A Layered Life

Perhaps some can walk in a straight line, but I’m not one of them. Even in our home, I find myself darting here and then there as one thought or another enters my mind and I need to check on this or look into that. So it was when I entered a wetland today.

My journey began with a destination toward a certain coppiced (many trunked) Red Maple but I knew ahead of time that I’d divert from the path that didn’t exist and scramble through the Buttonbush shrubs to visit a kettle hole that is groundwater dependent. Only two weeks ago, it was filled with much more water and I was surprised to find it so low today. And thrilled.

Behind the first “hole” or kettle is a second and between the two: tracks galore. The baby-hand look gave away the ID of the most frequent travelers: Raccoons.

But . . . where two weeks ago some friends and I spied Black Bear prints, today I noted the track of a large moose that had headed in the opposite direction of my foot. If you look carefully from the bottom of the photograph to the top left-hand corner, you’ll see three dark indentations, giving a sense of size: Mighty big.

After enjoying the first kettles for a while, I decided to bushwhack toward another. Again, my path was a zigzag and again the ground water was significantly lower. Why? Given that we finally had rain this week, I expected it to be higher, but by the state of the leaves on the trees, and the color of the plant life, it’s obvious that the drought has truly affected the landscape. Because of all the undergrowth and downed trees and branches that snap as one walks, I was hardly quiet in my approach, thus several Wood Ducks sang their “oo-eek, oo-eek” song as they took flight.

That was ok, for still I stood in silent reverence and thought about the soils under the water and how it must differ from that under the American Bur-reed, and how that soil must differ from that under the Buttonbush and Winterberry shrubs, and how that soil must differ from that under the Red and Silver Maples.

Pulling away at last, I journeyed forth in a continued erratic fashion, made even more erratic by the shrubs that acted like Hobblebush and persisted in trying to daunt my procession. Each foot had to find placement among branches only to then be confronted by fallen trees that don’t decompose so readily in this acidic neighborhood.

The obstacles were unsuccessful in pulling me to a complete stop and at last I arrived. Well, I’m not sure I’ll ever really arrive . . . anywhere. But I reached a point on my quest and zigzagged through the grasses and Leatherleaf and Swamp Candles. Once again, it was obvious by the plant life that the soil composition differed from one zone to the next.

Meandering about, occasionally I heard a slight “pop” at my feet.

You see, growing upon the Sphagnum Moss are thousands of Cranberry plants and I spent some time picking from the offerings, though I did note many soft ones–the result of last week’s frost. Still, they’ll make a good relish or sauce.

And in the same community, though a bit closer to the water and therefore finding a home on a soil that probably differed a bit from that which the cranberries preferred, a few robust Pitcher Plants showed off their always intriguing leaves and flowers gone by.

The now woody structure of this carnivorous plant is as interesting as the plant’s way of seeking nutrients in hydric (low-oxygen) soils. Though the petals had long since fallen, the round, five-celled fruit remained intact. The rusty-brown seed capsule, about ¾ inch in diameter, had begun to split open and exposed within were numerous seeds. Upon a closer look, I realized I wasn’t the only one observing this unique structure.

Do you see the teeny, tiny black and white insect? It wasn’t there for pollen, and so I began to wonder.

Would the insect eventually find its way down to the pitcher-shaped leaves and be enticed by the terminal red-lipstick lips, nectar glands, and brightly colored veins?

Would it follow the downward-pointing hairs into the trap below and not be able to crawl back out?

Would it become a snack, much as the insect in the water of the leaf on the left? You see, once the prey slides down through the hairs, it reaches a smooth zone where it encounters some sticky goo, thus making it even more difficult to climb out. And then, there’s the water, rainwater. It is there that the insect drowns, and is digested by bacteria and enzymes in the water. The resulting nutrients are then absorbed by the plant that grows in a habitat low in essential nutrients such as nitrogen, calcium, magnesium, and potassium.

Actually, the tiny insect might not become a meal because it just might be a Pitcher-plant Midge, who has anti-enzymes to counteract the digestive enzymes in the fluid, and feeds on the plant’s decomposed insects. There’s also a type of mosquito and flesh fly that survive in the same manner.

Mostly hidden by other plant forms, another Pitcher Plant grows a few feet away, but its leaves are much greener due to its shadier habitat.

As I looked at the plants at my feet, suddenly I heard the bugling, rattle-like sound of Sandhill Cranes. Take a listen.

Rather than return via the “path” I’d created into the bog, I had to go in search, certain that I might be disappointed.

I was so certain I’d be disappointed because my approach was rather loud.

At last I reached the edge of the largest kettle of all. And scanned the scene.

Suddenly to my right three large birds emerged from behind the Buttonbush. I’d found the cranes. But as I fumbled switching cameras, they flew off, rattling all the way.

Still, there was more movement where they had been and for a few seconds I watched three Greater Yellowlegs Sandpipers until they also flew off.

And so I began to wander back, at times totally uncertain of my whereabouts, though by the sky and trees ahead I thought I was headed in the correct direction. Still, it felt rather jungle-like among so many Winterberries. The curious thing: two weeks ago there had been many other berries including Witherod or Wild Raisin. Apparently the birds that I heard all around me had been feasting.

A flock of Northern Flickers darted here and there. I know they are seed eaters, but they’ll also eat fruits. Perhaps it was they? And so many others in the midst of migration.

I know it wasn’t the Great Blue Heron who suddenly flew up into a tree and preened. His intention would have been on the aquatic life in the kettles.

Adding my stomach growls to the scene, I knew it was time for me to depart. Still I stood, taking it all in.

A layered life. Where hours pass like moments. And life transpires while fruits form.

I am grateful to wander and wonder and wonder and wander some more.

Myrtle’s Morning

Meet Myrtle. Yes, she’s a turtle.

A Snapping Turtle to be exact. Chelydra serpentina is her scientific name: Chelydra meaning “tortoise” and serpentina deriving from the Latin word serpentis, which means “snake,” in reference to her long tail.

Myrtle’s neighborhood is one where carnivorous plants grow in abundance and right now show off their parasol-like flowers.

I spend some time with the old girl who certainly deserves a parasol to shield her from the sun. Turtles of her type don’t reach sexual maturity until their carapace, or upper shell, measures about eight inches in length and that doesn’t typically happen until they are at least seven. Myrtle’s is at least eight inches, maybe even longer, but I didn’t dare get too close and risk disturbing her. Nor do I ask her her age, cuze after all, we women stand together on such issues.

Below her Pitcher Plant bouquet grow its leaves shaped like . . . pitchers and filled with water and digestive juices. Downward facing hairs attract insects into the trap, and once within the pitfall, there is no escape. The prey drowns in the nectar and body gradually dissolves, providing the plant with nutrition it can’t possibly get from the acidic soil in the community.

Myrtle doesn’t really care. Her back legs are busy digging in the sand and it isn’t to plant a garden full of Pitcher Plants.

Also at home in Myrtle’s neighborhood are Crimson-ringed Whiteface dragonflies, the male showing off a brilliant red thorax.

While the dragonfly poses, waiting for a moment before taking flight to defend its territory or find a gal, Myrtle begins to press her front toes down while simultaneously lowering the back end of her carapace.

Within minutes, the male Crimson finds a date and the two become one, so engrossed in each other as such that they don’t really notice what Myrtle might be up to today.

In a form all her species’ own, Myrtle stands up on her tippy toes and moves that carapace up like the bed of a dump truck ready to make a deposit.

All the while, songs birds ring forth their joyous sounds accompanied by the strums of Green Frogs.

Sometimes Myrtle winks or perhaps its a grimace and other times she smiles with absolute glee. That or she captures a fly or a breath.

Another neighbor also uses its mouth for more than just its usual chitter. Despite the acorn in its mouth, Red Squirrel speaks around the edges and greets Myrtle without dropping its great find.

Meanwhile, Myrtle’s back end dips lower and lower.

I offer her a word of warning for I notice that there’s evidence of some neighbors she may not appreciate–raccoons to be exact based on their tracks.

In that moment, however, Myrtle doesn’t give a hoot about who might be lurking in the shadows waiting to dig up the contents of her hole during the dark of night that will fall hours and hours later.

She’s spent over an hour digging a hole with her hind feet and depositing eggs as evidenced by the plop, plop that I hear. Even though I cannot see them, I trust that more than 40 have filled the hole as she continues to dig and tamp, dig and tamp. It will be several months before they hatch and then, even another week at least before the wee ones slip into the water, and the fact that she lays so many is important because truly predators such as raccoons and skunks and foxes and coyotes may help themselves to Eggs Myrtle.

But for today, Myrtle’s morning was the most important thing on her mind and I delighted in being able to share it with her and her neighbors.

Meadowhawk Mondate

It was just after noon when my guy and I parked on Knapp Road to complete trail work along the Southern Shore Trail of Lakes Environmental Association’s Holt Pond Preserve. We should have completed such sooner, but prided ourselves on waiting until after last week’s Nor’easter because there were many trees and branches that needed attention.

Some were too big for us, but we did the best we could to make the trail enjoyable for all. And then, even though we’d completed our section, we continued the journey along the 5.3-mile trail, clearing as we went.

It was while in a sunny spot that I did the “I swear I’ll never do this” task–I took a selfie featuring me and my dragonfly pennant. It was my happy moment.

Another happy moment occurred once we’d circled around to Chaplin’s Mill Road and then down through the Emerald Field via the Muddy River Trail.

Beside the river I spied the makings of a fresh beaver mound, where bottom muck and leaves had been piled up and a certain scent, almost vanilla in odor, deposited.

Last April, LEA Education Director Alanna Doughty and I had discovered tons of beaver action in this area and the tree beside the water on the left-hand side still stands as a monument.

Other monuments included three to four-foot gnawed stumps scattered throughout the area that served as reminders of last year’s snow depth. Either that, or the beavers stand as tall as deer in these here woods.

This is an area that the giant rodents have known for many moons as evidenced by hemlocks they chose to girdle in hopes their least favorite trees might fall. Instead, the trees tried to heal their wounds and show the beavers who is boss of this territory.

All along the river, water flowed over beaver dams, much the same way it would have flowed over a mill dam in a different era and we loved the juxtaposition of man and nature. Or was it nature and man?

Onto the boardwalk system and through the Red Maple Swamp did we trek, and of course I stopped beside the Pitcher Plants because . . . just because. But notice the water. So, we’ve had a lot of rain, but also we suspected the beavers had something to do with the high level.

Out of curiosity, we stepped onto the boardwalk out to the Muddy River to check on some beaver lodges.

And there just happened to be an Autumn Meadowhawk upon the wood. I wasn’t sure it was alive, for it didn’t move as we stepped past it.

We made it almost to the end of the boardwalk, but eventually it dipped under water and so we stood still and gazed toward the lodges. Can you see them? 😉

Like a duplex, they were joined. But what was the best news was the sight of new branches and some insulation that had been added . . . in the form of mud. Though we hadn’t seen any new beaver works, we suspected that somewhere in this waterbody a beaver or two or family had been active.

Returning to the Hemlock Grove behind the boardwalk, I stopped to check out the dragonfly and it moved a foreleg as I watched–a sure sign of life.

And so, I did what I love to do, stuck my finger in front of it, and upon did it crawl. My heart stopped beating.

My guy had gone before, so he missed this opportunity. But chatting to it quietly, my dragonfly and I moved from the boardwalk to the much darker Hemlock Grove. He seemed not to mind, but did move about a bit on my finger and I wondered if the much cooler and darker grove might not be to his liking. Despite my concern, he stayed with me and I introduced him to my guy, who questioned the fact that I was talking to a dragonfly. And then he chuckled, “Of course you are.” I guess he knows me.

We followed him onto the next section of boardwalks that passes through the second section of the Red Maple Swamp. All along the way, I murmured sweet nothings and my little friend took in the scene. But . . . when we reached the next Hemlock Grove, he flew off. I couldn’t say I blamed him for it was much cooler and darker than the first.

By that point, my guy and I were by the Quaking Bog, so out to Holt Pond did we venture. And . . . I spotted more dragonflies to meet.

And greet.

A few of his relatives were also in their meet and greet tandem form. Had they just canoodled and dropped eggs into the water or was she playing coy?

I don’t know the answer to that, but my new friend liked the view of the pond.

And then he began to do something that it took me a few minutes to understand. Notice how his wings are down.

And then hind up, forewings down.

Fluttering, they moved rather like a windmill, but never did he take off.

The speed increased.

And I finally realized he was just trying to stay warm in the cooler air by the pond. Wing-whirring they call it. Like turtles, dragonflies are cold-blooded or ectothermic. They can’t regulate their body temperature and must depend on sunlight and ambient air temperature for warmth, which is why we encounter them along the sunny spots on the trail. My little friend was trying to warm up by vibrating his wings. Knowing his need for sunlight, just before we returned to the dark grove, I left him upon a shrub leaf.

Oh, and the beavers, we never did see them, but finally, as we approached Holt Pond from Grist Mill Road, we found fresh beaver works. They’re out there somewhere and I can’t wait to see what they do next. I’m excited to know that I’ll have their antics to watch in the upcoming months for I suspect that my dragonfly days are about to draw to a close.

But today was most definitely a Meadowhawk Dragonfly Mondate and I gave thanks for the opportunity to travel with my guy and this guy, and one or two of his relatives.

Something Special Beside Sucker Brook

My friend, Marita, joined me today for a walk along the trails at the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s John A. Segur Wildlife Refuge on Farrington Pond Road.

Though we moved rather quickly, frequently picking up sticks and branches that had fallen as a result of last week’s nor’easter (Marita deserves trail crew credit), we did stop occasionally to appreciate the world around us. Our first point of wonder occurred when she noted a burl of sorts on a beech tree. A closer look and we spotted shiny black spots that turned out to be five or six black ladybird beetles, their red spots offering a contrast. I’ve since learned they are Twice-stabbed Ladybeetle bugs, and beneficial as they feed on scale insects, aphids, and mealybugs, including Beech Scale Insects.

Maple-leaf Viburnum, still holding onto its leaves and fruits called our attention next. Only last week, we were finding its magenta fall coloration decorating the woods, but when the calendar turned to November, it seemed the world transformed and took on its late autumn look.

Via a spur not marked, we ventured forth and stood in admiration of the colors before us as we looked out toward the Lower Bay of Kezar Lake.

And then we looked in the opposite direction and embraced the view toward the north where hills formed the backdrop . . .

and found their reflection in beaver lodges. Though we never saw any sign of recent beaver works, it appeared that at least one of the lodges was being mudded for winter, a beaver’s form of insulating the house.

Our route back to the trail was circuitous for I wanted to show her the Pitcher Plants that grow in the edge between the land and water.

No matter how many times I see this plant’s urn-shaped leaf, I am in awe and today was no exception. The hairs on the leaf’s “landing pad” stood out on a younger version as well as its aging elder.

We weren’t the only ones curious about the plant for the snow fleas, aka spring tails, had also discovered it. And it them. How many snow fleas does it take to create a meal? Many I would think given their teeny tiny size, but . . . many found their way down the hairs and into the plant’s digestive fluid.

Back on the green-blazed trail we finally continued, and a display of mushrooms begged for a Kodak moment. As I often do with mushrooms, I’m going out on a limb and calling these Late Fall Oysters (Panellus serotinus), which aren’t oysters at all but the rippled edge did remind me of the shells I used to pick up as a kid. What really sang out about this moment though was the fact that the fungus grew on a beech tree and the husk of a beech nut had stabbed into the fruit, giving the entire display a layered cake look with a candle on top.

We also discovered a Red-belted Polypore, Fomitopsis pinicola if I’m correct, the size of a dinner plate.

Onward, we swished the dried leaves, hit a few mucky spots, and continued to pick up sticks. At last we reached a second scenic view that again provided colors demarking this month.

All along we’d tramped beside Sucker Brook, though we couldn’t always see it. But that’s what made the scenic views even more spectacular.

Our journey was quick and we covered over two miles and followed the blue-blazed trail back, but it was the waypoint that I marked at Marita’s suggestion, which was our final find of the day.

Well, really, it was her final find for I made her hunt for it. I gave her a general area to scan and after a few moments of looking, we turned it into a hot/cold game. At last her eyes cued in on the bear claw marks upon a beech tree.

You, too, may spy some of the same for next Sunday the GLLT will host a walk at John A. Segur East (as we refer to this part of the wildlife refuge). We’re offering something a bit different for this hike.

November 10 
12:30 - 3:00 pm
Sunday Beside Sucker Brook

Let's get a head start on Thanksgiving, and journey the trail at John A. Segur East where we'll take in the afternoon views of Sucker Brook, its plants in their winter forms, beaver lodges, and mountain vistas.
In honor of the upcoming holiday, we'll think of our neighbors as we gather. Please bring one or more items to give to the Sweden Food Pantry, which serves the towns of Sweden, Lovell, Fryeburg, Stow, Stoneham, Waterford and Bridgton.
Popular Items:
Tuna Fish
Peanut Butter and Jam
Hearty Soups like Progresso
Staples other than pasta
Gluten Free items
Canned Beans (NOT vegetarian) and Canned Beets
Personal Hygiene Products
Also: Be thinking about something or someone for which you'd like to offer up thanks, either silently or verbally.
Location: John A. Segur East, Farrington Pond Road, off Timber Shores Road, Lovell
Degree of Difficulty: Easy/Moderate

I hope you’ll join us for something special beside Sucker Brook.

Seeking Red Mondate

When I invited my guy to join me in a wetland today to mark out a trail, I truly expected him to hem and haw about going. And then when we got there, I thought he’d want to rush through the process and be done with it.

But perhaps it was the setting that slowed him down. I know that it always slows me down.

It’s a place where over and over again I’m surprised to discover that others have come before. Last year, it was bear prints that stopped me in my tracks. Today, bobcat. The print is upside down in the photo, but do you see the pad, C-shaped ridge and four toes heading toward you? Notice that the two front toes are a bit asymmetrical. Ah mud. It’s as good as snow. Though I can’t wait to go tracking in snow.

Another reason that this place slows me down is all that it has to offer. The Winterberries were a major part of our stumbling movement, but still they made me smile even though I had to untwist each foot as I tried to step over, around, and through their woody stems.

Among the mix in the shrub layer was Maleberry, its woody fruits of last year displaying shades of brown, while the newer fruits were tinged green.

And then there was the Nannyberry with its oval shaped fruits so blue upon red stems, and . . .

Withe-rod just a wee bit different shape that always makes me question my identification.

Rhodora also showed off its woody structure of last year embraced by this year’s softer fruiting form.

But what we really sought were little gems of red hiding among sedges in a different herbaceous layer.

I totally didn’t expect my guy to develop cranberry greed quite the way he has a penchant for blueberries, but he did. And he also rejoiced in eating the tart berries right off the stem. Even he commented that the little balls of red were like the blue-gold he usually sought during the summer.

Seriously, it got to the point where I gave up picking, and cranberries are much more my thing than blueberries. And I began to focus on other shades of red, like those that the Pitcher Plants loved to display.

The pattern on the Pitcher leaves always makes me think of the Tree of Life. But . . . equally astonishing are the hairs that coat each pitcher. If you rub your fingers down into the urn-like leaf, you can feel the hairs and gain a better understanding of them creating a landing strip for insects. The true test, however, comes when you dare to escape this carnivorous plant. Can you climb out of the leaf? The way out is sticky and rough and by tracing a finger upward, its suddenly obvious why insects can’t find their way out.

Equally unique, the flower structure that remains, waiting to share its 300+ seeds to the future. For now, it reminds me of a windmill on the turn.

My guy wasn’t as taken with the Pitcher Plant as I was. And he certainly didn’t care about the fact that a Funnel Weaver spider had recently taken up home among the plants urn-like leaves. But me . . . I was totally wowed. Why did a spider that likes to wait in its funnel tunnel until something landed on the net it had created, use a carnivorous plant as its home base? Did it have an agreement with the plant? I’ll bring you food if you don’t see me as food? And was that dark V-shape on the web a leg of one devoured?

With no spider in sight, I knew I’d have to let my questions go, but still . . . it was a mosaic web worth appreciating.

The Pitcher Plant grew on the edge . . . of an Arrowhead wetland . . .

growing beside a Sphagnum Moss peat bog.

And as I walked among it all, I felt the bog quake below my feet.

The pom-pom mosses were responsible for the environment in which we travelled . . . and for its inhabitants.

And because of the Sphagnum the cranberries grew. Abundantly.

Our movement continued as my guy wanted to find as many little red balls of tart glory as ever. And in the midst, the natural community came to focus on Devil’s Beggarstick.

Notice the spines along the seed’s structure.

The beggars chose to stick indeed. Volunteers. They hoped we’d move them on to another place, but we chose to pull each one off . . . Not an easy task.

At last it was time for us to take our leave. And so we found our way out as we’d come in, but felt like crowned royalty for all the finds we’d made, so many of them featuring a shade of red.

In the end, a look back was a look forward. We sought red and so should you—head to your favorite cranberry bog as soon as possible for the fruits await your foraging efforts. And wherever you go, don’t share the location with others. It’s much more fun to have a secret spot as you seek red.

The Story in the Web

When I invited friends Pam and Bob to join me at Lakes Environmental Association’s Holt Pond Preserve for a reconnaissance hike, I had no idea what might await us. But isn’t that true of every day, no matter what path in life we choose to follow? With each step we take, doesn’t a surprise await?

Today’s path found us making a few detours for fun, but it was when we followed the route long ago laid out by LEA that we made the most interesting discoveries.

The boardwalk through the Red Maple Swamp led us to the hummock that leads out to Muddy River, where fall’s colors were ablaze on the far side. Red Maple is an early harbinger of autumn as it turns color well in advance of other eastern deciduous trees, especially when it is located in wet sites.

As we continued, we found ourselves on the new/old boardwalk to the Quaking Bog by Holt Pond. The boardwalk is new in that its old self has recently undergone a renovation with corrugated culverts added below in hopes that come high water in spring or fall, the water will flow and the structure will float above.

We were excited to see such a change, but especially wowed by the Pitcher Plants that grew there.

As wild as the Pitcher’s leaves are, the fall structure of the flower was equally astonishing. I’ve forever found it a wonder that the extremely large style of this flower sits below the rest of the structure in order to capture pollen in its upside-down umbrella shape. With leathery sepals above, the large swollen ovary below may house as many as 300 tiny seeds.

At the end of the boardwalk, we stood beside Holt Pond for a bit and did what we frequently found ourselves doing: listened; looked; lollygagged.

At last we pulled ourselves away; but still there was more to see.

Because we were noticing, Pam spied Charlotte, a yellow garden spider, aka Argiope aurantia.

You might think we weren’t actually in a garden, but indeed, we were. Just prior to meeting Charlotte, we’d munched on tart cranberries, and sniffed and tasted Bog Rosemary leaves.

There was also a Lake Darner Dragonfly to admire. Especially given the tattered nature of its wings. Really, the dragonflies controlled their territory throughout much of our journey and sometimes appeared to brazenly want to gobble us up. I’m here to say that they didn’t succeed and we’ll never tire of being in their presence.

Leaving the quaking bog behind, we walked through a huge hemlock grove and noticed one noticing us. Do you see the Chipmunk? He remained still for moments on end, sure that we wouldn’t spy him. And then when we made a sudden movement, he darted into a safety hole.

At the edge of the hemlock grove, the natural community switched immediately to another wetland and offered new opportunities. This time, you need to locate the Phantom Cranefly. Do you see its black and white legs?

At last we reached Tea Garden Bridge, so named if I remember correctly, because the water in Sawyer Brook resembles the color of tea.

What drew our attention was the Water Strider Convention. The shadow of the Water Striders tells their story. To our eyes, it looked like their actual feet were tiny and insignificant. What we couldn’t see were the fuzzy little hairs that both repel water and trap tiny air bubbles, thus allowing them to float or skate along the water’s surface. But still, why was the foot shadow so big while the body shadow was more relative to the strider’s size? Did the movement of the foot against the water create the larger shadow?

Continuing on into the land of abundant Winterberry, we thought about all the birds who will benefit from its red fruit in the coming months.

And then our eyes cued in again. First on a Katydid, with its beady eyes so green.

And then another Phantom Cranefly. And another. And another. I met my first Phantom Cranefly in the spring, but today they seemed to appear from out of nowhere everywhere.

And finally, a male Ruby Meadowhawk Dragonfly pausing and flying; pausing and flying; all within a small territory it had claimed.

At last it was time for us to turn around and head out, but I gave great thanks for the opportunity to travel slowly and wonder with Pam and Bob as I prepared for a private hike I’m leading tomorrow. Some folks chose to bid on a walk with me in support of camperships (aka full scholarships camp) for Camp Susan Curtis, a camp for economically disadvantaged Maine youth who attend at no cost to their families. I’m honored to lead them and pleased that local kids will benefit from this offering.

I can only hope that I’m able to weave a story for them as Charlotte did for us today. She even signed it. Do you see her zigzag signature?

Election Day Tramp

It always strikes me that no matter how often one travels on or off a trail, there’s always something different that makes itself known–thus the wonder of a wander.

And so it was when Pam Marshall, a member of the Greater Lovell Land Trust, joined me for a tramp at the John A. Segur Wildlife Refuge West on Farrington Pond Road this morning. She had no idea what to expect. Nor did I.

13-puff balls to pop

It was misty when we met, but neither of us was daunted by the weather. Ever so slowly, we made our way over the wet leaves, roots, and rocks, pausing frequently–especially each time we saw puff balls. How can one resist poking or squeezing them to watch the spores waft out like smoke. The skin of mature puffballs split prior to releasing spores. And we . . . we helped the process a wee bit.

20-blue stain fruiting

Green stain fungus also drew our attention. Its fruiting bodies were minute, but well worth wet knees for a closer examination.

19-hexagonal-pored polypore

With Pam in the lead for most of the way, she kept finding cool stuff, like this hexagonal-pored polypore.

1-Sucker Brook Outlet

It took us a while, but we finally reached the wetland by the Sucker Brook Outlet where blueberry, maleberry and leatherleaf shrubs added color to the otherwise gray day.  For a while we stood under the protection of a large hemlock and took in the scene in silence.

2-Silhouettes on Lower Bay and cotton grass

From our vantage point, an island in Kezar Lake’s Lower Bay looked like a ghost ship. And in the foreground, cotton grass still touted its tufted heads.

3-beaver lodges

At our feet we could see some aquatic plant roots floating in the water, a beaver treat, and trusted by the mud on the lodges that there had been recent activity. Perhaps they rested indoors before planning to spend time later in the day preparing for the cold months ahead.

4-Pitcher Plants

After a while and because I knew they were there, I took Pam along the edge of the brook for a short distance to locate several pitcher plants. Someone once photographed them in their young green form and described them as rare. While helping Dr. Rick Van de Poll, principal of Ecosystem Management Consultants (EMC) in Sandwich, New Hampshire, set up study plots at Lakes Environmental Association’s Highland Lake Reserve in Bridgton during July 2017, we had to watch where we stepped to avoid crushing pitcher plants. It was a perfect time to ask Rick about the green color. Were there green pitcher plants in Maine? And if so, were they rare? He explained that it was just a matter of sunlight and age, all would eventually take on a redder hue in veins and then overall leaf coloration as they matured.

5-pitcher plant runway

This morning, we found some sporting brighter red leaves.

6-spiders within and webs above

And another plant that was duller in color. Since we were in the locale where the green plant had been discovered, I trusted that it was beginning to show its age. It was the duller one that drew most of our fascination. Carnivorous pitcher plants obtain nitrogen and phosphorus by eating insects. Their oddly-shaped leaves form a pitcher partly filled with water and digestive enzymes. The spout is a hairy landing platform for insects attracted by red venation and nectar glands. Imagine this: an insect crawls to the edge of the leaf, aka pitcher, slips on the downward-sloping hairs and plunges into the liquid below where enzymes and bacteria break it down. Any chances for escape are zapped by those stiff hairs. Do you see what we saw? A spider web across the top of the leaf? And within?

8-larger spider manuevering the smaller one

Dueling fishing spiders.

9-pulling it under its body

And so we watched.

10-and out again

The larger one continuously manipulated the smaller one, which appeared to be dead. Back and forth under its body, it kept moving the smaller kin.

11-and back under

Was it trying to eat the other? One last meal before it too succumbed to the plant? Was it trying to move past the dead spider so it could try to climb out? Should we save it?

12-let 'em be

In the end, we left the action with questions in our minds and didn’t interfere.

7-watching the spider action

Except, that is, to take photographs and make a film. Again, our knees were wet and we didn’t care.

14-pigskin puffball 1

Back on the trail, we found an area where Earthballs decorated some old lumber slash. Their warty outer skin drew our attraction.

15-skin of pigskin

Another common name for Scleroderma citrinum is Pigskin Poison Puffball. Since it’s football season, it’s good to note that footballs used to be made of a pig’s . . . bladder and not its skin, though historically they were called pigskins. Rather than feel leathery, these seemed more rubbery, thus the reference I guess.

15-popping pigskin

And because they were puffballs, they invited a poke.

16-an explosion of spores

From a couple of slits, mature blackish spores erupted. I had to chuckle for no matter with whom I share a trail, puffballs always invite the same reaction–pick up a stick and give it a jab. And each time we share the same moment of glee. And our inner child is released one more time. Thankfully.

18-insect within pigskin

Of course, we found ourselves on our knees yet again when Pam spied something within an Earthball that had exploded prior to our visit. Upon closer inspection, it turned out to be an inanimate insect that looked like it was covered in spores. Canary in the coal mine?

25-Pam and the bear scat

Our next great find was of a different sort and I had to pull the Trackards from my pack while Pam got down for another upclose and personal look. Notice her knee?

22-bear scat

Black bear scat! Indeed. Cylindral and large. We looked for tracks, but conditions were such that we didn’t find any. The scat was enough for this day.

24-Tamaracks

If you go, we strongly encourage you to follow the green trail all the way to the bird/wildlife viewing point along Sucker Brook. Today, the tamaracks on the shore to our right added a tone of bright beauty to the overcast day.

25-Sucker Brook--beaver lodge

And another old beaver lodge also looked like it had received a mud treatment. We could see some beaver chew sticks in the water by the edge of the brook and so we knew again that there had been recent activity. It just means we’ll have to return for another visit if we want to catch some action–perhaps earlier in the day.

In the meantime, we let the view point become our turn-around point and quickly (sorta) followed the blue trail back for we both needed to move on to the rest of our day.

But . . . despite the mist and occasional raindrops, we elected to tramp. And were delighted with the results. Here’s hoping the rest of the day goes like that.

 

Wondering With Jinny Mae

It takes us forever and we like it that way. In fact, today a woman who saw us in our typical slo-mo movement commented, “It’s like you’re on a meditative walk. I always move quickly and miss so much.” Indeed we were and when I travel beside Jinny Mae there isn’t much we don’t see. But always, we’re sure that we’ve moved too quickly and missed something. Then again, we realize that whatever it was that we accidentally passed by this time may offer us a second chance the next time.

1-winterberry

Today’s wonder began with the realization that winterberry holly or Ilex verticillata, grew abundantly where we chose to travel. This native shrub will eventually lose its leaves, but the plentiful berries will last for a while–until they’ve softened considerably that is and then the birds will come a’calling.

2-winterberry

Everywhere we turned, or so it seemed, we found them ranging in color from spring green to shades of red. As summer turns to autumn, the leaves will yellow and eventually fall.

3-winterberry

And then the brightly colored berries that cling to every stem will add color where it’s otherwise lacking in the landscape.

4-winterberry

Even while the leaves still held fast, we found some brightly colored berries that offered a breathtaking view.

5-to Muddy River

We passed through numerous natural communities, tiptoeing at times, such as on the boardwalks, for we didn’t want to disturb the wildlife around us–no matter what form it took.

9-dragonfly attachment

And we rejoiced in spying a cherry-faced meadowhawk couple in their pre-canoodling mode. Can you see how he has used his cerci to clasp the back of her head? His hope is that he can get her to connect in the wheel position and they’ll take off into the safety of the nearby shrubbery to mate.

6-Muddy River

At the river, we began to notice other signs that we’ve once again entered a transition between seasons, for subtle were the colors before us.

7-beaver lodge

Across the river and just north of where we stood, we spotted an old lodge, but weren’t sure anyone was in residence for it didn’t seem like work was being done to prepare for winter. Then again, we haven’t done anything to prepare either, for though the temperature has suddenly shifted from stifling to comfortable (and possibly near freezing tonight), it’s still summer in Maine. And we’re not quite ready to let go.

17-Sheep Laurel

That being said, we found a most confusing sight. Sheep laurel grew prolifically in this place and we could see the fruits had formed from this past spring’s flowers and dangled below the new leaves like bells stringed together.

18- sheep laurel flowering in September

Then again, maybe it wasn’t all that odd that it still bloomed for when I got home I read that it blooms late spring to late summer. I guess we’ve just always noticed it in late spring and assumed that was the end of its flowering season. But then again, it appeared that this particular plant had already bloomed earlier in the season and produced fruit, so why a second bloom? Is that normal?

10-pitcherplant 1

As we continued on, we started to look for another old favorite that we like to honor each time we visit. No matter how often we see them, we stand and squat in awe of the carnivorous pitcher plants.

11-pitcher plant 2

But today, we were a bit disturbed for one that we’ve admired for years on end looked like it was drying up and dying. In fact, the location is typically wet, but not this year given the moderate drought we’ve been experiencing in western Maine. What would that mean for the pitcher plant?

13-pitcher plant flower

Even the flower pod of that particular one didn’t look like it had any life-giving advice to share in the future.

14-Pitcher Plant 4

Fortunately, further on we found others that seemed healthy, though even the sphagnum moss that surrounded them had dried out.

14a-pitcher plant

Their pitcher-like leaves were full of water and we hoped that they had found nourishment via many an insect. Not only do I love the scaly hairs that draw the insects in much like a runway and then deter them from exiting, but also the red venation against the green for the veins remind me of trees, their branches spreading rather like the tree of life. Or maybe a stained glass window. Or . . . or . . . we all have our own interpretations and that’s what makes life interesting.

15-pitcher plant flower 2

Speaking of interesting, the structure of the pitcher plant flower is one we revere whenever we see it because it’s so otherworldly in form. And this one . . . no the photo isn’t sideways, but the flower certainly was. If you scroll up two photos, you’ll see it as it grew among the leaves. The curious thing is that it was sideways. Typically in this locale, Jinny Mae and I spy many pitcher plant flowers standing tall. Today, we had to squint to find any.

16-pitcher flower and aster

She found the sideways presentation and this one. But that was it. Because of the drought? Or were we just not cueing in to them?

20-cinnamon fern

We did cue in to plenty of other striking sights like the light on a cinnamon fern that featured a contrast of green blades and brown.

21-cinnamon fern drying up

Again, whether the brown spoke of drought or the transition to autumn, we didn’t know. But we loved its arching form dramatically reflected in each pinna.

18a-swamp maple

But here’s another curious thing we noted. We were in a red maple swamp that is often the first place where the foliage shows off its fall colors and while some in other locales have started to turn red, only the occasional one in this place had done so. Our brains were totally confused. Sheep laurel blooming for a second time; pitcher plants drying up and dying; and few red maples yet displaying red leaves?

19-witch's caps or candy corn

We needed something normal to focus on. And so we looked at the candy corn we found along the trail. Some know them as witch’s caps. They are actually witch hazel cone galls caused by an aphid that doesn’t appear to harm the plant. It is a rather cool malformation.

24-white-faced meadowhawk

On a boardwalk again, we stepped slowly because the white-faced meadowhawk kept us company and we didn’t want to startle it into flight.

25-white-faced meadowhawk dining

One flew in with dinner in its mouth and though I couldn’t get a photo face on before it flew to another spot to dine in peace, if you look closely, you might see the green bug dangling from its mouth.

26-New York Aster

All round us grew asters including New York, water-horehound, cranberries, bog rosemary and so many others.

27-Virginia marsh-St. John's Wort

There was Virginia marsh St. John’s Wort,

28-fragrant water lily

fragrant water lilies,

28-jewelweed

jewelweed,

29-pilewort globe

and even pilewort to admire. The latter is so much prettier in its seed stage than flowering. Why is that we wondered.

30-Holt Pond Quaking Bog

Ahhhh, an afternoon of wondering . . . with Jinny Mae. At LEA’s Holt Pond Preserve. In Bridgton. An afternoon well spent. Thanks JM.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

h-sign

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?

Into Focus

Sunshine. Spring sunshine. Need I say more. No, but I will as I bring the focus to two of my favorite watering holes.

h-Mount Wash

Of course, a visit to my first pond isn’t complete without a pause to recognize the power and the powerful.

h-wood frog eggs 1

As I approached the vernal pool, I heard not a sound. But, my heart filled when I spotted a clump of wood frog eggs.

h-wood frog 1

When our sons were youngsters, we always called it the frog pond rather than the vernal pool. And so it is . . . both.

h-willow pollination

After an hour spent in the pond’s midst, I drove to another–Holt Pond–where I decided to park on the corner of Perley and Grist Mill Roads. I wasn’t sure of the conditions on Grist Mill Road and figured that provided the perfect excuse for a walk and an opportunity to take in the sights along the way. Stepping out of the truck, pussy willows called to me . . . and to their pollinators.

h-queen anne's lace

And on the corner, a dried Queen Anne’s lace displayed its fireworks formation.

h-sensitive fern frond

There were sensitive fern fronds, their beads still encapsulating many cases containing dust-like spores.

h-beaked hazelnut

And I even found a few beaked hazelnuts still showing off their minute magenta flowers.

h-Grist Mill Road

I knew by my observations that I’d made the right decision to walk in–both in my findings and in the road conditions.

h-beaver works1

After following the initial trail and climbing over the stonewall, I was about to step onto the first boardwalk when I realized the beavers had been busy.

h-board walk-first section

The water was high as I quietly moved along the board walk, but not too high.

h-pitchers under water1

Although in some cases pitchers were submersed in the wet goodness.

h-speckled alder 1

The speckled alders didn’t mind for they love wet feet.

h-Muddy River

I stepped out to the Muddy River and listened to the chickadees sell cheeseburgers galore.

h-beaver lodge

And then I turned in the opposite direction to admire the beaver lodge and winter feeding pile beside it.

h-Boardwalk through red maple swamp 1

On the next boardwalk, the beauty of the red maple swamp surrounded me again.

h-Red Maple Swamp 1

Layers and colors spoke to the community and season.

h-red maple in swamp

And standing like sentries were the red maples for which it is named.

h-moose scat

It was here that I found evidence of another visitor, albeit this past winter–moose scat.

h-blueberry bud

And noted the swelling buds of highbush blueberries–their season in the offing.

h-Quaking Bog 2

After passing through the woodlands a couple of times in between the swamp journey, I at last reached the quaking bog and Holt Pond.

h-cranberries

Beside the board walk, last autumn’s cranberries floated in the water.

h-pitcher 2

And more pitcher plants showed off their hairy entrance ways.

h-pitcher flower

Withered pitcher plant flowers dangled in their woody fashion–as beautiful in death as in full bloom.

h-Holt Pond south

By the time I reached the T on the boardwalk, I was standing atop it, but in six inches of water–thankful for my rain boots.

h-Holt Pond to Five Fields

And thankful for the opportunity to stand there on a gorgeous spring day as I looked toward Five Fields Farm.

h-Canada Geese

In that very view–two Canada geese. I wondered if they’d found a nest site.

h-dragonfly exoskeleton 2

Also in view, last year’s dragonfly exoskeleton that bobbed in the water flowing over the boardwalk.

h-cinnamon crosier 1

On the way back, I stopped once again. My first photo call was an ostrich fern that I didn’t realize grew there. See why you should walk in rather than drive? That photo didn’t come out so well, but I was standing in an area filled with cinnamon ferns and suddenly realized I was looking at my first crosiers of the season.

I was actually down by a stream beside the road when I found these. A truck came along and the driver paused. He and his friend thought I was fishing and were going to ask what I’d caught. “Only photos,” I said playfully.

h-garter snake 1

Upon returning home I decided to visit the frog pond one more time, thinking the lighting would be different. At the end of the cowpath I found a garter snake enjoying the warmth of the sun . . . and probably a few insects.

h-wood frog eggs 2

When I’d walked to the pond this morning, I was surprised at how quiet it was. That changed this afternoon as a chorus of wrucks added music to my day. And another egg mass had been added to the display.

h-wood frog 2

Of course, all quieted down once I arrived, but I waited . . . and realized the pond really is full of life.

I’d spent the day beside my favorite ponds and was well rewarded. I’d also played with my camera settings, avoiding auto-focus all day. I’ve got a lot to learn, but hey, isn’t that what it’s all about?

Inching Along With Jinny Mae

Jinny Mae is a slow poke. Me too. And so today, we moved at slow-poke speed and covered maybe a mile in total.

h-yellow-necked caterpillar

We traveled a trail I frequent at Holt Pond Preserve, but I had the opportunity to view it through her eyes. That meant, of course, that we shared identical photos because we always pause to focus on the same thing. I trust, however, that our perspective was a wee bit different–as it should be. For isn’t that what makes us individuals?

Speaking of individuals, we saw only one of these yellow-necked caterpillars. I didn’t know its name until I looked it up later. Apparently, the adult is a reddish-brown moth. And this is a defense position–indeed.

h-Royal fern

And then the royal fern forced us to pay attention. The fertile blade of a royal fern typically looks similar to a sterile blade, but has a very distinctive cluster of sporangia-bearing pinnules at the blade tips that appear rather crown-like. What to our wondering eyes did we spy–sporangia on lower pinnules. Did this fern not read the books? We checked the rest of the royal ferns along the path and never saw another like this one.

h-entering pitchter

One of our next reasons to pause–those wonderful pitcher plants that always invite a closer look. We weren’t the only ones checking them out.

h-entering the pitcher

A yellow jacket was also lured by the smell of sweet nectar. A walk down the leaves was probably the last walk those insects took. Inevitably, they’d slip to the bottom of the pitcher where a pool of water awaited. There, they either drowned or died from exhaustion while trying to escape since the downward pointing hairs prevent such from happening. Eventually, after the insect bodies break down, the plant will access the nitrogen and phosphorus contained within each bug. I can’t visit this preserve without spending time in awe of the pitcher plants.

h-spread-winged damselfly

Damselflies and dragonflies also made us stop. We had walked on the boardwalk across the quaking bog. A spread-winged damsel posed beside Holt Pond. When at rest, it spreads its wings, unlike typical damselfly behavior.

h- darner dragonfly

We watched as the darner dragonflies zoomed about, just above the water and vegetation at the pond’s edge. Occasionally, one hovered close by–just long enough for a quick photo opp.

h-jack in the pulpit

As we continued back along the main trail, Jinny Mae spied a Jack-in-the-Pulpit. The fertilized flower cluster had produced green berries. Soon, they should ripen to a bright red before dispersing their seeds. If the thrushes and rodents are savvy, they’ll enjoy some fine dining. These are not, however, people food. Oxalic acid in the root and stems may cause severe gastric problems.

h-purple aster

In the same spot near Sawyer Brook, we admired the purple flowerhead of swamp asters. Within the flower disk, the five-lobed florets have started their transition from yellow to dull red.

h-jewelweed

With Jinny Mae’s guidance, I was able to take a decent photo of a jewelweed. I love the spurred sac that extends backward. And noted that a small seed capsule had formed. JM is from the Midwest and refers to this as Touch-Me-Not because that capsule will burst open and fling seeds if touched. You say potAto, I say potAHto. We’re both right. As we always are 100% of the time–insert smiley face.

h-inch worm

It was another three-hour tour filled with many ohs and ahs, lots of wonder, a few questions, several considerations and even some answers.

h-inching along

Inching along with Jinny Mae. Always worth the time and pace.

Halting Beside Holt Pond

Halting–prone to pauses or breaks. I didn’t break, but I certainly was prone to pauses as I moved along the trails and boardwalks at the Holt Pond Preserve in South Bridgton this afternoon.

h-pitcher flower2

One of my first stops–to admire the pitcher plant flowers in their August form.

h-pitcher  flower up close

When I took a closer look, I realized that the seeds were developing–certainly a WOW moment in the world of wonder.

h-buttonbush.jpg

The global seed heads of buttonbush also demanded to be noticed. Upon each head are at least two hundred flowers that produce small nutlets. What strikes me as strange is the fact that this plant is a member of the coffee family. Maine coffee–local brew; who knew?

h-Muddy across

At the Muddy River, the water level reflected what is happening throughout the region–another case of “Honey, I shrunk the kids.” It’s downright scary.

h-speckled bug and speckles

Both by the river and on the way to the quaking bog, this wetland features a variety of shrubs, including one of my many favorites, speckled alder. Check out the speckles–those warty bumps (aka lenticels or pores) that allow for gas exchange. And the new bud covered in hair.

h-speckled alder catkins

This shrub is so ready for next year–as evidenced by the slender, cylindrical catkins that are already forming. This is the male feature of the shrub.

h-speckled cones new

It also bears females–or fruiting cones filled with winged seeds.

h-speckled old cones

It’s not unusual for last year’s woody cones or female catkins to remain on the shrub for another year.

h-cranberries

Whenever I visit, it seems there’s something to celebrate–including ripening cranberries.

h-cotton grass

Common Cotton-grass dotted the sphagnum bog and looked as if someone had tossed a few cotton balls about. Today, they blew in the breeze and added life to the scene. Note to self–cotton-grass is actually a sedge. And sedges have edges.

h-holt pond left

Just like the Muddy River, Holt Pond was also obviously low. Perhaps the lowest I’ve ever seen. At this spot, I spent a long time watching dragonflies. They flew in constant defense of their territories.

h-slaty skimmer, male

Male slaty skimmers were one of the few that posed for photo opps.

h-canoe on pond

As I watched the dragonflies flit about along the shoreline and watched and watched some more, I noticed a couple of fishermen making use of the LEA canoe. I don’t know if they caught any fish, but I heard and saw plenty jumping and swimming. Well, a few anyway. And something even skimmed across the surface of the water–fish, snake, frog?

h-rose hips.jpg

Rose hips by the pond’s edge reminded me of my father. He couldn’t pass by a rose bush without sampling the hips–especially along the shoreline in Clinton, Connecticut.

h-pond toward 5 Fields

The view toward Five Fields Farm was equally appealing.

h-pickerel frog

And then I moved down tire alley, which always provides frequent sightings of pickerel frogs. I’m never disappointed.

h-golden spindle

At the transition from a red maple swamp to a hemlock grove, golden spindles embraced a white pine sapling as if offering a bright light on any and all issues.

h-hairy woodpecker

In this same transitional zone, a female hairy woodpecker announced her presence.

h-green frog

When I crossed Sawyer Brook, green frogs did what they do best–hopped into the water and then remained still. Do they really think that I don’t see them?

h-hobblebush berries

At last, I walked out to Grist Mill Road and made my way back. One of my favorite surprises was the amount of hobblebush berries on display.

h-meadowhawk

Walking on the dirt road gave me the opportunity for additional sights–a meadowhawk posed upon a steeplebush;

h-chicken

chicken of the woods fungi grew on a tree trunk;

h-chipmunk

and a chipmunk paused on alert.

h-American Woodcock

But the best find of the day–one that caused me to halt on the road as I drove out of LEA’s Holt Pond Preserve–an American Woodcock.

Worth a wonder! And a pause. Certainly a reason to halt frequently at Holt Pond.

 

 

 

The Main(e) Exotics

If you’ve traveled with me before, you know that I often frequent the same trails. And so it was today. Oh, there was a change-up in the early morning hours when I joined a couple of members of the Lakes Environmental staff to oversee a volunteer project by the Rotary Club. Rotary members from around the state and beyond (think Argentina) spent four hours clearing a new trail we’d laid out at LEA’s Maine Lake Science Center. They provided humor and hardwork hand-in-hand.

And then a friend and I drove to LEA’s Holt Pond Preserve where everything was in exotic mode.

oak g 3

One of our first finds was an apple oak gall about the size of a golf ball. So, the apple oak gall female wasp (yes, there is such a species) crawled up the tree trunk of a Northern red oak in early spring and injected an egg into the center vein of a newly emerged leaf. As the larvae grew, it caused a chemical reaction and mutated the leaf to form a gall around it that provided sustenance.

oak g 5

Recently, the wasp drilled its way out and probably found a mate.

oak gall 1

All that remained–wispy fibers.

blue 3

Along the first boardwalk in the red maple swamp we found Northern blue flag iris in bloom. Flag irises are wild irises that tend to grow in boggy areas. Unlike the irises that grow in our gardens, they don’t have beards. The venation of the gracefully downturned sepals was intense–the better to attract pollinators.

snake2

We moved from the swamp to the first hemlock hummock and chatted about natural communities when suddenly we realize we were being hissed at.

snake 10

Its coloration threw us off and beautiful though it was, the hairs on the back of our necks stood on end. Apparently we made it feel likewise. And so we retreated. We retraced our steps and decided to complete the same loop in the opposite direction. When I got home, I looked it up and realized that it was a common garter, but really, there didn’t seem anything common about it in the moment.

hemlock v

Because we backtracked, we were treated to fresh and older hemlock varnish shelf fungi that  we may not have seen otherwise.

hemlock v 6

We know where they’re located. F0r big $$ we might (MIGHT) show you.

park 1

Later on, as we left, we recognized a friend’s vehicle in the parking lot. Our question–did he see what we saw?

pitcher 9

Throughout the preserve we found one of our favorite plants that in my book is the most exotic of them all.

pitcher 3

The carnivorous pitcher plant obtains nitrogen and phosphorus by eating insects. Its oddly shaped leaf forms a unique pitcher partly filled with water and digestive enzymes. The spout is a hairy landing platform for insects attracted by its red venation and nectar glands. Imagine this: An insect crawls to the edge of the leaf, aka pitcher, slips on the downward-sloping hairs and plunges into the liquid below where enzymes and bacteria break it down. Any chance for escape are zapped by those stiff hairs. Oh my.

pitcher & sundew1

The pitcher plant isn’t the only carnivorous plant that thrives here. Check out the glistening tentacles of the sundew intended to capture small insects like a mosquito. Should one land on the tiny leaf, its feet become ensnared in the sticky secretion and the end is eminent. YES! Within mere minutes the tentacles curl around the victim and suck the nutrients out of it. Go sundews. Go pitcher plants.

sheep 4

Only beginning to bloom was sheep laurel with its deep crimson-pink flowers. Located below the newly emerged leaves, each flower has five sepals, with a corolla of five fused petals and ten stamens fused to the corolla. Beauty and danger are also encompassed here–it contains a chemical that is poisonous to wild animals, thus one of its common names is lamb kill.

exo 1

Because we were beside the pond, we thought to look for dragonfly exoskeletons and weren’t disappointed.

broad-tailed shadow dragonfly

And the dragonflies themselves were worth our attention. I’m not sure my ID is correct, so help me out if you know better, but I think this is a broad-tailed shadowdragon and if that’s true it is one that Maine is paying attention to because it only occurs in one or two states.

beaverpond clubtail dragonfly

Another that I name without certainty–beaverpond club tail.

ebony 2

I’m much more confident about my ID of this ebony jewelwing damselfly.

cuke 7

We found a double-decker Indian cucumber root that displayed flowers in varying stages. The yellow or green-yellow flowers drooped below the upper leaf whorl and as is their custom, were slightly hidden. Each flower had three long, brown styles in the center that curved outward and the stamens were magenta.

LEA boats

Among the unnatural offerings, a few boats to explore the river and pond. Though we noted a couple of paddles and one pfd, we highly recommend you bring your own.

LEA 2

Some extra duck tape is also a good choice just in case. 😉

HP view1

Like the ever-changing reflection, life changes constantly at Holt Pond. The more I look, the more I realize how exotic life is in Maine. Who knew?

Wer-if-est-er-i-a-ing A-long

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Thank you to my friend, Judy Lynne, who shared this word with me today. I know I do it, but I didn’t know there was a word for it. And I love that it’s an Old English word–takes me back to college days and my History of the English Language Class where we learned to read in Old and Middle English.

And so it was that today I wandered longingly through the forest in search of mystery with five other naturalists–all MMNP grads who will bring the Master Naturalist course to Bridgton in the spring of 2016.

After a tour of Lake Environmental Association’s Maine Lakes Science Center, we took care of some housekeeping items (coursework) before heading out the door. I made them practically run through Pondicherry Park–well, maybe run is an overstatement, but we moved quickly for us–not much time for werifesteriaing.

It was our afternoon tramp at Holt Pond when we allowed ourselves more time to pause and wonder.

HP snake

As we started down the trail, Beth saw this snake hidden among the leaf litter. It’s the third garter snake I’ve seen this week. The day was overcast and we weren’t sure if he was coiled up because he was cold or if something had attacked him.

HP Muddy River

We stepped onto the boardwalk to view the Muddy River and it almost sank beneath our weight. The water is quite high and I suspect I know why.

HP beaver works

Off to the side, we saw fresh evidence of beaver works.

HP beaver lodge, Muddy River

And in the river, a lodge topped with new sticks. I think the dam down the river has probably been rebuilt.

Looking from this vantage point, the layers of communities are pronounced, with the wetland plants like leatherleaf, sheep laurel and sweet gale growing low by the river, topped by alders and small red maple trees, topped by tamaracks, topped by white pines, hemlocks and Northern red oaks.

HP layers from Muddy River

Similar layers surrounded us with the bright red winterberries forming the creme between two wafers.

HP pitcher 1

As happens each time I pass this way, I am forced to photograph the pitcher plants.

HP pitcher 2, picture

Have you ever noticed the pictures on the hairy inner lip? Do you see what I see? A woodland landscape–trees with extended branches, a layer of colorful foliage and a grassy edge leading to the lake (water in the cup)? I know the hairs and design are important for the attraction of insects, but I never really paid attention to the actual design before.

HP Wooly aphid

We also found more woolly alder aphids, which Joan and Ann held in their hands so everyone could get an unclose look at the squiggly insects. Rather disgusting, yet fascinating.

Holt PondHP north 2

Even a single moment at Holt Pond translates into tranquility. (And I had to channel this moment for Judy Lynne.)

HP bog boardwalk, water

Gordon, Beth and Joan tried to keep their feet dry as we examined the plant life along the quaking bog boardwalk.

HP cranberries

Karen spotted one cranberry and then another, and another, so everyone could sample the tart flavor. Pucker up.

HP owl pellet

Our next fun find–a raptor pellet comprised of hair and bones galore. For the naturalist course, this will come into play.

HP raining leaves 3

Every once in a while, I’d ask if it was raining. It was–beech and oak leaves.

HP old hemlock varnish conk

While we stopped to admire several older hemlock varnish conks, something else caught our attention.

HP mystery bark

Do you know what it is?

HP fur

And then Ann spotted this little tidbit–leftover from someone’s dinner. We still don’t know who ate whom. Or if it was related to our earlier find of the pellet.

What we do know is that we spent a delightful day werifesteriaing along.

HP fun mystery

As for the mystery photo–the inside of hemlock bark. This is the bark that I think of when trying to remember how trees decay–hardwoods rot from the inside out, softwoods rot from the outside in, but hemlock bark often remains. In the 19th century, hemlock bark was used in the tanning process because the tannins found in the bark preserved a hide and prevented natural decay while giving it a brown hue. At the same time, the tannin left the leather flexible and durable.

Here’s hoping you’ll have the opportunity to wander longingly in search of mystery.

Embracing Splashes of Color

Walk in the woods any day of the year and you’ll find color, but nothing beats a day like today.

morning light red maple swamp

Early this morning, I waited at the Holt Pond Preserve parking lot for Jon Evans of Loon Echo Land Trust. Well, I didn’t actually wait. I walked off the trail, taking in the morning sunlight on the red maple swamp–knowing we’d return to it later. By the time I arrived back at the parking lot, Jon was waiting for me–we hitched a ride to Bald Pate, where today’s adventure began.

Jon, LELT

Together, we lead eighteen people, including six Boy Scouts from Troop 149, to the summit of Bald Pate and back down, where we connected with the Town Farm Trail and continued on to Holt Pond.

view from Bald Pate

As we climbed up Bald Pate, we paused to take in the western view. This week, the colors have popped.

Peabody Pond & Sebago Lake

The fall foliage was delayed because of September’s warm temperatures. Not only does less daylight trigger the chemical change in tree leaves, but a drop in temperature is also important. That being said, it doesn’t have to be cold enough to create a frosty coating.

splash of color

 The decreasing daylight hours and temps below 45˚ at night are signals to the leaf that it is time to shut down its food-making factory. The cooler night temps trap sugars made during the day, preventing them from moving to the tree. Once trapped, the sugars form the red pigment called anthocyanin.

Muddy River

As we witnessed along the Muddy River at Holt Pond, when the chlorophyll begins to break down, the green color disappears. This allows the yellows to show through. At the same time, other chemical changes may cause the formation of more pigments varying from yellow to red to maroon. While some trees, like quaking aspens, birch and hickory only show the yellow color, sugar maple leaves turn a brilliant orange or fiery red combined with yellow.

witch hazel flowers, Holt Pond

pitcher plants

button bush, Holt Pond

Not to be left out, the flowering witch hazel, pitcher plants and buttonbush display their own variation of colors.

Holt Pond Red Maple Swamp

Five hours and almost five miles later, we were back at the Red Maple Swamp I’d photographed at 7:30am.

The day was too beautiful to head indoors, so after a quick stop at home, I endured the Fryeburg Fair traffic and drove to the Gallie Trail at the Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve in Lovell. My intention was a reconnaissance mission for next weekend’s Greater Lovell Land Trust hike to the summit of Whiting Hill.

 bear claw 2 bear claw and nectria

On the way up, I scanned the beech trees, searching for bear claw marks and wasn’t disappointed.

 Mama Beech Whiting Hill

The beech leaves have yet to take on their golden-bronze hue that lasts throughout the winter and appears like dabs of sunlight in the white landscape.

color contrast

The maples, however, provide a brilliant contrast in the canopy.

whiting view 2

It’s beginning to look a bit like . . . autumn from the summit.

red maple splendor

One red maple was particularly dazzling.

red oak, subtle color

This northern red oak provides a much more subtle hue,

ash leaf

while a white ash shows off its magenta-colored leaves.

bees on goldenrod, Whiting Hill

A goldenrod continues to bloom and the bees know it. This one is doing a happy dance.

yellow-greens of striped maple

As I hiked down a different trail, the community changed and the striped maples dominated the understory

striped maple leaves

with their yellow-green leaves.

Indian cucumber root fading

Similarly, the Indian-Cucumber root’s leaves have taken on its lime-green color of fall.

splash of yellow greensplash of color2

Splashes of color. Nature on display. How fortunate I am to be able to embrace these moments.

A Little of This and a Little of That

As I sit here listening to the undelightful sound of an artesian well being drilled on a neighboring property, I have to wonder how deep they must go. After all, we’re beside a lake.

To distract myself, I wandered about our lot, wondering what I might see. I’d also wandered at Holt Pond early this morning, sharing the pitcher plants and some other great finds with K. So . . . here’s a little of this and a little of that.

Muddy River

Morning has broken . . . on the Muddy River.

HP boardwalk

And the quaking bog at Holt Pond.

pp2

Home of the pitcher plants and the reason for our visit.

Horned Bladderwort

A new find for me: Horned bladderwort. It’s growing at the edge of the pond. The stalk is erect and there are no apparent leaves–because . . .  “tiny leaves grow beneath the soil” according to Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide.

Indian pipe

Check out this Indian Pipe. Usually we see the ghostly white version, but Newcomb states that occasionally the plants are pink. This is one of those occasions. And these flowers have been fertilized–therefore, they are standing upright, rather than nodding.

Staghorn sumac

On my way home, I stopped by the side of the road to admire the staghorn sumac. The cluster of upright flowers reminded me a wee bit of the sundews we’d been admiring at Holt Pond. Color and hairiness–similar but entirely different.

rose

Back at camp and by the water’s edge, a single swamp rose bush.

serviceberry

The berries of a shadbush dangle like ornaments.

exoskeleton

Under a porch floorboard, the exoskeleton of a dragonfly.

blue dasher dragonfly

Perhaps it previously protected this one–a blue dasher.

thistle

And finally, a field thistle on our neighbor’s side of the driveway. Such a suit of armor.

There’s more, but that was enough this and that for the day. And besides, the well folks are finally departing. Let there be silence.

Not All Who Wander Are Lost :-)

path 2

Today, I wandered along the boardwalks at  Holt Pond Preserve in South Bridgton with Adam Perron, education director of Lakes Environmental Association, and Amy Kireta, a PhD student from UMaine. Amy plans to help Adam develop climate change curriculum for LEA. Exciting stuff.

We chatted as we walked, but frequently stopped to look and listen. Check out our finds.

blue flag iris

Blue Flag Iris is beardless (no hairs on its petals), unlike the irises that grow in my garden.

sheep laurel

The Sheep Laurel beginning to bloom. This is an interesting and beautiful plant, with its flowers blooming below the new leaves. I love how the leaves droop.

water lily

Another new bloom–the ball-shaped flower of Spatterdock.

blatterwort

Though our eyes were immediately drawn to the leaves of Fragrant Water Lilies with their pie-shaped notch, we could see a submerged blatterwort–one of the carnivorous plants of the preserve. They feature small blatters that act as vacuums and suck up tiny aquatic animals in order to take advantage of their nutrients.

pitcher plant

Speaking of carnivorous plants . . . the Pitcher Plants are flowering.

pitcher plant flowering

The colors are enough to suck me in.

ppf

 ppflower

While the Pitcher Plants make themselves known in any season, another carnivorous plant barely announces its presence on the quaking bog.

sundew

The Round-leaf Sundew. Preferring the acidity of the spaghnum moss, the hairlike tentacles  on each leaf are tipped with glistening droplets that shout a welcome message to passing insects. Those droplets are actually quite sticky and when the tendrils of hair detect that a prey has stopped by, they curl inward and wrap around the insect–then digest its nutrients.

There aren’t many nutrients in a spaghnum bog, so these plants have figured out how to meet their own needs–another reason to be in awe.

It’s stuff like this that makes me think J.R.R. Tolkien could have found inspiration right here.

Though we didn’t stray off the beaten path today, that is one of my favorite things to do. But I’m glad we backtracked rather than taking Amy back to the parking area via a different route because . . . we encountered another hiker who stopped to ask us some questions. As she talked, some things she said made me wonder if she was someone who recently commented on one of my blog posts. A friend in Connecticut has said since high school that I can be blunt (that’s you, C.W.N.) and I probably was today when I blurted out this woman’s name. I’m so glad I did. I was right–it was her. And I hope we can make a connection to wander together some time because it sounds like we have walked in each other’s tracks more than once.

Not all who wander are lost

I knew your car when I saw this, E.

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Years ago, I paraphrased it. Wander and wonder. You never know what or who you might stumble upon.

Naturally Wavy

The roads were coated in black ice when I drove toward Jefferson, Maine, early this morning to meet up with the Maine Master Naturalist class. The morning sun, brilliant blue sky with scattered cumulous clouds, and mist rising from open waterways, made me want to pause along the highway and take some photos, but I wasn’t sure how I’d explain to a state policeman that indeed it was an emergency. Instead, I continued on to Gardiner, got off the highway and followed backroads over rolling hills and through farm country to my destination–Hidden Valley Nature Center. 

Aptly named, the 1,000-acre natural education center consists of contiguous forest dotted with vernal pools, a kettle bog, ponds and 30 miles of trails.

Bambi

Bambi Jones, a Master Naturalist and co-founder of HVNC, spent the morning with us, showing us the vernal pools and sharing her knowledge. Things aren’t exactly hopping at the pools yet, but . . . the weather is supposed to warm up this week and once the snow melts–look out!

vp1

When I first looked at this vernal pool photo, I thought it was upside down–such is the reflection.

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A wee bit of info and a reason why we should pay attention.

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This is a kettle hole bog apparently, caused by glacial action. I was looking up the difference between a bog and a fen and found this on The International Carnivorous Plant Society’s Web site: “People commonly describe wetlands with words like pond, bog, marsh, fen, and swamp, thinking these are mostly interchangeable. Actually, there are careful definitions for each of these names. The only problem is that a hydrologist may use one set of definitions, while a botanist may use another, and an ecologist may use yet another.”

While we stood looking across, someone in the group spotted what they thought was a bobcat across the way and coming down a hill. I never saw it, but I did note lots of ledges in the area and on the way out saw some potential bobcat tracks.

fen1

Another view. Lots of black spruce, sheep laurel and pitcher plant seed pods visible.

pitcher plant flower

The seed pod of a  pitcher plant, one of our carnivorous plants.

beaver lodge:fen

And a beaver lodge along the edge.

2nd beaver lodge

There were so many things to see, including a second beaver lodge that may have more action. Do you see it in the center of the photo?

beaver dam

This dam is nearby and had seen lots of activity. Due to yesterday’s rain, it’s a bit hard to decipher the tracks.

Cheryl , spring tails

Remember when I mentioned snow fleas or spring tails in my post entitled, The Small Stuff? Well, this is one of our students enjoying a circus performance.

cat

You never know what you might see when you take the time to look.

looking for life

So they did–look that is. And almost fell in.

what's in your dannon?

More observations–whatcha got in your Dannon container?

white oak1

One of my joys was meeting two new trees. I was excited to make the acquaintance of White Oak (Quercus alba) today. Rather than the ski trails and redness of Northern Red Oak, this species features bark that looks like irregular blocks.

white oak 2

And sometimes it looks shaggier, with long, vertical plates. Like its red brethren, the leaves are marcescent, meaning they stay on the tree through the winter months.

white oak leaf

What I love about the White Oak leaf is its rounded lobes.

red oak

Here’s a middle-aged (just like me!) Northern Red Oak for comparison. The flat-ridged ski trails are forming and the red is clearly visible between them.

red oak leaf

Then there’s the bristle-tipped leaf.

amer hornbeam

My second new encounter was with the American Hornbeam (Carpinus caroloiniana). Again, a thrilling experience. OK, it doesn’t take much. Now I understand why it’s called musclewood. It could easily be mistaken for a beech tree because the bark of a young  tree is smooth, but there is a sinewy beauty to it. My bark eyes are now cued into this one.

Hop Hornbeam

The fun part was that not far away stood this old friend. Hop Hornbeam (Ostrya virginians) has thin, flaky vertical strips. Both species, members of the birch family, are known as ironwood.

stream

As the day went on, though our focus was on vernal pools and communities, we often got distracted by other things–which I’ve dubbed Nature Distraction Disorder.

What I began to notice was a natural waviness. I saw it in the snow along the edge of this stream.

folds

In the folds of the rocks.

more folds

And more folds.

beech 2

In the scar on this beech tree.

red oak growth

And the growth on this red oak.

 sculpture

But probably my favorite, this naturally wavy sculpture on display by the barn where we convened a few times. It invites reflection.

Thanks for joining me for today’s wonder-filled wander.