Most years a family of loons nest on Miller Pond; this year I got to know them a little better, for I started open-water swimming. Loons will tolerate you as a swimmer and allow you to quietly hang out with them. This year the parents have raised two young. They have grown from brown balls of fluff on the parent’s back to larger white-throated birds that often wander off to dive for food. The adults are beginning to loose some of their distinctive white and black checkered breeding plumage and bright red eyes as we enter September.
In August, a third adult loon flew over the pond. The newcomer descended with much loud calling. There was great wing-flapping and running on water and loud calls, with one of the parents while the other one stayed with the young; however at least once, the three adults formed a tight circle, swimming round, then diving simultaneously to emerge again in a tight circle.
They repeated this courtship dance for a long time. Eventually the third loon flew off and I never saw it again. One could speculate about the relationship; was this last year’s non-breeding chick, or possibly an un-paired adult looking to steal a mate? Without banding the birds, we’ll never know.
Discovering a Sweet-Gale Shoreline Swamp
Kayaking around the shoreline one finds a lot of woody shrubs, royal ferns, meadow-sweet, beaked hazel, white birch, red maple, and conifers, hemlock, spruce and pine. Two areas border peaty bogs that are hard to penetrate; cattails, sedges, swamp roses, marsh St. John’s-wort, and more shrubs dominate. The shoreline foliage reminded me of small mangrove swamps; shrubby plants with matted roots growing out over the water, eventually holding soil and becoming new plants.
A handy guidebook I once picked up at a used bookstore, The Shrub Identification Book by George Symonds helped me to identify the shrubs as Sweet Gale and Leatherleaf, Red-Osier Dogwood, Willow, and Alder. Looking at wetland communities in Wetland, Woodland, Wildland, A Guide to the Natural Communities of Vermont, by Elizabeth Thompson and Eric Sorenson, I discovered that this was a Sweet Gale Shoreline Swamp. They define these areas as common swamps on peaty shores of small ponds and along the edges of slowly moving streams. The substrate is a mat of sedgy peat and roots, commonly floating in shallow water. They are often a narrow zone between open water and peatlands. Sweet gale, meadow-sweet, leatherleaf, and hairy fruited sedge are common.
Stumps of large trees that stood before the dam was built have hollowed out and filled with enough soil to become little island communities, hosting small trees, sundews, mosses, and shrubs.Sundews are insectivorous plants that ingest insects that become caught on the sticky leaves. Their presence indicates the acidic, nutrient-poor soil on this stump.
Here is what looks like a huge gourd someone hung up 10 meters in a dead white birch. It is actually an oddly shaped polypore fungi getting ready to burst open.
All photos are by Micki Colbeck and may not be used without permission.