A Berry Pleasant Mountain Hike

Thirty-two years ago I moved to Maine (the only place I’ve ever lived where the number of years counts as bragging rights) and Pleasant Mountain quickly figured into my life. The first day I drove past it on Route 302, I was killing time before a job interview and one look at Moose Pond with the mountain looming over it and I knew I very much wanted to live here. A couple of days later, I received the phone call I’d been waiting for and principal Larry Thompson said it was only a matter of formality that my name go before the school board. By the next week, I was packing up in New Hampshire and making my way further north. I’d found a place to live that meant I’d pass by the mountain on my way to and from school each day. And then that October I attended a Halloween party with friends at the ski lodge of what was then called Pleasant Mountain Ski Resort. I was an olive and I met this guy dressed as a duck hunter. Turns out he’d never been duck hunting, but had a great duck puppet and he could turn its head with the stick within. He certainly turned my head!

Thus began the journey with my guy. Our first hike together–up the Southwest Trail of Pleasant Mountain. That first winter, he taught me to downhill ski, well sorta. My way of turning that first time included falling as I neared the edge of the trail, shifting my body once I was down on the snow, begging for the components of a steak dinner, rising and skiing across at a diagonal to the opposite side only to repeat my performance. Dinner was great that night! And well deserved.

Time flashed forward four years, and at noon on August 4, 1990, we were married; our reception in the Treehouse Lounge at the Ski Resort. In all the years since we first met and then were married and beyond, we’ve skied (though I have managed to avoid that concept more recently) together and with our sons before their abilities outgrew mine, snowshoed and hiked and grown only fonder of the place we call home. Our intention yesterday was to climb the mountain in celebration of our 28th anniversary, but the weather gods outpouring of moisture was not in our favor.

Today, however, dawned differently and so mid-morning we made our way with a plan to hike up the Bald Peak Trail, across the ridge to the summit, and down the Ledges Trail. We’d left the truck at the Ledges, ever mindful that the last thing we want to do after climbing down the mountain is to walk 1.5 miles to reach our vehicle.

1-heading up

As I’ve done over and over again in the past 32 years, I followed my guy–over rocks and roots and bald granite faces.

2-Pinesap

Once in a while I announced the need for a stop because my Nature Distraction Disorder ticked into action. In this case, it was Pine-sap, or Monotropa hypopitysMono meaning once and tropa turned; hypopitys for its habitat under a pine or fir. Also called Dutchmen’s Pipe, this is a parasitic plant that obtains all its nutrients by stealing them from the roots of a host tree. It doesn’t enter the host directly, but through a fungal intermediary. And like Indian Pipe, it has no green tissues. It differs from I.P. in two ways, its yellow color as compared to white, and two to eleven flowers versus a single flower. In my book of life, both Pine-sap and Indian Pipe are great finds.

3-Moose Pond below

I didn’t let my NDD get the better of me too often on the way up. It was extremely humid and so we did stop frequently, but also kept a pace that worked for both of us and soon emerged onto the ridge where a look back through the red and white pines revealed a peek of the causeway that crosses Moose Pond.

5-hidden camp

Employing the telephoto lens, I spied our camp hidden among the trees, only the dock and our little boat showing. It’s amazing how obvious all the neighboring camps seemed when viewed from up high.

7-ridge line trail

After the climb up, the ridge always seems a cinch as the pathway wanders through blueberries, pines and oaks.

6-lunch rock

At last we found lunch rock, a place to pause in the shade and enjoy our PB&J sandwiches. We’d packed cookies for dessert, but decided to save those for later. My guy, however, had accidentally unpacked my work backpack and discovered a few pieces of a dark chocolate KitKat–my stash when I’m tired at the end of the day and need a pick-me-up before driving home. It looks like the purchase of another KitKat is in my near future for we topped off the sandwiches with a sweet treat.

8-picking blueberries

After lunch, my guy’s eyes focused in on one thing only. That is after he moved away from his original spot behind the rock we’d sat upon for our repose. Unwittingly, he’d stirred up a yellow jacket nest and managed to walk calmly away, only one bee stinging his leg.

14-blueberries

While his attention was on the gold at his feet–in the form of low-bush blueberries, I turned my lens in a variety of directions. Oh, I helped pick. A. Wee. Bit.

9-Lake Darner Dragongly

But there were other things to see as well and this dragonfly was a new one for me. A few highlights of this beauty: Do you notice the black cross line in the middle of the face. And on the thoracic side stripe, do you see the deep notch?

10-Lake Darner Dragonfly

Both of those characteristics helped in ID: Meet a Lake Darner. Even the male claspers at the tip of the abdomen are key, for they’re paddle-shaped and thicker toward the end. Though he didn’t pause often, Lake Darners are known to perch vertically on tree trunks. I was in awe.

11-grasshopper

All the while we were on the ridge, the Lake Darners flew about, their strong wing beats reminiscent of hummingbirds, so close did they come to our ears that we could hear the whir. And then there was another sound that filled the summer air with a saw-like buzziness–snapping and crackling as they flew. I couldn’t capture their flight for so quick and erratic it was, but by rubbing pegs on the inner surface of their hind femurs against the edges of their forewings, the grasshoppers performed what’s known in the sound world as crepitation. Crepitation–can’t you almost hear the snap as you pronounce the word?

12-coyote scat

It wasn’t just insects that caught my eye, for I found a fine specimen of coyote scat worth noting for it was full of hair and bones. It was a sign bespeaking age, health, availability, and boundaries.

12A

Turns out, it wasn’t the only sign in the area and whenever we hike the trails on Pleasant Mountain these days, we give thanks to Loon Echo Land Trust for preserving so much of it. According to the land trust’s website: “Currently, Loon Echo owns 2,064 mountain acres and protects an additional 24 acres through conservation easements.”

13-picking some more

Our time on the ridge passed not in nano seconds, for my guy was intent on his foraging efforts. I prefer to pick cranberries, maybe because they are bigger and bring quicker satisfaction as one tries to fill a container. But, he leaves no leaf unturned. And enjoys the rewards on yogurt or the possible muffin if his wife is so kind, until late in the winter.

15-middle basin of Moose Pond

As we slowly moved above the middle basin of Moose Pond, I found other berries growing there.

14-lingonberries

Among them, lingonberries were beginning to ripen. They grow low to the ground, below the blueberries, and resemble little cranberries. In fact, some call them mountain cranberries. Like blueberries, they like acidic, well-drained soil. For all the leaves, however, there were few fruits and I had to wonder if the birds were enjoying a feast.

16-huckleberries

Huckleberries also grow there, though not quite as abundantly as along our shorefront on Moose Pond. They’re seedier than blueberries, though the local squirrels don’t seem to mind. Both red and gray harvest them constantly as they move throughout the vegetated buffer in front of camp.

17-summit fire tower

It took some convincing, but finally my guy realized that we needed to move on and so we gradually made our way to the summit, where the once useful fire tower still stands as a monument to an era gone by.

18-summit view in the haze

Our pause wasn’t too long for so strong was the sun. And hazy the view, Kearsarge showed its pointed profile to the left, but Mount Washington remained in hiding today.

19-ledges view of Moose Pond's southern basin

The journey down was rather quick. Perhaps because we were so tired, it felt like we just rolled down. But we did stop to admire the view of the southern bay of Moose Pond in Denmark. Our intention was also to eat the cookies we’d packed once we reached this point. Through both bags we hunted to no avail. I remembered packing the cookies under our sandwiches. And then moving the sandwiches to the second pack, but leaving the cookies. Did we accidentally take them out after all? Were they on the kitchen counter? In the truck? The final answer was no on all fronts. We think we must have taken them out at lunch rock and they never made it back into the pack. I had moved the backpacks with great calmness once we discovered the yellow jacket nest. Just maybe the yellow jackets are dining on some lemon cookies. Perhaps it was our unintended peace offering.

20-hiking down following this guy

After a five plus hour tour, filled with blueberries and sweat, I followed my guy down. We’ve spent the greater part of our lives following in each other’s footsteps and it’s a journey we continue to cherish, especially on our favorite hometown mountain.

Here’s to many more Berry Pleasant Mountain Hikes with my guy.

 

 

 

Christmas in July Mondate

We did celebrate Christmas in December as has long been the tradition, but for one of his presents my guy received a box with a photo and a set of oar locks. It made absolutely no sense to him. Why oar locks? And why a photo of a boat that needed some work and was sitting in someone’s barn. By now, you know where I’m going with this. As did he, once he gave it a moment’s thought.

The back story is that it was a selfish gift for we do have a fleet of boats already, including a 12-foot aluminum that has seen its own set of better days. The rest of our boats are man/woman-powered, from canoe and kayaks to sailfish and rowing shell. But a boat with a motor–other than the aluminum that has been a piece of yard art since our youngest went off to college so many years ago–had not been in our possession for three or four years. And even then, we only enjoyed it sporadically for it always seemed to have an engine issue of one sort or another. Finally, we sold it as is. And thankfully haven’t heard since if it isn’t.

But . . . our trips beyond the northern basin of Moose Pond had been more limited, and I like going for the occasional tour. So when our Wiser friends (Marita and Bob), said they were planning to sell their circa 1988 Maine Guide Boat last fall, I jumped on the opportunity and turned it into a Christmas present. First, however, they intended to sand and stain the woodwork and paint the interior. All the better for us, I figured. And I didn’t care when the job would be completed for it wasn’t like we’d be boating in January.

c1-SS Christmas

They kindly dropped the refurbished boat off last week and again it sat. Until today, when my guy had a chance to make a couple of minor adjustments, like adding the registration stickers and some epoxy to a couple of spots on the stern.

c4-trimming a branch

While the epoxy dried, there was a branch dangling over the side of the dock that needed to be trimmed. We love hiding behind the trees, and so haven’t done what most have–cut the bottom third of the branches off view-blocking trees. Even making this minor adjustment didn’t feel quite right, but we did need a place to dock the boat. And it wasn’t the first time we’d made such a cut in the same spot. I guess we were just surprised at how much the tree had grown since we last docked a boat there.

c2-Canada geese at neighbors

Of course, while he sawed the lower part of the branch off, I looked around and spied Canada geese visiting the neighbor’s well-groomed property. There were at least 25 geese in all, each leaving a multitude of gifts as thanks for the neighbor’s hospitality.

c5-boat launched

And then the boat was launched without much fanfare.

c6-lancet clubtail dragonfly

Unless you consider the fact that a Lancet Clubtail Dragonfly stopped by frequently to check on the happenings.

c7-variable dancer damselfly

A Variable Dancer Damselfly also kept taking a look, and even checked out the boat’s seats.

c3-bryozoan mass

Meanwhile, as I was exclaiming over the clarity of the water, I noticed a Bryozoan mass, a most definite gift for the tiny colonial aquatic creatures that connect their tubes together and form the jelly-like blob, effectively filter particles from the water. The animals live in the tubes and extend their tentacles that capture even smaller microscopic organisms for food. The gelatinous species, also known as moss animals, is native to North America.

c5-motor added

Ah, but it was a boat we were there to focus on and a four-stroke motor that’s been sitting dormant in the basement was attached to the stern. Fresh gas and a quick pull of the cord and we were in business.

c9-onto the northern basin

Off we headed onto our section of the pond.

c10-Shawnee Peak Ski Area

A turn to the left and the slopes of Shawnee Peak Ski Area at Pleasant Mountain appeared before us.

c11-under Route 302 Causeway

Another turn to the left and then to the right and we passed under the Route 302 Causeway into the much larger middle basin.

c12-Loon and chick

It was there that more gifts were to be presented.

c12-loon chick

Momma or Poppa Loon, for one can’t tell the difference from this angle, with a chick snuggled on its back.

c14-momma or poppa and chick

Always a favorite sight.

c15-Camp Winona

We had stopped the engine by the loons and drifted for a bit. But then it was time to move on toward Camp Winona, where not a camper or counselor was to be seen by the platform tents or any of the waterfront. We thought of stopping to visit our friend, Camp Nurse Rosemary, but weren’t sure if she was working today and so on we chugged at our ever so slow speed, which was much to my liking.

c18-unicorn

Thankfully, it was fast enough to keep away from the pond monster, Moosey the Unicorn. We sure do share this water body with a variety of creatures.

c16-Pleasant Mountain and East Ski Area

Across the way, most of the ridge line of Pleasant Mountain came into view and we made a discovery.

c16-East Ski Area-lobster

It looked like a lobster! Or maybe it was a crayfish, since we were on Moose Pond.

c19-home captain

Eventually we turned around, saving the southern basin for another day.

c20-backing into the dock spot

Our maiden voyage in our new/old boat came to an end as my guy successfully backed it into its resting spot at the dock. And Sam Adams helped us toast the adventure as we christened the boat: S.S. Christmas.

Christmas in July was certainly celebrated on this Mondate.

 

 

 

 

Self-Guided Tour of Sabattus Mountain

As stories go, Sabattus Mountain in Lovell offers plenty of lore. For starters, there’s the name of the mountain. I’ve heard at least two tales and seen three spellings, but basically the legend is the same–about a Pequawket named Sabatos, Sabatis, or Sabattus, who guided hunters and one day killed a lynx, or was it a mountain lion, before it sprang upon him.

In a July 14, 2017 article, Ed Parsons of the Conway Daily Sun wrote: “Sabattus was born in St. Francis, Canada, and with the influence of French missionaries, was named for St. John the Baptist, shortened to Sabattus. When Roger’s Rangers destroyed St. Francis in 1759, Sabattus was about 10 years old. He was kidnapped and went south with the rangers. Later, he went to Fryeburg with one of them, and spent the rest of his life in the area.

Sabattus had two children with the well-known area healer, Molly Ockett. In 1783, an earlier wife of his returned from a long trip to Canada, and claimed to be his spouse. To settle the dispute, Sabattus took them to the house of Mr. Wiley in Fryeburg so there would be a witness, and the two women fought, “hair and cloth flying everywhere.” Mrs. St. Francis, as Molly Ockett called the former wife, was stronger and won out. Molly Ockett left and moved to Andover, Maine.

There’s also the Devil’s Staircase, but that’s for another day.

s1-sign

Two Land for Maine’s Future program grants, along with funding from the Greater Lovell Land Trust, enabled the State of Maine to purchase 177 acres on and around Sabattus Mountain, protecting hiking access to Lovell’s highest peak. The trail is a 1.6-mile loop to and from the 1,253-foot summit. Sabattus Mountain is now owned and managed by the Bureau of Parks and Lands. The land trust, however, has taken a keen interest in upkeep of the trail system recently because there had been much erosion ever since Hurricane Irene and the State seemed to back off maintaining it. Last year, the GLLT’s three interns built numerous water bars, especially on the eastern trail.

s6-Brent's Loop Trail Sign

Last week, Brent Legere of Lovell Box Company and Western Maine Slabworks, installed new signs to guide hikers on the trail system.

s2-self-guided nature walk

Today, a team of docents, associates and this year’s intern, under the well-organized leadership of GLLT Docent and Maine Master Naturalist Joan Lundin, installed informational signage along the loop.

s3-explaining the plan

The morning began as Joan divided the team into two groups. First she instructed Intern Isaiah (in red) and Stewardship Associate Dakota (in plaid), to take one set of signs up the western trail and leave them beside examples of particular species on the way.

s5-all smiles to go

Then she prepped Associate Director Aidan, and GLLT Docents Nancy and Pam in the plan for the eastern trail.

s4-signs

All signs were laid out and ready to be hauled up the trails for installation.

s12-hi ho

And so, in true Seven Dwarf style, it was hi ho, hi ho and off to work we went.

s7-installing the first sign

Because she’d climbed the trail so often in order to prepare for today’s undertaking, Joan knew right where each sign belonged. At the start, she did most of the installing, showing off her muscle power on this steamy day, despite her petite physique.

s8-yellow birch

Each sign included common and scientific names, plus only a few key characteristics so not to overwhelm those who might stop to read them and look around to locate the particular species. It’s a technique decided long ago by the full team of docents who have undertaken this task each summer for years–always along a different GLLT trail.

s9-striped maple

The natural community along both trails on the loop system transitioned about two-thirds of the way up. For the lower portion, the community consisted of a variety of deciduous trees.

s13-hemlock

Suddenly everything changed. Light turned to shade. Dry turned to damp. Leaves turned to needles. And conifers showed off their unique characteristics.

s14-sphagnum moss

Even the forest floor changed from dried leaves and wildflowers to green mosses, including sphagnum, with its pom-pom shaped heads.

s15-loop trail sign at ridge

As we hiked up the eastern trail, Dakota and Isaiah swung along the ridge line and came down to find us for they had only placed their signs along the western trail as instructed by Joan, and hadn’t yet pounded them into the earth. We chatted as we moved upward, talking about the turn ahead to the ridge, and Dakota told us we’d be pleased with how obvious it was since Brent had installed the new signs. Indeed!

s16-glacial erratic

Of course, we were a group that failed at following directions, and so off trail we went to check on the glacial erratic that we knew stood just beyond a downed tree.

s17-porcupine scat

We also checked underneath, for who doesn’t like to look at porcupine scat. New and old, though not especially fresh, it’s been a winter den for at least 30+ years that I’ve been climbing this mountain.

s18-Canada mayflower

And then Joan redirected us, pulling us back into the mission of the morning and finding a place to post the Canada Mayflower sign–between the granite slabs at our feet.

s19-window on the world beyond

Making our way across the ridge, we paused for a second to look out the window upon the world beyond. It’s from heights like this one that we always appreciate how much of Maine is still forested. At a recent gathering with District Forester Shane Duigan, he said that the state is 85% forested–down from 90% not because of urban sprawl, but instead increased farming.

s20-main summit signs

A few minutes later we reached the main summit, where Brent had posted more signs. They’re nailed to a White Pine and mark the intersection of the ridge trail and western loop, with a spur to the western-facing ledges and scenic overlook.

s21-white pine

That very White Pine was also on Joan’s list as an excellent example, and so it will be noticed for a while.

s22-Keyes Pond and Pleasant Mtn

For a few minutes, we took in the wider view to the south–noting Keyes Pond in Sweden and Pleasant Mountain in Bridgton, both part of the great beyond.

s23-scenic view

And then a quick trip out to the scenic overlook, where the sweeping view included the Lower Bay of Kezar Lake and pyramid outline of Mount Kearsarge in North Conway.

s24-scenic view 2

Turning a wee bit to the north, the view also encompassed more of Kezar Lake, and the White Mountains.

s25-chipmunk

On the way down, we continued, or rather, the rest of the team continued to install the signs while I watched, and one quiet chipmunk with a piece of a leaf dangling from its mouth looked on with approval. We assumed it approved, for it didn’t chatter at us.

s26-teamwork

It seemed the signs on the western trail went into place far more quickly than on the climb up, but maybe it was because there weren’t as many. We did pause for a few minutes as Isaiah and Dakota changed out one sign for another because the species Joan wanted to feature wasn’t as prominent as hoped. But, she was prepared with extra laminated cards and quickly produced a description of an alternate species.

s27-plank

We were nearly finished with our morning’s work when we reached the new plank bridge Brent had placed across a small stream.

s28-white admiral

Back at the parking lot, we were wowed by the sight of pollinators upon the Staghorn Sumac, including a White Admiral Butterfly.

With that, our tour was done for the day, but we’d met several people along the way who were thrilled with the work we’d done. We hope you, too, will partake of the pleasant hike up Sabattus Mountain, and stop along the way to enjoy the self-guided tour. It will be in place until Labor Day weekend.

And be sure to stop by the office on Route 5 and make a contribution to the Greater Lovell Land Trust for we are a membership-driven organization and can’t do such work without your continued support.

P.S. Thank you Self-guided Tour Docents and GLLT staff, plus Property Steward Brent.

 

 

A Slice of Life in the Rookery

We only had an hour and we had a task to accomplish as citizen scientists for Maine IF&W’s Heron Observation Network. Our mission, which we chose to accept, was to count the number of nests, the number occupied, the number not occupied, the number with residents, the number of immature, the number of mature, the number of . . . you get the picture.

h1b-rookery

In the past, this was the largest inland rookery in the state and supported 40+ active nests, but over the last few years the numbers had dwindled and today we found only nine. Of those nine, three were inactive. Where have all the birds gone, we wondered.

h1-wood duck

As we started to focus on the scene before us, one member of our team spotted a wood duck surveying the beaver pond from a limb on one of the many old snags.

h2a-heron chick

And then we looked upward. Counting isn’t always easy–in fact, it’s never easy. One immature–check. More than one? Well, we could see a lump representing another bird. Was it one lump or two? Over and over again, we counted.

h3-standing still

And then there was this nest that was hidden from our sight at first, only because it seemed to blend in with the pine tree behind it. Again we wondered–why was this adult standing on it? Was this a sentry watching over all of the nests why the other parents were off fishing? Usually, though, experience told us that sentrys stood on higher branches–the better to watch for predators.

h29-sentry

Like this.

h2-otter

Suddenly we heard a commotion in the water and noticed action near the beaver lodge. What was it?

h4-incoming

And then the sound of the youngsters crying frantically made us look upward again, where we spied an incoming adult.

h5-landing

The kids exclaimed their excitement because a meal had certainly arrived.

h6-begging for food

We could almost see their smiles as they anticipated the goodness they were about to receive.

h7-what? No food?

But . . . no food was regurgitated despite the kids’ squawks.

h9-meanwhile-mouths have closed

Finally, they quieted down and looked rather disgusted.

h10-preening

And Momma preened.

h11-wood duck family

Back in the pond, a family of Wood Ducks swam among the flowering Watershield.

h12-movement above

And up again, we noticed slight movement in the nest.

h13-a chick with downy feathers

Could it be?

h14-red winged

Before we answered the last question, a Red-winged Blackbird paused . . .

h15-singing

sang . . .

h16-did you hear me?

and looked around as if to say, “Did you hear me?” We did.

h17-another incoming

More squawks from above and we saw another adult fly in.

h18-what did you bring?

It seemed Dad had joined Mom and the family was complete.

h19-I'm off

But only for a second, as Mom took off.

h20-snacks?

“Where’d Mom go?” and “What’s to eat?” was all Dad heard.

h21--watching from nearby

She didn’t go far, but like all mommas, she needed a few minutes of time to herself.

h21-baby chick revealed

Meanwhile, back by the pine, that little bit of fluff moved some more.

h22-stretching my wings

And someone else needed to stretch his wings.

h24-otter again

It was like watching a tennis match, for our eyes moved back and forth, up and down–especially when we heard movement in the water again and saw the same something undulating through the water.

h26-water snake

We weren’t the only ones watching all the action from a hidden location–a water snake on a hummock across the way did the same.

h28-don't you have any food?

Skyward, the family unit came together again. And still no food. The kids were getting impatient.

h30-have a stick

And then one parent left briefly and returned–with a stick for the kids to add to the nest, perhaps heron-speak for clean the house first and then you’ll get a snack.

h31-what's he thinking?

“We did it,” they tried to tell her, but Mom had her eyes on something else.

h27-beaver again

Her focus wasn’t on the beavers that swam back and forth below. Oh, and if you think this is the hump that had been making the water boil, you are mistaken.

h32-there he goes again

“Mom, bring back lots of fish . . . pleeeeease,” the kids cried as she took off again. “We’ll even eat frog legs.”

h33-picking twigs

But she had her eyes on other things–sticks from one of the abandoned nests.

h34-got one

She pulled one out.

h36-did you see what he just did?

And the kids looked away and one complained to Dad about all the housework they were expected to do and they still hadn’t received their allowance.

h25-checking us out

Unfortunately, it was time for us to head to work, but our undulating friend returned.

h37-otter

Great Blue Herons, Wood Ducks, Red-winged Blackbirds, Water Snakes, Beavers . . . and a River Otter! A slice of life in the rookery.

 

 

The Amazing Race–Our Style, episode five

I’m not sure how it happened, but when we arrived at Route 113 in Fryeburg to pick up our clue we realized we were the first contestants for this episode of The Amazing Race–Our Style.

Consequently, we had a quick decision to make–the main clue referred to the Baldfaces and we recognized the fact that that entailed a challenging climb. Though my cast has morphed into a smelly splint [envision sliced cast up one side and then add two wide strips of velcro], I was relieved that we could take advantage of the Fast Forward clue that mentioned shingles in a white forest.

s1-trail sign

We checked the map and located a trailhead for Shingle Pond only a few miles away. BINGO.

s2-heading into the woods

The trail begins along Forest Road 317, but a few curves later heads into the nitty gritty of the White Mountain National Forest.

s8-locating the trail

Toward the beginning we could hear the buzz of logging machinery in the distance, but it wasn’t all that loud and certainly didn’t drown out the not-so-sweet buzzing of the local mosquitoes. Our first real challenge, for one can hardly count those flying buzzers and stingers as an obstacle, but more a way of life, came in the form of staying on the trail. It was blazed yellow, but occasionally we had to slow ourselves and our minds, and look around for some clues. There was only one cairn, which was fine with us, but after that spot we spent several minutes of valuable time looking for yellow in every direction . . . to no avail. Finally, however, my eyes cued in on what appeared to be a worn path between some trees to our right and my guy passed through some muck and logging slash to discover that indeed we had found it. That happened more than once, but each time we paused, scouted and eventually made the right decision. They didn’t promise us easy when we signed on for our own version of the reality show.

s11-crossing Weeks Brook

The path took us across Weeks Brook for which the trail had been named and it was there that we noted a trillion trilliums–all past their prime.

s9-patch cut

Through hemlock groves and mixed forests we hiked, occasionally passing by patches of clearcuts. Our next challenge was to determine the benefits of such habitat. The answer seemed obvious for so much was the bird song–from those I recognized like Ovenbirds, Veerys, and Hermit Thrushes to warblers that we could hear but not see. If we hadn’t been racing against the clock it would have been fun to try to figure out some of the song makers.

s10-browse

We also noted plenty of signs, such as browsed tree buds, that told us moose and deer had foraged in those areas.

s5-wood sorrel

Challenge number 3 required that we locate a few plants and note whether they were edible or not. Wood Sorrel was easy–and most welcome on this sultry day for its a thirst quencher.

s6--Indian Cucumber Root

Indian Cucumber Root was another enticing edible and it grew abundantly in the forest. As pleasing as the flower is above its second tier, it’s not their fruits that appealed to us, but rather the small white rhizomes buried in the ground which offered a cool and crisp cucumbery taste. Even my guy can attest to that.

s7-wild calla

The one herb we didn’t taste test was the Wild Calla or Bog Arum. It’s known to cause severe irritation of the mouth and throat if consumed. We left it be.

s12-lady's slippers

We did find one other plant that we wouldn’t think of eating, but always revere–Pink Lady’s Slippers, in this case a matching pair.

s13-prince charming

And not far beyond–Prince Charming himself. Even his eyes were surrounded by a ring of gold.

s14-Shingle Pond

At last we reached the two-acre Shingle Pond. Though we wanted to be greeted by a moose in the water, we were pleased with all that we saw and heard, including bull, green and tree frogs.

s15-Kearsarge Fire Tower

Though we were two miles and lots of ledges below the summit of Kearsarge North, as we ate our PB&J sandwiches created by my guy, the sight of the historic fire tower evoked lots of memories and got us dreaming about our next opportunity to sign the guest notebook.

s17-crimson-ringed whiteface dragonfly

Our task at the pond was to bushwhack around its perimeter and note some of the species who called this mountain pond home. Probably my favorite discovery was the Crimson-ringed Whiteface Dragonfly.

s17b-crimson-ringed whiteface

Over and over again we saw it, that bright red body standing out in contrast to its dark abdomen. There were a zillion dragonflies, many of them darners and clubtails zooming about, but this skimmer had the decency to perch frequently and reveal its finer details.

s17a-bushwhack

As we moved around the pond, we met trees to climb over, under and around.

s18-beaver works

Many were felled by the resident beavers, so we had another who made its home there to add to the list.

s19-beaver lodge

In fact, we found the most recently built beaver abode.

s19a-beaver dam

And the dam that made it all possible.

s20-bear scat

One special sign of wildlife may gross you out, but we were delighted for this pile of scat indicated a bear had passed by earlier this spring. I’d wanted to look for bear trees on the hike up, but these days my eyes are mighty focused on trail conditions. And scat is just as good, if not better than a tree with old claw marks. Well–both are wonderful . . . really.

s21-chicakdee

One other resident was insistent that we take notice and I think we may have paused near a nest tree. When I asked my guy if he could hear the Conway Scenic Train whistle emanating from the other side of the mountains, he said that all he could hear was the chickadee’s chatter.

s22a-Atlantis Fritillary

The return hike down was via the same trail, but when we reached the log landing and later the logging road we had one final challenge to complete–the flutter-by challenge. Who were those beauties that flitted about, gracing the landscape with their presence? For starters, we discovered several Atlantis Fritillaries seeking nectar from eggs and bacon flowers, aka Bird’s-foot-trefoil.

s24-atlantis 2

Once over easy, it was equally beautiful.

s25-white admiral

And the learning continued for we watched numerous White Admirals flit from spot to spot. But notice the coloration–including orange spots below its white bars.

s25a-white admiral

This blue version was also a White Admiral. Needless to say, we admired it no matter its variation.

And with that we had successfully completed the fifth episode of The Amazing Race–Our Style. All day we didn’t know our status in comparison to the other contestants, but six miles and four hours later we had nothing to fear. We definitely won this leg for we stood upon the mat at the Pit Stop much earlier than any of the other contestants.

As much as we would have liked to climb the Baldface Circle, it wasn’t in the cards for us today.  And as a final note to today’s journey–I added a few more mosquitoes to the natural history museum forming on the velcro of my splint. It’s a museum, however, that I hope will close soon, for it stinks–literally and figuratively.

 

 

Mayday Alert

Each time we explore a Greater Lovell Land Trust property, we have no idea what we might discover and this day was no different. For today’s Tuesday Tramp I suggested we visit the Cohen Property near the Lower Bay of Kezar Lake, which was the last acquisition under the direction of the late Tom Henderson. We’d only been there once before–and that was a few months ago when we explored via snowshoes. At that time we discovered ice-covered depressions and so a journey to check them out as vernal pools seemed apropos.

m2-moose print ID

There are no trails yet and so after parking, we followed the road back a ways to the area of our winter expedition. And what to our wondering eyes did we spy on the road? Moose prints! One should always look through a magnifying glass to make certain the ID is correct. Wes confirmed our suspicion.

m2-scooping

We found sitting water and running water and began to wonder about the wetland and whether what we thought might be a vernal pool really was, for we knew that a v.p. shouldn’t have an inlet or outlet. As the first dips of the day were made, black flies began to swarm around us. We hoped to pick up their larvae in the moving water, but instead we found many springtails.

m3-what did you catch

And a few mosquito larvae as determined by Caleb, Linda and Nancy.

m5-blob and algae

In another spot, we also found a mystery. At first we thought it might be some sort of egg. And maybe it was, but how was it related to the algae that seemed to be a host? We didn’t know, but now that we’re aware of it, we’ll continue to wonder and perhaps become enlightened.

m6-pool?

We checked out “pool” after “pool” and found not one egg mass (except for a false start that fooled us momentarily), which rather disappointed us. Were these really vernal pools? We suspected so as they were shallow and looked like they’ll dry up in the summer, if not before, plus they supported no fish. Were they significant vernal pools? Definitely not. To be a significant vernal pool, the body of water must contain one of the following obligate species: 1 fairy shrimp or 10 blue-spotted salamander egg masses or 20 spotted salamander egg masses (yellow spots) or 40 wood frog egg masses. Fairy Shrimp? No. Salamander egg masses? No. Frog egg masses? No.

m7-examining species

Despite the lack of indicator species, we scooped up water to determine what did live there.

m8-mosquito larvae

The most abundant residents found–mosquito larvae. And do you see the small jar in Ellie’s hand? She created a mosquito larvae aquarium and discovered that they seemed to like the algae she’d added. Perhaps they’d found microorganisms we couldn’t see.

m8a-pointing out antics of mosquito larvae

Watching the acrobatics of the larvae entertained us for a while. They twisted and turned somersaults and wriggled in the water and we soon realized that eggs left behind by last year’s females who had sucked our blood before breeding, must have remained dormant all winter until the snow melted and spring rains began.

m9-chironomid midge larva

We did find another species to admire, that also wriggled in a constant state of contortion–this one being a chironomid midge with blood-red coloration. According to A Field Guide to the animals of Vernal Pools, the color is “due to a hemoglobin-like pigment that helps them retain oxygen. This pigment allows the larvae to survive in water that is very low in dissolved oxygen, as is common in vernal pools as drying proceeds throughout the seasons.”

m10-Trailing Arbutus--May flower

Because I had to meet someone at noon, and Dave knew that it would take us at least a half hour to make the short trek back to our vehicles due to our incessant nature distraction disorder, we had to cut our journey short. Dave was right–as he often is–and we were forced to stop several time, including to sniff a couple of mayflowers, aka trailing arbutus or officially: Epigaea repens.

m11-ribbon snake 1

We finally reached the spot where we’d parked with fifteen minutes to spare when Linda sighted movement beside the tires of my truck and our hearts jumped with joy.

m12-ribbon snake captured

We didn’t want to run it over as we backed out and so Heinrich captured it. What is it? An Eastern ribbon snake, which is a species of special concern in Maine. According to the Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife website, “A species of special concern is any species of fish or wildlife that does not meet the criteria of an endangered or threatened species but is particularly vulnerable, and could easily become, an endangered, threatened, or extirpated species due to restricted distribution, low or declining numbers, specialized habitat needs or limits, or other factors. Special concern species are established by policy, not by regulation, and are used for planning and informational purposes; they do not have the legal weight of endangered and threatened species. The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife reviews the list of special concern species at the beginning of each calendar year, and, based on criteria in the Maine Endangered and Threatened Species Listing Handbook , revises the list as appropriate.”

m13-ribbon snake 2

And that is why it’s so important to protect the land. I knew Tom was smiling down upon us due to this find. Interestingly, we also spotted a ribbon snake at the John A. Segur Wildlife Refuge on Farrington Pond Road in early May 2015.

m14-paper birch superhero

Finally, we all departed and I was only ten minutes late for my quick meet-up, after which I headed back down Route 5 to reconnect with my favorite little naturalists at the Kezar River Reserve across from the Wicked Good Store. There’s a tape across the road, which I suspect was put in place by the local snowmobile club when the ice was questionable on the river, but it remains, which given the recent rain is probably a good thing. We’ll take it down soon, but it has prevented the road from becoming more rutted than normal.

Anyway, Wes climbed out of the family’s vehicle with his paper birch armor. He’d spied it in a V between to birch trees on our morning trek and his mom climbed up to retrieve it for him.

m15-brother bomb

Birch Man posed again and again, until his older brother Aidan, sporting a missing front tooth, jumped in front.

m16-root art

The boys stood on a hump of earth beside a tree root. And it was through their eyes that we noticed some interesting finds among the tree’s former life support.

m17-canister cover

We found pottery and cast iron and realized the tree had grown upon an old dump site.

m19-VW

And that hump of earth–the four siblings were sure that it hid a Volkswagen Beetle.

m23-Kezar River

It took us a while to walk down the “roadway” and then the left-hand loop. We made a few discoveries, including coyote scat filled with bones, and the kids did some trail work. At last we reached the canoe/kayak landing at the Kezar River and noted some otter scat and a few slides, plus some fishing lures and line stuck in the trees. It was at that point that the family had to leave, but before they left they asked me what I’d do before I had another meeting in the afternoon. I told them I planned to hike the second loop, which happens to be longer and dips into an interesting ravine.

m23-salamander eggs

That never happened. As it turned out, I stood at the boat launch for about an hour. First, I spied one small clump of salamander eggs.

m24-equisetum

And then realized that the raft before me, which filled the small cove, was equisetum. Where it came from I didn’t know for I couldn’t recall ever seeing it at this property.

m24-Mayfly 1

But, regardless, it provided a perfect camouflage for aquatic insects. It took me a while to key in on the species before me, but I knew they were there because every once in a while, one took flight. Do you see the mayfly subimago that had recently emerged? The teenager stood atop its nymph exuvia. Mayflies are unique in that after the nymph emerges from the water as the subimago (that fishermen call a dun), they seek shelter before shedding their skin for the final transformation.

m25-mayfly 2

I really had to focus in order to spot them.

m27-Mayfly

But once I did, they were . . .

m28-mayfly

everywhere.

m29-mayfly larva

And in all forms, including a nymph.

m30-Mayfly up close

The cool thing is that thirteen mayflies are also on the list of species of special concern. Was this one of the species? I have so much more to learn.

m31-water scorpion

As I continued to watch, there was an incredible amount of activity. And then I saw a predator that was about two and half inches long. Do you see it? Not atop the vegetation, but rather under it in right-hand center of the photo. Behind it, almost to the right edge of the photo, was a bubble at the end of its long breathing tube.

m33-water scorpion

As I watched, it continued to swim forward, the vegetation providing it’s favorite type of habitat. Again, you have to look carefully.

m34-water scorpoin

And again. It was a water scorpion with an oval-shaped abdomen. Do you see it?

m35-ribbon snake

Finally, it was time for my next meeting, but as I walked back up the trail I reflected upon the wonders of the day and the work of the land trust under Tom’s leadership. Creating corridors is important for mammals, but also for all critters that share the various habitats.

There was no need to put out a distress signal today. Indeed. With others and alone, I was thankful for the opportunity to be gifted with such sightings: Mayflowers and Mayflies! And a water scorpion. Topped off with a ribbon snake. May Day Alert of the best kind.

 

 

 

 

Lichen Province Brook Trail

My guy completely surprised me this morning when I asked where he wanted to hike and his response, “Province Brook Trail.” Though we’ve travelled many trails repeatedly, he often prefers to explore a new place. Me–I love those repeats for there’s always something new to see, as well as the familiar.

p1-trail sign

From South Chatham Road in South Chatham (pronounced chat-HAM), New Hampshire, I turned onto Peaked Hill Road, which leads to the trailhead.

p2-gate closed

And quickly parked the truck for the gate was still closed. That meant an almost three-mile hike to reach the trailhead. We didn’t mind as it’s a Forest Service Road and easy to walk upon, even as it gradually climbs.

p3-trail sign

Along the way, we noted where some of our favorite bear trees were located, but decided to leave them for another day. Instead, we were eager to move on and hoped to be able to get to the shelter. We weren’t sure what the water conditions might be, so promised ourselves only Province Pond. The shelter would be icing on the cake if we got there.

p4-tree spirit

Right away, the trail’s tree spirit whispered a welcome.

p6-yellow birch

And another of our favorite trees begged to be noticed again. It’s an ancient yellow birch that has graced the granite for more than a century. The tree itself, wasn’t in good health, but the roots atop the rock were still dramatic.

p7-split rock:heart

Conditions were different on the trail than the road, and though it’s a wide space used by snowmobiles in the winter, we had to watch our step for we encountered snow, ice, rocks and mud. But one rock was especially appealing and I’m not sure we’ve ever seen it before. A perfect split revealed a heart tucked within. As it should be.

p8-slow down

Onward and upward, we heeded the sign.

p9-lunch rock

And then hunger overtook our desire to wait until the pond, so we found lunch rock and enjoyed the feast we’d prepared. PB&J topped off with a Clementine and Extra Dark Chocolate Truffle, with water to drink, of course.

p23-Province Brook

Province Brook rushed past while polypody ferns provided a head of hair atop one of the boulders.

p10-moose tracks

After lunch, we had a wee bit further to travel before reaching Province Pond. At the dam, our excitement heightened for we discovered moose tracks in the snow.

p11-moose tracks

And more in the mud.

p12-Mount Shaw and Province Pond

Before us, the pond and Mount Shaw created a pleasing picture. We listened to the wood frogs wruck, though we couldn’t see them. Nor could we see any moose, but we hoped.

p13-Mount Shaw reflection

As usual, I got hung up on the reflection of the mountain and the subtle colors of spring, which was about a week later than back down the road.

p14-me

As I stood on the dam built to prevent beavers from creating their own, my guy took his first ever iPhone photo. I had to chuckle for it was the same view of me that I typically get of him. And do you notice who carries the pack–on the way up when it’s the most full with lunch and water? He always gets it for the descent, which works for me.

p14a-looking toward the shelter

From the dam, we looked across the pond toward the shelter, a tiny speck of roofline almost visible on the far shore, just right of center. And still we wondered, would we be able to get there?

p15-leatherleaf

Before trying, I noted leatherleaf with buds. Within a month, I suspected those tiny buds will become bell-shaped flowers.

p15a-sweetgale

Beside the leatherleaf, the overlapping burgundy and white scales of sweetgale catkins provided a delightful contrast beside the sky’s reflection on the water.

p16-shelter

We moved on, following the trail to the hut–and made it, the water we needed to cross over not being high at all. Built in the 1930s, the shelter has many stories to tell, and my guy read a few of them.

p17-shelter view

We’d actually saved our dessert, our form of icing on the cake, and so enjoyed the view as we finished lunch.

p18-lungwort on tree

On our way back down the trail, the brilliant green upper leaf of lungwort drew my attention as it has always done. The bright green was due to yesterday’s rain, which set the algae into production. The underside was pale with pockets of cyanobacteria, known as blue-green algae. Though it’s named for its resemblance to lung tissue, it does have a lettuce-like look. According to Lichens of the North Woods by Joe Walewski, lungwort is “found in rich, unpolluted and often very old forests.” Bingo!

p19-lungwort on ground

What surprised me was that we found some on the ground, this batch on snow. Moose have a preference for lungwort. Had they pulled it off a tree?

p20-lungwort apothecia

More surprising was that some had apothecia, its spore-producing structure. Do you see the tiny tans specks along the lobe margins? It’s uncommon to see these and was a first for me. Typically, lungwort reproduces by granule-like masses called soredia that form on the surface, break off, land on a suitable substrate and grown into new lungwort lichens.

About nine miles round trip and our journey was completed. Old joke, but I can’t resist for I was lichen the Province Brook Trail from the start and it just kept getting better and better.