Water Works

With rain drops come life and rebirth. And so it seems as our world explodes with the return of birds and vibrant blossoms of daffodils in the garden. The grass is, well, grass green–a brilliant green with hues of gold or purple, depending on the time of day. And ever so slowly, tiny leaves emerge on the maples and aspens.

w-rookery

But it’s life in and around water that captured most of my focus today. Following a prehike for a Greater Lovell Land Trust walk, I had the opportunity to check on a heron rookery. A friend and I stood hidden among the trees.

Rookeries are one of my favorite places to hang out. By the same token, I seldom do because its important not to disturb these giant birds during their nesting season. But–today’s visit, like all of my rookery visits, was for a citizen science project affiliated with Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife: the Heron Observation Network or HERON, counts on volunteers to count on heron–their nests, number of birds, number perhaps sitting on eggs, number of fledglings, etc.

w-heron incoming

We frequently see Great Blue Herons flying overhead or fishing in ponds and lakes, but it’s watching them come into their nests, in their pterodactyl form, that I find so wild.

w-heron standing

And then they stand. Tall. Silent. We do the same.

w-heron on nest

Watching. Listening. Wondering.

w-reflection

All the while, we have time to reflect and enjoy the reflected.

w-beaver lodge

And notice–cut saplings piled horizontally, an anomaly in this space . . . or is it?  More than herons call this place home.

w-hobblebush

At last we need to bushwhack back, but pause a few times to appreciate other forms of life that spring forth near the water, including this hobblebush.

w-snake 1a

And a garter snake, its movement catching our attention. And then it froze in place, in hopes we wouldn’t notice.

w-vp

Back on the homefront, I moseyed out to the vernal pool. As I approached, I noticed a lack of sound, but did see movement when I was only steps away.

w-wood frog eggs

I was thrilled to note signs of previous action as the number of wood frog egg masses had increased.

w-sallie eggs

The same was true of the spotted salamander eggs, though the number in each clump seemed quite minimal. The opaque outer coating was clearly visible, that gelatin-like mass that surrounds these eggs.

w-frog eggs?

As I admired all the dropped red maple flowers that decorated the water, I spied something else. Or at least I think it’s something else. Perhaps mere bubbles floated atop the dried leaf, but I suspected eggs of another kind. I’ve never before noticed spring peeper eggs and wondered, could these be such? Here’s hoping Loon Echo Land Trust’s biologist, Paul Miller, will chime in.

w-spring peeper eggs in mix?

From what I’ve read in A Field Guide to the animals of Vernal Pools by Leo P. Kenney and Matthew R. Burne, “tiny peeper eggs may be deposited in small clusters or as single eggs attached to aquatic vegetation.” I placed a red arrow on this photo pointing to a couple more. And there are others in the photo, hiding in a “Where’s Waldo” fashion.

w-water strider and mosquito larvae

Circling around the pool, I noted some mosquito larvae and a few water striders.

But I also came upon one disturbing sight. A dead frog. Only a week ago, a friend in Cumberland discovered four dead frogs in a pool. In an e-mail exchange, Dr. Fred Cichocki explained to her, “Chytrid fungus is one potential and troubling cause of amphibian deaths. Another, and one we should all be aware of and be on the lookout for (especially in southern Maine) is ranavirus. It mainly affects woodfrogs (why no one knows) and primarily in the tadpole stage, where there may be 99+% mortality! The obvious symptoms are hemoragic lesions in the abdomen, and a behavior much like whale beaching, where the infected tadpoles swim onto the shore, turn belly up and expire en masse. Definitive identification requires either DNA sequencing or Electron Microscopic examination of tissue to reveal the characteristic virus particles. Once a pond or pool has ranavirus in it, it is probably impossible to erradicate (except maybe through frog attrition.) Ranavirus epidemics occur worldwide and are spreading, especially here in the Northeast.”

My dead frog was an adult. As were my friend’s. At the pool today, I was once again reminded that nature happens. And that it isn’t always pretty. Thankfully, I did spy a couple of live frogs.

w-snake 5

As I walked away from the pond, another garter snake.

w-snake 2

It was on the hunt.

Life and rebirth–the keys to spring. And sometimes, death so others may eat. But other times, death for reasons unknown. These aquatic sites offer an amazing biodiversity–and leave me with questions and understandings. Water works–I’m just not always sure how.

 

Sundae School

I went on a reconnaissance mission this afternoon and visited a land trust property I’ve never stepped foot on before. My intention was to scope it out for possible use with a future Maine Master Naturalist class. My realization from the get-go was a happy heart. I can’t wait to return and take others along so we can make discoveries together.

n Preserve sign

I’ve only been on one other Western Maine Foothills Land Trust property, so had no idea what to expect. The small parking area for Shepard’s Farm Preserve is at 121 Crockett Ridge Road in Norway. (Norway, Maine, that is.) This is one of seven preserves owned by the trust. I should have known I’d enjoy myself immensely just by the name. Though we spell Shephard with an “h,” it’s a family name for us. Who knows–maybe there’s a connection.

n-trail sign

On the back of the brochure I grabbed at the kiosk, I read the following: “Originally owned by Benjamin Witt, the high undulating pasture of Shepard’s Farm Family Preserve was transferred to Joshua Crockett in 1799, Charles Freeman in 1853, John Shepard in 1910, and to Bill Detert in 1984.” Mr. Detert and his family donated the property in memory of his wife, Jan, to the WMFLT in 2010.

n-Indian pipe bee 1

My lessons began immediately. What to my wondering eye should appear, but a bee pollinating an Indian pipe. And in the middle of the afternoon. Huh? I’ve always heard that they are pollinated by moths or flies at night. Of course, upon further research, I learned that bees and skipper butterflies have been known to pay a visit to the translucent flowers. Add that to the memory bank.

n-Indian pipe

As I continued along the trail I found the upturned mature flower and again wondered–who stopped by for a sip of sap? Lessons should evoke further questions and a desire to learn more.

n-hawkweed

The trail offered other familiar flowers, like hawkweed,

n-pearly everlasting

pearly everlasting, goldenrods and asters, Queen Anne’s lace, boneset and jewelweed.

n-monkeyflower 3

And then I come upon a wildflower I don’t recall meeting before. The lesson included a look at the leaves, their arrangement on the stem, and the flowerhead.

n-monkeyflower 1

The answer to the quiz–lavender-flowered Sharp-winged Monkeyflower. Monkeys in the woods! You never know. Sometimes I think that red squirrels sound like monkeys when they chit at me, but in this case, it’s the fact that the flower looks something like a monkey’s face.

n-thistle young and old

Further on,  I spotted a favorite that I don’t see as often as I’d like. What I didn’t realize is that thistles are in the aster family. Always learning. Its presence here is referenced by trail conditions, which change periodically from mixed hardwoods to softwoods to open places. Thistles prefer those open places–fields and waste places. Hardly waste in my opinion. Rather, early succession to a woodland.

n-bee on thistle 2

A bee worked its magic on the flowerhead so I moved in for a closer look.

n-bee on thistle1

As with any flower, it was a pollen frenzy.

n-thistle with seeds

Seconds later–maturity! Well, maybe not quite that fast.

n-thistle seeds 1

But the seeds had developed their downy parachutes and the breeze was a’blowing.

n-thistle seed 2

They knew it was time to leave the roost and find a new classroom.

n-trail ferns

Another lesson worth more time was a look at the natural communities along the trail. Bikers and hikers share this space, but what I found fascinating was the constant change.

n-trail hay

The original trail for the Shepard’s Family Farm Preserve was located on a 19-acre parcel. Recently, the Witt Swamp Extension was added, which almost circles around a 250+ acre piece. Hay covers some of the new trail right now–giving it that farm-like feel and smell.

n-trail 1

I’m not certain of the mileage, but believe that I covered at least 4-5 miles in my out and back venture over undulating land and through a variety of neighborhoods. The trail conditions–pure bliss. No rocks or roots to trip over. Instead, I could look around for the next lesson.

n-cedar bark

One of the things I love about hiking in Norway is that I get to be in the presence of cedar trees–Northern white cedar.

n-cedar leaves

I’m fascinated by its scale-like leaves.

n-deer tracks

So are the deer, who feed on the leaves during the winter months.

n-dry stream

I found only deer tracks, and noted that all stream beds were dry, though the moss gave a moist look to the landscape. We’re experiencing a drought this summer.

n-red leaf

Due to that lack of rain, some red maples already have turned and colorful leaves are beginning to float to the ground.

n-porky 3

Deer aren’t the only mammals that inhabit this place. From the trail, I noticed hemlock trees with bases that looked like perfect gnome homes. And then I spotted this one that invited a closer look.

n-porky den

A pile of porcupine scat–the pig-pen of the woods. Even Charlie Brown would note a distinct odor.

n-toad camo

And in true “Where’s Waldo” tradition, a young American toad crossed my path. The camo lesson–blend in for safety’s sake.

n-turtle 2

Being former farmland, stonewalls wind their way through the preserve. And my childhood fascination with turtles was resurrected. Do you see it?

n-turtle 3

How about now? Hint: the head is quartz.

n-turtles

And this one? They’re everywhere. It makes me wonder if it was a style of the times.

n-stone wall ending

I crossed through a gap in the stonewall and noted two smaller stones topped by a large flat one. A reason why? The questions piled up. I need to ask the teacher.

n-stonepile

And then there were the stone piles. Why so many smaller stones around a boulder? What I love about this spot is that a hemlock took advantage of the boulder and grew on top of it.

n-stone structure 2

And another favorite find–a stone structure.

n-stone structure, flat

Created with rather flat field stones.

n-stone structure 1a

It’s near a stonewall, so I surmised it was a shed of some sort rather than a root cellar for a home. I could be wrong, but am thrilled by the opportunity to see it.

n bird sculpture

One of the coolest features of this property is that it’s home to sculptures created in the 1970s by Bernard Langlois, including this bird in flight. The sculptures were made possible recently by the generosity of his widow, Helen Langlois, Colby College and the Kohler Foundation.

n-bird lady 2

Mrs. Noah is my favorite. She has stories to tell and I have lessons to learn.

It’s Sunday and by the time I finished hiking I was hot. I’d intended to check out a few more preserves, but the thought of a creamsicle smoothie at a local ice cream shop had my focus–until I pulled in and saw this posted: “Cash and local checks only.” No cash. And though our checks would be local, I didn’t have any with me either. Lesson learned.

I drove home and made my own sundae.