Sallie Savers Celebrate Big Night with LEA

The initial email was sent by Mary Jewett of Lakes Environmental Association in Bridgton, Maine, on Tuesday:

Hello everyone!

Many amphibians have already crossed and laid eggs but there are still some waiting in the woods. Tomorrow evening looks like it will be perfect conditions for an amphibian migration and I would like to get a group together to go out with me. My plan would be to meet at the office at 8pm. With sunset being at 7:40 I really wouldn’t want to start any earlier since the frogs and sallies won’t move when it’s light out.

I want to get an idea of who would be able to come out with me. I have a reporter and videographer coming out from the Bangor Daily News and they would like to get shots of actual people (not just me) and possibly get some quotes from participants. I know that it’s tough to get out with kids since it starts so late but I hope that we can get a diverse group. We also may have the opportunity to check out egg masses that are already in the water!

And then this afternoon, Mary sent this follow-up message:

I have heard from a handful of people who are able to come out tonight so I’m going for it. Here are some details:

Meet at the LEA office building (230 Main Street) at 8pm
We will caravan up to the Masonic Hall and walk to Dugway Road from there.
Bring high powered flashlights/headlamps
Wear warm clothes and rain gear. It looks like the rain may be pretty heavy when we are out there. Good for amphibians but not so great for people trying to stay dry.
Wear reflective clothing if you have some. I have vests available if you don’t have your own.
Do not wash your hands with soap or put on hand lotion or hand sanitizer.
I have spoken to the police and they are going to try and send someone out. They have a training program this evening so we might not see them. This makes it extra important that kids stay with their parents at all times!

b3-amphibian crossing sign

And so we did just that–met at the LEA office first, and then moved on to the Masonic Hall to park before beginning our journey into the wet and wild world of the amphibians.

b1-redbacked

Right away, we noticed worms. And even better, a red-backed salamander. Red backs don’t use vernal pools to mate, but they sure do love rainy nights that offer great opportunities to roam about seeking food.

b2-red backed salamander

We crossed the field from the Hall to Memory Land, our eyes ever looking for more red backs, but instead we noted a kazillion worms, each the size of a young snake. And then, after only a few minutes on the road another red backed graced us with its presence.

b4-Mary explains rules of the road

Finally, we reached Dugway Road, our destination, and Mary took a few minutes to remind folks of safety rules. Some years the Bridgton police are able to join us and either shut the road down or at least slow traffic. Such was not the case tonight and so it was important that our crowd of at least twenty ranging in age from four years old to 70+ be cautious.

b4-walking the road

And then the real fun began. We spread out across the road with flashlights and headlamps, walking with care as we tried to notice the little things in life who chose this night to return to their natal pools in order to mate.

b6-spring peeper

Right away, the good times got rolling as we began to spot spring peepers. Really, it was those with eagle eyes who spotted the most, which wasn’t easy given the asphalt conditions. Though we knew better, we did have to wonder if the amphibians chose this road because it provided good camouflage.

b5-first catch- spring peeper

Being the first of the night, Mary demonstrated the fine art of capturing the peeper, explaining first that her hands were damp and had no soap or cream upon them.

Outstretched hands of one of the younger set awaited a transfer.

b5-pass off

The mission was to help the peeper get to the other side of the road. Typically, once captured, we transport them to the side in which they were headed.

b5-final pass off

The release was made into the youngster’s hands and then onward child holding frog went. Lucky for the frog, there was a culvert at the side and that seemed like the safest place to release it.

b14-into the vernal pool

Further down the road, the songs of the wood frogs and peepers were almost deafening. As we looked into the vernal pool that was still half covered in ice, there was some movement, but the frogs all continued to sing despite our presence, unlike what happens when we approach a pool during the day and they dive under the leaf cover for a few minutes.

b7-spotted salamander

We found enough peepers, but the stars of the night were the spotted salamanders.

b8-sally and worm

The youngest among us picked up one of the ubiquitous worms that marked the night and laid it down beside a sallie.

b9-sally eyes

Sallie didn’t care. It was on a mission and just wanted to move on without our interference. There was only one thing on its mind and we suddenly stood between it and that goal.

b12-salamander

It had a dance to perform before the sun rose and we had a heck of a nerve for getting in the way. I’m always in awe of these creatures who spend at least 11.5 months under the leaf litter and maybe a week or two in the pool. Our rare chance to catch a glimpse of them is on such a rainy night as tonight.

b10-sally on card

Our intentions were in their favor. We only wanted to help save them from the vehicles that passed by.

b11-sally's world

In the end, though, I had to wonder–is this what the salamander’s world looked like as we scooped it up and helped it across.

Possibly, but still, it’s always a thrill for tots, tweens, teens, and all the rest of us to celebrate Big Night with the Lakes Environmental Association. We are the Sallie Savers.

The Amazing Race–Our Style, episode 3

We were a bit confused by the clue–something about an oven and ice and we felt like maybe we were headed to a kitchen. My guy doesn’t cook all that much and I avoid it as much as possible, so we knew this was going to be a tough leg of the race. Surely, we’d be there all night trying to concoct something and the sky would darken on our chance of winning.

To top it all off, it was an equalizer. That meant that though we were early to the starting point, all participants would begin at the same time. And so we had some time on our hands and a few dollars to spend on lunch and libations.

o1-clue

As we sipped, our clue was revealed. And we were ready to heed it, despite our anxiety over the cooking issue.

o2-footbridge

Following lunch, we still had more time to kill and decided to walk across the footbridge in Boothbay Harbor.

o3-ghost harbor

It was a bit of a ghost harbor on this day, but it won’t be long and people and boats and more people will fill this space.

o5-sign of snow

As we walked around town, we did some window shopping–of the best sort.

o4-clock

And then a view at a clock reminded us that we had a place to be by 1:15.

o6-crooked sign

Look for the crooked sign, the clue stated. We found it.

o8-trail conditions

Follow the trail. We did.

o10-mud below

Note the tide. It was obviously out.

o11-bridge

Locate the bridge that connects Oven Mouth Preserve West to Oven Mouth Preserve East. Bingo.

o13-ice house cove dam

But what was below us, we wondered. And that was our next challenge. We had to figure out the configuration of this land. It looked like an old bridge, but rather, it was a former dam that had been used to create an ice pond on the other side of the bridge upon which we stood. Aha–the icy portion of this leg of the race. Our task was to discover its history. Reading a brochure produced by the Boothbay Region Land Trust we learned the following: “In 1880, in response to a growing demand for ice, [the cove now known as Ice House Cove] was dammed to form a fresh-water pond and an ice house was built. The ice was shipped by schooner, mainly to Boston and New York.” Today, any blocks of ice would surely have melted as happened in our water bottles.

o7-garter snake

While we looped around the two peninsulas we had a several other challenges to complete. First, we needed to find three examples of critter sign–other than the ubiquitous red squirrel middens. We checked off number one with a garter snake that slithered past.

o7b-mammal tracks

Number two: mammal tracks in the mud below. We couldn’t get close enough to identify it, but noted the trotting pattern.

o7a-wasp nest

And number three, the remnants of a paper wasp nest.

Another challenge down. How many more to go?

o12-scavenger 2

It wasn’t long before the next presented itself as we wound our way around the property. First, we needed to find evidence of the land’s former use–as a sheep pasture in the 19th century.

o12-scavenger hunt 1

And then the letter D. We never did learn what the D stood for, but . . . we found it.

o15-sausage-shaped boudins

And finally, a sausage-shaped boudin among the folds, formed by the pinching and swelling from compression and shearing.

o13-Cross river

The tide slowly flowed in as we journeyed on.

o14-rip where Back and Cross River met

And at the point where the Cross River met the Back River, we noted a rip current visible in the swirls.

o14-ice house dam and today's bridge

At last we crossed back over the bridge from east to west and then peeked at the dam juxtaposed as it was in the shadow of the modern-day bridge.

o16-oven?

From the outermost point of the west side, we paused to look back toward the dam and bridge–did the early explorers really see this rounded cove as the inside of an oven, thus naming it Ovens Mouth? It was certainly unique. Fortunately, we could enjoy the view without turning up the heat. If they thought it was an oven, we agreed. If it meant we didn’t have to cook, we definitely agreed.

From the brochure, we did learn more history: “This area has always been inviting for maritime activities because of its deep-water access and protected location. Settled in the mid-1700s, one of the region’s earliest shipyards was located here and both British and American vessels hid in the coves during the Revolution. Soon after the Civil War, the property came into the hands of the Tibbets-Welsh family, who owned it for more than a hundred years.”

o17-kissing tree

We had one last challenge to complete before finding our way to the mat. Our final mission: to note three sights that represented our relationship.

Kissing trees–check.

o17-heart

A heart-shaped rock–check.

o17-pigeons

Whispering sweet nothings–check. (Note the heart-shaped white cere on their bills. And no, he is not picking her nits. Well, even if he is, isn’t that a loving move?)

Once again, we managed to stay ahead of other contestants, didn’t squabble too much, avoided our worst fears and completed the assigned tasks without much stress. In the third episode of our imaginary rendition of The Amazing Race–Our Style, we landed on the mat in first place once again. What’s next? Stay tuned.

 

 

 

Dear Earth

Dear Earth,

In your honor, I decided that on this Earth Day I would head out the back door and travel by foot, rather than vehicle.

e1-Mount Washington

My journey led me down the old cow path to the power line right-of-way and much to my delightful surprise, Mount Washington was on display. It was so clear, that I could even see the outline of buildings and towers at the summit. Thank you for providing such clarity.

e2-vernal pool

Rather than walk to the mountain, I turned in the opposite direction and found my way to the vernal pool, where ice still covered a good portion. You know, Earth, as much as I want this to be a significant vernal pool because it does usually have two qualifiers (and only needs one): more than forty wood frog egg masses or more than twenty spotted salamander egg masses, I know that it is not. I believe it was created as part of the farm based on the rocks at the far end, not exactly forming a retaining wall, but still situated so close together in a way that I haven’t found anywhere else in my extensive journeys of the hundreds of acres behind our house. Plus, it dries up much too quickly to be a natural pool. And each year I’m surprised to find wood frogs, their egg masses, spotted salamander spermatophores, and their egg masses, given that the water evaporates before the tadpoles finish forming. If these species return to their natal vernal pool, Earth, then how can that be since no one actually hopped or walked out as a recently matured adult? Or were these frogs on their way to another pool and they happened upon this one? You know me, Earth–lots of questions as I try to understand you better.

e4-dorsal amplexus

Whatever the answer is, each year you work your magic and on a visit yesterday afternoon, I spied a male wood frog atop a female in what’s known as amplexus, aka, mating. According to Maine Amphibians and Reptiles, edited by Malcolm L. Hunter, Aram J.K. Calhoun, and Mark McCollough, “When mating, the male clings tightly to the females back. Visible contractions of the female’s body signal the onset of oviposition, at which time the male’s hind feet are drawn up close to the female’s vent. As the eggs are expelled, the male releases sperm into the water and strokes the egg mass with his hind feet, which presumably aids in distributing the sperm more evenly.” I looked this morning, but didn’t find any sign of eggs. Don’t worry, Earth, I’ll keep looking because perhaps they were there but hadn’t absorbed water yet.

e5-dead frog

One other thing I saw yesterday that greatly disturbed me was a dead frog in the water. Last year I also found such. My concern is that it was caused by a virus, but perhaps it was old age. Or some other factor. I do have to confess, though, Earth, I intervened and removed the body from the pond. I know, I know, it’s all part of the cycle of life, and I should leave nature to its own devices, but disease was on my mind and I didn’t want others to be affected. I may have been too late. Only time will tell.

e7-leaf variety

When I arrived this morning, I’m happy to report that I didn’t see any dead frogs. For the longest time I stood upon a rock–you know the one I mean, Earth, for you’ve invited me to stand there before. It’s sunny in that spot and the frogs know it well, for that is where they’ll eventually deposit their eggs. As I waited, I looked down at the leaves on the pool’s bottom and noticed how they offered a reflection of the trees above, beech and oak and maple and pine and hemlock. All still displayed their winter colors, but when the pool does dry up, they’ll turn dark brown and form a mat that will provide nutrients for the plants that colonize the area. You’ve got a system, don’t you Earth.

e8-frog 1

I knew if I stood as still as I could, I would be rewarded. While beech and oak leaves, the last to fall from their trees, danced somersaults across those already on the ground and matted by the past winter’s snow, red and gray squirrels chatted and squawked, and chickadees sold cheeseburgers in their songs, my eyes constantly scanned the pool. And in a flash, a frog emerged from under those leaves.

e8-wood frog 1a

For a while he floated, allowing the breeze to push him to and fro within a two square-foot space. But then he decided to climb atop a downed branch. Perhaps he was trying out a calling sight to use once I left.

e9a--wood frog 3

And then, there was another. And after that another. Yesterday I saw a total of six. Today only four. But that doesn’t mean the others weren’t hiding until I left, right Earth? I hope that’s what it meant. One thing you have taught me via the frogs is patience. If I stand still long enough at least one will swim to the surface. And they, too, are patient as they wait: for me to leave; for the gals to come. Well, maybe when the gals do come they aren’t all that patient.

e10-mosquito larvae

I actually returned to the pool a second time today and more of the ice had melted. While in the late morning I couldn’t see any insects on the move, in the early afternoon I eyed thousands of mosquito larvae. Everyone moans about mosquito larvae, Earth, but . . . they provide food for salamanders and the adult form for birds. I’m just trying to look on the bright side.

e11- snowmobile trail

This afternoon, I waited and waited for the frogs to emerge, but either my eyes didn’t key in on them or they decided to wait until I left. So . . . I finally did just that, and did head toward Mount Washington after all, following the snowmobile trail. As you well know, Earth, it was a bit tricky between the snow, soft mud, ruts and rocks exploding from your earth.

e11a-boots

My right foot managed to fall through the icy snow into a hidden rut filled with water that covered my Bog boots. And then my left foot found some mud that squelched with glee. Or was that you squealing with delight, Earth? I had one wet sock, but ventured on.

e11b-Mansion Road

At the junction, I turned to the west, following the log road and remembering the days of yore when my guy and I, as well as neighbor Dick Bennett, used to work up a sweat on a winter day following a snow storm, for it was our duty to you, Earth, to release the snow from your arched gray birch trees. And then, a few years ago, the road became the main route to the timber landing/staging area again, and all of those trees we’d worked so hard to protect year after year were cut to make way for machinery. As much as my heart broke, it does give me time to watch forest succession in action, and I gave thanks that you have such a plan in mind.

e14-deer dance

It also provided a blank stage upon which the does danced and left behind their calling cards.

e12-buck

And Buck sashayed each partner across the floor. The deep dew claw marks and cloven toes indicated he’d made quite an impression.

e11c-coyote scat

All along the way, upon raised rocks in the middle of the “road,” coyote and fox scat was prominent and in the sandy surface I also found their prints.

e18-vernal pool near landing

At the left-hand turn that led to the landing, I was surprised when I shouldn’t have been, for suddenly a million “wrucks” filled the air. I knew the water was there but it had slipped my mind. Thank you for the song of many more wood frogs. Thanks for filling my ears with joy.

e15-wood frog egg masses

And the chance to spy their good works. Thankfully, you make sure that life continues. At least in the form of wood frog egg masses.

e17-wood frog egg mass

I loved their gelatinous blob-like structure, all bumpy on the outside they were. Actually, I believe what looked like one mass, was several, but I didn’t dare step in to check and disturb the frogs that hid below.

e16-wood frog 5

Again I stood as still as possible, and again I was rewarded. For a bit I thought that the frog before me had no arms, but then I realized that they were just plastered to its sides.

e19-wood frog under log

A squirrel sounding bigger than itself caught my attention briefly and I turned unexpectedly. When I turned back, the frog was no longer at the water’s surface, but appeared below a downed gray birch. For a while the two of us remained still. I hoped another frog or two or three or three thousand would pop up, but that wasn’t your plan, was it? It’s okay. One was enough.

e21-log landing

I finally left my one, oops, I mean your one frog alone and continued on to the log landing, noting all the mammal tracks and looking for other signs. There was more scat, but I was disappointed not to find bobcat or moose prints. Where were you hiding them? I suspect the moose had moved to the swamp below.

Rather than go much further, for major ruts from the logging equipment were filled with water, I turned around just beyond the landing and headed back across it. Twenty-five years ago it was a much smaller clearing with a few pine trees. Over the years, I’ve watched it change and the mammal activity as well. And then, about five years ago it was converted back to a landing and I can’t wait for it to fill in again, but my desire and your plan are not necessarily the same, are they?

It all seemed like so much destruction, but I had to remind myself that I am part of the equation, with my own needs for power and wood and food and everything that you provide. And cuts do bring about a change, sometimes for the better, for the trees and the mammals and the birds and the plants and the decomposers and the consumers and all who call this place home. Am I convincing you, Earth? Am I convincing myself?

e22-frog 7

As I passed by the lengthy vernal pool again I decided to revisit the egg masses. I stood on the rock and slowly scanned the area. No frogs. On second glance, there was one right beside the rock on which I stood. And it looked like the same one I’d seen previously. I wondered why. Why didn’t I scare it? Was that you, Earth, taking a peek at me?

e23-Mourning Cloak butterfly

I had one more surprise on my journey–the first butterfly of the season, a mourning cloak. With its wings closed, it wasn’t all that attractive.

e24-mourning cloak

But upon opening them, I saw its beauty hidden within–another lesson, eh Earth? Oh, and your sense of humor. For yes, that was coyote scat on which the butterfly sucked as it sought amino acids and other nutrients. A fly also dined. Yum.

What a day, Earth. Your day. Dear Earth Day. May I remember to treat you so dearly every day.

Sincerely,

wondermyway

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book of April: Take a Wetlands Walk

Those of you who have followed me on the trail or through wondermyway for a while know that I’m not only drawn to mountaintops, but wetlands as well. And I have a few that I frequent including several vernal pools, Holt Pond Preserve, Perky’s Path, and Brownfield Bog.

w1

Book of April

Therefore, when I spotted Take a Wetlands Walk by Jane Kirkland at Maine Audubon’s Nature Store a few years ago I wasn’t surprised that it jumped into my hands and dragged me to the checkout. Since it’s April and the snow is slowly melting in western Maine, and some afternoon in the near future I look forward to receiving an email announcing our local Big Night celebration, it seemed apropos that I should feature Take a Wetlands Walk as the book of the month.

w-Holt P 2

Holt Pond boardwalk

This is a children’s book and I like how the author divided it into three sections, using a phrase often heard at the starting line.

Get Ready–encourages kids to gain a better understanding of wetland terminology in an easy to understand manner. In fact, it’s as if the author is sitting beside you, so conversational is the tone.

w-fairy shrimp

Fairy Shrimp

w-tadpoles

Tadpoles

w-wood frog

Wood Frog

w-painted turtle

Painted Turtle

w-water snake 1

Water Snake

w-water snake 2

Water Snake (notice his tongue)

Get Set–introduces amphibian and reptile species associated with wetlands.

w-pitcher plant

Pitcher Plant

Go!--sends the children outside to read the signs of nature and jot down their observations.

w-Holt Pond quaking bog

Quaking Bog at Holt Pond

In the Go! section, Kirkland describes what the kids might discover in such places as bogs, estuaries, salt marshes, freshwater marshes, streams, rivers, lakes, vernal pools, swamps, and the Everglades.

w-Red-winged Blackbird

Through sidebars, illustrations, and photographs, Kirkland touches on many topics related to wetlands, but constantly encourages further research, including of course, heading out the door. She also includes a wee bit of information about citizen science projects and wetland careers.

w-pileated woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

Each time she first uses a technical term, she adds a pronunciation key. One of my favorites: The Pileated Woodpecker (Py-lee-ata-id or PILL-e-ate-id). I prefer the latter, but occasionally hear the former uttered. “You like to-may-toes and I like to-mah-toes!”–Although in that sense, I prefer the former tomaytoes.

w-spotted sallie 2

Spotted Salamander

Throughout, Kirkland shares personal experiences as well as those of her acquaintances. Finally, she includes pages filled with photos to help you identify birds, plants, reptiles, amphibians, mammals and insects related to wetlands.

w-pond dipping

Pond Dipping

Yes, this is a children’s book, but adults can also benefit from reading it. And then heading outside.

Get Ready, Get Set, Go! Pick up a copy of Take A Wetlands Walk and visit your nearest wetland.

Take a Wetlands Walk by Jane Kirkland, Stillwater Publishing, 2011

 

Mallards, Beavers, and NOT Squawroot, Oh My!

Since posting this blog yesterday, my Maine Master Naturalist mentor, Susan Hayward chimed in and corrected me. If you’ve read this previously, please be sure to scroll down to the Squawroot discovery. (Or not Squawroot). Thank you, Susan, for sharing your knowledge once again and setting me on the right track.

Our intention today when Connie Cross and I visited the wetland at Sebago Lake State Park’s Campground was to . . . well . . . walk with intention. There were several miles of trails to explore during the offseason, but we decided, or rather I did, that we should circle the beaver pond to see what we might see.

b1-horseshoe bog

It was raining as we drove to our meet-up point. And so we piled on extra layers to ward off the damp chill, and thought about snowshoes–to wear or not to wear? Connie chose to throw hers into a backpack and I went without.

b1a-raccoon prints

Our journey down to the wetland was one that had been recently traveled by others, including a certain waddler who showed off its finger-like prints in the melting snow. It made perfect sense to us to follow the track of a raccoon for it would lead to water.

b2-beaver works

Everywhere by the water’s edge, we noticed the works of another mammal–some old and others more recently hewn by the local beaver family.

b6-lodge

And then we spied the lodge and noted the mudded sides and recent additions to the chimney stack at the top and knew that it was active.

b3-duck on lodge

As we watched, we noticed that someone decided to call upon the residents–for a female mallard hopped from the water to the lodge and began to climb up.

b4-duck on lodge

One might expect a fox or coyote to pay a visit to a beaver lodge and reenact the story of the big bad wolf and three pigs. Or as noted on tonight’s PBS show entitled Nature: Leave it to Beaver, the visitors might be a muskrat, mouse, or frog who check in at the inn, but a mallard?

b5-mallard

Apparently, she liked the contents amid the mud used to insulate the house.

b7-sky reflection

As we watched, the sky above began to change and we noted such in the water’s reflection. Clouds, sun and blue sky marked a morning in transition.

b8-mallard couple

Continuing along the trail, Mr. and Mrs. Mallard became our friends and seemed to follow us, that is, until he signaled to her rather like a dog points, and a few seconds later off they flew.

b9-beaver

In the meantime, we heard a splash in the water behind us. What caused it? There was no snow high up on the trees that might have fallen. And then . . . we saw the creators. Beavers. There were actually three–moving about slowly and then suddenly splashing again and disappearing into the depths below. And the chambers within. We were in awe and felt honored to have shared a few minutes with members of the family.

b12-squawroot

Finally, we pulled ourselves away. And then . . . we came upon another find. And somewhere from the depths of my brain after some word association like Indian pipe and Pine sap, I pulled up the name–Squawroot. Connie looked it up on her phone and tada, I was right. Another name for this parasitic plant is American cancer-root for it only occurs where it can attach to oak roots and we were in a forest of red and white oaks. Like Indian pipe and Pine sap, this plant doesn’t have any chlorophyll and therefore no green color. It actually reminded us of a pineapple.

And tada, I was actually wrong. Though they look sorta similar, this is what Susan shared: “Your squawroot looks to me to be the favorite food of those beaver.
Bullhead Lily or Spadderdock Root. Squawroot is later in the summer. There is rarely any residual after the winter; maybe a clump of twiggy dried stems. The Lily root is much more substantial tissue than squawroot. It is carbon loading for the beaver.

I had never seen the roots of Spadderdock before. I learn something knew every day–thankfully.

b14-checking the trail

We continued to circle the bog, and on the northwestern side I gave thanks that Connie had packed her snowshoes, for she packed the trail while I followed. We did try to figure out why it was called Horseshoe Bog. The shape didn’t speak to the name, but perhaps someone once found a horseshoe in the area–or so we wondered.

b13-snowman

We weren’t the only ones wondering. A snow creature posed over the space with many a question about the future on its mind.

b15-from the other side

As we circled, the skyview changed and we finally began to feel the warmth of the day.

b16-another lodge

We also noted at least three other lodges that had provided warm spaces in previous winters.

b17-a closer look

The one noted in the last photo showed no signs of mud when we took a closer look so we knew it wasn’t active this year. If they had intended to stay, the beavers would have worked hard to interlock the sticks and then add plenty of mud like we add insulation and siding to our homes.

b19-beaver lodge trail

After three hours, we’d completed our journey–traveling maybe a mile in all that time. But we rejoiced for we’d spent time with the mallards and beavers and squawroot. Mallards, Beavers, and Squawroot, Oh My!

 

 

Transitions

Life, it seems, is always in transition. Or perhaps it is a series of transitions that we experience on this fast boat as we whiz through time and participate in endings and beginnings, with learning opportunities thrown into the mix. So it feels, when one season overlaps another.

If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant. If we did not taste adversity then prosperity would not be so welcome. ~ Anne Bradstreet

s3a-the crew

And so this morning, I enjoyed the opportunity to experience the natural transition from winter to spring at Sebago Lake State Park with a group of seven led by AMC volunteer JoAnne Diller. (JoAnne donned the lime green coat.)

s1- Ice on Songo River

We began our journey at the boat launch beside Songo River, where signs warned of thin ice and Canada geese honked in the distance.

s2-Songo River curves

Tree buds added a subtle hint of color to the landscape. And the ice in the oxbow indicated nights of cooler temps followed by days of warming.

s3-Jan examines beech scale insect

Trees within the forest showed other signs of change for we noted the cinnamon tinge on many a beech tree. Not all transitions were good.

The trees were dotted with the waxy exterior winter coating of the beech scale insect, Cryptococcus fagisuga, a tiny insect that sucks sugar and other nutrients from beech trees only.

Soon, the beech scale insect will molt into its second, legless nymph stage and emerge. Immediately, it will start sucking sap through its tubular mouthpart or stylet. That instar stage doesn’t last long, and quickly it will become a mature female. For the rest of its life it will remain sedentary, but repeatedly remove and reinsert its piercing stylet, wounding the tree and providing entry points for fungi to enter. An interesting fact about beech scale insects–its a world of females who reproduce by parthenogenesis; there are no known males.

But what about that cinnamon color? Was it a fungus? Or was it related to the insects? Yes and yes. Two species of nectria fungi are associated with beech bark disease, Nectria coccinea var. faginata and Nectria gallengia. What we examined was a large area of the former’s fruiting bodies.

s4-Y in the road

For the most part we followed the groomed trail system, though we did do some post holing as we crossed from one route to another. And then we came to a fork in the road–so we took it! Actually, first we went left and along the way startled some deer. And realized we weren’t exactly where we wanted to be so we backtracked and journeyed on to the right. How often does that happen on this boat ride? Frequently. But the best part about today was that no one complained because we were all happy to travel the trail and enjoy the world around us.

s5-beach on Sebago Lake

At last we arrived at the beach on Sebago Lake, where snow and sand in the cove and small bits of ice moving with the gentle waves spoke of what is to come.

s7-pitch pine

It was at the same spot, where we paused at a picnic table to eat a snack, that we stood in awe of the pitch pines as they showed off their plates of bark thickened by age and unique manner of needles growing from the trunk.

s8-pitch pine cone

Even their cones, each scale topped with a rigid prickle, were beginning to break down as they began their journey of giving back to the earth.

s9-tree roots

But what struck us the most were the tree roots all along the beach. And we began to wonder what had happened.

s10-roots

How old were the trees? Had the sand eroded?

s11-trees

Was the lake once much higher? And how do those trees survive? If only they could talk, we would hear their stories of pounding waves and raging storms. And maybe other adversities. Maybe they do talk and we just don’t know how to listen.

s13-back to the river

In what seemed like a flash, I realized we were on the opposite end of the oxbow I’d photographed when we first arrived–our journey had been a circular one, well sorta.

s14-buoys

By the boat launch two channel buoys waited patiently for spring to return in full force so they could move onto the river and do the job for which they were best suited.

s15-Canada geese

We took one last look before saying our goodbyes and going our own ways on this journey we call life. That’s when we spied the Canada geese–a sure sign that spring really is just around the corner.

Thank you, JoAnne, for organizing such a delightful hike and allowing us to absorb the richness of the woods, river and lake as they remind us about the transitions in life.

*And Tom, this trek is for you, and your own transition.  Love all.

 

What the Bobcat Knows

As I drove down Heald Pond Road in Lovell today I wasn’t sure what awaited me. But isn’t that the point? Every venture into the great outdoors should begin as a clean slate and it’s best not to arrive at the trailhead with expectations.

f1-Heald Pond Road barn

And so I didn’t. Well, sorta. I really wanted to see a porcupine. And maybe an otter. And definitely an owl. But I knew better and so I passed the last barn on the road and then backed up and stepped out, captivated by the colors in the scene before me.

f2-trail signs

A few minutes later, I strapped on my snowshoes and headed up the trail. My plan–to climb to the summit of Flat Hill at the Greater Lovell Land Trust’s Heald and Bradley Ponds Reserve and then circle around Perky’s Path upon my return.

f3-trail up flat hill

Breaking trail was my job in the rather deep snow given recent storms, but easy to move upon and so I sashayed up. What surprised me, however, was the lack of tracks left behind by the mammals that I know live in these woods.

f4-pine cone bird feeders

I did stop at the balsam firs decorated by a local 4-H club in December as part of the Maine Christmas Tree Hunt. The dangling pinecones once sported peanut butter and birdseed, but today that was all a memory so I knew birds and deer had stopped by in the last few months.

f5-bobcat 1

And then, as I neared the flat summit, I found tracks of a mammal that had checked out the base of every tree and under every downed limb. In fact, as I soon realized, it was more than one mammal that I followed as I went off trail. Bobcats. Indeed. Though typically solitary, these two traveled together. It is mating season and males and females will travel together during courtship.

f11-bobcat print

Though the prints were difficult to photograph given the glare, by the toes, ridge and overall shape, I knew them.

f12-bobcat scat and print

And scat! Filled with white hair. I have close-up views should you choose a closer look, but chose to give those who find scat to be rather disgusting a break. 😉

f6-porcupine and bobcat

And then I found another set of tracks and knew that besides squirrels and little brown things, the bobcats were also searching for a bigger dinner. On the left–a porcupine trough, and on the right, the bobcat trail.

f8-porky work

Ever since I’ve traveled this trail, I’ve seen the work of the porcupines at the summit. And sometimes I even get to see the creator. In winter, porcupines eat needles and the bark of trees, including hemlocks, birch, beech, aspen, oak, willow, spruce, fir and pine. And they leave behind a variety of patterns.

f7-porky work

If I didn’t know better, I could have been convinced that this ragged work was left behind by a chiseling woodpecker, but it, too, was porcupine work.

f9-porky work

All about the summit, recent chews were easily identified for the inner bark was brighter than the rest of the landscape. And below these trees–no bark chips such as a beaver would leave, for the porcupine consumed all the wood.

f10-flat hill view

While snow flurries fluttered around me, the summit view was limited and it looked like the mountains were receiving more of the white stuff. (Never fear–we’ll get more as our third Nor’easter in two weeks or so is expected in two more days. Such is March in Maine.)

f13-script lichen between pine lines

From the summit, rather than follow the trail down, I tracked the bobcats for a while, first to the north and then to the south. I had hoped to find a kill site, but no such luck. Instead, the writing on the page was found upon the pines where script lichen, a crustose, was located between the lines of bark scales.

f14-ulota moss and frullania

I also found plenty of Frullania, that reddish brown liverwort that graced so many trees. And among it, a moss I’ll simply call an Ulota. As I looked in Ralph Pope’s book, Mosses, Liverworts, and Hornworts , upon arriving home, I realized I should have paid attention to capsules for that would have helped me determine whether what I saw was Ulota crispa or Ulota coarctata. Another lesson for another day.

f15-beaver pond on Perky's Path

At last I reached Perky’s Path, which may not seem like a major feat if you’ve been there, but actually I’d explored off trail for quite a ways and it took me a while to get down to the wetland.

f16-maleberry

And because I was in the wetland, maleberry shrubs bordered the edge and showed off their bright red buds and woody, star-shaped seedpods.

f16a-bobcat across wetland

After focusing on them for a while, I looked down at the snow’s surface and the most subtle of prints appeared before my eyes. My two bobcats. The curious thing–at the summit the mammals had sunk into the snow and the prints were a bit difficult to decipher. I assumed those summit impressions had been made about two days ago. But on the wetland, the bobcats walked atop the snow–when conditions were firmer and I suspected they’d been created last night.

f17-brook toward Bradley Pond 1

I followed the edge of the wetland to the bridges that cross a brook that forms at the outlet of Bradley Pond, constantly on the lookout for the bobcat tracks again.

f18-more bobcat

And I found them! Beside the brook.

f19-beaver pond from bridge

What had they found on the wetland, I wondered?

f21a-beaver trail

Continuing on, I found that they’d checked on the woodwork left behind by another critter of these woods who had also moved about last night.

f20-beaver works

Beaver works. And their piles of woodchips. Unlike a porcupine, a beaver doesn’t eat the chips. Rather, it cuts down a tree for food or a building material. The chips are like a squirrel’s midden of cone scales–the garbage pile of sorts.

f22-beaver trail to water

I noted where the beaver had moved into the brook . . .

f23-beaver treats

And left some sticks behind. For future food? Future building? Stay tuned.

f27-brook to Bradley pond

Typically in other seasons I can’t move beside the edge of the brook, but today I could. The lighting kept changing and water reflected the sky’s mood.

f24-Diamesa sp. and snow flea

And because I was by the water, I kept noting small insects flying about–almost in a sideways manner. Then I found some on the snow–a member of the Diamesa species, a midge I believe. And do you see the small black speck below it–a snowflea, aka spring tail.

f25-Diamesa sp.:haltere

And do you see the two little nobs on the fly’s back, the red arrow pointing to one? Those are the haltere: the balancing organ of a two-winged fly; a pair of knobbed filaments that take the place of the hind wings.

f29-beaver pond wetland low

Eventually, I followed the eastern edge of the wetland back to my truck, wondering if there was any more action but found none. In fact, the water was low so I knew the beaver works weren’t to rebuild the dam. Yet. Nor did I find any more bobcat tracks. But I’d found enough. And I think I know some of what the bobcat knows.