Cinco de Mayo, Naturally

The hour and a half drive to Litchfield, Maine, was worth every second on this fifth day of May. The spring tapestry that spread before my eyes had me oohing and aahing around each bend in the road for such were the colors–so many shades of greens, mixed in with reds and magentas and pinks and yellows. It was almost intoxicating.

But . . . a photograph will have to wait for another day for I needed to reach my destination and catch up with my peeps–fellow classmates from our 2012-13 Maine Master Naturalist class. For the last five years we’ve tried to get together quarterly. It doesn’t always work out, but this year we’re making a concerted effort.

s1-Smithfield map

Today’s destination was the vernal pool at Smithfield Plantation, a 103-acre property the town of Litchfield conserved. If you look carefully, you might see a reflection of Sharon, who has lead many a school group along the trails and knows the property intimately.

s1a-Sharon T

Before we headed to the pool, she oriented us to the site.

s2-moose wood

One of the things Sharon explained was that a Boy Scout had created an interpretive tree trail and so we paused at one of his stops to admire the craftsmanship.

s2b-moose wood maple leaf

Indeed, right behind the sign, a striped maple, aka moose maple, shared its newly emerged pastel buds and leaves.

s2a-moose maple

And then we lifted the lid to reveal the information. OK, so there were a few typos for the grammar police, but on each of his cards, he included a joke. What a great idea as that would certainly appeal to the younger set. It definitely appealed to those of us who are still ten years old in our minds.

s4-hobblebush

And on the opposite side of the trail, we spotted another type of moose wood–hobblebush just beginning to flower. Both striped maple and hobblebush are favorite foods of moose, thus their nicknames.

s3a-clintonia

Onward we walked until a patch of leaves stopped us. And our brain-sharing began. We thought we knew what the plant was, but then questioned ourselves as it wasn’t in flower yet. Each season, we need to relearn some. Despite the lack of flowers, we decided to key it out in Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide using two other descriptors–leaves both basal and entire.

s3-clintonia 1

For those familiar with Newcomb’s that meant of the three numbers in the locator key, we didn’t know the first, but went with 22 for the second and third representing basal leaves and entire leaves. Then we tried, 122, 222, etc.

s3b-clintonia buds

And landed on our first suspicion: 622–Yellow Clintonia or Bluebead (Clintonia borealis).

s6-vernal pool

The trail wasn’t long, but as one might expect, it took us a while to reach the vernal pool. And then we were stopped in our tracks and didn’t approach it right away.

s7-solitary sandpiper

Instead, we stood back and spent a while watching a solitary sandpiper on a downed tree.

s7a-solitary sandpiper

As we watched, it bobbed its tail. And at one point we were sure it took a mid-morning nap. Eventually, the bird flew to another part of the pool and a few minutes later departed.

s10-setting up camp

And so we set up camp, dropping some of our gear on the bench.

s10a-setting up camp

And more of it on and beside a log. We had macro-invertebrate charts and vernal pool pamphlets and books, plus all kinds of containers for pond dipping.

s9-Pam's journal

Pam was the smart one and she’d packed her sketch book and colored pencils. That’s one skill we all appreciate for it slows us down and makes us really notice. I, for one, haven’t done enough sketching in the past year and so this was the perfect incentive for the future.

s8-mosquito larvae

As we looked into the pool and Sharon told us what we might find, we immediately noticed the most abundant residents–mosquito larvae doing their whirligig dances.

s11-first fairy shrimp

But on her first dip, Sharon pulled up the crème de la crème–a fairy shrimp. Bingo–a significant pool it was as she knew, though not so documented with the state.

s12-examining the fairy shrimp

With her loupe, Jen took a closer look.

s13-five fairy shrimp

On Sharon’s next dip she pulled up not uno, not dos, not tres, not quatro, but cinco fairy shrimp.

s13-Pam sketches the fairy shrimp

And so Pam settled in to sketch them in all their glory.

s13-Pam's sketches

And added a caddisfly larva for we’d also captured one of those.

s14-female fairy shrimp

One of the cool things that Sharon pointed out, the brood pouch at the end of the abdomen, so indicating a female. How cool is that?

s15-caddisfly larvae

And here is our caddisfly, his casing created out of fallen hemlock needles. Caddisfly larvae that create their bodies from woody material are the log-cabin variety. We watched it move about in the tray, sometimes extending its soft body out of the case.

s17-spotted salamander egg mass

The dipping continued and a spotted salamander egg mass was pulled out, but only for us to take a closer look. And then it was returned from whence it came. Notice the individual eggs within the greater gelatinous matrix.

s18-egg mass

After that, Sharon found another reason to celebrate. She’d worn her waders and so was able to go deeper into the water than the rest of us.

s18-tadpoles

A quick dip and she’d pulled up an egg mass that almost melted as life burst forth–tadpoles. The first of the season for all of us.

s20-predacious diving beetle larvae

One last dip revealed one not so kind to all the other species we’d located. Known as a water tiger or toe biter, you can tell that it’s one mean little thing. This was the larval stage of a predacious diving beetle and the tadpoles had everything to fear for like its adult form it was a predator.

s23-Cinco Amigas

After that last find, it was time for us to pack up our gear and leave the pool behind. But, we took with us memories of a delightful spring morning spent exploring together. And . . . we had a chance to catch up, show each other field guides we thought might be of interest, share experiences of our volunteer opportunities, provide suggestions for ways to make a nature program work be it for kids or adults, and realize that we were not alone in any obstacles that may cause an issue during those programs.

What a naturally wonderful way to spend this Cinco de Mayo . .  . con cinco amigas. Thanks Gaby, Beth, Jen, Sharon and Pam.

 

 

Brain Share–Naturally

I was thankful I’d thrown my winter coat into the truck for I had a feeling it would be a better choice than a vest given the group I’d be traveling with this morning. And sure enough, though the sun felt warm, a breeze added a chill to the air. Plus, I knew we wouldn’t travel far and would spend much of our time standing around.

r0-life on a rock

Well, not exactly standing, for as Maine Master Naturalists, we’ve been trained to get down for a closer look. Our first stop–to check out the life on a rock that was revealing itself as the snow slowly melted. Karen is on the left, an Augusta grad, and Sarah and Anthony to her right, both South Paris grads.

r0a-polypody

The focus of our attention was common polypody, a fern with leathery leaves and spherical spore clusters on the underside. Rocks are their substrate and they often give a boulder a bad-hair day look.

r1b-speckled alder

Moseying along, we reached a point where we knew we wanted to spend some time–at a wetland beside one of the Range Ponds (pronounced Rang) at Range Pond State Park in Poland, Maine. Because it likes wet feet, we weren’t surprised to find speckled alder growing there, but what did throw us for a loop was the protrusions extending from last year’s cones.

r1a-speckled alder

It was almost like they had tried to flower atop the cones and all we could think of was an insect creating a gall. Indeed, it appeared that the cones were also experiencing a bad hair day. After a little research, it may be alder tongue gall–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. It was certainly a new one for the four of us.

r2a-leatherleaf and sphagnum moss

On we moved down to the wetland where the snow surprisingly held us for most of the journey and we didn’t leave behind too many post holes. Leatherleaf and sphagnum moss showed off their winter hues at our feet.

r4-cranberries

We also spied cranberries hiding underneath.

r3-cranberries among the leatherleaf

And sampled them. A few were tart, while others had fermented.

r1-two lodges

In the middle of the wetland, two well built lodges stood tall. They had fresh wood and had been mudded in the fall. One did look as if the vent hole had been enlarged, so we wondered if anyone still lived there. We heard no noises, but had to assume that we were bothering the residents so we didn’t stay long.

r2-wetland and pond beyond

One last view of the wetland and pond beyond, then we turned and walked toward the opposite side.

r5-bird nest

Just before climbing uphill, we spotted a bird nest in the winterberry shrubs. It was filled with dried berries, and we again made an assumption, that a mouse had cached its stash for the winter and maybe dined there in peace and quiet while the nest was covered in snow. That’s our story and we’re sticking with it. Whose nest it was prior to the mouse? We don’t know, but it was made of twigs. If you have an answer, please enlighten us.

r6-bone

Back up on an old railroad bed, we again stopped frequently, including to talk about the beech scale insect and nectria fungus that moves in and eventually kills the trees. And then something else came to our attention–it wasn’t a broken branch hanging down like an upside-down V on the beech tree. No indeed. It was a bone. A knee bone. And it had been there for quite a while given its appearance.

r7-Introduced Pine Sawfly pupal case

Because Anthony was with us and he’s our insect whiz, we spent a lot of time learning from him–including about the pupal case of an introduced pine sawfly. The sawfly had already pupated and in this case no one was home.

r8-Introduced sawfly pupal case

As the morning went on, we became quite adept at locating more cases of other sawfly species, including one that wasn’t yet opened. We each channeled our ten-year-old selves as we tried to be first to find the next one. But really, Anthony won for he had insect case eyes.

r9-going in for a closer look

And eyes for other things as well.

r10-old spider web case

This time we examined a delicate, almost lacy structure under a branch on a young beech. Anthony suspected a pirate spider, which tickled our fancy for we imagined them raiding the goods of others. But later he e-mailed with another option: “The old spider egg case could also be from an orbweaver of the araneidae family.” Either way, we were happy for the sighting; for taking the time to slow down and notice.

r11-beech leaves

And there was more. Sarah had to leave us a wee bit early, so she missed our finds on the backside of beech leaves.

r12-maroon dots on beech leaves

They were dotted with raised bumps that under our hand lenses reminded us a bit of the sori on common polypody.

r13-maroon dots on beech leaves

Leaf rust? Was it related in any way to the splattering of tiny black dots also on the leaves? We left with questions we haven’t yet answered.

r14-hair on beech leaves

Taking a closer look did, however, remind us of how hairy beech leaves are–do you see the hairs along the main vein? And that reminded us of how the tree works so hard to protect the bud with waxy scales all winter, keeping the harsh conditions at bay. In early spring, slowly the leaves emerge, ever hairy, which strikes me as an adaptation to keep insects at bay, and then . . . and then . . . it seems like every insect finds a reason to love a beech leaf and in no time they’ve been chewed and mined and you name it.

r15-oak gall

We made one more discovery before heading out–a gall formed on oak twigs. Do you see the exit hole? It’s in the shape of a heart–apparently the insect that created the gall loved the oak.

r15-pine tube moth

As we made our way back to the parking lot, I kept searching all the pine trees because I wanted to share an example of the tube created by a pine tube moth. Of course, there were none to be found, but as soon as I arrived home, I headed off into the woods for I knew I could locate some there. Bingo.

Notice how the lumps of needles are stuck together in such a way that they formed a tube. Actually, the tube is a tunnel created by the moth. The moth used silk to bind the needles together, thus forming the hollow tube. And notice the browned tips–that’s due to the larvae feeding on them. Eventually the overwintering larvae will pupate within the tube and emerge in April. Two generations occur each year and those that overwinter are the second generation. Fortunately, they don’t seem to harm the trees–yet.

Three and a half hours later we hadn’t walked a great distance, but our findings and learnings were many and we talked about how we’d added more layers to our understanding. Now if only we can remember everything. Thanks to Karen, Sarah and Anthony for sharing your brains me with–naturally.

P.S. Lewiston MMNP grads, et al, I’ll be in touch. Look for a doodle poll soon so we can get out and do the same. Or if you want to take the initiative, please feel free to go for it.

 

 

 

Book of December: A Beginner’s Guide to RECOGNIZING TREES of the NORTHEAST

Fellow master naturalist Alan Seamans recently sent me an e-mail with this message: “I found a new book that might be of interest to you. It’s called A Beginner’s Guide to Recognizing Trees of the Northeast, by Mark Mikolas, published Oct. 3, 2017. Rather than leaves, buds or flowers, he focuses on bark, stature, habitat, and some other techniques to teach beginners how to recognize about 40 common tree species. It’s a compact softcover guide, very educational, lots of photos illustrating his points. Not text heavy. I like it, and learned many things.”

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Book of December

And so I did what I often do when I hear of a book that might interest me and marched into Bridgton Books in search of a copy. Alan was correct. It isn’t text heavy and indeed simplifies things in a way a dichotomous key cannot. Actually, this book includes so many of the nuances I like to share along the trail with folks who are looking at trees for the first or hundredth time and as I read it I felt like I was on a guided tour with a new friend.

Mikolas begins this tree identification book by restricting the focus area to the Northeast–in a zone those of us who live in New England may find amusing for it ranges from our grand states south to West Virginia and west to Indiana and Michigan. As he explains, though, that’s the Northeast as defined by the World Geographical Scheme of Recording Plant Distributions.

The book is divided into two sections–deciduous or broad-leaf trees and coniferous–or cone-bearing trees. And within each section, it’s broken down into individual trees with plenty of photographs to explain each characteristic.

Mikolas keeps it simple and I wish I’d had this book when I first began my journey into familiarizing myself with different tree species. Similar to the approach taken by Donald W. Stokes in A Guide to Nature in Winter, who suggested learning six deciduous trees and the evergreens, Mikolas also encourages the reader to start with the most common, though he prefers the number twelve.

I wondered what I might learn or relearn as I began reading. And found plenty of information, some of it already stored in my brain, and more to be tucked away.

s-target

The book begins with red maple, which always has something red to display, but Mikolas also mentions the target fungus that affects only this species, creating a round bull’s eye on the bark. I know from experience that once your eye focuses on the target, you’ll begin to see if on so many maple trees. And as he said, and a forester told me several years ago, here in western Maine, 90% of our maples are Acer rubrum. That’s one thing you don’t have to worry about, except for one instance that I could find, he doesn’t use the Latin names. For some folks, that may be a downfall, but this is a beginner’s guide.

b-twisted maple

I was pleased that he included the twisting of a sugar maple. Other trees twist as well and I can remember first realizing this while tramping with a friend. We couldn’t understand what was going on. The reason for the spiral growth is on page 26–you’ll have to read it for yourself.

After describing these two trees, as he does periodically throughout the book, Mikolas gives clues on how to tell them apart. For these two, he describes their habitat, bark, twig and bud color.

m-beech sunshine

One of the clues he provides for beech trees is the fact that the leaves remain on the trees all winter. What I like about his comment is that he says this happens on young trees, for indeed, since I started paying attention, that’s what I’ve noted.

b-marcescent leaf

He also described the habit of oaks retaining their leaves, but what he didn’t mention was the term to describe this habit: marcescence or withering. Maybe I was disappointed because I just like to say marcescence.

b-ash bark

When it came to ash trees, I was pleased that he described the bark as being diamond-shaped, but he added an X to the pattern and that may help when I next look at an ash tree with others. Some have a difficult time finding the diamonds. They don’t exactly glitter in the sunshine.

b-aspen bark

I was thankful that when it came to the quaking and big-toothed aspen trees, Mikolas acknowledged that they are difficult to identify by bark alone. A few years ago, I spent some time practicing my tree ID with two different foresters and when I asked about these trees, they too, had a difficult time pinpointing the differences. Both were sure we were looking at quaking, but a quick scan of the ground below showed us big-tooth leaves.

b-aspen 2

One thing I’d add to Mikolas’ description is that on the lower portion of older trees, the vertical lines are similar to that of a red oak. One of the really cool tricks I picked up from the book in reference to aspens is what he calls “birds on a wire.” Again, you’ll need to purchase a copy to find out what he means. Or join me for a tramp.

b-grandaddy birch

Another description that brought a smile to my face was how he casted a mature and shaggy yellow birch as “the granddads or old wise men of the forest.”

b-yellow birch

I had the good fortune to meet one such character just the other day.

b-basswood

In reference to basswood,  Alan Seamans wrote in his e-mail message: “I didn’t know you could confirm i.d. of basswoood by the sound it makes when you hit it with a stick!” I didn’t either, but you can bet that’s on my list of things to do–frequently.

b-paper-birch-old

Mikolas’ photo essay on the aging of paper birch bark from a teen to an old man is well worth a look. My only disagreement with him in this section is that what he sees as an inverted V over the branch, looks more like an inverted U to me, or as I’ve always described it–a fu manchu mustache of sorts.

b-gray birch

Likewise, Mikolas sees black triangles under the branches of gray birches. I could agree with him on that for when I say it’s a chevron, people don’t always get what I’m talking about. One friend, in keeping with the paper birch’s mustache, suggested the gray birch may have a beard–a gray beard. Mikolas also says that gray birches are chalkier than paper–experiment for yourself  by rubbing your fingers on the bark and come to your own conclusion on that one.

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Turning to striped maples, I was tickled to learn a new common name. He used goosefoot, which describes the leaf shape,  and moosewood because deer and moose like to leave their scent by rubbing their antlers on the bark, but a name I hadn’t heard before–whistle wood. Apparently, slip-bark whistles can be carved from striped maple or willow in the spring.

n-Central Park 1

I do wish I’d read this book before venturing to Central Park a few weeks ago. I was in awe of the American elms that grow there, and wondered about their health given that so many elms have succumbed to Dutch elm disease. What I didn’t realize is that what I saw before me was one of the largest and last stands of these majestic trees.

b-red pine plantation

Heading back into a woodland setting, and this one was actually in Vermont, occasionally we stumble upon red pine plantations. It was my understanding that these were planted by the CCC or Civilian Conservation Corps between 1938 and 1942 to provide farmers with a hill crop and others with employment. When walking in the woods and suddenly encountering a sterile environment where trees stand stalwart in lines and there is no undergrowth due to the thick needle cover below, and little diversity in wildlife, one may have entered such a plantation. At the time, it seemed like a good idea and provided work.

hemlock petioles (stems) and stomata lines

In the forest, I often discover hemlock and balsam fir saplings sharing a space. One word of caution when it comes to differentiating between the hemlock shown here and balsam fir needles that are shown on page 188–both have two white stripes of stomata on the underside. There are other clues to help tell them apart and I’ve actually written about such in the upcoming issue of Lake Living magazine so you’ll have to stay tuned.

spiky spruce

And then there are the spruces and I have to admit, I have a difficult time with red versus white, though forester friends have said they hybridize. I noticed that Mikolas mentions both, but doesn’t provide the fine details about scent and twig hair. Perhaps it’s enough to know it’s a spruce–especially if it’s spikey to the touch.

b9-tamarack gold

The tree descriptions conclude with the one and only deciduous conifer of our woods–the tamarack–the cone-bearing tree that loses its leaves (needles) each winter.

And with that, I will conclude this rather lengthy review. I’m so glad Alan recommended it to me, for it really is a gem. I hope you’ll purchase a copy and together we can head out on the tree trail and get to know our local species even better.

Put A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO RECOGNIZING TREES OF THE NORTHEAST on your wish list and shop local.

A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO RECOGNIZING TREES OF THE NORTHEAST, by Mark Mikolas, published 2017, The Countryman Press.

Post script, or maybe it should be post post. This comment appears on my About page, but I couldn’t resist including it here. I’m always tickled and honored when an author responds to one of my posts:

Thanks so much for the detailed and positive review of my book, A Beginner’s Guide to Recognizing Trees. It sounds like it would be great to take a hike with you. I really appreciate the good press. –mm

Liked by you

  1. Mark, Thank YOU so much for taking the time to read this and comment. I think A Beginner’s Guide to Recognizing Trees is a fabulous addition to my book shelf and back pack. In fact, I’m on the board of the Maine Master Naturalist Program and asked our curriculum coordinator to review it. If it doesn’t become one of our text books, it should at least be on our recommended reading list. Well done, indeed. Oh, and if you’re ever in western Maine–give a shout. LMH

 

Book of November: Half Acre

I am so tickled for my friend and fellow naturalist, Sarah Frankel, who recently published her first book.

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Half Acre is a children’s book both written and illustrated by this talented young lady.

In rhyming fashion, she takes the younger set outdoors to explore her yard, which is a half acre in size. The size, however, is not important because Sarah knows how to look and to wonder. Or maybe in this case, it is important, because she wants others to realize that there are great things to find on their own small plot of land.

And now she and her husband are teaching their young daughter to do the same. Her hope is that the book will encourage others to step outside and notice as well.

In thirty-four pages, Half Acre explores the yard in all seasons and at different times of day. As much as I enjoyed the rhymes, I especially loved the paintings–of birds and leaves, flowers and bees, butterflies and trees, moss and ferns, night sky and nocturnal visitors, and so much more. Can you find the frozen tree frog? You’ll have to buy the book and look for it.

My favorite painting is the last one–with her house in middle, surrounded by snippets from each of the other paintings, like a sugar maple leaf floating in midair. There’s more to this painting though, for Sarah takes the reader through the four seasons at the house–in 8 x 6-inches, she begins with winter on the left and every two inches the season changes,  ending with autumn on the right. I wish I could share that with you, but you’ll just have to trust me and purchase the book. Of course, she used the same scene to introduce her half acre of land, but it really stands out in the final mural framed by small portions of all the other paintings.

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Since I’m on the topic of Sarah, though this isn’t a book, I was the recipient of one of her paintings. For the past four years, it has leaned against the wall on a counter in the butler’s pantry and makes me think of both Sarah and Mom.

Of Sarah because she knows winter is my favorite time of year and she included tracks in the snow, a starry night, full moon and a shooting star. When I was a Maine Master  Naturalist student, Sarah was a mentor. At that time, though she lived in Conway, NH, she worked at Lakes Environmental Association as the Education Director. And so, we’d drive to and from class at Bates College in Lewiston together. On our way home one night, we saw a shooting star. And many times we tramped together on snowshoes, following mammal tracks. I have to share one more fond memory–the spring night that it rained and we tried to dodge the frogs and salamanders as we drove home. Finally, we got out a few times and helped the sallies cross the road. We were tired from class, and it was a long drive home that night, but by helping a few, we forgave ourselves for the ones we’d smooshed.

Of Mom, because Sarah gave me the painting after my mother died at the end of January during the year I was taking the course–I’m forever honored by Sarah’s thoughtfulness.

Interested in purchasing the book and meeting Sarah? She’s got some book events coming up in the North Conway, New Hampshire area:

November 11th from 11am-3pm – A book signing at The Met Coffee House and Gallery during the Bring A Friend Shopping weekend.

December 2nd at 3pm – A book signing event at White Birch Books, the best book store around!

December 7th from 6-8pm – A book signing at the Adults Only Shopping Night at The Toy Chest. Shop for the holidays, get a copy of Half Acre signed for your little ones and pick your own discount on the way out.

December 9th at 10am – Read aloud, book signing and outdoor exploration at the Conway Public Library. What creatures can we find in the gardens and lawn of the Conway Public Library? Come and see for yourself!

I can’t wait to attend one of these, give her a hug, and ask her to sign my copy. And I may have to steal a kid to attend the outdoor exploration at the Conway Public Library.

Is there a young’un in your life? Then I think Half Acre should finds its way onto their book shelf.

Half Acre, written and illustrated by Sarah Frankel, LifeRich Publishing, 2017. And available at www.liferichpublishing.com, or a local independent bookstore.

Lichen Everything We See

The Tuesday morning Greater Lovell Land Trust docent tramps don’t typically have a theme–we just like to explore a property together to see what it has to offer and learn from each other. But this morning I tried to invoke one–lichens–since we recently had Maine Master Naturalist Jeff Pengel present a talk on the topic and a few days later he led a walk for us.

w-on the trail (1)

I’m happy to say, we are who we are and within minutes we found ourselves easily distracted.

w-many fruited pelt lichen

We did spot a variety of lichens and talked about their forms and substrates. The youngest among us at age 5 found this pelt lichen growing among the mosses.

w-Wes

In fact, he spotted it just after he’d jumped off what he deemed Jockey Cap, a rock that represented the 600-foot ledge that overlooks neighboring Fryeburg. We welcome his keen eyes and those of his siblings, for they see things we overlook and have a natural curiosity. (Don’t you just want to pinch those cheeks?)

w-green stain fruiting

In fact, his oldest brother was the first to spot this fungi, the turquoise fruiting bodies of green stain fungi that I used to think was a remnant trail blaze. The fruits are minute but the color spectacular.

w-scaly vase chanterelle

And so our eyes began to focus on other fungi, the fruiting bodies of which are a result of all the rain we’ve received. Another great find today–scaly vase chanterelles. Our British docent, who is a fungi aficionado, reminded us, “It’s veys here, but back home I’d say vahz.”

w-ant pupa in heart shape

And then there was the heart that we had to love. One of our group had stumbled by a tree stump and some bark slipped off. Beneath it, the adults in an ant colony quickly went to work, moving their pupa to a safer location and we watched for a few minutes as they worked–the heart slowly losing form.

w-interns and young naturalists 2

All along the way, our interns took time to explain things to the younger set.

w-interns and young naturalists 1

And the younger set took time to practice what they knew,

w-poking a balsam blister

such as the fact that if you pop a balsam blister, the resin will ooze out. And your fingers may stick together. But it will smell like Christmas.

w-docents 1b (1)

It took us almost two hours to walk less than a mile and climb the “eagle nest” overlooking Wilson Wing Moose Pond Bog.

w-docents 3 (1)

A few stayed below and made more discoveries.

w-pipsissewa

We finally reached Horseshoe Pond Road, turned right and slowly made our way back to the kiosk where we’d parked. But still, we stopped periodically and took in the sights, including the pipsissewa in bloom.

w-spider

And a spider that was dangling when first spotted by one, but on the dirt road when we all gathered round. Check out the design on its legs.

w-lungwort

After all but one had left, she and I chatted over our brown bag lunches and then ventured across the street to the Bishops Cardinal Reserve in preparation for tomorrow’s  Lovell Rec Summer Camp Nature Hike. We offer two hikes–one for the younger set and another for the older kids, who wish we’d talk less and walk more. We can take a hint and so we do that for them. But still, there are cool things to see. We determined some fine stopping points today for the mammal theme, but the lungwort lichen also called out with its bright green coloration after yesterday’s rain.

w-Horseshoe Pond

Once we’d completed our reconnaissance mission, I decided to stop down the road at the Horseshoe Pond boat launch, ever in search of dragon and damselflies.

w-pickerel weed

It wasn’t warm or sunny enough, so I didn’t spy any of the odonatas.

w-pickerel and hoverfly 2

But I did notice hoverflies nectaring the pickerelweed flowers.

w-green frog

And a young green frog jumped into the water upon my approach. As I stood and looked at it, I heard rustling behind me.

w-snake 8

And in the grass, I spied the creator.

w-snake 9

Notice how thick its body was and the keels or ridges on its scales. Plus the coloration–dark brown to gray with reddish brown and even black splotches.

w-snake 1

It held its head up as if searching for me and I could see a variation of color on its neck.

w-snake 3

And then I moved again while it stayed still–the better to see it with.

w-snake 6

That’s when I realized that what I thought was a six-foot-long snake . . .

w-snake 4

turned into two three-foot-long Northern water snakes. Two? Why? They are known to be solitary. And mating season has since passed.

A few minutes later, a vehicle approached on the road above and slowed down. The driver reached out and grabbed a few blueberries from a high-bush shrub. We exchanged greetings and he told me he was stopping by for his daily dose on his way home from work. I asked if he’d seen the snakes, for I recalled seeing one in the same spot a year ago. As he jumped out of his jeep, he told me he’s caught water snakes in the pond while fishing, but he hadn’t seem them by the boat launch. And then . . . he said he wanted to pick one up and in a flash he did just that, catching one by its tail as the other quickly slithered into the water. I was a bit taken aback but the snake danced with such rhythm and force that he had to let go.

w-snake 11

It dropped into the water where we could admire its colors even more.

w-snake 12

And then it swung around–not necessarily to say hello. We noted a small frog nearby and commented on how still green frogs can be.

w-snake 13

Eventually, the snake moved off, all the while its forked tongue dashing in and out . . .

w-snake 14

and in and out some more as it snacked on insects.

So much for a lichen walk–instead, as always, everything spied on today’s adventure was worth liking.

 

 

 

Spotlight on the Brownfield Bog

When I drove to the Brownfield Bog, aka Major Gregory Sanborn Wildlife Management Area, this afternoon, my intention was to pay attention to the shrubs that grow there.

b-black swallowtail

But, as usual, the distractions were many and a black swallowtail landed as I stepped out of my truck.

b-ant on alder aphid

I did note a tremendous amount of wooly alder aphids coating the alder stems everywhere I walked. In fact, I’ve never seen so much fluff. And I found only one ant eager to milk the sweet honeydew produced by the aphids as they sucked the shrubs sap. Once in a while the white fluff danced in the breeze. Was it an aphid on the fly?

b-willow flowers

Or did it come from the willows that were in the process of sending their seeds forth into the future?

b-Northern Arrowwood

So you see, I was paying attention to the shrubs, especially those in flower like the Northern Arrowwood. There was another with a similar flowerhead, but different leaves and I need to return and spend more time studying it.

b-Pleasant Mountain 2

Because I was in the bog, I did pause occasionally to peer across its advance, usually with a view of my favorite mountain (Pleasant Mountain) providing the background.

b-chalk-fronted corporal 1

But the dragonflies live there. And the chalk-fronted corporals became my BFF, since as many as twenty lifted off with each step I took. They led me all the way down the trail and all the way back, usually a few feet in front.

b-dot-tailed white face 1

The corporals weren’t the only dragons of choice.

b-dot-spotted white face 2

Dot-tailed white face dragonflies were happy to pose.

b-calico pennant 1

And I even found a few calico pennants–happy to make their acquaintance again.

b-white gall on maleberry 2

Between dragon and damselfly opportunities, white globs and . . .

b-maleberry gall?1

green caught my attention. They were the size of apples and totally new to me. My thought right now is that they are galls, similar to the azalea gall, but these were on maleberry shrubs. If you know otherwise, I welcome your information.

b-bog view

The bog was swollen with water only a few weeks ago, but that story line has passed and life sprang from the spring like a fountain of youth.

b-damsel love 1

My noticing continued when I spied a couple of youthful damselflies . . .

b-damsel love 2

he’d attached himself below her . . .

b-damsel love 3

and ever so slowly advanced . . .

b-damsel love 4

until the circle of love was complete.

b-lady beetles canoodling

Canoodling of all kinds occurred.

b-dragonflies canoodling 2

Even the dragonflies tried to get in on the action.

b-dragonflies canoodling

She wasn’t very tolerant, however, and a couple of seconds later detached herself from her forward position and took off.

b-sedge sprite 1

I moved on, looking here and there and thrilling at the sight of the beautiful and iridescent sedge sprite damselfly.

b-river jewelwing

Following the trail to the Saco River, I found tracks galore in the muck below, and a river jewelwing–appropriately named.

b-Canada geese

As I headed out, I startled a Canada goose family that had been feeding along the edge.

b-ring necked and mountain

And then I paused for one last look at the bog and Pleasant Mountain.

b-ring-necked duck

That’s when I realized I was in the presence of a male ring-necked duck. If you like to bird, this is the place. I saw several but heard so many more. And even if I couldn’t apply a name to a song, I did enjoy the symphony that followed me throughout my adventure.

b-Kathy's bog sign

Though I said I went to look at the shrubs because I do want to learn them, my real reason for going was to see this new installment.

b-Kathy's sign up close

Maine Master Naturalist (and potter) Kathy McGreavy created this handmade and painted map of the bog for her capstone project. Her husband recently installed it and it’s a work of art worth looking at not only to appreciate Kathy’s talent, but also to learn more about the bog and those that call it home.

My hope is that the spotlight will continue to shine brightly on Kathy’s creation . . . made with love in honor of her bog.

The Magic of Maine

Our group was small but our experience enormous as five Maine Master Naturalists met in China, Maine, this morning to participate in a workshop about experiential learning presented by one of our own–the teacher of teachers, Anita Smith.

c-osprey 1

Upon arrival at the China School Forest where we met up, our nature distraction disorder (NDD) immediately kicked in for there was an osprey nest on a light post overlooking the ballfield between the middle and primary schools. The forest is a 50-acre tract behind the primary school that serves as a hands-on, outdoor classroom for grades K-8 and all of us really, for it is open to the public.

c-green heron 1

And then our attention was directed to the fire pond, where a stocky green heron displayed its streaked chest and dagger-like bill.

c-green heron crest

We watched him work the edge and loved when he showed off his crest–adding to our agreement about his ID.

c-trail map

At last, we pulled ourselves away and let Anita begin, starting with an overview of the forest’s history and a look at the map posted on the kiosk.

c-yellow rattle 1

We headed off down the trail to a pavilion, but again were easily distracted. This was a plant I didn’t recall meeting previously, but its bladders and yellow faces reminded me of  fish faces. Karen later ID it as yellow rattle for when the seeds form in the bladders later in the season, they rattle.

c-lady's galore

At last we arrived at the pavilion (only a few minutes walk down the trail if one wears blinders) where Anita had us help set up a work station and explained how she has students help cart the supplies. We started to help her, but within seconds Sally spotted the lady’s slippers and again we were distracted.

c-lady's by the dozens

They were so plentiful that we couldn’t resist admiring them.

c-pink lady's slipper

Most were princess pink.

c-white lady's slipper

But a few were pure white (not rare, just a form of the pink, but still . . . ).

c-lady's slipper pod

And even others spoke of transformation, with last year’s pods still standing.

c-nature journal

Again, she pulled us back to the subject of the day. Because we were there to learn about activities we might use in our work with children of all ages, Anita had us create our own nature journals. Stamps and markers and pipe cleaners and solar beads and fabric and we were happy campers–each expressing our own creativity in designing the covers.

c-phoebe babes1

While we worked, baby phoebes watched from above.

c-damselfly nymph1

Our next stop was the wildlife pond and bridge, where we did some pond dipping and were thrilled with our many findings, like damselfly larvae and tadpoles,

c-caddisfly larva and salamander

damselfly and salamander larvae,

c-water scavenger beetle larva and salamander larva

and water scavenger beetle larvae beside a salamander. There was so much more and we again had a difficult time pulling ourselves away.

c-examining aquatic species

It was the water scavenger beetle larvae that stumped us most, but we had fun identifying as many species as we could and were wowed by the variety available.

c-bird nest

Leave we did at last–only first we checked out a nest Sally had discovered. While it sat upon balsam fir branches, we thought it had fallen from above. And marveled at its construction–balsam fir twigs, fruticose lichen and balsam fir needles, all in their own layers.

c-twin flower

There were other things to see before we moved on, like the delicate twinflowers that bloomed.

c-pondweed and raindrops

An artistic display of pondweed.

c-fragrant water lily

And spadderdock,

c-fragrant water lily 2

whose flower reminded me of the inner formation of pitcher plant flowers.

c-Anita reading to us

At last, lunch time arrived. And so we returned to the pavilion where Anita shared some of her favorite books. And then she read to us All the Places to Love by Patricia MacLachlan–warning us first that she would cry when she got to the end. Indeed she did, but we were touched for we got it.

c-board feet

After lunch, she took us on a tour to visit some of the seventeen learning stations, including the forest measurements station, where students learn about common measurements related to the forest and wood product industry, including board feet for dimensional lumber.

c-reading tree

Every time I visit the China School Forest, I’m in awe. And today, I knew others, like Kathy and Cathy, felt the same. The forest was full of diverse species and twenty years ago the Town of China and folks like Anita turned it into an incredible space for children and the child in all of us to learn. My favorite spot of all has been “the reading tree” built around a weeviled white pine. Even those in wheelchairs may access it and find a spot to read or watch or listen. After we climbed up, we climbed down, and Anita led us through several fun activities, the last ending with M&Ms. What’s not to love about a seminar that ends with chocolate?

c-Eastern forktail damselfly

On our walk back, our NDD was ever on alert. And so we’d not seen too many dragon or damselflies in the morning, perhaps given the cooler temp. But on our way out, an Eastern forktail damselfly drew our admiration for its green, black and blue coloration.

c-bridge classroom

We were beside the man-made pond when we saw it, where the bridge crosses and where we’d earlier done some pond dipping to observe the aquatic insects. It’s there that a bench sits in the midst of an outdoor classroom.

c-dedicated to Anita Smith

That very bench had been dedicated to our Anita.

c-baby robin 2

Back at the pavilion, we gathered all our gear and then followed the trail out. And that’s when Kathy called from ahead, telling us to watch our step. A baby robin sat on the path. We heard a parent nearby.

And wondered in the magic of the day. Another magical day in Maine.