The Magic of Holt Pond

I’ve recently felt like the wonder disappeared from my wanders. And so I hoped a tramp late this afternoon around Lakes Environmental Association’s Holt Pond Preserve held the tonic.

We parked at the corner of Perley and Chaplin’s Mill Road, and hauled our snowshoes to the trailhead about a half mile down Chaplin. A few steps in and we decided to stash the shoes and proceed, sure that the snow depth would be on our side and we wouldn’t posthole too much. Until we did. And abruptly turned around to fetch the snowshoes, proving time and again how wise we are.

I was following my guy, so of course it didn’t take us long to get down to the pond, where love was written across the sky in the form of a squished heart and I knew my sense of wonder was about to kick back into gear.

Back on the trail, it was a pileated hole that stopped me in my tracks. Okay, so that happens on a regular basis, but take a closer look with me.

First there was the inner bark, call it cinnamon or mauve, or some crayola color between, with a delightfully bumpy texture, and I knew I had a winner. But there was more. Take a closer look. Do you see the horizontal lines where the woodpecker must have scraped its beak against the bark? And the fibers of the wood? And the depth of the hole? Certainly, this woodpecker must have found something worth drilling for in the depths of this hemlock.

Anyone who knows me well, knows that once I spy a pileated woodpecker’s excavation hole, the debris below becomes a focus of my attention.

I was not disappointed. What some may see as a silver caterpillar, I knew to be the cylindrical scat of the Woody Woodpecker of the woods. The compact package was coated with the bird’s uric acid, but it was the contents that really mattered. While I looked, so did a few others–do you see a couple of springtails, aka snow fleas–at least one on the wood chips and another on the snow?

With my continued perusal, a second scat appeared. Look closely at the darker sections and you may see some body parts of the carpenter ants and tree beetles that the pileated woodpecker sought from the inner confines of the hemlock tree.

My guy was patient as I looked and then we continued our journey. At the first stream crossing, where a bog bridge seemed to have disappeared, he practiced his inner ballerina (don’t tell him I said that) and leaped to the other side, landing a jeté: a leap taking off from one foot and landing on the other.

Since the pileated’s scat leant itself to my insect quest, I continued to look and smiled each time I spied a funnel spider’s holey web no longer in use. Check out all the points of attachment that strengthened the structure when it was in use.

In what seem like no time we reached a former log landing where he was astonished by the fact that pine saplings had grown into teens. And then he looked at one and asked, “Is that a red pine?”

“Yes,” I replied as I took a closer look and spied the tiniest of tiny homes among its needles. Do you see the circular cut in the center? It was the former home of a pupating pine “circular” sawfly. Their cocoons are everywhere and once you see one, you’ll see a million. If cut like this one, the insect departed when conditions were right, but if completely intact then life grows within.

At places along the trail, it was other compositions that bore witness to the nature of the community, such as this icy ornament that dangled like a stocking from one hemlock twig to another.

Another hemlock offered the vision of a forest wizard, his face, albeit, rather long and gnarly. His lips, pursed. His eyes, narrow. Certainly he had a lot to contemplate.

Throughout much of the preserve, which made sense given that it was a wetland habitat, fisher prints prevailed, its five tear-drop shaped toes adding a clue to its identification.

Check out that diagonal orientation that trackers look for because it tells them that the mammal who bounded across the landscape was a member of the weasel family.

Reading tracks isn’t easy, but learning the idiosyncrasies of family patterns, preferred community, and finer details such as number of toes and measurement of prints adds to the knowledge bank and enhances the trek for suddenly, even though you may not see the mammals that have left behind their calling cards, you can still get a sense of those with whom you share a presence in the woods.

The more we tramped today, the more I realized that there were sweet things to notice, like a snow-plop spotted hemlock twig that offered a suggestion of winter’s Swiss cheese.

An enlarged yellow birch catkin, formed by the tree to protect its seeds held tightly within, mimicked a wreath on the snow, and reminded me of the circle of life it represented.

And then I spotted one who perhaps best represented life. Foremost in consideration was the fact that it was alive. And second, that an antifreeze we can hardly comprehend allows it to remain active throughout the winter. Spiders on snow? Worth a wonder.

Our journey progressed as the lighting changed given the late hour of the day and our position on the globe. At times it seemed night would descend any minute.

And into the night tramped my guy, crossing a bog bridge he built several years ago. But . . . slow yourself down rather than try to keep up with him. What do you notice? Clue: to the left of his bridge?

Do you see the muddy line extending upward from the water? And the finger-like prints left on the snow. Yup. The signature of a local raccoon left behind like a done deal on a piece of property.

At last we reached my nemesis, the very spot where almost two years ago my feet flew out from under me, my wrist hit the edge of the boardwalk with a wallop, and suddenly I was a southpaw. It’s become my place of pause and contemplation. To go or not to go. Today, my guy did the same.

And then he went, assuring me from the other side that all was well. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard those words before.

I followed as I often do and gave thanks that I safely made it to the other side, where the snowy mounds and reflections offered a taste of mid-winter reflection.

Our journey across the snow-covered boardwalks through the wetland showed off the fruiting structures of many wetland shrubs, but surprisingly, winterberry offered the most brilliant form.

Eventually, we found our way out to the pond again via the quaking bog, following a fox track that we’d encountered during much of our journey.

Given that there were no dragonflies to spy at the pond’s edge, after a few moments we headed back into the woods.

At the next spur choice, we took it, and headed out to Muddy River, where the beaver resort included its big house, little house structure, bespeaking the New England tradition of home construction.

A bit of open water prevented us from taking a personal look.

But, freshly carved logs at the peak of the lodge bespoke recent activity. Similar activity below was questionable, but my whimsical mind wondered if they’d tried to set up a fire pit.

Our journey was coming to a close as we continued across the boardwalks through the wetlands, where within blueberry stems a baker’s dozen of wasp larvae pupate. The gall’s kidney-shaped form is easy to spy.

Following the Muddy River out, we couldn’t resist its late afternoon relections.

Beside the river another weasel showed its form in the prints of a mink.

Diagonal, diagonal, diagonal, so is a weasel pattern.

At last, before climbing up to the Emerald Field that would lead us back to our starting point, we paused beside the brook and let it work it’s magic in the sound of flowing water, but also the forms and reflection and colors and wonder. Moments of wonder. I gave great thanks for yet again Holt Pond had worked its magic.

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.

Holt Ponderings Mondate

If you are me, and be thankful you aren’t, then playing with words is part of your persona. And making them up when you can’t find one that fits the application is fine in your mind as well.

Our Mondate began not at the parking lot most are familiar with for Lakes Environmental Association’s Holt Pond Preserve, but rather in a spot that has our name on it at the end of the rather short Knapp Road. You see, it was time for our annual spring clean up of the Southern Shore Trail, which my guy and I have been maintaining for more years than either of us can remember.

It was immediately apparent that numerous trees and branches had blown down since last fall and so we began to work.

But, it was a Mondate, and thankfully, with work came play. Just below our starting point we checked on a particular boardwalk I made famous last year when I fell hard against the edge of the wet, wooden slats and broke my wrist.

Water flowed across the wood again today and we both knew instantly that it would not be part of our circumnavigation plan. But, by pausing beside it, we did have time to admire a Water Strider as it used the surface tension to walk, or rather skate.

And then we carried on, soon realizing not all blowdowns were created equal and we hadn’t brought a chainsaw so some will either need to wait for another day or another person to complete the job.

What we could do was take down smaller trees that crossed the path, and pick up twigs and branches that decorated it. Oh, and between, take time to admire the beech leaves bedecked in fringe, much like the fancy hem of a skirt.

And there were the ever so scaly Christmas Fern fiddleheads to note.

Along with the smooth stipe of the Royal Ferns.

As we always do, whenever the trail provided an opportunity to look out at the pond, we took it. If you are familiar with the place, then you’ll know that the Quaking Bog is across the way where the taller trees stand out toward the left on the opposite shore.

And if you are super familiar with it, you’ll know that this stand of pines and hemlocks was once the log landing. (Bridie McGreavy, if you are reading this–it’s a whole different landing than when you first introduced us to it as we trudged through the snow and out to Fosterville Road from this point.)

Just beyond the landing we crossed a small stream via an old beaver dam, and fancied the formation of suds on the water’s surface.

Delightful surprises greeted us along the way, including the evergreen leaves of Downy Rattlesnake Plantain. I love the leaves of this woodland plant and find that the easiest way for me to remember its common name is by the snakeskin pattern, but also the fact that it doesn’t look downy–especially when you compare it to those beech leaves that are bursting forth from their buds. So . . . the rattlesnake plantain that doesn’t look downy is.

After reaching the section of trail that follows a snowmobile route briefly, we again snuck down to the pond. And spied . . . a beaver lodge that is either new or we were looking at all over again for the first time. We also noted the subtle colors of the spring palette reflected by the water.

Our journey took us out to Chaplains Mill Road, and then across the “Emerald Field” and back down to the Muddy River, which empties out of Holt Pond. Recently, I was on a Beaver Caper with LEA’s Alanna Doughty. With the snow and ice melted completely, there was more evidence that the beavers were continuing to do some work and I think she and I may need to try again to figure out which lodge is truly active.

As it was, a tree that appeared in photo #20 of the Beaver Caper, had since been cut down. We were going to move it off trail, but decided it was worth encouraging others to pause.

And so we left it be and hope it gives you something to gnaw about.

Again and again, we picked up sticks and moved trees. And celebrated small wonders like the blossoms of Goldthread.

Trailing Arbutus, aka Mayflower, was also in abundant bloom with blossoms of white, pink, and white-pink. I do have to wonder what determines their color.

As we walked beside the Muddy River, slowly making our way back to Holt Pond, I got my guy, who can be a bit of a bull in a china shop, to slow down any time we heard a bird. The Veery posed longer than most.

And so we stood silently and gave thanks for the opportunity.

At last, it was into the Red Maple Swamp that we marched, continuing our work habit, though not quite as frequently.

While my guy got ahead, I rejoiced at the sight of Leatherleaf in bloom; its blossoms lined up on the underside like bloomers on a clothesline.

Giant Bumblebees also enjoyed the bell-shaped flowers from below.

And I can never walk past without paying reverence to the Pitcher Plants that grow abundantly in this place.

One should always bow down and take note of the hairy veins on each pitcher, for those not only attract the insects that meet their demise within, but also trap them. Such is the way of this carnivorous plant.

We stepped out onto the boardwalk to the Quaking Bog, but not much was in bloom. Oh, and yes, we did get out feet wet because with each step the wooden structure sank a bit, but unlike the one I’m waiting to cross, the bog boardwalk dries out between visitors so it isn’t slippery. At least I didn’t think so. My guy was surprised as he followed me out.

Soon our journey took us along the Holt Pond Trail where the False Hellebore showed off its broad leaves. The curious thing, I’ve never seen any of these plants present their floral structure, but I shall continue to watch.

One plant that is beginning to flower is the Hobblebush, with its showy sterile displays on the outer edge. It seems like only yesterday I was admiring their naked winter buds. And now . . . this.

Before exiting out to Grist Mill Road to walk back to where we’d parked, we passed through one last Hemlock Grove. And there, sitting atop a large tree stump . . . a hen incubating her eggs. She murmured not a word. Nor did we. But again, in our minds we were most grateful for the opportunity to see her at such a challenging and dangerous time.

Quietly, we moved on and a few minutes later our Mondate came to end. I think the most amazing thing is that no matter how often we go there, there are always a few familiar friends to meet, but often something we’ve not seen before. Today, it was the turkey that fit the latter. Holt Ponderings indeed.

P.S.Why doesn’t my computer like those two words: Ponderings and Mondate? I surely know what they mean.

One more P.S. Mary Jewett and Ursula Duve will lead a bird and flower walk at Holt Pond on Friday, May 17. I wish I could join them for the two will spot incredible sights. If you’d like to, please contact Mary. FMI: mary@mainelakes.org.

Beaver Caper

Our interest was piqued a couple of weeks ago and we promised each other we’d return to learn more–thus today was the day that Alanna Doughty, education director of Lakes Environmental Association, and I ventured to the Muddy River at Holt Pond Preserve.

Crossing the Emerald Field at the corner of Grist Mill and Chaplins Mill Roads, we found our way to the trail, passed into the woods and immediately noticed some fresh works created by Castor canadensis.

Please take note of the small portion of a sapling trunk in the bottom of this photo, for I promise that you’ll see it again. And again. And . . .

But in the meantime, we slipped, slid, and postholed our way to the brook, and noted where water flowed over an old dam so it was obvious this wasn’t the spot to which the beavers had dragged their sawn logs.

Also notice the “Posted” signs on the trees. Can beavers read? It did seem that they stayed away from the far shore. Maybe they can read 😉

We looked upstream, but decided to turn around and follow the river down, ever curious about what we might find.

First, however, we did pause to admire the ice sculptures where the water rushed and gurgled and bubbled over the old dam. Soon, these will be a thing of the past and we’ll miss their varied forms frozen in time only momentarily.

And then, as we started to walk south, the foamy water drew our attention.

Where Alanna saw frozen froth of rootbeer floats . . .

I saw mini ice discs in their final form.

And one that created a tree skirt with a lacy slip below.

Just beyond we spied the largest of all the sculptures and gave thanks for its existence. In our minds’ eyes we could see the upper part of the sculpture taking shape when the snow was deeper beside the brook. And the lowest part a more recent attempt of the chiseling artist.

The artwork was enhanced by the chips splayed about as if creating a textured pedestal for the display.

Just beyond that spot, we looked further south and scanned the shoreline, not noting any further work of the sculptor. The water didn’t seem particularly backed up so we figured there wasn’t a dam below. What did it all mean? We knew from our previous visit that there was more work north of our location, but had so hoped to find something new to the south.

The only thing visible, a few old beaver stumps such as this one. Given that, we did a 180˚ turn and made our way north.

First, however, we had to walk through the water and gave thanks for our boots, before passing “the” tree one more time.

Alanna, being much younger and far more agile than me, was kind enough to lead and wait, lead and wait. And because she was ahead, she went shopping when I wasn’t looking. I don’t remember what we were talking about when it suddenly occurred to me that she held a piece of the sapling trunk we’d spied earlier. This is a woman who loves to laugh and so she did when I commented on the specimen tucked under her arm.

Notice how snug she held it as she walked with intention across one of the stream bridges.

We walked for another bit before we found more beaver works, including a cache of debarked twigs–beaver chews. They seemed so fresh, and some were actually green, that we got to thinking. Winter food stash? We know that in the fall they gather saplings and branches, anchor them in the mud and when the ice covers the river, they slip out of the underwater tunnel in their lodge and chew off a stick from the stockpile to bring into the feeding compartment for a meal, thus keeping themselves safe from winter predators. But . . . these weren’t near a lodge and seemed like the result of a fresh logging operation and so we wondered, did they have a new lodge in mind? Are they planning to build a new dam?

We also had to wonder about their debarkation–so smooth were the sticks.

As we continued on, our nature distraction disorder kicked in periodically, as it should, and we rejoiced in the sight of buds on Trailing Arbutus, aka Mayflower.

But still, it was more beaver works that kept calling our names and we tried to pay homage to all of them.

The last fresh one we saw was on a beech and we knew by the height that the cuts had been made when the snow was deeper. So . . . were the beavers still around?

Oh, wait. While we wondered, Alanna also had deer scat to collect.

And just beyond that–weasel scat found its way into her bag.

And then a winter firefly crossed our path as seems to happen frequently of late.

Onward we continued for we wanted to check on a couple of lodges we knew existed. Do you notice that the art work remained tucked safely under her arm?

For a little bit our trail took us away from the Muddy River, but when we returned to it, we focused on old beaver works–a fallen tree and a girdled hemlock. That got us thinking about the fact that they do girdle trees–often, in our experience, it’s hemlocks that they seem to debark in a band that encircles the tree, thus killing it. These they don’t drop to use for building or feeding. So why go to all that effort? We’ve heard different theories, including that once the tree dies, a species more to their liking will grow? True? Maybe.

We continued to look for more recent works, but found none. Until . . . we spotted some brown snow.

Leaves and river muck had been pulled up and distributed over the snowy surface beside the water. We stepped closer and saw footprints that were indecipherable, but knew by the pile of gunk that we’d discovered the makings of a beaver scent mound. Had the two-year-olds left the lodge and set out to claim their own territory? We suspected such.

Atop it all, we noted where a scent mark had been left behind. Of course, we both had to get down on all fours and sniff. I thought it smelled a bit like wintergreen, perhaps an indication of a meal consumed. Most often it smells more vanilla in nature. We found the starts of another scent mound a bit further along that emitted a muskier scent and we thought of the beaver marking its territory with castoreum.

Oh, and then there was some more scat to collect for Alanna spied the round nuggets or malt balls of a snowshoe hare.

At last we reached the board walk that leads back out to the Muddy River, some of it under water and again we gave thanks for our boots–hers Boggs and mine Mucks. Both perfect for our adventure.

From the board walk we could see the twin lodges on the river, but neither had any fresh logs atop and so we still didn’t know from whence the beavers came. It appeared they hadn’t used the old lodges, but we never found any new ones. Or a dam. But the scent mounds were super fresh. And so, we concluded that we’ll have to revisit the area either early in the morning or later in the day in hopes of spying the industrious builders in action.

In the meantime, we left with new findings, new questions, and for Alanna, some new scat and new beaver works–the one tucked under her arm a reminder of our Beaver Caper.

“A Perpetual Astonishment”

It was actually still winter when I joined Lakes Environmental Association’s Education Director Alanna Doughty and LEA member Betty for a “Welcome Spring” snowshoe hike at Holt Pond Preserve this afternoon–but really, for western Maine, it was a delightful spring day.

Our hearts smiled as our journey began beside a clump of pussy willow shrubs, so named for their resemblance to tiny cats’ paws. Actually, the white nubs are flowers pre-bloom. Their soft, silvery coating of hairs provides insulation thus protecting these early bloomers from cold temperatures.

That being said, they aren’t protected from everything and if you look, you may see pineapples growing on some. Those pinecone-like structures were created with leaves by a reaction to a chemical released by the larva that allows a gall gnat midge to overwinter on the willows. It’s a crazy world and everything seems to have its place.

Hanging out with the pussy willows were speckled alders, some with protrusions extending from last year’s cones. It was almost like they had tried to flower. In reality, they were alder tongue galls–resulting from a fungus rather than an insect infecting the female catkins. Apparently, the tongue-like growths are green to begin, but transform to orange, red and finally brown. I’ve yet to see it in its early form but time will tell.

We passed a spider walking across the snow and then came upon another member of the lilliputian world–a winter stonefly on the move. How they and the spiders survive the cold and snow is dependent upon special compounds including glycerol, proteins, and sugars that act like antifreeze. By its presence, we knew we were approaching a fast-moving stream.

More evidence of the stream’s presence became immediately apparent when we moved from the field to woods and immediately spied a sign of beaver works.

Stepping down beside the Muddy River, we began to see beaver tree after beaver tree. Each a most recent work.

Alanna stood upon an old dam, but though it was obvious they’d crossed over it by the well traveled trail of tracks, repair work was not yet part of the scheme for the water flowed forth.

We stood there for a few minutes and tried to understand what they had in mind, when one in our group spied the beaver chews in the water–their snack of choice.

We wondered if they were active downstream or up, and decided to follow the trail north.

A few minutes later, we came upon another trail well-traveled and knew that they’d been working in the vicinity.

In the brook, covered with spring ice, which features a different texture than the frozen structures of winter, was a small tree.

And then our eyes followed the beavers’ tracks back and we saw from whence it had been sawn.


And dragged through the snow. In our minds’ eyes we appreciated their efforts.

Still, we didn’t know what the beavers were up to, so we moved on in hopes of learning more about their activities. All the while, there were other things to notice, like the orange brain fungus growing on the inside of a stump. We weren’t the only ones to appreciate it for snowfleas, aka spring tails, also searched the surface.


Since we were beside the river, it might have made sense that we checked out the beaver works via canoe, but . . . the snow is slowly melting and it will be a while before we need to bring our own paddles, personal flotation devices and duct tape (just in case the canoe springs a leak).

From the boat launch we followed the secret trail and made our way out to the red maple swamp.

In a sunny spot we spied a swab of earth–a taste of what is to come. And the ever delightful wintergreen offering the first shade of spring green with a dash of spring pink.

Slowly we made our way back out to the Muddy River, where we stood and looked across at two beaver lodges on the other side. We didn’t dare cross, but from where we stood, it appeared that the lodges may be active given that we could see the vents at the top. It also appeared that they’d been visited, though we weren’t sure if the tracks were created by predators. Was this where the beavers who had been so active downstream were living? Or were these the homes of their parents? Were the new beaver works those of the two year olds who had recently been sent out into the world to make their own way? Our brains wondered and wondered?

We weren’t sure, but with questions in our mind, we moved on toward Holt Pond.

There were other things to see as we walked across the wetland, including the woody structures of maleberry capsules and their bright red buds.

Rhodora, that delightful pink beauty showed us that she’s waiting in wings.

As we made our way back, more wood chips on the ground indicated that a carver of another type had been at work–of the bird type rather than rodent.

To identify it, we looked not only at the shape of the chiseled structure, but also the scat we found among the chips.

Because it was filled with the body parts of carpenter ants and we knew its creator’s name–pileated woodpecker.

And then we found an insect of another type. Why was a hickory tussock caterpillar frozen to a twig? Was it shed skin from last fall? How did the structure last throughout the winter? We left with questions, but gave thanks for the opportunity Alanna provided to share the afternoon wandering and exploring and thinking and looking forward–to spring.

In the midst of our wandering, we did discover a fairy house and suspect that tonight some wild dance moves are on display under the Super Equinox Worm Moon.

“Every spring is the only spring, a perpetual astonishment.”

British Author Edith Mary Pargeter, also known by her nom de plume, Ellis Peters (1913-1995)

Wondering With Jinny Mae

It takes us forever and we like it that way. In fact, today a woman who saw us in our typical slo-mo movement commented, “It’s like you’re on a meditative walk. I always move quickly and miss so much.” Indeed we were and when I travel beside Jinny Mae there isn’t much we don’t see. But always, we’re sure that we’ve moved too quickly and missed something. Then again, we realize that whatever it was that we accidentally passed by this time may offer us a second chance the next time.

1-winterberry

Today’s wonder began with the realization that winterberry holly or Ilex verticillata, grew abundantly where we chose to travel. This native shrub will eventually lose its leaves, but the plentiful berries will last for a while–until they’ve softened considerably that is and then the birds will come a’calling.

2-winterberry

Everywhere we turned, or so it seemed, we found them ranging in color from spring green to shades of red. As summer turns to autumn, the leaves will yellow and eventually fall.

3-winterberry

And then the brightly colored berries that cling to every stem will add color where it’s otherwise lacking in the landscape.

4-winterberry

Even while the leaves still held fast, we found some brightly colored berries that offered a breathtaking view.

5-to Muddy River

We passed through numerous natural communities, tiptoeing at times, such as on the boardwalks, for we didn’t want to disturb the wildlife around us–no matter what form it took.

9-dragonfly attachment

And we rejoiced in spying a cherry-faced meadowhawk couple in their pre-canoodling mode. Can you see how he has used his cerci to clasp the back of her head? His hope is that he can get her to connect in the wheel position and they’ll take off into the safety of the nearby shrubbery to mate.

6-Muddy River

At the river, we began to notice other signs that we’ve once again entered a transition between seasons, for subtle were the colors before us.

7-beaver lodge

Across the river and just north of where we stood, we spotted an old lodge, but weren’t sure anyone was in residence for it didn’t seem like work was being done to prepare for winter. Then again, we haven’t done anything to prepare either, for though the temperature has suddenly shifted from stifling to comfortable (and possibly near freezing tonight), it’s still summer in Maine. And we’re not quite ready to let go.

17-Sheep Laurel

That being said, we found a most confusing sight. Sheep laurel grew prolifically in this place and we could see the fruits had formed from this past spring’s flowers and dangled below the new leaves like bells stringed together.

18- sheep laurel flowering in September

Then again, maybe it wasn’t all that odd that it still bloomed for when I got home I read that it blooms late spring to late summer. I guess we’ve just always noticed it in late spring and assumed that was the end of its flowering season. But then again, it appeared that this particular plant had already bloomed earlier in the season and produced fruit, so why a second bloom? Is that normal?

10-pitcherplant 1

As we continued on, we started to look for another old favorite that we like to honor each time we visit. No matter how often we see them, we stand and squat in awe of the carnivorous pitcher plants.

11-pitcher plant 2

But today, we were a bit disturbed for one that we’ve admired for years on end looked like it was drying up and dying. In fact, the location is typically wet, but not this year given the moderate drought we’ve been experiencing in western Maine. What would that mean for the pitcher plant?

13-pitcher plant flower

Even the flower pod of that particular one didn’t look like it had any life-giving advice to share in the future.

14-Pitcher Plant 4

Fortunately, further on we found others that seemed healthy, though even the sphagnum moss that surrounded them had dried out.

14a-pitcher plant

Their pitcher-like leaves were full of water and we hoped that they had found nourishment via many an insect. Not only do I love the scaly hairs that draw the insects in much like a runway and then deter them from exiting, but also the red venation against the green for the veins remind me of trees, their branches spreading rather like the tree of life. Or maybe a stained glass window. Or . . . or . . . we all have our own interpretations and that’s what makes life interesting.

15-pitcher plant flower 2

Speaking of interesting, the structure of the pitcher plant flower is one we revere whenever we see it because it’s so otherworldly in form. And this one . . . no the photo isn’t sideways, but the flower certainly was. If you scroll up two photos, you’ll see it as it grew among the leaves. The curious thing is that it was sideways. Typically in this locale, Jinny Mae and I spy many pitcher plant flowers standing tall. Today, we had to squint to find any.

16-pitcher flower and aster

She found the sideways presentation and this one. But that was it. Because of the drought? Or were we just not cueing in to them?

20-cinnamon fern

We did cue in to plenty of other striking sights like the light on a cinnamon fern that featured a contrast of green blades and brown.

21-cinnamon fern drying up

Again, whether the brown spoke of drought or the transition to autumn, we didn’t know. But we loved its arching form dramatically reflected in each pinna.

18a-swamp maple

But here’s another curious thing we noted. We were in a red maple swamp that is often the first place where the foliage shows off its fall colors and while some in other locales have started to turn red, only the occasional one in this place had done so. Our brains were totally confused. Sheep laurel blooming for a second time; pitcher plants drying up and dying; and few red maples yet displaying red leaves?

19-witch's caps or candy corn

We needed something normal to focus on. And so we looked at the candy corn we found along the trail. Some know them as witch’s caps. They are actually witch hazel cone galls caused by an aphid that doesn’t appear to harm the plant. It is a rather cool malformation.

24-white-faced meadowhawk

On a boardwalk again, we stepped slowly because the white-faced meadowhawk kept us company and we didn’t want to startle it into flight.

25-white-faced meadowhawk dining

One flew in with dinner in its mouth and though I couldn’t get a photo face on before it flew to another spot to dine in peace, if you look closely, you might see the green bug dangling from its mouth.

26-New York Aster

All round us grew asters including New York, water-horehound, cranberries, bog rosemary and so many others.

27-Virginia marsh-St. John's Wort

There was Virginia marsh St. John’s Wort,

28-fragrant water lily

fragrant water lilies,

28-jewelweed

jewelweed,

29-pilewort globe

and even pilewort to admire. The latter is so much prettier in its seed stage than flowering. Why is that we wondered.

30-Holt Pond Quaking Bog

Ahhhh, an afternoon of wondering . . . with Jinny Mae. At LEA’s Holt Pond Preserve. In Bridgton. An afternoon well spent. Thanks JM.

 

 

 

 

 

Otherworldly in Nature

One doesn’t necessarily step into the woods and expect transcendent events to occur, but then again by learning to live in the moment one never knows what to expect. And so it was that I traveled the trail at LEA’s Holt Pond Preserve with my friend Ann this morning–both of us delighted to just spend some quiet time exploring together.

o1-bunchberry

Our tramp began with a pause beside bunchberries because it’s a plant I always associate with Ann due to her trailside teaching about its finer points years ago. Today, as the flowers began to morph into fruit, it was the points of the four white petal-like bracts and green leaves that asked to be noticed in the most subtle of ways for each was decorated with a dewdrop.

o2-red maple swamp

Not far beyond where the bunchberries grew, we stepped onto the first of the boardwalks that provided for a delightful amble through the red maple swamp.

o3-green frog

Just off the edge of the wooden walkway, we spied some eyes starring up at us and realized we were the subject of the green frog’s discontent.

o4-green frog male

His camouflage almost worked as he tried to hide among the sphagnum moss . . .

o5-green frog and insects

but again we found him. How did we know he was a he? By his tympanum (ear), the circle behind his eyes. We really wanted to see him feed and if you look closely, you may see a mosquito and other insects nearby, but he seemed focused on us–in case he needed to defend his territory we supposed.

o6-pitcher plants

A wee bit further we met the first of many of their kind–the incredibly unique pitcher plants with their strikingly beautiful magenta flowers that stood like the wind spinners we used to create as kids.

o7-pitcher plant leaves

In the water below were the pitcher-shaped leaves that gave this plant its common name.

o17-pitcher pitchers

The carnivorous pitcher plant obtains nitrogen and phosphorus by eating insects. Its oddly shaped leaves form a pitcher partly filled with water and digestive enzymes. The spout is a hairy landing platform for insects attracted by its red venation and nectar glands. Imagine this: An insect crawls to the edge of the leaf, aka pitcher, slips on the downward-sloping hairs and plunges into the liquid below where enzymes and bacteria break it down. Any chances for escape are zapped by those stiff hairs.

o8-frosted whiteface dragonfly

As we paid attention to the plant, damselflies and dragonflies, like this Frosted Whiteface Skimmer, flew in the surrounding airspace. We appreciated that he landed so we could take a closer look at the details of his body, including the golden outline of the upper edge of his wings.

o8-red maple leaf

Moseying along, our next great find was a red maple leaf, which made perfect sense given that we were in the midst of the red maple swamp. What didn’t make sense was the fact that it donned its autumnal coloration, but ours was not to make sense of everything.

08a-muddy river

At last we reached the boardwalk to the Muddy River, where we embraced stillness and listened to the green frogs strum their banjo voices and red-winged blackbirds sing their conk-la-ree songs.

o9-red-winged and painted

One blackbird, in particular, stood out as if he were the king of the river. We didn’t realize it at the time, but the photographs tell the story for he did have a subject in mind–in the form of a painted turtle.

o10-red winged :painted

Off his high horse he flew, but continued to squawk from a lower pulpit. What did it all mean?

o11red winged blackbird

While we’ll never know, he did seem pleased with a gaze into his own reflection.

o12a-

Our gaze also became more focused when we realized we stood in the midst of a newly emerged dragonfly. By its cloudy wings folded over its back damselfly-style and the abandoned exuvia on the other side of its perch did we realize what we were witnessing.

o12b

We felt a sense of caretakers for suddenly it was our honorable duty to stand watch and protect this vulnerable being from becoming prey. With wonder, we watched as it slowly changed position and suddenly spread its wings. For at least an hour we stood sentry and noted the slightest changes while we delighted in how the breeze occasionally fluttered through its wings.

o13-female eastern forktail damsel

Oh, we looked around and spied a female Eastern Forktail damselfly . . .

o14-chalk-fronted corporal

and many a Chalk-fronted Corporal dragonfly among others.

o15-spreading his wings

But our attention continued to return to the subtle beauty before us. How did it know to climb the vegetation? How did it know to emerge? How did it know today was sunny? How could such delicate wings support its meaty body? Where do dragonflies hang out on rainy days? How long would it take before it flew off? Our questions were numerous, but . . .

o15-dragonfly exuvia

in a flash, as I moved in for a closer shot of the exuvia, the dragonfly decided it had posed for enough photos, and Ann and I watched with continued fascination as it flew off. Really, we felt like proud parents who had sent our offspring into the world. And we rejoiced. We had just witnessed one of nature’s greatest spectacles. It wasn’t only thrilling to watch, but was an all-encompassing experience that pulled us in with our sight and minds.

016-pitcher

After such an awe-inspiring opportunity, we couldn’t imagine anything else, but as we moved along the boardwalk through another section of the red maple swamp we again encountered pitcher plants.

o18-pitcher flower

And this time we decided to take a closer look at the flower structure, which was umbrella-like with those five broad and waxy sepals situated above. Unless you physically turn it and take a peek, it’s difficult to see what is going on beneath where five more bright red, oval petals, curved in at the base and covered the ovary.

o19-pitcher anthers

Within, yellow stamens surrounded the base of ovary. Below, a slender style extended from the round ovary and flattened out into an angled yellowish green structure like an inverted umbrella that curved back over the center of the flower. Certainly another novel spectacle for us to behold.

o20-four-spotted skimmer

Along the same stretch we were equally wowed by a Four-spotted Skimmer.

o21-four-spotted face

He gave us the opportunity to take in his mightiness from more than one vantage point.

o25-quaking bog

At last we reached the quaking bog and despite the water that filled our hiking boots, we moved forward toward Holt Pond with some caution. (Think right wrist still in cast.)

o26-caddisfly case

Along the way we discovered an abandoned caddisfly larva case,

o23-blue flag iris

blue flag irises,

o24-green frog

another green frog,

o27-tadpole

and a huge tadpole swimming over the boardwalk.

o28-muskrat works

At the water’s edge, though we sought sundews and could find none where they used to grow in abundance, we did realize someone had come with a different quest and because it seemed the pickerel weed roots had been foraged, we suspected a muskrat.

o29-hp northwest

After enjoying the view and trying to make the bog quake by jumping to no avail, we journeyed on.

o32a-Muddy River

Our walk back via the road passed much more quickly and in what seemed like no time, we were at the parking lot. But I had one more site to show Ann and so we headed down to the Muddy River, our circle completed–though we were a wee bit east of our first river encounter.

o32-canoe

It’s there that LEA has long left a canoe for anyone to use–just bring you own paddles and pfds.

o33-sawdust

And as our walk had begun, so it ended . . . with us again looking at bunchberries. but these were different for they were covered with sawdust and we suspected carpenter ants were busy residents in the pine tree behind them.

o35-exuvia

Because we were looking we were again rewarded as we noticed something else–a dragonfly exuvia.

o36-ghosts

And behind the tree two ghosts stared up at us in awe–completing the picture of this morning filled with the otherworldly so often encountered in nature.

 

 

 

Left-handed Mondate

Yesterday I discovered a male ring-necked pheasant in our backyard–a most unusual sighting. As I watched, he headed over a stone  wall and into our woodlot where he cackled and beat his wings in hopes of attracting a mate. The only responses he received were gobbles from Tom Turkey. And so it went for a while . . . cackle . . . gobble . . . cackle . . . gobble.

This morning we were awakened at 5 a.m. to the same mating calls. Who needs a rooster?

w1

When I stepped out the back door, neither bird was anywhere to be seen or heard.

w2

But the double daffodils that came with our house showed off their cheery faces to all who looked.

w3

And by the road, the magnolia we planted about fifteen years ago added its own pastel palette to the scene–however momentary.

w4

By late morning, we changed our focus from the yard to a woodland a few miles away for today was the day we chose to work on the section of trail we steward at Lake Environmental Association’s Holt Pond Preserve. 

w5

There were trees and limbs to clear. And trimming to be done as well. The last time we were on the Southern Shore Trail, which was only a couple of months ago, we noted a few trees that would need our attention, but today there were between fifteen and twenty.

w11

Occasionally, as my guy used the chainsaw and I waited to clean up, I spied old friends like a wild oat or sessile-leaved bellwort in bloom.

w6

And then I made a discovery that had eluded me in the past–a spotted wintergreen. It was an exciting find for it’s listed as S2 ranking, meaning “Imperiled in Maine because of rarity (6-20 occurrences or few remaining individuals or acres) or because of other factors making it vulnerable to further decline.”

w7

We were close to an outlook by Holt Pond when we saw the spotted wintergreen, Chimaphila maculata, and so we paused to take in the view looking across to the quaking bog as we dined atop a stump.

w10

From there we moved on, making rather quick progress to the “field,” a former log landing where the forest is slowly reclaiming its ground.

w8

As we approached we startled a ruffed grouse and came upon a familiar sight at this spot for the trail through the field has always provided a dust bath for these birds.

w9

And on the edge of the “tub” a telltale downy feather.

w12

Typically, when doing trail work, our turn-round point is the field for that’s what we’d agreed to years ago. Today, we decided to keep going and made a small stream our end point. We shifted a bridge and watched the water striders for a while. Apparently, love wasn’t just in the air, but on the water as well.

W13

On the way back, I was delighted to discover my first painted trillium of the season. I sensed my guy’s groans for he knows I’ll exclaim over and photograph each one I see–not satisfied until I reach a trillion trilliums.

W14

Oh, and there were fern crosiers to celebrate, especially the scaly spiral of the Christmas fern.

w15

At last we reached the beginning of our section of trail and I told my guy that I wanted to go down by the water for a moment, but not cross the boardwalk because my hiking boots leak. He put the saw down, contemplated the water, and made the crossing. From the other side he suggested I join him since the water wasn’t that deep. Before I did so, however, he asked me to move the saw off the trail and out of sight. As I started to hide it, he crossed back over and said, “I’ll take it in case we need it.” And back again he went, the saw in his left hand for he’s a southpaw. He’d just reached the other side when I stepped on the boardwalk and began to carefully move, ever mindful of my boots . . . until those very boots slipped out from under me. Down I went. Crash. Bam. Smash. On the wood. My right forearm took the brunt of the fall and my camera ended up in the water.

My guy came to the rescue as he lifted me up . . . though first I insisted on the camera being saved. And now I have used the hunt and peck method to type this story for I am a southpaw for the next six to eight weeks as I recover from a fracture to the ulna and radius. That’s how today became a left-handed Mondate.

The camera is also in recovery mode–here’s hoping a rice bath will work wonders.

 

 

Clockwise Circumnavigation of Holt Pond

Though we were headed to a place we frequent, we thought we’d change up our trek by hiking in the direction that is opposite our norm along the trail system.

h14-trail map

And so for us, 12 o’clock was at the point where the trail was closest to Grist Mill Road. As we stepped on to it, I wore micro-spikes and my guy just his hiking boots. Within about fifty feet, I’d already banged snow off my spikes twice and decided they’d serve me better by being in my backpack.

h1-Following the boardwalk

It meant being aware of the boardwalks, most of which were covered with ice and snow, and post holing occasionally, but even if we’d worn snowshoes, we’d have ended up taking them off for the temp was in the 40˚s and snow not too deep.

h2-bear

One of the things I love about visiting a place often is that each time it has something different to offer. As we made our way to one and two o’clock on the map and passed through a hemlock grove, we discovered a bear den. Bears don’t always hibernate in caves and this one chose an old tree stump to spend the winter.

h3-quaking bog

I was with my guy, so it was no surprise that within no time we were at 3 o’clock, where we had to shuffle across the ice covered boardwalk in the quaking bog.

h4-bog rosemary

On the way back to the main trail, I mentioned that I’d be a bit slower, for there were reasons to take notice, like the bog rosemary leaves . . .

h5-pitcher plant flower pod

and dried pods of a pitcher plant.

h6-snowshoe hare tracks

Moving on toward 3:15 on the map, we began to notice snow lobsters everywhere. This particular hare, whose pattern reminded me of our marine crustaceans, had come from the quaking bog and passed into the red maple swamp. Do you see the pattern I’m referring to? The snowshoe hare had hopped toward the point where I stood, its front feet landing on a diagonal first, while its larger back feet swung around and landed in front. Consequently, the front feet served as the lobster’s tail, and the hind feet its claws.

h7-through the red maple swamp

Through the red maple swamp we journeyed to 3:30 with my guy obliterating more snowshoe hare prints as he went. Notice how his tracks were rather sloppy–he was again trying to keep from slipping off the icy boardwalk.

h9-two lodges

At about 4:00 by following the map, we stepped precariously onto the boardwalk that led to the Muddy River. Where once stood one beaver lodge, there were two–and both looked active.

h10-river to pond

In the opposite direction, we looked out to Holt Pond, from which the frozen river formed.

h11-canoe

The canoe launch, further along the river, is located at 4:30. The only ones using it recently were some red squirrels who had created a midden beneath. But should you choose to venture out, bring your own pfd and paddle.

h12-beaver dam

As we moved on toward 5:00, we began to encounter beaver dams–at least three of them, for so active had been this community of large rodents.

h13-mink tracks

And at 5:30, as we followed the river out to Chaplins Mill Road, we started to encounter tracks on a diagonal that spoke of their creator–a mink. Notice how one print in each pair is just ahead of the second. That’s a typical characteristic for all members of the mustelid or weasel family.

h16-southern end of Holt Pond

Lunch stump was at 6:00, where the trail veered back off Chaplins Mill Road and returned to the pond. As we ate, we realized we weren’t the only ones who chose to dine in this spot, such were the pinecone caches under every white pine and hemlock.

h17-mink

Continuing on toward 7:00, we spied more mink tracks. I didn’t have my usual tracking gear with me, but the AARP card measured about three inches, the trail width or straddle of a bounding mink.

h18-mink

For straddle, we typically measure the distance from the outside of one foot to the outside of the other within a set of prints. Stride, or the distance from one set of prints to the next, varies greatly with bounders like a mink, so that’s not important. But that diagonal orientation–rather consistent.

h21-snow and ribbon lichen

As we made our way toward 8:00, a hemlock tree gave me pause–for the intersection of lines and color upon its bark–the vertical white snow enhanced the horizontal green ribbon lichen.

h22-fisher tracks

By 8:45, we had reached the northern end of the pond, which was to our right. It was there that we realized another traveler had joined the dance–as evidenced by its larger prints. A fisher.

h23-fox

And then we kept encountering a red fox from 9:00 on. Well, not the fox exactly, but its own telltale prints.

h24-water obstacle

All along, we wondered what we’d encounter at our 10:00 point, the trail intersection closest to Fosterville Road. We could hear the water before we saw it. And then my guy met it up close and personal, breaking through ice and coming up with wet feet. I, too, had one wet foot for one of my Sorel boots had a blowout and the upper split from the sole–a major disappointment for though the boots are old, they have plenty of traction left.

h25-water over boardwalk

Anyway, we contemplated the underwater boardwalk and knew we had an escape route behind us, for we could have walked up to the road. But . . . we didn’t. The water was about four inches deep and we went for it, figuring we were already wet and we only had about a half mile left to cover in the five mile journey.

h26-pileated tree

On the map, we were at 10:15 when my guy noted fresh pileated woodpecker works.

h27-pileated scat

I had to look. And wasn’t disappointed. Several scats were visible, filled with seeds and insect body parts.

h28-northern end

We moved on to 11:00 and passed through another red maple swamp . . .

h27-winterberry

where the color of winterberries had changed from bright red to wine,

h28-frozen mink tracks

frozen tracks spoke of an earlier journey by a mink,

h31-yellow warbler nest

and a yellow warbler nest remained attached in the crouch of a shrub.

h29-northern end of Holt Pond

Our last look at the pond was through the shrub level and though we couldn’t actually see it, we knew it was there, outlined to the south by the evergreens.

h33-my guy's print

At last I followed my guy out. We’d reached 12:00, the beginning and ending point of our clockwise circumnavigation around Holt Pond.

 

 

Autumn Falls With A Smile

It seemed only yesterday the colors were rather on the dull side, not quite offering that magical tapestry we all relish. And then today dawned with a the mix of sun and clouds and occasional raindrops and a breeze and somehow the world transformed.

hp3-Holt Pond1

And I had the good fortune to take it all in at Holt Pond Preserve, where I traveled the trail with two friends. The leaves had gone on strike from their food producing summer job and we rejoiced in the result as they prepared for the dormant season that is on the horizon.

hp1-quaking bog 1

Gold, orange, topaz, crimson, salmon, ruby, gold green, yellow green, gold brown, green brown, gray, white . . .

hp2-swamp maples

even a hint of blue; it was as if we stood in nature’s paint store.

hp4-tire alley

As always when I look at paint chips, I had a difficult time deciding which color to choose.

hp6-tree tops

Stick with a deep red?

hp9-more skyward views

Lean more toward the greens and yellows with a hint of orange and red?

hp7-leaves in brook

Or go with a mosaic–intermixing all that was available?

hp11-button bush

And what about the decorative accents?

hp10-sensitive fern fertile frond

Again, I couldn’t decide . . .

hp13-fireweed

which was my favorite.

hp12-following friends old and new

Nor could my companions, JoAnne and Jen, and so we slowly moved about, filling our hearts and souls with the memory of it all by painting the scene in our minds.

hp17-Grist Mill Road

And smiling at the offerings.

“Autumn, the year’s last, loveliest smile.” ~ William Cullen Bryant

Swamp People

The phone rang as I was getting ready this morning and I don’t usually answer those with IDs such as “Private Caller,” but I did. And that made all the difference. Alanna Doughty was on the other end of the “line” and wanted me to know that this morning’s Lakes Environmental Association walk to explore the wetland plants at Holt Pond was still a go. She also asked if I wanted to borrow a pair of waders. Indeed, I did.

About 30 minutes later a group of eight had gathered at the preserve parking lot despite the raindrops. A few didn’t learn about the event until they read a description in this week’s Bridgton News, and so though they were prepared with raincoats and bug spray, they didn’t have Bogg boots or waders, but Alanna had brought along a few extra pairs and most made do. One gentleman had large feet and said he didn’t mind getting his sneakers wet. Such was the spirit of the morning.

p-red maple swamp

Without much further ado, we stomped down the trail and then slipped off it, through the woods and directly into the red maple swamp . . .

p-blue flag iris

where raindrops enhanced the dainty leaves of the blue-flag iris. Going off trail offers a certain liberating feeling.

p-pitcher plant

It also offers different species. Our movement was interrupted frequently by our findings, and as we stopped to determine the identification of a shrub that stumped us for a while, another plant drew our attention. Holt Pond is home to many pitcher plants, but this one cast its spell upon us for the curvy flower stems and new urn-shaped leaves. Most often, the stems stand stalwart.

p-pitcher spider

The otherworldly flowers protect friendly pollinators from accidentally being consumed. Unlike the pit trap below, aka the urn-shaped or pitcher leaves, the flowers are friendly and provide bees and other insects with nectar and pollen. This morning a spider wandered within, stepping on fallen anthers.

p-pitcher 4

I’ve forever found it a wonder that the extremely large style sits below the rest of the structure in order to capture pollen in its upside-down umbrella shape.

p-pitcher flower 1

Though those flowers have aged, their leathery sepals remained, fading from red to magenta. Below the sepals the large swollen ovary may house as many as 300 tiny seeds.

p-working our way through the swamp

After a long period of admiration, we finally pulled ourselves away and continued our tramp, finding our way through the swamp. And only briefly did we feel fake lost, but knew that wherever we came out, we’d recognize our position and continue the journey.

p-Great St. Johnswort

Among the sphagnum moss grew Great St. Johnswort not yet in flower.

p-slug

And slugs dined.

p-grasses, sedges and rushes

There were maples of course, and gray birches and speckled alders and royal and cinnamon ferns. But, there were also grasses and sedges and maybe even rushes. When at last we left the swamp and found ourselves on Tire Alley, about where we wanted to be, Alanna shared the ditty that helps us to maybe not name a particular species, but at least to know where to begin: Sedges have edges, rushes are round, grasses have joints all the way to the ground. Of course, she passed around examples so everyone could feel the edges of the sedge and see the joints on the grass.

p-Alanna describing hobbleush flowers

Then she stopped to describe the former flower of hobblebush, and I noticed the bouquet in her hand had expanded–her collection intended for further study later in the day.

p-slime mold on birch

We were about to head from the trail into the quaking bog by Holt Pond when Mary Jewett spied a growth on an old birch tree.

p-slime mold 2

My best guess was a slime mold for it looked like the Son of Blob had arrived. She and I both touched it and the outer coating fell off. It was rather creepy.

p-dark green fritillary caterpillars

At that point, we did a 180˚ turn and started out onto the quaking bog, literally, but a few in the front decided it wasn’t quite what they had bargained for since the water was especially deep. So, Alanna and Mary ventured that way and I joined the rest for a walk on the boardwalk, which was wet as well, but a bit more stable. Along the way, we spotted caterpillars actively consuming spirea leaves. Upon later research, I determined they were dark green fritillary caterpillars that will soon metamorph into those beautiful orange butterflies that we often mistake for monarchs. (Note: I spotted a monarch on milkweed not yet in bloom yesterday)

p-bog rosemary

Among the many plants growing on the quaking bog, the bog rosemary stood out with its bluish gray leaves.

p-bog rosemary 1

Newer leaves formed at the top, giving off a reddish hue and adding to their distinctiveness.

p-bog rosemary 2

The netlike venation on the leaves was also noticeable and though the blooms have passed, the pretty pink fruits hadn’t yet matured into brown capsules.

p-sundew with Mary

Since we’d seen the pitcher plants, Mary wanted to find the sundews that grew near the boardwalk. With the high water as a result of a beaver dam on the Muddy River, it’s been  hard to spot the sundews, but she persevered and located one, showing off its glistening tentacles intended to capture small insects. Should one land on the tiny leaf, the insect’s feet become ensnared in the sticky secretion and the end is eminent. Within mere minutes the tentacles curl around the victim and suck the nutrients out of it.

p-snakeskin 1

Meanwhile, Alanna continued to wander off the boardwalk and suddenly she discovered a shed snake skin. I had intended to join her, but I have to say that though I wore hip waders and my feet and legs were mighty dry, I could feel the bog quake with each step and I didn’t get far. Blame it on my camera, but I didn’t want to risk a fall. And do you know that squelchy sound of pulling a foot out of several inches of mud? That’s how it was when I tried to get back on the boardwalk. It’s not just a few plants that are carnivorous–it’s the entire bog.

p-snake skin 1

Never fear. We all survived and she brought the skin back for us to admire.

p-black chokeberry 1

We stayed on the boardwalk and trail as we finally looped back and still, there was much to see. The shrub that had stumped us when we first spotted the pitcher plant in the red maple swamp suddenly spoke its name and we knew we were looking at the fruits of the black chokeberry. Only a week or two ago we’d admired their flowers.

p-serviceberry 2

And then there was the berry that reminded us of a rose hip, as it should for it was in the rose family.

p-service berry gall?

Its ripening pomes will eventually turn purplish-black. But . . . we spied something we weren’t familiar with at all–do you see the growth on one? It rather reminded me of the Son of Blob slime mold we’d seen earlier and must have been a gall. Nature certainly provides as many questions as answers.

p-Northern Arrowwood

All spring and summer the flowers of the bog change by the week, or so it seems. This week, the Northern arrowwood was showing off its creamy-white blooms.

p-sheep laurel 2

And the sheep laurel, its fuchsia-colored blossoms.

p-bog monster web

For three hours we oohed and aahed and had great fun. We made one last stop before returning to the parking lot for the spirit in the hemlock called out to us–seemingly doing its own oohing and aahing.

Such were the offerings of the preserve this morning. And the people who gathered . . . I only knew Alanna and Mary before we began, but because of our shared experience the group was quite chummy by the time we were ready to depart. That’s what I love about walks such as this where complete strangers become instant friends, even if it’s only in the moment.

Swamp people . . . don’t mind rain or mosquitoes or wet feet. Swamp people . . . get to move where the spirit takes them. Swamp people . . .  find joy and wonder along the way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fawning with Wonder

Though fawning is most oft used to describe someone who is over the top in the flattery department (think old school brown nose), the term is derived from the Old English fægnian, meaning “rejoice, exult, be glad.”

I just knew it was going to be that kind of day when I drove toward Holt Pond Preserve this morning. First, on Route 302, a deer dashed in front of my truck–and I avoided hitting it by mere inches. (And being hit by the woman who was smack dab on my tail.) Then, as I drove up to the summit of Perley Road, a red fox crossed my path.

To top off my feeling of gladness, in the preserve’s parking lot I met up with the most gracious of hostesses, Lake Environmental Association‘s Education Director Alanna Doughty, and the ever delightful host, Loon Echo Land Trust‘s Stewardship Director Jon Evans. Those two dynamos had joined forces to lead a public walk that looped all the way around Holt Pond. Joining the group was a gentleman named Bob and two others–my dear friends Faith and Ben Hall. The Halls had arrived at their summer camp recently and this was my first opportunity to welcome them home. After intros and a discussion about how the two organizations have collaborated on projects including Holt Pond, along with an explanation of how they differ (LEA is about water science and protecting our precious lakes and ponds, while LELT is about protecting the uplands and lowlands that surround the watershed), we headed off on our adventure.

p-oak apple gall 1

Within minutes, a small, rubbery green ball, about the size of a ping pong ball, caught our attention. This was the result of an apple oak gall female wasp (yes, there is such a species) that crawled up the tree trunk of a Northern red oak earlier in the spring and injected an egg into the center vein of a newly emerged leaf. As the larva grew, it caused a chemical reaction and mutated the leaf to form a gall around it. The leaf provided the larva sustenance. Had we left it alone, once it matured into a wasp, it would have sawed its way out through a small escape hole.

p-oak apple gall 2

Because we were curious, however, Alanna split it open so everyone could see the spoke-like structure hidden inside, that provided support for the developing insect.

I shared with the group a little tidbit I learned last fall in Ireland. When working on the manuscript for the Book of Kells, monks used these galls for the color green, soaking them in beer or mead to create a dye.

p-Alanna and Jon

That set the stage and from there on, we paused periodically to wonder, though I think we said at one point that we wanted to get all the way around before 1pm. But there’s so much to see that we had to stop. And because the pitcher plants grow beside the boardwalk, it was hard to ignore them. Being Alanna, she got down on her knees to talk about how this carnivorous plant functions, enticing insects into its pitcher-like leaves that are filled with water and digestive enzymes. Because of downward-sloping hairs  on the leaf, insects can’t climb out and eventually they succumb–allowing the plant to break them down and absorb their nutrients.

p-pitcher plants flowering

Today, the pitcher’s flowers were beginning to bloom.

p-Indian Cucumber Root

As our journey continued, we stopped to admire other flowers including the Indian Cucumber Root,

p-jack in the pulpit

Jack in the Pulpit,

p-lady's 1

and pink lady’s slipper.

p-Faith on beech

To show off the contorted growth of a tree, Faith graciously took a brief break at the beech.

p-greater bladder sedge

While Jon shared a lot of information about South Bridgton’s historical past, Alanna enlightened us on the works of nature, including the bladder sedge with its inflated, teardrop-shaped sacs that enclose its fruit. Though common, like the pitcher plant flowers, it’s otherworldly in form.

p-nannyberry?

And then we got stumped by one shrub we should have known. Witherod (wild raisin) or Nannyberry? We decided on the latter for a couple of reasons–the petioles (stems) of the leaves were somewhat winged and the veins beneath the leaves were not scurfy. Scurfy? That was a new term for me–meaning rough to the touch or covered with scales.

p-Bob, Alanna, Faith 1

As our journey continued, we passed lots of hobblebush in the understory. But not to be missed were the witch hazels. And more galls, this time the witch’s cap that grows on their leaves and forms a cone-shaped structure much like a witch’s cap. How fitting that the Witch Hazel Cone Gall Aphid (Hormaphis hamamelidis) chose this particular shrub. Having caused the leaf to form a gall around her, mother aphid stayed inside, where she’s protected as she feeds and reproduces.

p-porky 1

During our journey, we shared brains and eyes. I’m thankful for others who thought to look up, and spotted a porcupine looking down.

p-grouse bath

We also looked down, spying the spot where a bird took a dust bath.

p-grouse bath feather

In this case, it was the work of a ruffed grouse that wanted to rid itself of lice and mites. A stray feather was also left behind. Do you see it?

p-fawn 3

But our best find of all–a young fawn curled up beside the trail. I was leading and talking at the time and didn’t even see it. Faith quietly called me back and I was sure she wanted to show me a snake. We paused quickly to take a few photos and this babe never flinched, obeying its mother’s order to stay put while she went off to feed. (I used to try that at the end of the aisle in a grocery store when my guys were young–but they did their fair share of flinching.)

We’d been blessed–and we all rejoiced while fawning with wonder.

 

 

 

Dodging the Drops Mondate

A friend called this afternoon and her first comment was that she didn’t know if she’d reach me given that it was a Monday. She’d thought about the weather, but figured it wouldn’t bother us and we’d probably be in the woods somewhere. How right she was–and her call came just after we’d returned home.

h-trail sign

Our mission was a work date on the Southern Shore Trail at Lake Environmental Association’s Holt Pond Preserve. For a number of years, we’ve maintained this section of trail between the last boardwalk just below Knapp Road in South Bridgton and “the field” near the southern tip of Holt Pond. It’s a section that was an Eagle Scout project years ago and we’d helped in creating it, so it’s been our pleasure to keep it clear of fallen trees and branches. Thankfully, this section isn’t traveled often and we rarely find any manmade debris.

h-wild turkey feathers

Immediately we did find some bird debris and wondered what happened to the turkey. A few other feathers were scattered, but we didn’t look further, so we don’t know if there was more to this story.

h-following the wall

Loppers in hand, we turned at the stonewall, and entered the enchanted forest, for that’s how it feels . . .

h-green lichens:mosses

especially given so many shades of green. And a few openings that would make perfect entry points for wee inhabitants.

h-hemlock varnish shelf 1

We moved along at a rather brisk pace (in my opinion, that is, though when I mentioned it to my guy, he brought up other times when we’ve moved much more quickly.) But, I did what I do, and while he picked up sticks and dragged downed trees out of the way, I looked around to see what I might see, like the varnish shelf fungi on a hemlock tree. I questioned myself with this ID because it looked similar to a red-belted polypore, both featuring a glossy lacquer-like sheen and concentric zones of red, yellow and white. But, it grew on a hemlock and I should have snapped an old specimen that was on the ground below. I know if I’m wrong, Parker and Jimmy Veitch of White Mountain Mushrooms and Maine Master Naturalist Alan Seamans will all correct me. If that’s the case, I’ll add a note to this post.

h-Broad gill, more sombero like in nature

I could hear the mushrooms and the mushroom gurus singing praises to the rain gods, given this spring’s rain. And I’m going out on a limb again with broad gill (Tricholomopsis platyphylla) as an ID for this one. (NOTE: from Parker–“The Megacollybia (Tricholomopsis) platyphylla is Entoloma vernum [group])

h-swamp beacon 1

There with others, but my favorite of all–swamp beacons lighting the way through puddles.

h-Holt Pond toward Quaking Bog

At last we made our way to an outlook spot with its view of Holt Pond. Across the way, the quaking bog (where the trees are tallest on the left) and Muddy River outlet (just to the right of those tall trees).

h-into the field

And then we continued through the hemlock forest and on to the field, our turn-around point. Again, we shared memories–of our first reconnaissance mission with Bridie McGreavy when she was LEA’s education director and we decided to take on the task of maintaining the trail. The three of us headed out on a winter day when the snow was deep and soft. Bridie and I were smart–we let my guy cut trail. I’m sure we jumped in front once in a while, but he led the way most of the time and was exhausted by the time we finished. So were we 😉

h-field 1

There were a few years when we drove in from Fosterville Road, making it easier to bring in bigger equipment to keep the field trail open. Today, I counted the whorls on the white pines in order to age them–they’re at least fifteen years old.

h-field pines

And loving this rainy season–as evidenced by their recent growth.

h-sweetfern 1

The field is also full of wild strawberries, raspberries, gray birch and sweet-ferns like this–all early succession species.

h-big tooth leaves

On the edge, young big-toothed aspen are slowly getting established. It’s been our great fortune to watch the evolution from field to forest at this almost hidden gem.

h-parasol

As we backtracked and listened not only to the sweet songs of vireos and veerys, but also to  raindrops sprinkling upon the canopy before drifting down to the understory, we were thankful for our raincoats. A parasol might have been handy, but we weren’t soaked by the time we arrived back at the truck. Somehow, we managed to dodge the drops on our Mondate.

 

Walking with Ursula

No matter when or where I walk, Ursula Duve is always along. She sees what I see, smells what I smell, feels what I feel, tastes what I taste and knows way more than I’ll ever know.

h-Ursula 2

And so it was today that a bunch of us followed this delightful little woman as she led us down the trail at Lakes Environmental Association’s Holt Pond Preserve.

h-sign

We gathered in the parking lot, where the black flies tried to swallow us whole. But, we got the better of them and practiced mind over matter. Of course, bug spray and our flailing arms helped–or at least made us feel as if it was worth the effort.

h-wild oats 1

After an introductory greeting from LEA’s teacher/naturalist Mary Jewett, we stopped frequently as Ursula shared stories of plants and life. You see, she was born in Hamburg, Germany, and grew up during WWII so she has quite a few memories flowing through her system, but as she reminded us, with the bad comes the good. And the good comes from moments she associates with wildflowers, like this bellwort.

h-painted trillium

Having lived in the United States for 50+ years now, with the last nineteen in Maine, Ursula considers herself a Mainer despite her German accent because she loves it here. And she knows when and where each flower will bloom, such as the painted trillium.

h-chokeberry buds

Even those not yet in bloom drew her attention–this being a chokeberry along the first boardwalk.

h-pitcher 3

One of the finds Ursula enjoys sharing with others is the pitcher plant, a perennial herb with pitcher-shaped leaves. We noted that this particular one sported new flower buds.

h-pitcher flower

And on another, the otherworldly shape of last year’s now woody flower capsule–its job completed.

h-pitcher plant 1

Ursula is as awed as I am by the power of the pitcher plants. Color, scent (that I’ve never smelled) and nectar in glands near the top of the pitcher leaf attract insects. Once inside, those downward-pointing hairs make it difficult to leave. So what happens next? The insect eventually drowns in the rainwater, decomposes and is digested by the plant’s liquid, which turns phosphorus and nitrogen released by the insect into supplemental nutrients for the surrounding peat. Interestingly, no “joules” or units of energy are passed on through this process to the plant itself. The plant gathers its energy through the process of photosynthesis instead.

h-rhodora 1

As we continued, we were wowed once again–this time by the sight of the showy rhodora. Rhodora flowers fully before its leaves emerge and so today they were but small nubs located alternately along the shrub’s branches.

h-rhodora 3

But those flowers–oh my! The rose-purple bloom has what’s considered two lips–with the upper consisting of three lobes and the lower of two. And each produces ten purple-tipped stamen surrounding the pistil, where the pollen will germinate into a many-seeded capsule.

h-leatherleaf

Like the rhodora, another member of the heath family in bloom was the leatherleaf–with bell-shaped flowers formed in leaf axils and dangling below the stem as if it was laundry hung out to dry. One way to differentiate this plant from the highbush blueberries that can be found throughout the preserve, are the alternate, upward-pointing leaves, which decrease in size as your eye moves toward the tip of the stem.

h-honeysuckle 1

Just before we stepped out onto the Quaking Bog boardwalk, Mary pointed out a native honeysuckle. In my memory bank, I couldn’t remember ever seeing it before, and if I had, well . . . I was glad to make its acquaintance again.

h-green frog 2

And then we stepped onto the boardwalk. Folks up front paused to admire a green snake, while those of us in the back noticed a green frog. It stayed as calm as possible in hopes that we wouldn’t see it. Nice try.

H-Holt Pond

Like all ponds and lakes right now, the water level remains high and so walking the boardwalk meant wet hiking boots.

h-quaking bog 2

But that didn’t stop some of us. Fortunately, mine are waterproof.

h-green frog

Just before we stepped from the boardwalk back onto land, I saw that the frog was still there.

h-hobblebush flowers 1

On the trail again, another showy flower called for our attention–hobblebush.

h-hobblebush 1

While some looked fresh, others were beginning to pass and their fruits will soon form. We noted the sterile outer blooms that surround the inner array of small fertile flowers. And a beetle paying a visit.

h-Mayfly1

Speaking of insects, a slight movement on the ground pulled us earthward.

h-mayfly 2

We’d found a Mayfly–perhaps just emerged and its wings drying.

h-Indian Cucumber root 1

In the last wooded section we would cover for the day, we noticed that the two-tiered Indian Cucumber Roots have a few buds. I can’t wait for them to flower soon.

h-goldthread 2

Among the flowers that I’ll always associate with Ursula because she’s the first to have introduced me to them, is the goldthread, so named for its golden-colored root. We usually identify it by its cilantro-shaped leaves, but right now the dainty flowers are not to be missed. What looks like petals are actually sepals and there can be five to seven of them. And stamen–many. Goldthread can feature 5-25 stamen.

h-goldthread 3

Even the number of yellow-and-green pistils can vary from three to seven. Ah nature–forever making us think.

h-dwarf ginseng 1

The other plant I associate with Ursula is dwarf ginseng. Its explosive umbel consists of many flowers. And in this one, a dining crab spider.

h-spring tail wave

Finally, we found our way to Grist Mill Road and headed back toward the parking lot. But even on the road we found something to wonder about when one member of our group pointed to the curvy black design. In the past, I’ve always dismissed it as some sort of mineral associated with the dirt.

h-spring tails on sand1

Today, I learned it was none other than those good old spring tails or snow fleas we associate with late winter, but are really present all year. Something new to notice going forward.

h-Ursula1

At the end of our walk we all gave thanks to Mary and Ursula. We’d come away with refreshers and new learnings.

And we’d been reminded by Ursula that though she and her husband, Wolfgang, can no longer get out as often as they’d like, after sixty years of marriage they still have fun reminiscing about their many explorations together. A goal for all of us to set.

Most often this wildflower and bird enthusiast walks vicariously with me as she reads my blog entries, but today it was my immense pleasure to walk with her. Thank you, Ursula, for once again sharing your love of all things natural with the rest of us . . . and your optimistic philosophy of life.

Oh and a question for Wolfgang, while Ursula walked with us, did you get on the treadmill?

Knowing Our Place

It doesn’t matter how many times I explore the same space, I’m always amazed at the opportunity to learn something new. And so it happened at the Holt Pond Preserve this very morning. It’s one of my favorite hangouts in western Maine on any day, but today–it added some new notches to the layers of appreciation and understanding.

h-willow

Because  Grist Mill Road that bisects part of the preserve serves as part of the snowmobile trail in the winter, parking occurs on the sharp curve that marks the end of Perley Road and beginning of Chaplin Mill Road. (You have to know you are moving from one road to the next because there are no road signs.) A couple of parking spots have been plowed and its from those that this first sight was viewed. I was a bit confused when I saw alder catkins and cones, with pussy willows growing among them. On the same shrub? Shouldn’t be. And it wasn’t. Rather, a closer look cleared the confusion when I realized that the two shrubs favor the ditch at the edge of Emerald Field.

h-tingley-brook

I was with Alanna Doughty, Education Director for Lakes Environmental Association and our intention was to focus on tracks. But . . . we suffer from Nature Distraction Disorder, thank goodness, and so our NDD forced us to notice all things, including the beauty that is Tingley Brook.

h-moss-green

And the way the snow and morning sun enhanced the color of mosses decorating old maple trees.

h-green-ash

The mosses weren’t the only shade of green in the neighborhood. A young ash tree angled across the path and its D-shaped leaf scar helped us identify it as a green ash.

h-beaver-dam-1

As we moved along, we spied a new beaver dam and began to notice their works in the vicinity.

h-beaver-chews-near-dam-1

We know what trees they chose for construction.

h-beaver-on-beech

And we wondered why they didn’t finish the job on this beech tree. Will they return? Only time will tell.

h-squirrel-works

Though we periodically saw downed hemlock twigs, some appeared to be wind drops. But, these drew us in for closer inspection.

h-squirrel-nibble

Through a hand lens, we spied the works of a different mammal–in this case, red squirrel. Ends of twigs were cut and dropped and then their buds nipped. But that wasn’t all we noticed. We were wowed by the petioles and how those little stems attached the needles to the twigs. And the tiny warts on the twigs. And . . . and . . . and. Who knew there was so much to admire about a hemlock twig?

h-beaver-dam-2

We continued on, turning from the brook to Muddy River, where  a larger and older beaver dam easily identified itself given the snow cover.

h-canoe

We followed some indiscernible tracks of a perfect walker and then lost them by the time we reached the canoes–also hiding under the white blanket.

h-red-maple-swamp

At the canoes we could have turned and found our way out, but ever curious, we continued on toward the red maple swamp. And then we decided to take a different course. Rather than follow the boardwalk, our usual pathway, we took advantage of the current conditions and decided to walk through the swamp toward the Muddy River. Earlier, we’d noted that a snowmobile had passed along the river and though we’d questioned the choice of its driver, we felt a compelling drive to take in the view from a different vantage point.

h-lodge-1a

With that in mind, and all caution thrown to the wind, we crossed the Muddy River to take a closer look at the beaver lodge we normally admire from a nearby boardwalk.

h-lodge-5

h-beaver-lodge-3

h-beaver-lodge-back-side

We took it in from all sides, noting the fresh saplings added during fall reconstruction, as well as the mud. It was a warm day–and we wondered if we might have seen steam rising had the temperature been colder.

h-muddy-river-from-lodge

It was from here that we looked back across the river to the hemlock hummock and boardwalk area where we normally stand. There was a certain satisfaction in being on the other side for a change.

h-tamarack-2

When we made our way back to the red maple swamp, a little tree drew our attention. Small in stature, yet big in personality is the tamarack or Eastern larch. It’s our only deciduous conifer and somehow we’d missed its existence in the swamp all these years, perhaps because we don’t often actually walk through the swamp. While larches have needles, they typically turn yellow and then drop, leaving behind a winter form that yields horizontal branches with nubs.

h-tamarack-cones

We noted that though the fruits reminded us of hemlock cones, on the larch they stand upright in contrast to those that dangle on their cousin’s branches.

h-holt-pond-and-bear-trap

Once we realized we were looking at larches, we started to see them everywhere. Finally, we pulled ourselves back to the river’s edge and continued our journey to Holt Pond.

h-holt-pond-outlet-2

Again, we found tracks that had been bleached out by the warm sun of the last few days, but we surmised a member of the weasel family had bounded along, crossing the outlet of Holt Pond.

h-alanna-1

We crossed the quaking bog, home to spaghnum moss, pitcher plants, sundews, cranberries, and so much more. But our attraction was overwhelmingly to today’s tree of choice–more larches.

h-tamarack-lichens-1

While we appreciated the young ones, we were completely in awe of the grandparents, who had grown long beards and supported a variety of barnacles in the form of lichens.

h-variety

Foliose and fruticose, they added texture and color to the presentation.

h-tamarack-winter-twig

Some describe the branches as wart-like, but we saw roses.

h-tamarack-lichen-maze

And a composition of structure and age and growth that spoke to an art form.

h-alanna-at-tamarack

All warranted further examination.

h-barbed-wire-on-tamarack

And then we realized there was also another sign of the tree’s history–barbed wired wrapped around and growing through the trunk. Stonewalls in one section of the preserve speak to a former farmer’s need to keep livestock from entering the swamp. But the barbed wire was a distance from the walls and quite far out in the swamp and so we wondered who had placed it there and why.

h-nest-2

At last it was time to turn back. And as we moved closer to shore and the speckled alders, a bird’s nest made itself known. Grasses, cattails and leaves were woven into the structure that was securely attached to the shrub’s branches.

h-layers

Before following the river back to the woodland trail, where we realized some tracks we’d followed earlier were those of a bobcat, we looked at the layers from the swamp to shrubs to deciduous trees to conifers to blue sky and clouds–and the colors mixed within.

And we knew that we’d shared an appreciation for the time –getting to know each other and our place better.

 

 

 

 

Inching Along With Jinny Mae

Jinny Mae is a slow poke. Me too. And so today, we moved at slow-poke speed and covered maybe a mile in total.

h-yellow-necked caterpillar

We traveled a trail I frequent at Holt Pond Preserve, but I had the opportunity to view it through her eyes. That meant, of course, that we shared identical photos because we always pause to focus on the same thing. I trust, however, that our perspective was a wee bit different–as it should be. For isn’t that what makes us individuals?

Speaking of individuals, we saw only one of these yellow-necked caterpillars. I didn’t know its name until I looked it up later. Apparently, the adult is a reddish-brown moth. And this is a defense position–indeed.

h-Royal fern

And then the royal fern forced us to pay attention. The fertile blade of a royal fern typically looks similar to a sterile blade, but has a very distinctive cluster of sporangia-bearing pinnules at the blade tips that appear rather crown-like. What to our wondering eyes did we spy–sporangia on lower pinnules. Did this fern not read the books? We checked the rest of the royal ferns along the path and never saw another like this one.

h-entering pitchter

One of our next reasons to pause–those wonderful pitcher plants that always invite a closer look. We weren’t the only ones checking them out.

h-entering the pitcher

A yellow jacket was also lured by the smell of sweet nectar. A walk down the leaves was probably the last walk those insects took. Inevitably, they’d slip to the bottom of the pitcher where a pool of water awaited. There, they either drowned or died from exhaustion while trying to escape since the downward pointing hairs prevent such from happening. Eventually, after the insect bodies break down, the plant will access the nitrogen and phosphorus contained within each bug. I can’t visit this preserve without spending time in awe of the pitcher plants.

h-spread-winged damselfly

Damselflies and dragonflies also made us stop. We had walked on the boardwalk across the quaking bog. A spread-winged damsel posed beside Holt Pond. When at rest, it spreads its wings, unlike typical damselfly behavior.

h- darner dragonfly

We watched as the darner dragonflies zoomed about, just above the water and vegetation at the pond’s edge. Occasionally, one hovered close by–just long enough for a quick photo opp.

h-jack in the pulpit

As we continued back along the main trail, Jinny Mae spied a Jack-in-the-Pulpit. The fertilized flower cluster had produced green berries. Soon, they should ripen to a bright red before dispersing their seeds. If the thrushes and rodents are savvy, they’ll enjoy some fine dining. These are not, however, people food. Oxalic acid in the root and stems may cause severe gastric problems.

h-purple aster

In the same spot near Sawyer Brook, we admired the purple flowerhead of swamp asters. Within the flower disk, the five-lobed florets have started their transition from yellow to dull red.

h-jewelweed

With Jinny Mae’s guidance, I was able to take a decent photo of a jewelweed. I love the spurred sac that extends backward. And noted that a small seed capsule had formed. JM is from the Midwest and refers to this as Touch-Me-Not because that capsule will burst open and fling seeds if touched. You say potAto, I say potAHto. We’re both right. As we always are 100% of the time–insert smiley face.

h-inch worm

It was another three-hour tour filled with many ohs and ahs, lots of wonder, a few questions, several considerations and even some answers.

h-inching along

Inching along with Jinny Mae. Always worth the time and pace.

Halting Beside Holt Pond

Halting–prone to pauses or breaks. I didn’t break, but I certainly was prone to pauses as I moved along the trails and boardwalks at the Holt Pond Preserve in South Bridgton this afternoon.

h-pitcher flower2

One of my first stops–to admire the pitcher plant flowers in their August form.

h-pitcher  flower up close

When I took a closer look, I realized that the seeds were developing–certainly a WOW moment in the world of wonder.

h-buttonbush.jpg

The global seed heads of buttonbush also demanded to be noticed. Upon each head are at least two hundred flowers that produce small nutlets. What strikes me as strange is the fact that this plant is a member of the coffee family. Maine coffee–local brew; who knew?

h-Muddy across

At the Muddy River, the water level reflected what is happening throughout the region–another case of “Honey, I shrunk the kids.” It’s downright scary.

h-speckled bug and speckles

Both by the river and on the way to the quaking bog, this wetland features a variety of shrubs, including one of my many favorites, speckled alder. Check out the speckles–those warty bumps (aka lenticels or pores) that allow for gas exchange. And the new bud covered in hair.

h-speckled alder catkins

This shrub is so ready for next year–as evidenced by the slender, cylindrical catkins that are already forming. This is the male feature of the shrub.

h-speckled cones new

It also bears females–or fruiting cones filled with winged seeds.

h-speckled old cones

It’s not unusual for last year’s woody cones or female catkins to remain on the shrub for another year.

h-cranberries

Whenever I visit, it seems there’s something to celebrate–including ripening cranberries.

h-cotton grass

Common Cotton-grass dotted the sphagnum bog and looked as if someone had tossed a few cotton balls about. Today, they blew in the breeze and added life to the scene. Note to self–cotton-grass is actually a sedge. And sedges have edges.

h-holt pond left

Just like the Muddy River, Holt Pond was also obviously low. Perhaps the lowest I’ve ever seen. At this spot, I spent a long time watching dragonflies. They flew in constant defense of their territories.

h-slaty skimmer, male

Male slaty skimmers were one of the few that posed for photo opps.

h-canoe on pond

As I watched the dragonflies flit about along the shoreline and watched and watched some more, I noticed a couple of fishermen making use of the LEA canoe. I don’t know if they caught any fish, but I heard and saw plenty jumping and swimming. Well, a few anyway. And something even skimmed across the surface of the water–fish, snake, frog?

h-rose hips.jpg

Rose hips by the pond’s edge reminded me of my father. He couldn’t pass by a rose bush without sampling the hips–especially along the shoreline in Clinton, Connecticut.

h-pond toward 5 Fields

The view toward Five Fields Farm was equally appealing.

h-pickerel frog

And then I moved down tire alley, which always provides frequent sightings of pickerel frogs. I’m never disappointed.

h-golden spindle

At the transition from a red maple swamp to a hemlock grove, golden spindles embraced a white pine sapling as if offering a bright light on any and all issues.

h-hairy woodpecker

In this same transitional zone, a female hairy woodpecker announced her presence.

h-green frog

When I crossed Sawyer Brook, green frogs did what they do best–hopped into the water and then remained still. Do they really think that I don’t see them?

h-hobblebush berries

At last, I walked out to Grist Mill Road and made my way back. One of my favorite surprises was the amount of hobblebush berries on display.

h-meadowhawk

Walking on the dirt road gave me the opportunity for additional sights–a meadowhawk posed upon a steeplebush;

h-chicken

chicken of the woods fungi grew on a tree trunk;

h-chipmunk

and a chipmunk paused on alert.

h-American Woodcock

But the best find of the day–one that caused me to halt on the road as I drove out of LEA’s Holt Pond Preserve–an American Woodcock.

Worth a wonder! And a pause. Certainly a reason to halt frequently at Holt Pond.

 

 

 

The Main(e) Exotics

If you’ve traveled with me before, you know that I often frequent the same trails. And so it was today. Oh, there was a change-up in the early morning hours when I joined a couple of members of the Lakes Environmental staff to oversee a volunteer project by the Rotary Club. Rotary members from around the state and beyond (think Argentina) spent four hours clearing a new trail we’d laid out at LEA’s Maine Lake Science Center. They provided humor and hardwork hand-in-hand.

And then a friend and I drove to LEA’s Holt Pond Preserve where everything was in exotic mode.

oak g 3

One of our first finds was an apple oak gall about the size of a golf ball. So, the apple oak gall female wasp (yes, there is such a species) crawled up the tree trunk of a Northern red oak in early spring and injected an egg into the center vein of a newly emerged leaf. As the larvae grew, it caused a chemical reaction and mutated the leaf to form a gall around it that provided sustenance.

oak g 5

Recently, the wasp drilled its way out and probably found a mate.

oak gall 1

All that remained–wispy fibers.

blue 3

Along the first boardwalk in the red maple swamp we found Northern blue flag iris in bloom. Flag irises are wild irises that tend to grow in boggy areas. Unlike the irises that grow in our gardens, they don’t have beards. The venation of the gracefully downturned sepals was intense–the better to attract pollinators.

snake2

We moved from the swamp to the first hemlock hummock and chatted about natural communities when suddenly we realize we were being hissed at.

snake 10

Its coloration threw us off and beautiful though it was, the hairs on the back of our necks stood on end. Apparently we made it feel likewise. And so we retreated. We retraced our steps and decided to complete the same loop in the opposite direction. When I got home, I looked it up and realized that it was a common garter, but really, there didn’t seem anything common about it in the moment.

hemlock v

Because we backtracked, we were treated to fresh and older hemlock varnish shelf fungi that  we may not have seen otherwise.

hemlock v 6

We know where they’re located. F0r big $$ we might (MIGHT) show you.

park 1

Later on, as we left, we recognized a friend’s vehicle in the parking lot. Our question–did he see what we saw?

pitcher 9

Throughout the preserve we found one of our favorite plants that in my book is the most exotic of them all.

pitcher 3

The carnivorous pitcher plant obtains nitrogen and phosphorus by eating insects. Its oddly shaped leaf forms a unique pitcher partly filled with water and digestive enzymes. The spout is a hairy landing platform for insects attracted by its red venation and nectar glands. Imagine this: An insect crawls to the edge of the leaf, aka pitcher, slips on the downward-sloping hairs and plunges into the liquid below where enzymes and bacteria break it down. Any chance for escape are zapped by those stiff hairs. Oh my.

pitcher & sundew1

The pitcher plant isn’t the only carnivorous plant that thrives here. Check out the glistening tentacles of the sundew intended to capture small insects like a mosquito. Should one land on the tiny leaf, its feet become ensnared in the sticky secretion and the end is eminent. YES! Within mere minutes the tentacles curl around the victim and suck the nutrients out of it. Go sundews. Go pitcher plants.

sheep 4

Only beginning to bloom was sheep laurel with its deep crimson-pink flowers. Located below the newly emerged leaves, each flower has five sepals, with a corolla of five fused petals and ten stamens fused to the corolla. Beauty and danger are also encompassed here–it contains a chemical that is poisonous to wild animals, thus one of its common names is lamb kill.

exo 1

Because we were beside the pond, we thought to look for dragonfly exoskeletons and weren’t disappointed.

broad-tailed shadow dragonfly

And the dragonflies themselves were worth our attention. I’m not sure my ID is correct, so help me out if you know better, but I think this is a broad-tailed shadowdragon and if that’s true it is one that Maine is paying attention to because it only occurs in one or two states.

beaverpond clubtail dragonfly

Another that I name without certainty–beaverpond club tail.

ebony 2

I’m much more confident about my ID of this ebony jewelwing damselfly.

cuke 7

We found a double-decker Indian cucumber root that displayed flowers in varying stages. The yellow or green-yellow flowers drooped below the upper leaf whorl and as is their custom, were slightly hidden. Each flower had three long, brown styles in the center that curved outward and the stamens were magenta.

LEA boats

Among the unnatural offerings, a few boats to explore the river and pond. Though we noted a couple of paddles and one pfd, we highly recommend you bring your own.

LEA 2

Some extra duck tape is also a good choice just in case. 😉

HP view1

Like the ever-changing reflection, life changes constantly at Holt Pond. The more I look, the more I realize how exotic life is in Maine. Who knew?

Three Times A Charm

One might think that following the same loop through the woods in slow motion three times in one day would be boring. One would be wrong. My friend Joan and I can certainly attest this fact.

Round One: 9 am, Wildflower and Bird Walk with Lakes Environmental Association co-led by birder/naturalist Mary Jewett of LEA and the ever delightful botanist Ursula Duve.

h-hobblebush

In abundance here, the hobblebush bouquet–a snowy-white flower that is actually an inflorescence, or lacy cluster of tiny fertile flowers surrounded by a halo of showy, yet sterile bracts. Yeah, so I’ve showed you this before. And I’ll probably show it again. Each presentation is a wee bit different.

h-beech cotyledon1ph

And then we spied something that I’ve suddenly seen almost every day this week.

h-beech coty 4ph

The cotyledon or seed leaf of an American beech. Prior to Monday, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen this and yet, since then I’ve continued to discover them almost every day. Worth a wonder.

h-beech coty 3ph

Think about it. The journey from seed to tree can be a dangerous one as the root is sent down through the leaf litter in search of moisture. Since the root system is shallow, lack of moisture can mean its demise. When conditions are right, a new seedling with a rather strange, yet beautiful appearance surfaces. The seed leaves of the beech, aka cotyledons, are leathery and wavy-margined. They contain stored food and will photosynthesize until the true leaves develop, providing a head start for the tree. I realize now that I’ve seen them all my life in other forms, including maple trees, oak trees and vegetables. But . . . the beech cotyledon captures my sense of wonder right now, especially as it reminds me of a luna moth, which I have yet to see this year.

h-green frog 2

Crossing the first boardwalk through the red maple swamp, a large male green frog tried to hide below us. Notice the large circular formation behind his eye. That’s the tympanum, his visible external ear. A male’s tympanum is much larger than his eye.

h-rhodora ph1

Other red maple swamp displays included the showy flowers of rhodora and their woody capsules.

h-rhodora1

Ralph Waldo Emerson knew the charm of this spring splendor:

The Rhodora

On being asked, whence is the flower.
In May, when sea-winds pierced our solitudes,
I found the fresh Rhodora in the woods,
Spreading its leafless blooms in a damp nook,
To please the desert and the sluggish brook.
The purple petals fallen in the pool
Made the black water with their beauty gay;
Here might the red-bird come his plumes to cool,
And court the flower that cheapens his array.
Rhodora! if the sages ask thee why
This charm is wasted on the earth and sky,
Tell them, dear, that, if eyes were made for seeing,
Then beauty is its own excuse for Being;
Why thou wert there, O rival of the rose!
I never thought to ask; I never knew;
But in my simple ignorance suppose
The self-same power that brought me there, brought you.

h-LEA group

To avoid getting our feet too wet, we spread out as we walked on the boardwalk through the quaking bog.

h-five morning

Morning light highlighted the layers from the pond and sphagnum pond up to Five Fields Farm and Bear Trap above.

h-trill 1

And because it was ever present, I couldn’t resist pausing to admire the painted trillium once again (don’t tell my guy).

h-dwarf ginseng1ph

One plant that I will always associate with this place and Ursula, who first introduced me to it years ago, is the dwarf ginseng. I love its global spray of flowers and compound leaves. But maybe what I love most is its beauty in diminutive form–just like Ursula.

Round Two: Noon, Lunch and a walk with my dear friend Joan.

h-bigtooth aspen

After returning to our vehicles following the morning walk, Joan and I grabbed our lunches. And I paused in the parking lot to enjoy the silvery fuzziness of big tooth aspen leaves. The quaking aspen in our yard leafed out a couple of weeks ago, but big tooth aspen leaves are just emerging. Like others, they begin life with a hairy approach–perhaps as a protective coating while they get a start on life?

h-muddy riverlunch

We ate lunch beside Muddy River where the spring colors were reflected in the water.

h-blueberries 1ph

And then we heard something jump in the water, so we moved silently like foxes as we tried to position ourselves and gain a better view. In the back of our minds, or perhaps the front, we wanted to see a turtle, beaver or especially an otter. Not to be. But we did see highbush blueberries in flower.

h-bee 1

And the bees that pollinate them.

h-pitcher 5ph

In their out-of-this universe form, we knelt down to honor the pitcher plant blossoms that grow along a couple of boardwalks.

h-red maple samaras

We were wowed by the color of the red maple samaras,

h-red winged

prominent shoulder patch of the red-winged blackbird,

h-cranberries

and cranberries floating on the quaking bog.

h-lone larch

And then our eyes were drawn to the green–of the lone larch or tamarack tree

h-green 9ph

and the green frogs.

h-green 8ph

I spent some time getting to know one better.

h-green 3

She even climbed out to accommodate me–I’m sure that’s why she climbed up onto the boardwalk.

h-green 6

Or maybe she knew he was nearby. What a handsome prince.

Round Three: 2:30pm, Joan and I (co-coordinators of the Maine Master Naturalist Bridgton 2016 class) were joined by another MMNP grad, Pam Davis Green, who will lead our June field trip to explore natural communities at Holt Pond.

h-striped maple flower

h-spriped flowers 2

Cascading down from the striped maple leaves, we saw their flowers, which had alluded us on our first two passages.

h-speckled 2

The cottony white masses of wooly alder aphids decorated many of the speckled alders in the preserve. In a symbiotic relationship, ants stroke the aphid with their antennae, while  the aphid releases a drop of honeydew, much like a cow being milked. It’s actually rather creepy.

h-duck

Two Canada Geese squawked from another part of the pond, but Mrs. Mallard stood silently by.

h-tree pants

Our final sight brought a smile to our faces–someone put his or her pants on upside down!

We hope that charms your fancy. Joan and I were certainly charmed by our three loops around and those we got to share the trail with today.

We also want to thank Ursula, Mary and Pam for their sharings. And we send good vibes and lots of prayers to my neighbor, Ky, and Pam’s brother-in-law.       

 

 

On Another Day

Today was a perfect day for a hike–cool temps and a breeze kept the bugs at bay. And so my guy and I headed off after lunch with a destination in mind. Backpack–check. Camera–check. Map–check.

And with the latter, it all ended.

a-squiggly sign

We’d hiked our intended trail once before within the last ten years, but remembered that back then we had a difficult time following it. We were sure, however, that we could find our way today and we did. Until, that is, we reached a junction and read the snowmobile trail signs. Our gut told us to go straight but because we were on a snowmobile trail, the signs listed destinations. We looked at the map, looked at the signs, and convinced ourselves to turn right.

a-hobble 3

And so we journeyed on, enjoying the beauty of hobblebush even as it forced us to do what it was named for–hobble through the undergrowth.

a-hobble 2

But how could we resist such beauty. Or should I say, how could I resist such beauty–my guy trudged on. I think it’s the complexity of the blossom that intrigued me most–large, five-petaled, sterile flowers encircled petite and fertile, waxy-white flowers. Why big showy flowers surrounding such tiny ones complete with stamens and pistils? Perhaps the outer sentry attract insects for the sake of pollination.

a-round-leaved violet 2

Also thinking about pollination–those purple runway lines of the round-leaved violets.  I’m not a fashion girl, but it’s flowers like this that make me realize you can combine a variety of colors to make a statement.

a-rose twisted stalk

A much more subtle display of color–rose twisted-stalk. Not a great photo, but the  flowers dangled below the twisted stalk. Why rose?  The bell-shaped flowers that occur singly at the leaf axils are pale rose in hue. Why twisted? Because at each leaf junction the stem takes a distinct twist.

a-sarsaparilla

Adding to the subtle color of the season–sarsaparilla. I love the fact that this particular example shows the variety in the finely toothed compound leaves–in this case, two leaves sporting five leaflets, while another consists of three. It’s the three that sometimes gives this plant an undeserved bad rap–leaves of three, leave them be, refers to poison ivy. But this is not P.I. as we used to call it when I was a kid.

a-coltsfoot1

Another sorta look-alike, coltsfoot that resembles a dandelion. The difference–a coltsfoot seed ball retains its flower parts.

a-spring color

As the tender new leaves emerge, the landscape softens.

a-oak 1

From subtle colors

a-beech 3

to hairy fringes

a-sumac 1

and fuzzy coatings, the world embraces a softer point of view.

a-wet trail

Though we continued to make delightful discoveries, it was evident that we were on the wrong trail.

a-brook crossing.jpg

After a couple of hours, we turned back.

a-trail blaze.jpg

And at the point where we ignored our gut feelings and decided to turn right, we checked on the other trail–and found that it was blazed. Oh well.

We’ll save it for another day.