Petals and Wings: A Window of Opportunity

Spring ephemerals. Those species that take advantage of the short stretch of time between snow melt and leaf out. We celebrated such today at the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve as we ever so slowly walked along the orange trail from the Flat Hill parking lot and then looped around on Perky’s Path.

S1-GATHERING

But first, we gathered in the parking lot where Docent Peter explained that he thought I was crazy when I suggested a May date for a flower and bird walk. He’d not been in Maine during May previously and only this week learned the joys of birding with minimal leaf cover. I think he’s hooked. And I’m still crazy.

S4-WILDFLOWER GUIDES

Our journey began with Docent Linda locating wildflowers that are opportunists who bloom early, get pollinated and produce seeds before the deciduous trees blanket the floor of the forest in shade.

S2-STINKING BENJAMIN

Among those early bloomers was one that stinks! And yet, it’s exquisitely beautiful. Stinking Benjamin is one of its common names because of the flower’s malodorous scent. Of course, you need to get down on your hands and knees to get a whiff.

S5-HAND LENS

Our focus wasn’t just on flowers and birds as we all soon realized, for it seemed that many things caught our attention, including the seeds of deer tongue grass. As a collective group, we suffered from Nature Distraction Disorder.

S6-WILD SARSAPIRILLA LEAVES

Because of such, we observed more than just the flowers that were in bloom. In one instance, the flower was yet to come, but the leaves in their early stage were worth noting. Linda pointed out that the color of wild sarsaparilla’s new leaves was reminiscent of poison ivy. But, poison ivy has leaves of three.

S7-BEECH LEAVES

And that reddish tint that we saw in the sarsaparilla, beech and other leaves? The various hues of color in leaves was caused by the presence of pigments called anthocyanins or carbohydrates that are dissolved in the cell sap and mask the chlorophyll. As our spring temperatures rise and light intensity increases, red pigment forms on a leaf and acts as a sunscreen to protect the plant from an increase in ultraviolet rays.

S8-BIRDING

We’d been looking down for a while, but then bird song pulled our attention to the tree tops. Without the use of my Cannon Rebel, which is currently enjoying what I hope will be a successful rice bath 😦 , I couldn’t capture the many warblers we spied. Some, as Peter, and his wife Molly, told us, were only in the area temporarily to fuel up on insects before continuing the journey to their breeding grounds in Canada.

S10-GARTER SNAKE

And looking at our feet once again, another in search of insects. We saw a garter snake who stayed as still as possible while we ogled it. Was it cold and trying to soak up warmth from the sun? Or did it stay still in hopes we wouldn’t spy it?

S11-PAINTED TRILLIUM

We finally left the snake in peace. And paused next to gaze upon a painted trillium.

S12-HOBBLEBUSH FLOWERS

Almost two hours after our start, we approached the wetland and overlooking bench. It was there that a hobblebush laden with blossoms caught our attention in the shrub level. The hobblebush bouquet was really an inflorescence or lacy cluster of tiny fertile flowers surrounded by a halo of showy, yet sterile bracts. Those larger, sterile flowers attract insects while the tiny fertile flowers do all the work of seed production. Nature has its way.

S13-BIRDING BY THE BENCH

It was at the bench that bird song again greeted us and we looked above the shrubs toward the tree limbs above.

S14-BIRDING

For many of us, we looked through our binoculars at birds we’d only heard of before, including a Bay-breasted Warbler. Peter explained that he’s participating in the citizen science project to update the Maine Birding Atlas and so he uploaded the 38 species identified today to the e-bird website.

S15-LINDA TURNS HER FOCUS UPWARD

Even though she’d spent a lot of time directing our attention to the beauty at our feet, Linda was also in awe of those who moved above, however, she was heard to comment that it’s a whole lot easier to ID flowers that stand still.

S16-BEECH FERN

As our journey finally continued, we found a patch of beech ferns with their own variation of today’s theme, for each leaflet attached to the rachis in a winged formation.

S18-FRINGED POLYGALA

Another that spoke to the theme was a flower that hadn’t quite yet bloomed–fringed polygala, aka gay wings.

S17-SPRING PEEPER

Despite all the flowers and birds, our NDD followed us right to the end–when we spotted a tiny spring peeper . . .

S21-GREEN FROG ON A LOG

and then a green frog.

S22-FEMALE WHITEFACE SKIMMER

While the frog marked the end of our journey, I moved on to the GLLT’s Kezar River Reserve, where another winged critter flew at the flower level–the first dragonfly of the season: a female whiteface skimmer.

Today was filled with petals and wings and all things ephemeral. I hope you’ll have a chance to take advantage of this short window of opportunity.