Early spring, that time of transition when it feels as if the world has slowed down, is one of my favorite times of the year. Oh, besides all my other favorite times that is–like tracking time and dragonfly time and stalking insect time and . . . and . . . and.
These days it seems my day often begins with a certain male visitor.
No, it’s not my guy, but another handsome fellow named Jake. At least I think that’s his name, based on the length of his beard, short conical spurs on the backs of his legs, and light red and blue head, which would be much brighter for his elder named Tom. It doesn’t matter for in the morning sunlight he gleams and makes me realize that he embodies every color of the rainbow.
We typically spend a few minutes together before he departs and I know that means it’s time for me to do the same.
To ensure there will be more of these little water tigers, I discover two adults canoodling.
In its adult form, the beetle backs up to the water’s surface and captures air under the elytra, or firm front pair of wings where the spiracles or respiratory openings are located. (Think external pores) The challenge is to carry enough air to breath, but not too much that might cause them to sink. That said, I frequently watch them surface and then swim off after an oxygen grab, but storing that air for at least ten minutes serves them well while mating for they certainly don’t have a plan to rise for a refill.
If you’ve never watched a pair of Predacious Diving Beetles mate, this is worth the eleven-second clip. It was a first for me, and what a frenzied time it was.
Ah, but there are other things to look at in a pool and so I pull myself away from the canoodlers and begin to focus on the result of some other interaction, this being egg masses of Spotted Salamanders. One evening in the past week, a male Spotted Salamander deposited spermatophores that look like tiny pieces of cauliflower on the pool floor. A few nights later a female picked up sperm from the small structures and internally fertilized her eggs, which she later attached to the small branch in the water. If you look closely, you might see the gelatinous matrix that surrounds the mass.
Likewise, Wood Frog egg masses have also been deposited and their overall structure reminds me of tapioca. In no time at all, the embryos began to develop, but it will still be about three weeks before the larval tadpoles hatch.
Because I was looking, I had the good fortune this week of spying another tiny, but significant critter swimming upside down as is its manner–a fairy shrimp. Fairy shrimp don’t feed on the embryos but rather filter algae and plankton with eleven pairs of appendages, which they also use for swimming and breathing.
Similar to the Predacious Diving Beetle, in order to digest food, a Fairy Shrimp produces a thick, glue-like substance to mix with a meal. My awe with Fairy Shrimp remains in the fact that after a female produces broods of hardy eggs called cysts, they lay dormant once the pool dries up and don’t hatch until it rains again the following spring or even years later.
I could spend hours searching for Fairy Shrimp and other insects and in fact, do even marvel at the Mosquito wrigglers as they flip and flop their way around.
You, too, may watch them by clicking on this short video. And remember–they eventually become great bird and insect food.
By now, I suppose it’s time to honor other more beautiful sights of spring, including my favorite first flower of the season, the tiny spray of magenta styles at the tip of Beaked Hazelnut flowers waiting for some action from the male catkins.
And yesterday’s most delightful surprise, the first blooms of Trailing Arbutus on the forest floor. Known as Mayflowers, they usually open in April. Just to confuse us.
Standing for a while beside a river rather than a pool, another of my favorite sites was an abundance of Painted Turtles basking. No, they aren’t sunbathing to get a tan, but rather to raise their internal body temperature. Being cold-blooded, their body temperature is determined solely by the temperature of the surrounding environment.
In the same neighborhood a pair of Belted Kingfishers could be heard rattling as they do in flight and then seen preening and it seems that love is not only in the water, but in the air as well.
Likewise, a Song Sparrow or two or three trilled their lovely notes to announce their intentions to any who would listen.
And then today dawned–and with it a spring snowstorm graced this part of the world and all who live here, like this Sheep Laurel with buds still tiny.
Back to the pool went I, where the only action seemed to be snow striking its surface and creating rippled patterns in constant flux.
Some of the snow drops were so large that bubbles reflecting the canopy above formed. Under water, I couldn’t see any action and finally turned toward home, trusting all the swimming critters were tucked under the leaves in an attempt to avoid the rawness of the day.
There was one more stop to make, however, before I headed in. On December 1st, 2020, upon this very same tree, I watched slugs for the last time last year as documented in a post entitled “My Heart Pines.” It was a squirrel midden that had attracted me to the tree, but so much more did it have to offer on that day.
Today, as I searched for slugs, I was equally surprised for just as I found last year, once again the froth that forms on pines as the result of a chemical interaction when rain drops pick up oils and air in the bark furrows bubbles through that oily film and the end result is pine soap never ceases to amaze me. Even in snow, I learned, it can occur. Plus there was a subtle rainbow of colors.
Ah, but it certainly didn’t match the colors Jake displayed.
Today’s snowfall will melt by tomorrow and only be a memory of that year it snowed on April 16. We’ve had much bigger April storms than this one turned out to be and henceforth Jake and I will walk with a spring in our steps.
Like a thin veil, this morning’s fog attempted to hide Miss Spring.
But instead, it revealed her nuances and enhanced her being as the birds sang and amphibians added their voices to the chorus.
As I listened, I peeked through the thinnest of openings to see what the world wanted to reveal.
Weaving all of life together were the silken lines of spider webs.
Beads of water enhancing their forms.
And the creator turned out to be the most minute of beings.
Flowing forth the remains of melting snow, the stream spoke of nourishment.
Its action creating frothy suds that cleansed.
And within its bubbles the world above was reflected.
The surrounding landscape was mirrored in the drips of raindrops.
Everywhere, there were treasures indicating what is to come . . . in the form of Hobblebush buds growing more global;
Trailing Arbutus showing a glimmer of new life;
And Beaked Hazelnut presenting its most subtle, yet exquisite floral presentation.
As I continued to look about, something different caught my eye.
A moth recently emerged from its cocoon* spoke to another form of new life.
What I learned today is that one needs to watch.
And be ready.
Though she has been shrouded, her veil is slipping away. I was grateful to discover that Miss Spring surrounds us when we make the time to look–even on dark and dreary days.
*The moth–I knew it was such, but didn’t know what kind. Upon arriving home, I did some research and the best I could come up with was the worst–Operophtera brumata, or the invasive Winter moth. But . . . I wasn’t 100% convinced of my ID so I reached out to fellow Master Naturalist Anthony Underwood. This was his response: “Don’t panic yet, Leigh. I’ve seen this before. It’s a newly eclosed moth, yes, eclosed. Probably a Sphinx moth. I wasn’t familiar with the term until I encountered one for myself a while ago. Your vocabulary is likely more extensive than mine but just in case I’ll clarify by explaining that it means that it has emerged from its winter cocoon and is looking for a place to pump its blood into those wings and expand them for first flight. Good find!
It feels like it has rained every day for the past week, but the grass is certainly green.
And the vernal pool full. Between today’s downpours I visited it a couple of times, so excited by my findings.
The wood frog eggs had turned green with a symbiotic algae and I could see the tadpoles developing inside.
The green coloring made the their eggs contrast with the salamander masses. I was thrilled to see movement among the green and realized that . . . drum roll please . . .
my babies were slowing hatching. Of course, they are mine–even though the frog pond is located on a neighboring property. I’ve been an expectant mother for several weeks, and now . . . I’m nervous about the future, as any parent would be.
Will my babies survive? Will they have an opportunity to transform into their terrestrial forms?
Or will the pond dry up too soon as it has the last few years? I guess I’ll be forced to continue to stop by. Oh darn! One thing I have noted since the ice melted: I’ve yet to see a predacious diving beetle and there are hardly any mosquito larvae flipping about. That’s good for the tadpoles on one end of the spectrum and not so good on the other. To be food and to eat food.
I also wondered, will the white and opaque masses of the spotted salamander eggs turn green like they are supposed to–also dependent on a symbiotic algae?
After checking on my wee ones, I walked the pond’s perimeter and noticed activity at a spot I’ve been keeping an eye on in the southwest corner. Well, not current activity, but recent. For the first time this year, a hole has been excavated.
It’s the same hole that was excavated last year. Darker debris was piled in front.
At about three or so inches across, I wondered who owned it. Too small for foxes, and certainly too wet. Too big for chipmunks and a dirty dooryard. Could it be a mink? Do they leave a messy dooryard? I found the same hole excavated last year, but never any other evidence of the maker. I’ll continue to check for any other signs.
My eyes reverted back to the pool, where raindrops and reflections created an artistic display.
And then I pulled myself away, frozen were my fingers. The greenness of the world continued to show its face everywhere I turned from the maple-dust lichen to . . .
young white pines, their candelabras growing long,
red maple samaras upon old leaves,
and cherry flowers developing.
What do April showers bring? Mayflowers (trailing arbutus), of course,
Haha. If you know me well, you know I’d rather be a wall flower than step onto the dance floor. I easily managed to avoid all high school dances, except one prom. And then, barely danced at that, probably much to my date’s dismay. After that, so many moons ago, I don’t think I danced again until my wedding–at which time any dear friends in attendance watched with humor at my awkward movements. But today, I felt the rhythm surging through my body.
It all began on my way to the vernal pool. Perhaps it was really just a shiver as the breeze blew across the last of the snow, hard packed still along the snowmobile trail.
Or maybe it was the depression that held the snowmelt and was covered with an oil slick of sorts . . .
which turned out to be a million springtails bopping to their own tunes.
It could have been the sudden sight of so many trailing arbutus plants that got me going.
Certainly I wasn’t the only one excited by those flowers yet to be. (Do you see the springtail on the tip of the bud?)
Or it might have been the ever shrinking ice cover at the pool that made my feet tap.
Perhaps it was the fallen beech leaves atop tree reflections that forced me to sway.
Or the way the hemlock, oak, maple and beech leaves intermingled.
What I do know is that there was no stopping me once I spotted spotted salamander spermatophores atop leaves in several open sections–the sperm being located at the top of the cauliflower-shaped platforms.
And then I saw something swim under some leaves that really got me rocking. Do you see the face of the wood frog, hiding as best it could?
As I began to circle around the dance floor, I noticed an offering of scat that made me think a red fox had sashayed beside the pool.
On my own sashay home, I discovered that there were other dancers in the midst–this one possibly a sharp-shinned hawk.
And after that a woodpecker.
And then a junco.
Along the cowpath, the red maple flowers blushed as I might were I to get all gussied up in a flowing dress.
Much the way a suitor might wink, so much has happened so quickly. Within the past week the snow melted almost entirely away and winter released its hold on me. Now I’m ready to groove with the choreography of spring’s rhythm. I hope you’ll join me on the dance floor.
When she invited me to join her for a walk down a dirt road, I knew Jinnie Mae and I would make some wonderful discoveries, but had no idea what begged to be noticed.
We cruised along at a faster pace than normal as we chatted . . . and then . . . we slowed . . . down. And that’s when the world poured forth its graces.
Beside a small stream, we were in the land of numerous ebony jewelwing damselflies, their metallic green bodies, beady black eyes and jewel-outlined wings showing brilliantly as they flitted about.
We noticed Jack-in-the-Pulpit growing strong, proud and tall,
swamp candles lighting up the water,
heal-all beginning to bloom,
and waxy-petaled pyrola flowers with styles curved below like an elephant’s trunk.
We stopped by a beaver pond and decided they have moved on,
but their works were still evident.
Though the lodge may be abandoned by beavers,
it appeared that someone had stopped by.
On the other side of the beaver dam, royal ferns decorated the stream in their shrub-like manner.
Their fertile fronds posed like crowns above their heads, bespeaking their royalty.
With their unique structure, there is really nothing else that resembles the royal fern.
Because we were once again by the water, we realized the jewelwings were abundant–though they seemed more blueish in color here than further down the stream. Was it the lighting?
Beside the tranquil stream, they flittered and fluttered, their wings like sails over iridescent bodies, and occasionally they settled on vegetation for a photo call.
Others also settled.
We pulled ourselves away–or actually, Jinnie Mae gently nudged me away and we continued our journey back, certain that we’d see sights we missed on the way down the road. There were Indian cucumbers with multiple flowers–the most I’d ever seen . . . until Jinnie May pointed out that it was really two plants. Oops.
But still, we found one with at least four blossoms, all in various stages.
She told me we’d probably see an Eastern black swallowtail.
And we did.
Though it’s not time for spotted wintergreen to flower yet,
we found its seed pods atop tall stalks. For me, this was a plant I don’t believe I’ve ever seen before. (According to Maine Natural Areas Program’s Rare Plant Fact Sheet, Chimaphila maculata is threatened in our state and has an S2 ranking) Will I see it in other places now that I’m aware of it? Time will tell.
We noticed tender new wintergreen leaves, but it’s the berries that made us turn back for a closer look.
The scarlet berries matured last summer, survived the winter without being eaten (they taste like wintergreen in the summer, but lose their flavor and sugar count over the winter months) and have now become enlarged.
What really stopped us in our tracks–trailing arbutus. Last month, we were wowed by its gentle white and pale pink flowers. They’ve since faded to a rusty tone.
And some have transformed into swollen round seed pods.
The sepals have curled away to reveal the white fleshy fruit speckled with tiny brown seeds. It was well worth getting down on our knees to look through a hand lens–especially since ants, chipmunks and mice find these to be a delicacy so they may soon disappear.
Paying attention with and without a hand lens on a delightful spring day–we were once again thankful for the opportunity to notice . . . and to wonder.
Maybe we’re a wee bit crazy. Maybe there’s no maybe about it. My guy and I climbed Pleasant Mountain again, only this time we took a much longer route than yesterday.
After leaving a truck at the Southwest Ridge trail, we drove around the mountain and began today’s trek via Bald Peak. It’s always a good way to get the heart beating, but then again, any of the trails up the mountain will accomplish that mission.
One of my favorite features of this path is the voice of the stream–water rippled with laughter as it flowed over moss-covered rocks before splashing joyously below.
And then we turned right onto Sue’s Way. We never knew Sue, but are thankful for this path carved in her honor.
Across the ravine, snow still clung to the East slope at Shawnee Peak Ski Area.
Oaks, beech, hemlock and yellow birch form most of the community, feeding the needs of their neighbors–including porcupines.
We followed the trail as it embraced another stream and watched the landscape change.
Eventually, we were in the land of large boulders and ledges, all decorated with common polypody and moss–an enchanted forest.
At the top of Sue’s Way, we detoured to our first peak–Shawnee Peak.
Splotches of snow signified the end of a season.
The Pine chairlift silently rested, its duty accomplished until it snows again.
And in the shack, the back of ski chair spoke of past adventures and adventurers.
From there, we followed the North Ridge Trail to our first official peak.
Despite today’s warmth, ice still reflected movement frozen in time.
North Peak has always been one of my favorite spots on this mountain. In the land of reindeer lichen, blueberries and dwarfed red pines, we ate lunch–day two also of ham and Swiss. This is becoming as much of a habit as climbing the mountain.
When we stood up on lunch rock, our view included the master of all New England mountains glowing in the distance.
In a few months, the treasures of this place will give forth fruitful offerings.
With North Peak behind, our view encompassed the rest of the peaks.
Continuing down and up again, we heard plenty of quaking coming from a vernal pool about one hundred feet off the trail. And then we were atop Bald Peak, where Mount Washington again showed its face, with Kezar Pond below.
The other side of the trail offered a photo opp of the Route 302 causeway that divides the north and middle basins of Moose Pond.
Our decision today was to hike the mountain in a backward fashion as compared to our normal routes, so we approached the main summit from the Firewarden’s Trail.
Once again, many others also took advantage. We did chuckle because except for one guy, of all the people we encountered, we were the oldest. The youngest–a baby in a backpack.
At the junction below the main summit, we began to retrace yesterday’s footsteps on the Southwest Ridge Trail.
The sunny exposure made this the warmest of all trails and the Trailing Arbutus prepared to make its proclamation about the arrival of spring.
Near the teepee, I felt compelled to capture the ponds again. Another beautiful day in the neighborhood.
After chatting with a family at the teepee, we began our descent. Of course, someone was mighty quicker than me.
Where no trees grow on the bedrock, cairns showed the way.
Before slipping into the forest again, I was thankful for the opportunity to capture the blue hue of sky, mountains and ponds.
We made our final turn at the three cairns and
followed the path down–though we did begin to think that maybe they’d moved the parking lot.
Over six miles and four hours later, we had Loon Echo Land Trust to thank once again for protecting so much of the mountain and maintaing the trails. We reminisced today about how our relationship began at a halloween party held at the ski area thirty years ago and the number of treks we’ve made along these trails since then. Whether hiking to the ledges or teepee, making a loop or walking peak to peak on a sunshiny day such as this–it never gets old.
And just like that, it’s May. May Day. Memories of our sons quietly delivering flowers to neighbors and friends flashed through my mind this morning. I’ve a feeling they choose not to remember, but at the time they loved sneaking up to doors, depositing small baskets of flowers and then dashing away.
For me, the fun began this morning when I joined a small group intent on birding at the Bob Dunning Memorial Bridge. Chickadees, Red-winged Blackbirds, Pine Siskins, Waterthrush, Mallards, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Goldfinches and a few others were singing and flitting about.
The bridge, itself, is worth viewing from any vantage point.
And then I drove to Sweden (Sweden, Maine, that is) to join a couple of friends on a tramp through the woods.
Along the way, this May Day basket presented itself.
Moss covered rocks and stumps bring to mind my father and his Scottish heritage. The faeries or fair folk, as they prefer to be known, quietly present themselves in areas like this. Some day, I may share the fairy tale I wrote a few years ago.
The Witch Hazel still holds its leaves.
As do most American beech trees, but this one is beginning to leaf out.
The insects don’t stand a chance against the methodic hammering of the pileated woodpecker who created these holes.
At the base of the tree, the reason for the pileated’s work was revealed; sawdust created by carpenter ants. This tree must hum before it drums.
I actually stopped talking, ever so briefly, when I saw this.
How in the world?
We think we know, but what are your thoughts?
Meanwhile–a tree grows around a rock.
One of my favorite wonders of today. A red oak acorn germinating on the gravelly road–not exactly a quality site to begin life.
False Hellibore shines brightly,
slowly unfurling its smooth-edged, pleated leaves,
beside Powers Brook as it meanders by on its way to Stearns Pond.
It was a day of this and that, including beaver works.
And two large dams, the second being in the background to the center right.
It’s May Day and we noticed that Canada Mayflower is beginning to leaf out.
But . . . we’ve been paying attention to Trailing Arbutus, aka Mayflower, whenever we tramp, and today–blossoms