Spring springs forth each year and yet I always find myself greeting its gifts as if for the first time. Such was my journey today as I met a few old friends along a path near, you guessed it, a wetland.
My first moment of awe occurred beside a Beaked Hazelnut. These are the first of the shrubs to flower with their teeny tiny magenta ribbons that may look large because I zoomed in with my lens, but typically the petals fall off as the leaves emerge. And so it was with great joy that I could honor this particular flower today and note that said flowers will eventually become the beaked fruits filled with the most desirable of nuts. And those new leaves–oh my. They were a close match for the flowers in gaining my attention.
And then in the shadows I saw another who garners notice in every stage of its development as well. Those pleated leaves. That crazy beautiful flower structure.
In the sun’s rays, another Hobblebush showed off its incredible flowerhead taking more shape with larger sterile flowers on the outer edge and the smaller fertile flowers just beginning to gain their shape.
And if that wasn’t enough, as is the situation along many a trail right now, an American Beech cotyledon sported its embryonic leaves. Okay, so this was the second day in a row that I saw such, but still . . . it’s always worth celebrating.
The lower set of leathery embyronic leaves remind me of a butterfly and appear before the tree’s true leaves make themselves known. Part of what intrigues me about these seed leaves is that they contain stored food. Eventually these food stores will wither and fall off.
I also love how the word cotyledon (cot·y·le·don \ ˌkä-tə-ˈlē-dᵊn ) flows off my tongue, much like marcescent, which describes the leaves of this same tree that cling, wither and rattle all winter long.
There was more for everywhere I looked a variety of fern crosiers sprouted from the ground, this particular array belonging to either cinnamon or interrupted for they both are similar at this stage. The morning was cool, but it appears that this fern has it covered–literally, with a hairy coating for its head and legs and a cape styled by an errant leaf.
As if that wasn’t enough, another tiny flower showed off its stamen-studded head. You’ve heard of Goldilocks. Meet Goldthread.
It wasn’t just the shrubs, wildflowers, and ferns that begged to be noticed, however. My only wish is that I could share sound and action with you, but in its place, color. First I bring to you a Yellow-rumped Warbler.
And then a Blue-headed Vireo.
There were also Common Yellowthroats, Hermit Thrushes, Phoebes, and so many more. But the Blue-headed had my eye. Don’t you love its eye?
I was almost done with my tramp when I spotted one that I know going forth I’ll photograph a trillion times. Is there a problem with having a trillion photographs of trillium? My guy thinks so, but . . . I don’t agree. And so today I began by honoring Stinking Benjamin, aka Red Trillium, with the first photos of the season.
There was all that and then . . . on the way home a bird beside the road caused me to back up. One can do that in western Maine. This American Woodcock and I spent a few minutes together, but just when it turned to show off its long beak two cars whizzed by and it scampered into the undergrowth. Perhaps we’ll meet again, but if not, I was grateful for the opportunity.
On this sixth day of the month I gave thanks for the firsts of May.
Oh my goodness, oh my goodness, oh my goodness. Today’s hike found me traveling solo, as is the norm in this current time, but I took each and every one of you along with me because so excited was I by all of our finds.
As I showed you in the parking lot, our plan was to begin on the Roger’s Family Trail and then circle around on the orange Heritage Loop Trail with a side trip to the summit of Amos Mountain in the midst of the journey. You all agreed that it sounded like a great plan.
I had previously warned you that part of the route could be a bit wet and was pleased to see that some of you had remembered to don your rubber boots, but those who forgot managed to find a way around. I trust no one had wet feet by the time we finished. Was my assumption correct?
Of course, I love water and so before we crossed over the bridge, I insisted that we take a look and try to spy tracks in some mud or aquatic insects or plants springing forth.
Bingo on the latter and we all rejoiced at the sight of False Hellebore with its corrugated leaves so green.
Finally, after poking about for a bit, I suggested we move along. It seemed like we managed to walk about five steps and then something would catch our attention and all forward motion came to pause. But that’s the way we like it for we notice so much with such slow movement. Do you remember this spot? Where we paused to look for Trailing Arbutus buds and noticed Downy Rattlesnake Plaintain growing in a colony. And remember how I told you that the only way I can remember the common name of this latter species is because it doesn’t look “downy” to me.
As often happens, the trail enhanced the lesson for not too much further along we practically stepped on another family member, this one bearing the name Checkered. Really, had Mr. Linnaeus asked me, I would have switched it around for the dullness of these leaves seems more downy in my mind and the other more checkered. Alas . . . he didn’t ask.
By this point, we’d hit drier trail conditions, if you recall, as we started climbing uphill. Drier, but rockier, that is. And then upon one, we spied a little package that you knew would delight me. Fox scat, indeed. With a blunt end and even a twist. Classic fox scat.
It took us a while, but we managed to reach the intersection with the orange trail and turned to the left to proceed. It was there that we began to meet common polypody ferns. Some of you explained that you know it as rock cap fern or rock polypody fern. What we all know is that it’s most often found growing on rock surfaces in moist, shady woods.
I did hear the hushed groans when I turned it over, but what could I say? I can’t resist checking to look at the underside. Like little pompoms, the organs or sori that housed the dust-sized spores or sporangia are arranged so neatly in two rows upon each leaflet. In their old age, the sori of these common polypody are orange-brown.
You, however, were eager to move on and so we did. Until we didn’t. For we stopped once again at “El Pupito,” the pulpit rock.
And did what one should do at the pulpit–honor the view through nature’s stained-glass window.
Oh yeah, and on the back of the boulder, you knew the minute you saw it what was going to happen next.
Out came my water bottle as I sacrificed some H20. But really, you are also equally amazed each time the magic happens and the greenish color of algae on rock tripe lichen makes itself known.
I saw a few of you gawk.
With a snap of our fingers and twitch of our noses (no we didn’t touch our fingers to our faces), we soon made it to the summit of Amos.
It was there that while zooming in to note the glorious red maple buds we spied another in the form of a spider. And we all took a closer look, one at a time, of course, allowing for six feet of space.
Then we backtracked down to where the blue trail met the orange trail and continued on the orange. That is . . . until sweet bird songs stopped us in our steps.
The trills lasted a few seconds and began again.
Most of us couldn’t recall who it was and gave great thanks to have Peter and Joe along for a positive ID: Pine Warbler indeed.
At our next stop I was so sure that one of you would provide a definitive answer to the structure’s use and history, but you only asked more questions to which I didn’t have the answers and so it shall remain a mystery. Who built it? Why? What? When? We do know the where and have some ideas about the how, but can’t quite respond to the Five Ws and an H in a complete manner.
And so we left there and moved on to the spot where we chatted about all the ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggity beasties that seemingly followed us through the woods.
Each time we heard a sound from one of the above, if it wasn’t a dried leaf blowing across the forest floor, it turned out to be a chipmunk. Why is it, we wondered together, that they can be so still one moment, but in the next insist upon calling attention to their presence?
Moving along, we eventually crossed over the wall and onto what was once the property of Amos Andrews.
Here, only a few years ago, one among us, yes Alice, that would be you, realized that in this spot grew white oak, a tree that we had previously believed no longer grew in these parts given its use in barrel making and other purposes. That is, until we recognized the chunky blocks of bark that helped to negate that assumption.
The leaves below also defined the new story, with red oak’s bristly pointed lobes on the left and white oak’s rounded lobes to the right.
As it would be, we realized we weren’t the only ones looking. And again, we had to take turns getting close to ohh and ahh at the alternating light and dark markings on the abdomen’s edge, legs and antennae of the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug. Okay, so we know these beasts inflect considerable damage to some fruits and crops, and can be a nuisance when it takes shelter in our homes, but still.
Around the corner from the oak tree we paused beside the homestead of Amos Andrews and wandered about his walled property for a bit, each of us trying to answer the question, “What was Amos thinking?” We haven’t answered it yet, but time will tell as perhaps more understandings will be revealed.
Down the former road we walked, grateful that being two rod wide, (a rod at 16.5 feet), we had plenty of room to spread out.
At the intersection with the Amos Mountain Trail, our route crossed over and we continued on to the lookout point where the Balds to the left, Mount Washington a wee white pyramid in the background, and Kezar Lake below held our focus.
And then we began to retrace our steps, back toward the parking lot where we’d first gathered. But there were two more things to notice, the first being a skeleton of a paper birch, its roots till seemingly intact.
And finally, water striders not doing a very good job of practicing social distancing.
We, on the other hand, had nailed that one, for while you all walked with me, I was alone. And ever so grateful for your company.
To my guy and our sons, March Madness means only one thing: NCAA basketball.
To folks at the grocery store it seems to mean something else: a disdain for snow.
To me, while there was a time when I admit thinking that March was indeed the longest month, despite the fact that others like January, May, July, and August also have thirty-one days, I’ve changed my tune over the years. Perhaps it was a move north so many moons ago as I sought a land where more snow blanketed the earth that helped me transition. What I do know is that it’s a month of constant change as we move from winter to spring and while I never want to see the snow melt, I equally enjoy all the hints of what is to come that slowly join the display.
That display began on the first day of March when the frigid morning temperature created a mosaic of color and form on the window behind our bed. Feathery fern fronds and dragonfly wings danced across the glass as the morning light added subtle hues to the frosty collage.
Outdoors, the female Cardinal showed off her brilliant colors in the late afternoon sun.
Even in snowstorms, the male Pileated’s excavation work never ceased.
I did, however, spy a chickadee upon a lilac who looked at the snow as if to say, “Enough is enough.”
And a Junco who seemed to admire either its reflection or the prospect of plenty of thistle seeds.
Over the course of the month, we welcomed various nocturnal visitors including this member of the marsupial family.
Other nighttime visitors were masked bandits, indeed.
One nocturnal visitor surprised me one day by napping in a hemlock tree.
But, as the month progressed, I discovered we had not one, but two, porcupines living under the barn who made the transition from hemlock to seeds as their seasonal diet changed.
Even if we didn’t see them at night, we knew by the scat they left behind that they had emerged to dine.
And every day–the red and gray squirrels made their own quick work of the bird seed.
Of course, the birds also enjoyed such offerings.
Even if their feathers were astray as they began to molt despite, or because of, the weather conditions.
Some cracked me up with their stances at the suet feeder like this Red-breasted Nuthatch who appeared to casually step up to the bar and place his order.
March also brought the turkeys back, though I don’t know why they’d ignored us for the previous two months.
The Toms’ featherless heads of blue and pink and red raised bumps, called caruncles, changed colors with their moods.
That wasn’t the only thing about them to notice and I began to pay attention to their feet for like Ruffed Grouse, they seemed to have “snowshoes” and “treeshoes” that helped them stay atop snow and stable in their treetop roosts.
As the month advanced, others like this House Finch, returned to the north country and brightened my days.
And though he’s not singing yet, the Song Sparrow also made a come back and invited others of his species to join him.
The bird seed became an important supply for all forms of life and the deer cleared their own path from the hemlock grove to the feeders.
And then one day, spring dawned!
Still we had snow, but that didn’t stop the woodchuck from crossing the deck during a storm.
I chuckled when I watched him head to the familiar corner of the barn, that same corner that the porcupines emerge from and retreat to each night and morning. Oh, and the raccoons and opossum also know it. I’m just waiting for the skunks–I’ve smelled them, but have yet to see one.
Some days I spent near water where I was delighted to find exoskeletons such as this upon the snow.
The exoskeleton had belonged to the larval stage of a winter stonefly such as this one that crossed the snow as they do.
Other insects didn’t fare so well in the weather and behind plexiglass they remained in frozen form.
Within the last few days, as the month winds down, I’ve noted areas beside trees with southerly orientations where the snow has melted and the wintergreens grow.
And though I’ve seen Robins all winter, their flock numbers have increased significantly this past week.
But still we have plenty of snow as this Tom Turkey well knew this afternoon while he marched forward with a spirit of hope in each step.
I hope you can find some spring in your steps as this month gives way to the next and enjoy the wonder of it all. For me, March Madness is really March Gladness.
The note on the counter listed two destinations as I had no idea where I wanted to wander today and had mulled several places over in my mind. I like to let my guy know where I’m headed, or at least where I might be headed. The final decision, however, was made by my truck for it wasn’t until I was several miles beyond the first possibility when I realized I’d missed the turn. OK, so maybe the truck didn’t decide, but still . . . I surprised myself.
When I arrived, I began to drive in on the muddy part of the road first, but then I saw the icy section, and decided that rather than get stuck, I’d back out and find a different place to park. My next choice was what to wear on my feet. I’d already donned my Muck boots, which almost reach my knees, but decided to not wear snowshoes or Micro-spikes. In hindsight, either would have been helpful at times, but I think I made the right decision and if you read on, I think you’ll agree.
The road way in might seem long to some if you have to walk its length, but it gave me an opportunity to slip into the place and notice . . . things like vireo bird nests below eye-level given the snowpack. It was a rather holey nest, but still its structure was one to behold.
And then there was the ever present big-toothed hemlock to consider 😉 A rare species that grows only in these woods.
At last I reached the bog of my dreams and took in the expansive view from sky to mountains to trees and shrubs and ice and snow.
In the beyond stood Mount Washington.
And closer by was the southwestern side of Pleasant Mountain.
But . . . it was the little things that I’d ventured in to see, occasionally post-holing up to mid-thigh when I paused to focus on something such as a stonefly. It was a stonefly haven, so many did I spy.
Spiders were also out to enjoy this fine day.
And then I saw a piece of dried bark dangling from a stick in the snow. It fooled me momentarily.
But then it began to maneuver along its silky thread and I realized I was in the presence of another spider, an orbweaver.
A little further along, the melt down was officially underway. Not only by the sight of water, but in its still form I recognized the musty, muddy smell. New Haven Harbor at low tide came instantly to mind.
And roaming about in and out of the water was an American Robin. I used to think these birds were harbingers of spring, but all winter I’ve spied them in various places. This one cuck, cucked as it moved, and poked and sipped. Eventually, another responded.
My main route, which I chose to stay upon because of my footwear, began to give way as the bog water flowed over the cobbled stones.
And I gave thanks for my choice of footwear.
For a while I managed to cross the wet spots determined to see what other harbingers of spring might speak to me. While admiring some pussy willows, I heard the whispering sound of Wood Ducks and several times startled them so they took to the air as is their nervous habit.
I continued on, passing through more water until I almost reached what I call beaver bridge for the rodents love to make a dam below it. At that point the water was too high and I decided to apply some common sense and turn around. As I walked back I spied a couple of Black Ducks who were equally quick to take flight. And then I heard one of my favorite spring sounds–the check, check, check call of Red-winged Blackbirds. A few flew past and landed in treetops, all the while communicating with each other.
The final sound was that of a male Hairy Woodpecker. He seemed to drum and then listen, and spent time staying in one area where he visited several dead snags while I looked on, my presence not seeming to matter.
Was he listening for a response, I wondered.
It was on the walk back that I spied another shrub worth worshipping, Wild Raisin or Witherod, as it is known. Its fruits had been consumed but its buds were growing in expectation.
And suddenly I realized . . . so was I. I do LOVE winter, but really, I appreciate all of our seasons and can’t imagine living in a place where I can’t experience each in its own right and the change from one to another. Today, the color of the ice, a pastel blue, gave me pause and as much as I wanted to walk out onto Brownfield Bog, I knew better.
Spring awakens slowly in western Maine where a blanket of snow still covers the earth. That’s okay by me. It’s worth the wait and gives us the opportunity to treasure each revelation.
Sometimes the words slide out with little effort and other times, they seem to hide in the wings, waiting backstage. So it is on this last day of spring.
Whoa. Maybe I’m not sure what to write because I’m not ready for spring to end. I’m not sure spring is ready either–it was 44 degrees at 6 a.m. and even now, sitting in the shade, I’ve got goosebumps from the breeze..
But say goodbye to spring I must. I’ve spent the past two days savoring its final moments and mosaic colors. Along the way, I’ve seen some cool things.
I came across this ichneumon wasp on the base of a hemlock girdled by a beaver. Because of the long, needle-like ovipositor (that looks like a nasty stinger, but usually isn’t–though she is a wasp), I think this is a female. She’s possibly searching for a place to inject her eggs, which will then feed on other insect larvae.
As the season unfolded, I’ve been training my eyes to focus on leaf characteristics. This one is easy to pass off as a beech. But, its saw-blade teeth tell me to check below the leaves.
Beaked Hazelnut, a shrub that produces hairy husks containing the nut (think filbert) .
Double beaked. They grow singly or in groups up to ten or so.
Dangling like baubles, the fuzzy balls will entice squirrels, chipmunks, birds and yes, humans.
Sadly, not every part of the picture is pretty. The red pines at the summit of Pleasant Mountain are dying off. I spoke with a forester from the White Mountain National Forest about this today and his thought was that it might be red pine scale insects. Yeegads.
My first thought had been weather, but the trees below the summit have also been affected. It’s time for me to contact the state forester and ask his opinion.
The fertile fronds of the cinnamon fern have spread their spores and are now withering. Soon, I’ll have to search to find any evidence that they ever existed.
The same holds true of the interrupted fern, though the gap that will be left once the fertile middle pinnae fall off will be rather obvious.
Long white hairs top the tip of running clubmoss.
Candlelabras are forming, preparing to release numerous spores. Like the ferns above, it’s difficult for me to comprehend that this life form that creeps along the ground was once the size of trees. Mind boggling for this brain.
On to simpler things. A ladybird beetle.
Orange Hawkweed, aka Devil’s Paintbrush.
I think this is an Eastern pondhawk dragonfly, but if you know better, please tell me. My other thought–blue dasher. Either way, like all dragonflies, there’s beauty in its venation and color. Plus, those dragonfly eyes.
The Blue Flag Irises
are making a final statement,
while a great blue heron forages for fish near an abandoned beaver lodge.
Daisies speak to the season to come.
It’s only a day away . . . oops. A red leaf found today. What’s with that? Maybe the pine needle cast has all of nature confused.
Thanks for joining me on this last peak at spring. I’m looking north now as the summer solstice is on the horizon.