April Discoveries

Throughout April, I continued to scrutinize the earth watching for any new shoots pushing their way through the dirt. After a few more days, there was a rapid uptick in new growth. By April 21st, there was a bounty of new things to study. There was now a green carpet of Canada Mayflower leaves covering the forest floor. After a few more days of investigation I finally found the hint of a flower in the center of one of the double leaved plants.

I had already found the Solomon Seal sprouts, but again just four days later I found hundreds of them at Barrett’s Cove. However, I was still hunting for the elusive Sessile Bellwort. I believed that the Solomon Seal and the Bellwort looked very similar when they first peek through the dirt, but the Bellwort was more delicate. On April 19th I found what I was looking for and indeed it was very fragile looking. In the image of the Sessile Bellwort above, I found a Solomon Seal shoot just to the left for comparison.

I also watched the plants along my driveway, noting the changes on a daily basis. I was rewarded with the first flower buds of the Wild Sarsaparilla on April 20th. A few days later, I discovered the first tiny buds on the Eastern Starflower. This particular one had 2 flower buds. What a nice bonus!

At Merryspring, I still hunted for the elusive Bloodroot. There still was no sign of it in the wilder sections of the park, so perhaps it had moved on towards better growing conditions. However, as I walked along the Interpretative Trail and approached the vernal pond, I found a new amazing discovery. I found some small purple flowers growing a little deeper into the woods, away from the path. The iNaturalist website told me that this was Siberian Squill, but I could not locate it in any of my paper wildflower guides. The Go Botany site listed the plant but claimed it was not to be found in Maine, contrary to the number of people in Maine who had posted this flower on the iNaturalist site seeking identification. Could this have originally been a cultivated plant that escaped into the wild? I could not find that out but I admired this little purple delight just the same.

At last spring was here! I was happy, but my spirits soared even higher when I finally found two small Sessile Bellworts in full bloom. A little further up the Barrett’s Cove trail, I discovered a field of blooming Trilliums. I had mentioned in earlier postings (maybe last year) that there was something about Barrett’s Cove that plants seemed to love. Unlike other places that I had explored where I would find one or two of the same plant, the flowers at this cove show up in abundance. I thought by putting up the image of the Trilliums you could get a sense of the copious blessings I found here. Not just Trilliums either, but Solomon Seals, Jack-in-the-Pulpits, and Bellworts. Things were looking up!

I hope you are all finding amazing things in your neighborhood.

April Sprouts

As usual, once March was upon us I studied the ground on a daily basis hunting for the first signs of wildflowers. The cultivated crocus flowers had been blooming since February, not surprising given the warm winter we had experienced, so I did not think I was being overly optimistic searching for wildflowers. Besides I knew that Coltsfoot was one of the earliest signs of spring. I was glad I started my hunt early, for on March 3rd I found the first Coltsfoot buds pushing thru the earth right next to the beginnings of Queen Anne’s Lace leaves. Hooray! By March 24th I found the first group of flowers along the side of the multi-use trail in the Camden Hills State Park and by March 29th the first bud was beginning to flower next to my driveway. Spring had arrived.

While I attempted to improve my identification skills, this year concentrating on the leaves that were beginning to appear, I knew I was blessed by living right in the area where I could study these things. We had kept the forest intact and therefore the wild areas ran right up to our driveway. I could easily walk up and down my driveway on a daily basis, watching the changes that took place. An added benefit was that I knew where certain things had flowered in previous years, so I remembered the location of these plants. It wasn’t long before I found the distinctive Vetch leaves pushing through the leaf litter.

Since the average field guide assumed that the plant was already flowering, I found they were not much use in attempting an identification by the leaf alone. Posting pictures on iNaturalist worked so much better in this case. By April 14th, dozens of different leaves were showing themselves. The first ones I was able to identify were Winter Cress (also known as Yellow Rocket) and Buttercups.

On that same day, I found the first Canada Mayflower along our driveway as well. I delighted in watching over the next few days as the Canada Mayflower blanketed the forest floor with its curled up single leaf. Eastern Starflowers began cropping up as well, but I had to search a little harder to find the Wild Sarsaparilla sprout.

After exhausting the options on my own property, I walked down to Barrett’s Cove. Along the way I was able to identify the leaves of the Broad Leaved Dock. My real surprise was when I reached the beach and discovered that dozens of Trilliums were already fully leafed and budding. I decided to leave the Trilliums for another day and began my hunt for other wildflowers I knew were in this area. There was no sign yet of Jack-in-the-pulpit but I did finally find the small sprouts of the various Solomon’s Seals beginning to push through. I thought some of the more delicate ones might have been Sessile Bellwort but this early on it was too hard to tell.

My final excursion on this day was to take a quick visit to the Merryspring Nature Center where I had spied a lone Bloodroot many years ago. There was no sign of this beauty but I did note that the Magnolia flowers were beginning to push out of their fuzzy casings. It had been a wonderful day of discoveries.

Frustration and Patience

After enduring 14 out of 16 days of cloudy, windy weather, I was desperate to get outside. Although I appreciated the fact that we were in dire need of precipitation, no significant rain accompanied those gloomy days. Needing to get out of this funk, on April 7th I grabbed my camera and went in search of something to shake off the blues.

My first stop was the Harbor Park in town. I thought that I might be able to try something artistic, especially if there was a fog misting the harbor. No fog, but still I tried to capture the lighting in the clouds over the islands.

Finding nothing else that captured my imagination, I decided to head over to Merryspring and take stock of what was beginning to bloom. It was also another opportunity to practice some macro photography.

Before turning towards the smaller things, I stopped to admire a cluster of White Birches. There is just something about these trees on a gloomy day that just really makes them stand out. I tried a few shots with different lighting but something just wasn’t right. It wasn’t until after I got home that I realized the image just screamed “black and white” photo. So, I took what I had and practiced a little post production magic. Much better!

Now it was time to study the smaller details. My first attempt was to try and capture the finer points of a Beaked Hazelnut. This was when I discovered how difficult macro photography could be. It wasn’t hand shake that was messing up my picture. I could actually feel myself swaying to keep balance. No matter how I braced myself, that catkin and little red flower kept going in and out of focus. As I watched the tiny red bloom go in and out of focus, I tried to time my shutter click when things came back into focus. After I got home and reviewed the pictures online, I deleted all the images of this plant and tried again the next day. Still no appropriate image until I returned on the third day. Yup, I went to that park 3 days in a row to try and improve my photography. I definitely was getting frustrated, as well as getting a lesson in patience. On my third visit to Merryspring, I finally got that flower in focus. Not sure what I did to correct it though.

That first trip to the park wasn’t entirely wasted, I did get the picture of the birch trees. And after 3 visits, I realized that the first picture I took of the Witch Hazel wasn’t too bad either.

I did not fare as well with a tree that may possibly be in the dogwood family. There were no leaves present on this tree, but I was fascinated by the buds that were just beginning to open up, revealing a yellow center. Again I deleted all my first attempts. It was all about the swaying in and out of focus, although I could probably blame the first day on the wind as well. (It may make me feel better to believe that). On the second day I was able to get an excellent picture of a partially open bud with just a hint of the yellow to come. I wasn’t as happy with the picture from the third day where the flowers were beginning to open, but my husband claimed that those flowers that were in the same plane were definitely in focus. Perhaps.

In the end I was somewhat satisfied with my results, but the lesson learned was that one must work long and hard to become even somewhat good at a hobby.

Aldermere Farm

The last day of February, topped out at about 45 degrees. It was unseasonably warm for this time of year and that encouraged me to join my friend on a new outing. Thanks to the author of the Maine by Foot blog, I discovered two new trails right in my own backyard. Both trails were on Aldermere Farm and relatively short. We could have done both trails in one outing but we opted to spend more time on the Ocean Trail, saving the Lily Pond Trail for another day.

As I made my way towards the parking area just across from the Ocean Trail, I passed many people out walking. The warm weather must have encouraged everyone to get out and enjoy the sunshine. There were cars parked by the cemetery just before the farm, cars parked at the farm and the lot by the golf course closest to the trail was just about full when I arrived. Most of these walkers were strolling along the road, either heading up towards the farm or down towards the Vespers Chapel and Beauchamp Point.

Once I found a parking space, I crossed the road to the trailhead to assess the hiking conditions. I met one couple coming out of the woods choosing their steps with care. The path definitely needed something sturdier than sneakers. After forgetting my spikes during two previous outings, I now kept an extra pair in my car. Thank goodness! For the rains of yesterday and the warm temperatures on this day had changed the packed down snow to ice with a layer of water on top. When my friend joined me and we had walked a bit down the trail we wondered how far the couple had gotten before they turned around. Without spikes, I would say the footing was pretty treacherous.

Although the trail was short, we took our time stepping over the ice. Of course we stopped from time to time to study some new find or to try to locate the bird singing a song we had never heard before. Neither one of us found that bird, but it was worth the pause in our journey to listen to it sing.

Further along the path we worked our way around a massive tree that was down across the path. We investigated the remains of the stump which consisted of the outer bark only. For an idea of the size of this tree, the empty interior of the stump was large enough for my friend to stand inside. It had broken off just above her head.

In a few more minutes we arrived at the stony beach. We found some suitable rocks to sit upon in order to soak in the sun and listen to the waves. Watching the waves for some time, it wasn’t long before we were able to predict which ones would be bigger and make a louder noise.

We took in the soothing sights and sounds of nature for about half an hour before turning back towards the trail. As the temperatures had risen even higher, we discovered even more water resting on top of the ice. Some of this action had left interesting patterns in the ice beneath the puddles.

Just before we reached the end of our journey, we stopped once more to admire some moss peeking through the snow. I found myself with the same feeling I get when I find the first flower pushing through the melting snow. As we get weary of the dark days of winter, there is always some sign that points to brighter days ahead.

Merryspring 2021

Over the last few weeks, I had been thinking of revisiting Merryspring, but I could not get anyone to go with me. My friend did not like going there because she grew up in the area and had visited it all the time when she was younger, so I guess she was just plain tired of it. My husband did not really want to go because he did not find it overly interesting as a hiking destination and the trail map was questionable, especially around the arboretum. I did not want to go myself, because I inevitably would get lost when I reached the arboretum portion of the nature center, but I liked going there once in a while for the interesting things I have found there in the past. It was the only place where I had found a Bloodroot in bloom, so I liked to go in early spring to see what was getting ready to greet the longer days. After mentioning Merryspring for several days, I finally got my husband to agree to a visit on February 26th.

I brought our old trail map with us since it was at least better than nothing. I also brought the new arboretum map, created when the trails in that area were re-done a year or so ago. Hopefully, the new map would prevent us from getting lost thru the maze of trees.

Once at Merryspring, we decided on walking the perimeter trail. From the parking area, we started our journey on the combined red/yellow trail. Near where it intersected with the perimeter trail, we made the obligatory stop to study the spring which gave the park its name. From there, we took a short spur that put us on the perimeter trail.

We followed this green marked trail through a cedar forest, coming out at the far end of the North Meadow. Once we crossed the North Meadow things got a little dicey, for there were two intersecting trails. A blue trail continued towards the property boundary in one direction and led back to the parking area in the other. This path, on our map looked like it should have been the green trail, even though the intersecting trail was marked so. We decided to go down the blue trail and very soon it degraded to a foot path before disappearing completely. We had been here before on a previous trip, when, once again I had to listen to my husband grumble about the map. There was no choice but to retrace our steps and take the opposite trail. We walked along until the trail intersected once more with the blue path. What had happened to the green road? When we turned around, we discovered that this end of the path was marked blue. What? Going back up the green/blue trail we discovered a turn off, that had not been visible from our direction of approach, marked green. Later on we found a new trail map at the kiosk which explained everything, showing the blue path turning back up on the green where it intersected with the continuation of the green.

Mystery solved, we continued on our journey without too much trouble. Well, maybe a little in the infamous arboretum where we did find ourselves at a dead end. As we walked through this section, we found a lot of thorny bushes bearing red berries. I later discovered that these were Japanese Barberry. The thorns were quite nasty looking but the berries gave me an opportunity to use my new macro lens.  Actually, I got the opportunity to use all my lenses during this trip, for near the end of our journey I looked up and found a bird feather stuck on a small, almost invisible twig. I needed my long lens for this and I think I got a pretty decent picture.

Finally, at the very end of our adventure, we came upon a pussy willow in bloom. Spring was definitely in the air.