Mondate with a View

I’ve been wanting to take My Guy to a certain place in North Chatham, New Hampshire, for the last few years and today was the day that the stars lined up.

Though it appeared we were the second and third humans to head out on the trails this morning, for at the start we spotted only one set of snowshoe tracks, it was obvious that so many others had followed or crossed before us–such as this vole, who tunneled through the fresh inch or two of snow that fell yesterday and then changed its gait.

And then I spotted a sign that always brings me to my knees–fox prints and a dash of urine, probably that of a male in search of a date. Confirmation that it was a fox, and a red one at that, came in the form of the urine’s scent–rather skunk-like. I asked My Guy if he wanted to take a sniff, but he passed on the opportunity.

A wee bit farther and we came upon a smattering of activity, where two foxes had left their dancing cards and I think at least announced their intentions for each other as a date.

These classified ads could be that of the male stating his desire, while the vixen left her own marks of estrus blood as she perhaps investigated his intentions and decided to say yes. The scat? It came from one of them. Another advertisement of health and age and vitality.

While I suspected a meal was not on their minds as she’s only ready to mate for about a week or less, by the amount of snowshoe hare tracks we spotted, we knew that there was plenty of food available. Other offerings on the pantry shelf included ruffed grouse and red squirrel.

Most of the trails at this place are well-groomed by the owners, but we also tried one or two that weren’t.

For the first time in the four or five years that I’ve traveled this way, I finally found the Old Sap House. The owners still tap trees, but obviously this is not where they boil the sap to make maple syrup.

So . . . this was my first journey on the network of trails with My Guy as I mentioned. And I had no idea that it is possible to circle Moose Alley in under an hour. In the past, when I’ve gone with a couple of friends, it has taken us hours and hours because we stop to look at every little thing. And go off trail to follow tracks. And make all kinds of discoveries. But today was different, and that was fine.

I’d also never been on the Sugarbush Trail, which brought us back to the Route 113 and an intersection with Snowmobile Corridor 19. It was here that we heard Chickadees and Red Crossbills singing and I finally located one of the latter in a maple tree.

Crossbills are finches with specialized bills that let them break into unopened cones. Can you see how the top of the bill cross over the bottom?

My intention was that we would eat lunch at one of the benches along the trail system, but we’d hiked most of the system before I knew it and so we sat on the back of my truck and ate. And then we headed back out on Corridor 19, a super highway through Evans Notch.

Only about a quarter mile from the farm boundary, we spotted moose tracks showing two had passed this way recently. We knew they’d been seen on the farm and hoped we might get to spy them, but just seeing their tracks and knowing they were still in the area was enough.

Can you imagine sinking two feet down with each step? Well, actually I can, because I’ve post-holed through snow many a time, but moose and deer must do this daily. For them, it’s routine.

Our reason for continuing on the snowmobile trail was that we had a destination we wanted to reach, that we hadn’t even thought about before reaching the intersection of Corridor 19 just prior to lunch. Eventually, we had to break trail again, and this time it was all uphill, and rather steep at that.

But our real plan was to climb to the Millard Chandler Feldspar Mine (aka North Star Mine) in Evans Notch.

Millard Chandler was a descendent of one of the founding families of Chatham. Originally, mica was mined from the pegmatites but prior to World War II, Whitehall Company, Inc, focused on feldspar.

From the top of the cavern, where life on a rock was evident as the trees continued to grow up there, the water flowed and froze and formed stalactites of sorts. Icicle sorts.

StalacTites grow down from the ceiling of the cavern–think T for Top.

StalaGmites, on the other hand, grow up from the floor–Think G for ground.

In this case, they looked like little fingers reaching up.

This was definitely a Mondate with a view, including Evans Notch from the mine . . .

Norwegian Fjord horses Kristoff and Marta at the farm . . .

and a window that caught my fancy at the sap house.

Our many, many thanks to Becky and Jim for sharing Notch View Farm with all of us. And thank you to Jim for chatting with us twice today. I’m still chuckling about the story of the women from Lovell who visit several times a year and spend hours upon hours on the trail. And then one of them writes long prose and includes pictures of every little thing spotted along the way. Yes, that would be Pam, and Pam, and me! Once, Becky even came looking for us on the snowmobile because we’d been out there for so many hours.

Today, with My Guy, it was a different adventure, but still a fun one and we appreciate that both of you work so hard to share your land with the rest of us.

Finding Food Is The Name of the Game

Winter finally arrived in western Maine this past week in the form of three snowstorms, the last ending with a coating of ice. Between storms, I’ve been teaching others the art of tracking mammals and birds through my work at Greater Lovell Land Trust, as well as a two-day class I taught for a local Senior College, and a day-long class for Maine Master Naturalists.

I love, love, love watching others experience joy as they begin to notice the nuances of print and patterns and scat and sign.

This being the work of a White-tail Deer who scraped its lower incisors up the bark of a tree to get at the cambium layer where the sugars and starches flow. The tags at the top of the scrape are a tell-tale sign because ungulates like deer and moose do not have upper incisors or canines, but rather a hard palate, and yank at the wood as they press their lower incisors against the palate to pull the bark off a tree–mostly Eastern Hemlock or Red Maple.

It wasn’t long after the Senior College outing on Wednesday that snowflakes announcing the third storm began to fly and one of our resident Red Squirrels stopped by to check out the offerings at the bird feeders.

This hearty sole is Ed and as you can see, he’s lost an eye–probably in a disagreement with a sibling, but that doesn’t stop him. He’s perfectly capable of finding food, seeking cover when necessary, and fighting off his brothers.

Ed wasn’t the only one out in the snow, for a male Downy Woodpecker made frequent trips to the suet feeder.

And then, just before twilight the Deer began to appear. The first walked to a Squirrel feeder I was gifted recently, with some peanut butter added to the corn as an enticement. She didn’t seem impressed. I thought that was weird because if you’ve ever made a bird feeder out of pinecones smothered with peanut butter and sunflower seeds, you might notice that the Deer lick everything off within hours of hanging the cones from a branch.

Following the arrival of the first Deer, a sibling came in with mom, but they too, were not impressed.

So the thing about watching the Deer, was that they provided a photographic lesson–beginning with the two cloven toes that form the heart-shape of the impression they leave in the snow–with the pointed end of the heart always indicating the direction of travel. And further up the foot are the dew claws, which sometimes show in a print. If you look at the two hind legs, you can see the dew claws just above the snow. I’ve been told that if the dew claws appear, then it is a buck. I’m not 100% convinced of that. I think it has more to do with snow conditions.

And sunflower seed is not their only form of nutrition, for one of the Hemlocks by the stonewall between our yard and woodlot offered some delectable needles full of vitamin C. Do the Deer know that?

Following the storm, a coat of ice covered the tree branches and even the corn, but that didn’t stop Ed’s brother, Fred, from grabbing a kernel. Actually, the corn had originally been placed about two feet off the ground in an area we’d shoveled, but the snow had piled up again, making the meal easy to reach.

I spent yesterday shoveling what felt like cement. The first two storms offered a much fluffier take on snow consistency. Periodically, like Ted, another brother of Ed, I’d duck into the house. His home is a network of tunnels near the feeders, and so far it has provided good protection.

This morning dawned brighter, and a bit frosty to start. While Fred, Ted, and Ed, ate birdseed and chased each other round and round, a Gray Squirrel stopped by to get a handle on things.

The perfect meal was garnered.

As it turned out, today was a super busy day at the feeders, which Black-cap Chickadees and Nuthatches making frequent visits.

And the puffed up feathers of a male Downy bespoke the temp in the teens. Birds fluff up in the cold to trap as much air in their feathers as possible. The more trapped air, the warmer the bird.

A couple of American Goldfinches were early morning visitors as well, and I love that unlike the Chickadees, Finches are much calmer and stay in one spot for a bit.

Probably my favorite visitor was a surprise for as I was watching the Hairy Woodpeckers, in flew a Red-bellied who worked at a chunk of suet and finally flew off with it.

When I finally headed outside this afternoon, donning my snowshoes to stay atop the 2.5+ feet of snow, I couldn’t believe that for the most part I could stay on top of it, for such was the crusty coating from yesterday’s rain finale. And with each step I took, I heard the crunch below–sounding much like breaking glass.

Much to my surprise, I found the track of a Ruffed Grouse, who did break through the snow.

Of course, it was no surprise to find the figure eight of a deer print, with the foot impression about two feet down. This is a difficult time of travel for them. And I suspect mine will be back by the feeders during the night looking for an easy meal.

And then I discovered a disturbance that I had to investigate. A deep hole had been excavated.

A look at the size and X between the toe and metacarpal pads and I knew who had done the job: an Eastern Coyote.

What it consumed I could not say, but there were some drops and I wonder if they were blood that had darkened a bit as they aged. It’s funny, because I was so sure that I’d come upon a Ruffed Grouse’s snow cave and totally expected to see the bird’s scat in the hole. That was not the case at all, but I don’t know who the victim was that provided the Coyote with a meal. Or at least a snack.

Back in our woods, I met an old friend who has graced these woods for years–or at least members of his family have done so.

He, too, was looking for food. And so intent upon his job was he, that I stood only about fifteen feet away while he worked.

I didn’t step under to check the scat because I didn’t want to scare him off, so I’m not sure if the Pileated Woodpecker’s needs were fulfilled, but given that he had worked on the tree for a while and some of the holes were quite deep, I suspect he had dined on his favorite meal of Carpenter Ants.

Finding food is the name of the game, though it’s hardly a game at all–especially when it’s cold, the snow is deep, and there’s a crust of ice atop it. And that’s just for the critters. Never mind people who have to deal with the elements on a daily and nightly basis.

Support your local food pantry,

Tracking Glee

We finally have a decent amount of snow on the ground after Friday’s storm and another storm is expected to begin in a couple of hours. That meant it was time to don the snowshoes. And so I did. And headed into the woods behind our house.

Immediately I was greeted with nature’s art work, and seeing snowflakes dangle like this will always capture my fancy.

But that wasn’t all that captured said fancy, for at a point where I’d been dealing with trying not to fall into water since it’s quite a wetland out there, I suddenly spotted bobcat prints. And knew I had to follow them.

I hadn’t bothered with my tracking bag full of gear, but did think to stick this little card into my pocket for reference. Can you see the C-shaped ridge between the toe pads and metacarpal pad? And the lead toe–making the overall print asymmetrical. Take a look at your hand. It’s also asymmetrical with a lead finger.

The snow is such a depth that there was foot drag. I got thinking about what the bobcat was hunting for and had seen plenty of snowshoe hare and deer runs so knew there was food available. Where would this cat lead me, I wondered.

It was at that point, however, that I thought about a tracking lesson I taught to future Maine Master Naturalists yesterday–if the prints look fresh, backtrack rather than follow them forward, so you don’t put pressure on the animal. I heeded my own words and turned around.

Of course, there was more art work to spy, like this candy cane dangling from a branch.

In my backtrack exploration, I spotted where the bobcat had climbed over a fallen tree. There were other spots where it went under trees and I had to find a different way around.

Back on track, there were more intersections with deer and even mice. But all continued to live for the moment.

And then my journey led me to another I’ve been looking for all winter because usually I see so much evidence of this critter–a porcupine had sashayed through the snow over night.

I found what I think is its den, given the amount of scat, and a hole. And I’m just now making sense of the story. The hole was not large due to snow in front of it and the scat was a bit frosted. BUT . . . what might have happened is that as the day warmed up, snow fell from the limbs above and the porcupine will dig its way out–in fact, it probably already did about an hour ago, for they emerge during twilight.

I followed the tracks, which led to a hemlock tree where there were a couple of twigs below.

And the bark and cambium layer had been chewed on the main trunk and another branch above.

So at some point in my journey, while I was following the bobcat and off my regular trail, I decided to turn on my GPS until I knew where I was. What surprised me is the circle I made as I followed the porcupine’s trail. I need to make time to visit it again, for it seemed to be a new resident to this spot and there wasn’t any more evidence that it had dined in the area.

It took a few minutes, but eventually I found the bobcat tracks again. Only . . . this time I was following the cat forward. What?

They led me to a spot at the base of a tree where the bobcat took a break and must have curled up. And then it turned around.

And it suddenly became apparent to me: I’d followed the forward track on the left to the turnaround point and on the way back I noticed the backtrack trail I’d previously been following. I never did find the bobcat or the porcupine, but seeing evidence of their activity was enough and it was getting late so I followed an old logging road home.

There were still more baubles to spy, including this one upon a Red Maple that had provided food last winter in the form of buds–a fav of the deer.

And when I returned to our woods, I discovered that four deer had bedded down last night under a raised sleeping platform our youngest son had built about eleven years ago when he was in high school. Look for the smooth edges and you’ll realize each one is oriented in a bit of a different direction, the better to see that bobcat, or even the coyotes, whose tracks I also saw today.

Just for fun, I’ve added these photos of the MMNP students channeling their inner child–each mentor group was assigned a mammal. This group needed to become a bobcat and though you may not quite see it, the bobcat was walking in the zigzag pattern with the hind foot landing where the front foot had packed down the snow, thus each print representing two feet, and conserving energy. And those fingers on the bobcat’s head–ear tufts. Plus the “person” in the back was holding a mitten to serve as the bobcat’s tail.

There was a pigeon-toed porcupine as well that waddled through the snow.

And then it gnawed on the branches of a tree.

They had fun with the assignment. My hope is that these students will get a sense of the tracking glee that I feel every time I follow a trail. Even if I don’t get to see the critter, which is most of the time, just developing an understanding of their behavior makes me so happy.

The Beaver’s Tale

Once upon a time . . . no wait. This isn’t a fairy tale.

Rather, it’s about changes in the landscape that one might observe, such as a brook suddenly overspilling its banks as was the case in this location upon a December visit. We’d had rain, but that much?

It wasn’t long before a friend and I spotted the reason for the high water. Some new residents had moved into the area and built a lodge of sticks. Unlike the story of the three little pigs, one of whom built a house of sticks that the big bad wolf came in and blew down, the makers of this structure took special care to make it solid and strong and weatherproof. Yes, a beaver or two or six had taken up residence with the intention of spending the winter. Beaver families usually consist of a monogamous couple, plus their two-year-old (almost adult) kids, and yearlings. Mating occurs in the water during the winter and kits are born inside the lodge in the spring.

In order to move into the lodge, a dam needed to be constructed as well. If you look closely, you’ll see that above it there was a bit of an infinity pool with the ice at level with the dam, while below it some water flowed at a much lower level. Though we couldn’t walk along the ice to measure the length of the dam, it was quite long. and made of sticks and leaves and mud. Typically, the family works on this project by creating a ridge of mud and probably the herbaceous plants of the meadow, and then they use the mud and sticks to stabilize it. Maintenance is a constant as water or other critters or humans have a way of breaching the dam.

We, too, build dams to serve similar purposes, such as this one originally constructed to operate a saw mill. Hmmm.

Getting back to the lodge: it also needs nightly work as long as conditions allow and this has been a winter of despair for those of us who love cold temperatures and snow and even ice if it’s in the right place, like on a pond or lake and not in the driveway.

Take a look at how the beaver is holding the small twig.

A beaver’s dental formula is this: 2 incisors on top, 2 incisors on bottom, 0 canines on top, 0 canines on bottom, 2 premolars on top, 2 premolars on bottom (that look like molars), 6 molars on top and 6 molars on bottom, for a total of 20 teeth. Recently, I was able to sketch the upper part of the skull of an older family member, who’d lost some of its molars.

These large, semi-aquatic rodents are gnawers like their relatives. To that end, their incisors are highly specialized for chewing through really, really tough things and they grow continually throughout the critter’s life.

And like all rodents, the front surface of their incisors is coated in enamel reinforced with iron (hence the orange color), which makes it resistant to wear and tear from gnawing. When the chisel-like teeth chew and fell trees, the much softer white dentine layer (the section behind the enamel) is ground down quicker than the enamel, thus creating a sharp chisel surface.

But to me the coolest aspect is that their lips close behind the incisors, thus permitting them to gnaw and carry sticks underwater without choking.

And bingo, you can see the stick being carried in that gap between the incisors and molars. Food sticks become lodge or dam sticks once their nutritional value has been consumed: a true plan of repurposing.

As it turns out, that wasn’t the only beaver family at work in town. This next family, however, chose to park their tree in a spot the fire department lay claim to for filling a water tank. But . . . reading is not on a beaver’s talent list.

In this other place, so many trees have been felled, but not all have fallen as intended, getting hung up on other trees instead. Not wanting to anthropomorphize, but I have to wonder what expletives flash through a beaver’s brain when trees don’t hit the ground as planned.

As strict herbivores, a beaver’s diet varies with changes in the season. During spring and summer, they are drawn to waterlilies, algae, grasses, sedges, herbs, ferns, shrub leaves and shoots. By late summer, however, tree cutting begins as they gradually change their dietary habits from herbaceous to woody materials. Twigs, roots, bark and especially inner bark become the source of nutrition. Aspen, birch, alder, and willow are favored species, but beavers will cut almost anything including conifers.

Imagine this. A beaver cocks its head to the side as it gnaws, thus the consistent angle of the half inch groove as the upper and lower incisors come together.

Likewise, porcupines gnaw, but their incisors are much narrower and the pattern more random.

So, the question remains. Where were the parking lot beavers living? In the past, a family has inhabited the northern most reaches of this pond, but in this case, they had built a lodge on a point not far from the southern end.

The top of the lodge is the only section not covered with mud, for it serves as a “smoke stack” of sorts, a place for beaver breath to escape. Visit a lodge on a cold winter day and you might observe the vapors rising.

And then it was on to another locale, where beavers have inhabited the same lodge for a number of years. When beavers choose to live in a pond or lake or sometimes even a river, there’s no need to build a dam for the water is usually deep enough for their underwater movement.

I often tell people that beaver prints are a rare find because they are either wiped over by the tail or by trees being hauled to the water. Once in a while, however, I’m proven wrong and the sleety snow on a recent day awarded just the right conditions for the webbed feet to be observed.

Tree work and broken ice added to the story of the critters’ journey to and fro the pond. While quite adept at time spent in the water, they are rather clumsy on land and most of their work is within a hundred feet of the edge.

Winter food is cached close by the lodge entrance so that they can swim under the ice to retrieve a stick. A beaver’s ears and nose have a valve that closes when it is submerged and they can stay underwater for up to fifteen minutes. Back at the lodge, there is a raised chamber surrounded by a moat that leads to the entrance tunnel. It’s upon the raised area that they dine, and groom, and even give birth.

At this particular pond, My Guy and I noted two lodges connected by an open channel between. Given the number of tail slaps that announced our presence near both lodges, we thought perhaps both were active and inhabited by the same family.

And then, and then . . . finally, we spotted a beaver that spotted us. We kept expecting it to slap the water with its tail in a manner of warning so other family members would seek deeper water or cover. Instead, it swam past us.

The thing is that a rodent relative, namely the muskrat, exhibits many similarities, but also differences, including a skinny, snake-like tail.

The beaver’s tail is a source of wonder. While its furry body consists of long, shiny guard hairs covering dense and softer hair that traps air and helps protect the critter from the cold, the tail is broad and flat and scaly. It’s used for a variety of reasons including stability when standing upright on land (think tripod), as a rudder for propulsion in water, as fat storage and thermal regulation, and how we are most familiar, as a warning device.

A beaver’s tale indeed.

Sworn to Secrecy

I’ll let you in on a tad bit of a secret . . . eventually.

But first, today was a tracking day and so five of us did just that. When we arrived at the intended location, due to snow conditions, I think we had low expectations. I know I did.

We had just stepped off trail to begin our bushwhack excursion when we spotted this Ruffed Grouse scat. So the curious thing about this is that there are two kinds of grouse scat, the typical cylindrical packets coated with white uric acid, but also a juicier, brown dropping. And I regret that I didn’t take a photo of the juicier, yet slightly frozen stuff we saw dripping from some twigs above. At the time, I knew the brown stuff was significant because I’ve looked it up before, but couldn’t bring it to mind. Thanks to Mark Elbroch and Eleanor Marks, I found an explanation in Bird Tracks and Sign: “Interestingly, after producing these lower-gut-generated solid evacuations, some game birds, such as a grouse, often then evacuate a semi-liquid brownish mass from the upper gut, or cecum, with the two types of droppings coming out sequentially; the more liquid, almost liver-colored scat comes out second and is spread on top of the solid matter. In Ruffed Grouse, it is common to find the hard, fibrous scats at one roost and the soft, brown cecal droppings at another.”

But not uncommon to find them together!

We stood for a long time discussing the grouse scat and when we finally moved on, it wasn’t too far that we discovered bobcat prints. Given that the prints were not super fresh because there was some debris in them, we decided to follow the track forward. Had they been fresh, we would have backtracked so as not to put pressure on the animal. Though secretly, we all love it when we do actually get to spot a mammal. Or a grouse, for that matter.

Eventually, we lost track of the bobcat, because as you can see, there were spots with no snow. But then we stumbled across a sighting that confused us. White-tail Deer scat on the edge of a boulder. Dawn has some new tools she was gifted for Christmas, and so she was excited to pull them out. Our confusion, despite the fact that it looked exactly like deer scat, was caused by the location. On top of a boulder. On the edge of said rock. We came up with a few stories, but will let you try to interpret this on your own.

Back in the snow, we found canine rather than the feline prints we’d been looking for and so out came the tape measure to determine species. Based on the fact that the print measured less than two inches at the widest point and that the stride, or space between where two feet touched the snow (toe to toe), we determined it was a Red Fox.

Everywhere, we spotted Red Squirrel holes and middens, indicating the squirrel had cached a bunch of hemlock cones in numerous pantries and returned since the snow fell to dig them up and dine, leaving behind the cone cobs and scales in trash piles. What struck us was that for all the middens we saw, we never heard or caught sight of any squirrels. In fact, we didn’t see any animals . . . until we did. Huh? You’ll have to read on.

Our next great find close to the pond we walked beside, was more scat! Of course, it was. This being the works of a River Otter and filled with fish scales, all those whitish ovals embedded in it. Like a small pile of Raccoon scat we’d spotted earlier, but again, I forgot to photograph (the sign that we were having fun making all these discoveries), otters tend to defecate in latrines, using the same places over and over again.

Our movement was slow, and every once in a while we’d spread out until someone made a discovery and then we’d all gather again.

Which was exactly what happened when this Snowshoe Hare scat was discovered. Three little malt balls.

After the hare find, we followed a couple of canine trails that took us back to the water. Domestic dog or Coyote? We kept questioning this, but never saw human prints. And the animals did seem to be moving in a direct line on a mission. The warm weather we’ve been experiencing may have been enough to make their prints look larger than they typically would so I think I’m leaning toward Coyote.

But in following those, we discovered a sign from another critter by the water’s edge: Mink scat!

When our time was nearing an end and we bushwhacked back to a road near the trailhead, we were all exclaiming about our cool finds. And then a little birdie we encountered asked, “Do you want to see a bear?”

We don’t need to be asked that question twice, though now that I think back, I’m pretty sure we asked the birdie to repeat the question. YES! She gave us directions and we decided we needed to take an immediate field trip. We each hopped into our vehicles, drove almost to the destination, parked, and walked as quietly as we could toward the den site.

We got us a bear! A Black Bear! The birdie said it has been there since sometime in December.

Now that I’ve shared it with you, I’ll say no more for the five of us are sworn to secrecy about its location.

First Day Substitute Mondate

A mountain on The Kanc (Kancamagus Highway, aka Route 112 that stretches from Conway to Lincoln, New Hampshire) has been calling our names for some time. We’ve hiked neighboring Hedgehog Mountain on several occasions, but never Potash–until today, that is.

Well, actually, that’s not true. We last hiked Hedgehog in early fall and after finishing thought we’d attempt Potash since the trail leads from the same parking lot. That is, until we met Downes Brook, which is about 35 feet wide and my brain-over-matter would not allow me to make the crossing. Another couple had arrived at the brook moments before us, and while both our guys ventured across the rocks, she and I thought it best not to go forth. And so it was today, knowing how much rain we’ve had recently, that we decided to follow the recommendation in the AMC guide and instead park near a gated logging road about a half mile beyond the trailhead lot. After hiking up the logging road, the intersection with the hiking trail isn’t marked and is very subtle, but we were grateful for people who had gone before and left their marks on the snow. Suddenly, we were in the woods and as we paused to look through the trees, the colors afforded us reminded us of spring. As they should, for today felt like a spring day. Actually, too many days have felt like such lately, so when it does freeze every few days, our bodies go into shock.

That spring feeling was evidenced by the lack of snow on the trail and lack of ice on the rocks. What should have been . . . wasn’t.

Even the streams along the way flowed with vigor and no ice had formed. Oh, it probably had, but then melted.

The trail starts out rather tame, but soon becomes rocky with lots of intersecting roots seeking to trip hikers.

Until I looked at the map, I thought we’d reached the summit in good time, only to realize it was a false summit, as so often happens. And we were only at the halfway point.

This would have been a great place to eat lunch, if we hadn’t already done so before leaving the truck. We had visions of Orange KitKats dancing in our heads, but promised ourselves a summit treat and so we had to continue–but first, we waved to Hedgehog Mountain in the foreground.

This photo doesn’t do it justice, for the last section of trail to the summit gets quite steep following a series of already steep switchbacks, and then one has to scramble over granite slabs.

We met the wind at the summit and the swirls in the snow showed that’s always the case. It was time to celebrate with a KitKat or two. Oops. We searched through the backpack and came up empty. Somehow we’d left them in the truck.

One quick look at the Sandwich Wilderness and then it was time to head down so we could reach the truck before darkness set in.

The descent was slow going, but that worked for me. Picking the right spot to place a foot always takes time.

Because I was spending so much time looking down and hugging trees as well as kissing some rocks, I spotted Cladonia squamosa, or Dragon Horn lichen.

Squamosa means covered in scales, which is apropos. And the brown tips are the reproductive parts or apothecia.

I also found some ice I’d missed on the way up. While it made me happy, I still am dismayed by the current conditions.

Here’s another curious thing. We spotted numerous Red Squirrel caches and middens, mostly of spruce cones. And then I spied this Ruffed Grouse scat, indicating the bird had roosted in this spot not too long ago. But other than hearing a few nuthatches, wild critter sign was non-existent. I can walk into the woods behind our home and find much more than this–why is that?

I pondered that thought as we once again turned onto the logging road, and hoped that a mammal would surprise us as we walked, out, but because I was expecting such, it didn’t happen.

Ah well, it was okay. In the end, My Guy and I were delighted we’d enjoyed this First Day Substitute Mondate. First Day Substitute? Whoever heard of that? But I guess that’s what the Monday following a holiday is called.

Oh, and we did gobble up the KitKats when we reached the truck. They tasted extra special.

Stocking My Wonders

My fingers reach in, wondering what marvel I might pull out of the wool sock, one I knitted when my guy and I first tied the knot so many moons ago.

Of course I shouldn’t be surprised that the first thing my fingers grasp is a dragonfly, this being a Common Whitetail male in the Skimmer Family, with those broad crossbands on the wings and black streaks at the base of each.

Calling it “common” strikes me as such an understatement and I’m thrilled when I next pull out an immature male of the same species. I mean, look at those wing markings. And the spots along the sides of the abdomen segments. And the difference in color from immature to mature. Surely, next it will be a female that falls into my hands.

It is quite a shock, however, to realize it is fur that tickles my hand, and voila, out of the sock comes a Red Fox. A Red Fox who settles for Black-oil Sunflower Seeds, not quite the next best thing to capturing a squirrel.

When I next reach in, I am sure I’ll pull out a female Common Whitetail, but . . . instead it is a much smaller, and even more extravagantly decorated female Calico Pennant Skimmer. The same family, but this is one of my favorite species (please don’t be offended Whitetails, I really do think you are more special than common), with those heart-shaped markings along its abdomen segments and basal wing coloration reminding me of a stained-glass window, which seemed apropos for today’s celebration.

And then there are two with similar colors and equally delicate, puddling as is their habit, these Eastern Swallowtail Butterflies sticking their proboscis seeking nutrients from the gravel road. The chemical make-up of the site is key, for the butterflies are looking for something specific: salt (sodium) and minerals

Most puddlers are males, who ingest the salts, minerals and amino acids that the source provides, especially after it has rained. They store these nutrients in their sperm so that when the time comes to mate, the male passes these goodies as a nuptial gift along to the female. This gives the female an extra boost, which she then passes along to her eggs. It’s an important gift because eggs that receive the extra nutrients have a greater chance of success than those that do not.

Back into the sock do I dip, this time finding a Little Copper Butterfly seeking pollen and nectar upon Pearly Everlasting flowerheads. Little Coppers, tiny as the name suggests, thrive in areas disturbed by either human activity or natural events and it seems almost an oxymoron to think that as teeny and delicate as they are, they are right at home in waste places.

Once again, there is a significant change between the Little Copper and the next species that my hands discover. “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?” hoots the Barred Owl much to my delight. Only two nights ago I heard it calling out the back door, so to find it in the sock is a treasure indeed.

Almost immediately after, a Muskrat swims out of the sock, moving quickly toward me with its rat-like tail acting like a rudder in the rear. I love its questioning look as we meet each other for the first time.

Enough fluff about the Muskrat. It is a feathered friend. who next pops up out of the sock. One of the most amazing things to me about this gift is the color of its eyes and how they reflect the sky above and water below.

Still pulling from the leg of the sock, this Gray Seal floats forth, as if on the incoming tide. Sometimes called “horseheads,” because of their long snouts, Gray Seals scientific name, Halichoerus grypus, literally means “hooked-nose sea pig.”

Not the prettiest of names, not the prettiest of species, but I am still excited to realize this one is my own to keep.

Suddenly, there seems to be a theme to the gifts, and a life on or in the water makes sense. The next item in the sock is one we think of as nature’s engineer, and though not everyone is thrilled with their prowess at felling trees, building dams and lodges, and changing waterways for their own benefit, it’s good to realize that they also benefit other species in the process, including humans. This particular Beaver is active during the day because hikers like my guy and me keep ruining its dam as we cross over it to access a trail.

Still on the water theme, but much diminished in size, is a female Fairy Shrimp. Just sighting one such species is enough to make its vernal pool habitat significant. The way to identify a female is to look for her two dark brood sacs that are positioned just under her legs or appendages.

So here’s the thing. Fairy Shrimp have a short life span, but . . . their eggs must dry out and freeze before they can respond to environmental cues such as reflooding to hatch.

The eggs, known as cysts, can remain dormant for years, and only a small portion of cysts hatch each year, thus leaving plenty more for the future. And temperature plays a key role in hatching.

I’m beginning to realize how much I am enjoying the variety hidden within this sock, and the next gift turns out to be a Blinded Sphinx moth, a species one doesn’t ofter encounter during the day. Or at all, for it’s a night flyer. But those markings and folds, and the overall design. Oh my.

With the next item I choose, I am reminded that one must look for anomalies in the landscape. And so I do. It is the horizontal line of the back that gives away the fact that I am starring at a White-tail Deer. Otherwise, I might think that the legs are sapling trunks and the face maybe a few bleached beech leaves.

My next surprise–comes as a trio. And I might not even realize they are there if I hadn’t heard them first–chattering to each other as they swim and play and fish and sometimes sit on the ice before slipping quickly back into the water in what can only be known as River Otter delight.

Once again, I suspect I know what I’ll pull out next, only to be surprised to discover that it is not a prickly friend, but rather a feathered one who roosts high up in a tree–this being a Ruffed Grouse.

But the prickly one doesn’t disappoint, and makes its own appearance in a different tree and place.

That is to be followed by another I often spot basking in the sun with friends, but it is great fun to spot a Painted Turtle swimming below the water’s surface of a shallow pond.

The water theme begins to appear again, maybe because the one who filled the sock knows I spend a lot of time peering into the depths, and sometimes I’m rewarded with sightings such as this of tadpoles forming into their mature frog beings.

And then there is another that requires a stretch of my neck as it stretches its neck to feed its young high up in a nest.

Having regurgitated a meal, the mature Great Blue Heron stays with its young a wee bit longer before heading off to replenish the pantry.

No sock of mine would be complete without a couple of canoodlers, he atop her. Water striders can walk on the surface because they have very fine hairs on the undersides of their legs that trap air and repel water, a technique called superhydrophobic. They move so quickly because what they are doing is more like rowing, vigorously rowing, creating little swirls in the surface that help propel them forward.

When I slip my hand down into what feels like the toe of the sock, I pull out the largest gift of all and a totally unexpected sighting–a buck. Actually, there are two, but this was the larger and definitely mightier. I feel blessed to have received such a gift. In fact, to have received all of these gifts. To have been present for these presents.

It’s actually toeless, this wonder-filled stocking of mine. And could go on forever. But I’ll pause here and rejoin my family. I do, however, wish you all warmth and peace and electrical power and good health this holiday season.

Cheers.

Making Tracks Mondate

A dash of snow and an opening in our afternoon. What better way to spend it than hiking? And so we did. On Bald Pate Mountain. We followed the Moose Trail to South Face Loop to the summit to Bob Chase to Foster Pond Lookout. And tucked in a few miles.

Though there were tire tracks in the parking lot, we soon realized we were the only ones who had ventured onto the trails today. Or were we?

Within seconds, we encountered Red Fox prints, that chevron. on the back of the feet appearing in the snow if you really look. And remember, a fox is a perfect stepper so typically one foot falls onto or almost onto the spot where another foot had been.

The pattern left behind indicates that like us, this mammal was walking and following the man-made trail. Or did it? Perhaps we followed the critter’s trail.

In a wet spot, we discovered the prints of another who chose the high road to avoid the ice and water–certainly a smart Red Squirrel decision, unlike those poor decisions made when trying to cross one of our roads.

Climbing up the South Face Loop toward the Bob Chase Trail was new for us, as we usually continue along the base of the mountain toward the eastern side before heading up to the summit. We struggled with slippery conditions on a few rocks and soon discovered we weren’t alone for this coyote had also slipped a few times.

Approaching the summit, we were still surprised to find that our prints were the first on this beautiful autumn day.

We enjoyed the view toward Foster Pond . . .

and the same toward Hancock (and yes Faith, we waved to your camp).

It was up there that we spotted not only more Red Squirrel tracks, but also these Chipmunk prints. And you thought the little ones had snuggled in for a long winter’s nap, but truth be told, they don’t go into true torpor and we’ve spotted them or their prints occasionally in winter. Plus, despite today’s chill, it’s been such a mild fall and we haven’t had a decent snowfall yet, so there’s still plenty of opportunity to gather food for a cache.

Finally heading out to the Foster Pond Lookout, we found Snowshoe Hare prints and a very classic track left behind by a Meadow Vole.

Meadow Voles intrigue me because they can hop like a squirrel or hare, or walk with the zigzag pattern of a perfect walker like a fox.

And furthermore, Meadow Voles tunnel! We usually don’t see the tunnel, which tends to be in that subnivean zone between the snow and the ground until spring melt, but with last night’s dumping of maybe an inch of snow, it was quite visible.

Continuing toward the lookout, we spotted more Coyote tracks intersecting with those left behind by a squirrel. Up to that point, the squirrel was still alive since their tracks were headed in opposite directions. Good luck, Red!

And then on a ledge just before the lookout, we spotted feather and foot prints. A bird had landed and then it went for a walk.

And turned and went the other way before lifting off again. Based on size, we agreed it was a Crow rather than a Raven, though we often hear Ravens, especially on the other side of the mountain.

Finally, we reached Foster Pond Lookout, where the setting sun behind us made it look like the forest beyond was washed with color.

We had reached Trail End, but it wasn’t the end of the trail. Not for us anyway. Turning 180˚, we retraced our steps and headed back toward the parking lot.

As the sign indicated, it was time to go home. But we rejoiced–for we were back in tracking mode on this Mondate and grateful for this opportunity to head out on a slightly snow covered trail and embrace the brisk air, which made us feel so alive.

A Montage of Mondates

I didn’t realize sixth months had passed since I’d last shared a Mondate adventure until I went back and checked. Never fear, my guy and I have continued to hike or paddle almost every Monday, but most of the trails I’ve written about before and really, I didn’t feel like I had a story to tell on each of them. But . . . put them all together and tada. So hang in here with me. I won’t write much, but do have a bunch of photos to share and hope you enjoy the journey.

Sometimes it was the root way to heaven that we’ve followed upon an ascent.

Other times a brook crossing that added a little tension to the adventure.

And in the mix there were a few granite scrambles to conquer.

We stepped out onto ledges,

rediscovered the rocky coast of Maine,

walked beside water racing around boulders,

stepped from the trail out onto the summit of a ski area,

paused beside a teepee that has withstood man and nature,

strolled across an airstrip,

followed more ledges,

took in the view from a spot where a fire tower once stood,

spotted the ridgeline of our hometown mountain on the cloudy horizon,

danced with hang clouds,

looked back at a summit we’d conquered a half hour before,

considered taking a chilly bath,

and always found lunch rock with a view.

Our journeys found us hiking in to mountain ponds,

and paddling upon a pond by a mountain.

During fleeting moments we enjoyed fall foliage.

On each hike/paddle we saw so much including this Northern Pygmy Dragonfly,

a Field Sparrow,

a Silver-spotted Skimmer Butterfly,

and a spider wrapping a dragonfly feast,

And did I mention Lady’s Slippers?

Over the course of three hikes in one week, we counted 963 of these beautiful orchids.

And then there was the Blinded Sphinx Moth,

a Giant Leopard Moth,

and a Green Lacewing pretending to be a leaf.

Our hearts ticked a little faster with the spot of bear claw marks upon a bog bridge.

And occasionally we were honored to spend some time with one of nature’s great engineers.

There was work to be done as the Beaver’s dam also serves as part of the path to a summit and people kept ruining it for the rodent.

Often, we’d spy a stick that suddenly slithered because it wasn’t really a stick at all but a Garter Snake.

One day we even had the pleasure to go on a Puffin Watch and spotted over a hundred of these colorful seabirds.

Today, we actually spotted a Doe who posed for about five minutes before giving us a huff and dashing off.

And a post from me wouldn’t be complete without a photo of scat–this being classic Red Fox–tapered at the ends, twisted, and located upon a rock in the middle of a trail.

We had the pleasure of hiking with our youngest (though we missed his girl),

and relaxing after another hike with our oldest and his gal, plus their pup.

My guy posed as a lobster,

and a picker of blueberries beside the water’s edge,

and across a mountain ridge.

Recently, I was talking with a friend about wondermyway.com and how it serves as a diary of our adventures as well as all the cool stuff I learn about almost daily in the world out the door.

And she replied, “Your blog is a love story.”

She’s right for it is a love story on so many levels like this one. He’ll forever be a Maine Black Bear and if you are looking for me, I’ll forever be following him into the next adventure wherever our Mondates lead us.

Beautiful Maine (and Canada)

Our time for a road trip was long overdue. But where to go? We knew we’d begin the week by driving to Lubec, Maine, where we’d enjoyed two days last year, but left knowing there was so much more to explore. And so we booked a room for the first four nights of vacation. After that? The question loomed. The answer eventually presented itself, but first, here’s to Lubec.

We’d barely landed in town after a five hour drive, when a walk down the road found my guy posing before entering Lubec Hardware. Curiously, because the owner had been to Stone Mountain Arts Center in Brownfield, Maine, not far from our hometown, he knew of my guy’s store and they enjoyed a chat. From there we sipped a beer at Lubec Brewery before heading off for our first adventure of the week, along a beach trail within reach from town.

After skipping some stones, we turned around and headed back toward our room, enjoying the cast of our shadows upon sand . . .

and cobbled beaches.

Back in the harbor of Johnson Bay, the setting sun upon moored boats captured our fancy.

And we got our bearings with a view of Mulholland Light on Canada’s Campobello Island located exactly across the Lubec Narrows from our room.

Morning and evening, whenever we were by the Narrows, we watched as the Cormorants preened and flew and swam against the current and preened some more.

On the windiest day, we took to the woods rather than the coast, knowing it would be calmer. And quieter. We weren’t disappointed.

Especially since we found a display of bear scat, this being only one chunk. Berry seeds pass through a bear’s digestive system and exit intact and viable, making bears an important part of nature’s seed distribution system.

We also spotted the largest burl either of us could remember seeing, this at the base of an old Yellow Birch turned silver in age like the rest of us.

We circled through a beaver’s territory, hoping that if we couldn’t catch sight of the bear, we might at least see the beaver, but both alluded us. Fred, the Red Squirrel, however, scolded us at every opportunity.

The next day dawned brisk and chilly, as most did, and found us first finding our way to Reversing Falls, where the incoming tide hit some rocks that splashed the water “backwards.”

Click on the link to catch a brief glimpse of the action.

Over the course of the day, we explored a few trails of Cobscook Shores, including enjoying lunch on a bluff overlooking sandbars at low tide.

Boot Head Preserve along the coast offered a variety of terrains and natural communities, including upland forests, bogs, coastal wetlands, and steep rocky shoreline.

My mom would have loved this–the rocky coast of Maine spoke to her.

We also appreciated all the bog bridging and benches placed to take in the vistas and gave thanks to those who had hustled to create such infrastructure, including my colleague Rhyan, a former intern at Maine Coastal Heritage Trust. The chicken wire along the bridges sang as we trudged, boot tread hitting wire, wire strumming against wood, and song echoing with each step as the wire bounded back off the wood. There was that to be thankful for, as well as the facts that it kept us from slipping, and from stepping upon the fragile environment at our feet.

Despite the daily chill, flower flies such as this bee mimic continued to pollinate asters in a manner hectic as the days grow shorter and temps lower.

Behind the asters we saw plenty of juicy Rose Hips and I thought of my dad who loved to eat these on our beach walks in Connecticut.

Because we followed a smattering of trails, the berry choices changed from Cranberries to . . .

Withe-rod or Wild Raisin,

and Mountain Ash in the shape of a heart.

Those berries fit right in with our daily cobbled beach quest for hearts and we found many, a few which followed us home. But this one, not exactly perfect, as no heart really is, my guy gave a pulse. A pulse with a smile. And then he left it behind.

Our favorite heart selection we did not disturb because it appeared in the midst of a fairy ring created by the tide.

Our adventures found us exploring different areas of the Bold Coast than we’d visited a year ago, but it seemed imperative that we make a quick stop at West Quoddy Head Lighthouse at the end of one day. It’s the easternmost point in the United States, thus bragging rights.

The cool news is that as of our first day of vaca, the border between the USA and Canada opened for travel without pandemic protocol and so we drove across the road bridge located about two minutes from our room, showed our passports, and within two minutes entered one of our favorite countries, this time to a place we’d never been before: Campobello Island. Once there, we drove east to the companion light of West Quoddy–and then climbed up and down two steep sets of stairs and across this wooden bridge, with lots of slippery seaweed in the mix to reach . . .

East Head Quoddy Lighthouse.

Driving back toward trails we wanted to hike, we paused to take in the scene of Head Harbour Public Wharf where lobster boats were docked in the moment.

It struck us as a safe harbor for the effects of the business.

Our next destination was Friar’s Head, where according to interpretive signs, “While occupying Eastport, the British navy was said to have used the stone pillar for target practice, altering its outline to that of a hooded monk or Friar in deep contemplation.

Native American Passamaquoddy legend referred to this rock as the Stone Maiden. “The legend speaks of a young brave leaving on a long journey, telling his lover to sit and wait for his return. Many months passed and the brave did not return. The young maiden was terribly upset and sat on the beach below the head and waited. When the brave finally returned to the village, he found his young maiden turned to stone, forever to wait and watch.”

Finally, it was time for a tour of the cottage of Franklin Delano and Eleanor Roosevelt. It has 34 rooms of which 18 are bedrooms and six bathrooms. Until he was afflicted with polio in 1921, Franklin spent every summer on the island, his parents having owned a property next door. As a belated wedding present, FDR’s mother, Sara, gave the young couple this summer home, which they filled with five children, servants, and guests.

One of my favorite rooms was the site of Eleanor’s desk, where she wrote at least 500 words/day five days a week.

In the backyard stands a reminder that the 2,800-acre Roosevelt Campobello International Park is a US Government Agency and a Canadian Government Corporation, established in 1964.

Next door is the Hubbard Cottage, where the rusticators were known to party–men smoking their cigars as they played pool and women gathering around the grand piano, but . . . it’s the oval window that offers a breathtaking frame on the world beyond, ever changing as the seasons.. Mr. Hubbard was a very successful real estate developer from Chicago and his cottage was the envy of many. The oval window in the main room apparently was imported from France. 

Not ready to be done with our Canadian journey, we visited Eagle Hill Bog and then from Raccoon Beach we hiked along a loop path through bogs and fields and forest and along the coast, where we spotted a natural sculpture of faces and wondered if they represented people lost at sea or those looking for loved ones or perhaps those who came to wonder and wander like we did.

At Ragged Point, we followed a short spur to SunSweep, one of three sculptures carved from a slab of Canadian black granite and located strategically at this location in New Brunswick, a second in Minnesota, and a third in Washington. All are aligned to follow the sun’s path from daybreak to nightfall. We were there as evening approached and still had some hiking to do, so onward we journeyed.

But first, we made a quick stop at Sugar Loaf Rock, which reminded me of an iguana, and from this site had the good fortune to watch Minke whales feeding in the distance.

Before leaving Canada, we had one final stop to make–a visit to Mulholland Lighthouse, the oldest lighthouse in the country. It’s a wooden octagonal structure that was erected in 1883 and decommissioned in 1963. During its heyday, it guided ships through the Lubec Narrows, where even FDR, who served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy from 1913 to 1920, once made an inspection trip along the Maine coast aboard the U.S.S. Flusser. On a plaque it states: Taking the helm, the future President captained the vessel through the narrow channel between Lubec and Campobello Island, earning the respect of an initially concerned Lieutenant (later Admiral) William F. “Bull” Halsey. Admiral Halsey later wrote, “As Mr. Roosevelt made his first turn, I saw him look aft and check the swing of our stern. My worries were over; he knew his business.”

Our fascination with the lighthouse was that from our room at Cohill’s Inn we looked straight across to the lighthouse–the room being the double window just above the white door as we took in the opposite view.

But even more fun was spotting Harbor Seals who came snuffuluffing along with the incoming tide. It was a great way to end our Campobello/Lubec leg of the journey.

A few hours drive the next day and we began an exploration of Millinocket. I think in the back of both our minds we expected to end up there, but the plan didn’t fall into place until almost midweek. Thankfully, we found a place to stay and headed off on a trail soon after we pulled into town.

Whereas the colors along the coast were a bit muted, it was peak fall foliage in this neck of the woods, where Mount Katahdin dominates the landscape.

One hike found us making our way to Rainbow Lake, home of Eastern Brook Trout and Blueback Char. Though we didn’t see any fish actually jump there, we saw lots of activity while eating lunch beside Clifford Pond–ask us how high the fish jumped and you’ll get a different answer. Mine is maybe six inches, but according to my guy: two feet. That’s a fish tale if I ever heard one.

At the urging of an article by Carey Kish in the Portland Press Herald published on Oct 2 entitled Hiking in Maine: A hidden gem in the midst of Baxter State Park, we decided to check out the River Pond Nature Trail–and we’re glad we did. If you go from the Golden Road, we suggest following the trail counterclockwise. There are lots of blow downs that are easy to maneuver around or over or under if you begin from the opposite direction, but those might have dissuaded us at the start.

Instead, we enjoyed beautiful vistas before encountering the blowdowns. And always looked forward to the interpretive signs along the way.

I’m pretty sure that just as the moon follows us when we drive at night, so does the mountain when you hike this trail.

We were dazzled by the kaleidoscope of colors no matter where we looked.

It was pure magic enhanced by reflections along the way.

Of course, there were other things to see, like Stairstep Moss, one of my favorites known for producing a new level of growth each year. (And one that will always remind me of my dear friend, Jinnie Mae, RIP, for we discovered this species on a rock on her land.)

We added to our red berry collection when we spotted several Bunchberrys in fruit form.

A Jack Pine was also a welcome surprise, known for its bundles of two short needles: think Jack and Jill.

And then we headed into the land of the Bad Hair Day Giants, for so the Polypody fern covered erratics did seem.

Our destination–ice caves in the Debsconeag Lakes Wilderness Area! The cool environment in a deep hole under a jumble of boulders can retain ice sometimes as late as August (though I doubt that happened this year given how hot it was over the course of the summer). While we didn’t need nature’s air conditioning on this day, it was still a cool opportunity to explore.

One more stop on this day was a visit to The Crib along Penobscot River’s West Branch, where we recalled memories of dining above during a rafting expedition about 35 years ago and then how I ducked into the boat when we later passed this spot. Really though, when we rafted, they’d opened the dam above and there was much more water, but still . . . it was fast and furious. Oh, and do you see that mountain in the background? The Mighty K once again.

Our wildlife sightings on this part of the journey included a couple of startled Ruffed Grouse, a Fred the Red Squirrel who followed us, I swear, for we endured his scolding on every trail in both locations (and we hiked over 70 miles all told) and this Garter Snake. But then, the creme de la creme presented itself across from River Pond where we’d first stopped on the Golden Road to photograph Mount K and actually spotted its tracks in the morning.

Yep. We got us a moose! A male yearling I think.

On the way home a day later, we decided we hadn’t bumped across the Golden Road enough, and so headed west on it toward Greenville. Approaching Greenville, we spotted a sign for the B52 Memorial and made a sudden decision to follow the seven-mile road to the site.

The story is a somber one of a United States Air Force Boeing B-52 Stratofortress on a low level navigation training mission during the Cold War that went awry. After the aircraft encountered turbulence on an extremely cold and windy January 24, 1963, a vertical stabilizer came off and the plane went into a nose dive on Elephant Mountain.

Only the pilot and a navigator survived. Signage explains the experience: “The pilot landed in a tree 30 feet (9.1 m) above the ground. He survived the night, with temperatures reaching almost −30 °F (−34 °C), in his survival-kit sleeping bag atop his life raft. The navigator’s parachute did not deploy upon ejection. He impacted the snow-covered ground before separating from his ejection seat about 2,000 feet (610 m) from the wreckage with an impact estimated at 16 times the force of gravity. He suffered a fractured skull and three broken ribs. The force bent his ejection seat and he could not get his survival kit out. He survived the night by wrapping himself in his parachute.”

Fortunately an operator on a road grater saw the plane turn and the black smoke that followed the crash. Rescuers looked in the wrong area that day. The next day, after plowing ten miles of fifteen foot snowdrifts and snowshoeing the final mile, they reached the site.

Today, pathways lead to the strewn pieces and viewers are asked to remain silent out of reverence. Visiting the site gave us pause and we offered thanks for those who protect us and those who complete rescue missions.

We’re glad we stopped there, just as we’re glad we revisited the two locales we enjoyed last year. Except for this one spot and West Quoddy Lighthouse, it was an entirely different adventure. Oh, and we celebrated my guy’s birthday, while also celebrating our beautiful Maine and Canada.

Needed: Minds to Wonder

Along a paved trail seemingly flat that follows a track to a vanishing point did I walk today.

It’s a place some see as desolate, but nature always has something to present and today it was signs of the season to come that drew my attention.

Hints of autumn’s hues . . .

contrasted sharply with summer’s chlorophyll-induced greens.

Redder than red winterberries bespoke the presence of a nearby male–since as a dioecious species, female flowers and male flowers grow on separate shrubs. They also signaled bird food and seasonal decorations–depending on who arrives first: Avian species or human.

Disturbed though the land is, Asters such as this Calico, invited visitors like the Paper Wasp to stop by for a sip of nectar.

Goldenrods also sent out messages and Bumble Bees RSVPed . . .

for they had baskets to fill one pollen grain at a time.

In the mix along this route of disturbed soil and gravel, there were those whose seedheads, while reminiscent of a dandelion, proved more beautiful than the Pilewort’s actual nondescript flower.

Less obvious, but no less beautiful, Wood Sorrel quietly softened the edges of the rocks upon which it grew.

Jewelweed, also known as Touch-Me-Not for its seed’s habit of springing forward when touched, had a visitor all its own whose name I wasn’t allowed to catch.

Similar in color to the Jewelweed, a Monarch butterfly filled up . . .

perhaps a last series of sips before the long journey south.

All of this color and action was observed by a Chippy, who was busy adding to his collection of goods, while his kin added their clucks to the chamber music orchestrated by grasshoppers and crickets.

The Mountain Division Trail in Fryeburg, Maine (home to the Fryeburg Fair), is hardly flat and not at all desolate–it just needs people with eyes to see and ears to hear and minds to wonder as they wander. Okay, so maybe it was desolate in terms of being deserted of people, but I kinda like it that way. As for being dismal and bleakly empty–I beg to differ.

The Happy Fox Trot

I know. I know. I should have taken the bird feeders down two months ago. But I blame it on My Guy because he keeps bringing damaged bags of bird seed home. And because of that, we’ve actually had a delightful time watching all the action at the feeders and below where I scatter plenty of seed on the ground so others can partake.

A pair of Northern Cardinals are the most frequent visitors, and lately he’s taken to making sure she’s well fed. Often she sits and waits rather than helping herself, taking notes on the kind of parent he will be to their offspring.

Chipping Sparrows have also participated in courtship feeding, and just maybe this behavior also strengthens the bond between the two genders.

He did look at me as if to say, “Hey, this is between the two of us. Skedaddle.” And I eventually did disappear.

But when I looked again, I spotted an Eastern Chipmunk filling its cheeks. While this is common behavior, what wasn’t quite so common is that fact that most of its tail was missing. Had a fight occurred or did it narrowly escape becoming a meal?

I’ll never know. Among the most frequent mammal visitors are the Gray Squirrels. And they, along with the Red Squirrels and Eastern Chipmunks have learned where we store the seed in the barn and no matter how many times we think we’ve outfoxed them, we soon discover that they’ve been chewing again. We’re now using small metal trash cans, but knowing the prowess of these critters, I doubt we’ve won this battle. And keeping them out of the barn is impossible because it’s an old barn with lots of secret passageways, some that I’m sure we’re not aware of . . . yet.

Some days there are five or six Gray Squirrels foraging for seeds and looking as if they own the place. I suppose they do. We’re merely itinerate tenants and we give thanks that they let us live here.

Oh, and then there’s the neighborhood fox. We haven’t discovered the den yet, but every morning we can expect two or three visits. If it isn’t successful at sneaking up on one of the other critters, and squirrels and chipmunks can outrun a fox, it, too, dines on some seeds.

And then pauses to lick its chops.

But what the fox really wants is a more substantial meal and I suspect it has kits nearby that need feeding.

Unfortunately for the fox, sometimes the American Crows announce its presence and all the little critters run up trees or fly away.

Soon, however, they return. And begin to forage again.

And from high positions, they’ll take a break, and actually pull seeds out of those puffed-up cheeks in order to dine.

And so this morning dawned with a light rain, and just as our Red Fox walked in front of the stones by the garden, I saw a flash of brown run across the flatter rock. R.F. jumped up, looked around, jumped down and gave chase. The fox was unsuccessful.

But that didn’t stop it from returning and though the crows didn’t alert us, the squeal of a Gray Squirrel made us raise our heads and look out the back door.

Breakfast had been secured and the last we saw of the fox, it was trotting away with a meal in its mouth.

The Happy Fox Trot indeed.

Making Everything Count

On May 21, 2022, My Guy and I hiked Albany Mountain Trail in the White Mountain National Forest on a reconnaissance mission. Ours was to note the number of Lady’s Slippers either in bloom or prepping to do so because it was May 24, 2021 that we last counted blossoms. On the 21st of this year none were in bloom, and honestly, we only spotted 21 plants.

And so we returned this afternoon, which found us enjoying Raspberry Bars baked by Fly Away Farm while sitting upon dessert bench at the summit.

On the way up, however, we did keep track of the Pink Lady’s Slippers, including this one that featured last year’s seed capsule.

Occasionally there were spots such as this, where a bunch showed off their lovely moccasins.

But our perennial favorite is the bunch of ten. It’s such a favorite that when we encountered another making his descent, My Guy suggested he hike back up about a quarter mile with us to see this display. He was grateful that we’d shared this special find with him.

But it wasn’t just Lady’s Slippers to note for when we last climbed up two weeks ago, the mosquitoes and black flies were thicker than thick and we practically ran down to finish the route as quickly as possible. Today, there were a few, but it was hardly notable and we gave great thanks to dragonflies such as this male Common Whitetail Skimmer for patrolling the territory.

We found two others on patrol, these being Garter Snakes. I really wanted to stay and watch their movements, for I suspected that the one toward the top was the larger female and the lower one might be a male, but My Guy had Lady’s Slippers on his mind and standing to watch a couple of snakes didn’t tickle his fancy.

And so we moved on, leaving the slitherers to their own intentions without interruption.

But the real star of the show (don’t tell the Lady’s Slippers) was the beaver. You see, there is a dam about a half mile in that hikers must cross to access the rest of the trail and the last few years it has been a bit easier. But this year . . . things have been different and today we met the engineer who made it so.

He was hard at work making repairs when we first came to the dam and we had to time our crossing accordingly.

We watched him as he watched us, sure that he’d slap the surface with his tail in an effort to tell us to move on. Surprised were we when he did not.

Once on the other side, when we encountered the first group of hikers making their way down, we mentioned the beaver. They hadn’t seen it upon their ascent but their group of seven said they may have been the reason for its need to work for apparently they’d messed the dam up a bit as they crossed. It’s not an easy thing to do–the crossing that is.

Upon our own descent we looked about as we reached the dam and tada, there he was swimming away.

And then we got the message–a tail slap! A statement, indeed.

A bit muddier for the experience, we both made it back across as quickly as possible.

And gave great thanks for the opportunity to make everything count.

Lady’s Slippers: 2020: 150; 2021: 47; 2022: 266!!!!

Dragonflies: Never enough, but love how many we saw.

Garter Snakes: 2

Beaver: 1

And as My Guy noted: 266 Lady’s Slippers today + 286 Lady’s Slippers at Overset Mountain on Monday = 552 this week!

But who’s counting?

Celebrating My Daily Wonders

Every day this week found me wandering a different trail, or even sometimes the same trail on multiple days.

To that end, on May 24th, I celebrated a full-fledged dragonfly emergence.

Though I wasn’t there at the time of eclosure, many of the dragonflies I spotted, and there were hundreds, were either still pumping hemolymph from their wings back into their bodies, gaining their color patterns, or letting their shiny wings dry in the breeze as they slowly began to expand them. A few had wings that seemed stuck together, but then in an unexpected moment they flew and I whispered farewell in hopes that we might meet again.

On May 25th, there were other species to behold.

It was that day that I knew the Highbush Blueberry crop will be significant this year for so many were the robust Bumble Bees that worked the pollen route. I even managed to capture one doing a happy dance with pollen on its feet. And this is canoodling season, after all, so it was fun to find a pair of flower bugs enjoying a tender moment upon Chokeberry flowers. The Mayfly did not have such a happy ending for before maturing to its adult form, it landed in a sticky web, but . . . alas, the spider must eat, so it was a good day after all.

On May 26th, my travels were more varied, as were the sightings.

For a few moments, I watched as ants, both winged and not, farmed aphids upon the stem of a Maple-leaf Viburnum. Along a trail or two that day, a melodious Song Sparrow serenaded me with its happy tune. And a quick trip to the vernal pool out back found me looking into the eyes of hundreds, maybe thousands, of Wood Frog tadpoles. But the best find of all, a fairy ring along a trail.

On May 27th, I was one of a bunch who arrived at a certain locale to bird at 6:30am.

Though I couldn’t stay for the entire trip, which yielded 38 species, I did have the joy of watching a small flock of Cedar Waxwings land and fly, land and fly. And then there was the Indigo Bunting. It’s blue coloration reminded me of Clintonia’s Blue Bead fruits we’ll spot in the summer if the birds don’t eat them all first. And I’m never sure why I’m surprised to find a House Wren on these journeys, but perhaps its because for so many years I didn’t see them (or didn’t realize I was seeing them) and thought of them more as a childhood bird from my beginnings in southern New England. The best find of all, on this day, however, was an Eastern Phoebe sitting on her nest.

On May 28th, I met some old friends, though for the first three I had to jog my memory for their names.

The first was a female Common Whitetail Skimmer dragonfly. It’s her guy who has the whitish “tail,” and I believe that she received the better strokes of nature’s paintbrush. Then there were the Hudsonian Whiteface Skimmers, she with yellow marks and his defined in red. Soon, the Calico Pennants will emerge, and we’ll see she also dons a yellow coat while he sports red. But as much as you know I love dragonflies, a fresh moose track also makes my heart sing.

On May 29th, I wondered how I could possibly top all of that.

And yet I did. First there were more ants farming aphids, this time Wooly Alder Aphids on Speckled Alders. After that, a Bluet Damselfly that didn’t seem to mind that I rustled around in some shrubs trying to get better photos of other species. For its patience, I thought I should honor it in this post. One of those other species, a small Dot-tailed Whiteface Skimmer dragonfly, drew my attention to a Pitcher Plant Flower preparing to open. I was surprised by its presence because though I knew I was in the land where Pitcher Plants are abundant, I couldn’t recall spying one in this particular spot before. But the best find of the day, an Assassin Bug, Pselliopus cinctus, finishing a meal. I had never met this species of Assassin Bug before as usually it is the slender green Zelus luridus that I encounter. The black and white legs were to be admired, by me, not its poor victim who had just had the juices sucked out of it.

It certainly has been a week to celebrate my daily wonders as I wander. And though the Assassin Bug was the best of today, the actual best I did not capture a photo of this afternoon. A River Otter popped up and stared at me briefly, chirped, and before I could reach for the camera, disappeared. But I will remember that moment and that spot in my mind’s eye.

Just Another Boring Mountain Mondate

No need to read on. You know it will be photos of today’s finds. Ho hum.

Our day began as it always does, with a shared piece of CraftonMain Lemon Meringue Pie topped with a raspberry, while we sat and watched this pair enjoy a meal of their own. Wait. We don’t always begin with the pie–but sure wish we could. Cardinals, however, have been blessing us with their appearance for years.

And then there was the sighting of the neighborhood fox in the field beyond our stonewall; it had its eyes on the neighbor’s dogs while we had our eyes on it. Don’t worry, the dogs didn’t become breakfast. In fact, as their mistress began to walk toward the fox (we don’t think she spied it, nor did the dogs or they would have given chase), the fox turned and dashed across the field, over another stonewall and into our woodlot.

At last, it was time to begin our hike along a trail we haven’t visited since August 2019. Our intention had been to climb it in 2020, but during the first year of the pandemic, it was closed and then we never considered it . . . until this morning. And as we started up, I remembered . . . this is the mountain where the Early Saxifrage grows.

 It’s also known as rockbreaker for its habit of cleaving to the rocks, and perhaps suggested the Latin name–Saxifraga virginiensis. Saxum-rock and frangere-to break.

A funny name for such a diminutive and delicate display.

Round-leaved Violet with its scalloped-rimmed leaves more heart shaped than its name suggests also grew along the trail. Spying these tiny offerings of yellow with those incredible magenta runways meant to attract pollinators always brings a smile as if they were meant to brighten the day of all who hike this way.

Our journey found us enjoying the sound of the water’s rhythm as we climbed higher . . .

and contemplating each step once we turned away from the brook.

At the summit, the view from lunch rock included a look to the southeast where the sky predicted the forecast of a front moving in.

Meanwhile, our hometown mountain stood out in the sun.

But the grand lady, Mount Washington, was starting to disappear into the clouds.

It was windy and a bit chilly at the summit, but that didn’t stop the Brown Elfin butterfly from flirting with a few others where the blueberries grow.

I also spotted one Spring Azure. Both are rather small butterflies and if you look closely, you might spot that their antennae are patterned white and black.

On the way down, we did what we often do–looked for bear claw trees because we know they exist here. And because I know such an activity will slow my guy down. 😉 Bingo. He spotted one that was new to us.

I went in for a closer look and couldn’t believe all the marks on display.

And so I began to circle around the trunk.

One can only imagine the crop of Beech Nuts this tree must have offered.

But enough is enough. It’s just another bear claw tree, after all. Nothing to write home about. Or is it? Think about the bear and the blueberries the Brown Elfin Butterfly will help pollinate and the Beech Nuts the trees will produce and all the connections that will be made, which will include the Cardinals and the Red Fox and the flowers and all that is part of the forest. And be wowed like us. It was hardly just another boring mountain mondate on Burnt Meadow Mountain in Brownfield, Maine.

Patience as the Season Unfolds Mondate

We do LOVE winter, my guy and I, but really, we appreciate all of our seasons and can’t imagine living in a place where we can’t experience each in its own right and the change from one to the next.

And so today, with the temp in the low 20˚s and wind chill making it feel even colder, we donned our micro-spikes and headed up a snowmobile trail to begin our search for the current season.

Icicles that we were sure had formed overnight, since the weekend temps had been much warmer, formed along a stream that flowed toward Slippery Brook, for our trail of choice was in the White Mountain National Forest.

In other seasons, one can either drive to our destination, or go via snowmobile, but for the time being the gates to Forest Road 17 in Chatham, New Hampshire are closed to vehicular traffic. That was fine with us.

At about 2.5 miles, we took a slight detour to take in the sounds and views of Slippery Brook.

It was there on a crossbeam of the bridge where my guy was about to sit that I noticed British Soldier, a common lichen with bright red caps that remain so year-round, but have been hidden from view by snow all winter. It was like meeting a cheery old friend for the first time . . . this sighting.

Along the road also grew many a Hobblebush, another old friend, their naked leaf and flower buds swelling in anticipation of what is to come.

And then we spotted these prints, made by the largest mammal around and though we saw more in other places, this set of four made us wonder if the moose had come in for a landing and then flown off again.

At last we reached the trailhead, and as we approached the pond we noted an immediate dip in temperature, plus an increase in wind. Thankfully, we’d expected such and had dressed for the occasion. That said, it’s hard to search for spring when your cheeks sting with the wind.

A rocky and rooty trail that circles the pond, though fairly flat, requires hikers’ attention at all times of the year and today was no exception. That said, the trail itself offered a snippet of spring.

We reached Mountain Pond at last and by the outlet found some open water, but other than a few chickadees and nuthatches, there were no birds or other forms of wildlife to spy upon as we’d hoped.

Even so, our focus was rewarded in other forms, such as other buds growing larger, like upon this Speckled Alder. And notice that lateral leaf scar–a happy face indeed.

The longer male and shorter female catkins, which are the flowers of the alder, swayed in the breeze, waiting for a future date when they could do just that . . . date.

A few actually seemed ready to mate, though not with each other. While the pendulous male flowers open and extend when their pollen is ready to be dispersed, just above them the tiny, maroon female flowers “bloom” at the same time on the same shrub. In this case position counts and so with the female flowers above the males, self-pollination is discouraged and cross-pollination occurs instead thanks to wind.

Also beside the pond’s shore, the woody structures of last year’s Rhodora flowers, but also its buds enlarging by the day, with promises of exquisite displays making us suddenly want the time to push the clock ahead.

The same was true for the Sheep Laurel, that plump pinkish bud ready to burst open when the time is just right.

As we headed back toward the Forest Road at last, we began to notice exposed trails of Red Squirrels that led from one spruce cone cache to another. Those feisty ones were quiet today, but we suspected they are happy to have more food offerings on the horizon.

Nine miles later as we once again passed by the stream with the icicles and noticed that more had formed, we realized we’d found spring on this Mondate . . . she’s just taking her time and we should follow her example and be patient as this next season unfolds.

Worth the Wait Mondate

It took us a while to get out the door today, but perhaps that was because we knew we weren’t traveling far and we’d have plenty of daylight in which to explore.

Today’s destination: Sebago Lake State Park, a locale whose existence we take for granted and seldom make time to actually visit. But when we do . . . ah. We hiked over five miles today, with a few false starts, but never really getting lost.

It was a blustery but beautiful day and conditions switched from snow to ice to puddles to ice under water to bare ground. And somehow, at exactly noon we reached the summit of the Lookout Trail, where a picnic table painted brown from my guy’s hardware store awaited. Looks like maintenance will need to return to the store for some touchups this spring.

After lunch, we found our way down to the water, which in this neck of the woods looks like the ocean. That said, the Atlantic Ocean is only about thirty minutes away. Sebago Lake State Park, at 1,400 acres, opened in 1938. The lake itself, at 45-square miles, is Maine’s second largest. It’s a place with diverse natural communities, which makes it a jewel.

All of that is fine and well, but my favorite habitat of all we saved until the end. Horseshoe Bog on the park’s west side always has something to offer. It’s called Horseshoe Bog because of its shape. The question was: what would today’s offerings be?

It soon became evident when we began to notice lodges.

And chew sticks floating in a raft-like manner in a wee bit of open water. Because beavers don’t hibernate, they cache or stockpile sticks underwater so they can nibble on them once the pond freezes over in winter.

As pure herbivores, beavers subsist solely on woody and aquatic vegetation.

As we continued along the path, we paused frequently to admire their previous works, some of which hadn’t been successful in terms of felling the trees. Yet.

Others seemed like attempts to perhaps consider on some future date.

And still others made us feel as if we were walking through an art gallery for so unique were their forms.

Though a beaver will chew on any tree, its preferred species include alder, aspen, birch, maple, poplar and willow. 

I’m always in awe when I think about how beavers obtain their food by toppling large trees with no other tools than those specially adapted incisors and powerful lower jaw muscles. Even after years of chewing wood, their teeth don’t become too warn and never stop growing. The four incisors (two top; two bottom) are self-sharpening due to hard orange enamel on the front and a softer dentin on the back. That means the softer backside wears faster, creating a chisel-like cutting surface. And chisel they do.

Moving rather slowly, for I’d asked my guy to change his pace when we began to circle the bog, we counted five lodges, and figured that at least two of them were active. The two bookmarking this photo we weren’t sure about.

Suddenly we spotted some action in the water and my guy caught a glimpse of a critter that swam under the ice and out of our sight. All I saw were the ripples on the water. But . . . that meant that we stopped. For a while. And in flew a small flock of Pine Siskins.

And so they garnered my attention for a few moments.

When I wasn’t searching for more beaver action, that is.

At last we reached another lodge and both of us chose trees on either side of it to hide beside and remain quiet. I have to say that I’m so impressed with how still my guy can be . . . thank goodness for that earlier half-second sighting because he was as eager as I was to spy more activity.

Unfortunately, it was in that moment that my guy finally walked toward me that the beaver did show. He missed the sighting, but for me, it was well worth the wait on this first Mondate of spring.

Where the Bobcat led us

When GLLT Tuesday Trackers meet at a property, we never know what animal sign we’ll need to interpret or what greater understanding we’ll gain. Today was no different and we had a few surprises along the way.

What we’ve all learned is that we need to take a bird’s eye view and consider where we are, whether it be forest or field or wetland, look at how the mammal is moving and what type of pattern it is creating as it moves, get down and count toes, look for nail marks and notice other idiosyncrasies, and then follow the trail for a ways, looking at the prints in different light, or under different trees. Often under hemlock trees we find the best prints because there’s not as much snow since the boughs hold it.

And so today’s adventure began with us following this particular animal and debating—do we see claw marks, is the overall shape round or oval, is there a lead toe, is the ridge creating a C on its side or an X between the toes and heel pad? It took some time, but we finally found a few prints that gave us confidence it was a bobcat we were following. So, where did the bobcat lead us?

Our first stop was along a stream where he walked beside the edge—about two or three feet above the open water for such is the snow height—but then paused for a moment and seemed to step down because he was curious about something. And so were these three, Pam, Dawn, and Emily, for they spied something in the water below.

From our position on the opposite bank, a few of us saw what we thought they were looking at. “It’s furry,” Dawn told us.

She wanted to go down into the water because it didn’t appear to be all that deep, but still that would have meant she’d be wet and so Emily hunted around and found a branch to use as a poker instead.

As Dawn wiggled the stick, all the time exclaiming that it was big, whatever it was, and trying to turn it over, Emily and Pam grabbed her to make sure she didn’t turn into an otter and slide down, though I suspected she would have laughed about the experience.

We all watched intently, making suggestions about the critter’s identity while Dawn continued to poke at it and move it. Mammal? Skull? Full body?

The coloration was definitely unique, but it is winter after all, so the freezing temperatures and fact that it was in water may have altered its appearance.

Those were our thoughts anyway, and we voiced our opinions, until . . . Dawn flipped it over and saw . . . a tag.

So hoping for a kill site where the bobcat may have dined, instead we found ourselves looking at . . . a stuffed owl.

Peter took Pippi’s hiking pole and aided Dawn in rescuing the sopping wet bird and if you look closely you may see water dripping from it.

Our chuckles must have rippled through the forest as we laughed at our great find. Mighty trackers are we. But . . . we think the bobcat was almost fooled as well. Almost.

The owl then flew from Peter’s hands to a perch and there it shall remain, or so we think.

For a few minutes we returned to and continued upon a logging road, and then the bobcat called for our attention again and so we did follow it. As I said to the group, normally I’d insist that we backtrack the animal so we don’t put stress on it, but the tracks were at least a day old.

This time the bobcat led us to a hemlock tree. Do you see the debris under the tree?

How about now? And stained snow by the trunk?

There were even little brown commas atop the snow that could easily be mistaken for hemlock cones. But rather, they were a form of scat.

Like us, the bobcat had been here, but for some reason he chose to pass by.

Whenever we spy downed hemlock branches, comma-shaped scat, and lots of urine at the base of a tree, we know to look up and so we did. High above sat a male porcupine. Males are known to stay in a tree during the day while females typically return to the den each morning and head back to the tree of dining choice at twilight. Here’s are two curious things: 1. the bobcat passed by—they will go after a porcupine, but perhaps this one was too high up. (Fishers are a porcupine’s #1 enemy.) 2. we looked all around and couldn’t find any porcupine tracks. If we had, we might have followed them to see if we could locate the den. But, since we couldn’t we came to the assumption that this porcupine has been up in the tree since at least our last major snowstorm on Friday, February 25.

Back on the bobcat’s trail we did go, being stymied occasionally because though we knew it was a bobcat, there were a few prints that resembled a deer and we came up with all kinds of stories about flying deer and other critters of our imaginations.

But always, we’d find a few classic prints and again feel 100% confident of our ID. Well, not ours, but the bobcat’s.

So where would it lead us next? To a spruce tree all covered with sap . . . and fur.

Some of the hair was dark and coarse.

In other spots it was redder and softer. After much debate, and noting that it was all up and down the tree from just above snow level to at eye sight and maybe a bit above, I think we all agreed it was a bear marking tree. Bears sometimes nip and bit trees and rub their backs on them and their hair gets stuck on splinters or in this case also sap.

According to North American Bear Center: “Favorite trees have little ground vegetation to prevent a bear from approaching them, and they often lean slightly toward the trail.  Look for hair caught in the bark or wood 2 to 5 feet high and look for bites 5½ to 6½ feet high.

The hair often bleaches to brown or blond after a few months but can still be distinguished as bear hair from its length and appearance.  Guard hairs are typically coarse and 3-4 inches long and have a narrow base that may be wavy.  Bears are shedding their winter fur when much of the marking is done in spring or early summer, so the bark may also catch underfur, which is thin, wavy and shorter.”

Two feet up made sense given the snow’s depth.

You’d think that would have been enough, but again we wondered: where will the bobcat lead us?

This time it was a snapped snag and we noticed he’d walked along the top of it.

And then one among us spotted this. Brown snow and more hair. We were sure it was a kill site. Yes, as trackers we really like kill sites because they are fun to interpret and we appreciate the energy passed from one animal to another via the predator/prey relationship.

For a few minutes we took turns walking around the site trying to take in everything presented to us, including some hair that had fallen into the snag’s hollow.

I think it was the two=toned hair that helped us figure this one out. Plus the fact that there was no blood. This was a spot where the bobcat sat down, thus the rather tamped down snow that had turned brown. The warmth of his body helped to flatten it and in so sitting, some of his hair, which is black and white, got stuck, similar to what we see in deer beds at this time of freezing and warming temps. The mammals are beginning to shed their winter coats and last week we had an unusually warm day so change is in the air.

We admired his hunting spot and balance beam. And then it was time for us to leave.

But those grins remained on our faces for we were grateful we’d taken the time to see where the bobcat might lead us at GLLT’s Charles Pond Reserve today.

The Tale of the Squirrel’s Tail?

The forest behind our home has long served as my classroom and this past week has been no different.

Upon several occasions, through the doorway I stepped. My intention initially was to stalk some porcupines I’d tracked previously in hopes of finding at least one of them in a tree. But the three dens that had been active two weeks ago were empty.

Near one located almost a mile from home, however, I spied squirrel middens dotting the landscape. This was in the late afternoon of Wednesday, February 23, a day when the high temperature broke records and reached 62˚ in western Maine.

For a brief second I spied the squirrel responsible for the middens, but then it scrambled up a hemlock and disappeared from my sight.

And so I . . . I decided to try to examine its territory and exclaimed when I realized that because of the warm temperature, its tunnels had been exposed. This particular one led to one of its food storage units, a cache of hemlock cones stored under a downed tree.

Into the mix it was more than the squirrel, for I spied vole tunnels and deer prints. So here’s the thing, red squirrels tunnel through the deep snow to get to their caches. Of course, they also leap across the snow. Voles, on the other hand, are much shier of sky space because they are everyone’s favorite food. They tunnel between the ground and the snow in what’s technically called the subnivean zone and typically we don’t see their exposed runways until spring. But 62˚is like an early summer day ’round these parts. Oh, and do you see that same downed tree from the last photo? Keep it in mind, for it plays an important role in this story.

A vole’s tunnel is about an inch across and the only thing I had for a reference point was a set of keys. I was traveling light that day.

Likewise, the squirrel’s tunnel was about three inches in width.

My next move was to walk the perimeter of the squirrel activity in order to gain a better understanding of its territory. All told, it is about 30′ x 50′, and located under several tall pines and hemlocks that create a substantial canopy. On the fringe of this particular neighborhood live a few red maple and balsam fir saplings.

I had to wonder if the squirrel was still in the hemlock or had moved to a different location via its tree limb highway while I was looking down and all around.

Having figured that out, I returned to the downed tree, for not only did it serve as a food storage or cache below, but the top side was the dining table/refuse pile, aka midden. Obviously the hemlock had provided a great source of food–a good thing given that it seemed to be the only hard mast available this year.

There were other middens scattered about, but I really liked this one upon a stump, which showed the pines had at least offered a few treats not yet devoured. The thing is, red squirrels like to dine on high places, whether it be upon a downed tree, stump, or even up on a limb. That way they can see their predators approach and make a mad dash to a tunnel or up a tree trunk.

Two days later, on Friday, February 25, seven or eight inches of snow fell and again in the later afternoon I ventured into the woods to check on the squirrel’s activity. Sometimes during storms mammals hunker down but by the number of prints visible, I knew that this one hadn’t. Its tunnels had some snow in them, but the boughs above kept much of the snow from landing on the ground.

The curious thing for me was that though there was a lot of activity by the downed tree, I couldn’t locate a single midden. Even if the squirrel had been dining on a tree limb, surely some cone scales and cobs would have fallen.

It had also climbed its favorite tree, the one where I spied it on Wednesday, but again, no sign of food devoured.

After my guy and I spent the morning and early afternoon tramping four miles from home to a swamp and back, I decided to head back out to check on the squirrel while my guy went for a run. Speaking of running, as I approached the squirrel’s territory, I watched it run across the snow and zoom up the hemlock and never spied it again.

So I turned to the tree stump–it was covered with Friday’s snow, though there were tracks around the base of it. What I loved is what I’d missed on Friday–barbed wire. This was all once farmland and obviously I was standing on a boundary. It was actually a boundary for the squirrel as well, since this marked an edge of its territory.

Near the red maple saplings I found evidence of some fresh tunneling, albeit not under the snow, but through it, which is also typical. Perhaps the squirrel was dining within and had hidden its middens.

I stepped over to the downed tree and looked under in a southerly direction, curious to see barely a sign of the cache that had been so evident on the first day.

Looking north, it was more of the same.

That is . . . until it wasn’t. A hint of color captured my attention. Feathers?

No. Hair. From a red squirrel, whose hair hues can range from gray to brown to red. A fluffy tail no more. The thing is that squirrels sometimes loose their tails to predators, or even parts of the tail from a fracas during a territorial fight with one of its own. Another cause may be a tree trying to snag the tail just as speckled alder and winterberries and balsam fir tried to snag my hat repeatedly on our tramp this morning.

Even upon the downed tree . . . a little tuft. No tracks atop the tree. And no signs of feeding.

I looked around, searching for predator tracks and instead found the snow lobster instead. This was a place of squirrel and vole and deer and hare. But not a predator in sight.

And so I looked up, thinking that the hair was the result of an avian predator. My hope was to find a few strands dangling from a tree. Or some other evidence. Nothing. Oh, how I wished GLLT’s Tuesday Trackers were with me, for they are an inquisitive group and ask great questions and process the whole picture in a complete manner. Together we share a brain and I needed that sharing.

Alas, they were not, but I snatched some of the hair and will certainly share it with them in the morn.

In the meantime, that’s my tale of the squirrel’s tail. And if you have ideas or considerations, please let me know.