might be and decided we’d cross that “bridge” when we got to it. But really, there was no bridge.

m3-icicles at brook crossing

The ice, however, delighted our sense of sight, understanding, and artistic form. Like the water from which it was created, it flowed in much variety.

m6-one coyote became 2

Without any problems, we found our way to the other side and realized we were in the company of others who had done the same. One moment it seemed we’d followed one, but then realized we were on the trail of two coyotes when their path split.

m8-porky body

And it split for a reason. To check out a previous kill site. But they only seemed to sniff and not partake.

m9-porky tail

Just as well for it was a porcupine. But really, I was surprised they didn’t try to flip it over to get at the stomach. Maybe somebody else had already taken the pleasure.

m10-rookery and coyote track

On we trekked, until we reached water again. And this time we stopped to look around, while the coyotes moved on.

m11-heron nests

High in the trees across the way we spied the heron rookery–one of our reasons for visiting. We knew the nests would be empty, but still, it’s fun to take note.

m13-heron rookery

And they’re easier to see in the winter than spring/summer when this rookery is monitored for the state HERON project: the Heron Observation Network of Maine. I’ve had the honor of visiting this particular rookery in the past and helping to document the number of residents. Though it was active last April, something happened later to upset the neighborhood and so I’ll be curious to see what the status will be in the future.

m14-heron rookery

For today, the nests looked like they were in great shape and even two in the condominium were awaiting the return of the snowbirds who’d spent the winter south of this location.

m16-lungwort

Because we were there, I also turned to check on another tree–which sports a healthy colony of lungwort–photosynthesizing because it had been snowed upon.

m15-mesmerizing scene

We stayed for a while, my guy and I, enjoying the peace and quiet and colors and textures of the afternoon that curled around us.

m18-crossing over

At last, we pulled ourselves away and crossed back over the brook. It was a piece of cake. Well, at least we didn’t fall in.

m19-chipmunk

Our next destination took us past a condo of another sort–one created by a chipmunk who kept an eye on us, then swiftly disappeared. We could only wonder about the inner chambers of its home.

m17-striped maple beaver works

It was after that that we began to encounter the works of another rodent, this time upon striped maple.

m20-beaver works

The art pieces were sometimes large,

m21-beaver works small

other times small,

m23-beaver works mistake

and sometimes mistaken–as in logistics of the felling.

m22--false lodge

But that didn’t matter for their buildings were many. Oops, the first one we spied was actually a boulder.

m24-beaver lodge 1

Further along, however, we found the main building. It was topped with fresh wood and well mudded, so we assumed warm bodies dined and wined within.

m25-beaver lodge 2

There was another nearby, and we could see indentations denoting visitors had stopped by prior to yesterday’s storm. We also noted that the ice had melted all around it. Was someone home? We knew not.

m26-looking back from the dam

On we moved and then turned back to enjoy the view as shadows grew long.

m27-beaver dam

Turning 180˚ again,  we looked toward the beaver dam that stretched before us. I’d last visited in late November and wondered what it would look like today.

m28-below the beaver dam

It looked . . . snow covered.

m30-otter track

But . . . in that snow we spied our critter. Do you see him?

m32-otter moving from brook to land

We followed him downstream–he was on the other side of the brook, but moved in his telltale manner . . .

m33-following the brook

across the landscape . . .

m35-otter again

in and out of the water . . .

m43-otter slide and bound

bounding and sliding . . .

m42-otter slide

and sliding some more . . .

m40-prints, trough, scat

leaving behind fresh scat and prints . . .

m44-ice and tree and water and reflection

for our pleasure. We had the time of our lives watching the otter–did you see him?

Truth be told, we never did actually see him, but in our minds eyes we knew his every motion. When we first spied the prints and trough on the other side, we thought he had moved in the same direction as we did. But when he crossed to our side, and we could get an upclose look, we realized we were traveling in opposite directions. He had moved through not long before we arrived. Was he also checking out the beaver lodges? Probably. And hunting for his next meal.

Though we didn’t get to actually see this member of the weasel family, the signs left behind were enough to tickle our fancy and on this Mondate we were indeed otter spotters.