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.

Water Works

With rain drops come life and rebirth. And so it seems as our world explodes with the return of birds and vibrant blossoms of daffodils in the garden. The grass is, well, grass green–a brilliant green with hues of gold or purple, depending on the time of day. And ever so slowly, tiny leaves emerge on the maples and aspens.

w-rookery

But it’s life in and around water that captured most of my focus today. Following a prehike for a Greater Lovell Land Trust walk, I had the opportunity to check on a heron rookery. A friend and I stood hidden among the trees.

Rookeries are one of my favorite places to hang out. By the same token, I seldom do because its important not to disturb these giant birds during their nesting season. But–today’s visit, like all of my rookery visits, was for a citizen science project affiliated with Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife: the Heron Observation Network or HERON, counts on volunteers to count on heron–their nests, number of birds, number perhaps sitting on eggs, number of fledglings, etc.

w-heron incoming

We frequently see Great Blue Herons flying overhead or fishing in ponds and lakes, but it’s watching them come into their nests, in their pterodactyl form, that I find so wild.

w-heron standing

And then they stand. Tall. Silent. We do the same.

w-heron on nest

Watching. Listening. Wondering.

w-reflection

All the while, we have time to reflect and enjoy the reflected.

w-beaver lodge

And notice–cut saplings piled horizontally, an anomaly in this space . . . or is it?  More than herons call this place home.

w-hobblebush

At last we need to bushwhack back, but pause a few times to appreciate other forms of life that spring forth near the water, including this hobblebush.

w-snake 1a

And a garter snake, its movement catching our attention. And then it froze in place, in hopes we wouldn’t notice.

w-vp

Back on the homefront, I moseyed out to the vernal pool. As I approached, I noticed a lack of sound, but did see movement when I was only steps away.

w-wood frog eggs

I was thrilled to note signs of previous action as the number of wood frog egg masses had increased.

w-sallie eggs

The same was true of the spotted salamander eggs, though the number in each clump seemed quite minimal. The opaque outer coating was clearly visible, that gelatin-like mass that surrounds these eggs.

w-frog eggs?

As I admired all the dropped red maple flowers that decorated the water, I spied something else. Or at least I think it’s something else. Perhaps mere bubbles floated atop the dried leaf, but I suspected eggs of another kind. I’ve never before noticed spring peeper eggs and wondered, could these be such? Here’s hoping Loon Echo Land Trust’s biologist, Paul Miller, will chime in.

w-spring peeper eggs in mix?

From what I’ve read in A Field Guide to the animals of Vernal Pools by Leo P. Kenney and Matthew R. Burne, “tiny peeper eggs may be deposited in small clusters or as single eggs attached to aquatic vegetation.” I placed a red arrow on this photo pointing to a couple more. And there are others in the photo, hiding in a “Where’s Waldo” fashion.

w-water strider and mosquito larvae

Circling around the pool, I noted some mosquito larvae and a few water striders.

But I also came upon one disturbing sight. A dead frog. Only a week ago, a friend in Cumberland discovered four dead frogs in a pool. In an e-mail exchange, Dr. Fred Cichocki explained to her, “Chytrid fungus is one potential and troubling cause of amphibian deaths. Another, and one we should all be aware of and be on the lookout for (especially in southern Maine) is ranavirus. It mainly affects woodfrogs (why no one knows) and primarily in the tadpole stage, where there may be 99+% mortality! The obvious symptoms are hemoragic lesions in the abdomen, and a behavior much like whale beaching, where the infected tadpoles swim onto the shore, turn belly up and expire en masse. Definitive identification requires either DNA sequencing or Electron Microscopic examination of tissue to reveal the characteristic virus particles. Once a pond or pool has ranavirus in it, it is probably impossible to erradicate (except maybe through frog attrition.) Ranavirus epidemics occur worldwide and are spreading, especially here in the Northeast.”

My dead frog was an adult. As were my friend’s. At the pool today, I was once again reminded that nature happens. And that it isn’t always pretty. Thankfully, I did spy a couple of live frogs.

w-snake 5

As I walked away from the pond, another garter snake.

w-snake 2

It was on the hunt.

Life and rebirth–the keys to spring. And sometimes, death so others may eat. But other times, death for reasons unknown. These aquatic sites offer an amazing biodiversity–and leave me with questions and understandings. Water works–I’m just not always sure how.