The Trail To And Fro

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

M1-KENNEDY'S EMERALD

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

M2-BEAVERPOND BASKETTAIL

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

M3-IMMATURE CHALK-FRONTED CORPORAL

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

M4-MUSTACHED CLUBTAIL

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

M6- SKIMMING BLUET

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

M7-GRAY TREE FROG

And then . . .

M8-GRAY TREE FROG

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

M9-EBONY JEWELWING MALE

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

M10-GARTER PARENT

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

M11-GARTER BABY

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

M12-ROOKERY SITE

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

M13-HERON ROOKERY

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

M140WHITE CHALK CORPORALS

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

M15-DARNER

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

M17-CANADA GEESE

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

M18-CANADA GOOSE

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

m19-immature KENNEDY'S EMERALD

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

M20-INDIAN CUCUMER ROOT

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

M21-GRAY TREE FROG

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

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

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

At a Snail’s Pace

The mosquitoes were thick. The ground damp. But the rain held off and so four docents and I met at the Greater Lovell Land Trust‘s Flat Hill parking lot at the end of Heald Pond Road.

p-beaked hazelnuts forming

From the getgo, our fun began as we spotted numerous beaked hazelnuts forming–the trick is to pay attention to them and watch their continued growth, for in a flash, or so it seems, they’ll mature and . . . disappear. The nuts those hairy beaks cover are favorites for wildlife and we human folk also like them.

p-red trillium

Our mission was to get reacquainted with the spring flowers–some being obvious to us like the red trillium, though the fact that it was still in bloom offered a delightful surprise. We chatted about the fact that its also known as Stinking Benjamin for its undelightful odor, but try as we might and we did again today, none of us have ever been offended by it. Apparently, they smell like rotting meat, but you can’t prove it by us.

p-fringed polygala

Here and there we were awed by the delicate fringed polygala, aka gaywings. They did remind us of birds with crazy head dresses taking off in flight.

p-false solomon seal

As we shared brains and practiced relearning species before the next season gives us even more, we felt proud to quickly ID a false solomon seal, aka wild spikenard, before it had fully flowered. It’s the cluster of flowers on the end branch, the arching, zigzag stem and long oblong leaves that stand out in our minds.

p-Rose Twisted Stalk or Rosybells

A seal of another sort, the rose twisted stalk, aka rosybells, also adorned the trail. Pam held the stalk up so we could look at the bell-shaped flowers that dangled below.  Notice how the leaves are green below and stalkless but don’t necessarily clasp the stem–as opposed to twisted stalk (white mandarin), which features greenish flowers dangling below and stalkless leaves that do clasp the stem. Plus the latter’s leaves have a white bloom on the underside. We didn’t see any twisted stalk, but were tickled with our rosybell finds.

p-raindrops all in a row

Periodically, we stopped to examine ferns, or quiz each other on the ID. But sometimes, it was just fun to notice presentations, including raindrops all in a row.

p-beech fern

And though a couple of our fern experts couldn’t be with us, Joan was and she loves nothing more than squatting beside them with the Fern Finder to determine a species, including the long beech fern.

p-clitonia 2

It was while looking at bracken ferns that Mary and Nancy spotted the greenish yellow flowers of clintonia. We were excited because we’d seen plenty of plants, but these were the first in flower, and they were well hidden.

p-clintonia flowers

Yellow clintonia is also called bluebead for the fruit that develops is a porcelain blue bead-like berry. Check out those pistils (she’s a pistil) dangling below the stamen, their anthers coated in pollen. Bring on the bees and the beads.

p-baby toad

Suddenly, we discovered movement at our feet and saw our first baby toad of the season. It’s diminutive size and obvious camouflage made it difficult to see, but unlike the adult members of its family who will freeze in position, thus allowing us to study them further, this little one wanted to escape as quickly as possible. Smart move on its part.

p-bench view

Only about two hours later we’d covered maybe a half mile and found our way to the bench that overlooks the swampy area surrounding the brook between the beaver pond and Bradley Pond.

p-red maple leaves

We sat below a red maple and listened to a chorus of birds–and gave thanks for the food supply. Let them eat bugs. We offered up a few mosquitoes.

p-red-winged blackbird

A red-winged blackbird flirted with us, showing off its bright red shoulder and yellow wing bar as it flew from shrub to shrub. The five of us swooned.

p-Indian Cucumber pre-flower

All along the path, we’d spotted Indian Cucumber Roots with their buds formed atop the second layer of their double-decker formation. When we finally stepped from the bench back to the trail, we noted a couple of the buds were beginning to dangle below the second story, meaning the blossoming season would soon be upon us.

p-Indian Cucumber flower 2

And just like that . . .

p-Indian Cucumber flowering

Voilà. I’m of the belief that if this flower doesn’t make you wonder, nothing will.

p-beaver pond view

Our next stop was at the bridges that cross below the beaver pond. We’d been looking for fresh beaver works all the while, but only discovered the work that had been completed over a year ago.

p-royal fern crown

There was still plenty to see, including the fertile crowns atop royal ferns,

p-jack-in-the-pulpit 2

a small jack-in-the-pulpit,

p-mayfly hitchhiker

and a mayfly that chose Pam’s jacket to rest upon.

p-foamflower 1

One of our many finds included foam-flower, with its cluster of star-shaped white flowers and conspicuous stamens. According to Mary Holland in her book, Naturally Curious Day by Day, “Its genus name, Tiarella, is the Greek word “tiara,” a word for a turban worn by ancient Persians which bears some resemblance to the shape of this flower’s pistil.”

p-foamflower carpet

Tiara or not, we were quite taken with a carpet of it.

p-snail

Those were only a few of the findings we saw as we moved at a snail’s pace during our three hour tour along Perky’s Path. Each time we visit, we say, “This is my favorite property.” That is . . . until we visit another one of the GLLT properties.

Paying Attention

When she invited me to join her for a walk down a dirt road, I knew Jinnie Mae and I would make some wonderful discoveries, but had no idea what begged to be noticed.

j-ebony 15

We cruised along at a faster pace than normal as we chatted . . . and then . . . we slowed . . . down. And that’s when the world poured forth its graces.

j-ebony 18

Beside a small stream, we were in the land of numerous ebony jewelwing damselflies, their metallic green bodies, beady black eyes and jewel-outlined wings showing brilliantly as they flitted about.

j-jack1

We noticed Jack-in-the-Pulpit growing strong, proud and tall,

J-swamp candle

swamp candles lighting up the water,

j-heal all 3

heal-all beginning to bloom,

j-pyrola 2

and waxy-petaled pyrola flowers with styles curved below like an elephant’s trunk.

j-beaver 2

We stopped by a beaver pond and decided they have moved on,

j-beaver 4

but their works were still evident.

j-beaver 3

Though the lodge may be abandoned by beavers,

j-lodge 1

it appeared that someone had stopped by.

j- royal 6 (1)

On the other side of the beaver dam, royal ferns decorated the stream in their shrub-like manner.

j-royal 2

Their fertile fronds posed like crowns above their heads, bespeaking their royalty.

j- royal 5 (1)

With their unique structure, there is really nothing else that resembles the royal fern.

j-ebony3

Because we were once again by the water, we realized the jewelwings were abundant–though they seemed more blueish in color here than further down the stream. Was it the lighting?

j-ebony 13

Beside the tranquil stream, they flittered and fluttered, their wings like sails over iridescent bodies, and occasionally they settled on vegetation for a photo call.

j-spider 2

Others also settled.

j-cuke1

We pulled ourselves away–or actually, Jinnie Mae gently nudged me away and we continued our journey back, certain that we’d see sights we missed on the way down the road. There were Indian cucumbers with multiple flowers–the most I’d ever seen . . . until Jinnie May pointed out that it was really two plants. Oops.

j-cuke 2

But still, we found one with at least four blossoms, all in various stages.

j-butterfly1

She told me we’d probably see an Eastern black swallowtail.

j-butter 3

And we did.

j-spotted winter

Though it’s not time for spotted wintergreen to flower yet,

j-spotted 1

we found its seed pods atop tall stalks. For me, this was a plant I don’t believe I’ve ever seen before. (According to Maine Natural Areas Program’s Rare Plant Fact Sheet, Chimaphila maculata is threatened in our state and has an S2 ranking) Will I see it in other places now that I’m aware of it? Time will tell.

j-winter 1

We noticed tender new wintergreen leaves, but it’s the berries that made us turn back for a closer look.

j-winter 2

The scarlet berries matured last summer, survived the winter without being eaten (they taste like wintergreen in the summer, but lose their flavor and sugar count over the winter months) and have now become enlarged.

j- trailing 2 (1)

What really stopped us in our tracks–trailing arbutus. Last month, we were wowed by its gentle white and pale pink flowers. They’ve since faded to a rusty tone.

j- trailing 6 (1)

And some have transformed into swollen round seed pods.

j- trailing 8 (1)

The sepals have curled away to reveal the white fleshy fruit speckled with tiny brown seeds. It was well worth getting down on our knees to look through a hand lens–especially since ants, chipmunks and mice find these to be a delicacy so they may soon disappear.

Paying attention with and without a hand lens on a delightful spring day–we were once again thankful for the opportunity to notice . . . and to wonder.

 

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?