“Hey You!”

Shouts of “Hey You!” echoed across Long Lake in Naples, Maine, this morning as sixth grade students from Oxford Hills enjoyed a cruise sponsored by the Lakes Environmental Association aboard the Songo River Queen II, a replica of the famed Mississippi River Paddle Wheelers. For the past twenty years or so, LEA has offered this event to those who have completed the Living Connections Program in the Lake Region Schools and as a special program for students from several other districts, such as Oxford Hills.

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This culminating activity brings all the lessons students have learned about shoreland zoning and water quality to life in an engaging and interactive way.

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After what seemed like months of rain, it was a beautiful morning as Captain Kent steered the boat away from the dock and onto the 11-mile-long lake.

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As the tour began, LEA’s talented teacher/naturalist Mary Jewett, quizzed the kids.

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They expressed their knowledge about watersheds, lake hydrology, phosphorus and other nutrients, chlorophyll, algal blooms, vegetated buffers, erosion control, thermocline, stratification and turnover, and received prizes for each correct answer. I’m always impressed by their responses.

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They’re able to point out vegetated buffers . . .

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and recognize that some lakefront properties built within the 100-foot setback are older than the shoreland zoning law and therefore grandfathered.

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In the midst of it all, Captain Kent suddenly made Mary aware of a violation occurring on shore. Several women shoveled sand out of a wheelbarrow and spread it with rakes.

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Encouraged by Mary, the kids shouted, “Hey You!” The women continued to spread the sand so the kids shouted again—only this time they were even louder. On shore, the culprits looked surprised. Using the loudspeaker system, Mary explained that it’s illegal to add sand to the beach.

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The women quickly retreated, dumping the wheelbarrow in the process. The kids caught on that this was a role playing situation, but it created opportunities to discuss the implications–such as the fact that dumping sand can cause significant problems for the lake because it contains phosphorus, which contributes to decreased water clarity and algal blooms. Wildlife is also affected, e.g. decreased spawning habitat for fish, and increased opportunities for invasive aquatic plants like variable-leaf milfoil.

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Mary continued to question the kids as the boat poked along, until another “Hey You!” moment. One woman was spotted spreading fertilizer (flour in this case) with a flourish, while another sprayed what appeared to be weedkiller on the vegetative buffer. The kids were reminded that topical fertilizers often contain phosphorus and other nutrients that wash into the lakes.

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At the same property, a man mowed the lawn using the lowest setting (or so it looked from the boat). Short grass is even more likely to allow those nutrients to wash into the water.

l-station 3, trimming vegetative buffer

The next violation involved a group of people trimming and removing the vegetated buffer. The students know the buffer is the last line of defense between a home and the lake because it provides a filter for any run-off, thus helping to keep excessive nutrients, sediment and storm water out of the lake. Native trees, shrubs, flowers and ground cover should be left in place.

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Like the other offenders, this group hastily ran away . . .

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and hid behind the trees.

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Following the third stop, the boat paused in the middle of the lake, where Mount Washington was visible. Students rotated through water testing stations where they practiced using such devices as a secchi disk, dissolved oxygen meter, Van Dorn water sampler, and core sampler. I was in charge of the core sampler and we talked about how the hose is lowered to one meter below the thermocline, that mid-point at which the temperature decreases and sunlight cannot penetrate. (Think about doing a cannon ball off the dock and hitting the spot where the temperature is suddenly freezing–or so it feels on a hot summer day.) We talked about how the water is tested in a lab for chlorophyll, phosphorus, pH, color and more. And then they tried gathering a water sample. One student lowered the weighted end of the clear, plastic hose into the water, while the others held onto the rest of it. When I said “Crimp and cover,” a second student crimped the hose and a third covered the far end. Quickly, the first student raised the weighted end, the other two let go and working together, all raised the hose high and tried to “walk” the water down it and into a container. Today, I think we gathered the most water I’ve seen in all the years I’ve volunteered for this activity.

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Once students had rotated through all of the stations, Mary’s quiz continued as we traveled along the eastern shore. Volunteers asked questions, though I let Mary ask mine, and again the students who answered correctly were rewarded.

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Because they were on the lookout, one of the kids noticed people wearing hardhats and attempting to cut pine trees within mere feet of the lake.

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They are quickly admonished by this now savvy group, though the “workers” couldn’t believe they’re being picked upon. Mary did remind the kids that shoreland zoning laws do allow homeowners to limb up to 1/3 the height of a tree in order to maintain a view.

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Close by, a man washed his laundry—yes, in the water. Under state law, it is illegal to intentionally introduce foreign substances, including soap, into the water. (He was supposed to “bathe,” but the temperature is a wee bit chilly yet.)

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It didn’t end there. As the boat passed by the Naples Town Beach, the kids noticed a group gathered on the dock drinking and then tossing empty cans.

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You know by now what happened.

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Though one guy did run back . . .

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to get the boom box.

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At last Kent steered the boat back toward the dock.

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The cruise had come to an end, but by seeing the volunteer actors on shore, students made the connection between their in-class learning and real life situations when it comes to water quality.

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Oh, and before we had initially headed out, Mary spotted a huge dragonfly exoskeleton by the causeway and LEA’s Education Director, Alanna Doughty, climbed over the railing to fetch it. As Mary pointed out to the kids when she held the exoskeleton up, this is what it’s all about–clean water for aquatic species and for us.

Hey You! Think about your actions and be the difference.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

Slog Through The Bog

She said she’d call a half hour before heading to the bog so I should probably sleep in my hiking clothes and boots. And she was right! I was just about to take a bagel out of the toaster oven when the phone rang. “We’re going to the bog at 9:00. Can you join us?” Thirty-five minutes later I pulled into her driveway, excited because it was a chance to explore Brownfield Bog with about-to-become Maine Master Naturalist Kathy McGreavy and her daughter, Dr. Bridie McGreavy.

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From there we drove to Bog Road and parked at the beginning since conditions were dicey, but also because it gave us a chance to walk and listen–almost immediately we heard a barred owl. And then the warblers greeted us.

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Brownfield Bog, aka Major Gregory Sanborn WMA, encompasses 6,000 acres of wetland. And on any given day, the sky tells its story above and below. Of course, we thought we were going to get poured upon when we first met, but the mist soon evaporated and sun warmed us enough that we shed a few layers.

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The initial stretch of our journey found us moving at a fast pace, but once we reached the second gate,

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our inclination was to slow down.

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To stop, look and listen.

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The chestnut streaks on the yellow warbler matched the emerging red maple leaves.

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And I can never spend enough time with a Baltimore oriole, forever wowed by its color.

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And its voice.

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Birds flitted about and flew overhead, but occasionally one, such as this catbird, paused and posed.

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Most of the songbirds were feeding and perhaps nesting in the land of the willows, birch and maples.

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Others also sought homes here, like the gall gnat midge that overwintered in a pinecone-like structure created with leaves by the reaction to a chemical released by the larva. I’m forever amazed about how nature works.

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Eventually, we followed the song sparrows as they led us down the cobbled road.

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The current was strong in places . . .

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and water deep.

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But the views . . .

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worth every step.

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Sometimes, our focus was upon the ground, where we spotted a few small red maple samaras.

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And scat–including this double offering of coyote deposits.

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And among it–a toe nail first spied by Bridie. I chuckled to myself when we got down to look at this, for Bridie first introduced me to the finer qualities of scat when she worked at Lakes Environmental Association. She also taught me to track mammals. And . . . the crème de la crème–to sniff fox pee. Ah, the delights we have shared–they are many and having an opportunity to walk with her today brought them all flooding back.

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We decided to put our blinders on so we could continue without any pauses, but then Bridie’s eagle eyes zeroed in on movement. Her mom and I saw the movement as well, but we had to really focus in order to find the creator among the dried vegetation.

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And we did–a ribbon snake, who happens to be a great reason for preserving this property because its a species of special concern in Maine.

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At times, Pleasant Mountain was the featured backdrop.

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And Canada geese swam in the foreground.

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Everywhere, beaver works were obvious and scent mounds growing in size.

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After a couple of hours, we reached our turn-around point at the old oak tree.

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As we looked across, one of the beaver lodges stood above the water level.

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But Kathy and Bridie both reminded me that another was still submerged due to this spring’s high water level.

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Finally, we did our best to bee-line back. But Kathy showed me one more great find that had been pointed out to her by Mary Jewett last year–the straggly stick structure of a cuckoo’s nest. Certainly worth a wonder. (The other wonder–when we first arrived at the bog this morning, Mary was just leaving.)

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Our entire morning had been worth a wonder and then another occurred when we returned to Kathy’s house. While I said goodbye to Bridie, who is an Assistant Professor of Environmental Communication in the Department of Communication and Journalism at the University of Maine, her mom slipped into the house. When Kathy returned, she handed me this spoon pot filled with daffodils from her garden. She’s a potter and owner of Saco River Pottery. Though I love to give her fine art as presents, I only own one other piece. This one now stands proudly on our kitchen counter, holding the utensils as it was intended. It will forever remind me of the McGreavys and the day I first saw a dragonfly emerge from its exoskeleton–at the bog with Bridie; and the day I spent with Kathy as I interviewed her for a magazine article about creating pottery–and she let me try my hand at the wheel; and so many other memories of time spent with these ladies, but especially today–for the opportunity to slog through the bog with the two of them.

 

“The Actual World”

In this morning’s newspaper I read an article about the loss of natural sound because we have created so much people noise. It took me back to a time about forty years ago when I think I first actually paid attention by sitting alone in the woods and listening–hearing the soft rustle of grass blades, chirp of the crickets, buzz of mosquitoes and vroom of a truck in the distance. I can still envision that spot on a hillside where I closed my eyes to the sun and tried to zone in only on sound–to let go of the rest of the world and focus on that one sense.

And so I took that thought with me this morning when I joined others to bird at the Bob Dunning Bridge, one of the entrances to Bridgton’s Pondicherry Park.

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Truth be known, I also went birding at the bridge early yesterday morning when the sun shone brilliantly and a yellow-rumped warbler posed for an instant.

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Today dawned raw and overcast. And at first, the birds weren’t all that song-filled or even evident.

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But then we heard one on high and our natural high kicked in. A Baltimore oriole whistled its melodious tune and we swooned.

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We watched an Eastern phoebe flick its tail as it looked to the right . . .

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and then to the left. Because of the morning’s chill, the bugs upon which it feeds seemed non-existent to start.

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But, perhaps it knew otherwise.

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What we knew was that the temp climbed a wee bit and bird song increased, including that of the ever sweet song sparrow. Yes, we could hear the sounds of this sleepy, western Maine town since we were only a block from Main Street, but the songbirds shared their voices and for us–we focused on those delightful tunes as we tried to figure out who we could hear but not see.

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One such resident arrived this past week, like many other snowbirds (people residents who winter south of Maine– or is it south of New England?). We recognized the catbird first by its cat-like mewing and then we spotted two along the stonewall and in the brushy shrubs.

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Like all birds, however, they didn’t sit still. We did note, though, that they spent most of their time on the other side of the bridge in an area where they frequently nest.

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And speaking of nesting, the song sparrow moved from its perch to the ground where it joined others as they scratched about and filled their beaks with potential materials to add to their new home.

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I love that from above, it blended in with its surroundings. A good thing when you are but a wee bird.

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That being said, not all went undiscovered and we noted that some joules were passed from one bird to another–energy flowing through the cycle.

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Eventually, one of our favorites of the day moved closer and we watched it for some time as it worked upside down and then . . .

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right side up. Again, we wondered if the oriole was working at the dried leaves and also seeking nesting material.

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And finally, a song a few of us heard when we first arrived showed its face–“Sweet, sweet, sweet, I’m so sweet,” evolved into a yellow warbler, or two or three.

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Because we were there and looking, other members of the world showed their faces, such as the flowers of Norway maples and . . .

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box elders.

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We noted the emerging American elm leaves, already highlighting their sandpaper texture and asymmetrical base.

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And then we got stumped momentarily by the butternut (aka white walnut ), but it’s the eyebrows above the monkey face leaf scar that spoke to its name. Less than a month ago, Jinny Mae and I discovered its cousin, black walnut at Narramissic. Both are not all that common in the woods, but both grow in places where human impact is more evident. That being said, human impact is evident the world ’round.

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Eventually, all good things must come to an end and it was time for those gathered to move along into our days. But . . . we’d had the joy of spending a couple of early morning hours, whether in the sun or not, coming into contact with sight and sound and texture. We’d met the actual world and we loved making its acquaintance.

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Thanks be to Mary Jewett of Lakes Environmental Association for offering these community birding events. And for her patience with us amateurs as she teaches us the finer points of identification.