Bugged by the Otherworldy

There was a time when insects bugged me. Apparently, I’m long beyond that for though I morn the loss of snow and tracking season, I can’t wait for insect season to begin. Ah yes, that is, except for the blackflies, aka Maine’s state bird, or so they should be. But even the blackflies I can endure because I know that they provide food for actual birds and for other insects such as dragonflies. By now, you’re probably thinking I’m about to present a series of dragonfly shots. Not today, but that day will be upon us very soon for in the natural world everything seems to be on time and there is no such thing as The Pause.

Pause, however, I did beside another wetland setting today in a spot where my boots slowly sunk down into the sphagnum moss for the longer I stood the deeper they went, and the stoneflies crawled, their veined wings showing off a stained-glassed window naturally.

If you look closely at the tip of the abdomen that curves out from under the wings, you may see the cerci or paired appendages. They are one of the clues to identification and sighting stoneflies is a great thing because they are intolerant of water pollution.

Of course, when one is looking one sees . . . caddisflies everywhere, though because I was in a different wetland habitat today as compared to yesterday’s vernal pool journey, the shelter of choice differed. Notice how this caddisfly’s home resembles the equisetum upon which it climbs.

But at the risk of boring you with too many caddisfly photos, I moved on (after taking too many caddisfly photos). About an inch to the left, that is. And that’s when I spied a mayfly larva with cerci of three. The thing with mayflies–they can have two or three tails. At this stage mayflies are called nymphs or naiads.

Eventually I made my way over to some false hellebores and what should I spy at the tip of one? A teenager! Well, not exactly, but the subimago or dun form of a newly emerged dragonfly. Notice the cloudiness of its wings–a clue that it isn’t an imago or adult. Mayflies are the only insects that I know of which also molt as adults. Once the final molt occurs, the clear-winged adult will live for a day or two, mate, lay eggs, and then become part of the detritus upon which they fed as nymphs.

Checking the next false hellebore was worth it not only to embrace the design of the ribbed leaves, but hiding within–yes, another subimago.

Again, the cloudy wings were the giveaway.

At a different spot along the water’s edge, a giant of sorts scanned the scene in hopes of snagging a meal. Yesterday I looked for giant water bugs. Today I found not one, but two. My next hope is that someday I’ll get to see a male carrying the nursery his mate deposits upon his back.

But then another sight forced me back into the world of the mayflies for I spotted the exuviae or cast skin of . . . a mayfly larva. Can you see where it split at the top (bottom actually) of the structure.

And just a few inches away, the one who had just emerged from aquatic life . . .

found its feet and began to march toward a new life . . .

as it tried out its balance in the terrestrial world.

Being bugged by insects is one of my favorite ways to be. Even if there are some who annoy or predate, they are all still worthy of our wonder for they each bring something to the natural world–otherworldly or otherwise.

Because of the Elder Alder

“Mind your elders,” they say. And so today I did.

It all began when I stood by a river in expectation of spying a few dragonfly exoskeletons. Low temperatures of late mixed in with lots of rain, however, meant that while the Black Fly and Mosquito populations are on the high side, the dragonflies have been slow to delight us with their presence. But . . . while I looked my eyes began to focus on another bug. On small saplings of Hemlock and others along the river bank, I found numerous takes on the same insect. Though winged, none of them appeared to be in a great hurry.

While I looked about, I realized that they weren’t the only ones who chose to stand rather still. The same was true of the Mayflies recently hatched, their eyes so big, bodies so striped, and mouths non-existent for eating was not their prime duty. Mating was the name of the Mayfly game.

And it appeared that others had the same intention in mind. And so I continued to circle back to them in my usual stalking routine.

“My, what long antennae you have.”

“The better to stroke you with, my dear.”

While I looked about, a bird flew in. My initial reaction: a thrush. More specifically: a Hermit Thrush. But . . . recently I’d learned that what I thought was a Hermit turned out to be a Swainson’s Thrush–a species I tended to ignore because I didn’t realize it might be a possibility in western Maine, until it was. And in the past two weeks, I’ve had three occasions upon which to make its acquaintance.

What I’m learning to note is its buffy eye ring and consistent color. I’m not a great birder, and don’t ask me about sound. Though I was raised in a musical family, the gene somehow was dropped from my DNA. I find that I appreciate the songs and calls that I hear. In fact, my life is enlightened by the morning orchestra. But . . . don’t ask me to repeat a note for it goes in one ear, out the other, and continues on into the forest reverberating against bark and leaves and illuminating the world in a manner ethereal–just not one I can remember.

As for the resident bugs, I found one that had bird droppings on it, but somehow it had managed to avoid becoming dinner. So far.

While I looked about, a bird of another sort made itself known–via a pellet filled with hair and bones.

Meanwhile, back on the first Hemlock sapling, I overheard this:

“Do you want to see me Hemlock needle collection?”

“Oh yes, please. I thought you’d never ask.”

While I looked about, I also noticed Starflowers in bloom, their tender blossoms practically imitating the leaves below.

Back at the ranch, or rather branch, the dance had finally begun. It was a slow one, indeed.

While I looked about, one with much more speed scurried across the forest floor. Where’s Waldo Spider? Do you see him?

And on the branch the slow dance continued as the partners spent time getting to know each other.

While I looked about, ants ran up and down stems all around on a quest I couldn’t quite understand, though I’m sure there was sugar involved.

On the branch: He stepped in closer with his left foot and she with the right as they began to Rumba.

While I looked about, I realized other insects had become meals so caught were they in the tangle of a web.

On another sapling, others waited to cut in. It’s a recognized practice to cut in. The guy who wants to cut taps the gal’s partner quietly on the shoulder. The dancer must let her go both courteously and cheerfully. She, of course, has no choice in the matter.

On the branch: He was going to allow no one to cut in. And she felt the same.

While I looked about, I discovered a white Lady’s Slipper not yet in full bloom, but when it does, it will be the perfect dance shoe.

When I at last left, the couple continued to explore each other, though mating doesn’t typically take place until nighttime. I guess this male was ready to get a head start. After all, their window of opportunity isn’t long, so they must make hay while the sun doth shine.

Because of these elder Alderflies, I had the honor to see and learn so much today.

Thrice the Blessings

My mother always said that things happen in threes. It’s a sentiment that has stuck with me and sometimes even haunted me. But when it is good, it is very, very good. And today was one of those days.

Though it was after noon by the time I stepped into Pondicherry Park in Bridgton, the bird song was on high pitch. The American Redstart’s sweet, yet explosive notes came amidst bursts of acrobatic energy as he flew quickly from one branch to the next and then back again a second later over Stevens Brook.

Twenty feet away, the delightful phrases of the Gray Catbird’s tunes filled the air, but it was his raspy mews that gave away his identity. And suddenly, there he was atop a tangle of shrubs and vines as is his habit. I suspected the nest he shares with his lady was located below.

“Wichety, wichety, wichety,” was the give-away song for the Common Yellowthroat, although I do have to say he was much easier to hear than to see.

While the redstart donned the colors of Halloween, the catbird appeared to be a cat in a bird costume, and the yellowthroat was equally disguised with a black mask.

For a few minutes, I stepped off the bridge and followed the Stevens Brook trail where I was met by a delightful surprise. I spied the mottled leaves before the flowers and my heart sang its own tunes with recognition of the species that I didn’t know grew there.

But the Trout Lily flowers were beautiful with a hint of bronze accenting their yellow petals. Do you see the formation? What may look like six petals is actually a configuration known as tepals for it’s difficult to differentiate between the three inner petals and their surrounding three sepals, which had previously enclosed the flower. Ahhh, language.

And within the center core, the pistil (she’s a pistol of a woman) surrounded by six stamen (Stay men), their anthers rusty red with pollen.

Also sometimes agreeing with the division of three were three tiny Goldthread flowers looking all fresh and perky. And their leaves of three parts that remind me of Cilantro.

And then another that knows the number being repeated time and time again: Jack-in-the-Pulpit or Arisaema triphyllum. The “pulpit” from which “Jack” (technically, the “spadix”) preaches stood between two long-stalked, three-parted leaves.

Further along the trail, I watched a female Hairy Woodpecker foraging for insects on stumps and logs.

A male I assumed was her guy did the same.

And then, though the colors don’t really show it in this photo, I heard another bird sing and by his white hanky in the pocket (a dash of white on his wings, right Molly?) I think I’ve identified him correctly: Black-throated Blue Warbler.

I was grateful not only for the two that I knew, but also the third that I’m just learning.

Other flowers showed off their structures, like those of the Norway Maple. OK, so the tree is invasive and grows prolifically in the park because it was originally planted as part of the streetscape above, but the fragrant yellow-green flowers blew delicately in the breeze. (As will their seeds soon, and thus the invasion).

Another that grows much less abundantly, but always makes me smile is the Striped Maple, an understory tree. And it too had flowers to share so there is hope for more of this species.

Flowering in a different way was the Woodland Horsetail, an equisetum. Its flower was in the form of a cone at the tip. Once its spores have been shed, the cone will collapse.

Insects also were part of the scene and tis the season of Mayflies, this one a subimago as indicated by the color of its wings. Cloudy wings indicated it was a teenager that had not gone through its final morph.

And then, a Great Black Wasp–its translucent blue wings giving it away in the duff. I tried to get closer, but it took off.

Such was the case also with a Mourning Cloak butterfly, which would have given me three insects to share. Do remember that insects have three pairs of legs–there’s that number again.

At last, several hours after I’d begun, it was time for me to leave Stevens and Willow Brooks behind.

But not until I had a chance to enjoy the beauty of Painted Trillium (Trillium undulatum), which was my initial reason for the journey. Trillium: Latin for tri, refers to the flower parts occurring in threes; llium: Latin for liliaceous, refers to the funnel-shaped flower; and undulatum: Latin reference for wavy, referring to the petals’ wavy margins.

Mom was right. Good things do happen in threes. Along my journey I also had the blessing of chatting with three wonderful women, Becky, Sheila, and Lori.

Thrice the blessings worth a wonder indeed.

Bear to Beer: Bishop Cardinal to Lord Hill

Our destination sounded rather regal; as if we’d be paying our respects to Bishop Cardinal and Lord Hill. And indeed we did.

We also paid our respects to telephone poles. Well, actually only certain ones. They had to have a certain look–as if a Black Bear had backed into the pole and turned its head around at an angle and bit the wood with its upper and lower canine teeth thus leaving nearly horizontal marks that look like a dot and dash. In the process, the aluminum numbers had to be a bit mangled in order to receive our attention. This particular pole was right by the trailhead and so after examining it, we headed up the blue trail at the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Bishop Cardinal Reserve on Horseshoe Pond Road in Lovell.

Along the way, we examined every American Beech we saw, but actually passed by a spot where we know there are several with the marks we sought. If you go, look for the blue dot on the white arrow and hike in at a diagonal from there.

Our hope today was to find other bear claw trees we’d missed previously and so we kept going off trail in search. Turning onto the red trail, we continued to check. Sometimes it’s the shape of the tree’s crown that makes us wonder.

We have learned that we can’t dismiss any bark without walking all the way around and bingo–we had a new-to-us bear claw tree.

I don’t know why it is, but those marks make our hearts sing. Perhaps it’s the knowledge of the wildness of it all and the fact that we share this place with such intelligent beings.

Whatever it is, we decided that rather than creating waypoints for each tree we found, we’d try to remember the location by using other landmarks such as a certain waterbar that was intended to divert snowmelt and rain from washing out the trail. When you reach that certain waterbar on the red trail, turn left and walk in about twenty yards. If you don’t find our tree, perhaps you’ll discover another.

Continuing up the trail, we did note a few other favorites off to the right.

Sometimes, in my mind’s eye, I could just see the movement of the climber.

With one such tree, the marks were lower than most and I wondered if it was a younger bear. Of course, we have no idea how long ago those marks were left behind. Mary Holland suggests a way to age them that we haven’t tried yet. And we didn’t look for fresh marks. Really, we need to be better sleuths going forward.

In case you are wondering, occasionally we noted other points of interest, such as the burst of beech buds, their spring green leaves all hairy and soft, which is actually quite a contrast to the papery feel they eventually acquire.

Here and there, the cheerful display of Round-leaved Violets brightened the path.

And drone flies, with their bigger than life eyes, posed. Any black flies? Yes, a few, but not biting . . . yet.

We were almost to the old shack site, if you know where I mean, when our journey off trail revealed another fine specimen. Again, the claw marks were on the backside since we approached from the trail. Always, always, always circle about and you might be surprised.

Eventually, we reached the intersection with the trail to Lord Hill and continued our surveillance as we continued our hike.

Once we turned right onto the Conant Trail, we did find one tree with marks long ago made . . . by some bears with either an extreme understanding of relationships, or more likely, a few who weren’t all that intelligent after all.

At last, the trail opened onto the ledges overlooking Horseshoe Pond and it was there that we sat down on the warm granite as a nippy breeze flowed across. Enjoying the view of Horseshoe Pond below and the mountains beyond, we ate lunch.

We also toasted a few others with a Honey of a Beer brewed by Lee of another spelling! Dubbel Trouble was double delicious. Thank you, Lee Fraitag. 😉 Our toast was also doubled for we gave thanks to Paula and Tom Hughes, who live just below on the pond. Tomorrow we’ll enjoy a Mother’s Day Brunch at the Old Saco Inn courtesy of the Hugheses. 😉

Clink. Clink.

After enjoying lunch rock we journeyed up to the Lord Hill Mine.

According to mindat.org, Lord Hill Mine was “a former rare mineral specimen quarry. Briefly worked in episodes in the mid-20th century for feldspar. Originally a mineral collector’s site in the late 1870s. Opened by Nathan Perry and Edgar D. Andrews in the early 1880s. Originally called Harndon Hill, but the named changed in a complex change of names about 1917. Operated solely by Nathan Perry by 1882. Operated for massive topaz for educational mineral collections in the 1970’s by Col. Joseph Pollack of Harrison, Maine. The locality is the type locality for hamlinite, now regarded as a synonym for goyazite. Granite pegmatite. Oxford pegmatite field. Local rocks include Carboniferous alkali feldspar granite (muscovite accessory mineral).

We spotted several people busy digging for their fortunes and decided to let them. They either were so tuned in to their work that they didn’t hear us or they chose not to. No matter. After a quick look about, we quietly followed the mine trail down–our own focus still on the trees.

And at the point where the National Forest abuts the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s property, we turned back onto the land trust’s loop trail. We’d come up from the left, so turned right to continue our descent.

And yes, we found one more bear tree. Somewhere along the way, I lost track of the number of new finds. But, we trusted that for all we found, there were so many more we must have missed. And then some.

Back on Horseshoe Pond Road, we turned left and checked all the telephone poles along the edge, examining each for bear hair because we’ve seen it stuck on them before. Today, no hair.

So why do the bears pay attention to telephone poles? Think of it as a combo backscratcher and messageboard. Pretend I’m a young male, ready and available. Wanna go out for a date tonight? Give me a call.

Despite the lack of hair, because we were looking, we found a Mayfly. That in itself, was another reason to celebrate.

Bishop Cardinal and Lord Hill. We thank you both. Black Bears, we thank you. Lee, we thank you. Paula and Tom, we thank you. (Happy Mother’s Day, Paula) All are regal indeed.

Bear to beer possibilities: Bishops Cardinal Reserve and Lord Hill Mine.

Looking for Spring

Last night one of the Greater Lovell Land Trust‘s volunteer docents earned her certification from the Maine Master Naturalist Program. The MMNP’s goal is to develop a statewide network of volunteers who will teach natural history throughout Maine. With hands-on training, the course provides over 100 hours of classroom and outdoor experience, focusing on geology, identification of flora and fauna, wetland and upland ecology, ecological principles and teaching methods. By the time students complete the program, which includes a final capstone project, they have developed the skills to lead a walk, present a talk and provide outreach. In the year following certification, each graduate agrees to volunteer 40 hours and thereafter must continue to volunteer to remain an active Maine Master Naturalist.

And so it was that Juli joined four of us in the GLLT’s docent group by becoming a certified naturalist last evening. And today, she was out doing what she does best–leading homeschooled families along a GLLT trail. You see, for her capstone project Juli created a group called Nature Explorers. On the second Tuesday of each month (and today’s was the third trip she’d led for this group), other homeschooled families join hers for a walk with a focus along a GLLT trail. Today’s focus: Signs of Spring.

Given the fact that the snow is still at least knee deep, we knew it wasn’t going to be easy. But the day dawned bright, if a bit chilly to start, and so two of Juli’s kids waited for others by hanging out with the trees. Or rather . . . in the trees.

Once all had gathered, she led us down Slab City Road to the trailhead for the Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve.

It was there that while we began our search for the season that often begins with a stubborn start in western Maine , we spied something that brought smiles to our faces and awe to our experience. Otter slides. On both sides of Mill Brook. Look carefully and you may also notice the slides–they look like troughs in the snow.

We tromped through (leaving our snowshoes behind, which we sometimes regretted) to take a closer look, noticing where the mammal had bounded and then slid down the embankment.

And then we moved on . . . to observe and learn, including fifty cent words like marcescent, which means withering but remaining attached to the stem. Juli pointed out the dried up leaves on the beech trees.

And the kids joined her to take a closer look–at the leaves, but also the buds, which had started to swell. Ah, sign one!

It was a Witch-Hazel which next grabbed the group’s attention. She explained that while the small, gray woody structures looked like flowers, they were really capsules that go dormant throughout the winter. Those will develop over the next growing season and then in autumn forcibly expel two shiny black seeds about 10 to 20 feet.

One of the boys noticed that the buds were hairy and so others came in to examine the structures.

From there, it was another beech tree to check out, but this time the discussion moved toward the alternate orientation of its branches and leaves.

And then, because they suffer from the best of syndromes we refer to as Nature Distraction Disorder, the group stopped at a Red Pine to admire its bark.

With hand lenses, they focused on the various colors of the thin, puzzle-like scales. Some had fallen to the ground as is the habit of the flakey bark, but Juli reminded everyone that it’s best not to pull it off for bark protects the tree much like winter coats protect us.

It was a fungi that next attracted the group.

And so they pulled out the lenses again to look at the spore surface of several Birch Polypores growing on downed trees. The brownish underside was actually another sign of the season for they would have released their spores in late summer or autumn.

A wee bit further and a wet spot was noted where we could see some brown leaves reflecting the names of trees in the canopy above, but also, drum role please . . .

some greenery with buds beginning to form–in the shape of Wintergreen. One of the girls did point out that though it was a sign of the season, it did have the word “winter” in its name.

Another one of the girls looked up at an old Pileated Woodpecker excavation site, and noted the spider web within that had been created last summer by a funnel-web spider, so named because of the funnel-shaped web. Though no one was home today, the spider typically waits in the funnel for prey to fall onto its horizontal web. Then it rushes out, grabs its victim, and takes it back to the silken burrow to consume and hide in wait.

Since our signs were few and far between, and Juli really wanted to get to Otter Rock to show some fun finds, she challenged the kids to run with her.

They did. And then they slid.

And looked.

And spotted.

And wondered.

And wondered some more.

We’d reached our destination of Otter Rock and though we didn’t have any dipping containers, we made do with lucite bug boxes.

At the edge of Heald Pond, the kids found movement in the water . . .

in the form of Mayfly Larvae, with fan-like gills along the abdomen and three filaments at the tip.

Spring indeed! With that discover, we left with a spring in our steps, already looking forward to next month’s vernal pool exploration.

P.S. Thanks Juli for this wonder-filled offering, and congratulations on your achievement. You are now a member of the nexus of naturalists.

Upta Camp

It’s been a gray day and a quiet day–the right mix of ingredients for a perfect day. And except for saying goodby to my guy this morning, the only conversations I have had, too numerous to count, were with myself.

c2-gray squirrel

Well, maybe that’s not quite accurate, for I did talk to a squirrel, but in unusual squirrel manner, it stayed as still as could be and didn’t respond. Together, however, we eyed our domain.

c5-mayfly

It turned out we weren’t the only ones with big eyes that chose to hang out all day. Attached to the screen was a Mayfly subimago–the teenage form of the insect.

c6-close up

Mayflies are unique in that after the nymph emerges from the water as the subimago (that fishermen call a dun), they seek shelter before shedding their skin for the final transformation. I’m tickled that this dun chose our porch screen on which to rest.

m6c-close up

Notice the cloudy wings–that’s a clue as to its age. It can take a few minutes to two days before a subimago transforms into a clear-winged imago or spinner, though the actual metamorphosis is quick. Will I see it? You know I’ll keep watching.

c6-sawfly insect case

In the meantime, there was more to discover, including a sawfly insect case featuring the tiny hole where the insect chewed its way out.

c19-round-leaved sundew

As I looked about, I made one extremely exciting discovery–at least to me. Since 1986, I’ve stalked this land and today was the first time that I noticed the carnivorous Round-leaved Sundew growing here. Its leaves were filled to the brink with insect parts.

c18-round-leaved sundew

Perhaps that was why it looked so healthy and ready to flower. Expect to meet it again in future blog posts. (I warned you.)

c14-swamp rose

I also spotted a few Swamp Roses offering a bright contrast to the day’s overcast reflection.

c13-red pine

Featuring its own display of color was my favorite red pine–all pink-orange-gray hued in a jigsaw puzzle manner.

c15-red pine cone developing

At the ends of its branches I found young cones growing larger and greener.

c16a-spider

And old cones offering the perfect camouflage for a spider that had created a large network in which to trap its prey. I think it was of the garden cross variety, but without breaking the web, I couldn’t get too close, and I didn’t want to ruin all of its work.

c17-dragonfly exuvia

Entangled in a bit of another web and dangling from the floor of the porch and beside the foundation was a skimmer dragonfly exuvia. Today wasn’t a flight day for dragonflies, and so I had to wonder–where do they hide when the sun doesn’t show its cheery face?

c1-camp view

Perhaps in the buffer zone of vegetation that surrounds Propinquity, our point of view.

c2a-dock view

It only took us about a month longer than usual . . .

c2-Pleasant Mtn

to make the long journey (7 miles) to the water’s edge.

c20-hammock

But at last we’ve arrived.

c21-hammock view

Upta camp. The way life should be.

 

 

Mayday Alert

Each time we explore a Greater Lovell Land Trust property, we have no idea what we might discover and this day was no different. For today’s Tuesday Tramp I suggested we visit the Cohen Property near the Lower Bay of Kezar Lake, which was the last acquisition under the direction of the late Tom Henderson. We’d only been there once before–and that was a few months ago when we explored via snowshoes. At that time we discovered ice-covered depressions and so a journey to check them out as vernal pools seemed apropos.

m2-moose print ID

There are no trails yet and so after parking, we followed the road back a ways to the area of our winter expedition. And what to our wondering eyes did we spy on the road? Moose prints! One should always look through a magnifying glass to make certain the ID is correct. Wes confirmed our suspicion.

m2-scooping

We found sitting water and running water and began to wonder about the wetland and whether what we thought might be a vernal pool really was, for we knew that a v.p. shouldn’t have an inlet or outlet. As the first dips of the day were made, black flies began to swarm around us. We hoped to pick up their larvae in the moving water, but instead we found many springtails.

m3-what did you catch

And a few mosquito larvae as determined by Caleb, Linda and Nancy.

m5-blob and algae

In another spot, we also found a mystery. At first we thought it might be some sort of egg. And maybe it was, but how was it related to the algae that seemed to be a host? We didn’t know, but now that we’re aware of it, we’ll continue to wonder and perhaps become enlightened.

m6-pool?

We checked out “pool” after “pool” and found not one egg mass (except for a false start that fooled us momentarily), which rather disappointed us. Were these really vernal pools? We suspected so as they were shallow and looked like they’ll dry up in the summer, if not before, plus they supported no fish. Were they significant vernal pools? Definitely not. To be a significant vernal pool, the body of water must contain one of the following obligate species: 1 fairy shrimp or 10 blue-spotted salamander egg masses or 20 spotted salamander egg masses (yellow spots) or 40 wood frog egg masses. Fairy Shrimp? No. Salamander egg masses? No. Frog egg masses? No.

m7-examining species

Despite the lack of indicator species, we scooped up water to determine what did live there.

m8-mosquito larvae

The most abundant residents found–mosquito larvae. And do you see the small jar in Ellie’s hand? She created a mosquito larvae aquarium and discovered that they seemed to like the algae she’d added. Perhaps they’d found microorganisms we couldn’t see.

m8a-pointing out antics of mosquito larvae

Watching the acrobatics of the larvae entertained us for a while. They twisted and turned somersaults and wriggled in the water and we soon realized that eggs left behind by last year’s females who had sucked our blood before breeding, must have remained dormant all winter until the snow melted and spring rains began.

m9-chironomid midge larva

We did find another species to admire, that also wriggled in a constant state of contortion–this one being a chironomid midge with blood-red coloration. According to A Field Guide to the animals of Vernal Pools, the color is “due to a hemoglobin-like pigment that helps them retain oxygen. This pigment allows the larvae to survive in water that is very low in dissolved oxygen, as is common in vernal pools as drying proceeds throughout the seasons.”

m10-Trailing Arbutus--May flower

Because I had to meet someone at noon, and Dave knew that it would take us at least a half hour to make the short trek back to our vehicles due to our incessant nature distraction disorder, we had to cut our journey short. Dave was right–as he often is–and we were forced to stop several time, including to sniff a couple of mayflowers, aka trailing arbutus or officially: Epigaea repens.

m11-ribbon snake 1

We finally reached the spot where we’d parked with fifteen minutes to spare when Linda sighted movement beside the tires of my truck and our hearts jumped with joy.

m12-ribbon snake captured

We didn’t want to run it over as we backed out and so Heinrich captured it. What is it? An Eastern ribbon snake, which is a species of special concern in Maine. According to the Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife website, “A species of special concern is any species of fish or wildlife that does not meet the criteria of an endangered or threatened species but is particularly vulnerable, and could easily become, an endangered, threatened, or extirpated species due to restricted distribution, low or declining numbers, specialized habitat needs or limits, or other factors. Special concern species are established by policy, not by regulation, and are used for planning and informational purposes; they do not have the legal weight of endangered and threatened species. The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife reviews the list of special concern species at the beginning of each calendar year, and, based on criteria in the Maine Endangered and Threatened Species Listing Handbook , revises the list as appropriate.”

m13-ribbon snake 2

And that is why it’s so important to protect the land. I knew Tom was smiling down upon us due to this find. Interestingly, we also spotted a ribbon snake at the John A. Segur Wildlife Refuge on Farrington Pond Road in early May 2015.

m14-paper birch superhero

Finally, we all departed and I was only ten minutes late for my quick meet-up, after which I headed back down Route 5 to reconnect with my favorite little naturalists at the Kezar River Reserve across from the Wicked Good Store. There’s a tape across the road, which I suspect was put in place by the local snowmobile club when the ice was questionable on the river, but it remains, which given the recent rain is probably a good thing. We’ll take it down soon, but it has prevented the road from becoming more rutted than normal.

Anyway, Wes climbed out of the family’s vehicle with his paper birch armor. He’d spied it in a V between to birch trees on our morning trek and his mom climbed up to retrieve it for him.

m15-brother bomb

Birch Man posed again and again, until his older brother Aidan, sporting a missing front tooth, jumped in front.

m16-root art

The boys stood on a hump of earth beside a tree root. And it was through their eyes that we noticed some interesting finds among the tree’s former life support.

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We found pottery and cast iron and realized the tree had grown upon an old dump site.

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And that hump of earth–the four siblings were sure that it hid a Volkswagen Beetle.

m23-Kezar River

It took us a while to walk down the “roadway” and then the left-hand loop. We made a few discoveries, including coyote scat filled with bones, and the kids did some trail work. At last we reached the canoe/kayak landing at the Kezar River and noted some otter scat and a few slides, plus some fishing lures and line stuck in the trees. It was at that point that the family had to leave, but before they left they asked me what I’d do before I had another meeting in the afternoon. I told them I planned to hike the second loop, which happens to be longer and dips into an interesting ravine.

m23-salamander eggs

That never happened. As it turned out, I stood at the boat launch for about an hour. First, I spied one small clump of salamander eggs.

m24-equisetum

And then realized that the raft before me, which filled the small cove, was equisetum. Where it came from I didn’t know for I couldn’t recall ever seeing it at this property.

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But, regardless, it provided a perfect camouflage for aquatic insects. It took me a while to key in on the species before me, but I knew they were there because every once in a while, one took flight. Do you see the mayfly subimago that had recently emerged? The teenager stood atop its nymph exuvia. Mayflies are unique in that after the nymph emerges from the water as the subimago (that fishermen call a dun), they seek shelter before shedding their skin for the final transformation.

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I really had to focus in order to spot them.

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But once I did, they were . . .

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everywhere.

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And in all forms, including a nymph.

m30-Mayfly up close

The cool thing is that thirteen mayflies are also on the list of species of special concern. Was this one of the species? I have so much more to learn.

m31-water scorpion

As I continued to watch, there was an incredible amount of activity. And then I saw a predator that was about two and half inches long. Do you see it? Not atop the vegetation, but rather under it in right-hand center of the photo. Behind it, almost to the right edge of the photo, was a bubble at the end of its long breathing tube.

m33-water scorpion

As I watched, it continued to swim forward, the vegetation providing it’s favorite type of habitat. Again, you have to look carefully.

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And again. It was a water scorpion with an oval-shaped abdomen. Do you see it?

m35-ribbon snake

Finally, it was time for my next meeting, but as I walked back up the trail I reflected upon the wonders of the day and the work of the land trust under Tom’s leadership. Creating corridors is important for mammals, but also for all critters that share the various habitats.

There was no need to put out a distress signal today. Indeed. With others and alone, I was thankful for the opportunity to be gifted with such sightings: Mayflowers and Mayflies! And a water scorpion. Topped off with a ribbon snake. May Day Alert of the best kind.

 

 

 

 

I used to think

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I used to think mayflies emerged only in May.

Maybe I’ve seen them in other months, but I’d never really thought about it. Yesterday this mayfly greeted me in the morning. And in the evening, it was still there. So my May-only theory proved to be wrong.

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I used to think they had only one adult form.

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That all changed this morning when I spotted it again. Only, I also spotted something else an inch or two away. An exoskeleton or exuvia? From a mayfly? It certainly looked mayfly-like with the same narrow and segmented body plus long-tail cerci.

c-mayfly beside molt

When I looked more closely, I realized that the exuvia was about half the size of the true adult form. As for that cloudy-winged specimen I’d spied yesterday–it had been a teenager, aka a subimago. I let the wings trick me because I didn’t know better. Though it looked adult-like, it wasn’t sexually mature yet.

Mayflies are unique in that after the nymph emerges from the water as the subimago (that fishermen call a dun) like yesterday’s model, they seek shelter before shedding their skin for the final transformation. How lucky for me that this dun chose our porch screen on which to rest.

c-mayfly size difference

And so, I was gifted a second opportunity to look. It can take a few minutes to two days before a subimago transforms into a clear-winged imago or spinner, though the actual metamorphosis is quick. I wish I’d seen it, but at least I got to see the end result.

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I’m not sure my friend appreciated it, but I was glad for our opportunity to spend some time up close and personal.

c-mayfly no mouth part

While in an aquatic form for a year or two, it had done plenty of eating. But as an adult, eating became a thing of its past as it had no functional mouth parts.

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It did have plenty of eyes, however. The better to find food when immature and later a mate, I suppose.  Like other flies, its two outer eyes were large and compound.  Between them were three simple eyes (ocelli).

c-mayfly clear wings

The two pairs of triangular wings were held upright like a damselfly, rather than flat like a dragonfly. When I compared yesterday’s opague wings with today’s, the clarity of the new wings defined by dark veins seemed an obvious difference and one I’ll need to pay attention to going forth.

c-mayfly aedeagi at base of abdomen

Male or female? That was the question, but only for a moment. Do you see the aedeagi or penis-like appendages at the tip of the abdomen and below the two cerci (tail-like appendages)? Meet Mr. Mayfly.

c-mayfly bird's eye view1

I know that because mayflies emerge in swarms, they can be a nuisance. But this was only one. And our friendship only lasted for a few hours total–though he spent about 24 hours in the same spot. By noontime he had disappeared–of his own efforts I hope . . . heading off to do some courting. His days are numbered, I know, for his main function is to mate and maybe mate again, before he dies.

But today he served another function as he taught me a lesson. My best learning comes from observation . . . and realizing that what I used to think isn’t always accurate.

My thanks to a mayfly.

 

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.

h-Ursula 2

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.

h-wild oats 1

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.

h-painted trillium

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.

h-chokeberry buds

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

h-pitcher 3

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.

h-pitcher flower

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

h-pitcher plant 1

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.

h-rhodora 1

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.

h-rhodora 3

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.

h-leatherleaf

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.

h-honeysuckle 1

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.

h-green frog 2

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.

h-quaking bog 2

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

h-green frog

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

h-hobblebush flowers 1

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

h-hobblebush 1

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.

h-Mayfly1

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

h-mayfly 2

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

h-Indian Cucumber root 1

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.

h-goldthread 2

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.

h-goldthread 3

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

h-dwarf ginseng 1

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.

h-spring tail wave

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.

h-spring tails on sand1

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.

h-Ursula1

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?

Spring In Slo-Mo

Spring is so fleeting in Maine. Oh, I know, it lasts the usual three months and the beginning and ending overlap with its seasonal partners, but really . . . one must take time to pause and watch or you’ll miss the most amazing action that occurs in slow motion right outside the window–and beyond.

s-red trill 1

Jinny Mae and I drove beyond today to catch a glimpse of this most splendid season.

s-red trill 10

Among the offerings, red trillium also known as stinking Benjamin. The Benjamin part is from benzoin, a mid-16th century word derived from the French benjoin, that refers to “a fragrant gum resin obtained from a tropical tree of eastern Asia, used in medicines, perfumes, and incense.”  It’s been tagged “stinking”  because its nodding flower has an unpleasant odor. We didn’t bother to sniff. We were too busy being wowed by the fact that it surrounded us in great number.

s-red trill 2

That smell, however, is of extreme importance. Along with the flashy coloration, the odor helps to attract pollinators–green flesh-flies that prefer to lay their eggs on rotting meat. Though this isn’t the perfect nursery, the flies assist the plant on the procreative end. And in this spot, stinking Benjamin rules, but I prefer to think of it as red trillium.

s-red trill back

Even from the backside, its design is one to behold.

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Equally abundant were the leafy structures of false hellebore.

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I was mesmerized by its pattern.

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Unlike the trillium, wood anemones have little scent.

s-wood 1

Their graceful heads drooped, perhaps because the day threatened rain.

s-bellwort 3

The offerings included sessile-leaved bellwort (aka wild oats),

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Dutchman’s breeches with leaves as interesting as their flowers,

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the delicate white flowers of dwarf ginseng,

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and  zigzag pattern of clasping twisted stalk.

s-twisted1

Its key features are minutely-toothed leaf margins, stalkless leaves that clasp the stem, and flowers dangling below.

s-twisted 3

The flowers hadn’t opened, but the closer we got, the more we appreciated its finer details.

s-hobblle 1

Ever so slowly, as is the case in all things, hobblebush flowers began to bloom.

s-hobble2

Outer sterile flowers form a ring around the delicate inner flowers that are fertile. Nature has a way of protecting its own.

s-colts 2

When we first spotted the fluff ball of seeds across the brook, we thought we were looking at dandelions. And then we saw the scaled stalks and lack of leaves. Coltsfoot it is.

s-cinnamon 3

It wasn’t just the flowers that had us getting down on our hands and knees. There was the brownish wool covering of the cinnamon fern.

s-ostrich 1

And the hairless ostrich fern

s-ostrich 2

with its crook-shaped crosier, reminiscent of a bishop’s staff.

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But my favorite today was one I’d never noticed before.

s-Christmas 4

Oh, I know it’s a Christmas fern, but the tightly-wound, silvery-scaled crosiers were new to me. It was yet another chance for us to wonder how we could have missed something that’s been here all along.

s-striped maple 1

And then we looked up. Well, sort of up. Striped maple leaves slowly opened in the understory.

s-red maple 1

And have you ever noticed that young red maples are a tad hairy along the margin?

s-beech 6

Even hairer, beech leaves.

s-beech 7

All winter long, bud scales enclosed leaves that are now slowly emerging.

s-beech 8

They’re absolutely beautiful in their plaited and hairy state.

s-beech 2

What leaves me wondering (ah, a pun), is the fact that these leaves are so hairy. It seems the hairs are intended to keep insects and others at bay.

s-beech 1

And yet, it won’t be long before the insects discover that beech leaves make a good meal and home.

s-ladybug

Speaking of insects, we found a ladybug presumably feeding on aphids–already. So why do ladybugs sport  bright orange or red color and distinctive spots? To make them unappealing to predators. They can secrete a foul-tasting fluid from their leg joints–the coloring is therefore intended to shout out,  “I taste awful.”

s-Mayfly 1

And Jinny Mae sported her own insect–a Mayfly, known to be more fleeting than spring, landed on her jacket. Oh, and did I mention the black flies? They swarmed our faces, but we practiced mind over matter.

s-brook

We were in one of the most beautiful places on Earth,

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as evidenced by brook,  pond and mountains beyond.

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And then there was the gorge.

As we watched the water rush through, we gave thanks for a day spent moving in slo-mo to take in all that this fleeting season has to offer in its spring ephemerals.