French Island Forest (oil on canvas, 6 x 8 in.) Sold

9 August 2014 finds me with other Bio-blitz participants on French Island, between French Lake and Indian Lake in the Saint John River, Grand Lake Protected Natural Area, New Brunswick. We came by boat across a narrow channel from Sand Point, and upon landing on the pebbly beach the ant collectors went east to a hillside of birches and cedars stepping up among slabs of sandstone, and the botanists went in the other direction. The Myxomycologist (slime mold specialist), the Mycologist
(mushroom specialist) and I, the Bio-blitz  "resident artist" push through the thickly foliaged young birches with their feet in the mud at the upper boundary of the beachy pebbles, past a big old Silver Maple, and up a mossy slope under dark Hemlocks.

This is where I sit, enchanted by the reaching dance of a young Fir tree at the curving base of an old Hemlock, and behind them, long, pale and akimbo, the barkless branches of a fallen conifer, painting the complexity of shapes that I love so much about being in a forest, while behind me the Myxomycologist discovered an interesting slime mold that had climbed to the top of a branch stub on a mossy log and turned purple. There was also a lacy white one on the side of another log, a bright yellow one plastered over leaves on the moss, and another kind inhabiting a knot hole, sending up minute velvety torquoise fruiting bodies on slender stalks.

A few days later on 12 August, Fred explored part of the perimeter of French Island in search of Chinese Mystery Snails, since a few shells had been found recently on the mainland shore.  He crossed with another contingent of Bio-blitzers from Sand Point, and as they landed on small slab/gravel shore of the forested sandstone island Fred saw one shell of the Oriental Mystery Snail (Cipangopaludina chinensis) and Howie spotted another one here. Woods here are Hemlock, Spruce, and birches (Yellow, Paper, and Gray), and as the Dogday Cicada whined overhead, he found scattered Elliptio complanata (Eastern Elliptio) shells along the shore.

Exploring farther along the slab/gravel water's edge, Fred picked up Anodonta implicata (Alewife Floater), Lampsilis radiata (Eastern Lamp-Mussel), Pyganodon cataracta (Fragile Floater), Elliptio complanata (Eastern Elliptio), and partial skeletons of Bullhead Catfishes - perhaps prey of the Bald Eagle?

He sat down to write notes & check the cool (10 degrees C) seepage from sandstone slabs one metre above the lake which was 26 degrees C, overhung by Myrica and Alder. He found one Arion slug under mossy slabs, where the water temperature measured 10 C. but tno Two-lined Salamanders. 

In his first little foray into the interior he sampled a fine-twiggy drift line in the woods, 3 m above current water level. The island is a hill of finely bedded sandstone, covered by open woods - whatever trees can get a grip on the nutrient-poor substrate. Five orange Arion were inside rotten logs at the drift line.

Then he wandered further along the shore where peaty soil comes down from the forest and Royal Fern grow along the water. Where the shore turned south he found a wide slab beach, and a little further along he went up into tangled shore woods of Gray Birch, and found a Red Maple that's phenocopying a Sugar Maple with a stout trunk and broad dark leaves. Out on the beach again he picked up the dry, well chewed pelvis & femur of a small White-tailed Deer.

As the time to turn around approached he put up an adult Bald Eagle (which he now calls "Squeak Eagle") that flew off with peeps from a big Red Maple that overhangs the beach like a Willow. It had littered the ground beneath with white splatters of uric acid and the bony remains of Catfish dinners.

Don McAlpine came by with the news of one more Chinese Mystery Snail shell, and of unidentifiable Crickets. Fred came back to a little pocket of gravel near the corner of the island where he gathered 22 native Brown Mystery Snail shells, Campeloma decisum, so different from the more compact shells of this species around home that he wasn't entirely sure they weren't juveniles of the Chinese species.

Back to the boat beach, he saw his one frog of the day a juvenile Rana clamitans (Green Frog) under an old piece of chipboard loosely washed up on the sandstone slab beach. Now it was just waiting for others to rendezvous, and he took a third sample of drift from under sandstone shore ledge and picked residual small berries from bushes of Velvet-leaf Blueberry on a sandstone shore ledge under Hemlock.

As the boat motored off he measured a water temperature of 30C from the motorboat 100 m offshore - the air was sunny with little breeze, and the nearshore brown water was 32C. Back on the mainland as the boat was being hauled up with difficulty onto a twisted trailer, he beachcombed again, finding a Campeloma shell, a Chinese Mystery Snail shell, and a mostly drowned Arion slug.

This painting is now in the collection of the New Brunswick Museum.



  1. Very nice handling of the elements in this subject Aleta... The bark on the pine is real to the touch.


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